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The sun had not been up long enough to burn off the cold dampness of morning when Teray and Iray left their dormitory room at Redhill School for the last time.
Iray was all eagerness and apprehension and her emotions were contagious. Teray had resigned himself to being caught up in them. The act of leaving the school together not only reinforced their status as adults, but made them husband and wife. Teray had waited four wearisome years for the chance to leave safely and begin working toward his dream of founding his own House.
Now, with Iray, he walked toward the main gate. There was no ceremony—not for their leaving school, nor for their marriage. Only two people paid any attention to their going. Teray sensed them both inside one of the dormitories, a Patternist girl who had been Iray's friend and a middle-aged mute woman. They stood together at a dormitory window, looking down at Iray. The friend kept her feelings to herself, but the mute radiated such a mixture of sadness and excitement that Teray knew she and Iray must have been close.
Iray was too full of her own emotions to be aware of the pair. Teray flashed her a brief mental image and she reached back, contrite, to say her good-byes.
He sent back no parting thoughts of his own. He had had nothing to do with mutes for years. His maturing mental strength had made him too dangerous to them. For their sakes, he maintained only an impersonal master-servant relationship with them. And he had made few friends among his teachers and fellow students. They too were wary of his strength. He had been a power at the school, but except for Iray he had been much alone.
Outside the main gate, he and Iray met the two men who had been waiting for them. The older man was of medium height and hard, square build, a man of obvious physical strength. The younger man was built more like Teray—tall and lean. He was probably no older than Teray.
Joachim! Teray's thought went out to the older man. I didn't expect you to come yourself.
The man smiled faintly and spoke aloud: "It isn't often that I take on such a promising apprentice. I wouldn't want anything to happen to you on your way to my House."
Teray transmitted surprise: There's been trouble, then? Who was raided?
"Coransee. And vocalize. I'm spreading my perception as widely as I can just in case the raiders are still in the area."
"Coransee?" said Teray obediently. "So close inside the sector?"
"And the most powerful one of us." The man with Joachim spoke for the first time. "The raiders killed two of his outsiders and kidnaped a mute."
"I hope to heaven they killed the mute too," said Joachim. "Killed him quickly, I mean."
Teray nodded, sharing the hope. Mutes who were not tortured to death and who did not die of the Clayark disease became the worst of their former-masters' enemies. "You think there are still Clayarks inside the sector?" he asked Joachim.
"Yes. That's why I brought Jer along." Joachim gestured toward his companion. "He's one of my strongest outsiders."
Teray glanced at Jer with interest, wondering how the man's strength measured up against his own. Through the Pattern, Teray had already sensed that Jer was strong. But how strong? It was not possible to make a definite determination guided only by the Pattern. No doubt Joachim knew, though. He had probably tested Jer as thoroughly as he had tested Teray. And after the testing, he had made Jer an outsider and accepted Teray as an apprentice.
Iray's voice brought Teray out of his thoughts. "But, Joachim, with both you and Jer here, won't your House be in danger?"
Joachim glanced at her, his grim expression softening. "Not likely. The Clayarks know my reputation. We're all linked in my House. My lead wife can draw strength from everyone in the House for defense. If the Clayarks attack one of my people, the rest know, and they all respond. The Clayarks wouldn't risk attacking them with less than an army, and I don't think they've managed to smuggle an army into the sector."
"We'd have more dead than the larger Houses," said Jer, "because we don't have their strength. But their people fight as individuals, and we fight as one. Their people always miss some Clayarks and let them escape. We kill them all."
Teray noticed the pride in the man's voice and wondered how Joachim could inspire pride even in an outsider. But then, Teray's attitude toward outsider status was, he knew, colored by his desire never to occupy it. It was a permanently inferior servant position. The best that an outsider could hope for was to find a Housemaster like Joachim whom he could respect and serve with some semblance of pride. The worst he could get was slavery.
The horses waited for them a few steps away in a grove of trees, and Teray noticed that Iray walked the distance beside Joachim. She, who only a few moments before had been so excited about leaving the school with Teray. True, she had known Joachim before she met Teray. The Housemaster had been her second when she made the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood and membership in the Pattern. She would probably have gone into his House as one of his wives if she had not met Teray. Now Teray watched them together with suspicion. He would spend at least two years with Joachim, learning preparing to begin his own House. If only he did not lose his wife in the process.
He came up beside Iray as they reached the horses. He touched her mind lightly with a one-word reminder carefully screened from Joachim and Jer: Wife!
His caution was lost on her. She seized his thought carelessly like a happy child and magnified it to a mental shout. To it, she added enthusiastically, Husband!
