Read Dawn of the Flame Sea Online

Authors: Jean Johnson

Dawn of the Flame Sea (10 page)

“They will not hurt you,” Jintaya promised, angling the blue crystal. “Since you are sensitive to anima, you may feel a little bit warm, or cool, or a tingling feeling, but there is no reason for these things to hurt you. The magic . . . the anima . . . is being used at a very low level. The lights are merely going to look at you in a way deeper than eyes alone can see. Once they have looked, they will tell me how healthy you are.”

“And whether or not I, at my age, am carrying a child?” Zudu asked, her tone amused by the mere idea. The bone beads in her braids clicked when she settled her head on the pallet, then again when she squirmed a little, lifting a hand to pull a few of them out from under her shoulders.

“It could happen,” Jintaya replied calmly. “I doubt it, but we already have one Dai-Fae coming into the tribe. It is wise to check for more—particularly in the light of the failure of Rua's contraceptive amulet.”

“Her what?” Zudu asked, eyeing the Fae healer.

“An amulet inscribed and infused with the power to block off the, mm . . . the joining of the male's seed with the female's seed, forming a baby,” Jintaya explained, putting the complex words into a simplistic explanation for a woman raised with only the most rudimentary grasp of science and technology to understand. She adjusted the red crystal on its stand, aiming at the human on the pallet. “Her amulet was working fine, fully infused with anima. It should not have happened.”

“But it did. Con-tra-septive, you said?” Zudu repeated.

“Correct.” She moved to adjust the green crystal, then triggered it, moving back to red, and then to blue. “It is a word that means ‘preventing a pregnancy from starting.'”

Energy gathered, coalesced, and shot out of each one in its proper hue. The reading took a little longer, for the rays had to calibrate for Zudu's species, but after several seconds the rays splashed sparks up into the air, forming glittering runes. Jintaya studied the runes a long moment, then pinched the bridge of her slender nose.

“Is something wrong?” the animadj asked her.

“I should compare these readings to a female who has, ah, not indulged herself with a male in some time to be certain. But if they
are
accurate,” Jintaya sighed, “then you are pregnant. With Éfan's offspring. Dai-Fae. Another half-breed.”

Zudu frowned and cupped her lower belly with both hands. “But I said all the prayers that would ensure we had nothing come of our couplings. I
know
my will is strong. I
know
I shaped the anima right.”

“And I
know
that Rua's amulet was made with equal strength and should have worked right,” Jintaya agreed. Shutting off the crystals, she offered the animadj her hand. “Your offspring is healthy, as far as I can tell. We are not yet fully familiar with the health patterns of your tribe in specific, but you are similar to many other types of Shae we have met through the years. Calibrating the differences should not take too long.”

Accepting the Fae's help, Zudu climbed back to her feet. “You did not use these lights when you healed us, yet you use them now to check my health?”

“Your injuries were just that: wounds. The magic that I used, the anima, told your bodies to return to what they were before, when they were healthy. Sometimes the body forgets how to be healthy, and that is how many healing magics work, giving it the energy to return quickly to being normal again. Sometimes what is not normal can still be healthy—a woman is not normally pregnant all the time, but when she is, she can still be healthy,” the Fae explained.

Zudu eyed her. “I have borne four children. Three lived to be adults, and two of those died in the raids. Zuki is my only child left, and Zitta is my nephew. Have you borne children, Taje Djin-taje?”

Sighing, she corrected gently, patiently, “My name is just Jintaya when we are not being formal. And yes, I have borne children. The Fae live long lives, and our fertile cycles are not as frequent as yours, but I have borne five children through the years. All of them are adults and are off living their own lives elsewhere.”

“Is Ban their father?” Zudu asked next. She caught sight of Jintaya's arched brow and turned up a hand. “I have eyes, and a mind, and some things do not need colored lights to see beneath their surfaces.”

“True . . . but no. Ban is not their father. They are fully Fae; their fathers and I agreed to live together for a while and raise a child. When they were grown and living lives of their own, we parted company and remain friends. But those men were Fae. Ban is Shae, like and not like you. Would you be willing to allow me to examine Zuki next?” Jintaya offered, changing the subject. “She is young, but she seems to be flowering into a woman. She would make a good comparison, I think.”

