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by Nina M. Osier
Category: Science Fiction
Description: Edek Fallon, born with a Shaman's seal on his wrist, lives an Astral Guard officer's life and never thinks about the chants his father taught him. Not until they start to come true ...When the shadow-men shall conquer, When ten billion suns shall blaze With the brightness of destruction, Comes the time of interphase.
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net, 2003
eBookwise Release Date: September 2005
20 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [304 KB]
Reading time: 204-286 min.
"They're planning to kill you, Everard. Look, I don't dare stay any longer. I can't let anyone catch me here! Are you coming, or not?"
Who could be addressing Father by his given name? Edek stopped mid-way between clinic and private dwelling, in the space that held twin shrines to bless everyone who passed. He wondered who owned that unfamiliar masculine voice, because visitors seldom entered the Shaman's home. Most people who came to this dark place at the end of an alley, sandwiched between the city's inner and outer walls, wanted to consult Everard Fallon in his role as healer. Even then they came furtively, and paid anonymously instead of by credit transfer as was the common practice.
"I'm not going to run, Jorge." Edek couldn't remember when, in all of his eleven years, he'd heard his father sound so weary. "I think I can make Lord Assman see reason."
"The hell you can!" The stranger sounded frustrated, frightened, and angry. "All right. Die, if you want to. But at least let me take the boy!"
"When did you start worrying so much about Edek? He's eleven years old, and you never came near him until now." Father didn't sound bitter, but his ironic words spoke for themselves. Edek decided he couldn't stay hidden any longer. Face burning with both excitement and embarrassment (since he knew it wasn't polite to listen when other people didn't realize you could hear them), he took the last step or two into the house and made sure he did it noisily.
Father sat at the dining table in their common room. Opposite him stood a stranger. A portly man who was probably about Father's age, but whose robes (standard garb in the city's hot climate) were pure white and cut from a soft, smooth fabric. Father wore rough-weave, weathered by time to the color of sand.
Edek knew what sand looked like. Not far beyond the city's outer wall, the desert began. His schooling-group, back when Father was able to send him, had walked along the outer wall once so that the scholars could glimpse the gardens and orchards and pasture-lands that fed them and their families ... the river that brought them water from the mountains, for drinking and (occasionally, as precious fluid could be spared) for washing ... and, beyond it all, the dunes and the brackish sea they cradled.
"His mother was my concubine before she became your wife." This rich man wasn't stupid. He knew Edek had been listening. "I was fond of her. That's why I placed her with you, when I married and had to find her another home or sell her. Yes, I care what happens to Fema's son. And you ought to care what happens to him a lot more than I do, dammit! Let me take him, Everard. I swear to you, he won't be sold. I'll send him off-world somehow, and until I can do that I'll keep him safe."
"You won't have to keep him long. I'll be calling you and asking you to bring him back to me before the night's over." Edek's father made up his mind. He got to his feet as he spoke, and he held out his arms.
Males didn't embrace on Proserpina, not even males who were father and son. But Edek and Everard Fallon weren't men of Proserpina, so Edek was used to hugging his father in private. He went to Everard, and as he felt his father's arms closing around him he heard the first sounds from the alley that ended at the clinic's door.
"Hurry!" said the rich man, whose title and surname Edek didn't yet know. He was sweating in his fine clothes, reeking of fear.
Footfalls. Angry voices. The boy couldn't make out many of the words they were shouting, but one was repeated often enough and loudly enough so he couldn't miss it. "Shaman! Dirty, perverted Shaman!"
No, that was three words. An ugly phrase that he'd heard before, always applied to his father-but always muttered, until now.
"Go with Lord Jotham, Edek. Call him 'uncle,' because he's your protector for now." Father gave Edek one last squeeze, and then pushed him in the rich man's direction.
Only later, in the air car the man had parked on the Fallon house's roof, did Edek realize what his father's words meant. For all of Everard's brave words about calling for his son's swift return, the Shaman knew better.
"Don't look down," Lord Jotham warned as he strapped the boy into the tiny car's passenger seat.
The sun was just sliding down behind the mountains. The city was in full daylight still, but free from the afternoon's glare. Edek not only looked down, into the perpetually shadowed alley that was now thronging with men; he strained against his safety harness to get a better view.
The car lifted. Lord Jotham flew it away from the outer wall, over the alley, so Edek only had to stare downward to see his father stepping from the clinic's door to face the mob.
He couldn't see what happened afterward. But when the car gained altitude, lifting to clear the city's inner wall, he tested the harness to its limits and hurt the muscles in his neck for one last backward glance-and he saw smoke rising from the place he and his new "protector" had just left.