`Purasan': Conley didn't know whether it was a noun or an
adjective, singular or plural. He is Purasan, she is a Purasan, they are
Purasan, maybe Purasans... No-one else seemed to know, either, the
words were used interchangeably as fancy took. When someone actually
was a Purasan, though, you were left in no doubt of the fact.
"Fiercely independent," Roween had said, and she was right.
Their lands were maybe a hotch-potch of tiny duchies, but the Purasan
nation was proud, coherent, and united against adversity. It meant
something to be Purasan, the overwhelming sense of history, tradition,
continuance, belonging. Her own country was just four miserable nations
thrown together by geographical proximity, economic necessity, use of
magic, and, yes, a common, ignoble heritage. It didn't even have a proper
But there was no point in trying to pretend to be Purasan, the
cultural differences were too wide. Your movements, dress, accent,
attitude - they all marked you as a non-Purasan. Purasans would no sooner
accept you as one of their number than they would a shaved gorilla.
That was why the Messenger was having such trouble
conquering them. In other countries, sexagenarian missionaries were not
tied to trees, did not thereupon have thirty arrows fired at them, and were
not subsequently set alight. Here, to worship false gods was to deny your
birthright, and for others to challenge your myths meant they threatened the
heart of Purasan lore, thence all society. The Messenger was thus obliged
to take the Purasan lands by force of arms.
She looked to the North. Dreimen couldn't be seen for the mist,
clinging to the marshes like moss to an ancient gravestone. Dreimen was
there, though, walled, insolent, holding out against the tide of Followers
that swelled daily outside its gates. Visually obscured it may be, but in the
minds of Purasans it was a beacon of resistance, refusing to be snuffed
despite the continuing near-suicidal assaults on its defences. It couldn't last
much longer, however, Conley knew. She and Roween wouldn't have been
able to enter it even if they'd wanted to.
Their small mountain village nestled snug in the foothills.
They'd arrived the day before yesterday; the locals had paid them scant
attention, preferring to herd their goats and hoard their grain than bandy
words with foreigners, even if they were nominal allies. At least they
hadn't been offensive. There'd been a lot of visitors recently, it seemed;
they were used to it.
The villagers spoke in a dialect so thick that at first Conley
wasn't convinced it was Estavian at all, it sounded like it should have been
Old Purasan from a thousand years ago. Roween assured her it wasn't, and
after she got used to it understanding became easier. Some villages still
used their ancient alphabet, though, so for outsiders reading was often
Roween must have known that the roots of her hair would be
showing brown now, but she didn't bother reapplying the bleach. Disguise
was of no consequence here, and she maybe didn't want to be someone else
again. "Other people can be so stupid..."
They'd camped against a dry-stone wall, out in the fields. The
air was fresh, breezy up here, but down below it didn't clear the swamp
fog. Weather magic? Out here? Sennary had said he was heading this way
with a squad of mages.
She wandered over to Roween. "These Purasans are strange. I
talked to a shepherd, young, gangly, a little shy looking. He didn't want to
know. Polite, of course, but he just answered questions, never made
comments or took the initiative."
"You talked to him alone?"
She nodded. "Safe enough - I can flick when you're not with
me. No, he just kept back."
"Maybe he was scared?"
"I don't think so, he was more, well, like aloof, but not in a
nasty sort of way. Distant. Must be because I'm not Purasan."
"Probably is, it's a good enough explanation for anything round
Conley crouched beside Roween. The ground was wet, so she
didn't sit. She noticed white, salty crystals forming around the toes of her
boots, a watermark, brushed them off. "Don't you wish we were more like
"How'd you mean? In looks? Customs? Don't the women tie
their hair back or something when they're married?"
"Culturally. For a Purasan, being Purasan is important, it's the
most important thing in your life. There's this mass of things past, always
there to comfort you, to guide you, give you confidence, support - a reason
to feel good about yourself, like you're a member of an exclusive
"Some peoples need the strength of a national identity just to
survive. If the Purasans didn't think that way, they'd have been crushed
long ago. With a sense of uniqueness, being somehow special, sharing with
their kinsfolk an intense loyalty to their collective legacy, they can keep
from going under."
