The kitchen was warmer than the baths. The heat was drier, though. Things were cooking on glowing stone discs, set into a shelf of metal grille-work. There were three long wooden tables, two of which were surrounded by eating aunts. With a pang in her stomach, Morganzer realized that she had never seen aunts eat before. It was an odd thing. She had never considered it before.
The aunt leading her in grabbed a wooden bowl from a stack and held it out to one of the two aunts who were cooking. Morganzer had seen aunts cook before. The aunt moved along to the table. After standing, dumb, for a few moments, Morganzer picked up a bowl and held it out to be filled. Then she followed to the table, feeling awkward.
“Not used to getting your own food? My name’s Kholach. You’re Morganzer. Your fathername is Ferntickle.”
“What’s your fathername?” It might be rude to ask, but things were odd enough that there was a good chance of it being forgiven.
“Don’t have one. They didn’t do those when I was born. I’m not nemen, either.”
“None of us are nemen.”
“That’s not strictly true. The nemen don’t consider that the children they get on us, here, are true family, but that’s just bent thinking. All it really means is that they don’t respect us and they don’t plan on respecting any child we bear. You, for instance, have a nemen father. You may as well admit it. It’s a matter of genetics.”
Morganzer frowned at her bowl and began scooping stew into her mouth. It was fish stew, of course. Morganzer had eaten almost no meat in her whole life. Goats and chickens were for milk and eggs. Some were culled, from time to time, but their meat was usually made into soup for the sick.
“What is unusual is that you have a full sister and a full brother.”
“What do you mean full?”
“Same mother and same father. Usually the nemen don’t pick out a favorite. It puts too much significance on someone who’s supposed to be too stupid to know that they’re meaning to invade the worldshore or too dishonorable to care. I’m sure you know that’s the way they see us.”
“That’s the way you’ve planned for them to see us.”
“True. So, how does it feel to be an adult.”
Morganzer choked on her stew. “What? I won’t be an adult for at least another two years.”
“You’ve come Downside. That makes you an adult. If you’d been a child, I’d have filled up your bowl and told you where to sit.”
“But there was no ceremony!”
“You’ve heard there was a ceremony?”
Morganzer didn’t want to admit what stories she had or hadn’t heard. More, she didn’t want to admit to which ones she had believed or not.
“There are ceremonies for everything else.”
“There are children’s ceremonies, certainly. Children are difficult to manage without them. Unmanaged children become cruel to each other. So it’s best to keep them busy.”
Morganzer blushed, embarrassed again.
“Adulthood is much less ceremonious. You have to deal with too much actual stuff. There’s less time to dress it up. You, for instance, need to leave this place and have to decide when and how. And whether, of course. Adults don’t generally get told what to do. Well, not here, anyway.”
Well, that sounded promising at least.
“I have to figure out how to get back to Topside? Is reversing the teleport that difficult?
“No. You’ll have no problem with that, I suspect. When I say leave, I meant leaving our area entirely. Topside and Downside. You can start by taking your brother to Farside. You’ve heard of that, yes?”
“Where the boys go when they get too big. Why do I have to take him there.” Resentment tinged Morganzer’s voice.
“You don’t. But it would be a good thing to get him there alive and we’ve been having trouble Seeing a way to do that. Even when we Look at sending him with you, it doesn’t always work out. You’d probably better scry it out yourself. We can help, of course. And if you like, we can tell you what we’ve already Seen. But it’s your trip and your brother. So I’m guessing you’d want to scry it out for yourself. If you don’t want to, no one will complain.”
“Why wouldn’t I want to?”
Kholach shrugged. “Why does anyone want or not want anything? A shifting of the bodily humors? Influence of the stars at birth? Impression of the assumptions of others when young?”
“I mean what reason would I have for not wanting to. What good reason.” Morganzer steeled herself for rebuke, but none came. That was a little spooky, too.
