“While the captain’s ashore, his bosun is at the helm. No one boards without official leave. It sure gives one pause for thought.” Shira stared down at the wristic. Now what was that about? MacAllister was joking as always, but as always there was something behind it. “You mean I can’t go up that gangplank without permission?” “That’s right,” MacAllister said. “Not without the captain’s approval.” She logged off, thinking how, in her ignorance, she’d done exactly that.
“He warned me. Shira—is it final? Shall I never see him again?” Her voice wavered. “Who can say?” Shira took a stab at crispness. “He’s been popping in and out for a while. He’s like the Cheshire cat only he goes in and out all at once.” “Shira, this is not amusing. Where does he go?” “Nowhere, Aunt. He’s likely here with us now.” Aunt Marita sat down abruptly, pulling her shawl more tightly around herself. “Metz Aramadz.”
Dang those people in the lift! (Ord) stamped hard up onto the first step. Too hard. Its edge broke off under him. He snatched for a non-existent stair rail, fell forward onto the stair, smacked his head on a step’s sharp edge, and went out. For an instant, his limp inert body lay sloped at an angle over the stair, then slowly it started to slide, bumping and gathering speed until he was rolling over and down.
Oh, Katz. His breath caught. He let out something like a sob. Down down down lying like a smashed bird, a clump of skin and bone and feathers in the mud. Because of him. Climb down climb down climb down and keep climbing. “Sir.” The young man peered over. “There’s a lay-by just here. Would you like to rest a bit?” “No.” Damn the damn guy’s calm! Ellisen felt like smashing in his face. Curtly. “Keep going.” Make it right. Make it right for Katz.
Gunther wheeled the chair towards the door. “We have to go quite a way. But it’s all on this level and the route I’m taking should be relatively clear… If anything happens, we may have to run for it as the Hesikastor said.” Run? Ord went out last, praying that that would never happen.
“And your mother? What of her? Forgive me if I offend.” Hesta thought for a bit. What to tell? What to withold. There wasn’t much of either! “I believe my mother to be dead.” “Believe?” On the other side of Hesta, Gudric exclaimed. “I—dropped my flask. I’m sorry.”
A youth stood in the doorway: clothes dark as midnight: leather helmet, surcoat and britches. Boots to the knees. Thick gauntlets, lanyard from which a long knife dangled in a dark brown leather sheath. Wide belt, sword in a thick black scabbard, much worn. Well, let me in, quick! He peered into the youth’s face, caught a glint of tawny eyes. B’hoc Lunan?
“B’hoc Lunan, I cannot fathom all you say. Where was that home? Is that where the people are gathering now?” She looked at him in amusement. “You really do know nothing. Of who you truly are, where you came from. I wonder how you ever got here.” And wonder on, thought Gudric grimly. He certainly wasn’t going to tell.
The youth had watched her progress unmoving. As she passed, he caught her eye. Something flashed between them. Too quick to name. One last look back. No one seemed to be aware that she had left, not even Bard. She turned, sped up the ramp away and on until the cellar was out of sight.
Someone knocked on the door. Three soft raps of the knuckles. “Ah.” Bard pushed back his chair and stood, leaning on the tabletop. “We are summoned. Come, we will speak more of this another time.” Another time? Not soon, not later, not tomorrow? As if the matter were of no immediate importance and there was all the time in the world. Utterly rattled now, Gudric followed Bard to the door and out.
He stared at the door, small and thick and firmly shut in stout rock wall. Beyond, a tangle of tunnels running up and down all ways. A haven, he’d thought it, timely escape from the merchant riders. But now it began to look more like a trap.
Hesta stared at him, numb. She’d resolved not to let him shock her. Well, he’d done that, all right. No wonder she had sensed her world dissolving all around her. But she’d not guessed at anything like this. In fact, in this brief space of a sandclock he’d shattered it completely and nothing would ever be the same….
Hesta eyed her curiously. Strange. Reyula called that country the home of bloodthirsty barbarians. This girl looked neither bloodthirsty nor barbaric. More like a harling wishing to be taken in as pet. Hesta had another urge—to seize and shake her! And so she might, after a fashion. I’m hungry. What is there to eat? If the girl was startled at the sudden mindspeech, she hid it well. A meal is prepared for the Hesta. I will fetch it at once. Reminder: there is much use of mindspeech from this point – no way to indicate via sound. In the text, it is denoted via usual offset.
He felt a familiar tingling. The Dark was lifting. In the beginning, when he had first discovered this strange gift, its effect had not lasted long. But as he’d grown proficient in its use, it had lasted well beyond his needs and he’d never had to test its limits. But there was one, it now seemed. Usage told it would return. And if past practice were anything to go by, come mid-morning it should be back full strength. This chapter brings in new element and change of scene. In the book, it is signalled at the first chapter break by a shift from regular roman text to offset, indicating the thoughts and movements of the newcomer. after that, text shifts back to normal, although the actions continue.
“Okay, Pross. Forget Hengst. Forget the idiots out there. Let’s get this thing fixed. Suk, check the old man, make sure he’s okay.” She made a face. “Waste of time, and you know it. He runs under his own steam whatever we do.” “I know. But put on a good show. We don’t want those bozos to know just how expendable we are, now do we?”
Hesta looked to the table. Still cluttered with the midday dishes. The cloth was stained, and littered with dropped food. No fire. Back by the wall, the day lamps burned steadily, casting their bright blue light over all. Rakia appeared, pushing through the crowd. “T’tahinay,” she said quietly. “You’d better come with me.”
“Tahin.” Monidia caught at his sleeve. “Go safely, by the will of the Quaur.” Almost Brocan smiled. One last look to Hesta then he was through the trapdoor and gone. Numbed by it all, Hesta stood with the rest while the trapdoor creaked down and the wine rack rumbled heavily into place.
“You saved my life, t’tahinay,” (Rakia) murmured. “Hold firm to that.” In a rush of gratitude, Hesta came up on the cushions of the chair, twisted about, put her arms around Rakia and squeezed her tight. “Laksra,” she whispered. Rakia pulled back sharply. “What did you say?” Hesta drew back also, startled. “I-I don’t know.” Voices sounded from the hall. Boots smacked smartly over the wide polished boards. Father.
In that case…what was the purpose of the stone place images? Maybe…maybe that’s where they were going to put her—not in the clan burial ground where she didn’t belong…. Hesta put feet to floor. There was just one way to find out….
“Rakia, those pictures came to me unsought and without warning. They have to be a message of some kind. . . . Can’t you see? I’m meant to know now. Now, Rakia. Now.” For a moment, Hesta thought the old woman would give in. But gathering her doyshan about her shoulders, Rakia got up stiffly. “T’tahinay—to bed.”