Toys of Tamisan

by Andre Norton as Andrew North

 all.cats.are.gray.1953 fantastic universe   toys of tamisan 1969 pt2

 

1st Published ~ Part 1 (1969) Worlds of If - Science Fiction Published by Galaxy Publishing, April 1969 Vol.19 No. 4 Issue 137, $0.60, pgs. 5-44 ~ story illustrated by Adkins (Front of Magazine has the title listed as “The Toys of Tamisen”)

Part 2 (1969) Worlds of If - Science Fiction Published by Galaxy Publishing, May 1969 Vol.19 No. 5 Issue 138, $0.60, pgs. 107-145 ~ story illustrated by Adkins

 

Available NowWizards' Worlds (1989) Edited by Ingrid Zierhut, Published by TOR, HC, 0-312-93191-3, $17.95, 500pg ~ cover by Lucy Synk

 

Bibliography Page - http://andre-norton-books.com/worlds-of-andre/short-stories/468-toys-of-tamisan




 Page 1 of 5

 

She is certified by the Foostmam, Lord Starrex. A true action dreamer to the tenth power."

Jabis was being too eager, or almost so; he was pushing too much, Tamisan sneered mentally, keeping her face carefully blank, though she took quick glances about from beneath half-closed eyelids. This sale very much concerned her, since she was the product being discussed, but she had nothing to say in the matter.

She supposed this was a typical sky tower, seeming to float, masked in clouds at times, since its supports were so slender and well concealed, lifting it high above Ty-Kry. However, none of the windows gave on real sky, but each framed a very different landscape, illustrating what must be other planet scenes. Perhaps some were dream remembered or inspired.

There was a living lambil grass carpet around the easirest on which the owner half lay, half sat. But Jabis had not even been offered a pull-down wall seat. And the two other men in attendance on Lord Starrex stood also. They were real men and not androids, which placed the owner in the multi-credit class. One, Tamisan thought was a bodyguard, and the other, younger, thinner, with a dissatisfied mouth, had on clothing nearly equal to that of the man on the easirest but with a shade of difference which meant a lesser place in the household.

Tamisan catalogued what she could see and filed it away for future reference. Most dreamers did not observe much of the world about them. They were too enmeshed in their own creations to care for reality. Most dreamers . . . Tamisan frowned. She was a dreamer. Jabis and the Foostmam could prove that. The lounger on the easirest could prove it if he paid Jabis's price. But she was also something more, Tamisan herself was not quite sure what. And that there was a difference in her, she had had mother wit enough to conceal since she had first been aware that the others in the Foostmam's Hive were not able to come cleanly out of their dreams into the here and now. Why, some of them had to be fed, clothed, cared for as if they were not aware they had any bodies!

"Action dreamer." Lord Starrex shifted his shoulders against the padding which immediately accommodated itself to his stirring to give him maximum comfort. "Action dreaming is a little childish—"

Tamisan's control held, but she felt inside her a small flare of anger. Childish was it? She would like to show him just how childish a dream she could spin to enmesh a client. But Jabis was not in the least moved by that derogatory remark from a possible purchaser, it was in his eyes only a logical bargaining move.

"If you wish an E dreamer—" He shrugged. "But your demand to the Hive specified an A."

He was daring to be a little abrupt. Was he so sure of this lord as all that? He must have some inside information which allowed him to be so confident. For Jabis could cringe and belly-down in awe like the lowest beggar if he thought such a gesture needful to gain a credit or two.

"Kas, this is your idea. What is she worth?" Starrex asked indifferently.

The younger of his companions moved forward a step or two. He was the reason for her being here—Lord Kas, cousin to the owner of all this magnificence; though certainly not, Tamisan had already deduced, with any authority in the household. But the fact that Starrex lay in the easirest was not dictated by indolence, but rather by what was hidden by the fas-silk lap-robe concealing half his body. A man who might not walk straight again could find pleasure in the abilities of an action dreamer.

"She has a ten-point rating," Kas reminded the other.

The black brows which gave a stern set to Starrex's features arose a trifle. "Is that so?"

Jabis was quick to take advantage. "It is so, Lord Starrex. Of all this year's swarm, she rated the highest. It was—is—the reason why we make this offer to your lordship."

