Authors: Isobelle Carmody
Reaching the track leading to the cul-de-sac where Malik had instructed us to lure the pursuing soldierguards, an eerie sense of the past stole over me, and I forgot about the possibility of being followed. I seemed almost to see the empath twins Angina and Miky; the handsome, ebony-skinned Sadorian warrior Straaka, towering over sturdy Miryum; all arrayed about me, and I glanced up to the tree-lined lip of the cul-de-sac, as I had done during the rebellion, wondering why Malik and his men were taking so long to show themselves and order the soldierguards we had lured there to lay
down their weapons. Then the soldierguards had begun to shoot their arrows.
I shivered, thinking how many more might have died that day if the Twentyfamilies gypsies had not intervened. I brought my gaze to rest on the white marker stone that the gypsies had carved. Swallow, who had succeeded his father as D’rekta of the Twentyfamilies, had shown it to me once before, but it seemed less white today. Maybe it was my imagination, for when I came closer, I could see that the stone showed no signs of weathering. I knelt to look at the names carved so beautifully and minutely into it, knowing that the Sadorian mystic Kasanda had taught the Twentyfamilies gypsies their famous stone-carving skills. I had no absolute proof that Kasanda and the original D’rekta were one and the same person, nevertheless, there was no doubt in my mind that Cassy Duprey, the young Beforetime artist of whom I sometimes dreamed, had adopted both titles at different points in her long life.
I continued reading the names of the dead, beast and human, chiseled into the marker. The last name was Straaka’s, although he alone of the dead was not buried in the valley. The coercer Miryum, whom he had died to shield, had taken his body and vanished, and we had neither seen nor heard of her since. The coercer-knights she had once led were convinced that Miryum had taken Straaka’s body to Sador, for Sadorians believed that their bones must rest alongside those of their ancestors lest their spirits wander. That seemed as likely a possibility as anything else, for Miryum had been out of her mind with grief and guilt.
The coercer was not the only guilty survivor of that day. The empath Miky constantly anguished over her twin brother, Angina, for although he had recovered from his
wounds, he would never regain his former strength. Once, I had used spirit eyes to look at the lad’s aura, and I had seen clearly how the red slashing mark, which echoed the fading scar at his temple, leeched brightness from the rest of his aura, draining it of vitality. The boy’s body had been healed, but his spirit had been savagely wounded, and no one knew how to heal such a thing.
I spoke each name on the marker aloud, remembering the owners of the names with a grief that made my eyes sting.
“Do you pray to Lud to mind their souls?” a voice asked.
I gasped and overbalanced trying to turn and stand at the same time. A tall woman with short silken yellow hair and piercing blue eyes stood a little distance away, hands on hips, watching me.
“You are Bergold’s sister, Analivia,” I said, recognizing her, for she had once saved me from a whipping.
She nodded to the marker. “I heard that many of your people died here. Those are their names scribed on the marker?”
I nodded and said, without really knowing why, “There are the names of animals as well as humans. How did you …?” I stopped, finding it hard to speak of my Misfit abilities openly, even now.
A mercurial smile played about her mouth. “You wonder how your Misfit powers did not detect me? I have always had a knack of being able to remain hidden.” Her smile dimmed. “In the house where I grew up, it was wiser to be invisible.”
That did not surprise me. Her father had been the brutal and oppressive Councilman Radost, who had once ruled the Council and Sutrium with an iron hand and heart. Not long before the rebellion, he had sent his sons, Bergold and Moss, up to the highlands to establish new Councilfarms, since one man was permitted to hold only so much land. Analivia had
lived with Bergold, the eldest of the three. Since the rebellion, Moss and his father had been sentenced to long terms on Councilfarms, but Bergold, a fair and kindhearted young man, had been permitted to continue running his orchards, as a cooperative venture. The fruit-bottling industry he had established was so successful that they had employed many Darthnor miners who could not work while the road to the smelters and west coast industries remained closed.
“Are you hunting?” I asked politely.
