Authors: Pamela F. Service
For Cousin Grace,
to recall her early years in Scotland.
He was waiting, but not patiently. He had never been a patient man. Not when he was alive. And not now.
Yet here he was, waiting. Eternally waiting while the stones circled in dark silence around him.
At long last, though, the waiting was coming to an end. The storm was about to break, the storm he had been wrenched from the world to guard against. Yet now he was powerless to stop itâalmost powerless. The tools he needed were out there, but it would take perfect timing and a long search to find them. A long, patient search.
Angrily the blue eyes glinted from the shadow of the stones. He was not a patient man.
Under the steady urging of the wind, the sea crashed in billowing surges on the rocks below. The water was gray, a dark slaty gray laced with ridges of wind-whipped foam and churned to spray where the waves met the island's dark rocks. There would be no fishing boats Out today, nor any longboats setting out on Viking raids. They would wait until spring, as they did every year in these northern isles.
Above him, the cold sky was a pale cloud-blanketed gray, stitched through by the occasional diving, crying seabird. But the boy had eyes only for the sea. Its crashing boom filled his ears and shook his body as he tried to weave into it a sound of his own, a harsh musical sound. It trembled about him, part song, part cry, part mystery, as he tried to weave it into the waves, to sink it into their depths.
“Arni Arnorson!” a voice jeered from behind him. “Might as well drop that last name of yours. Not only will a runt like you never make a warrior, you'll never even become a skald like your fatherânot with a voice like that.”
Nervously shoving red hair from his eyes, Arni turned to face his familiar tormentor. A few feet away, Sven Havardson stood on a grassy hilltop with his usual companions just behind him.
“I don't want to be a skald!” Arni said, sounding more bold than he felt. “Singing the histories and sagas is all very fine, and my father's the best skald there is, but I am practicing to be something more.”
“It sounded like you were practicing to be sick,” Sven said, and the others broke into snickering laughter.
An angiy flush spread over Arni's pale face. “I'm practicing to be a power-worker, a sorcerer. I was trying out a call for seals. My great-grandmother, Eithne the Sorceress, could call seals to her and talk with them.”
“Not even a seal would want to talk with you,” Sven said with a sneer, “but this is hardly the right season to look for seals.”
Arni shrugged. “I know that, but I was just practicing. I want to get it right before any seals come and maybe misunderstand me.”
The others laughed as the older boy stepped forward and scowled down at Arni. “Nobody misunderstands you, runt. We all know you're a weakling who's no good at anything and thinks he doesn't have to be because his father is the Earl's cousin and his skald. But
suppose the priests hear about this new game of yours and decide you're one of those heretics who want to throw out the new church and return to the old ways?”
“You can't scare me,” Arni lied. “Earl Thorfinn says Christianity shouldn't make us forget who we are.”
Sven laughed and turned away. “You'll wish you
forget, if Brother Paul gives you a sermon on hell-fire and damnation. Not even the Earl and his skald can save you from that.” The boy swaggered off, gesturing to his companions. “Come on. Let's leave this failure to the seals.”
Angrily, Arni turned back to the sea. The cold salt wind beat like needles against his flushed face. No, as proud as he was of his father, Arni wouldn't want his protection here. And he shouldn't need it! He shouldn't need protection from boring sermons or taunting bulliesâor anything else either!
True, compared to the other boys he was as small and weak as a puppy. He'd never been much good at games or fishing or even swordplay, although he loved the feel of the sword and practiced with it every day. But he was sure he was good at something: magic. His great-grandmother had been a sorceress, after all, and his grandmother a healer. And his father was a sk aid. a famous one, who worked magic with words. So he was sure the power must be in him. He just had to get at it.
Arni sighed, staring down at the surf crashing against jaggedly layered rocks. Sven was right. Since the Earl's father had turned out the old Viking gods, Odin and Thor and all, in favor of this new Christian god, nobody would talk much about magic or help him find how to use the power he was so sure he had.
A sharp cry startled him. Arni looked toward it and saw a sleek black shape on a rock below. It turned its head. The day's pale light glinted in two large blue eyes. A seal!
For a moment, the two stared at each other; then, echoing the boy's earlier song, the seal dove into the gray water. Its dark form appeared and disappeared as it swam toward the main island.
Arni jumped up, excitedly watching, until the creature vanished from sight. Of course, probably he hadn't really called the thing. But still, he might have! And he wasn't going to let any priests or bullies tell him he couldn't.
He would find that power! And suddenly, watching the seal's course, he knew where to lookâthe stone circle over on the main island. It was old, older even than the Vikings and their gods. It had been on the island since the time when the people of Orkney had worshiped far different powers, powers of earth and air and deep magic. But the circle must have power still, or these new priests wouldn't warn people to stay away from it and from the other ancient stones. They were evil, the priests said.
