7) I Plant a Few Seeds in Emry's Head

"They say King Daonac's dead," said the waymapper. Wille had directly sat down on the bench across from him, because the man was from the southeast, and Wille was awfully interested in the southeast. Ellyned was in the southeast. "Someone spotted him floating in the Gael on his way to the sea. With a bloody sword. At least, that's what the folks in Domestodd are saying."

Wille sank his elbow into the butter, and I stopped to listen.

"And his children gat themselves killed by wildmen," said a man at the next table over. "All seven of em."

"Five," I said. I dropped the mug I was carrying. It cracked on the floor; beer splashed over my feet.

"Sprout," called Marna from her corner, "that's the third mug slipped through your greasy fingers. One more and you'll be gluing yourself back together as well."

"Oh, five was it?" Wille flicked a ladybird from his arm.

"Five petals"––I bent to pick up the shards––"mark two seed leaves." They stared at me and my face burned.

"You've got a terrible bad habit of changing subjects right when we get to the good part." Wille turned back to the waymapper. "So all the Lauriads are dead?"

"I didn't say Ederach was dead," the waymapper said. "And he's a Lauriad so far's I know, but I only knows what they tell me, so don't go taking any of this as though it was true. I'm only dishing out the rumor that comes before the real food, as them gossips down in Domestodd say. Whetting your appetite's all I'm doing. If you want to know what's really happening, I would give you the Queen's address, but I hain't got me address book with me, and I couldn't go about reading it, anyway."

Beside the waymapper a big brown man sat with his back in the corner.

"He's joined his black-haired lady," he said. His voice was true, and when he started singing people lifted their heads and listened.

"They lost their heartless king in the evening

When into the river he dove.

He wound nightshade around, bound his hands with anemone

Rope for the want of his love.

He shackled his ankles with weeds from the pool

Stitched his mouth shut with blackthorn and thimblethorn cruel,

And sank with the weight of his lady's death jewel,

When into the river he dove."

The song must have been new-made, because I had never heard it before. Other people had, though, and they started singing, too.

"He lost his raven-haired love in the evening

When out of the window she blew.

She left him six birds, six broken-winged swans

Who pecked out his eyes as they grew.

But his old heart was gone when they looked through the holes,

No fire was left but some smoldering coals

That could scarce warm their wings on the grey northern knolls,

Since when out of the window she blew.

They lost their father to Dark in the evening

When she took the place of his heart.

She entangled his hands in a golden-white trap,

And used all of her miserable art

To confound a sad mind and lead sorrow awry.

Too loud was the anguish to hear us the cry

Of the broken-winged swans in their struggle to fly

From the Dark in the place of his heart."

I wasn't very surprised. Noremes make songs for everything.

"They saw Father," I told Mordan when he stopped by to dictate a letter. "They know he's gone." I stuck my finger into the soil and dropped seeds in the holes.

I had hidden the saddlebag in a hollow wall at the back of the cowshed. Inside, the Marione had crumbled to dust, leaving a strange assortment of flower stones. Roughly three hundred of them.

An obscure part of the north pasture overlooking a pond made a fine plot. The hills circled round so that the place looked like a green bowl with sun and water in the bottom. I put a pinch of the Marione dust in each hole, hoping it would help somehow, before folding dirt over the seeds. "And they think we're dead, too. From bandits."

"I suppose it's best they don't try to look for us," said Mordan. I scooped water from a pail and threw it over the loose ground. "They won't question Father's death. He rode around unescorted most of the time."

My knee upset the pail. "Those stupids won't think how it might've happened?" I swung the pail over my head and it landed in the pond. "I needed that for dandelions." I eyed it contritely. "Marna's out of rubbish things to throw in her pot––"

"You said yourself it was bandits," said Mordan. "And as you'd have absolutely no trouble passing for one, you could do with a swim."

I retrieved the bucket, emptied it over Mordan's head, and promised to meet him later with my pen and ink.

I should have anticipated Emry. Floy had warned me: "She's following you around with a honey jar. I expect she's looking for an everlasting charm and still thinks you're a saebel."

She found me that afternoon. I was sitting on a stump, copying down a sentence with a badly cut quill.

"Daifen has been told by an informer that the raid on the armory was lead by Ackerly Celdior, one of Daifen's council and a White-Ship spy, so a prompt departure from the lord's service is strongly recommended for Celdior," Mordan said at the top of his voice. "Do you need me to repeat it again?"

He launched himself into the air when Emry climbed up beside me.

"You were talking to that crow, weren't you?"

"You'd make yourself sick on an everlasting honey pot," I said.

She caught sight of the letter before I could get it behind my back. "You're writing."

"Jam, too."

"Or are you pretending? Can you read?"

"Why do you care?"

"I've never met someone who can read."

I was confounded. "Marna can't read?" I hadn't thought much about reading, couldn't remember a time when I wasn't literate. I'd assumed everyone was born that way.

"Numbers, maybe." Emry picked her nose. "Not words. A girl's brain's too small. With all that stuff inside she'll get notions. Her head'll crack. That's what happened to Mammy."

God knew what Emry thought notions were.

"Reyna," called Mordan from a nearby tree. "Please keep quiet." I bit angrily at my lip.

