Dtrink Out the Storm
Kel Boon did not like magic.Heknewall the arguments– it’s natural as breathing; Noreela gifted it to us; it’s the language of the land–but it was something he did not understand. And in his time serving the Core, things he did not understand had usually ended up terrifying him, at the very least. At the other extreme, they had tried to kill him. So he used magic, as much as anyone in Noreela used it, happily leaving its manipulation to the Practitioners. But he did not like it.
Strange, then, that his best friend and lover was a witch. Kel looked at his latest carving, sitting back and stretching the ache from his muscles. He’d been working on the piece for two moons, picking a moment here and there between commissions, or spending more time working on it when paid projects were sparse. He made a scant living selling his carvings; he could afford to eat, drink and keep a roof over his head. His craft would never make him rich, but he was fine with that. Rich meant visible.
Lately, he’d had plenty of time to work on this, his own very private sculpture. When it was ready, he’d give it to his love, Namior Feeron. It would be his gift to her on the day he proposed marriage.
It was good. Namior’s love of the cliff hawks that lived and hunted along the coast had meant that Kel’s choice of what to carve for her was easy, and the hawks’ own particular grace, charm and mystery made the task a pleasing one. He had completed the basic form and was now working on the detail, trying to capture the bird’s light elegance in the weight of wood. He’d chosen a hunk of wood from a young wellburr tree’s higher branches; light and solid, beautifully grained, still rich in natural oils. His climb to cut the branch had been an adventure in itself, and Namior had asked how he’d gained such bruises and grazes on his legs and stomach. He told her he’d been involved in a drunken scuffle at the Blue Ray Tavern. You fool, she’d said, already starting to kiss the bruises better.
Kel brushed wood dust from the hawk’s eyes, grunting in satisfaction. A good afternoon’s work. He stood and began tidying his worktable. A blanket went over the carving, just in case Namior called on him unexpectedly, and he oiled and sharpened each of the chisels, blades and files he’d been using. Then he wrapped them in greasecloth, rolled them together into their leather pouch and tucked them beneath the table. The wood shards he swept by hand into a bucket and threw onto the unlit fire. When burned, the wellburr wood would freshen his rooms and fill the air with an exotic, spicy smell.
He looked once again at the unfinished carving, given ghostly shape by the blanket. He imagined the blanket moving, the sculpture screaming like an attacking hawk, venting violence through every pore. Closing his eyes, he breathed deeply and listened to the first gust of wind outside. Something whistled behind him, and for a moment he thought it was the breeze finding its way beneath the door. But the thick curtains over his windows and door were still, the candles around the walls flickering only slightly, and he knew what was making the noise.
Namior called it a voice carrier. It was a machine. She’d insisted on him taking it, rebuffing his objections, because he lived at the top of Drakeman’s Hill, and she was sometimes too busy to climb all the way up there to see him.
Another breath of wind rattled the front door in its frame, and candlelight shivered in sympathy.
The machine whistled again.
“I’m coming,” Kel muttered, but he smiled. It would be good to hear Namior’s voice, and he hoped they could arrange to meet that evening.
Kel crossed the room to a curtained alcove in the corner, and behind the curtain sat the voice carrier. It glowed softly, emitting the whistle from tiny holes in its chalky shell, and it had risen a hand’s width from the shelf, floating in the air as though Namior’s intention made it lighter.
He reached out and touched the small machine, cringing at the slight warmth that bled through its exterior. It almost felt alive. As his fingertips made contact the whistling stopped, and he heard the expectant silence he was used to.
“Namior,” he said. She was cruel; she always waited for him to speak first.
“Kel the woodchopper.” Her voice came clear and sharp, almost as if she were in the room with him. From instinct he glanced around, just to make sure. And as usual, he was alone.
“How are those mad old witches you insist on living with?” he asked.
Kel was silent for a moment, eyes half- closing as he considered exactly what he’d said.
“I’m fooling,” Namior said.
“Wait until I see you,” he whispered.
Namior laughed. “You and which army, exactly? But Kel, my mother and great- grandmother sense a storm coming, and they think–”
“It’s uncanny, how they can sense a storm just by listening to the wind and seeing storm clouds boiling overhead.” He stepped sideways and pulled a curtain to one side, looking out over the rooftops of the village below. “And observing the white- crests out to sea.”
“A real storm, Kel!” Namior said. “A surger. High tide, big waves, heavy rain, like nothing you’ve ever seen since you’ve been here. Trakis and Mell want to go to the Dog’s Eyes, drink out the storm and defy nature. Will you come?”
“I’m a sculptor and a tortured artist. Do you really think I want to use bad weather as an excuse to drink?” He always felt it strange talking to a glowing, floating machine, so as usual he had his eyes closed as he spoke to Namior this way. And that helped him picture what she said next.
