Mora, Oreb and I went in to breakfast then. No doubt Torda went to her morning duties, whatever they were; I did not see her again until shortly before I sacrificed. Fava must have gone to Soldo, if she has not set off to gather more of her kind to hunt me down. Wherever she went, she certainly was not at breakfast with us today.
Here I ought to jump ahead to dinner. The two young men who were to carry the letters I had written for Inclito ate with us, and we were all much too interested in talking to them for anybody to suggest the story game. One was raised in Blanko; his name is Rimando – it means "delay, " he tells me, and was given him because his mother carried him for almost ten months.
"If I'd known that, " said Inclito, "I'd never have accepted you. You'll be half the morning just getting the saddle blanket on."
The other is the mercenary whose story Inclito told; his name is Eco, and I saw him nod to Inclito when I came into the dining room.
"They'll ride for Blanko to take my letters to Novella Citta and Olmo, " Inclito explained to his mother and daughter. "It'll be dangerous. They know, and every god knows I do. But they're going to do their best to get through, aren't you, boys."
Both young men nodded.
"The Duko's troopers are on their way to fight us already?" my host's mother asked me. "That was what you saw when you sacrificed?"
"As I told you, madam."
"We've got to believe it, " her son said. "But if the gods had told Incanto the Duko wouldn't move for another month, we'd have to believe his troops had started anyway. We can't afford the other. You got to stay off the main roads. You got to stay off the little side roads as much as you can. You want grass under his hoofs whenever you can get it."
Thinking of Green, I added, "And leaves above your heads."
"That's right. Stay out of sight. Move fast, but not so fast you wear out your horse." Inclito paused. "I don't think you're going to get a chance to change horses, but do it if you can. Lead him uphill wherever it's steep. Give him a little rest."
Speaking for the first time, Mora said, "They should be riding this minute."
Her father shook his head. "They rode out here. For today, that's enough. Let them get a good meal now and a good night's sleep. There's good big stalls and clean straw for the horses, water and oats and corn. Tomorrow they go as soon as the sun's up."
Turning to Rimando he explained, "Decina's going to wake me up. Decina's my cook. She goes to sleep right after dinner and gets up early. I'll wake you up, and you, too, Eco. I'll see you off."
They nodded, and I gave Inclito what I intended to be a significant glance.
"Both, we don't want you killed. We don't want you dead, understand? If they try and stop you and you can get away, fine. But if you can't-" He raised both hands.
Mora asked, "Do they have needlers?"
Rimando shook his head.
Her father said, "We can't spare even one for this. No needlers, no slug guns, no swords. They're too heavy anyway. We want them to get away, not fight."
Decina herself came in as he spoke and transferred the huge roast on the spit to a great pewter platter fit for it; she set it down ceremoniously before Inclito, who stood and took up a fork with which he might almost have pitched hay and a carving knife with a blade as long as my forearm. "Holy meat. Don't anybody swear or talk against the gods while you eat it, it's not polite."
Eco, seated between Inclito and his mother, asked me whether the victim had been a steer.
I shook my head. "A young bull, fawn with a black face. Do they sacrifice steers in your town?"
"I think so."
"Perhaps they may, customs differ. In my own-and much more in Old Viron – no animal that had been maimed in any way could be offered, just as no private person sacrificing at home was to offer a loaf from which a slice had been taken or wine after he had drunk from the bottle."
Salica said, "You're not a patre, Incanto? I know, I asked you before."
I smiled at her. "No, I'm afraid not. Nor am I an augur, which is what we call them. Our canons permit sacrifice by a sibyl when no augur can be found, however, and sacrifice by a layman-or a laywoman, for that matter-when no augur or sibyl is present. Such sacrifices are nearly always private, carried out before a small shrine in the giver's own house."
"I felt that this one, which was to take place in your son's presence and on his property, with the sacred fire upon an altar of turfs I built myself, could reasonably be considered a private one."
"Only the family attended, " Salica explained to Rimando and Eco. "My son, my granddaughter, and I. "
Mora added, "And Torda."
"That's right, Torda to help Incanto with the knife and the blood."
Inclito had been carving a thick slice while we spoke. "You're the main guest, Incanto, and you sacrificed him for us. Hold out your plate."
I did not. "Half that or less. Less, as a favor."
