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Child: “Mother, I can’t see!”
Mother: “Open your eyes, silly!”
It took a long time and a great deal of patience to wait until the surface of the water became absolutely still, but when it finally did, the reflected sky and white cloud opened before them, as in a dream. Though the sun was mirrored brightly on its surface, so too were the stars of the night sky. Deborah gasped in wonder.
‘Sh-h-h,’ whispered Éha, ‘you’ll break your concentration.’
Though what they watched was mere reflection, it appeared more real and of greater depth than their surroundings. Deborah felt that were she to plunge bodily into that illusory reflected sky, she might fall forever . . . into some sort of magically transformed world or version of herself . . . and freedom!
‘Now, make the sky go dark,’ said Éha.
Deborah brought her concentration up to a higher pitch, staring harder into the image. Her peripheral vision began to darken, as though the sun were being eclipsed.
And the image began to darken as well, the pale blue sky fading gradually to velvet black. The reflected sun had disappeared, replaced by a thin silver sliver of new moon, and the stars of the night sky had become very bright, and seemed larger, even nearer.
‘Think of something, now,’ said Éha. ‘A place. A person. It doesn’t matter.’
For a long moment, Deborah was stumped. She did not want to think about her past, or about some of the bad things that had happened to her here either.
‘Let it come,’ the Pixie told her. ‘Don’t force it.’
Deborah let her mind wander. At once the scene began to shift, and another image began to overlap the first. As the stars and night sky faded, they were replaced by a land of wide green hills under a sunlit sky. In the distance was a great forest which grew upon high mountains. The forest and the mountains ended abruptly at the edge of this green, rolling country of orchards and farms, and atop a nearby foothill arose the most beautiful city Deborah had ever seen. Its high walls were of white stone, as were its many towers and parapets; the rooftops were either covered with gold leaf, or had been covered with some like substance which glittered in the sunlight. Within the walls, the streets were lined with elegant buildings, each of which looked to be an architectural masterpiece. Many standards fluttered in the breeze from spires atop the parapets and towers. The streets and courtyards were flagged with brightly-coloured tile mosaics, and each street was lined with beautiful flowering trees.
‘That is the city of Nith,’ said Éha in wonder. ‘I did not know you had ever been there.’
‘I’ve never been there before,’ said Deborah, who was just as surprised as Éha. ‘It’s like something out of a fairy tale.’
Éha turned to her with a quizzical look. ‘A what?’
Deborah had to suppress a smile. ‘I’ll tell you some other time. What are those people doing?’
There seemed to be some sort of activity around a strange-looking building that looked as though it had once been airy and open, but was now closed to the outside world by an incongruously fortified stonework. An ugly pall of smoke issued from its upper windows, as from a fire recently subdued; there were dark smudges of soot streaking the sides of the building from its upper windows. The scene drew closer still, until individual faces could be seen.
Éha gasped. ‘That is the Elf King! Those hooded figures with him are his Loremasters! And those others are Goblins! They are looking for something amongst all those old books. They have taken the library of Nith.’
Deborah was mystified. ‘What do they want with a bunch of old books?’
Looking afraid, Éha replied, ‘I have heard that one of those books contains all the Lore of the Elves. They are not the right people to wield such power. If they do, then no one will be safe, anywhere. Not even in your world.’
Once again, Deborah was struck by how cut off she was from the things that really mattered, the things that made a difference. And, she mused, from herself. She felt keenly the same impotence which plagued her back in her own world, where everything that had meaning, including control over her own life, was always out of her hands.
The scene faded, reverting back to the mere reflection of an incongruously sunny spring day, with blue skies and sun, and white cloud and peaceful meadow and trees. Both girls were thoughtful and quiet for some time.
‘I wish I could do something,’ Deborah said.
Éha sighed. ‘We Pixies have long wished we had the power to control our own lives. But wishing for a thing does not make it so. I would rather live in your world without magic. Malina has told me you have no Goblins, nor any other evil creatures.’
‘That may be true,’ Deborah replied, ‘but we have other problems. Like drugs and poverty and war. Malina was very lucky that she met Ralph right off when she arrived in my world. Things could just as easily have been a nightmare for her.’
