« on: May 11, 2012, 07:26:47 PM »
This is prologue. Chapter I, only four pages long.
Calm summer night. High above in the velvet sky a shadow passed swiftly in front of the moon, so swiftly that anyone not by chance looking right at it would never have seen it. The girl asleep in the straw in the big barn stirred, came awake, and rolled onto her back. She didn’t see the shadow, so high and far and fast – but somehow she felt it, and it woke her.
Her dreams faded like the embers of a dying fire, turning to ash even as she tried to grasp them, to leave uncertain images in her mind. A vast place, busy streets crowded with people. A high black tower pierced a clear sky like a needle. A fearsome, ancient man – fearsome yet somehow comforting – looked at her kindly through molten eyes, muttered strangely, and pointed a staff. She understood none of it, but was left with a confused feeling that these were things she knew.
She turned her head to look out through the hayloft door, and saw the moon hanging in the sky like a shining silver fruit.
As she turned, her face in the moonlight became a lopsided harlequin, with a large birthmark stain on her left cheek. It started just under her eye, and extended down the side of her face to wrap beneath her delicate jaw.
The warm summer wind sighed across the fields, to rustle through the orchard beside the old barn, and through the open doors. The great hewn timbers of the barn creaked softly in the night. A horse stirred to the breath of the wind, nickered softly, and tapped a hoof against the side of his stall.
The great barn was exactly like a hundred others she’d slept in over the years, and bore a family resemblance to a thousand – but she was sure she’d been in it before. She didn’t know how, but somehow she always seemed to know a familiar place, even if she had no real memory of it.
Her family was part of a clan of farm-workers, with no fixed home. There were many such clans. They were called the Skalt, an ancient name. Travelers, they went from farm to farm in spring and fall to help with planting and harvest. The rest of the year they sold their labor wherever it was needed. Some in the clan were expert carpenters, and could cut and fit timbers to raise barns or sheds, or make repairs to them – or even to houses – as needed. Others could do other things. They cleared land, cut firewood, built and repaired wagons, drained swamps, fixed leaky roofs, repaired dams and bridges – they could turn their hands to just about anything anybody wanted done. Her clan in particular had a reputation for curing sick animals on the farms and vineyards they visited. They were never short of work at any time of year.
Like all the Skalt, her clan traveled in a score or so caravans, one of which was her home. In summer she – and everyone else – usually slept in the hay in barns and sheds where they worked. Though the caravans were homey and comfortable, they seemed cramped on a moonlit night of soft, warm breezes. Most of the clan were comfortably asleep around her throughout this big, somehow familiar barn.
She cocked her head, and listened carefully. Then rose quietly, and went to the ladder to slide down from the loft to the long ground floor.
One end of it was divided into stalls. Most of the stalls stood empty, the horses were outside in the pasture for the summer – but there was one inside, the one who’d tapped his stall. He was kept in because some sickness troubled him. Her clan’s best horsemen had been treating him, but his belly was still distended, and he was still in pain and fretful.
She paused outside his stall, and made a gentle clicking sound. The horse came to her, his head over the stall door. She held out a hand and he nuzzled her, looking for a carrot or an apple. His breathing was shallow, and his liquid eyes – dull with pain – looked trustingly into hers. She smiled.
Then opened the stall door, went inside, and knelt beside him. He stood quiet, calm – and waited. For a moment her expression changed, sharpened, and her calm green eyes flashed amber – then faded back to green. She ran a hand over his belly. Her fingertips quested, found what they’d been looking for, and paused. She pressed in gently and moved her hand in a circle, her lips moving soundlessly. He shied away a bit, then stood still. He turned his head to look at her, she looked deep into his eyes and he didn’t move as she probed with her fingers. She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against his flank while her fingers worked. In a moment she rose, and smiled.
She stepped back out of the stall and closed the door. The horse put his head out over the top of the door and nuzzled her hand again. This time he discovered a carrot in her hand, which he took with a toss of his head, and crunched happily.
His eyes were clear and bright, his belly was smooth, no longer distended, and his breathing was deep, strong and even.
As quickly as she had touched him she forgot she’d done it. She didn’t know she’d done anything. She was as completely unaware of it as if it had never happened at all.
If someone told her she’d just cured the sick horse she wouldn’t have believed it. There was no trace of it in her mind.
If someone told her she was the true secret to her clan’s reputation for curing sick animals she wouldn’t have known what they were talking about.
And, had someone been there to ask her, she wouldn’t have known when, or how, or from where she got the carrot.
It would have simply been another among the many mysteries her life presented. More things about which she was unable to think; more things on which she could not seem to concentrate. Things forgotten even as they happened.
She stroked the horse’s neck absently. He whinnied in pleasure and tossed his head, eyes bright and clear, ears alert. She laughed, gave a pull to his forelock, bade him rest well, and went down the central aisle of the barn to the open door on the end, where she passed outside into the moonlit orchard.
She stared up at the moon. Far off to the south the gleaming white spires of huge mountains rose in the distance. She knew they were called the Ivorytops. She did not know if she had ever been close to them, or passed through them to the other side.
She had no memory of it, but that wasn’t a bother to her.
Despite her occasional dreams, she didn’t know she didn’t know. Her dreams vanished when she woke, and didn’t leave enough of themselves behind to trouble her.
She was able to live that way.