Tell me, woman, what do you feel for me—truly? She buried her head in his chest. If it’s the truth you want, shahansond is what I feel—as you feel it for me. Brocan tightened his arms about her as the sled turned up the hill.
“…This malady we’re both supposed to have, whatever is it?” Monidia considered. “What I feel for Coruan, that’s shahida. The pain of engorged krudt is shahanda. The want of bard for a lady in her tower is shahudah. Shahansond embraces all three, and by that surpasses them, for being pure it lasts forever.”
Brocan walked her back into his ap-howdh. “Tonight I strip Threa of rank. And you become first wife in her place.” “No!” “And I say yes!” He slammed the connecting door shut smartly. “The clan must learn of my true feelings for you, and feel the weight of my authority. From this day, none shall say the tahin of this clan is governed by the distaff!”
“Enjoy your leisure while you can,” (Annhilde) smiled. “For that one promises a cruel appetite.” She bent to caress the baby’s head, then planted a quick kiss on Monidia’s cheek. Monidia caught her hand. “I’m so ashamed.” “My dear, you weren’t to know. Now rest.” Annhilde went to the door. “Tahinay—” Monidia’s color was better now, and she was smiling. “Welcome to the howdh.”
“But I tell you, scorder, you tax me sorely. Even as I struggle to repay my debt to you, so it ever mounts. Listen: tomorrow we’ll breakfast in my tower, and I shall lay Kond at your feet. Now,” he went on, handing Hesta over. “You’ve told me all about this one. So tell me how you came to be, and how you managed to survive.”
(Annhilde) leaned down, reaching for the anuk. It wasn’t there. She leaned farther, thinking to have nudged it in her sleep. Still her hand did not encounter it. She fell to her knees, groped under the chair, under the bed, then struggled up, panic in her belly. The anuk was gone.
Ord nodded Prosser to the synergizer controls. Every one of these transmits was a reprieve for them. Right on, old man. Get going, and keep going, he urged, as ghostly shapes began to fill the middle of the lab floor. The longer you stall, the longer we stay. . . .
“And where’s my chamber? I’ll have to spend this night in my old nursery, eight ap-howds over. All steps, such inconvenience.” (Rakia) smacked the pile of boxes and chests. “I shan’t unpack. We’ll be out of here first light. Ah, here’s the hot water. Put that wretched anuk down, let’s get you washed for bed.” Combined Glossary for Vols I & II:
“Who was that man?” “An agent of the emperor, Annhilde.” An imperial agent! Merciful Quaur! They sniffed out orborgons clean across the Known World. “He was looking at the ledgers.” Brocan rubbed his chin. “I know. But he’ll find nothing untoward. Don’t worry, Annhilde,” he said, catching her anxiety. “You’re safe with me.”
“Any sign of Ragnar?” “Not a trace, tahinay. Of any of them.” “They’re out there.” “I hope they don’t catch cold,” Brocan said. Rakia came in. “I’ll leave you to get dressed, tahinay.” He kissed Annhilde’s hand, to Rakia’s obvious delight. “Then Gund will bring us a quick bite. The camp is almost struck and ready to move.”
Annhilde pointed to the last quarter (of the crest), to a device in the upper right hand sector that she did not recognize. “That,” Brocan said, “is the clan sigil.” A sigil? On a public crest? “It dates from our origin. Its meaning is hidden, even to the tahins.” She gazed upon the mystic symbol, intrigued both by the unexpected enigma, and by Brocan’s admission. A triangle trisected by three silver arrows whose tips met at its heart. Suspended above them, a silver oval. Did that denote a hole—window, maybe? Or a solid element, such as an egg? She would have lingered, wanting to know more, but Brocan walked away, clearly not disposed to discuss the matter further.
So great is the abhorrence towards these tiny helpless things that I fear many will press to include the parents, and even others of close bloodline. Once these rituals start, who knows where they may end? Pray the Quaur that no more of these babes be born in my lifetime. . . . Annhilde let the tasru leaf fall with a sigh. Where had they come from, and how had these two quite distinct bloodlines become so closely bound together? She’d scoured the records many times to find the answer, had even gone within, but the Quaur had not revealed the answer.
“You claim to be a man of your word,” (Annhilde) said at last. “So?” “You offered your name, I accepted it. After what I tell you now, you’ll change your mind. Will you also promise to let me go unharmed—and quietly?” He stood up, said slowly, as to one who wandered in the head, “Annhilde: what—have—you—done?”
Annhilde held her breath. He didn’t know her. But he’d said her name before the escort. Now she must stay to see that he utter no more than he should, either to them, or to Brocan. Brocan stepped in front of her. “Your quarrel with the scorder is over. She belongs to us.” Ragnar looked back at him askance. “What caznry has she worked on you? Pedlar, if you value your life—I tell you, she has—” Fear swelled within her like a riptide, fear for her granddaughter, swamping all reason. “You—still your tongue!” she cried, and moving out, threw back her hood.
Over (Brocan’s) arm was draped a cape of gray harpile with hood trimmed in sea-fur. He snapped it out and hung it about her shoulders, then offered her his arm. What are you doing? a voice warned deep inside. Shutting her mind against it, Annhilde picked up the anuk, took a deep breath, and walked out into the dark.
… Thanks to Brocan—tahin Brocan, she’d crossed the Rim, and was … under his protection. … His was a generous offer, but made in ignorance of the enormous stakes. Could she in all conscience, even for the child’s sake, accept it?. . . She tightened her arm about the anuk. Despicable, to deceive him, but did not the child’s need warrant such an act?
Above her head, the siffra wafted in the currents, like clouds. Heavenly veils. When she was small, she believed that if she stared long and hard enough, she would pierce those clouds and see the truth of all things. Sighing, she turned onto her side, her arm over the anuk now. “Laksra,” she murmured, and slept.
“Not far now,” the handler said, in evident relief. “A score of forhar hides says we’re almost on her.” A score of forhar hides? Anka remounted grimly. In that moment he’d have given half his season’s cull to prove the little handler wrong.
“But if she has crossed the Rim?” Fahn persisted. “Then we follow.” Stugar swung into the saddle. “Follow!” Pahar looked horrified. Stugar laughed shortly. “You swore the oath.” Shrewd and promising to be as wise as Lahr, he also had a small, malicious wit. “We can’t go home without Annhilde and the child.” He spat out his wad and took up his reins. “So let’s catch her fast, before we find ourselves in Kond!”
They moved off slowly at first, to get her used to the thar’s gait. She shut her eyes and clenched her jaw. How to endure this? And yet it was better than freezing to death back in that icy bolthole. And the farther they got from the Fend, the safer her grandchild would be.