by Shadowy Star
Disclaimer: I don't own the Coldfire trilogy. It belongs to C.S. Friedman. I do own this story. Characters not appearing or being mentioned in the original trilogy are likewise mine. Do not archive or translate or otherwise use the story without permission.
A/N: Sometimes, survival just isn't enough.
Set about twenty years after the end of the series. And oh yes, they do deserve this.
There's a prequel to this, entitled 'Naming Children'. I highly recommend reading that one first before reading this fic.
"You've been WHERE?" Damien demanded, sounding completely shocked.
"In the Forest," Geraldine Vryce repeated serenely. "Or at least where the Forest once has been." She turned around to face her father and grinned broadly at his expression. "Don't be angry at me," she said, removing the large sun hat she used to wear for working outside, and placed her bag onto the large table to her right. Maps were spread all over it, with old books or –much older– artifacts pinning down the edges to hold them in place. Her desk to her left was covered with piled books instead, some of the piles towering quite high and looking dangerously instable. Loose sheets overly covered with notes lay on top of a pile, held by something that looked like a transparent glass cube with a silvery disk within only it was much heavier than any glass and unbreakable – an artifact from the Landing. She assumed there had to be a way to get the disk out of the cube since a thin line on the down side of it indicated at an opening but she never figured out.
She shook out her reddish-brown, nearly waist-long locks before taking a look at her father again just to check on the effect her words had caused.
Damien was looking at his daughter, speechless for a few seconds. Which happened more frequently those days, he had to admit. She was really too smart for her own good. And her choice of research project clearly proved that!
"Relax, Dad," she said. "I'm allowed to do research there."
"That doesn't matter! Have you forgotten what the Forest was?"
"Dad!" she said impatiently. "I'm an archaeologist and a loremaster. I do never forget things."
It was a warm, close to be called 'hot', sunny day in June, with skies that blue and deep one could lose oneself in them and the golden veil of the Core's stars sparkling brightly enough to rival the white sunlight. Behind the windows of their house, well cared-for gardens extended to the shoreline of a small side-river of the Lethe. With the Forest burned and his dark influence gone, Sheva had grown into a respectable town over the last twenty years.
"How the Hell did you manage to talk them into that idea?" Damien asked finally.
"Oh, that haven't been difficult at all," she shrugged it off nonchalantly. "Since I'm back from the West they do almost everything I ask for. As they damn well should. I brought them artifacts from the Landing at last."
"Yeah, and this is a great of a work but it doesn't explain…"
"It does. God of Earth and Erna! Those artifacts will speed the development of Erna's technology immensely. Remember the disks I've found on the Eastern continent last year? Since we've decoded them we have a key to a knowledge that has been unavailable to us for more than thousand years. That means improvement in almost any branch of technology, medical equipment being the first!"
"And the University of Jaggonath is that thankful to permit you to research the Forest?"
"Well, 'thankful' is a bit underestimated. But they are not stupid as well. There are only few scientists willing to do –and able of– a research like this. Speaking of stupid, I still think to blow up the Hunter's keep was the most foolish thing to do. Oh yes, I know," she advanced as she saw her father intending to interject, "it's been necessary for the Church and the faith of the humankind and so on and I understand it –I really do– but Dad, from a scientist's point of view…" She sighed. "Think about all the possibilities we've lost. Think of all the knowledge."
Slowly, Damien shook his head. They had discussed that specific topic for more times he could remember. How much like her namesake his daughter had become, he thought. Not in appearance, of course, but in her way of thinking. Not that he bothered, not at all. Giving his daughter his friend's name, he'd intended this, had dreamed her children or her children's children would have the stars. He'd raised her to be curious, tolerant, and open-minded, to question everything. And she didn't disappoint him. Though he would have been more than happy if she'd chosen to become a physician like himself, he'd done nothing to stop her from studying archaeology. Or becoming a loremaster, for that matter.
"You told them that," he said.