The young Pixie seemed disappointed. To brighten her mood, Deborah said, ‘Ralph thinks that Doc may come to us from Mirrindale soon. If I was a Pixie like you, I would just fly all the way there.’
Éha watched her with an odd expression. ‘If it was allowed, I could take you there. But there is a problem in doing so.’
‘Take me there?’ asked Deborah in surprise, ‘How?’
‘The manner is simple enough,’ replied the Pixie. ‘All you would have to do is take my hand, and when I changed form, you would change with me, after a fashion. But being Human you would have no wings. And . . .’ she was trying not to laugh, ‘your clothing would be left behind.’
Excited, and slightly embarrassed, Deborah said, ‘Why?’
With a smile, Éha replied, as though explaining something obvious, ‘There is no magic in your clothing! You must by now have noticed the sort of attire worn by Pixies. And how it resembles our wings.’
‘I’ll tell you a secret,’ the Pixie continued in a whisper. ‘Our wings and our raiment are one and the same. If I was to discard my dress, as Malina has done, I would also lose most of my power.’
Deborah frowned. ‘Couldn’t you just get another one?’
Éha shook her head. ‘No more than you could replace a missing finger or hand. This dress is part of me . . . of what I am.’
Deborah was intrigued, but not convinced.
‘Could you . . . show me?’
With a delighted smile, Éha bounced to her feet. ‘Give me your hand.’ Standing up also, Deborah did so. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ said the Pixie, ‘I won’t let you fall.’
Deborah was so surprised by the transformation, and the sudden loss of the ground beneath her feet that she cried out and clutched Éha’s hand with both of her own. She felt suddenly weightless as they hurtled through the air. Getting hold of herself, she tried to take stock of her immediate surroundings. They were high above the stream where it left the forest, and soon were above the forest itself.
‘Relax,’ said Éha, ‘I won’t let you fall.’ The Pixie had changed. With a start, Deborah realised they were both naked, and that her skin was as golden as the little Pixie. Experimentally, she released one hand and tried to glide more naturally beside her friend. She should have been numb with cold, but the golden glow that enveloped both of them was warm as a sunny day. Seeing that Deborah was past being nervous, the little Pixie laughed and shot down towards the forest, hurtling through the trees at breakneck speed, twisting, turning, veering abruptly skyward through the branches and leaves of an enormous old maple-
An incoherent sound of awe escaped Deborah’s lips as they burst from the forest canopy and spiralled high in the air in freefall, the wide lands opening around them from horizon to horizon to horizon . . .
As they fell, Éha angled their direction to a large clearing in the forest. Soon they were over the stream again, and came to the pond and waterfall which was Imalwain’s favourite spot. With a gleeful cry, Éha released her power, sending both girls tumbling into the water. Kicking herself to the surface, Deborah spluttered, ‘That was incredible!’ She splashed the Pixie as she removed her dress and tossed it on a large flat rock to dry in the sun.
They played in the cold water for some time, until Deborah’s lips were blue. Then, Deborah shivering and Éha laughing, they climbed onto the flat rock which was smooth and warm and dry. Feeling like happy children, they lay flat, soaking up the sun’s warmth.
A sudden thought occurred to Deborah. ‘Malina gave that up.’
Leaning on one elbow, Éha said, ‘She sleeps with Rowf, too. Do you think she will have an Outcast baby one day? I wonder what that’s like?’
Deborah made a face. ‘When a baby comes out it hurts a lot.’
The little Pixie winced. ‘Oh. Does it hurt her when she and Rowf . . . you know . . . ?’
Deborah laughed. ‘Oh, no. Maybe a little the first time. But after that . . .’ she grinned broadly. After a moment, she realised that Éha was still waiting for an explanation. Putting her hands to her face with an embarrassed giggle, she said, ‘It feels nice.’
The Pixie still showed no comprehension.
Rolling her eyes, Deborah said, ‘You would have to try it.’
Éha pursed her lips doubtfully. ‘I have no one to try it with. Besides, I do not wish to lose my Power, or have an Outcast baby.’ She looked at Deborah askance. For a moment, Deborah had the uncomfortable feeling that the little Pixie was trying to see inside her, though she couldn’t have explained the reason for this impression.