"I do not pay for reports only," returned Starrex,

Jabis was not to be ruffled. "A point ten, my lord, does not give demonstrations. As you know, the Hive accrediting can not be forged. It is only because I have urgent business in Brok and must leave for there that I am selling her at all. Though I have had an offer from the Foostmam herself to retain this one for lease-outs—"

Tamisan, had she had anything to wager or someone with whom to wager it, would have set the winning of this bout with her uncle. Uncle? To Tamisan's thinking she had no blood tie with this small insect of a man—with his wrinkled face, his never-still eyes, his thin hands with their half-crooked fingers always reminding one of claws outstretched to grab and grab and grab. Surely her mother must have been very unlike Uncle Jabis, or else how could her father ever have seen aught worth bedding—not for just one night but for half a year—in her?

Not for the first time her thoughts were on the riddle of her parents. Her mother had not been a dreamer—though she had had a sister who had regrettably—for the sake of the family fortune—died in the Hive during adolescent stimulation as an E dreamer. Her father had been from off-world—an alien, though humanoid enough to crossbreed. And he had disappeared again off-world when his desire for star roving had become too strong to master. Had it not been that she had early shown dreamer talent, Uncle Jabis and the rest of the greedy Yeska clan would never have taken any thought of her after her mother had died of the blue plague.

She was crossbred and had intelligence enough to guess early that this had given her the difference between her powers and those of others in the Hive. The ability to dream was an inborn talent. For those of low power, it was an indwelling withdrawal from the world. And those dreamers were largely useless. But the ones who could project dreams to include others—through linkage— brought high prices, according to the strength and stability of their creations. E dreamers who created erotic and lascivious other-worlds once rated more highly than action dreamers. But of late years, the swing had been in the opposite direction, though how long that might hold no one could guess. And those lucky enough to have an A dreamer to sell were pushing their wares speedily lest the market decline.

Tamisan's hidden talent was that she herself was never as completely lost in the dream world as those she conveyed to it. Also—and this she had discovered very recently and hugged that discovery to her—she could in a measure control the linkage so she was never a powerless prisoner forced to dream at another's desire.

She considered now what she knew concerning this Lord Starrex. That Jabis would sell her to the owner of one of the sky towers had been clear from the first. And naturally he would select what he thought would be the best bargain. But, though rumors wafted through the Hive, Tamisan believed that much of their news of the outer world was inaccurate and garbled. Dreamers were roofed and walled from any real meeting with everyday life, their talents feverishly fed and fostered by long sessions with tri-dee projectors and information tapes.

Starrex, unlike most of his class, had been a doer. He had broken the pattern of caste by going off-world on lengthy trips. It was only after some mysterious accident had crippled him that he became a recluse; supposedly hiding a maimed body. And he did not seem like those others who had come to the Hive seeking wares. Of course, it had been the Lord Kas who had summoned them here.

Stretched out on the easirest with that cover of fabulous silk across most of his body, he was hard to judge. But, she thought, standing he would top Jabis, and he seemed to be well muscled, more like his guardsman than his cousin.

He had a face unusual in its planes, broad across the forehead and cheek bones, then slimming to a strong chin which narrowed to give his head a vaguely wedge-shaped line. He was dark-skinned, almost as dark as a space crewman. His hair was black, cut very short so that it was a tight velvety cap, in contrast to the longer strands of his cousin.

His tunic—lutrax of a coppery-rust shade—was of rich material but less ornamented than that of the younger man. Its sleeves were wide and loose, and now and then he ran his hands up his arms, pushing the fabric away from his skin. He wore only a single jewel, a koros stone set in an earring as a drop which dangled forward against his jaw line.

Tamisan did not consider him handsome. But there was something arresting about him. Perhaps it was his air of arrogant assurance, as if in all his life he had never had his wishes crossed. He had not met Jabis before; and perhaps now even Lord Starrex would have something to learn.

Twist and turn, indignant and persuasive, using every trick in a very considerable training for dealing and under-dealing, Jabis bargained. He appealed to gods and demons to witness his disinterested desire to please, his despair at being misunderstood. It was quite a notable act, and Tamisan stored up some of the choicer bits in her mental reservoir for the making of dreams. It was far more stimulating to watch than a tri-dee, and she wondered why this living drama material was not made available to the Hive. Unless, of course, the Foostmam and her assistants feared it, along with any shred of reality which might awaken the dreamers from their conditioned absorption in their own creations.

For an instant or two she wondered if the Lord Starrex was not enjoying it too. There was a kind of weariness ,in his face which suggested boredom, though that was the norm for anyone wanting a personal dreamer. Then suddenly as if he were tired of it all, he interrupted one of Jabis' more impassioned pleas for celestial understanding of his need for receiving a just price with a single sentence.

"I tire, fellow. Take your price and go." He closed his eyes in dismissal.

