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Regardless of how extraordinarily it would end, Midspring Day began like most any other for Journey Smith.
Mere roused her from bed before sunup. Groggily, Journey went to Scurf?s bowl and sprinkled some feed into his water. Scurf was her gillbug. He didn?t eat much and he didn?t eat often, but she planned on being gone all day so she made sure he had enough to tide him over for a while. She tapped his bowl to be sure he noticed the feed. Then she looked about for her other pet, Rimmer. He wasn?t about, but that wasn?t too strange for him.
It was hot. And, hot inside the groundhut meant it was even hotter outside. It was an unseasonable warmth but Journey thought little of the temperature except to head out without bothering to put anything on over her chemise. She left the soil floor of her room, pushed the curtaindoor aside and crossed the stone floored midchamber to the kitchen. Mere had already made some tea. Journey had herself a cup seasoned with some rosesugar. Then, she left the kitchen through the foyer, up the stairs to the ground level and headed out to row the fields.
She didn?t bother with shoes. She almost never bothered with shoes, in fact. She liked the feel of the natural ground neath her feet. For the Festival later she?d wear shoes, of course. Parts of the Parrygrounds were paved and that was no good on her bare feet.
Her pere was already out in northfield, rowing the blackseed roots. Journey grabbed up a rake and joined him. It wasn?t easy work; blackseed root had a tendency to grab hold of a rake?s teeth and snap them off if one wasn?t careful. But, Journey was used to it. And it was most all her pere knew. He?d been rowing fields and milking dummalo since he was a child. And, now, Journey did the same. As soon as she was able to hold a rake, she had been out in the fields rowing them. Of course, in her early years, her efforts did not really do much for the crops, though the energy she expended in trying to help made her pere smile and made her brotere and mere laugh. Now though, coming up to her reapday, Journey was big enough to row as much as her pere would in a given day, if not more. She didn?t like the work, but she could do it and, with the years of practice, she was good at it. If willan took, she?d be a farmer her whole life like her pere. Of course, that wasn?t quite the truth. If Parrow willed it, she?d have a life far from the farm, a life of adventure maybe, or a life in the royal court, not that she bothered with such trifling fantasies mosttime.
?Journey, what are you doing,? Pere called from a few rows over. ?If your mere sees you, you?ll get a switchin for sure.?
Journey looked up from her work. She?d barely heard her pere. ?What, Pere??
?Coming out in just your chemise,? Pere replied, shaking his head. Really, it wasn?t such a big deal, though her mere might actually take the switch to her a few times for it. Journey often did the morning rowing in nothing but her chemise. It wasn?t like there were neighbors closeby to see her and Pere had seen her in that and less plenty growing up; live in a small groundhut and the quarters keep a family very close and familiar with one another.
Journey rolled her eyes and went back to rowing. She said nothing about the issue or whether or not Mere would take the switch to her if she saw.
Sure enough, her mere wasn?t too happy when Journey and her pere came in a short time later to break the fast. ?You wash your hands for eating,? she told Journey, as she was wont to do each morning, like Journey hadn?t gotten the point after a few years. ?And, get some clothes on,? she added as Journey went back outside to wash her hands under the pumpwaters.
Journey laughed a little; she wasn?t getting dressed until after eating. Not thisday, what with the Festival coming. It was the Ides of Folgenes, Midspring Day. ?I?d probably get something on my surcoat and get a switchin for sure,? Journey said to no one in particular. All that was near the pump was a dummalo and Loke, who, though he?d once been a lively dog, was now so far gone in years he probably couldn?t even hear her talking. She finished washing up, tossed some water on her face and pushed her hair back, then went back down into the house.
To break the fast that morning, the Smiths had caponeggs seasoned with potherbs, shallots and, of course, blackseed spice, blackseed rolls and the last of the salted dum. And, Journey had two more cups of tea with rosesugar to drown out the blackseed in everything. The dum she ate last to savor the taste. She knew there was no more in the larder, though she had secreted away a few strips for safekeeping, and that the last of the herd was not going to be slaughtered for a while. They didn?t even belong to the family, if you took her mere?s version of things. The last six dummalo, the six spared from slaughter after the oarworm infestation the previous fall, were to be Journey?s dowry. ?I?ve not even had my reapday yet, Mere,? Journey had told her mere. ?What do I need a dowry for??
?You know Plete Carter?s keen on you,? Mere replied. ?And, his reapday?s coming soon enough. With yours past not long after Midspring Day there?ll be a Bannday soon enough.?
Journey put her fist to her chest in mock salute. ?Yes, Mere,? she said.
Mere slapped her then. It wasn?t anything too painful but it stung for sure. ?Taupish jenny, don?t you start with me. You?re not a child any more, reapday or not. You?ve had your monthlies for halfyear now.?
?So, you marry me off to Plete Carter and run me out of the house firstthing??
?I make sure you?re prepared for life, for love, for marriage and happiness.?
?Maybe all those things don?t have to always go together,? Journey replied and she braced herself for another slap. But, none came.
That conversation was a few weeks past now, and there had been several more quite similar to that one since. Plete Carter, who Journey certainly liked?they?d been the best of friends growing up, afterall, and she had even put his name on her wishboat once?had had his reapday, and with Midspring Day behind her, Journey knew her own reapday was not far off, less a month. She?d already been working on memorizing the Old Words for her speech for sometime and could recite her speech entirely but not yet fluidly.
Of course, Midspring Day was not behind her, not yet anyway. And, to be fair, as much fun as the Festival was sure to be, she dreaded it a little. She had reason to believe that Plete would choose some point during the Festival to propose. Then, as soon as Journey?s reapday had come, there?d be a Bannday planned and everyone would know of the betrothal. And, the way things were for the Smiths, it would be put upon Journey to marry sooner rather than later to join the families and save the farm. Of course, that was just the melodramatic version of events, what Journey?s mere liked to call silliness.
?Your bodice and surcoat are laid out on your bed,? Mere said.
?Wimpareren*,? Journey muttered.
* Wimpareren : From a girl's reapday speech, the Old Words for, literally, prepared woman.
Journey finished chewing her last bite of salted dum before responding. ?Do I have a kurt that will match? The sides will show some.? She knew she had a dark green one that would match just fine with her Midspring Day outfit, and Mere surely knew she knew, but there had to be some conversation or the two of them might never talk.
?Your dark green one will go splendidly with the bright green of the surcoat,? Mere said, smiling. ?And, it?ll match your pere and me.?
Pere looked up from his eggs. He hadn?t been paying any attention. ?What about me??
?Nothing dear,? Mere said. ?Eat your eggs, then let?s get ready to go.?
?May I be excused,? Journey asked. Her plate was practically licked clean. Mere nodded and Journey took her empty plate to the sink, rinsed it and set it aside to dry then went to her room.
The curtaindoor drawn, Journey stripped out of her worn chemise and tossed it on the floor. She went to put on a clean one and noticed Rimmer was sitting on the bed looking at her. Rimmer was her pet gapha. She was the only kid in all of Crale to have one and she liked the idea of that. Most kids were scared to even touch hers let alone get their own. You see, gapha have a poisonous bite usually. But, Pere took Rimmer to a man in Taven once a moontime to have him devenned. ?A special pet for a special girl,? he?d told Journey the day he brought home the thing. In the three years they?d had the gapha, he?d bitten none of them and he was quite playful when he wanted to be. Journey grabbed a clean chemise from the closet and put it on. ?What??
Rimmer stuck out his tongue and hissed a little.
?Don?t hiss at me,? Journey said. ?It?s not playtime.?
Like he knew exactly what she?d said, which, Journey had learned from experience, might be the case, his tongue retreated and he put his head down. Journey picked him up and hugged him close to her. ?Oh, poor Rimmer. You should run outside and play. I?ll be off at the Festival till dark.? She put Rimmer down and he stood there for a moment, looking at her, then ran from the room, most likely to do just what she?d said, go outside and play.
She put the dark green kurt over her chemise then picked up her bodice from the bed and put it on. She thought she might need a little help tying it but got it done herself rather easily. Then, she put on her surcoat, made specially for the Midspring Day Festival. ?Gotta look beautiful for the big day,? Mere had said. She?d been referring most likely to the prospect of it being the day Plete proposed, but Journey liked the idea of dressing up nice for the occasion of the Festival itself, especially since this year she was to dance about Parrow?s Pole.
The surcoat was a bright green trimmed in crimson. That trim, her mere said cost a pretty penny. She?d likely traded some mulled wine for it rather than spend any actual pennies, of course, but Journey didn?t mention that. As far as official things went, Tailor Smith was a wife and occasional farmer, not a maker of wines. She did that in secret for the extra money. Pere hadn?t liked the idea initially. The stills behind his shop next to the house were supposed to just be for the family. But, when he?d tasted a few of the wine recipes his wife had concocted, he knew they?d be loved and bought regularly by a few connoisseurs in town.
Journey put on her belt and affixed her purse to it. She smiled at her purse, knowing its contents would draw shameful shaking of the head from Mere if she were to learn what was in there. ?Wimbereit*, indeed,? Journey said, smiling. No proper girl would have a knife or a roll of twine with her. No proper girl would carry a tinderbox or blackseed balm. But, Journey looked forward to a day when, if willan took, all these things and more would come to hand. She slipped her feet into her good sandals, took a moment to look over the map of Gardea on her wall then went out into the midchamber to show off her outfit.
* Wimbereit : From a girl's reapday speech, the Old Words for, literally, ready woman.
?Beautiful,? Pere said. He was dressed already in a dark green tunic and leather breeches. His long hair was pulled back and tied loosely with thong. He looked almost a right gentleman.
?You?ll outspeckle all the girls,? Mere said from behind Journey. She?d been in Kannon?s old room, most likely sewing some finishing touch onto her own outfit; that?s where Mere?s sewing supplies were stored now.
Journey turned about and couldn?t help but smile. ?You think so??
Mere, dressed in a dark green surcoat, looking quite the lady herself, her hair in a beaded net, looked Journey up and down. ?You will be the show and everyone will notice you.?
?On a clear day,? Journey replied.
?Oh, don?t be silly. Plete Carter won?t know what to do with himself.?
?Or with me,? Journey replied with a wry smile.
?Bad jenny,? Mere replied, but there was laughter in her voice.