"Rimando? Here you are." Inclito cut a smaller piece and gave it to me.
Eco told Mora, "In Gaon, where I was before I came here, they still sacrifice heifers to Echidna, but they won't eat the meat themselves."
"The gods got the head, all four feet, and some other stuff, " Inclito remarked as he laid a thick slab of beef on Eco's plate. "They said that was all they wanted, and we could have the rest."
"The people of Gaon do not abstain from beef and veal because they think them unclean, " I explained, "but because they think them too sacred."
Rimando paused in the act of cutting his meat. "But the gods told you that the horde of Soldo has already set out to invade us? That's the important point. What gods were they, anyway?"
"The Outsider and the sea goddess of the Vanished People, " I told him. "I don't even know her name, and perhaps no one does now."
Mora smiled mischievously. "You could ask your neighbors."
I smiled back. "The Vanished People themselves, you mean? I'll try to remember."
"Fava didn't believe in them, " Mora told Eco. "Fava's a friend of mine who was staying with us until this morning."
Rimando said, "I've got her old room. She seems to have left behind a good many of her belongings."
"She'll be back for them eventually, I suppose."
I added, "Or she'll send for them, Mora. I would think that more likely."
"Why did you choose those two?" Rimando asked me. "Isn't there a god for war?"
"A goddess, " I told him absently, "and several minor gods, as well."
Salica said; "Don't make him talk, please. He doesn't eat enough as is."
Eco asked Inclito, "Didn't the gods have anything to say about us?"
There was a pained silence, broken at length by Rimando. "I believe I understand. One of us won't reach his destination. Or is it that neither of us will?"
"Fish heads?" Oreb had flapped through an open window to reclaim his post on my shoulder. I passed him up a scrap of meat, and Mora asked, "If I try to feed him, will he take it?"
"Probably. He likes you."
She cut a considerably larger piece from the slice on her plate and tossed it across the table to Oreb, who caught it in his beak and flew to the hearth to tear it into shreds of manageable size.
"I'd like to know, " Rimando challenged us all with his eyes, "precisely what these gods, two gods I've never so much as heard of, had to say about us. I don't believe in them. Less even than your friend believed in the Vanished People, if that's possible." (This last was addressed to Mora.) "But I want to know. It's my right, and Eco's too."
Salica inquired rather timidly, "Why don't you believe in the gods?" Rimando snorted, and she gave me a pleading glance.
"You see, " I told her, "as soon as you silence me, you find that you require my speech."
Eco tried to restore harmony. "I think I'd prefer not to know. It was a private sacrifice, they say. Let it stay private."
"I'm of your mind, " I told him. "The interesting question isn't what I read in the entrails of this young bull. An augur with sufficient imagination can read whatever you like in the entrails of whatever beasts you choose, and predictions made at sacrifice fail at least as often as they succeed-more often, in my experience."
Rimando asked, "Is one of us to die? Which one?"
"No, " Mora told him. "There wasn't anything like that."
"Nor is the interesting question why Rimando doesn't believe in gods, " I continued. "It is why anyone should. Why didn't Fava believe in the Vanished People, Mora? The answer may prove enlightening." -
"Because they have vanished. She knew that they were here once. I mean she'd seen the things people show that they say were theirs, things that have been dug up, you know. And last year one of Father's hands found a little statue when he cleaned out our well."
"I'd like to see it."
Inclito glanced up from his plate. "I'll show you right after dinner."
"Only she said they were gone, and that was why they're called the Vanished People. If they were still here, we'd know all about them and see them every day."
I nodded. "Anything that's seldom seen is assumed to belong to the remote past, even when it was last seen yesterday."
Rimando began, "I want to know-"
"Of course you do. This is my fault; I may have misread the gods' message, and in fact I probably did. I thought it said that only one of you would set out in the morning."
Inclito broke the silence that followed by picking up the small bell beside his mother's plate and ringing it. A smiling Torda appeared at once, and he told her, "I'd like a little horseradish. Would you ask Decina for some, please? I know it's not your job."
"I'll grate some for you myself, sir. I know right where it is."
Rimando cleared his throat. "It didn't say which one of us wouldn't go?"
"I don't know, " I told him. "Quite possibly that was written there as well, but if so I was too obtuse to read it."
