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of a mind that, less Parrow willed it, she would never see anything ever again. But, she‟d spent plenty of her childhood exploring every corner of Feedertown that thisday, even without her sight, she could get about fairly easily. Often, she‟d miss a wandering dummalo or watercart by less than a onefoot, much to her mere‟s dismay. She was sure Feederfolk marveled at her ability, but mostly she didn‟t care to impress them so much as she cared to avoid them. With no clearcut morrow in the town any longer, Honeysuckle wished she could go off on an adventure, never to return. But, she was just a blind jenny, overyoung and helpless to make it anywhere but about town. She didn‟t even go to Faraway Castle anymore to help with deliveries, something she‟d enjoyed the few times she‟d gotten to do it. She occasionally wandered the outskirts of town, or played at the shallow edge of Ravnsbrook, but really her domain was but the town and little else. And, she wasn‟t happy. Thisday, she set out eastard from home. She stepped in a pile of Dumslop and got barked at by a dog—Old Pere Drover‟s lazy mutt likely, an ugly old thing called Loper; at least it sounded like him—fore she got to the edge of town, where the Feeders Path headed northard to Faraway. She didn‟t turn northard with the road, though. She walked off into the wild about the base of Etin, the hill that rose up on the eastard side of town, a hill yond which no one ventured. Yond Etin was naught but the Far Range, and on the other side of the Far Range, no one knew but Ladytime herself, if even she knew. Honeysuckle wanted to go that way, to venture where no one else would dare, but a stray rock caught her foot and brought her to the ground, reminding her that she was blind and could only go nowhere. “Watch your step, jenny,” a voice said from nearby. Honeysuckle didn‟t recognize it. She turned about. “Who‟s there,” she said. “Name‟s Karser,” the voice replied. “And, who might you be?” “Honeysuckle,” Honeysuckle said. “You‟re not Feederfolk.” “You know everybody in Feedertown, jenny?” “Don‟t call me that.” “I offer the humblest of apologies, my dear Honeysuckle. But you are right in saying I am not of Feedertown. But, I live close and I know many and much about thisplace, even you.” “You know me?” “Well, I‟ve seen you. Don‟t rightly know you, I suppose. Are you a new one to the blindness?” Honeysuckle nodded. “Few moontimes back.” “You get about well, considering.” “Thanks.” “You are much welcome,” Karser replied. Then, after a pause, he asked, “what brings you out from town in your condition?” Though she couldn‟t see, Honeysuckle looked back westard toard town as she spoke. “Hena won‟t let me polish things without checking all my work, so figured why bother doing it at all? Don‟t make me overuseful, but what do I care anymore? I‟m blind; not my job to be useful.” “But, if you aren‟t useful, why should they take care of you?” “I‟m just a kid and—”
2 “I thought you weren‟t a kid.” “What?” “You didn‟t want to be called a jenny.” “Call me girl, if you want. Call me kid. But, jenny‟s a whole other thing.” There was a moment of silence, then Karser laughed. “What‟s funny,” Honeysuckle asked. “I nodded then realized you couldn‟t see it. But, yes, you are right. There‟s girls and there‟s jennys, and if you don‟t want to be the one, Karser‟s got no problem with you being the other.” “Thanks.” Honeysuckle got to her feet again. “Mind helping me out?” “What do you need? It‟s nice, you not being overshamed to ask, by the by.” “Not overmuch difference tween being helpless and being willing to be helped, Mere says.” “Smart woman, your mere.” “I guess.” Honeysuckle concentrated her sense, tried to be sure which direction was exactly which fore she moved again. “What was it you need with the help,” Karser asked. “Oh, just trying to find a particular little nook in the hillside, roughly southeastard of where I think I am, but not all sure after falling.” “I could help,” Karser said. “But, it will cost you.” “Oh, great.” “Oh, I don‟t want anything of any real value. Just a conversation, if you will. Not many folks will talk to old Karser.” “Why? What did you do? You said you live close, but there aren‟t naught close but hills. You living out in the hills, that would make you what—banished?” “Not banished exactly. I‟ll explain as we go. Come forard. I‟ll lead you to where you need to go.” Honeysuckle stepped forard, her hand out and up, expecting Karser to grab it and lead her, but he didn‟t. “I‟m not up so high,” Karser said. “I‟m sorry. I didn‟t know. You sound old so I thought… Are you Dwarrow or… you‟re not Shee, are you? That would be mazing.” “I am neither Dwarf nor Shee,” Karser replied. And, that was when Honeysuckle lowered her hand and found his shoulder. She jumped back. He wasn‟t a human of another size. He was a cat, a talking mountain cat. “You‟re mandath.” She started to panic, wanted to turn and run, but she would stumble for sure if she tried to get froard fast. And, this mandath would be upon her fore she could get anywhere, mayhap even fore she could scream for help. And, she‟d be not just blind but dead, and who would care? Her mere and pere, sure. Her brotere Basil mayhap. Her catcousin Beth Pilgrim, mayhap, except they hadn‟t really been friends sithence fore the accident. And, probably no one else. A few folks would notice her absence, Hena Raker for one, but they wouldn‟t miss her, would probably go on better without her than with her. So, this was it. Her life was complete, and she hadn‟t even had her reapday. “Why are you crying?”
