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Authors: Isobelle Carmody

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BOOK: The Dreamtrails
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Despite my need to know more about the
Black Ship
, I was struck by his generosity. Rather than probe him, I asked, “Why would you help me? You do not know me at all save that you judge me a thief.”

“I do not judge you at all, lass,” he said gently. “The world is full of people all too ready to perform that service for everyone and everything they meet. Maybe this leg makes me feel the suffering of others and wish to alleviate it, if I can. Or maybe it is that I see no evil in your face; therefore, if I can, and if you will allow it, I would help you.”

I stood up and reclaimed the cloak-wrapped saddlebag before looking into the metalworker’s face. “It is strange and wonderful to hear you speak so in this city, which
my
instinct tells me is full of cruelty and misery,” I said softly. “I thank you sincerely for your kindness, and I regret that I have lied to you. In truth, I am not seeking medicine or coin. I need information.”

His expression shuttered, and I held up a hand. “I am not a Council spy. I just want to know if you saw a young man come off the
Black Ship
. He is about my age with long blond hair and a very handsome, striking face. He would not have worn Herder attire, and he was not shipfolk.”

“Who are you?” the metalworker asked.

“No one of any importance,” I said. “But I came here for
something more important than you can possibly imagine, not only for me and my friends, but for all who dwell on this coast. Please, the fair man. Did you see him?”

After a long searching look, Aro nodded slowly. “Happens I did see a blond man come from one of the ship boats. I did not mark his face, but my friend who sold you the bannocks said that he looked handsome. Una had packed up and was waiting for me, for we generally walk home together. She saw them first.”

“Them?” I interrupted, unable to hide my growing excitement.

“The fair man and the Herder,” the metalworker said.

“A
Herder
!” I echoed. I understood that disguising his plague carrier as a Herder would be a stroke of brilliance on Ariel’s part. No one would dare harm or harass a priest, and he would be able to go anywhere he liked without being questioned. Unfortunately, it also probably meant that he was in the local cloister.

“Where is the Halfmoon Bay cloister?” I asked.

“Some distance outside the city wall, near the main road,” the metalworker said. “But I doubt the Herder I saw could have walked so far.”

“Why? Was he injured or … ill?”

The metalworker shook his head. “Neither, by my eyes. But there was something wrong with him. There was a look in his eyes of … I can only call it confusion. He would walk a few steps and then stop, almost as if he had forgotten what he was doing. In each case, his companion led him on until he walked of his own accord again.”

“Do you have any idea where they went, if not to the cloister?” I was almost stammering with excitement.

He shook his head. “I am sorry.”

“I must find out where he is.” I stopped abruptly, for something the metalworker had said struck me. He had spoken of
seeing
the Herder’s expression. That meant he had seen the null’s face!

It was too good a chance to waste. I formed a probe and entered his mind again. This time I did not confine myself to the upper levels of thought, which run just under speech and merely echo it. I fine-honed my probe and plunged deeper, through the strange mists and half-dreams and phantasms of the subconscious layer of his mind, down into the great body of memory and dream. To enter that level in another person’s mind was dangerous, because the compulsion of other people’s dreams and memories was even more powerful than one’s own. Fortunately, I had long mastered the means of shielding myself from the pull of such dreams and memories. I sought a particular memory, and as I had hoped, our conversation had stirred it to the surface, so it was very bright and easy to find.

I entered the memory, being careful to retain a thin, coercive shield. I saw the market where I stood, but now it was night and most of the stalls were closed or closing, save an ale shop on the other side of the square and a man hawking fried bits of fish to the other stallholders. The enticing odor was making the metalworker think a bit of fish would please his sister with whom he lived. He imagined her delighted expression—“Rolf! My favorite!”—when he arrived home. The bannock seller was packing up as she waited for her last rolls to bake, and Rolf was finishing a special order for a seaman who had paid handsomely for the work to be completed before he went home. The fellow would come soon, and he wanted to be ready.

Una approached Rolf’s stand with a swagger and threw a
package on the bench, saying brusquely that he might just as well have them since she had overbaked for the morrow. He thanked her, taking her offering for the generosity that it was.

“You should not work so late, Aro,” she scolded.

“I promised,” Rolf told her, continuing to work. “Wait a little, and I will walk you home.”

She shook her head in irritation. “I am not afraid to walk alone. But someday your determination to keep your word will see you dead.”

“Unfortunately, keeping your word is the point of giving it,” Rolf said, with a smile to soften the sting.

“Well, let us hope your fine and hasty seaman keeps his word and pays you well for this late work,” Una retorted tartly.

Rolf decided not to tell her that he had already been paid. Una liked pretending to be tough and cynical, and he liked playing the naive fool for her.

He finished the last buckle and was polishing it when Una bade him look, in a low voice that caught his attention. She was gazing out to sea where a ship boat was rowing in from the
Raider
. Rolf felt the same disquiet he always did at the sight of the
Black Ship
, for he could not help but think about its wretched cargo. Still, a ship boat rowing ashore from the
Raider
this early was odd. Usually no one came from the ship before midnight, for the slaves were brought out of the cells early in the morning to avoid marching through a crowded market. Not that anyone was like to protest, even if babies and older women were being taken, but the Raider’s ways were always secretive. The man himself never set foot ashore save to look over the penned slaves, and once he had approved, he immediately reboarded his ship boat and returned to the
Raider
, leaving his men to complete the transaction.

