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Authors: Marion Zimmer Bradley

Darkover: First Contact (74 page)

BOOK: Darkover: First Contact
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Yes, I harmed many women. But perhaps the women were not all blameless either. They lived in such a way that they could be destroyed by men
. . . in a sense he was no more to blame than any man in his world. Every man in his world. Was the whole world to blame, then?
“Well, Captain,” said one of the camp followers, “are you looking for some fun?”
He shook his head. Evidently she had not recognized his rank and thought him a common soldier,
captain
was flattery, no more. “Not tonight, my girl, I have more important things on my mind. Can you tell me where the sworn Sisters, the Renunciates, are lodged?”
“You won’t get any pleasure from that pair, sir, they’ve got daggers for kisses, and the general said he’d have something worse for anyone who meddles with them,” the pleasure woman said.
Bard grinned companionably and said, “Believe it or not, pretty one, a man does have other things on his mind now and then, hard as it is to imagine it.” There was no harm in the girl. “I’ve a message for one of them from the—” he hesitated, “the
leronis
working in the field hospital. And if you can get your mind to it, there’s work there for anyone.”
She said, staring at the pebbles under her feet, “What would the likes of me do, helping a
leronis,
sir?”
“Well, you could carry water and roll bandages and feed the folks who can’t sit up to feed themselves,” Bard said. “Why not go and try it?”
“You’re right, captain, this is no time to be lying about with people hurt,” said the woman. “I suppose plenty of us could be used in the nursing. I’ll go and see. And if you’re wanting the Sisterhood, sir, there’s two of ’em in that tent there, but—” she glared at him, “don’t be getting any dirty ideas. One of them’s so badly hurt she can’t sit up, and her friend’s just nursing her. The men got at her before the general gave his orders, and it’s not with them like it is with—with women like me, sir, she wasn’t accustomed—and they hurt her pretty bad.” Her scowl was fierce. “Men like that ought to be treated worse than whipping, sir.”
Avarra’s mercy!
All the old scalding shame and guilt washed heavily over Bard again. He said, to the woman’s surprise, “You’re absolutely right,” and went toward the indicated tent. He did not dare to approach it. The women there would probably, after all they had been through, strike first at any man who came near, and ask questions afterward. He called softly from outside “
Mestra
—”
A woman appeared in the door of the tent, crawled out and rose to her feet. She wore the red tunic of the Sisterhood, red leather, knee-length and split in front for riding, and her hair, clipped short, was tousled all over her head. She said fiercely, “Keep your voice down! My sister is very bad!” She was tall and thin, and wore a knife in her belt. A golden circlet gleamed in her ear.
“I’m sorry for her hurts,” Bard said, “but I have a message from the
leronis
at the hospital. I need someone to ride express at once for Marenji and the Island of Silence.” He explained, and the woman looked at him, troubled. Bard moved into the circle of light from a lantern hung on a pole over the camp street, and she recognized him.
“Lord General! Well, sir, I’d go and welcome, but—but my sister needs me badly, sir. You heard what happened—”
“Yes, I know,” Bard said, “but can’t you take her to the field hospital? If she’s as badly off as that, she needs more care than you can give her, and surely the priestess of Avarra will help her.”
The Renunciate scowled at him, but there were tears in her eyes. She said, “The priestesses—they’re holy virgins, sir, and they wouldn’t want to be involved with the Sisterhood. They think, no doubt, that we’re not proper women. And what would they know of a woman who’s been raped again and again, and—and she’s
infected,
sir—”
“I think you’ll find she’s more sympathetic than you know,” Bard said. “The priestesses of Avarra are sworn to help
all
women.” That much he had seen from Carlina’s mind. “But you must ride at once. I’ll arrange for a stretcher to have her carried up to the hospital.” He strode back toward the barracks, shouting for a stretcher. In a few minutes the hurt woman was being lifted out, carefully, and her sister/friend bending over her.
