Authors: Marion Zimmer Bradley
want it enough, enough to work hard and diligently at it,” she qualified.
“What I do not know is whether you have the ability to do
especially when the learning is tedious and requires so much that must be sacrificed. Do you know why Keepers wear the crimson robes?”
Leonie shook her head dumbly, surprised at the odd question, and forgetful for the moment that Fiora could not see her.
“It is not to mark them out as special,” Fiora said, as if she
seen the gesture.
“Nor to mark them for great respect. It is to mark them as
Leonie. It is dangerous, deadly dangerous, to touch a Keeper in the circle. Look here—”
She held out her pale hands, which Leonie now saw were covered with tiny scars,
like burn marks, as if she had let a shower of sparks fall upon her and burn her flesh.
“It is so dangerous to others that a Keeper is taught
to allow a touch, in the circle, or out of it. And
is how we are taught. Through pain, Leonie. I do not think you have felt much pain in your lifetime. I am not certain you can endure even a little of it. And
are only the smallest part of the training, the
of the sacrifice.”
Leonie sat thinking that over; in all of her daydreaming, she had thought only of the power of a Keeper, and not what it cost to reach that power. Her father had said, more than once, “Great power demands an equal sacrifice,” and she had never really known what that meant. Now she had seen a little— only a little—and for the first time, it occurred to her to wonder just how false her daydreams had been.
had not involved giving anything up.
How much had the other Keepers sacrificed for their power? And why would
they? At length she said, “Tell me how you came here, Fiora.”
Fiora had not actually pried into the girl’s thoughts—that was unmannerly,
without invitation—but certain things and certain feelings had spilled over, and much could be inferred from them. Leonie was thinking, instead of assuming. That was a start, so she said quietly, “I was festival-born. My mother, who was very young, was married off to a small farmer in the valley. When I was about five years old, I had an illness which damaged my sight, and they knew that sooner or later I would be blind. My father wished to marry me off quickly, so that my prospective husband would not know how bad a bargain he was getting; but my mother’s sister told a
about the illness and about my resemblance to the Comyn. She thought to test me for
I was gifted, and so I came here. I was gifted enough, patient enough, and willing to endure enough, that I was eventually made Keeper.”
“You came only as a second choice?” Leonie said, clearly surprised. “I should
think anyone who would choose to be a
should wish for it above all things.”
“True, at first it was only a second choice,” said Fiora. “But when I had been here for a time, I came to see how petty and meaningless my life would have been otherwise.
I would have been no more than a woman like my mother, producing child after child, laboring in house and field, and if I had been very, very lucky, I would have had a husband who chose to be kind to me. Where a
has the power to do much good—
to heal, to bring the proper weather, to ward from fire and storm. I realized that if I had truly been given a choice I would have chosen this. Above all else.” She nodded, then continued. “But few are they who have the luxury of choice. I would not change my life now to be Queen in the Domains, but there are no few women among the Comyn
themselves who are not as bound by the wills of their families as I was by the will of my father.”
Leonie bit her lip at Fiora’s choice of words. She would not have changed her life to be Queen? She said in a low voice, “I think,”
no, I know,
she thought, remembering that she
had that choice and rejected it, “that I would not change such a life to be Queen either.”
“You are fortunate, then,” said Fiora. “You are one of those who has been given
the luxury of choice, and the choice has been to grasp for your own dream. The question is, if the dream proves to be the naked edge of a blade, have you still the courage and the will, not only to grasp, but to hold it and keep it? If you do, I think I can honestly say that if you want it above all things, there will be very little you cannot do.”
“Do you really think so?” Leonie asked, looking to Fiora’s face for an assurance and good-will she suddenly craved as she had never craved it before.
Fiora nodded firmly. “I do.”
“I want it,” Leonie said, very softly, “and I would risk anything for it. Even—as you said—failure.” She smiled shakily, again forgetting that Fiora could not see it. “I will try not to
of failure, but I am willing to risk it. More—if I fail, I am willing to try, again and again, until I succeed.”
“If you approach it in that spirit,” said Fiora, with a smile of her own. “I do not think you need to
failure. You will certainly experience it—as every Keeper has, in order to learn—but you need not fear it.”
Leonie said, with painful humility.
As she turned to go, Fiora asked, “Did you, then, give us this rain?”
She bit her lip; that question would have caused an angry outburst on her part an hour ago. “Should I not have done it, by your rules?”
“I hope a day will come when you can answer that question for yourself,” Fiora
said, and she was almost laughing, “but when that day comes, you will be the only person to whom you must answer for your actions. And I think you will find your own self to be a harder taskmaster than I.” She laughed again, a real laugh this time, and said,
“It is also likely that no one—no one else, that is—would believe you if you claimed to have done it. Perhaps not even another Keeper. So in effect we start from this moment, Leonie.”
Leonie breathed deeply as Fiora left the room. Her restlessness and sense of
foreboding was back with her again, and after a moment she gave up all thought of turning again to the
she had abandoned.
It was now late evening; the last traces of crimson had faded from the sky, and the nightly rain had begun to fall in a slow, steady stream; utterly unlike the violent thunderstorm Leonie had called. In spite of the dreary sound of rain dripping onto leaves, roof, and puddles, Leonie felt no impulse to tamper with it. It was not the rain which disturbed her.
She had no sense that anything in the rain, or for that matter anything about the weather, disturbed her; the sense of disturbance was centered elsewhere.