As though waiting for such a moment to bring up the subject, Éha said timidly, ‘We Pixies do often . . . well . . . share ourselves in a sort of a way, though not with each other. It is . . . like the Dance of Life, only without the Earth Mother to make new life . . .’
She was thoughtful for several moments, trying to find the right words, before continuing.
‘This sharing . . . it is called the Joining. Through the Joining we are for a short time able to participate in the mystery that is the Earth Mother.’
Deborah was thoughtful for a moment, trying to imagine what it was Éha was describing to her. She was struck by the fact that Éha had never before spoken so seriously.
Watching Deborah carefully, the little Pixie said, ‘Would you like to . . . share yourself in the Joining . . . with my assistance?’
It was more than just something about the Pixie’s innocent offer that made Deborah ignore Theuli’s warning against doing such a thing. She felt strangely compelled, as though caught up in something which had a life all its own; it was disturbingly similar to the compulsion which had drawn her to the Dance of Life of the Spites.
They got to their feet and stood facing each other. A bit shy, Éha reached out and took Deborah’s hands . . .
They were suddenly tiny again, enveloped in light. Deborah began to experience the expanding sensation she had felt once before as she danced with the Sprites.
Something is going to happen . . .
At once, her entire being seemed to explode into a disembodied ball of light that was warmth and ecstasy, spine-tingling exhilaration and heartbreaking rapture, a paradoxical merging into one and separating into two; she felt as though all the world was within her, and that she was all the world . . .
Some time later, the two girls were laying in the tall grass, Deborah staring up at the sky, wondering about what she had just experienced. Éha, propped up on one elbow, watched Deborah with concern.
‘What is wrong?’ she asked. ‘Have I made you angry?’
Sitting up, Deborah forced a smile and shook her head. ‘No. It’s just that . . . coming out of it, I could see just how awful my whole life’s been. Besides, Theuli’s going to be really angry if she finds out.’
Éha bit her lip. ‘Should we not have done this? Have I caused you harm?’
Deborah’s exhaled breath was indistinguishable from a sigh or a moan. ‘It’s hard to explain exactly. But it’s like my life has suddenly come apart.’ Seeing the Pixie’s worried reaction, she quickly added, ‘I don’t mean that in a bad way! But I feel like I’ve just stepped onto a road that’s taking me away from everything. Including what I am. I can’t see where I’m going. And somehow . . . I don’t think I can go back again either.’
The little Pixie belied no comprehension. ‘Why not?’
After thinking for a moment, Deborah replied, ‘Humans don’t . . . Humans can’t do such things.’ Then she added in wonder, ‘But now I have.’
Éha considered Deborah, becoming uncomfortable with the sudden distance between them. ‘What will you do now?’
Deborah lay back and stretched herself out on the ground, staring up at the sky once more, feeling more confused than ever. ‘I don’t know. I don’t know what I want any more.’
It was dusk, and getting chilly out. The two girls huddled together for warmth. ‘We should be getting back,’ said Éha. ‘The others will be worried.’
They found Deborah’s clothes with some difficulty; it was completely dark by the time they returned. The two girls sat together self-consciously at dinner, avoiding the others’ eyes and saying little.
If Theuli was annoyed by the girls’ absence, she didn’t show it. But later, when everyone was going to bed, she took them aside into their bedroom and shut the door. When the girls sat together on Deborah’s bed like guilty children, Theuli sat across from them on the other, and said, ‘Is it there something you wish to tell me?’
Not able to look her in the eye, Deborah flushed scarlet. Seeing this, Theuli asked Éha, who was less reticent, ‘What were the two of you doing? Besides swimming?’
The little Pixie swallowed nervously and looked to Deborah for support.
‘We were . . . I mean . . . I only meant to show Deborah about the . . . how to share in the Joining . . . you know . . . ?’
Deborah could feel her cheeks burning as Theuli considered her. To Deborah she said, ‘I see. And did you?’
Deborah said nothing, watched by both Theuli and Éha for some reaction, her mind blank with fear and shame.
‘I see.’ Considering the two girls, Theuli was suddenly struck by how young both of them were. Deborah was obviously uncomfortable with what she had done. Éha was as innocent as a child when it came to something like the Joining, and it was obvious that she and Deborah had done more than merely talk about it.
Almost dreading the answer, Theuli asked, ‘Deborah, did you share yourself in the Joining with Éha?’
