The Farseekers- Isobelle Carmody

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
THis is a book. Written by isobelle carmody.

Submitted: August 28, 2013

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Submitted: August 28, 2013



As usual, Guildmerge was held in the circular room which had once served as Alexi's experiment chamber. Only the bookshelves concealing the alcoves adjoining the central chamber and the enormous fireplace remained of the old laboratory where he and Madam Vega had pursued their researches.

The steep passage hidden behind the pivoting fireplace was now used only for easy transport of knots of firewood into the meeting hal in winter. Like other such passages at Obernewtyn, it was no longer a secret, although Lina was convinced the old buildings must be riddled with passages and was forever to be found tapping the wal s and listening for tel tale hol owness.

Obernewtyn's first master, the reclusive Lukas Seraphim, had been a morose and secretive man, and the great grey buildings reflected his personality.

buildings reflected his personality.

Louis, who could stil remember the man who had carved Obernewtyn out of the wilderness on what was then the very fringe of Blacklands, said he had possessed a mind that was as much a labyrinth as the greenthorn maze separating the main house from the farms.

Since Rushton had taken over, much of the buildings had been altered to provide better access to al parts of the rambling wings, and each guild had been al ocated a certain section of Obernewtyn as its base. The chamber where Guildmerge sat had once been accessible only through a concealed panel in Madam Vega's chamber. The wal s had since been knocked down and two broad doors instal ed.

Though cavernous, the domed meeting room was kept warm by the padded shelves of books on al sides, and an enormous fire. There was nothing in the room but a long trestle table and a number of chairs. I had seated myself near the fire, surreptitiously toasting my sore feet. The buzz of talk was louder than usual, partly because of the abrupt way Rushton had cal ed the meeting, and partly because it was a ful Guildmerge, almost al wards and guildens as wel as guildmasters were present. Even the irascible Garth was there looking impatient and bored. On the other side of the table sat Ceirwan, stil clad in riding clothes. I felt momentarily irritated by the Guildmerge rule restricting communication during meetings to the spoken word, but I did not try to reach him. Matthew returned and seated himself next to Dameon, opposite me. The blind Empath guildmaster smiled at me unerringly, sensing my attention. Empaths could read emotions the way farseekers read thoughts, though few were actual y able to converse mental y. Some empaths, like Dameon, could also transmit emotion. The twin Empath guilden, Miky and Angina, sat beside him, deep in animated discussion.

Rushton had walked to the head of the table and was now talking to Domick, a fierce frown of concentration on his face. The Coercer ward responded quickly, stabbing his finger in the air for emphasis.

Next to them, Maryon sat staring into the distance, a slight smile on her lips. No one could mistake her for anything but a futuretel er. She had come back with Matthew, but the seat beside her was empty. I wondered what was important enough to keep the Futuretel guilden, Christa, away. Roland was alone in representing his guild. This was not unusual. The healers put their patients before anything else. Next, and completing the table, were the Beasting Guild Alad looking unusual y grim. I was conscious of an expectant atmosphere among us as Rushton began to speak, reminding us of the day we had taken over Obernewtyn, of the first Guildmerge and ending with our pledge to abolish the name of Misfit in the Land. He invited those with business to raise their hand. Traditional y, Rushton spoke last at Guild-merge. This meant that whatever had prompted the sudden Guildmerge must wait until al other matters had been dealt with. His eyes widened speculatively at my hand among those few to rise.

Alad rose to speak, again raising the need for animals to be represented on Guildmerge by one of their own. As before, no one could decide which animal should represent al animals, and whether the animals should propose their own candidate. The increasing dominance of the volatile younger horses' attitude was raised. With a hint of impatience, Rushton suggested the matter be passed on to the next Guildmerge.

The Beasting guildmaster frowned. 'This is the third time it's been put off. It's time we dealt with this once and for al .'

'It wil be dealt with. Next time,' Rushton said tersely.

'The animals themselves requested a decision one way or the other. There wil be trouble if it is left any longer,' Alad said coldly.

Rushton lifted his brows questioningly. 'Threats, Alad?'

The guildmaster shook his head. 'Just a warning, Rushton. They have the right.'

Rushton said nothing and Alad sat looking disgruntled and preoccupied. I was surprised at his persistence. Everyone knew it was only a matter of time until animals had a representative. That and rumours of trouble from the horses made me decide it was time I visited the farms again. The Coercer Guild then proposed a competition, a contest of coercer skil s, pitting one against another until a champion be announced. Master, guilden and ward would be excluded. This resulted in a heated discussion about the value of competitiveness. The Futuretel ward argued persuasively against it, saying it would produce anti-social and aggressive tendencies in an already aggressive guild.

'The aim of Obernewtyn is to have al minds working together for a common goal, not to isolate winners from losers and devalue those whose skil s are less violent,' she said.

The Healer Guild was even more seriously opposed. Rushton interrupted what looked like erupting into an argument to suggest the coercers draw up a complete plan for their proposed tournament. This would then be voted on by a ful Guildmerge.

He nodded to me and I stood. 'I request that the ban on Teknoguild expeditions be lifted.'

Rushton frowned. He did not like anyone to step outside the procedures which governed Guildmerge and made it work smoothly. 'This is a strange request for the Farseeker guildmistress to make, Elspeth,' he said. 'Surely it's up to Garth, especial y since he graces us with his presence today.'

There was a titter of humour, since everyone knew of the Teknoguild master's reluctance to leave his laboratory. Garth scowled.

'This request concerns my guild,' I said quietly. Rushton's eyes bored into mine. 'What interest could you have in the Teknoguild expeditions? If I recal , you were among those to vote for the ban.'

I took a deep breath. 'If the ban were lifted, I would propose a joint expedition.'

Rushton shook his head emphatical y. 'If I refuse to let teknoguilders kil themselves roaming on poisoned Blackland fringes, I would hardly let farseekers replace them!' he said with impatient sarcasm.

The death tol among teknoguilders had always been high. The ban had been enforced after a disastrous Teknoguild expedition in which Henry Druid's people and the teknoguilders clashed over a newly discovered ruin on the Black fringes. The argument had ended in a mysterious explosion which kil ed most of both parties. Either the explosion which kil ed most of both parties. Either the Druids, as Henry Druid's men named themselves, had deliberately set off a forbidden weapon, or some ancient device hidden in the ruins had been accidental y triggered. Either way there had been no further Teknoguild expeditions, and no more had been seen of Henry Druid or his fol owers.

