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Authors: Laura Anne Gilman

From Whence You Came

BOOK: From Whence You Came
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From Whence You Came

Laura Anne Gilman

© 2012  Laura Anne Gilman

www.lauraannegilman.net

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information/permissions, contact [email protected]

Cover art ©  2012  Bob Eggleton

Cover design by Karen Jones

From Whence You Came

The Vineart
strode forward into the vineyard, his wide-shouldered form easily identifiable among the slaves, even though he wore the same rough-cloth shirt and trou as they.

“Easy does it, boys. Easy does it. We're not in a race, we're taking it slow and steady.”

A hand on the shoulder of one boy easing him away, and Bradhai reached down to tuck the offending branch into place with a practiced move. “There. See?”

The slave, unable to meet his master's eyes, or even look into his face, nodded, reaching out to – slowly, carefully – do the same with the next branch, as his companions waited, silently willing the master to not notice them. 

Bradhai, those slaves already forgotten, moved on, walking a careful path through the clumped vines, his gaze moving over the yard with a practiced slide, able to pick out the worker who was having trouble, or doing it wrong, without being distracted by the slow, steady movements of those doing it right.

He knew from personal experience that pruning the vines was brutal, backbreaking work, on your knees and reaching up. Each spring it took even experienced slaves a day or two to recover the rhythm. 

He had enough slaves to deal with the work; as master, he did not have to be out here himself. And yet, it was a beautiful day, the sky clear blue, the sun bright and the air still cool. There would be enough days he would not be able to escape his workroom: better to take advantage now.

He stopped, and frowned at one clumping. There were two slaves attending it, carefully removing one fruit for every five and dropping them into the sack at their feet. The unripe fruit would go to his cook, who would make verjus, and the remains would be pitched into the backstack behind the barn, where it would decay into soil for the next year's garden. The business of the vintner might be spellwine, but nothing could be wasted.

Waste. He stared at the clump of vines.

“Don't bother, boys,” he said. “Strip them all.” 

“Master?”

The first slave was one of his elders; he had inherited him from his own master, which meant the boy was no boy any more. Bradhai made a note to have him taken from field work after this year's Harvest, and put to doing something more suited to his age.

“Strip them all for the kitchen. Mark it for removal.” There was no sense of magic in those vines, no touch of the Root in them. Therefore, they were useless. He would have the space replanted with vines that still produced.

“Yes, master.” The second slave, new to the field, stared at him with wide dark eyes, until the older one shoved him with an open hand and sent him back to work. Bradhai moved on.

He had only three yards surrounding the House. Two produced the pale red fruit that produced intensely tart – and profitable – growspells, the mainstay of his House. The third, far smaller and to the north of the House, on the hill that protected them from the worst of Iaja's coastal weather, were aethervines. He chose the slaves who worked that yard carefully; the plants were too rare, too expensive to trust to untrained hands. But that yard did not need pruning yet; it was too early in the year, and the fruit was barely a nub. So long as they kept the birds and beasts from them – and the spells decanted there were master to the task – all would be well.

As though to taunt him, a cloud passed over the sun, and he shielded his eyes to look. No, the skies were still clear, with only the occasional white cloud to contend with. The night air would be cool, but no risk of frost, and the ground was still full enough to not need more rain.

When he was still a slave himself, his ability to sense weather patterns had earned him his master's notice. It had earned him no special favors – Vineart Wy had been too canny for that, to open a useful slave to possible jealousy and abuse. But when his magic had shown itself, he had already been exposed to more than the average slave, and his transition to student had been relatively painless. And from that ability had come the desire – the need – to plant aethervines, a cepage Master Wy had no skill with. 

The loss of Vineart Wy seventeen years later had still come as a shock, even though Bradhai had been through his training by then, working to turn the third yard from bare soil to a properly planted yard. He had not thought the old man could die.

“And what would you say about this new spellwine,” he wondered as he continued pacing the yard, his gaze alert to anything out of line. “Would you pull that long face, and tell me it has never been done?”

But it had; he had communicated with the scholars at Altienne to make sure. It simply had not been done
here.

“Or would you clap your hands and say “Well done, boy, well done?'”

In all likelihood, both. Vineart Wy had been both teacher and a champion worrier. But the vines whispered to him, the aethervines shaping an image in his thoughts, this new way to use their magic.

If he was to work it through, it needed to be now, while the vines were happily growing, and nothing else required his immediate attention. During Harvest, all would become chaos, and in the fallowtime the vines would go dormant and no long whisper to him.

Mastery among Vinearts was not awarded, but earned. To achieve that level, and to expand his holdings, he needed to do something that would bring notice to him; notice and more traders with money, so that he could buy lands, and slaves to work those lands. This spell, if it worked, could do all that.

Bradhai passed the last cluster of vines, and paused, placing his hand against the thick, twisted stem. These vines had been planted nearly a hundred years before, from stock supposedly come down from one of the first vines shattered by Sin Washer. Like all vines, the magic pulsed within them, and each Harvest it was a struggle to see who would win, vines or Vineart.

“But we understand each other now, don't we?” he said, his hand unerringly finding the cluster of fruit, where slaves needed to struggle and reach.

He plucked one of the smaller buds from the cluster and placed it in his mouth. Unripe, unready; to most there would only have been the harsh, tough skin, the bitter pit, crunching in their teeth and perhaps a tiny squirt of juice, tasting nothing like the bright tartness of a ripe growwine. The skills and senses that made him a Vineart, though, they brought him the tingle of magic, deep within the fruit. Not yet ripe, not yet ready, but present, waiting.

