Collected in Gone Hunting and other stories of Vardin. Available in paperback and ebook editions.
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John Henry has seen a miracle. Rhiannon is here to silence him.
John Henry saw a healer touch a dying child and the little girl walk away. Rhiannon de Alyón is a Vardin hunter with orders to ensure his silence. She failed to reckon the price she would have to pay to succeed.
Vardin Science Fiction Fantasy
Vardin Science Fiction Fantasy
She meets him at a fine restaurant, one he frequents and the venue his university has selected for their formal staff dinner. He is standing with his colleagues in the social and dancing area, discussing various things that men enjoy discussing, when he sees her. She notices the moment, feels his energy extend in her direction. She tastes its plainness, how very mãenet he is. She glances up and is surprised to see his open appraisal.
There is a certain inevitability to being kahtchen, in calling the storms and singing the rains, in bending her neck to be bound beneath the plain Queen’s hand, in dreaming her lover and knowing one day she will marry him, in knowing the laws of her Household and keeping them, in knowing the laws of the Hunt. (The kahtchen will never be free.)
Then John Henry sees her and tilts his head in almost puzzlement and smiles, as if he has known her before, as if he will know her for the rest of his life. Inevitability shifts and slides. She never expected any man other than Tracer to look at her that way.
Rhiannon absently traces a pattern on her glass with one finger. She inclines her head, acknowledging his regard. He excuses himself and steps away from his companions.
Unexpected, this. She was to insinuate herself into his acquaintance, not draw it like he recognizes her, like she is his dream lover and soulmate—rothnen—he has been waiting to meet for his entire life.
She raises one eyebrow as soon as he is close enough to hear her. “We have not met,” she says quietly, amused. There is too much familiarity in his warm brown eyes.
He smiles at her as though he is smiling at himself, sharing the amusement, and her other eyebrow comes up. He tells her his name, although she already knows it. “I teach English here, and history.” He waits a moment for her to speak and, when she doesn’t, asks her name in return.
“Rhiannon.” The word is accented in the tongue of her homeland. She allows him that much, knowing she must balance openness with restraint.
He smiles at her, understated, self-deprecating. “Would you care to dance?” He is a perfect gentleman.
She sets down her glass, stands, and takes his arm. There is no affection in the touch, and it is a simple thing to revive her memory of outsider dances. As with languages, hunters are taught such things early in life. It is a waltz; a minuet plays gently on piano and strings. The floor is smooth hardwood and he proves to be an excellent partner.
“I cannot place your accent,” he admits, puzzled. She remembers he is a bit of a linguist, besides his other academic pursuits and inherited wealth.
She shrugs. “I am from overseas. Europe mostly.”
His immediate interest draws her laughter. “I see you do.” It is not an answer, but he does not seem to notice.
“My brother and I prefer to spend our summers traveling. Exploring.” John hesitates and she does not prod but tilts her head just so to let him know she is listening. “He is in England now, investigating rumors of fairyland on the moors.” He says it almost apologetically, and yet, she can feel the faint tremor of hope that she will not write him off.
He has seen something he should not have. He understands it. She wants to tug at that tendril of feeling inside of him, but the stakes are too high and her gift not so inclined as to go unnoticed.
She resorts to plain techniques, keeps her gift well-reined, and asks him soberly, seriously, “Do you believe in fairyland?”
Their dance steps slow. His brown eyes seem to darken as he weighs her intent. It is the strangest question.
“In fairies, maybe.” He shrugs and holds her hand a little tighter. “There are many things we cannot explain in this world. But fairyland?”
The answer is too close to an affirmative. She leans in close, glides back into the flow of the dance. He resumes the pace and she follows his lead.
“Do you?” His voice is soft at her temple, breath ruffling her hair.
“I believe in many things that this world cannot explain.” She maintains the balance. Openness, restraint.
He takes that in, then answers, “So do I.”
She revises her plan. He has changed the parameters with his openness, with his search for a like-minded soul. She is hardly that, but she can become it, breathe it in until he trusts her and will listen when she tells him not to speak, not to loose this burden upon the world.
A fistful of photographs and papers and other odds and ends litter her hotel room bed. A train ticket stub. His essays and papers written in the course of his work. A map highlighted with every location he visited before and after he brushed into Ryven stepping away from an accident the healer should never have been near enough to become involved in.
But even healers need to get outside the Barrier every now and then, join themselves to a hunt during wintertides when storms occasionally shred it open, when it is safe for the kahtchen to do their work in the outside world. Even healers can be compromised. Even Ryven.
By all accounts, John Henry stood on a street corner in Paris and saw the bloody pavement beneath a wide-eyed little girl who had not looked both ways before crossing the road. And Ryven had stood there, his work done, breathing hard, also watching. They saw her stand up and toddle away.
Rhiannon hefts a small white business card in one palm. She runs one finger across it and stretches her mind into the building’s wireless network. She can see her eyes in the mirror, see their color shift and change, feel the information slipping from digits and bytes into memory, where he is, where he will be.
Her eyes go grey. She picks up the phone and dials.
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