“Of course. Followed by my taking you to my rooms and examining your greatest sculpture.”
Kel smiled. “It needs oiling.”
“I’m up to the task, I think.”
Kel opened his eyes and looked around his rooms. The curtains at the door and windows were shifting now, candles dancing in excitement, and the wind and rain beat at the walls. “Sounds like the world’s ending out there,” he said.
“Well, you will live at the top of Drakeman’s Hill.”
Kel glanced back at the hawk he was carving for Namior, and once again tried to imagine her face when he revealed it to her at last. “You’re welcome to live with me up here.” Namior was silent for long enough for it to become uncomfortable. Training, Kel thought. Mother, great- grandmother . . . a whole family of witches.
“See you at the Dog’s?” he said at last.
“I look forward to it,” Namior said, and the machine stopped glowing and settled back down.
Kel closed the curtain on the voice carrier and stepped back, smiling. She might be good at avoiding certain questions, but Namior was also adept at saying exactly what she meant. I look forward to it, she had said. Five words that drove away the cold and made Kel feel warm all over.
He shrugged on a heavy coat, a scarf, and a hat made from furbat skin, and strapped a knife to his belt. Storms reminded him of that terrible night in Noreela City. With every blink he’d hear the screams and see the children dying, and if there was lightning, it would imprint those memories on his mind even more harshly. He’d once told Namior that he hated storms, though he could never tell her why, and she had laughed as she asked why he chose to live next to the sea. Same reason I fell in love with a witch when I don’t trust magic, he’d responded. I’m a man of contradictions. She had smiled as though he’d made a joke, but he often spent deep moments considering this, and thinking that he’d been hiding for so long that he no longer knew himself.
Pavmouth breaks was a fishing village on the western shores of Noreela. It was built on either side of the River Pav where it merged with the sea, extending up the slopes of the valley on both sides: a gentle rise to the north, with a slow fall to the sea; and a steeper rise to the south known as Drakeman’s Hill, ending with a sheer cliff into the sea on that side. The harbor was natural, enclosed and expanded centuries before with a long, curving stone mole projecting out into the sea. The river was spanned by bridges in two places. The first, oldest stone bridge stood closest to the sea at the harbor throat, while a mile upriver was the newest crossing known as Helio Bridge–a hundred steps high and half a mile across, spanning between the sides of the steepening valley inland.
Namior Feeron lived in the northern part of the village, her family home perched on the shallow hillside and built so that it had views both out to sea and across the narrow river mouth to the south. From Namior’s room on the roof she could see far up Drakeman’s Hill, though Kel Boon’s rooms were hidden from view by other buildings. Still, she liked to sit at her window sometimes and imagine him descending the steep paths and steps to reach her.
She’d climb, but that sometimes seemed too eager. Eager sends them away, her mother told her, and she should know; Namior’s father had sailed west with nine others two moons after her birth, never to be seen again. Give them a chase, her mother would say. And sometimes, give them a catch. Namior stared out at the darkening, rainswept village, feeling violence in the air of the storm yet to come, and she knew that tonight she would be happy giving Kel several catches.
Her mother and great- grandmother were in the main downstairs room, gathered about the groundstone, still scrying to see whether they could assess the coming storm more accurately. They’d excused Namior when her nose started to bleed–she still had much to learn about magic and its gentle, deep manipulations–and her mother knew that soon she would be going out. I’ll take care, she had told her, and her great- grandmother, blind in one eye and deaf in one ear, had said in one of her less troubled, saner moments, Find a secret each day, and in a few years you may know him. Namior knew that her great- grandmother did not approve of Kel Boon. Eyes the color of blood, she had once complained. But like all witches in the Feeron family, past and present, Namior was blessed with freedom and gifted with choice.
A machine drifted up the narrow path below her window, reaching out jointed metallic arms to relight oil lanterns that had gone out and turn up their flames. She saw rain patter down in a hundred spots across its gray- stone hood, and it sped up as though to escape the downpour.
She should dress. Kel would not be down for a while, but she’d like to be at the Dog’s Eyes before him. Trakis and Mell would be there already, downing Neak’s stormy brews and debating whether to spend some of their hard- earned on the Ventgorian wines he kept in his cellar. A storm like this one seemed to raise the village’s blood; partly excitement and partly, she suspected, the idea that they were defying nature. The sea would rise, the rain would fall and the wind would blow, but Pavmouth Breaks clung to the coast, boldly facing the tempest and waiting for morning to arrive.
