Shan and Priscilla Ride Again
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Chapter the Ninth
Indisputably, the glass was moving.
Not, it was true, quickly, or even very much.
But it was moving.
Val Con sighed gently and spared a moment of his attention to rectify the situation. . .
“There! You see how he does it!” Anthora was practically singing in jubilation.
“Inertia. . .” murmured Priscilla Mendoza.
Val Con sighed once more and turned.
Anthora was sitting by the window, holding her own glass in firm small fingers. Priscilla, who was staying for dinner, stood nearer him — perhaps four feet away. Her face held an expression of puzzled intentness he found altogether charming.
“It’s a great deal like your Tree thing, Priscilla, isn’t it? Except he’s doing it to something else, rather than to himself –“
Val Con drifted close to the Terran woman; smiled with a calculated upsweep of lashes.
“I do other tricks,” he murmured.
She laughed, black eyes dancing.
“Which you are completely uninterested in displaying.”
“Interested,” he corrected gently, “but without hope.”
“Val Con, stop flirting with Priscilla,” Anthora directed from her chair. “Tell her how you stopped the wineglass. It’s not rooted, Priscilla — and he’s not doing anything to it now. But, I can’t move it a hair’s breadth.”
“I don’t want you to move it a hair’s breadth,” her brother informed her, with heat. “I want you to leave it alone.”
Anthora regarded him with dignity.
“This is an experiment.”
“Experiment on Shan.”
“Shan’s a Healer, not a dramliza.”
“Nor am I a wizard. I’m merely a man who wants his wineglass left in peace.”
“Now, brother, don’t be ill-tempered,” she cajoled. “It’s a remarkable sort of thing to be able to do, and I found I couldn’t explain it to Priscilla, so naturally I had to show her. And you are a wizard, denubia. Only a wizard could do what you’re doing — or not doing, now. Isn’t that right, Priscilla?”
She had turned that look of absent intensity full upon him. He experienced a thrill of warmth and an extended tickling sensation, as if one of his cats had brushed against his naked soul.
“You felt that,” Priscilla said; it was not a question.
“Yes; and I wish you will not do it again.”
She inclined her head.
“It was not my intention to hurt you. Forgive me.”
“Ah.” He extended a slim golden hand and touched her sleeve. “You did not hurt me, friend. On the contrary, it was rather pleasant. It’s the training, I think. Scouts are not to be taken unaware.”
“I see,” she murmured, and it seemed to him that she did. “I only wanted to know if you were in fact what Anthora calls a wizard.”
“And you find that I am a very poor wizard, indeed, beside which I am empathic, yet not an empath.” He moved his shoulders.
“Not all wizardry involves lifting wine glasses and lighting fires. There’s something. . .”
But what that something was he did not then learn. The door to the gather-room slid open and they turned, expecting Shan and Nova, finally freed of their meeting with Delm Hasla and Mr. dea’Gauss.
Gordy stepped into the room, door sighing behind him. He looked uncomfortable in his new blue tunic, but his face lit when he saw Priscilla.
“Hello, Gordy. Ready for the Passage?” She smiled and put a hand on his shoulder. He beamed.
“I sure am!” A candle’s worth of light left his eyes. “But Shan says I’m going to be Ken Rik’s assistant this trip!”
“Ken Rik’s not so bad,” Priscilla said. “And one of the best ways to learn about trade is by studying the cargo.”
“I guess. . .” He was suddenly serious. “Val Con?”
“I — umm — I thought over what you said — and you’re right! And. . .I’d like you to teach me how to swim. Please.”
He smiled and dared to touch the young cheek.
“I am glad. Let us go.”
Turning, he swept the others a bow.
“Priscilla. Sister. I regret. A previous commitment.”
Gordy was staring at him in dismay.
“There is time for a lesson before the meal. Determination should not be kept waiting.”
He started toward the door; glanced back.
The boy cast a wild glance at Priscilla, who nodded.
“Go ahead, Gordy. We’ll see you at Prime.”
“I love to swim before eating,” Anthora chimed in; “everything tastes so good, afterward.”
“Oh,” he said, breathlessly; then, “OK.”
He took a breath deep enough to lift his stiff shoulders and walked to Val Con, waiting at the door.
“Let’s go,” he said.
Upon consideration, Val Con did not offer his hand.
* * *
Gordy took his clothes off and carefully hung them up. Then he sat down, because his knees were shaking. It wouldn’t do for Val Con to see he was scared.
He thought wistfully of the Tree. Priscilla had taught him the Tree and it made him strong. Too bad he didn’t know anything to make him brave. Maybe he’d ask her, later. There might be something.
Meanwhile, time was passing and Prime was getting closer. If he stayed in the undressing room much longer, Val Con would know he was afraid, anyway.