“Well I wouldn’t want to do it, or rather to not do it, so it’s hard for me to guess what someone else might consider a good reason. I’m afraid I’d mostly think that they didn’t trust their scrying. But I’ve seen women who were pretty good scryers decide not to check ahead. They say that sometimes you can tell that scrying will muddle the flow and that things will go smoother if they don’t come into a situation with preconceptions.”
Kholach reached to the center of the table and grabbed a bun. Morganzer hadn’t noticed them there. But there were buns and jam pots and raw mushrooms. She reached for a mushroom, feeling a small clench of daring.
“I’ll want to scry.”
“Good. Oh, by the way, I’m your actual aunt - you know, your mother’s sister. Older sister, of course. Wish I could have been there when she was dying, but there were nemen around and it would have been a very stupid thing to do. So if you have questions, I’m a good person to ask. Well, at least I’m constrained by custom to answer you and I’ll probably tell you the truth. You can ask other people, of course, and some of them might know more than I do.”
“Will other people lie?”
“Depends what you ask. Also depends on how much insight your question implies. In my gloomier moments I think that really means how much shared history you’re showing, how much of your reference stuff they can agree with. But let’s pretend that folks generally wish you well and will only look for insight and perspective.”
“What’s been scried for already? Who’s done the scrying?”
“Probably everyone’s taken a peek at it. That’s the way it goes when word gets out that there’s a wavery view. Everyone wants to try it, just to see. Scryers are curious folk.”
“Mother started it. My mother. Your grandmother. Her name’s Hallacha. That’s how I got my name, by the way. Her name is Hallacha and my father’s name is Kholmar. Smush the two together and you get Kholach. That’s not an old tradition, but it popped up once the men were at Farside.
Anyway, Mother started it when Daffak was about five. She saw him die before he got old enough to send away and started rescrying. You know how to rescry, right?”
“Of course. I rescried today’s ship arrival dozens of times.”
“How did you alter the initial assumptions? There was no way any of your reactions could affect the arrival, so you couldn’t decide to do something different and affect the outcome.”
“I picked out different men I saw on the ship and rescried assuming that they’d make different plans, then rescried again assuming that the different plans were caused by other people changing their plans.”
“You can get results using something so . . . vague?”
“Yes.” Morganzer clenched. Here was where she usually got either lectures or patronizing patience.
“Hmmp. That would be very useful. You checked the weather a few times, too, right?”
“I’d be interested in watching you scry this out. If any of the others think that I’m supervising you, I’ll let them. Will that bother you?”
“Too bad. I figure if they think I’m supervising you then they probably need to think that. No sense upsetting them. There’s enough reason for upset about this already.”
“Well, you know your brother could die, right? You could die as well. And if you both don’t get off in time, the nemen could raze Topside. They usually don’t find Downside, but we only have so much food. Once they garrison Topside, we’re mostly doomed.”
Morganzer was annoyed that she said it so calmly. But maybe she was just used to seeing calamities that never happened.
“What’s garrison mean?”
“Well, you’ve seen the weapons on their ships, right? And how the sides of the ship are reinforced to help repel attack?”
“I didn’t know about the ship – I knew about the weapons.”
“Well, a garrison is like a village or estate that’s been made like the ship, ready for attack. I don’t know if they’d bother putting up walls here. The rocks do a pretty good job by themselves. But they’d set guards and patrols and store weapons.”
“Why would they do that?”
“In order to protect themselves while they scout further south. They mean to take over the Worldshore, or at least as much of it as they can.”
“Why would they want to do that?”
“Nemen reasons, partly. Mostly just because they can and because it would make their lives better. That’s the reason most conquerors go conquesting. You don’t think that they’re the only warriors in the world, do you? Why do you think that we all came up to the ass end of nowhere to sit on a windy, cold set of rocks?”
Morganzer wanted to ask “Isn’t everywhere like this?” but knew it would be flying in the face of what this aunt-aunt was implying to her.
“Did we come here to stop them? Are we watching?”
“Yes and no. We’re here to stop something. Or, rather, we’re here to wait for something.” Kholach broke off, seeming to need time to sort her thoughts.
“You see,” she said, “there’s this prophesy.”