A proclamation. Joachim and Jer could hardly have missed it. He could feel their amusement as keenly as he could feel his own embarrassment. But at least she had told him what he wanted to know. And, fortunately, she had completely missed his meaning. Of course there was a bond between Iray and Joachim. But it was no more than the bond between any man and a woman he had seconded. Affection. No more.
He cast around for a way to end the silence and focus Joachim's and Jer's attention elsewhere. It was then that he noticed the horse that Joachim had mounted. It was a show horse, of course, as were the three others. They were all as carefully bred and trained as most mutes. They were part of a project that Joachim had undertaken more for enjoyment than profit. But the one Joachim rode was something special.
"Joachim, your horse ..."
The Housemaster smiled. "I wondered when Iray would let you notice."
Teray let his curiosity be felt partly because he was actually curious, and partly in relief that Joachim too was ignorant of his foolish jealousy. But the horse ... "You have no mental controls on it at all?"
"None," said Joachim.
Gingerly, Teray felt the stallion out. Gingerly because animals, like mutes, were easily injured, easily killed. And too, uncontrolled animals unconsciously hit intruding Patternist minds with any emotions they felt. Especially violent emotions. But Teray received only calm from the horse. Unusual calm.
"An experiment of mine," said Joachim. "This horse doesn't need to be controlled any more than the average mute. In fact, you program it like a mute. And once it's programmed, the Clayarks could fire a cannon next to it and the programming would hold. You wouldn't have to waste time controlling the horse when you should be giving all your attention to the Clayarks." Joachim grinned. "I'll tell you more about it when we get home."
Teray nodded. Home. Joachim could not know how good that word sounded. The school had been Teray's home for far too long. He had made his transition to adulthood nearly four years before. Even then, there had been little more that the teachers could teach him. But he had stayed, learning what he could about his abilities on his own, getting occasional help from a visiting Housemaster, waiting and hoping for a Housemaster who would accept him as an apprentice.
Several had offered to take him on as an outsider. If he had not still been under the protection of the school, some of them might have been tempted to take him by force. Doubtless that would be possible now, while he was still young and unskilled. And if they took him now, they could prevent him from learning the skills that might make him a danger to them. But no one wanted to risk accepting him as an apprentice. An outsider was a permanent inferior. An apprentice was a potential superior. An apprentice was the young colt hanging around the edges of the herd, biding his time until he could kill off the old herd stallion and take over. Or at least that was the way the Housemasters he had met seemed to feel.
It was much to Joachim's credit that he had not been afraid. In fact, when Iray had introduced Teray to Joachim, the Housemaster had mentioned the possibility of an apprenticeship before Teray even thought it wise to bring up the matter. It took a confident, powerful Housemaster to accept an apprentice with Teray's potential. But Joachim had had the necessary confidence and power, and now, finally, Teray was going home.
Joachim had taken a lead position with Jer. Now he called back, "We're going to have to stop at Coransee's House first. He wants to see me—probably to get me to help him with his Clayark problem."
Iray caught her breath sharply. "To visit Coransee! Joachim, is he your friend? So powerful a lord." She was a child about half the time.
There was a pause before Joachim answered, then, "I know him." He sounded almost bitter. "We're not friends, but I know him."
As the strongest Housemaster in the sector, Coransee was a kind of unofficial local leader. That made him a celebrity to people like Iray. Teray had heard him spoken of with admiration and envy, but never with bitterness. But then, Teray had been shut away in the school and people were careful what they said before schoolchildren. Well, he was out of school now. It would be best for him to know something more about the Housemaster he was about to visit. "Joachim?" he called.
Joachim dropped back to ride beside Teray, leaving Jer to lead. You'd better make it "Lord Joachim," Teray. For the rest of the day. And definitely "Lord Coransee." He values formality.
Teray accepted this with interest. It was the first nonvocal communication he had had with Joachim this morning, and it was nonvocal only to emphasize its seriousness. It was an order, and a warning.
Joachim went on and Teray realized that he was reaching Iray too. Be introduced to him with Jer and me, then drift away among his women and outsiders.
"Joachim, what is it?" Iray asked.
Joachim looked at her silently, until she corrected herself.
"Sector politics," Joachim said aloud. "Nothing more." And he again took his place beside Jer.
Teray watched him, wondering at his sudden reticence. Now Teray had more questions than ever. But Joachim's silence was a closed one. It did not invite questions.
