Authors: Diane Duane
Nita shrugged. “She
more than fifty miles. That should be enough.” Then she looked at Ronan’s face as she plugged the kettle in. “Haven’t you been there?”
“To the Moon?
“Why not? It’s terrific.” He opened his mouth, and Nita suddenly felt annoyed at herself. “Wait, it’s the overlays, I guess. I’m sorry. Look, there have to be
places you can teleport from safely. If you can find one, and hop over and see us, we’ll run the wizardry through for you, and show you around. It’s no big deal.”
“I’d like that,” Ronan said, and smiled slightly. It was a look Nita hadn’t seen on him often; the chip off the shoulder for the moment, and just a touch of wistfulness. “It must be grand,” he said, “being where you don’t have to be afraid to do all the wizardries you know can be done.”
Nita laughed and leaned against the counter, waiting for the kettle to boil. “It has its downsides. You wouldn’t believe the trouble you can get into. Remind me to tell you about the shark who almost ate me...”
“Want a look?” Aunt Annie said, coming back into the kitchen, with Johnny and Doris behind her.
“Yeah!” Nita said. She headed down the hall, with Ronan behind her.
There was no need to do anything special. Walls meant nothing to the light of the Chalice—or rather the light of what was inside it. The Chalice sat on its pillowcase, with the gold inlay on the outside of the bowl, and in the spirals and curves that ran down its stem and massive foot, all burning as if molten and ready to flow off the chalice at a moment’s notice. The burning came from the blue-white light filling the Chalice’s foot-and-a-half-wide bowl, a light that was liquid, and still trembling slightly from having been moved. It shone through the metal as if it was glass, and right through everything else it touched. Nita looked at her hands, and saw through them as if they were a sketch held up to sunlight; an incomplete and smudgy sketch, possibly in need of revision.
She looked at Ronan, and away again, shaking her head. Words seemed inadequate, and out of place. But at the same time she couldn’t help noticing his expression, like that of someone struggling with a memory: and oddly, not trying to remember, but to forget— Maybe he felt her eyes on him: Ronan turned his gaze away from the Cup, and looked at her with a troubled expression. “Let’s get together some time soon,” he said. “I need to talk.”
Nita suddenly found herself afraid to find out what he wanted to talk about. She nodded, and went away hurriedly, back down to the kitchen.
The three older wizards were sitting around the kitchen table, waiting for the teapot to finish brewing. “There’s a message for you from the Queen, by the way,” she said. Johnny looked at her questioningly, and Nita repeated the message.
When Nita finished Johnny smiled very slightly, and it was a sad look. “She’s asking,” he said, “whether there’s any hope that the world they’ve chosen to live in will ever come any closer to Timeheart. They love Ireland, make no mistake; but at the same time, they’re of the Powers, and they long for Timeheart, their more ancient home. Yet the legends say they must stay in the world they have chosen until the One’s Champion comes back with his spear, and they lose the world of their desire.” He shook his head. “A while yet, I think…”
“Do you want Kit back yet?” Nita said.
He passed a hand over his forehead, smoothing his hair back. “Where is he?”
“That’s all right, then. Wait a few minutes before you bring him back here. I can add a limiter to the binding on the Cup that’ll make it at least safe for the Sword to be here with it. But the Sword will need its own binding.”
Doris poured the tea out. “That’s one less problem,” she said. “Now if we just knew what to do about the Spear, we’d be fairly ready.”
There was silence around the table at that, and some hopeless looks. “You couldn’t find anything that would work?” Nita said, as Ronan came in and sat down again.
“My dear,” said Doris, “we have the original Stone awake again, and what seems to be the original Sword. The Cup has ensouled very emphatically indeed. We dare not try to conjoin an inferior or weak Spear to them. They would blast it out of existence. The resouled Spear must be at least as strong as they—preferably much stronger. But we have no proper envelope. It’s not strictly a change that a physicist would understand, but matter is not quite the robust stuff it was at the beginning of the world, when Creation as an art was young, and the energies of it dwelt new and hot in the nucleus of every atom. As gravity and other forces have declined over many millions of years, so has the basic—‘selfness’—of matter. You see how the resouled Treasures make everything around them look insubstantial and unreal. The souls in them are reminding the matter they embody how matter was then. It was much closer to being alive.”
“But then the Spear’s soul will remind the matter it’s in. Won’t it?”
“Not if the matter is simply unable to hold the soul long enough in one place for the change to take,” Johnny said. “It’d be like trying to hold a burning coal in a Kleenex. The Spear’s soul is the fiercest of them all. I had hoped I was wrong about this, but the research I’ve been doing over the past couple days indicates that no spear on Earth would be strong enough now to contain the soul for long enough to do the trick: whether it had contained it before or not.”
“Off the Earth, then,” Nita said.
Johnny cocked his head. “It’s a thought that occurred to me. But the changes in matter that have happened here have happened everywhere else, too. And we keep coming back to the problem,” and he smoothed his hair back again, “that we don’t have much time.”
Ronan sighed and sat back. “It’s a pity we can’t just make a new one,” he said.
Aunt Annie sighed too. “Even if we had uncontaminated matter from the beginning of time,” she said, “we wouldn’t have the expertise to do anything with it. I think we’re just going to have to keep looking for some other kind of answer.” She glanced over at Johnny and Doris. They nodded.
Nita got up. “I’ll go get Kit,” she said. “Fifteen or twenty minutes be long enough?”
She looked at her aunt. She nodded. “The overlay buffer is still in place. Go ahead.”
Nita said the transport spell quickly in her head, considering how much air she would need, doubling it as usual, and arranging the spell intake so that it would take the air from outside the house rather than inside—the memory of the last time she’d done such a spell in her own house, without stopping to consider that her father’s desk was covered with paperwork, was still much with her. She vanished.
