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Authors: Marion Zimmer Bradley

Darkover: First Contact (69 page)

BOOK: Darkover: First Contact
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“Good,” Melora said, in a whisper. “That’s the first step—to know, and not to block it away.”
“I want—I want, some way, to—to try to make amends—for what I can—”
She nodded. “You will. You can’t help it. But there will be so many things you
make amends for, and even when it tortures you, you have to learn to—to go on, somehow, carrying the weight of it. Knowing you can’t undo anything you’ve done.” She looked at him sharply. “For instance, should you have left Carlina alone with this?”
He said, still unable to look at her, “I should think I would be the one person she would not want to see.”
“Don’t be too sure of that; you have shared something, after all, and some day you will have to face her again.”
“I—I know. But after—after that I couldn’t be there—reminding her—and I couldn’t bear it. I—I sent Melisendra to her. She’s—she’s kind. I don’t know how she
be, after all she’s been through, all I did to her, but she
Melora said, “Because she sees into people. The same way you do, now. She knows what they are and what’s tormenting
“You do, too,” he said after a moment. “What is it? Is it just—having

“Not entirely. But it’s the first step in our training. Which is why Carlina returned you, really, good for evil. She gave you the gift of
which was the first thing she herself had been given.”
“Some gift!” Bard said bitterly.
“The gift to see
It is a gift, and you’ll know it in time. Bard, it’s late and I must go into the relays—no, I won’t leave you like this. Let me send word to Varzil—he is our
our Keeper—and he can send someone else to take my place there; your need is greater right now.” Bard remembered that he had seen Varzil of Neskaya—was it at Geremy’s wedding? He could not remember; time was telescoping into a blurred and continuous past. He did not know when or how or why he had done anything, only the enormous conviction of a guilt past endurance and a horror of himself, so great that he felt he could never again hold up his head. Anything he did, anything, was going to create endless catastrophe. How could he live this way? Yet dying would create catastrophe too, so he could not settle anything by taking himself away from the opportunity to do more harm....
Melora touched his hand.
“Enough!” she said sharply. “Now you are beginning to indulge yourself in self-pity, and that will only make it worse. What you feel now is only the aftermath of exhaustion. No more! I tell you—” and her voice was softened—“when you are rested, and can absorb what has happened to you, you will be able to go on. Not to forget, but to put it behind you, and live with what you can’t mend. What you need now is rest and sleep. I’ll stay near you.” She rose and picked up the little table, replacing it, tugged a heavy footstool, thickly upholstered, in front of the chair.
“I should have moved that for you—”
“Why? I’m not exhausted or crippled. Here, put your feet up—yes, like that. Let me get those boots off. And take off your sword-belt, you don’t need it. Not here.” She pulled aside a curtain to an alcove at the far end of the room. He realized that it was where she slept. She brought him a pillow from her own bed. “The chair’s comfortable enough, I’ve slept here plenty of nights when someone was sick, and I knew I’d be called at any moment. If you need to go out in the night,” she added forthrightly, “the place you’re looking for is just past the end of this corridor down the stairs, and it has a door painted red. It’s for the guards; it
be a scandal if I let you use the bath in my suite, since you’re not one of us here.” She tucked a knitted shawl around him. “Sleep well, Bard.”
She went past him, extinguishing the lamp. He heard the creak of her bed as she climbed into it. Strange, how light-footed she was for such a big woman; he could not hear her steps at all. Bard touched the fuzzy texture of the shawl under his chin. It made him feel, somehow, as if he were very small and young; he had a curious flash of his foster mother tucking him up in a shawl like this after some childish illness. Strange. He had always thought of Lady Jerana hating him and treating him cruelly; why had he forgotten the times when she had been kind to him? Had he
