the armies of daylight (darwath #3) Page 2

The night was still. The wind that had beaten with such violence down the ice-locked mountains to the north had fallen at about sunset to an uneasy murmuring in the dark pines that filled the twisting Vale of Renweth. By midnight, even that had ceased. The black branches hung motionless from one end of the Vale to the other, slowly furring with frost in the deepening cold. A man's breath, barely visible in the soulless glimmer of the few remote and haughty stars, would hang like a diamond cloud about his face or freeze in white hoarfrost to his lips. In that piercing cold, not even the wolves were abroad; the silence ran from cliff to lightless cliff, an almost tangible property in that frozen and desolate world.

Yet beneath the dark trees, something had stirred.

Rudy Solis was sure of it. He glanced behind him for the fourth time in as many minutes, fear creeping along his spine and prickling at the nape of his neck like

tiny teeth. Yet he saw nothing there, only the thin sheen of starlight frosting the unmarked snow.

He looked back to the darkness of the trees. He stood some fifty feet from the forest's edge, his shadow a misty blur on the old broken snow around his feet, his breath a tiny smear of steam against the darkness. Even wrapped in the thickness of his buffalohide coat, he shivered, though not entirely with cold. He knew that it would be warmer in the protection of the forest and, look as he would, he could sense no movement there. It was undoubtedly perfectly safe, and sheltering there would be a damnsight more intelligent than standing in the open listening to the ice crystallize in his lungs.

But neither hope of Heaven nor fear of Hell would have induced him to seek the shelter of those shadowed woods.

A wind touched his face like a clammy, seeking hand. It took all his strength not to whirl, to face the unseen foe. But he had been told not to run. In the open ground of a still mountain night, flight would mean instant death. The cloaking-spell that covered him, like all cloaking-spells, depended upon diverted attention; the wizard who used one must do nothing to call attention to himself, lest the illusion fail. And in any case, Rudy knew that no human being could ever hope to outrun the Dark.

This is stupid , he told himself desperately. What if Lohiro was wrong? Or worse, what if he was lying? The Dark possessed his mind for weeks. How the hell do we know he was telling the truth when he said they'd let him go? This spell of Ingold's is to cloak against a collective, rather than an individual, intelligence – but how do we know that will overcome the reason human magic never worked

against the Dark Ones? What if it was all a trap ?

The unbearable terror returned again, as if some vast, dark bulk were creeping slowly toward his back. But he could see nothing there, no movement in the stark white emptiness of the snow-covered meadow, and could hear no sounds but the hiss of his own breath in his lungs and the hot, too-swift pounding of his heart. The years he'd spent on the fringes of the motorcycle gangs, among the tough guys and would-be tough guys of smog-bound Southern California, had given him a kind of bar-fight courage sufficient for his survival. But the waiting in terror for an unknown danger was different. His every perception, sharpened by wizardry to detect what others found invisible, was keyed to a fever pitch for the warning of danger. And in his heart, he was sure that no warning would save him.

Cold, directionless winds breathed upon him, like the draught from a primordial abyss of darkness which had never seen light. At the touch of it, his heart seemed to lurch, then hammer chokingly. His intelligence screamed at his instinct to run, telling him that, even if he ran, even if he made the half-mite dash through the ice-locked drifts of the buried meadow to the windowless Keep of Dare, they would never let him in. Once the cyclopean doors were sealed at sunset, Keep Law forbade that any should open them before dawn.

So he drew the veils of alien illusion more firmly about him and prayed that they all were right-Lohiro, Ingold, and Thoth-when they said that this kind of spell would guard his body from the inhuman hungers of the Dark.

He could feel the Dark Ones coming closer; he sensed their coming in the change of the air. Close by him a little skiff of snow whirled up, as if stirred by wind, but no wind riffled now in the fur of his collar. In all directions the snowy landscape rolled like a frozen, silver sea; yet from the corner of his eye, he glimpsed movement, a sudden flurry that vanished, as things did in dreams. In the shadows of the trees before him, he thought he saw something shift, though not a branch stirred.