3 She hadn‟t realized she was crying, but there were tears in her eyes. Couldn‟t see with „em but she could still cry with „em. It made a twisted sort of sense to her, a pathetic sort of sense. “You‟re a mountain cat. You‟re gonna eat me.” “I‟m not going to eat you. I told you, I just want a conversation. And, please do not think me rude like a lion, saying I won‟t eat you then making a liar of myself once our conversation is up. I swear on all I hold dear that I will let you live and be safe.” Honeysuckle knew she couldn‟t get froard. She hoped someone in town just happened to be looking her way, but if someone was, surely they‟d be screaming already, calling for help, for Reen Fletcher likely. No one was screaming. No one was watching. It was Feedertown. If the sun was up, folks were busy working. They didn‟t have time to look after helpless blind girls. “Don‟ have a choice,” she said to Karser. “You want to eat me, you‟ll eat me. Least I could do is talk a while first.” “You don‟t trust me, and you seem a bit of a cynic and a pessimist, but I guess that‟s alright in one your age who‟s had her sight taken. Now, put your hand on my back and come with me.” Hesitly, Honeysuckle put her hand on the mandath‟s back. He was soft to touch, but tougher than any of the dogs his size in Feedertown, more muscular. She wondered if he was overstrong for her to ride him about, but she didn‟t dare suggest he let her do as much. No need to unnecessarily anger the mandath. Death might be coming, but it didn‟t have to come quickly. “This nook you seek,” Karser said. “Is it a grassy one, with some flowers at the southard edge, tucked in close to the rocks?” “It is. Tev.” “Right, tev. Not my favorite of flowers, but they do well.” Honeysuckle laughed, despite herself. Karser asked, “that‟s funny?” Honeysuckle replied, “I just hadn‟t thought of mandath having a taste for flowers.” “We don‟t eat them, if that‟s what you mean.” “That wasn‟t what I meant.” “Oh, ok then. Here we are.” Honeysuckle could feel the grass neath her feet. It seemed like the right place. She sat down, removed the cap her mere made her wear when she went out, then laid back on the grass. Though her eyes didn‟t work, she could feel the sun in this spot, could tell it was bright and the sky was clear. “On a clear day,” she said. “Yes?” “Oh, nothing,” she said. “You‟ve a shiny spot on your head,” Karser observed. “It‟s bronze. From my accident.” “Accident? Oh, right. You said you‟d only been blind a shorttime.” Honeysuckle nodded. “Hit by a cart full of breadloafs. Knocked down. Head hit a rock or some such thing. Piece of my skull went into the…” Honeysuckle sat up and turned to face where she thought Karser was, her left. She reached into the neckline of her Kurt, fished out a string necklace and lifted it show Karser the object tied to it. “I got Reen to give it to me,” she told him. Karser leaned close and sniffed at the object. Honeysuckle looked down at the piece of bone in her hand, though she couldn‟t see it. She could imagine it, a gleaming bit of white, virtually unidentifiable. “Reen‟s the—”
4 “The Magicmaker,” Karser said. “I know.” “Oh, well, this got embedded in the grey meat of my mind,” she told Karser. “Reen said it shoulda killed me but I‟m overstubborn to die.” She dropped the bit of bone, let her string necklace dangle outside her kurt. “He bore a hole in my skull, retrieved the piece, left that bronze circle you saw. „Bout the size of a halfcrown, right?” Karser was quiet. “You nodding?” Karser laughed. “Sorry. You would think a human thing like nodding would be easy for me to forego but…” “Mandath don‟t nod?” “Oh, we‟ve got head motions, more than you human probably do. No hand gestures for us, so we have to make do with what we can.” Honeysuckle nodded. “Makes sense. Ya have your own language?” “We‟ve got some words of our own, mostly growls and hisses, things you probably couldn‟t differentiate with your ears.” “Oh, ya might be surprised. My hearing‟s pretty good sithence I lost my eyes. That‟s how I knows Hena Raker‟s been doublechecking—” Karser was leaning in close. Honeysuckle felt his breath on her cheek and backed froard. “Did you lose them,” Karser asked? “Or was it just the use of them? Is there hope for it to come back—your sight?” “Reen says it could come back, but Reen also said I should be dead, so I discount his… um… his diagnosis—I think that‟s the word.” Reen Fletcher had told her she‟d nearly died, but that in time her sight might return. And, though she had heard tell of blindfolk regaining vision, miracles like Jonam Sar showing Noben the light or Latek Ciegel getting his sight back from Ladytime, Honeysuckle didn‟t figure she warranted such attention or care. She continued: “Mere thinks I‟ll get vision back and be normal again—and, on a clear day, she‟s sure to call it „normal,‟ refusing on some level to accept what happened.” “And, you‟ve accepted what happened?” Honeysuckle laid back down again. “Off wandering outside of town on my own with a mandath. What do you think?” “Fair point.” Karser laid down side Honeysuckle. She could feel the warmth of his body side her, could feel a vague sensation of the tips of some of his fur on her arm. “So, what will come to be of you,” he asked. “Oh, I don‟t rightly know. Mere and Pere will take care of me, I suppose. But, I think I mentioned, I‟m already been back to work.” “It‟s a shame,” Karser said. “What is?” “Girl your age—in some towns, in some worlds, you wouldn‟t be working at all. And, you‟re blind to boot.” “Some worlds?” In her head, Honeysuckle rolled her eyes, but she wasn‟t sure if they did that anymore, if mayhap that was gone with her sight. “Kelly, I don‟t ken why folks insist on believing in other worlds. What‟s so bad about this one that you have to pretend there‟s more out there?” “You‟re blind. Isn‟t that aspect worthy to make you dream?” “Oh, I dream. But, I dream when sleeping.”