?Shall we go,? asked Pere.
?Let me just get the farlcakes from the kitchen,? Mere said. ?Journey, will you help??
In the kitchen, Mere took Journey aside and tied up her hair for her. Then, they grabbed the trays of farlcakes and left. Pere grabbed a few bottles of the mulled wine and they all loaded into the wagon. As the dummalo were unavailable, being Journey?s dowry and all, the wagon was pulled by nibbanos. Though it wasn?t the highest class way to travel, the nibbanos? long hair kept most of the dust low to the ground, and that was nice, especially with the three of them dressed in their Midspring Day best.
Shea Tiller was Journey Smith?s catcousin, her best and closest friend. As the Smith?s wagon reached the Parrygrounds, she came running up, excitedly. She was dressed in a dull red surcoat over a kurt so dark brown it was nearly black. Despite a certain drabness to the color, the outfit worked fairly well and with Shea?s natural beauty, she looked quite the little lady. ?Journey, you made it!?
Journey jumped down from the wagon and hugged Shea. ?You look great.?
?So do you. I love that surcoat. Your mere make that??
?I love the surcoat,? Shea said past Journey so Mere Smith could hear her.
?Thank you much,? Mere Smith replied. ?Journey, you?ll help carry the??
?Oh, we can handle all that,? Pere said. He grabbed a tray of farlcakes and the bottles of mulled wine to prove he could handle his part. And, Mere said nothing more as Journey ran off with Shea with nary a farewell.
Journey and Shea went straight for the food tables and there went straight for the desserts. There were assorted jellies, iced bannocbread, roasted plums, rosesugar cookies, blackseed rolls, destiny cakes and even several trays of farlcakes, making Journey look about and wonder how her parents had beaten her to the tables. But, of course, these farlcakes were not her mere?s farlcakes. These had most likely been made by Wheel Carter, Plete?s mere. ?Plete?s here,? Journey said.
?Well, yeah,? Shea said. ?His pere?s Reeve. There was no doubt he?d be here.?
?I mean, he?s here already. I thought we were early.?
?I thought you liked Plete.?
?I do, but??
Journey shrugged and drifted past the dessert table. She grabbed a cup of cuckoofoot and drank it down in one gulp.
?Careful. Don?t want to drown, do you??
?I don?t know. Maybe.? She grabbed another cup and drank it down. ?Where?s something stronger?? She looked back behind her for her parents and the mulled wine.
?Silly jenny,? Shea said, grabbing a cup of cuckoofoot for herself. ?Let?s go see who?s here.?
They ran off again. As they found a quiet place to sit away from the main festivities, Elderman Waterborn got on stage and officially welcomed everyone there and welcomed Midspring Day as was the tradition. He announced the location of the food tables for everyone who didn?t already know then pointed out the sign up for the various races and contests that would be taking place throughout the day.
?You?re dancing thisday, right,? Shea asked.
Journey nodded but didn?t look at her friend. Her gaze was fixed across the way.
?What?s got you raptured so??
?Tinker?s here,? Journey said, getting up and heading off.
?Of course Tinker?s here.? Tinker was Shea?s older brotere. His birthname was Adam but everyone called him Tinker on account of his hobby, tinkering with anything and everything on which he could get his hands. And, Shea was right?of course, Tinker was there. He?d ridden there in the same wagon as Shea. ?Wait up.? Shea got up and followed quickly after Journey.
Journey came up behind Tinker as he was drinking a cup of honeyale. She put her hands about him from behind and covered his eyes. ?Guess who.?
?On a clear day,? Tinker said, ?Princess Oenone.?
?No,? Journey said, laughing. ?It?s me, silly jake.?
Tinker turned about and smiled. ?Hey Journey.? She was coming up just then behind Journey. ?Hey Sis.?
?Got anything for me,? Journey asked.
?Maybe.? Tinker had made Journey the rather small tinderbox she carried in her purse. He?d also given her a few other contraptions here and there over the years, playthings mostly, many of which Mere Smith did not approve?the Tillers and the Smiths had been close friends since before Journey was born. ?What?ll you give me??
?Depends what you?ve got. Show me.?
Tinker reached deep into the pocket of his tunic and pulled something out. Whatever it was, it fit tightly in his fist. He held up his closed hand before Journey?s eyes.
?What is it??
?Patience jenny,? Tinker replied. ?How bout you guess what it is.?
?If willan take and I guess it rightly, you give it to me for naught.?
?Fair enough,? Tinker said. ?But, if you don?t guess it, you can?t have??
?Oh, I can have it,? Journey said.
?But you have to pay for it with a??
?With a kiss,? Shea said.
Journey turned and glared at her.
?What? That?s where you two were headed anyway. You?re always flirting. My brotere?s trinkets are just excuses for you to kiss him. And, you?re to be married off to Plete Carter. It?s so sad.?
Tinker looked at his sistere. ?Married?? Journey looked at Tinker. ?Married,? he asked again.
?That?s the rumour. Mere thinks Plete?ll ask me thisday and there?ll be a Bannday soon as my reapday passes. But, I don?t really want to marry Plete so, enough with that. Give me a hint.?
Journey eyed Tinker?s closed fist. ?A hint as to what that is in there. You can?t expect me to guess blindly, can I??
Tinker thought for a moment then grinned. ?If music be what you shall seek, then into my hand, take a peek.?
?If soundless Shelin?s way you want to miss, then guess it outright or plant your kiss.?
Journey laughed. Shea rolled her eyes.
?It makes music,? Journey asked, looking closely at Tinker?s hand. ?But it?s so small. You couldn?t possibly have made a musicbox that??
?Dragonpiss, you guessed it.? Tinker looked genuinely upset.
?Don?t fret, dear jake,? Journey replied. And, she leaned in and kissed Tinker on his cheek. ?Now, give me the musicbox thismoment.?
Tinker dropped it into Journey?s hand. It was tiny, so tiny one could barely make out the individual parts without squinting. ?How did you?? The music began to play. Journey squealed. ?Parrow?s pipes, it?s beautiful.? And, the music was really quite lovely. She wasn?t just saying that to be nice ?How does it work??
Tinker pointed out a small handle on the side. ?Wind that and it will play for a time.?
?Thank you,? Journey said, and she moved to plant another kiss on Tinker?s cheek. He turned so she would hit his mouth but she stopped herself and pulled back. She wagged her tongue at him. ?You wish.?
?Ha ha,? Shea said.
?That wasn?t nice,? Tinker said.
?Well, what did you expect from a proper lady,? Shea asked.
?Right,? Journey said. ?I cannot just go about kissing any ol jake that comes along. Not on my big day.?
?Your big day??
?She?s dancing thisday, silly,? Shea replied. ?You knew that.? To Journey, she added, ?he knew that. I?m fairly sure he?s been looking quite forward to it in fact.?
Tinker blushed a little.
Journey tucked the musicbox into her purse. ?I really love the musicbox,? she said. ?Thank you.? And she kissed Tinker again, still on his cheek but closer to his mouth. Now, he turned an even deeper shade of red.
?Come on,? Shea said, grabbing Journey?s arm. ?Let?s leave my brotere to his embarrassment.?
Journey said ?bye? then turned to leave with Shea. And, she ran right into none other than Plete Carter dressed in his finest, including an embroidered jack.
?Plete, hi.? She offered her hand.
?Journey, looking radiant on this Midspring Day.? Plete took her hand and raised it to his lips and kissed it lightly. ?Well met, we are this morning,? he said.
?Well met, indeed,? Journey replied.
?But, what is this business with Adam Tiller,? Plete asked.
Shea groaned. ?Don?t be jealous, jake. She?s not yours yet.?
?I?ll never be his,? Journey said.
?Jake?? Plete inhaled deeply. ?I?ll have you know my??
?You reapday was not a twoweek past,? Shea replied. ?We all know. You?re a man. Big deal.?
?And, she didn?t mean anything bad calling you a jake,? Tinker added, stepping up behind Journey and Shea.
?I wasn?t talking to you,? Plete replied.
?No, you weren?t. But, you were inquiring after me when I was not sixfeet off. My ears were burning.?
?Your cheeks aswell, I see.?
?If I am flushed it is from seeing such a poor excuse for a man before me,? Tinker said.
?Adam, stop,? Shea said, getting tween her brotere and Plete.
?It?s alright, Tinker,? Journey said. ?Plete?s fine enough.? To Plete she added, ?fancy a dance??
Plete looked to Tinker then to Journey then back again at Tinker.
?Come on, Plete,? Journey said. ?Don?t make a scene. They?re playing Lover?s Days.?
She took Plete by the hand and led him out to the dancing field by the stage. And they danced a beautiful dance. Those watching who knew of Plete?s love for Journey most likely saw it all as so romantic but mostly it was all in fun. Journey was having a great time, though not nearly as much as she would later dancing about Parrow?s Pole in front of everyone.
Midsong, Mark Cordwan, a boy Journey?s and Plete?s age, waved from the stage. He was playing a kor horn and dancing about the stage.
?You?re with me, thismoment,? Plete said. ?You should not be waving to other jakes,?
?It?s Mark Cordwan,? Journey replied. ?You and I have both known him all our lives.?
?Still, Plete, you don?t own me. We?re not even betrothed.?
?I love you, Journey.?
?Dumlove. Nothing but dumlove.?
?Don?t discount the yearnings of a man?s heart.?
Journey stopped dancing. ?Don?t discount the yearnings of a man?s heart? Did you make up that line yourself? You been practicing that just in case I was hesitant to say I loved you too??
?Who?s making a scene, thismoment??
?The scene?s over, Plete.? With that, Journey turned and left Plete by himself on the dancing field.
Journey ate midday lunch with her mere and pere. The Tillers sat nearby, Shea right next to Journey of course, and Tinker acrosstable. They ate fish, filleted haddoc, some of the best in all of the Pavanschall, with seasoned bannocbread, trencher stew and roasted plums as sidedishes. Journey and Shea had three more cups of cuckoofoot each. Journey also sneaked a sip of Tinker?s honeyale when her parents were both looking the other way. Midway through the meal, Almony Marshal got up on stage and wowed the crowd with a beautiful rendition of The Dangling Strings of Time on her viele.
?I wish I could play an instrument like that,? Shea said, mostly aside.