Gordy sighed, and thought about his Tree for the sheer comfort the mind-picture brought him, and got up. He stared at himself in the mirror: A fair-haired boy with a round beige face and wide-opened brown eyes; his waist soft and his legs sturdy. His cock was scrunched up tight, and he sighed, thinking of Val Con, and Shan, and even Morgan.
Nice to be grown up and not afraid of anything.
But Shan had told Morgan, and Grandpa, that Gordy was growing up. Maybe if he pretended not to be scared. . .it would come to be true.
Jaw clamped, Gordy opened the door and went out to the pool to find Val Con.
The dark-haired man turned from the housecomm with a smile.
“Ready? Come over to the side of the pool. The water’s very pretty, isn’t it?”
Gordy blinked and looked down. The pool was a calm, lucent azure, reflecting the twilit sky above.
“It is pretty,” he said, somewhat surprised.
“And it feels good,” Val Con continued, kneeling and slipping his hand beneath the surface.
Gordy did the same, awkwardly. The water was as smooth as old silk, and pleasantly cool.
“Now,” murmured the man, “you must learn and always remember this thing: Water is your friend. It does not want you to drown. In fact, water will allow you to rest when you are tired of swimming, so that you may swim again. If you mistrust it, or fight it, or fear it, it will not help you. But if you treat it as a valued friend and ally, then you are safe.”
“People float. Even if you should fall into the water accidentally, you will rise to the surface. Like this.”
He was gone, and there was an explosive splash! that didn’t quite mask Gordy’s cry of, “No!” — and he could see Val Con’s dark head, far away down at the bottom of the pool, and he thought about the comm, took a step, and — paused.
Val Con was limp in the water; arms and legs dangling. And yet — he was rising, slowly, inevitably. Gordy stood at the edge of the pool and watched. The sleek head broke water and the man twisted lazily onto his back, where he floated for half-a-dozen heartbeats before righting himself and treading water.
He grinned. “You see?”
“Good. Now, you try.”
He went winter-cold in the summery room and it was hard to breathe and his legs were made out of rubber and of stone —
“Gordy.” Val Con’s voice was firm. “Denubia, I swear it; you will come to no harm. Fill your lungs, hold the air in, and jump.”
It was impossible.
Gordy felt tears prickling his eyes, and his ears rang. Distantly, he thought of his Tree; closed his eyes to better visualize it; pushed his cheek against the rough bark. He took a deep breath, swallowing the fresh green scent.
Eyes still closed — he jumped.
He nearly yelled when he smacked into the water, but some instinct kept his mouth tight. His eyes did fly open, to a bewildering spangle of bubbles and a distorted — something — on the edge of his watery vision, keeping pace with his descent.
He touched the bottom of the pool and panic nearly won. He’d come such a long way! All that water on top of him! His chest was tight — there was no air! He almost flailed out, but the memory of Val Con, limp and unresisting, rising effortlessly to the surface, interfered with panic, and he deliberately made himself limp, closing his eyes again, and hugging his Tree inside.
Rising was more pleasant than sinking. The water moved by at a less frenzied pace, almost caressing.
Gordy’s head broke water. He raised his face, and gulped down a mouthful of air, before clumsily imitating Val Con’s supple roll onto his back.
“My feet keep sinking.”
“You must be relaxed. This of how it was when you rose.” Val Con’s voice was right in his ear.
Gordy turned his head and earned a mouthful of water for the effort. He coughed and began to sink in earnest as a pair of strong arms came under his back, holding him effortlessly above water.
“You will please not drink the contents of the swimming pool.”
He managed a feeble grin.
He stared up at the glassed-out sky, and his grin grew wider.
“I did it, didn’t I?”
“Indeed you did,” Val Con murmured in his ear. “And well. Shall we continue? There is time to teach all of you to float properly before we must go to Prime.”
“All right,” said Gordy, smiled at the sky.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Well, I like this bit. I like the wine glass experiment, and the in-family squabble, and Priscilla laughing. I really like Val Con taking Gordy up on his decision before he could change his mind.
And I also like that Val Con didn’t just pitch the kid into the pool, but had him affirm his decision at every step, and so become steadier in his resolve. That’s an important thing. So, brava, Val Con.
I’m wondering when sliding spaceship-like doors were installed at Trealla Fantrol; it’s an old house, after all, though not as old as Jelaza Kazone, but perhaps there’s been a new wing added.
Someone had commented last week that Gordy, in his wanderings, could have just as easily spoken and Jeeves would have sent someone to find him. The chapters we’re exploring were written before Jeeves presented himself to the authors’ attention. So you see that it’s a fortunate thing that this book was never published, or completed. Had it been, it would have changed the whole universe.
June 20, 2015
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