Shan and Priscilla Ride Again
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Chapter the Eleventh
The day was cool with a blur of cloud on the horizon. Come evening, it would rain; one of Liad’s warm, gentle deluges; and tomorrow morning would most likely dawn bright and clear.
“Even the weather’s funny, Priscilla,” Gordy had confided just yesterday. “When it rains, people don’t pay any attention at all, an’ after a while the sun comes out and dries them off.” He’d sighed. “Sure different from home.”
Priscilla signed now, remembering her own home and its wild, often dangerous weather. Something for a weatherworker to get her hands into. Here. . .She glanced up at the greenish sky, questions. . .Nothing there, Goddess. Might as well try for lightning out of stones.
Which, now that she thought on it, had certain possibilities. Anthora had a way of persuading molecules to vibrate that expended much less of the Witch’s energy than she herself had learned in Circle. With that technique, it might indeed be possible to coax a spark or two from a rock.
The idea had appeal. Considering it, Priscilla went with the flow of traffic down the Street of Spices and into the main thoroughfare. She came to herself just opposite Jaernald’a Street and cut across the crowd. Shan and Gordy were to meet her at Jaernald’a and Paath. They would go to dinner and shuttle up to the Passage —
“Your very pardon!”
She started and found herself staring down into a pair of annoyed reddish eyes set in a face that looked — that surely was —
The eyes blinked. Widened.
“Of course! Have I changed so much?” She put her hand on his sleeve, laughing.
His smile was a shade uncertain.
“Your accent is much improved. . .”
A woman carrying a pyramid of boxes barely missed walking over him; kept her balance by luck and expert swearing while a man in a Port official’s uniform pushed by, audibly muttering about the blockage in traffic.
Priscilla caught Fin Ton’s arm and pulled him with her to the mouth of Jaernald’a Street.
“My friend, it’s good to see you.”
“And good to see you,” he acknowledged, speaking the High Tongue in the mode between co-workers. “But how do you come to Solcintra?”
“By ship.” She chuckled. “I serve on the Dutiful Passage.”
“So?” Interest quickened in the expressive face. “Has the redoubtable yo’Lanna then breathed his last. I’d not heard even a whisper.”
“Ken Rik? Oh, no — Ken Rik’s very much alive! And as evil-tongued as ever.”
“It joys me to hear it,” said Fin Ton gravely. “So you are not Cargo Master? You assist, perhaps, the yo’Lanna? He is one who could teach you much of the craft, evil-tongued as he may be.”
“True,” Priscilla agreed. “But I don’t serve in the holds. I’m first mate.”
Fin Ton stared; cleared his throat.
“We speak of the same ship? Korval’s Dutiful Passage?”
“Korval’s Dutiful Passage,” she said firmly.
He drew a deep breath and sighed it out.
“You have risen rapidly. Ge’shada.” He paused. “One wonders what may have become of Kayzin Ne’Zame.”
“She had given her notice before the last trip commenced,” Priscilla explained. “It came about that she left ship early, to command Daxflan. . .”
“Ah! Now of that, I have heard! But I confess to you, Priss-ella, I thought it no more than a three-glass rumor and paid little heed. Is it truth, then, that Plemia is set back in Balance and Trader Olanek mad?” He touched her sleeve. “It seems now that I had also heard mention of a Terran thodelm involved in the Balance. Yourself, I am certain. Eh? Fortune kisses your cheek.”
“The Goddess has been good,” she murmured. “But I am reminded: Fin Ton, you are owed Balance!”
“I?” His face was a study in astonishment. “Surely you mistake –“
“I do not mistake! Did you offer to trade me language lessons for games of GO?”
“So I did — and paid in full!”
“Paid in full,” she repeated, black eyes glinting. “You teach me the form, but neglect to explain the circumstance! Is this paid in full?”
“In what instance?” His brow was wrinkled; hands tucked in his belt.
“Oh, only in one instance. I think.”
She stepped back and swept the bow between intimates, singing out with perfect intonation, “Fin Ton, I am all joy to see you.”
Shock lanced through him. He looked sharply down the street; mercifully saw no one he knew. Priscilla was grinning hugely.
Fin Ton cleared his throat, wondering —
“Good afternoon, Priscilla.”
Her jerked in a half-turn; stood staring up at the silver-haired giant. His dress was deceptively plain and the great carved amethyst of a Master Trader gleamed on his big right hand.
Priscilla smiled with joy as she reached along the inner pathways — and encountered the cool slippery mirror of his defenses, shutting her away from him.
Her smile felt stiff on her face, and the day was abruptly cold. She bowed slightly.
“Here is my friend, Fin Ton sig’Kena, Astrogator on Selda. Fin Ton, here is Shan yos’Galan. . . “
Hardly a proper introduction, but neither man seemed to notice. Eyes stretched to their widest, Fin Ton bowed profoundly.
Cold silver eyes considered. him. The regal head bent slightly.
“Fin Ton,” Priscilla tried breathlessly. “How long are you in port?”
“Several relumma. Selda undergoes repairs. Yourself? May I call on you?”
She laughed slightly.
“I would like nothing better, but the Passage leaves Solcintra tomorrow and we’ll be shuttling up tonight.”
“Poor timing,” he said ruefully.
“Look for me the next time you’re home,” she invited. “I’m on Pelthraza Street.”
“I will do so,” he promised. “But now — I regret. An engagement for which I am very nearly late.” He bowed. “Master Trader. I am honored to have met you.”
“Sir. Fair fortune to you.” Ice cold, the lovely voice.
Fin Ton bowed once more and escaped.
Priscilla glanced at Shan; his defenses were still in place.
“Fin Ton taught me my first Liaden words, when we were on Selda together.”
“I see,” he said unencouragingly.
She changed the subject.
“With Val Con. They and Nova and Anthora are all to meet us at Ongit’s five minutes ago. I suggest we hurry.”
With no further discussion, he turned and started back down Jaernald’a Street.
Priscilla stretched her legs to catch up and went silent beside him all the way to the restaurant.
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OK, I’m not happy with this chapter at all — and not just because of the inexcusably clumsy head-hopping that’s going on in it.
First, Priscilla is taking her Balance far too lightheartedly. It’s as if she knows, intellectually, that Balance is serious, but she still can’t resist gently pulling the leg of someone she considers to be a friend. Which is to say, she hasn’t internalized the fact that, to a Liaden, the intimacies of friendship rank far, far below the necessity to maintain Balance in all things.
Secondly — really, Shan? If you weren’t a Healer, I’d be embarrassed for you. Since you are a Healer, though, I’m wondering what in ghod’s name you’re on about. You can See perfectly well that Priscilla is having fun with someone she values no more highly than a friend, while the friend’s regard for herself is. . .rather cooler. You might be. . .dismayed by the dangerous game she’s playing, all in innocence, but jealous? And I’m not even going to mention that, the last time you heard that particular phrase, you were delighted at the confusion into which it cast your enemy.
Nope, if I were going on with the project at this point, this chapter would be recast into something useful to the story, and illuminating of the cultural differences. After all, they’re going to be going up to the Passage, where Priscilla is first mate among a mixed Liaden/Terran crew. This seeming tendency to make light of culture is just the sort of thing that could get her into big trouble on her job.
July 4, 2015
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