"But it must be inspiring for individuals, too, heartening to feel
you really belong, have a background you can be proud of. I envy them."
"It's alright for Purasans, they're at an international crossroads,
they get invaded every time some hothead decides to rule the world, they
need it. It's dangerous for the rest of us, though, especially if someone
emerges who can succeed in identifying their personal goals with the
destiny of the nation. Suppose the Messenger had been Purasan, he'd have
stomped all over the continent by now." She looked out, towards the
marshes. "But no, I don't like it personally: there's no room for
individuality. It's a way of excusing your actions, discharging responsibili-
ties. I'd rather be proud of being myself, not of being a part of an abstract
ancestral animal evolved over centuries."
"That's a philosophy you picked up in Elet, right?"
Roween pulled up her knee, linked her hands around it. "No,
it's just the way I am. Your individuality is all you have, you have to keep
it to be worth anything. The past is gone, and though it's still relevant,
using it as a template, a surrogate for your feeling of self, well it makes life
meaningless. Likewise, religion: false promises, demanding subservience.
If you force conformity of opinion, you rob people of their spark, their
vitality, their expression, their reason for existence." She was struggling,
trying to frame her ideas. "If you can't think for yourself, you might as
well be dead." She sighed. "I wish I was better with words."
"No, it's alright, think I know what you're saying. For you, the
fundamental point to life is to act independently. Once people fall into line
with some group, be it religious or cultural, they're conceding the right of
that group to direct their actions, at least partly. That stops them from being
fully free-thinking, and so they're squandering some of what, you believe,
ultimately justifies their existence."
"That's it, yes. If you don't do things completely of your own
free will, you don't really live. You're just a pebble on the beach." She
reached into her pocket. "I ought to write that down..."
"So your convictions are your own? You didn't take up the
Eletic doctrine having become exposed to it at some point?"
"Well, no. You see, in Elet, they go one stage further, they rein
in their emotions, only letting them loose when they want to. They don't
wish their own feelings to enslave them any more than they wish the
dictates of others to. To them, the mind is a continuum from emotion to
sentience. The more you surrender to your emotions, the less your real self
is in control."
"Life must be monotonous..."
"No, they're not machines, far from it." She rolled to face
Conley, hands needed to make her points. "They do enjoy themselves, do
worry, get angry, fall in love, just like everyone else. They just don't let
their emotions gain the advantage. You need a free mind to appreciate your
feelings, to understand them. Otherwise you might as well just happy
yourself up with shots or drugs, only come off for a while each day to eat,
sleep, keep your body ticking over."
Conley couldn't decide whether Roween was philosophising or
lecturing. "But what is life, then, if it's not to be happy?"
"If you're unable to reflect on your happiness, what value has
it? Are trees happy? So what?"
"Well, it matters if you're a tree."
"No, without self-awareness it doesn't at all. If you can't
contemplate your feelings, or if by experiencing them you reduce your
reflective faculties, you're just a husk. You may be in euphoria, but it's
meaningless. You of all people should realise that."
She was lecturing... "So where is it exactly that you and the
"I can't accept that my emotions are an external influence I
oughtn't to trust. I take them as integral to my personality, and I don't
mind - can't help - listening to them. Just sometimes, though, because of
that, I can't do something I know in my mind I should do. Or I just do
something plain dumb."
Conley remembered Sennary, relaxing casually in the armchair,
shirt undone at the neck, half a day's stubble roughing his chin, exuding wit
and charm and fascination, seemingly unaware of it. She sat up straight,
quickly. "You've given this a lot of thought."
"What? Sorry, yes, yes I have." Roween had been thinking of
him too, transparent.
"But isn't it all a bit selfish?"
"Selfish? In what way?" She bit at a side of her lower lip. "I
don't normally think of myself as a selfish person."
"Well, there's nothing in what you've said that allows for self-
sacrifice, doing things for the greater good, for your children, for others."