Trying to keep the hot tears at bay, she nodded.
‘Deborah, how old are you?’
Cringing inside, Deborah thought, here it comes. ‘I’m eighteen.’
But the condemnation she expected didn’t come. Instead, Theuli sighed and said quietly, ‘Well, I doubt the experience has done you any harm. Elf women have been known to have done this with Pixies from time to time.’ The two girls looked up in surprise. Theuli nodded. ‘Yes, and with Nymphs and Sprites as well. It is not deemed . . . acceptable behaviour, exactly . . . but it is not unknown. However, there are risks. And there are consequences. Do you know why?’
Both girls watched her and said nothing.
‘For the most part,’ continued Theuli, ‘it is because there will always be the temptation to participate in the Joining during the time of the Festival, and merge with the Pixies, Nymphs, or Sprites. But Deborah, be forewarned! If you were to Join with Éha and the other Pixies during the Festival, you would suddenly find yourself an Outcast with a half-Pixie daughter to look after.
‘If the two of you are going to do this again, I must ask that you be very careful. There are consequences if you do not, and those consequences can not simply be mended or called back.’
Deborah was looking at her now. ‘Are you saying that we shouldn’t do it again?’
Theuli gave her a disturbingly knowing look. ‘You must find your own way in this. I ask only that you don’t run off like that without telling me. We were all very worried. Ralph and my husband were ready to go off looking for the two of you by the time you showed up. That wasn’t fair to anyone.’
The two girls nodded, looking glum.
‘It’s late,’ said Theuli. ‘Get some sleep. Things may not seem so confusing in the morning.’
When they were alone again, Éha whispered, ‘Do I have to sleep in my own bed?’
Deborah shook her head. They undressed and got into bed. As soon as they got under the covers, the little Pixie began sobbing quietly, and clung tightly to Deborah.
‘Éha? What’s the matter,’ she whispered.
‘I’m sorry. It’s just that . . . I just wish . . .’
‘Yes?’ said Deborah.
The Pixie sighed deeply and pressed her face to the older girls’ neck. ‘When you leave . . . I just don’t want to be alone again.’
Deborah could not reply. But she accepted Éha’s fervent embrace like a promise.
She awoke in the early grey hour before dawn, feeling that something was wrong. Part of her felt empty, as though something was missing. With a start, and a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, she realised what it was with a shock.
Éha was gone.
She arose and got dressed in a panic, found Pran already up and putting some wood on the fire.
‘Pran, have you seen Éha?’
He nodded. ‘She went outside a while ago. I saw her walking down towards the stream. Is something the matter?’
Deborah swallowed. ‘I hope not. But I’m going to find her and make sure.’
‘You should not go unescorted at this time of night,’ said Pran. ‘I told her this as well, but she would not hear me.’
‘I have to,’ replied Deborah. ‘There’s something we have to talk about. Alone.’
She found the Pixie wandering by the stream, as Pran had told her she would. Deborah approached her as quietly as she could, watching. Éha seemed to be struggling with herself, as though considering whether to stay, or run away. She was holding herself and weeping quietly.
The Pixie looked up, startled.
‘Éha? What are you doing? You almost gave me a heart-attack, taking off like that.’
Regaining her composure, the Pixie seemed reluctant to stay and speak with her. ‘I needed to think.’
‘You were going to run away,’ said Deborah. ‘Why?’
She muttered something inaudible.
Moving closer, Deborah said, ‘What? I couldn’t hear you.’
The little Pixie was shaken by her sobbing. ‘You’re going to go away . . . you’re going to leave me behind.’ She turned to leave.
Alarmed, Deborah took her firmly by the hand. ‘Éha! Listen to me. Don’t run away. Please.’ She was crying herself now.
The words felt strange in her mouth, but she said them. ‘Because If I lose you I won’t be able to stand it! When we were in the Joining something inside me changed. I can’t explain it exactly, but its like I carry a bit of you around inside me now. Don’t you understand? What you are is now part of me. Without you . . . I’ll be lost.’
When they returned to the house, they found Pran waiting for them in the living room.
‘Are you both well?’ he asked them.
The two girls hung at the entrance awkwardly, unable to answer or meet his gaze.
