Changes

Either there’s more behind this than we know, or it’s a really elegant way for the GM to relieve himself of a handful of NPC hangers-on. Anyway, makes for interesting dynamics.

The next night I went to sleep determined to notice when I was dreaming. Ferin wouldn’t let me take a watch, but I did wake up in the middle of the night and saw a glow on the horizon as if there was a fire. I pinched myself –no, probably not dreaming– and then went and poked Ferin, who woke up and saw it too. He took the watch along, I think Ot and Bayat, and went to investigate while I kept watch instead. After a while, it must have been half an hour, they still weren’t back, and I couldn’t see Ferin with my mind at all! I woke up the captain, because we’d talked about going in military force the next time, and I didn’t know anything about military force. But the captain was sort of… well, not very military about it, not taking things in hand as I’d expected (or like Ferin would have done). In fact he let me make all the decisions! So I finally got him to admit that it would be a good idea to go there well-armed and surround whoever it was. He asked if I wanted to leave someone to guard the camp but I thought the snake would do that, so I told the snake “if it’s the camp or your life, escape; otherwise guard”. I still don’t know how much snakes understand but I hoped she got it.

When we were all armed and ready I noticed that Fikmet wasn’t there! And I could see her with my mind: she was where the glow was. I could in fact see two people there, both gifted, and Fikmet was one of them. Even more reason to go there and do something about it.

When we arrived at where the glow was Ferin and the watch were just arriving too, and they hadn’t noticed the time passing. I thought again that I might be dreaming after all, or the gods were giving me visions. There was a pyre like the one the mage’s mother had burned him and herself on, blazing, and Fikmet was lying on it looking as cool as anything! The dead mage was there too, he was the second gifted person. He did still look like a spirit, floating and a bit translucent. I talked with Sepideh and the captain a bit, and we decided that if this was real Fikmet must have been drugged if she didn’t fight. I ran towards the mage as fast as I could and when I thought I was in range threw a knife, and it passed right through him. I just kept running, snatched Fikmet from the burning pyre in passing (burning my hands a bit) and took her to the nearest safe place, or at least a place where weren’t too close to the fire and out of the way of any fighting. “Are you all right?” I asked. She was, didn’t even look drugged, and it had really been a real fire, I had the burns to prove it!

When I turned back –I still had a feeling that this mage was mine– Ferin and some of the others were cornering the mage. I’d thought before that Naigha was who I needed for this, but all I knew to call Naigha with was the Fourth Invocation so I did that, and I knew she was there. “He’s dead,” I said to her, “so please take him! He doesn’t seem to understand it.” “You kick him out,” Naigha said, perhaps not quite in those words but clearly enough. But how could I kick something that was in my head?

Oh! This image of him or whatever it was was right in front of me, I could kick that. So I did, but I kicked right through him too, of course. He was spirit, I had to kick with spirit! Fortunately Ferin had seen me trying and said “use my strength!” and I made a kind of extra strong boot of spirit, seal-stuff, my own and Ferin’s, as hard as I could make it, like stone, and kicked the mage with that.

This time, he rippled.

“Let’s kick him on the pyre!” Ferin said, and that’s what we tried next. It sort of worked, but he didn’t stay there until we’d made a kind of wrapping from seal-stuff, Ferin and Tasgal and Makane and me all together. I thought there should be something more, to make him believe he was dead, so I asked the Khas women to help me sing a song for the dead. “You sing it,” Sepideh said, but she told me the words to each line and I sang and everybody else sang along with me, and finally he went poof! and was gone, the fire just burning by itself. He wasn’t in my head any more either, And Ferin said I was a journeyman.

I sat down next to Fikmet, feeling empty. And then I woke up. Another dream! But I was still a journeyman; some real things had happened in it. And the mage’s spirit was still gone, too. Later I told the real Fikmet “I snatched you off a mage’s pyre in my dream!” and she laughed and said “You’re always dreaming strange things about me!” Suddenly a thought came to me, “are you really Timoine? Daya? Part of you anyway?” and she said “Perhaps. A bit.” (Well, any kid kan be Timoine a bit, so even if the other stuff hadn’t happened later she’d probably have been right.) I said to Ferin, “If I was alone now, I’d go right back to Faran and ask him to take me into the Order.” I’d been thinking about that anyway, but now I was a journeyman and I could. When we’re back –if we ever get back– that’s exactly what I intend to do.

We stayed at that camp for another couple of days, and I didn’t have any more nightmares but Ferin wouldn’t let me stand watch yet either. A good thing because I was so tired, as if I’d pulled all the strength out of myself to kick that mage. “What did you do?” Ferin asked, and all I could say was “I wrapped up the mage in a neat parcel of seal-stuff and gave him to Naigha as a present.”