to believe she hated him and wanted ill for him? It could not be easy for a childless woman to foster her husband’s strong, healthy, well-loved child by some other woman.
As he dropped off to sleep he could hear Melora breathing; the sound was oddly reassuring, that she would let him—a man who had never treated a woman with anything but cruelty—sleep in her very room. Not that he had any designs on her—he wondered, suddenly, if he would ever be able to feel desire for a woman again without this terrible awareness of all the harm he could do.
Carlina has had her revenge
, he thought, and then in a wry flash of insight he wondered if, since his own mother gave him up, he had never believed he was loved because he’d felt, without knowing it, that even she did not find him worthy of love. He didn’t know; he was beginning to think he knew nothing about love. But he knew that Melora’s trust was, somehow, the first step in his healing. Clasping the pillow that smelled sweetly of some fresh scent about Melora, he slept.
When he woke, it was a day of soft-falling snow, one of the first snowfalls of the year in the Kilghard Hills, and silent flakes, melting as they fell, were drifting across the windows. Melora sent him to borrow a razor and a fresh shirt from one of the guards, and to join their mess at breakfast “That way,” she said, smiling at him merrily, “they will know that I am not entertaining a lover from outside the Tower, which is not proper during my term of service here. I’m not overly concerned for my reputation, but it’s not done—to bring scandal on the Towers that way. Varzil has enough to contend with, without that.”
As he went to eat hot, fresh nutbread and salt fish fried into cakes, with the guards of Neskaya, Bard felt a little shamefaced pride; the Lord General of Asturias, to join a common guardsmen’s mess? But this was not his own country, he would probably not be recognized, and if he was, well, it was none of anyone’s business; surely even a general could come to consult a
on urgent private business? Shaved, cleanly clothed, he felt better. After breakfast, a youngster, red-headed, in blue and silver, with the indefinable stamp of the Hastur kin on his face, brought a message that the Lord Varzil of Neskaya wished to see him.
Varzil of Neskaya. An enemy, a Ridenow of Serrais; but Alaric had loved him, and he himself had been favorably impressed by the man when he had come to exchange Alaric for Geremy. Even when he believed Varzil an ally of King Carolin of Thendara, he had been somewhat impressed.
It cannot be easy, to swear to neutrality in a world torn by war! When all the lands lie in flames about you, surely it is easier to join with one side or another!
Bard had remembered Varzil as young, but the man who faced him in the small stone-floored study, wearing a simple robe and sandals rather than the ceremonial robe of office, seemed old; there were heavy lines in the care-worn face, young as it was, and the bright red hair was already graying. Varzil, after all, could not be so young; he had rebuilt Neskaya after its fire-bombing, and that had been before Bard was born, although, he had heard, Varzil had been very young then.
“Welcome, Bard mac Fianna. I will speak with you presently—but I have a few matters to arrange first. Sit there,” he said, and continued speaking with the young man, wearing Hastur colors, who was facing him. At first this made Bard’s skin prickle—so much for the vaunted neutrality of Varzil and the Tower—but after he had heard a few words he relaxed.
“Yes, tell the people of Hali that we will send healers and
to care for the worst-burnt cases, but they must realize that the physical wounds that can be seen are not all that has happened. The pregnant women must be monitored; most of them will miscarry, and they are the lucky ones, for of those who bear children from the time of this disaster, at least half will be born marred or deformed; they must be monitored, too, from birth. Women of childbearing age must be taken out of the area as soon as possible, or they will run the same risk, if they conceive children before the land has healed, and that may not be for years.”
“The people will not want to leave their estates or their farms,” the Hastur man said, “and what shall we tell them?”
“The truth,” Varzil said with a sigh, “that the land is poisoned past redemption and will be so for years; no one can live there, conquered nor conquerors either. Only one good thing has come of all this.”
“A good thing? And what is that,
vai laranzu?