“You might call it hunting, if curiosity can be called a weapon and knowledge prey. I have been watching your people. I have been inside the mountain. The Beforetimers must have loved darkness to build in such a place, but what do your people seek there?”
“Some of us are curious about the Beforetimers and how they lived,” I said, realizing that she must have explored the caverns when the teknoguilders were inside them. Given how little awareness the teknoguilders had of anything outside their studies, I was not the least bit surprised, but Garth would be horrified.
“Why are you curious about us?” I asked.
She shrugged. “It interests me that you survived when so many people wanted to kill you. I am interested in survival.” She glanced down at the memorial marker. “I suppose you know that Malik is not the sort to give up his hatred because of agreements and treaties. My brother and father were like him. Hatred ran through their veins like fire, devouring all else.”
“I heard that they were killed trying to escape from the Councilfarm,” I said, uncertain whether to express sympathy, since it was known that Analivia’s brother and father had both mistreated her.
But she merely said rather cryptically, “Hatred does not die so easily.” She looked around the cul-de-sac. “This is a pretty place to be marked by so much hatred and death.”
“Marked?” I wondered if she was referring to the carved monument.
She saw my confusion and said soberly, “I think that terrible happenings mark a place so whoever comes there after feels a kind of echo.”
I said slowly, “Do you feel the mark of what happened here?”
She did not answer, seeming suddenly distracted.
“Will you come to the encampment with me?” I asked presently.
She shook her head but said that she would walk some of the way back with me. I half expected her to interrogate me, but instead, as we walked, she told me about her life as a girl. Her father had bonded only for a son to inherit his properties and power. It soon became clear that Bergold, his firstborn son, was nothing like his sire, lacking Radost’s ruthless ambition and brute will. So Radost turned his attention to his second son, Moss; they were like two vipers in a nest. Only his desire to increase his properties and extend his area of influence had made Radost send Bergold and Moss to establish Councilfarms in the highlands. He had intended, in time, to weld the properties together as one, under his control, but the rebellion had ended his ambitions.
“I am glad of the uprising,” she said. “I prayed for many years that the rebels would have the courage to do it.”
“Not all Landfolk welcome the change,” I said mildly.
She shrugged. “People fear that if the old ways come back, they will be punished for failing to oppose the usurpers. They have to learn not to be afraid. When the Council ruled, fear
clogged the air like mist above a moor. You could not breathe without drawing it in.”
Abruptly she stopped, and I saw the wagons. Analivia said goodbye and in the twinkling of an eye, she was gone. I tried to probe her but to no avail. I made my way toward the Teknoguild camp, wondering if the yellow-haired woman had learned to conceal her presence because of her childhood or whether she had a trace of Misfit ability. I was passing the second wagon when I noticed one of the soldierguards sitting up and gazing out. I stopped reluctantly to ask if he needed anything.
“I was just thinking that it had been a peaceful wintertime.” He laughed humorlessly. “The truth is, I am uneasy about going back to the city. Everything will be changed, and I don’t suppose it will be easy for an ex-soldierguard to find employment.”
“I am sure that High Chieftain Dardelan will find a place for you,” I said coolly.
“You don’t like me, do you?” the soldierguard said. “I do not blame you for it, but you don’t realize how it was back then for us. How your kind was made to seem …” His voice trailed off, and though I waited politely, he appeared to have forgotten what he meant to say. I bid him good day.
“I am not a forgiving sort of person,” I muttered as I walked on.
“That is because you are strong,” said a familiar voice.
I started violently and then saw the beasthealer, Darius, sitting before me, under a tree. “I’m sorry,” I said.
“Sorry about what?” he inquired gently. “About me, because I am so insignificant that you almost walked past me? About that man back there, who must daily grow in awareness of what he did in this valley? Or are you sorry about
yourself for having such a nature? But, no, people who are strong forgive themselves least of all.”