?You can do anything you set your mind to,? Journey replied.
?No I can?t.?
?Why not? You?ve not even had your reapday yet. You can still make yourself to be whatever you want to??
?Don?t go filling your catcousin?s head with idle daydreams,? Journey?s mere said.
?It?s not daydreams to want to accomplish something with your life, Mere.?
?It?s okay, Mere Smith,? Shea said, ?I?m realistic about my options.?
Tinker shook his head. Shea noticed and looked acrosstable at him. ?What??
?It?s something. What??
?Don?t mind your brotere,? Journey?s mere said. ?Idle daydreams and his constant tinkering go hand in hand.?
?Some of us don?t have to resign ourselves to whatever our parents leave for us,? Tinker replied.
?And some of us must marry and live how folks would have us live,? Journey?s mere replied. ?You shouldn?t be putting faraway dreams into the heads of impressionable girls.?
?And, you shouldn?t be keeping them from any ideas of their own at all.?
?Enough,? Journey said. ?Can?t we just eat in peace??
?Fine,? Mere replied and turned her attention to her food.
Tinker took a drink of his honeyale then looked to Journey and mouthed, ?I?m sorry.?
Journey mouthed back, ?it?s alright.?
?You?ll be what you?ll be,? Tinker said to Shea.
?On a clear day,? Shea replied.
Tinker raised his cup to toast. ?May all your days be clear.?
Shea raised her cup. ?May all your days be clear.?
Tinker looked to Journey and she too raised her cup. ?May all your days be clear.? She added, with a laugh, ?and not so hot as this one.?
?You say true,? Shea replied. ?I?m about to just remove this surcoat and damn the consequences.?
?Don?t do that,? Tinker replied.
?I thought I could do anything I wanted.?
?Anything but that.? Tinker grinned.
Claid Carter got up on stage then. Journey closed her eyes.
?What?s wrong,? Tinker asked.
?I?m not ready.?
?You?re just nervous,? Shea said. ?You?ll do fine.?
?It?s that time, ladies and gentlemen,? Claid said. ?Time for the dance about Parrow?s Pole. May all our fine young ladies who will be dancing thisday please come forward.?
?You can do this,? Tinker said. ?And, we?ll all be cheering you on.?
?Or you could just not watch at all,? Journey replied.
?Don?t be silly. You will dance flawlessly.?
?If willan take,? Journey said. And, she picked up what was left of her seasoned bannocbread and broke it in half. ?Frangobanok,*? she said, mostly to herself.
* Frangobanok : From a girl?s reapday speech, literally I break bannoc (bread). Shea?s response here literally: you break the past. In the reapday speech, the breaking of the bannocbread symbolizes the leaving behind of childhood.
?Frangapas,? Shea replied.
Journey got up from her seat, absentmindedly dropping a piece of her bannocbread into her purse. She headed for the dancing field, as did a halfdozen other girls from here and there in the crowd. A handful of young men, Plete Carter included, lifted Parrow?s Pole and put it in the ground midfield. Almony Marshal took her place at the front of the stage to play her viele. Mark Cordwan tripped up the steps then picked up his kor horn without incident. The rest of the band took their places, the young men cleared the field and the seven girls took their places about Parrow?s Pole.
Reeve Carter announced, ?let them dance.?
The music began, slow at first. The seven girls, each with a goblet of honeyale in hand, formed a circle about Parrow?s Pole.
In order, each girl faced the pole and stepped forward, picking up a wreath of tev and placing it upon her head. Elihe Miller went first. Then, she grabbed one of the seven ribbons hanging from atop the pole and Jame Law stepped forward to get her wreath. Jame grabbed a ribbon, Elihe stepped back into the circle and Helen Carol got her wreath. Elihe began to sway with the music, Jame stepped back into the circle, Helen grabbed a ribbon and Tessarae Nice grabbed a wreath. Elihe spun in place, ribbon held twisting above her head, goblet still in hand, Jame swayed, Helen stepped back into the circle, Tessarae grabbed a ribbon and Daisy White put on a wreath. Then, Elihe and Jame spun, Helen swayed, Tessarae stepped back into the circle, Daisy grabbed a ribbon and Tessarae?s twin sistere Edlin put on a wreath. Then, last came Journey, putting on a wreath, grabbing a ribbon, stepping back into the circle, swaying and spinning in turn.
All seven girls spun together. Not a one spilled a drop from her goblet. Then they stopped abruptly as did the music.
Gradually the music began again. First a strumming of the viele strings, the girls slowly walking forward, widdershins about Parrow?s Pole. Then the kor horn joined in, and the girls? steps turned to marching. The drummer drummed and the girls turned about to move backwards. As the baliset began to play, the girls became a blur, weaving in and out of one another, dancing, spinning, jumping, laughing. Still, not a one spilled a drop of honeyale from her goblet. They weaved in and out. They spun. They took turns stopping, facing the audience and bowing as the other six would keep moving.
They moved faster and faster. Their ribbons twisted about the pole, pulling the girls closer and closer to one another, closer to Parrow?s Pole. But, still they spun, they twisted, they weaved and not a one bumped another or spilled a drop from her goblet. Edlin Nice did stumble once but she recovered quickly without getting in the way of the other girls.
Journey danced flawlessly, and by the end, she was dizzy, dazed, energized, intoxicated. If willan took, she?d feel that way forever. And, then the dancing stopped, the music stopped, and the seven girls, shoulder to shoulder now, faced the pole. And, each in turn, beginning with Elihe drank from her goblet. Adding fermented drink to the dizziness blurred the world about them. It was all about the dance, all about Parrow?s Pole and those seven girls. To them, no one else existed right then. And, each, in turn, poured the remainder of her drink onto Parrow?s Pole, dropped her ribbon and spun away from the Pole.
And, now came the choosing, for Parrow?s Pole was nothing if not a mating ritual, played as a game through the ages but still a mating ritual. Each girl was to choose a boy and the seven couples would begin the next group dance. Elihe went first, picking Baron Weaver from the crowd. Jame Law ran to the stage and pulled Mark Cordwan down to dance with her. Helen Carol grabbed Tinker Tiller. Tinker gave Journey a look and a shrug. Tessarae was still a little too dizzy to focus so Daisy went out of turn, pulling Kelly Law to the dancing field. Edlin and Tessarae went together to find the Miller twins, Fell and Stam. And, it came to Journey. Still dizzy, she found Plete Carter and pulled him out onto the dancing field. Almony Marshal played a love song, the Song of Merrik and Sereny and the couples danced. And, as the song wore on, more dancers entered the field until it was so crowded some could hardly move anymore.
?That was wonderful,? Plete told Journey. ?You outspeckle all the girls here.?
?Thank you,? Journey said. She wasn?t sure how beautiful she could be thismoment, unable to focus and drenched in sweat.
?You?re everything,? Plete said.
It wasn?t like Plete to stammer but he did thismoment. ?Y-y-you?re everything to me. I don?t just want to be with you because it?s what our families want.?
?No. I do love you, Journey. I?ve loved you since we were kids.?
?Stop that, please.? Plete looked hurt. Journey actually felt a little bad belittling his affection like that. She quieted and they finished the dance. She excused herself and found Shea getting dessert.
?Sorry Tinker got picked before you could get to him,? Shea said.
?I probably would?ve picked Plete no matter what.?
Shea looked at Journey. ?Really??
?What about all that talk of doing whatever you want??
?Just talk, I guess. Everyone knows Plete and I will marry.? Journey got herself some farlcake and walked away.
She sat down on the ground under a tree in sight of the dancing field and the stage.
Shea came and sat down next to her. She had two cups of cuckoofoot. She handed one to Journey. ?You grabbed some of Mere Carter?s farlcake, you know. That?s way too dry to have without a drink.?
?Dragonpiss, it?s hot,? Shea said.
?You should try dancing,? Journey replied, pulling her sticky clothes from her skin and fanning herself with her hand.
They sat there and ate their farlcake and drank their cuckoofoot in silence. The music from the stage came to an end and Reeve Carter got on stage again. ?It is time for the race of three feet,? he said. ?All participants to the dancing field thismoment.?
Journey looked up and sighed. Tradition said she should take part in all the contests through the second half of the day with her Parrow Pole choice, and that meant she had to do everything with Plete.
?You don?t have to participate at all,? Shea said.
?I do. I agreed to dance cause I knew it would be fun, but I also knew what it meant. I got a jump on my reapday and I might aswell have announced my betrothal to Plete right then and there as far as everyone in Crale sees it.?
Shea set down her bowl and stood. ?Come on,? she said, putting out her hand.
Journey just looked at Shea?s hand.
?Come on. Let?s go. You and me. Piss on tradition.?
Journey couldn?t help but smile at that. She set down her own bowl, grabbed Shea?s hand and got up. And together they ran to the dancing field. And, Journey?s right leg was lashed to Shea?s left and they raced like that in the race of three feet. Plete Carter remained on the sidelines and he didn?t look too happy about it. Tinker looked down the line from where his leg was lashed to Helen Carol?s and he smiled at Journey and his sistere.
Claid Carter looked at the racers and seemed a little flustered. He shook his head and seemed to want to throw his hands in the air and walk off the stage. But, he held it together and called the racers to their marks. ?Set,? he said. ?Go.?
And the couples raced across the dancing field. If willan took, Journey and Shea would have won just to show everyone there, but that wasn?t to be. Elihe Miller and Baron Weaver took an early lead and were several lengths ahead by raceend.
Journey and Shea returned to their spot neath the tree laughing the whole way. Tinker came by to congratulate them on outspeckling even the Parrow?s Pole dance.
?Blasphemy,? Shea said to him.
?On a clear day,? Tinker replied, ?I swear you two shocked the crowd and Plete?s none too smiling. As beautiful as that Parrow?s Pole dance went?and your part was flawless, Journey?that race just made history. People will talk of you two with your legs lashed together for many Midspring Days to come.?
?If willan took, Plete would get the message,? Shea said.
Journey looked at Shea. ?What message is that? You think you and I racing together changed everything? You think that was anything but an amusing footnote in this Midspring Day? We shocked some people. We probably angered my mere a whole lot. But, we didn?t change anything. I could still no more marry Tinker here than I could defeat a dragon.?
