The Northern Girl [Book 3 of the Tornor Trilogy]
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by Elizabeth Lynn
Description: The visions begin when Sorren is only 13. Too numb to be frightened, Sorren eventually learns that this gift to travel places in her mind is called Far-travelling, and she is marked as a member of the White Clan of Arun. But this honor of witch frightens Sorren and she does not want to come within the Tanjo and serve. So instead, Sorren is determined to keep this gift a secret for as long as she can, whatever the cost may be.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads, 1980
eBookwise Release Date: January 2002
21 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [675 KB]
Reading time: 457-639 min.
"A marvelous blend of fantasy... and realism in the characters and the social interactions." MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY
"Astonishing." THEDORE STURGEON
"A fine ear for the right word and a fine eye for action." VONDA MCINTYRE
"An unusual, powerful and beautiful book." JOHN VARLEY
"A book of depth and vigor and surprises." ROBERT SILVERBERG
"Her women have dignity and strength." MARGE PIERCY
"An adventure story for humanists and feminists." JOANNA RUSS
I hate you, Sorren thought at the ocean.
The summer air, heavy with salt, made her tired. The money bracelet which Arré had given her for shopping had left a red line on her arm. Behind her on the dock, the stink of fish steamed upward like smoke. Sails bobbed in the bay. An empty cart bounced by her, pulled by a weary gray mule. Flounder, she reminded herself. Flounder in four days.
She walked through the market, past vendors and shops and stalls, to the familiar slope of the hill. The ocean winked at her back, brassy as a plate. Shop banners hung limply in the windless morning. The cobbled streets were hot, but Sorren barely felt it through the tough calluses on her feet. By the time she reached the hilltop, she was plodding, and her cotton shirt stuck to her back and breasts.
She paused before the Med gate to gaze over the city. The red dome of the Tanjo shone at its heart. South the ocean seethed and glittered, speckled with the fishing fleet's yellow sails. East and west of the city lay the cotton fields. She could not see the pickers with their great sacks over their shoulders, but she knew they were there. North were the vineyards, out of which she had come seven years back. She had only gone back twice to visit, the first time to show off her new clothes, the second time for her mother's burial. She arrived too late, and said her farewells by the grave, trying to recall clearly what her mother had looked like. That had been four years ago. Now when she tried to, she could not even remember the outline of her mother's face.
The big blue building to the east, beside the river bank, was the hall of the Blue Clan. Blue banners waved before it, and from shops and stalls and carts small blue flags declared their owners to be members of the Guild in good standing. The carts that carried wine barrels from the Med vineyards to the city had blue streamers on them. Beyond the vineyards lay the Galbareth Fields, where the grain grew; beyond the grain lay the steppe--and the mountains. Sorren closed her eyes a moment, and they loomed in her mind, hard and gray and incorruptible, the way they sometimes loomed in her dreams.
But there were no mountains near Kendra-on-the-Delta. Sorren opened her eyes. The stone from which the Tanjo was built had come from the Red Hills, through Shanan and the Asech country, a long journey, days and days away.
She turned to the gate. The gate guard was watching her from his post near the shade of the kava fruit tree.
"Good day," she said.
He grunted. His dark red shirt was damp with sweat. He had laid his spear down on the stone. She wondered what Paxe would say if she came suddenly from the Yard, and saw her guard without his spear.
"Hot," she said.
"Yes," said the guard.
The green peel of a kava fruit lay in the gutter like a piece of green cloth. All the guards ate the kava fruit when they were on gate duty, but this guard--he was young, with a small sandy mustache--had not yet learned to kick the peel out of sight. He was not going to open the gate for her, either. She reached to do it herself. He changed his mind and reached, too, and their fingers touched. His were sticky.
She walked through the iron gate. "Thank you," she said.
He grunted again. The guards were never sure how to treat her. She was a bondservant, but half the time Arré treated her as if she were her daughter ... and there was Paxe.