"Do you want to learn how?" I asked Emry.

Her eyes became round. "But my head––"

"You'll just be learning to write. Your head'll be fine."

Mordan had to wait to finish his letter, because we started immediately on vowels. I used names from old stories, drawing letters in the dust with a stick.

"W starts off Wdirn, who cut off his toe and stuck it in the crack in the sea wall to keep Anefeln safe from the Green Sea."

"The Green Sea's gone." Emry flattened the dust with her palm and drew a slipshod W.

"Say it," I commanded.

"Oooodairn."

We slogged through O, Ai, and E, and then Emry got stuck.

"Agedne," I said, "the saebel girl who turned into a cedar––"

"Wait." She pulled on her braids. "Ain't that same as Aidel?"

I cast about for another example, noticed a blue flower at the foot of our stump. I picked it.

"A is for Aloren."

She frowned. "That's an aster."

"Aloren's the Gralde name," I said. The flower's eye was yellow. Perhaps it was my face and hands, also yellow from the dandelions I had gathered earlier, or maybe it was my blue eyes, or stained dress.

"You look like an Aloren today," said Emry. "Sprout." Then she laughed herself off the stump, and I decided our lesson was done.

"Your aunt's calling you," I said. "She's a walnut pie needs testing."

Emry got up and ran toward her imaginary walnut pie. She wouldn't speak to me for an hour afterwards, but when that had passed she called me Aloren, which caught on rapidly as a field fire and clung to me like a spurned lover.

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"Ice aster." Tem spat water. "Where have I heard it before?"

He wasn't the only one. We all felt something when we heard the word.

I sat in a patch of meadowsweet at the edge of the pond. The water had sunk, and my seeds had risen, grown into plants that looked like pale versions of their Marione parents. The red-eyed saxifrage had bloomed alone in the spring; and as the others flowered (with the exception of the autumn gentians), I tended them as best I knew how––thinning, weeding, watering, spreading chicken manure.

Some of the heads had already withered. I held the saddlebag open beneath them, and flicked seeds inside. It was late, and the sorrel had folded its leaves for the night.

"Maybe they're like real asters," said Mordan. "Daisies, fleabane, you know––"

"I don't know," said Tem.

"They're composites. Got lots of little flowers on each head. They like the sun. Bloom in late summer, early fall."

"They're ice asters," I said. "Maybe they bloom in the winter." I shook a stalk of Mordan's columbine and rubbed the pods between my fingers.

"Oh, aye," said Arin, and he surprised me. For two seconds. "D'you suppose they sprout out of the tips of icicles?"

"Our Marione flowered in the winter." I thought of tying his neck into a knot, and accidentally snapped the flower's stem. Mordan gave a foul curse. "Sorry."

"How do you know?" said Arin. "We only saw them in the spring."

"How do you know they don't?"

"Bird sense."

"She's a fair point," Mordan said in a loud voice. "Maybe they shoot up in the middle of some snowy field at solstice."

Satisfied, I tied up the saddlebag and sat, quite by accident, on the plump waterskin I had just filled and lugged from the river. The cord popped, the bag's neck stiffened, and water poured between my legs.

I sprang up, hugging the skin round the middle, but the neck pointed to the ground and my arms did nothing save squeeze the thing dry.

"She'll flay my skin off! I haven't time to fetch more––"

"Don't carry on so," said Arin. "You've just got to tell her, 'Oh, oh, I went to the river and a wolf was there, and he gave me such a fright I soiled my dress, and the waterskin––the wolf ate it.'"

"How mature you are," said Floy to him. Then she turned and said to me, "The pond's plenty full enough, and the only thing anyone's going to drink right now is ale, unless you count the horses."

I waded into the dark water, dragging the skin behind. Mandy Olen's flute wafted from a window. Tem stepped after and watched my progress with such an air of irritation that I turned and asked him what the matter was.

"I don't like that woman."

"Marna?"

"Wouldn't think twice about turning you out midwinter with a horse blanket."

My legs went weak.

Tem had always been frank, but this was bad. I looked down and grew dizzy. My eyes closed and my mouth grew wide, breathing balance into my body. The mud gave way beneath my feet, and I fell in.

"Reyna," Tem called, "did you step in a hole?"

I stood up, spitting and squeezing out my skirts.

"If only––" Tem tucked in his neck and his breast puffed out. "Never mind, my head's scrambled."

"Just noticed, did you?" said Mordan.

Tem ignored him. "If she can't talk about herself, she wouldn't be able to write about herself either, would she? In one of those letters to Ederach."

"She could've carried it to him." Mordan fluffed water from his back when Arin hunkered down in the shallows next to him. "Wouldn't he recognize her without a letter?"

"He hasn't seen her since she was four. And if he were to recognize her, she'd have considerable difficulty explaining herself."

I had another idea.

"Couldn't any of you to write a letter about me in"––I glanced at the moon––"half a month? When you have hands?"

Tem's head shot up. "Yes! But I still don't know… Let's wait for the next time around––a month and a half."

I didn't know what to think, scarcely dared trust to hope. And after two weeks I forgot all about it. The foreigners came up the road, and the pace of living was troubled enough to quicken.