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Chapter Twelve

The Shaysim

Corioa, the first Servant, wrote thus of his White Prophet: He is not the first to come, nor will he be the last. For to every generation is given one who walks among us and, by virtue of his ability to see all the possibilities, guides us to the best future there may be. I have chosen to call myself his Servant, and to record the dreams of my pale master, and to keep count of the ways in which he makes the crooked path straight and safe.

So Corioa was the first to name himself Servant. Some think he was also Terubats Catalyst. As to that, the records from that day are so fragmented that this Servant thinks it an unsafe assumption.

And contrary to many Servants who have gone before me, and been the primary recorders of the deeds of the White Prophet of their days, I will state clearly what some may rebuke me for. Must there be only one? And if this is so, who determines who that single White Prophet is from among those who show us a pale face and colorless eyes? And exactly when, pray tell, does a generation begin and end?

I ask these questions not to spread discord or doubt, but only to plead that we Servants open our eyes as wide as those of the White Prophets we serve. Let us admit there are many, many futures. At countless crossroads, the future becomes the past and an infinite number of possibilities die as an infinite number are born.

So let us no longer call the pale child Shaysa, Who Is the One, as we used to name him in our most ancient tongue. Let us call him Shaysim, Who May Be the One.

Let us no longer be blind to our own vision. Let us recognize that when the Servants select, as we must, the Shaysa, then we have determined the fate of the world.

Servant Cetchua, of the 41st Line

We traveled.

They were a bigger group than I had thought. There were the soldiers, about twenty of them, and Dwalias followers, also about twenty. I rode in the big sleigh, and we followed two other smaller ones full of supplies. The soldiers and Dwalias followers rode horseback. We traveled by night for the most part. We did not move quickly, for we avoided the kings highway, instead crossing pastures and following wandering farm roads. We seemed to skirt forest and cross unsettled land, avoiding the farmsteads I sometimes glimpsed. Darkness and cold and the steady thudding beat of the trotting team filled my senses. At other times, the team dragged us through unbroken snow, surging forward with the sleigh sawing and tipping behind them.

I felt cold all the time, even when I was well bundled in furs and robes. When they put up the tents during the day and told me to sleep, I was so cold I could not relax my muscles. Yet the cold I felt had nothing to do with my body. I think it was the same cold that had stilled Shun. She was still as ice on a lake. Even when she moved, she walked like a stiffened corpse. She didnt speak and scarcely tended to herself. One of Dwalias girls took it upon herself to drape Shun in a heavy white fur coat. The same girl, Odessa, would put food into her hands or push a mug of hot soup into her grip. Then sometimes Shun would eat and sometimes she would sit and hold the mug until the hot soup went scummy and cold. Odessa would take the mug and dump the soup back into the shared pot. And Shun, cold and empty, would crawl across the blankets and skins back to the far corner of the tent.

Odessa had long dark hair that was thin, and patchy, pale white skin, and eyes the color of sour milk. One of her eyes wandered in its socket. Her bottom lip sagged open. It was hard for me to look at her. She looked diseased, and yet she moved as if she were healthy and strong. She sang softly as she rode her white horse by our sleigh, and sometimes laughed aloud with her companions at night. Yet there was a wrongness about her, as if she had been born half-finished. I tried not to stare at her. It seemed that whenever I did turn my head to look at her, her wandering eye was already gazing at me.

By day, we camped in the forest, usually well away from the road. Even in the darkest night, when snow fell and the wind blew, the teams and the riders pushed on. One of the pale folk was always at the front, and they followed her without question. A dim part of my mind speculated that they were retracing their steps, returning as they had come. I tried to wonder where they had come from, and why, but my thoughts were as thick as cold porridge.

White. There was so much white. We traveled through a world cloaked in white. Snow fell almost daily, softening and smoothing the land. When the wind blew, it sculpted the snow into flows and mounds as pale as the faces of Dwalias followers. Their tents were white, and many of the robes and blankets were white, and the fogs that seemed to billow and bloom around us as we traveled were white. Their horses were white and fog gray. My eyes were always weary. I had to peer to make the shapes of the people separate from the general whiteness of the icy world.

