It was time to leave Downside. The men would be in the hall, eating. The children would be eating, too. Mackah held a bowl for a quick scry to be sure no one would see, while Morganzer rehearsed the teleport spell in her head. It wouldn’t work without one of the stones, so she didn’t have to deliberately leave bits out.
The women had fussed and buzzed over her packing. She was wearing leather over the top of her regular felt and toweling pants and tunic. Her boots were stitched leather, even on the soles, but they were wrapped in felt and strapping to look like regular footgear. The straps even held a regular wooden paten onto the bottom. She had been warned that she might get rubbing sores from the leather. On top of the leather jacket was a felt poncho and hood. She was already too hot and more than ready to pop into cooler air.
The aunts finally finished packing her pack and equipping her belt. Rather than bring it to her, they hurried it away.
“There’s a pulley that we use to haul gear to the surface. It’s too small for people.” Hallacha, motioned everyone else back down the hall. “Do you want any final words of advice?”
“No. Not really.”
“Want to know which books we packed?”
“I’ll figure it out. I need to go soon.”
“Then I’ll just do the standard parting ritual.”
Morganzer stood, showing polite interest. Her grandmother stepped forward and hugged her.
“That’s for all of us. Be safe.”
Morganzer paused, but that seemed to be all of it. She assumed that they’d watch her as she went and argue over everything she did. Whether it was right. Whether it was significant. Whether it pertained to the prophecy. There was no need to mention it.
She stepped on the stone and rattled off the spell. Now that she had used it once, the shifts in the familiar words seemed natural and the shifts to reverse the destination seemed obvious. A folded moment later she was looking around the burning ground. She only saw one person, an aunt facing outward, toward the baths, probably to watch for others. Morganzer walked up to her.
She was one of the shorter, dumpier aunts. Morganzer recognized her as someone who usually looked after the smallest babies and their mothers, but couldn’t remember her name. She stood with tendrils of her hair twitching in the wind and turned at the crunch of Morganzer walking up to her.
“I need to leave as soon as possible,” Morganzer said, sounding as much like an aunt as she could. “There’s some gear coming up. I don’t know how that works.”
“It comes up in the back of the baths, in a bucket closet. This way.”
The woman didn’t talk, so Morganzer didn’t talk either. The path to the baths was flanked with irregularly shaped stones, roughly the size of two big fists, and covered with broken shells. It was the default task of any child who obviously didn’t have enough to do to keep them out from underfoot to break shells for the path. Larger children were sent in small groups (supervised) to collect the shells.
The crunch of the shells under her feet was a familiar sound, even if the new boots changed the feel of the path. It wasn’t far to the baths. She wondered vaguely why that was so, but wasn’t interested enough to ask. Maybe the stone couldn’t transport people very far, side to side, so that it had to be over the stone it was sending to. Otherwise, you’d want the place further out of range of causal eyes. Maybe the burning stone was the farthest away that Downside ran, under ground.
They entered the bath house from the rear. One single turn took them to the bucket room. Remove two buckets from two shelves, fold a section of shelf up, and open a door in the wall. Simple. Morganzer watched the aunt pull her pack and belt out and close the opening. She walked to a pump and basin near the door and filled two water skins, tying them tightly to the belt.
“Your brother is coming down from about mid-valley. I don’t know how far up the trail you need to meet him, but it would probably be best to be out of sight. You can sit in the office, if you want to wait for him to get closer.”
“No, I’ll walk up as far as the second split. It’s dark now, but it won’t be long before the sun rises. Have you got a torch?”
The aunt nodded and left the closet, holding the door for Morganzer to follow, then closing it. Another closet further along held other gear, including a bin of summer torches. Morganzer waited in the hall as the aunt fetched it and lit it by holding it under the gas lamp on the hallway wall. It bloomed with a whoosh into flames that could barely be seen against the other light.
“Thanks.” A pause. “Say goodbye for everyone for me. Tell them I’d have given them a hug if I’d had time.”
“Some might see you before you go. I’ve seen the men giving you a sendoff.”
“Well, after it all, then. If anyone needs it.”
“I’ll do that. I’d better get back. We learned long ago that if someone is going to do something out of the ordinary, everyone else should be seen doing just their regular things. They count noses when anything new happens, just out of habit. I’d hate to see what their lives are like other places, if they’re that suspicious here.
I’ve heard folk say that the nemen think that there were supervisors left, who took over after the prince stopped coming. Male supervisors. That they think that we killed them and that’s why we were out of men. You know the story of the prince?”
“Some of it. We tell ourselves stories, too.”
“Yes. Stories. When you get past one set, you find another. Go with luck.”
The aunt closed up the rear of the bath house and walked off toward the women’s house, without looking back. Morganzer followed the trail, holding the torch out level in front of her. In the dimmer light you could see the summerflame, flashing cool, light blue flames. Summerflame danced wildly and broadly, but gave off no heat and could not be used to kindle anything but another summerflame. It would be safe in the dry summer grass in the valley.
Morganzer strode off, crossing as much distance as she could before her brother caught up with her. The walk was soothing, although she could feel her mind churning away in the background. She refused to make any plans today, though. She wouldn’t even think about what to say to her brother until she met him.
Morganzer walked on and on and enjoyed the walking, which was mostly slightly downhill and on a well worn trail, once the shelled path ran out. She didn't bother to put out the torch, enjoying the pale, dancing shapes it made, until she happened to look up and see her brother approaching in the distance.
She started to wave, but his scowl stopped her. Had he scowled like this when she had been scrying him? She guessed that he had. Odd that it hadn't felt important then. Now it pulled at her stomach. Another movement pulled her eye and she was a little surprised to see Lillibell walking along behind her brother. Oh, well. They had said that someone else would be coming and Lillibell would be easier to deal with than any other aunt she knew. Except for maybe not being able to keep up. . . and maybe dying.
She stomped out the torch and sat down to wait.