?You?d marry me,? Tinker asked. He was serious.
Journey wanted to say yes. She wanted to take him to the stage and announce her love for him for all to hear. But, right then, right there, she wasn?t sure that her feelings for Tinker were anything more than dumlove. He was more a big brotere than anything else, especially now with Kannon gone from home. She loved his contraptions, his inventions. She loved that he made some special for her. And, in one way or another, she did love Tinker. But, she didn?t want to marry him.
She shrugged. ?I don?t know. I don?t know why everyone is so eager for me to pick a husband already.?
But, she did know. Her parents were not well off. Even with a stipend coming from Kannon?s military service now, they were barely treading water. Outside of her dowry, there were no dummalo left. And aside from the nibbanos they used to pull the wagon, the nibba of Smithsfarm were lanky and ugly. Her mere?s mulled wine was not enough and her pere?s shop had nary a customer anymore. They had no reserve of any kind, not even the usual supplies families of the Lower Pavanschall kept in case the Escalor came. Her family needed her to marry someone with more money, a higher standing in Crale. And, as far as fortunes and standings went, the Carters were about as high as one could go.
?On a clear day, I don?t believe it,? Tinker said suddenly, pulling Journey from her thoughts.
Tinker was looking toward the stage. Journey looked there now. Plete was on stage, talking. ??if she?d come up here thismoment,? he was saying, ?we?ll get the festivities on their way.?
Tinker looked down at Journey. ?He called for you.?
This was it. Journey rose to her feet and marched through the crowd to the stage. Plete was up there with his pere. The band was standing by, instruments ready.
Journey went up onto the stage and faced Plete. She didn?t dare look out at the crowd, though she could imagine the smiles and the relief, her mere?s anger at her racing with Shea dissolving into something approximating her greatest joy. Plete looked to the crowd. ?Here goes,? he said. He got down on one knee before Journey. ?Journey Smith, would you do me the great honor of??
?Word from Grey! Word from Grey!? Someone was yelling from behind the crowd.
?No,? Plete said. ?Not now.?
Journey couldn?t believe the luck. This was the greatest thing that could happen.
The crowd split down the middle. Cyrus Waterborn came running through. ?Word from Grey,? he screamed again. He rushed on stage and had to catch his breath. Finally he caught it and stepped to the front of the stage, past Plete and Journey. ?Word from Grey,? he told the crowd. The crowd was as quiet as Shelin?s Way. If one had had the mind to drop a pin, even there on the grassy Parrygrounds, it?s landing could have been heard throughout Crale.
?The Escalor are coming.?
Journey couldn?t believe the luck. This was the worst thing that could happen.
There were shouts and screams. Older folk who?d seen the destruction done by the Escalor before started telling of the horror of it. Glemere Marshal fainted. Murmurs and cries filled the Parrygrounds. Then, Elderman Waterborn raised his hands. All went silent again, save for lingering murmurs.
?The Escalor are coming. Their cloud has been spotted not fourmile east of Grey. Taven is locking her walls. Make haste, people. Gather your supplies, get into your shelters or mount up for the ride to Sifuge. We leave within the hour.?
The ride home was rushed. Mere didn?t bother to retrieve her trays from the food table. Journey barely had time to say a goodbye to Shea and Tinker. And, she didn?t bother with any goodbye to Plete.
Upon reaching Smithsfarm, Pere immediately took to unhooking the nibbanos from the wagon. ?The ride northard will be slow going with these two,? he explained. Mere and Journey understood. Mere didn?t even debate about using Journey?s dowry dummalo for the labor of the run to Sifuge. There would be no questioning of such things thisday. The Escalor were coming. And, that meant you packed up what you could in safeboxes, you packed what else you could in your wagon and you made flight for Sifuge across Oakenbrook. The Escalor never crossed the river.
Journey had had a mind to wonder once when she?d first heard tell of the Escalor why anyone bothered to live in the Lower Pavanschall at all when the Escalor would come once every fortyyear or so and destroy or burn everything. She?d seen the Upper Pavanschall once on a trip to the City of Aeodith with Pere and it was quite lovely and far wider and opener than the Lower Pavanschall was. She?d heard rumour the Bellroff kept most folk from living in the fields of the Upper Pavanschall, that they defended their territory violently if need be. But, she?d also heard stories of how kind the Bellroff could be, how the talking horses had even adopted a human girl to live among them. But, maybe Leandress of the Wild Wood was just a myth and the Bellroff were really as bad as or worse than the Escalor in making Pavanschall living hard.
?Get inside and pack your things, quickly,? Mere said.
?You pack aswell,? Pere told Mere. ?Bring wine.?
It seemed like a strange order, at first, to Journey. Bring the wine? What need did they have for wine? But, then she got it. If the Escalor destroyed all the crops, the blackseed, the alfaroot, the taro, there would be little of Smithsfarm of any value left. The wine, as much as they could take with them, was all they would have. That, and whatever animals could manage to keep up on the run to Sifuge.
?Journey,? Pere said as she headed down the stairs into the groundhut, ?get your things together then gather as many capons as you can into one of the crates from behind my shop.? He slapped one of the nibba by the wagon on her rump and she ran off. If she would survive the day, the Smithsfarm mark on her back would find her way back home. If she didn?t, this was the last they would see of her. ?Go,? Pere implored. Journey ran inside. She filled a bag with her clothes, her books and found herself standing before Scurf?s bowl. There was no way the glass would not be cracked on the run north. Fortunately, gillbugs were known to be able to survive out of their water for sometime. Journey didn?t know how long Scurf could survive out of his bowl, but it was time to find out. She reached into the water and pulled the gillbug. ?Don?t worry, Scurf,? she said. ?Everything will be just fine.? She tucked him in her pocket then grabbed her bag and ran out of the groundhut. She tossed her bag into the wagon then headed back to Pere?s shop. She found the biggest crate she could and dragged it to the caponcoop. She opened the gate to the coop and grabbed capon after capon, stuffing them into the crate. When it was full enough that even with Pere?s help, it would be hard to load onto the wagon, there were only a handful left in the coop and by then, they were flitting about crazily. Journey closed the crate but left the coopgate open. ?Good luck,? she said to the remaining capons then she went to tell Pere the crate was ready.
Pere was tying to the wagon two of the biggest dummalo they had, one of which was nearly twice as tall as he was with its head up. ?Pere, the crate?s ready. I?ll need your help to get it on the wagon.?
?I?ll bring the wagon back there once these two are hitched right.? He looked about the farm momentarily. Journey looked about aswell. In a matter of hours, all the fields in sight would be burned, trampled. The shed at the end of eastfield would be gone. Pere?s shop would be gone. The caponcoop would be gone. The groundhut would probably still be there, but its grass roof would likely be gone, the wood furniture inside might be burned or at least charred, and it would all smell of smoke and blood. ?Don?t dillydally,? Pere said. ?Go help your mere.?
Journey went down into the groundhut to see what help she could give Mere and she found her packing her sewing things into a box. ?Take the jugs,? Mere said without looking up from what she was doing. ?The empty ones?take them and fill them with water. If the dummalo aren?t fast enough?? Her voice trailed off.
?The dummalo will be fast enough,? Journey replied. Then, she grabbed the empty jugs from the kitchen and carried them outside to the waterpump and proceeded to fill them all and put in their stoppers.
When she was done, she put the jugs into the back of the wagon. The dummalo were hitched now and Pere jumped into the front of the wagon and directed them to march. Journey grabbed on the back and Pere took them the long way about the groundhut to his shop.
They loaded the crate of capons onto the wagon and Pere grabbed as many of the tools from his shop as he could. His anvil would remain behind but it wasn?t likely to suffer any damage so that was okay. He loaded hammers and swords and scythes and hoes into the back of the wagon. He grabbed the bellows from neath the firehole and tossed that into the wagon aswell.
?Go get your mere,? Pere said. Again, he looked about at Smithsfarm, soon to be in ruin. ?It?s time to go.?
Journey ran to the front of the groundhut and Mere was already coming out, hefting several bags and her box of sewing stuff. ?Go in and get the wine,? Mere said. Journey ran down to the cabinet in the kitchen and grabbed a crate of bottles. She carried it up and put it in the wagon. Pere also went down to get a crate of bottles, as did Mere. They each grabbed several crates, one at a time, hurrying though the smoke wasn?t even visible yet on the horizon. In the end, they had a good dozen crates of wine in the wagon and Pere had to gets rope to tie them down. They left just enough space for Journey to sit at the back, behind the pile of crates and bags.
Mere and Pere got into their seats at the front of the wagon. Pere whistled to get the attention of the other dummalo so they would at least try to follow the wagon. Dummalo were stupid but they were also herd animals. With the Escalor coming from the east and two of the dummalo marching the wagon north, the rest of the group were likely to follow northard rather than wait about to be eaten.
?Loke and Rimmer,? Journey said, remembering the other pets.
?Go get them,? Pere said. ?But hurry.?
Journey ran about the groundhut calling for Loke and Rimmer. Loke was asleep against the backside of the groundhut. He raised his head slowly, looked at Journey and got up. ?Go to Pere,? she told him and Loke loped over as fast as his old legs would carry him and jumped up onto the back of the wagon. He perched himself atop the pile of crates and bags and lay down. Pere looked back and saw Loke was there and did something he?d regret for longtime. ?Hold on tight,? he said, thinking Journey had come to the wagon with Loke and was sitting behind the pile of crates and bags. He grabbed the reins and yelled ?hyah? at the dummalo, getting them going.
Journey, meanwhile had wandered into southfield calling for Rimmer. Rimmer came running and squealing through the tall grass and he leapt into Journey?s arms. ?It?s about time,? Journey told him. ?Let?s get to the wagon and get out of here. The Escalor are coming.? Rimmer covered his head with his forepaws and whined. He?d heard mention of the Escalor just as Journey had.
Journey ran back toward the groundhut with Rimmer in her arms and as she approached she could see something was wrong but it didn?t immediately occur to her what it was.
And then she saw it. Or didn?t see it, as the case was. The wagon was gone. A cloud of dust was heading off into the northard distance, toward Free Road and Sifuge across Oakenbrook. Mere and Pere had left without her.
