Back | Next

A Matter of Dreams

ON SINTIA, it's the dreaming that first marks a witch.

A child will dream the minutiae of life, relate the sending in the morning, all innocent and dewy-eyed; astonished when the dream events turn true next day—or next one.

She's watched then, for grandma will have contacted Temple, never doubt it; and after a time the child will dream the name of the one she had been Before. Then she'll be brought to Circle and trained to be one with the Dream.

I know the way because Jake used to talk about his Mam, my gran'mam, who'd Dreamed a Dream and had the training and then left the Temple and who she'd been—for love, Jake said, and for stars.

I've never dreamed the naming-Dream, being outworlder, even though witch-blood. I figure only the damned come to me—those who died unquiet or outside the love of the Holy; those who somehow lost their Name. I figure that, but I don't say it. I dream the dreams and I let them go. Sometimes they come back. Sometimes they come true.

The first time I saw Her was dreamsight.

She was in a port side bar—too coarse a place for Her to be—standing straight in her starry blue robe, with her breasts free and her face shining with power, black hair crackling lightning and spread around her like an aurora. Her eyes—her eyes were black, and in the dream she saw me. At her feet was broken glass; the shine of a knife.

She was young—not above fifteen—with the silver bangles hiding half of one slim arm. But for all that, I wanted to go down on my knees in front of her and lay my cheek against her mound from which had sprung the worlds and the stars and the deep places between. That's how it was, in the dream.

But then the dream ended, as they do, and there was Lil, yelling about orbit and was I conning or not, so it was out of the cot and let the dream go and get about the business of making a living.

I never talked to Lil about the dreams. They scared her, and there's nothing worth that. Still, she's witch-blood too and knows as sure I do when I've dreamt, though she never dreams at all.

"Well?" she spat at me, spiteful the way sisters are, within the protection of Us against Them. "Was it wet this time?"

"Keep it down and keep it clean," I answered, no more gentle, because there was the flutter in the nine-dial I didn't like, which meant relying on number eight, a thing that had been a bad idea since I was co-pilot and Mam on prime.

"Where's the passenger?" I asked, because there was a certain amount of care taken, when you'd been paid hard coin to deliver someone intact to a place.

"Webbed in gentle as a roolyet," Lil said and I gave a grin for the old adventure, though putting Mona Luki through the orbiting sequence was proving more of a problem than usual.

"Shit," muttered Lil, hands over her part of the business. "We gotta get that reset before we lift, Fiona."

"On Sintia?"

"Federated port," she answered, which was true. And, "Credit's good," which was not.

"Yeah," I said, not wanting to argue the point and have her start to worry. "We'll let our passenger off and see if we can't patch it. Bound to be junkyards."

"Flying a junkyard," she answered, which I should have known she would. "Mam'd have a fit, Fiona . . ."

And that was another line of thought better left alone.

"Mind your board," I growled, and she sighed, and looked rebellious, and turned her head away.

Tower came on in another few seconds, with an offer of escort, if we had equipment trouble. I turned down the escort, which was expensive, but requisitioned a repair pad, which came gratis, they having noted trouble, and we got her down without any bad glitches.

Our passenger, that was something else.

Cly Nelbern got her first sight of Sintia Port there in screen number one, looked sour and flung herself into prime pilot's chair like she had a right to it. Lil had her mouth half opened before she caught my headshake, but I doubt Nelbern would have heard a shout just then.

I finished making my coffee-toot and ambled over, leaned a hip against the chair-back and spoke over her head. "We can give you a hand with your baggage," I said; "or you can leave it stored. We'll be here a day or two. Repairs."

Nelbern gave one of those snorts we'd decided between us passed for her laughing and shook her head, real gentle, eyes still and always on that screen.

"So eager to lose me, Captain?"

"Not to say," I answered, calm, like Mam'd taught us to talk to dirtsiders. "It's just that you paid cash money for Jumps in a hurry. I figured you had an appointment."

"An appointment," she repeated and snorted. "An appointment." She licked her lips like the phrase tasted sweet and glanced up at me out of wide blue eyes.

"As it happens, Captain, I do have an—appointment. Yes." She smiled, which I had never liked in her, and nodded. "I wonder if I might impose upon the good natures of yourself and your sister just a bit further."

