Friday, July 23, 2010

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XVII

Batyst stood; I realized he was actually discomfited. “She took the knife, and she is a woman all her own. She is no more yours than mine. It is not my fault that she has not been for you as you might like.”

“But she’d never killed anyone! She was innocent. They’ll be after her. Gods, what if she had failed? What if she’d been seen? The Temple will be mad for vengeance.”

“The chief agent was the poison in his meal,” Run said, frowning. “He was blind and nearly paralyzed by the time she would have reached him. You should know by now, Del, that I am nothing if not cautious.”

I felt my features forming that expression that communicates disgust. “Do you mean she wasn’t even necessary? She killed the Head Historian as some kind of act of insurance? I had not realized it before, but you truly are a bastard.”

“She survived to care for you, and I know she did so sweetly. As you said, she truly was eager that the Blooded should do something.”

A tremor of fear shot through me; I had another moment’s intuition. “By the graces, what do you want? What do you intend to do with her?”

Ryn Batyst frowned again. “You’ve vanished from my dreams now, Del. The dead within the Blood of History no longer mention you.”

I swore. “I still hate the Temple! Just because I don’t –”

Ryn shook his head. “The plan is of the Blood, and it is for the Blooded. I do not know your place in what I’m building now. So I cannot use you. But I must use someone. Too much depends on me. The success of our freedom cannot depend on my victory because that is not guaranteed. Of all things, that is not guaranteed.”

“But I could – gods, you’ll kill her! You’ll be the death of her!”

“I do not know if you could go back now, Del. But would you?”

I slumped against the room’s central wooden post; I found myself looking out Ryn’s east window, which the day’s first sun was finding. I shook my head.

“No,” I said. “Strangely, I think, because of the very thing you’re fighting for. I know what freedom is. It feels like one does in late afternoon, when all the buildings glow. It’s all the small, trivial things you do without realizing, but which you’d miss dearly if they were taken away. But the Blood of History does take them away, because you used to enjoy those things without realizing it, but now you don’t enjoy them at all, because all that pleases you is the presence of the minds of the ancient dead. No, I wouldn’t go back if it killed all the Historians in the world.”

Ryn smiled. “I had not thought of that. Perhaps your presence in the kingdom is precisely what I’m fighting for. Every building must have its inhabitants. Freedom needs a denizen. Perhaps that is what the Blood of History meant. It’s never the builders, after all, who actually live inside.”

I started to protest, but Ryn waved me to silence. He started to pace the room. “Del, do you remember your mother?” he asked.

I believe I actually blinked. “I’m sorry?”

“You were orphaned as a child. But how far back do you remember? What color was her hair? Do you remember her?”

I nodded. “A little. Walking with her, down the street, my hand in hers. The buildings were white, like her dress. That’s how I know I was born here. But her hair was long and I think her eyes were green. That’s all I remember, walking.”

“Nothing other than that? Nothing earlier and by yourself?”

I shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

Ryn grinned in that way which men grin when they have pleasant secrets they are not yet ready to share. “Remember, Del, that we carry always our selves inside ourselves. We are our own containers, and when we break we meet ourselves inside.”

I laughed. “I know you don’t expect me to understand that.”

“The Temple must fall, Del. The Blooded must do it, and soon. This is no rebellion, and we are no mob. This is revolution, and we are a new society. So we depend on revelation, which is all the truth that’s ever been. Even if we have forgotten it.”

“I’ll admit that doesn’t sound very new to me.”

Ryn laughed now, too. “No, not new. But some truth you can’t see until it happens. Winter turns to spring. Illness gives up to health. Acquaintance becomes friendship or animosity. That’s what’s coming. An inevitable surprise. Something neither of us can see.”

“That’s how betrayals happen, too.” I did not know who I was referring to.

Ryn grinned again, and I could not help feeling more at ease. “You cannot come to Bloodings, Del. And I’ll not hear you critique the Blood again. You will not know our plans, because they are too dangerous. And they will be more so. But you yourself are free to come and go in whatever way you please. And I do like you, Del. I like you for your own merits and not because of the Blood or the Wells or the wishes of the dead. You must understand this. Please come – see me as your time allows.”

Reader, I nodded. What else could I do?

Ryn crossed his hands before his chest. “And now, because I like you, some advice – no more orders. But remember, Del: lovers cannot always be together. And it matters very much more what they do when they are apart than what they do together. It matters how you affect each other. So be clear. Live clearly. You have no time for hesitation.”

The guild clock rang the hour. It was time that I return to market.

“Be careful, Ryn,” I said. “Especially with her. Whoever you think she is, she is not that person.”

“I do not think that she is who anyone thinks she is. That is why you like her. And it is a significant mark in her favor. I did not misuse you. She will get no less of my regard. But which matters more, do you think: how we live, or the manner in which we die? Tell me, while you were ill, did you have another of those dreams?

I swallowed. “A white army, terrible and cruel. A woman wearing white, breathing whiter wind and wearing blood for hair.”

Batyst smiled one last time. “Come soon, Del, when we have more time. I may have met your mother. I’ll tell you what I know. And I believe she was extraordinary.”

I nodded and turned at last, but paused when Ryn’s great hand fell upon my shoulder. “Oh, and Del?” he said. “Tell Adlasola that she need not come to tomorrow’s meeting. I thought she could paint the Public of the Guilds in session, but it seems not everyone will be attending. Be sure to tell her that would, would you?”

I assured him that I would.

Afterwards, I made my much belated return to the place where I do commerce. Gurloes was furious, jabbing his arthritic finger at me in the already dusty lighting of his great canvas tent. The air inside was stuffy and hot; the canvas is taught and thick as possible lest his finest silks be exposed to dust. So I stood for a very long time sweating and watching his bald pate and his crooked-toothed mouth set within its wizened face all deliver to me a tirade concerning his long sufferings on my behalf.

Yes, he said, the master of that other guild had paid my dues, but no customer likes seeing empty stalls within the market. Business was down, he said, absolutely down, and if it hadn’t been for my foundering guild and their regulations he would have leased my stall right out from under me. He’d just been about on the verge of hiring some street punks to find me and demand a new accounting when I showed up. I was lucky he just hadn’t busted my little stall down with his sledgehammer.

While I was entertained by this – Gurloes is harmless, and confuses me occasionally with one of his grown grandsons – it was past noon again by the time I’d gotten my signs and sacks of seeds arranged. I was lucky to get half a day’s profit before the sun sank beyond the western mountains and the other vendors started packing up their things. And I did, only a little reluctantly, shove more than half my take into the hands of one of Gurloe’s scribes, in appreciation of his good graces. He’ll remember me well for that. And I had much to be thankful for.

I didn’t even need to return my sacks to my room – I’d sold everything, and tomorrow was Forday, thank the Profusion, when I would get a whole new array. Instead I went right away to Adlasola’s, because I wanted to demonstrate to her my gratitude, and of course because I enjoy her company.

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