Why wasn't Chenii-Imor interested? Roween was describing
what it felt like to smell magic, to sense its very presence, and Chenii-Imor
was just sitting at the front of the covered wagon, reins loosely in hand,
reading! Conley despaired.
"It's a shame there won't be any comspheres there. When you
tap into one, there's like this, well it reminds me of apples, sort of fresh.
Hard to explain, but it's strong, lasts only for a flicker of an instant. If
you're expecting it, you can easily ride it without firing your reflex."
Try to lower the level, maybe bring it into Chenii-Imor's range.
"So what's your favourite such scent, then? Of the five main sorts?"
Roween laughed, no hesitation. "Magic-destroy. Energy-to-
energy can be nice at times, but magic-destroy is sensational, it really gets
me, it's absolutely dreamy. You'll love it. Mmm!" She hugged herself.
"Not if it's the same as happy shots..."
"Well, of course I can't really comment on that, but it's not like
addictive, it leaves you feeling, oh, it's as if you're relieved, like when
you've been trying to remember something and it suddenly comes, or when
pain goes away. Yes, that's the kind of pleasure you're left with - residual
Pleasure? They were sitting on the box-like bench at the rear of
the vehicle, facing away from the front. Conley looked over her shoulder,
through the red-painted door, saw Chenii-Imor still hunched over her book.
"The worst smells tend to be matter-to-energy and energy-to-
matter. Some of those can be nauseating, or make you dizzy, and others
can really hurt, deep in your head."
"What do you think of normal scents, the ones that everyone
can smell? Me, I like floral ones - roses, sweet peas, honeysuckle," she
turned again. "What about you, Chenii-Imor?"
She slipped in her bookmark, glanced back to Conley.
"Cinders, toast, anything fiery." She smiled.
* * *
To the north, it was overcast. When they'd pulled into a
waystation for horse grain, Conley had climbed onto the roof of the
caravan, glimpsed the darkening skies in the distance. That had been just
half an hour ago, and yet now the awesomeness of the cloud was plain for
all to see. Her father was sending it in very quickly.
"Good idea to use a covered wagon, we'd be soaked in an open-
top." She'd left Roween at the back, perusing some kind of news-sheet
she'd picked up from the stop.
"It's for sleeping, too," answered Chenii-Imor, "that's why it
has a strong superstructure. Canvas, leather, they offer no protection from
"Sleeping?" No road-side hotels? "Oh, you mean we take shifts
at the reins? One drives while the other two kip some shuteye?"
Chenii-Imor's nose wrinkled. "If you or Roween sat here in my
stead, you'd be stopped before you'd gone five minutes."
Conley frowned, confused. "So why can't we stay in hostels
"Presently, there will be a tide of Elets washing across from the
west." She smiled, pleased at her foreign-language metaphor. "Those
without accommodation, they'll sleep in the houses of those who have
already moved east, but the rains will lower the rate of vacation, causing
overcrowding. I have a horse-drawn cabin, most people don't; therefore,
we will sleep in here, and leave the inn rooms to those who need them."
"I see, well, I'm not complaining - it may be small, but it's
homely, cared about. Even the wheels are decorated, I noticed; is it Eletic?
Or did it come from elsewhere?"
"It's local, but my father took it to Berea once. They put the
traveller markings on it there."
Life, should have thought! Of course it would involve Medreph,
would remind her of him. Shrug it. "I think the patterns are beautiful. It's a
very fine wagon, Chenii-Imor."
"If you like such things."
* * *
Late afternoon, the setting sun's rays pinking up the black-wool
northern skies. It was suddenly busier, cart after cart heading
Lowlandward, people on foot, horse-riders galloping up both sides of the
road, overtaking on the grass verge when they met Chenii-Imor's oncoming
And everyone, without exception, had a weapon.
Conley sat next to Chenii-Imor, vaguely bemused. Some people
seemed to have nothing with them but a quiver and bow. Others had
backpacks, but whether they contained provisions she didn't know. There
were so many folk on the move - how could they possibly all live off the
land? Or were those wagons stuffed full of grub?
A man walking past waved his sword, smiled as he paid her
some compliment or other in Eletic. She smiled back: he was about the
twenty-dozenth person to do that today. She liked it, really, knew it was
sincere, that it was really meant. Came from both sexes, too, which was a
boost. But most people said nothing, though, as if some stricture imposed a
threshhold on when to speak one's heart. And Lauthil had never thrown a
glance in her direction, let alone spoken to her.
Thinking about it, those arms everyone's carrying are the real
thing, not just makeshift. Proper metal swords, not clubs or scythes or
pitchforks; ancient-looking battle-axes, but ones meant for felling people,
not trees. Spears, the odd trident, even blowpipes, but mainly swords.
Shorter ones for the women, and for old folk with less reach. No shields or
armour, though. Weird.
"Chenii-Imor," she asked, "just how many people live in Elet?
We must have passed thousands on this road, and I can see lights where
there's more walking through the fields."
She kept her eyes ahead, but lowered them, hesitant, almost
bashful. Uh? Embarrassed? "Enough," she answered.
Conley dropped her shoulders, raised an eyebrow, sighed.
"Come on, Chenii-Imor, you can do better than that..."
Her voice flattened and she spoke quicker. "What's the
population of your own country, Conley? Do you know?"
"Not exactly, no, but - "
"Or Justan's whole empire?"
"You can't expect me to - "
"Let us try put a figure to it." She closed her left hand, for
counting. "Estavia and Akrea are both heavily populated, with at least ten
million people each, probably more fifteen." She raised her first finger and
thumb. "There has to be at least ten million Purasans, perhaps five million
Purians, a similar number of Voths, and your own four states - ten million?
Add another ten million for the smaller nations - Northmen, Davians,
Nairads..." She looked at her hand, two smallest fingers down. "Seventy
million? Or so."
Conley nodded, satisfied. "And roughly how many Elets are
She smiled, relaxed the reins. "Still enough."
* * *
Roween woke to a familiar patter on the roof of the caravan.
Rain. She opened her eyes. Chenii-Imor was still asleep, leaning on a flap-
down seat in what looked a highly uncomfortable pose. Conley, beside her,
seemed to be smiling in her slumber, wistful. Probably dreaming about all
those sweetie remarks people said to her yesterday. Roween hadn't had a
single one; still, at least no-one mocked her eyes in Elet.
She looked outside. Large drops of water dripped from the
overhang of the eaves, spatting off the lid of the tinderbox that she'd been
sitting on the day before. Beyond, Elet was blue-grey, the whole of its sky
blotted by Justan's bruise-coloured cloud. Justan's, yes: she'd read about
Ansle's isolation, knew now it wasn't his doing.
People were about, even this early - it was maybe seven, though
whether the sun was down or barely-risen she couldn't tell. It wouldn't get
much brighter later, either; the darkness of the magic was terrible...
The rain suited her mood, her fear, her anxiety, the inevitability
of it all. The rain, constant, regular, morose. The rape, Maedregh's death,
the rain, her hopeless love for the man who was going to end her life. The
The roads were paved - well, flat-cobbled - but rains were
patient. There'd be minor accidents at first - carts skidding off, people
slipping, horses colliding because of the poor visibility. That kind of thing
would slow everyone down, but not unduly, just inconveniently. Only later,
when the roadsides got waterlogged, when mudslips pasted the surface,
when bloated rivers welled over their banks, it'd be then that the going
would really deteriorate. A week, maybe? She closed her eyes. Still time
enough to reach Liagh Na Laerich, put an end to this accursed
spellworking, forever. Justan had left it too late.
She pulled at her blanket. Life but it's getting cold...