They were all around him-he knew it, but their illusions screened them from his eyes as he prayed that his own covered him. He felt their stirring, though there was nothing that he could fix his eye upon-just a gleam of starlight on something that pulsed wetly and the sudden glitter of acid on chitinous claws. There was a buzzing, humming sensation in his brain… a drift of wind that stank of rotten blood…

Then suddenly it was above him, a delirium-vision of an obscene, squamous bulk, fifteen feet from the tucked, slobbering tentacles of that drooling mouth to the wriggling tip of the spined cable of tail. Huge, clawed legs dangled down, like the feet of a wasp; from them, acid dripped to smoke on the snow.

Rudy shut his teeth hard on a scream. Sweat was freezing on his face, and every muscle in his body fought to remain still against the instincts that shrieked at him to run. The effort and the revulsion at the nearness of that filthy dripping thing brought nausea burning to his throat. More than its evil, more than the terrible danger that breathed like smoke over him, he was filled with sickened loathing of its otherness -its utter alien ness to the world of the visible, the material.. the sane.

Then it was gone. The wind of its departure kicked a stinging gust of snow over him as he slowly folded to his knees in the drifts.

How long he knelt there in the darkness he didn't know. He was trembling uncontrollably, his eyes shut, as if to blot out the memory of that hideous, slobbering bulk swimming against the stars. Stupidly, he recalled a night last spring, a warm California evening, when he and his sister had been headed down the Harbor Freeway in downtown Los Angeles, and the old Chevy had a blowout in the fast lane of the interchange. His sister had managed to pull the veering car under control, to force it out of the hammering madhouse of sixty-mile-an-hour traffic and over onto the shoulder. Then she'd gotten out, calmly checked to see if the rim had been damaged, asked him if he was okay-and folded up on the car's steaming hood and gone into violent hysterics.

Rudy suddenly found himself in sympathy with how she had felt.

Something brushed his face, and he swung around, the cold searing his gasping lungs.

Behind him stood Ingold Inglorion, looking quizzically down at him in the faint blue starlight.

"Are you all right?"

Rudy collapsed slowly back to a sitting position, his gloved hands pressed tightly together to lessen their shaking. He managed to stammer, "Yeah, fantastic. Just give me a minute, then I'll go leap a tall building at a single bound."

The wizard knelt beside him, the full sleeves of his patched brown mantle brushing against him again, warm and rough and oddly reassuring. In spite of the cold, Ingold had pushed the mantle's hood back from his face, and his white hair and scrubby, close-clipped white beard gleamed like frost in the ghostly light.

"You did very nicely," the old man said, in a voice whose mellow beauty was overlaid by a grainy quality, scratchy without being harsh, and pitched, as a wizard's voice could be, for Rudy's ears alone.

"Thanks," Rudy croaked shakily. "But next time I think I'll let you test out your own new spells."

The white eyebrows quirked. Ingold's face as a whole was totally nondescript, redeemed only by the heavy erosion of years and by the curious, uncannily youthful appearance of his eyes.

"Well, I'm certainly not out here because it's the proper phase of the moon for harvesting slippery elm."

Rudy colored a little. "Scratch that," he mumbled. "You shouldn't be out here at all, man. You're the one the Dark Ones have been after."

"All the more reason for me to come," the old man said. "I can't remain walled in the Keep forever. And if it is true, as I suspect, that somehow I hold the key to the defeat of the Dark Ones, at some time or another I shall have to come forth and meet them. I had best assure myself of the efficacy of my cloaking-spells before that time."

Rudy shivered, awed at that matter-of-fact calm in Ingold's tone. Rudy feared the Dark Ones, as all humankind must fear them: the eaters of the flesh and of the mind, the eldritch spawn of the hideous night below the ground; and arcane intelligence beyond human magic or human comprehension. But at least he was reasonably certain that they did not know him-his name, his essence. He knew that he was not the target of their specific malice. It was not his personal flesh

they sought. He stammered, "But Christ, Ingold, you didn't have to come and check out the spell yourself. I mean, hell, if it works for me, it should work for you."

"Possibly," Ingold agreed. "But that is something that no one can ever wholly know." He drew his mantle closer about him. In the dim light, Rudy could see that the wizard was armed; the billowing folds of his outer garment broke over the long, hard line of the sword that he wore belted underneath. His right hand in its faded blue mitten was never far from the sword's grip-smoothed hilt.

"Do you remember how," he went on in his mild voice, "in the mazes of illusion that surrounded the City of Quo, you asked me once for a spell to break the wall of fog?"