Mora said, "Wouldn't the gods know you couldn't, and not bother writing it?"
"You want to ask why I don't believe in the gods, all of you, " Rimando declared, "but you're afraid to ask me, or too polite."
"Not at all, " I told him. "By this time you should have seen enough of our host to know that though he is extremely brave, he is never polite."
Inclito dropped his knife and fork, and roared with laughter.
"He has many excellent qualities. He's both intelligent and shrewd, for example, a rare combination. Mora, you love your father, I know. What is it you like so much about him?"
From his place on the hearth, Oreb croaked loudly, "Good man!"
"He is." Mora nodded. "But that's not why I love him. It's hard to explain."
"Do you want to try?"
"I think so. It's that he loves whatever he's doing. He made me a house for my doll when I was small, and he loved doing that, just like he loved building onto this house and then building more, or putting up a new barn. I played with his dollhouse, and you know how children are. After a while it didn't look as nice, so he fixed it for me and repainted it, and he loved doing that, even when he'd been working hard all day."
Torda returned from the kitchen with a saucer of horseradish and a spoon. Inclito took it from her and dumped half of it onto his plate, then held out the rest to us.
Only Eco accepted. "Your daughter mentioned a little statue, you were going to show it to Incanto. I'd like to see it myself. Would that be all right?"
"Absolutely, " Inclito told him. "There are some other things, too."
"In Gaon they've got a cup that belonged to their rajan, the one that disappeared."
"The Vanished People are supposed to have given it to him, and it certainly looks like some work of theirs I've seen. They say it cures the sick, and they keep it in the temple of their goddess."
Mora came in as I was writing cures. "Not in my nightgown this time, " she said, and tapped her riding boots with her quirt.
"Nor with Fava, " I remarked. "I like this much better." more." She paused. "I've been out in the stable just now with "But with the same questions she and I had last night, and Rimando. He wanted to see about his horse, see that it was comfortable and had enough water. Only when he got me out there he had a thousand questions, just like me."
She seemed to expect me to smile, so I did.
"I couldn't answer most of them, but when I got back to my room and started to undress for bed"
"You became curious yourself, " I suggested.
"I was already. That's why Fava and I came last night. But I need somebody to talk to. That used to be Fava, but she's gone now."
"What about your father and your grandmother?"
"It wouldn't be like talking to Fava. Or to you."
She sat in silence for a few seconds while I finished the sentence I had begun when she knocked, and wiped my pen.
"That man Eco talked about, the man down south who was looking for his father. Do you have a son?"
"Because you thought he might be looking for you. That's the way it seemed to Rimando, and it seemed like that to me, too."
I asked whether she thought Rimando attractive.
"That has nothing to do with it."
Oreb croaked a warning: "Look out!"
"Of course it does. You went to the stable with him."
"I wanted to see their horses, that's all. Did you see them when they came?"
I shook my head.
"They've got wonderful horses, both of them. A chestnut for Eco and a bay for Rimando. Father got two of the richest men in Blanko to contribute a horse apiece. I'd like to know how he does that."
"So would I."
"Uh huh. You don't know anything, do you, Incanto?"
"At least, I know how little I know."
"Did you really think that could have been your son looking for his father down south?"
"No." It required a good deal of resolve to tell the truth. "I didn't think it could possibly be. But I hoped it was."
"I think the father that he said he was looking for would have been younger than you are. He didn't sound a lot like you, either."
"You don't know who it was?"
"I have no idea – none. You'll want to know whether Eco's description would fit my son. No, it would not. My son's name is Sinew."
"That's what you said."
"It is. He may be calling himself something else – I have no way of knowing. But the young man Eco talked about didn't sound like my son. You indicated that you came with many of the same questions you and Fava had last night; this cannot have been one of them. What are they?"
She waved their questions aside. "You wrote those letters."
"The ones that Rimando and Eco are going to carry to Olmo and Novella Citta? Yes, I did. I wrote them with your father's permission, and he read them before he signed them. Do you want to know what was in them?"
Mora shook her head. "Rimando's is in his saddlebag. I could go out to the stable right now and read it if I wanted to. I could, but I'd have to break the seal. Does that bother you? That I could read it?"
"Not in the slightest."