“Tresa,
breda,
these people will take you to a
leronis
who can help you better than I can—”
She turned to Bard and said, her voice shaking, “I hate to leave her with strangers—”
He said “I’ll see her into the hands of the
leronis
myself,
mestra
, but yours is a task only a woman can do; no man may approach the Island of Silence.” Carlina would care for her and if for some reason or another Carlina could not, he was sure Melora would know what to do for her.
Carllna was still distractedly going between the injured women in one room, and the midwifery in the other, when he had the woman carried in. Melora was wrapping up a newborn child.
“I have another for you to help,” Bard said, and explained what had happened.
“Yes, certainly, I’ll look after her,” Carlina promised, and he fancied that the look she gave him was puzzled,
since when do you trouble yourself about such things?
He said, angry, defensive, “She is a soldier and a prisoner; and it was my men who hurt her, damn it! Are you too virtuous to tend her?”
“Of course not, Bard,” she said. “I told you we would look after her. You women—” she gestured to the women who had insisted on carrying the litter, taking over from the soldiers, “I can use every pair of hands! Even those of you who don’t know the first thing of nursing, you can feed people and carry trays and boil water and make porridge!”
Bard glanced at the sky, lightening outside the castle. It was near dawn. “I’ll send the army cooks to make the porridge,” he promised. Any soldier on duty could be dispatched with that message, and it took him only a moment to have it handled, and to put a sergeant at the immediate disposal of Master Gareth and Varzil. The sergeant was a veteran who had known Bard on many campaigns and never thought to question Bard’s identity. As he saluted and said, “As the Lord General wishes,” Bard reflected that his father had brought Paul to this world so that, in effect, Bard could be in two places at once. Well, that was happening; the Lord General, newly crowned king, was in his royal suite with his newly made queen, and the Lord General was down here giving orders in the field hospital.
My father cared for me only as a tool for his ambition!
He had believed that all his life. But now he knew it was not true. For long before Dom Rafael di Asturien could have known whether his son would be a soldier, or a statesman, or a
laranzu
or a feeble-minded ne’er do well, his father had had him taken from his mother, had him reared in his own house, schooled and taught in all the manly arts, fostered by his lady, given horses and hounds and hawks, reared as a nobleman’s son, deprived himself, even, of what company his son could have given him in order to have him fostered at court with princes and noblemen for foster brothers. Yes, his father had loved him unselfishly, not only for his own good. And even the mother who had given him up—Bard knew, staring at the red dawn and the great red sun rising over the jagged teeth of the Kilghard Hills, that his mother must have loved him, too; loved him enough to give up her child so that he might be reared as a nobleman’s son and not scratch his living on a bare hill farm. He wondered, literally for the first time in his life, if that unknown mother was still living. He could never, now, ask his father. But Lady Jerana might know, and she had been kind to him, in her own way; would have been kinder, if he had allowed it. He would, if he must, humble himself to Lady Jerana and beg from her the name of his mother, and where in the hills she dwelled, so that he could kneel before her and do her honor for loving him enough to give him up to his father’s love.
His eyes blurred with tears.
I have been loved, all my life, and I never knew.
What’s happening to me? I want to weep all the time! Is it only
laran,
or have I become a milksop, a mollycoddle, the kind of man I always despised. . . .
He would grow accustomed to what had happened; he knew it. But he also knew, deep and hard within himself, that he had become a different man. He was surprised, but not ashamed, of the man he had become. His shame was reserved for the man he had been, and that man was
dead
. He need waste neither guilt nor shame on that former Bard.
He must find time to speak with Carlina again. They had not finished what lay between them. But her business was with the living, too, and the dead Bard could not be much more interesting to her than he was to himself. And so, as the first streaks of real daylight lightened the sky, he went in search of Paul Harrell and of Melisendra.
CHAPTER NINE
By dawn Varzil had done all that he could do in the field hospital, had sent Master Gareth, protesting, to rest. “A few hours will make no difference.”
Master Gareth said, “You’ve worked all night too, and ridden all the day before. And you’re not young either, Dom Varzil!”
“No, but younger than you are, and I’ll deal with what needs to be dealt with. Go and rest!” he said, suddenly drawing himself up to his full height—he was not very tall—and speaking in command voice, and Master Gareth sighed.