“The Dalereuth Tower has joined us in neutrality,” Varzil said. “They have sworn to make no more
weapons, whatever the inducement; and their overlord, Marzan of Valeron, has pledged to the Compact, and Queen Darna of Isoldir. And Valeron and Isoldir have taken the oath of fealty under the Hasturs.”
Bard’s teeth were set on edge by this. Would all this land lie under Hastur command someday? And yet . . . if the Hasturs were sworn to fight no more wars except under the Compact, there would be no more such atrocities as at Hali. He had been a soldier all his life, and he felt no special guilt for the men he had struck down face-to-face with the sword; they had had an equal chance to strike
down. But for the men slain by spells and sorcery, for the women and children killed in fire-bombings, he felt nothing could atone, not ever. He felt, too, that his armies could face, and conquer, the Hastur armies with any weapons they chose; why should they need sorcerers too?
When Varzil had finished with the Hastur envoy, he said, “Say to
Mirella that I would like to speak with her.”
Bard heard the name without surprise—it was not so uncommon as that—but when the young woman came in, he recognized her at once. She was still slight and pretty, wearing the white robe of a monitor.
“Are you working in the relays, child? I thought you were simply resting, after your ordeal at Hali,” Varzil said. Mirella was about to answer, but stopped when she saw Bard.

Vai dom,
I heard from Melora that you were Lord General of Asturias now—forgive me, Lord Varzil, may I ask news of my family? Is my grandsire well, sir, and Melisendra?”
Bard found, from somewhere, the strength to face her. It was too much to hope Mirella did not know of his depravity; for all he knew, everyone in the Hundred Kingdoms knew, and was ready to spit on the name of Bard mac Fianna, called di Asturien. “Master Gareth is very well, though of course he grows old,” he told her. “He rode with us on the campaign against the Ridenow before they surrendered.” He glanced hesitantly at Varzil. Not a tenday ago, he had hanged this man’s overlord, Dom Eiric of Serrais, after the battle, as an oathbreaker. But although Varzil looked sad, there seemed to be, in him, no hatred for Bard or his armies.
“And Melisendra?”
Melisendra is mother’s-sister to this girl. What has she said of me?
“Melisendra is well,” he said, then, on an impulse. “I think she is happy; I—I think she wishes to marry one of my paxmen, and if that is her wish, I will not prevent her. And King Alaric has promised Erlend a patent of legitimacy, so his status need not trouble her.”
Melora said I would find a way to make what amends could be made. This is only a beginning, and so little, but it was a place to begin. Paul’s almost as bad as I am, but for some reason she cares for him.
Mirella smiled at him, sweetly, and said, “I thank you for your good news,
vai dom.
And now, Dom Varzil, I am at your command.”
“We are happy to have you here while you recover from the shock of what happened at Hali,” Varzil said. “How came you not to be within the Tower?”
“I had had leave to ride in the hills, hunting, with two of my
,” Mirella said. “And we were just about to turn homeward when the rain came, and we sheltered in a herdsman’s hut—and then, oh merciful Goddess, we—we felt the burning—the cries—” her face turned pale, and Varzil reached out his hand and gripped the young woman’s in his own strong clasp.
“You must try to forget, dear child. It will be with you always—indeed, none of us in any of the Towers will ever be able to forget,” Varzil said. “My youngest sister, Dyannis, was a
at Hali, and I felt her die . . .” his voice trailed off and for a moment he looked inward at horror. Then, recovering himself, he said firmly, “What we must remember, Rella, is that their heroism has taken another step toward the time when all this land will lie under Compact. For you know, they deliberately broadcast what happened—while they were dying they kept their minds open so that we should all see, and hear, and feel what they suffered, instead of quickly taking their way out of life . . . which they could have done, so easily—”
Mirella shuddered and said, “I could not have done it! At the first touch of fire I think I should have stopped my heart and died a merciful death—”
“Perhaps,” Varzil said gently. “We are not all equally heroic. And yet you might, surrounded by the others, have found your own courage.”
Bard saw in his mind the picture of a woman’s body, blazing like a torch . . . but Varzil shut it away, and said, “You must go to another Tower, Rella; do you wish to go to Arilinn or Tramontana?”
“Tramontana is the post of danger,” she said, “for Aldaran has not yet sworn the Compact, and may strike at Tramontana. I owe a death to all of you; I will go to Tramontana.”
“That is not necessary,” Varzil said gently. “There will be plenty of work for
here, healing the wounds of children burned and damaged at Hali, or in the Venza hills where they sowed bonewater dust and children are dying.”
BOOK: Darkover: First Contact
4.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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