Ok, I love Tad Williams and Jiriki so here is my fic on Jiriki! I really hope that Tad Williams can be revived a bit.
I really hope you enjoy!!
Her name is said MY-are-uh.
The echoing sounds of angered humans rang through the ancient dells and groves of Aldheorte. Their torches flicked and blazed fiercely, enjoying the chase. The girl, or young woman, that they pursued ran raggedly on, only a little way in front of them.
Branches with twigs like claws dragged at her face; uneven stones, covered in soft, thick moss tripped her stumbling feet and the cuts all over her pale, exhausted face were oozing blood; some were already scabbing over, others stung like fly-bites.
Eventually she stopped, the noises of pursuit fading. She had taken a little-known path through an ancient grove of other creatures long lost from the face of Osten Ard. It was well hidden. She sat on a large rock and gasped despairingly for a while. When her breath came back, she leant against a tree trunk and looked around with bleary eyes.
There wasn't much to see. A few large boulders sat half-buried in the damp ground that surrounded the more central parts of Aldheorte. The trees trailed lichen and a tiny trickle of water showed in small pockets among the moss.
The sound of hoarse and angry shouts echoed through the stillness of the forest. The girl's head shot up and she stared in the direction the shout had come from. She waited a moment, but no other noise disturbed the little grove.
Maiara pulled her knees to her chest and leant her head on her knees easily, she had always been very supple, and drew a great shuddering breath of despair and began sobbing, quietly at first, but soon the noise of her sorrow echoed through the silent trees.
A while later she looked up, remembering were she was. The glade had not changed and the sounds of the hunt were long gone; no one would come for her now. Not now her father had gone – died or left her – she didn't know.
Maiara jumped lightly off the boulder and carefully knelt by the little muddy puddles of water. She cupped the water and brought it to her lips, it was warm and tasted of silt and leaf mulch but it was good to drink anyway.
After she had drunk her fill, she stood, surveying the wood. There was nowhere to go and the sun was very well hidden. Which way was east? Maiara felt despair and panic tugging at her, coiling in her stomach. Her people did not like the woods, feeling them unsafe and full of mystery and dark, forbidding things. She could not go back, she knew that, but nor did she have any other place to go.
Maiara glanced upwards; the sun was still elusive, the dull grey autumn clouds obscuring the sky. The girl looked at the dark fringes of the rest of Aldheorte. It was silent, and unlikely to yield anything for her. So where would she go? Perhaps if she aimed left, towards the northern part of the forest, she would come out in Erkynland. There she would surely be able to find work, and people who would not drive her out for being different, though the latter seemed unlikely. Everyone drove her out or hunted her down. Only her father had protected her before and now he had gone.
Maiara sighed and headed, slowly, hating herself and yet drawing on her courage, into the deeper parts of the forest. This time she went slower, being careful of the hidden rocks and little gully's filled with murky water.
A few hours later, she noticed dusk coming quickly. Maiara looked around. There were few places to shelter. Where would she go? Autumn was not a kind season, but a few berries were left on the shrubs.
There was a group of silver birches near to her and the space between them was enough for her to sleep curled up in. Maiara took her tattered woollen cloak off, laying it on the ground. She lay on the edge of it then folded the other side over her. Because of the triangle shape of the cloak, it didn't cover her very well, but it it was better than nothing.
She lay, muscles clenched unconsciously, trying to ignore the growling of her stomach. She knew sleep would be a long time coming, even though she had been on the move all day; it was.
Maiara pulled her foot out of the squelching mud, shaking her head to get rid of the little mosquitoes biting at her skin and her already bleeding skin . She had been dragging her feet, tired after another day's worth of trekking through the forest, and so had not noticed the mud-hole lying in wait for her.
"Ugh," she said in disgust. The foul, stinking mud oozed down her leg and the horrid feel of it on her skin, lumpy bits between her toes, made her shudder.
She stared around her. There was, this time, really nowhere for her to spend the night. What was she going to do?
Maiara felt the panic rise up in her chest again. She had obviously been going the wrong way through Aldheorte. She would probably never find her way out of the trees, she would be left as a little wandering spirit, lost forever. The idea made her shiver and she tried to push the unwanted thoughts from her mind. Now was not the time. She would never find her way to Erkynland now.