"Yes there is. People who go in for philanthropy, they do it
because they like it, it gives them pleasure. If they dislike it, then they must
have ulterior motives, doing it as a step towards attaining rewards later on -
maybe much later on, like an afterlife. Don't kid yourself, Con, in the end
everyone's in it for themselves, no matter how much they might like to
"You're being over-cynical, you take things too far. I see no
harm in..." She stopped. Hoofbeats. Roween had heard them too.
"Coming this way?"
"I don't know." Conley peered over the wall. Charging straight
at her was an enormous black warhorse laden with barding, its helmeted
mount leaning forward in the saddle, looking back. Behind him, five, ten
other riders, in pursuit. Hot, we're directly in their path!
She bobbed down, put her hand on Roween's head, stopped her
poking it up. The sleek-muscled stallion leaped over, thundering as it
landed, lathered sweat flying backwards. Seconds later, the rest followed,
all sides, close, so close. Roween rolled up in a ball, Conley flattened
against the stonework, tight up, tense, terrified. Dirt flew, the air rushed,
men shouted. Conley pressed her back as hard as she could against the
sharp, flint-like rocks - kept pressing, through the pain, until the sound of
hooves drifted into the distance.
She opened her eyes. The camp was a mess, their makeshift tent
shredded to rags. The little cooking pot she'd bought in Rhiev was
overturned, cracked. Their clothesline had been brought down, their
washing trampled. Damn and damn again!
Roween was over by the tent. She'd found something. Conley
crawled to see. A body, dead.
"One of the Messenger's?"
"I guess so. That horse they were chasing, it was one of ours,
had to have been - it'd need added muscle to jump like that with all the
armour it was carrying."
* * *
Their first impulse was to hide lest the riders return for their
man, but it seemed clear they'd left him, at least for the moment. So
instead, the two had bundled what they could onto their own horses, and
followed the tracks as far as possible. It was was getting dark now, though,
and the prints grew ever more indistinct. The lone rider must have escaped,
anyway; surely if the posse hadn't caught him after this distance, they
weren't going to?
Roween was constantly on the alert, turning to every rustle of
the trees, movement in the bracken, flutter of wings in the evening sky.
Conley began to feel cold, shivery, although it was warm. Her stomach was
tightening, and she felt her arms keep tensing up. Angry, she realised she
was getting scared. If those horsemen hadn't been chasing someone else,
they might have been after us. She shuddered. They could have turned back
by now, be coming towards us, minutes away. She didn't have any proper
weapons, couldn't use her spells, was outnumbered. Her arm started
trembling a little again, involuntarily, she stopped it but it returned a
moment later. Roween's hand touched her shoulder. She looked over,
Roween wasn't a vision of confidence, either. "Do you think
maybe we should turn around, or would they have gone back to the camp,
found the body, be waiting for us?"
"I want to get somewhere safe as soon as I can, forget the
camp, it's trashed anyway. Maybe the bottom of that ridge?" She pointed;
Roween followed her arm. The trail narrowed, wound through a tumbling
ravine, led upwards to the top of an escarpment before carrying on into
blackness that her eyes couldn't make out. Left, before the ascent, were
woods - pine trees that clamoured round the base of the scarp, stretching off
someway down the lower slopes.
"That's safe?" asked Roween, giving her fears voice.
Conley spurred her mare. Logically, probably safer, yes, it's
not on the track. But bandits live in forests near desolate, narrow passes,
thieves, murderers. She caught her thoughts. Calm down, bandits live
nearer main roads, they'd be down by the swamp. Wouldn't they?
* * *
They dismounted in the woods. The sun was down maybe half
an hour, but the trees made it dark as midnight. Conley was ahead,
searching for a clearing where they could leave the horses. As the boughs
flew back from her passage, Roween was being whipped, needles brushing
at her face, lacerating with a pine-scented purity.
"Over to the right," Conley ordered. They pushed through,
broke out into a small glade. A tall, smoke-scarred tree had fallen,
lightning, taken some of the smaller ones with it. They tied the horses.
"This will do, no-one will find us here."