I gritted my teeth and brought the cup up to keep it from showing; feeling Lil tense up behind me. I was mortally sick of dirtside manners and a stranger on our ship, whether she carried an ambassador's ransom in Terran bits or no. It was on the tip of my tongue to say so, though not as blunt as that, when she turned full around to face me.

"I noticed a bit of a boggle on the way in, I thought," she said, in that conversational way officials use when it's bound to cost you plenty. I stared down at her and shrugged.

"Told you we'd be here a day or so."

"Indeed. Repairs, I think you said." She stared, sizing me up, maybe, though I was sure she'd done that long ago. "Repairs to the central mag coil don't come cheap, Captain; and it's hardly anything you'd like to trust to the junkyard and a gerryrig." She smiled. "If you had a choice."

I felt Lil behind me like a wound spring, and in my heart I cursed all dirtsiders—especially this one. I gritted my teeth and then bared them, not caring a whit for manners.

"So now I've got a choice, have I?"

"Certainly you have a choice." She brought her hand up, and I focused on the thing that gleamed there; did a double-stare and nearly dumped my drink in her lap.

She was holding a Liaden cantra piece.

I stared, not at the coin—enough money for several choices and maybe a luxury, too—but at her face—and read no more there than I ever had, save it was the first time I thought her eyes looked mad.

"What in starlight do you want ?" That was Lil, coming up like she was stalking tiger, bent at the waist, her eyes on the shine of the money.

Cly Nelbern looked up at me and she smiled before turning to face my sister and hold the coin up high.

"An escort," she said softly. "Just an escort, Ms. Betany, as I walk around the town. In case the natives are restless."

"An escort," I scoffed, around the cold dread in my belly. "On Sintia a woman needs no escort—unless you'll be breaking into the Temple?"

The mad eyes gleamed my way, though she forbore to smile again. "Not the Temple, Captain. Of course not." She did smile then, her eyes going back to Lil. "That would be foolish."

"Then us not being fools—" I began, short-tempered with something near terror.

But Lil shot a glance that silenced me long enough for her to gabble: "A cantra, Fiona! New parts, backups, a new 'doc, coffee . . ." Her eyes were back on Cly Nelbern and I knew right then I'd lost her.

"Lillian!" I snapped, as much like Mam as I could.

Too late. "I'll do it," she told the dirtsider. And held out her hand for the money.

I sat down slow on the arm of the co-pilot's chair and brought the tepid coffee-toot up to sip. There was nothing else to do, the word having been given. Nothing except:

"I'll be coming along as well, then. If that coin's so wide a treasure, I reckon it'll pay berth-cost while we escort this lady 'round town."

Nelbern laughed, a half-wild sound no more pleasant than her smile. "Think I won't pay, Captain?" She sent a brilliant glance into my face, and flicked the coin to Lil.

"Order your repairs," she said, standing up. "And you'll—both—be ready to come with me in one hour."

She sauntered off toward her cabin and I looked at my sister, standing there with her hand clenched 'round that money, and her cheeks flushed with lust of it and I sighed and hovered a second between sad and mad; figured neither would mend it and stood up myself.

"I'll take first shower," I said, tossing the cup into the unit as I went past.

At the door I looked back, but she was showing back to me, head half-tipped, like she hadn't even noticed that I'd gone.

* * *

WE WANDERED, that endless afternoon, visiting trade-bars, dives, and talking-booths on both sides of the river. Some places folk eyed us; some places they eyed our employer. Other places they ignored us entirely, and those I liked least of all.

The last was near the city-line, close enough to the Temple that the evening chant echoed off the dirty windows and the tawdry buildings, making even Cly Nelbern look up for a moment before turning down the short, ill-kept walk.

This place at least made some pretense of cleanliness: the window was clear enough to let the evening light come through; the bar was chipped but polished; the tender's tattered apron had recently been washed.

I was three steps into the room before I realized why it felt so comfortable. It reminded me of Mona Luki: desperately ship-shape and tidy; and showing the worn spots despite it.