 

Chapter 2

It was the guard who drew a credit plaque from his belt, swung a long arm over the back of the easirest for Lord Starrex to plant a thumb on its surface to certify payment, and then tossed it to Jabis. It fell to the floor so the small man had to scrabble for it with his finger claws, and Tamisan saw the look in his darting eyes. Jabis had little liking for Lord Starrex—which did not mean, of course, that he disdained the credit plaque he had to stoop to catch up.

He did not give a glance to Tamisan as he bowed himself out. And she was left standing as if she were an android or a machine. It was the Lord Kas who stepped forward, touched her lightly on the arm as if he thought she needed guidance.

"Come," he said, and his fingers about her wrist drew her after him. The Lord Starrex took no notice of his new possession.

"What is your name?" Lord Kas spoke slowly, emphasizing each word as if he needed to do so to pierce some veil between them. Tamisan guessed that he had had contact with a lower-rated dreamer, one who was always bemused in the real world. Caution suggested that she allow him to believe she was in a similar daze. So she raised her head slowly, and looked at him, trying to give the appearance of one finding it difficult to focus.

"Tamisan," she answered after a lengthy pause. "I be Tamisan."

"Tamisan—that is a pretty name," he said as one would address a dull-minded child. "I am Lord Kas. I am your friend."

But Tamisan, sensitive to shades of voice, thought she had done well in playing bemused. Whatever Kas might be, he was not her friend, at least not unless it served his purpose.

"These rooms are yours." He had escorted her down a hall to a far door where he passed his hand over the surface in a pattern to break some light-lock. Then his grip on her wrist brought her into a high-ceilinged room. There were no windows to break its curve of wall. The place was oval in shape. The center fell in a series of wide, shallow steps to a pool where a small fountain raised a perfumed mist to patter back into a bone-white basin. And on the steps were a number of cushions and soft lie-ons, all of many delicate shades of blue and green. While the oval walls were covered with a shimmer of rippling zidex webbing—pale gray covered with whirls and fines of palest green.

A great deal of care had gone into the making and furnishing of that room. Perhaps she was only the latest in a series of dreamers, for this was truly the rest place— raised to a point of luxury unknown even in the Hive—for a dreamer.

A strip of the web tapestry along the wall was raised, and a personal-care android entered. The head was only an oval ball with faceted eye-plates and hearing sensors to break its surface, its unclothed, humanoid form ivory white.

"This is Porpae," Kas told her. "She will watch over you."

My guard, Tamisan thought. That the care the android would give her would be unceasing and of the best, she did not doubt, any more than that the ivory being would stand between her and any hope of freedom.

"If you have any wish, tell it to Porpae." Kas dropped his hold on her arm, turned to the door. "When the Lord Starrex wishes to dream he will send for you."

"I am at his command," she mumbled the proper response.

She watched Kas leave and then looked to Porpae. Tamisan had good cause to believe that the android was programmed to record her every move. But would anyone here believe that a dreamer had any desire to be free? A dreamer wished only to dream; it was her life, her entire life. And to leave a place which did all to foster such a life—that would be akin to self-killing, something a certified dreamer could not think of.

"I hunger," she told the android. "I would eat."

"Food comes." Porpae went to the wall and swept aside the web once more to display a series of buttons she pressed in a complicated manner.

When the food arrived in a closed tray with the viands each in its own hot or cold compartment, Tamisan ate. She recognized the usual dishes of a dreamer's diet, but better cooked and more tastily served than in the Hive. She ate; she made use of the bathing place Porpae guided her to behind another wall web, and she slept easily and without stirring on the cushions beside the pool where the faint play of the water lulled her gently.

Time had very little meaning in the oval room. She ate, slept, bathed and looked upon the tri-dees she asked Porpae to supply. Had she been as the others from the Hive, this existence would have been ideal. But instead, when there was no call to display her art, she grew restless. She was prisoner here, and none of the other inhabitants of the sky tower seemed aware of her.

There was one thing she could do, Tamisan decided upon her second waking. A dreamer was allowed—no, required—to study the personality of the master she must serve, if she were a private dreamer and not a leasee of the Hive. She had a right now to ask for tapes concerning Starrex. In fact, it might be considered odd if she did not, and accordingly she called for those. Thus she learned something of her master and his household.

Kas had had his personal fortune wiped out by some catastrophe when he was a child. He had been in a manner adopted by Starrex's father, the head of their clan, and since Starrex's injuries Kas had acted in some fashion as his deputy. The guard was Ulfilas, an off-world mercenary Starrex had brought back from one of his star voyages.