"All right." She leaned forward, her brutal, girlish face intent. "For just a minute, this morning just before Decina came, we were someplace else. Fava and I were, I think, and I asked Torda about it and she said she was too. Was that Green?"
I nodded again.
"You did it to turn me against Fava."
"I didn't do it at all. Not consciously at least."
"But you've been there? Is that what you call the jungle? What we saw and smelled and felt?"
"Yes, it is. I have not said so."
"At dinner yesterday you got inside Fava's story and changed things around. Did it really happen?"
"I suppose it did. I didn't do it consciously."
For half a minute or longer, Mora studied me, her elbows on her knees and her chin in her hands. At last she said, "I meant what Fava told about. Did that really happen? Did you try to use an inhuma to fool your son?"
"It was just made up?"
I nodded. "I've told you I don't know how I did those things, if I did them. That was the truth, but I've been thinking a lot about them, as you can imagine. Would you like to hear my theory? Telling someone else may make it clearer in my own mind."
"Suppose that the Duko were to build a road to facilitate the passage of his horde to the border. Might not troopers from Blanko use that same road to besiege Soldo?"
"I don't think I understand this."
"Neither do I, but I'm trying to. Have you ever seen a dead inhumu? One who had been personating a human being?"
"You told me that I hadn't seen one at all. I still haven't, not close up."
"I have, and more often than I like."
Those were magic words, although I had been ignorant of their power when I pronounced them. As a small boy I had heard the stories all children hear, and used to imagine that if only I could stumble upon the correct syllables a garden would spring up where our neighbors' houses stood, a place of mystery and beauty in which the trees bore emeralds that turned to diamonds as they ripened, and fountains ran with milk or wine. Eventually I came to realize that the immortal gods were the only spirits who granted the wishes of men, and that prayers were the magic words I had sought. It thrilled me, as it still does; but when I told my friends my discovery, they only sneered and turned away.
Now – very far from those friends, men and women I will never see again – I had stumbled upon words that were magic indeed. No sooner had I pronounced them than I found myself back in Green's jungles, squatting beside the young man who had joined us and fought beside us, as he writhed and bled beneath the arching roots.
"Tell me again why you hate the inhumi, " he asked, as if we two were sitting at ease in my bedroom in Inclito's house, and had all the time in the whorl.
"I've never told you anything of the kind, " I said, "or talked to you at all until this moment."
"You'll know me when I'm gone."
"They drink our blood. Isn't that enough?"
"No." His face was a mask of pain.
"Incanto?" Mora was concerned for me.
"What is it?"
"Are you all right?"
I nodded. "His mother – Krait's mother – she was the one, you see. We were as poor… You've been rich all your short life. You can't imagine how poor we were."
"I could try."
"We had shared out everything when we landed, we who had come from Old Viron and the new people, the sleepers, the ones who had slept three hundred years in the caverns of the Whorl. Do you know about them, Mora? Their memories had been tampered with, like Mamelta's, so they were confused in strange ways."
No doubt she thought I was one of them, for which I cannot blame her; but she nodded politely.
"The tools and the seeds and the frozen embryos, though there weren't many of those. No human embryos at all. They'd been taken, every one of them. Special talents, you see – untamed and unpredictable abilities that were supposed to help us; but they had been taken by those who had broken the seals. Taken and sold, long ago."
"No cut, " Oreb advised me. "Good Silk!"
"Silk had been one of them. Silk had been our leader. That was his talent, leadership. People trusted and followed him, and he tried-I tried very hard, Mora, not to mislead them, not to lead them astray and betray them. But Silk had remained behind in the Whorl with Hyacinth, and it almost destroyed us."
"I see, " Mora said, although clearly she did not.
"Our women were supposed to bear the animals, exactly as Maytera Marble's granddaughter had, bear horses and sheep and cattle and donkeys. Nettle couldn't, because she was carrying Sinew, and so we gave ours to a woman she had known all her life who promised to give it back to us when it was born. But she didn't, she wouldn't. She said it had been stillborn. Many of them were, but that one was not. She hid it from us until she thought we wouldn't know, and it was only a little, long-necked animal, like a little camel without a hump, after all. It wouldn't plow, and she and the man who lived with her killed it trying to make it plow, and so we were so poor – Nettle and I were so poor – because Silk had not come.