It hadn't always been so. When Mam and Jake had run her, back when I was little enough to be strapped in a net slung between their seats, watching baby-eyed while they worked the Jumps between them—then Mona Luki'd gleamed, oiled and cared-for and prosperous as you like. Then there'd been coffee—yes, and chocolate—and repairs when they were needed and spare parts in third hold. Lil was too young to remember those days—too young, just, to remember Jake, killed in the same mishap that had taken Mam's leg.

I'd dreamed that accident; I'd even told Mam. They'd gone out to make the repair anyway, of course, as who, save on Sintia, would not? I'd climbed into the netting with the baby and held her til Mam started to scream.

Six years old, I was then, but it got me thinking hard about dreams.

"So!" That was Cly Nelbern and here was the present. I came alert to both, sending my gaze along hers to the man in Sintian town clothes—shabby, bright blue overshirt, bold with raveling embroidery, darker blue pants, worn wide and loose in respect of the heat, with matching fancy-work around the hems.

He had a tired face, used honestly, I thought, with eyes showing desperation far back. Likely I looked the same: respectability balanced on the knife-edge of despair, needing only one more disaster to send us all over into thieves.

He gulped, brown eyes darting from her face to mine, barely glancing from me to Lil before his face softened a touch and he bowed, gesturing toward the rear of the little room.

"I have a table, La—ma'am." His voice was agreeable, though it quavered. Nelbern shrugged and pushed forward.

"Delightful," she said, and the edge in her voice put the shine of fear in his eyes. "Lead on."

It was a small enough table in a snug, ill-lit corner, tight seating for four, but he'd clearly been expecting only her.

"My—companions," Cly Nelbern said to his startled glare. "Captain Fiona and Ms. Lillian Betany, of the Mona Luki."

It gave me a chill, being named there, and by the sudden dart of Lil's eyes, it chilled her, too. But she stayed tight where she was, perched on a chair crammed next to the man—and Cly Nelbern smiled.

"Well?" she said, and the icy edge was back in her voice. "Where is it?"

He gulped, sent a hunted glance around the room at my back and firmed his face to look at her.

"In the office at the Port House, Lady. And that's where it's going to stay."

Nelbern didn't frown, which was what I expected. She picked up her drink and had a sip, eyeing him over the chipped rim.

"Indeed." She set the glass aside. "That wasn't our agreement."

Mild as it sounded, it was evidently bad enough. The man stared at her dumbly, pale to the lips.

"Our agreement," she pursued, still in that mild-as-milk voice, "was that you provide me with a certain item, in return for which I provide you with a particular sum of money." She stared at him. "That was the agreement?"

He gulped. "Yes, Lady."

"'Yes, Lady'," she repeated softly, then leaned suddenly across Lil, to put her face right up to his and hiss: "Then what in the name of the Last Hell do you mean by telling me you don't have that file?"

"I-" he tried to pull back, but there was nowhere to go. He licked his lips. "There is a—a Maiden out of Circle House, come to study and catalog the files. She—Lady, I dare not! If Circle House finds me—"

"What I'll leave for the Temple to find if I don't have that file within the day will be far beyond worrying about witches," Cly Nelbern snarled. "Do you mark me, Pirro Velesz?"

If he hated the speaking of his name, in that place and in such company, he gave no sign other than the roll of an eye.

"The Maiden," he said, "is named Moonhawk."

Nelbern leaned back and reached for her glass. "What do I care for her name? If you can't match wits with a half-grown chit out of Circle House—"

"Moonhawk," the man interrupted, with an intensity that raised the hairs along the back of my neck, "is the oldest Name in Circle. Moonhawk is the most powerful servant of the Goddess—every life she lives is exceptional—historic . . ."

"Don't prate at me like an abo! So the girl had the wit to pick an elite name—she's still in school. Come to Port House to study the records, you said. Where's the danger—"

"The girl," Velesz interrupted again, "is Moonhawk's incarnation in this life, Lady. Fact. She is young, but the power abides within her. The danger is that she has not yet relearned control. The training her elders-in-world provide is to ensure that she will not—accidentally—use more force than might be necessary."

"Loose cannon." That was Lil, unexpected and great-eyed, but still well away from fright.

