Authors: Suzanne Francis
A young woman, clutching the hand of a child, stopped her. "The lavatory's backed up in Six again. Stinks something awful."
Suvi tried unsuccessfully to smother another yawn. "Goodman Grein is a plumber. Number 10. See if he can help. If not, you will just have to use the lavs in Eight. I'll send a detail first thing in the morning to clean Six."
"All right." The young mother sighed in resignation. "Did you find any coats yet? My little girl is freezing." Suvi looked at the child, whose skin did seem tinged with blue. She sneezed and then ran a grimy sleeve over her nose.
Suvi took off her own cardigan, and wrapped it around the child's shoulders. "Let her have that for now. I will find a better one for her tomorrow."
"May the gods bless you. There was never another Harp as kind, Miss Suvi."
"Goodnight, Stella. Remember, in Carina we are..."
"All kinds and all kind," the little girl finished for her, as she hugged Suvi's cardigan for warmth.
Suvi smiled. "Well done, Saraa. That is exactly right."
It took her another fifteen minutes to reach the far side of the warehouse, as she had to stop several times to answer questions or settle other newcomers. At last, she reached a solid-looking oak door and unlocked it with the key she carried on a chain around her neck. This room had once belonged to the factory manager, but thieves had ripped up and taken away the paneling and plush carpeting long ago.
A degum wound herself round Suvi's legs, grumbling. She reached to stroke the silky fur along her crest. "Hungry, Chelah? I have something I saved from dinner. Here you go..."
She tore up a piece of tough, gristly meat and some bread crusts on a saucer and placed it on the ground. The degum's cowl-like ears swiveled forward as she mewled with pleasure. Her sticky tongue darted in and out, and soon cleaned off the dish.
"We will have to visit Ludde soon, and get you some fish." Suvi scratched the degum's hairless crown. Her pet arched her back in pleasure.
Suvi stared longingly at the metal framed bed against the wall. Chelah jumped on the faded quilt covering the mattress and started to wash herself. Suvi smiled. "That's right. You warm it for me. But I need to finish the bookkeeping
have a look at the papers I borrowed, before I turn in." Chelah's tongue paused and she made a querulous sound. Suvi frowned. "All right, have it your way -- the papers I
* * * *
Suvi rose early, and went to the kitchen. The factory had once been home to several hundred workers, and though looters had ransacked the cooking facilities since the war started, some of the brick ovens still stood intact. The breakfast detail had been working since five o'clock, kneading and shaping loaves of black bread, making soup and churning thin cream for butter. Carina's population was something like two hundred refugees now, and they all received two hot meals a day.
She spoke to Goodwife Brini, who was busy chopping a head of cabbage. "Did you find any more vegetables?"
Brini, a broad-faced Wheat clan matriarch, shook her head. "Nay, but I am sending more folk out today. We will hunt along Friga Svaate. The Grond dropped a ton of bombs in there last week. Burned a whole neighborhood -- only houses, mind you, nothing to do with the war. Most of the folk what still live are here now, and several told me they had root cellars buried in muck. We'll dig up what we can."
"Farmer Jonai has agreed to let some of our people glean his barley fields. I plan to send a detail there today, if the weather gets warm enough." Suvi uncovered a huge pot of boiling cabbage, tasted the broth and added a handful of salt. The pungent, slightly sulfurous scent filled the kitchen, making her stomach contract. Dinner seemed a long time ago.
"Easy with that. We haven't got more than two meals worth left, and who knows where we will get more."
"I will find us some." Suvi moved on towards the dining room. "Someone joined us last night -- from Jaarvik. There used to be a salt mine near there. Maybe he knows something of it."
"A Snake?" Brini's cheeks reddened in disapproval.
. Who was orphaned by the Grond. He came to Carina for shelter, and now he is one of us. Goodwife Teggr has adopted him."
Brini scowled and went back to the cabbage, slamming her knife hard through the next head. No matter what Suvi said, a Snake could bring no good to Carina. They were dirty and dishonest -- the lowest of the Dark.