“It’s a long time since any man commanded me, sir, but I’ll obey you.”
When the old
laranzu
had gone, Varzil detailed orderlies to feed those who were able to eat and to look after those who were not, and went into the women’s part of the Great Hall. He found Melora there, her dress pinned up and a sheet tucked around her.
“Well, child, how is it with you?”
She grinned. “Asturias has three new subjects,” she said, “whoever the king may be. A soldier’s son and a kitchen maid, and to judge by the red hair, a
leronis
for his council. I did not know that I had talent to be a midwife, but then, I did not know till yesterday that I could ride a horse, either.”
“Well, moving around is the best way to keep from getting saddle sores after all that riding,” he told her, “but now,
breda,
you must go and rest. And you too, good mother,” he said, looking at Carlina in her black mantle.
“Yes,” she said, tiredly drawing her hand across her eyes, “I think I have done all I can here. These women can care for them while I rest a little.”
“But you
vai tenerézu?
” Melora asked.
He said, “The army has been put at my disposal; I will consult Bard, whether he is Lord General or king, but before that—” he looked at the lightening sky, “I will go and have sentry birds flown, to see if we are under attack from Aldaran. If they are sending an army against Asturias, Bard must somehow manage to stop them at the Kadarin. And if not—well, we will think of that later.”
He went away, and Carlina stood watching, suddenly aware that she had neither eaten nor drunk since Melisendra had fed her soup and custard yesterday. She said, “Varzil spoke to me as if I were a priestess of Avarra.”
Neither of the women thought it strange that Melora should know precisely what had happened to Carlina or why. She said, “You belong to the Goddess still, do you not?”
“Always. But even if I could return to the Island of Silence, I am not sure I should do so. I think we have been too isolated, on our safe little island, protected by powerful spells, and not caring what goes on in the world outside. And yet—how can women live together, unwed, in safety?”
“The Sisterhood of the Sword do so,” Melora said.
“But they have means of protection we do not have,” Carlina said, and thought,
I could never wield a sword; I am a healer, I am a woman . . . and it seems to me no part of a woman’s life to make war, but to care for others. . . .
“Perhaps,” said Melora hesitantly, “the Goddess needs both of your sisterhoods, one to be strong, and the other to help and heal. . . .”
Carlina’s smile was shaky. She said, “I do not think they have much more respect for our way of life than we—” the smile was rueful now, “than we have for theirs.”
“Then,” said Melora, and her clear voice was not command voice but it might just as well have been, “you must learn respect for one another’s ways. You are Renunciates too. And people can change, you know.”
Yes,
Carlina thought,
if Bard can change so much, there should be hope that anyone on the face of this restless world can change! I must speak to Varzil about this; as Keeper of Neskaya, perhaps he has some answers for us.
Melora said, “Forgive me, Mother—” using the title of respect given to a priestess, “but you are the Princess Carlina, are you not?”
“I was. I renounced that name many years ago.” With a pang Carlina realized that, as the laws stood, she was lawfully married to Bard. And if Bard should have made her pregnant!
What would I do with a child? His child!
“I thought so; I last saw you at midsummer Festival, but I do not think you saw me, I was only Master Gareth’s daughter—”
“I saw you. Dancing with Bard,” Carlina said, and then, because she too had
laran,
she said, “You love him. Don’t you?”
“Yes, I do not think he knows it yet.” Melora giggled, suddenly, nervously. “I am told that the Lord General was crowned, and married, yesterday. And as the laws stand also, you are his wife, handfasted. So, at the moment, he has at least one lawful wife too many. I am sure he will want to be free of at least one of them . . . and, if I know him at all, of both. Perhaps, Carlina—Mother Liriel—this misunderstanding will all turn out for the best, since the whole matter of his marriage must be cleared up by the laws.”
“Let us hope so,” Carlina said, and impulsively took Melora’s hand.
“Come and rest,
vai leronis
. I can find a place for you among the ladies-in-waiting; I will send them down to do what they can for the wounded and the sick, and you must sleep.”
BOOK: Darkover: First Contact
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