The man turned his head, eyes easier for looking at her again. "Loose cannon," he repeated and nodded, a smile coming and going in the second before he looked back to Cly Nelbern. "Power without guidance."

"Well, then we'll see to it that she has no need to expend her powers." Nelbern finished her drink and put the glass away. "I have a client, can you understand that? An—organization—that has paid me to—collect—a certain fact. The only place this fact has come to light is Sintia. My client has paid for proof. I will provide proof, whether you earn your fee or not." She looked closely at Velesz.

"My client is not easily thwarted, you see? Satisfaction earns reward. The wages of inefficiency are destruction and disgrace." She leaned forward, and I saw fear bloom at last in my sister's eyes and saw the sweat bead on the man's face.

"Disappoint me and be sure that your name will pass higher."

"Lady—" he began, but Cly Nelbern had pushed back her chair and turned away, carelessly flinging a handful of coin to the table.

"Tomorrow midday," she said softly. "At Diablo's, in the port. Have it." And she was gone.

I half-rose, but Lil stayed put, the fear like lunacy in her eyes. If she wasn't ship and blood I'd have left her but—

"Let's move," I said, gruff-like, so not to spook her, but she stared at me like she had when Mam died, and never moved a hair.


"Lady Lillian," that was Pirro Velesz, leaning over to take her hand, oh so gently. His voice was soft, and I seemed to hear it, like a cat's burr, somewhere in the middle of my brain. "You cannot stay here, Lady Lillian. Go with your captain."

Incredibly, the fear subsided and she turned her eyes to him. "What're you gonna do?" she asked, matter-of-fact as if they were old shipmates and she had every right of an answer.

He smiled and pressed her hand, speaking as if to a child, "Why, I will go to the Port House and do what I may, and trust that the Goddess is good."

It seemed to satisfy her, who never had patience with my dream-tellings. She nodded and rose, Velesz with her, and he gave her hand into mine with a little bow, as if all were right and tight with him.

But the eyes he lifted to mine in the moment he gave Lil over were blighted with dread. His lips held the ghost of the smile he'd shown her, but his eyes were the eyes of a man looking at his death, or worse.

I hesitated, thinking to offer—what? I had no aid to give, trapped likewise by Cly Nelbern's coin. I nodded my thanks and went away, my sister's hand warm in mine.

* * *

IT'S A MARVEL how many repairs can be done to a ship, in the course of six short hours. A marvel, too, how much it all cost: enough to put a sizable dent in Cly Nelbern's cantra-piece. Though, truth told, the leavings of money would be enough to give Luki some semblance of credit again—enough, even, to claim a small amount of interest, if Lil would agree to forego real coffee for a time.

I had just thought that comfortable thought, musing among the itemizations on the screen, when I caught a sound behind me and spun the chair, fast.

Cly Nelbern smiled her ugly smile and came forward another step, to lean companionably against the co-pilot's chair and nod at the bill on the screen.

"Everything put to right now, Captain?"

"Everything'd take a deal more than a cantra," I said, reluctantly honest; "but we're set to fly."

"Good," she said, somewhat absent, and I asked the next question even more reluctantly.

"You'll be wanting our escort tomorrow?"

She looked up at that, alert as a dock-rat. "But of course—and a lift out, too. If we're up against the Temple—if that fool out there trips up . . ." The words faded and she focused on me again. "Have us moved to a hot-pad, Captain."

I looked at her hard. "We're ready to fly, I said. I didn't say we were champing on it. Plan to look around, take on cargo."

"You have a passenger." The voice was milk-mild and I felt my heart shudder, remembering her at the tavern.

I shook my head. "We're through with passengers. Trade's what we were born to; trade's what we'll stay with."

"Indeed." She pointed at the screen, at the invoice still visible, waiting for my thumbprint so the funds could leave Luki's account. "I demand return of my loan, Captain Betany."

I stared at her. "That was no loan, and you well know it. Payment for escort, was what you said."

"Really?" she purred and then I knew how far Lil had lost us. "Do you have a contract stating so, Captain?"

I held onto my glare with an effort. "No."

"No." She smiled. "But I have a contract stipulating that I offered a cantra in loan for needful repairs, payable upon demand, else the ship resolves to me."