"We sold part of the land they had given us, and bought a donkey, but the donkey died. Eventually we sold the rest of our land and ate what little we got for it, and bought milk for Sinew when Nettle's dried up, and lived in a tent on the Lizard, a little tent I made for us from the skins of the rock goats I hunted. That was when she came, Krait's mother, and Sinew nearly died.
"My son's name was Krait, did I tell you?"
Poor Mora shook her head. "You said your son's name was Sinew."
"Yes. Yes, it was. But when he died – when Krait died there in the jungle – the illusion was last to die. I think it always is. The illusion of humanity. It is a thing of the spirit, you see, and so partakes of immortality. The spirit is the breath, Mora."
She nodded again, hesitantly; I could not tell whether she understood everything or nothing.
"They reshape themselves. That is the animal. That was how they lived and how they reproduced until the Neighbors came and found them, and were themselves found by them. It is the animal, as I said.
A chemical woman like Maytera Marble carries within her half the plans necessary to build a new chem, and a chemical man like Hammerstone, the other half, did you know that? It was how they began to build Olivine. You've probably never seen a chem."
I showed her the eye I am bringing to Maytera Marble.
"The animal part is easy. We had lizards at home that could change their skins to look like human skin, and there are bugs that shape themselves to look like other bugs, or like sticks, or the heads of deadly snakes. When an inhumu dies, it seems to be a human being – Krait seemed to be a young man there to the end, there in Green's jungles. A young man when he died and for some time afterward. When it was too late, I saw him as I had seen him on the sloop."
There was a mirror above the bureau; I went to it and stood before it trembling. "Do you see this face, Mora? Of course you do. It is the only face you can see. It is not my face, however. Come and look."
"Poor girl!" Oreb flew to her, and would have comforted her if he could.
"Suppose that Fava were to die, Mora, and that you waited at her deathbed as I waited beside Krait. I had stayed behind, you see, because he had fought for us. I had been wounded too, but I tried to get some of the others to carry him. They would not, Mora. I ordered them to, but they only shook their heads and turned away, even Sinew; and in the end they would not carry me either. They left me just as they had left him, and I made myself stand and go back to him.
"You would hear Fava's last words, just as I heard his. Perhaps she would tell you the secret, the great secret they fear so much that we will learn. You would hear the rattle of Hierax in her throat, the rattle that he kept and would not allow his younger sisters to play with. In a second or two, she would cease to breathe. Do you understand, Mora? Am I making myself clear?"
"Still-still! – you would see the child you had known as Fava lying in her bed. Her face would appear shrunken, its full cheeks pale and not so full. Yet still Fava, a human being of about your own age."
"She got a lot older just before she went away, " Mora said hesitantly. "Like Grandmother."
"Because so much of her food had been taken from your grandmother while she slept. Foolish people think that they will see the marks of the fangs, and there will be blood on the sheets. The truth is that the marks are small and white, and do not bleed. An inhumu's fangs are round, you see, and the wounds made by all such round things close themselves, unless they are very large. In addition, I imagine that Fava was wise enough to bite your grandmother in a place where she couldn't see her wounds – on her back, perhaps, or on the backs of her legs.
"You would see Fava lying there dead, exactly as you had always known her. Then you would blink away tears, or look aside for a moment; and when you looked back at her, you would see something that did not look human at all, a beast dressed like a girl, its scaly face painted and powdered, and its hair a wig. Around New Viron, farmers like your father put up lay figures to frighten birds. Do they do that here, too?"
She nodded again.
"Have you ever seen one from a distance when you were out riding, and thought it a real person?"
"I think I understand, but I still don't understand how you took us to Green before breakfast."
"Because the illusion was there, and was strong-when I looked at Fava I saw a girl, though I knew better. She was impressing her reality upon my mind, just as the Duko wants to impress the governmental system of his town upon Blanko. But something in my mind seized the links Fava had forged between the three of us and herself, shouting its own reality, which was and is mine. There were bugles and trumpets all along the road, Mora, and the crash and rattle of marching men with slug guns. All of that was exactly as Duka Fava had intended, but the men were not hers."
"I think I understand, " Mora said slowly.
"I hope so. I don't believe I can explain it any better than I have."
"Can I ask about the sacrifice? What you saw in the bull?"
"You may, of course. But I doubt that I can tell you more now than I did then."
