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Feeding the Feral Children

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Feeding the Feral Children

by David Farland

All Rights Copyright 2011 Dave Wolverton

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decomplied, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical without the express written permission of the author. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials.

The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsiblity for author or third-party websites or their content.

Cover art: Copyright 2011 by Dave Wolverton

Published by David Wolverton

# ISBN-13: 9781614757887

Feeding the Feral Children

Yan woke in the pre-dawn, sweat making her blouse cling to the hollow of her chest. She lay on her bed, unwilling to move, lest she waken her three-year-old sister who curled into her, her face close to Yan’s breast. The little girl would be hungry when she woke; this one was

always

hungry, and Yan did not want to have to get up and steam the rice.

Lightning snarled softly in the distance, like a hunting tiger, and just outside the window the bamboo rustled in the wind.

Yan had dreamt of Huang Fa. Only a few years before, the Silk Road had been opened to Persia, and Huang Fa had dared to take it for her last spring. Winter was coming, and snow would soon fill the Himalayas. If Huang Fa did not return soon, the trails would be blocked until next year.

In Yan’s dream, she’d seen his startlingly clear eyes under the moonlight, while the crickets sang their nightly hymns of longing and carp finned in the pond beside her cottage. “When I return,” he’d said, “I will have much silver. Your father will surely agree to the match when he sees what I bring.” Huang Fa was but a lowly merchant from a fishmonger’s family, and he dared to hope to marry a landowner’s daughter. He would have to rise much higher in station to do so; he would need to buy land himself.

His voice, soft and husky, seemed preternaturally clear in the dream, as if he stood over her bed. His image had left her feeling over-warm, with a soft fluttering in her womb. At fifteen, Yan was young and in love, and felt all of the longing and guilt and confusion that went with it. Her mother had once told her, “A girl’s first love is always the most treasured. If you are fortunate, he will also be your last love.”

Yan inhaled deeply, hoping that perhaps Huang Fa really had come in the night, that she might catch his scent. But the early morning sky outside smelled only of thunder. She wondered where Huang Fa might be, and as she did, she whispered a prayer to the Sun God. “Wherever he is, may he greet the morning with pleasant thoughts of me.”

#

The land was black in the Altai Mountains, black stone upon black stone, with only the sparest of grasses and shrubs cropping up here and there.

Huang Fa stalked through the cold pre-dawn in a sullen rage, and for a moment he tried to conjure an image of Yan. Walking a hundred li in single night can drive the humanity from a man, make him hard and cold. Fatigue had left him reeling, and the icy winds wafting down from the Altai Mountains over the barren gray stones had drained the warmth from him. He had only one sandal, and so he hobbled as best he could. In a jest of fate, his sandaled foot had developed blisters that bled, and so hurt more than his naked foot. But before the sun was even a sullen smudge on a smoke-gray sky, he spotted his roan horse, gazing down in a desultory stare at the barren rocks, its long dark mane and tail gusting in the wind. The barbarians that had stolen her had left her tied to the only tree within three li, and they’d fallen asleep under it. For ten hours Huang Fa had been wondering how best to kill them.

Huang Fa felt a touch on his elbow. “Are you sure you want to do this?” whispered the monk with no name.

Huang Fa paused, turned toward the young man in the pre-dawn. The monk was but a shadow in the darkness, with a bit of moonlight shining upon his clean-shaven head. The monk had no name, for he had renounced it. He whispered urgently, “These men are not killers. They were kind enough to merely sneak off with all your belongings, sparing your life. To take theirs would be to return compassion with brutality.”

Huang Fa argued, “The barbarians only stole the horse before, but they won’t make the same mistake again. Once they open my bags and find the dragon’s tooth. . . .”

The monk did not dare argue. He knew that the barbarians would never relinquish such a great treasure. Yet the dragon’s tooth meant little to Huang Fa. He had to save his mare. The barbarians could not guess the worth of such a fine mount. These men consumed horses as if they were chickens. Even if they did not butcher her, they would likely only wait until she bore her foal and then harvest her mare’s milk to make liquor.

Huang Fa was determined to get his mare back at any cost, and he could not let them live.

Dread clenched his stomach. He wasn’t sure how many men he might have to face. He was determined to use the wizard warrior Jiang Ziya’s wolf strategy of battle—to attack when least

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