But maybe, Arni thought, the stones were not evil. They might just have powers that the priests could not understand. But
would! Excitedly, Arni hurried off. When he decided to do something, he didn't like to wait a moment to get started.
And he wouldn't have to. It was morning still, and the tide was out so he could cross from their defensible tidal island to the main island on its east. The wind buffeted his hair and his yellow woolen cape as he trotted
along the sheep path skirting the cliff's edge, his mind already fixed on his goal.
From the waves below, eyes watched him. Impatient blue eyes.
Tyaak sat on a rock, staring glumly over the bleak island landscape. Supposedly it was now summer on the northern part of this planet, but still a cold wind blew steadily from the surrounding blue-gray sea. On his home world, a rare wind that strong would shiver through the cycla trees, setting their leaves tinkling and flashing pink and gold in the warm sun. But here there weren't any trees, not even the green-leaved ones that grew on the rest of this planet. The only color here came from the blue sky, the pale green grass, and the low purple plants that splotched the empty hillsides.
Standing up, Tyaak ran a hand through his blue-black hair, trying to get it to stand up properly. But it was no use. None of this was any use. Sullenly he tromped down the hillside, crushing the spongy plants as he went. He had given up looking for paths. The few wild animals that lived here didn't make them, and most of the ancient roads had long since grown over. The natives that still lived on this island stayed mainly in the remains of the town, either as eccentric hermits or tending to the needs of the few tourists who came this way.
Well, he was no tourist, Tyaak thought bitterly. He didn't even want to be on this planet, let alone this island. But this was his Nri Irll initiation. The choice of place had not been his. And here he was, stuck with the bleak island his mother's stock had left centuries ago.
Still, his parents might have been less harsh. All that was required of a young Kreeth on the verge of adulthood was to go somewhere alone. Somewhere with no diversions, where a person could walk and think about life. Well, here he was, walking and thinking, but his thoughts were not uplifting ones.
All his life he had tried so hard to be Kreethâto make his parents proud of him, to let them and all his doubting peers see how much he was like his Kreeth father instead of his Human mother. He had tried to have nothing to do with anything Human, and even his mother hadn't objected much. Why should she? After all, the Kreeth were so obviously superior to Humans. If that weren't so, why was it that the Kreeth dominated this portion of the Galactic Union, while the Humans simply drifted around it as explorers, artists, or farmers?
The Humans had even drifted away from their own planetânot that he could blame them. They had so polluted its waters, depleted its atmosphere, and wasted its resources that if the Kreeth had not found them some centuries back, they would probably be extinct by now. The history he'd been forced to read about this world had been a sorry one.
No loss, he thought bitterly, except that without Human stock he wouldn't have been born. But he needn't let being half Human defeat him! He was training to be a navigator like his father, not a musician like his mother. Admittedly, his skin was far too muddy a green and his hair too dark a blue. But his dress and manners were perfectly Kreethâand his hairstyle would be, too, if only this infernal wind would stop blowing it about!
Angrily he raked fingers through his sagging hair,
then gave up, letting the dark mane bob and flutter limply about his head. His age-mates at least accepted his odd appearance, though they never let him forget his mixed heritage. He had hoped that once he was considered an adult, they would ignore that, too. But doing his Nri Irll on Earth, of all places, certainly wouldn't help.
At the base of the hillside, Tyaak looked about. Coarse green grass and low purple plants stretched in all directions, broken here and there by the gray heaps of abandoned ruins. Ahead, two arms of the seaâor maybe one was a lakeâpinched the land into a narrow thread.
Really, there was no point in going farther in this direction, except that he had to go somewhere. Kreeth believed that the best time to think was while walking, and on his Nri Irll Tyaak wasn't supposed to return to his ship until night. Not that anyone was here to tell on him, but he wanted to be fully Kreeth, to do everything exactly right.
Scanning the landscape ahead, Tyaak looked for some goal. He always felt better when he had specific goals. A movement caught his attention. A Human? No, it had four feet. Some native animal, then. It was walking up a slight slope, just beyond where the waters nearly joined. The ground there was unmarked except for a few tall stones. Or were they some sort of branchless tree? More house ruins, maybe? No, these were different. He pulled out his distance scanner and raised it to his eyes. The image jumped into focus.
The animal was brownish and slender, with bony branches rising from its head. As if it sensed being watched, it raised its head and looked Tyaak's way. He
could see its wide blue eyes, the same odd blue this planet's skies and seas had when not troubled by the frequent clouds.
Tyaak shifted his scanner to the objects beyond. Clearly they were stones, large irregular stones standing upright. Moving the scanner, he saw that others lay half hidden in the vegetation. They seemed to form some sort of patternâa circle, perhaps. Obviously they were not a natural outcrop, and not a ruined house, either.