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The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky

The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Author:Adrian Tchaikovsky [Tchaikovsky, Adrian]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9780230770072
Publisher: Pan Macmillan UK


25

The Snake priest stood up abruptly, ritual words forgotten. Asmander stared at him uncertainly. Hesprec Essen Skese had been seeking the Serpent within the earth, digging deep with his mind to find and wake his buried god. He had been speaking softly: familiar words of faith that left Asmander oddly homesick. Strange how he had not really felt that strained tether that was trying to draw him back south until he had run into this reminder of that other invisible world. Until then, he had felt more as if he was running away.

Now the old man was on his feet, benediction forgotten, staring off towards the Stones.

‘Messenger,’ Asmander addressed him formally, ‘has the Serpent spoken to you?’

‘Something is wrong.’ It emerged as just a murmur from those withered lips, but he caught it.

Without warning, the old priest was off, hurrying away and leaving Asmander caught between a desire to follow and the old understanding that there were deeds of priests that other men were best not knowing about.

In the end he followed though. Even as he set off he felt as though the ground beneath him was suddenly treacherous, as though the swamp itself was rising to reclaim it. He felt a great and unseen fracture threatening in the sky.

Hesprec was hurrying – or as much as he could – to where a scattering of huge men loomed around a tent. They were all on their feet, looking puzzled and sullenly angry, but uncertain, too, glowering around for whatever had disturbed them. One or two of them Stepped, surging into even larger forms that grunted and shook their heads and bared their fearsome teeth at each other. Asmander had never encountered a bear, but he knew one when he saw it. The stories he had heard about the north did not do them justice.

The flap of the tent rippled, and then a woman shouldered her way out, as big as the men and clad in a vast robe of hides that was sewn all over with bird skulls. Her broad, flat face was turned up to the clouds, and Asmander saw her sniff the air. Her expression was unreadable, totally closed to outside scrutiny.

Hesprec stumbled to a halt, head turning left and right but plainly not finding what he was looking for.

Then Asmander saw a flurry of movement over towards the stones themselves: a fleet, low shape skimming the ground: a small, grey-pelted wolf with a greater beast behind it. He took it for a ritual: a mock-hunt invoking of the greater Wolf they set such stock on here.

Hesprec let out a sharp hiss, and Asmander understood that this was no piece of religious theatre.

The smaller wolf tried to break away towards them, but its pursuer got in front of it, herding it away, driving it towards the stones themselves. Hesprec took a deep breath and began to hurry towards them, but Asmander could see that the hunt would be at an end long before the Serpent could intervene. And



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