Shadow of Artemia
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Sword of Truth
There was only one chair in the room to which she had been conducted. Some might, indeed, call it a throne. The walls were covered with tapestries depicting various episodes in the lives of the Thirteen Names. The decking was steel, naturally enough, softened only by the starry blue rug on which the throne was centered.
The woman herself was not a hunter–No, Lomar corrected herself. The woman on the throne was a different order of hunter, more dangerous than those who had brought her here. A full Witch, she was, make no doubt, able to read Lomar’s emotions, if not her very thoughts.
Well, then; let her read anger, and may it burn her! Lomar thought. And if the anger were spiced with fear–what could be more expectable? This woman wanted fear; let her have a surfeit of it.
“Lady,” she said, rigidly polite as she answered the other’s acknowledgment. She inclined her head, but did not bow.
There came a brief pressure, as of someone pressing her shoulder, to try to force her lower. Lomar expended a little effort, straightened, and regarded the woman on the throne straightly.
She was perhaps as old as Sima, Lomar thought, dark-eyed and strongly built. Her hair was also dark, done in a single braid that fell over one shoulder and between her naked breasts. Her face was a pure oval, her features handsome; her expression sweetly serene.
“I am Mitkel; I willingly serve as the Eyes, the Ears, and the Voice of the Goddess. What you say to me, you say to the Mother of us all. What punishment or reward that may come from my hand flows from Her Will.”
Of course, Lomar thought, anger and fear still roiling.
“Do you wish to moderate your greeting, Lomar Fasholt, now that you know with Whom you speak?”
Lomar took a sharp breath.
“Lady, you know that I do not.”
“You are angry,” the woman on the throne said. “Why?”
For one, brief moment, she thought to challenge this Mitkel, and say that She knew full well the reasons for Lomar’s anger.
The cool, common sense of a trader was what rescued her from folly. Such defiance would surely lead to punishment. She dared not risk taking harm until she knew . . .
“Lomar Fasholt, why are you angry with your Goddess?”
She felt a nip of electricity run up her spine; a warning, so she considered it.
“Lady, I am angry for many reasons. Firstly, I am angry at the harm done my household and my business by order of the Temple of Dayan; I am angry that the Thrice-Blessed of Dayan now teach that men are a lesser form, and repugnant to You; I am particularly angry at the harm done to my husband Sleak, in Your Name.”
Mitkel, on her throne, inclined her head solemnly.
“These are strong reasons,” she said, rather surprisingly. “However, Lomar Fasholt, did you not take steps to rectify these wrongs? Did you not remove your household and your business from Dayan?”
“Lady, I did. For the sake of my elder daughters and their families, I vanished and started anew on this world. And now I find myself taken up by hunters, and my family, too.”
“You were prepared for hunters,” Mitkel said quietly, and Lomar nodded.
“I was. I had hoped against them, but I planned for them.”
“That was wise. Why did you think the Temple would hunt you, Lomar Fasholt?”
“I was a Pillar of the Temple. I thought I might be useful to the Thrice-Blessed as an example.”
“Dayan did put that forth to the Greater Counsel at Chaliceworks,” the woman on the throne said serenely. “The Counsel withheld its permission for Dayan to hunt you and return you and yours as a Lesson to the Faithful.”
Lomar blinked, some of her anger evaporating into puzzlement.
“It is not Dayan who hunts you, but the Thirteen.”
Lomar shook her head.
“Lady . . . why do the Thirteen hunt one trader who has turned her back on the Temple?”
“The Thirteen do not care that you have left Temple,” Mitkel said coolly. “The Thirteen care that you are responsible for the instability that has overtaken Dayan Temple.”
“I am responsible?” Lomar repeated, in strong disbelief. “How is that possible?”
“Seven Blessed Years gone by, you received two off-worlders in your office. One was female; the other male. On their return to the port, they met with one of the Thrice-Blessed, Efini, her name. The woman revealed herself to be a Witch. She, then, revealed the man, called Frost, to be as full with power as she herself, and far in excess of that accessible to Thrice-Blessed Efini.
“Efini took news of this man and his power to the Dayan Counsel. Upon verifying that she had experienced this man’s power, they instituted this thing that angers you so very much– this concerted effort to beat down–to destroy the souls of our weaker vessels.”
“Fear,” the other said shortly. “The Thirteen have that part of the matter in hand. However, it is necessary that the man be brought before them, and though we have identified him, and the Witch who follows in his train, our hunters have not been able to come near to him.”
Lomar shook her head. Shan–of course, it must have been Shan, and his crew-woman, who had come from Sintia itself. They had an agreement, Shan and she: Should she ever leave Dayan, she was to contact him. They would set up trade in a partnership until she was able to buy him out.
She had thought of Shan, when she had left Dayan, but–his clan had been at the center of a maelstrom, accused of firing on Liad itself. Later, there came news of his clan’s banishment, but Lomar had already formed an alternate plan and set up house on Ember by then . . .
“He is a powerful person in a powerful clan, which has seen recent violence,” she said now to Mitkel. “It will be . . . very difficult for strangers to come near him.”
“Precisely. You, however, are not a stranger.”
“You will contact this man of power, this Shan yos’Galan, and you will bring him to a meeting place of our devising. We will then take him up, and bring him to the Thirteen.”
She was shaking her head.
“No,” she said; “that I will not do.”
“This man is, at best, an aberration, who will benefit from the oversight of the Thirteen,” Mitkel said. “At worst, he is an abomination, perhaps produced by this Witch of Sintia, Mendoza. The Thirteen will know best how to handle him, in that case, as well.”
“You will be given whatever you require in order to contact this man and arrange for a meeting. Nothing else is required of you.”
“I will not entice him–nor her, either!–into a trap,” Lomar said.
For the first time, the serene gaze sharpened, and fell directly on her face.
“You will, because it is your damage to repair,” she said. “However, if you will not acknowledge that debt to your home Temple and your homeworld, the Thirteen are prepared to relieve you of the costs of maintaining your husbands, and the further education of your youngest daughter. As the three eldest are well-situated–two in trade, and one in Temple–there is no need for the Thirteen to attend them, unless a taint is detected.”
Lomar’s mouth dried.
“I will see my family.”
“After you have done what is required of you,” Mitkel said, and rose.
Lomar felt a bruising force against her back. She slammed to her knees on the cold decking, gasping as her head was forced down until her forehead touched the metal.
“Good moon to you, Lomar Fasholt,” she head Mitkel say.
A moment later, she heard the door swish open–and closed.
She waited for the count of three hundred and twelve before she tried to rise, only to find that she was unable to do so.
Drawing a breath, she relaxed as well as she was able, and set herself to endure until someone should come and release her.
* * *
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