But Starrex, save for a handful of bare facts, remained more or less of an enigma. That he had any human responses to others Tamisan began to doubt. He had gone seeking change off-world, but what he might have found there had not cured his eternal weariness of life. And his personal recordings were meager. She now believed that, to him, any one of his household was only a tool to be used or swept from his path and ignored. He was unmarried and such feminine companionship as he had languidly attached to his household—and that more by the effort of the woman involved than through any direct action on his part—did not last long. In fact, he was so encased in a shell of indifference that Tamisan wondered if there was any longer a real man within that outer covering.

She began to speculate as to why he had allowed Kas to bring her as an addition to his belongings. To make the best use of a dreamer, the owner must be ready to partake, and what she read in these tapes suggested that Starrex's indifference would raise a barrier to any real dreaming.

But the more Tamisan learned in this negative fashion, the more it seemed a challenge. She lay beside the pool in deep thought—though that thought strayed even more than she herself guessed from the rigid mental exercises used by a point ten dreamer. To deliver a dream which would captivate Starrex was indeed a challenge. He wanted action, but her training, acute as it had been, was not enough to entice him. Therefore—her action must be able to take a novel turn.

This was an age of oversophistication—when star travel was a fact, when outer action existed in reality. And by these tapes, though they were not detailed as to what Starrex had done off-world, the lord had experienced much—the reality of his time.

So—he must be served the unknown. She had read nothing in the tapes to suggest that Starrex had sadistic or perverted tendencies. And she knew if he were to be reached in such a fashion, she was not the one to do it. Also Kas would have stated such a requirement at the Hive.

There were many rolls of history on which one could draw—but those had also been mined and remined. The future—that again had been overused, frayed. Tamisan's dark brows drew together above her closed eyes. Trite— everything she thought of was trite! Why did she care anyway? She did not even know why it had become so strong a drive to build a dream that, when she was called upon to deliver it, would shake Starrex out of his shell—to prove to him that she was worth her rating. Maybe it was partly because he had made no move to send for her and try to prove her powers, his indifference suggesting that he thought she had nothing to offer.

Tapes—she had the right to call upon the full library of the Hive, and it was the most complete in the star lanes. Why, ships were sent out for no other reason than to bring back new knowledge to feed the imaginations of the dreamers!

History. Her mind kept returning to the past, though it was too threadbare for her purposes. History—what was history? A series of events—actions by individuals, or nations. Actions had results. Tamisan sat up among her cushions. Results of action! Sometimes there were far-reaching results from a single action—the death of a ruler, the outcome of one battle, the landing of a star ship—or its failure to land.

So—

Her flicker of idea became solid. History could have had many roads to travel beside the one already known. Now—could she make use of that?

Why, it had innumerable possibilities! Tamisan's hands clenched the robe lying across her knees. Study— she would have to study! And if Starrex only gave her more time ... She no longer resented his indifference now. She would need every minute it was prolonged.

"Porpae!"

The android materialized from behind the web.

"I must have certain tapes from the Hive." Tamisan hesitated. In spite of the spur of impatience, she must build smoothly and surely. "A message to the Foostmam: send to Tamisan n' Starrex the rolls of the history of Ty-Kry for the past five hundred years."

The history of a single city and that of the one which based this sky tower! Begin small so she could test and retest her idea. Today a single city, tomorrow a world, and then—who knew—perhaps a solar system! She reined in her excitement. There was much to do. She needed a note recorder—and time. But by the Four Breasts of Vlasta—if she could do it!

It would seem she would have time, though always at the back of Tamisan's mind was the small spark of fear that at any moment the summons to Starrex might come. But the tapes arrived from the Hive and the recorder, so that she swung from one to the other, taking notes from what she learned. Then after the tapes had been returned, she studied those notes feverishly. Now her idea meant more to her than just a device to amuse a difficult master; it absorbed her utterly, as if she were a low-grade dreamer caught in one of her own creations.

When Tamisan realized the danger of this, she broke with her studies and turned back to the household tapes to learn again what she could of Starrex.

But she was again running through her notes when at last the summons came. How long she had been in Starrex's tower she did not know, for days and nights in the oval room were all alike. Only Porpae's watchfulness had kept her to a routine of eating and rest.

It was the Lord Kas who came for her, and she had just time to remember her role of bemused dreamer as he entered.

"You are well and happy?" He used the conventional greeting.

"I enjoy the good life."

"It is the Lord Starrex's wish that he enter a dream." Kas reached for her hand, and she allowed his touch. "The Lord Starrex demands much. Offer him your best, dreamer." He might have been warning her.

"A dreamer dreams," she answered him vaguely. "What is dreamed can be shared."

"True. But the Lord Starrex is hard to please. Do your best for him, dreamer."

