Read Darkover: First Contact Online

Authors: Marion Zimmer Bradley

Darkover: First Contact (70 page)

BOOK: Darkover: First Contact
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“That task,” said Mirella, “I will leave to the healer-women and to the priestesses of Avarra, if they can bring themselves to leave their isolation on the Island of Silence. My task lies at Tramontana; it is laid on me, Varzil.”
Varzil bowed his head. “Be it so,” he said. “I am not the keeper of your conscience. And I foresee no peace at Aldaran, nor any safety at Tramontana for my lifetime, or many lifetimes to come. But if it is laid on you to go to Tramontana, Mirella, then all the gods go with you, little one.” He rose, and took Mirella in his arms, pressing her close. “Take my blessing, sister. And be certain to speak to Melora before you go.”
When he released her, she turned to Bard.
“Carry my greetings to my grandfather and to Melisenda,
via dom
. And say to them that if we do not meet again, it is the fortunes of war. You, who were the commander when I first rode to war as a
will understand that.” She looked more sharply at him, and something she saw in his face caused her eyes to soften. She said, “Now that you are one of us, I shall pray for your peace and enlightenment, sir. May the gods protect you.”
When she had gone away, Bard turned to Varzil in puzzlement.
“What the hell did she mean—one of us?”
“Why, she saw that you were
-gifted, newly so,” Varzil said. “Do you think one
cannot tell another with