5 “You don‟t daydream? You don‟t fantasize about a life of excitement, of adventure. That was your kin that ran off a while back, right, never to return?” “My perun. How did you…?” “Good nose on me, girl. I am a mandath, afterall. I remember him from all those rides he took to Faraway and back—” “He was one of the regular carters,” Honeysuckle explained. “Well, scents run in families, and you‟ve got some of what he had.” “Is it pleasant?” “Is what pleasant?” “The smell, what I‟m got of what he had?” “I‟d tell you that you smell overgood to eat, but you might be of a mind to take it literally.” Now, Karser laughed, if it could be called a laugh. It had a bit of a purr to it. They were both quiet for a time. Honeysuckle found herself tired, and nearly dozed. “You‟re a smart girl,” Karser said, waking her. “Like to think so, but I must admit I‟m little proper schooling. Not much place for it in Feedertown. Learn cooking and carting and take care of the beastthings—that‟s „bout it. Sleep when not working, work when not sleeping.” “It isn‟t slavery,” Karser replied. “Might aswell be. Side from my perun, who‟s the last of the Feederfolk went anywhere or did anything interesting… Vik, folk don‟t even like to tell tale of more interesting things anymore. I got my hands on a book of childnight stories last year, had to read „em to myself most nights.” “You still have it?” “The book? No. Burned it after…” Honeysuckle felt like she might cry again, but she didn‟t want to cry. She couldn‟t be sad about how she‟d been after the accident. It made sense, her anger back then. She had just lost her sight and most of what her life was would be gone by cause of it. “I was angry and sad after the accident,” she told Karser. “I broke things, overmany things.” “Kenable.” “Yes, it‟s kenable. Don‟t regret burning that book, by the by; can‟t use it thisday othergate. Only thing I regret breaking was Mere‟s spirahi. You know what that is?” Karser said nothing. “Nodding?” “Yes,” he replied with another of his purring laughs. “Candleholder used in the winter.” “Used on Highest,” Honeysuckle corrected. “Not all winter, just on Highest. A festival I like, and Mere really liked that spirahi, got it from her mere, who got it from hers, and it was supposed to be mine when I left the house.” Honeysuckle thought of all the candles alight with flame, the display of lights put on still in the center of Feedertown every Highest. She‟d miss that. “Aw, no more Mummers,” she said, out loud but to herself. “No wicker man, and no Parrow‟s Pole for me.” “You lament what you don‟t have, but how much do you value what is left?” Honeysuckle sat up abruptly and turned to Karser. “What do I have left? Side from my wandering, there‟s little else I can do. Hena won‟t ever trust me to polish properly, not that I want to get stuck polishing dishes for all time, mind you.” “All time,” Karser said. “That gives me an idea.” “What idea?”
6 “Well, you have something else left. You have time.” “Oh, great, time to kill doing nothing. Dragonpiss, don‟t need time.” “Kelly, you misken me.” “So, explain it.” Honeysuckle laid back down, exasperated. “Wow me with your notion of time.” “I intend to,” Karser said. Then, he was silent for a moment. “Is the silence supposed to enlighten me,” Honeysuckle asked. “Just formulating my thoughts,” Karser said. “You don‟t believe in other worlds than this one, so it‟ll be hard to find my angle of approach.” “„Angle of approach?‟ You speak like one‟s had proper schooling.” “I‟ve had nothing of the sort. I think… we mandath just know things. Mayhap we‟re born knowing things. We don‟t require schooling. Same can‟t be said for most of you humanfolk.” “No, it can‟t,” Honeysuckle replied. “You‟re right „bout that.” “Well, what if I told you that my belief in other worlds is not just a belief?” “What do you mean?” “Well, you‟ve heard of the mandath ability to camouflage?” Honeysuckle nodded. “Well, you‟ve probably heard tell we change colors, match our hides to our surroundings, and truly that‟s how most would ken it. But, there‟s more to it, much more.” “Oh?” Karser was silent, then said, “sorry, I was nodding again. I‟ll try to stop.” “It‟s ok.” “No, it isn‟t ok,” Karser said, his tone serious. “We cannot communicate if we cannot share the means to do so. And, without communication we are hardly better than bigit and krog and hirk and mice. And, even the smallest of the beastthings has its way of communicating. So, no, it isn‟t ok. If I‟m to talk with you, I‟m to talk so you can ken. I‟m not to nod or shake my head or anything else you cannot see.” Karser took a sudden deep breath. “Sorry, I‟m just…” Honeysuckle put out her hand and found the mandath‟s head. She patted it lightly. “Tell me of other worlds,” she said. “Where was I?” “Camouflage.” “Oh yes. See, you hear tell of how a mandath will change his color to blend in with his surroundings, but really, there is more to it, a play of light bent round an object, that object being a mandath. You ever look through a glassjar… back when you could see?” “I‟m looked through a glassjar fore.” “What about a looking glass? A telescope?” Honeysuckle nodded. “Curved pieces of glass—they bend the light, distort the image at the edges, magnify in the middle, make it smaller, make it bigger… depends on the glass.” “Yes,” Honeysuckle said, hoping he‟d get on with it. “Well, think of a mandath. Picture one of us in your mind, a big cat, wide in the chest, high at the shoulder.” Honeysuckle did just that, imagined a mandath in her mind. “Now, imagine he‟s made of glass,” Karser said. “What does the light do?” “Passes through him,” Honeysuckle replied.