Muffled shouts filtered through the swinging doors that led to the dining area. Suvi hurried away, calling over her shoulder, "Send one of the details to lower Rikard Svaate. It was bombed two days ago. See if anyone there needs shelter."
The dining room used to be the factory floor. Heaps of rusted machinery lay in the corners, but trestle tables marched in an orderly line down the center. A group of motley-looking people stood before an open pass-through to the kitchen, clutching bowls and plates. A very red-faced girl, a Dog named Janie, one of the kitchen detail, waved her ladle defiantly. As Suvi had feared, Calaan was once again a source of trouble. He stood back, shoulders hunched in mortification. Goodwife Teggr stood beside him, glaring.
"He lives with us Birdlings. If we can tolerate him then so can you, Dog girl."
The girl shrieked. "I won't serve a Snake. It isn't proper." Many of the residents murmured agreement.
Suvi, who had been up half the night figuring ways to keep Carina solvent with very limited funds, lost her temper, something she rarely did. Grabbing the ladle from the girl, she clambered onto the hatch counter and stood above the assembled residents, breathing hard. "Stop this, right now! Calaan came to us, asking for shelter, the same as every one of you. Would you have me send him away?"
"Let him go to his own kind," a man bellowed from the back.
"Shall I, Billu Shipman?" Suvi furiously pointed the ladle at him. "And when you came, with your pregnant wife and two cold and hungry children, should I have listened to the Roses who said they could never live in the same room as a stinking man from the Ships? Should I have sent you back to bombed-out Mersiing?"
Billu looked at the infant he held in his arms and fell silent.
Suvi spoke with determination. "At Carina there are no Solis." She stared at the tattoo on her arm. "That is how I chose to run this refuge, even though I am a Harp, the highest of the Bright. Now, if there is any man or woman here who would like to take my place and do things differently, let them speak."
Everyone seemed very interested in the flooring beneath their feet. No one said anything. Suvi nodded. "I thought so. Now, there will be convocation next Friday, at six o'clock, to discuss the allocation of further space in the south building. Each group must send two representatives, and after we will have a Carina-wide festival banquet."
Many of the children clapped their hands and shouted. Billu Shipman's wife spoke shyly. "Will there be music?"
"Yes, and dancing." Suvi jumped from the counter on the kitchen side, still holding the ladle, and turned to Janie. "I will finish the serving for today. Get your breakfast and then join the cleaning detail going to Six."
Janie groaned in dismay.
Goodwife Teggr chuckled as she held forth her bowl. "That'll teach you to be fussy about who you serve, girlie. We don't regard Bright and Dark here at Carina."
Suvi bit her tongue, thinking that Teggr the Birdling had been singing a different tune last night. Calaan, with his head well down, gave her an apologetic bow as he received his serving. As the lowest of the Dark, Snakes were far more used to waiting on others.
"Come to the office after you eat. Teggr can show you where it is."
"Yes, ma'am." He shuffled after the Goodwife. "Thank you."
* * * *
Back in the office, Suvi sat before a huge roll-top desk. Papers protruded from every pigeon hole, and most required her attention. "I have too much on my plate, Chelah," she said ruefully. "But the most important thing is to figure out what to do with those papers. I was too tired to examine them properly last night."
Suvi opened the folder and squinted in the low light. "Operation Pincer," she read aloud to the degum, who sat on the desk beside her. "Wonder what that is about?" A tap on the door made her jump, and Chelah's back arch. Suvi hurriedly tucked the file into her desk drawer, and locked it. "It's open," she called.
Calaan came in, arms laden with belongings. He seemed curiously resigned. "You wanted to see me?"
"Yes." Suvi looked at him in surprise. "You, but not your possessions. Why didn't you leave them in your box?"
"I... I thought I would be leaving. Snakes don't belong..."
"Didn't you hear what I said at breakfast? Everyone is welcome here." She smiled at Calaan and waited until he raised his eyes to meet hers. After a moment, he smiled in return, but couldn't quite hide his baffled expression. "That is better. Now, can you read? Or write? I need to know which detail to put you in."