‘Well,’ he said, smiling to ease their discomfort, ‘it’s very early, yet. The two of you should go back to bed. I’ve only risen to warm the house.’
When they crawled back into bed, both were like ice. Entwined together they soon warmed up and fell asleep. Éha dreamt of a warm, sunny day by the pond, and felt as though she had lived for years in darkness. Deborah dreamt of flying.
Above them both rose the sun, and with it came a yearning that had no name, unless it was the crying of gulls or the roar of the distant sea.
They awoke with a start. Someone was in the room, watching them sleep. Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, Deborah took a better look.
It was Doc!
She was about to say something when he forestalled her with a gesture. Éha sat up, a question on her lips.
‘We’ll talk sometime after the poison is out of your systems,’ he said. ‘For now, just lay back and let me concentrate. I missed something the last time, Deborah, and I don’t intend to repeat my mistake.’ Instead of going into his black bag, as Deborah had expected, he seemed to be preparing himself in some manner. Noting her look with a knowing smile, he said, half to himself, ‘It’s odd, sometimes, how so many words have lost their meaning in our language over the years. Healing hands . . . how often had I heard those words without realising what they meant. Good with a knife is as close as I ever got. But I have learned at last that true healing means touching a life.’
Doc placed a hand on both their foreheads. The elderly physician’s hands were warm and reassuring; Deborah found that she trusted herself to his touch, as though it were something gentle, warm and familiar that she had always known. As he began to concentrate his efforts on their illness, Deborah began to see a blue light, as though from both the inside and outside of her mind. The light was curious and indirect, seeming to come from somewhere above; she could sense that it was blue without really seeing it.
But at once the poison in her system began to react, as though one had blithely reached into some dark place to retrieve something, only to have suddenly disturbed a nest of enraged, venomous snakes. The effect was a hideous dizziness as it began to writhe, seeking to maintain its hold in as sickening and intimate a manner as rape. She found herself unable to move, as though her limbs had turned to stone, and the room began to spin, leaving her drenched in sweat and breathing heavily. There was an ungentle and excruciating tearing sensation as though the poison were frantically and tenaciously trying to cling to the inside of her skull. She would have begun screaming, but mercifully felt herself instead spiralling downwards into unconsciousness.
Deborah awoke, staring upwards at the ceiling, the shadows of shrubs stirring irrhythmically before her eyes. She felt Éha shift beside her and sit up. Furrowing her brow, the Pixie put a hand to her temple and turned to Deborah.
‘What is it?’ Deborah asked her.
‘I thought it was a dream. But do you not feel it?’ she replied. ‘The voices . . . I think they are gone.’
Deborah, too, noticed that besides feeling drained, her thoughts were at once clear; her emotions themselves felt like a mirror newly cleaned of years of grime: everything seemed almost too sharp, too clearly defined. But this was tempered by a sort of certainty indistinguishable from relief. It was true then . . . the poison was gone. But that realization gave her little comfort, for she knew in the same breath that something fundamental within her had changed.
And she had no idea as yet how far that change went.
Getting up they found that except for themselves, the house was empty. Going outside, holding hands, they took a look around.
Where was everyone?
Looking up into Wel’adai, it seemed the tree city must be deserted, it was so quiet. Nothing stirred, anywhere, nor around the dwellings or on the ground either.
‘There you are!’ Both girls cried out in surprise. It was Ralph, who came out of the blacksmith shop, wiping soot from his brow with an old rag.
‘Doc was sorry he couldn’t wait for you to wake up. He and the others had to go.’
Then it wasn’t a dream! The girls leaned against each other, still feeling light-headed. Seeing this, Ralph said, ‘Come on inside. Doc said you’d both need a few days to get readjusted. I’ll try to explain what happened.’ Deborah followed with a sense of misgiving. Ralph seemed anything but relieved.
When they sat on the couch, holding each other for support, Ralph got a hassock and sat before them. With a relieved smile, he said, ‘Doc said it was a good thing that you two had each other. You helped each other fight the poison. But he told us to keep an eye on you, too. I’m not sure that I entirely understand, but he said that you might find yourselves getting back in touch with a vengeance, and that it might be a bit much for you to handle.’
Deborah watched him carefully, frowning. ‘Why are you acting like there’s something wrong?’