7 “Passes through is right,” Karser said. “And, in a way, that‟s how it happens—our camouflage. We don‟t change colors so much as let the colors pass through us.” “You come to be invisible?” “I‟m nodding,” Karser said without the pause Honeysuckle might have expected. “Except, it‟s not invisible either. That‟s just the easy way to ken it. See, I was getting to other worlds, wasn‟t I?” “Yes,” Honeysuckle said, and she sat up again, sat crosslegged. “You‟ve heard of the borders, the Neighborland?” “The world closest to Bas, if you hold there even are other worlds,” Honeysuckle replied. “Yes. And, the borders are the places in between, the thinning places where one can move from this world to that, that world to this. Can you imagine such a place, where a thing isn‟t quite a thing but just the idea of a thing, a notion jumping from one place to another, myriad permutations tween either destination, a blur caught sidewise in time.” Honeysuckle tried to wrap her mind about what he was saying, but couldn‟t be sure if she did ken it or not. “Take that glass mandath of yours,” Karser said, “and stick him in that place, imagine the play of light of two places inside him, the edges of him all but disappearing, and, when he remains perfectly still, gone from sight altogether.” “Into the other world?” “Ken, you get it, don‟t you,” Karser asked. “You‟re telling me that mandath go into other worlds when we can‟t see them?” “The borders,” Karser replied. “Never really been to other worlds, though I know about some of them. I‟ve only seen their edges… felt their edges, felt them pulling on me in many directions.” “A million,” Honeysuckle asked, thinking of the biggest number she could. “One hundred ninety six thousand, eight hundred thirty three,” Karser replied. “Or so I‟ve heard tell. Or mayhap it‟s ten to ten to fifty.” “Ten to ten to fifty—what‟s that mean?” “Advanced rithmetic.” “Don‟t rightly know rithmetic,” Honeysuckle replied. “No proper schooling, remember. It‟s all advanced to me.” “It‟s a big number,” Karser explained. “But, the count of it is hardly the point.” “Well, what is the point?” “I‟ll get to that. First, a little more on mandath camouflage.” “Still with you,” Honeysuckle said. “First time I can remember camouflaging myself, you know what I saw?” “Kelly, I don‟t. What did you see?” “Black, the darkest black there ever was, a place where nothing was and there was nothing. Or, should I say, a time when there was nothing.” Honeysuckle looked down. “You were in the dark? I get that all the time. Big deal.” “It‟s not the same,” Karser said. “This black wasn‟t a color. It was a void, the absence of anything. And, I realized something while I was there, while I was then.” “What?” “Day twenty two of the last moontime of the last year… the last day.” “Kelly, I don‟t get it.”
8 “Time ends,” Karser said, his voice naught but a whisper, conspiratorial, like he didn‟t want Ladytime to hear him. “Or,” he said, louder, “so they say.” “They?” “I‟m shrugging,” Karser said. “I just know they say it, though I don‟t know who they are. Mandath elders mayhap, or human Magicmakers. Mayhap you can ask that Reen Fletcher about it later. Ask him about the Rainbow of Stares Sikes aswell, and Trinity and see what he truly knows of time. You hold to Ladytime?” It took Honeysuckle a moment to realize he‟d asked her a question. Then, she took another moment to think about it. Feederfolk tended to believe in Parrow, to revere him as more than just a man, though they had not the time to make use of the local Parry, leaving it little more than a cobwebbed, dusty old shack. And, they also tended to believe in Ladytime as an entity unto herself, a being who created Bas, created Gardea and all that was in it. But, Honeysuckle got into trouble when she tried to get anyone to explain the process it took. And, once her pere had spanked her for asking where King Artur came from and if he was from some other place, how special could Gardea be? Thing was, that line of thinking drew right into what Karser was trying to get her to ken, that there were other worlds side Bas, mayhap even places where there was no Ladytime, and no Agirath to be her adversary and counterpart. But then, who created those other worlds? Or did they have no creators? And, if not, why assume that Bas had one? Had she ever seen any evidence that Ladytime existed, truly lived? The answer was simple: no, she hadn‟t. “I‟m always been told that Ladytime created the world,” she said. “But no, I guess I don‟t believe in her anymore than I believe Whisper Blackbraid comes for ickle children at night and the Wrath of Sand will find any liars—believe me, I‟m lied plenty in my dozenyear and yet to feel it.” Karser laughed. Honeysuckle smiled. “A lack of belief is a good place to start,” Karser said after a momentary silence. “If you followed Parrow devoutly or worshipped the actions of Ladytime, we‟d have something over which to stumble. But, you come to me clean of mind and willing to look to something new. I like that. I appreciate that.” “And, what is this,” Honeysuckle asked. “Am I your Hakeu? Is this a new religion at its dawn?” “Nothing like that, jenny,” Karser replied. Then, after a silent moment, he muttered, “sorry. Girl.” Silence lingered for a time and Honeysuckle broke it with a question. “How did you know that time ends when you saw the void,” she asked. “A fine inquiry,” Karser replied. “But, a hard one to answer. It was like—have you ever gone swimming in Ravnsbrook?” Honeysuckle nodded. “Well, when you go neath the surface, fore you come to drowning, you know you need air, no?” Honeysuckle nodded again. “And, fore you come to starving, you know you need food. You get hungry. You get thirsty. Well, fore I saw that void, I was hungry for something more than what I‟d seen. And, when I saw it, it was like that breath of air after you‟ve been neath water for overlong, breaking of the fast after a night that‟s taken overmuch time to pass.”