As he and Una watched, a burlyman caught the tether ropes thrown up from the ship boat, and in a moment, two men climbed onto the nearest jetty. One of the new arrivals wore Herder robes, which was nothing unusual. The
Raider
and its smaller sister ships often brought Herders or carried them away while collecting shipments of slaves or bringing spiceweed for Councilman Kana. But this Herder was not alone, and the man with him, with his long fair hair and fine white cloak, was no Herder. As the pair made their way along the pier, Rolf noticed that the fair-haired man was half-supporting the Herder, who limped and kept halting. Rolf began to industriously polish his buckles, and Una pretended to be utterly absorbed in the activity when the two neared Rolf’s stall. It was unwise to take too obvious an interest in the Raider’s affairs. But right opposite the stand, the Herder tripped. His hood slipped back, and his face was momentarily illuminated in the brazier fire’s ruddy glow.

For an instant, Rolf had looked into the Herder’s dark blue eyes, and it was as if someone had punched him hard in the gut. The Herder’s eyes had been utterly devoid of intelligence or thought, yet his expression had been one of unimaginable horror. It was, Rolf thought, as if he had seen something so indescribably awful that reason had fled, leaving only the frozen shell of horror etched into his face. He had seen such expressions before on those unfortunates taken from the cloister to Herder Isle, but he had never seen a Herder look like this.

Inside his memory, I was reeling with my own shock, for the gaunt and haunted face of the Herder
was that of the Misfit coercer Domick
.

“W
HAT IS IT
, lass?” Rolf asked, looking concerned.

I blinked into the sunlit day, feeling as if I had staggered from a dark tunnel. I tried to make some answer, but the discovery that
Domick
, the coercer who had vanished under mysterious circumstances the previous year at the same time the Herders had taken Rushton prisoner, was the person Ariel had infected with a deadly plague—the person I had come to the west coast to find—was beyond any imagining. I understood now that it must have been Domick’s mind I had touched the previous night, and I thought with anguish of the coercer, whom I had known for as long as I had known Rushton. Brydda had always claimed it odd that both men vanished at the same time, and I realized now that they had been taken together. One of the Threes had said that Ariel had had plans for Rushton, but he must have been mistaken. It had been Domick around whom his plans had been formed, unless he had originally thought to use Rushton as his plague null. Perhaps that explained the state of Rushton’s mind when we found him. Ariel might have tried to use him and failed, so he had taken Domick to Norseland, leaving Rushton in the Sutrium cloister cells, where we had found him.

“Lass, are you well?” Rolf asked, beginning to rise awkwardly from his stool.

I nodded, realizing I must have been standing there for
long moments, pale and gaping. I shook my head with a sobbing laugh. “I must seem mad to you. But it is only that I have … I have had a shock.”

“Sit down again and catch your breath. You look ill, truly,” Rolf said in concern.

“I am not ill,” I said, and then gave a wild bleak laugh at the knowledge that soon everyone on the west coast, including this man, would be ill if I could not find Domick.

And what to do when I did find him? I wondered. But that question was too dark to contemplate.

“You must not sit here laughing and weeping,” Rolf said sternly. “You will call too much attention to yourself, and someone will trot away to tell the soldierguards there is a wild creature at the market that wants locking up. The cells may be full, but the Councilmen won’t want any trouble on the eve of the festival.”

That I might bring suspicion on him, after his kindness, enabled me to master my emotions. “I do not want to endanger you, Rolf,” I said hoarsely.

He frowned. “How is it that you know my name?”

“The … the bannock seller spoke it,” I began, but he shook his head.

“Una calls me Aro, which is short for Arolfic Smithson. Only my sister calls me Rolf.” His voice was steady, and his eyes looked into mine.

I drew a long breath, forcing myself to be calm. “How I know your name is part of a much greater and more complex story, and I have not time enough to tell it to you. Yet I hope you believe that I would tell it if I could, for I trust you. Why I trust you is also part of that larger story. Let me say only that you offered help, and I accept it. I need to find the Herder who came ashore with the fair man, as swiftly as can be, and
get him out of the city. It is more important than you can possibly imagine.”

Rolf held my gaze for a long moment, knitting his brows slightly. Then he said, “The Herder is known to you?”

“He … was once a friend.” I choked out the words. “He is only disguised as a Herder but is not really one. But the Herders have done something to him that could bring deadly harm to all who live here on the west coast. I have come to prevent that.”

He nodded slowly. “You are a rebel, then. I guessed as much. Well, I may be a fool, but as you say, I offered help, and help I will give. I don’t know where those two went, save that they went north from the market, but that is not the way to the cloister. I have a friend who can help you locate them. Go to Metta at the laundry and tell her I said to introduce you to Erit. Say my name to him—Aro, not Rolf—and tell him I want him to help you. Tell him what you have told me.” He gave me clear directions to the laundry, but when I moved to depart immediately, he caught my wrist in a gentle but powerful grip and added that if I needed further help or a refuge, Erit would show me where he lived with his sister by the fifth gate.

“I can promise you a safe, clean bed and a good meal, and then after, I will help you and your friend leave the city.”

“I thank you,” I said, unable to tell him that Domick was infected with the plague and was, therefore, the last person he would ever want as a guest.

I hurried in the direction he had indicated, weaving and elbowing my way through the increasing press of laughing, chattering people. I reached the street Rolf had described, to find it deserted, and I could not resist stopping to send out a probe shaped specifically to Domick’s mind. I did not expect
it to locate, so I was not disappointed when I failed.

The laundry was thick with steam and bustling with activity. Amid the smells of soap and boiling washing, I approached a young girl up to her elbows in suds and asked for Rolf’s friend Metta. She pointed to a merry-faced woman stirring a steaming boiler of white clothes. She was middle-aged, with enormous splendid breasts, a mass of treacle-brown curls, and the mischievous, flirtatious eyes of a much younger woman. Seeing me approach, she asked courteously what my need was. I spoke the words Rolf had bidden me say, and her smile faded, but into concern rather than animosity.

BOOK: The Dreamtrails
10.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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