Ralph looked away for a moment as though he wished to skirt a painful subject. At last, however, he shrugged and faced Deborah once more. ‘Doc wasn’t able to do anything for Nevana. He said that her problem is too . . . disfocused, too non-specific. I asked him what he meant, and he actually got mad. I’ve never seen Doc get mad before. Have you?’ Deborah shook her head. ‘Doc said to me, “I can treat her illness; but I can not treat her life!” Before he left, he went to Arlon and Durus’ place and just gave it to them. He threatened to have their kids taken away if they didn’t shape up.
‘While this was going on, Arlon went as white as that pitcher there, and asked Doc to leave. As soon as Doc came out their front door and closed it, Durus began screeching at him. All of a sudden, there was a loud bang from inside their house; it sounded like Arlon smashed a piece of furniture against a wall. A few minutes later, Durus came flying out the front door, balling her eyes out, saying, “I can’t . . . I can’t . . . I’m sorry . . . I’m so sorry . . . but I just can’t. Don’t you think I want to?” She collapsed on the ground then . . . I don’t think any of us realised that she has problems of her own that were never dealt with.’ He sighed. ‘Anyway, Arlon came and got her. It was just as Doc was leaving, and Doc came over to apologise, but Arlon just shook his head and said something like, “No, you’re right; this has gone on far too long.”’
Deborah swallowed, and to change the subject, said, ‘Do you know where they went?’
Ralph nodded, apparently relieved. ‘Doc and the others are off looking for another place like this one. All the people from Mirrindale and hundreds of refugees are with them. The Thane has taken the rest of the Elf army to attack some city called Nith.’
Éha started at the name. ‘Nith? But that is where we saw the King and his servants going through the Library.’
Ralph looked at the girls doubtfully. ‘That’s impossible. Do you have any idea how far away that place is? I mean . . . I don’t know myself, exactly, but I do know that it’s a long ways off.’
‘We saw it,’ replied Deborah, ‘in a reflection. Éha showed me how.’
Ralph stared at her a long moment, then suddenly cursed and got to his feet. ‘The Thane has to be told. How the hell are we going to do that?’
‘Ask Pran,’ said Éha. ‘The Elves have a way.’
‘Don’t go anywhere,’ he said, ‘I’m going to tell Pran, and see if he really can get a message to the Thane.’
Ralph caught up with Pran where he and several other Elves were splitting timber into building material. When Ralph told Pran what the girls had said, he remained doubtful until Ralph reminded him of Theuli’s words concerning Deborah’s ability with mirrors. And as to sending a message . . .
‘It may be done,’ said Pran faintly, setting down the handled wedge and sledgehammer he had been using. ‘It will require much from the one sending the message, but it may be done. Let us hope the message is not false, or disaster could result.’
When Pran and Theuli, along with Ralph and Malina and the children arrived home a while later, they found Deborah and Éha asleep on the couch where Ralph had left them. They didn’t waken as Ralph and Pran bore Deborah and Éha back to bed. They were placed together in Deborah’s bed, and clung together though asleep.
With a sigh, Ralph said, ‘You were right about one thing. Deborah wouldn’t be able to recognize herself. I think she’d sprout wings and disappear amongst the Pixies if she could. How did you know?’
‘I could see something of her spirit,’ Pran replied. ‘I knew that if she found what she lacked in this world, she would be changed in ways that were beyond her ken, though who could have foreseen this? For despite being a Human woman, she hears the Dance of Life as acutely as any of our Faerie kindred. Until now I would have said that such a thing was not possible.’
When they returned to the living-room, Theuli, Rani and Malina were making supper. Zuic was outside gathering kindling for the fire. Malina smiled at Ralph and Pran in a way that told them she already knew about the sleeping girls.
‘How did Elgar take it,’ Ralph asked Pran, referring to the arrival of a great many more refugees.
‘He seemed to know they were coming,’ Pran replied. ‘I expect that he receives news from our Kindred as they leave the Elf Kingdom. There were a few new faces amongst those with him, some of whom I thought I recognised.’
‘What of this business with the Library?’ Ralph asked. ‘What does it mean?’