He nodded proudly. "My parents sent me to
. I learned to fifth year, but then I had to work in the salt mines."
Suvi's ears pricked up. "Then I have just the job for you, Calaan. I want you to lead a detail of men there, and figure how we can get the trucks running again. Salt is scarce right now, and if we can get some more we might be able to sell the excess and make some money."
His bafflement grew and grew. "You want
to lead them? A Snake?"
Her voice was firm. "Yes. You." Suvi consulted the list posted on the wall and then the clock next to it. "I place you in charge of Detail Twenty. They will be assembling in the front hall in approximately thirty minutes. Goodman Dietr will provide transport. Get a pantechnicon and enough fuel to get you there and back. Billu, in the workshop, will have the tools you need. Don't let him give you any grief. All right?"
Suvi had been busy with other papers on her desk as she spoke, but she looked up when Calaan gave a small, choked sigh. She was very surprised to see he had tears in his eyes. "Why are you doing this? There is no call for one of the Bright to be kind to a Snake."
She dragged a chair over to her desk and patted it. He sat on the very edge, as though worried he might somehow sully it. Suvi frowned. "Let me tell you why, Calaan. I was a foundling child, adopted at a very young age by a prosperous family. Many people told me how luck had smiled on me, to be adopted by Harps. And it is true, as a Harp, I grew up wanting for nothing. I had a Cloud governess, who taught me languages and arithmetic. My friends were clean and clever, just as I was, and one handsome lad had already agreed to marry me when the time came. But, even though I had many beautiful clothes, and a fine ten-roomed dollhouse to play with, I was not happy. My family owned the largest estate on
and some days I stood on the top floor balcony and watched the merchant ships come and go. More than anything I wanted to travel on one of those ships, but of course I could not, because people of the Bright realm never did anything so low."
"You were a Harp, but you wanted to be a Ship?" Calaan guffawed, thinking this very funny.
"Yes, truly I did. One day, having finished my lessons, I stood alone in the tower, and watched as my parents took a stroll along the shoreline. My mother looked very beautiful in her white lawn dress and lace parasol. There was a child playing in the water, a Rat, I think she was. The wake from a passing Steamer swamped her, and she disappeared. Her mother screamed for help. I saw her beg my father to go to the child's aid, but he only stepped around her and kept walking. The woman went into the water herself, and drowned, as did her daughter."
Suvi closed her eyes, remembering the pitiful, sodden figures that the police dragged from the lake the next day. Her hands clenched and she realized she had crumpled a list of figures into a ball. Self-consciously, she smoothed it out.
"Well, who would help a Rat?" Calaan asked, with patient rationality. "They are almost as low as Snakes."
Her amber eyes flashed. "I would have! And so I made up my mind that day that I belonged to no Soli. When he found he could not change my mind, my father threw my humble beginning back in my face, saying I must have come from the Rats I had wanted him to save. He sent me away to live with an Aunt and Uncle, Harps of course, but not so well off. Five months ago, they were killed, in the first Grond attack. My parents died in the second. Suddenly I had no place to live, along with many others -- Rat, Dog, Star and Wheat. In suffering, at least, the war made the Soli equal. So I found this place and made it into a shelter. After a time, it got to be called Carina, after the Keel."
"The star group? Is that because you wanted to be a Ship?"
Suvi shook her head, smiling. "Because it is a vessel that allows anyone to embark, as long as they are willing to work for their passage."
The rising whine of an air horn interrupted Calaan's question. Suvi stood quickly but spoke without panic. "A three-blast warning. They must have slipped in over the mountains. Come on, we had better get to the shelter."
Calaan's eyes were wild. "The Grond can't bomb here! I only just moved in. Where else can I go?"
She shook his arm, but he remained rooted to the floor in terror. "Calaan, move! We don't have much time." Six more short barks of the horn meant the attack was imminent. The roar of planes filled the space, making the walls vibrate. Suvi grabbed the boy and pulled him into the kneehole of the desk, just as a deafening blast shattered the remaining panes of glass in the office window.
