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Authors: Suzanne Francis

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BOOK: Wintermoon Ice (2010)
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She stood on the rickety gallery, high above their heads, holding a Grond rifle. "Drop your weapons. I have your leader covered."

The Lance Serjent spoke. "Commander? Shall we obey?"

A bullet whistled down, and neatly removed his cap.

"Next time I won't miss. Do as I say."

The Commander dropped flat. "Get under cover," he cried. "Head for the stairs." Several men fired upwards, temporarily forcing Suvi away from the edge.

She shot three of the men as the rest scattered. Tom broke in the opposite direction, and ran for the office. A stinging pain made him stumble and clutch his thigh, but he made it through the door, locking it behind him.

The bullet had caught him in the left leg, and had buried itself deep in the muscle. Blood, fresh and bright, made his sock and foot suddenly warm and sticky. Suvi's rifle continued to discharge at intervals, and he hoped she had plenty of ammunition. An occasional low-pitched cry testified to her accuracy with the weapon, but Tom knew she couldn't hold out forever.

Gritting his teeth against the pain, he lurched forward and to the left.

* * * *

Jakob pushed Tessa down behind a low wall. "There are guns going off in there. You stay outside while I..."

"No! There is another entrance. We'll go in together. This way." She set off around the back, running almost in a crouch. He followed, quietly cursing her stubbornness.

The basement doors still swung freely on their broken hinges. "Down here. There are more rifles. We can use them." She skirted the hole in the floor and scurried down the ladder into pitch darkness.

He counted to sixty, keeping time with the pulse beating in his neck. "Tessa?"

A rifle butt poked through the trap door, and then another. She sounded breathless. "Ok, let's go. This flight of stone stairs leads up to the main level. There is a balcony around the main factory floor, accessed by a set of wooden steps." Tessa closed her eyes, seeing the picture in her mind.

He caught her arm. "How do you know all that?"

"I've been here quite a while. I know this place like the back of my..."

She looked very surprised when he shook her. "The Tessa I know has never lived here. Who are you?"

"I... I don't know why I said that. What does it matter, anyway? We need to get upstairs, find out what is happening. Tom and Suvi may be in danger."

They crept along the south wing. The rifle fire had built into a thunderous climax a moment ago, but the subsequent silence seemed to echo far more. "What is that over there? Can you see anything?" Jakob's broad back partially blocked her view, but she could see slumped forms in the darkness that looked like bodies.

"The fighting's stopped. I think everyone is dead."

A half a dozen men, wearing the grey uniforms of the Grond, sprawled messily on the floor. Blood had turned the dust into a viscous residue that clung to Tessa's boots. Just as she looked down at them and shuddered, a roar shook the building to its foundation.

"The dynamite," Jakob cried. "Get down!"

Tessa screamed as debris rained from above. The walls became a wave, rolling and breaking upon the floor in a deadly wash of bricks and rubble. The ceiling buckled and fell, bringing darkness, and then, blessed silence.

When she woke she was on the floor, with her knees drawn up tight to her chest. Tessa peered through a warm stickiness that made her eyes sting. She tried to sit up, but a sudden sharp pain in her head made her dizzy.

"Jakob?"

"I am here." His voice, sounding oddly on edge, came from above her. "Are you hurt?"

She felt herself all over, because it was too dark to see. "Something hit me on the head. There is some blood. Are you?"

"No." He didn't say anything else. After a few seconds, a groan escaped through his clenched teeth.

The pain in her head increased a notch. "You
are
hurt!"

Somehow, she got to her knees. Jakob was right next to her, standing rigidly, as though at attention. A huge iron beam lay across one shoulder and he held on to it, with every muscle straining.

He spoke -- very, very quietly. "I won't be able to do this for much longer. Go now, and this time, for the love of the gods, don't argue."

But of course she did, even though the pain made the words hard to say. "I... can't leave you like this."

"Tessa, please..."

