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that, faced with isolation on these islands, you will decide to change your mind."
Ynamynet nodded, "I supposed as much."
"And you should consider something else," Harjeedian said. "We have been speaking as if you are the one and
only key to this facility. Thus far, this is true. However, one of these days someone on the other side of a gate is going
to come through. Then there will be someone else with whom we can deal. The yarimaimalom watch even now. How
long will your power to make deals last, Ynamynet? A moonspan or maybe only a few more minutes?"
Firekeeper had to admire how Harjeedian followed her lead and added pressure, but then the aridisdu had always
been skilled with words.
Skea turned to his wife. "They're right, Nami, and they're well prepared. Right now it's our choice. Later, it's going
to be someone else's."
Urgana added softly, "All the Old World was so certain that querinalo meant the end of the rule of the cruder type
of sorcery, but it didn't take very long for someone to see the advantage of being willing to use a tool his neighbors
shunned. Maybe the next ones to come through the gates will share your conviction. Maybe even the ones after that,
but you know that not all who wield sorcery are ethical and loyal."
Zebel said, his tones so level they were almost flat, "Most are not. Querinalo forces people to make choices: to
live or die, to decide what is valued, what is not. Many of those who kept their magical abilities feel they are owed
something for what they gave up. This is not a state of mind that leads to valuing the good of the community over that
of the self."
Again, but briefly this time, Ynamynet pressed her fingers to her eyes. When she lowered them, none of the
vagueness remained. Her voice was loud and strong as she addressed not only those from the New World but her own
community as well.
"Consensus has never been the way of the Once Dead - except occasionally among ourselves. Zebel is right. We
have long taken the view that our sacrifices make us superior to any others. However, in this case, I cannot decide for
everyone else. I must know that I am supported in whatever decision I make."
She turned to Harjeedian. "May we have a vote? A silent one, so none is swayed by what others choose?"
"We would rather have all of your cooperation," Harjeedian conceded.
He glanced at the others. Firekeeper nodded, as did most of the others. Plik spoke for the yarimaimalom.
"They will agree - though many think this very strange."
The meeting was adjourned while arrangements were made for the secret vote and the discussion to this point was
summarized for those who suddenly realized they had made an error in not attending. When Blind Seer howled the
meeting to order again, the room was noticeably fuller and the air reeked of sour sweat and hastily dried tears.
There was a clicking and clattering as the humans shifted broken bits of ceramic from hand to hand. Skea rose
from his place and held up an opaque jar.
"Voting will be very simple. If you favor an alliance, with Ynamynet agreeing to open gates for these New World
peoples and to teach them - if possible - how they might do this themselves, put in the red piece. If you favor refusal to
cooperate, waiting to see if assistance comes through one of the gates, then put in the green piece. It's that easy."
There were a few questions, most of them the type that made Firekeeper edgy, but that humans of all cultures
seemed to need.
"It's like when all the pack howls as one," Blind Seer said, bumping his head against her in reassurance. "They
make all this chatter to assure themselves that they are a pack,"
"That may be," Firekeeper replied grumpily, "but if I had fur it would be on end."
"Then perhaps it is a good thing you don't have fur," Blind Seer replied dryly.
Firekeeper punched gently, noting tenderly how different his fur felt without the thick undercoat. She draped an
arm around the wolf, and felt him press into her.
Side by side, they listened as the broken shards of pottery dropped into the jar, the bright sound dampening and
becoming deeper as the jar filled. As far as they could tell, no one tried to peek inside the slit cut in the jar's top to see
what others had decided, and most cupped their hand so that those close by could not see what their own vote would
be.
Eventually, the jar was handed down from the surrounding seats. Skea dropped his own piece in, then handed the
jar to Zebel. Last to vote was Ynamynet, and if her face was tight and strained as she did so, Firekeeper would be the
last to call her a coward.
Skea met Harjeedian halfway across the room and handed the now full jar to the aridisdu. Harjeedian had not
trained in reading omens without learning something about detecting the temper of a gathering. Rather than carrying
the jar back to the table where the New World contingent sat, Harjeedian removed the covering from the jar. Bending
slightly at the waist, he spread the gathered shards in a broad arc across the stone-flagged floor.
There was no need to count. A wash of red spilled out against the grey. Here and there a defiant bit of green
showed, but overwhelmingly the color was red - the color signifying a choice to cooperate.
"It looks like blood," Firekeeper said softly to Blind Seer.
"You have been too much among the Liglim," Blind Seer replied. "This is no omen, only a choice."
But Firekeeper felt the wolf shudder, and knew that he too wondered just what had begun with that bright
scattering of choice.
***
As FROM ONE THROAT, Truth heard the rumble of voices. She did not need to be from a long line of diviners
to know what she heard.
"They have made a decision," she said to Eshinarvash.
The Wise Horse swiveled one ear back, but kept most of his attention for the gate complex they patrolled.
"I hear the howls of wolves and the yapping of foxes. Each says one word only: 'Home!' So it seems the humans
here have decided to work with us rather than against us. That is good. I had wondered how well I might live on a diet
of kelp. We wild horses have less finicky gus than our domesticated cousins, but I had wondered..."
Almost idly, Truth watched the folding and unfolding of futures triggered by Eshinarvash's statement. She was
learning to accept Ahmyn's gift. Being constantly enwrapped in visions would never be easy, nor would she ever again
be able to completely trust what she saw, but she was learning.
"Now you do not need to choose," Truth said. "I, for one, am glad. I am not overly fond of horsemeat."
Eshinarvash shivered his skin at this, but did not edge away. Really, he was very brave, especially for an
herbivore.
"'Home!' they howl," Eshinarvash said after a time. "Do they realize that not all of us can return? Not now,
perhaps not for a long, long time to come?" [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]