Beyond the Gyre [Song of the Arkafina #4]

Beyond the Gyre [Song of the Arkafina #4]

by Suzanne Francis

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Overview

The island of Asaruthe has sheltered the Dawnmaid, Myriadne, for the past sixteen years, but Yr has fallen prey to a deadly plague, and it is clear she must leave soon. Katkin du Chesne and her daughter Poppy travel with Myriadne and help her free the Firaithi from Maggrai's diabolical laboratory in the former Infirmarie on Isle St. Valery.

Meanwhile, Gunnar Strong Arm's twin sons, Jakob and Lut, are feuding with each other. When Jakob carelessly gap shifts, he leaves a trail that Maggrai's minions can follow back to Asaruthe. The death and havoc they wreak will send Lut on a mission of vengeance against Maggrai -- and his brother, Jakob.

In the final battle, the Dawnmaid must find a way to converse with her enemies, the Angellus, before they attack the secret haven of the Firaithi with their unquenchable fire. What is it they have been defending through all the turns of the Gyre? The answer astonishes both Amaranthine and human alike...

The Song of the Arkafina series:
Heart of Hythea
Ketha's Daughter
Dawnmaid
Beyond the Gyre

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781843198161
Publisher: Mushroom Publishing
Publication date: 07/21/2009
Pages: 316
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.71(d)

About the Author

After earning her BA in Geography, Suzanne worked in many fields, from urban planning to migrant farm work, dishwashing, retail management and massage therapy. She has drawn on these experiences and a lifelong interest in travel to create the unique characters and settings of her novels.

Presently, Suzanne lives in rural Dunedin, New Zealand with her husband Michael and four children. She is the author of six fantasy/romance books, including the four volume series "Song of the Arkafina" and the two volumes of "Sons of the Mariner."

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Holly

Katkin du Chesne Benet, common-law wife of Huw Adaryi, mother of Gwenn, Tristan, Poppy and Gwillam, felt every minute of her fifty-two years of age. She stared at her image, reflected back in wavy imperfection by a tarnished silver hand mirror. The mirror was magical--a gift from her Kymatre,[1] Neirin Mare. It had once been able to reveal the worlds between. But now it showed only Katkin's lined face and thereby the inevitable passage of time. There was nothing magical in that.

[1 Grandmother]

She tugged at her unruly curls, and noted that silver now mingled with the chestnut of her hair. A year had passed since she had last peered at herself in the mirror--a year since she had cared for the way she looked.

Huw stood in the doorway. "Hurry, my Queen. I know you don't want to miss this trip to the fishing shoals off Everruthe. Gunnar and Poppy are at the dock, ready to board. I have stowed our gear in the hold. We must go now, before the tide turns."

Katkin sighed and rolled her eyes, since she knew Huw could not see her. Then she turned her face towards him, and assumed a pained expression. "I am sorry, Huw. My head is feeling loathsome today. I guess I have the megrim. But I will be ready in a moment." Then, because she knew what his reaction would be, she added, "I am sure I can manage if I take some laudanum."

He sat beside her, his face a picture of concern. "Are you unwell? Why did you not say? I will tell Gunnar that he must go without us. There is no need to use the lilies of the field.[2]"

[2 Firaithi name for any forbidden medicinal.]

Katkin patted his hand. "Don't be silly. Why should both of us stay?I can lie here in bed with the curtains drawn. By the time you return I will be feeling fine again."

"I don't think I ought to..."

She broke in, perhaps a little too firmly. "I said go, and I meant it. With you to help Lut and Gunnar with the nets they will be able to fill the hold of the Able Drake in no time. We need the fish to dry for winter stores, and now is the best time to get them."

"All right," he agreed, with genuine reluctance. "I hope you will soon be better, Queen of my heart." His dark eyes gazed lovingly into hers, and Katkin felt an all too familiar jab of guilt. She had tried and tried, for the last sixteen years, to love him, as he loved her. Every day she struggled--except this one. The day of the summer solstice.

Huw left the room, with a last fond backwards glance. Smiling now, she slipped the ring from her finger, and buried it beneath the bedclothes.