Henry Druid had been among the first to oppose the Council's book-burning laws. A Herder novice, he had been cast out by the Herder Faction and had fled to exile in the high country. Rushton had been befriended by the old exHerder, and for a time their paths had matched. But the old man's fierce hatred of the Council was exceeded only by his hatred of mutations and in the end it had become too dangerous to continue the connection.

Apart from the one incident with the Teknoguild expedition, the Druid and his fol owers seemed to have disappeared. Sometimes that absence made me uneasy. Like Alexi and Madam Vega, Henry Druid had wanted power in the form of Beforetime weapons. What if he were to discover the machines that could set off the Great White again?

I choked off that train of thought. The expedition we propose wil not be to Blackland fringes.'

Rushton looked puzzled. Then I don't see any difficulty. Teknoguild expeditions were banned because they never want to go anywhere but the fringes. But that stil doesn't explain your interest. I would be surprised to find you had any aim in common with the Teknoguild.'

It was true I had often opposed their interests. Of al guilds their abilities were hardest to define, being little more than a vague empathy for inanimate things, a slight power to move things by wil alone, and a passionate interest in the past. Unlike the other guilds, the Teknoguild was based outside Obernewtyn's wal s in the network of caves discovered and used by Alexi and Ariel, who had assisted him in his experiments. They were believed to be the remains of a Beforetime establishment and had contained a number of machines. I had not been there since Alexi had tortured me using the Zebkrahn machine to force me to use my powers to locate an Oldtime weapon cache.

Pavo's request to come to the cave network that morning had been unexpected and unnerving. In the end I had gone, as much to lay my old fears to rest, as my respect for Pavo, who was more concerned with understanding Oldtimers than unearthing their mechanical secrets.

Also, I had been curious.

Walking back into the cave had been a disturbing experience. The past had seemed to lie tangibly beneath the present. The entrance to the cave network had been littered with boxes and sacks of Beforetime papers, books and other relics unearthed in previous expeditions. The passage had been wel lit by candles set in sconces at regular intervals. There was no sign of the hissing green candles Alexi had favoured, yet I had seemed to smel their sickly sweet odour.

Coming from the sloping passage with its smooth wal s into the main cave, I had been forced to stifle a gasp, having forgotten how big it al was, and how bright the Beforetime sphere of light which lit the area. High up in the shadows, stalactites hung poised like spears. Yet it was also very different than I remembered. Woven rugs and thick mats softened cold floors, and the wal s were almost covered with paper, scrawled with lists and notes and diagrams. Tables and chairs were occupied by busy teknoguilders who barely registered my entrance.

Only the Zebkrahn machine had looked the same, though I knew it could no longer be used to coerce and torture, having long since been modified. Now it served as nothing more than an enhancer, enabling farseekers to double their normal range limit. Even so, my skin had risen to gooseflesh at the sight of it.

'Pavo asked me to come to the Teknoguild cave network,' I began bluntly.

Pavo gave a dry cough and rose. 'It might be better if I explain, Guildmistress,' he offered diffidently. As in the cave that morning, I was struck anew by his pal or.

'I did not know Elspeth would raise this matter today, and so I have not brought my notes, therefore you wil have to take my word on some matters. A while back we uncovered evidence of an enormous book storage, which we believe is untouched since the Beforetime. However, because of the ban, we set this matter reluctantly aside. Last week, we succeeded in getting the Zebkrahn machine to penetrate the blocking static over tainted ground.' He paused to remind everyone that, previously, the machine, like farseekers, had been unable to project across or through tainted ground or Blackland wastes.

The machine is now able to monitor areas previously out of reach to us, even to farseekers as strong as Elspeth, whose range is normal y better than that of the machine,'

Pavo said. 'It was necessary for Elspeth to see the machine, not to admire the new modification, but so that she could see what it revealed.' Pavo looked at me, and al eyes swung expectantly my way.

I said obligingly, 'The Zebkrahn was registering a Talent at its outermost limit.'

'But . . . that's impossible. Th' machine has to be focused through a farseeker,' Matthew objected.

Pavo shook his head eagerly. 'Only in the case of ordinary or weak Talents. That is to say in most cases. But the Zekbrahn would need no farseeker focusing to register Elspeth.'

'But . . . that means this Talent mun be as strong as Elspeth

. . .' Matthew said.

'Perhaps stronger,' Pavo corrected gently.

'Such a Talent would be worth rescuing,' Gevan of the coercers interjected.

'The two, the new Talent and the book storage Pavo told you about, are in the same region, and since it is so far away, we thought of a joint expedition,' I said. There was a buzz of excited talk, but Rushton ignored it. 'So far . . .?' he enquired coldly. 'Exactly how far?'

My mouth felt suddenly dry. 'Somewhere between Aborium and Murmroth.'

There was silence, then someone sighed heavily. Aborium was on the other side of the Land, a coastal town. The only way to get there was to travel the main coast road, bypassing soldierguard camps and al the main towns, including Sutrium.

Rushton's face was pale with anger, realizing his brief words to me before the Guildmerge had prompted me to propose the expedition. He saw, as I had, that he could not dismiss my proposal since he meant to propose his own equal y dangerous expedition.

That would mean travel ing through Sutrium,' Roland said brusquely. 'A crazy dangerous idea. Our false certificates would not deceive the soldierguards for a moment.'

Pavo coughed again. 'It is not necessary to journey through Sutrium, or to travel on the main road. We have devised a route which wil avoid both.' He pul ed one of the maps on the table towards him and spread it out. 'I have a better map, but . . .' He pointed to the red circle denoting Obernewtyn. 'The expedition would travel out of Obernewtyn and down the main road, but would turn off to cut directly across the White Val ey and through an Olden pass between Tor and Aran Craggie in the lower mountain ranges, and down to the Lowlands. From there, it would be an easy trip across the Ford of Rangorn, and down to the coast.'

Rushton examined the route. 'You are sure this pass exists? I have never heard of it.'

The teknoguilder stood self-consciously, nodded, then sat down. Someone laughed, easing the tension in the chamber.

'T'would mean winterin' outside maybe, if an expedition were to leave at once,' Matthew said tentatively.

'It would be best to act at once. Surely the gain is worthy of some risk,' Pavo said anxiously. 'Think of what we might learn from an untouched col ection of Beforetime books, and who knows what Talent this Misfit wil bring to us.'

Rushton nodded for us to resume our seats, his expression inscrutable. His eyes swept the assembled faces.

'Wel ,' he said at last, 'I cal ed this Guildmerge for a particular reason, but Guildmistress Elspeth has preempted me. I, too, meant to propose an expedition.