She did not answer, and he drew her on, out of the room to a gray shaft and down that to a lower level. The room into which they finally went had the apparatus very familiar to her—a couch for the dreamer, the second for the sharer with the linkage machine between. But here was a third couch. Tamisan looked at it in surprise.

"Two dream, not three?"

Kas shook his head. "It is the Lord Starrex's will that another shares also. The linkage is of a new model, very powerful. It has been well tested."

Who would be that third? Ulfilas? Was it that Lord Starrex thought he must take his personal guard into a dream with him?

The door swung open again, and Lord Starrex entered. He walked stiffly, one leg swinging wide as if he could not bend the knee nor control the muscles, and he leaned heavily on an android. As the servant lowered him onto the couch, he did not look to Tamisan but nodded curtly to Kas.

"Take you place also," he ordered.

Did Starrex fear the dream state and want his cousin as a check because Kas had plainly dreamed before?

Then Starrex turned to her as he reached for the dream cap, copying the motion by which she settled her own circlet on her head.

"Let us see what you can do." There was a shadow of hostility in his voice, a challenge to produce something which he did not believe she could do.

 

Chapter 3

She must not allow herself to think of Starrex now, only of her dream. She must create and have no fear that her creation would be less perfect than her hopes. Tamisan closed her eyes, finned her will and drew into her imagination all the threads of the studies' spinning. She began the weaving of a dream.

For a moment, perhaps two fingers' count of moments, this was like the beginning of any dream and then—

She was not looking on, watching intently, critically, a fabric she spun with dexterity. No, it was rather as if that web suddenly became real and she was caught tightly in it, even as a blue-winged drotail might be enmeshed in a foss-spider's deadly nest curtain!

This was no dreaming such as Tamisan had ever known before, and panic gripped so harshly in her throat and chest that she might have screamed, save that she had no voice left. She fell down and down from a point above, to strike among bushes which took some of her weight, but with an impact which left her bruised and half senseless. She lay unmoving, gasping, her eyes closed, fearing to open them to see that she was indeed caught in a wild nightmare and not properly dreaming.

As she lay there, she came slowly out of her dazed bewilderment; she tried to get control, not only over her fears, but her dreaming powers. Then she opened her eyes cautiously.

An arch of sky was overhead, palidly green, with traces, like long, clutching fingers, of thin gray cloud. As real as any sky might be, did she walk under it in her own time and world. Her own time and world!

The idea she had built upon to astound Starrex came back to her now. Had the fact that she had worked with a new theory, trying to bring" a twist to dreaming which might pierce the indifference of a bored man, precipitated this?

Tamisan sat up, wincing at the protest of her bruises, to look about her. Her vantage point was the crest of a small knob of earth. But the land about her was no wilderness. The turf was smooth and cropped, and here and there were outcrops of rock cleverly carved and clothed with flowering vines—some of them; others were starkly bare, brooding. And all faced down slope to a wall.

These forms varied from vaguely acceptable humanoid shapes to grotesque monsters. And Tamisan decided that she liked the aspect of none when she studied them more closely. These were not of her imagining.

Beyond the wall began a cluster of buildings. Used to seeing the sky towers and the lesser, if more substantial structures beneath those which were of her own world, these looked unusually squat and heavy. The highest she could see from here was no more than three stories. Men did not build to the stars here, they hugged the earth closely.

But where was here? Not her dream—Tamisan closed her eyes and concentrated on the beginnings of her planned dream. That had been about going into another world, born of her imagining, yes—but not this! Her basic idea had been simple enough, if not one which had been used to her knowledge by any dreamer before her. It all hinged on the idea that the past history of her world had been altered many times during its flow—and she had taken three key-points of alteration, studied on what might have resulted had those been given the opposite decision by fate.

Now, keeping her eyes firmly closed against this seeming reality into which she had fallen, Tamisan concentrated with fierce intentness upon her chosen points.

"The Welcome of the Over-Queen Ahta—" she recited the first.

What if the first star ship on its landing had not been accepted as a supernatural event and the small kingdom in which it had touched earth had not accepted its crew as godlings, but rather had greeted them instead with those poisoned darts the spacemen had later seen used? That was her first decision.

"The loss of the Wanderer." That was the second.

A colony ship driven far from its assigned course by computer failure, so that it had had to make a landing here or let its passengers die. If that failure had not occurred and the Wanderer not landed to start an unplanned colony . . .

"The death of Sylt the Sweet-Tongued before he reached the Altar of Ictio."

A prophet who might never have arisen to ruthless power, leading to a blood-crazed insurrection from temple to temple, setting darkness on three-quarters of this world.

She had chosen those points, but she had not even been sure that one might not have canceled out another.