* * * *

Katkin watched with the spyglass from the top of Bird's Hill, as the boat bobbed up and down on the waves. Gunnar and his two sons, Lut and Jakob, were aboard, as well as Poppy, Katkin's adopted daughter. Her other daughter, Gwenn, and her granddaughter Myrie were at their house, Asavale, on the other end of the island. Gwillam, Poppy's little brother, would be there too; he never went anywhere without Myrie. But they would be busy getting the drying racks ready for the expected haul of fish. No one would miss Katkin, or think to look for her, for many hours. Only Kadya, Gwenn's husband, might be sitting by idly, but he was blind, and therefore no threat to her secrecy.

The sun rode high in the sky when she left the hill and walked across the wide plateau that occupied much of the island of Asaruthe. Over one arm she carried a woven willow basket. Her free hand smoothed the cream-colored linen of the new dress she had smocked and sewn. The material had come from Minbeorg. It had taken her all winter to embroider the yoke with an intricate motif of red roses and holly leaves.

Huw had admired it after she finished, saying, "Each year, you make yourself a new dress more ornate than the last, my Queen. But you have no one but us to show them off to. What is your purpose in this?"

Katkin had shrugged, saying she enjoyed the task and the pleasure of wearing the finished garment. Which was true enough, in its way.

A line of verdant holly trees camouflaged the cave opening. They loomed ahead of her, deep green in the sun, the berries glinting like many sharp red eyes. She stopped for a moment, looking about in all directions. The tumbled circle of rocks was deserted, save for a pair of black-backed gulls, and a dark-feathered juvenile. All watched her nervously, and then flew away, with mournful echoing cries.

Katkin squatted down and pushed her way through the thick foliage of the hollies. A thorn caught the skin of her upper arm, leaving a bloody scratch she did not feel. The shadowy land behind the trees hid a slender opening between two house-sized boulders. She sucked in her breath and squeezed through.

Though the mouth of the cave looked dark, a natural skylight, created by a fissure in the curving ceiling of the tunnel, provided enough pallid illumination to steer her steps towards the central chamber. There the fissure widened into a hole, which filled the hollow with shafts of bright golden radiance--enslaved sunlight, made to worship and warm this most sacred of spaces. Katkin stood for a moment, at ease, but filled with anticipation. Soon the sun would shine through the crack, and then...

She knelt, smiling, and unpacked the contents of the bag. A farl of oat bread, fresh-baked, and a stoppered jug of elderberry wine she placed on a flat rock that served as a table. Katkin hummed an old folk tune as she added a small crock of butter, and a pot of cowberry jam. Two plates and two earthenware goblets completed the setting. She frowned as she remembered the words to the song:

My love has gone for a soldier,

My soldier has gone for a love,

She is a beauty in satin,

With skin as smooth as a glove.

She stared for a moment at the wrinkled brown skin on the backs of her hands, seeing age spots where none had been last year. Sighing, she stood and checked the position of the sun, and then moved to the back of the cave, where a palliasse lay on the ground. The straw was damp and a little disheveled, so Katkin drew it together in a tidy stack. She reached into her pocket and retrieved a handful of dried rose petals and lavender buds. Carefully, she scattered them on top of the straw and then threw a quilt on top. Her hands came together, and nervous fingers sought to twist the ring on the third finger of her left hand. But she did not find it. Not on the day of the solstice.

She moved to a shadowed corner of the cave, and her makeshift shrine. Katkin spent her first winter on Asaruthe carving a tiny rough-hewn statue of the winged goddess. She had ruined many pieces of the soft cliff stone before she made a pleasing likeness. Huw offered his help, of course, but she had refused him.

Now Lalluna stood proudly on her pedestal, surrounded by bunches of dried flowers and foliage. Katkin returned to the basket and retrieved a fresh bouquet, composed of harebell and buttercup flowers that she had picked on her way across the meadow. She knelt and placed the flowers at the foot of the pedestal.

"Please let him come, my Lady. Please..."

Katkin had repeated this prayer sixteen times in the past sixteen years and in all that time Lalluna had failed her only once. She listened to the silence--it sounded like the soft breaths of a sleeping child. Satisfied, she stood and then moved to the center of the cavern, her heart beating in anticipation and fear.

The sun swung across the sky, until its celestial voyage took it over the hole in the cavern roof. She could feel its heat burning the top of her head, and she closed her eyes while raising her face upwards. The sun filled her vision with red--the color of heat, the color of passion. And then he came and laid her fears to rest.

