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25

The God of Blue


Jahlee was gone for two days. She came back tonight and sat at our fire, looking so human that I had to remind myself again and again that she was not. She said, "Aren't you going to ask what I want?"

"No. I know what you want, and I can't give it to you."

"Temporarily, you can."

"You don't want it temporarily. You want it permanently-something I can't provide."

"I can't provide what you want either, Calde."

"I've asked you not to call me that," I reminded her.

"All right," she said.

"As for what I want, I want to go home. That is all I want, and I'm doing it. I want to convene Marrow and the other leaders who sent me out, confess that I failed, tell them how I failed, and give them this to read. It's true, of course, that you can't help me with it; but it's equally true that I-I should say we-don't need your help. I only ask that you not hinder us. We have silver and a few cards, and our horses. We-"

She interrupted me. "Horses I can't ride."

"You can't, but then you don't need to."

"I'd like to ride with you, like I did on Green when we went to see the lander. I was a bad rider, I know."

"I'm a poor rider myself, even though I've had to ride so much of late. Certainly you were a better one than I expected."

"Your son, the big one, said we couldn't be ghosts." She giggled. "Because his horses weren't afraid of us. He thought he was making a joke, remember? And I said, oh, horses don't have to be afraid of me. He liked me, he really did. He liked me better than Bala fat."

I did not reply.

"So if I could ride with you here the way I did there, you could say I was your daughter-in-law, Hide's brother's wife."

"I could. I would not."

Jahlee seemed not to have heard me. "I've got enough money to buy a horse. Money is easy for us. For me anyway. Real cards. We like cards, because they're light."

"Taking them prevents the landers from returning to the Long Sun Whorl, also. That means fewer prey for you."

She gave me a tight-lipped smile. "Oh, there are plenty of you. More than enough for me."

I was busying myself with my pen case, sharpening the little quill I am using. "You don't care about your race."

"You are my race. You know that, why won't you admit it? Inside, I'm one of you. So was everybody who fought for you at Gaon."

"What about the inhumi who destroyed the Vanished People, Jahlee? Were they human too?"

"They were dead before I was born."

We sat in silence for a time, listening to the wind in the trees and Hide's slow breathing. From time to time he mumbled a word or two indistinctly; perhaps Jahlee could distinguish them or guess the content of his dreams from their tone, but I could not.

"Where's Oreb?" she said at last.

"Nearby, I imagine. He flew after warning me that you were coming."

"He doesn't like me."

I did not reply; or if I did, merely muttered something noncommittal.

"Do you?"

I had never thought about it. After a time I said, "Yes. I've been wishing you would go. But yes, I do."

"I drink blood. Human blood, mostly."

"I know it. So did Krait."

"We don't kill you, though. At least, not very often."

I nodded.

"When you were on the river with that little girl from Han, we all said we were going to kill you, that we had to. That was what we had decided. But none of us wanted to, not really. We kept hanging back, each of us hoping somebody else would do it."

"Were you one of them? Yes, I remember now. There were so many of you-almost all of you had to be there."

"But you thought I wasn't, because you like me. You hoped I wasn't, really."

"Also because you didn't try to kill me when we met again."

She looked pensive. "I kept thinking that you'd be killed in the fighting. That way I wouldn't have to. Rajan-?"

"Yes?"

"That woman. The big woman they were keeping chained up. I forget her name."

"Chenille."

"Yes, Chenille. They-we were going to kill her children, we inhumi. They tried for years to have children, she said, she and some man in the cellar."

"Auk."

"But they couldn't, so they had taken in children whose parents had been killed. Five of them, she said. It seems like an awful lot."

"There must be a great many children in need of parents on Green."

"Do you think we'll really do it? We inhumi? Kill those children? They were supposed to take your son's village, and they tried, but they couldn't do it."

"Abanja's village. That's Maliki's real name, as I realized when I had time to cast my mind back to the old days in Viron. Colonel Abanja. Qarya is her village, not Sinew's. It may never be Sinew's."

"I'd argue with you about that, Rajan."

"Let's not argue."

She sat in silence for a while, and this time it was I who broke the silence, saying, "You can't cry, can you, Jahlee?"

"No. Not here."

She waited for me to speak, but I did not.

"Would you like me to go, Rajan? I mean, I'm coming with you. With you and Hide, no matter what you say. But if you'd like me to go away for now, I'll do it."

"Yes," I said. "Please go."

She rose, nodding to herself as she swept back the long sorrel hair of her wig. "You know where I would like to go, don't you? Where I'd like to be?"

I nodded.

"I can't go there without you. Where would you like to be, Rajan? Where would you like to be if you could be anywhere at all?" Her arms were growing wider and flatter already, her hands flattening, too, as they reached for her ankles.

"I'm not sure."

"In New Viron with Hide's mother? That's where you're going."

"Anywhere?" I asked her. "Possible or impossible?"

"Yes. Anywhere."

"Then I would wish to be back in our little sloop with Seawrack." I had not known it until the words left my mouth.

"Was that the girl from Han?"

I shook my head; and Jahlee gave me her tight-lipped smile, raised vast pinions, and flew.

From a branch overhead Oreb exclaimed, "Bad thing! Bad thing!"



24 Sinews Village | In Green`s Jungles | * * *



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