"You said one wouldn't go. Does it mean that only one letter will, or-"
"I suppose so."
"Or are you just saying that either Rimando or Eco is going to stay here?"
"That's a good question." For a few seconds I was at a loss, trying to recall exactly what intimations I had received from the bull's entrails.
"Did you see whether the letters would be delivered?"
I shook my head. "I saw nothing about the letters. It's actually very rare for anyone to see anything concerning an object, as apart from a human being. I saw signs I took to represent the names of the messengers-that is to say, I saw a thorny branch, which I took to represent Rimando, in a dome, which I took to represent Eco. Only a single line departed from there, directed toward an O, which I took to be the sign for Olmo."
"Eco has the letter for Olmo. Rimando's is for Novella Citta. Is he going to get scared tonight? Too scared to go?"
"I have no way of knowing. If you're asking whether I saw anything of that kind in the victim, I did not. What about you? You've talked to him in private, and you're practically a woman, as I've said before. What do you think?"
"I don't think so. He said that it wasn't really going to be very dangerous, just a long, tiring ride. He wants me to suggest to Papa to let him keep his horse for a reward."
"I see. Are you going to do it?"
"I don't think so, " she repeated. "You say I talked to Rimando, just the two of us. You wanted to talk to Torda like that yourself."
"I didn't intend to imply that there was anything wrong with your speaking to him, only that you had, and were likely to have more insight into his character than I do."
"You told Torda what she was supposed to do when she sacrificed our bullock. What else did you tell her?"
"Good girl, " Oreb declared. "Bird hear."
"I think he means that you should be told everything I told Torda, " I said. "He's probably right. You realize, I hope, that I can't tell you anything she told me."
I sighed and leaned back in my chair, sorry to see the friendly relationship I had built up with Mora destroyed. "I acted against your interests, if you like."
"You mean you want Papa to marry her."
"If he wants to, yes."
"So I won't get the farm. I'll never be mistress of this house or rich. I know you think I'm rich now, but it doesn't do me any good."
"You think it does not."
"I know it doesn't. I'm not just the biggest girl in my class. There's more to it."
"I realize that."
"Do you know what I'm scared of? Really, really scared of? I want to say what I've been so scared of all my life, but it wouldn't be the truth. What I've been so scared of for the past year?"
"Not Fava, obviously, and not the war. That more inhumi would come? No." I shook my head. "What was it?"
"That I'd meet some man and think he loved me, and after we were married I'd find out he just loved this place, loved the idea that someday Papa would die and he'd be rich."
Her hands (large hands for a girl her age) tightened, grasping her legs above the knee. "I saw it start tonight. This was the first time ever. But I know-I know-"
Two big tears escaped her deep-set eyes to course down her broad cheeks; I left my chair to crouch beside hers, my arm around her shoulders.
"I know it's going to go on and on and on… " Suddenly she turned on me, a fledgling hawk. "I'll kill him! You can make me promise anything you want, but I'll kill him just the same. What did you tell Torda?"
"The same things anyone in my position would." I stood up and returned to this sturdy, leather-covered chair in which I sit writing. "That I thought she loved your father and that he loved her; but that sullenness and sulking would never win him, no more than demanding that he marry her had made him marry her. That if she were cheerful and smiling instead, and asked for nothing, he would certainly give her a great deal and might even give her what she wanted."
"Would that work for me?"
I shrugged. "It might, if you were to find a man of the right sort, and had an opportunity to be around him for extended periods. It may not work for Torda – I don't know. And if the man is of the wrong sort it will not work at all for any woman."
"I ought to go now, " Mora said pensively. "I ought to get a little sleep, but it will be hard with Fava gone."
"You certainly should if you intend to rise early and see the messenger off, " I agreed.
I nodded. "I think so."
"Well, I don't. But I ought to get to bed anyhow. When you and your wife-and your little son, is that right? Were on… What did you call it?"
"I probably said the Lizard. Lizard Island, off the coast."
"You lived by hunting rock goats?"
"Yes. And by fishing."
"Well, I'd rather live like that with a man who loved me, and live in a little tent of skins, than live here by myself or with a man who didn't. Why are you smiling like that?"
"Because after racking my brain for four long days I've finally realized who you and your father remind me of. I knew-I felt, at least-that I had met you both before. I won't tell you because the names would mean nothing to you."