Fyn stepped out of the sunlight, but his spun gold hair, so like Gwenn's, continued to shine, even in the shadows. Katkin crossed the cave, savoring the moment--that blessed moment of reunion. When she reached him, he took her into his arms and held her tightly. As always, they did not converse, though it had been a year since they last met.

But his kisses spoke of need, and hers of bitter loneliness.

His fingers found the fastenings on her dress and undid them, one by one. Katkin caught one of Fyn's hands in her own as he covered her freckled shoulders with kisses. Hurriedly, hungrily, she tugged at his shirt, and he removed it. Katkin noticed a new scar, thin and still angry-red, crossing his lean abdomen. She did not ask him about it.

He spoke for the first time as he unfastened his sword belt and dropped it to the ground. "Shall we, Katrione?"

"Yes, Tomas, we shall," she replied, with a smile. He smiled back, bemused at her stubborn use of his old name. Tomas de Vigny he had been, once in another life--before he became Amaranthine. But Katkin would have no part of that.

She led him to the palliasse, then stretched herself upon it and looked up at Tomas. He had left the land of the living at age twenty-four, and now remained frozen in time, immortal, but not immune to hurts. His body looked youthful still, strong and supple, but inside he was old, far older than she, ravaged by battle, loss and fatigue. It made the apparent difference in their ages a little easier to bear, knowing that.

She raised her hand and he dropped gracefully beside her on the quilt. Katkin shivered in expectation of what she knew would follow. He was, and always had been, the most skilled and satisfying of all her lovers. She cast herself adrift in the warm sea of his attentions, feeling the caress of his hands and mouth everywhere with intense pleasure.

"Tomas," she whispered. "Come to me. I am more than ready..."

The first time was always over too soon, but she consoled herself with the knowledge that they had four or five hours to spend together in the pleasurable search for satisfaction. Tomas rolled away from her, and rested on his back, and she passed the time by tracing every scar on his skin with her tongue, feeling his shivers of delight. Soon, he found her mouth with his own and kissed her roughly, then drew her on top of his body.

"Your turn," he sighed, and closed his eyes as she sank down and wrapped him in loving warmth.

Katkin wanted to hold on to the moment--to him--for as long as she could, so she took her time, letting the passion build, until they both ached for deliverance. The sun beat upon them, filling the cavern with golden light, and it felt as though the Gods had thrown wide the door to heaven. Katkin had only to close her eyes to imagine she rose on tongues of flame.

Fyn clutched at her, wordlessly begging for more. His hips thrust in time with hers, faster and faster, until the maelstrom of climax and release took them both.

After a time, when she had kissed the sweat and the tears from his eyelids, Katkin stood and stretched. Fyn lay on the quilt, watching her. "You are beautiful. Never more so than when your hair is wild, and your cheeks are still colored with passion, my lady."

She laughed at this, but it had a bitter ring. "And when I am old enough to be your grandmother, will you still think so, Tomas?" He stood and took her in his arms.

"You are unwise to disparage the turn of the seasons. Those of us who are so unfortunate to live outside of time cherish it. You are not the impetuous girl who once wetted an arrogant fool of a Captain with a jug of cold water. But to me, you remain just as lovely."

Unhurriedly, they threw on some clothes against the chill breeze that entered the cave through the fissure. The sun had passed behind a cloud. Fyn crossed the sandy floor and admired the table. "Cowberry? My favorite." Katkin joined him, and they sat together, sipping the wine and sharing a meal.

Katkin asked first, as she always did, about Lalluna, the goddess she had once served so devotedly. "When I saw you last, you said she had gone away. Do you know where she is now, Tomas?"

Fyn sighed. "I found her late last year. She has returned to the Temple and locked herself away from the outside world. When I visited her there, I begged her to go back across the heavenly plane and seek the companionship of our kind. But she would not. She says her people have need of her, and that she is at fault."

"Perhaps they do," Katkin murmured, as she spread some butter on a piece of the oat bread. "What is my son up to these days?"

"I know not. I may spend only a few hours in the living world, my dear. What little time I have I choose to spend here, with you."

"And I am very glad that you do," Katkin said, smiling, as she offered her wine in a toast. "To wicked liaisons," she added.