She sank down on some relatively dry ground and put her head in her hands. She didn't cry; she was slightly beyond tears, but she felt hopelessness engulf her. Dry sobs racked her thin, wiry frame and her legs and arms trembled with exertion.
"Stand still and still do not draw your weapons. You are surrounded." The quiet, yet dangerous voice rang through the trees. Maiara looked up, shocked and frightened. A group of people stood around her, beautiful, though delicate bows trained on her. There were five of them, yet they weren't - couldn't – be human. Maiara raised her dirt-streaked face and stared incredulously. They were thin, all with different coloured hair; some were red, some pure white and other's deepest black. Five pairs of amber-gold eyes stared were looking at her, hard and unemotional.
"Wha -what?" she managed, heart clenching.
"What are you doing here, mortal woman?" one asked. He had fiery red hair and clothes of bright scarlet. "You are on the lands of the Sithi. You are trespassing." He spoke the common tongue with a careful precision.
She stared at them, disbelieving. She had stumbled on the Sithi! The ones who had saved Osten Ard in the ice-war, who had fought for the High King Seoman! Maiara tried to explain. "They – the villagers, chased me, wi – with dogs and -" she shrugged hopelessly.
The spokesman looked at her carefully, his golden gaze piercing. "Look at me, mortal," he said. She reluctantly raised her eyes to stare him in the eyes. The Sitha looked into her eyes, then his own widened and the rest of his companions shifted restlessly. Maiara wondered what was wrong with them. Surely the immortals weren't afraid of a mortal like her?
"Where do you come from, young one?" asked the one standing next to the red-haired one.
Young one? Thought Maiara, that is more polite than 'mortal'. Out loud, she said; "A small village near Wealdhelm; we breed - bred horse for the High King."
"Why have you come here, then?" asked the leader.
She ducked her head. "My – the people drove me out," she whispered. The Sitha heard, but he did not press her any further. Instead he turned to the one behind him and talked quietly with him for quite a while.
Eventually the Sithi turned back to her. "We are taking you to our city, where you will be judge by the House of Year-Dancing."
"What?" asked Maiara tiredly.
"You are a trespasser on out lands. We will blindfold you and take you to our city." said red-hair. "We are sorry to inconvenience you, but you must come."
The black-haired Sitha stepped forward and draped a soft black cloth over her eyes. "We will guide, you do not worry. You are safe with us." He took her hand in his cool one, and gently steered her away from the boulder she had been sitting on. The other Sithi quietly followed, some overtook them, the rest stayed behind.
A short while later, the Sithi raised their voices in a gentle, yet powerful, song:
The Butterfly has left her home;
Her flowers now have withered;
Her children lie in hard cocoon,
Awaiting springs first touch.
The sound of the scratchy wing lessened slightly; Maiara wonder what was happening.
The leaves of the white trees,
Have faded and died;
But inside their branches,
The sap still runs fast.
Now the trees rustled in a warm wind; birds chirped and called.
The fish in the stream;
Have found warmer waters;
But in our fair home;
They will not go.
The Sithi stopped. Someone undid her blindfold and she blinked in the sudden bright light. She was standing in front of a huge old elm; it's branches spread, some were complicatedly twined together, others lifted to the sky. A carpet of golden and scarlet leaves lay about them.
"You are come to the Gate of Autumn Gold. Be honoured, no other mortal has entered through our finest and most beloved gate." Red–Hair spoke in a brittle voice, but it did not stop her from asking one question.
"Why have you brought me as prisoner here, then?"
Red-Hair looked at her, staring her in the eyes, betraying no emotion. It was Black-Hair who answered.
"It is the wrong time of year for us to use any other gate. And we are not used to prisoners, either."
Red-Hair said as well; "You must be taken to those of the Year-Dancing house. Follow me, please." He walked to the Gate. It opened silently, the branches untwining to admit entrance. Maiara gasped at what she saw.
A river of the most pure blue ran to the companies left; on their other side, a grove of tall, slender birches grew, exotic birds roosting in their branches. A few other Sithi were bathing in the river, naked. Maiara looked away, embarrassed.
The Sithi were following a white track of fine dust down into a valley. She heard Black-Hair behind her and hurried to keep up with the others.