My mouth dried and my heart took up thumping so hard I thought the scans might read it. "You have no such thing."

"Oh, I do," she assured me; "and so do you. Right there in the daily log." She leaned away from the chair and started back toward the companionway. "Do move us to a hot-pad, Captain; there's a good girl."

It took me a long time to move, after she was gone. The first thing I did was open the log and read the thing she'd put there, sealed with my own codes.

Ship and blood. Mam'd told me to save things in that order, always. Ship first, then blood. I'd never in life have signed such a thing, nor agreed for the sake of a cantra . . .

Ship and blood. I thumbprinted the invoice and put the call through for the ready-pad. I okay'd those charges, too, forgetful of the meaning of the numbers; and then I went to my bunk to lie down, sealing the door and detaching the bell.

After a time of lying there in cold terror, eyes screwed shut against the awful sight of the ceiling, I fell asleep and I dreamed.

The dream was a confusion of pointing fingers and harsh voices making accusations that echoed into meaninglessness. At the center of it all stood my goddess of the barroom, her hair quiescent, though her eyes were not; and the one word that echoed clearly from the finger-pointers was "Recant!"

The word that I woke with among pounding head was hers, shaping my mouth with Her will: "No."

* * *

THE SHIP WAS QUIET. World-clock showed midnight, straight up. Ship clock showed 0200.

I made myself a cup of 'toot and slid into the pilot's chair, worry gnawing at my gut. Cly Nelbern was surely mad, with more than grounder lunacy. No simple dockside bully, she; but a dangerous woman, and on more levels than gave me comfort.

The man? The man was desperate, and that carried its own brand of danger. But he seemed sane enough, and perhaps might be turned a card—made a pawn. Sacrificed for ship and blood.

It was snatching at starlight, of course, and madness in its own way, but I had to try something, there in the dark quiet; had to make some stab at saving my ship, my sister.

Curiously, it was Nelbern's money that bought me a way to make that stab, sorry as it might be. I set aside my cold drink and cycled the chair forward. I'd never had the credit to tap into a current planetary data bank before. We'd always bought old records—last week's cargo movements, yesterday's closing prices, and left it at that—but not this time.

I typed in Pirro Velesz' name. I tapped the dot for full database inspection. I offered up a prayer to whatever gods might be awake and listening, there in the deep heart of the night.

Then I went to sleep.

* * *

CLY NELBERN WOKE me by laughing, waving a hand at the screen where Velesz' information glittered like an unexplored star system.

"That's close to the way I found him, Captain, except that I didn't have a name—I just looked for a desperate person."

She laughed again, harder.

"That's how I found Mona Luki , too. Hard as you try to hide it, the information's there. I know how to read that spiral. Dreamers like you and that greengrocer—always thinking you'll find a way to beat the universe.

"I've seen it over and over again. You think you're something special. Think luck'll be with you. Well, you got lucky, Captain. I found you, thought you'd be useful and pulled you out of your downspin. I'm your luck, and if you're a smart girl, you'll ride easy with me, no arguments."

She waved at the screen again.

"But you want to know all about Senor Velesz—go ahead—read it. It's not a secret, is it?" Her words bit, deep and bitter, but I couldn't think of anything useful to say to a dirtsider who held mortgage to my ship and my kin, so I spun the chair back around and I read.

* * *

THE SHORT OF IT was that Pirro Velesz got himself suckered on a contract to supply some upcountry Temple with vittles for a year. When he couldn't make delivery the Temple took his business and put him to work at the rate of a standard year for each month the Temple had to buy its food from someplace else. He had the option of buying himself out, of course—but he'd rolled everything on that losing deal—and no one on Sintia would lend money to a Temple debtor.

I sagged back into the pilot's chair, yanked two ways: pity and despair. So much for the stab to save us. Pirro Velesz was in worse case than Mona Luki or either of her sorry crew.

* * *

MIDDAY AT DIABLO'S. Too far from the city to hear the Temple chanting. Too close to the port to see anything but outworlders, half of them drunk and the other half out of luck, hunched over the bar like their last hope of salvation, eyes blurred like the middle of Jump.

Not one of them took note of us at all.