Fyn tapped his goblet against hers, but gave her a sharp glance all the same. "Indeed. But have you no shame, Katrione?" He smiled as he asked this, so she would understand it was a jest, but still she answered him very seriously.

"No, I suppose not..." she said, and then did not speak again for a minute or more. Fyn sat by her side, and sipped his wine, waiting for her to continue. "I love you, and I love Jacq. You both have been part of all my lives, and will be for all my lives to come, I hope. But Huw ... Well, I just don't seem to have any room left in my heart for him. I mean, I care about him, of course. How could I not? We have been together for sixteen years on this cursed island."

"Why don't you leave here, if you hate it so?"

"What can I do? Would you let me go with you?" Katkin snapped back. He shook his head, as she had known he would, and she scowled at him. "I have my task, just as you have yours. The Dawnmaid has to come first."

Katkin sighed and rested her head on Fyn's shoulder. His hair was pungent with the scent of lavender and rose. It brought a blush of remembrance to her cheeks, knowing that the pressure and warmth of their bodies had crushed the petals and released their perfume. "I am sorry, love. I know you are not to blame. But I despise this place. It is windswept and barren, and very lonely. For me the sun shines but once a year, on this day--the day of the solstice."

He wrapped his arms about her as she shed soft tears on his bare shoulder. Silently, they finished the last of the wine, both aware of the sun's passage across the sky. They had another hour or two together, no more. After a moment, Fyn stood and approached the statue of Lalluna, then knelt before it reverently. He spilled the dregs of his wine into the sand, as a libation. Katkin joined him, and did the same. They stood and turned away as one, before walking back to the palliasse. Katkin undressed again, and Fyn pulled her on to the quilt. For a long time they lay together, and said nothing.

This time, this very last time, their lovemaking was measured--and sad. When it finished, they did not talk. Fyn dressed and re-buckled his sword belt. Katkin tidied her hair as best she could. Now they stood together under the rift in the cavern ceiling.

Fyn said softly, "I must go now, but my heart remains here--with you."

Katkin smiled through her tears. "Farewell, my love. I hope, someday..."

"Nay," he broke in, and for the first time his voice echoed the bitterness he harbored inside. "Do not hope for what will never be, Katrione. I am a walking corpse, and you have much life yet to live. Live it, in happiness, with those of your own kind."

She threw up her hands and cried, "My country lies in ruins, Dai has betrayed me, and you will not stay. What happiness have I? What reason to live?"

Fyn shook her shoulders. "Joy can be lost, and yet found again. But if it seems far away, then a noble duty may provide some solace."

"What do you mean?"

"Only this. My heart tells me that the final conflict is hard upon us, and this turn of the Gyre will soon be at an end. One we both love lies in darkness, bereft of hope. She needs you. Go to the Temple, as soon as you may."

Katkin nodded, and as he embraced her, she said, "Then we will meet again on the last battlefield, you and I. Even if it is in death, we will be together, and then there will be peace for all."

"In death?" Fyn closed his eyes and said forlornly, "I only wish it could be so. Farewell, my dear." He stepped away, and left her. Her surroundings now seemed monochromatic, and Katkin shivered. Slowly she drifted around the cave, collecting her belongings, and packing them away in the basket. There were no tears, only a brittle resolve that would soon be shattered in the secret spaces of the night, in silent lamentation for what she had lost, again and again.

Katkin exited the cave, and then made her way across the meadow, swinging the basket in the long grass. She swore and ducked behind a tor when she saw Huw in the distance, heading towards her on the same path. After a moment, he walked by with his head down, oblivious to her presence. She waited until he had passed from sight on the next rise and then hurried back home.

* * * *

"Wait for me!" Poppy called, as she slipped and slid down a high dune. Gwillam and Myrie, who were well ahead of her, did not slacken their pace.

Her brother looked back. "Wait for yourself, sluggard. We will have finished all the gooseberries by the time you catch us."

He and Myrie dived behind a hummock of sand and shrubs, shrieking with laughter. Poppy slowed her pace, for she had seen another figure approaching. Jakob. Or was it Lut?

She could not tell the twins apart unless she talked to them.

"Hallo, Poppy!" he shouted, as he spied her from the bottom of a nearby dune. "Stop a minute. I want to ask you something."