The gate closed. She strolled across the courtyard. Flowers grew along the sides of the path, drooping in the heat. As always, the pattern of the courtyard tile intrigued her. She paced along one edge of the figure. The blue triangle on the red field was uneven. She wondered if the artist who had designed the courtyard had made it so deliberately.
As she got to the front door, it opened, and a man strode out. They bounced off each other. More for balance than for courtesy, Sorren went down on one knee.
His perfume was familiar. She squinted. It was indeed Isak. It was harvest month; why was he not at the vineyards, overseeing the picking? "I'm sorry, my lord," she said.
He smiled at her. "Sorren." His soft voice always reminded her of a cat's purr. He wasn't angry, of course. Isak never grew angry. "Be more careful, child. You would not wish to topple one of our august Council members, would you?"
"No," she said.
"Of course not." Brushing his ringed hand over her head, he strolled across the courtyard to the gate. Sorren rose. Her left knee hurt, and she rubbed it. Isak spoke a moment with the gate guard; the sunlight glistened on his blue silk tunic. She wondered if he was telling the man to pick up his spear.
His muscles had felt hard as tile under the shirt. Now Arré would be in a bad mood; she was always cranky after she talked to Isak.
She went into the house. It took a moment for her eyes to grow used to the darkness. The long, cool hall smelled of lilies. A lacquered vase of them stood on a little table beneath the statue of the Guardian. This statue was new; it had been made by the sculptor Ramath, the same sculptor who had directed the making of the big image in the Tanjo. Sorren bowed toward the image. Stone lips smiled at her. Stone eyes gleamed.
She wondered what had happened to the old statue. Surely, she thought, you could not break it, as you might break an old unwanted pot. That would be disrespectful to the chea. She listened for the sound of Arré's voice from the workroom. This morning Arré had planned to meet with her surveyors, to discuss their blueprints for enlarging some streets. But she heard nothing. She peered into the large parlor. Elith was there, dusting, mumbling to herself as she passed the cloth over the wall screens.
Elith was old, fat as a feather mattress, and deaf, but she had been Arré Med's mother's personal maid, and Arré kept her on. Sorren raised her voice. "Elith! Do you know where she is?"
The old woman turned slowly. "Kitchen."
Sorren went to the kitchen. All the windows and doors were open, with nets across them to keep out flies, but the big room was hot, hotter than the market. Arré was there, talking to the cook. She turned as Sorren entered. "Well? What did the fishmonger say?"
Sweat jumped on Sorren's upper lip; she rubbed it. "The fishmonger said that he could not get you perch, but he could get flounder."
"Flounder will do."
"That's what I told him."
"How do you want it fixed?" said the cook.
"I don't care. Not too spicy, that's all. Marti can't eat spiced meat."
Marti Hok was one of the Councillors. The flounder was for the Council meeting. The cook nodded and started calling to the apprentices. Sorren recalled her own time in the kitchen. She had hated it. Once she fainted, to everyone's disgust. The other scullions teased her for weeks for being afraid of blood, but it had not been the blood that had made her faint, but the heat. It was worse than the heat in the grapefields. Maybe it had been the heat and the smells combined. She was sensitive to smells, and there were always too many of them in the kitchen.... No wonder cooks threw things.
Arré was wearing white. It made her skin look darker than it was. The heat furled her hair into small curls. Her hair was almost as short as Paxe's, but the texture was different, and her curls were striped with gray. She jerked her head at Sorren. "Come," she said, and marched out of the tiled kitchen. In the cooler corridor they both leaned on the wall.
Arré said, "I think it gets hotter every summer." She squared her shoulders. Her eyes glinted upward. "I'm glad it's you doing the shopping, and not me."
Sorren grinned at the thought of Arré Med, Councillor of Kendra-on-the-Delta, head of the Med family, buying flounder on the docks.
"What are you smiling at?" said Arré irritably.
"I was thinking how surprised the fishmonger would be."
