Some distant part of Detah knows there are only two drums: her own, and Eblan Erspn’s. Yet she hears others. Many others. She tries to distinguish and to count them. Not equal in size and construction they each sound different. She counts them as twelve. Twelve drums composing the constant throb of the night. But that isn’t right.
Neither is she beside the ashes of the bone-fire with Eblan Erspn—though where she is she doesn’t yet know. There’s a smell of the partaken eblan-herb strong around her. But that, too, isn’t right, filling the cave like a winter-thick fog.
The cave? Aye, for certain she’s in a bone-cave. Nor is she alone for here are the dead, both ancient and recent, still clutching their bones. Here, too, she sees there are living forms. People. People gathered all around her. Her people. Her children. ‘Twas she begot them, was she gave them life. Though of their numbers she birthed only the one.
This isn’t me! Panic sweeps through her. Has she truly become Alsalda? But the panic lasts but a moment, then again she is she amongst her children. It’s then she’s aware of movement beyond her. Beyond them. Beyond this place and this land. What is it?
She reaches out, awareness growing. A boat on the water? That awareness grows in insistence as the boat grows larger as it’s tide-carried to here. And now she’s aware of why she’s alert. That boat carries more thoughts than she cares to count. They touch upon hers. Ought she to block them? She has allowed none to touch her this past millennium and yet . . . She is curious—until she feels their intent. Then she shudders and slams up the shield.
No! But, no, a fool to block them: she must be aware of them, know their plans. How else to protect her people, her children? She again opens the portal, but slowly now to remain in control. And she singles out one.
Well chosen, this is their leader—and again she recoils. This time not in surprise of the intents held there but in disdain and horror of a found name. She feels her lips curl, guessed at his involvement from the first destruction. Urinod.
The name almost drags Detah back to her self at His Indwelling, so clamorous the questions that contend for attention. But the hold of She-the-Other is greater.
Why! Why will he not leave her alone? Yet, featherless chick, as if she didn’t know that. She almost laughs at her question. She knows well his stated complaint of her: That they wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her. An ancient wound; time it were healed.
The drummers now are drumming faster, the constant throb breaking as, crescendo-wise, it strains towards its completion. She scarcely needs turn to know there’s a lessening dark beyond the cave’s door. She waits, chanting a mantra in her head. Urinod’s puppets, must hold off the attack; Urinod’s puppets, must hold off . . . Though she knows it must come. Yet the greater light will lessen the killing. Death, oh how I hate death. That was Neka’s gift; hers was Life.
She opens her thoughts briefly to those around her. Uadnis too has sensed what awaits them. If Jiar were here . . . Uadnis echoes her mother’s incomplete thought. Why isn’t he here? What’s so important he must speak to Kin Mhuiris? Perhaps he’ll sense it across the waters? Perhaps he’ll return, though he’ll not be in time.
Outside the sky is slowly brightening. The early light gives form to the stones. Inside she’s aware of the unwelcome panic that’s now seizing her body. She now has lived some eight millennia, time enough to learn control. And yet still at dire moments beneath her skin she feels the sizzling; she hears, too, the slight change in her breathing. She dismisses that: it’s caused only by waiting. She ought to walk out, to give herself to him. But the rites . . . Though nothing dire will happen if they’re not repeated. The world won’t stop though her people belief it.
“My lady?” says a voice from behind her. “Is all well with you?”
“Does the sky turn? Does season follow upon season? Aye? Then all is well with me.” But if he succeeds in destroying her . . . ? But he must not! Blessed Mother, how much longer this banishment here?
It’s not with Asaric senses she now can hear him, she hears with her physical ears. Fool to believe he can creep in unheeded. She hears, too, his men. How many has he? But what matter their number when she has no guards. When have we ever needed guards here?
“They’ll wait until Kara bursts forth her light,” she speaks his intent.
“Ignore me. Musing, is all.” She ought to go meet them, to steer them away, to save the lives of her women at least. Uadnis?
