Shan and Priscilla Ride Again
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Year Named Glafiim
Er Thom yos’Galan sat rigid in the comfortable chair, resisting the caress of the cushions; hands fisted on the soft arm rests. It was scarcely a posture one would expect of the second-most important person on the planet, though Er Thom rarely thought of himself in those terms. True enough, he was Korval-in-Trust. Equally true, he was Thodelm yos’Galan, as well as Captain and Master Trader of Dutiful Passage.
An awesome melant’i, in whole or in parts. Certainly a man who juggled such burdens could ease back into the chair and await the Master Healer with calm.
Except that this was Shan — his eldest; his heir; dearly loved, if little understood. Er Thom filled his lungs and forced stiff muscles to relax into the cushions. Whatever had happened — whatever was amiss — he would not add shame to his son’s miseries.
The door across from him slid open and Er Thom was on his feet, bowing with haste to the sudden small woman; who smiled and inclined her head respectfully.
He heard the note of dread in his voice; recalled that the Healer had direct access to the din of his emotions, and was oddly comforted.
She came forward slowly, and stood looking up at him for a heartbeat or two, dark eyes thoughtful; hands folded loosely before her.
“Your son is a Healer,” she said at last, in the neutral tones of one instructing.
A Healer. Well, and such things were not unknown within the Clan. Er Thom awaited further instruction.
The Master Healer smiled.
“We have tested him and find he is not only capable of hearing the emotions of others, but also of the control necessary to be an active Healer. It would be best for him to stay here until he is trained in shielding and in such techniques as he can master. This has been explained to him.”
She paused, glanced up into the man’s violet eyes; read the matrix of his concern and added.
“He resists the notion of staying with us. Strongly.”
Humor glimmered through him, barely touching lips and eyes.
He paused and the Master Healer caught the hum of concentrated thought.
“How long must he remain? The course of study –“
“Varies with every individual. Your son is — quick; and stronger than is usually found among those just come halfling. . .”
“Halfling.” He looked stricken, then shook his head, Terran-wise. “Yes, of course.”
She waited, weighing the wisdom of untangling his knots of confusion and offering him comfort. As she watched, one knot fell apart of itself, the purple buss of concentration very audible.
The Master Healer composed herself to wait. The boy must have the training — for his own sake and the sake of those he encountered throughout his adult life. Quick — she nearly laughed. During the initial probe, she had reached far within him, as one must, past the current upset to the deeper self, searching out imbalances, inadequacies. She had brushed rather too closely to that heart place and had suddenly found herself the target of a bolt of concentrated outrage that one scarcely expected from an untrained adult, must less a frightened boy. Her shield was barely up in time.
Later, she had attempted to subdue a particularly violent bit of temper with a bolt of her own — only to see him fling a clumsy, but recognizable, shield into place.
Gods protect an old woman from such quickness.
Er Thom yos’Galan stirred.
“He must learn to control this ability. I see that. I would be — more comfortable for the Clan — were he tutored at home.”
“Forgive me,” she murmured, pitying him. “Teaching must be done away from the noise of those unshielded.” She smiled slightly. “There is progression, Your Lordship. We do not wish to overburden him. We wish to help him gain control of his new eyes and use them to see as far as he mifght.”
“Of course.” He seemed about to say more; but in the end did not. The Master Healer hesitated.
“As I mentioned, sir, your son does not take the suggestion that he remain with us for training seriously. He demands to be allowed to go home. I thought, perhaps, if you spoke to him; explained necessity. . .”
Another glint of humor, wholly unexpected.
“Ah. I will be pleased to speak with my son, Master Healer.”
She bowed thanks and he moved past her, pilot smooth, heading for the door.
Shan spun toward him, light eyes hug in a ravaged brown face.