"Yes," she stated, a certain stubbornness in her hazel brown eyes – eyes and stubbornness both so much like his own, he had to admit.
"Have you any idea how vulking dangerous that place is?"
"It isn't anymore. I've got Sight, remember? And I'm telling you there's nothing left of dark fae in there. I told them that, too."
Damien shrugged. That was a fact he couldn't defy. His daughter was born with Vision like a lot of children of her generation. Before the Change she might have become an Adept, he thought. No, he corrected himself. She would have become an Adept. He adored his daughter. She was brilliant and warmhearted, just like her mother had been.
Briefly, a thought of Mireille crossed his mind. He had loved her, too, as far as he'd been able to. She had been a sorceress before the Change, a Healer like himself though not a priestess of the One God. They both had worked as physicians with the abilities left to them in the 'Memorial Hospital' he'd founded in Sheva with the Church's money back then and later on, had turned it into the only cardiologic center in the East. They had been desperately trying to find a place to live in this brave new world where the fae was no more reachable. The loss of their faeborn abilities had connected them somehow, and the kind of comfort born of that understanding had been enough to get married and have a child together. He'd tried his best to give her all comfort she needed. And if there were a part of him that was closed to her she hadn't seemed to mind. Mireille had died five years after Geraldine was born. And it was proof of his lacking ability to feel anything that he didn't mourn her death like he should have had. Like he'd mourned someone else's death.
"Which makes research a lot easier," Geraldine added, cutting off his train of thoughts.
"You use the Vision?" he asked.
"Of course I do. Do you think I were as half as successful in my job as I am if I didn't? You might like it or not but the fae is one of Erna's natural forces. It alters humanity –it still does, you know– to adapt us, to integrate us into this planet's pattern. In fact, with every generation passed there are more of us. I do believe that one day every human being born on Erna will be able to see the fae."
"I hope you're wrong!"
"Why? Do you think we would be less human? Don't be ridiculous. That's what we usually call evolution."
He smiled. The day was clearly too hot to argue. Besides, his daughter usually had a point.
"Perhaps I shouldn't have given up working," he said instead, changing the subject. "I think I needed it. Now I'm feeling old."
"Don't be absurd, Dad," she said finally, after taking a closer look at him. "You're not old, you're bored." She smiled that infuriatingly bright smile which told him she was up to something. "Just tell me, Dad, what would you do if you could start again?"
"Don't know," he shrugged. "Maybe get settled somewhere in a quiet little place and start breeding horses."
"In that case," she said, grinning broadly again, "I do have great news for you."
"Why is it that I get vulking nervous each time you say you have great news?" he asked suspiciously.
She laughed heartily. "Because I'm my father's daughter, maybe?"
He broke into laughter, too. "You might have a point."
"Want to hear them anyway?" she asked.
"For some reason I doubt I could stop you."
"Well, remember the unhorses of the Forest? For all it seems some of them escaped before the Forest had been set on fire. They survived and bred, so there're at least one herd of wild unhorses out there on the plains of Jahanna by now. Do you think it's enough for a start?"
Completely speechless again, he couldn't help but stare at his daughter in stunned silence. "Umm, yes… Yes – wait – What exactly are you suggesting?"
"Nothing," she answered, casting a far too innocent glance at him. "I just thought… The hospital almost runs itself…"
He looked at her, very suspicious by now.
"I would appreciate to know you doing something useful for a change instead of getting yourself bored to death," she said by way of explanation. Or depressed to quite the same point, but she didn't mention that.
"Instead of getting on your nerves, you mean," he said, grinning somewhat mockingly.
"Well, that too, but I'm far too well-mannered to ever say so out loud," she declared, giving him an equally mischievous grin. "Thanks to you."
"Well, I'll consider this," he said, searching again for a subject to change to. That was the problem with children when they were growing up. No respect at all. "What did you find this time?"
"Maybe the Hunter's skull," she grinned brightly, picking up a fine brush. Too occupied with her preparations, she failed to notice her father's face going almost deadly pale.
"And what are you going to do with it?" he finally managed, holding his voice as even as possible. So much for your choice of subjects for conversation, a small part of his brain piped up. Great idea, Damien.
Geraldine frowned slightly. "What I do with every skull found. Face reconstruction."
"Why? We do know vulking bloody well what it looked like."
"There is a difference between knowing something in abstract and seeing it with one's own eyes," she said by way of explanation.
"I don't think it's a good idea," Damien Vryce said. That was clearly the understatement of the century. "Don't do this, Geraldine."
"Why not?" Geraldine asked, finally sensing something wrong. She looked up then, quickly enough to meet her father's eyes for a split second before he turned his gaze away.
"Because it would do no good if you did."
The fleeting expression in her father's eyes vanished almost too quickly to be identified. But only almost. Geraldine was a loremaster and loremasters were to rely on their social skill these days to collect knowledge with the fae unWorkable forever. Sometimes an expression or a gaze gave away more information than a hundred pages. And so of course she was trained well in reading those minute signals that spoke to her in their own language. She was surprised to recognize the look in her father's eyes as one of pain.
He turned away.
"Don't do this," he tried again, not looking at her, though he knew already there was no way he could stop her. Unless he decided to reveal some of his past. He'd thought of it a lot of times before, to tell her at least a censored version thereof. But how do you tell your daughter you didn't love her mother? Where ever do you start?
He turned and left.
Working with devotion to what she was doing, Geraldine allowed her thoughts to drift to what she knew about the Tarrants. She remembered a conversation she'd eavesdropped when she was 13.
…There had been a desperate knocking on the entrance door that cold autumn evening. Geraldine was sitting in her favorite hiding place under the stairs that led to the upper floors of their house, trying not to make a sound because then Alyssa, her older cousin who was visiting them with her family, would surely find her and again try to teach her how to cook. The 15-years-old girl didn't seem to understand that Geraldine wasn't at all into cooking. She was far more interested in all those things –big and little– that were there to know. And here right before her eyes … uhmm, well, ears… was another. She drew back, melting even more into the shadows and silently praying to the One God her stupid cousin would go searching elsewhere.
Geraldine heard the sound of her father's steps down the stairs and then of a lock undone and of a door opened.
"Good evening," her father's deep voice greeted whoever was at the door warmly.
"Doctor Vryce!" a female voice said, thickly overlaid with tears and worry. "Please, you're the only one who can help me… Please… I'm Narilka Tarrant."
"I know who you are, Neocountess," her father said. "What can I do for you?"
Geraldine couldn't see anything but the tones and timbres of the voices spoke their own language. The woman's distress was audible clearly – as was Geraldine's father's … indifference?
"It's about my husband, Andrys." The woman –the Neocountess– was obviously too lost in her worries to realize the change in the healer's voice.
"I know who he is, too." Now here was something more than indifference, something almost like lack of interest, distantly tinged with pity.
"He had a heart attack two weeks ago. Now I'm here to ask an expert's advice. Can you help him?" Hope in the Neocountess' voice, almost tangible…
"The answer is no." Her father's voice was strangely calm, lacking compassion usually so typical for him.
"But you didn't even listen–"
"No need to," Damien Vryce declared calmly. "Did you honestly believe he could have fooled the Forest pretending to be the Hunter with it all only rooted in a simple external resemblance? Think. He's as much a genetic copy of the Hunter as in natural ways possible. So that's genetics that's killing him. He has a hereditary heart anomaly – exactly like the Prophet has had. And like the Prophet he'll die of it. I'm sorry. Nothing can be done for him in this new world. Before the Change I would have been able to Heal him. Now it's impossible. I regret that."
"How long does he have?"
"If he's careful – three longmonths, at maximum."
"So he won't see his second child being born." Narilka wept silently.
"I'm sorry," Geraldine's father said but there was no apologizing in his voice. Nor regret.
And after the Neocountess had left, Geraldine remembered words, spoken into the silence of the room with sadness and something that could have been even understanding if not voiced that distantly. "Poetic justice, Andrys."…
She'd never forgotten that, filing the fact along with all the others about her father she didn't understand – yet. With that inborn instinct of a loremaster she felt that somewhere in it there had to be a key to it, to understand, to put all the fragments to a picture. But no matter how much she'd tried, she'd never succeeded. Some essential part was still missing.
Much later she looked at the face her hands had created.
It was definitely not that of the Hunter.
Which was impossible. Which should have been impossible. There were certain rules face reconstruction had to follow, like underlying bone structure, layers of musculature, subcutaneous tissue. All of that formed a face and she was pretty sure she'd done correctly.
Was it possible that she'd made a mistake?
Hastily, she recalled the seven main steps of an archaeological excavation. First, perform an initial survey in which the goal is to identify if any archaeological sites are in the area. Well, there had never been even the slightest shadow of doubt about one of those. Second, once a site has been identified, then a site form must be filled out. Such a form, if complete, had to contain a map showing the location of the area, the exact geographical location of the site, the recovered artifacts, the possible historic period, and if the site was worth preserving. There never had been doubts about one of that, either. Using maps of Merentha castle which the Hunter's fortress had been an exact copy of, she'd easily located the place where they'd burned the Hunter's head. Skipping the steps three to seven (which included placing excavation units, correct preparations for and methods of the digging itself, labeling of artifacts and features found, to methods of categorizing and preserving the recovered artifacts), she focused on step two as the one where she could have made a mistake. But the maps were done accurately –she'd double- and trice-checked all of them–, and there had been ash and residues of wood in that layer, too. All the layers deeper down shoved no sign of fire usage at all – impossible elsewhere on Erna. Besides, it was the only skull found without a corresponding skeleton. She was quite sure this was the head burned by Andrys Tarrant. Only that it was not that of the Hunter. Conclusions formed themselves with increasing speed, completing the chain of deduction. That could only mean the Hunter hadn't died that day. Which, in turn, meant that everything she believed, everything her faith was build on, had been a lie.
She realized someone was knocking on her workroom's door. From the insistence of the sound she could tell he was doing that for a while.
She walked to the door with a frown upon her face, still battling with the consequences of her revelation – now how the bloody Hell was she supposed to make sense of that mess when her father stubbornly refused to utter a single word about the probably most important event in Erna's history since the damn Landing itself? Not that she hadn't tried.
She opened the door and stepped back to let said stubborn father in. Oh, girl, she thought for the look upon his face certainly didn't bode well, you're in trouble, you know that, right? At that point, her own anger flared. But you're as well, Dad.
Her father entered and walked slowly –Almost hesitatingly, she thought, as if he were afraid– around her work bench to take a closer look. Is he really holding his breath? she wondered.
"How does your work proceed?" Damien asked as evenly as he could manage.
"I've finished that," she said, forcing herself to calmness. "The skull is not that of the Hunter".
"How do you know?" he said but there was no curiosity in his voice where there should be one.
"I know because the corpses of all fallen church soldiers were buried according to the old church tradition. Buried, not burned. Buried outside the evil Forest. Oh, there might be skeletons under the remnants of the citadel itself but even they wouldn't show any signs of fire influence since the fortress collapsed before the Forest had been set on fire. Don't you understand what that means?" she asked with fury in her voice when no reply came. "Don't you understand?! They lied!"
"I know," Damien Vryce said quietly, finally –perhaps too late– making a decision.
"They…! – wait. What?"
"I know," he repeated.
"You've known that? Dad!" The look of disappointment and utter confusion in her eyes pierced his heart more efficiently than any steel blade could. "You're one of the most honest people I've ever known. How could you have played along with that? I can't believe it!"
"I had my reasons. I still have. Please, calm down. I think we need to talk."
She didn't seem to have heard him at all. "You lied to me. You promised not to but you did. I know there are things in your past you don't want to talk about and I've accepted it because you're my father and I love you but... But I didn't think…" she turned to leave.
She turned to him, obviously trying to fight down her fury. At moments like this he wished she hadn't inherited his own explosive temper.
"Why? I simply don't understand why have you done this?"
"Geraldine," he said. Said it quietly, very quietly. "Please believe me when I say that I never lied to you except in that one special case. And if you would give me a chance to explain I'm sure you would understand."
Long seconds went in silence before she finally, wordlessly, nodded. In her eyes he could see the desperate wish to believe him fighting against the pain of being betrayed. Tears were in those hazel brown eyes so much like his own as she finally spoke, and her voice was trembling. "Well, there's a hell of a lot of things you have to explain. But I'm warning you. I do have questions. Lots of. And this time I want answers."
"And you shall get them, I promise. But first I want your word that you'll never, ever share this knowledge with anyone. No one, you understand?"
"Dad," she said, astonished beyond words. What piece of knowledge he was to share with her it had to be something important or he wouldn't ask that of her… If there was something that could have made the importance of the matter more clear she wasn't aware of it just now. Well, it damn better be, she thought. She took a deep breath. "I'm a loremaster. My vows bind me to neutrality," she began, escaping for a couple of moments into lecturing –completely unnecessary for he pretty well knew everything about loremasters and their vows–, gathering her courage. Taking another deep breath, the whole meaning of what she was about to say as heavy as lead on her shoulders, she continued. "By these vows I swear not to share the knowledge you entrust to me with anyone. Except of my family if I so choose."
"What does that mean? I'm your only family."
"At the moment, yes. But I'll have children someday or at least I intend to. Dad, please, understand. I've become a loremaster because I do believe storing knowledge to be the most important job on Erna. You taught me that. You were the one who said that every piece of data, every bit of information might turn out useful some day."
At that, Damien frowned. "I was quoting from the Prophet. Damn him for that."
"Whatever kind of knowledge it may be, I can't allow it to die with me. It goes against all my instincts."
Damien nodded. He did understand. Too much like her namesake… "Sit down, please. This will take time…"
And he told her. Everything. Sometimes he would stop briefly at things like brutality of battles or cruelty of the rakh and of the Master of Lema or Hell, altogether things he thought a father shouldn't tell his daughter but it would earn him only raised eyebrows or snorts.
"I'm a physician's daughter," she said once on such an occasion. "There's hardly something that could shock me."
And then there were other things, things he purposely tried to hide – like emotions and feelings. But he'd forgotten she was a loremaster, skilled in reading expressions. She'd made only a go-on gesture, her eyes keeping examining his face.
"No more lies, Dad," she whispered.
As he was finished –hours later– she looked at him. At some point during his tale anger had vanished from her eyes leaving only understanding behind. She didn't look embarrassed or angry.
Her voice was soft as she finally spoke. "Now everything makes sense…" –my constantly failing attempts to set you up with various women included, but she didn't say that– "I always wondered who it was you named me after," she continued instead. "And you never saw him again?"
He shook his head. "No. What for?"
"Mmh…" she made thoughtfully. She had a pretty good idea of 'what for' but she valued her own skin too much to mention it right now. "Did you try to find him?"
"I did. Unsuccessfully. You can't find someone who doesn't want to be found."
"You're right," she said. "I can't and neither can you." Then, an idea lightening her face with something too close to good-humored mischievousness to his liking, she added. "Fortunately, I know exactly whom to ask." With that she whirled around and headed for the door.
"Geraldine!" he said exasperatedly. "What are you going to do?"
"That's a very bad idea!" he called to an already empty room.
"We can discuss that later!" she answered from somewhere upstairs.
Damien Vryce stood somewhat perplexed for a moment, then rolled his eyes, said,
and went to saddle a horse for his wonderful, brilliant, stubborn daughter, a broad grin upon his face.