Journey ran after them, screaming, but they were already too far out. ?Mere! Pere! Wait for me! Don?t leave me!? Rimmer joined in, screaming a high pitched scream. But, the dust cloud behind the wagon, and the few dummalo that were following behind it, got smaller and smaller and disappeared over a hill.
Journey dropped to the ground and covered her face in her hands. ?Why did they? I wasn?t that bad.? She began to cry. ?I?m sorry I raced with Shea,? she screamed. But, she knew it wasn?t that. Mere and Pere hadn?t left her behind on purpose. They couldn?t have. They wouldn?t have. No matter how bad she?d been, how much grief she?d given Mere about marrying Plete. ?What happened??
Rimmer shrugged and stood on his hind legs and put his forelegs on Journey?s arms, his version of a hug.
?Thank you,? Journey said. Rimmer smiled a toothy smile and, despite everything, Journey smiled back.
But, her smile didn?t last. Mere and Pere were gone and the Escalor were coming. ?We have to get out of here, Rimmer. But, where do we?? A thought occurred to her. ?Come on,? she said, leaping to her feet. ?To Whitefarm.? The White family had the nearest farm but was near halfmile away. And, there was a chance the Whites had already made their run for Sifuge. But, Journey had to try.
Journey ran through eastfield. She meant to run right past the shed at the end of eastfield and head through the copse of trees onto White property but something stopped her. ?On a clear day,? Journey said, grinning. A lone dummalo was sitting by the shed. It was a young dummalo; his mane had barely grown in and he was barely taller than Journey. But, if he could take command, he?d make a fine enough ride.
She went to the shed and cracked the door. Its joint was stiff, but with a little effort she got it open enough to get inside. She found a saddle and came back out. Rimmer was sitting by the dummalo, waiting. Journey put the saddle on the young dummalo and he stood right up. She fastened the strap about his chest and under his stomach then climbed up onto him. Rimmer jumped up to Journey?s dangling leg and crawled right up to sit in front of her.
?Let?s see how you do,? Journey said. And she kicked the dummalo?s sides. ?Hyah!? The dummalo started then shook and raised his head and turned to look at Journey. ?Come on, dummalo,? Journey pleaded. ?Go!? He didn?t move at all. In fact, he spit at her. ?The Escalor are coming, dummalo, and you?re about to be food. Do you want to be food?? Rimmer ran up the dummalo?s neck and grabbed its ears. He squeezed and the dummalo jumped, bucking both Rimmer and Journey off onto the ground. Then, finally, the dummalo took to running. Journey and Rimmer were left behind by the shed at the end of eastfield.
?Piss on this.? Journey got up and dusted herself off. ?Come on, Rimmer. To Whitefarm.? And, together they ran into the copse of trees that marked the eastard edge of Smith property.
Halfway through the copse, Journey tripped over an exposed root and fell. She scraped her shin and thought that was all the damage done until she stood back up. The strap on her left sandal was broken and the heel of it was cracked. ?On a clear day,? Journey said, grimacing. She kicked off her broken sandal then reached down and untied the other. Then, she ran again, barefoot now and much more wary of exposed roots. Rimmer followed close behind her.
They came abruptly out of the copse of trees and stood at the western edge of Whitefarm. And, without going any further, Journey could tell that this way was hopeless. The Whites were already gone. Two wagons, the White family had. Both were gone. Journey walked across Whitefarm's westfield toward their groundhut and could make out more obvious details of their quick packing and leaving. Their caponcoop, like the Smith?s stood open. A basket lay toppled by the stairs down into the groundhut. A rake lay on the ground, its points up. The Whites were gone.
?We came the wrong way,? Journey said. Rimmer whined. Journey laughed and Rimmer looked up at her strangely.
?Sorry,? Journey said. ?I just realized, we not only ran to an empty farm, we ran east. We?re even closer to the Escalor than??
Journey?s words caught in her throat as she looked further east. On the horizon was a cloud of dust and smoke. The Escalor were well past the outpost town of Gray and likely past the walled city of Taven. They?d be in Crale in notime. And, Whitefarm marked the eastard edge of Crale.
?Of all the places in Gardea to be thisday,? Journey said, ?we?re here at the eastard edge of town looking at death coming for us.?
Journey stood atop the highest point in Whitefarm and looked about. To the southeast she could see Parthen Road that led to Taven, which would have already closed her walls, and right into the Escalor. To the north was Childs Road that led up into the Wild Wood all the way to Brynshaven and Hide Lake but that was too far to go now. She looked behind her to the west. She could go back through Crale, find a safebox large enough to squeeze into, but the search might take longer than she had. If she had enough time, she could head west out of town, down Newborn Road to Cross. She?d heard the people of cross all had safeboxes in their houses large enough for whole families to gather comfortably. If she could find that stray dummalo and get him to let her ride him, she might be able to make it to Cross. But, the Escalor were getting closer by the moment.
?Where do we go, Rimmer??
Rimmer stood on his hind legs and looked about. But he had no suggestions.
Journey took Scurf out of her pocket. He didn?t look well, but he was still alive. ?Any ideas?? Scurf had none.
Journey looked due south. And, there was the answer. Southard of Crale were the Hi, the mountains. The closest weren?t very large but surely there were places to hide. Romartop, she knew, had at least a few caves in it. She?d been to Romartop recently when Kannon married and she and Shea and Tinker had sneaked off to explore during preparations. If none of the caves would suffice in Romartop, or if the Escalor scoured the mountain, she could head further south. The Southard Lookout was purported to be on the far side of Sowheap. Surely that tower would provide safe harbor.
?If willan take,? Journey announced, ?southard it is.? And, she put Scurf back into her pocket and headed southard, toward Parthen Road and toward the mountains. Rimmer followed.
Closer to Taven, much like any of the roads within Taven?s walls, Parthen Road was paved and wide enough for two and three wagons at a time. But, at this end entering Crale was an unpaved thing, hardly wide enough for the average wagon in most places. Until she came upon the last rise before the road, she couldn?t even see the road before her, though she knew from maps she?d seen of the Lower Pavanschall, the road was there. She hadn?t, of course, ever been to Taven and had never had reason to travel on Parthen Road. But, sure enough, the road was there, and Journey looked down from that last rise northard of it with good humor. All she had to do was cross the road and head into the Hi and she would be?
She glanced east and lost track of her thoughts, lost track of her hopefulness. The smoke and dust was closer now, its base visible though Journey couldn?t make out any of the individual Escalor in the cloud. The air over the Escalor was a solid black, a terrible, fluid darkness. Rimmer whined. He, too, was looking east. Journey looked down at her gapha then picked him up. ?You know,? she told him as she headed down toward the edge of Parthen Road, ?I?ve heard that gapha like you grow to be bigger than most men off that way, in the Balkor. You think they put up a big fight with the Escalor, and this is?? She knit her brow and shook her head. ?On a clear day, Journey, what is this, just the tip of the iceberg, dwindled down by all those wild gapha? That?s silly.?
Rimmer put his paws over her shoulders and gave her a gapha hug.
?To think, Rimmer, that that horde could be even bigger. There wouldn?t even be any houses left or anything, and nevermind the safeboxes. They?d rip right through them.?
Rimmer nodded and jumped down from Journey?s arms and marched ahead, across Parthen Road. Journey followed.
Aside from a rumbling to the east, all was silent.
Screeches broke the silence and a greybird swooped down over Journey?s head so that she had to duck. Journey looked up and there were thousands more above her. And not just greybirds. There were libats and eegels and falkons and many many more. ?All the birdthings from the Balkor,? Journey said. Rimmer, ducked down next to her and nodded. ?On a clear day,? Journey added, ?I never thought I?d see so many creatures in one place.?
No more swooped down, but Journey was careful as she stood. She kept an arm over her head. Rimmer, though significantly shorter than Journey was, also kept one of his forelegs over his head. Under different circumstances it would have been cute. But, Journey hadn?t the mind to notice thismoment.
They made it across Parthen Road and the swarm of birdthings continued west, an endless swarm of black and grey, a few more colorful birdthings here and there but mostly lost in the mass. Journey looked east again at the Escalor cloud of dust and smoke and there, not thirtyyard down Parthen Road was the staircase up to the weddinggrounds of Romartop. Farther east was the next hill, Prou. And, as Journey watched, the Escalor rose up the eastside of Prou and swallowed him. Then, the wave came over the rise of Prou and down toward the base of Romartop and Journey got her first real glimpse of the Escalor.
If willan took and she survived all this, she?d tell people they were dogs. Except, they weren?t dogs. Where there should have been flesh and muscle and meat and gristle there was smoke and flame and embers. Where there should have been eyes there were beads of fire. Their mouths drooled burning oil, fire flowed from their tails and smoke poured off their backs. The Escalor were dogs but they were like no living dogs anyone would ever want to keep. They were fire incarnate, the heat of Stanjantuwel on four legs, firebeasts that left destruction in their wakes simply by passing through, nevermind the horrible mouths, the terrible teeth. The Escalor were the work of Agirath. Of that, Journey had no doubt. Parrow would never make for such things.
Rimmer grabbed the hem of Journey?s surcoat and yanked her out of her fixation. The Escalor poured down the slopes of Prou and down Parthen Road and out of the Balk?reezeway. From north to east, there was nothing to be seen beyond the Escalor and their smoke, their fire. Journey grabbed Rimmer and ran up to the weddinggrounds with him in her arms.
They came into the level, open field of the weddinggrounds as smoke overtook the north and the east entirely. Not onemonth back Kannon had been here marrying Shilo White. It had been a beautiful affair. There?d been garlands of flowers, ribbons and bows, white chairs numbering more than onehundred. And, there?d been a crowd standing at the back. Kannon, despite his family, had been well known, and there were plenty of those that, knowing he intended on leaving for service in the King?s armies, wanted to wish him well in his every endeavor. Everyone had thrown rice and alfaroot seeds as Kannon and Shilo ran down the midaisle to leave. Journey had been among those who followed after them to sing shivary. She had much to drink and danced away into the night. It was one of the highlights of recent years. Thismoment, though, the field was empty. And, the contrast of the stark whiteness of the southwestard sunny sky and the northeastard smoky blackness made every detail of every bench, every statue and each gazebo stand out like it was all some grotesque bestiary. It seemed more a cemetery than a place of celebration, more a place for ending life than for beginning it.