“Father?” Then, with furious passion. “Father, I don’t want to be a Healer! I want to go on Dutiful Passage and be a trader! You said I could — you promised! The year I turn twelve, you said. This trip! And now it’s time to go and that — person! — says I must stay here and be a Healer, only because I cried when Obre cut herself and was frightened — and I told her I wouldn’t do it again! I won’t do it again, Father, I –“
It broke the flow, but not the passion. The boy flun forward, big hands outstretched.
Er Thom took the thin face between gentle hands, looked into silver eyes level with his own. Only twelve, gods. . . He would be Terran-high, after all. Like his mother. Er Thom stroked his thumbs gently down the prisoned cheeks.
“Shan. Peace for a moment, my child. Listen to the why. It is true that I gave my word. But I could not know you would come halfling, nor what that would bring you. To be a Healer does not mean you cannot become a trader. It merely means that you cannot begin your training this trip. Mastering the Healer’s skills must come first for you.”
“No. No — Father, I’ll come here after the Passage comes back. I’ll learn then.”
“I will not have my ship endangered!”
Shan froze between his hands. Suddenly, shockingly, he began to cry.
He never cries. . .
But he had cried, yesterday, with Obre’s pain — and today, with his own. Did he cry now, with his father’s distress? Er Thom gathered the thin body close, rubbing his golden cheek against the wet brown one.
“Hush, denubia. Hush, my child; my heart. . .”
The boy cried harder; hard, breaking sobs, as if he fought each one. Er Thom cuddled him tight.
“Listen, denubia. Hear how it might be. You, walking in a strange port. Suddenly an accident occurs nearby — someone is badly injured by a piece of machinery. You cry out as you did with Obre. If the port is new to the Passage, there could be no trouble, or mild trouble, or very great trouble. The galaxy is wide; and custom is strange. In such a case, you endanger not only yourself, but the ship and the person who is injured.”
It seemed to him that the boy in his arms was somewhat quieter.
“Stay and learn what the Master Healer has to each and you may at least save yourself the grief of another’s pain. At most, you might aid those in need.” He paused, doubtful. “Do you understand why this lesson must come first?”
Silence, then a cracked mumble; a clearing of the throat and a muffled, “Yes, Father.”
“Good. Then you know that the Captain does not deny you your heritage. He merely postpones it.”
Shan snuffled and pulled away, rubbing a sleeve across stark cheeks. Er Thom silently offered a handkerchief.
“How long will I have to — stay here?”
“Until you have learned what you must know to be safe.” Er Thom hesitated, considering.
“If you learn quickly, and well, I will leave instructions at home that you may begin piloting lessons when you return.”
“Father!” Er Thom found himself hugged with undignified violence.
“Only if you attend what you are taught here, and learn with good nature.”
“I will — I will, Father. Oh, thank you!”
Er Thom lifted a hand to stroke his son’s bright white hair, and smiled, sadly.
“Do not thank me, child. It is what you must learn, too.”
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One of the most striking things about this piece, to me, is that, in the later stories, Er Thom’s children often comment on how much of a trial he had been to them: cool, exacting, and stern. It was to their mother, Anne Davis, Er Thom’s Terran lifemate, that the children looked for tenderness and understanding.
Yet, in the above narrative, we see Er Thom as being frightened for his child, and tender in the face of Shan’s fear and temper. We do see something of Er Thom’s own temper, when he’s struck on one of Korval’s nerves — I will not have my ship endangered! — but he recovers himself quickly and returns to comforting and reasoning with the child.
I believe that this is our first glimpse of Er Thom “in person” as it were, produced well before Local Custom and Scout’s Progress, which were written in 1992 and 1993, respectively.
I will also comment, just briefly, that the words you are reading in this, and coming, chapters are the exact words that are on the old pages; we’re not editing as we go along — except for One Single Thing.
Apparently, in 1986/1988, neither one of us had quite grasped the rules of paragraphing with regard to dialog and following action. I have inserted paragraph breaks, in order to make the text more readable, on-screen.
April 13, 2015
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