Shadow of Artemia
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Sword of Truth
Lomar’s legs had gone quite numb; her back had taken fire, and still she could not move, either to stand or to ease herself.
She wished for unconsciousness, though she did not pray for it. Perhaps it might have gone easier for her, had she prayed, but her pride would not allow it. She, Lomar Fasholt, would not pray to a Goddess who permitted those most needful of Her protection to be harmed.
Her head was throbbing and black stars tumbled before her eyes when a pair of sturdy women in the plain blue robes of Temple Thrice-Blessed entered the room, and set themselves one to each side. From the corner of her right eye, she saw a sandal peeping out from beneath a hem of dusty blue.
“Rise, Lomar Fasholt,” one, or both of them, said, loudly.
Fabric rustled as they bent; she felt strong fingers around her upper arms, and then pain, hot in all her frozen muscles, as they jerked her upright.
The black stars occluding her vision exploded into red, and she must, at last, have lost consciousness, for the next thing she knew was that she was being carried by her arms, down a narrow metal hallway. Sandals smote metal with enough authority to wake ringing echoes in walls, floor, and inside Lomar’s head.
Even as she returned to sense, her escort stopped; there came the whisper of a door opening. Lomar lifted her head in time to see the open doorway, lights coming up in the bare room beyond. Fingers tightened on her arms, and she braced herself, even as her escorts threw her forward.
She fell heavily, her legs still unable to support her, and twisted quickly, despite the pain in her back and shoulders, so she could face them.
They looked down at her, their faces void of expression.
“Lomar Fasholt,” said the one on the left. “Now is the time to pray.”
“Make peace with the Goddess,” the one on the right added.
They stepped backward, one step; the door snapped shut, leaving Lomar alone in the bright metal room.
Lomar did not pray.
For a time, she simply concentrated on massaging the feeling back into her legs, then eased up onto her feet and working through a series of micro-exercises to soothe the overstretched muscles in her back. She pursued this self-care doggedly, and with a mind strictly focused upon her body, analyzing each twinge and complaint. It would not do–it would certainly not do, now, to allow herself to become injured. An injury gave them power over her. More power over her.
. . . as if they did not already have enough.
She had deliberately closed her mind to that line of thought, and continued her combination of exercise and inventory.
The room–the cell–they had left her in was naturally small, but it was large enough to allow her to stand, to bend, twist; to stretch her arms above her head, and to her sides. There was a small shelf with a thin pad on it, long enough for her to lie down on, if she bent her knees. There was no blanket, but the cell was not overly cold. In one corner was a unit commode and sink. The floor was metal, the walls were metal; such light as there was–and it was by no means dark, though Lomar might have been hard put to read a book, had she a book to hand–dispersed from the ceiling.
When she was satisfied that she had done all that she could for her body, she washed her hands and face at the sink and retired to the shelf, to think.
So, then, the Thirteen wanted, of all improbable persons, Shan yos’Galan Clan Korval, star-trader, colleague. Friend, so she felt. Whether he felt the same–well. Friendship was a difficult matter, with Liadens. For Liadens, the clan was first among allegiances, the imperative before which all other relationships gave way. Certainly, he had some care for her, if only as a colleague. It had been his notion, should–or, as he would have it, when–she left Dayan, that he set her up in business, and stand silent as a partner until she bought him out.
It would have been good, Lomar thought, if they could have followed through on that arrangement, only Shan–Shan’s all-important clan–had fallen into trouble of its own, and she had needed to move quickly, before any others of hers were harmed.
That brought her thoughts around to Sleak, attacked on the open street, where none stepped forward to save him from being beaten and disfigured for the crime of being one of Fasholt’s treasures. Skilled with the lute, Sleak had not only been taught the old songs, he had been taught to read, to do higher maths, and–most dangerous of all–to research.
The last apprentice of a long tradition, Sleak. Dayan Temple did not have priests, but they had included a caste of holy, celibate, musicians, all male, who sang and played at high festivals and days of worship. For the Goddess made no errors, so the Temple had taught in Lomar’s youth; nor was there any waste in the universe She had created. Even the least among Her children might be taught to make beauty in Her Name.
The Lady Choir, however, had been disbanded nine Dayan years past, and the members offered as husbands to Pillars of the Temple.
Pillar Lomar Fasholt had not necessarily wanted another husband, especially not one so much younger than her existing husbands, who was also sulky, elegant, frightened, disdainful–and in possession of no skills beyond his music. But when the Temple offers a gift, a wise Pillar accepts with fitting gratitude, and so Sleak had come into her household.
And she had, after all, found him useful. He played for her, and told her stories, on the nights he came to her bed, and provided music at her entertainments. Other housemothers came to offer coin and goods, to secure Sleak’s presence at their parties. He sang the old songs, and said out the old poems, adding an air of elegance to these affairs. When he returned home again, he was fat with information, gossip and rumor, which he naturally brought to his Wife.
So Sleak had fitted himself into her household, and earned his keep, though Lomar had never come to be more than . . . somewhat fond . . . of him.
Perhaps if she had cared more, she would have protected him better. Had he not been attacked–but there.
At the time, she had taken it as an attack against Fasholt in general, the on-going matter of increased tithing, and the recent, and rather acrimonious conversation with the Temple’s Assessor foremost in her mind.
Perhaps, if she had simply remained in place, taken her complaint to the Council . . .
It was done, and apparently done badly. It was lowering, to recognize oneself as fool. And it was terrifying, when she thought of what hung in the balance, awaiting a fool’s best judgment.
Mitkel would have it that Dayan Temple’s . . . instability had begun with whatever trick Shan and the Sintian Witch who had traveled with him had sprung upon one of the more . . . credulous of the Temple’s Thrice-Blessed.
In that, Mitkel had . . . misspoke.
No, Lomar thought, pulling her knees in close to her chest. No, Mitkel had not misspoken.
She had lied.
Shan’s antics might have hastened the next round of the Temple’s excesses, but he had not been the root cause. The root cause was that the Priestesses of Dayan Temple were silly and venal, and they had lost the ability to hear the Voice of She who was the Mother of them all.
Shan had, she reflected, been correct. House Fasholt had long ago ceased to be at one with the homeworld, whatever the housemother’s personal relationship with the Goddess Who had created them all.
Lomar sighed suddenly, and bent forward until her forehead rested on her knees.
What matter, if the eyes of the Goddess had lied? The Temple–the Thirteen themselves– wanted Shan. He was an abomination, was he? Lomar, her head resting against her knees, huffed a laugh. Of course, he was an abomination. He was an outworlder. Were not all outworlders abominations?
She shivered. Abomination or mere trader, they wanted her to trap him for them.
Sitting there, in her cell, she accepted that she would do it–she would lure a blameless man–a friend!–into the arms of The Thirteen, no matter her own honor. A woman with four daughters and eight husbands had too much exposure in such a game as Mitkel and the Temple played.
Her course of action decided, she could concentrate on building a plan. Granted, her first necessity was to ensure the safety of her family. Her second, however–
The door to her cell snapped open.
“Rise, Lomar Fasholt!” snapped one of the two Thrice-Blessed who had brought her to this place, and recommended her to pray. “The Goddess in Her mercy has seen fit to reunite you with one of your household.”
* * *
If you liked this chapter, please consider making a donation toward the upkeep of this site, and/or the cat food trust fund.