Sylt had led the rebellion against the colonists from the Wanderer. If the welcome had not occurred ... Tamisan could not be sure—she had only tried to find a pattern sequence of events and then envision a modern world stemming from those changes.

However—she opened her eyes again—this was not her imagined world! Nor did one in a dream rub bruises, sit on damp sod, feel wind pull at clothes, and allow the first patter of rain to wet hair and robe. She put both hands to her head—what of the dream cap?

Her fingers found a weaving of metal right enough, but there were no cords from it. And for the first time she remembered that she had been linked with Starrex and Kas when this happened.

Tamisan got to her feet to look around her, half expecting to see the other two somewhere near. But she was alone, and the rain was falling heavier. There was a roofed space near the wall, and Tamisan hurried for it.

Three twisted pillars supported a small dome of roof. There were no walls, and she huddled in the very center, trying to escape the wind-borne moisture. She could not keep pushing away the feeling that this was no dream but true reality.

If—if one could dream true! Tamisan fought panic and tried to examine the possibilities. Had she somehow landed in a Ty-Kry which might have existed had her three checkpoints actually been the decisions she envisioned? If so—could one get back by simply visioning them in reverse?

She shut her eyes and concentrated . . .

There was a sensation of stomach-turning giddiness. She swung out, to be jerked back—swung out, to return once more. Shaking with nausea, Tamisan stopped trying. She shuddered, opening her eyes to the rain. Then again she strove to understand what had happened. That swing had in it some of the sensation of dream breaking. It did! Which meant that she was in a dream. But it was just as apparent that she had been held prisoner here. How? And why? Or—her eyes narrowed a little, though she was looking inward, not at the rain-misted garden before her—by whom?

Suppose—suppose one or both of those who had prepared to share her dream had also come into this place—though not right here—then she must find them. They must return together or the missing one would anchor the others. Find them—and now!

For the first time she looked down at the garment clinging dank and damp to her slender body. It was not the gray slip of a dreamer, for it was long, brushing her ankles. And in color it was a dusky violet, a shade she found strangely pleasing and right.

From its hem to her knees there was a border of intricate embroidery so entwined and ornate that she found it hard to define in any detail, though it seemed oddly enough that the longer she studied it, the more it appeared to be not threads on cloth, but words on a page of manuscript such as she had viewed in the ancient history video tapes. The threads were a metallic green and silver, with only a few minor touches of a lighter shade of violet.

Around her waist was a belt of silver links, clasped by a broad buckle of the same metal set with purple stones. This supported a pouch with a metal top. The dress or robe was laced from the belt to her throat with silver cords run through metal eyelets in the material. And her sleeves were long and full, though from the elbow down they were slit to four parts, those fluttering away from her arms when she raised them to loose the crown.

What she brought away from her head was not the familiar skull cap made to fit over her cropped hair. Rather it was a circlet of silver with inner wires or strips rising to a conical point that added a foot or more to her height. On that point was a beautifully fashioned flying thing, its wings a little lifted as "if to take off, the glitter of tiny jewels marking its eyes.

It was so made that, as she turned the crown around, its long neck changed position and the wings moved a fraction. Thus at first she was almost startled enough to drop the circlet, thinking it might just be alive.

But the whole she recognized from one of the history tapes. The bird was the flacar of Olava. Wearing it so meant that she was a Mouth! A Mouth of Olava—half priestess, part sorceress—and oddly enough, entertainer. But fortune had favored her in this; a Mouth of Olava might wander anywhere without question, searching, and seem merely to be about her normal business.

Tamisan ran her hand over her head before she replaced the crown. Her fingers did not find the bristly stubble of a dreamer, but rather soft, mist-dampened strands which curled down long enough to brush her forehead and tuft at the nape of her neck.

She had imagined garments for herself in dreams, of course. But this time she had not provided herself with such, and so the fact that she stood as a Mouth of Olava was not of her willing. But Olava was part of the time of the Over-Queen's rule. Had she somehow swept herself back in time? The sooner she found knowledge of where—and when—she was, the better.

The rain was slackening and Tamisan moved out from under the dome. She bunched up her robe in both hands to climb back up the slope. At its top she turned slowly, trying to find some proof that she had not been tossed alone into this strange world.

Save for the figures of stone and beds of rank-looking growth, there was nothing to be seen. The wall and the dome structure lay below. But when she faced about, there was a second slope leading to a still higher point which was crowned by a roof to be seen only in bits and patches through a screen of oarn trees. The roof had a ridge which terminated at either side in a sharp upcurve, giving the building the odd appearance of an ear on either end. And it was green with a glittering surface, almost brilliantly so in-spite of the clouds overhead.

