Wherein: Island Spirits Are Seen; Leena Falls Ill
From a distance, Paramon saw Maynard and Hubter, each surrounded by children, in the middle of the clearing. It was a strange sight, and he hoped they were playing a game. As he grew closer, it was clear from their angry voices and the frightened expressions of the children that it was no game.
“Of all the harebrained accusations!” said Maynard. He turned to Paramon, red-faced, saying “Hubter is accusing me, me! Of religion! Of sorcery!” He turned back to Hubter and said, “I am a man of logic, sir. This is an outrage.”
Hubter shook his head in disgust, saying, “Why are my children wearing these? Why are they stealing food and,” he turned to his son Klek and snapped, “what did you say you did with those bundles?”
Klek, a blond and skinny eight year old said in a trembling voice, “We sink them in the sound, Pa. Sacrifices so the spirits won’t get us.”
“Spirits!” announced Hubter with scorn, turning back triumphantly, “Where did they get these ideas?”
“I have no idea,” said Maynard. “Did it ever occur to you that they made them up?”
“Where did they get leather to make these necklaces they’re wearing?”
“Look,” said Maynard, “I didn’t indoctrinate this practice. My children have access to all of my supplies, and yes, bits of leather and string are among them. They could easily make these from my supplies, but that doesn’t mean I helped them!”
“What is that word? Indoctrinite? Speaking over my head doesn’t help.”
Paramon interrupted, “Let’s ask the children.” Hubter and Maynard fell silent and stared at him. He shrugged and urged, “Let’s just ask them.”
Hubter looked at his children and nodded. Paramon crouched among the children, who gathered around him with relief. “Who told you to wear amulets?’
“It was his idea,” young Lup said, pointing at his brother Klek.
“But May’s the one who got the stuff!”
“But Gaithe is the one who told us what to put in it!”
“Not me, but all of us!” Gaithe, Hubter’s eldest daughter, began pointing at each child in turn, “She said a stone, she said a hair, he said a funny-shaped twig,”
“All right,” interrupted Paramon, “that’s all right.” He looked up at Hubter and Maynard with his eyebrows raised, and spoke to the children again, “Now tell us what it is you need protection from.”
The children were quiet, and looked at each other warningly.
“We only want to help,” Paramon said, “We want to help protect, too. Won’t you tell us? Is there something we’ve missed?”
Klek said, glancing nervously at his father, “Our parents taught us that religious is bad. That it leads to meanness and bad things. The Order was bad. But we didn’t mean to be doing religious. We only mean to keep safe from spirits.”
Hubter looked bewildered, but kept silent.
Gaithe said, “We saw a spirit in the swamp. Or more than one. We don’t know. We thought, maybe the island didn’t want us. So we,”
In excitement, young May took over, “So we give it a sacrifice each week. Some food. Some flowers. We carve a animal. And we put it in the lily meadow. That’s all! We didn’t mean harm! Why should we be in trouble?”
“We did it,” his sister Rular added in a quiet voice, “so the island will forgive us.”
“Forgive us what?” her father asked gently.
She looked up at the men and said, “Forgive us being human.”
Leena was being watched. She felt it as she struggled over the dunes, her feet lurching away beneath her, as if she were being thrown down with each step. She held one arm out for balance, kept the other beneath her belly.
She’d wanted to see the ocean. She’d wanted to see that immensity of color and design, constantly shifting, that constant design. It was foolish, she shouldn’t have come alone, for her time was nearing. And now, she could feel that she was being watched.
She began to cry without meaning to, frustrated, uncomfortable, hot. When she reached the foot of the steep dune, panting, still crying, a pain striking out through her, she turned and looked around.
It was a child. She couldn’t see from where she stooped, because of the glare, whose child it was, but it seemed to be standing and watching her. Leena gulped air, trying to catch her breath, which would not slow and calm.
She looked at the ocean, that vast blanket of motion and reflection. It flickered in cups and plates of light. The sky rolled out white above, pulling taut, sending out scudding clouds.
Dizzy, she took another step forward toward the water.
Then the child was at her side, the guide’s son. Insnar.
Leena looked down at him and the concern on his small face startled her.
“You all right? You all right? What’s wrong?” He was shouting these words.
She couldn’t answer his question. She looked down into his clear blue eyes, the finger of lashes on each cheek, and marveled at how living, how full of life, as full of light and motion as the sea he was.
When his small fingers took her hand, she let him. She looked back to the water, her heart thudding in her eyelids, a feeling too strong to resist, and she let them close, and held tight to the boy’s hand, letting him lead her.
He was apologizing to her for something.
Yes? Yes? She thought, but she could not utter a word or open her eyes. She let the hand, a living rope, pull her forward.
Finally she felt him stop, urge her to sit down, small hands pulling at her until she sank, fell, plunged into the sand. She heard him shouting as he ran, his footsteps pounding the sand in a rhythmic way, as if the earth itself were drumming.
Such small feet, she thought, to shake the ground like that.