Jakob then. Lut would never be so forward.

She stopped and waited as he strode up the loose sand towards her. He gave an easy grin when he reached her side. Poppy wondered to herself how two people as alike as Jakob and Lut could have such very different personalities. "Hello, yourself," she said. "Jakob, isn't it?"

He nodded. "Have you seen Myrie? Ma wants to cut her hair today. She has been looking all over for her."

Poppy lowered her eyes and studied a flowering vine that snaked along the ground at her feet. "No. I haven't seen her. Did you ask Ikor[3] Kadya if he knows where she is?"

[3 Uncle]

Her lie fooled Jakob. "No, I will stop by his cottage on my way back to the byre. Are you coming over to help with the milking?" He gave her a sideways glance, his blue eyes half closed. "We can walk there together. If you want to, I mean..." His voice trailed off, and he thrust his hands into the pockets of his breeches.

She looked towards the gooseberry patch with longing, but decided there would be trouble if Jakob caught Myrie and Gwillam together. After tucking her arm through his, she led him back up the dune.

"I thought you said your Ma had a headache this morning," Jakob said. "But I saw her, a couple of minutes ago, when I was looking for Myrie on the tops. I saw your Pop, too. He sure looked angry."

Poppy frowned and changed the subject. Whatever difficulties her parents had, it was none of his business. She said, "I wish I had your long legs, Jakob. Look at you, you aren't even winded. It takes me twice as many steps to climb this hill. I am such a weakling!"

He laughed at this and peered at her legs, which were alluringly bare, for she had tucked her long skirt into her belt. Despite her complaint, her limbs were well muscled, the skin smooth and brown.

"What are you complaining about now? Let's have a look at those legs, Miss Brunner," he said. He dropped to his knees before her and squeezed her calf. "Feels pretty good to me."

Poppy let out a hoot of laughter. "Is that your best diagnosis?" she said teasingly. "Perhaps I had better get a second opinion."

Jakob's hand slipped upwards, past her knee, to the silky skin on the inside of her thigh. "Hmmm..." he said, more softly. "Do you have any discomfort if I press here?"

"No, Doctor," she answered promptly. "But I do have a pain."

"Where?"

"Right here!" With a quick twist, she flipped a foot-full of sand into his face and ran away, laughing. But the look that she gave him over her shoulder was frankly inviting.

Jakob struggled to his feet and chased after her, while brushing the sand from his cheeks and eyebrows. She headed towards a copse of birches they both knew well. He caught her underneath their shapely white trunks. A second later, she was in his arms.

After kissing him for a moment, Poppy pulled away. She rubbed her chin and asked, "When are you going to start shaving? Every time we kiss, I get a rash on my face. Katkin is getting very suspicious."

Jakob pulled her close again. "Dad won't let me. He says a proper Northman must have a beard. I am sorry, Poppy." He stroked her chin tenderly, and she ruffled his long blond hair.

"Don't worry, I can always think of some story to tell her." She stared up at Jakob. "Don't you think we ought to be getting back? Bessie doesn't like to be kept waiting."

He gazed back at her. "Poppy..." He brought up his hand to touch her cheek. "Have you thought any more about what I asked you? You promised you would tell me your answer today." His face colored, leaving brilliant crimson streaks on his cheekbones that made his freckles disappear.

"Was it today I said?" she asked. "I guess I forgot. I ... I need a little more time, Jakob."

His face fell. "But Poppy, you know I love you. I want to show you. Why won't you let me? We are both old enough..."

She shook her head. "I am, maybe. But are you so sure you are ready?"

This made him angry. "I am not a child!"

Poppy smiled and shrugged. "Don't get so huffy. I was only teasing."

Jakob was not mollified. "That's right. You were teasing. That is all you ever do, Poppy." His grip on her arm tightened and he lowered his voice to a whisper. "I want you so much. It is all I think about. It is driving me insane. Please say yes. Don't make me wait any longer." His left hand slipped down the front of her peasant blouse and groped for her breast. Poppy gave a cry and tried to back away from him, but he did not let her go.

Incensed, she raised her head and gave him a ringing slap across the cheek. He laughed and shook her by the shoulder. "Come on, stop being so coy. It isn't as if you have a lot of choice. Who else are you going to do it with? That idiot Lut?"