She saw curious halos of light, bobbing and dancing in rhythm with the pounding ache in her temples. "Too tired. Want to sleep." Tessa's voice trailed off to a confused mumble as she lay back down at his feet.

"Oh, Blessed Brigga, no. Wake up." He inched his foot across and nudged her. She didn't move. His arms trembled with exertion, but he knew it would be the knees that gave first. "Tessa... Tessa... Ach! Listen to me. You have to get out of here." His legs buckled and he sank, feeling the joints pop as the beam settled. Somehow, he kept it off her. The raging pain in his shoulder gave him sudden clarity. "
Eben din mi Tessa. Keppen ar jace?
"

Tessa stirred and murmured
, "Ember. Mi jacea Ember.
"

The beam sank lower. Four more inches and it would crush her face. "
Ember? Happen menna si Tessa? Palifis, palifis..."

"Ja. Adjo, mi Marinus."
She disappeared, but a whisper remained. "
Si pelanus. Merri tobus nar."

"Si pelannu dycka. Adjo, mi Tessa. Adjo."
His fingers, slick with sweat and blood, could no longer hold the beam. When it fell, it brought down the roof like a dark curtain.

* * * *

A chill wind, carrying ash from the burning hulk of Carina, stung Tom's eyes. He rubbed them wearily. The pain from the bullet in his thigh made him feel lightheaded, but he could not rest -- not yet. Other things remained to be settled, beyond the destruction of Carina. Suvi stood beside him, waiting for him to speak, watching the bricks and mortar of her former home crumble into dust.

"Did you really marry Lut?"

She nodded. "I thought you had left with Katy, and I had nowhere else to go. But then I realized I had made a mistake, so I ran away." With brutal honesty, she added, "It made him very unhappy."

"And Calaan?"

She shrugged. "He tried to save me from the others and they killed him for it." She gave a brief, sour smile. "I don't think he should have bothered."

Tom found the bitterness in her voice distressing. "Why not?"

"I don't much care about living. Not anymore."

He touched her back, tentatively. "Because you lost Carina?"

Her eyes filled with tears. "No. Because I lost... you."

"But you haven't. Suvi..."

She took a step backwards and broke in hotly, "I saw you and Katy together in the store room. Don't pretend there is anyone you love more in this world, Thommats Finn!"

He sighed and rubbed his eyes again. "I don't deny I love her. But Suvi, listen to me. Katy and I... We go back a very long way. Sometimes the fates allow me to be with her, but it isn't going to happen this time around."

She raised an eyebrow. "This time around?"

He smiled sheepishly. "I wish I could explain it better. But it doesn't matter, not really, because I found you. You make me happy."

"I... I do?"

"Yes," he said firmly. "Very happy."

"You didn't seem so happy before."

"I am sorry." Tom sighed and stroked her hair. "Sorry I got everything so wrong. But when I saw your cardigan I thought..."

She put her hand to his lips. "It isn't important. I got things wrong too, about you and Katy. I think we should just forget everything and start over, don't you?"

He pulled her into an embrace. "Yes, my pretty Suvi. Provided it is somewhere far from here." He looked suddenly worried. "You don't mind, do you?"

She shook her head. "It's all right, Tom. I don't need Carina any more. And it doesn't matter to me where we go, as long as we are together."

"Do you think you would like Litchfield? I have a country practice there, in partnership with my father. We could have a big white house, next to the river. And in the evenings we could sit on the porch and you could sing. All my friends would..."

A vision of Katy Bennett, cool and beautiful in her chignon, made Suvi's previous words suddenly untrue. "Maybe not... Litchfield," she broke in tentatively. "I would miss the ocean too much. And I don't want a fancy house, not at all. Isn't there somewhere else we might go? Somewhere with a school. I'd like to study nursing. Then I could help you with your work."

He thought of a sweeping bay, ringed with tiny rustic cottages, and smiled. "I know the perfect place... It has a good hospital and a University."

"Where?" But Suvi thought she knew the answer already.

"Cloudy Bay."

She sighed happily, thinking it already sounded like home. "Let's go then. What are we waiting for?"