As time passed, and the boring months Mithic spent on the island accumulated, he noticed that Savar’s behavior was changing. His arrivals and departures became more sporadic, and sometimes, the amount of sugar milk he brought for Svan’s addiction was less than it should have been. Mithic chided the man for his lapses, and was greeted with a stony silence. After a particularly hostile interview with the glassy-eyed courier, Mithic found himself rushing away. He left the courier alone. Mithic had a bad feeling about the trouble Savar was getting into, but as Mithic himself had sent him to the most tempting places in the city, it would surely be seen as Mithic’s fault. He couldn’t, for this reason, bring it up with anyone else. He could imagine Paramon’s questions: Where did you send him? On what errand?
It would be an embarrassment. Mithic would not be humiliated by a nobody like Wharsh. He kept silent about his fears, and left the courier alone.
Leena was bedridden. Her fainting spell on the beach frightened Paramon and he insisted she stay in bed and be waited upon. She read books and looked at the walls of the cottage. She sewed dresses for the little settlement girls’ dolls out of scraps, and listened to the voices and sounds of the settlement. She didn’t feel well and she slept often. Time passed in strange increments, no longer hours or days. More like colors and shapes. She had strange dreams of being underwater which unnerved her. She told stories to the baby inside her to pass the time. Anything that came to mind. Stories about her childhood. Stories about schools, cities, kings and queens and witches. Things which Sillith might never see. She didn’t realize that she did this in silence, told the baby stories down internal paths and channels.
Paramon said to her one day, “When you are so quiet for so long, I worry about you. What are you thinking of?”
Leena laughed and said, “Is that so? I didn’t realize I was quiet. It doesn’t feel quiet. I am telling the baby stories.”
“You mean, you just think the stories?”
“I suppose so. Is that strange?”
Paramon was looking at her with a bemused smile. “Dragons and mermaids?”
“Some magic, actually. Also autobiography. But perhaps a mermaid story is in order, with these dreams I have of the water.”
“Could I hear these stories?”
“I’m afraid not, darling. You’re bound to interrupt.” They laughed and Paramon kissed Leena on the head.
“Well, I suppose one day I’ll get you to write them down for me.”
“I’ll draw them instead,” said Leena.
Svan saw it. She would not admit it to herself at first, but she saw it. Through the flickering of shadow and swamp early one morning, when she wandered out of the house. She was in her nightgown, though she hadn’t noticed this at first. She was headed back to dress when she sensed a figure moving. Not a figure so much as a shadow. A blue shape moving among the trees. She blinked. She assumed it was what they called milk shadows, hallucination, but also, it did not go away when she blinked. It was there. She imagined it wanted to speak to her. Was it? Was it his ghost? She herself felt like such a shadow, it made sense to her, that two shadows would speak. She stopped and waited for it, but it went away, and Svan could not stop crying the rest of the day.
When Mithic irritably asked her what was wrong, she murmured, “I think I saw Wizener’s ghost. ”
Mithic stared at her, his eyes wide bright with fury, “Listen to me,” he said sharply, leaning in and squeezing her hand too tightly, “You did not see a ghost. You’re hallucinating like a common whore. Behave yourself or I will cut off your supply.” He left Svan trembling in a chair, staring after the man who was her husband.
Leena was breathing. Then gasping. The daughter of the dead midwife, a girl of fifteen, stood uncertainly at the bed, talking. Leena reminded herself, the girl’s name was Lutto. Leena could not tell if Lutto was talking to her, or to someone else. She wanted to say the girl’s name, ask her some question, but she could not get her mouth to move.
The girl was speaking. She shook her head and moved closer, wiping Leena’s face. Leena could feel nervousness in the girl’s hands, like the buzzing of crickets. The girl checked between Leena’s legs. She was talking frantically to someone else, but Leena couldn’t hear anything over the blood rushing in her ears, the brutal pains that came and wiped out all else.
Something was wrong. She could feel it. A sick tangle of sharp inside her. It was nothing like the blinding pain she’d been told to experience, it was more than that. Something darker. Dark like the vines that wrapped and rewrapped themselves, obsessive, suffocating, into black knots on the trees. Dark like the black of swamp water, opaque and greasy. She saw the swamp, the water rushing up over her. She fought it, kicked and screamed and it receded.
She opened her eyes, later, to Paramon, white-faced, standing over her. She couldn’t hear him. He was speaking and she wanted to hear him but she couldn’t. She was trying to tell him that she couldn’t hear him. The girl was yelling at Paramon, pulling at him. The girl was hysterical, weeping. Leena was worried about Paramon, his face so white. It shouldn’t have been so pale. She wanted to ask if he was all right. He pushed the girl away. He leaned over Leena and she was blinded with a stab from the brutal dark inside her. When it subsided, she opened her eyes to his face, those eyes. His eyes. Brimming with terror and love, something bigger for once, than even Paramon could bear, he with the heart big enough for all, she saw something snap loose, tremble and fall in his strength, and she felt herself opening, streaming with sheer compassion for him, for Paramon, her love. She reeled in how much she could feel for him, how she could feel his sorrow, his anguish. How she could feel his devotion, his desperation. She wanted to wash him of it, wash him of it all, prepare him somehow.
Oh, there is not more love than this, she thought, this is the exquisite, the bliss, and then the vines twisted her in and down, the black hole yawned, the black waters came for her, closed around her.
A daughter, Sillith, was born.