Lil was jumping terrified—the move to the hot-pad in the middle of our night and the guilt that came with knowing she'd sold our ship, however unknowing, had her in a state already. The bar filled with chancy spacers wired her even higher.

Pirro Velesz was nowhere to be seen.

Cly Nelbern found us a ringside table, ordered up a round of drinks and leaned back. She sipped from her glass now and then, and her hands were steady when she did, but for all of that I thought she looked tense and I tried not to think what she'd do, if she were forced into hunting him out.

The crowd thinned soon enough, as my drink sat untouched on the table. Lil's was long swallowed and Nelbern had all but finished her own.

She had just waved her hand for the waiter when there was a flicker at the doorway and a ripple of city-clothes in the corner of my eye. Nelbern came to her feet in one smooth flow, moving through the knot of patrons.

Lil charged to her feet the next second, wailing something inarticulate under her breath.

"Lillian!" I cried as she went by, but her eyes were full of anguish and she never heard me at all.

A circle had opened around them—Cly Nelbern and Pirro Velesz—a circle of the dead-eyed incurious, who turned back to drinking after a glance determined the business was none of theirs.

"Well?" I heard her say, as Lil pushed a way to his side.

"Well." He looked tired, his shabby blue tunic draggled and dirty. He swayed where he stood and Lil put a hand under his elbow to steady him.

I saw a smile come and go on his face, like a whisper of might-have-been; then he reached in his sleeve and pulled out a thin white envelope of the kind used for dirtsider's mail and handed it to Cly Nelbern.

She shook her head toward a table and we moved that way, Lil bright in the reflection of the man's wan smile.

"So." A purr of satisfaction as Nelbern opened the folder and pulled out a strip of film. "The original?"

He nodded. "As agreed."

"Delightful. And I have payment for you." She patted her own sleeve. Something in the gesture chilled me, and I saw Lil clutch after the man's arm, her eyes showing white at the edges.

It was then that I saw Her, in life as in dreaming, walking into that place in Her cleanness and her power, as if nothing evil could ever touch Her.

"Witch!" screamed one of the drunks at the bar, and threw a glass, which fell, stone-heavy, and broke on the floor at Her feet.

She turned Her head and there was silence at the bar; raised a hand and drew a sign in the fetid air. The silence shimmered, then broke apart, as the one who had thrown the glass lay his head upon the bar top and wailed.

She turned back then, fixed us with those eyes, which saw us and saw through us.

"Pirro Velesz." Her voice was deep, not ungentle; I heard it in my heart.

He licked his lips. "Mercy, Lady."

"Return what you have stolen."

"Lady, I cannot."

The smooth brow creased; then those eyes moved again, pinning Cly Nelbern.

"Return what you have stolen."

The older woman smiled, and bowed a trifle, one hand over her heart. "Why certainly, child," she said agreeably, and reached into her sleeve.

Lil cried out—a single wild shriek of protest. The man flung out a hand, too late, to stop the throw. I jumped half-forward, not sure if my mark were Lil or Nelbern, and saw the knife arc silver-bright, straight for Moonhawk's breast.

It fell, as had the glass; there was a clatter of shards where it struck. Cly Nelbern was already moving, the shine of another blade in her hand, swinging for an undercut that would take the girl out as Nelbern charged on—


The world rocked and the stars shook in their places. I froze where I was, unable to do otherwise, my muscles commanded by Her will, not mine. I saw Cly Nelbern fall, and Lil. I saw Pirro frozen upright like myself, and heard the silence; wondered if everyone in the bar were like froze . . .

Moonhawk lifted a hand, bangles tinkling like carnival, and pointed a slender finger at Pirro.

"Return what you have stolen."

He moved, wooden-like, and went to his knees at Nelbern's side. He pulled the envelope from her belt, but tarried, his fingers straying to her wrist. Slowly, he stood and bowed to the girl.

"Lady, this woman is dead."

The power shimmered, and I saw the girl through the goddess; frightened by what she had done, and saddened. She bent her head and when she raised it again, the girl was gone.

Pirro bowed, offered the envelope with its strip of film.

She took it and slipped it away, her eyes, black and brilliant, boring into his. In a moment, she had moved, turning like attention to me, so that I felt Her hovering over my soul; felt Her touch on my heart; felt, at last the loosening of Her will and blurted out: "My sister is dead!"

