Chapter 4 – original

(Yes, yes, my Teen Council. I know it’s Aleta-heavy…)

4.

Somehow that council passed; after the starship announcement even the banns of Rainald’s betrothal fell a little flat, and drew no more than a couple of scowls amongst the mothers who had daughters of marriageable age. There was one, especially, who had seven daughters and wanted the very best for them. Her two eldest were already wed, one into Clan Catallin and one into Clan D’Alleara – but neither of those sons-in-law were anywhere near to the Lordship of their respective Clan. The third was betrothed to a youth from Clan Carlin, one of the many sons of the Lord of that Clan, but unfortunately with little prospect of gaining his place. And now, there had been this prime opportunity, a young and eligible Lord, unattached… and then her hopes for her fourth daughter were dashed by a little nobody, a girl of fourteen… But even this worthy dame found her attention riveted elsewhere after a mandatory period of the sulks. It was left to the daughter, power hungry like her mama had taught her and all her sisters to be, to make sheep’s eyes at Rainald for a while and then she, too, gave up.
Although Aleta was fourteen, and not the stipulated fifteen required to attend any aspect of Council including the Summer Solstice Festival Ball, Rainald wrangled permission from Dow, who was still her Guardian, for her to attend the Ball anyway. Mirella agreed to act as chaperone, and so Aleta got to see a Summer Solstice Festival a full year earlier than her peers. She was ‘older’ than them, much more serious, and could therefore appreciate the privilege; but she was young enough to be wildly excited at the prospect of her first ball. It had been made known to her that, now she was betrothed into Clan Avigor, she could make use of their Colors and also her own, those of Rimmuz, which was her Ranking Clan, in her attire. She decided on a flame red gown, using the Primary of Rimmuz, and the skirt of which she had embroidered with silver thread so that it caught the light as she moved. Her sister Liara braided up her hair in an adult style for the first time, wearing black velvet ribbons into it and catching the whole with a silver pin which Mirella had sent her. Around her neck she hung the slender chain on which she wore the ch’ia wrought carnelian that was her Pattern-stone. Staring at it for a moment before she put it on, she realized with a shiver that her betrothal meant another visit to the Ichari, for she needed her Pattern wrought again, in Diamond this time, which was the Gem of Avigor.
And, thinking of Avigor, she frowned in the polished silver mirror into which she gazed as she fastened the carnelian necklace around her neck. Rainald had been troubled these past few days. He had tried very hard to keep the cause from her, and had almost succeeded; but although she knew the reason by virtue of their link, he had not spoken of it to her and she realized that she would do best to wait until he breached the subject himself. The Legend whose truthcoming he dreaded had been the foundation of her own life and learning. The Clan ruled, she had been taught, because the Gods themselves set them up in that exalted position. Yet… she shared Rainald’s insight; if she had known it was false, she would have broken the silence, she would have told Rainald and set his mind at rest. And even with this knowledge, with the knowledge that Clan were no more divine than the fishermen who eked out living on some forgotten cliff, that they were set above ordinary people by virtue of their Gifts above, even then she could not but pity the bringers of the message that could shatter Castala forever. Those who had crashed in their starship probably lost much. They may have lost belongings, or those they loved – but, more than this, they lost a future, and were stuck on what must seem a barbaric world to them, speaking languages unknown to them, and living by different laws. They did not know what they signified. Neither, yet, did the rest of Castalan society, which was bought time, because they would do so sooner or later. And Aleta pitied them. They could no doubt become more than outcasts when the idea stuck those in power; they would become fugitives. And Aleta was sure that, had they had a choice in the matter, they would much rather have been elsewhere anyway. Wherever it was they had been heading before their disaster.
Liara passed a hand in front of her sister’s eyes, and Aleta started back, blinking furiously. Had she been staring into the mirror all this time?
“What ails you?” asked Liara with a mixture of irritation and worry. “You sat there like a rag doll. Were you in trance, or what?” She made a deprecating gesture. “Whatever. Come on, sieri, get the ch’ia around your neck, and then we ought to call Jessna and have her escort us to the Rimmuz chambers. If we don’t start soon, we’ll be late.”
“No need,” said Aleta absentmindedly, fastening her necklace with fingers that seemed to have become all thumbs. “We are to be fetched.”
“Oh?”