Zudu nodded. “When she returns from fetching the greens Rua trades for meat. She is getting good with her sling, and most snakes are tasty.”

“Most,” Jintaya agreed mildly. It would not be the weirdest or the worst thing she had ever eaten.

***

Year 0, Month 4, Day 3

The fountain was not a good discussion spot. Not for a tribewide meeting, that was. It was cooler than most open-air spots, had plenty of room and shade, but the constant splashing of all that water rendered conversations too difficult for more than a handful of people to hear easily. Halek, a little more comfortable by now with how easily these Fae could manipulate the rocks around them with the anima, approached Kaife with an idea on a gathering space.

Kaife, naturally, had a Fae version already in mind and, after some crude sketches in the sandy soil, had a compromise that pleased the taje. The result was even more beautiful, a graceful fan-shaped theater with rows of risers and steps, facing a broad dais backed by a shell that ensured all the sound of the speakers was amplified forward. There were great tunnels leading inside, and an outer walkway broad enough for many to stand and talk. Underneath the slope of the seats, side rooms had been crafted, designed for one speaker to be heard at the center of smaller, more wedge-shaped fans meant to hold a double handful of people at a time.

It was a building meant for holding seven, eight times the current population of their tribe in the main half-circle area, just as the fountain could water all 223 members within a short period of time. . . . and that was something Halek needed to discuss with the Fae. His eyes were getting used to the graceful, fluted columns, the ribbed arches of the ceilings, the little scrolling vines and whimsical yet elegant flowers set in stone sculpted with a thought. But still, all these structures, all these spaces were so large, he felt as if his people rattled around like a handful of pebbles in an overgrown gourd.

It was to one of these little underrooms that he headed, savoring the warm breeze that blew through the valley. It stirred dust and made him glad he had brought along a waterskin, considering how dry it was, but a warm breeze was better than a hot one. That meant the afternoon heat had finally broken.

Puna, the chief huntress, had gone ahead with Zudu, the chief animadj. With Halek were Tulan, who would have made an excellent war leader if she were just a few years older, and Eruk, who was an outstanding warrior but who would not make a good leader; his arrogance and ambition were too strong, in Halek's mind. Eruk had insisted upon coming along, however, as this was a meeting to determine the fate of the White Sands Tribe.

The younger man knew about it because Halek had already spoken with the whole tribe over the last quarter-moon. High summer was drawing to a close, and decisions would have to be made, to stay or to go, and if so, what should they call themselves now? Most of the tribe had whittled down their choices to just a few options, but the final decision would have to be made by the tajet, Halek and Djin-taje, with input from advisers, of course. So if Eruk was going to insist on forcing himself upon this meeting, Halek was going to insist on young Tulan to be on hand. Zudu swore Tulan had been born with an old and wise soul; she was certainly calm and thoughtful for her age.

They reached the plaza before the amphitheater, a great, smooth stretch of sandstone that had been brought up through the dirt and leveled for a walking surface. The sun still struck the western face of the structure, casting sharp lines from the columns on the rock face, given the direction Halek and company approached. This place was nothing like the old village, with its awkward ring of mud-plaster huts around a broad, dirt-trampled plaza that had held four big shade trees and enough clear space in the center for an occasional bonfire celebration, but all of it close together.

Here, they had to walk a ways to get anywhere. The tribe was now spread out along terraces with steps along four different canyon walls. They had homes so refined compared to the old mud huts, Halek was hard-pressed to find the words to describe their clean, smooth walls, proportioned windows, the clever built-in bench seats and window boxes that could be filled with soil for planting things. All of it wondrous, all of it rich with animadjic, and all of it enough to make him worry as to whether Siffu was right.

The anima-beings of her far southlands, the gods their various tribes worshipped—they indeed sounded like these Fae, the more he learned of the latter . . . except he had seen Adan slip on a bit of gravel and fall, bruising his bottom. Somehow, Halek could not imagine a being made of pure anima being so graceless. He wasn't going to believe without more evidence that they were truly powerful.