By midday they had reached Coransee's House. It was a four-story mansion, columned, ancient, ornate, surrounded by well-landscaped grounds and flanked by outbuildings. It had been built on a hill and was visible for miles. Teray could see why it was the envy of many lesser lords, and why Coransee had risked fighting a duel for it several years before. To get it, he had had to kill a powerful woman who had held it for over two decades. In school, Teray had seen pictures of ancient palaces that were probably smaller. Teray gazed out over Coransee's land, seeing the side pastures and the grazing horses and cattle. Coransee supplied the sector with most of its meat and its riding animals. The small herd that Joachim kept had never been more than a hobby.
Two mutes hurried from one of the outbuildings to greet the four newcomers politely and take their horses. As Joachim led the way to the House, he warned Teray and Iray once more:
"Both of you remember what I told you. Take up with a woman, an outsider, even a mute, and get out of the way fast. I'll make it as easy as I can for you."
Teray nodded and Joachim led them inside.
There were several women and outsiders seated and standing near the fireplace of the huge common room in which Teray found himself. Before Teray could decide what they were doing, one of them sent the informing thought, He knows you're here. He's coming.
Joachim acknowledged with thanks and sat down. The others followed his example. Their wait was not long.
The atmosphere of the room changed, grew tense as Coransee entered. The Housemaster radiated power in the way of a man not only confident but arrogant. A man who meant for people to stand in awe of him. A man Teray disliked instantly The Pattern told Teray that he and Coransee were temperamentally incompatible. They could be said to be far apart in the Pattern. The reason for the distance might have been great temperamental dissimilarity, or dangerous similarity—similar inclinations toward dishonesty or greed, for instance. Whatever it was, it separated Teray and Coransee definitely, thoroughly.
The four visitors stood up as the Housemaster entered. Coransee was a big man, tall, well-muscled, but without the heavy, stocky look of Joachim. Teray found himself staring at Coransee's long cold face with a feeling that disturbed him because it was gone before he could recognize it. It took him a moment to realize that Coransee was looking at him in the same way. But Coransee was slower to cover his reaction. Teray had time to wonder whether what he had seen in the Housemaster's eyes, and for an instant in his thoughts, was recognition. But whatever it was, it faded quickly into puzzlement. Then Coransee's shield snapped into place and Teray got nothing more. Reflexively, Teray shielded his own thoughts but behind his shield he continued to wonder.
Suddenly, as though in attack, Coransee drove his massive mental strength hard against Teray's shield. He meant to break through it. There was no doubt of that. He had apparently seen something in Teray's thoughts that caught his attention. He wanted another look, he did not get it; Teray's shield held firm. Before Teray could respond to the unprovoked attack. Joachim spoke up angrily.
"Coransee! My apprentice is a guest in your House. He's given you no offense. What's the matter with you?"
For a moment Coransee stared at him in cold anger, stared at him as though he was an unwelcome intruder breaking into a private conversation. "Nothing is the matter," he said finally. "Your apprentice is a very able young man. I think I may have seen him before—perhaps in one of my visits to the school."
Joachim gave Teray no time to deny this. "You may have," he said. "Although I can't see why that would be reason for you to attack him now." Joachim took a deep breath, calmed himself. "His name is Teray. This is his wife Iray, and my outsider Jer."
Coransee nodded, acknowledging all three introductions at once. But his attention had fastened on Teray.
"Teray," he repeated, drawing the word out thoughtfully. "How did you happen to choose a name ending in 'ray,' boy?"
The "boy" rankled, but Teray pretended to ignore it. "I'm told that I'm one of the sons of Patternmaster Rayal," he answered. His name had attracted attention before but he had fought for it and won the right to keep it while still in school.
"Rayal?" Coransee raised an eyebrow. "Rayal's children must number in the hundreds by now. But you're the first I've found who thought himself worthy to take his father's name."
Teray shrugged. "An adult is free to take any name. I chose to share my father's."
"And cause your wife to share it too, I see."
"No, Lord. She came to me freely and chose her own name."
"Did she." Coransee's attention seemed to wander. He had relaxed slightly, thinning his total shield down to a more comfortable heavy screen. For a moment, something flickered so close to the surface of his thoughts that Teray almost had it. He could have had it if he had dared to be obvious about his probing. But he let it pass. Abruptly, Coransee changed the subject.
"Joachim, I have an artist for you."
The sudden switch obviously surprised Joachim as much as it did Teray. But Joachim was cautiously enthusiastic. "An artist? I've been around the sector looking for a good one to work with some of my outsiders."
"I know." For the first time, Coransee smiled. "And this one is special. Sensitive. Fantastically sensitive."
Excerpted from Patternmaster by Octavia E. Butler. Copyright © 1976 Octavia E. Butler. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted March 23, 2014
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