“Rainald… that is, Lord Avigor and Senya Mirella, his sister, will come by for us.” She peered into the mirror, gave her hair a final pat, and rose from her little rosewood chair. “Thank you for doing my braids, Liara,” she said, “they look lovely. How beautiful you look!”
Liara, who took after her mother and thus bore little resemblance to her half-sister, was tall and thin with hair the color of jet and incongruous dark blue eyes. She had twisted her own black mane with flame red ribbons, one of which, winding around her brow, bore the carnelian ch’ia she wore. Her gown was the palest grey, and embroideries like tongues of fine danced around the hem of her skirt. She looked thoroughly striking. Aleta felt humble and pain beside her, and then smiled, a little, introspective smile – it was only right she should be lesser, since, after all, she was stealing her sister’s First Ball, or at least sharing it, a full year before she was due. But she wasn’t ugly, although she could never match Liara’s own graceful brand of beauty.
Liara preened under Aleta’s compliment, and threw another look into the mirror, adjusting the carnelian slightly. When she turned, her eyes were shining in anticipation. She danced around the room, her skirts swirling after.
“Oh! I can hardly wait!” she caught herself on the back of a high chair, breathless, laughing. “Just think, to face one’s first Ball already betrothed! Why, some very high-ranking daughters will be playing second fiddle! I heard,” she said conspiratorially, lowering her voice, “that many a maid and many a mama fancied your Lord for themselves, sieri. However did you manage to catch that catch?”
Aleta, her eyes downcast, was saved from having to reply by a footman who appeared at the door.
“My ladies, your escort has arrived,” he announced.
“Are you ready, Aleta? Come now, child!” Liara sailed through the doorway without looking back. Aleta followed. As they entered the Reception room of the Rimmuz chambers, which in where they were staying, Rainald Avigor’s head came up sharply and he smiled – a smile that seemed to be directed at both sisters but which Aleta knew to be for her.
“Senya Liara, Lord Rimmuz has entrusted you to my care and that of his Foster-sister, Senya Aelia Carlin. My own sister is to stand chaperone for Senya Aleta.” Still they were forced at formality, and had to watch their spoken words lest they come out as their thoughts. Aelia Carlin, a married lady in her thirties, smiled pleasantly at her charge, and Mirella, once they had all started towards the Festival Hall, beckoned Aleta to walk at her side.
“Did you know I also went to my first Ball at fourteen?” she said. “Then it was better guarded then now; I do not know how my father managed to wrangle it. But I think he felt that since I was at Colgarma at Summer Solstice, I might ad well join the festival here, as I would have done at home.”
“Do you also have a Ball there at Summer Solstice?” asked Aleta.
“No. Not exactly a Ball. But we do celebrate it, and we do make it a festival; and as such there always is dance. And to those I have went since I was a little girl.”
“I usually stay with Clan Dow, since Lord Dow stands as my Guardian. They do not have a festival.”
“No. But their affiliated Major Clan, Rimmuz, does. All Major Clans do, despite the fact that their Lords are usually in Council at that time. The Lady of the Clan usually sees to it.”
“You mean, one day I would have to…” stammered Aleta, her eyes wide.
Mirella turned kind eyes on her young companion. “Yes, my dear. One day, you.”
Aleta considered this for a moment and then nodded. “Maybe I would like that.”
Mirella chuckled, amused. “My own mother, who is the Lady now, often said it is the duty she enjoyed most. She liked the idea of bringing pleasure to people. So it ought not to intimidate you, little one, not in itself. But there is a lot to being Lady of a Clan… Maybe I should mention to your Guardian that you ought to be fostered for a year with a Lady who’s willing to spare time to teach you the ropes. Would you like that?”
Aleta gazed at her with eyes too serious for a fourteen-year-old face. “Yes. There is a lot of things I must learn now.”
“Then I shall speak to Lord Dow… tonight, if I can corner him.”
“Thank you.”
By this time they had reached the doors of the Festival Hall. Rainald, who had been tangled in a conversational web by Lord Rimmuz’s worth Foster-sister, now excused himself and dropped back to walk between his sister and his promised lady. He was wearing a boyish smile that prompted Mirella to whisper,
“No escapades now, Rainald, you have a position to uphold!”
“Never fear, sieri, I shall be on model behavior,” he whispered back, and then they were being announced.
“Lord Avigor, Senya Mirella Avigor, Senya Aelia Carlin, Senya Liara and Senya Aleta Rimmuz-De Skari!” The footman called out, and Aleta shivered in pleasurable excitement.