Poppy pushed him away and rubbed her arm. "I don't have to give myself to either of you," she said primly.

Jakob sniffed. "As long as we are all stuck on this stinking island it will have to be one of us. And obviously it is going to be me."

"Is it? And why is that?" Her big brown eyes flashed with annoyance.

"Because you want me. Just like I want you." He pulled her close again and kissed her. She did not try to escape. "See," he said, triumphantly. "It feels good, does it not? And I can make it even better. Let me please you, Poppy."

Poppy flushed. "Don't pretend you know what you are talking about."

"Oh, really? I've been with women before. I haven't had any complaints."

"I don't believe it. How could you..."

He said smugly, "Don't forget that I get to leave this backwater twice a year with Dad, to go to Minbeorg for supplies. Plenty of willing girls there, down by the docks. I took my first at age thirteen."

"Thirteen?" Poppy repeated in disbelief.

"Yes. So what? I was tall, even then. I told the woman at the bawdy house I was eighteen. The gold piece I gave her made sure she didn't ask any more questions."

She looked skeptical. "And I suppose Ikor Gunnar just waited outside the door for you?"

Jakob shrugged. "Dad was busy seeing to the loading and Lut was helping him, of course. I slipped away for a couple of hours. I caught hell when I got back, but I didn't care. It was worth it." He stepped closer, making her aware of the difference in their heights. Her head reached to just below his collarbone. He wrapped his fingers around her arm again, quite loosely, the promise of his strength and authority undeclared between them. But Poppy did not feel afraid.

"I don't care if you have been with a hundred girls," she said firmly. "I haven't made up my mind yet, so you will just have to go on waiting until I do." She glared at him for a moment, and then turned away, saying casually, "See you back at the byre."

She headed towards the cow shed, over by Ikora[4] Gwenn's big house, Asavale, in a sheltered valley on the west side of Asaruthe. The afternoon sun beat down on her bare head, and she paused to pull her fichu over her long brown hair, and then wrap it around her shoulder. She considered Jakob's request as she did so.

[4 Aunt]

Poppy was not naive. Her physician mother had made quite sure that she understood the ways of intimacy between men and women. Though Poppy had demurred at Katkin's offer of herbs to prevent pregnancy, saying she had no need of them, her mother, giving her a sharp look, had said, "Come to me when you do. With those boys of Gwenn's sniffing around, it is only a matter of time."

That had been three years ago, and since then she and Jakob had become more than friends, but she still could not convince herself that she wanted a sexual relationship with him. The herbs weren't always effective, for one thing, and then there was--

Lut appeared above her. His thick blond braids flashed in the sunlight as he made his way on the path, with his head down. She called, and he looked up without speaking in return. He waited while she scrambled up the slope towards him. Poppy smiled and a bright red tinge spread over the skin on his face and neck. "Hello, Lut."

He nodded in return, with his eyes locked on the patch of sand between them. She stepped a little closer, so she could make eye contact. "Are you looking for Myrie?" Another nod, accompanied by a quick backwards step.

"I saw her a while ago. With Gwillam. They went over to that patch of wild gooseberries by the long rill."

Lut cleared his throat. Poppy waited as he twisted the beaded wristlet he always wore. His Adam's apple bobbed a couple of times. Finally, he blurted, "Thanks." His blue eyes narrowed with worry. The feeling overcame his shyness. "You didn't tell Jakob, did you? Ma sent him to look for her, too."

Poppy smiled reassuringly. "Of course not. I wouldn't do that, Lut. We had enough trouble the last time he caught them together. Anyway, I saw him not long after. He was heading to the byre to see to the cows."

They stood for a moment in silence. The sun went behind a cloud, and a shadow passed over them. Poppy shivered. She let her shawl slip to her shoulders, and hugged it for warmth. "Lut?" she asked softly. "Do you want me to show you where they are?"

He shook his head.

Poppy gazed at him helplessly. "Well, I guess I will see you later then."

"Bye," he said, and turned away.

"Bye," she answered, as she studied his retreating back. His shoulders were wider than Jakob's, probably because he did most of the net-hauling on the Able Drake. Jakob was the quicker thinker of the two, always ready with an excuse to avoid hard work. He was a talker, was Jakob, and Poppy enjoyed his company, at least until he had started pressuring her to give herself to him. But Lut...