To her right and left Tamisan caught glimpses of the wall curving, and more stone figures with flower or shrub plantings. Gathering up her skirts more firmly, she began to walk up the curve of the higher slope in search of some road or path leading to the roof.

She came across what she sought as she detoured to avoid a thicket of heavy brush in which were impaled huge scarlet flowers. It was a wide roadway paved with small colored pebbles embedded in a solid surface, and it led from an open gateway up the swell of the slope to the front of the rear structure.

In shape the building was vaguely familiar, though Tamisan could not identify it. Unless it resembled something she had seen in the tri-dees. The door was of the same brilliant green as the roof, but the walls were a pale yellow, cut sharply at regular intervals by windows, very narrow, and so tall that they ran from floor to roof level.

Even as she stood there wondering where she had seen such a house before, a woman came out. Like Tamisan she wore a long-skirted robe with laced bodice and slit sleeves. But hers was the same green as that of the door, so that, standing against it, only her head and arms were clearly visible. She gestured with vigor, and Tamisan suddenly realized that it must be she who was being summoned—as if she were expected—

Again she fought down unease. In a dream she was well used to meetings and partings, but always those were of her own devising, did not happen for a purpose which was not of her wish. Her dream people were toys, game pieces, to be moved hither and thither at her will, she being always in command over them.

"Tamisan—they wait—come quickly!" the woman called.

 

Chapter 4

Tamisan  was minded in that instant to run in the other direction. But the need to learn what had happened to her made her take what might be the dangerous course of joining the woman.

"Fah—you are wet! This is no hour for walking in the garden. The First Standing asks for a reading from the Mouth. If you would have lavishly from her purse, hurry lest she grows too impatient to wait!"

The door gave upon a narrow entryway, and the woman in green propelled Tamisan toward a second opening directly facing her. She came so into a large room where a circle of couches was centered. By each stood a small table now burdened with dishes which serving maids were bearing away as if a meal had just been concluded. And tall candlesticks, matching Tamisan's own height, stood also between the divans, the candles in each, as thick as her forearm, alight to give forth not only radiance but a sweet odor as they burned.

Midpoint in the divan circle was a tall-backed chair over which arched a canopy. And in that sat a woman, a goblet in her hand. She had a fur cloak pulled about her shoulders hiding almost all of her robe, save that here and there a shimmer of gold caught fire from the candlelight. Only her face was visible in a hood of the same metallic-seeming fabric, and it was that of the very old, seamed with deep wrinkles, sunken of eye.

The divans, Tamisan marked, were occupied by both men and women, the women flanking the chair, the men farthest away from the ancient noblewoman. And directly facing her was a second impressive chair, lacking only the canopy; before it was a table on which stood, at each of its four corners, four small basins, one cream, one pale rose, one faintly blue, and the fourth sea-foam green.

Tamisan's store of knowledge gave her some preparation. This was the setting for the magic of a Mouth, and it was apparent that her service as a foreseer was about to be demanded. What had she done in allowing herself to be drawn here? Could she make pretense her servant well enough to deceive this company?

"I hunger, Mouth of Olava, I hunger—not for that which will feed the body, but for that which satisfies the mind." The old woman leaned forward a little. Her voice might be the thin one of age, but it carried with it the force of authority, of one who has not had her word or desire questioned for a long time.

She must improvise, Tamisan knew. She was a dreamer and she had wrought in dreams many strange things. Let her but remember that now. Her damp skins clung clammily to her legs and thighs as she came forward, saying nothing to the woman in return, but seating herself in the chair facing her client. She was drawing on faint stirrings of a memory which seemed not truly her own for guidance, though she had not yet realized that fully.

"What would you know, First Standing?" She raised her hands to her forehead in an instinctive gesture, touching forefingers to her temples, right and left.

"What comes to me—and mine." The last two words had come almost as an afterthought.

Tamisan's hands went out without her conscious ordering. She stifled her amazement—this was as if she were repeating an act as well learned as her dreamer's technique had been. With her left hand she gathered up a palm full of the sand from the cream bowl. It was a shade or two darker than the container. She tossed this with a sharp movement of her wrist, and it settled smoothly as a film on the tabletop.

What she was doing was not of her conscious mind, as if another had taken charge of her actions. And judging by the way the woman in the chair leaned forward, the hush that had fallen on her companions, this was right and proper.

Without any order from her mind, Tamisan's right hand went now to the blue bowl with its dark blue sand. But this was not tossed. Instead, she held the fine grains in her fist and that upright, passing it slowly over the table top so that a very tiny trickle of grit fed down to make a pattern on the first film.