The Summer Solstice Festival was a big date in Castala’s calendar. The day on which the Summer Solstice fell was a Festival celebrated in the name of Arella, Lady of Light, the Goddess who was said to have been ancestress to Clan. But as a Goddess she was worshipped amongst all of Castala, and all social strata celebrated that day, down to the lowest peasants of the land. The actual Festival Ball, held in Colgarma every year on the eve of the solstice day, was one of the very few occasions when folk other than Clan set foot in Colgarma keep. The Ichari had a standing invitation, of course, but they rarely came – they were amongst the most sensitive of the sensitive, and they could not stand too much of a crowd, especially not one as open and unbarriered as most Festival Balls were. But the guildmasters and their families were invited, as well as some – a very few! – of the more distinguished traders and citizens of Colgarma City. Naturally, everyone invited accepted with alacrity, and came to the most glittering social occasion of the year.
It was also a chance for the outsiders to actually set eyes on the Clan women who, if need carried them abroad into the common folk, were usually veiled against their eyes. On Festival Ball none were. They were fairly ogled by those who had no occasion to see them otherwise, and most of them rather reveled in it. The younger ones especially would flirt without danger because there was no way their kinsmen would give them to someone below their rank. Alas, many a Guildsman had been tempted in his time, had forsaken wife and family only to break on the icy cliffs of Clan rejection.
Aleta, clinging with both hands to Rainald’s arm, surveyed the glittering scene. Clan, traditionally, wore their colors to the ball; sometimes Foster-kin, or betrothed couples, would ‘borrow’ color, or exchange them for the night, but mostly they clung their own. To someone born of Clan, those clad in Clan colors were the background, because those colors were so well known; but the others present stood out like birds of paradise. The women wore bright colors, yellow and pink and orange, and a strange fabric that glimmered in all the colors of the rainbow as the women wearing it moved. Aleta stared at it.
“That is lovely!” she exclaimed. “What is it? Why do Clan not wear that?”
“They do, love,” laughed Rainald. “Of course they do, but off-duty. How would you ever tell which Clan the wearer belonged to with his mantle all colors at once?”
True, came the acknowledgement, with a quick smile. And then, aloud again, “Who are they? Do you know any of them?”
“That old gentleman there is Smithcraft Guildmaster; I know him because from him I got my first blade. I know his lady, too – the tall one in the dark brown gown, yonder – because Father and I were once invited to their home, and he scorned not the invitation because it came from someone not Clan. I believe the youth at his side is his son, although I have not been introduced to him.”
“And that bald man talking to Lord Carlin?”
“Where? Oh, that is Guildmaster of the weaving craft. And that lady there is the wife of shipwright Guildmaster, whom I don’t see here. It may be he is ill. I heard that he was ailing when I was last in Colgarma.” Rainald looked around again, and noticed the tall, blue-clad form of his Foster-brother Gilden, again surrounded by ladies of every age, Clan and description. He could see Rialle leaning still on Gilden’s arm. “Have you ever met Gilden Lammuir?” Rainald asked Aleta.
She shook her head. “I met Shellana, his half-sister, when she came to Foster at Clan Rimmuz, but not him.”
“I Fostered for four years at Clan Lammuir,” said Rainald. “Gilden is my own foster-brother. Come, I’ll introduce you.”
Gilden caught his eye as they approached, and immediately his gaze snapped to the girl at his Foster-brother’s side. His eyebrows lifted; he excused himself to his female circle and, guiding Rialle, came towards them.
Rainald still pursued his advantage.
“Aleta, this is my Foster-brother, Gilden Lammuir. Gilden, this is my betrothed, Aleta Rimmuz- De Skari. Do you know Rialle Catallin, Aleta?”
But this time Gilden was prepared. With the charm that always drew such throngs of females upon him, he smiled and bowed over Aleta’s hand.
“Honored, my lady. My Foster-brother has made a lovely choice, if I may say so. I did not know until a few days ago that he had pledged troth, but I offer you both my congratulations, and best wishes.” He turned to Rainald, his eyes glimmering with a suppressed smile. I approve, he said, in Contact, after the preliminary but fleeting Patter search. She is beautiful.
The Foster-brothers were close, but they lacked the link that bound Rainald and Aleta together.
The players struck up a dance tune, and Gilden grinned irresistibly. “Rainald, let us exchange our ladies for one dance… if you agree, of course, my lady?” the last to Aleta, with a slight bow.