"I wouldn't count on that," said a voice, male, western accent,
malicious. Conley could just see his outline, against the trees. Hot, he was
drawing his sword, a warrior.
"Roween, he's carrying - "
"I know, take your dirk; if you get chance, go for his neck."
He was advancing, smiled when he saw the glint of their steel,
pulled a dagger of his own from a sheath on his back. Oh for love, he's
"I think we ought to run, Ro..."
His first swing was just for show, worry them a little. Roween
circled round until he was between them, but he tracked her, keeping both
covered. He lunged at Conley, she fell back. Jittery. He smiled. Another
teaser, not intended to do damage, only check her mettle, lack of it.
Roween tried a quick stab; he parried her knife with hardly a
glance, like she didn't even deserve that, concentrated on the older-looking
woman. Conley regarded his gleaming weapon, a sabre, meant for slashes
from horseback but easily pointy enough to rip through an unprotected
gullet if thrust. She looked beyond him to Roween, on his left. Roween was
making, hand signals, trying to say something. Palm, fist, palm, point,
what? Gestures? Conley quick-frowned, puzzled, desperate, what did she
mean? Tell me! The sabre scythed across her midriff, whistling a handspan
away. He grinned. Still playing.
Suddenly, she grasped Ro's message, started gesturing, flicking
a spell, or a non-spell, he wouldn't know. His gaze was momentarily
caught, surprise, maybe a tinge of panic. She had magic? He'd better end it
Roween was instantly on his back, arm round his neck, trying
to hold tight as he threw her. He cursed, bent low, rolled a shoulder, swung
her underneath as she held on, her body tumbling on the flat of his sword.
He stabbed with the dagger, missed as her grip slipped, she fell. He looked
up, pulling free his longer blade, watching for a strike from the taller girl.
Conley's knife beat his late parry, bit into his neck, left side. He buckled
on one knee.
Conley hesitated. Should she stay back, out of his range, or
press on, get underneath his swing, protect Roween. Ro was scrambling,
she'd dropped her dagger, was moving away, crawling on her back. Blood
was gushing from the wound on his neck, his left hand was there, empty,
trying to plug it, futile, it was mortal. He roared, took a chop at Ro, she
was far enough back, the blow short. He tugged at his sword, embedded in
the dirt, strength waning.
Roween stumbled to her feet, joined Con, rested on her
shoulder as the pair watched him, gruesome, dying, blood gurgling audibly
from his severed jugular.
* * *
He'd been dead awhile, they knew it, but they still didn't want
to get close, were still afraid. Roween was drenched waist-down in blood,
spattered elsewhere. She ignored it, stared at the cadaver until the smell got
"He was alone then, no-one came when he shouted." Conley
recovered Roween's dagger, began to clean it.
"I guess you're right, I hadn't thought." Roween stared around,
into the pitch-blend of night. "What was he doing here? He's army, not an
They reached the same conclusion simultaneously. Conley
spoke. "He's one of the riders we were following, he's looking for
Roween continued. "There's only one of him, so he was
expecting to find a corpse."
"I'll make a light."
* * *
It was late, very late, when they found him, crumpled among
the boulders creviced beneath an overhang. He must have hit trees, bounced
here. It was Sennary, and he wasn't dead, not quite. Pretty broken up,
Roween loosened his breastplate, he wheezed, spat some blood,
not much, probably a tooth.
"Careful," Conley cautioned, "don't move anything that's..."
Her words trailed off as Roween's mind-charged, cross-eyed stare raged
gravity at her.
"We'll need to make some splints, the branches slowed him
down but he's cut up, and his sword-arm is shattered. His leg looks
twisted, maybe it's busted too."
Conley nodded. "I'll get my notebook, I think I have the
* * *
When Conley returned, Roween had raised Sennary's head onto
her lap as she knelt. She was rocking him, ever so gently, stroking his
yellow, red hair. She looked up at Conley, cheeks glistening with tears.
"You know what to do?"
"Yes, I can numb him for a couple of minutes if he makes a
focus, realign the bones, tighten them up. Is it compound?"