They spoke to one another, but their conversations flowed past me and made no more sense than the sound of the sleighs runners sliding over the snow. The language they spoke rippled and flowed, the words running into one another as their voices trilled up and down, as if they sang their words to one another. I learned a few of their names, but only by repetition. The name they gave to me was Shaysim, a whispery, shivery sort of a sound. Either few of them spoke my language or they did not think it worth trying to speak to me. They talked above me and around me as they chivvied me from the sled and into the tent and back again. They put bowls of food into my hands and then took them away. They gave me almost no privacy, though they had the decency to allow Shun and me to move away from them when the pressure of bladder or bowel had to be answered.

Since I had spoken out for Shun, they had not questioned that I wanted her beside me at all times. I chose to sleep beside her, and during the day she rode near me in the big sleigh. Sometimes Dwalia and Odessa and the fog man, Vindeliar, rode with us. Sometimes they rode horses, or one of them would sit up front next to the driver. I did not like them to be near me, yet I felt safer when they rode in the sleigh. They spoke to one another in low voices, making a harmony with the sound of the creaking harness, hooves, and shushing runners. When they were not there, the dark pressed closer. Several times I came out of my daze to realize that soldiers were riding alongside our sleigh. Some of them stared at Shun as if they were dogs circling an abandoned table, trying to decide if they dared snatch a bone left on a plate. She did not seem to see them, but they made my blood run cold. There was one with hair the color of ripe acorns; he was the one I noticed most often because once or twice he moved up to ride alone by the sleigh. The others always came in pairs or as a trio, to stare at Shun and talk and laugh in short, harsh bursts. They would stare at her for a time, or me. I would try to stare back at them, but it was hard when my thoughts were so woolly and soft. Soon their faces would soften, their mouths sometimes hanging slightly ajar, and then they would drop back to join the soldiers that rode behind us. The fog boy did that to them, I think.

We traveled through the long winter nights, in the darkest hours when most folk were asleep. Twice, as we emerged from forest toward a country road, I saw other folk riding past us. I saw them, but I did not think they saw us. Into my mind drifted the old tales, of worlds that brushed against ours but only touched for a moment. It was like that, as if a pane of misty glass separated us. It never occurred to me that I should cry out for help. This was my life now, sitting in Dwalias sleigh and being carried off through a snowy world. My life had been placed in a narrow track and I moved on it as surely as a hound following a scent.

Shun and I shared a corner of the big tent at night. I would have welcomed her back against mine, for even on the mounded furs and beneath the heavy robes, I felt cold. I think Shun felt at least as cold as I did, but when I once rolled against her in my sleep, she gave a short, sharp shriek that woke me, Dwalia, and Odessa. Shun did not say anything, but she moved as far away from me as she could, taking most of the furs with her. I didnt complain. It was not a thing to question, any more than I questioned the thin, dark soup that accompanied every meal, or the way that Odessa groomed my scruff of hair and rubbed lotions into my hands and feet at dawn before we went to bed. Her hands were cold and so was the lotion, but I could not find the will to resist her. So your skin will not crack, Shaysim, she would say, her words soft and wet from her mouth that never quite closed. Her touch chilled me as if Death herself caressed my hands.

So the harsh days quickly became routine. Captivity dazed me. I did not ask questions or speak to my captors. I rode in silence, too full of confusion to object to being stolen. We would halt, and I would be left in the sleigh while Dwalias helpers scurried around us like ants. Fires were built and tents erected. Elliks raiders had their own tents and their own camp a short distance from ours. Dwalias people cooked and took food to them in a three-legged pot, but the soldiers and the pale folk never ate together. I wondered vaguely if Captain Ellik kept them separate from us or if Dwalia insisted on it. When the food was ready, I was summoned from the sleigh. They fed me, we all slept during the short winter day, and as each evening deepened, we rose, ate again, and journeyed on.

On a snowy dawn several days into our journey, I finished the food in my bowl. I did not want the thin brown brew they gave me to drink but it was warm and I was thirsty. I drank it, and almost as soon as I swallowed the last of it I felt my stomach protest. I rose and followed Shun, who evidently had the same mission. She led me some small distance from the camp to an area of bushes cloaked in snow. I squatted behind them to relieve myself when she suddenly spoke to me from close by. You have to be more careful. They think you are a boy.

What? I was as startled that she finally spoke as at her words.

