When a shaysim appears, the Servants must be ready to welcome the child. Often the parents will be filled with sadness at having to give up the child they have nourished and sheltered for years. When parents bring a shaysim to the gates, let them be welcomed and offered rest and refreshment. Gifts, too, should be offered but it must never appear that the gifts are given in exchange for the child. No shaysim should be purchased nor taken by force. If the parents are reluctant to surrender the child, allow them as much time as they need. If the child is an infant, gently remind them that such a child can require years of intense care. If the child be older, speak of the needs of the child to be raised where he can be accepted, taught, and cherished.
If they cannot bear to immediately surrender the child, be patient. Offer them lodgings for the night, let them walk in the gardens and see the libraries. Allow them to see that no matter how long the child’s infancy or childhood, she will be cherished here, educated, and, yes, loved by those Servants who tend her. Do not forget that every White child is a gift given by the family to the world. Be grateful.
Above all, be patient. Remember that it is the child’s destiny to come to us, and that destiny is never denied. It may happen in a way none of us has foreseen, but happen it will. To interfere too much may set the child’s life on a path unforeseen and unfortunate. Once the child is with us, it is important to let the shaysim’s life unfold as it will. The future cannot be rushed. Allow time to work its will upon us all.
I do not know how long I was ill. It was like a terrible vertigo from which no one could rescue me. I was sick upon myself, and soiled myself, more than once. Shun tended me fiercely, without gentleness and certainly not because she wished to do so. She battled relentlessly for privacy in which she washed me with cold snowmelt water. She gave my dirtied garments over to the pale people for them to wash and attempt to dry. She was uncompromising in insisting that only she could tend me. It was not devotion to me, although she claimed that. It was fear, plain and simple. She thought that if they discovered I was a girl, they would have no further use for me. Or her.
And so she took care of me, as best she could. They gave her no help. There was no willowbark tea brewed for my fever, no rest from our relentless traveling. They simply allowed me to be ill while they continued their journey. Every evening, Shun carried me from the tent to the sleigh. We traveled all night. As dawn approached, they made camp and she moved me from the sleigh to the tent. They prepared no special food for me, no broth or gruel. Shun increased my misery by insisting that I eat and drink, sometimes forcing the spoon into my mouth. My lips were chapped and sore from the fever. Her ministrations made them bleed.
But I didn’t die, and one night I felt slightly better. I kept my eyes open and watched the stars as they appeared and then vanished again behind the wind-driven clouds. Dwalia no longer held me on her lap. None of the luriks seemed to want to touch me. So Shun held me, and I heard her little gasp when we crested a hill and saw the lights of a small town below us. We followed the road down the hill, directly toward the town. The fog boy sat beside the driver and I could feel how hard he strove to keep anyone from seeing us. Commander Ellik and the handsome rapist led the way. The other soldiers rode close beside the sleighs, and the luriks on their white horses were bunched close behind us. A dog barked and barked at us, hackles raised, until his owner came out and shouted at him to be quiet.
I felt Shun tighten her grip on me. “Could you run?” she breathed by my ear, and I knew what she was thinking.
So did Dwalia. She did not whisper but spoke in a normal voice. “If you leapt from the sleigh and ran to any of those houses, the soldiers with us would kill everyone you spoke to. The rest we would bind to forgetfulness. Then we would burn the house down around the bodies, and on you would go with us. Much simpler for all if you simply stay where you are and enjoy this picturesque little town.” She gave a sideways glance, and Reppin and Soula both shifted to sit between us and the edge of the sleigh.
Shun did not loosen her grip on me, but I felt the spirit go out of her. We drove right past a team and waiting wagon outside an inn. The horses whickered a greeting to us, but on we went. We passed through the town as if we were the wind, and we continued past the outlying farmsteads and up another hill and back into woodlands again. We left the road and followed a dimpled cart-trail into the forest. And on until dawn.
That morning, I could eat a little food on my own, and follow Shun when she went aside from the others to piss. I remembered what she had told me, and mimed standing to piss as if I were a boy before crouching to relieve myself. When we went back in the tent, the luriks whispered to one another behind their hands. “I told you he would live, if he was meant to live. And we knew he was. That was why we did not interfere.” Dwalia spoke those words to her underlings, and once more she held a kindly smile on her face whenever she looked at me. She was pleased that I hadn’t died, but even more pleased, I thought, that she hadn’t helped me to stay alive.
We camped well off the road that dawn. The fog boy stumbled when he clambered down from the sleigh. Then he held on to the side of the sleigh and stood there with his head bent. Dwalia frowned but as soon as she realized I’d seen her expression, she changed it to a look of motherly concern. “Come, Vindeliar. It was not that hard, was it? And we have spared you that work as much as we can. But traveling cross-country is taking far too much time. You must be strong and determined. We need to return to the ship as swiftly as we can, lest the work you did there begin to weaken and fade. Come. I will see if we cannot get a bit of meat for you tonight.”