Roween looked away, not wanting to be reminded of the
jagged, splintered ulna ripped obliquely through his forearm. She nodded.
"Is he conscious?"
Roween nodded again. "Just. Can't speak a lot, I think his ribs
are cracked, armour must have saved him."
Conley crouched, held her notes to the light. "Is this going to
work with you here, Ro? I don't want to push you away, but..."
"Yes, no, oh I don't know, some will, but if one doesn't then
they'll all disappear. I'll leave." It hurt so much to say that. She slid out
from under Sennary, slowly, lowered his head with a careful tenderness.
He looked up at her, reached for her hand, drew her towards him.
She choked back a sob, he was in such pain. He moved his lips,
was trying to say something. She put her ear to his mouth, pulled back her
hair, listened. "Find ... my ... horse," he rasped.
She froze a moment, had she heard him right? He let go of her,
Conley waved her aside. She stood, walked back, kept looking at him. His
horse? Delirium? She followed the rocks round to the right.
* * *
The horse was a crumpled mass of meat and bone. The
prosthetics had reverted on its death, flesh shed from the skeleton, red
joints on blue-lit rocks. It had taken her a while to find the beast, it was
wedged higher up, she'd only looked when she'd noticed spots of
marooning blood dried on the stones below. What did it have that Sennary
wanted? A dying man might ask for the Books, but he wasn't religious was
he? Documents he was carrying, then? Plans? Secrets, lists of names,
places, details of organisations? Why would he want them now?
She unbuckled the saddle, trying to avoid contact with the cold,
matted skin. She worked the saddlebags free, dropped them to the ground,
pulled out his blanket, tossed that too, might be useful later, keep him
The bags weren't full, there was little food, he must've left
someplace in a hurry. She felt something, though, deep behind her eyes:
there was zip in here - well of course - but some of it was good, healing.
She delved deeper, found papers - just scrawled notes and a map - a bit of
gold, a strip of shots. Maybe he wanted these, take his mind off the pain?
He hadn't seemed that sort. No, there was something else, niggling her...
His comsphere was split in two. Shame, looks new. She
rummaged around further. A small light-set, a flicky dagger, lightweight
platter, whistle, compass; there was more in here than she'd first thought in
the flicker of her candle-lit panic.
At the bottom of one of the bags, she found it, in a small tin
that looked like it used to hold boiled sugars. Gel, some gone, but plenty
enough to staunch his arm, sterilise it, stop the rot getting in. Hot, it was so
sweet! She replaced the lid, hurried back.
* * *
"Is it safe?" she called from the edge of the trees. Conley lifted
a finger to her mouth, shhh, she nodded.
Roween tiptoed over, as best she could. Sennary was asleep,
and now it was Conley's lap he had for a pillow. Roween felt the inevitable
twang; it would always be thus. She held out the tin. Conley tilted her head
sideways, what is it?
"White gel," whispered Roween, "for his arm."
Conley's eyes widened. She reached out her hand, beckoned,
impatient, took it; Roween had kept the lid. Conley smelled the contents,
nodded approvingly, tasted a smidge. "Hot, Ro," whispered, "there must
be eighteen hundred clicks worth in here - you could do a heart replacement
with this much! Where'd he get it?"
"How would I know? Just put some on his arm!"
"I can do better than that," she reached for her notebook again.
"Can you boil me some water?"
* * *
Roween didn't know what spell Conley flicked at the melted
gel, she couldn't risk standing close enough to watch, might have smelled
bad. She figured it was a seeker of some kind: Conley would have like
magnetised the fractures, made them hot spots for the programmed gel to
find. She'd have him drink a bowl of the stuff, and once it got into his
bloodstream it would circulate, stick to the highlighted breaks, promote
healing. They'd be able to move him tomorrow, day after that he'd be able
to move himself. He'd be very grateful. To Conley.
* * *
They snatched some rest, not much. They'd have to start off
early, before the other riders missed their man, came looking. Sennary was
the last to wake, they had to stir him so he could climb onto a horse. He
shared Conley's; she was stronger than Roween, could hold him if he
started to topple.
"How much did you use?" he asked.