9 “Kelly, I don‟t ken.” “It is like this, Honeysuckle: there are feelings you get somewhen, instincts, things you just know. You see the void, you just know what it is, what it means. That day twenty two nonsense—I heard that someplace, though the basic notion was there in the void waiting for me to know it.” “Wish I could see this void,” Honeysuckle said. She wasn‟t sure if she meant it as a serious wish or was poking fun or just absentmindedly replying to what he‟d said. “That might could be arranged,” Karser said. “If you truly wish it.” Now, Honeysuckle took the tone of poking fun. “Oh, and what would you do—teach me how to make myself invisible?” “No, I doubt you could manage. It would take more magical ability than you‟ve got to perform such a feat.” “How do you know what kind of ability I‟m got?” “If you had that sort of ability, you wouldn‟t be in thisplace, Feedertown. You‟d be in training as a Magicmaker.” He spoke the truth. Honeysuckle had heard tell of children being taken into training if they demonstrated certain magical abilities, had even known one, Beth Pilgrim‟s ickle brotere Kaliver. There were tests that Magicmakers performed to find children with promise. And, children with promise belonged to the Magicmakers, no longer to their parents. Honeysuckle envied those kids somewhen, wished that losing her sight would bring out some… she poked about her mind to find the word, the right word, and wished she was more educated, but the only ones who got proper education were rich or lived in the big towns, Aeodith, Capital, Cakers. They didn‟t come from Feedertown. “Latent,” Honeysuckle blurted out. “What?” “Oh, nothing. Just a word I was trying to… Nothing.” „Latent’ was the word. She wished that being blind would not only improve her hearing but bring out some latent magical ability, give her cause to be taken by the Magicmakers, taken to a life of training and education and excitement. But, she was Feederfolk, and Feederfolk didn‟t dream of adventure, didn‟t run off like her perun, neglecting their duties. They worked their work and earned their keep. But, she didn‟t want to earn her keep. Or, at least, she didn‟t want to earn it by doing menial labor day in and day out, polishing dishes for royalty. Who were the royalty of Faraway to her, othergate? She hadn‟t asked for them to be in charge. She hadn‟t chosen to be Feederfolk. Life wasn‟t fair. But, thisplace, thismoment, a mandath was going to tell her how to see things that no normal folk could see… Except… “How‟s I supposed to see anything,” she asked. “Case you missed it, I‟m blind.” Karser laughed once then put a paw on Honeysuckle‟s leg. “I told you, Honeysuckle, it is like instinct, something you just know. Though I may have called it seeing, it‟s not really about what you can or cannot see, by the by. On a clear day, you can see without eyes if you know where to look.” Honeysuckle looked down at Karser‟s paw. Though she couldn‟t see it, she knew it was there, could feel it on her leg. And, she could imagine it as if she could see it. There was indeed more to seeing than her eyes. “Ken, I think I‟m starting to get it—some of what you‟re saying, Karser, but not all.” “No one ever gets it all,” Karser replied simply. “Now, come, get up. If you‟re going to be able to see anything, you‟ll need eyes.”
10 Honeysuckle was hesit. “What do you mean, I need eyes?” “There are metaphors and there are metaphors,” Karser said. “Some sights need feelings and some need eyes. Now, come on.” He nudged her in the side with his head. “Let‟s go find you some eyes.” “Kelly, I don‟t ken,” Honeysuckle said, but still she got up and, grabbing Karser‟s tail, she followed him southard toard Ravnsbrook. They came to the water—and Honeysuckle could clearly hear it going by—and they turned left, eastard, upstream. “Where we going,” Honeysuckle asked. “You need good eyes,” Karser said. “If there were deep woods about, we could find some overeasy, but about thisplace it‟ll be harder.” “So, where we going?” “Some deer take their drink not far eastard of thisplace,” Karser said. “We must find a good, strong female if we are to find eyes that will fit you.” Honeysuckle stopped. Karser kept going, his tail slipping from her grip, then he turned back and sat down fore her. “What is it?” “Tell me what we‟re going to do or I go no further.” “Silly jenny, do you mean farther, or do you ken more than you know?” “Ugh,” Honeysuckle said, exasperated and suddenly feeling like she could burst into tears at any moment. “Why can‟t you just tell me already what‟s coming rather than being so… cryptic.” Honeysuckle dropped to the ground, sitting, and she buried her face in her hands and cried. Karser nudged her lightly with his snout. “What ails you thismoment, girl?” “I…” The words wouldn‟t come. She wept harder. Karser laid down and put his head in her lap, purring softly like a cat a tenth his size. Finally, Honeysuckle wiped her tears. Then, she looked down at Karser and asked, “is it cryptic that you‟re being or does that only have to do with crypts?” Karser got up abruptly. “That is why you cry?” he laughed. “It aren‟t funny. Don‟t you get it? I‟m oversmart for Feederfolk, but I‟m never gonna get no smarter. No one to teach me nothing, no one to…” She stopped speaking fore she broke down in tears all over again. She took a deep breath. “You want me as your student, I‟m your student,” she said. “Mandath or not, you‟re my teacher, so teach me. Don‟t drag me along to someplace I can‟t see to show me something I can‟t ken.” “Aw, poor girl. Karser goes overfast for you.” “I can keep up.” “I know you can,” Karser replied. “But, I need to allow you the time to do so.” Honeysuckle got to her feet and put her hand out. “Give me your tail. You can explain as we go.” “Not that much to explain, really” Karser said, putting his tail in her reach. “Your eyes don‟t work, so we need some with a little magic to them to replace yours.” “And, is that a metaphor?” “Yes and no.” “Yes and no?”