One dance. She looked at Rainald. No more.
Then she dropped Gilden a graceful little curtsey. “I do not object, my Lord.”
“Call me Gilden, please,” he said, quickly, “since when you are wed to my foster-brother, you too become foster-kin to me.”
“Then you must call me Aleta,” she murmured, cheeks flushed.
“With pleasure! Come, they are starting.”
They walked off towards the dance floor, and Rainald and Rialle followed them. Rialle wore an enigmatic little smile.
“He does tend to want to run every show, doesn’t he?” she said softly.
“He does it rather well.” agreed Rainald wryly.
They exchanged all-too-knowing looks. They both knew Gilden well, shortcomings and all. Then they took their places in the guereda, a short and fast dance with which the Ball traditionally opened.
At the end of the lightly stylized dance, the people mingled on the floor for some more music, and Gilden brought Aleta back to where Rainald and Rialle stood, having withdrawn from the throng on the floor.
“A true Lady, Rainald, she dances exquisitely,” he said appreciatively. A gem, Rainald! he added silently.
I know. That’s why I picked her. “So does your own Lady, Foster-brother.”
Gilden beamed. Aleta went over to Rainald and leaned on his arm again. “Thank you, Gilden. You dance well, too,” she said softly. Gilden made a courtly bow, accepting the compliment.
After some further chat they parted, wishing each other a joyous festival. Gilden and Rialle were immediately swallowed by the crowd, which seemed to grow bigger every moment.
“He is very courtly and charming, your foster-brother,” said Aleta thoughtfully, “but I get the feeling he would not hesitate to destroy anything that stood in his way once he has chosen a direction.”
“Nice, but ruthless?”
“Yes, right.”
“I know,” sighed Rainald. “I’ve felt it. He’ll be a terrible enemy, once sworn to it. But right now he’s a friend.”
Aleta turned her great eyes to his. “He loves you,” she said, slowly. “He loves you very much. And you love him dearly as well, don’t you?… I know you do… and yet one day you will be enemies…”
Rainald felt ice chilling his spine.
He turned her to face him. “Was that precog?” he asked, in a strained voice.
“I think so…” she gasped. “I should have said it, not now… I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I think I spoiled the whole festival…”
She looked ready to burst into tears. Rainald drew her in his arms like the child that she was.
“No. No, you haven’t, you haven’t, it’s all right…”
But it had palled. And it was no longer so bright and promising. And the scene he saw as he stared over Aleta’s head seemed like a parody of the one he saw when he had entered; like a caricature; he was no longer seeing it through Aleta’s eager eyes.
Somehow they managed to retain a measure of gaiety; they danced, and people wished Rainald and Aleta well, and paid Aleta fulsome compliments which restored her spirits at least in part. Rainald, aware of the link, kept a tight hold on his thoughts, and locked his sorrow at Aleta’s seeing into a deeper level of his mind. But the link was already a greater part of him than he realized. The result of his withholding something from it, of keeping himself apart, was a blinding headache that stuck without warning – luckily, after they had left the Ball, it left him sick and dizzy, and abed for most of the next day.
Mirella had, true to her word, spoken with Dow on the subject of Aleta’s fostering to ‘learn the trade,’ and he had agreed that this was a good idea, especially since she was to be wedded reasonably young. He had sought out the Lady of Clan Acharmi, and she had agreed to take her. But the Acharmi delegation was leaving immediately, and so Aleta had to leave with them. What with Rainald’s sickness and the frantic flurry of preparation for departure, the pair did not manage to see each other to even say goodbye. But the link held, and even as he slept the sleep of the exhausted, Rainald was aware of Aleta and her doings, and knew when she left, where she went and why. He was glad they had chosen Clan Acharmi, since he tended to look upon Lord Acharmi as a last link with his own father. Now that he stood as Foster-father to Aleta, the connection would be strengthened. And he slept, a deep and dreamless sleep; he was fully recovered only on the second day. It was then that most of the Clan Avigor set out for Macha, for home; Rainald had to stay behind, together with some of his Clan, to tie up loose business threads in Colgarma. With intermittent headaches, remnants of the one which had kept him abed at Aleta’s departure, it took him a few days longer to achieve what he had planned to do. But by that time the link was back; Rainald had realized that what he had kept hidden must come out or it would kill him; literally. So he had opened his mind; and Aleta, although many miles away now in the Acharmi House, soothed him with that soft brush of her mental voice which he loved. The bruising was fading, for the cause was removed; out the consequences, or at least the tail end of the consequences, remaining, and it was a still sick Lord who set out for his domain just a week after his household had departed.