Sshh! Speak softly. When you come with me to piss. You should stand for a time and fumble at your trousers as if you are pissing, then walk a short way and squat to do the real thing. They all believe you are a boy, someones lost son. Thats the only thing that saved you, I think.

Saved me?

From what happened to me. She bit off each word savagely. From the raping and beating. If they find out you are not a boy, not the lost son, theyll do it to you, too. Before they kill us both.

My heart pounded high up in my chest and throat. I felt as if I could not get a breath.

I know what you are thinking, but youre wrong. You are not too young for it to happen to you. I saw one of them chasing one of the kitchen girls after they came out of whatever place they had hidden in. I heard her scream.

Who? I pushed the word out on the small puff of air left in me.

I dont know their names, she spat at me, as if Id insulted her by insinuating she might know the names of servants. And what does it matter now? It happened to her. It happened to me. They came into my room. One seized my jewelry box. Two others came after me. I threw things at them and screamed and hit them. My maid fought, but only for a moment. Then she stood like a cow and watched when they attacked me. She didnt make a sound when they pushed her down on the floor and took her. It took two of them to hold me down. I fought them. A tiny bit of pride in those words, and then it became ash as she choked. But they laughed while they did it to me. Mocked me because they were stronger. Afterward, they dragged me out to be with the others. The only reason it didnt happen to you was because they think youre a boy and special somehow. She looked away from me. How angry she was at me, that they had not hurt me as they had hurt her! She stood slowly, letting her skirts fall around her. You probably think I should thank you for saving me. Well, Im not sure you did. Maybe that last man would have left me alive, and at least Id still be at home. Now, when they find out youre female, I think well both face a lot worse.

Can we get away?

How? Look. That woman stands and watches where weve gone. If we dont come back soon, shell send someone after us. And when else can we slip away?

My belly did not like their food, but there was nothing to wipe myself with. I braced myself, took a handful of snow, and cleaned my bottom with that before pulling my leggings back up. Shun watched me dispassionately with no regard for my privacy. Its that brown soup, she said.

What?

Can you say something besides what or who? The brown soup they give us. It goes right through you. I started pretending to drink it yesterday. Then I didnt fall asleep right away. It has something in it to make you sleep so they can rest during the day and not have to watch us.

How do you know all this?

Training, she said tersely. Before I came to live with you, I had some training. Lord Chade saw to that. He sent this awful old woman named Quiver to teach me all sorts of things. How to throw a knife. Where to hit someone who grabs you. Chade said she was preparing me to be an assassin. I dont think she did very well at it, but I do know how to protect myself. She stopped speaking and her face sagged. A little, she amended.

I didnt point out that she hadnt done very well at that back at the manor. No sense stinging her pride. I wanted to know more, but I heard Dwalia call to one of her helpers and point toward us.

Pretend to be sleepy. Droop your eyes and walk slowly behind me. And dont try to talk to me unless I talk to you first. They cant know.

I nodded, folding my lips tight. I wanted to tell her that I could be just as alert and wary as she was, just as clever at knowing when it was safe for us to talk. But Shun had already let her face droop into that unresponsive mask she had been wearing since she was hauled to the sleigh. I wondered if she had been pretending all that time. A wave of panic rose up in me. I wasnt as perceptive as she was. Id heard them saying I was a boy, but hadnt had the will to care that they were wrong. Nor the experience to be afraid they would find out I wasnt who or what they thought I was. I hadnt feared what would happen when they found out. Now I did. My heart was leaping and thudding. The brown soup tried to make me sleepy and my fear tried to make me be awake. How could I look sleepy when I could scarcely catch my breath?

Shun stumbled, or pretended to stumble against me. As she caught herself on my shoulder, she pinched me hard. Sleepy, she warned me on a breath. Her mouth barely moved.

Shaysim, are you well? Did your bowels move in a satisfactory way? Odessa spoke as if chatting about my bowels were as courteous a topic as the weather.

I shook my head at her and put my hands low on my belly. I felt sick with fear. Perhaps I could disguise fear as discomfort. I just want to sleep, I told her.

Yes, thats a good idea. Yes. I will tell Dwalia of your bowel problem. She will give you an oil for that.

