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After the skirmish, two Endwives found him lying in the darkness next to the great silver egg. It took them only a moment to discover that he was neither male nor female; somewhat longer to decide whether he was alive or dead. Alive, said one; the other wasn't sure for how long; anyway, they took him up on their rude stretcher and walked with him nearly a mile to where a station of theirs had been set up a week before when the fighting had started; there they laid him out.
They had thought to patch him up however they could in the usual way, but when they began working they found that he was missing more than sex. Parts of him seemed made of something other than flesh, and from the wound at the back of his head the blood that flowed seemed viscous, like oil. When the older of the two caught a bit of it on a glass, and held it close to the lamplight, she gasped: it was alive it flowed in tiny swirls ever, like oil in alcohol, but finer, blue within crimson. She showed her sister. They sat down then, unsure, looking at the figure on the pallet; ghastly pale he was in the lamplight and all hairless. They weren't afraid; they had seen too much horror to fear anything. But they were unsure.
All night they watched him by lamplight. Toward dawn he began to move slightly, make sounds. Then spasms, violent, though he seemed in no pain it was as though puppet strings pulled him. They cushioned his white damaged head; one held his thrashing arms while the other prepared a calming drug. When she had it ready, though, they paused, looking at each other, not knowing whateffect this most trusted of all their secrets might have. Finally, one shrugging and the other with lips pursed, they forced some between his tightclosed teeth.
Well, he was a man to this extent; in minutes he lay quiet, breathing regularly. They inspected, gingerly and almost with repulsion, the wound in his head; it had already begun to pucker closed, and bled no more. They decided there was little they could do but wait. They stood over him a moment; then the older signaled, and they stepped out of the sod hut that was their station into the growing dawn.
The great gray heath they walked on was called the Drumskin. Their footsteps made no sound on it, but when the herds of horses pastured there rode hard, the air filled with a long hum like some distant thunder, a hum that could be heard Inward all the way to the gentle folded farmland called the Downs, all the way outward to the bleak stone piles along the Drumsedge, outposts like Old Watcher that they could see when the road reached the top of a rise, a dim scar on the flat horizon far away.
They heard, dimly, that thunder as they stood at the top of the rise, their brown skirts plucked at by wind. They looked down into the gray grass bottom that last night's struggle had covered, a wide depression in the Drumskin that everywhere was pocketed with such hiding-places. This pocket held now four dead men or women; the burying spades of the Endwives, left last night; and an egg made of some dull silver, as high as a man, seemingly solid.
"What," said the younger then, "if no one knows of him but us?"
"We must tell his comrades, whichever they be, that we have him. It's the Way. We must tell the comrades of any survivor that he lives. And only his comrades."
"And how are we to know which if either were his comrades? I don't think either were."
The old one thought.
"Maybe," said the younger, "we should tell both."
"One side would probably gain an advantage, and the other probably not. The Protector Redhand might arrest him, and the just be disadvantaged. The Just might kill him, and the Protector be disadvantaged. Worse: there might be a battle waged over him, that we would be the cause of."
"It's happened. That Endwives not taking care which side might be advantaged have caused death. It's happened. To our shame."
The other was silent. She looked up to where the Morning Star shone steadily. The home of the borning, as the Evening Star was of the dead.
"Perhaps he won't last the day," she said.
They called him Visitor. His strange wound healed quickly, but the two sisters decided that his brain must have been damaged. He spoke rarely, and when he did, in strange nonsense syllables. He listened carefully to everything said to him, but understood nothing. He seemed neither surprised nor impatient nor grateful about his circumstances; he ate when he was given food and slept when they slept.
The week had been quiet. After the battle into which the Visitor had intruded, the Just returned to the Nowhere they could disappear to, and the Protector's men returned to the farms and the horsegatherings, to other battles in the Protector's name. None had passed for several days except peatcutters from the Downs.
Toward the close of a clear, cold day, the elder Endwife, Ser, made her slow circular way home across the Drumskin. In her wide basket were ten or so boxes and jars, and ever she knelt where her roving eye saw in the tangle of gray grass an herb or sprout of something useful. She'd pluck it, crush and sniff it, choose with pursed lips a jar for it. When it had grown too dark to see them any more, she was near home; yellow lamplight poured from the open door. She straightened her stiff back and saw the stars and planets already ashine; whispered a prayer and covered her jars from the Evening Star, just in case.
Otherwise. Copyright © by John Crowley. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.