Lord Rimmuz rode with him. The road that turned over the bridge at Eman carried on straight as well, and led to Zimril, the Keep of Clan Rimmuz. After parting from his kinsman at the Bridge, Rimmuz intended to take that road home. So it was a large part with left Colgarma one gray and overcast morning. A cold wind was blowing from the sea, and the waves broke in sprays of foam over the wet quays. The Catallin ship was still in harbor; that Clan was still in Colgarma. The sails were all down and the bare masts looked depressing to Rainald, who was not in the best of spirits. He wore a warm cloak with a thin fur collar, and he twitched this up around his neck now and turned away from the sea, which ordinarily he loved.
“Why so morose, kinsman?” asked the jovial Rimmuz. He, being what he was, could not bear to see anyone in his vicinity who was not in the happiest of moods. Now he brought his steed closer to Imril, whom Rainald rode as usual, and clapped the younger man companionably on the back. “Surely there isn’t anything to keep your spirits so low? You’ve got a lot from life!”
“It must be the weather,” said Rainald shortly. “Also, I think I’ll come to grips with yet another headache soon.”
“Well, it isn’t here yet, so why worry about it?” responded Rimmuz with a wide grin. “As for the weather, what will change, so don’t dwell on it. Come, let us ride; it will be enjoyable to share this trip with someone, I so often go alone.”
Rainald looked grim in the protecting folds of his cloak. He wasn’t in the mood for much chatter, and it looked like Lord Rimmuz very much was. Well, so be it; let him talk. Rainald would listen, nod when he deemed it necessary to show some reaction to prove he was still awake, and think his own thoughts elsewhere.
There was an inn by the wayside about a day’s ride from Colgarma where the Clan and their kin broke journey whenever they passed that way. The innkeeper, professing to be honored, as usual, by the arrival of the Lords of Rimmuz and Avigor, couldn’t help sounding a little mechanical – he had said those words so many times to so many people. Clan, even their Lords, held little novelty for him. If he had dared he would have left the tending of them to inferiors; but they were still Clan, and he dared not. He showed them up to their rooms, and he oversaw the tending of their horses, and he sent his own wife up with their supper and not some serving wench as he would have done otherwise.
This particular night he had his hands more than full. Just before the two Lords had arrived, the innkeeper had had to cope with the thoroughly unexpected and intimidating arrival of two Ichari, an old man and a young girl who seemed to travel as his companion and provider. He would have sent his wife there also with the supper, but the offer was firmly, if politely, rejected and it was the young Ichara herself who came down to fetch the food. It was a very flustered innkeeper that awaited the Lords. They noticed it, of course.
I have ridden this way many times, said Rimmuz in Contact, after the preliminary Pattern search. I have never seen the innkeeper in such a state of agitation. Something is happening here.
I don’t… began Rainald in the same manner when his attention was drawn by the opening of a door further along the corridor which they had now reached. His eyes snapped in the direction, and met those of the Ichara who had just come out of the room. He recognized her instantly – the girl who had watched him with that queer knowing smile from the Galleries on the first day of Council, when the news about the starship was announced. The same smile touched her lips now as she looked at him – she had obviously recognized him, too. She bowed lightly to the two Lords and then turned to the innkeeper, asking imperiously for an extra blanket to be brought in for someone inside the room. Incredibly, at the same time, without even looking in his direction and without any Pattern search at all, she was speaking to Rainald, in a whisper-soft Contact.
You are going along the right paths, she said, and her words, for some reason, soother the seething thoughts that troubled Rainald’s mind. You shall be enlightened in due time. For now, hold your peace. And she looked up briefly, her blue eyes smiling at him, then withdrew into the room, closing the door softly behind her.
The Innkeeper stayed staring at it for another moment before he snapped back to reality and fully fell over himself trying to get the two Lords to their rooms so that he might be free to run the errand that the Ichara had laid upon him. Once he had delivered them safely, he vanished. Rainald closed the door and leaned on it wearily.
What was happening?
For something certainly was afoot. His high empathy ‘feel’ for things told him so. There was tenseness in the very air around him… and there had been a Presence inside the Ichara’s room, a presence carefully blanketed but nevertheless existent. Too carefully blanketed. No Lord traveled with Ichari handmaidens, so it must be a high-ranking member of the Ichari – but why hide them?
