Krisnavn has dared to liken young Detah to the River Woman Alsalda. To cover his shock, Eblan Erspn has suggested Demekn composes a song to her—if he can draw his thoughts and desires away from Glania. Meanwhile, Eblan Erspn is keen to regain his apprentice: there are other worlds her to explore . . . Read on
Demekn had sat the rest of that day on the bench by the heart-tree and considered this song for his sister. He’d been quite safe there. For the while. The women (Glania and Drea with them) had gathered their baskets and departed immediately after the meeting. The Mother was at Her most plentiful, and the women had a festive air about them. Drea had even been laughing, a startling sound after so long of her bleakness. Then when they returned with baskets full he had scurried back to his chamber, there to hide while the women laughed and were loud in their talk and their banter.
Neither had the various sounds of grinding and pounding, of pots knocking and clunking, tempted him out. Yet that herb-heavy aroma from Haldalda’s cooking, now wafting into his chamber, clawed at his belly like some cruel tormentor. But Glania would be at that same cook-hearth and he didn’t want to face her, not after that door-jamming blunder.
She need not have come fetch the cushions with him, nor yet help with the brew. She had followed him, and only to tease him. She had encouraged him. Ay-yi, just the thought, enough to catch at his breath. He could feel the heat rising, feel again the blood gorging, feel the desire overwhelming. Yet he had pulled away! What else could he do: he couldn’t have her. So why, then, had she slapped him? It wasn’t that he’d pressed himself on her, though he had hurt with the wanting.
Oh but the smell of those herbs. Was it a broth, or a sauce?
Shunamn chose then to take off his boots. Tight around his feet in every weather, and this day had been hot.
“Ah! There’s our Demekn!” Haldalda exclaimed as he emerged from the chamber. “I knew you’d not miss your meal.”
There was no place he could settle in ease by that hearth. To sit away from Glania was then to sit opposite her. Yet to sit so he’d not see her entailed sitting near to her. He compromised, sitting side-on to her with Drea between them. But then Drea sent her to fetch more bread from Haldalda’s daughters and on her return Drea had moved leaving Glania no choice but to sit down beside him. See! It was always her doing.
The women still were talking and laughing of their trifling adventures while in the Mother’s crop-yard, food-gathering. He swore he’d never understand the things that women find amusing. Yet he envied these women their friendship. An eblan, ghosts and spirits were his only friends.
With Glania now sitting so close, he sought for thoughts to distract him. Something—anything—so he’d not notice so keenly the flowery scent on her. He’d prefer not to notice, too, that her gown and breeches were peppered with seeds where she’d waded through grasses. His hand yearned to brush them from her thigh, so close to his own.
“I haven’t yet heard your bow-music,” Glania said, fingers touching his as she passed him the brew-bowl. “Krisn says you have some skill at it.”
He flustered of how to answer. But best to ignore her, she was only teasing.
“My apprentice practices every day,” Shunamn said. “Though the bow is Uestin, his inspiration wholly is Alisime.”
Demekn glared at him. So much for ignoring her. Besides, it wasn’t true; surely Shunamn realised his inspiration was Uestin too. If not now, then he would come summer-next when the remaining Clan Querkan arrived.
“Krisn says you’re skilled, too, in the verses,” Glania said.
“Aye, he is. If verses mean to place words into rhyme,” Shunamn said not realising that rhymes was a Uestin word too.
“Well I’ve only heard that song he performed at the Ulvregan burial,” Drea said.
“That’s the one that impressed my cousin,” said Glania.
“That’s the only one your cousin has heard,” Demekn said. He glanced off to the eblann-chamber. He’d finished eating, and now Shunamn’s feet were here, not stinking out his sleeping-space, it might be as well to return there. Better there than to stay here for Glania to tease.
“Oh delights! You’re fetching your bow,” Glania gushed, hands clapping. “Your sister and I would like to hear it—wouldn’t we, Drea?”
“I would like to, aye,” Drea agreed. “But not that funeral song.”
“He’ll play for you his inspired creation, his song for our Mistress.” Shunamn’s praise bubbled loud in his words.
Demekn curbed his sigh till back in his chamber. How could he refuse when even his eblan-master pushed him. But when he returned it was to sit at a distance, on the bench by the heart-tree. Besides, only there was sufficient light, though even that now was fading.
He plucked out the tune twice through as the uathren did it before beginning to sing.
Father Above, let your wide arms protect me,
Mother Below, let your dark arms embrace me,
Daughter of Dawn, let your bright light inspire me.