'While in the high country these last few days, I heard rumours of men asking questions about Obernewtyn. Strangers, perhaps Councilmen, perhaps not. They were asking questions about the damage caused by the firestorm, wanting to speak to anyone who had actual y seen Obernewtyn since the storm. This means the Council may know I lied about the storm. If so, we wil be investigated, probably after the next Thaw.'

There was a muffled howl of dismay.

'Or,' Rushton went on, 'it may mean nothing. The problem is that we have no idea what the Council knows.

'Up until now we have striven to avoid any contact with the Council, to hide and grow in strength, until we were powerful enough to confront them. We are not yet strong enough for the final battle, or any sort of open confrontation, but it is time we moved on to the next stage of our plans.

'I cal ed this meeting to propose an expedition to Sutrium, with the aim of finding out if we are in danger and if the Council has any real knowledge of our existence. We can no longer hide in the dark, shivering. We must look, in the next year, to establishing a safe house in the Lowlands, preferably right in Sutrium.'

'What is a safe house?' Miryum asked.

'The safe house wil form the nexus of our inner defence. It means we can move with more confidence among the Lowlanders. Most important, it means we wil be in a better position to know what the Council is up to.'

'What if someone is caught and . . . tortured into giving up the safe house location or, worse, to tel the truth about us and Obernewtyn?' Matthew asked. A few nodded fearful y at this.

'Don't you understand that we are no safer hiding up here?'

Rushton said urgently. 'Even if the rumours are just gossip, the soldierguards wil come to hear of it, especial y if they set a camp in the high country. The question is, do we wait until the Council descends on us before we act, or do we act now, while we can stil move with relative freedom?'

A thoughtful silence greeted his words.

'Then, do you propose two expeditions to the Lowlands?'

Roland asked.

Rushton smiled slightly. 'I vote that we accept the expedition proposed by Elspeth, with the addition of another person, whom I wil choose, who wil leave the main party after Rangorn, and move into Sutrium. An expedition that can have two purposes, can as easily have three. Now we wil vote on the expedition with its threefold purpose, and on the establishment of a safe house in Sutrium. Yes, first.' He lifted his own hand.

I raised mine, hiding a reluctant smile. Rushton was never truly defeated. He knew Garth would never have agreed to the move on Sutrium without the lure of the coveted library. In the end, the vote was unanimous. Perhaps al felt that the time had come, whether we were ready or not, for a less passive strategy. At any rate, no one liked the idea of waiting like a lamb to be slaughtered.

Rushton rose to close the meeting formal y, but was interrupted by a commotion outside the doors. Christa entered, her smooth face worried.

Seeing me, she beckoned urgently. 'Elspeth, it's Maruman. He's having some sort of fit. You had better come quickly.'



Maruman had been taken to the Healer Hal . As usual after days of wandering, often on tainted ground, his fur was filthy and singed in places, and dried blood matted the fur on one paw. But he looked no worse than he had on any other return. The wan afternoon light slanted obliquely from one of the high, slit-like windows to lay across his body, making it seem insubstantial, while candles burning al round the hal gave the room a ghostly orange tinge.

In the bed alongside the old cat's was a girl, heavily bandaged. She had been literal y wrested from the Herders' purifying flame and had been unconscious since her arrival. One of the futuretel ers sat beside her sunk in deep concentration.

I let my eyes rove around the room.

Two of the Guanna lay on a treatment bed near one wal . For a moment I had a vivid recol ection of the night the dog Sharna had been torn to pieces by the savage wolves while trying to help me. I knew the healers were trying to treat the minds of the wolves who had been trapped and driven insane by Ariel. He had used them to guard the grounds and to help him hunt down and kil runaways. But his sadistic treatment had made healing almost impossible. I looked up to see Alad come through the door.

'He looks like he's asleep,' I said.

Christa shook his head, nodding at the meditating futuretel er, 'She can hardly think for Maruman's emanations. I don't understand how you can't feel them,'

she added.

'I have my shield up,' I explained. I dissolved the protective mental barrier and almost staggered beneath the force of gibberish flowing from Maruman's mind. I had seen Maruman during other fits, but none so severe. 'I see what you mean.'

I saw from Alad's expression that he had lowered his own shield. 'Usual y I find the flow of beast thought soothing,' he said rueful y.

Looking at the sleeping cat, it was hard to believe the insane babble rose from his mind.

'He was lying outside the Futuretel wing when we found him. It looked as if he had dragged himself there,' Christa said.

'It seems worse than usual. Is it a fit?' I asked. She looked down at the old cat. 'The truth is that his mind is such a mess general y it is a wonder he can think straight even some of the time. I can't imagine what caused the damage in the first place, perhaps a traumatic birth. The amazing thing is that his mind seems to have adapted itself. There are the most extraordinary links and by-passes

- yet somehow it al functions. The fits he usual y has are the result of some sort of upward leak in his mind, where material from the deepest unconscious levels rises to distort his everyday thinking, hence the wild futuretel ing, but this . . .'

'What do you make of it?' I asked Alad.

He sighed. 'I'm a simple beastspeaker. This is beyond me. I've sent for Gather. He has a smal Talent for deep-probing as wel as being a strong beastspeaker. No one else has that combination. Christa suggested it since she has no Talent as a beastspeaker and Maruman wil not al ow her to enter him. Perhaps he wil permit a beastspeaker to deepprobe.'

'I can deepprobe,' I said.

Alad raised his brows, then he looked at the cat pensively.

'You could try. He's less likely to oppose you. I'm afraid if it goes on much longer he'l die of exhaustion. He looks calm enough but this is pul ing him apart.'

I stared down at the battle-scarred old cat, tears pricking my eyes. He looked so vulnerable. He would have hated that. I stroked him, fighting for control.

'Is there no healer free to ease him?' I asked gruffly. Tactful y Alad examined the window. 'They have done al they can. He's in no pain.'

'What can I do?' I asked.

'Go into his mind,' Alad said. 'See what you can find out. Make him wake, if you can.'

'I've never tried to deepprobe him before. What if he resists? I might hurt him.'

Alad shook his head impatiently. 'He'l die if you can't help him. He is more wild than tame and you know as wel as I, the wild ones are hardest to reach, even in a normal communication.'

With a feeling of dread, I sat on the stool beside the bed. I stroked Maruman's coarse fur gently, wil ing him to wake. I was repel ed by the idea of entering my old friend's most private mind. I could not have borne such an intrusion myself. I was uncertain I could overcome my own mental block, let alone any Maruman might throw up.

Alad patted my shoulder. 'It might be that you are the only one he wil permit to enter him. You might not have to force your way.'

I bit my lip then closed my eyes. Loosing a deepprobe tendril gently into the first level, I forced myself to ignore the screaming gibberish that assaulted me the instant my screen was down. For a moment I was swept along like a leaf in the dizzy maelstrom of Maruman's unconscious mind. I had a fleeting temptation to let myself go, but concentrated on Alad's hand on my shoulder, forcing myself to the next level.

I slipped through effortlessly.

Alad was right. Maruman was letting me in.

I drifted deeper, concentrating to avoid the forgetting which was one of the greatest dangers inherent in entering an unconscious mind.

Deeper stil and suddenly the susurration of the upper levels ceased. It was very quiet and stil .

'Maruman,' I whispered. 'Maruman?'

I sensed a ripple in the fabric of the cat's unconscious mind. In a sense, I knew, I was inside his dreams. I went deeper stil . Again I whispered his name.

This time he responded. 'Elspeth Innle . . .'

'Come with me,' I invited trying to draw him to the upper levels and wakefulness. I was buffeted gently by his refusal.

'Can not. Mustwait,' he responded.

I was puzzled. 'Wait for what?'

There was no answer. I asked again. 'Mustwait until Seeker comes.'

This was a name Maruman sometimes cal ed me. More confused than ever, I said, 'I am the Seeker.'

'Deeper. Must come deeper,' Maruman responded instantly.

'Whymust?' I asked.

'The Old One wishes it.'

I shivered violently, becoming suddenly conscious of my physical presence in the Healer Hal . I forced myself to concentrate, but I was unnerved. It struck me that Maruman had let me in easily because he had wanted me to enter his deepest mind. Why? I could only know that by slipping deeper but I was almost at my limit. The desire to rise was powerful and my energy was running away quickly. Before long I would have no choice. I would not have the strength to remain. If I were to go deeper, I had to do it immediately. Yet I hesitated.

At the depths of the mind is a great unconscious mindstream. It was into this that the futuretel ers dipped for their predictions. Without training it was possible for a mind to literal y dissolve. I was already deeper than I had ever gone before.

I braced myself. Fighting an irresistible urge to rise, I pushed my mind fraction by fraction into the depths. Al at once the void seemed to brighten and, below, I was aware of the shining silver rush of the mind-stream. Now I felt an opposite tug from the stream itself, a siren cal to merge. My innate fear of losing myself gave me the strength to resist.

'I have come,' I grated.

'Deeper,' Maruman urged. 'Must come deeper.'

I was frightened now, for it was possible Maruman did not realize the danger. I hesitated and felt myself begin to rise. I clamped on my probe and forced it deeper. Now I could feel the wind of the stream and its incredible cyclonic energy below. It seemed to sing my name in an indescribably lovely voice, wil ing me to join. Again, fear of losing my identity helped me to resist. Then, suddenly, the pul to join the stream and the pul to rise equalized exactly and I floated motionless.

Then I was on a high mountain in the highest ranges, the air around me fil ed with cold gusts of wind. I was inside the body of Maruman. I felt the wind ruffle his/my fur. I/We waited.

An il usion, but real as life.

I/We licked a paw and passed it over one ear. Then I felt the cal ing. It was not a voice so much as an inner compulsion. Maruman/I rose at once and began to walk, balancing with easy grace on the jagged spines of rock leading to a higher peak. It was there, I sensed, that the cal ing originated.

Then I heard my own name, but the voice was not Maruman's.

I was so astonished that the mountain il usion wavered and for a moment I saw, overlaid, the Healer Hal . I was in Maruman's deepest mind, and yet heard a cal ing that used my name!

'Do you know me?' I ventured.

'I have always known you,' came the response.

'Who are you? What are you?'

'I/We are Agyl ian,' it answered, in a tone a mother might use in speaking to a smal child. 'I have used the yel oweyes to communicate with you, Elspeth Innle, knowing you would come to his deepest mind. He is weary to death and it would be kind to let him join the Stream, but he is not ready to go yet and nor, I think, are you ready to let him go. His pain and his strange mind make him receptive to us and al ow us to use him.'

Then it's you making him sick,' I said indignantly.

'Be at ease. He permitted it. He wil suffer no harm, but he can sustain us little longer lest he pass into the Stream of his own accord. I come only to warn you that your tasks have not ended, and to remind you of your promise. The death machines slumber, waiting to be wakened. While they survive, the world is in danger. When the time is right for you to seek out the machines, you must be ready to act swiftly and without doubt. You must not al ow the concerns of your friends or your own needs to sway you. When the time for the dark journey is near, you must come to us and we wil provide you with help.'

'Journey? What journey?' I cried, but I was alone. The mountains dissolved and I used the last of my strength to rise to where the upward drift would carry me to the surface of Maruman's mind. I was vaguely conscious the upper levels were now quiet.

'Are you al right?' Alad asked tensely as I opened my eyes. I was slumped in the chair, soaked with perspiration and vaguely amazed to find it was dark.

He reached out and touched Maruman gently. 'He wil recover. He's sleeping normal y now. What did you do?'

I was too tired to answer. Seeing I was nearly asleep in the chair, Alad and one of the healers helped me to my room. Yet lying in bed, I found myself unable to sleep, and even the fol owing day I was preoccupied with the memory of the voice inside Maruman's mind.

Had it been a deepprobe il usion? They were common among Futuretel novices unused to the strict mental discipline required to deepprobe successful y. But I had not been in my own mind. Such an il usion ought to have been a distortion of Maruman's thoughts, but apart from imagining that I was using Maruman's senses as I occasional y used Matthew's, there had been no sense of invading the cat's dream.

It was possible the il usion had risen from my own conscience, and from my fleeting worry about what Henry Druid, if he stil lived, might find in his meddling with the past. Perhaps that and my visit to the Teknoguild caves had stirred up too many old ghosts, and the vision in Maruman's subconscious was the result.

Perhaps not.

It was hard to separate reality from il usion in the deeper levels of a mind but, if I had imagined it, why had Maruman been released from his torment the moment I had left his mind? Yet if it had not been an il usion, what had spoken through Maruman to me?

And what of its words? The voice had warned me about the weapon machines, reminding me of my vow to destroy them before they could be used. It had warned me to be ready to act when the time was right. But how would I know?

I shivered. I wanted to ask someone's advice, but suspected everyone, even Dameon, would tel me I had imagined the whole thing.

Yet they did not know that the weapon machines had survived. Ironical y Alexi's tortures had enabled me to see the death machines, but I had kept the secret, believing the knowledge too dangerous even for Rushton.

Both Maruman and poor Sharna had believed me to be a mysterious being in beast mythology named the Seeker, who they claimed was destined to fight a dark battle to save what remained of the world. It was too fantastic to believe.

Or was it? I was certain the voice in Maruman's mind had not been human - perhaps it had been some kind of animal. Was it possible those of the beast world knew something the humans, or funaga, did not? I wondered if I should speak to Maryon or one of the other future-tel ers, to ask for a future reading.

Fortunately, a busy Guildmerge meeting to sort out details of the coming expedition drove al these thoughts to the back of my mind. After the meeting I went to see Maruman. He had not wakened, but the sleep was natural. The best kind of medicine, Roland had said reassuringly. Coming across the lawns from the Healer Hal , I found myself thinking of the Guildmerge and Rushton's plans and feeling more certain than ever that things were about to change at Obernewtyn. Glancing up, I half expected to see dark clouds gathering overhead, but the sky was a clear and cloudless blue.

Inside, I noticed Dameon making his way down the hal towards the kitchens with Matthew.

I watched them approach, wondering what kept Dameon from running into things. His empath ability would not help him see, yet he was never clumsy.

'Elspeth?' he said unexpectedly in his soft beautiful y spoken voice. His father had been a member of the Council before his death, and Dameon had been a product of that privileged class before a cousin had arranged to have him judged Misfit, and Claim the deceased estate. It was one of the beauties of the Misfit charge that it could not be absolutely proven or disproven.

'Are ye sure ye canna see?' Matthew asked the empath, walking behind because of the narrowness of the hal at that point.

Dameon smiled sweetly. 'I possess neither sight nor the wondrous magic of your precious Oldtimers,' he teased. 'I knew Elspeth was there because of your reaction to her.'

'You empaths!' Matthew exploded. 'I thought I had th' shield in place then. Ye'd think emotions at least ought to be private.'

'You need to perfect that shield,' Dameon admonished. 'Do you think I want to be privy to your emotional turmoils, entertaining though they are?'

Matthew blushed to the roots of his hair. 'One canna always be screenin' every thought,' he muttered.

Dameon laughed aloud. I bit my lip to conceal my own amusement and Dameon smiled accurately in my direction. There was a touch of sadness in his face that had not always been there. I looked up to see Matthew give me a speculative look. Annoyed that he seemed to know something I did not, I was tempted to probe him.

'Come, or we wil arrive for midmeal at firstmeal,' Dameon said so pointedly, I wondered if he had somehow deepprobed me.

Rushton cal ed Dameon his conscience and suddenly I understood why.

Dameon held out his arm and I took it with a wry smile. 'I hear young Una has been up to her tricks again?' he asked over his shoulder.

Matthew scowled blackly. 'It was nowt so much the prank as her gettin' me so flustered I sat next to Miryum at nightmeal. That girl has as much grace an' wit as a lump of stone.'

'Yet she is guilden,' Dameon said with faint reproach. Matthew looked put out. 'She has Talent, I grant ye. But al she ever thinks about is the latest way to make people do things they dinna want to do. I dinna see how ye can bide her,' he added, belatedly remembering Dameon spent a lot of time with the coercers in his work with Rushton. The sound of cutlery clinking and laughter flowed down the hal from the kitchen to meet us. There had long been vague plans to open up another room as a proper dining area, but somehow the alcoves adjoining the kitchen remained the main eating area.

Guilds had got into the habit of sitting together for meals, but most of the masters sat at the head table with Rushton. He seemed to think of meals as another kind of strategy meeting.

Dameon saw me seated then went to join his guild members. The empath spent most of his time working with Rushton and he had long ago offered to forgo his place as master of the Empath Guild, to make way for Miky and Angina, who managed it in his name. The twins had refused emphatical y. No other guild had quite the same love for their master as the empaths. They made little official demand on his time, but at social occasions they were possessive.

I was seated beside Rushton. Domick was on the other side of him and they were both absorbed in something being said by Gevan, master of the Coercer Guild. Rushton's soup was untouched.

I sighed and wondered if he ever noticed anything he ate, or enjoyed a conversation just because it was fun. I noticed Louis Larkin standing just inside the kitchen courtyard door peering about short-sightedly. He hated coming to the house, preferring to eat in the farm kitchen. I wondered what had been important enough to bring him to the main house.

I sent a probe to Matthew, tel ing him to find out what Louis wanted. 'He says he must talk with you,' Matthew sent after a moment. 'Wil not tel me. Can't crack grouchybugger's shield.'

I sighed. Louis was just as hard to get along with as he had always been. His hair stuck out like coils of wire on each side of his head, but was sparse on top. His cheeks and nose were red with cold but he insisted I come outside before he would talk. Matthew came too, closing the door behind him. It was growing colder and my breath came out in little puffs of cloud.

'Hmph,' Louis grumped. 'I'm surprised ye've th' time to spare for a beastspeaker.' Louis regarded my decision to lead the Farseekers rather than the Beasting Guild as the worst sort of traitorous defection.

'What is it, Louis?' I asked resignedly. There were times when he reminded me of Maruman at his most difficult.

'No need to snap my head off,' Louis said smugly. 'T'were a bit of gossip I heard, I thought might interest ye.'

Louis was a remarkable source of odd bits of information. He hardly ever left Obernewtyn, but he always seemed to know what was going on in the Highlands. And he knew everything that went on at Obernewtyn.

'I heard ye were wonderin' if th' Druid had left th' high country,' Louis said, looking over his shoulder as if he thought someone might be listening. I was never sure how much of his eccentric behaviour was affected and how much genuine.

'Have you heard anything?' I asked.

He nodded smugly. 'Th' word is that th' Druid has nowt left th' high country. No one has seen a sign of his people in many a long day, but now an' then, there are


'That could be our fault,' Matthew said. 'Them missin' could be Misfits we rescue, despite th' trouble we gan to make them seem natural.'

'Ye'd be right of course! It could nowt be that th' Druid is doin' his own recruitin'. 'Tis nowt possible the disappearances are the reason th' Council takes an interest in th' high country!' Louis huffed sarcastical y.

'But, if the Druid is taking people, where is he? And why haven't we been able to locate his camp in far-seeking searches?' I asked.

Outrage in the old man's face melted into genuine puzzlement. 'Tis strange enow. I would have said th' Druid had gone. But if he's nowt away from th' White Val ey, yer expedition route mun be more dangerous than goin' th'

main way.'

'Have you mentioned this to Rushton?' I asked. Louis gave me a look of sly entreaty. 'Fact is, I only just heard it. Ought to tel th' Master but I've a yen to go on this expedition. I'd like to see th' Lowlands once, afore I die,' he added pitiful y. 'Ye could put in a word for me.'

'Rediculous,' Matthew said. 'Ye'l live for ever ye old fake!'

'I wil speak to Rushton,' I said. Louis's eyes were fixed on my face, and whatever he saw there made him smile sourly.

'Ye do that,' he said.

After he had gone, Matthew looked at me incredulously.

'Why did ye let him bluff ye? Rushton'l nivver agree!'

'Because if Rushton heard this, he would be bound to cancel the expedition, or at least delay it. And Louis knows it. Besides, he might . . .'

'What th' devil?' Matthew muttered, hearing a wild yel from the courtyard behind us.

Zarak and Lina of the Beasting Guild ran up to us. Both were white faced.

'Guildmistress, we have to talk to you!' Lina gasped. She elbowed Zarak hard.

'Wel ?' I snapped, in no mood for Lina's antics. Zarak looked up, his eyes miserable and frightened, and suddenly I was fil ed with apprehension. 'What is it?'

Lina answered. 'We were sitting in the courtyard next to the maze and Zarak was . . .' She glared at Zarak, who was now staring at his feet. I restrained an urge to shake him. He burst out, 'I know I'm not supposed to farseek, but you don't know what it's like - being able to make your mind fly, and not being al owed to do it. I only meant to go a little way, but it felt so wonderful. Then I bumped into someone else. A stranger!'

I stared at him coldly. 'You know even Farseeker novices do not farseek beyond the mountains.' He nodded. 'Do you know why we have this rule?' He nodded again. Tel me,' I snapped.

'Because they might bump into a wild Talent . . . and not be able to shield wel enough to stop them . . . tracing back to Obernewtyn,' he mumbled. 'But I swear it was someone untrained as I am. He couldn't have traced me. He thought I was an evil spirit.'

I felt a sneaking sympathy for Zarak, who was in the wrong guild because his father was a beastspeaker. But I showed none of these thoughts on my face. Zarak had to learn to curb his curiosity, for al our sakes.

'Then since you know the rules it is not a matter of ignorance, but of deliberate disobedience.' Zarak hung his head, flushing. Therefore you wil go at once to Javo and tel him you wil be available for heavy kitchen work until I say otherwise. You wil be suspended from the Beasting Guild for the same period. I wil speak to Alad and your father. Or do you want to lodge an appeal at the next Guildmerge?'

Zarak shook his head.

Matthew nodded approvingly. 'A fool who knows he is a fool is near to becomin' wise.'

Lina fidgeted and looked at Zarak. 'You'd better tel them everything,' she advised.

Zarak bit his lip. 'I might be wrong. It was so quick,' he said, then floundered to a halt.

'What did ye do?' Matthew shouted.

Zarak said nothing.

'The person Zarak bumped into,' Lina said with a sigh.

'Zarak thinks it was a Herder.'



'Do ye think it were a Herder?' Matthew asked dubiously when the Farseeker Guild met the fol owing day.

'I don't know,' I said. 'Misfits have come to us from almost every walk of life. Why not from the Herder Cloisters?'

Matthew frowned. 'But would nowt they just Burn any Misfit they found among themselves? They have th' right, over their own people.'

I shook my head. 'The Council might, but the Herders are subtle enough to think of using a Misfit for their own purposes. Especial y if it were our sort.'

'You think this accidental meeting was no accident?' asked an older farseeker.

I shrugged. 'It may have been accidental on Zarak's part. But if the Herders have discovered about Talented Misfits .

. .'

'Maybe he was wrong about not being traced,' Ceirwan said.

I shook my head. 'I think he was tel ing the truth, but we'l have to make sure. Have you traced the old path from Zarak's memory?'

Ceirwan nodded. 'It's a cloister al right - in Darthnor, of al places.'

'Darthnor. A town ful of pro-Herder bigots an' fanatics. Wonderful,' Matthew said darkly.

Later that day I went down to the farms. Ostensibly I wanted to organize wagons for the expedition to the Lowlands. But I was also curious to talk to Alad about his outburst in Guildmerge. The Beasting guild-master was nowhere to be seen but I noticed a dark horse grazing nearby. That reminded me of the rumours of friction between humans and the younger horses.

It looked up warily at my approach. 'Greetings, Funaga.'

I was surprised at its guarded tone. 'Greetings, Equine,' I sent. 'Do you know where Alad Beasting guild-master is?'

The horse looked at me measuringly. 'Who knows where the funaga go?' it sent cool y.

Al at once I realized whom I was talking to. Alad had encountered the black horse in Guanette. He had belonged to a gypsy troop. Half starved, he had been trying to pul a cart loaded with furniture, five plump children and a fat, dirty gypsy man cursing and lashing out with a whip. Alad had told me the horse's imaginative mental curses had attracted his attention - that and its strength of mental projection.

He had ended up buying the horse and bringing him to Obernewtyn. Despite a deep hatred of humans, the horse had chosen to remain, becoming almost at once the spokesman for its kind. He had arrived, a dusty, bedraggled bag of bones, wild-eyed and fil ed with hatred of the funaga. Now he was lean and muscled, his coat gleaming and sleek. Only the eyes were unchanged, stil fil ed with anger and suspicion. Suddenly I was sure this horse was behind Alad's difficulties with the horses.

'I remember when you came to Obernewtyn,' I said gently. The horse tossed its head, nostrils flared wide. 'I was brought here a slave. I did not choose to come,' it snarled. Taken aback I said, 'We had to do it that way. It would have looked odd to buy a horse and set it free. You chose to stay.'

'That is so, Funaga. There is no place in the world not infected by the funaga. Here is the same as anywhere else.'

From the corner of my eye, I saw Alad approaching.

'We are not like the people who owned you before. Here, al work together. We are equals.'

The horse snorted savagely. 'You talk like a fool. We have no place in the funaga conclaves.'

'It's only a matter of time . . .' I began, but the horse cut me off with its own thought.

'Alad-Gahltha asked that we be treated as true equals. Again this was set aside. Wait, they say. We have waited long enough. Now we are tired of waiting. From now on, we work only for our food and shelter. We wil carry no funaga, and we wil pul no cart beyond these mountains. We wil not risk our lives to help the funaga. We wil not fight the funaga's battles unless they are also ours.'

There was no doubt in my mind that the proud, bitter horse meant it.

'That won't make anyone like you or take . . .'

The horse spat violently at my feet. 'Like! I care nothing for the likes and hates of the funaga. Al ies we wil be, or nothing. I have heard the funaga plan a journey to the Lowlands. We wil see how they fare with no equine to draw their carts or carry them in the dark lands.'

I blinked. 'But we're not going to the Blacklands.'

'The places where the funaga dwel are darker than any poisoned ground,' the horse sent bleakly.

'I tried to warn Rushton. And it's not just the horses,' Alad said from behind.

I ignored this and addressed the horse again. I knew as wel as he that no expedition could be undertaken on foot, especial y one so far and through such terrain. We needed the horses. 'What if the journey were a test - to see if your kind and mine could real y be al ies, working together, trusting one another?'

The black horse stood very stil but he did not respond. 'A way to find out if your kind and mine can work in accord,' I went on softly. 'A test in which funaga must pretend to have no special abilities and equines must pul carts, be ridden by funaga, and reined.'

The horse reared violently and Alad started back swearing. I had expected the reaction knowing the younger horses would not even tolerate a modified rein, and would only work with beastspeakers.

The black horse bucked and reared, driving blade-like hooves deep into the ground. At last he calmed and turned to face me, his coat dark with sweat. 'What if al who journeyed were slain? What if this journey failed?'

'If the equines did their part faithful y, the test would be judged a success - regardless of the outcome. And one of your kind would sit at Guildmerge.'

I knew I was offering what I had no right to offer, but I had no doubt Rushton would concur. He knew we needed the horses.

Alad should have brought the black horse before Council and let it make out a case. Its obvious hatred of humans would have been balanced by its intel igence and strength of mind. The horses were worthy al ies, though I doubted animals like the black horse would ever be friends to their former masters.

'It shal be as you have stated, Funaga,' the horse said final y. 'I wil find those to draw your cart for this testing. But I wil join your expedition also. Not to draw a cart, but to bear you. Then we wil see whose kind is best fitted to lead.'

'Elspeth, you can't!' Alad cried aloud. 'Rushton wil have a fit!'

The black horse did not take its eyes from mine and there was chal enge and cold amusement in his look. He was daring me to agree, certain I would refuse.

I took a deep breath, ignoring the horrified Beasting guildmaster. 'It wil be as you say, Equine. Together we wil deceive the Lowlanders into thinking I am your master.'

The horse neighed its laughter.



'Who are you?'

Young, I assured Ceirwan.

'Where are you? I know you're there. I feel you.'

The probe was clumsy and its movements graceless and badly focused, but I was surprised to find he had sensed my presence since I was tightly shielded. I let my probe brush against his fleetingly, testing.

His mind stabbed out in fright. 'Are you a demon?'

Even while he grappled with my shielded probe, I entered him at a deeper level, deepprobing to find trace memories of the encounter with Zarak. The meeting had had a huge impact on his mind. I was amused to find he thought Zarak a minor demon come to test his faith.

I decided to risk contact. If he reacted by cal ing out to his masters, I would stun him and Domick would manufacture a coercive block.

Rushton had insisted Domick monitor the attempt after being reluctantly convinced we had to establish how much damage had been done, and whether Zarak's probe had been traced back to Obernewtyn. I suspected Domick had orders to cripple the boy's mind if there were any risk of the Herders using him.

'Do your elders know of us?' I sent.

The boy's mind recoiled from my mental blast. I had deliberately made it harsh and even slightly painful. While the boy believed he was dealing with demons, we were in no real danger.

'It is the way of a priest to undergo his tests in silence, Demon. My master has warned me your kind would try to shake my faith,' the young Herder sent proudly. I had read from his thoughts that he was a novice or apprentice priest. Born and bred on Herder Isle to servants of the priests, he had been Chosen to join the priesthood. After initial training, he had been sent to Darthnor Cloister to serve out his apprenticeship in the Highlands. Ironical y, he had become aware of his powers under the rigorous mental training of the priesthood.

He was speaking the truth about having said nothing of his encounter with the demon. He believed, at least superficial y, that this was because the private agonies of a priest must remain locked in his own mind. Herder teaching said anything outside normal abilities was a mutation, but he had refused to admit his secret fear that he might be a Misfit.

He was no hardened fanatic for al his reactions. We rescued few older folk since most were unable to accept that their mutant abilities might not be evil. Those we encountered whom we judged a bad risk, we simply blocked, making it impossible for them to use their powers. This horrified the Healers, but, in truth, the Misfits were happier to seem normal. Many believed Lud had cured them. The Herder boy's youth was a mark in his favour, since most of our rescues were of children. It was his youth that stopped me simply having Domick expunge the memory and block his mutant powers. Instinct told me he was worth rescuing but, because he was a Herder, I had to be sure he would respond the right way. I had promised Rushton I would do nothing until I was certain he could be trusted.

'How do you know I am a demon?' I asked, curious to know how much dogma he had swal owed.

The response was immediate. 'You are a greater demon. The other was a lesser novice. Only demons can talk inside a man's head. My master says many are driven mad by such things, but you wil not find me easy to break.'

I sensed Ceirwan's amusement. 'A puppy,' he sent in ardent relief.

'If we can bring him in we would have an insight into the Herders' world. It's always possible those men asking questions about Obernewtyn were from the Herder Faction.'

Ceirwan looked unconvinced. 'He is a novice. Unlikely to know their inner secrets.'

'He is one of us,' I insisted stubbornly. 'If we leave him, the Herders might end up finding out what he is anyway, sooner or later. Then he might betray us at their behest. He is not ful y committed to their way and, deep down, I think he knows it. He's suppressing it because he is frightened.'

'A rescue would have to be completely foolproof,' Ceirwan warned.

'Are you stil there, Demon?' the boy sent.

The wistful enquiry in his voice decided me. I remembered my own long mental loneliness, thinking myself a freak, living in fear of disclosure.

'Do others of your kind speak to demons?' I asked. There was a significant hesitation in his mind before he answered. 'Demons test many priests.'

'I have not encountered any other human who could communicate with me,' I sent, trying to sound like a demon. Stil probing his lower mind, I sensed him shy away from the half-formed thought that fol owed my comment. I was reminded of my own childhood in the Orphan Home system. I had not known at once that I was a Misfit, but some instinct of self-protection had kept me silent about my abilities. My brother, Jes, had been even more frightened. His hatred of my mutant abilities had warred with his love for me. He had spent a lifetime suppressing, even from himself, the fact that he, too, was a Misfit. In the end, he had been kil ed trying to escape from an Orphan Home after I was sent to Obernewtyn. For al his apparent devoutness the Herder boy was afraid, loath to speak of his abilities because of a gut feeling of danger.

'I want to bring him out,' I told Ceirwan aloud. The memory of Jes made me determined to rescue the boy before leaving for the Lowlands. With this in mind, I contacted him every night, working on his buried fears. At last he broke down, confessing his knowledge that he was a Misfit; his belief that his masters had begun to suspect him.

'Surely such a smal mutation would not matter,' I said, at the same time evoking an old nightmare in the boy's mind based on a Burning he had once witnessed.

I was startled at the strength of his reaction. He screamed. The noise brought an older Herder. Fearing the worst, Domick struck. I deflected his blow with an ease that made him glare suspiciously.

'I said I'l handle this,' I hissed aloud.

I was relieved to hear the Herder boy tel his master he had been dreaming and injected my own calm control over his outward expressions. The priest departed with a final hard stare. My own heart was thudding, reacting to the boy's fear.

'He knows,' he sent forlornly. I had not meant to make an approach so soon, but the desperate loneliness I sensed in his thought decided me.

'You could run away,' I suggested.

'Where could I go that they wouldn't find me?' the boy asked miserably. 'If they suspect, they won't let me get away. They are interested in Misfits. They don't send them to the Council.' I saw a fleeting thought that confirmed rumours of the Herder interrogation methods and shuddered. What would happen when they discovered our kind of Misfit?

What would happen to the boy if they did guess the truth?

Suddenly I was very curious about the mysterious Herders.

'You know I am no demon,' I sent gently, after a moment.

'Yes,' the boy sent simply.

'Once, I was an Orphan. Like you, I was different. I didn't fit in and I was afraid of being found out and Burnt, or sent to the farms. Now I live free, with others like me.'

'Misfits,' he sent, using the hated word.

'Like you,' I sent. 'You could join us,' I added lightly. Hope flared, swamped by a sudden regressive fear that I might, after al , be a demon tempting him to the loss of his soul. 'The other one. The first one I met. Is he there?'

I cal ed Zarak and shielded his beam while they talked. In the end, the young Herder agreed to join us.

'He wants to know if he can bring his dog,' Zarak asked with a grin.

Zarak, Matthew and Ceirwan brought him out. Official y Zarak was stil in Coventry, but the Herder boy trusted him, and had insisted he be present.

Gradual y over a matter of days, the boy gave his Herder masters the impression he was becoming increasingly homesick. He talked constantly about his family and refused to eat. He let his masters think he was having trouble with the mental disciplines of the priesthood. When he escaped, it was made to appear as if he had run away with his dog, and had drowned trying to cross the Suggredoon.

It was a good scenario, one of the best we had designed. It had to be or Rushton would never have passed it. It was artistical y managed, even to the point of having clothes washed up on the bank, and beast-speaking scavenger birds to hover ominously about the spot when the Herder search party arrived. It was one of the few rescues that had gone without a single hitch.

The boy proved not only to be a powerful farseeker, which we had known already, but also an equal y strong empath, which explained how he had sensed my presence when I was shielded. The joint ability was unusual. There were only two other farseekers among us with weak empath Talent. To my regret, the boy Chose the Empath Guild, little wonder since Dameon had taken him gently in hand from the start. Within days he had developed the empaths' traditional adoration for their gentle leader.

His name was Jik.

The expedition was due to depart in only a week, when I met with Rushton to discuss the final plan. Discovering my name on the list of those to go, Rushton had exploded. He was furious to hear of my agreement with the black horse and even angrier that I had not spoken of it to him sooner.

'I won't be threatened,' he shouted.

'It is an agreement,' I said calmly. 'We real y don't have any choice. We need the horses. And I am the strongest farseeker and a perfectly good candidate for this expedition.'

Rushton shook his head. 'I wil agree to this test in principle, but you won't be the one riding the black horse. I won't risk a guildmaster on an expedition.'

Using Alad as translator, Rushton argued with the black horse, but it was useless. 'He says why should the equines risk one of their leaders if the funaga wil not? He says a test should involve leaders,' Alad said.

'Then offer me as his rider,' Rushton said grimly. The horse agreed this would be a fair exchange, but Guildmerge outvoted Rushton, saying he was more valuable than any other at Obernewtyn, being the legal Master. He must not be al owed to risk himself. Incensed, Rushton found his own rule, permitting a unanimous Guildmerge to outweigh his lone vote, used against him. I was taken aback at his reaction. I understood his reluctance to risk a guildmaster, but to offer himself as a replacement was senseless. Even he must see he was more important to Obernewtyn than I.

Ceirwan was to run the Farseeker Guild in my absence, along with two other farseekers, since Matthew had also been appointed to the expedition. Unspoken was the knowledge that Ceirwan would become master, if I failed to return.

On the final list were myself, Pavo, Kel a and Louis Larkin, with the Coercer ward, Domick, as Rushton's choice for our spy. The expedition was to be disguised as a gypsy troop. The carts had been built by the Teknoguild.

The black horse snorted its loathing at the sight of the gypsy rig. It had appointed two older horses to draw the carts. 'Gypsies are not wel loved by the funaga. Too fine horses wil encourage robbers,' he sent in terse explanation.

'What about you?' I asked.

The horse perked its ears forward complacently. 'They wil not find me desirable,' he sent cryptical y.

The night before we were to leave, Rushton came to the turret chamber. He had col ected our false Normalcy Certificates. Written on old discoloured parchment they were good forgeries, but I hoped we would not need them. The names had yet to be fil ed in.

'It's done then,' Rushton said. He stared into the fire. There was a drawn-out silence and the fire crackled as if the lack of sound made it uneasy.

'Is something wrong?' I asked.

'Are you afraid?' he asked unexpectedly. I had a sudden vivid memory of him asking the same question in that room when it had been his.

This time, I nodded soberly. 'It wil be dangerous, despite bypassing Sutrium and the main ways.'

Rushton turned to face me, his green eyes troubled. 'Don't .

. . risk too much for this Misfit,' he said. 'Whoever it is might not want to join us. You . . . are perceptive, but you don't always see what is in front of your eyes.'

I had the notion he had meant to say something else and shifted uncomfortably. I had never felt real y at ease with him since being forced into a mind link with him. I began to wish someone else would come in.

Rushton stood abruptly, shook his head and walked across to open the window shutters, breathing deeply as if the air in the turret room were too thin. He turned, leaning back against the open window, his face in shadow. 'You . . . are important to Obernewtyn. We can't afford to lose a guildmistress. Even now it is not too late to change your mind . . .'

I shook my head, relieved at the change of subject. 'I want to go. Beside

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