‘It means that the King and his Loremasters are looking for the Book of Runes.’ Pran sighed, looking deeply concerned. ‘The King is such a fool! He has accomplished a great evil, and believes that evil to be under his control. He doesn’t know it yet, perhaps, but the Lore threatens himself, perhaps even more than it threatens us.’
Ralph took a deep breath and let it out slowly. ‘I overheard Doc and Elgar talking about just that. What might happen if the Thane fails.’ He checked the old blisters on his hands. ‘I wish I could’ve gotten some of the new weapons I’m working on to the Thane. I’m going to increase my quota, sword practice or no sword practice!’
Pran was unable not to laugh quietly. ‘Gannet tells me you are improving. Coming from him, that is praise indeed!’
Ralph was surprised. ‘He always tells me that I’m a lost cause. I was beginning to believe it myself.’
Pran laughed at this. ‘That is Gannet’s way. You only have to worry about him when he is being polite.’
Malina woke Deborah and Éha gently. ‘Come on, sleepyheads. Theuli says you can go back to bed after you eat something.’
Mumbling or moaning incoherently, Deborah sat up, half-awake and bleary-eyed. Éha was in no better shape. When they stumbled into the dining-room, they were met with smiles of relief and affection, which was well because they had been apprehensive since the Joining.
Theuli, sizing them up, said, ‘It is true, then. The poison is gone. There is no longer a shadow behind your eyes.’
Deborah managed a wan smile and yawned. ‘Only under them. At least the bad dreams are gone.’
Éha was unusually quiet. She sat close to Deborah, as though afraid to be out of contact with her. Both girls ate ravenously, as though they had been starved.
Picking up a glass of water, Deborah was about to take a drink, when she gasped in surprise, nearly dropping it.
‘Deborah?’ Theuli said, ‘is something wrong?’
With a trembling hand, Deborah put the glass down. She looked around nervously at the other glasses, at a tumbler of water. Seeing her reaction, Theuli asked her, ‘What is it? What do you see?’
‘It’s that city,’ she replied, ‘Nix, or whatever it’s called. I keep seeing it.’
Pran and Theuli exchanged a glance.
‘Deborah,’ said Pran, ‘what do you see?’
She concentrated on the small image in the glass before her. As before, the people in the image moved closer until she could see their faces. Leaning against her shoulder, Éha watched as well, interpreting the images for her, the little Pixie said, ‘It is the Elf King and many evil Goblins, and other creatures. They are arguing, and seem very angry about something.’ She stifled a yawn. ‘They have the books and are placing then in piles and burning them. Now I see Goblins travelling north and west, east and south. They are looking for something, or someone, but are falling far behind. I think we are moving towards whatever it is they’re looking for . . .’
The sudden look of surprise on the girl’s faces prompted the others to ask, ‘What is it? What do you see?’
‘There are two Elves!’ Éha blurted, ‘they look to be a boy and an Elder, perhaps his father. The Elder is carrying a book under his arm.’
Pran and Theuli’s faces drained of colour. ‘Deborah,’ said Pran, knowing that Éha couldn’t read, ‘the cover of the book . . . can you make out what it says?’
Deborah frowned in concentration. ‘I recognize the letters,’ she muttered, ‘but I can’t read the words.’
‘Please,’ he said, ‘just read them as you think they would sound.’
Peering harder, she mouthed words for a moment, then said, ‘The closest I can come is . . . Öht Nürn Aldhii-’
Both girls cried out suddenly in fear, clutching each other for support. For an instant they had seen the silhouette of a terrible figure, crouching menacingly before a wall of ice . . .
The vision was gone.
‘I thought . . .’ said Ralph distantly, ‘for a moment I thought I saw something.’
Pran and Theuli had gone very pale. They had seen also, and knew all too well what the image meant. Rani and Zuic had seen nothing, but were unnerved by the reactions of the others.
‘It would seem,’ said Pran quietly, ‘that the King’s Loremasters have contrived to unleash something terrible upon the world, no doubt at His behest. The Thane must be warned immediately. Both of you, come with me. Quickly.’
He led them to his chamber, and to Theuli’s dressing-mirror which hung on the wall, a low bench before it. ‘Deborah,’ he said urgently, ‘this is very important. Try to find the Thane using this glass.’