When they reached the edge of the valley, Maiara gasped. Below them, what seemed to be a boat of many coloured sheets and cloths were suspended above the valley. The cloth shimmered and shifted, yet for all that, it seemed solid as a granite-cliff. There were few Sithi to be seen between the shifting sheets. Red-Hair was still following the dusty path, but Black-Hair was behind as the rear-guard.
They entered what could be called a street, though beautiful animals passed her, some only slunk into the bushes when the party was right on top of them. A few Sithi strolled along the paths, their golden, catlike eyes lazily following the crocodile of Maiara's company. Maiara felt unnerved by their stares and kept her eyes on Red-Hair's back.
They came to a tent-like place; the centre pole was fifty feet high, and the cloth was the most shimmering, dancing, bright cloth she had so far seen in the Sithi-city. Two guards, wearing light but intricate armour, stood outside the tent-building.
"We come to see Likimeya i'Sonserei. We bring a mortal prisoner." Red-Hair said to the guard. Maiara did not like the sound of that. The guard let them pass and they entered the tent.
Maiara gasped again, but her breath caught in her chest. Many butterflies floating lazily, shimmering near the top of the the tent, others rested on the bright flowers that grew from the cool ground. Maiara was overwhelmed, and her eyes blurred with overcome tears. Black-Hair took her elbow and guided her to a rise in the centre of the tent at the bole of the tent-pole – which, Maiara realised, was actually an ancient elm-tree.
Two thrones sat on the rise. One was empty, the seat unfilled, but the other chair was occupied by a Sitha. Maiara could see, even from a distance, the gleam of her coppery-red hair.
Black-Hair and Red-Hair knelt in front of the thrones. Maiara just stood, not knowing what to do, though she did not think she would have been able to kneel anyway; her weariness, which had abated while they travelled through the Sithi-city, had returned.
She looked through tired lids at the Sitha-woman. Her hair was indeed copper-red. Her golden eyes surveyed the group. Maiara felt as though she was being put through a test, though she did not meet the Sitha's eyes.
"Mortal woman, you now come before Likimeya i'Sonserei, Lady of the House of Year- Dancing," said Black-Hair.
Maiara felt her knees give way. She dropped to the clover-scented floor, looking down at the small flowers that studded the grass.
Likimeya studied the girl, then spoke in a rich voice, though it seemed agonizingly sad. She sounded as if she was grieving. "Look at me, manchild."
Maiara did not resist. She lifted her chin to look into Likimeya's golden eyes. Likimeya stared onto her own eyes for a moment. Her eyes widened, then she looked away, at Black-Hair.
"Mar'nai, why have you brought her? Jarna could tell me nought."
Red-Hair, now named Mar'nai, answered. "We found her wandering about, dangerously near to our borders. And you can see for yourself..." Mar'nai trailed off. A voice from beside Likimeya spoke.
"Yes, we can, thank-you, Mar'nai." Another Sitha had appeared. Maiara looked at him. He had a strange, heather-purple colour hair and grey beads were woven into his hair. Her wore light breeches and a thin shirt. Maiara stared unashamedly at him. "Where do you come from, lady?" he asked.
He seemed younger than the other Sithi and it was possible to see, behind his golden gaze, a bubbling fountain of energy mixed with great wisdom.
"Gratima. A small village near Wealdhelm. They – they chased me out because of – of my..." Maiara was reluctant to say this; what if the Sithi drove her out as well? Or worse, what if they killed her?
"Your what, lady?" asked Heather-Hair. He seemed to be looking at her kindly, though it was very hard to tell, especially to one who had never see the Sithi before this day.
"Because of my eyes, Sir," she whispered, unable to think of any higher term to give him. She would rather talk to him than Likimeya, though. She seemed hard and brittle as Rimmersgard iron, the Lady of the House of Year-Dancing.
Heather-Hair looked at her expressionlessly. Another Sitha joined in. "She is tired. We should let her sleep before asking all these questions."
Maiara looked for the owner of this voice. Another Sitha-woman, this one also with heather-purple hair, greatly resembled Likimeya. She wore few clothes, only a thin wisp of cloth around her waist. Maiara felt embarrassed.
Likimeya considered this; " Mar'nai, is she dangerous?"
"No," answered her guide,"she cannot use the Art and has no weapons."
"Very well. Aditu, Jiriki, come here please." The two heather-haired Sitha's went to her chair.