I didnt want her to give me anything. I bowed my head and walked slightly bent over so no one could look into my face. The tents were awaiting us. Their roofs were rounded on their half-hoops, the canvas bleached white, and I supposed that from a distance they could have been mistaken for mounds of snow. Yet we had not bothered to move that far from the road, and the horses were hobbled and pawing up the snow, searching for frozen grass. Any passing traveler would surely note them, and the brightly painted sleighs. And the tents of the soldiers were brown and pointed, and their horses a mix of colors. So why bother disguising our tents? Something niggled at me about it, and then as I drew closer, a wave of sleepiness spread over me. I yawned hugely. It would be good to rest. To get into my warm blankets and sleep.

Shun was plodding along beside us. As we drew closer to our tent, I became aware of several soldiers watching us. Hogen, the handsome rapist, still sat his horse. His long golden hair was smoothly braided, his mustache and beard carefully combed. He smiled. He had silver hoops in his ears and a silver clasp to his cloak. Was he keeping watch? He looked down at us, a predator watching prey, and said something in a low voice. Standing near Hogens horse was a warrior with half a beard; his cheek and chin on the other side were sliced like a pared potato, and not a whisker grew out of the smooth scar. He smiled at Hogens jest but the young soldier with the hair as brown as ripe acorns just followed Shun with dogs eyes. I hated them all.

A growl bubbled up in my throat. Odessa turned her face sharply toward me and I forced a belch up. Pardon, I said, trying to sound sleepy, embarrassed, and uncomfortable.

Dwalia can help you, Shaysim, she comforted me.

Shun moved past us and into the tent, trying to move as if she were still dead to all things, but I had seen the tightening in her shoulders when the gawking soldiers had spoken. She was a small cat walking bravely past snuffing hounds. By the time I stood in the entrance, shedding my snowy boots, Shun had burrowed under the blankets and was out of sight.

I was very certain I did not want Dwalia to help me with anything. The woman frightened me. She had an ageless face, round and yet lined. She could have been thirty or even older than my father. I couldnt tell. She was as plump as a fattened hen; even her hands were soft. If I had met her as a guest in my home, I would have guessed she was someones genteel mother or grandmother, a woman who had seldom done physical work. Every word she had spoken to me had been in a kindly voice, and even when she had rebuked her followers in my hearing, she had sounded grieved at their failure rather than angered by it.

Yet I feared her. Everything about her set Wolf-Father to snarling. Not noisy growling but the silent lifting of the lip that made the hair on the back of my neck prickle. Since the night they had taken me, even in my foggiest moments I was aware that Wolf-Father was with me. He could do nothing to help me, but he was with me. He was the one who counseled silence, who bade me conserve strength and watch and wait. I would have to help myself, but he was there. When the only comfort one has is a thin comfort, one still clings to it.

Strange to say, despite Shuns whispered words, I still felt that I was the one more competent to deal with our situation. What she had said had woken me to a danger I had not considered, but had not given me the sense that she was going to be the one to save us. If anyone could save us. No. Instead her words had sounded to me as if she bragged, not to impress me but to bolster her own hopes. Assassins training. Id seen small sign of that in her during our weeks together at Withywoods. Instead I had seen her as vain and shallow, focused on obtaining as many pretty things and delightful distractions as coin could buy. Id seen her wailing and weeping in terror at the supposed moaning of a ghost that was actually a trapped cat. And Id seen her flirting with FitzVigilant and attempting to do the same with Riddle and even, I felt, my father. All in the name of getting what she wanted. Flaunting her beauty to attract attention.

And then men had come and turned her own weapons against her. The beauty and charm and pretty clothes she had deployed to her own ends could not save her from them. Indeed, they had made her a target. I wondered now if beautiful women were not more vulnerable, more likely to be chosen as victims by such men. I turned it over in my mind. Rape, I knew, was injury and pain and insult. I did not know the full mechanics of it, but one does not have to know swordplay to understand a stab wound. Shun had been hurt, and badly. So badly that she was willing to accept me as some sort of ally. I had thought I was helping her when I had claimed her that night. Now I wondered if, indeed, I had dragged her out of the frying pan and down into the flames with me.

I tried to think of skills that might save us. I could fight with a knife. A little bit. If I could get one. And if there was only one person to fight. I knew something they didnt know. They spoke to me as if I were a much younger child. I had not said anything to correct them. I had not said much to any of them, at all. That might be useful. I could not think how, but it was a secret I knew that they did not. And secrets could be weapons. I had read that, or heard that. Somewhere.