His perturbance communicated itself. The link snapped on.
What is it? Came Aleta’s worried response. You are troubled. You are anxious. What is it?
Nothing. It is nothing. I… it is something I must think about. I will tell you, once I do so.
Are you…
Aleta. It was half a plea, half a remonstrance. Please. Not yet.
All right. Her response was acquiescing, but there were overtones there that Rainald, resigned, heard. Aleta would take up the burden, whether he would or no. The link would see to that.
She withdrew; the next moment Rimmuz was banging on the door. Rainald, who had still been leaning on it, stepped back and opened it.
“Yes?” he said, with a quizzical half-smile.
“I felt… trouble,” said Rimmuz dubiously. Rainald rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. If he’d been so strong that even the relatively low-level gift of Rimmuz had picked him up, well, by now even the Ichari must know of his state of mind. Broadcasting on a wide mental band seemed to be Rainald’s personal curse.
“Come in,” he said, opening the door wider. “I… there was disturbance. I’m sorry. I shall try to control my problems.”
Rimmuz entered, shutting the door behind him, and installed himself in a wider chair by the window from which he watched the younger man suspiciously for a while. Rainald chatted for a time, amiably enough, but if Rimmuz tried to bring the subject round to the Ichara whom he suspected – rightly, as things here – of being at the root of Rainald’s troubles, Rainald turned aside neatly and circumvented it. After about half an hour Rimmuz gave up and retired, leaving Rainald to get what sleep he could.
Interestingly enough, he slept like a log, after having felt when he law down in his bed that he would never get to sleep. His dreams were strange, but clean; he woke refreshed, and the problem of the people from the starship seemed to have been shelved in his mind for the time being. They did not see the Ichari when they left the inn; and they saw no more of them from then on. And it was with real joy that Rainald greeted the White Bridge of Eman when he saw it. More than ever before in his life he felt like he was coming home. Even the cold wind blowing down from the snow-capped mountains that dominated the background of Macha and which plagued the holding summer and winter alike now seemed friendly and welcoming. Rainald bade a hasty farewell to his travelling companion and his retinue, then turned Imril sharply and urged him into a gallop. Horse and rider, they thundered across the bridge and raced on through the old trees that flanked the road from that point without waiting for anyone to catch up.
The Bridge could be seen from the Watch Tower in Macha estate, where always someone kept a lookout; Rainald could hear the sound of the Guardman’s Horn, always blown to announce any arrival at the bridge. This had a special call for acknowledging the return of the Clan Lord from a journey, and it was this that was caught by the wind and carried down to the road and the rider it bore. The Lord was coming home.
Macha, as always, lightened Rainald’s mind and his spirits soared. The few months after a Council were legitimately semi-idle, and Rainald used this to the hilt. He was replenishing his energies. He and Imril were often out, sometimes on their own, sometimes in the company of Alleth or Mirella, sometimes in a bigger company in hunts and hawkings.
Bit it wasn’t all fun and games. Rainald’s mother was fading, slowly wilting, and the physician helplessly diagnosed nothing physically wrong with her. He gave her healing droughts, but they seemed to have no effect, and he didn’t appear to expect them to.
“Your Lady mother has simply lost the will to stay alive,” he told Rainald one day. “And I am very much afraid that this will kill her sooner than any organic disease she might have had. At least there I might have helped. I am sorry, my Lord.”
There was nothing to be done, except to watch; watch and mourn.
And then one night that winter Rainald woke with a start. He had been dreaming; dreaming of his parents, his sisters and himself – they’d all been sitting in front of the fire, when suddenly his father had got up and offered a hand to his mother to rise. She did; and his father had leaned down and touched Rainald’s forehead with a hand that was cold, so cold… he woke at that touch, and yet in his mind’s eye he could still see the room, his parents walking away while the three children were forced to stay behind. He woke, and he knew.
Rising, he thrust his feet into fur-lined slippers and wrapped himself in his house-coat; he let himself out of his room and walked soundlessly across to his mother’s. She was lying in her bed and on her face there remained a gentle little smile. One of her hands was dangling by the side of her bed. Rainald lifted it and folded both her hands upon the coverlet. He lit two candles and placed one on each side of her bed, onto the bedposts above her head. In their gentle glow she was beautiful… as beautiful as ever she had been.