11 “I should tell you that what I‟ve in mind is a danger to you. If you can‟t break into the borders, if you can‟t use the eyes we find, we‟re going to have to get you back to Reen Fletcher fast as we can.” “Why? You mean to literally replace my eyes?” After a momentary silence, Karser said, “I‟m nodding.” Honeysuckle thought about it. Latek got his sight back through magic. Noben got his sight back through special healing—mayhap that was magic aswell, but Honeysuckle had never heard of anyone getting his eyes actually replaced. And, certainly not with those of a deer. But, what did she have to lose? She couldn‟t even be sure this mandath would let her return to town alive, so what did a little extra gore matter if she was probably going to be eaten othergate? “Do you trust me,” Karser asked. “I‟m willing to follow you and let you do what you‟re gonna do,” Honeysuckle replied. “If that counts for trust, then…” She nodded. “That will have to do,” Karser said. And, they walked upstream, little sound but the water flowing by and a few scattered bird calls. “A good one,” Karser said, stopping abruptly. “A good what?” “Not so loud,” Karser said. “There‟s a deer at the water‟s edge ahead. Now, you can‟t kill her in your condition. Mayhap if we‟d bothered to bring a bow and arrow, I could‟ve helped you aim, but the magic of it doesn‟t depend on the kill either way.” “What does it depend on?” “You‟ve got to pull out the eyes.” “Ew.” “Do you want to see or not?” Honeysuckle took a deep breath. It seemed a disgusting task, but if there was even a chance this mandath knew what he was saying, she could do it, especially sithence she wouldn‟t have to see it. In washing and polishing dishes, she‟d gotten her hands in plenty of disgusting things. She could handle it. She nodded. “Wait here,” Karser said. Then, he was gone and all was silent. Honeysuckle remained where she was, and she tried to remain motionless, quiet. She didn‟t want to mess things up. It wouldn‟t do her any good to have a mandath angry with her. Suddenly, a horrible, highpitched growl broke the silence, and a terrible and sad scream followed it. The scream sounded almost human. Briefly, Honeysuckle wondered if Karser had killed a human instead of a deer like he‟d said. But, he came for her and led her to the body, still warm and breathing even, and it was no human. It was a deer, of a good size but with no rack of antlers. A female for sure. “What do I do,” Honeysuckle asked, kneeling down beside the beastthing. “Find its face,” Karser said. “Then, dig your fingers neath the edges of the eyes, pop them out like corks out of phials. There will be some blood but—” “Stop overdescribing it,” Honeysuckle replied. Karser quieted. Honeysuckle touched the deer‟s side, felt its ribcage expanding and contracting with its breath. “It‟s not dead yet,” she announced, though that much must have been even more obvious to Karser than it was to her. “No,” Karser said. “The eyes need to still have life in them, a fresh spark of magic.” “Do all deer have magic eyes,” Honeysuckle asked, sliding her hands along the deer‟s body over its shoulder, up its neck. “It isn‟t that they are magical exactly,” Karser explained. “But, beastthing see more then you human do. And, deer… Have you heard tell of the Great Hart?”
12 “First beastthing to live in Gardea,” Honeysuckle said. She didn‟t believe in it but she‟d heard tell of it plenty. “Still alive and well in the Wild Wood, if you believe the stories. A protector. They say Mary Prejean had the Great Hart watching after her when she marched on Faraway.” “All the deer in Gardea, all the deer in Bas, every hind, every buck, every fawn—they share blood with the Great Hart. They share a direct link to the Tree of Creation, to Ladytime herself.” “I don‟t believe in—” “It doesn‟t matter if you believe in her,” Karser said. “It is not a question of belief that will dictate if this act will work or not. I don‟t appreciate spells that demand faith.” “So,” Honeysuckle said, touching the deer‟s face lightly, “it is a spell, magic.” “I thought that you did ken that.” “Just felt like spelling it all out, if that‟s alright. On a clear day, I‟m not sure if I ever believed in magic fore neither, so, forgive me if this is…” She found the edge of one of the deer‟s eyes and put her fingertip to the corner of it. “Do I just push in, cause with the socket, won‟t I just—” “You won‟t break it, jenny. Eyes squish pretty well fore they break.” “I don‟t think I needed to know that.” “Not fore today, anyhow,” Karser replied. Honeysuckle pushed her finger in. The deer squirmed, whimpered, tried to get up. Quickly, Karser moved yond Honeysuckle and sat on the deer, held it down. Honeysuckle could feel the weight of him, could sense the breath go out of the deer neath him. She paused only momentarily, then she dug into the deer‟s socket and popped the eye out. There was blood, but not as much as she thought there would be. And, the eye was still attached. She grabbed it firmly in her fist and was about to yank it lose of the nerve holding it to the deer‟s mind. “No,” Karser said. “Do not disconnect it just yet. Pop the other one out first.” Honeysuckle let go of the eye then reached to the other side of the deer‟s head. It wasn‟t moving much anymore, though there was still a vague whimper, weaker by the moment, coming from inside it. She lifted its head and dug into the opposite socket, getting into it faster then with the first one, and popped the eye loose from the skull. She looked to Karser. “Now what?” “Now is the hard part,” Karser said. “Now‟s the hard part?” “The portion of things that could bring danger to you. You have to make room for those.” “Make room for…” She got it. She couldn‟t use the deer‟s eyes as long as she still had her own. She imagined it would hurt worse than just about anything, except mayhap the throb in her head after the accident—but, Reen Fletcher had been there to lessen the pain thatday. He wasn‟t with her thisday. There would be no blackseed balm, no steelwine. “Will it hurt after?” “When the new eyes are in, if the magic works, then I assume the pain will be minimal.” “You assume? You mean, you don‟t know?” “I‟ve never done this fore, though I have heard tell of it being done.” “You‟re heard tell…?” Honeysuckle shook her head, disappointed, disgusted, disturbed. “What do I do?” “You take out your own eyes.” “Ken, I know. But, what do I do after that. I don‟t want to be stuck here with my sockets bleeding, waiting for instructions.”
