As promised, here’s the first installment to this unreleased Catalyst Moon novella. Enjoy! 😁
Atanar held Ruuk’s gaze and prayed the snow lion’s death
would be swift. Although he could not hear Ruuk’s thoughts, he knew the proud
beast’s heart and saw the fear in those vivid blue eyes – a mirror of his own.
Be at ease, my friend, Atanar thought, willing Ruuk to understand, willing his own terror not to affect his friend any more than it already had. It will be over, soon.
The snow lion, a caradoc,
in the Canderi language, stared back. His breath still came fast, steaming the
late winter morning air, but only Atanar’s ears rang with the memory of his
roars, for the snow lion was calmer now. Even so, the half a dozen Canderi
warriors that held the ropes binding Ruuk regarded him warily. The other
Canderi who had come to watch the execution and exile kept at a safe distance,
easily done on the flat tundra.
Atanar longed to place a hand upon Ruuk’s snowy mane;
though he and Ruuk were separated by Atanar’s fellow Canderi, he could still
feel the thick fur between his fingers. But the strong hands holding Atanar in
place would not release him. Yet.
The samaat, the
leader of Atanar’s clan, lifted Atanar’s blade—though Atanar would never touch
it again—and the audience held their collective breath.
Atanar fought not to squeeze his eyes shut. He would not
dishonor Ruuk by looking away. His blade descended.
Winter wind cut through Atanar’s furs and struck him as
though it was the claymore he’d once carried every day of his life; the same
claymore now slit his caradoc’s throat. The bond between them severed;
Atanar felt the loss as if his own soul had been stolen. In a sense, it had.
With a snarl of surprise, the massive gray-spotted lion collapsed in a heap of
fur and bright crimson stained the snow beneath Atanar’s boots.
The samaat turned her cold blue eyes to Atanar. Though he’d faced that gaze many times, there was something different there, now, something he could not name. She pointed his claymore at him and said, “Vorunn.”
Atanar had known this was coming, so why did he flush at the shame, the degradation? He was cursed, had been so since that night. Vorunn. Now he had no soul, no ties to Cander – his home, his blood. Now, he was alone.
The other white-clad Canderi who surrounded them shifted at hearing the term, but none spoke. Only the wind dared to dart through the mountains that stood sentinel all around, kicking snow flurries over the snow lion’s carcass and those that watched alike. It was a mournful wind, and it whispered, Vorunn.
Ever since he’d awoken that night, Atanar had known this was coming, but somehow, hearing the word aloud was worse than everything else – even his beloved Ruuk’s death. Perhaps his mother had been right, and at twenty-two summers he was too young and proud and headstrong to know when to bow to fate. But no longer. Now he shut his eyes and dropped his head, as much in acceptance as from a desire to look anywhere else. The word echoed through his bones like a shout in a mountain pass. Vorunn.
But deep within him, where anger warred with bitterness and collided with grief, something else stirred. The edges of his vision blurred a little more with each increased beat of his heart, and the world seemed strange, dull and distant – just for one moment. His breath caught. No, not again.
Yes, again. Yes, always. He was cursed – he was vorunn.
The samaat cleared her throat and brought him back into the moment. Atanar looked up and the elderly woman gestured with the sword behind him; the crowd parted, giving way to the broad expanse of Cander tundra. Beyond the tundra was the Iyer River. Beyond that…
No. This was not supposed to be his fate. But what choice did he have? An honorable death was too good for him. Throat tight, Atanar looked back at the clan chieftain. “Please–”
But she cut off his words with a wave of the claymore; in her sixtieth summer, she may have been, but she held the sword as if it were a feather. “No, Atanar.”
The use of his name startled him. He wasn’t the only one. The surrounding Canderi of their family glanced at each other, bewilderment on their faces, but still kept their silence.
Perhaps sensing her misstep, the samaat raised herself to her full height and struck him again with that cold glare, though her eyes were red-rimmed. “You have killed your own kind. You have slaughtered an innocent–”
Her voice cracked, betraying her outward calm. But she composed herself almost immediately, she was the samaat, after all. “Your name will be forgotten,” she said as the wind lifted her graying hair. “Your voice will not be missed. You will die alone, and not even the crows will mark your passing.”
Atanar dropped his head again as his bonds were cut. Someone shoved him backwards, sending him stumbling, but he caught himself before he fell. “I heard you,” he couldn’t help but mutter. “I’m going.”
“Go faster.” She shoved him again, towards the borderlands that divided Cander from Aredia.
The others echoed, “Vorunn.”
“Go,” the samaat said one last time.
Three days to reach the Iyer River. Three days without food and only a few sips of water from the flask he’d been allowed. Only enough to leave Cander. Once he left, he would not be allowed to return. Every morning, Atanar awoke in a cold sweat, heart racing, searching for the warm familiarity of those he loved, but he was always alone.
At last Atanar stood above the snow, atop a boulder at the river’s edge. It was swiftly flowing, but shallow, racing over smooth round stones to an end he could not measure from the skull of the world. The Iyer River might have served a better purpose if it were deeper, or if he could not swim.
If he had a blade, he could have ended everything days ago.
For what surely must have been the hundredth time that day, Atanar looked behind him at the mountains; blanketed with snow, distant and untouchable, but somehow comforting in their invincibility.
No longer. That tight, painful knot of memory and grief that lived in his heart seemed to coil tighter at the thought of home.
Ancestors help me, he thought, then winced. He was vorunn: cursed, exiled, less-than human. He had no past, nor future, any longer. “Vorunn,” he said aloud. “That is all you are. You have no home. Go.”
The river only came up to his knees, so he forded it easily. Too easily. Once on the opposite, shore, he paused to inhale deeply, but the air smelled the same in Aredia as it did in Cander. Strange, that he’d thought it would be otherwise.
Next time: He was vorunn; he could not find peace with his ancestors, but perhaps there was something for him in what waited beyond.
But the boy spoke up again. “Are you hungry?”
Did you enjoy? Let me know what you think in the comments! 😊
Copyright © 2019 by Lauren L. Garcia.
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Author’s note: Exile is supplementary reading to the larger story of Catalyst Moon. The events of this vignette collection take place before Catalyst Moon: Incursion. However, Exile may be read at any point prior to Catalyst Moon: Surrender.