Just then, a ragged figure crawled from a dark cavity between two piles of rubble. "My Gods!" Tom pulled away from Suvi. "That is Tessa!" He limped over and caught her just as she fell forwards. "I'm so sorry. How the hell did you get back in there? I never would have set off the detonator if I had known..."

"
Wear ne Jakob
," she groaned, and passed out again. He was too worried to notice that she had replied in Dalvolk instead of English.

Suvi felt the creature inside her chest scrabble madly, as though it could not breathe. "Tom... You have to take her back to her own time, quickly!" She focused on the one word she had understood. "I will get some men to help with Jakob." She backed away from Tessa and set off, running unsteadily towards the main street.

Tom scratched his head in confusion. "Suvi... Wait! I don't..."

Her voice floated to him on the rising wind. "I love you, Tom Finn. Hurry back! I'll be waiting..."

Chapter Twenty

Tessa

To the warrior, trust and rest are the same word.

Powwaw Speak: Shamanic Wisdom of the Irrakish
, Theodore Black, PhD

* * * *

Tessa listened to the drone of machines for a long time. A smell, sharp and antiseptic, helped to place her. People came and went, touching her with cool, efficient hands. Other people spoke quietly -- asked questions, gave answers. Eventually the words resolved themselves into some sort of order. A voice -- Jane's -- was blessedly familiar. Another, deep and strangely accented, was not.

"She'll be all right?"

"Yes, just a nasty bump on the head, I believe. But you should get back into bed, love."

Was that Jane saying love?
Tessa thought she must have misunderstood. She opened one eye a tiny crack, just in time to see Jakob brush Jane's hair away from her face and then kiss her forehead tenderly.

"It will be a dog sleep for me. Call us when she wakes, eh?"

Jane nodded and smiled. "Shouldn't be too much longer."

Okay. This must be a dream, because I didn't just see what I thought I did. And anyway, Jakob's voice is all wrong...

Her eyelid slipped down, and it did feel as though she must have been asleep. Some time later, she woke again. She lay in bed, drowsy, warm -- trying and trying to picture how she got there. Her last clear memory was of the sulky nurse making coffee in the kitchen, and then Jakob talking to her in the hall.

He had been upset about something.

That funny dream returned, and made Tessa suddenly nervous. Was it possible, somehow, that Jakob had turned to Jane?

She opened both her eyes, wondering what she would see. The drab ceiling did not cause any distress, but neither did it give her any useful information. Exceedingly slowly, Tessa turned her head, and forced her blurry vision to focus. Hospital room, two beds. Ugly wall color, bland pictures. White metal table, plastic jug, box of tissues.

Someone stood abruptly, and Tessa could hear the sound of a magazine hitting the floor. "Tessa? Are you awake?"

A froth of questions bubbled free. "Jane... Is that you? Where am I? What happened?"

Jane stood by the side of the bed. "Yes, it's me. And you are in St. Luke's, recovering from a concussion. How do you feel?"

"Okay, I guess. My head hurts a little. How... How did I get here?"

She smiled. "Tom brought you. The hospital is going to have to offer him a staff position at this rate. He was hurt too, but I hardly had time to do anything before he said he had to get back again. Suvi was waiting for him."

"What? When? I don't remember seeing Tom."

Jane dragged over a chair and sat down. "What
do
you remember?"

"Bringing Lut back here. You telling us he was going to be all right. A... weird dream."

"What sort of dream?"

"Um. A man kissing you on the forehead."

She watched as Jane's face turned an incriminating shade of crimson. "I thought you were still out of it. God, this is so unprofessional. I didn't want anyone to know until..."

Tessa struggled up to her elbows, absolutely furious. "Jane! I can't believe you. You stole my boyfriend while I was unconscious?"

Jane's mortified expression changed to one of surprise. "What? Tessa, calm down. It isn't what you think. That was..."