We had a tribe meeting to decide on a name for the tribe –I think it was Ferin and the captain who had thought of doing that together– and with a lot of back-and-forth and some silliness we decided on calling it the Tribe of the Dawn. (There were already enough Tribes of the Snake, and of the Owls, and even of the East. Though we could have been the Tribe of the Far East, but thinking of the east being just a kind of very far west, as Ferin said, confused me.) Ferin made a flag of a light-coloured goat-skin that he scraped and painted a rising sun on with his own blood from a finger he cut especially for that! It was red to start with, of course, but it dried brown. “They won’t know it’s yours,” I said, “it could just as well be the blood of your vanquished enemies!” “All the better,” Ferin said.

Then there was more travelling, and on the last day that the direction-stones had indicated we came to a chasm. It wasn’t very wide, only a couple of yards, too wide to jump but we could probably have managed with the tent-poles. It was quite deep, though, and at the bottom we could hear a stream and birdsong. We could see some of the birds, too, about the size of my hand, very bright blue and yellow. “Would those be good to eat?” Ferin wondered, and I was thinking of what one could do with the feathers.

“I didn’t know this was here!” Sepideh said, and nobody else had heard of it either. The worst thing was that there weren’t any direction-stones in sight, not on this side and not on the other. We decided to search on both sides, a party going south with Fikmet in it and a party going north with me in it to have as much semsin range as possible, while Ferin and the captain stayed behind to guard and coordinate. We decided to walk until we thought we were getting out of range, or for two hours if that was sooner. We looked for direction-stones, scuffmarks, tracks, changes in the terrain, both on this side of the chasm and the other side, and listened but all we could hear was the stream and the birds and sometimes also the croaking of frogs and the slithering of snakes. I’d left our snake drowsing on a pile of baggage, or I’d have let her hunt!

The chasm got narrower at some point, so much that I could almost have jumped across, and a bit further on it wasn’t much more than a crack in the ground, but the sound of water was still there. And then we saw something that looked like a landmark made by people: a kind of pillar of stones, thinner at the top than at the bottom. I called Ferin –we were almost out of range there– and asked him to look through my eyes. “We’re coming,” he said, “I’ll call the rest. Go on slowly. Careful, there may be other people there.” What he didn’t say, but I know he meant, was that we were here with less than half our full fighting strength and if someone was defending the pillar we’d better have the rest with us too.

So we had a rest first, behind some low bushes, and then crawled in the direction of the pillar. Ferin called a while later, “we’re coming, but the other lot are late, we’ll all be there around dark.” Now that we knew they were coming and it was too dark to keep going anyway we made camp, sheltered as well as we could behind a little ridge, and a fire was burning when all the others came in, Ferin leading the camel with Fikmet on top of it. She’d gone down the chasm and slipped and broken her ankle! The soldiers’ woman, Otfal, and I knew most about setting bones so we made splints and pulled the foot until it went ‘snap!’ –this made Fikmet faint– and tied the splints to her leg so it was about straight. We’d tell her when she woke up not to walk on it for a couple of weeks, not that she’d want to. But fortunately we had the camel!

It was much too dark now to even see the pillar, so we waited until the next morning. Some people were talking about rigging something to get the camel over the chasm, but I said “we can just walk around, it’s only a quarter of an hour that way!” and that was true, there wasn’t even a crack in the ground some way further along though it opened up again to the north. It wasn’t very far to the pillar, and it turned out to be much smaller than it had looked: about half again as tall as Ferin. “I think this is a landmark to show there’s water,” Sepideh said, “I’ve heard of those, though I’ve never seen one until now.” Well, there was water all right! Only no obvious way to reach it, our longest rope wasn’t long enough to get into the chasm. But then one of the soldiers found a hole in the ground with stone steps leading down in a sort of shaft. “Volunteers to go down?” Ferin asked, and Bayat and I went, laden with water sacks, and I with the grease lamp as well.

It was quite a long way down, and I was glad we had the lamp because there were places where the steps were uneven and I’d surely have been scared if I hadn’t been able to see anything, but at last the shaft ended on a sort of little island surrounded by water. The water was dark and still, it didn’t seem to flow at all, and the shaft stood on it like a sort of pillar with a hole in one side. I smelt and tasted the water and it was fresh and didn’t taste of anything in particular, perhaps a bit of stone as if it had been in a stone crock, so we filled the water sacks. Then Bayat walked round the pillar and called me, “Come and look here!” He’d found a boat! It looked as if it had been made from a single tree-trunk, and it didn’t look as if more than one person could sit in it comfortably. “Better go up and tell the others,” I said, because I sure wasn’t going to try out a boat on an unfamiliar lake!