"Wipe your face," said Arré. She started down the hall. "And don't laugh at me."
She was cranky. Sorren wiped her sleeve across her lip. Arré went into the small parlor. It was her workroom and sitting room. It faced south; by day its walls were bright, sundrenched. Its inner walls, like those of the large parlor, were made of screens. The outside wooden wall was hung with a woolen tapestry, all reds and blues. The dyes for the wool came from the Asech country; no other dyes made such brilliant and durable colors. The floor was wooden and unmatted. Sunlight fell in bright streaks across it. The lines of the grain gleamed. Arré sat in her cushioned chair. Sorren stood by the door. The older woman glanced at her. "Sit down," she said, pointing to the footstool. "I need to talk." Obediently Sorren sat. A lacquer table stood at the right side of the chair, its red and black surface shining in the sun. Against the wall, a glass-faced case held a rack of scrolls: the Med accounts. Once a month, a scribe came from the Black Clan--not a Scholar, they did not do such mundane work--and went over them for error, under Arré's watchful eyes. Arré had no steward; it seemed unnecessary in a household which consisted of herself and her servants. She did the bookkeeping.
"Did you see Isak?" she asked.
Sorren nodded. "We met at the gate." Arré's face was taut, as it always was when she talked about her brother. Silver bracelets, two on each arm, clinked as she folded her hands in her lap. The largest bracelet had a blue jewel in it. "What did he want?"
Arré grimaced. "Whatever he can get."
"But it's harvest. He should be at the fields."
"Nonsense. Myra manages the vineyards better than he ever could, or cares to." Myra was Isak's wife. "He asked to dance for the Councillors."
"Did you say yes?"
Arré's hands flew apart. They were big on her small frame, ungraceful, not pretty hands. Isak had pretty hands. "He's the finest dancer in the city--how could I refuse?"
Even Arré admitted that Isak could dance. It was his gift, his art, as administration was hers, and perhaps his passion, or one of them. He had been trained to it by Meredith of Shanan, who had been trained by Berenth of Shanan, who learned it from his mother Jenézia of Shanan, and she, every city child knew, had danced with Kel of Elath. It was his right to wear the shariza, the red scarf of the cheari, but, with greater delicacy than he usually showed, he chose not to. Sorren had asked him about it once. "The old chearis were trained in arms and in the warrior arts," he said. "I am not."
"Why not?" she asked.
"War is uncivilized; you know that," he had answered. "It's a crudity better left to soldiers. Besides, the wearing of blades is forbidden in Kendra-on-the-Delta."
But he danced the role of the warrior well enough. Sorren pattered her hands on her knees. "Does he want me to play for him?"
"We haven't had time to practice."
"It won't matter. Do something you both know. Anything."
Sorren had drummed for Isak for four years, the first year only at small parties, but the next year at the Festivals: Harvest Feast, Spring Feast, the Feast of the Founding of the City. "I guess...."
"It won't matter. He won't care what he does, as long as he can get near the meeting."
Isak's political ambitions and Arré's contempt for them were no secret in her household. But, Sorren thought, that isn't fair. Isak does care about his dancing. She had watched him practice for hours, while sweat poured from him and his lungs heaved for breath, till anyone with less discipline would have stopped, rested, poured water on his head, something. His muscles were like Paxe's, smooth and stretched, and he moved with the same kind of economy, but with more grace.
"What are you thinking about?" Arré demanded.
Sorren blushed. She did not want to say, of Paxe; it seemed crass. "Being graceful," she said.
Arré Med laughed. "Never mind it," she said. She was a small woman, built like Isak. Though the stool Sorren sat on was lower than Arré's chair, when Sorren straightened their eyes met on the level. "You don't need to be graceful. People notice you anyway."
Sorren said, "That's because I'm tall, and pale." She frowned at her light skin. In the hottest sun, it refused to brown; instead, it turned an ugly and uncomfortable red. She touched her hair, which was long, and the color of wheat. "I would rather be dark, like Paxe."
