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187
Stone Maiden
by Ann Aquirre
  What is this? Kaveh asked.  You are not dying.
  I wanted to speak with you, sayyid, and I was not sure
how else to call you.'
Z'ev paused and took a sip of pak, then continued.  She
was a handsome woman, but Kaveh's heart was hard and he
felt anger at her ruse.
  You must know it is bad fortune to summon the lord of
death. Kaveh fixed her with his ebony stare.  I must collect a
soul before I leave this place.
  Do you not desire me? she asked.  I am strong enough
to be your bride.
  I have a bride. Her name is Minau, and I am waiting for
the cycle to bring her back to me. She wept then for she
could not believe he was refusing her, but her tears did not
move Kaveh.  I will punish you by taking your husband from
you, so that you will know my loss.
 The cunning lavedi sobbed louder and pleaded with the
lord of death, as she did not want him to know how well his
punishment pleased her. If she could not have the handsome
Kaveh, she would take her stepson instead. Her old husband
passed into Kaveh's keeping that same day, and she grieved
beautifully. The other wives spoke kindly of her devotion. But
when it came time for her husband's burning, her wicked
stepson said,  Poor thing, she cannot carry on without my
father. I could not ask such a broken woman to be my wife.
She had better go in the fire with him, so they will be
together forever. Somewhere, Kaveh laughed. And that was
the beginning of suttee.
188
Stone Maiden
by Ann Aquirre
 A tale well told. Kejmeh finished his pak and stood up.
 But if you will excuse me, my wife will be wondering what
has become of me.
As her brother stood, Zillah said,  She is probably hoping
you have fallen down a ravine.
 Feh. The herder shook his hand at her.  And this is why I
cannot find you a husband.
 I do not want a husband. And you are lucky we have
visitors, brother, as I permit no one to speak to me so.
 Enough, children! The old woman spoke as if Zillah and
Kejmeh were younger than Tah, who could not hide a smile.
 You" she pointed at Kejmeh "help our guests settle in the
other room. At her words, the three weary travelers pushed
to their feet, banished to the other side of the woven hanging,
a space that would have their shoulders touching, should they
all lie on their backs.  And you" she frowned at Zillah
"finish putting up the lentil stew. It needs to be in a crock
with a lid or the dune flies will get it.
After settling them with spare blankets, Kejmeh departed
with a bow and a smile. The women's side of the tent rustled
with activity, and then the night was silent. Beside him, Tah's
companions were talking silently, and he could not
understand. He had never felt such longing for his family;
worry gnawed at him. Were they well? Did they think he was
a traitor? Will the sha'al-izzat hurt them because of me? That
question kept him awake long into the night, and by the time
Anumati chased Sahen toward morning, he had made a
choice.
* * * *
189
Stone Maiden
by Ann Aquirre
The boy was gone when Harb awoke. Fire take him, I
promised I would look after him. His vow lacked the weight
that would make it painful, but his conscience gave Harb an
unpleasant twinge. He'd kept Tah from physical harm, but he
had not taken any interest in him otherwise. Where could the
messenger have gone? A sense of foreboding overtook him.
Jostling Z'ev, he woke his master. Tah is gone.
The other man blinked as if trying to focus on Harb's
flickering fingers. Gone? Gone where?
If I knew, I would not have awakened you.
That startled the sleep from Z'ev's eyes and he sat up,
immediately reaching for their supplies. Two waterskins
remained, along with most of the provisions they had
purchased the day before. The ksathra sighed. He does not
mean to come back.
Did the little thief take your moneybelt?
He is not a thief, merely He paused, searching through
their things. He is a thief! Only left us four kels ... Fire take it,
this complicates matters considerably.
Harb closed his eyes against the sting of regret. This is my
fault. If I had been on guard, this would not have happened,
he signed.
And if you had not allowed yourself the healing sleep, you
would still be gravely wounded. Z'ev touched the new skin
atop the guard's bald head. There would be a scar, but the
flesh had already sealed, enabled by the deep sleep Z'ev
mentioned. There was no danger no reason for you to stay
awake. You could not have known he would do this.
190
Stone Maiden
by Ann Aquirre
You are too kind. His implacable expression did not reveal
how much the failure hurt.
We will manage.
Harb knew the plan they had outlined the night before had
become significantly more difficult. Without those kels, it
would be impossible to arrange a meeting with the leader of
the merchant guild. Such things required coin for bribes to
assistants and underlings, which they now lacked. In fact, as
they looked now in rough desert robes they would be
fortunate to get a word with the guard who manned the door,
and nobody would believe Z'ev was a dispossessed noble,
dressed as a seeker. New clothes would cost them; so would
a bath and a good barber.
Do we still travel to Feroz to convince the guild to try again
with its peasant army? The guard tried not to reveal his
distaste.
Z'ev nodded. Our army, my friend. The old woman said
they needed a leader, and now they have one. You shall
provide their training. We will yet make Japhet weep it will
merely take longer than we thought.
They were forced to invent a reason for Tah's absence, but
the story about sending the boy ahead to ready a place for
them in Feroz seemed to satisfy the old woman's curiosity.
The four of them broke fast with the remainder of the lentil
stew and the last of the stale naan. Z'ev paid once more with
a tale, and Harb managed not to scowl at the way the older
man butchered it. He has been only half listening to me, he
thought; though to be fair, the art did not run in the ksathra's
veins. I suppose he makes a fair showing, for one untrained.
191
Stone Maiden
by Ann Aquirre
 It has been a pleasure staying with you.
Both Harb and Z'ev bowed as they prepared to depart.
Zillah was nowhere to be found, and the old woman was
mixing dough in a red clay bowl she did not speak as they
went out. Kejmeh met them near the livestock pen; his goats
followed him as if his tuneless whistle mesmerized them.
 You are leaving us? But the road calls you. We Enadi are
much the same, though we take our families with us, and we
do not move quite so often.
Z'ev nodded and looked as if he would respond at length.
Harb knew it would do them no good if a patrol coerced their
destination from the herder. Not that it would take much,
Harb thought. Kejmeh was the most gregarious of all the
Enadi they'd met, although most of them had been snug
inside their tents the night before, when the three stumbled
wearily into their camp. Only the herder had been outside,
still tending his animals, but he had been glad to guide them
to his mother's tent.
They spent one of their precious kels on a broken-down old
mare that Kejmeh said would likely end up in stew. He [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]