Ferin was very interested, because he knew most about boats of all of us, so he went down this time –in his loincloth, his body greased, because he thought otherwise he wouldn’t be able to get through, and that was very true because when he came back he had some scrapes. Bayat wanted to go down again too, so he got to carry all the empty water sacks we still had. Ferin told us he’d seen something like a fish or another creature, and if that hadn’t been there we could all go down to wash, but suppose it was something waiting for food to come in reach of its jaws, like an alligator or a people-eating fish! We’d better go unwashed until the next pool.

There were some very clear direction stones around the pillar, one set pointing south along the chasm where we didn’t really want to go, and one almost due west were we had been going, only four days so we decided to take that one. But not today! We sorted out our things, filled all the other water bags too, shook the sand from our clothes, practiced, and generally rested before the next stretch.

The next morning when we wanted to set out it turned out that all the children were missing! We could see them, though, some way to the south along the chasm. Ferin and I –perhaps it would have been more useful to leave one gifted person in the camp, but neither of us wanted to stay behind– decided to go after them on the camel. When we were about to saddle up we saw something scrawled in the sand, and I thought I recognised the way Fikmet wrote ‘a’: “We had to go. Good luck.” What!? Just now we were a tribe, all the young of the tribe leave, just like that? If they’d been abducted and had time to write, they wouldn’t have written that, because it was very unlikely that anyone taking them would be able to read Ilaini anyway.

“If we’re not back in two days, go on!” Ferin told the women and the soldiers, and we rode south as fast as two people on one camel can go. After a while we knew we were close to the children but couldn’t see them at all! “They’re under us!” Ferin said. So they were– not in the chasm, but on the underground river. They must have taken the boat! How all six of them could have fitted in, and how Fikmet had managed to go down the stairs with her splinted ankle, was a mystery, but there they were. It didn’t look as if they were being coerced or compelled, except perhaps Fikmet. I spoke to her with my mind, and she said “We really had to go, it’s more dangerous for you than for us, take care!” Damn Daya and her earthly images! Because I was sure now who was doing the compelling. Well, at least I belonged to Anshen now and she couldn’t compel me. “But will we see you again!” “Probably,” Fikmet said. “At the king’s court?” “Yes, I think it will be there.” I couldn’t help wailing a little, “I’d have liked to learn a lot more together!”

Then Ferin also spoke to Fikmet but of course I didn’t hear it. He said to me later that he’d told them we’d miss them and he’d have liked to keep them in the tribe. I agreed completely! But we couldn’t do anything now, so we went back and told the others what had happened. Some of the women were all “yes, Daya does that” and the soldiers didn’t show any feelings at all. I’ll never understand those Khas! That we didn’t have the children any more had changed everything, it wasn’t me and Ferin taking care of the children with all those other people around us, but me and Ferin leading a group of adults while we were the very youngest. (Well, perhaps Tamsyn was younger, she wasn’t sure, but she looked about our age.)

There was nothing for it but to follow the four-day direction stones and go on towards the west. Sepideh was still sure that we were getting closer to the king. Four days, then another five days, then another three. It was higher ground here, much colder, and then some very cold white stuff started falling out of the sky, like cotton fluff. When it fell on you it changed to cold water. Ferin said it must be snow, and there was lots of that in Valdyas but not where he had lived. It was nice when it fell on the ground and stayed there, because it made it very easy to find tracks of animals. There were more trees here and higher bushes, some of the trees were very strange, going up straight and ending in a point and with a sort of soft green needles for leaves. “We could make tent-poles from those trees!” I said, but we didn’t need a new tent. We could cut wood for fires, though! And when it was so easy to follow animals we might as well hunt, even though we’d lost our best hunters, Mar and Makane. I think I was the best hunter left! Though some of the soldiers and the women weren’t bad either, and five of us went and followed tracks of something large and hooved while Ferin and the rest made camp.

It was easy to find the large and hooved animal, but it was already someone’s dinner: half a dozen wolves that had brought it down and didn’t notice us because they were busy eating. “There are wolves here,” I said to Ferin, “but they’re eating, not going for us at the moment.” “Thanks!” he said, and we drew back and found some other tracks to follow, a small herd of jumping-deer. We got four in total (because one had two spears in it) and the rest ran away. Ferin and the others hadn’t only made a big fire, but built a kind of low wall of upright poles as well, so the wolves would find it hard to get at us even if they got hungry again. Ferin made beads from the deer’s short straight horns and threaded them on a string for Tamsyn, and promised to braid some in her hair later when it was light, and it was a really peaceful evening, except that we were still missing the children a lot.