Rainald stooped to kiss her gently on the brow, and went out again, closing the door behind him. He roused his mother’s maid and told her to take care of her Lady. Then he went, heavy-hearted, to his sisters.
It was almost exactly a year since their father had died.
They grieved. But even at the depths of his grief, Rainald found himself recalling with a shiver Aleta’s precog of the previous summer… there will be death… For now he was forced to make fast and hard decisions. It had been acceptable for him to act as proxy foster-father while his mother was still alive, for she had been the widow of the previous Lord, and Rainald was still unmarried. It was not acceptable for one of his sisters to take on the role of proxy foster-mother while he waited out the time before his marriage. And since the Clan had accepted Annica Dow for fostering, there had been two other foster-children, all of whom down needed Foster parents and who could not exactly be sent back to their families now. So Rainald wrote to Down and Rimmuz, explaining the situation. Aleta was just under half a year shy of sixteen; she would make a foster mother only a few years older than her Fosterlings, but she would make a foster-mother.
The wedding was set for the spring, not quite a year since the betrothal. It was to be without much ceremony and ‘trims.’ Only those immediately concerned – family, and maybe a few very close friends – would be asked to attend; and the formal announcement would only be made during Summer Council.
Things were set in motion. Ichari were commissioned to cut Patterns into new stones, and these then had to be set in proper settings for the wedding gifts. There were arrangements to be made for those who were to stay at Macha, where the marriage would take place; that, thankfully, was not on Rainald’s shoulders, for in the short-term absence of the Clan Lady it was Mirella and Alleth who took up the domestic burden.
The rest of the winter dragged itself to a close, and towards the end of the first month of spring the people began to trickle in. The first to arrive was Lord Dow, who was given a rapturous welcome by his daughter who was fostering at Macha. Holding the exuberant, flushed youngster at an arm’s length, Dow smiled somewhat crookedly at his young host, who was watching the proceedings, grinning widely.
“It has only just occurred to me,” said Dow, “that my Ward shall be foster-mother to my daughter. My line needed only that. Now it has the distinction of being impossible to unravel.”
He came in, with his daughter still clinging to his sleeve, and looked around appreciatively. He’d never been to Macha before, and he now requested, and obtained, the permission of its Lord to explore it. Annica volunteered breathlessly for his guide, and the two of them were not seen again for some hours.
The next few days brought intermittent arrivals, notably Lord Rimmuz who, as the Lord Aleta’s Major Clan, was to perform the actual ceremony, and Gilden Lammuir, who arrived with his Lady. He and Rialle had been wed only just over a month previously, and they very much looked newlywed. But Gilden’s boyish exuberance had been much tempered – some by marriage, and some by the fact that his father, after having had recovered somewhat from the illness that had precluded him from attending the Summer Council in Colgarma, had relapsed badly and was walking the narrow edge of life and death at that moment. Gilden told Rainald all this while the two of them were out on an early-morning gallop by themselves on the second day of his stay. There were lines on the young Lammuir’s face that had not been there before; he looked a great deal older than his twenty one years.
“Do you remember my Father appointed you Guardian over me at the Council?” he asked Rainald. When the other nodded, Gilden shook his hear morosely. “I had thought then that he was under the impression that your Father, and not you, held the Lordship here. Will, I don’t know about then, but it’s certainly the case now. He actually told me to give his greetings to Lord Avigor… and mentioned your father by name.” He sighed, staring fixedly at a point midway between the ears of his horse. “They tell me he is not expected to last the summer.”
They were riding close enough and slowly enough for Rainald to place a mutely understanding hand on his Foster-brother’s shoulder. Gilden looked up at that, smiling a little sadly.
“Thank you,” he said briefly, then tossed his hair back with an impatient gesture of his head. “I haven’t even offered either condolences on the death of your mother, or congratulations of your wedding. I’m afraid my courtesy has been sadly lacking.”
“Yours? Never. But thank you anyway, for both. How is married life agreeing with you?”
Gilden made a face, and Rainald laughed. “Not so many ladies flocking around you these days?” he teased.
“I’ve my hands full!” said Gilden, laughing himself, then pointed to a huge old oak standing by itself in a clearing in the forest. “I’ll race you to there!” he was away before the words here properly out of his mouth. Imril leapt forward at his master’s bidding and the two horses passed the oak neck and neck before disappearing into the forest.

