I thought of the premonition that had assailed me earlier.
“I begin to fear we were too quick to let people know of our refuge. Suddenly everything seems less sure, than when the rebellion ended.”
Brydda shook his head. “If you’d kept your refuge secret, it would have made Landfolk even more mistrustful and suspicious of you. Take heart, for all is not ill in this new time. The Council is gone from this part of the Land, and with them, the Soldierguards and the Herders, and the whole machinery of corruption. Good new laws are about to be established, and soon people will elect their own leaders. Of course there are still those who still fear your kind…but many more do not, having seen clearly where your loyalties lay during the elections. Don’t be impatient. The changes have begun. And they will continue.”
He lapsed into silence for a moment, and then said, “When the rebellion first began to be spoken of, I imagined that once the Council was gone, the Land would become a sort of paradise. But of course it’s not that simple. It’ll be many years before things are really stable, and there’ll be as many steps back as forward. I don’t doubt it.”
“You could just walk away from it all,” I pointed out, hearing the weariness in his voice. “You could come up and live up here. No one would ever say you hadn’t done enough.”
“I would say it,” Brydda said with gentle finality. “Enough is not measured by what you give, but by what’s needed.”
He reached out and took my hand in his.
“Something’s wrong between you and Rushton, isn’t it?”
I cursed his knack of knowing things he could not know, and opened my mouth to tell him it was not his affair, but other words burst out of me, low and raw.
“Rushton has changed since he was imprisoned in the cloister in Sutrium. He doesn’t remember what happened, but something’s broken in him. I can’t look inside his mind to see if it can be mended, for he will not permit it. He doesn’t want my talent and he doesn’t want me. There’s nothing to be done about it.” I looked down at Maruman, who slept on oblivious. I was glad, for my grief would have irked him.
“Elspeth,” Brydda said my name gently, and when I looked up, I saw pity in his eyes. “Come. It’s time you were asleep.”
He reached down, scooped Maruman into his arms, and pulled me to my feet. He lead me to the bedroll Zarak had laid out beneath one of the wagons, and I stretched out, feeling suddenly utterly exhausted.
Brydda laid Maruman gently beside me, and the old cat rolled close with a snore. He hadn’t even woken, and I wondered if he slept, or now travelled the dreamtrails.
“Sleep,” Brydda commanded gently, and left me.
I closed my eyes, and sleep rolled over me like a soft, heavy blanket, obliterating consciousness with a gentle, but inexorable finality.
I dove through the cloudy squall of memories and dreams that clamoured at me in the upper levels of my mind, shielding myself, until I was deep enough for them to fade into a deep brown silence. I continued to descend, until I heard the siren song of the mindstream that runs at the deepest level of all minds, and which contains the thoughts and memories of all minds that have ever existed.
The urge to join the stream, and give up individual existence was as potent as ever, but I held myself until the pull of the mindstream was in exact balance with the pull to rise to consciousness.
I had come deep to avoid dreaming. But even as I looked down into the shimmering beauty of the mindstream, a bubble of matter detached itself, and rose towards me, shapeless and shining as air, rising to the surface of water.
The bubble engulfed me.
I saw Cassy Duprey sitting in a Beforetime flyer.
I couldn’t tell if it was the same flying machine I had seen her in before, but she looked different. Subtly older. Perhaps it was just the plain, dark clothes she was wearing instead of the bright colours she usually favoured, or maybe it was the fact that her wild mass of crinkling hair was restrained, in a complex coil against her neck.
Seated opposite her was a very beautiful, haughty looking older woman, with the same, chocolate-toned skin as Cassy. Certain likeness about the facial bones suggested they were related.
Could this be her mother, I wondered? She didn’t act like it, for Cassy was weeping, and the woman made no move to comfort her.
“What did you expect, Cassandra?” she finally asked, her tone irritated. “He was a spy.”
“He might not be dead,” Cassy said, in a voice thick with tears and despair.
“Don’t be foolish,” the woman responded crisply. “Samuel vanished while spying on officials in the Chinon Empire. If he’s not dead, then he will wish he were soon enough.”
Cassy groaned and leaned over, as if she had a stomach ache, her forehead pressed to her knees.
“Don’t you think it is time to end this augury(?) of grief?” the woman said, glancing at her watch. “Samuel knew the price he would pay if he were caught. He thought it was worth it. If you loved him, you might honour his choice.”
Her lips twisted into an ugly shape as she said the word ‘love’, but Cassy, head on her lap, did not hear it.
“Must people always pay the worst price for doing what’s right in your world mother?” she whispered.
The older woman glanced out the window at the sky for a long minute, her expression remote, as if she was thinking about something completely different. Finally she returned her gaze to her daughter.