“Does it—by the wolf of Alar—does it
” His consternation was so apparent—did he bear a visible mark of what he had become?—that Varzil almost laughed.
“Not physically. But she sees it, as any of us would—we don’t look at one another much with our physical eyes, you know; we see it in—in the
of your mind. None of us would read your thoughts uninvited, not even I. But, in general, we can tell one another.” He smiled. “After all, do you think that the Keeper of Neskaya gives audience to anyone who comes here—even the Lord General of Asturias and Marenji and Hammerfell and God knows how many other little countries up in rebel territory? I don’t care
for the Lord General,” he said, with a smile which made the words somehow inoffensive, “but Bard mac Fianna, the friend of Melora, whom I love, and newly made aware of his
—Bard mac Fianna is another matter. As
I have a duty toward you. You are—how shall I say this—you are a pivot.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Neither do I,” said Varzil, “nor how I know it; I only know that when first I set eyes on you I knew it was on you that many great events of our time would turn. I am also one of those pivots, people who can change history, and who have a duty to do so if they can, whatever happens. This, I think, is why you became Lord General of Asturias.”
“That sounds a bit too mystical for me,
vai dom
,” Bard said, scowling. He had won back from exile, by his own efforts, and he didn’t like the metaphysical notion that he might just be a pawn of fate.
Varzil shrugged. “Maybe so. I’ve been a
all my life, and one of my gifts is to see time lines—not many, not very clearly, not in a way that would let me choose clearly between the many paths I might take. I heard there was a gift like that, once, but it died out. But sometimes I can recognize a pivot when I see it, and choose what has to be done to keep from wasting an opportunity.”
Bard’s mouth twisted. He said, “And suppose you can’t get anyone else to go along with your idea of what should happen? Do you just tell them they have to do so-and-so or the world will collapse?”
“Ah, no, alas, that would be too easy, and I don’t suppose the gods will that we should have perfection,” Varzil said. “No, everyone else does his best as
sees it, and it isn’t always what I see. Otherwise I’d be a god, not just Keeper of Neskaya. I do what I can, that’s all, and I’m always terribly conscious of the mistakes I make, and have made, and even the ones I
make. I just have to do the best I can, and—” suddenly his voice hardened—“in view of your experience, Bard mac Fianna, I think that’s something you’re going to have to learn,
—to do the best you can, where you can, and live with what mistakes you can’t help making. Otherwise you’ll be like the donkey who died of hunger between two bales of hay, trying to decide which one to eat first.”
Was this, Bard wondered, why Melora had sent him to Varzil?
“Partly,” said Varzil, picking up his thought, “but you are in command of the Army of Asturias, and one of your tasks is to unify all this land. So you must go back.”
It was the last thing Bard had expected him to say.
“I will send Melora with you,” Varzil said. “I think she may be needed in her homeland. Asturias is where the important things of our world are happening. But before you go, I will ask you once again what I asked of you when we met before, in Asturias: will you pledge yourself to Compact?”
Bard’s first impulse was to say yes, I will. Then he bowed his head.
“I would do so willingly,
But I am a soldier, and under orders. I have no right to do so without the command of my king and his regent. For good or ill, I am sworn to obey them, and I cannot do so without their leave; and if I did it would be dishonorable. He who is false to his first oath will be false to his second.” With crawling shame, he remembered how he had taunted Carlina with that same proverb, but that did not lighten his duty at this moment.
I have broken and trampled all else. But my honor as a soldier, and my loyalty to my father and my brother—these are still untarnished. I must try to keep them so.
Varzil looked at him steadily. After a moment he held out his hand to Bard, touched him very lightly on the wrist. He said, “If your honor demands it, so be it; I am not the keeper of your conscience either. Then I must come with you to Asturias, Bard. Wait until I speak to my deputies and be certain who can be left in charge here.”
Carlina woke from an uneasy sleep, aching in every nerve and muscle of her body, to see a woman standing in the doorway of her room. She shrank away, pulling the black cloak over her; then, shaking, remembered that she had no right to it. Not now. She would have let it fall away, but remembered that she was still half naked, wearing the torn, bloody chemise which was the only garment Bard had left her. She felt numb and battered, and now she recognized the woman, who was tall and rounded, wearing a handsome green gown trimmed with fur; it was Bard’s concubine, Lady Jerana’s household
who had borne him a son years ago. All she knew of her was that her name was Melisendra, and she had seen something hazy about her in Bard’s mind and memory. . . . She could not remember the details, but felt sure they were sickening. She hid under the black mantle, thinking she could not endure to let this calm, self-possessed woman see her shame.
“Vai domna,”
said Melisendra, coming into the room, “you do not want your servants to see you like this; I beg of you, let me help you.” She sat down on the bed beside Carlina, gently touching the darkening bruise on Carlina’s cheek. “Believe me, I know what you are feeling. I was a
kept virgin for the Sight, and I could not even guard myself against a glamour—in a sense I was more shamed than you, for I was not beaten into submission, but laid down my maidenhood without a struggle. And I can see that you defended yourself with all your strength, as I had not the will to do; I saw the marks of your nails in his face.”
Carlina began to cry again, helplessly. Melisendra pulled the other woman against her breast and held her close.
“There now, there now, cry if you will . . .” she murmured, rocking her. “Poor little lady, I know, I know, believe me. I woke like this, too, and there was none to comfort me, my sister was far away in the Tower, and I had to face my lady’s anger. There now, there. . . .”
When Carlina had cried herself into quiet, Melisendra went into the bath and put Carlina into a hot tub, stripping away the torn chemise. “I shall have this burned,” she said. “I am sure you will not want to wear it again.” With it she put the torn clothing Bard had ripped away from Carlina. She washed her as if she had been a small child, and dressed her bruises with soothing creams. Then she dressed her like a doll, and sent for one of the waiting-women in the suite.
“Bring my lady some food,” she said, and when it came, she sat and encouraged Carlina to eat, spoonful by spoonful, some soup and some custard. Carlina found it hard to eat with her bruised jaw, but Melisendra reassured her that it was not broken.
When the waiting-women had taken away the trays, Carlina looked at her tremulously, saying, “I feel it must look strange to them—that they all know how I am shamed—and you here—”
Melisendra smiled at her. She said, “Surely not; it is nothing new that a
should wait on the lawful wife. And, my lady, if the truth be told, I am certain that in this land where so many marriages are made with unwilling women you are not the only noblewoman to go to her bridal as if it were rape.”
Carlina said, with a bitter smile, “Why, so they do. I had almost forgotten—I suppose this has made me Bard’s lawful wife, and I need only wait, now for the
to be locked on my wrists, as if I were a Dry-town whore! Where is Bard?”
“He rode away earlier today . . . I do not know where; but he looked as if he had met the avenging Avarra,” Melisendra said quietly. “I do not know what will come of this; I do not know if the political situation will force him to keep you as wife. I don’t know anything about such things. But I am sure, very sure, that he will never misuse you again. I am a
and I knew something had happened within him. I do not think he will ever mishandle any woman again.”
“How can you be such a friend to me,” Carlina asked, “considering that, if I must remain here as his wife, you will be only