She frowned, remembering her great- grandmother’s sickness that afternoon. Her mother had administered ceyrat root, but it had perturbed them, and set a chill in the air that Namior had still not shaken. The old woman was subject to periods of madness–she called them her crazes–brought on by age and the stew that time made of the brain, and such a sickness was usually the beginning. She’s just old and ill, she thought. Bad meat for supper yesterday. Too much scrying. A blast of wind gusted in from the west, and Pavmouth Breaks seemed to shudder beneath its force. Namior stood and moved back from the window. The glass flexed slightly, distorting the village and warping her own reflection so that she looked to be in pain. She turned away and went to wash and dress.
Namiore descended the twisting staircase at the heart of the house. She’d changed from her loose witch’s robe to a pair of tight canvas trousers, soft sheebok- wool shirt and a long leather coat, and she felt ready for the night. She could still hear her mother’s voice chanting softly as she sat by the groundstone, and she slowed to listen to the words. There was something not quite right, and it took Namior a dozen heartbeats to figure out what that was: her great- grandmother was silent.
“Namior,” her mother whispered. “Come down; come in.” Namior descended the last few stairs, not surprised that her mother had been aware of her presence. The two women had sat around the groundstone for most of the day, her mother touching surfaces smoothed by hands for decades, gathering strength from the land’s magic and using that strength to try to discern things yet to happen. Namior’s senses still felt heightened from the time she had spent with them. Noises rang inside her head, and she could smell the anger of the sea.
Her great- grandmother sat across the room from her, huddled down in a mass of blankets. She twitched and mumbled in her sleep.
“Sit,” her mother said, patting the floor cushions beside her. Namior sat cross- legged and lowered her head, paying respect to the groundstone.
“Storm’s getting harsher,” Namior said.
“Yes. There’s something . . .” Her mother shook her head, setting her many earrings jangling.
Her mother nodded. “A blank spot in the storm. There are waves and rain, breakers smashing the shore, and a waterspout farther along the coast that may touch land.”
“I saw most of that, too,” Namior said, and she felt a brief flush of pride in her expanding abilities. They exhausted her–if it were not for the lure of Kel, she would be happy staying in and sleeping for the evening and night–but they also excited her. Her mother and great- grandmother knew that, and they encouraged it, though the older woman was always the one to urge caution. Life’s too short to rush, was one of her favorite sayings, and it had taken Namior a long time to see the sense in that. Life was short, so she needed to do things right.
“And we should have seen more,” her mother said.
“There’s something missing. A weight. Something out to sea.”
“A weight of what?”
Her mother frowned, staring at the groundstone. “I’m not sure.” Then she smiled. “Probably just the storm stirring the magic. It happens sometimes, especially when there’s lightning.” Namior looked at the groundstone–as high as her chest, planted deep in the family home generations before, polished and smoothed by centuries of her ancestors’ contact–and she almost reached out again. But there was still a gentle throb behind her face, and her nose prickled at the thought of communing with the land’s magic again that evening. A dribble of blood ran down to her top lip.
Her great- grandmother shuddered awake and looked up.
“No more for you tonight, Namior,” she said, her voice weak and tremulous.
Namior nodded, dabbing the blood away.
“Don’t go too far,” her mother said, leaning in close enough to kiss her daughter’s cheek.
“Only the Dog’s Eyes,” Namior said. “Kel is coming down.”
“There’ll be damage to clear up in the morning. Stay in the heights, away from the harbor.”
“I will.” Namior was becoming unsettled by her mother’s concern. “You know I can look after myself.”
The woman nodded and smiled, but her eyes were still clouded by whatever was missing. Namior could hear it in her voice, and she was unused to the sound of fear. “You’re a good girl,” her mother said. “And you’re growing to be a great witch.”
“I’ll be away,” Namior said, smiling, then glancing pointedly at her great- grandmother. “Don’t forget you both need sleep!”
She felt them watching her as she left the main room and stood in the hallway behind the front door. Closing the hall door was almost a relief. Alone again, listening to the wind batter the door in its frame, hearing the whistle of a machine rumbling by, she cast her mind back to her own visions from that afternoon. She had sensed a storm coming, as had they all. She had seen the waves and rain, boats swaying and bobbing in the upset harbor, and cloaked shapes pushing against the wind as they navigated the dark streets, steps and winding paths of Pavmouth Breaks. She had not been aware of any absence; no void where there should be something; nothing to disturb.
She sighed, hoping that her great- grandmother would not descend into one of her crazes.
“I’m still young,” she whispered. She touched the stone charm that hung around her neck–a shard from the same rock that had gone to make her family’s groundstone–and breathed in the energy it gave her. “Still young, and I trust their word.”
Vowing to be careful, she pulled the door open and went out into the storm.