"Dark is the fashion now," said Arré. "But never regret your height. We small folk find other ways to make people notice us. Like Isak."
People always noticed Isak. If they didn't, he made them. He could turn heads in a crowd faster than anyone. But people noticed Arré, too.
"Will you need something new to wear?" Arré said.
"When you play for Isak, at the Council meeting." Arré tapped the chair arm. "Pay attention, child."
"I'm sorry," Sorren said. Reminded, she slipped the money bracelet from her arm and held it out. Arré took it, her fingers automatically counting the remaining shell pieces. "No, I have enough clothes."
"If you want something, just ask." Arré grinned like an urchin in a street fight. "Isak will pay for it."
A light tapping on the screen made her look around. Lalith stood in the doorway. She was thirteen, lithe and little and brown-skinned. Arré had picked her from the vineyards in the same way she had picked Sorren, and brought her to live and work in the house. "The cook sent me to bring you this," she said. She held out a bowl.
"Well," Arré said, "bring it here! What is it?" Lalith gave it to her. It was a dish of berries with sweet cream poured over them. Arré had a notorious sweet tooth. "Thank you, child."
"And this came." Lalith extended a letter. The wax seal had a crest on it.
Arré ripped it open. She scanned the writing and her dark eyes frowned. "When did this come?" she said.
"Just now. A servant brought it." Lalith shifted from one foot to the other.
"Bah." Arré put the letter down on the lacquered table top. "From Boras Sul," she said. "To inform me that he is ill and cannot come to the Council meeting, he regrets, thank you, my dear Arré." She waved at Lalith to leave, and picked up the bowl of fruit. "He will send his son, who is even more of an idiot than he is. Bah."
Sorren said, "Maybe he is ill?"
"Maybe he eats too much," Arré said contemptuously. Boras Sul was very fat.
Sorren ran a thumb along the smooth lacquer. "I can find out."
"The servants' mail?" said Arré. Sorren nodded. "Don't bother. Save it for something important. Tell the cook that Boras will not be at the Council dinner. Go on. I don't need you."
The letter had brought back her ill temper. Sorren left her alone to work it out. She went to the kitchen to tell the cook. He was playing the pebble game across the cutting board with Kaleb, the night watch captain, Paxe's second-in-command. She watched the design form on the grid.
She told him about Boras Sul, and he shrugged. "Thought it was bad news," he commented. "That's why I fixed the berries."
"I don't think it helped," Sorren said.
"Too bad," said the cook. Kaleb moved a pebble three spaces, and he scowled. "Don't lean on the board," he said to Sorren.
She had not been leaning on the board. She wondered if Paxe had seen Isak arrive. She glanced at Kaleb. Like her, he was from outside the city; he was Asech, brown and high-cheekboned, with stones set in his ears. "Is the Yardmaster in the Yard?" she asked.
Without lifting his eyes from the board, he nodded. * * * *
Outside the house, the heat fell on her again. She went swiftly through the rear courtyard. The tile here was a different pattern than in front of the house. The paths were lined with sour apple trees. She marched under the spreading, blossom-laden branches. There were petals scattered over the tiles. At the end of the row of trees, she balanced on one leg and picked the petals first off one, then off the other foot. Lalith swept the petaled tiles every morning, and three hours later they were pink again. She continued toward the Yard. The gate to it was on the other side, but she was not going in; she couldn't, not being a soldier. When she came to the high red wooden fence she pulled herself up and sat on the top.
From this vantage point she could see the whole Yard, from the gate to the weapons shed. There were perhaps twenty people in the Yard. They stood in a circle around a small moving human knot. The center of the knot was Paxe. Six guards ranged around her. They dived at her, and she dodged and waved and turned, throwing them easily, keeping two paces ahead of their steps, lunging at them to toss them when their tired steps slowed.