When a snarling bear speaks, no man listens long enough to know if its words are true.
Powwaw Speak: Shamanic Wisdom of the Irrakish
, Theodore Black, PhD
* * * *
Tessa skipped along the sandy path that wound between the houses in Little Sardinia. The sun glinted off the aluminum pan she carried, and a warm cloud of cinnamon and apple scent spiced the air. A guilty desire nagged at her, to abandon this visit to her new neighbor and keep the pie for herself. After all, she had yet to see any evidence of his existence.
Except for the chimney smoke. A thin, grey flag that said someone was home, someone who might like to meet their landlady and eat some apple pie.
The shack stood on the edge of the settlement -- even more dilapidated than the Brigg's place next door, which had been home to many spring break parties over the years. The bottom featured a serviceable boat shed, which held a less-serviceable dory. No one had used it in years, to Tessa's knowledge. The attic had been converted into a tiny living space, very nautical, with cupboards galore. Tessa often rented it to writers looking for a place to finish their latest work in peace. But this tenant had arrived three weeks ago, when she was at the dig in Anenoa. Joe Romine, who had been a friend of her father's, took the deposit and gave the man a set of old-fashioned brass keys.
Joe's drawl came back to her. "Tall fella. Blond. Looks like one of them
actors." His description had certainly piqued her interest. The name on the lease was Jakob Faircrow.
"Well, Jakob with the odd last name," Tessa said out loud as she crunched across the last patch of shingle. "Will you be home, or will I get to eat this pie all by myself?"
She noted with some surprise that someone had left the downstairs shed door open. That same someone had dragged forth the dory and left it upturned on the shingle. Assorted tools lay close by, and a bucket of white paint. Apparently, Jakob intended to make the old boat seaworthy again. Tessa felt glad, now, that she had brought the pie. Such industriousness certainly deserved a reward. She climbed the rickety outside staircase to the second floor, wondering if he would be willing to do a little maintenance to the house when he had finished with the boat. Tessa had neither the time nor the money to do much of anything herself.
Balancing the pie on one hand, she knocked with the other. The door opened a crack.
It was only her first startling look at her new tenant's eyes that prevented Tessa from recognizing the voice right way. The eyes were wide-set, fringed with dark lashes, and very, very blue. The bluest eyes she had ever seen -- as blue as those magical views of the
that you just knew were digitally enhanced.
"Welcome to the neighborhood. I brought you a pie." Tessa had somehow forgotten that he didn't know her name, or the fact that she owned the house in which they stood. The door opened a little wider, and she stepped across the threshold into the kitchen.
He swept the blond mane away from his forehead and tied it in an untidy knot at the nape of his neck. Her eyes involuntarily fixed on his hands. They were big -- squarish and sturdy looking, attached to sinewy wrists that seemed to crackle with tensile strength and energy. Tessa thought, irrelevantly, that writers didn't usually have hands like that -- hands that looked like they had been hauling fishing nets only a minute before.
He spoke, and the spell was broken. "Thank you for the pie."
Tessa jumped and almost dropped her welcoming gift. "You! You were the one -- on
It must have sounded funny, what she said, because Jakob Faircrow laughed.
That made her even angrier. "So you think it is amusing, do you? Shouting abuse at women who are walking home, minding their own business? Why, I have a good mind to shove this pie right in your..."
He took a quick step backwards and tried to mollify her. "If you like, I will make some coffee, then we could eat a piece of your pie and I could explain why I did that."
She frowned. "I don't think there is anything you could say to
, but I suppose you could apologize. That would be a start."
He took the pie from her and placed it on the table. "All right. I am sorry I shouted at you, Tessa." His tone was more amused than contrite.
As he turned his back to her, and filled the kettle, Tessa considered that this didn't sound quite right. At first, she thought it might be because Jakob Faircrow's clothing was so very odd. He wore a flowing, hip-length shirt that she could have sworn was made of pure linen and hand-smocked to boot. Something she could imagine an eighteenth century buccaneer might have worn. His odd, knee-length trousers and wooden soled clogs seemed perfectly in keeping with the rest. No wonder Joe had thought he was an actor.