Journey put Rimmer down. The Escalor didn?t seem to be coming up Romartop just yet. There was time to plan, time to think. But, nothing more than what she was already doing came to Journey. She could think of little but to keep running. There were no safeboxes on Romartop. There were no buildings, certainly no stone buildings. There were scattered benches, a quarterdozen gazebos, and numerous statues, none more than a man?s height. There were no hiding places on Romartop.
Journey looked south. And, the Southard Lookout was just barely visible on the farside of Sowheap. The distance tween Romartop and Sowheap was little of which to speak on a normal day but with the Escalor about, with the Lower Pavanaschall going up in flames, it might aswell have been a chasm.
?No choice,? Journey said.
Rimmer looked where she was looking and responded with an exasperated sigh.
?Ken, I know what you mean. But, it?s our only option. We have to make the Southard Lookout.?
Rimmer nodded and Journey led the way across the weddinggrounds, past the gazebos and down the southside of Romartop. And, it was then that the Escalor topped the edge of the weddinggrounds and came into view. There were only a small number compared to the entirety of their mass, but with just a glance, Journey knew there were about two dozen too many. ?On a clear day,? she said, unable to take her eyes off the approaching dogs. Rimmer grabbed the hem of her surcoat and tugged. But, Journey didn?t move. She couldn?t move.
The beads of fire that served as the eyes of the Escalor focused on Journey. A large dog near the middle of the group opened his mouth and let slip a rumbling growl that shook the mountain. Oily saliva dripped from his mouth and where it touched ground, grass ignited into flame. That dog moved forward faster than his cohorts. He wanted Journey. He wanted to chew her up and burn her inside himself. And, Journey could do nothing but stand there staring back at him, like a hart in a hunter?s torchlight.
Rimmer stood before Journey, rose to his hindlegs and barked at the approaching beast. The dog?s response could have only been described as a mindsplitting cacophony, Agirath?s idea of laughter. Rimmer turned about and shoved Journey. She stumbled backward, her heel caught on a rock and she fell onto her behind. Rimmer barked at her then spun back about to face the Escalor.
?No,? Journey screamed.
But, Rimmer leapt up into the face of the closest beast. His fur caught fire immediately, but he held on tight with his forepaws. He plunged his claws into the beads of fire in the dog?s eye sockets and the head exploded with a force powerful enough to knock the rest of the dogs back severalfeet and to push Journey headoverheels backward. Rimmer was engulfed in the flames as Journey rolled down the southside of Romartop and landed at the bottom, her head striking a fallen tree.
Journey thought of Aeodith, the big city far to the north, at the upper end of the Upper Pavanschall. She?d gone there with Pere for a dummalo auction. There?d been business troubles with Pere?s smithwork and he needed cashmoney quickly. He didn?t mention any of this, of course, but Journey knew. Officially, they were there to see about purchasing some new dummalo and they?d just brought one to sell to be sure about getting into the auction.
?They?ve got complicated rules with these things,? Pere had said.
Journey didn?t think it made sense, the official reason for the trip, but she knew she wasn?t to speak of the real reason, so she left it alone.
As the wagon neared the crossroads tween Aeodith and West Market, Journey could make out, amongst the distant hills to the north a twisted sort of mountain, a remarkable thing, tall, thin, deformed as if to have been twisted by the hands of a great giant. ?On a clear day,? Journey said, ?Twisted Rock.?
Pere looked ahead to the hills and nodded. ?If willan took, and we had more time thisday, I?d ride this wagon up there so you could get a better look. Maybe someday.?
?Maybe someday,? Journey echoed.
Pere looked over at her and smiled a crooked smile. ?Someday you?ll be able to see Twisted Rock for sure, Journey. Someday you?ll be able to see anyplace you see fit to see.?
?If Parrow wills it,? Journey replied.
?Parrow wills for us only what we want and deserve, child. You want to see the world, you see the world. You want to live up to your name, you venture out where you need to venture and you just see fit to drop your pere a letter now and again.?
Pere nodded. ?I didn?t name you Journey because I wanted you to grow up to eke out a living farming blackseed and alfaroot, milking and meating dummalo and shearing nibba. You?re a farmer?s daughter, Journey. You are not a farmer. Since you were only kneehigh to your pere, you?ve dreamed of running off to faraway places.?
?Like Mullivan?s Pike and the Trade Lands,? Journey said with a grin.
?Those two places will surely be best waited until you?re much older and stronger than you are thisday, and even then, maybe you shouldn?t go it alone, but yes. You want to venture into the Wild Wood, you can do so. You want to see Mullivan?s Pike and all the Troll, you can do so. You want to cross Finity Field even, you can. You can go anywhere and do anything you set your mind to going and doing. Don?t you ever forget that.?
?I won?t, Pere. I won?t.?
And, she hadn?t. Pere hadn?t chimed in much in her defense in her disputes with Mere about her lot in life, living into oldage in Crale, marrying Plete Carter, doing what was expected. But, there were looks from Pere here and there, looks that said, don?t you fret too much about your mere and the townsfolk; you?ll find your own way when you find your own way, and you will never regret it.
Aeodith was like a dream. In Crale and most of the Lower Pavanschall, most buildings hardly rose aboveground but in Aeodith there were buildings of five and six stories. And, though she didn?t get to see it directly, Journey heard tell that there was a tower of twelve stories at midcity. The city was encircled by a wall higher than most any building Journey had ever seen before, with twelve towers, one at each of the twelve points of the compass. She asked Pere if they could find a way atop the walls or into those towers to see the city from on high, but he said there was no time thisday. But, he did find a moment to take her into a curioshop. They had knickknacks and curiosities like Journey could hardly believe. In the end, she couldn?t pick just one thing and Pere said they needed to get on to the auction. But, on the way to the exit, Journey spotted one item worth getting, a map of Greater Gardea that hung on the wall behind the seller?s counter. Pere negotiated a price with the seller and the map was Journey?s to take home. She rolled it up and looked forward to a time she could unroll it and study it in its every detail.
On the long ride southard to Crale, Journey lay in the back of the wagon and examined her map. The westard edge didn?t go past the Western Follow to the Trade Lands. The southard edge didn?t include the Simbalands. But, the northard edge included the Glins and the eastard edge went as far as the Far Range and Journey loved it. She put it on her wall at home. And, near everyday she?d look at it and dream of the places on that map, Mullivan?s Pike, the Utukot Minelands, Parrow?s Peak, Shelin Pass, Ravnsfalle, and so many more, and she?d wish for the day that Parrow would show her the way.
But, Parrow had never shown her the way out. Even thismoment, when she needed Him most, Parrow was nowhere to be seen, nowhere to be heard.
Journey awoke coughing. The air was filled with smoke. And, it was alldark now.
Her head ached. She put her hand to the side of it and felt wetness there. Blood. She sat up and her rightleg felt twisted a little. With some effort she straightened it. She felt the knee and it was swollen and scraped and bleeding. She reached into her purse and pulled out some blackseed balm and rubbed some on her knee. Then, she rubbed some on her head. And, for good measure she rubbed some on the scraped bottoms of her barefeet
She put the blackseed balm back into her purse and took out a phial of rosesugar water and drank. It hurt going down. The smoke all about her had already done its damage inside. She coughed again and choked, vomited up the water. With some effort, she drank some more and kept it down then she replaced the phial in her purse.
Then, abruptly, she thought of Rimmer. She wanted to call out for him, but she was too scared to yell. The Escalor might hear and come running. Sides, there was no way Rimmer had survived. She?d seen his coat on fire. The last thing she?d seen before the world turned over was that dog?s head exploding. There was no way Rimmer could make it through that. Rimmer was dead. He died saving her. At least, he?d died giving her a few more seconds to get away.
And, he?d killed one of the Escalor.
That last thought made her smile.
?Good going,? she said and she got to her feet slowly.
She staggered a little then settled herself and looked about to take in her surroundings. The Escalor hadn?t come down here yet, though the sky in all directions was black with smoke. The top of Romartop was burning and Prou was aflame to the east. The usual clouds over Stanjantuwel to the southeast were eclipsed by such haze and darkness. Journey was tween Romartop and another hill. Judging by the direction to Prou she guessed it was Sowheap and that she was that much closer to the Southard Lookout and her chance at safety. But she guessed wrong. Sowheap was more westard than she was facing as she started to walk. She took a strip of salted dum from her purse and nibbled on it as she headed more eastard than she thought, away from the Southard Lookout, away from safety.
By the time the Escalor came down the southside of Romartop, Journey was well up the northside of Lamb, which she thought was Sowheap. Journey looked down at how far behind her the Escalor were and sat down to rest for a moment.
She took another drink from her phial of rosesugar water, careful not to drink too much. She pulled Scurf from her pocket and poured a few drops of the water on him. He shuddered a little then curled up into a ball. She put him back into her pocket, replaced the phial again into her purse and pulled out another strip of salted dum.
While she ate it, she hummed. The song she hummed was the song from her musicbox, though she didn?t realize it. It comforted her. It made her believe she?d be fine after all this. The Escalor would go away, back from whence they?d come, just like they did every time. The Lower Pavanschall would be burned. Crops would be destroyed. Animals would be dead. But, life would go on. The world would go on turning. Empress Time would keep on.
?Wilonato dimestendre a manusme a futme,*? Journey announced. ?My future. My way.?
* Wilonato dimestendre a manusme a futme : From a girl?s reapday speech, I ride willingly the strings of ladytime of my volition to my future.
It grew darker and, when Journey looked down the hill it looked like the Escalor were not coming herway. Small moving dots of flame below wandered aimlessly. They could have been some other animals, burning but not yet dead, or they were the Escalor, nearly finished with their destruction and scouring the countryside for remaining scraps. She was tired and her head and knee still hurt. She rubbed some more blackseed balm on them both then lay her head down and fell asleep.
When Journey woke, it was even darker. There were red and orange specks all over in the distance, small fires, large fires. But, most of everything was engulfed in the smoke. And, she guessed, it was probably past sundown now aswell.
She took the tinderbox from her purse, gathered together some drygrass from where she lay and struck the tinder. As soon as the first spark flew, something stirred not far down the hill. Rocks fell. Something growled. Before Journey could get to her feet and even attempt to run, as blindly and hopelessly as that would be, one of the Escalor was there in front of her, not twofeet from her, its heat warming her through and through, singeing the threads of her surcoat, it?s fiery eyes staring into hers.