The sleepiness rolled over me again, putting blurred edges on the world. Something in the soup, or the fog man, or both. Dont struggle, Wolf-Father warned me. Dont let them know that you know.

I took a deep breath and feigned a yawn that suddenly became real. Odessa was crawling into the tent behind me. I spoke in a sleepy voice. They look at Shun in a bad way. Those men. They give me dark dreams. Cannot Dwalia make them stay away?

Dark dreams, Odessa said in soft dismay.

I held very still inside myself. Had I gone too far? She said nothing more and I dropped to my knees, crawled across the spread bedding, and burrowed under it adjacent to Shun. Beneath the blankets, I wriggled out of the bulky fur coat, crawling out the bottom instead of unbuttoning it, and bundled it into a pillow. I closed my eyes almost all the way and let my breathing slow. I watched her through my eyelashes. Odessa stood still for a long time, watching me. I felt she was deciding something.

She went away, letting the tent flap drop behind her. That was unusual. Usually when Shun and I settled to sleep, Odessa lay down beside us. We were seldom out of her sight, save when Dwalia was watching over us. Now we were alone. I wondered if that meant it was our chance to escape. It might be. It might be our only chance. But my body was warming, and I felt heavy. My thoughts moved more and more slowly. I raised my hand beneath the covers and reached for Shun. I would wake her, and we would crawl out under the tent side. Into the cold and the snow. I didnt like cold. I liked warmth and I needed sleep. I was so weary, so sleepy. My hand fell, short of reaching Shun, and I did not have the will to lift it again. I slept.

I woke as if I were a swimmer surfacing from water. No. More like a bit of wood that bobbed to the surface because it had to. My body shed sleep and I sat up, clear-minded. Dwalia was sitting cross-legged at the foot of my bed. Odessa knelt slightly behind her and to one side. I looked over at Shun. She slept on, apparently oblivious to what was going on. What was going on? I blinked my eyes and caught a flash of something at the corner of my eye. I turned to look, but there was nothing there. Dwalia was smiling at me, a kind and reassuring smile. Everything is fine, she said comfortingly. By which I knew that it was not.

I just thought that we should talk, so you understand that you do not have to fear the men who guard us. They will not hurt you.

I blinked my eyes and in the moment before they focused on Dwalia, I saw him. The fog man was sitting in the corner of the tent. I slowly, slowly shifted my gaze in that direction, moving only my eyes. Yes. He was beaming a fatuous smile at me, and when his eyes met mine, he clapped his hands happily. Brother! he exclaimed. He laughed heartily, as if we had just shared a wondrous joke. The way he smiled at me let me know that he wanted me to love him as much as he already loved me. No one had loved me that openly since my mother had died. I did not want his love. I stared at him, but he continued to smile at me.

Dwalia scowled, just for an instant, her buttery face melting into sharp disapproval. When I looked at her directly, her smile was in place. Well, she said, as if glad of it, I see that our little game is finished now. You see him, dont you, Shaysim? Even though our Vindeliar is doing his best, his very best, to be hidden?

Praise, a question, and a rebuke were all twisted together in that question. The boys moon-face only grew jollier. He wriggled from side to side, a happy dumpling of a boy. Silly. Silly. My brother looks with a different kind of eyes. He sees me. Hes seen me, oh, since we were in the town. With the music and the sweet food and the people dancing. He scratched his cheek thoughtfully, and I heard the sound of shorn whiskers against his nails. So he was older than I thought, but still boyish. I wished we had that festival to keep, with dancing and singing and eating sweet things. Why are we not a festival folk, Lingstra?

We are not, my lurik. That is the answer. That we are not, just as we are neither cows nor thistles. We are the Servants. We stay to the path. We are the path. The path we walk is for the good of the world.

When we serve the world, we serve ourselves. Dwalia and Odessa spoke these words in harmony. The good of the world is the good of the Servants. What is good for the Servants is good for the world. We walk the path.

Their voices ceased, but they stared at Vindeliar almost accusingly. He lowered his eyes and some of the brightness went out of his face. He spoke in a measured cadence, words I was certain he had learned from his cradle days. He who leaves the path is not a Servant but an obstacle to the good of the world. An obstacle in the path must be evaded. If it cannot be evaded, it must be removed. If it cannot be removed, it must be destroyed. We must stay to the path, for the good of the world. We must stay to the path for the good of the Servants. He took a huge breath at the end. His round cheeks puffed as he sighed it out. His lower lip remained pushed out in a babys pout and he looked at the mounded blankets, not at Dwalia.

