By Sharon Shinn
Ace Books Copyright © 2004 Sharon Shinn
All right reserved. ISBN: 0441011462
Susannah lay in the tent alone, dreaming.
It was the same dream, the one she had had since she was so young she could not remember her age. She was in an immense place of light and hushed mystery, with unexpected gleams of silver and strange, sparkling tapestries laid against the walls. She floated through this space like a sea creature moving effortlessly through the suspended weeds and reefs of her domain, inhabiting an alien element but feeling perfectly at ease. She lifted a hand to touch one of the glittering patterns hung before her, but her fingers felt nothing but a glass coolness. In her dream, she put her fingers to her cheek, and it was just as cool, as porcelain, as unreal.
This time, the voice accompanied her as she walked through her magical realm. "Susannah," it said in its deep, unearthly tone, and then it spoke unintelligible words. She nodded and smiled and continued on her tour of the white-and-silver room. She could tell that the owner of the voice liked her, was welcoming her to this place. She just could not tell what it was he wanted her to understand. Sometimes he talked to her for hours as she wandered through her dream; sometimes he just spoke her name once, then let her move about in silence. Although he always addressed her by name, he never supplied his own, and never, while she slept, did she ask it. It was only after she woke that she would wonder why she never thought to extend the courtesies that, in her waking life, she would extend to any stranger who invited her into his home.
Sometimes he left off his incomprehensible speech and addressed her in sentences that made absolute sense, and then she would converse with him as she would with any friend. Today was such a day.
"Susannah," he said.
"I am here," she replied.
"It is almost time for you to leave the Edori," he said.
"No, my friend. I will travel always with my tribe."
"You will travel farther than you know."
"I do not mind the travel," she said. "But I like to always return to the place I know."
"And the people you know," he said.
"My people are my place," she said.
"Your people, and your place, are about to change."
She smiled at him. "No, my friend," she said. "For I am not a changeable woman."
"Susannah," he said again, but his voice had changed, had grown smaller and thinner and more insistent. "Susannah."
And then that white space tilted under her, and the world spun a quarter of a turn, and she opened her eyes to find herself being shaken by the shoulder.
"Susannah," the young, thin voice repeated. "Are you going to sleep forever? It's time to be waking up."
She blinked a few times, trying to readjust her mind to reality. She had been so deep inside her dream that she felt she was climbing from a dark, narrow cavern onto a hillside of much light and wind, so that she was having a hard time keeping her balance. She put a hand up to shield her eyes, though the light filtering in from the open hole at the top of the tent was scarcely strong enough to hurt her eyes.
"Amram?" she said in a questioning voice, though she knew perfectly well who was beside her. "Is something wrong?"
"No, nothing is wrong, it is just that you have been sleeping so long and I wanted you to wake up."
Thus the purely selfish and unself-conscious reasoning of her lover's sister's son, who was ten years old and had not seemed to realize yet that people might have emotions and needs and experiences that did not relate to him.
"Well, I am awake now, but it will not do you much good, since I do not intend to get up," Susannah said cheerfully. She resettled herself into a slightly more comfortable position on her pallet and smiled up at the boy. Like his mother, Tirza, and his uncle, Dathan, he was dark-skinned and dark-haired and dark-eyed, a true Edori of absolutely unmixed blood. He was also frowning.
"But I want you to get up," he said. "You were going to go berry-picking with me today."
"I still may. Or I may do it tomorrow."
"But you promised me!"
Susannah yawned and tucked her hands under her cheek. "I do not recall any promising," she said. "And to be quite honest, I don't feel much like going berry-picking or doing anything with someone who won't let me sleep."
He sat back on his heels, a look of mutinous disbelief tightening all his fine features. "But then-you mean-you're not going to get up? And even if you got up, you wouldn't go with me?"
She yawned again, this time covering her mouth with her hand because the yawn was so big. "Not today," she said, closing her eyes and snuggling more deeply into her sleeping roll. "Maybe tomorrow, if you don't disturb my rest."
"But that's not fair!" he exclaimed.