She found Kit sitting on his favorite rock—a pumice boulder on which he had been using a sharp piece of granite to whittle the boulder into the crude likeness of a human face, for the bemusement of future lunar photographic surveys. The Sword was laid across his lap.
She climbed up beside him. “Johnny said he should be ready for you to come back in a little while.”
“I don’t want to go right back there,” Kit said, turning the Sword over in his lap and looking at it. “Someone I want to have a talk with first.”
“Biddy,” Nita said.
Kit nodded. “Remember what the fox said to you,” he said.
“Listen,” Nita said. “You remember how you told me that you felt her forge was alive?” He nodded. Nita started to tell him what Doris had said about the relative “liveness” of matter at the beginning of time.
He stopped her. “It’s OK, I heard it. I used your ears.”
Nita’s eyes went wide: she punched him in the shoulder. “Illegal brain-tapping! You didn’t even ask me! What if you’d overheard something I was thinking?”
“What, about Ronan?”
She blushed hot and punched him again, much harder, so that in the low gravity he fell sideways off the boulder and bounced a couple of times in the moondust. “Great,” he said, as he got up and dusted himself off. “This stuff is all down my shirt. Now I’m going to itch all night.”
“Serves you right. Eavesdropper!”
“Still,” Kit said, and looked thoughtful. “He’s sharp, your buddy Ronan. Why shouldn’t they make another one?”
“Because they don’t know how. Whaddaya mean ‘my buddy?’” She started heading around the rock to punch him again, far gone in embarrassment.
“Hmm,” Kit said. “Neets, forget it, I’ll lay off.”
“Look, let’s go see Biddy.”
“What are we going to say to her?!”
Kit shook his head. “‘Come out with your hands up?’ I don’t know. But if one of Them is here, They need to be giving us a hand! Do you know where we’re going?”
“Yeah. I’ll pass you the coordinates.”
Nita pictured the place in her head—she’d seen it often enough when riding past it on the farm’s bike—and translated the image quickly into coordinates that could be plugged into a transport spell. “Got it,” Kit said. “Just change that bit there. Got it? Go.”
They made the jump. Air slid out and away from them, and they were standing not far from the far side of the dual carriageway, near the pub that stood there. It was getting dark.
“Over here,” Nita said, and led the way over to the right, where a small group of whitewashed buildings stood near the Kilpedder shop. There was a low iron gate at the entrance to them, covered with ornate and graceful wrought-iron work; and a hanging sign on a nearby wall said B. Ó DÁLAIGH, I.F.A.
Carefully and quietly Nita unlatched the gate and swung it inward. There were no lights showing in any of the buildings, though Biddy’s truck was parked in front of one of them.
“Maybe she went out,” Nita said.
Kit shook his head and went slowly to the truck, and put one hand up against the forge-box at the back. “Feel this,” he said.
Nita laid her hand against it, and snatched it back with the shock. Life, for a wizard, is something that can be felt like the warmth from a radiator. This was not just a warmth, but a
—and totally unlike the kind of low-level awareness that “inanimate” objects normally manifested.
“I can’t believe you didn’t feel it the first time,” Kit said.
“Different specialties, different sensitivities,” said Nita. “Besides, I never touched it. But look at
She nodded at Fragarach. The dusk was falling all around them, but it had no power over the Sword; Fragarach shone as if it lay out in full sunlight, though the waning Moon was high and the bats were out.
Kit said. “‘Uncontaminated matter from the time of Creation,’ did they say?” He chuckled. “Let’s see if we can find her.”
Kit went off around one of the outbuildings. Nita leaned against the forge, and breathed out.
“Looking for somebody?” Biddy said from the shadows.
Nita jumped, then laughed a little nervously. Get a grip on yourself, she thought. Now what was the wording? She didn’t move; just watched Biddy head over toward her. “Elder sister,” Nita said, “in the One’s name, honor and greeting.”
“Now what do you mean by—” She stopped, as Kit came around the corner, with the Sword in his hand. It had been bright enough. Now, in her immediate presence, it blazed.
Biddy looked at it, and her face altered. Recognition, and affection, and surprise, all appeared in it. “Now I thought that had been put away somewhere safe,” she said in her soft drawl.
“It was,” Nita said. “But nothing much is going to be safe any more, unless it gets used.”
you,” Kit said. “I can feel that. It just about shouts that it knows you.” There was an odd exultation in his face; Nita felt inclined to keep her distance for the moment. “And it knows your forge, there. I think maybe you made this.” He hefted the Sword, but there was something in the gesture that also looked as if the Sword had moved itself, a small leap of excitement. “Or someone using the metal that’s been built into that forge made this. Probably both.”
Biddy looked at them thoughtfully, and leaned against the wall, folding her arms.
“Cutlery isn’t usually my stock in trade,” Biddy said. “Pretty, though.”
Kit said. And Nita added, “I wish you’d ditch the accent. It’s really bad.”
“What?” Biddy said.
Nita had to laugh. “I’m sorry. It’s probably good enough to fool the people around here, but it wouldn’t fool a real American for very long. The morning after I met you, I was wondering why you sounded so weird. Now I know.” She laughed again. “You may be one of the Powers that Be, but you’re no more perfect than we are. Especially not at sounding like you’ve lived somewhere you’ve never been!”
Biddy looked faintly shocked. Then she leaned back again, and she too laughed a little, and fell silent afterwards, looking at the Sword.
“Well?” Kit said.
“Well,” said Biddy. “May I see it, then?”
Kit went to her and handed her the Sword hilt-first. She took it, and held it up to examine it, laying it for a moment across the flat of her forearm. “Not much changed,” she said. “Though it’s more tired than I remember.”
“You can do something about that,” Nita said.