"You told me the one I was using already would work just fine," Rudy recalled. "I can't say I was real pleased."

Calmly, the old man removed a speck of snow from his frayed sleeve. "If it is ever my aim to please you, Rudy, shall certainly ask you what methods I should employ." The gleam of mischief in his eyes turned his bearded face absurdly young. "But what I told you then was true. The strength of any spell is the strength of your magic-your spirit. Your power is shaped by your essence. You are your spells."

Rudy was silent, understanding this for the truth as he had not understood it in the mazes of the trackless Seaward Mountains. It was the key to human magic- perhaps the key to all things human.

"Do you feel sure of this spell, Rudy?" the wizard asked quietly. "Could you use

it again?"

"Yeah," Rudy said slowly, after long thought. "Yeah, I think so. I was scared to death, but…"

"But you kept your head," Ingold said. "And you kept your hold over the spell." Crusted frost gleamed in his scrubby beard as he nodded his head. "Do you think you could do so in the Nest of the Dark itself?"

The thought was like a hypo filled with ice water, injected directly into Rudy's heart. "Christ, I don't know! It's…" Then he saw the intentness, the calculation, in those crystal-blue eyes. "Hey, you mean- realty in the Nest of the Dark? I mean, that wasn't just a-a hypothetical question?"

The frost crackled a little as Ingold smiled. "Really, Rudy, you should know me well enough by this time to know that I seldom deal in hypotheses."

"Yeah," Rudy agreed warily. "And that's probably the scariest thing about you."

"It is the most frightening thing about any wizard. A hypothesis to anyone else is merely an overwhelming temptation to a wizard. Do you think you would be able to handle yourself in the Nest of the Dark?"

Rudy swallowed hard. "I think so." The vivid imagination which was the mainspring and curse of the mageborn sent a series of chills scampering up his spine. "That's what this is all about, isn't it?"

Ingold's eyes returned to focus from some private, inner reverie. In the starlight, they seemed bright and preternaturally clear. "The Chancellor Alwir cannot hope to reconquer Gae from the Dark without reconnaissance of their Nest there," he said quietly. "He has chosen Gae, partly because of its importance as the capital of the Realm and partly because it lies at the center of communications.

"But time is short. Our allies, from the Empire of Alketch and from the various landchiefs of the Realm, will be assembling here in the not-too-distant future. You will be leaving for Gae within a day or so."

"Okay," Rudy agreed shakily, with valiant mental adjustments. "Uh-just me?"

Ingold snorted. "Yes, just you, all by yourself," he snapped gruffly. "Of course not! For one thing, Gae is a flooded ruin-you could never hope to find your way through its streets to reach the Nest."

A drift of wind stirred his mantle and ruffled Rudy's long hair. Rudy's muscles locked at the touch of it, but he made no move. A moment later he saw the flickering shadow of a little whirlwind dancing away over the snow. He let his breath out in a shimmer of silvery smoke.

"Of the mages who survived the coming of the Dark Ones," the wizard continued quietly, "less than a dozen have powers strong enough for me to have made this test on them. They, too, are abroad in the Vale tonight. Of those, only two hail from Gae-Saerlinn. who was a healer in the lower part of town, and me."

Rudy nodded. He'd become acquainted in the last week with the other survivors of the world's wizardry. Saerlinn was a fair-haired, rather nervous young man, a few years older than his own twenty-five. He was unusual not only in the fact that he wore spectacles-uncommon enough among mages, who could generally adjust their own senses and faculties-but also because he'd managed to preserve

them unbroken on the long and desperate trek from Gae to the Vale of Renweth.

"At one time I considered leading the Gae reconnaissance myself," the old man went on, and Rudy cast him a startled, protesting glance. "But aside from the fact that, as the head of the Wizards' Corps, I could ill be spared, I do take a rather academic and refined interest in the preservation of my own skin. Since the Dark are hunting me-for whatever reason-I would be in twice the danger of detection within the Nest. It would be folly to tempt them."

"It would be sort of pointless to get yourself killed on a routine mission," Rudy admitted.

Ingold smiled. "Precisely," he agreed. "I'm sending Thoth to head the reconnaissance of Penambra-he knows that city from his early days as a healer there. And I'm having the Raider shaman. Shadow of the Moon, take a couple of scouts to the Nest in the Vale of the Dark, some twenty miles north of here. She knows woodcraft-among other things."