Paxe saw Sorren perched on the fence, and grinned, white teeth flashing, but she continued the demonstration without breaking stride. Finally she halted it with a shout. "Yai!" The watching guards drew close to listen. Her hands moved as she talked. She wore--they all wore--training clothes, the cotton shirt and drawstringed pants that reminded Sorren of Isak's practice uniform. She had said so once to him, and he explained that the old chearis had dressed like that, and the city guards continued the tradition without knowing where it came from.
"Are there any real chearis left?" she asked him.
A different man might have been insulted at the suggestion that he was not a real cheari. But Isak never got angry, and besides, he had said as much himself.
"Maybe," he answered. "In the north, somewhere. Legend says that a scion of the line of Van of Vanima still lives in the Red Hills."
Sorren tingled. She remembered that her mother had told her stories about the magical valley, called Vanima, where no one was ever sick or cold or hungry, where it was always summer. "Is there such a place?" she asked Isak.
He had smiled that sardonic smile. "Legend says there is."
"But you don't believe it."
He shook his head. "No."
Sorren knew the story of the Red Clan. It had been told to her around the pickers' campfires. Once the city Yards had been public places, where children went to learn the arts of fighting. The strongest, surest, most graceful of these children went on to learn to dance. Those who could both fight and dance were called chearis, and the best of these bound themselves into companies, joined by love and respect and skill. Each company was called a chearas. They traveled from village to town to city, from steppe to sea, dancing, teaching the weapons' arts, and drawing the hearts of all who watched them, across the land of Arun, into harmony.
But as more people crowded into Kendra-on-the-Delta, the Council grew nervous; it banned the bearing of edged weapons and then the teaching of edged weapons within the city gates. Shanan Council of Houses followed suit. Finally even Tezera Council passed a Ban. The chearis, appalled at the abandonment of tradition, took their complaint to the Tanjo. The Council of Witches deliberated, and finally its chief, the L'hel, spoke. All things change, she had said. The chea manifests itself in peace. A ban on edged weapons will make the cities peaceful. Therefore, let the soldiers fight, and let the chearis dance. There is no more need for cityfolk, except those called to the guard, to learn fighting or weaponry.
Some chearis, like Meredith of Shanan, laid aside their knives, left the Yard, and taught the dance, as the witches commanded. Some joined the city guard, and taught the arts of spear and cudgel and empty-handed combat. These skills were permitted by the Councils to the guards, but to no others.
But most chearis, disbelieving, angry, and unwilling to change, left the cities.
"Where did they go?" Sorren asked first Isak, and then Paxe. The old history intrigued and enchanted her.
Isak said, "They went west, and north, looking, I suppose, for Vanima, where the Red Clan began."
Paxe said, "They went west."
"Then is there still a Red Clan?"
Paxe said, "Ask Isak Med. He could wear the shariza, if he wished."
And Isak said, "Ask Yardmaster Paxe."
But you could not push Paxe to talk when she would not. Sorren did not ask a second time. Instead, she assumed the answer: No. The Red Clan was no more. The thought made her sad. Though it was true, the city was peaceful. The guard troops kept order. Perhaps there were a few old chearis left, somewhere in Arun. But it seemed doubtful that they ever came within the city's borders.
Sorren gazed down into the Yard. Head cocked to one side, hands on her hips, Paxe was watching the practice. She was tall, broad-shouldered as any of her guards, a stern and striking figure. She wore her tight-curled hair very short against her head. Sorren shifted on her perch. The Yardmaster looked at her, smiled, and jerked her head in the direction of the cottage. Sorren grinned. Swinging her legs around, she jumped from the fence. The cottage--Paxe's cottage, where she lived with her son, Ricard--was around the east side of the Yard.
The cottage door was open. Ricard was there. Officially he lived there, but in fact he rarely slept in the cottage, preferring the homes and haunts of his friends. He was curled in the sunlight on the mats. He opened his eyes as Sorren blocked the light. Slowly he sat up. "What are you doing here?" he said.