She was relentless. Vindeliar. Has anyone seen a festival for you on this part of the path?

No. A soft, low denial.

Has anyone ever seen, in any dream, Vindeliar merrymaking at a festival?

He drew a short breath and his shoulders slumped as he said, No.

Dwalia leaned toward him. Her kind look was back on her face. Then, my lurik, there is no festival on Vindeliars path. For Vindeliar to go to a festival would be for Vindeliar to leave the path, or bend it awry. And then what would Vindeliar be? A Servant?

He shook his blunt head slowly.

What then? She was remorseless.

An obstacle. He lifted his head and before she could press him, added, To be evaded. Or avoided. Removed. Or destroyed. He dropped his voice and his eyes on that last word. I stared at him. I had never seen a man who believed so completely that someone who apparently loved him would kill him for breaking a rule. With a cold rush up my spine, I discovered that I believed it, too. She would kill him if he veered from the path.

What path?

Did they think I had a path? Was I in danger of veering from it? I shifted my stare to Dwalia. Would she kill me, too, for veering from the path?

Dwalias gaze snapped to mine, and I could not look away. She spoke softly, kindly. Its why we came, Shaysim. To rescue you and keep you safe. Because if we did not, you would become an obstacle to the path. We will take you home, to a safe place where you cannot leave the path by accident, nor change it. By keeping you safe, we will keep the path safe and keep the world safe. As long as the world is safe, you are safe. You dont have to be afraid.

Her words terrified me. What is the path? I demanded. How can I tell if I am staying to the path?

Her smile stretched. She nodded slowly. Shaysim, I am pleased. This is the first question we always hope to hear from a Servant.

A lurch and my belly went cold. A servant? I had seen the lives of servants. Id never imagined being one, and suddenly knew I never wanted to be one. Did I dare say that? Was that leaving the path?

So, to hear it from a shaysim of your years is remarkable. Shaysims are often blinded to the idea that there may be a path. They see possibilities, and ways that lead to so many divergent paths. Shaysims born out here in the wide world often have difficulty accepting that there is only one true path, a path that has been seen and charted. A path that we all must strive to bring into the world, so that the world may be a better place for all of us.

The understanding of what she meant rose in me like a tide. Was it a thing I had always known? I recalled with clarity how the beggar in the marketplace had touched me, and suddenly I had seen an infinity of possible futures, all depending on the decision of a young couple I had glimpsed in passing. I had even thought to nudge the future into a direction that seemed wise to me. It would have involved the young man being murdered by highwaymen, and the woman suffering rape and death, but I had seen her brothers riding to avenge her, and encouraging others to join them, and how they had made the highways safe for travelers for decades after their sister had died. Two lives gone in pain and torment, but so many saved.

I came back to the present. The blankets I had clutched had fallen away from me and the winter cold gripped me.

I see you understand me, Dwalia said in a honeyed voice. You are a shaysim, my dear. In some places, they would call you a White Prophet, even if you are not nearly as pale as one of them should be. Still, I trust Vindeliar when he tells me you are the lost son that we seek. You are a rare creature, Shaysim. Perhaps you have not realized that. Few are the folk who are given the gift of seeing what may be. Even rarer are the ones who can look and see the tipping points, the tiny places where a word or a smile or a swift knife set the world on a different course. Rarest of all are the ones like you. Born, it would seem, almost by chance, to folk who do not know what you are. They cannot protect you from making dangerous mistakes. They cannot save you from leaving the path. And so we came to find you. To keep you, and the path, safe. For you can see the moment when all things change, before it happens. And you see who it is, in any cycle, who will be the Catalyst for that time.

Catalyst. I tried the word on my tongue. It sounded like a spice or a healing herb. Both of those were things that changed other things. A spice that flavored a food or an herb that saved a life. Catalyst. Once it had meant my father, in some of his scrolls that I had read.

Dwalia used the word to pry at me. The one you might use to set the world on a different path. Your tool. Your weapon in your battle to shape the world. Have you seen him yet? Or her?