In the black wall of woods to their right, branches stirred suddenly, rustling in dark, aimless winds. Clouds were moving down from the glacier-locked mountains that loomed above them to the west, swallowing the few remaining stars. Cold cut through Rudy's coat like a skinning knife.

"Kara of Ippit will go with you and Saerlinn to Gae," Ingold went on. "She's had the most formal training as a mage. Unless one counts the Chancellor Alwir's Court Mage Bektis, of course."

Rudy sniffed. He did not like Bektis. "If he's out here tonight, I'll eat my boots without even scraping the mud off 'em."

"If that's the case, I regret to inform you that you're going to miss a meal." Ingold sighed. "Bektis knows Gae, too. But I'm sure that his ever-pressing duties will not permit…"

He looked up suddenly, the words dying on his lips. A scream split the mountain stillness, a hopeless, echoing shriek that scaled up to a frenzied pitch of horror, then jarred and broke. Rudy sprang to his feet, the hair prickling on his neck, and was instantly arrested by the iron grip on his arm.

"Be still, you fool."

A figure broke from the edge of the woods on the far side of the valley, black and tiny against the hoarfrost landscape. A man , Rudy thought, watching the way he ran, young and slender, stumbling over his own cloak in his terrified haste.

A swirl of darkness passed like a whirlwind over the snow. The fugitive screamed again as he ran, his arms outstretched, plunging blindly down the hill toward the black monolith of the Keep of Dare. Darkness swelled from the trees behind him, a strange shifting of images that even the dark-sight of a wizard could not pierce. Something flashed, wet and sticky, and a last piercing cry rang out, as if ripped from the dissolving flesh. Then there was silence, and something scattered over the half-melted snow.

Even at this distance, Rudy could smell the blood on the backwash of the erratic winds.

"Who was it?" Rudy asked.

His voice was pitched low, audible only to certain beasts, or to another wizard. But still his words sounded sacrilegiously loud in the horrible stillness of the hillside.

Ingold straightened up from the sodden, stinking mess in the torn snow. Even the bones they had found had not only been stripped of flesh but seemed strangely deformed, as if the bone tissue itself had been melted. Nauseated, Rudy looked away from the black, half-liquefied remains, to Ingold's impassive face. Darkness masked the wizard's features, but mageborn eyes could penetrate ordinary night; Rudy could see no change of expression in that lined, nondescript countenance.

But then, he supposed, after what had taken place in the ruins of the City of Wizards, it was not likely that the old man would ever be shaken up by much of anything again.

"We shall come out with the others, when the sun is in the sky, to burn what remains," Ingold said quietly. "To do so now would only bring the Dark Ones once more upon us."

He dropped what he held in his hand back onto the fetid little heap. Round, discolored lenses flashed in the starlight in their twisted frames. Ingold said, "It seems that I shall be visiting the Dark Ones at Gae, after all."

Dawn was just thinning the stygian overcast of the night when Rudy and Ingold again reached the gates of the Keep. Against a charcoal sky, the ebony mass reared like a small mountain, close to a hundred feet from the top of the rock knoll on which it stood to its flat, snow-powdered roof and nearly half a mile in length. Its black, windowless walls faintly mirrored the trampled snow and dark trees that lay below it. Only its western face was broken by a gate and a short flight of broad steps. From a distance, the torchlight flickering in the square opening gave it the appearance of a single, small, baleful eye in the midst of an otherwise utterly featureless face.

As Rudy climbed the muddy path past the goat pens and ramshackle workshops that surrounded the Keep in a vast zone of trash, he could see most of the Wizards' Corps assembled on the icy steps. He could pick out those who, like himself, had spent the night outside. Kara of Ippit, tall and homely, in her threadbare mantle and the two cardigans her mother had recently knitted for her. Thoth the Scribe, called the serpentmage, sole survivor of the massacre at Quo, austere as a bald vulture-god of antiquity, his topaz eyes illuminating his narrow white face like a jack-o-lantern's. Dakis the Minstrel. A little fourteen-year-old witch-child from the north called Ilae, her dark eyes peering from behind a mane of red tangles. Others, a pitiful few, it seemed, huddling in the shadows like refugees in an old photograph of Ellis Island. And behind them stood those survivors of the massacre by the Dark who had been judged too lacking in power to participate in this trial of spells: itinerant conjurers, spellweavers, weatherwitches, and goodywives, the lower end of the spectrum of power that had not answered the dead Archmage's fatal summons to the City of Quo.