Darius smiled gently and with a graceful gesture invited me to sit. I lowered myself to the knobbled knee of a tree, shocked to notice that from a certain angle, Darius bore a strong resemblance to Swallow. It was hardly remarkable; Twentyfamilies gypsies seldom bonded to outsiders. Indeed, bonding among them required the approval of the old women who kept track of genealogies so the match would not be too close. I felt a stab of pity for Darius, to have such a face set above a dreadfully misshapen body. Then I wondered at my thought. Should I wish him a face as distorted as his body?
His gentle smile widened as if he heard my thoughts, and I felt the blood heat my cheeks. Twentyfamilies gypsies could see spirit auras with their normal eyes, and who knew what mine told him?
I rose, offering to send food, but Darius heaved himself awkwardly to his feet, saying he would come with me. Back at the camp, Katlyn and Kella were chopping mushrooms and garlic, and the healer looked up and smiled at our approach. She said that Dragon had found several huge rings of mushrooms, and they had decided to make a proper meal. I asked where Dragon was, and Kella told me that she had taken some grain to the horses. Darius examined the herbs Katlyn had gathered. I wanted to tell Kella about Analivia, but Darius held up a small scarlet flower with a crow of delight.
I left them to gloat over their herbs and sat on an upturned barrel beside Louis Larkin. Awake now, the old man was prodding moodily at the fire in a desultory way. Maruman lay curled asleep in his lap.
“He seems to do nothing but sleep lately,” I said.
Louis shrugged. “Carryin’ a deal of years is a terrible wearisome business.”
I did not doubt it, but in Maruman’s case, I did not know if it was just age. Until recently, the cat had been a great wanderer; his adventuring had earned him many scars and cost him an eye. But during the wintertime just past, he had not once gone wandering, choosing instead to sleep. I had been glad, but now I worried that the old cat might have abandoned his physical adventures to travel on the dreamtrails, which could be far more dangerous. In his dream journeying, Maruman did not have old bones and weary flesh, but any wound or hurt taken would be echoed by a real wound that would afflict his spirit, and this would affect him physically.
On impulse, I said, “I have been thinking of those Twentyfamilies gypsies who came to Obernewtyn when you were young.”
Louis gave me a knowing look. “So that’s th’ way of it, then. That Swallow.”
I stared at him in bewilderment for a minute, then realized what he was implying. Opening my mouth to give him the sharp edge of my tongue, I had a sudden clear vision of Swallow, leaning forward to kiss me after rescuing me.
I wondered if Swallow even remembered that kiss. So much had happened since. He had become D’rekta of the Twentyfamilies gypsies, with all the responsibilities of leading his people and fulfilling the mysterious ancient promises that lay at the heart of their community. Our realization that these promises connected to my secret quest meant that Swallow knew more about me than any other human. So much so that the Agyllians had made use of him more than once when I had been in danger. The overguardian of the Sadorian Earthtemple
had even told me that one of Kasanda blood would accompany me to the desertlands where I would receive Kasanda’s final message for the Seeker. I knew that Swallow had spoken of me to the seers among his people, and though he had never told me what they said, these days when we met, he was always very stern and serious. I wondered if I had not preferred the devilish gypsy who looked at me with admiration and kissed me without permission.
Louis was still looking at me expectantly, so I said, “Louis, would you let me enter your memory of the gypsies’ visit to Obernewtyn?”
The older man’s face creased in a scowl. “Ye’ll keep out of me brain, girl, be ye Mistress of all Obernewtyn! Look at what happened to Dragon when ye meddled with her!” His voice had risen and I felt the other three look at me. Louis pushed Maruman unceremoniously to the ground and stalked away stiff-backed.
“Cannot funaga control themselves/emotions?” Maruman sent coldly as he climbed onto my lap. I said nothing, for my throat was tight with unshed tears. Louis’s words seemed to highlight a growing feeling of my own inadequacy and displacement. Again, I found myself wondering when my quest would claim me.
“It claims you now,” Maruman sent. “It has never stopped claiming you. All that you do, ElspethInnle, serves the old Ones and the quest.”