13 “See, I said you were smart,” Karser replied. “Yank loose your new eyes and turn them right fore you pop them in. Then, you repeat, just as I say it thismoment: emko eema uko ouek afel.” “What‟s that mean?” “A simple magic, Old Words in reverse. „Your eyes are mine. Let me see.‟” “Say it again.” “Your eyes are—” “No, the magic way.” “Oh. Emku eema uko ouek afel.” “Emku eema,” Honeysuckle began. “No, not thismoment,” Karser said. “Save the words for when you need them. Just have them in your head. Emku eema uko ouek afel. Emku eema uko ouek afel.” Honeysuckle committed them to memory, not sure if she‟d be able to will them back to her mouth once the pain was with her. Then, quickly, she put her hands to her face, dug her fingers in the outside corners of her eyes and, screaming, pulled out the balls of them. They remained attached by the nerves, so she gripped them tightly and yanked hard. They broke free and her body shuddered. She thought she could die thismoment, thisplace. But, as Reen Fletcher has said, she was overstubborn to die. She dropped her eyes then grabbed the deer‟s and yanked them free of their sockets and raised them to her own. She turned them about then pushed them in, and it burned, and there were sparks of light in her vision for several seconds fore she realized she had vision. “Say the words,” Karser said, “or the magic won‟t last.” Honeysuckle focused her mind on the words, ignored the pain, ignored the sparks of light. “Emku eema uko ouek afel.” And, all was bright. Then, all was dark, and Honeysuckle lost her wakefulness. Karser shook her awake, and Honeysuckle looked up at him. He was black, mottled grey, old. But, his eyes were full of magic and life. Light danced within them, and she could see yond them into his mind, sparks dancing here and there, tiny sparks, innumerable. Thoughts. Honeysuckle grinned. “I can see,” she said. “But, not like fore.” “No, it wouldn‟t be,” Karser said. “Human eyes ignore the magic of everyday life. Look about you.” Honeysuckle looked about. It wasn‟t just Karser‟s head that danced with light. There was light everywhere, streams of particles flowing into and out of every rock and tree and plant, a bigit cloud hovering over some fosstail reeds, the fish in Ravnsbrook, which she could see though they were neath the surface. And, the particles passed from one object to another, the energy of life filling everything… even the deer on the ground fore her. Honeysuckle eyed it strangely. It was dead. Its heart, she could see, was no longer beating. There was not the spark of thought in its mind. But, there was still light to it. She knelt by it and put her head down on its chest. She wrapped her arms about its body. “Thank you,” she said. “Thank you.” And, like a shadow of itself, the deer got up and went toard the bank of the river. But, it moved backard, and it moved through Honeysuckle to get there. She sat up and watched it. “What is this, Karser?” “What is what?” “The deer is still in thisplace on the ground, but it‟s also there, by the water.” And, she saw also a shadow of Karser leaping at the deer by the water, and that shadow moved back toard
14 a girl standing not far off. And, Honeysuckle recognized that girl as herself, though she could also see through her. “And, I‟m there,” she said, pointing. “Shadows,” Karser said. “If you focus, you could probably follow shadows back to the dawn of time, prove the creation true or false once and for all.” “Am I traveling in time?” “No, it isn‟t like that.” “What is it like?” “You are still in thisplace, thismoment, but your eyes see more. The magic of what just happened—that has made your eyes even more sensitive than they were inside that deer. You can see the light of things, the ebbs and flows of energy.” “Life,” Honeysuckle said. “I‟m nodding,” Karser said. “I can see that,” Honeysuckle said. “I can also see…” There was something in his head, when he spoke. The lights danced in particular patterns. She wondered if she could learn to recognize those patterns, know what people would say fore they would say it, know what people were thinking. “I could read minds if I wanted to,” she said. “You could probably manage something of the like, if you worked at it.” “What else can I do?” “I don‟t rightly know,” Karser said. “I told you, I‟ve never done this fore.” “So, what about the borders?” “The borders?” “That is why we did this, yes? How do I find the borders? How do I come to be invisible like a mandath?” “Not so fast, jenny.” “Why not? I am something that no human should be. Like a Magicmaker born as an adult.” “But, you aren‟t an adult, Honeysuckle.” “No, I‟m better. In fact…” She looked about, eyed the lines of light, the dancing particles in everything. There were patterns, to be sure, though it would take some time to learn them all. But, she thought she might could find the borders herself if she looked overmuch. “I think I can find them without you,” she said. “You probably could.” Karser was silent for a time, his mind alight. Then, as if he‟d given up his original plan, he said simply, “just look for the places where the brighter objects meet, where trees touch each other, where—” “Where the lines are brightest,” Honeysuckle said, jumping ahead of him in his words. “Find the spirals and there will be the holes to the borders.” Karser took a step back, his eyes wide. “Yes,” he said. Honeysuckle smiled. “I don‟t know if I read your mind or if I… just knew the answer, or mayhap both.” She looked about again. There were no particularly bright spots nearby. She started walking westard, searching for brighter places. And, she followed the shadow of her earlier self, holding onto the tail of Karser‟s shadow. They were talking. “You need good eyes,” Karser was saying. Except, she heard it backard, but did ken it othergate. She followed her shadow, focused to make it go faster, for time to fall froard faster than it has passed in the right direction… Except, how could she be sure that was the right direction? If she could see it go either way, if she could ken what was said either way, then why did she have to assume it needed to go forard? Wasn‟t that just the way the mind processed it? Or, was Ladytime real and this
