Morganzer scowled and poked at the drying scrapes on her knee, defiantly not looking out over the sea to watch for approaching ships. She had scried the nemen’s ship’s arrival off and on for the last two weeks and it had always come in through the rocks in exactly the same way at exactly the same time. It was horrible of the aunts to make her climb all this way up the rocks just to “Confirm the Actuality” – it implied that they didn’t trust her magic.
The scowl deepened and Morganzer picked off a scab to watch the blood pool again. Although she would have liked to watch it run down her leg, there wasn’t nearly enough available for that.
“I bet they’re jealous because I’m so good at scrying. There isn’t anyone Topside who’s better than I am. I bet if one of them had seen the ship so well, they wouldn’t have checked it out. They’d have just made their plans to meet the nemen and expected them to be there.”
The rocks around Topside were craggy, dark, and bare. They were also numerous. There were vastly more of them than there was of Topside. Topside was a small indentation, rather than a proper valley, at least compared to the volume of rock around it. One end of Topside was situated near the edge of a long stretch of bare, icy cliff and the other wandered in to end in upthrusting rock after a day’s walk. The sea around it was peppered with narrow extrusions of weathered rock, many of them taller than the cliff, that ranged out for several miles. It was a difficult place to get to, between the rocks, the sea, and the chilling wind; and when you got there, well, you’d probably decide that it hadn’t been worth the trouble.
Topside was at the far north of the worldshore, the aunts said. They said that was why it was so cold so much of the time and why the growing season was so short. They said that was why no one was prepared when the nemen came. Who would find such a well-hidden valley? Who would bother to plot and plan and conquer it, when there was so little there worth conquering?
It was a good thing, they said, that the women of Topside had always been good at scrying. It was a good thing that everyone had had time to prepare. The men hadn’t liked the idea of leaving, but they could see into the bowl, if enough aunts were working it. They could see that they would die if they stayed.
According to the skipping songs that Topside children sang, some had claimed it was a lie – a trick the aunts were pulling to steal the town from the men. Some had said that they should fight and die – to keep their honor if not their lives. And some had actually argued that the women should come away, too. As if that was likely to happen. Scryers don’t spend generations and dozens of lives chasing a prophesy just to let some inconvenience drive them away.
So the nemen had plotted their way through the sea’s teeth and prepared to either bushwhack someone gone down a rope ladder for a sea harvest or to make the tortuous climb up the cliff. They had prepared to conquer. They had found, instead, several rope ladders waiting for them, along with a few middle-aged aunts with an unexpected proposal. Morganzer screwed her fading frown back down. You had to be suspicious of aunts with a story. Aunts were usually up to things.
“Ho, the rock!”
Morganzer recognized the voice. “Ho, yourself.” Her voice was sullen. Lillibell was her favorite aunt and she wasn’t in a mood to be mollified.
“Do you mind if I don’t climb all the way up?” Lillibell was pushing a bit past middle-age and was showing more than the normal number of decrepities. She had arthritis in her hips and a number of digestive difficulties. The other aunts were starting to pity her and to plot between themselves when she walked by.
“Suit yourself. Unless you have to verify that I’ve Confirmed the Actuality.” Morganzer didn’t like the thickness of the sulk that showed in her voice. To show that she wasn’t being an entire baby about things, she passed a glance out over the water, to show willing.
“According to the scry, the Actuality won’t settle for awhile, yet. It’s not just you, you know. Scryers have to check to be sure that they haven’t gotten lost in their old predictions. The better the scryer, the more necessary it is.”
“Did you know, little goose, that a really good scryer will sometimes scry spell-less? That you can actually believe that a prediction has happened, when it’s something still to come? Or that had changed and will never come?”
“You need to start the habit now, gosling. It has to become part of you, for your own protection. The better you are, the more often you must check your reality.”
“Mmmph.” Morganzer wasn’t sure that Aunt Lil could hear her. She was pretty sure that her response would be assumed. Aunt Lil’s scrying had never been good and was heading downhill, but her assuming was excellent, especially among folk she’d helped herd as younglings.
“So how long ‘til you’ll see them?”
“Another three hours.”
“And what will you be doing when they come?”
There was a long pause while the girl considered.
“I hadn’t thought to look for that.”
“So, there was no leak-through? You checked several times, didn’t you?”
“Yes, but I was looking for something specific. That’s how you get a good view. You focus on something specific.”
“Ah, but what do you miss, focusing in so tight? You’re near enough, here, for an arrow-shot from the ship.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Not a good shot, no. Not an easy one. It would be a long shot. A show-off shot. An I’m-my-father’s-true-son-these-dirt-grubbers-have-no-importance shot.”
“You never know with these people. You know that they’re warriors, but you’ve only ever dealt with the older men. They’re sure of their place, the old ones. Maybe there are others somewhere else who aren’t sure, but the ones who come here are confident. They know their accomplishments. The young ones don’t have accomplishments, yet. They don’t really know if they’re ever going to have them. They only know that they need them. They need them badly. More than a Topside daughter needs to scry, nemen boys need to hear other men saying that they’re true warriors. It can make them cranky. And foolish.”
“So, did you climb all the way up here to tell me that?”
“No, I climbed up here to ask you to hide when you come down.”
“Things are chancy. We’ve gotten word from Downside. It’s your brother, mostly.”
“What about him? If you want to talk about cranky and foolish boys, you can include him.”
“Yes, he doesn’t like having a sister telling him what to do, does he?”
“He should be sensible and accept it.”
“The way you accept what the aunts tell you to do?”
“Anyway, you know that he has to go away soon, right?”
“Yes.” That caught at Morganzer’s stomach a bit. It was perfectly right and sensible that boys should go away before they started causing trouble with the nemen. But thinking about her own brother being somewhere so far away that she could only scry him, never see him, was . . . different. Not that she’d admit it.
“Downside has Looked into that for awhile, now, and it seems that if you don’t lay low tonight, he’s likely to get himself killed. No one knows how, it was a short message – if you’re out and about, he ends up dead.”
“So where do I go? There aren’t that many places to hide, Topside.”
“Well, it all depends. Do you think you’re old enough to try a teleport spell?”