Upon the First Day of the Seventh Year of the Reign of King Karpitz Karpikotz
Paknor Stapikos keeps his features impassive as he forces his attention back to the presentation. The speaker is rambling interminably about the need to balance the needs of Artellosa, a forest goddess who resents her trees being cut down, and those of Walkatokis, a warrior goddess who requires ever more arms, the forging of which require a seemingly limitless supply of charcoal. Nevertheless, Paknor is angry with himself; tomorrow he will be expected to comment on whatever recommendation this fool makes, and he should be listening attentively. Read more
“That’s all, children! Go home, now; it’s bedtime.” Ghaldak levered himself to his feet, as if to emphasise that he would tell no more tales. In spite of their disappointment, most of the youngsters did as they were told, moving apart as they left the circle they had formed close to the fire. Mothers scooped up the toddlers, and the older ones who lived in the favoured houses around the village green made their own way home, often holding a younger sibling or two by the hand.
As if this movement had been a signal, men started to appear on the green, and to make their way towards the fire. Tandis, the only child who had not so far moved, got to his feet; he sensed that he would lose his moment unless he spoke now.
But Ghaldak was looking out towards the men, and did not notice the youngster approach. Greatly daring, Tandis reached up and tugged on his sleeve. “Excuse me,” he said tentatively. When there was no response, he pulled harder, and spoke a little louder. “Excuse me. Sorry: I didn’t understand. How did you know?” Read more
Jessi pulled the flimsy material of her scarf further forward, to try to block out some of the glare reflected from the white buildings as she passed through the town. It was fortunate that her sister’s house was not far; the houses at the end of the street were shimmering in the heat, and a longer walk might have brought on the dizziness that she resented as a sign of physical weakness.
The bell by the sun-disc at the end of the street rang out just as she opened the gate. Although it was bad manners to disturb a household during withdrawal, she knocked on the little side door, hoping that someone would answer, for the thought of making the return journey without first resting in a stone-cool interior made her feel faint. Read more
“Why don’t we have a people-cart, Mama?” Trenno was looking up at the horse-drawn wagon passing them, voicing for the first time a five-year-old’s awareness that his family compared unfavourably in this respect to others.
“Horses need more looking after than our Jess,” Sheshni indicated the donkey pulling the small cart containing all the family’s possessions, “And they eat food you have to pay for, too. ‘Sides, what would you want to ride in a wagon for? All day long, sat up there, with nothing to do? You’d lose the use of your legs!”
“I used to ride, Mama.”
“So you did, Trenno. When you were very little and you couldn’t walk all day, we used to put you in the cart for a while, for a rest. But you’re big now, and it wouldn’t be fair, expecting Jess to pull your weight along with the shelter and our things.” Her husband, Jaseth, was walking ahead as usual. She’d asked him to scout out a good place to stop for a bite to eat; somewhere they could perform, too, and earn some coins from the crowd to eke out their savings until they reached the big city. She’d sent Caillie with him to keep him company, so she only had one of the young’uns to jolly along. Read more
“I don’t want to fall asleep, Millie.” Jan’s words interrupted her as she started to doze, and she sat up straight, away from the cushions, to keep herself awake. “Would you talk to me?”
“Of course I will, my love. About anything in particular?”
“Would you tell me about when your father died? You’ve never talked much about the past, and I haven’t wanted to cause you pain, but … well, I’d like to hear how it was, and share some of those feelings you’ve kept shut away.”
She checked the crib beside the bed, where little Senlik was sleeping peacefully. There were nights, now and then, when he didn’t wake until morning, and she hoped that this would be one of those times. She was silent for a couple of minutes; it seemed vital that she explain this right. When she had finally thought herself back to that sad and desperate time, she closed her eyes and began to speak. Read more