I shook my head. I felt sick. Knowledge was welling up in me like vomit rising in my throat. It burned me with cold. The dreams Id had. The things Id known to do. Had I provoked the manor children to attack me? When Taffy had struck me, the web of flesh that had kept my tongue tied to the bottom of my mouth had been torn free. Id gained speech. Id gone out that day, knowing it must happen if I was going to be able to speak. I rocked in my wrap, my teeth chattering. Im so cold, I said. So cold.

I had been ready to trigger that change. Taffy had been my tool to do that to myself. Because I could see the tumbling consequences of being where the other children would see me. I had placed myself where they could catch me. Because I had known that I had to do that. I had to do that to put myself on my path. The path Id seen in glimpses since before I was born. Anyone could change the future. Every one of us changed the future constantly. But Dwalia was right. Few could do what I could do. I could see, with absolute certainty, the most likely consequences of a particular action. And then I could release the bowstring and send that consequence arrowing into the future. Or cause someone else to do so.

The knowledge of what I could do dizzied me. I didnt want it. I felt ill with it, as if it were a sickness inside me. Then I was ill. The world spun around me. If I closed my eyes, it went faster. I clutched at the blankets, willing myself to stillness. The cold gripped me so hard I thought I had already died from it.

Interesting, Dwalia said. She made no move to aid me, and when Odessa shifted behind her she flung her hand out and down in a sharp motion. The lurik froze where she was, hunching her head between her shoulders like a scolded dog. Dwalia looked at Vindeliar. He cowered into himself. Watch him. Both of you. But no more than that. This was not predicted. I will summon the others and we will pool our memories of the predictions. Until we know what has been seen of this, if anything has been seen, it is safest to do nothing.

Please, I said, not knowing what I begged of them. Im sick. And Im so cold.

Yes. Dwalia nodded. Yes, you are. She moved an admonishing finger at both her luriks, and then she left the tent.

I sat very still. If I moved the spinning became unbearable. But I was cold, so cold. I wanted to reach for the blankets and furs, to pull them up around me. But any motion woke the vertigo. I braved it, and then, for my bravery, I retched. I vomited on myself and it soaked my shirtfront and made me colder. Neither the fog man nor Odessa moved. She watched me with sour-milk eyes and Vindeliar watched me with tears brimming his eyes. They watched until I was retching a thin yellow fluid that I could not spit clear of my mouth. It clung to my lips and chin, and still the tent spun and I was so cold. I wanted to be away from the wet and the stink of my vomit.

Do it. Move away. The dizziness would be bad no matter if I moved slow or fast. So just move.

I scooted back and dropped over on my side. The vertigo that struck me was so severe I could not tell up from down. I moaned, I think.

Someone lifted a blanket and tucked it around me. It was Shun. I could not bear to look at her for the spinning, but I knew her scent. She put another something over me. A fur, a heavy one. I felt a tiny bit warmer. I drew my body up into a ball. I wondered if I could speak without vomiting. Thank you. I said. Then, Please. Dont touch me. Dont move me. It makes the dizziness worse.

I focused my eyes on a corner of the blanket. I willed it to be still, and for a miracle, it was. I breathed slowly, carefully. I needed to be warm but even more, I needed the spinning to stop. A hand touched me, an icy hand on my neck. I cried out wordlessly.

Why dont you help him? Hes sick. He burns with fever. Her voice sounded sleepy but I knew she was not. Not really. Her anger was too strong for her to be sleepy. Could the others hear that, too?

Odessa spoke. We are to do nothing until Lingstra Dwalia returns to instruct us. Even now, you may have disrupted the path.

Another blanket settled over me. Do nothing, then. Dont stop me.

Shun lay down beside me. I wished she wouldnt. I feared that if she nudged me or moved me, the vertigo would come roaring back.

We obeyed. The fear in Vindeliars voice was like a bad taste in the air. Lingstra cannot be angry with us. We obeyed and did nothing. He lifted his hands to cover his eyes. I did nothing to help my brother, he moaned. I did nothing. She cant be angry.

Oh, she can be angry, Odessa said bitterly. She can always be angry.

Very carefully, I let my eyes close. The spinning slowed. It stopped. I slept.


Chapter Eleven Withywoods | Fool's Quest | Chapter Thirteen Chade s Secret