A Vineart knew his grapes. And the grapes knew their Vineart.

“Vineart Bradhai.”

He turned, still sucking the sour magic off his teeth, to face his slavemaster. A former slave himself, as were all who worked in the yard, the man was small, nearly crippled with age, but with a cruel-looking lash coiled at his waist.

Bradhai himself had gone in fear of that whip. It was only years later that he realized it had never been uncoiled. Pep's hand and voice were enough; he never needed more force.

“There is a man, Vineart. To see you.”

A man. Not named, not by personal address nor title nor occupation.

“And does this man have a purpose? No, of course he did not tell you. I will be there momentarily.”

The slavemaster ducked his head and walked back through the yard, stepping almost as easily as Bradhai himself. He had no magic, of course, but decades of living among the vines made you sensitive to such things.

“A man, to see me.” It was not Harvest, when lords sent their factors to bargain with him, nor Fallowtime, when merchants sought to separate him from his casks in exchange for their goods… few visitors came to a vintner in spring or summer, when the world turned to growing things, and a Vineart had more on his mind than social scrabblings.

“If he is a man of standing,” Bradhai said to the vines, “I should change into attire more appropriate. And yet, if he comes to see me, he must take me as I am.”

And, in truth, he was not sure there was any clothing clean enough to pass for more appropriate; he had spent the day before in his cellar, working with the
vina
, and his clothing had been stained deep purple by the time he was done. He looked down and smiled to see the stains still on his fingers, their purple splotches only slightly paler than the vine-mark on his left wrist. No Vineart ever truly had clean hands, not once the
vina
accepted them.

Making sure that his belt was properly wrapped, the silver tasting spoon and horn-handled knife hanging properly, rather than tucked up for convenience's sake, he followed Pep's path, back to what – and who – awaited him.

o0o

Three men waited for him, actually. Two wore the carter's guild badge on their chest, and looked as though they had swallowed something unpleasant. The third, a slighter, more weathered-looking man with ice-grey hair combed back against his scalp, exuded patience, his eyes fixed somewhere over the horizon.

“Gentlemen,” he greeted them.

The slighter man recalled his gaze, and spoke. “You are Vineart Bradhai?”

It was a patently ridiculous question; who else would he be? Bradhai let the irritation roll off him, and nodded. “I am. With whom do I have the honor of speaking?”

His master had insisted that his student learn to speak properly, along with knowing his letters and sums. It was part and parcel of being treated fairly, Wy had said, when dealing with merchants. 

“I am Shipsmaster Hernán,” the patient man said. “For the Iajan Guild. And these are guildsmen Arias and Muño, of the Carter's Guild.”

“Of course,” Bradhai murmured, belatedly noting the much smaller guildmark on the man's jacket. He did a considerable amount of business with the Shipsmaster's Guild; they were a regular buyer of his aetherspells, for the ships they sponsored. Carters he saw much less of: they had come here for a reason, though, and one they did not seem happy about. 

So: The men who sponsored ships and the men who loaded them, come to see a Vineart, off-season. Why? “It is an odd time to be doing business, gentlemen, but I am-“

“Three ships bearing our guild sign have disappeared, this Spring.”

That made Bradhai pause, even as he was about to usher them into the House proper. “Indeed? I had received word of one, not three.” Such things happened, especially in the freshening storms of springtime. Not even the strongest of windspells could outrun a fast-rising storm: magic gave way before nature in all things. But three? That was a hard loss.

“Three ships… bearing your spells, Vineart.” That was one of the carters, his voice an unhappy growl. “Spells that were supposed to enable them to outrun any brigand, control any storm.”

“Not control, but ease,” Bradhai corrected. “No magic controls nature, as you well know, gentlemen.” He stopped, aware these men were not here to listen, but to complain. He shook his head and said sternly, “My spells do not fail.” Bradhai set down each man with a glare intended to stop the conversation. “Perhaps your sailors decanted them wrong, in their haste. Or they encountered a storm too strong to be eased, a brigand too fast or better armed, whom they could not evade. Such things happen.”

“Three ships, each top of their line. One in the Dry Sea, two outbound for Caul. And none failing bearing any other Vineart's spells.”

Bradhai frowned, and addressed himself to the Shipsmaster. “You are not the only ones who buy my spells, and not all ships fly under your Guild's banner. Have any others reported similar losses?”

The carters looked at each other, clearly amused despite the severity of the moment, and Hernán's face tensed. Bradhai sensed that he had somehow said something wrong, exposed his ignorance somehow. Vinearts were isolated, constrained by Sin Washer's Command to a life spent tending their vines, not meddling with the affairs of others. His master had trained him to deal with merchants within the boundaries of market-trade, not this.

“Would you tell another Vineart of damage to your vines?” the Shipsmaster asked, gently. 

“Vinearts do not speak to each other,” Bradhai said. “Save our masters, and those whose lands border our own. You know it as well as I.” There was another Vineart a day's travel to the south, who specialized in firevines. He and Bradhai traded casks each fallowtime to supply what the other lacked. But otherwise, Vinearts kept to their singular task, and did not mingle.

“We are less isolated, but no less secretive,” Hernán said. “To admit a weakness is to expose a weakness. But we know what we know, and that is that the spells we acquired from you… have failed.”

It was an insult to his skills, but Bradhai knew the claim was false. His
vin magica
was true; his incantings were firm, and the only failure had to be in the handling and use, not the making.

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