The black eyes seared into me. "Your sister is alive, Fiona Betany. Give thanks to the Goddess and honor your gifts. All of them."

She went to Lil then, and spoke two words which my ears somehow refused to hear. Then she reached down Her own hand to help my sister rise, and stepped back to survey the three of us.

"You will return to your ship and you will leave this world. You are forbidden to return, on pain of punishment from the Circle."

She motioned, drawing burning signs within the air. "Go now! Be prosperous and true." A tip of a hand toward what had been Cly Nelbern. "Leave that one here."

She paused, looking at us with those eyes, that saw us and saw through us and forgave everything they saw.

"Goddess bless," she said. "Now run!"

It might have been that easy, had the others not come just then: Temple robes of starry blue, cowls half-hiding faces that woke the echo of "Recant!" within me. There were three, or five, or eight of them. Their magics so shimmered air and truth that I could not count the number.

"HOLD!" demanded one of the group, and, perforce, we did.

One witch pointed at me; I heard the word "Talent!" and nothing else until a second witch pointed at Lil, and me, and Pirro and waved us all into a circle with the word "Conspiracy" binding us together like rope.

A third snatched open the envelope that Moonhawk had meekly given her and let out a smoking curse. "They would have stolen the secret of the catalyst molecule!"

There was charged silence, as if a great secret had been revealed; and the oldest among them laughed, all brittle.

"So, someone seeks to manufacture witches. Little enough success would have attended them! The Temple way is best. As all know—and believe."

She glanced about and took a brisker tone. "The wrong is that they dared to steal from us—the Temple! Retribution is demanded."

She gestured at us, and there was certainty in my heart: Ship and blood—and a good man, too . . .doomed.

The shortest witch raised a hand, began to trace a sign—and stopped because Moonhawk was abruptly there, meek no longer, slashing across the other's sorcery with a jangle of bracelets.

"Let be!" she snapped. "Moonhawk has looked and Moonhawk has forgiven. This was a dream-matter! Their way is clear, guaranteed by the Goddess!"

The shorter witch gaped, hand suspended in mid-sign. "Moonhawk has forgiven! Heresy, Maiden. By what right—"

The argument raged, words unsayable were said and then sign against sign was raised and the witches contended there—

But I found my limbs were my own again and I grabbed Lil's arm with one hand and Pirro's with the other and we took Moonhawk's last advice—we ran, and none chased after.

* * *

JUST AS WELL THAT Moonhawk banned us from her world, for Mona Luki's liftoff and out-travel that day is now legend among traders and Port Masters (who all too often add an extra watch-minder to our bill), and most likely we'd be shot down on approach for traffic violations alone. But Moonhawk had told us to run!

And we did what she told us—all of what she told us; and we're as prosperous as a three-crew ship can be.

Pirro calms Lil as none since Mam did; she has found the best truth possible. I have found Pirro practical, a man of his word, always.

We share shifts or switch about to cover the boards. It works well, two sisters and their husband—not an odd arrangement, among small traders. Two babies on the way, which will fill the ship nicely and give us all too much to do.

I take the dreaming seriously now, which accounts for some of our luck in trade—and in other things.

Now and again over the months I dreamt of her—Moonhawk. Not happy dreams. A burning. A hacking away of her long black hair. A mort of hard times among strangers, too much work, not enough food—things I remember all too well myself, so could be those dreams weren't true. Sometimes I'd wake and find myself with my arms pushed tight against the cabin's wall as if I'd tried to push those hard times away . . .

Just lately, though, I dreamed her again, after a long time of no dreams at all. It woke me and I lay there, listening to Pirro breathe and considering what I'd seen: Moonhawk, short hair all curly, dressed in prosperous trader clothes, bending to embrace a fair-haired boy while a tall man looked on, smiling.

The dream had felt true, I thought, and turned over, to nudge Pirro awake and tell him.

He smiled sleepily and hugged me, the motion of his hands a comfort.

"Will our daughter be a dream-witch too?" he asked and I had no quick answer, for of our daughter the dreams are just beginning.

-Standard Year 1375

Back | Next