“I did not say he was doing the right thing Cassandra. Only that he thought he was. People always think they are doing what is right. Look at your father and his Sentinel project. He and the government think they have the right – think it is the right thing – to give the fate of the world into the hands of machines. He thinks it is responsible, and a mature thing to relinquish control of the weapons we have created. Maybe we will all pay for him doing what he thinks is right.”
There was a queer expression on her face, and the queerness had got into her voice.
Cassy lifted her head, and gave her mother a long, bitter look.
“If you think father is wrong, why don’t you tell him so? Why don’t you tell the whole world? You have the power to do that, it wouldn’t even cost you your life.”
“Wouldn’t it Cassy?” her mother asked. “You think the government would allow me to criticise its pet project? You are such a child.”
“What are you talking about?” Cassy demanded.
“I’m talking about the real world Cassy, where we all live, not the world of heroic and foolish boys and girls. I chose to leave your father because he became a man I did not like. A man who believed in things, I could not believe in. He let the world and his fears turn him into a puppet. I can’t stop what he does any more than I can stop what the government does. The best I can do is stay away from him, and his world. And keep you away from it. I don’t want to hear any more about you going back to that place. I don’t want you there again, not ever.”
“But mother, he’s invited me, and I need…I mean, I want to go. It’ll be the last time.”
Cassy’s mother gave her a cold, hard, intelligent look.
“Why would you want to go there again, when you resisted going there so violently in the first place? Despite my having no choice but to send you?”
“I…I just – I was doing some painting there. I hated it there, it’s true. But I want to finish what I began there.”
Her mother regarded her, and then smiled. “You are lying. But I will make you a bargain. You tell me why you suddenly want to switch to the university in New Rome, and I will allow you to visit your father this one last time. But I want the truth. And I will know if you lie.”
Cassy’s face changed, and a peculiar expression filled the wide, almond-shaped eyes.
“Do you really want to know, mother? Because if you do, I’ll show you.”
Her mother frowned. “Cassandra, I’ve had just about enough of this childish-“
Cassy cut her off. “Remember that big splashy series of advertisements sent out by the Reichler Clinic a while back, mother? The ones asking for anyone who thought they might have paranormal abilities to come and be tested? Well I went.”
“Oh, that was a hoax. It was a scandal. Over falsified research results, surely you were not foolish enough-”
“Yes. There was a scandal. But it was the man who ran the place, that was running it, William Reichler. He supposedly wrote a book, only it wasn’t he who wrote it or came up with the testing methods the clinic used. It was another scientist who died. Reichler stole his work and put his name to it. He was after money, and he got it by conning rich people into making donations. By convincing them that everyone had paranormal abilities that could be wakened with the right techniques. Just as the book said. Then he was exposed and there was a scandal. But not everyone he hired was crooked. A lot of the researchers that work for the Reichler clinic really believed in what they were doing. So when William Reichler died, they kept the clinic running.”
“The clinic was destroyed,” Cassy’s mother said. “Reichler burned it to cover his tracks. Only he was killed before he could get away.”
“William Reichler was killed. And the building that housed the clinic at Inva was destroyed. But the Reichler Clinic is an organisation, not a place. It relocated. To New Rome. It’s still operating.”
Her mother’s lip curled in disgust.
“And I suppose whoever is running this place persuaded you when you visited New Roma last month that you have paranormal abilities. Cassy, will you never grow up?”
Cassy smiled. It was a smile as cold as her mother’s. I felt her mind reach out. She had fashioned a mind probe so clumsy that it must have hurt her mother as it entered her, and she spoke her name.
I heard the older woman gasp with pain, and clutch at her head.
“Is that proof enough for you mother?” Cassy asked. “Or are your own senses as untrustworthy as you keep telling me mine are?”
Her mother’s mouth hung open. Her eyes bulged in disbelief.
“You…what did you do?”
The memory dissolved, and the mindstream sang its song to me; alluring, infinitely sweet, promising release from pain, from sorrow, from desire. I dared not stay there any longer.
Wrenching myself upward, I was too weary to armour myself against the strands of thought floating past me.
One brushed me and all at once I was inside the old dream, of walking along a dark tunnel, hearing the drip of water into water. And ahead was the dull, yellow flash, flash, flash, of light. Like a signal.
“Stop,” said a woman’s voice. Beautiful, and strangely loud. “Do not enter or you will die.”
The shock of hearing a voice, in a place that I had never heard one before, woke me. I opened my eyes, and found myself blinking into daylight, the dream slipping away like dawn mist.
I thought of the vision I had experienced of Cassy, weeping at the death of her lover, and then of her mind, forming a clumsy, but powerful, probe to invade her mother’s mind. Clearly, Hannah Seraphim had taught her to use her powers.
Cassandra, her mother had called her. Not far from Cassandra, to Kasanda.