Poppy hurried after him. "Wait!" He glanced back over his shoulder, and slowed his pace. "I forgot something. I wanted to ask you how Jepper was doing."

His expression looked wary. "His leg is getting better. Your Ma splinted it."

"Is he out with the other goats yet?"

Lut shook his head. "Too little. I made him a pen in the yard."

He turned to go again, and Poppy laid a hand on his arm. "I think it is wonderful how you climbed down the cliff to rescue him, Lut. He would have starved to death otherwise."

Lut froze and looked at her hand. She dropped it to her side. Slowly, he turned to face her. "Poppy," he said softly, hesitatingly. "What do you want?"

Now it was her turn to stammer. "I ... Nothing. I just want to talk to you. I mean, I want us to be friends, that is all." Lut continued to look at her seriously.

"I thought you just wanted to spend time with Jakob."

"Lut, why would you say that?"

"He told me so. He said that you were..." Lut stopped.

Poppy stared at him and a prickly feeling edged up the back of her neck. "What did he say? Tell me!"

Lut turned from her. "I got to go find Myrie. See you later." He strode away, and Poppy tore after him. She dove in front and thrust her finger at his chest.

"I asked you a question, Lut!" He didn't speak, so she demanded, "Answer me!"

"Jakob told me that he ... that you..." He stopped again, in an absolute paroxysm of shyness.

Now Poppy felt certain she knew what he had been about to say. "He told you that he and I were lovers."

He nodded miserably. Poppy fumed, "That lying braggart. I never.... You do believe me, don't you?"

"Yes," he murmured. "Of course I believe you. Jakob lies about all sorts of things. A couple of months ago he said he had been studying all morning with Pop, when actually he took the Able Drake and sailed her to Everruthe. Dad thrashed him when he found out." Lut grinned at Poppy. She smiled back, thinking that she had never heard him say so many words in a row before.

"How did he find out?"

His smile grew wider. "Myrie saw him, and she told your brother. Gwill told Ma and she told Dad. He was plenty mad. We aren't supposed to take the boat out on our own." He paused and then raised his eyes to meet hers. "Do you want to show me where the gooseberries are? I really do have to find my sister."

Poppy nodded happily. They walked together in companionable silence for a few moments and then Lut asked, "What is Pop teaching you in the afternoons?"

"I am learning Secunian. Ikor Kadya has a manuscript that he wants me to translate. A journal written by a ship's Captain, named Josiah Tavish. Katkin took it from the Registrumhallen[5] in Scarfinda."

[5 Hall of Registers]

"Why is it so important?"

She shrugged. "I don't know, exactly. So far, it seems to be about cargo, and seamen. There is quite a bit I don't understand--entries on navigation and currents and things like that."

For a moment, it appeared Lut's shyness would get the better of him, but finally he offered, "I could maybe help you with that, if you want me to. I know a little about sailing."

Poppy gave him a brilliant smile. "Would you, Lut? That would be wonderful."

They reached the birch grove. Lut gave her an odd glance as they passed through, but did not say anything.

Myrie and Gwillam had finished the last of the gooseberries when Lut and Poppy rounded the side of the dune. Gwillam grinned and waved. Poppy's little brother was four years younger than she, but already the same height.

Myrie gave two clicks of her tongue as Lut patted her long dark hair affectionately. He knew she didn't like to be touched anywhere else. Myrie didn't talk like a normal person, although she was sixteen years old. Nor did she go to lessons with the others.

"Did you like the gooseberries, Myrie?" Poppy asked her, with a smile. Myrie smiled back, but her eyes were cloudy and unfocussed. She could look, no doubt about that, but she didn't always see.

"Click clack clicketty," said Myrie in reply.

Gwillam said, "That means she thought they were sour."

Poppy replied, "Well the both of you will be lucky not to get a stomachache after all the fruit you ate. Now come on. Ikora Gwenn wants to give Myrie a haircut."

Myrie lifted her head and shrieked, then dove down the hill towards the beach. Poppy shrugged when Lut frowned at her. "Sorry. I forget sometimes that she can understand what I say even though she can't speak."

Gwillam spoke. "Don't worry, Poppy. I can catch her. Tell Ikora Gwenn I will bring her to Asavale in a moment."