Tessa shouted over her reassurances. "How could you? I know he was angry at me, over Tristan, but honestly... That's why we had to go back to Severnessa, to try and catch up with..." She stopped, and took a deep breath. "My god. The building... It came down like a card palace. Jakob held the last beam up. He told me to leave him." She started to cry as her memory sharpened. "Jakob... He must have been crushed."

Jane handed her a tissue and then patted her back. "It's all right, Tessa. He didn't die. The roof fell in such a way that he had a little breathing space. Then when Tom got back, he and Suvi managed to get him out."

"R... Really? You aren't just saying that to cushion the blow for later?"

"Is my bedside that good?" Jane laughed. "If you don't believe me, just wait a minute." She picked up the phone by the bed and dialed. "She's conscious." There was a pause as she listened. "Okay, but give us a few moments to run some tests."

Tessa stared at Jane, wondering why she looked so happy. The only answer she could think of was very worrisome. "Why
did
Jakob kiss you then?"

Jane blushed ferociously, and the sheen of sweat on her nose made her glasses slide down. "That wasn't Jakob," she said quietly, as she pushed them back up again. "It was Lut."

* * * *

Jakob put the phone back in its cradle, and climbed stiffly from his bed. His brother lay on his side in the adjoining bed, pretending to nap. He shook his shoulder gently. "Tessa's awake." A pale blue robe lay at the bottom of the bed, and Jakob wound it round his hospital-issue pajamas and the sling that held his right arm close to his chest.

Lut sat up very slowly, wincing with pain. "Are you going to tell her what happened?"

He shook his head. "No. Not yet anyway. Not until I understand it myself."

"You sure? That beast could be dangerous."

Jakob frowned, remembering the conversation he had with the voice that had called itself Ember. "It sounded harmless to me."

"You
talked
to it?"

"Not a long conversation, but yes I did -- in Dalvolk. I said, 'Creature living in Tessa, what is your name?' And she said Ember. Then I asked if she could move Tessa quickly and she agreed."

Lut fixed him with a piercing blue eye. "Is that all?"

Jakob shrugged, a little embarrassed. "She said she loved me. But that was probably Tessa talking. I think this Ember must be a stray piece of anafireon or something." The one thing he didn't mention was the most perplexing. Ember had called him
Mariner
.

"A stray piece of Anafireon who happens to speak Dalvolk? I don't think so. You said yourself that your connection with Tessa is very strong. You'd best take care."

"Thanks for the warning, but I think I'll take my chances. There is one thing I don't understand though -- Tessa must have inherited her ability to gap shift from someone. Given her blond hair, I'd say that Tom must be her grandfather. What do you think?"

Lut turned his head and carefully poured himself a drink of water before he answered. "That is none of our affair, Jakob. It is all ancient history now. Like Ma's death."

Jakob sighed. "Lut... For what it's worth, I'm truly sorry Tristan got away again."

"Doesn't matter. I reckon we can let it go for awhile."

Jakob was surprised at this. "We... We can?"

"Aye. There will come a time when you and I go hunting for that field of yellow flowers. But not yet. I think we might just rest and mend our nets awhile, eh?"

Jakob thought about Tessa, and Suvi Markku's snug cottage, Seadrift. "Yes," he agreed softly. "I like that plan of yours." He looked towards the door, and a passing white-clad nurse. "I'm going to see her. Are you coming with me?"

Lut stood and scratched his clean-shaven chin. "Wouldn't miss a chance to visit my doctor lady, would I?" The brothers eyed one another and then broke into laughter.

Jakob placed his good arm over Lut's shoulders and tugged his braid playfully. "I think she must be the best damned doctor in the world to be able to stitch a smile on your grumpy mug."

"Aye," said Lut, thoughtfully. "No arguments there."

They waited outside the door until the neurologist had finished her business. Then Jakob crossed the room to Tessa's bed and sat down by her side. "All right?"

"Yes. I'm going to be fine. Just a bump on the head." Her eyes went wide as she noticed the sling. "But you?"

"Smashed collar bone. Takes ages to mend, apparently, even though they screwed a metal plate into it. Looks like I won't be doing any fishing for a while. Do you think maybe I could stay with you?"