A shadow darkened the tent door; she could feel it even through her closed lids. "You. Out. Go trouble somebody else," she heard Dathan's voice say. She smiled but did not open her eyes as Amram whined again about the injustice of the world, and Dathan repeated his commands, and the two of them changed places. Once Amram was outside and Dathan was inside, the light against her eyelids grew subtly darker, as Dathan tied shut the tent door. She felt him moving through the scattered pallets to come stand beside hers, and then he lowered himself slowly next to her on the ground.
"You're not really asleep, are you?" he whispered. "This late in the morning?"
She did not open her eyes, but she could not repress her smile. "Well, I was, until Amram so rudely shook me from my dream. Why, how late is it?"
He pulled up the blankets covering her, brought his body in next to hers, and let the blankets fall over both of them. Instantly, the heat of his body flushed every inch of her skin; he was as warm as a fire, and just as beautiful. "Late," he told her. "Everyone has had their morning meal, and Claudia has gone off to the river for water for the second time. Bartholomew is trying to get a group together to go into Luminaux tomorrow, so everyone is counting their coppers and debating what they might have to barter. Very busy it is in the camp this morning."
Susannah shifted so that Dathan could slip his arm under her shoulder and draw her closer. She loved the feel of his hands, one in her hair, one pressing against her back. She loved the scent of his skin, newly washed this morning in the ice-cold river but smelling of Dathan still for all that. She loved the silken fall of his long black hair across her cheek. She still had not opened her eyes.
"I'm not hungry," she said. "No reason to get up for a meal. And I can go to the river later to bathe and wash out yesterday's clothes. And I have nothing to barter in Luminaux, so I've no need to get up and start looking through my bundles."
"So you're just going to stay in the tent all day, sleeping?" Dathan asked. His face was so close he merely had to lean in a little to kiss her on the corner of her mouth.
She smiled, squeezing her eyes shut even tighter. "I might stay in the tent all day," she murmured, "but I do not mind if I am not sleeping."
* * *
No one bothered them for the next couple of hours, as they lay entwined on the sleeping pallet and played at love. Every one of the six tents in their camp was communal, and seven slept in their tent most nights. Privacy was a thing they had to work into the day-but they never had trouble finding time for each other. None of the Edori did. It was an understood thing that a man and a woman would need time alone together; and if a couple had sought out that time, well, others were ready to take up their responsibilities for a few hours. There were other elders to watch the children, other hands to tend the fires. There was no need to rush. Time was plentiful and the seasons were slow. This was one of the many joys Yovah had given them, the love of one for another, and it was a joy to be savored.
Even so, Susannah had not thought to fall back asleep in Dathan's arms and so still be lying in the tent when the noon hour spiked its golden head into the bright blue of the summer sky. Laughter woke her this time, laughter coming from the other side of the tent walls, and she recognized Tirza's sweet voice.
"Not a sound from them for hours," she said cheerfully. "I don't want to go in and check on them, but perhaps I could pull down the center pole and have the whole tent collapse. That might bring them out in a hurry."
"I shall have to tell Adam how long they have lain together," Claudia said with an amused voice. "Perhaps he will try to prove to me that he, too, can lie abed for an entire morning. Even if we are only sleeping, I think I would enjoy such a day!"
Now Susannah did open her eyes, blushing in the half-dark of the tent. Dathan was still deeply asleep, so she kissed him on his rough cheek and came to her feet, careful not to disturb him. She changed quickly into day clothes-not particularly clean ones, as she intended to change again as soon as she had bathed in the river-and stepped outside.
"Well! Look who has woken up!" Tirza exclaimed with exaggerated surprise. "I thought perhaps you had drifted off to the arms of Yovah and we might never see you walking among us again."
Susannah smiled. "And I'm sure that would be delightful, too, but I have spent my last hour or so far more pleasurably," she said audaciously. The other two women laughed, and Claudia came forward to lay her hand on Susannah's belly.
"Still much too nice and flat," she said. "What are you waiting for? It's too long since the tribe had a little one."
"She is waiting for Dathan to be a little less reckless, which means she'll never have a baby," Tirza said. "But I think maybe she'll tame him. He is so settled around this Tachita girl! I never thought to see my brother so calm."