And it was a pattern, not a random scattering. What she had so drawn was a recognizable sword with a basket-shaped hilt and a slightly curved blade tapering to a narrow point.

Now her hand moved to the pink bowl. The sand she gathered up there was a dark red, more vivid than the other colors, as if she dealt now with flecks of newly shed blood. Once more she used her upheld fist, and the shifting stream, fed from her palm, became a space ship! It was slightly different in outline from those she had seen all her life, but it was unmistakably a ship. And it was drawn on the table top as if it threatened to descend upon the pointed sword. Or was it that the sword threatened it?

She heard a gasp of surprise—or was it fear? But that sound had not come from the woman who had bade her foretell. It must have broken from some other member of the company intent upon Tamisan's painting with the flowing sand.

It was to the fourth bowl now that her right hand moved. But she did not take up a full fistful, rather a generous pinch between thumb and forefinger. She held the sand high above the picture and released it. The green specks floated down—to gather in a sign like a circle with one portion missing.

She stared at that, and it seemed to alter a little under the intentness of her watching. What it had changed to was a symbol she knew well, one which brought a small gasp from her. It was the seal, simplified it was true, but still readable, of the House of Starrex, and it overlaid both the edge of the ship and the tip of the sword.

"Read you this!" The noblewoman demanded sharply.

And from somewhere the words came readily to Tamisan. "The sword is the sword of Ty-Kry raised in defense."

"Assured, assured." The murmur ran along the divans.

"The ship comes as a danger—"

"That thing—a ship? But it is no ship—"

"It is a ship from the stars."

"A woe—woe and woe—" That was no murmur now but a full-throated cry of fright. "As in the days of our fathers when we had to deal with the false ones. Ahta—let the spirit of Ahta be shield to our arms, a sword in our hands!"

The noblewoman made a silencing gesture with one hand. "Enough! Crying to the reverend spirits may bring comfort, but they are not noted for helping those not standing to arms on their own behalf. There have been other sky ships since Ahta's days, and with them we have dealt—to our purpose. If another comes, we are forewarned, which is also forearmed. But what lies there in green, O Mouth of Olava, which surprised even you?"

Tamisan had had precious moments in which to think. If it were true as she had deduced, that she was tied to this world by those she had brought with her, then she must find them. And it was clear that they were not of this company. Therefore this last must be made to work for her.

"The green sign is that of a champion, one meant to be mighty in the coming battle. But he shall not be known save when the sign points to him, and jt may be that this can only be seen by one with the Eyes."

She looked to the noblewoman, and meeting those old eyes, Tamisan felt a small chill rise in her, one which had not been born from the still damp clothing she wore. For there was that in those two shadowed eyes which questioned coldly and did not accept without proof.

"So should the one with the Eyes you speak of go sniffing all through Ty-Kry and the land beyond the city, even to the boundaries of the world?"

"If need be," Tamisan stood firm.

"A long journey, mayhap, and many step-strides into danger. And if the ship comes before this champion is found? A thin cord I think, O Mouth, on which to hang the future of a city, a kingdom or a people. Look if you will, but I say we have more tested ways of dealing with these interlopers from the skies. But, Mouth, since you have given warning, let it so be remembered."

She put her hands on the arms of her chair and arose, using them to lever her. And so all her company came to their feet, two of the women hurrying to her so that she could lay her hands upon their shoulders to support her out. Without another glance at Tamisan she went, nor did the dreamer rise to see her go. For suddenly she was spent, tired as she had been in the past when a dream broke and left her supine and drained. Only this dream did not break, but kept her sitting before the table and its sand pictures, looking at that green symbol, still caught fast in the web of another world.

The woman in green returned, bearing a goblet in her two hands, offering it to Tamisan.

"The First Standing will go to the High Castle and the Over-Queen. She turned into that road. Drink, Tamisan, and mayhap the Over-Queen herself will ask you for a seeing."

Tamisan? That was her true name. Twice this woman had called her by it. How was it known in a dream? Yet she dared not ask that question or any of the others she needed answers for. Instead she drank from the goblet, finding the liquid hot and spicy, driving the chill from her body.

There was so much she must learn, must know, and she could not discover it save indirectly, lest she reveal what she was and was not.

"I am tired."

"There is a resting place prepared," the woman said. "You have only to come—"

Tamisan had almost to lever herself up as the noblewoman had done. She was giddy, had to catch at the back of the chair. Then she moved after her hostess, hoping desperately to know . . .

 

Continued on page 2 of 5



 

 “Andre Norton's Reading Corner

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