He nodded, his head a heavy stone on a reed neck. She held out her arm with a sigh, and he took it. She escorted him to a place where others were building the fire and commanded that a fur be folded for him to sit upon. That dawn he did no chores but only sat by the fire and went early to his bed.
Shun and I slept more closely together than ever we had that day. I was too weak still to stay awake for long, but I could tell that she had not eaten enough of the brown soup to make her sleep. She feigned sleep with one arm flung over me, as if she feared they might take me from her.
I woke toward nightfall, itching everywhere. I scratched myself but it brought only slight relief. When the others stirred and we went out by the fires, Shun flinched back at the sight of me. “What is wrong with you?” she demanded. I had been scratching my cheek. I lowered my hand, startled, and saw tendrils and flaps of dry white skin clinging to my fingers.
“I don’t know!” I exclaimed and, still weak from being ill so long, I began to weep. Shun sighed over my uselessness. But Dwalia came quickly to my side.
“Silly,” said Dwalia. “You shed your old skin. That is all. You’ve taken a step forward in your path. Let me look at you!” She seized me by the sleeve and pulled me closer to the fire. She pushed back the cuff of the fur coat, and then my shirt. Her nails were rounded and clean. She matter-of-factly scratched at my arm, and then shook the threads of dangling skin from her fingertips. She leaned in to look closer at my new skin.
“That is not right!” she exclaimed, and then clapped a hand over her own mouth.
“What isn’t right?” I asked anxiously.
“I didn’t hear you, dear? Does something worry you?” Her voice was warm with concern for me.
“You said something wasn’t right. What’s wrong?”
Her brows drew together and her voice radiated warmth. “Why, dear, I said nothing. Do you think something’s wrong?”
I looked at the patch of skin her nails had cleared. “I’m turning white. Like a dead person.” I had nearly said like the messenger. I shut my lips tightly and tried not to sob. I’d said too many words. I wasn’t good at this pretending to be younger and stupider than I was.
“Did he dream in his change time?” a thin-faced lurik lad asked, and Dwalia shot him a look far sharper than a slap. He hung his head and I saw him take a quick, anxious breath. Alaria had been sitting next to him. She hitched herself away from him.
They were all watching me to see if I would answer. Even Dwalia. “No dreams,” I said quietly, and I saw a puzzled look wash through her eyes. “None that made sense,” I amended. “Silly dreams.” I hoped I sounded childish. I gave a small sigh and seated myself on the fallen log that was serving us as a bench. Odessa immediately came to sit close beside me.
For a short time I listened to the crackling of the fire. No one else spoke, but I could almost feel them wishing for me to go on. I didn’t. Dwalia made a little sound in her throat and left the fireside. I was suddenly tired. I leaned my head forward, my elbows on my knees and my face in my hands, and looked into the darkness there. I wanted Revel to come and pick me up and carry me in to where it was warm.
But Revel was dead.
I thought about my father. Did he care that I’d been stolen? Would he come after me?
I’m right here, Wolf-Father said. I’ve never left you.
My other father.
We are one.
I felt queasy. I lifted my head slowly. Dwalia crouched before me. I said nothing.
“Look what I have for you, Shaysim.” She held out to me something rectangular and covered in bright fabric. I looked at it without comprehension. She opened it, and inside were pages of thick, creamy paper. It was a book, not a simple ledger such as my father had given me, but a book bound in rich cloth. I itched to touch it.
Danger! Wolf-Father’s warning brushed against my mind. I kept perfectly still.
“And this.” It was like a quill, but made of silver. “The ink I have for this is as blue as a summer sky.” She waited. “Don’t you want to try them?” she asked me.
I tried to restore childishness to my voice. “Try them how? What do they do?”
Dismay crept over her face. “You write with the pen on the paper. You write down your dreams. Your important dreams.”
“I don’t know how to write.” I held my breath, hoping my lie would protect me.
“You don’t . . .” She let her words trail away. Then she smiled her warmest smile. “That doesn’t matter, Shaysim. When we get to Clerres, you will be taught. Until then, you can tell me about your dreams, and I will write—”
Temptation surged in me. Tell her I had dreamed of a wolf tearing white rabbits into bloody shreds. Tell her of a man with a battle-axe chopping the heads of squirming white snakes.
NO. Wolf-Father was adamant. In a breath of awareness, he added, Do not provoke another predator until your pack is ready to tear it apart. Be small and still, cub.
“I don’t remember any dreams now.” I scratched my face, looked at the bits of dangling skin, wiped them on my shirt, and then pretended to pick my nose until she made a small sound of dismay. She moved away from me, taking book and quill with her. I looked carefully at my finger and then put it in my mouth. Odessa moved away from me. I did not let myself smile.