The rites now are yours.
You expect not to return?
I expect it’s time I am gone.
Detah shivers, torn from the vision to return to the ashes of the burned-out fire. This doesn’t make sense, nothing makes sense. Who is she to share the thoughts of the Head of Kerdol?—for that’s who she was. Kerrid, her name, not Kared as once she’d been told it. An Asar, like Mistress Hegrea’s own father. Like the Uissid Urinod. Immortals, their breed, yet not to be numbered amongst the Unmade. Human, so Mistress Hegrea insists them, in all respects but their dying.
Experts too in arts of illusion.
Detah jars round, though she knows the voice was said in her head. She guesses it the voice of the heron, Ardhea, the long-legged river-guide. And there she is, as if Detah’s thoughts have called her, grey upon grey upon ashes.
She spreads her wings. You alight. I shall carry you there.
“Aye, carry me to where? And how? You mean me to sit on your wings?” She ought to think this odd, to be speaking these words with a heron. Yet odder still, she climbs upon the ash-formed wings. Distantly she knows she has imbibed too much of the potion; too much over too few days. Likely now it’ll kill her. She wants to laugh. The heron is Death come to take her away. Likely she’s to slip through the ash-wings.
This heron is Asar, the heron says only slightly clipt with annoyance.
“Asar?” Detah has heard that word before. “Immortal. Like the Uissid Urinod, like the Head of Kerdol, Kerrid? But . . . you’re a bird.”
And Lukabwa is aurochs. And, ho, how she spun Kerrid’s head! Worse than I now spin yours. Violet eyes, rose pink lips—albino, our Lukabwa, wearing her huge white body..
“Aye?” Detah says, not believing. Yet here she is, lightly balanced upon ash-feathered wings and fearing she might slip through them. But why not an Immortal albino aurochs. She is, after all, in one of Erspn’s ‘other worlds’.
You are in no ‘other world’, the heron tells her. All is illusion. You still sit by your fire.
Though sat by her fire, yet the sun beats hot upon her skull. The wind whispers cold through her feathers—her feathers? Illusion or not, this does seem to Detah like another world.
Spirals she forms, and double-loops, as with wings wide and atilt she searches the plain. Seeking for him; impatient to be together again. Then, she rejoices, for there he is, feet padding around the post-made ring. He upturns his black, sand and white face to watch her descend.
Wings arched, legs outstretching, she catches the easternmost post with her talons. Still he watches, head swinging. She settles with a flurry of sun-weathered wings. His fiery eyes invite her to descend yet farther, to join him on the ground.
Twelve times she drops from that post to the graved ring. Down and down, first some part of her falling, then another, until she stands as Apple Woman, fat with the thread wound around her middle. At his invitation she spins.
Threading and weaving, spinning through the tall sturdy posts, she dances, trailing fingers stroking the shafts, calling forth from each its proud-headed beast. With those beasts she dances, each in their turn, spinning together, holding close. First with the toad—spinning together, dancing and holding; then as the toad transforms so with the sow she dances around. And now with the goat, and then the cold-blooded snake, and the blood-red fox. Until at the last she dances with the one who’s been waiting, his face ever-hidden behind his black veil.
He picks at a thread hanging loose at her middle. He pulls it and starts her to spinning again. Around and unravelling, she weaves with the thread, in and out of the beast-headed posts, weaving between them, weaving around them, weaving them into a close-woven basket. That basket she weaves into a ball, and the ball is an egg and it hasn’t a door and the walls are the floor and the floor is above them. They dance now together inside the egg, holding and spinning. They spin in a circle, circling around, parting and joining and circling again, in and out, weaving together. She whispers to him to return to the beginning. She nibbles and scratches while he weaves within her. She cries for the pleasure that they are together, now one dance, one heart, one body, one being, one joy.