She wanted to laugh at him and tell him not to be a fool, but he was only fourteen, and hated being laughed at. She went around him. Where Paxe had muscles, he had fat. He was always morose; had she been such a sullen child three years ago, Arré would probably have sent her back to the grapefields in disgust. She went into the kitchen. Paxe's gray cat was sleeping on the tile top of the stove. It opened one eye--it only had the one, the other had been clawed blind in a fight a year back--and made a chirruping sound of inquiry and welcome.
She stroked its thick soft fur. It was sleek and as well-exercised as Paxe herself. It purred in soft growling chirps. There was a peach lying nearby on a flowered plate; she picked it up. The smell made her mouth water. She bit it, feeling fuzz on her tongue. It was perfect, ripe and sweet.
Ricard had followed her. "That wasn't for you," he said, grumpily but not seriously.
"Want some?" She held it out to him.
"Naw." He scratched his chin, which was beginning to sprout with beard. His skin was lighter than his mother's. "Listen, I want to tell you something."
"Tell." She stroked the cat, ate the peach, and listened. He told her a long, complicated story which seemed to be about a friend of his and a girl. She wondered if she was supposed to believe in the friend.
There was a sand-glass on the windowsill. She turned it over to watch the sand trickle from one compartment to the other. Ricard leaned over her. He was as tall as she, which meant he was almost as tall as Paxe. His voice stumbled. She glanced at him.
His lips were parted. He was looking down the open neck of her shirt.
They both lost the thread of his story at the same time. Ricard muttered something which Sorren couldn't catch.
Before she could swear at him, he backed away, whirled, and went into the front room. She heard Paxe's step.
"Where are you going?"
He mumbled. The cottage door banged.
Licking the tips of her fingers, Sorren laid the fringed peach pit back on the plate. "I'm in here."
Paxe walked into the kitchen. Her cream-colored shirt was patchy with sweat. "That Ricky," she said. "He's gone out to spend my money. I never see him except when he needs cash; it's all he ever asks of me."
"He's just a little boy," Sorren said. She opened her arms, and Paxe walked into them. Her body was hot and scented with dust. "Don't mind what he does." Gently, she reached to stroke the back of Paxe's neck.
They went upstairs, to Paxe's over-sized, feather-quilted bed. Smiling, Paxe took off her clothes. She lay down, waiting for Sorren to join her. They rolled together, half loving, half wrestling. Curling in the lovers' knot, they stroked and teased each other into shivering pleasure. Sorren's skin flushed with blood. She laid her head on Paxe's thigh. One hand cupped over Paxe's mound, she felt the pulse of pleasure leap, leap, and fade.
She ran her tongue over her lips, tasting Paxe.
Paxe's fingers reached for her. "Come here."
Sorren pulled herself up until she lay beside her lover on the pillow. She loved the way they fit together, like a thing and its shadow. Paxe turned on her side. Her right hand brushed Sorren's breast.
"I know why I love you," she said. "You're the only woman around this house near my size."
Outside the house, a woman's voice began to sing. "In sunlight we must part, my love, in starlight we may smile; The moon is shining bright my love, O let me stay awhile...."
Sorren joined it. "Sing hey and a ho for lovers, sing hey for the setting sun, Sing hey for the girl who makes me smile when the harvest work is done!"
Sighing, Paxe arched her long body upward, and twisted herself on top of Sorren. "You can't sing, you know." She bowed her head. Their lips met, and their tongues.
When they disengaged, Sorren said, "I know. That's why I play the drums." She wriggled. "Get off."
"I have to go back to the house."
Paxe made a face. "I suppose I must." She rolled over. Sitting, Sorren reached for her clothes.