Jakob turned back towards her, and placed a couple of mismatched tea plates and mugs on the table. It had laces in the front, that ridiculous shirt. Tessa tried to ignore the glimpse of red-gold hair that curled in the hollow of his throat.
Realization struck. "How in the hell do you know my name?"
He gave her an easy grin as he spooned instant coffee into the mugs. "Captain Romine told me the owner of this house was a pretty girl named Tessa Kivelson. He also said she would come round eventually and bring me a plate of something nice to eat."
"Oh did he?" Tessa grimaced at the thought she might be so predictable, and traced a faded flower on the oilcloth table cover with her fingertip.
"Yes, he did. But as a matter of fact I already knew your name." He cut the pie without explaining this provocative statement further and placed a wedge on each of the plates. Then he poured boiling water into the coffee and handed her a mug. "You take milk but no sugar, right?" Jakob raised a questioning eyebrow.
Tessa, left somewhat speechless by this effortless familiarity, could only nod and watch admiringly as he crossed the floor to a tiny refrigerator and retrieved a pottery jug shaped like a cow. Though Joe had been right about her new tenant being very tall, still he moved with an economical grace that made the cramped attic feel even more like a ship's cabin.
He sat across from her at the table and ate half the pie, punctuated with liberal gulps of coffee, before he said anything else. Tessa watched him, half-appalled and half-gratified by his appetite. Jakob pushed his plate away with a satisfied sigh and said, "That was very good. I have not had pie like that since my mother..."
He stood quickly and cleared the dishes from the table. By the time he returned from the sink, his expression had shaded carefully into neutral.
Tessa thought it better not to ask what he had been about to say, so she changed the subject. "What brings you to
, Jakob? Are you a writer?" He looked at her for a long moment, his eyes dark with suppressed pain.
"No. Why would I be?" Just that.
She tried again. "What do you do then?" His baffled expression was almost comical.
She took a deep breath, wondering if he could possibly be as dense as he seemed. "For a living. What sort of job?"
"Oh." He looked thoughtful. "I suppose I am a mariner," he said after a moment. "Yes, a mariner -- like my father."
Tessa gave him a sad little smile. "Mine too. Only he is dead now. He drowned when I was eight. So did my mother." Jakob reached out and covered her hand with his own. The palm was calloused, and very warm.
He spoke softly. "I know. I am sorry, Tessa."
Tessa blinked once or twice. "How do you know? How do you know so much -- about me?" Slowly, a little unwillingly, she withdrew her hand and placed it in her lap. By holding both hands tightly together, she could almost stop them from trembling.
He shrugged. "You won't believe me."
"Try me." Tessa spoke with an insouciance she didn't really feel. "My friends say I am very open minded."
"All right. I knew your grandmother, Suvi Markku."
Tessa frowned. "Why is that so hard to believe? How old are you -- thirty, maybe? My grandmother died ten years ago. You might have met her."
"I have known her for a long time, Tessa. Suvi befriended my twin brother when she was about twenty-two. Later, when she shifted to this place, I visited her here in
, several times. The first time was in 1980."
She did some quick mental math and then her eyes narrowed. "How old were you then?"
He tugged fretfully on the knotted hank of hair at the back of his neck. "I don't know."
"Why not? Don't you have a birth certificate or something?"
"Please, just let me finish." Jakob's hair burst free from the knot, in a cascade of sandy-colored waves, and suddenly, with a shiver, Tessa remembered something.
...and in return I cut his long hair. It is the color of a Dureg's mane, and just as thick...
a dureg anyway?
Tessa's mouth fell open, and he pressed on, trying to finish before she could give voice to her objections. "By my last visit, you had already come to live with her, after your parents were killed, but you were away at school so we never met. Suvi talked about you a lot -- she was very proud of you."
She couldn't voice her objections quickly enough to keep pace with her outrage. "I can believe you came here before she died -- yes -- OK -- fine. But your brother couldn't have known her when she was twenty-two. And there is no way you are old enough to have seen her in 1980. That is just insane."