Poppy turned to Lut. "Do you want to walk to the byre with me?"

He nodded, shy again. Poppy, intent on cementing their friendship, thrust her arm through his as they walked to the top of the hill. At first he stiffened and tried to pull away, but after a time he seemed to relax, and started talking again. "Myrie is lucky to have Gwillam. No one else can understand what she says. He is a good friend to her."

Poppy nodded. "I wish Jakob felt the same way."

"Me too," said Lut, and sighed. "Ma has talked to him about it lots of times. She says Myrie needs someone to watch over her, but he always argues that it ought to be one of us." He snorted. "As if he would be bothered. He barely says two words to her in a day."

Poppy couldn't answer him for a moment. They were climbing the steepest part of the path that led up the cliff face and she needed all her breath as she clung to the rope rail that Gunnar had made for Arkady. Finally, they emerged on the top of the plateau that stretched east and west along the axis of the island of Asaruthe.

Panting, she turned back to admire the view. The sweep and curve of a sheltered bay spread below them, and beyond that, the ceaseless boom of the surf. Poppy gestured out to sea, "Look! I can see the Able Drake."

Lut shaded his eyes with his hand. "Dad and Pop are on board. They must be going fishing again." That he had two fathers did not strike him as odd in the least, although he knew enough not to mention it when they went to Minbeorg.

Poppy tutted. "I hope Ikor Kadya will be careful. If he fell in..."

"Dad would fish him out again," said Lut, with the confident admiration of one who respected his father above all others.

"But he has only one leg. What if he couldn't get to him in time?"

"Then he'd throw a rope."

"Ikor would not be able to see a rope!" Poppy said crossly, but Lut shrugged.

"He is a good swimmer, Poppy, you know that. He could stay afloat for ages."

They left the cliff's edge and walked across the tops, staying well clear of the knots of sheep scattered about. Many of the ewes had lambs, which fled towards their mothers with bleats of alarm as Lut and Poppy passed. But a solitary lamb stood still, trembling, as they approached it.

"Where's this one's Ma, do you suppose?"

Poppy shrugged. "I don't know, but it seems very unhappy. What should we do, Lut?"

Lut stared past the lamb, to where a ewe lay sprawled in the green grass. "Od's Swallow! Not another one!" He strode past the lamb, which skittered away. Lut knelt and examined the dead sheep in disgust. A predator had torn out her throat. "Ma is going to have fits when she hears about this."

Poppy joined him at the dead sheep's side, holding her nose against the smell of decay.

"It is the second sheep she's lost in the last month. One of the dogs is getting at them. We keep Bridie and Wink penned, so it must be yours."

Poppy bristled. "It isn't our dog, Lut Strong Arm! How dare you suggest such a thing?"

"Well, what else could it be? There aren't any other predators on this island."

"I don't know. But Jolly would never attack a sheep. He is a good dog."

"Jakob said he saw your dog running loose on the tops just last week. If Gwillam can't keep..."

Poppy rounded on him. "Don't be such an idiot, Lut! You just said yourself that Jakob can't be trusted. He probably just wanted to get Gwill in trouble."

He backed away from her wrath, waving his hands. "All right! All right! You win. Don't take my head off." The orphaned lamb behind them bleated pitifully.

"What should we do? If we leave the poor thing out here it will die." Poppy's eyes filled with tears.

Lut grinned. "Quit worrying. I will carry it back to the house with us now. It can go in the pen with Jepper."

Poppy flashed him a grateful smile. "Thanks, Lut. I am sorry I called you an idiot." They converged upon the lamb, which took off towards the cliff edge. Poppy looked on in alarm. "Oh no! Lut, stop her, or she will fall, just like Jepper!"

Lut put on a burst of speed. The lamb had almost reached the edge, running flat out, bleating in terror. He dove clumsily, and just missed the lamb's back foot as it stumbled and headed in a new direction, skirting along the precipice. Poppy watched with her hand over her mouth as Lut gained his feet and chased the lamb again, calling to her to cut off its retreat. She hurried across the field, but not quickly enough to catch the fleeing animal. Just ahead, the ground fell away where a slip had claimed part of the cliff face.

The lamb disappeared over the side. A second later, so did Lut.

Poppy screamed in terror and ran for the edge of the cliff.

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