Your heat in my heart, your light in my eyes.
His eyes strayed to Glania. He didn’t care what the others might say of his song, he wanted her, only her, to like it. And she seemed to, head nodding, a touch of a smile on her lips. He fought off a grin that wanted to make a stupid face on him. Her approval swelled everything in him, more effective than even the eblan-herbs. He was floating high.
You I would have as my woman, sweet pleasure.
Pleasing indeed when you cast your light on me.
Light of the Day, your bright light burns in me.
Your heat in my heart, your light in my eyes.
Now there was no mistaking her smile. Spread to her eyes, making them sparkle. She had guessed—she must have—that she’d been in his thoughts while he was composing.
Eblan of the day, Mistress Inspiration,
Cast your light into my dark and inspire me,
Western Land Eblan, Mistress Inspiration,
When darkness pulls me, be my guiding light.
He saw Drea pull back into the deep shadows beneath the arcade. Aye, her reaction had changed the song for him. Yet she’d not been there on that darkest of days when he sang this same song for his father. Pain gouged his chest as if skewered upon that same spear. Yet he was determined to complete the song. To keep his tears from showing he gave full thought to his singing.
Bright light of day, I will build a ring for you,
Build you a wide ring upon the Sun’s Highlands,
On the Sun’s Highlands we’ll be together,
Mistress of my heart, the light of my eyes.
He played the tune three times more, to say the song now was done (only Glania would know it a Uestin form). Then his audience, being Alsime, clapped and hooted. Except for Drea, of course.
“My cousin was wrong in what he said of you,” Glania said. “You wouldn’t improve assigned to a good poet.”
He looked away, fumbling to put his bow back in the bag his father had made for it. He’d been a fool to believe she’d have anything other than insults for him.
“No,” she said, “I shall tell him you do well enough now, and without it.”
Her words worked like magic. The haunting memories of his father faded. The granary-family, Shunamn and all, no longer were there. Glania, himself, nothing other existed. She was on her feet and padding towards him. He heard her long linen gown whisper a long-ago promise. Like a granary-cat she now was moving, confident, prowling.
“Tell me of this ring you will build,” she said, her words rippling like a river around water-worn pebbles. And with feline grace she lowered to sit on the bench beside him.
He could look only at her. At her hair, like flames that licked at her creamy smooth skin. He’d lost control, his tongue wetted his lips—oh, woe, to display it! And the many times he had seen her, yet only now did he see her eyes weren’t light brown at all but gold-streaked amber. Her lips slowly parted as she looked up at him. He felt himself drawn . . .
Demekn pulled back, a rush of air filling the chasm between them. He swallowed. He sweated. What had he been saying? “It’s an eblan-ring. The eblann of old they-they built rings—for their Mistress Sauën.”
She arranged the folds of her gown around her. And leant forward as if keen to know more. Their shoulders touched and she didn’t pull back.
“It’s, um—” he fought for the breath to speak “—the mark of an eblan-true.”
“Aye.” Shunamn was suddenly there, standing above them. “But that’ll never be you. Second eblan-duty? To your family. Yet while you are versing, your sister is off in her chamber, alone and howling. You know how many duties you’ve broken? You need a sharp kick.” His foot was poised. “Where’d you want it? Into your nuts? That’ll keep your little man down. Now go to your sister.”
“No.” Haldalda held him back at the door. “We’ve waited long for this to break. Now she’s started it’s best not stop her. Let her sob. She needs it.”
Detah winced as her hand snapped back. Pain speared through her wrist. She glared at her eblan-master. He had given no warning but thrown the sacred drum at her and expected a catch.
“You will be an eblan-true,” he insisted. “When measured against the days of your life, what matters this summer? As to that man, he is not for you.”
Aye, she knew that, though Mistress Hegrea had told her elsewise. But since then she’d seen the looks between them, Commander Krisnavn and Mistress Hegrea. Eblan Erspn might think her a child—his child, his eblan-child—but she knew full well what was hid in those looks. Anyway, that’s not what fuddled her head. Krisnavn had already pushed her away, and she had accepted it, and that before Mistress Hegrea had taken him–though, aye, it did hurt when he ignored her. Yet he had reasons for it; she had found for him many. But now he had asked for her back and was speaking her praises, and she could find no sense in it.
“Ready?” Eblan Erspn spread the coals with a stick, hollowing the middle to place the bowl there.