Jakob sighed and slowly raised his eyes to meet hers. "Do I look insane to you?"
Tessa shook her head in confusion. "I don't know. I am an archaeologist, not a psychiatrist. Why are you telling me this anyway?"
"You wanted an explanation about why I tried to get your attention last night."
She found this opacity infuriating. "And that is it? Your reason for insulting me and Jane on the street last night is that your brother knew my grandmother when she was a young woman?"
"I said you wouldn't believe me." He sat back, almost smug, as if it were her fault he wasn't making any sense.
Tessa ground her teeth together. "Look here, Jakob Weirdcrow. I don't know where you came from, with your crazy clothes and your even crazier talk, but I am a scientist, and nothing you have said is in the least bit rational. If you want me to believe, then..."
Jakob spoke over her words. "Suvi lived in Severness during the War with Berengarth. She ran a refugee shelter, called Carina, home to several hundred people." Tessa stared at him, shocked to the core at this recitation of fact. "Do you want to hear more?"
"No! First I want to hear how you know that." Then she sat back, relieved, as an easy explanation suggested itself. "Of course. You knew her when she was old. She told you, or else you read her journal."
He shook his head patiently. "She hid the journal behind a loose brick in the fireplace at Seadrift. It has been there for the past thirty-five years, ever since her husband passed away."
Tessa could not believe what she was hearing. She licked her suddenly dry lips. "How do you know all this? Tell me the truth."
He must have sensed her alarm. "You have nothing to fear, at least not from me, Tessa."
"Not... Not from you? What exactly does that mean, Mr. Sunshine?"
He leaned forward. "There are others here. Old enemies of mine. They want the mirror you found." Jakob's voice dropped to a ragged whisper. "Suvi's mirror. They will stop at nothing to get it."
Up to this point, she had been exasperated and amused in turn, but now fear scrabbled in her stomach, looking for purchase. "What in the hell are you talking about?"
"Polys. In dark suits. They look like men, but they are not. Believe me, they are not. The night I met you on
they were there, two of them. I wanted you and your friend to cross the street -- that is why I said the things I did -- to protect you. But then you ran into the alley instead. Not a very bright move, because you could have been trapped. If they had gotten to you before I did they would have killed you."
Tessa stood, knocking her chair back. "Stop it! I don't want to hear anything else. I didn't see anyone threatening on the street -- except for you! Jane and I thought we were going to have to ask the guy on the corner, in the dark..." Her eyes went wide, but then she shook her head. "No! I still don't believe you. And now I am leaving."
He stood too, and his height and agile grace seemed far more menacing now. Tessa measured the distance, thinking she would have to push past him to get to the door. How stupid that she had left her mobile at home. Panic gripped her and her eyes darted about, looking for a weapon. They lit on the knife he had used to cut the pie.
"Don't," he said gently. "I already told you -- you have nothing to fear from me. I came here to save you from the Polys and I promise I won't fail you." But the desolate look of determination in his eyes said he had failed before.
insane. Just let me go, please."
His voice sounded utterly reasonable, but filled with worry. "All right, but be careful. The two on
are no more, but there will be others. Remember they always work in pairs. Watch the shadows..."
Tessa heard nothing else, because she had her fingers firmly jammed in her ears. "In five seconds I am going to scream."
Jakob stepped away from the door. She shot by him and took the stairs two at a time.
"Don't forget, I will be here if you need me," he called to her as she ran back the way she had come. Tessa gave no indication she heard.
Jakob sighed and went back into the boatshed, and finished the excellent pie.
* * * *
"What did he call them? Pollywogs?" Jane asked later, as she and Tessa shared a pot of tea. She grinned and spread her hands wide as though she was reading the paper. "I can see the headline now -- 'Giant Guppies Eat Assistant Instructor Kivelson...'" She snapped her fingers. "I have it! Maybe they think you are a biology teacher. They have come from the planet of the frogs to avenge untold laboratory slaughter."