Susannah made a face. "Settled! Calm! I don't think those are the words I would ever use for Dathan. No, and who would want a lover like that? You make him sound like an old man."
"Dathan will not be an old man even when he is an old man," Claudia said dryly. "But someday you may see the advantages of stability over charm." Claudia was at least fifty years old, more than twice the age of Susannah and Tirza, and often she made similar dreary predictions based on her own years of experience. Tirza and Susannah exchanged glances, then burst out laughing. Claudia smiled with them and raised a hand in a casual benediction.
"Yes, you will, and I won't be around to remind you of it," Claudia said. "You'll be settled around the fire, thanking the god for your good man who remembers to hunt when he says he will and who is always there to strike the tent, and you'll say to yourself, 'Claudia was right, as she was about so many things. This is the kind of man to have after all.'"
"Well, Eleazar always remembers to hunt and he is always there to help me when I need him," Tirza said. "And when Amram was born? You could not have found a better father. I thought I would have to steal the baby while he was sleeping and find another tent, that's how much Eleazar wanted to hold his son."
Claudia leapt in with her own story about a past lover and his virtues. Susannah did not pay much attention, though she kept a pleasant smile on her face. Claudia and the other older women of the Lohora tribe seemed very quick to point out Dathan's faults to Susannah, faults that she would have been a fool not to have noticed for herself and faults that she did not care about one bit. Yes, it was true, Dathan could be lazy-and there were days when he simply could not be inspired to help with the packing or the cooking or the washing, whatever the chore was-and he had forgotten, at last year's Gathering, that he had arrived with Susannah and owed her the courtesy of not flirting with women from other tribes, at least while she could see him.
But, sweet loving Yovah, Dathan was magnificent. The handsomest of all the Edori men, the most charming, the sweetest tempered, the most loving. Anytime he stepped into view, from an absence long or short, Susannah felt her heart speed up and an involuntary smile reshape the pattern of her lips. His laughter could brighten the most miserable day, a sullen word from him could throw her into despair. He had been her world for four years, since the first Gathering at which he had noticed her and come to sit with the Tachita tribe for two days while he wooed her in the most obvious fashion imaginable. He had written a song for them to sing together at the great bonfire, and he had drawn her aside, away from the clustered campfires, to practice its intricate harmonies and rhythms. He had not even tried to steal a kiss from her those first two days, and she had been in an agony of uncertainty, not sure if he was courting her or just being nice to the tall, serious young woman who was the sister of a new-made friend.
But when he had kissed her, that first time, then she knew.
She had not been prepared to follow him after that first Gathering-she was only twenty at the time, though some women left their parents' tents earlier than that to follow their lovers to their own tribes, and it was not her youth that had held her back. Her mother was sick, and her younger brother was afraid, and she could not bring herself to abandon her family at a time when it seemed so fragile. But she had wanted to. She had wanted to shed all responsibilities and trail after this dangerous and seductive man, and go where the Lohora tribe went, and call herself one of them, and love this man for the rest of her life.
She had not gone, and she had later come to approve of that hard-won decision. Her mother had died that fall, needing every minute of care her daughter could provide. Her father, so dependent on the woman he had lived with for thirty years and by whom he had had three children, seemed as lost as a blind man or a man stricken by dumbness, incapable of caring for himself. Susannah had been mother and sister and caretaker for her father and brothers. She had been so busy that she only had time to wonder, once or twice a day, what other serious women Dathan of the Lohoras might be charming into laughter while the months spiraled past.
But then the Tachita clan fell in with the Morosta tribe and traveled with them for two months, and Susannah's older brother went courting himself. Soon enough, he brought home a shy but smiling Morosta girl who slipped into their tent as easily and happily as if she had lived with them her whole life. She took over some of the cooking chores, she teased Susannah's father out of his grief, she played with the younger boy and made moon-eyes at the older. Susannah knew that, if tardy spring ever arrived again, if she lived long enough to attend another Gathering, and if the sweet-voiced Lohora man came wooing her again, she could now leave her father's tent guiltlessly and begin her life as an adult woman.
She had worried about it, though.
Excerpted from Angelica by Sharon Shinn Copyright © 2004 by Sharon Shinn.
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