"About a third."
He nodded, jutted his jaw. "I owe you."
Conley smiled, "But where did you get that much gel? Steal it
from a hospital?"
He laughed, short, it still hurt. "I did a job clearing a black-fac
that was running the stuff, mixing it with a poor clone they had, selling it
like it was the real article. They had a few unadulterated jars, I took them
before I fired the place. It burned like a candle, all that grease." He
coughed. "I'd better shut up."
Roween was leading them out of the forest, careful not to let the
branches spring back and lash Sennary, needling herself instead. Too smart
for her own good; if she didn't think of these things she could behave as
innocently inconsiderate as had Conley yesterday. She hadn't seen a mirror,
but knew her face was going to be grimy, scratched, blood-splattered, tear-
stained... Conley was a model of radiant freshness.
Roween breathed a sigh. What did it matter anyway? She was
fooling herself if she thought Sennary would - could - ever be attracted to
her: she'd always have the wrong eyes. Conley's were alert, alive, showed
passion. Hers were just boring brown, out of line, laughable. She was
stupid. Stupid stupid stupid! Why was she still worrying about her hair?
Maybe the Elets have it figured right.
She could hear further snatches of Conley's chat with Sennary.
So much for his keeping quiet. He said he had split the riders, four had
chimed with him, the rest had gone off north. Those that stayed, they knew
the area, had had some short-cuts to play with. Two had cut him off,
worked him to the top of the cliff, the drop had just come up as he rode full
gallop, he couldn't stop in time, over he went. Conley was oohing in all the
right places, interjecting with exclamations where appropriate, keeping him
talking when he should be resting his voice. Why doesn't she think,
* * *
Lunch was eaten beside a stream, lolling through a heather-
bedded dale. They didn't have many rations; Roween had built up courage,
offered Sennary some of hers, but Conley had already beaten her to it. Of
course. If she wasn't careful, Roween could get awful jealous of that girl.
No point, though - just something she had to accept. With looks flawed like
hers, she could spend her whole life envious of others. She ought to get rid
of some of this caking dirt in the brook.
She was surprised when Sennary excused himself to Conley,
followed her to the stream. She hurried on. What was he about?
He didn't call after her, just kept going, she could hear him
struggling to keep pace. He might loosen a splint. She slowed down, let
him catch up.
"Feeling better, Lord Sennary?"
"A lot better than I would have if you hadn't have found the
horse." Gratitude. Polite of him. Why does he have to put his hand on my
"You haven't chased after me to make sure I don't fall in the
water: what is it you want?"
He fell back a little, dropped his arm. "Sorry, I..." He tipped
his head forward, she looked aside. He was so sweet when he did that.
"I... Oh, well I need some advice. About Conley."
Here's some: give her an excuse to feel inadequate, so she'll
use it to toss herself into a pit of depression.
"Rumour is, her father's dead."
Her father? Roween wasn't sure of his relationship with
Conley. She seems to worship him, thinks he adores her likewise, doesn't
absorb any evidence to the contrary. "Don't tell her, leave it to me.
Where'd you hear this?"
He leaned against a beech; too much quick movement just now,
he might have shaken some of the gel. Why did I have to walk so fast?
"The MSR unit received orders to return to Davia. Chewt's the new
chancellor, she's assumed full control of the regiment, pulled them back,
she doesn't want a war."
"And Justan's let her?"
"Well they went, anyway. They have husbands, wives to go
home to. Who knows what power games Chewt's playing? Justan's away,
his army's success is dependent on her mages, she's maybe showing him
what she can do, what she's made of, that she's not to be messed with."
"If it's true, she probably wants something; she's expecting
he'll agree to whatever she's after, then she'll send the MSR squads back
into the fray. But if Justan calls her bluff, or even if he doesn't, it could be
too late, the Messenger may by then have crushed Purasan resistance,
Akrea could rally, join them."
"If there's definitely no threat of assassination, Estavia is a
major player, too. Have you heard they - "
" - invaded two of Akrea's border provinces, yes. How did he
Sennary wasn't expecting the question, paused, pursed his lips.