Though the night was warm yet she shivered. It was this place. She sat at the very heart of Cloud Stone Isle, the hallowed site of First Creation. The stones loomed dark beyond the light of the fire, standing like voids against the grey of the towering walls. Her eyes tracked across the sky. The Father had drawn His clouds together, veiling Master Nod’s face completely. She could see nothing but a uniform black
“It’s only green-feather,” Eblan Erspn said, perhaps to himself, though he looked up from preparing the herb. “And since my clever inspired eblan-child is to acquire us yet more she now has the use of it. You know what’s required?”
“But I’m not certain, yet, that deal is secure.” If they use this now, and the deal turns sour . . .?
“Hush. It’ll come to you; our Mistress smiles upon you. Now, you understand what I’m asking? Here. Now. You’re not questing the Ancients, or seeking a spirit. This is to open you to what’s beyond. You have looked long and true at my wall?”
She nodded. As instructed, she had studied his colour-marked wall, not heeding its many parts but committing its whole to her memory. Though how much of it did she remember now? She’d a sense of it being like sand, slipping through her fingers.
Eblan Erspn wafted green-feather’s spirit-filled smoke towards her. Whether she willed it or not, she inhaled it. Still he urged her to more. “Breathe. And remember the wall.”
She wanted to say—yet he had said not to talk—that his inspired wall had never been far from her thoughts since first she had seen it. But to remember exactly . . . Perhaps she saw something approximating the wall inside her head.
“Drum,” he reminded her.
The drum nestled between her crossed legs. But she wasn’t experienced and it felt awkward to use. It was too distracting; she’d do better without it. In tapping its taut head she lost recall of the wall. He gave her too many things to think of at once. She inhaled more of the herb.
The herb’s spirit mixed with the night air. It mixed with the lingering smoke of the golden yew-wood, of the sweet ash-wood, of the protective rowan. Though still it was awkward she tapped a halting rhythm, two fingered. She remembered the wall.
Green-feather’s spirit mixed with the odour of the hot clay pot; she inhaled of it deeply. The wall with its spirals and circles, jags and horizons, took form in her head. Again, she inhaled, breathing in deeply. The wall took form before her eyes as if now it stood between the fire and the Cloud Stones. Red, yellow and brown the swirls and the strokes. It wrapped around her, enfolding her. It was both within and outside her.
Another deep intake of green-feather’s spirit and now she’s no longer aware of her hands on the drum. Her fingers, if moving, move of their own volition. In her head, in her ears, she hears a thin thudding. A regular tapping: now there; not there. The red swirls from the wall, the yellow and brown lines, the jags, all scintillate now on the numinous night air.
Gates. She sees the gates clearly. Golden gates enclosing the stones. She sighs, she smiles. As if within the isle, held as in a bowl, motes are dancing, all glinting gold. Their lights coalesce, become like the rays of the sun, and settle there. Here is Sauën, Sauën seed of Saram, here with her light dissolving and scattering. In delight at the vision, she sighs. She smiles.
A voice calls. Fear slices through her, afraid someone will drag her away from here. Yet no one has called her for no one is here, alone but for Sauën. But . . . she frowns, for she is sure she has heard something. Something hissing? Something snaking and winding around her.
She rises, arms high to catch the golden seeds before they’re snatched from her. Ay-yi, she’s too late. Her arms remain empty. Sauën is gone. No golden stones circling. No glittering motes. No light.
In its absence all ought to be dark. Yet here are red-spiral suns caught in yellow threaded webs. She laughs. And turns, and turns. The colours dance round her, spinning as she spins . . . she is spinning. She is spinning . . .
And now she knows where she is. This is the Unbound! And she knows what she is. She is the Spinner! For what is the Spinner if not the Unbound.
At that—as if she’s thought the thinkable—a flare-bladed axe cleaves through her vision. Cleaves through her self. Cleaves her sight so the colours there scatter. The Unbound withdraws rapidly from her as she is flung back to the world of the Bound, there again trapped in her body. Sadly now she finds her sight filled only with the glow of dying embers.
How long she sat there, blindly gazing, thinking . . . But what ought she to tell him? He expected an answer to what were his inspired little squiggles. Yet her vision had been more Uestin than Alisime. Uathren, not eblan. And was that a surprise when she herself was of Saëntoi descent? No, she decided, she could not tell him all that she’d seen, despite his query had been of the Spinner. He might send her away, unfit to be an eblan-apprentice, again to be a granary-keeper. Then no one would want her.
Heart-wrenching though it is for Detah, at least now she is an eblan-proper, complete with other-world visions. Yet this isn’t the first vision, and it shan’t be her last. Perhaps Detah really is Alsalda, anciently gifted?