She went up, after a time, to the room which had been allotted to her, a spacious and airy chamber on the third floor. Compared to her rooms in Castle Hastur, or her section of the suite of Hastur rooms at Thendara, it was bare and poor; but the novelty of being in an entirely new place had not yet worn off. Besides, once she tired of it the way it was, she knew that she could furnish it later in any way she chose. She mused for a time about how she might furnish it, trying to distract herself from the sobering conversation with Fiora and the sense of unease that still pursued her.
Perhaps she should decorate her rooms with hangings of crimson silk? No, there
would be enough of crimson in her life if she became a Keeper, and at the moment she was resolved to settle for nothing less. Perhaps a blue and green shot silk she had seen in the markets as they passed through Temora. That was a color she had never seen before, a real triumph of the weaver’s art, and it would bring a lightness to these rooms, a sense of living in the sky.
Around her the Tower slept. She was conscious of the little girls sleeping, of a solitary watcher at the relays which carried messages across the face of the world, from Domain to Domain in an eyeblink. At this hour it was rather unlikely any messages would be coming through, and yet there must always be one vigilant worker there at all times in case of emergency. She was conscious of Fiora preparing, as she moved
through her eternal darkness, for sleep. How strange that would be—never to know day from night, except by the actions of others…
She found herself aware, as she contemplated the Keeper, that she had made a
friend. It was not an unpleasant thought, that she had made a friend where at first there had been only hostility. Fiora was on her side, now—and though there would be
difficulties in achieving her goal, Fiora would not be compounding those difficulties.
She lay down, placing herself into a light trance state rather than preparing to sleep. She was anxious to know the cause of her sense of foreboding, and found herself exploring it, trying to sense the direction it came from, even as she was able to sense changes in the weather. She could see, as she drifted in the overworld, the weather patterns that she knew as well as she knew the strings of the
and what they would do; she scanned them, almost by habit, as she had done all her life. But the source of her unease was nothing to do with the weather.
She sensed a storm, normal for this time of year; someone would be caught in it, but that was nothing new. People were caught in storms all the time, and were prepared to deal with them. Even here at Dalereuth, they did not concern themselves with the fate of a herdsman or so, who could not foresee the weather. No herdsman would survive long without making provisions to deal with being caught in several storms in the year.
She passed on, traveling with the speed of thought, unaware of location, becoming somewhat disoriented. After a while, as the disorientation continued, she considered returning to her body; she was beginning to tire. Then without any sense of interval, she became aware of a woman.
Or rather, of the
of a woman. Leonie could not see her; at this level sight meant nothing. It was the music about her which had brought the contact. Leonie was accustomed to thinking in musical terms, and she first became aware of the instrument the woman held in her hands. It was a flute—or at least it felt like one—but it did not sound like any flute Leonie had ever heard; for the sound was bass; deep and rich, a bass timbre, but unmistakably the sound and feel of a flute.
The music caught her and held her—although at a deeper level, she knew that she
as such, intrigued rather, and she could pull away any time she wished to. But at the moment, she had no such wish.
She followed the threading music as its webs of melody stretched through the
darkness, enchanted by the unusual sound, feeling the curious vibration through some hitherto unexplored sense, at one with the unknown musician.
she reminded herself. She knew without a doubt, through some curious empathy that it was a woman, but the instrument that so fascinated her was no
instrument that she had ever played, or even thought of playing.
She lost herself in the sound—so easy just to listen, and drift—
She knew she had passed from trance into true sleep, for when she opened her
eyes, the rain was over, and patterns made by the moonlight on the walls of the chamber gave the room a strange and otherworldly appearance, and midnight— she could tell from the angle of the three moons visible from the window—was far past. The sound of the flute was gone, even from her mind; perhaps it was its absence which had wakened her. Had she been dreaming? No, for the memory of strangely-altered flute song was no dream, but as substantial as any sound she had ever heard. She could have played on the instrument, recreating the unfamiliar melodies—if only it had been there. But she could not recapture it.
The shuttle was on its way down, and Ysaye was still trying to figure out what
was doing on it. She still wasn’t sure how it had happened. Now that they had penetrated the upper atmosphere there was a heavy rime of frost on the windows, so there was nothing much to see.
There was certainly more than enough to feel. Ysaye found herself wondering if
there was supposed to be this much turbulence; she was strapped tightly into her seat, but the small craft was buffeted around by the unexpectedly heavy winds, and she was grateful that Ralph MacAran, the Second Officer, at the controls of the shuttle, was their best atmospheric pilot. Judging by the expressions of the rest of the crew on this first landing, she wasn’t the only one. The atmosphere of this planet was giving them a pretty heavy introduction to its climate.
“Is this—normal?” she finally asked, leaning forward so that MacAran could hear
“Well—candidly, no. This is really heavy weather, and we’re hardly down into it
yet. But then, with all these mountains, we never expected it would be a fine holiday resort,” said the young man at the controls.
Ysaye hoped that he was as confident as he sounded. As Second Officer (the
Captain could not leave the ship, nor could the First Officer), Commander MacAran was the ranking officer present, and if there were some kind of emergency,
would be the one in charge of the party. Younger than most of his “charges,” he was a sturdy, thick-set young man in his middle twenties, with the build of a professional wrestler, and thick, curling blond hair. Normally, Ysaye would never even have considered questioning his competence and experience. Right now, though, he looked terribly young…
And he was looking younger and less confident by the moment. “My God,” he
muttered, fighting with the controls. “I thought the weather maps showed this as an area of relative calm! The wind shear here is absolute hell. Hang on tight, everybody!”
The shuttle bucked, then dropped like a stone, pulling negative gees for a moment and throwing them all against their restraints. Elizabeth’s pale face and clenched teeth showed her fear, and behind Ysaye, someone gave a muffled yelp.