"Were they good people?"
"Very good people." Without my willing it, my voice grew softer. I myself heard it with surprise. "People are always asking me to predict events to come, Mora. Usually I say that I can't, because it's so seldom I can. I try, as you've seen; but it's very doubtful stuff, like my prediction concerning Eco and Rimando."
She nodded as she stood up.
"Once in a rare while I really do know the future, however. When it happens-which is only rarely, as I said-I generally have a terrible time making people believe me. Will you believe me now, if I swear to you that what I'm about to tell you is the simple truth? The truth about the future?"
"If I can."
"Just so. If you can. You have been growing up with a number of assumptions, Mora, and all of them are wrong. You said a moment ago-please don't cry again, it isn't worth it-that you saw for the first time what it would be like to be pursued by fortune hunters."
"He wanted to know how o-o-old I w-was." Her voice was without any hint of emotion until it shook and broke. "So I said fifteen, to see if he'd-if he'd… "
She bit her lower lip to steady herself. "Because I wanted to see if he'd believe it, and he did. You have to be sixteen to get married in Blanko. Is it like that where you come from?"
"Probably not, " I told her. "I don't know, but I doubt that there is any restriction at all."
"In Blanko it's sixteen, so I said fifteen and waited to see what would happen. He looked at me and looked away, and I could see it working in his mind. He asked me about my mother, and how many brothers and sisters, and everything I said made him worse."
"I understand. I, too, saw something for the first time tonight. I think it's very likely that it was the first time that it's ever been seen at all, by anyone." I paused to collect my thoughts.
"When a boy becomes a man, Mora, there must be a moment, a moment when the boy falls away never to be seen again. But before that moment come moments, which may be many or few, when one can glimpse the man who is to be, the man waiting behind the boy."
"I'm not a man, even if that's what they say at the academy. Or a boy either."
"I know you're not, which is why it came as such a surprise to me. I had known the other, you see; but I had never realized that it would apply equally to girls. Even when it took place before me, I was so busy recognizing her-I recognized the woman you will become as soon as I saw her-that I didn't think through the implications for a moment. You talked just now about finding a man who will love you."
"Maybe I can't." The hawk returned. "But by every god in the whorl, I'm going to try!"
"You will find many, and without much difficulty, " I told her. "But be careful-be extremely careful, I beg you-that you find one you yourself can love as well."
"Man come, " Oreb muttered.
"Your father, " I told Mora. "Why don't you open the door for him?"
"How do you-?"
"I know his step."
He knocked as I spoke.
"And his knock, too. Please come in, Inclito. It's not locked."
He did, and looked surprised to see his daughter.
"Mora will be lonely without Fava, " I explained. "She wanted to talk to me about that, and some other things. She realizes, as I'm sure you do, that she won't be a child much longer. She's concerned about her course in life, as all such young women are. I've tried to help a little, though I haven't much help to give her."
"It would be a lot, " Mora said, "if I could believe you." And then, impulsively, "Good-bye, Incanto! Good-bye, Papa!" She blew us kisses, and was out of the room before I could so much as consider what gesture I might make in return.
Inclito shut the door. "She's not in trouble with some boy, is she?"
I shook my head.
"Her mother had a dozen on her string. Nobody ever figured out why she picked me." Inclito sat down on my bed. "She wasn't a beautiful woman, but… "
"If I were more polite myself, I would say now that you're mistaken, " I told him, "in part at least."
"You're not that polite?"
I shook my head.
"Me neither. Mama tried to make me when I was little, but it saves a lot of time. All right, not a dozen. Six I can name and me. No, eight."
"I wasn't referring to that. A dozen may be the figure for all I know – or twenty. But you lied when you said she wasn't a beautiful woman."
"You could see by my face, huh? I thought I was better than that. You're right, she was, and I was the only one that knew it."
"You are better than that. It was another face that told me you were lying."
"You saw her one time, my Zitta? Before you left the old whorl?"
"Tonight. What was it you wanted to see me about?" I went to the window, which was open already, and opened it more widely.
"The spy. It was Fava?"
"She ought to have been hanged."
"Then hang me. I arranged for her to escape in safety."
He shook his head, a head bigger than most men's, upon a neck far thicker than most. "She was only a sprat. It would have made me sick to watch it. I'm not going to say you did right, but I'm glad you did it."
