Authors: Elizabeth Bear
Tags: #Fantasy, #science fiction
By the Mountain Bound
Tor Books by Elizabeth Bear
A Companion to Wolves
(with Sarah Monette)
All the Windwracked Stars
By the Mountain Bound
A Tom Doherty Associates Book
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
BY THE MOUNTAIN BOUND
Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Bear
All rights reserved.
A Tor Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
Tor® is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
By the mountain bound / Elizabeth Bear.—1st ed.
First Edition: November 2009
Printed in the United States of America
0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
To Ken Woods and Chelsea Polk,
who midwifed it,
and to Marissa Lingen,
his book would never have become a finished manuscript, nevermind an actual printed object, without the support of my friends, colleagues, and critique partners, on and off the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction and Fantasy. I wish I could single them all out by name, but it would be a very long list indeed. However, in particular I’d like to thank Kyri Freeman, Ken Woods, and Chelsea Polk, each of whom went above and beyond the call of duty.
I’d also like to thank my editor, Beth Meacham; my agent, Jennifer Jackson; and all of the amazing and hardworking production staff at Tor who helped to make this book a reality.
I’d also like to thank everyone who reads it. Because a story doesn’t really exist until it’s heard.
By the Mountain Bound
In bondage now bides
The Wolf, ’til world’s end
ear. I know the scent of old.
Einherjar sleep not if we are unwounded, but I have spent the afternoon in the smooth fork of a copper beech in a sort of daydream, contemplating the curve of a crimson sun settling behind the wooded Ulfenfell. A chill gilds air raw with hanging winter, the nearby sea, the musk of leaves. And a woman’s terror.
The scent lifts my hackles. A silken collar—an old fetter half-broken—galls my throat when I stretch too far, breathe too deep. I am accustomed. There is more news on the wind. Mortal woman. And a mortal man. They prey on their own.
I run the length of a horizontal branch broad as a horse’s back and drop to the leaf litter, steadying Svanvitr’s hilt with one hand. The pack wakes, rolling from crackling leaves like wood-red and smoke-gray and tarnished-silver shadows. They shake earth and dry grass from coats already silkening against frost, motes sparkling in slanting light. Milling around my legs, they grin.
Alas. Not my brothers, these, though I live among them in preference to the mead-hall, and the einherjar.
My gloves are in the hand I offer a bitch. She sniffs, allows the touch. Fingertips burrow through slick guard hairs and dense undercoat to brush skin beneath. When I touch her flesh, I can speak to her, she can speak to me.
You need not come. I take the shadowed road.
She laughs at me. I draw on my gloves. Bound for where men are. Humans, I touch not.
Words for them.
Blood-scent soaks the air. There is a thing—an einherjar thing, not of wolves nor men—the
. Knowledge granted, and a task to complete.
If I were another einherjar, it might swan me now:
. I am not as they. I am unique, older, not exiled but not accepted among them as I am among the pack. I became as they are, starlight made flesh, when I swallowed a sun.
They have the words of the Light to guide them.
have the scent. Blood on the wind, and fear.
I step into the shadow of the ponderous beech. And out the other side.
The place between one shadow and the next is cold and silent, wrought of firefly lights and dancing beliefs. A breath of ice. A stink of char. A dead world left behind.
I cross quickly.
Even here, the fear-scent lingers. Or perhaps it hangs only in my mind, as if borne on unworldish wings.
The shadow of an oak is my gate back to Valdyrgard. I hold my step and watch. A flaxen-haired maiden in a cloak
dyed with bloodroot twists away from a sour-smelling man of middling size and age. She has spilled her basket, bread and weedy late wildflowers. Her lip is split. He has blacked her eye.
I see no need to draw Svanvitr. Furling my cloak over my shoulder, I clutch. One gloved hand catches the man’s wrist, snaps. He releases the girl. She staggers. A knife into the other hand, and I take it, cast it to the cool waiting forest. It rings on stone, rustles through leaves.
I force him to his knees.
Now comes the Light. It streams from my eyes, my fingertips. Fills my mouth. The cord under my gray woolen collar clenches like a hand, but the Light is stronger than broken chains, and I was stronger than them too, when it mattered. The girl scrambles back, twig-crunch and rustle, too foolish in her fine wove cloak to run.
“I mark thee.” I touch my gloved thumb to my tongue and draw the letter
on his forehead in silver-blue starlight. “With
, which is the mark of strife. Do thou no more harm to innocents, or I shall know of it.”
He whimpers. I squeeze. My dark braid falling forward strikes him across the face. “Is all plain between us?”
Frozen until he remembers to nod. Then I loose him. He falls back, scrabbling like a cat, pissing himself before he flees. The girl hunches between oak-roots.
She draws away, though I offer a smile.
Her mouth shapes words. “Who are you?”
“Mingan. Called the Grey Wolf. I am einherjar, a child of Light.” The name soothes her not. But I am not my warrior
brothers: I am slight where they are broad, dark where they are fair, old where they are young.
I am not meant for comfort. I should have stayed a wolf in more than name.
I close the space between us, drop my hand upon her head. “This is my wood. I dwell here.”
She draws herself closer and smaller. I turn and step back into the shadows that are my home. She does not hear me sigh.