“I was never more than that, my lady. Bard’s father would willingly have seen us married, but Bard cares nothing for me. I was only a diversion when he was angry and bitter at all the world. If I had not borne his son, I would have been cast out. . . .”
“Why, then,” Carlina whispered, “you are a victim too. . . .” Reaching out, she kissed the older woman, on impulse. She said, shyly, “Under the vow of the priestesses of Avarra, I am,” she quoted, “mother and sister and daughter to every other woman. . . .”
“. . . and under her mantle you are my sister,” said Melisendra softly. Carlina looked up at her in numb amazement.
“Are you one of us?”
“I would willingly have been so,” said Melisendra, and her eyes filled with tears. “But you know Her law. No woman may renounce the world for the Holy Island while she has a child too young for fostering, or aged parents who need her care. They would not have me while I had these responsibilities; my other sister is a
at Neskaya, and I am the only remaining support for my old father, and Erlend is only six years old. So they would not accept my vow. And—further—a
told me, once, that I had work to do in the world, though he would not say how or when. But the Mother Ellinen allowed me to pledge myself, privately, to the obligations of a priestess, though I am not bound to chastity; she said I might one day wish to marry.”
“And you still—wished for the love of a man—” Carlina asked her shakily. “I feel—I will die—I cannot bear the thought that any man will ever again touch me in lust—or even in love—”
Melisendra stroked her hand gently. “That will pass, sister. That will pass, if the Goddess wills. Or it may be her will that somehow, you shall serve her again in chastity, on the island or elsewhere. We are all under her mantle.” She lifted up the black cloak and said, “Shall I have this cleaned and readied for you?”
Carlina whispered, “I am not fit to wear it—”
“Hush!” said Melisendra sternly. “You know better than that! Do you think she does not know how well you defended yourself?”
Carlina’a eyes filled with tears again. She said, “That is what I am afraid of. I could have fought harder—I could have let him kill me—I wish that I had—”

Vai domna
—sister,” Mellsendra said gently, “I think it blasphemous to believe the Goddess could be less understanding than a weak woman like myself. And if I can understand and condone your weakness, why, then, the Dark Mother can certainly do no less.”
“Perhaps I have been on the Holy Island too long,” said Carlina, and her voice was shaking. “I have forgotten the real things of the world. You are at war here.”
“Did you even know when Hali was fire-bombed and they—died?”
“We knew. But Mother Ellinen bade us shut it out, saying we could do no good by sharing their death agony—”
“My father said the same. But we were on the march with the armies,” said Melisendra.
“But the Mothers said that we must not entangle ourselves in the making of war, that our business was with eternal things, birth and death, and that war was a man’s business—that it was nothing to do with us, patriotism and men’s pride and royalty and succession, that women had nothing to do with it—”
Melisendra said a rude word. “Forgive me, lady. But I have fought alongside men in the field, unarmed except for a starstone and a dagger to make sure I did not fall into the enemy’s hands. And the Sisterhood of the Sword fight with such weapons as they have, even though they know that, for them, the penalties of defeat are even more cruel. Some of the prisoners suffered that fate only a few days ago, after the last defeat of Serrais.”
Carlina said faintly, “The priestesses of Avarra are always being asked to leave their island and do healing in the world. Perhaps we should ask the Sisterhood to protect us. At least we could not harm them in that way. . . .” Her voice trailed off. “Perhaps the Mother Ellinen is wrong when she says we should take no part in the struggles around us. . . .”
BOOK: Darkover: First Contact
3.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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