"So am I."
"The Duko's marched already? That's what you said."
"No, I didn't. I said I thought so, and that if he had not, he would set out within a day. That is as exact as I can make it."
"We got to meet him in the hills." Inclito stood up, absentmindedly wiping hands twice the size of his daughter's on his shirt. "He gets out into the bottomlands where he can spread out his horses, and it's all over. You weren't ever a trooper? It's what you told me once. But you fought enough to get yourself shot." He pointed toward my wound, though it was concealed by my robe and my tunic. "There in the side. In and out. It doesn't bother you?"
I shrugged. To write the truth – Nettle, you must never read this-I was listening to Seawrack's song as it floated across the waves a hundred leagues from where I stood.
"That man in the town down south? The one they called the rajan? It seemed like he ran a pretty good war. The other town had more men. That's what Eco says. He beat them anyhow, with brains and magic."
"Mostly by luck."
"Oh. You heard too? If you say so, but I'd like to have luck like that on our side. They say he's got six hundred on horses, the Duko."
My eyes must have shown the skepticism I felt.
"He had a spy here? I got spies there. Six hundred, they tell me. And Novella Citta. And Olmo. You know what I've got? How many horses? I'm trying to get two hundred. You know my men here? Well, I'm taking them, all three of them, on the carriage horses. After that if I can find just a few more, two hundred."
"Meanwhile, I am sending away two of your horsemen to carry my letters."
"It's right what you're doing. We haven't got so little we can't use any at all. Suppose they both get through. How good a chance they come over to our side?"
"Your estimate would be much more accurate than mine, I feel sure."
"One out of ten one will. One out of twenty for both. Each can bring a hundred and fifty on horses, maybe. Maybe a hundred. So that's eight hundred to get around behind us as soon as they get through the hills."
I said that my chief object in sending the letters had never been to win over Novella Citta and Olmo – welcome though that would be, should it occur-and that it was by no means impossible to be outflanked among hills.
"No, but it's harder, and they'd have to fight us, probably. If they get close, they can go straight at Blanko. You've seen it, the river and the walls. How long could they hold it against eight hundred men? That's boys, old men, and women."
I reflected. "A month, perhaps, if they were well led."
"Pah! A day. Maybe one whole day. Not two. And when our men found out the town had fallen behind them." He made a graphic gesture. "They're shoemakers and shopkeepers, farmers like me. The gods didn't say we win the war?"
"Nor that you will lose it."
"We'll meet them in the hills and crush them. We've got to. In the hills-" He waved toward my chair. "Sit down. You're making me all upset. Sit down."
I did, and he sat again.
"In the hills it doesn't matter so much how many men, it's how good they are. If you ask me, I've got to say the Duko's men are better. But we'll be better. We've got to be, so we will be. Tomorrow we march. I sent word this afternoon. It would take all morning to get everybody together, but we won't wait for everybody. We'll be gone before the frost is off the grass."
"Would you like me to come with you?"
Inclito raised one thick eyebrow. "It's not your fight."
"Nor will I be of any great help to you, I know. I may well be more of a hindrance than a help. But I would rather go with you and see the fighting than try to make my way back to the coast alone, in winter, with a war raging."
"I was thinking maybe you'd stay here and take care of Mama and Mora."
"I can if you want me to. Or I can come back with news of you, if I'm in the way." I am sorry that I said that now, but it is what I said.
I have sat here writing so long because I feel sure I cannot sleep so long as Seawrack sings. I have sent Oreb to beg her to be silent, although I do not really believe he can fly that far.
No, not if he were to fly all night, poor bird, and all day tomorrow.
I have shut the window now and closed the shutters-no doubt it will be days before Oreb returns, if indeed he returns to me at all. It was very hard to make myself do it, though it was freezing in here. It does not help at all, even though it nearly muffled the drumming hooves. I am going to pray and go to bed, and (if I cannot sleep) daydream about the first time I lay with Seawrack on the clumsy little sloop I built with my own hands and loved so much, and of lying with Hyacinth, too, in Ermine's on the night of our marriage.
How sweet dreams like that would be!
Let Inclito see off the remaining riders-both of them, if he can; I have carried this account to the present moment with these words, and I am going to sleep as late as they will let me.