She liked it when he did that. "Ansle? Chewt didn't say, killed, I think,
"Did you speak to her?"
"No, I saw though, she was in Ansle's office, black ribbon
everywhere." He winced, put his free hand to his bad arm.
"You better go back to Conley. Don't mention any of this to
"No promises," he said, "but thanks." He hobbled back.
Roween watched him, ached. She realised it, cursed herself, scurried down
to the stream.
* * *
They bought him a horse at the next village, thin, but well.
Roween paid, rubies. They picked up some food, moved on. You don't
sleep in places where people see you have a stash of gems, may be you
He'd mentioned to Conley that the mage squad had been
withdrawn, didn't say why. Said how he'd stayed with some Purasans in
the swamp, acted as tactical adviser and comms link, Justan's forward
command. There were two groups of mages, his and another. When they'd
left, they'd fixed the mist to stay another week, give time to pull everyone
else out. Spies got wind of their departure, though, and three thousand
frustrated Messenger warriors had charged in next day. He'd been lucky to
get out alive, wouldn't have if he hadn't been given the horse. Even luckier
that he was still alive now. Thanks to her. Here we go again.
They were in a stone hut on the lower slopes. Winter, it'd be
occupied, shepherds or goatherds would stay here the night if a heavy snow
fell. They'd be higher up, now, though, letting their flocks eat the Summer
grass while it was still accessible, before the weather turned.
"You'll be well enough to fend for yourself tomorrow," said
Conley, motherly. "Will you be leaving?"
Sennary shrugged, wished he hadn't. "Depends where you're
heading. I ought to stay with you, obey my last orders. Things have
changed, though, and my comsphere's broken. Not unless you can fix it?"
"I don't know the sequences, take it to a dealer." They both
"I think I should head back east, there's an exchange in Rhiev;
if they're still open I can get a message through to Cala's, they'll patch me
through to the Academy."
"Send my love to father..."
"You'll need money." Roween's interruption surprised them
both. "Money, if you're going to Rhiev, you'll need money. Do you want
the click-well? Some Eletic rubies?"
Sennary looked at Conley. "Well, rubies I guess. Your click-
well still works?"
"Another theory blown away."
* * *
Roween hadn't listened to their conversation. Conley's giggling
a while later woke her up, still, at least giggling was all it was. Could have
been worse... Sennary's arm would burn like a torch for another week, and
if he didn't get the soft support renewed by then it'd be Spring before he
could wield a sword again. Splintered bone painfully gelling together has a
distracting way of making all strenuous activities difficult. So, at least she
was spared that.
She'd decided not to tell Conley about Ansle. Something was
going on, she wasn't sure what, but it was big and it was sinister. She
didn't know much about Chewt, except that she and Ansle were the only
powerful old-timers left at the Academy; the rest were next generation or
imported industrials. Chewt was an illusion specialist, wasn't she? Chewt-
Farmer, yes, of course.
Besides, if Conley knew, or even suspected, that her father was
dead, she'd be back like an arrow.
Roween was having a hard time tallying things up. Conley's
mother had hated her, fine, she could accept that. Conley had love-hated
her mother, fair enough. She also hated herself, probably because of what
she did to her mother, guilt and all that. However, she still loved her
father, yet he was not at all a nice person. Maybe he hadn't always been
that way? Maybe part of the reason she was out here with Roween was
because she didn't want to face what he had become, preferred to
remember him as he was? Or was she afraid that if she did face facts she'd
lose control, try to hurt him?
Too many unknowns, Roween didn't have the right experience,
couldn't empathise enough with Conley's situation to predict how she'd
react. Best take no chances, keep it secret. Can't jeopardise the master
* * *
Sennary left next day. He'd tried to say something to Roween
just before departing, but Conley had showed up out of nowhere. He
pecked Ro on the cheek, did the same to Conley. "I'll see you again,
sometime," he said. Conley waved him off, Roween moped in a corner of
An hour or so later, they saddled up, made their way north,
wide of Dreimen. The coast was still two weeks away, along the battle