“T’tahinay,” Brocan said. “Be of cheer. What you have endured is over. Just think, even that has brought some compensation. Look at all these housefolk. You have their attention now. So enjoy it. You’ve paid your dues.”
Hesta bent down, peered under the cap frill. Rakia’s eyes were closed. She slid onto the nearest chair and sat, hands clasped in her lap. You took your time. Hesta started. Smiled. The old miper! Didn’t want to get back under your thumb too soon, Rakia. Where have you been? Over the hills and far away. I’ll tell you more when you are out of bed.
“Let us be clear, t’tahinay,” he added wryly. “The Hesta may be in your domain. But the t’tahinay is in mine. And for all the events of the past few days, she is still a rash and headlong child of but ten sunarounds who still has much to learn of the everyday world as anyone in this house would testify. Are we agreed on that?” Hesta looked down at her boots. “Yes, Father.” “That’s good. So now, while I address your evident needs, go to Rakia and wish her days of happiness for me!”
Gudric laughed. “Well, that tool certainly took care of Bard within this past space of the sandclock.” “Oh, yes,” Hesta agreed, gazing out across the plain. “He’s done.” And quite gone. The last shade was faded into evening mist. Together, they cranked the bridge back up. “What now?” Gudric asked, looking anxiously towards the house. “In your words, we lift the Dark. Then go to find my father.”
Hesta took her bearings. She was sitting easy in the saddle, leaning lightly back against her father’s chest. Slowly, she straightened, then twisting sideways, she leapt, and as she did so, she vanished from her father’s sight.
Men leapt down, seized B’hoc Lunan roughly, she, for some strange reason, offering not the least resistance. “Who are you, scrot, what do you in this region? Speak, before your gizzard’s slit!” No! Hesta was on her feet. One man called out, pointed. “Another—there!” The one holding B’hoc Lunan looked towards her and Hesta caught his face. Greyr.
Hesta could barely think. “Something bad’s happened. Father—” “He spoke to you?” “Rakia. She told me to hurry. Oh, B’hoc Lunan!” “Listen, it might not be anything, t’tahinay. If you sent, and she heard you, mayhap she’s just impatient to see you.” “No!” Hesta heard her voice rising. “It wasn’t like that. I merely was thinking of her. But however this happened, I am certain that I am needed—now….”
B’hoc Lunan returned knife to belt, smoothed her coat back over it. “The rain is easing,” she said, looking upward. “Asticalys, too. We rest a bit, then press on. We have a way to go.”
“I should get back to Grandfather. He’s—” She stopped, unable to finish. The library dimmed. She heard Gunther call out, thought she saw Susann running through from the office. She felt arms catch her as she fell. She was going out. Grandfather would be, too. “Grandfather—Aunt Marita,” she tried to say, then everything whirled away and she was left shivering on cold, dark, empty, windscored plain. . . .
Jocko smacked his lips and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “We’ve all gotten a boost from this,” he said. “Not just because of the Hesikastor. It’s one in the eye for Hengst.” “Not all,” Rufus said. He looked from Aunt Marita to Shira. Susann! Shira leapt up, stricken. “I’ll be right back.” She made for the entrance. “Shira!” Aunt Marita called after her. But Shira kept going.
“Our control crew is excellent,” the Hesikastor said. “But this ship is somewhat beyond their experience.” “How come?” “Random oscillation, Ordy,” Suk said. “Don’t you ever listen? Be like catching a pancake in a frying pan.” “An invisible pancake,” Prosser said. “An invisible morphing pancake,” Suk said. “Tossed in a race and it’s not even Shrove Tuesday!”
Prosser dragged Ord up the chute and through the open hatch. “Now!” Gunther yelled to someone behind him. The chute telescoped back up, the hatch snicked shut, there came a rumbling whine, then an eerie silence. And Ord passed out.
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.”
“Gudric, if you would help the t’tahinay into the saddle?” “Nay!” Hesta said firmly. “You think I don’t know how to mount a thar? Here.” She thrust the lantern at B’hoc Lunan. “You take it, lead the way.” And before they could say a word, she was up and ready to ride. Thus they set off, around the masking panel, and into the tunnel, leaving the cave behind.
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.
Hesta winced…. “I don’t know what to say.” …. “Well, whatever it is, be quick. Think what you’d have me do before I’m gone.” … “B’hoc Lunan—please—get me out of here.”
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.