Its oily drool burned the ground tween them.
Journey scuttled backward.
The dog stepped forward.
Journey stuck her hand in her purse and fumbled for something, anything that would help. She found the phial of rosesugar water and popped the lid with her thumb. And, just as the dog growled at her and hunched down as if to leap, she threw the water into its face. The water burned, there was the hissing of steam and the dog screamed and backed away.
But, it did not give up. It was of the Escalor. It thrived and lived in the darkest recesses of the Balkor and Hanging Shadow where no one dared venture. A little water wouldn?t stop it.
It growled again and Journey shook. She dropped the phial and heard it break when it hit the ground. She reached down for the broken pieces, hoping one might be sharp enough to use as a weapon. Then, it occurred to her that she didn?t need the broken phial. There was a knife in her purse. Maybe Mere wouldn?t approve, but Journey guessed Pere would and Parrow would probably even be impressed. Journey pulled the knife from her purse just as the burning dog leapt at her. She shoved the knife forward, caught the dog in its throat and her righthand and sleeve caught fire.
Journey jumped back and patted at her righthand and sleeve with her lefthand. She pulled off her surcoat and smothered the flames. All in all, she did quite well. She barely even screamed. And, it was only as she reached into her purse, which was on her rightside, with her lefthand to get the blackseed balm that she even noticed that the fire in the dog before her had gone all but out and the beast was dead. She?d killed one of the Escalor. And, she?d done it without even getting up. It had cost her some flesh from her righthand and a fine surcoat but burns healed and surcoats were replaceable. If willan took, if Parrow willed it and she got out of this alive, she?d have a tale to tell to anyone who?d hear it for years on down the line. She hadn?t even had her reapday yet and she?d just killed one of the Escalor, the scourge of the Lower Pavanschall.
But, there wasn?t time to imagine the parades thismoment. There was no time to dillydally. She tore off part of her ruined surcoat and wrapped it about her righthand. She got up, used another piece of her surcoat to pick up her knife, which was hot to the touch and she headed the direction she thought was south. It was uphill at least and that seemed a good enough direction. And, slowly, steadily, she made her way to the top of Lamb. And, it was then that she knew she was in the wrong place.
At first, she thought the Southard Lookout had been destroyed, burned to the ground by the Escalor. But, it occurred to her that, in all the stories of the Escalor, never had she heard mention of them doing anything to the Southard Lookout. But, when she looked about for the tower, she could not see it. She looked to the south. She looked to the east and saw Mor, which she assumed was Lamb. She looked to the north and saw Prou and Romartop. And, she looked to the west, and there was another hill. But, there were no hills so large west of Sowheap. And, then she knew it. She wasn?t on Sowheap. She was on Lamb. And, Lamb wasn?t the place for a girl to be. Lamb was said to be the home of a dragon. She?d never met anyone who had seen a dragon, certainly no one who had seen this particular dragon, but people still said they existed, said they lived in certain peaks among the Hi. And, Lamb was one of those peaks.
Journey turned westard and ran. She ran down Lamb as fast as she could, which wasn?t very fast as dark as it was and as unfamiliar as the terrain was. Her rightknee ached but still she didn?t slow down anymore than she had to slow down. She had to get off of Lamb. She had to get up Sowheap to the Southard Lookout, to safety. She had to?
Suddenly, the ground gave way neath her and she fell straight down, dirt and rocks raining down with her, near fifteenfoot to a hard, rocky surface. Looking about, she could see nothing, but just from the sound of her fall she could tell she was in a cavern. She was in a cavern in Lamb. If there was anyplace more dangerous than outside with the Escalor, she had just found it. ?Parden,? she said under her breath, ?this is not my day.?
?Oh, it?s your day,? a deep voice said out of the darkness. ?And mine too.?
?If an introduction must be had, then I am Beleazaz the Beautiful, Beleazaz the Bold, Beleazaz the Terrible, Beleazaz??
?The dragon,? Journey finished.
?Not polite to finish another?s sentences, jenny. Not polite at all. Tsk tsk.?
With nary a thought, Journey bowed her head. ?I humbly apologize oh great and terrible Beleazaz.?
?Such proper manners after such rudeness. It?s befuddling, this dichotomy. This dichotomy like another. Another that befuddles me so thismoment.?
?What dichotomy is that??
?You smell so tasty and yet I?ve no one to talk to for somemonth now and could use a conversation. So, do I eat you up thismoment or do we talk??
?We talk,? Journey said without hesitation, as would be expected.
?A wise response, child. A wise response indeed.?
?I?m no child,? Journey replied.
?Boldness. Beleazaz appreciates such boldness. Beleazaz appreciates such beauty as he beholds now aswell. What thinks you, child, of Beleazaz??
?I can?t see you.?
?Oh, dear me, Beleazaz has lived in such dark places all his life. Escapes his mind, it does, your inability to see in this black.?
Journey took out her tinderbox and sparked it once.
?What a show, child! Do it again.?
Journey sparked the tinder again.
She caught a brief glimpse of something in the darkness not far off. She got little but a sense of scales and scale.
?Good show!? Beleazaz clapped his hands. ?But, can you do this??
Suddenly, the cavern was alight with fire, and through the heat and haze and glare of it, Journey could see the dragon, lavid, gargantuan, bigger than anything she?d ever seen, save some of the buildings in Aeodith, and here he was breathing fire. ?Latek?s eyes,? Journey said to herself. She wanted nothing but to run, to get back outside, to deal with the Escalor over this.
Beleazaz stopped his breath and the cave went dark again.
?I startled you, child. I apologize. I didn?t mean to scare just then.?
?It?s alright,? Journey replied. ?I just wasn?t ready to see??
?A dragon is a frightening sight mosttime to those of your ilk.?
?I?d see you better if I could.?
Beleazaz laughed a little, then a small flame shot from his mouth to the side of the cavern, catching a collection of twigs and branches. ?Look upon me in the firelight, child, if you would,? Beleazaz said. He turned his head a little to the side and raised his snout, as if to pose.
The specific shades were hard to make out by the firelight but Journey guessed he was mostly a ruddy purple, his underbelly a paler shade by many a degree. The dragon?s wings were folded down about most of his body but the pointed tip of his tail was visible swaying back and forth behind him. Beleazaz was lying down on his stomach, his arms crossed under his head. His head, which he lay back down on his arms now, was much bigger than Journey was and was topped with a horn and a half. His lefthorn had, at sometime, been broken off halfway. A scar ran down the leftside of his face from that horn, over his brow, across a glossy, allwhite eye, and down his snout, splitting one nostril open and ending at his upperlip.
?Your eye,? Journey said.
?Not polite to jump to pointing out another?s infirmities,? Beleazaz replied.
?I apologize,? Journey said, her head bowed. ?I was only? I? What could have possibly done such a thing to so great a beast as Beleazaz?"
Beleazaz laughed. ?A lame attempt at recovering from your rudeness, child, but I will tell you, simply. Those beasts from which you likely flee??
?Is that what they call them thisday in the Pavanschall? I?ve not been up in the light for sometime. I do not know all the new words.?
?I know some of the Old Words,? Journey volunteered. ?I?ve had to learn some for my??
Abruptly, Beleazaz changed his tone to something far less friendly. ?Do not speak them here,? he said. ?No Suwasi here. This is not their place.?
Journey didn?t know what to say to that. Beleazaz stared at her momentarily then settled and spoke on. ?The Escalor, the firedog, the scourge?they once roamed freely over these parts. The Pavanschall was not the grassland you know. It stank of the gasses of the Balkor. It burned with unholy fires.
?We dragon pushed them back. It was a great war, a battle the likes of which no man has seen since. We took riders then, human riders. And, together the human and the dragon pushed the Escalor faraway into what has become the Balkor. They made it their own. And, they remained there for sometime.
?By the time they returned, things had changed tween the humanworld and the dragonworld.?
?I was always told that the dragon were foralltime the enemy of the human,? Journey said.
?Lies, terrible lies set forth to malign the character of a noble species.?
?Why do you hide in the Hi??
?WE DON?T HIDE!?
Journey sank back. ?I?m sorry,? she said, her voice small.
?I apologize for my anger,? Beleazaz said. ?But, no one shall speak thusly of my kind in this place, for this is my place and no one will insult me and mine in my place.?
Journey bowed her head. ?I apologize.?
?Man believed himself smarter than dragon,? Beleazaz said. ?Man believed that when we took him to ride upon our backs we put him over us, put him in charge. There are dragon that joke that we only took riders so we?d have snack midflight.?
?Men are quite tasty, child. I?d find you a morsel to try if I had some about.?
?You could eat some of that salted dum in your purse if you are hungry.?
?How did you??
?I can smell it. Your average dragon has a keen sense of smell and Beleazaz is no average dragon. I smell the salted dum, the blackseed balm, the bannoc, the hotblood of one of those Escalor?and a hearty congratulations in that regard, child?and something oiled. A small machine object of some sort, I?d expect of that last.?
?Right on all counts, I was??
?I?ve still got the knack, even in my old age.?
?You?re a kind child, pretending not to notice the greying of my hair and beard, the dulling of my scales. A kind child, indeed.?
In fact, Journey hadn?t even noticed there was any hair on Beleazaz?s head or chin as it was so thin and scattered and pale grey. And, having never seen Beleazaz the Beautiful in all his purple glory, she had no way of judging the dulling of his scales. But, she didn?t mention this to the dragon.
?Now, where was I??
?You were getting to how man turned on dragon,? Journey replied, smiling. And, to be honest, her smile was almost entirely genuine. The horror of where she was and how she?d come to be there was falling to the back of her mind and the conversation, as extraordinary as it was, had a calming effect. Beleazaz was like a friend, almost, a storyteller friend.
?Oh yes,? Beleazaz said. ?See, dragon did not push the Escalor back because we had any great love for humankind. We just didn?t like the Escalor much. A cursed bunch, the firedog were and are still thisday. Those creatures were stinking up the Pavanschall, which was as much our feeding grounds as it was theirs.?
?You made a deal with the human so you could keep feeding on them??