As she drew on her pants, the mountain vision came upon her. She was a bird (though without form or weight) soaring over the steppe. She smelled the northern air, thin and clean and dry as bone, tasted it, felt her lungs labor for it. The sun was hot. The hills rose below her, brown and green and white. The white was sheep. They grazed placidly on the grass, as girls with sticks watched them. A river, blue as a ribbon, threaded a path toward a valley. Behind the river, the mountains stood. Within the cleft of the mountains, a tower lifted a gray spike to the sky. * * * *
She returned to present time to find Paxe sitting beside her, her brow wrinkled. She lifted her palm to her lover's dark cheek. "I'm back."
Paxe sighed. "Where did you go this time?"
"Where I always go," Sorren said. "The mountains."
She had been thirteen, riding a wagon back from the grapefields, her mother's meager belongings scattered on her lap, when the visions first possessed her. She was too numb to be frightened. But when they continued, she asked questions in the city, and found that this power to go places with her mind had a name. Far-traveling, it was called, and those to whom it came were automatically named members of the White Clan, and whatever their stations, had to leave their lives to come within the Tanjo and serve the chea....
It was an honored task and an honored title, that of witch. But Sorren did not want it. The witches frightened her. Stubbornly silent, Sorren kept her gift to herself. The only person she trusted enough to tell about it was Paxe.
Paxe said, when Sorren told her of the gift, "You should go to the Tanjo."
"I don't want to," Sorren said. And Paxe accepted that. Arré, Sorren knew, never would; she cared too much for power to understand why someone might not want it.
"You might want to, someday," Paxe said. Sorren nodded, but she doubted it. The witchfolk lived in the Tanjo, and only talked to each other. For Sorren, used to the hustle of the markets, it seemed too straight, too confined a life.
Besides, they would not want her in the Tanjo. She only saw one place. She saw the mountains, only the mountains. She saw them in spring, when the blue river leaped down the sloping hills like a freed hare, and in summer; she saw them in fall, when rain turned the valleys to marsh, and in winter. Always she saw the same vista: the fields, the river, and the castle with its one tall tower. In winter, the tower glittered with ice. It was a real place; Sorren was sure of that. Sometimes she approached the tower at dusk, close enough to see a light through its amber panes of glass.
She had described it all to Paxe, but the Yardmaster did not know it.
Sorren thought, someday, when my time is all my own, I will discover where it is, and go to it.
But her mother had bound her to the Med house for the traditional eight years, and the time of her release was still one long year away.
"Isak was at the house today," she said.
"Oh?" Paxe reached for her clothes. "What did he want?"
"He wants to dance for the Council, when it meets."
Paxe twitched her shirt over her head. "Arré said yes, of course." Sorren nodded. "I wonder what he's up to."
Her tone was thoughtful. "Why should he be up to anything?" Sorren said. She stroked Paxe's thigh. There was a long runneled scar across it, and she wondered for the hundredth time what had made it. She did not think it was a spear cut.
"Because," said Paxe, "he hates her. I remember when Shana, Arré's mother, was alive, and Arré was learning to run the district from her. Isak hated her then, too."
From the Yard came the voice of Dis, the day watch second-in-command, calling orders to the guards. Paxe straightened. "I must go, chelito. I'll see you later." She laid her lips against Sorren's hair for a moment, and then rose, teeth gleaming in her dark, stern face.
She went downstairs. Sorren sat quietly, listening to her steps. Paxe's bedroom was like Paxe herself, bold, clean, and beautiful. The floor was unmatted; the walls red wood, bare of tapestries. Sorren started to braid her hair, and then remembered that she had nothing to tie it with. Letting it dangle, she went downstairs.
As she strolled around the corner of the Yard toward the house, she saw Ricard waiting for her. Internally, she grinned as he fell into step. She waited for him to say something, but he said nothing, only frowned. Finally Sorren grew bored.
"Did you want to finish telling me that story?" she said.
His glance was resentful. "No." Within the Yard, Paxe was instructing; her voice echoed through the fence planks. "What did you say to her?"
"To my mother."
She scratched her nose. "Nothing about you."
If anything, his face grew more sullen. But he managed a muttered "Thanks."