The shade found within the theater passages was even better than that merely warm breeze, for with clever work, their master builder had somehow included a gentle flow of air through the structure. Kaife had even explained that with a combination of cleverly hung stone or metal doors and simple cloth or leather drapes, the breeze would be cut off in the winter months, allowing the structure to be heated by braziers. Two of those doors hung at the mouths of the room they were about to use, one on each end of the curved chamber. Stone benches had been placed here and there, and given cushions of grass-stuffed leather.

“Welcome, Taje Halek,” Djin-taje-ul called out. Her voice sent a shiver through the middle-aged man, flushing his cheeks with a different sort of warmth. Beautiful, ethereal, and attractive beyond words. Oil lamps illuminated the padded benches and chairs lining the chamber, centered on the pale-haired woman. She gestured for him to take a seat at her side, honoring him with proximity to her power.

“Taje Djin-taje-ul,” he replied. All the Fae, and even that dark fellow, Ban, followed and obeyed her. Whatever power she wielded, he had only ever seen it gently used so far. Halek bowed to her before joining her.

Eruk looked like he wanted to displace Zudu and Puna as the next nearest to the tajet but ended up taking too long staring at them. Tulan claimed the next seat over, leaving him to content himself at the end. She didn't smirk at him, just settled herself more comfortably on her cushion with the easy grace of youth and clasped her hands in her lap, her hunting spear at her feet.

On the other side sat Éfan and Ban. Ban, Halek expected. Éfan as well, for he was the chief animadj among the Fae, even if he acted more like an overseer than a spell caster. The lack of the others, however, made Halek raise his brows. “Rua, and the rest?”

“They will follow our decisions,” Djin-taje stated calmly. “As, I suspect, will your people, yes?”

“Yes,” Halek agreed, though he slanted a quick glance at Eruk. Mostly, they would.

“Then we shall begin. Your tribe has lived within the protection of the pantean for four turnings of the moon from full to full,” Djin-taje stated. “So far, your people have obeyed our rules and have continued to do so as each new one comes up, is explained, and expected to be obeyed. These are all good things. But I have seen restlessness among your people. Some are wondering if they should leave these . . . wadijt,” she continued, using the local term, “before the rains come.”

“My people are wisely afraid of sudden floods, Djin-taje-ul,” Halek told her. “There is only so much the animadjet can do in the face of a lot of water rushing down a narrow ravine under normal circumstances. But with your people here, soaking up all the anima as soon as it is formed, it will be nearly impossible to protect everyone from the floods of the season of high rains.”

“Parren came from a region of our land where the land is desert and where water is both coveted and feared,” Éfan told him. It was the first any of these Fae had mentioned of their backgrounds. Halek had to bite his tongue to keep from asking more. “She studied with her teachers to know how the flow of water can cross, flood, soak into, and shape various kinds of land. She has carefully sculpted the terrain throughout this region so that floodwaters will be diverted to reservoirs—large pools where the sediments can settle and, in the dry season, when the water is low, be scraped out to use as gardening soil.

“From there, it will flow into cisterns where the water settles even more, leaving the upper layers silt free and clear for drinking. She will also watch carefully, as will Kaife, to reshape any places that run the risk of flooding when it does rain. We will not let your people or your new homes drown,” the Fae animadj promised.

“Boiling water before drinking is still recommended,” Djin-taje added lightly. “We told you of the tiny, tiny animal things in the water, smaller than the smallest gnat or flea, which can cause illness.”

Zudu nodded. “We remember. We like to boil certain herbs in our water to flavor it, in colder days. There was a bush in the foothills not too far from where we lived that had a slightly bitter but otherwise refreshing flavor when the leaves were steeped in hot water. There are others one can brew as well, even if they aren't as refreshing.”

“That does bring up the problem of growing food,” Tulan offered. She had tied her curly black hair into three bunches, and tugged a little self-consciously on one of the spirals when everyone looked at her. “We don't know how you are growing yours, but for us, we want to expand the herds, as there won't be enough to hunt to sustain us. But while there is some good grazing even now, at the end of high summer, it has had no water supply for the last month, and to get enough milk for cheese curdling, you can't make the animals walk a selijm a day, half there and half back. Two full selijm if one is coming from the far side of the pasturing lands. That's two hours a day of walking, and not of milk making.”

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