She grinned wickedly. "Of course. As long as you don't talk too much. And maybe, when you are better, Joe will give you a job on the
Damsel
."

Jakob looked to his brother and smiled. "If Lut doesn't get it first. I think he might be hanging around
Cloudy
Bay
as well."

Lut and Jane sat side by side at the foot of the bed, close but not touching.

"Where shall we start?" Jane asked.

Tessa gave her a mock frown. "You first, Dr. Piper. You have some major explaining to do."

Jane spoke to her fingernail as she chewed it. "Well, remember I said I'd go and sit with Lut while you went with Jakob? He had quite a few questions, once he was awake enough to ask them. So we talked, a lot, and some time during those conversations, we found that we..."

Lut chuckled broadly and took her hand. "...Both hate other people!"

"Well, yeah. Turns out we have quite a lot of stuff in common," Jane corrected. "And Lut is going to teach me to sail." He nodded. "I'll probably be really awful." Lut nodded again, more firmly. Jane laughed and slapped his arm. "I saved your life, so you had better be nice to me."

"Ow! Gently, girl. Better me than Jakob. He will hold you upside down with your head over the stern if you don't do what you are told."

"That's what you did to me when we were ten!" Jakob roared.

Tessa could hardly take it all in. She turned to Jakob. "But... But you said he was angry at you!"

He shrugged. "We made up."

Tessa and Jane exchanged bemused glances, both sure there was quite a saga behind those three little words. "So... After Tom and Suvi got you out of the rubble, then what happened?"

"I stayed around long enough to help Tom finish demolishing Carina. He wanted to make sure the Portal stayed buried."

Tessa frowned. "Was he with Suvi? Did they..."

Jakob, who had been watching his brother, broke in quickly. "I think so. Tom said they were coming to
Cloudy
Bay
, but not our time, obviously. So I left them to it and came back here."

"How long ago was that?"

"Two days," Jane said briskly. "Ellie stayed with you practically the whole time as well. I should call and give her the good news." She smiled at Lut. "Want to get some coffee? We should give these two some time to catch up."

"Aye." He turned back to Tessa. "You did well, girl." Lut's bright blue eyes had a merry twinkle. "Keeping up with that brother of mine can't be easy."

Tessa smiled. "Thank you. I am so pleased to finally meet my ghost." She grinned at Jane. "But it seems like I'm not the one in love with him after all."

Jane looked over her shoulder and stuck out her tongue as they left together. Tessa stared at the open doorway, shaking her head.
Jane and Lut...

"What do you think?" she asked Jakob.

He shook his head. "I think she has her hands full. Lut isn't the easiest person to get along with."

"Unlike you," Tessa said under her breath, but he heard her anyway, and burst into delighted laughter.

About the author

Suzanne Francis believes the inspiration for her writing lies in her chronic travel sickness as a child and young adult. While growing up, she happily participated in many family and school trips, though riding in the back seat of a car often left her suffering from nausea for hours on end. To help pass the time, she began telling herself stories, serialized over many days and weeks, often featuring the landscapes through which she was traveling. These imaginary adventures, along with an enduring love of books, sparked her interest in writing.

After earning her BA in Geography, Suzanne worked in many fields, from urban planning to migrant farm work, dishwashing, retail management and massage therapy. She has drawn on these experiences and a lifelong interest in travel to create the unique characters and settings of her novels.

Presently, Suzanne lives in rural
Dunedin
,
New Zealand
with her husband Michael and four children. She is the author of six fantasy/romance books, including the four volume series "Song of the Arkafina" and the two volumes of "Sons of the Mariner".

Find out more at
http://suzannefrancis.wordpress.com/

Books by the author

Song of the Arkafina

Heart of Hythea
Ketha's Daughter
Dawnmaid
Beyond the Gyre

Sons of the Mariner

Wintermoon Ice
Summermoon Fire
BOOK: Wintermoon Ice (2010)
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