Sorren wondered why he stayed in the city if he so disliked it. "Ricard," she asked, "have you ever wanted to leave here? To travel?"
He looked at her as if she had started speaking in the Asech tongue. "What difference would it make?" he said.
Sorren couldn't tell if that meant yes or no. Ricard wandered off, kicking at the tiles of the courtyard. She had heard Arré and Paxe arguing about him; Arré thought Paxe should send him north, to the vineyards. "Myra will put him to work," said Arré. Sorren agreed. But Paxe did not want to.
Perhaps, Sorren thought, Ricard would be a nicer person if he had brothers or sisters. Paxe had had two children before him, but they had both died.
She went into the house through the kitchen door. Cook was gone. The apprentices crouched in a conspiratorial huddle. She smelled the sweet, distinct odor of heavenweed. They passed her the pipe as she angled by them, and she sucked on it slowly, breathing in the harsh narcotic smoke. She handed it to Lalith. It went around the circle and returned to her. She shook the pipe gently, to stir the flakes, and took one final puff.
Quietly she went upstairs. Her room was in the back of the house, near enough to Arré's so that she could hear the calling bell when Arré rang it. She had to pass Arré's chamber to get to it. If Arré's door was shut, it meant she did not want to be disturbed. Sorren hoped it was closed.
The heavenweed was making her hyperaware of her body. She slid her feet on the patterned carpet of the upstairs hallway. Arré's door was open, but only a crack.
In her room, she took her drums from their basket. They were wooden, with deerskin heads. She had first started drumming in the grapefields, on the hollow logs which the pickers dragged out at Harvest Festival. She wedged the drums between her knees. There was a worn spot on the left-hand drumhead. If she caught Isak at the right time, he would pay for a new one, and that would please Arré. She tapped the skins softly. Pah-pah-pah-dum-pah. She wondered which dance Isak would do for the Councillors. It would be something slow and subtle, with lots of little changes, not the flashy fast dances he did at festivals for the crowds.
Pah-pah-pah-dum-dum. The heavenweed made it hard to concentrate. Her fingers felt tingly. She liked heavenweed. Especially she liked smoking heavenweed with Paxe (though Paxe herself rarely smoked it; she claimed it made her sleepy) and then making love.
Pah-dum-pah-pah. Her muscles moved under her skin. She felt the slight constriction of the bondservant's bracelet that she wore high on her left arm. It was brass, with a pattern of blue and scarlet enameled triangles. She did not mind wearing it; the life she was living as a bondservant was much easier than the one she had been destined for, that of a migrant picker.
The small room held little that was hers. The drums were hers; Isak had, in a moment of generosity, given them to her. The clothes she wore, by custom, were her own. The items in the cedar chest--brush, comb, bronze mirror, gold chain, sandals--were hers. The Cards were hers. They lay beneath her pillow, in a wooden box. They were very old--she did not know how old--and had been designed for telling fortunes, for seeing into the future. They had been her mother's. There were twenty-two of them, all different, and she had given them names from the images. They were numbered, too. Sorren had learned to read numbers in the grapefields. One of them, the Dancer, had no number; the rest did, and she kept them in order in the wooden box, wrapped in a scrap of red silk.
Her fingers tapped the drumheads. Telling fortunes was contrary to the chea, the Tanjo said so. But Sorren was not troubled by that prohibition; she did not know how to use the Cards. She could not remember if her mother had. She wished she could remember all the stories her mother told; they might have explained where the Cards had come from, and how they worked. They even might have explained Sorren's visions.
She had thought of showing Arré the Cards. But if she showed Arré the Cards, she might have to tell Arré about the gift, and Arré would tell the witchfolk, and then Sorren would be forced to leave the Med house and live in the Tanjo and serve the chea, and be shut away from all her friends, especially Paxe, and never go to the mountains.
That would be awful. Her fingers danced on the drumheads. Pah-pah-pah, pah-pah-PAH. She would hate it; she would run away.