But . . . in an instant there’s terror. She screams. With squawks and squalls, there are beings around her and they’re breaking the walls of the ball. Angry red claws tear at the weavings, rip and destroy them, their claws deeply raking, piercing and gouging. Pain shrieks through her. They drag him from her. She screams, “Let him be!” Now bound round with twine, she strains to see him. Have they killed him? Ought she to sing a lament?
They throw her hard upon the plain. She bounces and painfully hits it again. She sees the clawed beings now ringed around her. They torment her, fierce with her body till her head is reeling. What’s happening to them, to us. Why won’t they tell her?
The clawed beings bay in their thousands, loudly calling for her destruction. Yet cruelly they hold death away. They force her head round. Behind are the posts. They want her to see as they hack and destroy the indwelling beasts, as they hack them into shapeless pieces. The horse, the aurochs, the sow and the toad, the fox, the snake, the owl and heron (—That one’s me, a voice interjects—) the swan, the goat and the tiger. The tiger! she screams as they hack at the tiger. And the tiny broken splinters they feed to their fire which roars and consumes every last sliver of them.
Her attackers, clawed beings, laugh and jeer, gleeful in their celebration, flapping scaly shiny wings around her while she weeps beyond consoling, the broken posts now soughing as ashes. Deep is her unspeakable sorrow. Guilt lays as a great stone within her.
They fall upon her—but she is already destroyed so what cares she now. She withdraws from her bound and hurting body; let them do as they will to it. She rises on a stirring wind that whispers over a mist-formed plain, gently scattering the beasts’ grey ashes. She watches them drift and then fall.
Detah sits for a long-long while without speaking, trying to accommodate what she has seen—what she has been, the entire k’bangle—unable to find eblan-imagery in it.
“Are these your memories?” Detah asks at last, the heron Ardhea having patiently waited, standing one-footed beside the fire.
Kerrid’s memories . . . She gave them to me.
“But what does it mean—what you shew me?”
Mean? Ardhea turns her head as she up-flicks her beak. Now you sound as Her. Yet despite the complaint she answers. It is her children spun into being. You humans.
“The work of the Spinner?” Detah seizes on this.
Ardhea laughs—or Detah supposes that is the sound. It’s laced with scorn. Aye, She also spun the worlds into being—with help of we Asars. But now She is banished to here, we Asars along with her.
Detah would prefer more time to ponder on this. But the heron now is strutting, circling what’s left of the fire. Detah guesses that means Ardhea wants to be gone and she’d best hurry to ask all her questions. “Those beasts-from-the-posts, were they the Asars? Immortals the same as Uissid Urinod?”
Those in the ring were the twelve of creation—though at the banishment only three fell in beast-form. Alas, I am one. The others, as you’ve guessed it, now exist in your world as . . . as almost indistinguishable from you.”
“And which was Kerrid, which was Uissid Urinod?”
Which was Kerrid? She is the Prime—was, is, always will be.
“But in what beast-form in this vision, your memory?” Aware of time passing, of the potion losing its hold on her, Detah panics to have it all told.
No. Her memory, not mine. Thus you were Her.
“In beast-form? Ah, the bird!—the hawk?”
Hawk? squawks the heron. She is Eagle. Your Uissid Urinod is horny, high climbing goat. Shall I say them all? You need to know? But I say you do not, and soon I must go.
“I should like to know. But if you must go . . .” And in truth her head now is swelling and soon will explode. So many words, so unfathomable visions. It likely will take the rest of her life to lay it all straight and understand it. But she has one further question. She must ask it, it’s pressing.
“Why give this vision to me?”
Kerrid says, when I say of you.
“No but why? And what did you say of me?”
Two questions, one answer. You have his ear.
Likely it will take the rest of Detah’s life for her to understand the vision. But right now she hasn’t the time. Kerrid, the Immortal Head of Kerdol, has sent her this vision and with it a message—a message for him. She assumes that is Krisnavn. But what exactly is the message?