"You know most about mortals, son, and I wish you to care for her." Likimeya said carefully. "She is ... like nothing I have ever heard of, and I think you could care for her well. A new room is being added to your house for her now," she turned to the woman. "Aditu, you are welcome to help her, as a fellow female. I ... I will think on this and consult the other Houses when the butterflies next settle."
"Yes mother," Jiriki said quietly, showing no emotion. Aditu smiled, showing white teeth and echoed her brother.
"Let us go, Willow-switch," said Aditu, "your ward awaits you."
Maiara stayed where she knelt, exhausted. She felt, rather than heard, others approaching. She looked up and found herself looking at Heather-Hair. She recoiled in shock.
"I am sorry, lady," he said carefully. "Did I scare you?" he said it with a careful sincerity that mortals could never manage.
"I – yes – no," she gasped.
"Ah, I have, I am sorry," he gently put out his arms and raised her up from the ground. "I am Jiriki no'Sonserei, of the House of Year-Dancing."
"O-oh," she said weakly, "I am – I am Maiara."
He smiled a feral, but not scary, smile. "I am honoured. This," he gestured to the other heather-haired one, "is Aditu i'Sonserei, also of the House of Year-Dancing. She is what mortals would call my sister."
Aditu also smiled at her, but she bounced on the balls of her feet and made complicated hand gesture on her breast. "Hurry up, Willow-switch. She is tired. We must go to your house."
Jiriki nodded. "You are right, Rabbit. Let us go." He held Maiara's arm. She leant gratefully on it, though she could not help wondering why she was so readily trusting an immortal, someone of a different race. But there was something very trustworthy about Jiriki – and his sister too, though she seemed younger - and she was too tired to do anything anyway.
They were leaving the tent, and Jiriki turned his golden face to her. "You have been in the Yasira, the Throne Room, you would say in the mortal tongue. Though I do not know how much Mar'nai told you?"
It seemed to be a question; "Not – not much, Sir."
Jiriki made a fluttering of his hands. "Please, call me Jiriki. So you do not know where we are?"
"A Sithi city, sir – Jiriki." said Maiara quietly.
"One of them," he said, nodding. "This Jao e-Tinukai'i, the summer-city of the Sithi. Here winter is not so powerful. It is also known as The Boat on the Shallowest Sea by some." Jiriki gestured at the shimmering cloth. "It is the largest of all our cities, though many now lie lost among the wastes of land where they once flourished."
Maiara clutched at Jiriki as she stumbled over a root on the path. Behind her, Aditu stepped daintily over it. "Are you all right, Maiara?" he asked, concerned.
"I am fine, thank-you, I'm just – just tired," she said quickly.
"I told you, Willow-switch!" Aditu said. "Jarna said that she had been travelling long when they caught her."
Jiriki cast what could have been worried glance at her. "When did you last eat, Maiara?"
"Oh! Um, two – three days ago, maybe." Maiara said, unwilling to tell.
"Ah, Willow-switch, we seem to be in the habit lately of picking up mortals in the forest!" said Aditu. "Even though Seoman was your Hika Staja."
"It seems that Maiara was in much the same position as Seoman," answered Jiriki.
The name registered dimly in Maiara's numb brain. "Se – Seoman?"
"Ah, yes, he is now your High King ," said Jiriki. Maiara gaped in numb astonishment. King Seoman?!
Jiriki interrupted her thoughts. "We are here." They were outside yet another Sithi-house but this one was Jiriki's. "You now have a room here," he said.
Inside was a delicate fireplace, it looked like it was seldom used, and a small main chamber with a table and vase of pretty blue lilies. Three other doors led off from the room.
"I will say goodnight, Willow-switch," said Aditu. "I will come tomorrow." Aditu left, treading lightly on the fallen leaves outside. Jiriki turned to Maiara.
"Your room is here." He led her through the third door and they entered together. It was a warm room, lightly furnished with thick rugs and a bed stood in a the middle, quite large and fleece blankets lay on the quilt.
"Ah, good. A bed," Maiara said vaguely. The fatigue, shock and horror of the last few days was slowly coming down around her. She fell into the mattress. Her last conscious image was Jiriki staring down at her, in what seemed to be a concerned expression. She slept with strange, but wonderful, dreams.
Please review!!!!!! Even if you aren't logged in, an anon one is fine, just let me know what you think!!!!