“Get up ElspethInnle,” Maruman sent peevishly. “I’m hungry.”
“Before I tell you anything more, I must ask how you got past the barricade?” Noviny asked.
I left Zarak to explain, and Noviny nodded.
“I see…so, you will not have used your misfit powers?”
Zarak shook his head, looking bewildered. But I saw that it had not been a question.
“What’s going on here?” I asked. “Why was one of Malik’s men guarding the barricade?”
Noviny gave me an approving look. “(someone)’s with me, because he is sensitive to the talents of your people. Unlike the rest of the men at the barricade, he would not have been wearing a demon band, so, he would know if any misfit was trying to gain entry to Saithwold. It’s sheer good luck that you didn’t make any attempt to enter his mind.”
“Demon bands?” I said, unable to believe I was hearing about them again so soon after Brydda had spoken of them.
On the other hand, Malik and Vos and some of the other rebels had them, indeed it was the wearing of the demon band that had prevented us realising Malik meant to betray us. And no doubt more had been found, when they entered the abandoned Herder Cloister.
“Ye mun have noticed,” Khuria now said. “That ye were unable to farseek us here.”
“Oh but it’s no secret that the Herders here and elsewhere in the Land made practise of laying caches of tainted matter, and studding the tops of the Cloister walls with poison fragments, knowing it would inhibit our talents.”
“It were done before the rebellion,” Khuria said grimly. “But it’s also been done and is being done since. By Vos’ men. They’ve poisoned the entire perimeter of the region, as well as along all the fences.”
“But to what end?” I asked. “Surely not so Vos can be re-elected Chieftain?”
“Although, that certainly is what Vos believes,” Noviny said. “He believes it, because Malik told him.”
“And Malik would have alleyed his fears that someone would find out about the blockade, sending armsmen to investigate. Perhaps he even told Vos what is almost certainly true, that Dardelan will not move against him until after the elections. But…let me tell my tale from the beginning. It’s quicker.” I startled, feeling impatience, and nodded.
“When Vos’ men began to call at homesteads in and about Saithwold, before wintertime (sorry, spelling mistake!), demanding that folk pledge their votes to him in the Chieftain election that would take place after thaw, I thought him a fool. Once Dardelan learned what was happening, Vos would be dealt with by the Council of Chieftains. Vos’ oppressions increased. I thought him a fool. People’s letters were allowed to leave Saithwold only if they did not criticise him, or speak of the situation here in any critical way. A decree was issued, forbidding citizens of the region to travel without permission, because of the danger of being waylaid by brigands. Then the blockade was set up, supposedly to prevent robbers, or suspicious folk, entering our region. Little by little, we realised that no one was being given permission to travel, and that the blockade was as much to keep us in, as others out.
“It was ludicrous, but I realised, as anyone might, that, as I said, Dardelan would do nothing. I would have done the same in his place. And I was confident that Vos would not profit ultimately by his activities. I advised those neighbours and friends who sought my advice simply to wait. All would be put right in time.
“But, having assured everyone that all would be well, I became troubled, for some of the dogs told Khuria of men, creeping about my property. Laying caches of tainted matter. He overheard them say that it was being done on Malik’s advice. That made me very uneasy. Vos is foolish enough to suppose he will get away with forcing himself upon this region as its Chieftain. But Malik must know his efforts were doomed to failure, so, what was Malik up to?
“Then I heard a rumour that a second blockade had been set up, on the other side of Saithwold. That is, on the road that leads from the town to the cliffs. Supposedly the new barricade was meant to prevent robbers creeping into the town from that direction. But it occurred to me to wonder if its true purpose might not be to prevent anyone venturing near Malik’s mean coastal camp? Then it came to me, that this might be the purpose of both barricades.”
“Are you saying, that Malik does, or does not want Vos to become Chieftain of Saithwold?” I asked.
“I am saying that Vos’ Chieftainship and all that he has done to ensure it is irrelevant to Malik. Except, insofar as it serves us a distraction,” Noviny answered. There was a soft knock at the door leading to the kitchen, and Wenda and a servant entered carrying trays, laden with mugs, jugs of ale, bread, cheese, some sort of pie.
Noviny remained silent, as the two girls came into the sunken area, and laid a table.
As they turned to go, Wenda assured me in her gentle voice that Darius was resting peacefully.
“I would prepare some poultices and he ought to be more comfortable by tomorrow,” she said, and went out.
“I trust Wenda,” Noviny said, when the door closed behind his granddaughter. “But she does not know what I am about to tell you, nor have I dared to impart any of it to my friends or neighbours. Even to my trusted retainers. Any of them might have made some slip of the tongue that would reach Malik’s ears, and he would have no hesitation in resorting to torture to find out what else they might know.”