?Oh, we made no deal. There was nothing in writing, not even a spoken agreement. We simply let them ride us into war?and we did most of the work, mind you?and let them think whatever they cared to think. But, when we were not tamed beasts upon returning from the Balkor, man turned on us, fought us with spear and sword and catapult. It was a man that broke my lefthorn, broke it with a stone from his catapult. You?ve heard tell of a Chark Inion??
?I?ve seen his statue in Bridge but I know ickle of him but some childnight stories.?
?Tsk tsk. Lazy history in the Pavanschall. Was not even a threecentury ago, and your ilk forgets the detail. Well, most of those stories are probably true, though certainly exaggerated. Chark Inion was a great slaughterer of my kind. He?d lead his men into battle with??
Beleazaz looked up. Briefly, Journey wondered if the Escalor were near the hole through which she?d fallen and she looked up to see. Then, she realized why the dragon had trailed off. It wouldn?t be smart to mention his own weakness to her. Of course, she?d just told him she knew of the childnight stories of Chark Inion and his many battles with the dragon of the Hi, so wouldn?t it stand to reason she knew what he had nearly mentioned or did Beleazaz just hope she didn?t remember that particular detail? She remembered it, alright, though she didn?t let Beleazaz know this. Chark Inion had led his men into every fight with their clothes freshly cleaned, their buttons shined. And, they would pin extra buttons all about their clothes for it was said that the dragon of the Hi were simpleminded beasts, smart enough and strong enough to win most battles but easily distracted and misled. When the dragon neared, Inion?s men would display all their shiny buttons and the dragon would become fixated, unable to fight long enough that the men could move in and cut them down. ?It was the great Parrow?s will,? Inion was to have said, ?that the most horrible of beasts would have a weakness easily exploited by a man intelligent to discover how.?
Journey had had some trouble believing the stories of Chark Inion, but not for the obvious outrageousness. She wondered how so great a man could have defeated so many dragon, could have exploited their fascination with shiny things to such great effect and had never been able to do anything about the Escalor. Plete had even once told her, when they were still just kids, that Chark Inion had, in fact, been killed by the Escalor.
?It was Chark Inion that catapulted the stone that took half my lefthorn,? Beleazaz said, turning his attention again to Journey. ?In return, I burned his tunic on his body so that he had to strip down to his breeches, but there will be ickle tell of that in your childnight stories. No, no one wants to hear of how the great hero had to strip off his clothes midbattle, how he commanded the rest of his greatest victory with nary a stitch on his body.?
?I like that detail,? Journey replied. ?It makes it all more believable. Childnight stories are all so farfetched, even when rooted in truth.?
?Certainly, for what fascinates a child but for the faraway tales, the outlandish, the unbelievable, the great fantasy that will never be for them. Childnight stories are nothing if not a way to make a child eager to dream, eager to sleep.?
?I used to dream of another world,? Journey said. ?A great world where buildings towered higher than the hills and great wagons crossed the skies and I didn?t have to work the farm to live.?
?And what happened to your dreams, child??
?I left them behind,? Journey replied. ?Forso kilding.*?
* Forgo kilding : From a girl?s reapday speech, literally I forsake childish things.
Beleazaz rose up onto his haunches and extended his neck toward Journey. ?I told you not to speak the Old Words in this place, child. Would you have me make water in your bed??
?No. I?m sorry.?
?Enough with the apologies. Enough with you. Beleazaz has had enough conversation thisnight to last sometime.?
Journey shook. The dragon?s burning breath, so close to her now, was dizzying.
?You dare to speak Suwasi in my home, you will speak no words again, child.?
Suddenly, Journey?d had enough. She?d made it this far, had lost her pet, had scraped up her feet something awful, had twisted her knee, had burned her hand, had killed one of the Escalor for Parrowsake. She didn?t have to take anymore of this. Dragon or no, she?d been polite enough. She straightened up and faced the dragon, looked him in his good eye. ?I?m no child,? she said.
?Certainly, you?re more than a child,? Beleazaz replied. His nostrils flared, the two sides of his split leftnostril opening and closing like a hungry mouth. ?I?d say you?ve had your bleedings, more than a few already. You know the Old Words for your reapday, I?d wager. They certainly still practice that ritual.?
?My reapday is coming soon,? Journey replied.
?And, yet, ripe you already smell,? Beleazaz said, sniffing Journey up and down. ?A pity you have to die never having known the touch of a man.?
?I know plenty.?
?You know nothing.?
?I know enough, oh Beleazaz the Beautiful.? Journey reached across her body with her lefthand and pulled two objects from her purse, a small silvermirror and the musicbox Tinker made. It hurt to turn the crank on the musicbox with the fingers of her righthand but she did it anyway and the music began to play.
?What is that,? Beleazaz asked and he backed away.
?It?s music,? Journey replied. ?And, this is something special for you.? She held up the silvermirror for Beleazaz to see and immediately, his good eye focused on it. He grinned, his tongue dangling from the side of his mouth.
?Erathugat genetepavanshal a dominaparow wilonate dimestendre manusme a futme.? A daughter of Earth, the natural Pavanschall of Parrow?s dominion, I ride willingly the strings of ladytime of my own volition to my future. It was her reapday speech. The musicbox stopped playing. Though Beleazaz still stared at the silvermirror, his grin was gone thismoment. Journey continued. ?Stero spendeinme a wesme.? I take my responsibility for my life. ?Steroana skuldeme omnerame.? I take upon my shoulders/head all my world.
?Stop it,? Beleazaz said. And, he shook his attention from the silvermirror. He looked right at Journey.
Journey stood even taller and did not look away. ?Forso cilding a vanurgeres a nonosere,? she said. I forsake childish things and the wants and urges of innocence. She reached into her purse and pulled out the piece of bannocbread. ?Frangobanok.? I break bannoc (bread). She cracked the bannocbread in half
Beleazaz growled and thrust his head forward again. His wings unfolded, reaching the height and width of the cavern about him. ?I WOULD NOT SAY SUCH THINGS IF I WERE YOU, CHILD!?
?Frangopas.? I break the past. Journey wound the musicbox again. ?Fako futme strangon.? I face the future strong and alone.
?STOP IT CHILD!?
Journey stepped forward and held up the musicbox and silvermirror in her lefthand. The dragon?s snout was not twofeet from her this moment. His good eye focused on her lefthand, the shiny there, the wonderful music. ?NO KILD,? Journey yelled. Not a child. ?WIMBEREIT!? A ready woman. She reached her righthand into her purse and pulled out the knife again, already stained with the hotblood of the Escalor. She watched the dragon?s good eye, watched for any sign he knew what was coming. And, as she swung her arm up and brought the arm down, the eye twitched. But it didn?t have time to turn on her as her knife plunged into it. ?WIMPAREREN,? Journey screamed. A prepared woman.
Beleazaz shrieked. Journey dropped the silvermirror and the musicbox and dropped to the floor of the cavern just in time. The dragon opened his mouth wide and fire erupted from it. His roar filled the cavern and surely echoed off to many hills it was so loud. Journey scrambled under Beleazaz?s neck, under his belly and came out under his tail facing darkness. Beleazaz spun about blindly, fire flying every which way. ?On a clear day,? she said. Then she looked back at Beleazaz and the damage she?d done. The knife was still there in his eye. Oily blood dripped from it and caught fire. She wondered for a moment if what he?d said of the dragon and the Escalor was true, or if really there was a close connection tween the two and Beleazaz?s tale was nothing but a lie to entertain his meal. There was no time to think more on this, though as Beleazaz circled round toward her.
?I smell you, child. You cannot get away from me. YOU CANNOT GET AWAY FROM BELEAZAZ THE BEAUTIFUL!?
Journey ran into the darkness. The fire behind her lit the way just enough that she was able to avoid several obstacles, a misshapen rock here, a pile of bones there. As she ran, the cave grew noticeably lighter and then, as suddenly as she had fallen into the Cave of Beleazaz she found herself standing outside of it, on the southside of Lamb. And, to the south the sky was clear. To the southeast the sun was rising. It was nextmorning.
Behind her, Beleazaz still came. Journey ran down the hill to the west. And, there she saw a halfdozen Escalor. But, she didn?t slow down. She ran right toward them. Beleazaz erupted from his cave and spread his wings to take flight. The Escalor, seeing the dragon, paid no more heed to Journey. They ran at Beleazaz and leapt upon him. Fire flew in all directions. Beleazaz screamed. Journey ran west, the dragon?s cries echoing behind her.
Before the Escalor came again after her, she was down Lamb and heading up Sowheap. And, she found her way to the Southard Lookout finally. She climbed its ladder and found it deserted.
She looked over the railing to the land below and saw the destruction covering the Lower Pavanschall as far as she could see to the north. Scattered fires still burned. Smoky blackness covered the sky. In stark contrast to that, the Simbalands to the south and the Estered to the west looked quiet, peaceful, as sunup lit the steppes. Journey decided then and there that the Simbalands would join her list of places she would visit. And, she no longer meant to wait until she was older before having her travels.
She would find her parents and let them know she was alive. She would let Mere know that she would never marry Plete Carter. And, if the subject of reapday came up, Journey would let Mere know that she had already had her reapday, she?d given her speech and everything.
She would find Shea and Tinker and bid them a fond farewell and promise to send a letter now and again. On some future date, when Shea was ready, they might even travel together, but Journey?s initial travels would be alone.
She was a child no more and she?d venture out where she cared to venture. Solving the family?s money troubles, rebuilding the farm?those were not her responsibilities. Finding her own way, seeking out as much of the world as she needed to seek?that was all of her responsibility.
Well, that, and looking after Scurf, who she took from her pocket now.
He was still alive, though he barely moved when she touched him. She found some glassjars of water on a shelf. She opened one and dropped Scurf into it. Immediately, the gillbug uncurled and began to swim in circles excitedly. Journey dug through her purse and found some crumbs of bannocbread and dropped them into Scurf?s temporary home. She promised to find him better food as soon as she could. Then, she drank some water from a second glassjar and settled down on the floor next to Scurf?s. Though the air was still warm and smoky, she pulled an old blanket from a nearby corner about herself and curled up to sleep. Heading northard to find her friends and her family could wait. She?d had a very long and extraordinary day, the first of many to come.