Both of the girls were still tired and shaken. But something of Pran’s urgency got through to both of them. They seated themselves on the bench before the mirror, and Deborah began to concentrate, guided by Éha’s Pixie instinct. ‘Just think of the Thane,’ Éha encouraged her. ‘Try to see his face.’
Flustered, Deborah said, ‘I don’t know what he looks like!’
‘That doesn’t matter,’ the dark-haired Pixie told her. ‘Just let your instincts guide you. Let it come by itself.’
And the image came. The Thane was sitting before a fire, speaking with others who were in shadow.
‘Now,’ said Pran, ‘look for a reflective surface . . . one that he will notice.’
The girls searched the image until they found something that might suffice. It was a small washbasin.
‘Good!’ Pran said. ‘Now, try to make the image on the surface of the basin’s water what would normally appear in the mirror here before you.’
This proved to be very difficult. Deborah was tense with strain and sweating, and twice she very nearly lost both images altogether. But then . . . she had it!
‘There!’ said Pran, ‘Do not move. I will lend you my strength as I attempt to communicate with the Thane.’
Standing behind and between the two girls, he placed a hand on their shoulders. Immediately they felt a thrill of something that was indistinguishable from warmth and confidence.
‘Karras,’ said Pran intently, ‘hear me.’
The Thane started in surprise.
‘Look to the washbowl before you.’ The girls almost flinched as they felt the Thane’s eyes upon them.
‘Karras,’ said Pran, ‘listen to me. The Library is already taken, and has been destroyed. But the Book has been saved, and is making its way west. There is an army hard after it, and they are many times your number. As well, the King’s Loremasters seem to have wrought a great evil upon the land.’
The Thane’s eyes widened. ‘What do you suggest? That I attempt to rescue the Lore and its bearers?’
‘How may I counsel you in this?’ Pran replied. ‘If the enemy captures the Book, we will all be annihilated. Yet if you engage the enemy, doubtless the Elven army will be destroyed, and again we will be left altogether defenceless and without hope.’
The Thane seemed angry. But he said, ‘I hear you. I suggest that you tell Birin to make preparations to aid our return. There will be little point in rescuing the Book, only to find the pass at the entrance to the Elf Kingdom held against us. In the meantime, I will harry the enemy in an attempt to draw their attention from their quarry. As well, we will scour the countryside for refugees and wayward soldiers, of whom there are said to be many. In the meantime, we will have to confer at a later time, to decide upon another way to retrieve the Book.’
Pran released his hold on the girls and they found themselves staring only at their own reflection once more. Deborah immediately felt faint and put her hands to her head. Kneeling beside her with concern, Pran said contritely, ‘I am sorry! Have I harmed you? I forgot that you aren’t yet up to such demands.’
‘I’m all right,’ she said, and stifled a yawn.
Pran smiled ruefully. ‘You will both sleep well tonight. Come, I’ll ask Theuli to put the two of you to bed.’
Deborah was asleep the instant her head hit the pillow, with Éha firmly in her embrace. Theuli sat on the edge of the bed and pulled the covers up over their naked bodies. Smiling humorously, she said, ‘You two are absolutely shameless! No wonder Pran was reluctant to put you to bed himself.’
Éha, laying with her back to Deborah and facing Theuli said timidly, ‘Is it bad, to be without shame?’
Theuli had to laugh. ‘That question, when asked by the innocent, requires no answer. Now turn over and go to sleep.’ She watched the girls for some time, even after she was sure they were both deep in slumber. Sensing someone behind her, she turned to see Ralph standing in the doorway.
‘How are they doing?’ he asked quietly.
Touching the girls fondly, Theuli rose. Studying Ralph for a moment, she said, ‘What do you think?’
Sensing the seriousness behind her question, he replied, ‘Does their relationship bother you?’
He studied her profile in the semi-darkness as she considered this. Slowly, she said, ‘I fear for Deborah, not only because of this attraction she feels towards the Dance of Life, but also because of that which brings herself and Éha together.’
‘Aren’t they one and the same thing?’ Ralph asked her.
‘No,’ Theuli replied, ‘they are not. That Deborah should hear the Dance of Life is in itself unheard of. But her relationship with Éha speaks of something more . . . something that even I cannot see.’
Surprised, Ralph said, ‘You believe in Fate?’
Frowning, she replied, ‘Do you not?’