15 magic was something outside the scope of her power? Did Karser know the answers to these questions? Honeysuckle looked back at him, following her in silence. His mind was alight with thought. He was wondering if he‟d done the right thing. He was calling her an abomination. She stopped and turned to face him. “I‟m no abomination, Karser,” she said. “I‟m no tool of Agirath, seeing the façade of the Empress‟ work. That‟s a lovely word, by the by—façade. I don‟t think I had heard that one fore.” “You didn‟t hear that one thismoment,” Karser replied. “Didn‟t I? Why limit our definitions when our experiences change? I am something special thismoment. I see things even you can‟t see.” “But, if you—” “I won‟t burn out the magic, Karser. Why do you assume such silly things? These eyes are not candles, with wicks to burn only for a time. They are eyes.” “You don‟t know about which you speak,” Karser replied. “No, and neither do you. So, don‟t tell me to pace myself. I want to see everything I can… especially if there‟s a limit to my time. Time ends, you said. Well, why waste what we‟ve got, then?” With that, Honeysuckle turned westard toard town and hurried yond her shadow. She found herself tripping on a rock, an old mandath watching from a hillock nearby. She followed herself back into town, passing that old mutt Loper as he barked… Only, he didn‟t bark. Honeysuckle looked at him. His shadow should have barked even if he didn‟t bark at her thismoment—and he always barked at her. He had barked at her earlier, when she‟d left town. But, thismoment, even his shadow, from that time she had passed, just stood there, staring at her. His tail was tween his legs, and he trembled and watered his own leg. “Silly dog,” she said, and he turned and ran into Old Pere Drover‟s shack. “He‟s never been afraid of—” She turned to Karser, but he wasn‟t hind her. Of course, he wouldn‟t have followed her into town. Feederfolk would sooner kill him than be killed by him. But, that was fine. She didn‟t need him othergate. Who did she need? Did she need Reen Fletcher? Did she need Mere and Pere? No. She needed no one anymore. They‟d all pitied her, the poor blind girl. Thismoment, she didn‟t need any of them. She watched her shadow go backard into her home. It seemed like a different person entirely, a helpless little jenny. Honeysuckle laughed. Thismoment, she was pitying herself, and that just wouldn‟t do. She focused on the door to her house, thinking of the day fore, and then her shadow emerged, backard, coming in from wandering. She focused on the day fore that, and her shadow‟s dress changed. And, the day fore that, her shadow had a cut finger, a mishap with a knife that got between plates she was polishing. The blood was bright like thought. Honeysuckle caught her shadow and touched the dripping blood. And, she could feel it wet on her finger, alive with everything she had been thatmoment. And, then, she skipped ahead, back, a week, a twoweek, a moontime, another, and another. And, she focused her memory on the accident. And, she ventured over to where the cart of breadloafs had hit her. And, there it was, coming to a stop, backing froard yond her as she leapt up from the ground, the hole in her head closing… And, she closed her eyes, looking only at the light through them, the memory as real as the present if not more so. It froze in place, the cart having just hit her going backard or about to hit her going forard. And, she looked at herself, sidewise in time, and she thought her shadow was looking back at her. Mayhap that was why she hadn‟t heard the cart coming; she couldn‟t remember. “Can you see me,” she asked her shadow.
16 Her shadow nodded, her mind alight with thought. Did she know what she was seeing? Did she recognize her morrow self? Was the last thing she saw fore the accident really a vision of the morrow? Or was this all imagining? And, why did her head hurt? And, why was she crying? Honeysuckle put her hands to her eyes, and her cheeks were wet, but not with tears, with blood. And, the bronze circle at the back of her head was throbbing, pulsing with each beat of her heart like it wanted to use the flow of her blood to eject itself, to escape the abomination. “But, I‟m no abomination,” she said. Her shadow shook her head, her mouth quivering. Was she afraid? “Don‟t fear me,” Honeysuckle said. And, a sudden pain filled her head. All was dark for a moment. Then, there was a flash of light as the world came back. “Karser lied,” she said, more to herself than to her shadow. “This is the borders. I‟m in them. But, they‟re not just tween worlds. They‟re tween moments. Every time a mandath goes invisible, he could alter time if he wanted to. Why doesn‟t he do that? How has anyone ever managed to kill a mandath if they can turn back time?” “Kelly, I don‟t ken you,” her shadow said. “You will, jenny,” Honeysuckle replied. “Trust Karser when you meet him.” “Karser? Who‟s Karser?” “You‟ll see… or mayhap you won‟t.” Honeysuckle had an idea. And, if it worked, it would confirm her take on the borders. “You will see,” she said. “There‟s a cart hind you, Honeysuckle. Get out of the way.” And, Honeysuckle, daydreaming as she was wont to do, had a notion of the cart‟s approach just in time to get out of its way. “Close call,” she said to herself after. “I could‟ve been killed. Good thing she… Good thing what?” She didn‟t know where her mind was thisday. She had a vague notion of someone talking to her, a girl with bright eyes. She laughed at herself. That was crazy. She headed home to churn some butter fore it was time for supper. Mere wouldn‟t like it if she didn‟t get at least some of her chores done thisday. And so, things went as they normally went. Honeysuckle helped out with chores about the house, helped Hena Raker with dishes twice a week and helped load carts on Arday. And, life was boring as usual, and everyday was the same as the one fore and the one after. Then, one day a moontime or three after her close call with the cart of breadloafs, Honeysuckle was taking a break from her work, helping Pere dig a new hole for their outhouse, sithence Hena had let her off from washing and polishing dishes early. She was wandering the base of Etin eastard of town. She was thinking about how no one ever really went farther eastard—and, it was „farther,‟ not „further,‟ though she wasn‟t sure how she knew that—than Etin, like it was some magical boundary tween Feedertown and some horrible maw that would eat anyone who bothered to be adventurous, and she was not paying much attention to the ground neath her feet. A stray rock caught her foot and nearly brought her to the ground. She caught herself with her arms and dusted herself off, standing upright. “Watch your step, jenny,” a voice said from nearby. She didn‟t recognize it. She turned about. “Who‟s there,” she said. And, there, naught but a fathom off was a mandath, black mottled with grey, old, but still a mandath. She looked back toard town, wondering how fast she could run, or how loud she could scream for help.
17 “Name‟s Karser,” the mandath said, making no move toard her, and seeming strangely friendly—and his name was familiar, though she couldn‟t quite place it. “And, who might you be?” “Honeysuckle,” she said. “Honeysuckle Stringer.”
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