Rudy's heart sank at the sight of them. So few , he thought. And what the hell can we do, anyway, against the might of the Dark ?

Other shadows appeared in the firelit tunnel that pierced the wall, leading from the outer gates to the inner, their forms ghostlike in the steam where the warmer air within came in contact with the outer cold-the day watch of the Guards, rubbing their bruises from the morning's weapons practice and cursing one another and their deceptively elfin instructor good-naturedly. The Keep herdkids went tearing out in an enthusiastic boiling of infant energy to throw snowballs and milk goats. Soap boilers, hunters, woodcutters, and tanners emerged, men and women plying what trades they could from the scanty resources of this bitter and isolated valley.

And among them were a dark-haired girl in a black fur cloak and a peasant woman's rainbow skirts and a tall, rather gawky woman some five years older, dressed in an outsize black uniform and white quatrefoil emblem of the Guards.

Minalde brushed the sable hood from her dark hair as she ran down the steps to meet Rudy, the rich fur of her cloak rippling glossily in the gray light. In sunlight, her eyes were the unearthly blue of a volcanic lake on a midsummer afternoon; shadowed as they were now, they were velvet-blue, almost black, and wide with anxiety. She caught Rudy's hands. "They told me they'd heard a scream," she said.

Rudy fought the urge to put a comforting arm around her shoulders, as he would have done had they met alone. She's the Queen , he told himself, the Regent and the mother of the heir, for all she's nineteen years old and scared. There are too many people watching .

"Glad to see it wasn't you, punk," Gil Patterson added, bringing up the rear, her long sword tapping at her ankles as she walked. Since she had joined the Guards of Gae, her former shy defensiveness had been gradually replaced by a toughness that, Rudy reflected, wasn't any easier to see through. Those pale schoolmarm's eyes still forbade any inquiries into the true state of her feelings, but she did look pleased that he'd survived.

At his side, Alde whispered, "Who was it?"

"Saerlinn. I don't know if you knew him."

She nodded, tears starting in her eyes. Alde knew, and was friends with, almost everyone in the Keep. Again Rudy struggled with his instinct to hold her, to offer her silent reassurance. "It puts us in a bad place," he admitted quietly. "When we go to scout the Nest at Gae…"

"You?" Fear widened her eyes. "But you can't-" She bit off her words, and a slow flush rose to her cheeks. "That is-it isn't just for that," she added with a soft-voiced dignity that made Rudy smile. "What about your experiments with the flame throwers, Rudy? You said you'd be able to create weapons to hurl fire from the things that Gil and I found in the old laboratories. You can't…"

"They'll just have to wait," Rudy said quietly. "I'll put one together for myself to take to Gae; the rest can wait till I return." He put his hands on her shoulders and smiled at her frightened, woebegone face. "And I will return," he promised her.

She looked down, her eyes veiled, and she nodded.

Gil's voice cut sharply into the silence between them. "You think you'll really be able to put working flame throwers together, then?"

He looked up, startled at her tactlessness, and saw what she had seen-the tall form of the Chancellor of the Realm, Alwir, Minalde's brother, standing watching them in the mist and firelight of the gates. Rudy backed quickly away from Alde and took a few steps up the path toward the Keep.

"You bet," he bragged in his best Madison Avenue voice. "Hell, in a month we'll make swords obsolete."

"That would be to your advantage," Gil commented, "since you can't pick one up without cutting yourself."

But in spite of the banter, Rudy was acutely conscious of Alwir's cold gaze on him as he rejoined Ingold among the mages at the foot of the Keep steps.

Alwir came down toward them, "a gleaming edifice of sartorial splendor," as Alde had once joked, dominating those around him with his size, his elegance, and his haughty, unbending will. Like his sister, he was cloaked in black, a velvet mantle that billowed like wings behind him. The chain of sapphires that lay over his broad shoulders and breast were not bluer or harder than his eyes. He was trailed by the obsequious Bektis, his Court Mage, who alternately rubbed his long white hands together or stroked his waist-length, blue-silver beard as if in a self-congratulatory caress.

The Chancellor came to a halt on the lowest step and looked down at Ingold with an impassive face. "So your information was correct," he said, in his rich, well-modulated voice. "The thing can be done."