Aleta arrived at Macha, escorted by Lord Acharmi and his Lady, a day before the ceremony was due to take place. She was the last to arrive; everyone else had already assembled before, some being there for over a week now. She was promptly whisked into seclusion for the rest of the period before the wedding, retaining at least the custom that a bride should not be seen by her prospective husband on the day preceding their union; of course, the link between the two betrothed ones in this case made much of that a superfluous arrangement, but people were not widely aware of its existence and so they were left to enjoy their togetherness in peace.
The bride emerged the next day in a silver-grey gown which seemed to blend the colors of Rimmuz and Avigor and a fine shimmering silvery veil which seemed to enhance and not hide he crown of golden braids on her hair. For once Rainald instinctively did the right thing – he stepped up to her and offered his arm; barely a year ago his reaction would have been to stand and stare until Alleth or Mirella gave him a gentle push in the right direction. The Lord of Avigor had grown up to his station well, and quickly.
The ceremony was conducted once again by Rimmuz; it was over very quickly, for it wasn’t all that complicated a ritual, and then the whole of Macha was given over to rejoicing, down to the furthest village under its jurisdiction. For a moment the mourning for the old Lady was alleged; they had a new, young and beautiful one again. They’d also gleaned a day’s holiday, which, in the busy spring season, was a boon. And the two main protagonists in the whole celebration were to be seen sitting in the room filled with guests, staring at each other, somehow managing to exclude everyone from their personal little circle and to seem totally alone.
Their first child was born on the day that Aleta turned seventeen. It was a girl, whom they named Arawn; she came into the world with a tuft of hair that stuck at an angle so similar to her father’s hair would assume on occasions of stress that quite soon the given name was corrupted into Araina, a combination of her and her own father’s names. The formal Arawn was only remembered in the book where the Avigor children where noted; and later, when she grew, it was only used in the most formal of formal occasions, when there was no getting out of it. Otherwise she was Araina, and Araina she remained.
Annica Dow, the fosterling of the longest standing at Macha, absolutely fell in love with the baby. Whenever Aleta was busy elsewhere she was pestering the baby’s nurse to allow her to help to care for the child. The youngest Avigor seemed to have no objection, even gurgling happily whenever Annica approached, so Aleta acquiesced, as long as there was adequate supervision of both the children. The two were, after all, foster-kin – and, although it could have been deemed early for Araina to do so, they might as well start to get to know each other.
The next child, Corian, made her appearance over two years later. Araina was already toddling and talking, both of which disciplines she tried to teach the new child immediately. Annica, now eleven, was due to leave Macha the following year, but she took on the new baby as well. She loved children, and she could without doubt exact things from them and control them admirably well for one so young. So, if effect, during the first few years of her foster-sisters’ lives, it was she who was their nurse and companion. Although they were both too young to remember her then, she came back often, admittedly more like an aunt than a foster-sister, but that did not prevent the two Avigor girls to love her best in the world… after Mama, and Papa… and…., nor Annica from loving them as her own, despite the age gap of only nine years between her and Araina.
During this time, the people from the starship had been settling down. They had learnt the language, the customs, the background of their new world. The women, who had stopped wearing trousers and let their hair grow, were looked upon with favor by the local inhabitants; some even married them, although most of the women actually preferred to stay with their own kind. But they had soon reached a stage where they began scattering from the nucleus of the village that had originally sheltered them. They filtered through into the other Clan holdings, into Colgarma, even out amongst the Ichari there were some to be found. They became insidious during the years, the more so since now that they’d adopted the costume and language of Castala they were often difficult to recognize for what they were, unless by the strange accent with which they sometimes spoke their new tongue.
By the time Rainald and Aleta had been married two years, there was one man from the starship that worked in their fields. Over the years that followed, there came other of the same ilk, men and women. Before long the first man who had come to Macha asked permission of his Lord, as was done by those serving the Clan keeps, to take as wife a girl from a later group, that had arrived on the Holding after he himself had done so. Rainald gave him leave.
By early autumn of that year, those two had wed, Aleta turned twenty-four, and before too much time had passed after that she informed her husband that she was once again with child.
Nobody bothered to take too much notice, but so was Chall, the girl from the Starcrashed who had been married at Macha that spring.
So were a great many other women all over Castala, Clan, servant, and Starcrashed. It was a perfectly normal thing, for a woman to be, except that the waiting generation this time carried an as yet unborn secret that had the potential to split the world apart. But nobody knew that. Not yet.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: