Return 8

Kaveri checked out the setup within Narcissa’s tent, supported by the side of the wagon facing towards the road. A trio of folding stools to sit on, and her worktable which could, with a thick pad of white moonspun over it, double as an examination table. A clever collapsible set of shelves displayed some of her more eye-catching tonics and the like, and the baskets and boxes and chests that held more practical medicines and tools and supplies were arranged neatly out of the way.

Floor, four walls, and roof were all a single piece of moonspun, thick enough to block sight from outside, thin enough to allow some light within. There were many small ventilation holes, protected from insect invasion by fine mesh, high on the walls to allow air to circulate. It had taken Kaveri several nights to create, with suggestions from the others, but being surrounded by her own moon’s light was the most comfortable for Narcissa and this was, so far, beyond her younger moon-sister’s own skills. She’d originally made it black, in keeping with Narcissa’s role as mysterious seer, but since they’d left the travelling performers, she’d changed it to spotless white instead—it didn’t add enough light to really bother Narcissa, and it was cooler. Kaveri had been toying with whether she could make a second layer and bond it to the first, so that the outside surface could be cool white, the inside soothing dark, but experiments suggested that it would take some time to work out properly and execute.

Though it could stand free, she and Tyrel had set it up this time attached to the side of the wagon, with the wagon’s simple white canopy extended over it for extra protection from the southern sun. The wall facing towards the wagon concealed the space beneath, which led to the animals on the far side, and also the wagon’s side window. Only the entrance was vulnerable to insects or other intrusion, and even that was in part thwarted by the extra flap that lay loose over the vertical slit, but smearing the edges with Narcissa’s repellant oil should reduce it even further. Their princess had made her standards for an adequate space in which to work quite clear, though she’d adjusted more than once to whatever was available.

The possibility existed of someone showing up at any time seeking the healer; she only hoped it wasn’t until after they’d finished the experiment in calling the local earthborn. Continue reading

Return 7

Behind them, shadowed by one of the empty buildings and what had once been a dense wooden fence protecting a garden, one human figure and one much smaller one watched them go.

Aquamarine light splashed, and the smaller shape became human, at least in form.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything that beautiful,” the one who had been small said, tone approaching reverence.

“No,” the other said quietly, “nothing even close for a very long time. An Enodian dancer, to traditional if simplified Enodian music, very obviously blessed by Meyar…”

“But they’re the heretics. Aren’t they?” He didn’t sound sure of himself.

The quieter of the two favoured his friend with a weary smile. “You know they lie. If what you see in front of you contradicts what they say, tell them you believe them but in private trust your own eyes. Can you honestly claim that she wasn’t dancing with Meyar’s blessing?”

Brief silence, then, “No. I can’t.” Another hesitation, then, “Maybe Meyar wanted you to see it? Other than when you changed, there was no light around you. Nothing more than a real horse or a human, I mean. I’ve never seen that happen before. I didn’t know it could happen.”

“Maybe she did. And I’m grateful for it, even though there’s sure to be a price.”

“But Ejiro…”

The other sighed. “I didn’t know that, either. At times I wish I were less of a coward, or more sure that death would be an escape from my conscience. Did you hear them? Both women speak pure upper-class highly-educated Enodian. I heard a whisper that something happened in Enodia recently. Had it been some great victory, they’d have been certain to tell us in detail. Instead, we’ve heard nothing, and I’ve seen no one new from Enodia or nearby for the past few years. Nor, now I think of it, anyone who had been assigned to Enodia recently. I wonder whether there’s a connection.” Continue reading

Return 6

Narcissa, bounding along effortlessly in hare-form, looked back as she heard her sister mutter a curse under her breath.

They couldn’t really question Kieran’s logic, that a dance meant to honour one earthborn and invoke her blessing might be an effective way of coaxing another into coming out to talk to them and perhaps giving them further pieces to this puzzle.

Nor could they question Tyrel’s caution that they needed to do so far enough from their camp in the middle of the town that there would be no prying eyes.

And Lysandra had done a short flight herself to find a location that would offer moonlight, privacy, and a connection to the earth.

Nonetheless, the prickly vegetation that dominated the deforested lands was encroaching on the unused track they were following. Kieran, even in human form, barely seemed to notice. Lysandra certainly did. At least Narcissa had the option of staying below the level of the worst of it, and she was grateful for it.

Given the violence the prickly stuff inflicted on clothing, Lysandra was in the kind of halter and loincloth Kaveri liked, trusting to Meyar to heal scratches and insect bites immediately. Her clothes and jewellery she was carrying, wrapped protectively in moonspun. The sisters had done a slightly hasty, though careful, job of her makeup, and her hair was brushed out entirely loose. Narcissa suspected that without Meyar’s protection, this trek would have left her sister looking rather less cool and elegant.

The rest of the family remained at the campsite, guarding the animals and the food from people and vermin, and covering for the missing trio.

Narcissa did her best to scout around her companions, keeping watch in all directions with keen hearing and sensitive nose for interruptions or danger. She had no idea whether anyone in the region would care about a woman being out after midnight with an unknown man, or how they felt about modesty even under good conditions, but they couldn’t afford to be seen doing anything outside their roles. Above all, they couldn’t be seen doing anything a human could not. The world around her was clearly visible, everything picked out in faintly violet light, except her sister and Kieran, who were haloed with blue-white and yellow respectively. Continue reading

Return 5

Kaveri stirred the pot of soup and tasted it. Good, the herbs she’d added had turned it from tolerable to savoury. At least, she thought so; regional tastes could vary quite a lot. Still, it was healthy but should be reasonably gentle on bodies that had been short on food for some time, and that was what mattered most. A covered dish held rounds of simple pan-bread to accompany the soup, though it had made serious inroads into their supply of flour.

Carrying food around definitely had both advantages and disadvantages. There wasn’t much here for even her to forage for, but worrying about running out of anything was relatively new. She was going to have to make some longer trips outside the town to see what she could find.

It would be worth it if they could find out what under the moons was going on in Ilek that the town council wasn’t telling them.

Narcissa and Lysandra waited nearby, far enough from the fire to not feel its additional warmth. They managed somehow, despite the sultry heat, to look cool and regal with scarcely a midnight hair out of place. The ground was hard and uneven, so in an attempt at some sort of comfort, they’d layered as many moonspun blankets and rugs as they could find, and on top of those added cushions from the wagon. Mirren had sprawled in front of them where both could reach to pet her, though her ears swivelled constantly to track mice; Madoc lay across the doorway of the wagon, and Kieran had settled himself under the cart, both positioned so they could see as much of the campsite as possible. The cats and Kieran had done an efficient and lethally effective job of tracking and emptying every mouse hiding place on the lot and dumping any uneaten bodies into a hole in one far corner, near the pile of stray rocks and bits of metal Tyrel and Kaveri had cleared out of the way—that same cleaning job had turned up enough wood to do them for a day or so, though after that, they’d need to look for another source. There hadn’t been any incoming waves of small squeaking invaders, but that was probably only a matter of time. While the cats might drowse frequently, Kieran would remain on high alert, she was certain of that, and the cats could wake as quickly as they fell asleep. Continue reading

Return 4

Half a world away, a small woman with russet hair, who had spent more nights walking this rooftop garden than the youthfulness of face and body would suggest, gazed out over a nocturnal landscape that, to her eyes, was entirely clear but had a yellow tinge.

The land was too flat, too rocky, to feel right. Somewhere deep in her heart, home created an image of thickly forested hills, where the flora and fauna alike were very different from anything to be found here, and of a humble dwelling that was little more than a cave, though made by her own hands and skill and with the loving help of friends. There should be people with long green hair who moved through the forest like fish through water.

Many years ago, she’d been found at the doorstep here, naked and unable to speak the local language and remembering nothing save her name. It had taken time to learn all over again about everyday things, and to learn the language, but the healers had cared for her with patience and compassion. They thought her mad, though harmlessly so, for the peculiar things she said and did and took for granted, though she’d learned to adjust to a degree that pleased them. Though she had no past, they had worked out ways to test her skills, and found her highly literate—the scripts used here had been unfamiliar, but she had learned them swiftly, especially under Talir’s bright glow. They’d found her a job, copying old texts, and she’d worked her way up over the years through the other jobs here in the archives: binding, evaluating, preserving, restoring, filing. It became clear that she did not age, that she was bound to no aspect of time other than Talir’s cycle, but here where little changed from day to day, no one found it more than a curiosity. Continue reading