"By those with the strength," Ingold returned quietly. "Yes."

"And the reconnaissance?"

"We shall leave this time tomorrow morning."

Alwir gave a satisfied little nod. Beyond them, the rising of the cloud-veiled sun had cast a kind of sickly, diffuse light upon the snowy wastes of the Vale, bringing forth from shadows the tangled grubbiness of the barricaded food compounds and the chain-hung pillars on the hill of execution across the road from the Keep.

"And these?" The Chancellor's careless gesture took in the other mages-old women, young men, solemn black Southerners, and ice-white shamans from the plains.

"Believe me, my lord," Ingold said, and there was a flicker of anger in his shadowed eyes, "whether or not it is decided to undertake this invasion, these people constitute your chief defense against the Dark Ones. Do not treat them lightly."

Alwir's eyebrows went up. "An unprepossessing lot," he commented, scanning them, and Rudy felt that those enigmatic, speedwell-blue eyes lingered for a moment on where he had returned again to Aide's side. "But perhaps more dangerous than they look."

"Far more dangerous, my lord." The new voice drew Rudy's eyes and, half against his will, Alwir's as well. In the suffused pallor of the dawn, the Guards on the steps had doused their torches in the snow, but within the gate passage above them fires still reflected redly on the polished walls. Against that reflection stood the red-robed shape of the Bishop of Gae, Govannin Narmenlion, her bald head and narrow, delicately jointed hands giving her the appearance of a skeleton wrapped in a crimson billow of flame.

"If you undertake your invasion using the Devil's tools, my lord," she warned, in a voice as dry and deadly as famine winds, "they will be its downfall. They are excommunicates, who have traded their souls to Evil for the powers they possess."

Anger stained the big man's cheeks, but he kept the melodious calm of his voice. "Perhaps if the Straight Faith were as dependent upon a centralized government as the Realm is, you would be even at this moment showering them with blessings," he commented sardonically.

The fine- chiseled nostrils flared in amused scorn. "Such words tell more about the speaker than they do about their subject," she remarked, and Alwir's flushed face reddened further. "Better your precious invasion should fail than that you should bring yourself under the wrath of the Church by harboring such as these. Having commerce with the mage-born-the magedamned!-fouls the soul like clinging mud, until all the Faithful can see it, and cast you out. Even to converse with them taints you."

Rudy felt Aide's icy fingers close over his and, glancing sidelong at her, he saw the shame struggling in her taut face. She had been a good daughter of the Faith until the rainy night on the road from Karst when he had found his power- and they had become lovers.

Alwir grated, "That didn't prevent you from coming out to see how they had fared!"

The Bishop's dry voice was silky with menace. "It pays to count one's enemies, my lord Alwir."

There was silence on the steps, save for the rising whine of the icy wind in the trees. The Guards watched this confrontation uneasily. They had long grown used to the swift, vicious arguments between Bishop and Chancellor, but there was never any telling when one might suddenly escalate into civil war.

Then Alwir's eyebrow canted mockingly. "And do you count me so, my lady?"

"You?" The gray light slipped along the curve of her shaven skull as she looked him up and down, austere scorn in the curve of her delicate lips. "You care not whether you are numbered among the godly or the wicked, my lord, as long as you can command what you call your niceties of life. You would sup in Hell with the Devil, were the food good."

So saying, she turned in a swirl of scarlet and vanished into the darkness of the gate passage, her ringing footfalls dying away across the vast, empty spaces of the Aisle beyond toward the dark mazes where the Church kept unsleeping domain.

Aide whispered, "Rudy, I'm afraid of her."

Hidden by the folds of her heavy cloak, his hand pressed hers. Talk had surged up again around them. Two of the junior weatherwitches had been offering to send the coming snowstorm elsewhere until Saerlinn's body could be burned, and Thoth's harsh, academic voice was saying, "To do so is to presume upon the laws of the Cosmos that bid the winds blow where they will." There was some argument, but all of them, with the exception of Ingold and a withered little hermit named Kta, were terrified of the Scribe of Quo.

Under cover of the talk, Rudy said softly, "What can she do, babe? You're the Queen. Even if she knew about us- which she doesn't-we aren't doing anyone any harm."

"No," she murmured. But her fingers trembled in his.