She slid into her bolthole, had it almost shut—and cried out. In the center of her narrowing line of vision, directly across the pool from where she was, a man stood stock-still under the flying snow, and he was staring straight at her.
They moved off, down towards the pens, where the adahi awaited them, past rows of twitching window covers, all the way up the street. Anka, bringing up the rear, spat over his shoulder and made his lucky sign that they not find the two alive, for if they did, his troubles, far from ending, could well begin afresh.
Anka Ragnar loomed large in his crofthouse doorway, his very bulk a challenge, nay, a threat to the timid woman barring his way. His throat was raw, his breath, short; his hide coat hung wet and heavy on his back. He looked angry at seeing the woman there, more even than usual. He was angry. The anger masked his fear.
When her vision returned, the man was riding, and, she knew it just as clearly as he did himself, he would keep riding for full three days across the plain with the others, his mind part on the receding herds, but increasingly on getting home before . . . Shira, surrendering, lay still, locked in the shock of what lay before him, and in the terrible grip of his desperation. . . .
The Earth personnel are now split: some hiding out on in an Earth sub-polar base, the rest abducted up to Space Tektonics, Inc. (STI), Hengst’s massive orbiting complex near the moon.
No spoiler quotes this day. This chapter marks end of The Atheling. Readings of Book II of the quartet, The Orborgon, will begin Monday, February 24th. This book marks drastic changes in both worlds: the Earth people scatter, and the alien setting arcs to a Phrynis 1000 years post Torc, beginning in a remote region far removed from Gurnyac.
Torc dipped his head, feeling the unaccustomed weight of the crown, and as he did so, it slipped slightly on his bare scalp so that he had to snatch at it and push it back into place. Feric, still beside him, his back to the crowd, bowed. “I think, sire,” he murmured, “that the crown sits insecure upon a shaven head.”
“Gar is an ever-present danger while he lives. For that reason he must die before the sun sets on your crowning—and there’ll be edicts tomorrow for you to sign to that effect. If not, I’ll not, nor would any man in the whole Known World vouchsafe your future as king.”
Gurnyac! Even as Ramoni’s warning came, a slight sound came from the window. He crossed the room, felt his way along the thick harpile, slipped around into the bay. Reminder: While mindspeech is clearly indicated by italics in the book, here it cannot be so easily distinguished. All speech between Ramoni and Torc is silent: the interactions with Feric are normal talk.
Torc looked to the empty blackness where once the king’s tower had stood. He wanted above all to stand in the ashes where his father had lain. Later. He must see Feric first.
It was a sombre vigil. His thoughts went again and again to the old visions: of tattered flame and blood and masses crowding the countryside, of his father’s last cry, of the tocsin, the screams of those dying in the fire. Of Ramoni toiling up the hill and the mentor falling in his own blood. Those hours were the among the loneliest in his life.
“About Kabun—” “He’ll give you no more trouble, I promise.” “Well, that’s good….I don’t mean to complain, but he’s crazy. If, as you said, he’s one I’d be safe with, I’d like to see one who wished me ill.”
Poor Tanna. It were well if she ‘d died in the fire. Such hopes the girl had had of him. How long was it since he’d thought of her? His mind turned to Ramoni. Bridge of love. As if he were not heated enough already. He squirmed a little, then relaxed his body joint by joint and in the closeness of that cramped space sought comfort in the Canticum.
You’re a fool. I thought so and now I know it. Go, while you’re yet safe. Fool you may think me, but when a man must choose between a raging fire and an uncertain ledge, surely the ledge is worth the risk… NOTE: Spoken words have some advantages over written ones. But there can be loss. Mindspeech is depicted in italics. During this chapter when pilgrims use their voices again, the distinction between normal and silent speech is not evident. Torc speaks aloud only twice during his session with the Athor, and then not again until the chapter’s end.
The Iron Rose turned, looked blindly out into the darkness where Torc still stood. Look what you’ve done! she screeched at him, her face twisted. You hated thing. Now are you satisfied?
Smoke. She smelled smoke. She ran to the door. She took a deep breath to shout, choked. The passage was full of it. She ran back into her room, took up her washcloth, soaked it in water, put it over her face, and opened her mouth to shout again just as a strange light erupted through the passage windows, and a loud wild bell sounded tocsin over her voice. The king’s tower was afire.
The trembling gave way to faint excitement. What if—what if Gar came home again before she returned the scrolls? What if she couldn’t get back into his bedchamber? Or someone saw her leaving the queen’s tower and followed her there?… The excitement faded. But after another minute, so did the fear. If they caught her, so be it. At least she’ll have tried.
Out of the dark the old woman’s voice came. “I’m here. Pick her up, young man, gently, if you value your splendid outfit, and follow me.” “Harbeli!” Tanna was vaguely aware of being lifted, of the old woman’s face hovering somewhere upside down against the wheeling stars then in a flash of pain the face and the stars winked out.
Then tell me only one thing, if you can: shall I be king hereafter? The Athor regarded him long and solemnly, then slowly he nodded. Yes, he answered. You shall wear the crown. The Athor stood, and in that moment a shiver of cold air passed through the arbor, stippling the surface of the pool, scattering the fish, and sending a faint frisson through the brittle bushes, showering dead and dying leaves onto the grass, chilling Torc’s sweat-damp clothes.
If the scrot would make a likeness of the melk for him, and maybe give her some hair, that indeed would be a gift. But the mentor would never agree to ask Sheshu for the kind of likeness of her that Torc would want. But if he ever did, then, oh then would Torc test out the Gurnyac lore!