Karenoran, pouring Berget some more wine, said to her, ‘We have been talking about Kor-Sen, my dear lady, because he is the cleverest boy it has ever been my pleasure to teach.’
Berget looked gratified. ‘Go on, Schoolmaster.’
‘There is no telling what this boy might achieve. He has a great mind. Please try to understand that we are only seeking the best for the child!’
Berget nodded, and was about to speak when a dry young voice butted in. ‘Do you not think, oh respected elders, that it might be a courtesy if you were to inform me of your secret plans for my future?’ All three turned to look at Kor-Sen, sitting up and grinning cheerfully at them.
‘Yes, the boy is right,’ said Dal-Nen. ‘Listen, Kor-Sen; Karenoran and I want you to seek admission to the Temple School – your mother is angered by the very idea. What do you think?’
‘I do not like the sound of the priests. Why do you want me to go to them?’
‘Because,’ said Karenoran, ‘whether we like it or not, the temple school is simply the best in this land. It is the only hope a poor boy has of making anything of himself.
The boat drifted on. So still and quiet were the two that a fishing cormorant came and perched on the prow, close by Drewin, and stayed for most of their first sorrowful day. The next morning they were surrounded by a family of grey seals, who poked their curious noses almost into the boat, blowing softly and grunting at the silent woman and the desolate man. But neither Drewin nor Saranna noticed them. Then on the second evening a vast whale rose to the surface so close to their boat that they were almost swamped, and Drewin fell with a cry into the tumbling waters, and was gone before Saranna could call his name. She jumped to her feet, almost toppling into the sea herself in her terror. All around her the surface of the water seemed unbroken, save for a few small patches of foam. There was no sign of either Drewin or the whale.
In the clearing her children stood motionless, clinging together. ‘Mother,’ said Drewin, and took a step towards her.
‘Keep away,’ she warned, and stretched one hand out to ward him off. Saranna began to weep.
‘But mother, what is happening? What do you want us to do? We will do whatever you ask, only tell us how to make you happy again,’ Drewin pleaded.
The Lady turned away from them, crying bitterly. ‘Go down to the sea. There you will learn what you have brought upon yourselves.’
They went stumbling and crying down to the shore, where they found a boat. As they stood beside it, looking fearfully about into the strange dusk that was falling rapidly upon the sea and the shore, the voice of Ellanna came to them in the waves, full of sorrow, but nonetheless angry. ‘You have shown yourselves unworthy. You have misused the Runes of Power, the great creation of Iranor my daughter, and now we see that you are not fit to dwell with the Immortals and share their joys. You must leave now, and never see this island again. From this time you will live in the years as mortals do, and you will know death.’
Another day, as the children ran on the beach Saranna found a small piece of wood cast up by the sea and brought it to Drewin. ‘Drewin, Drewin, look at this. What a funny shape it is, like two circles stuck together.’
‘Thank you, Saranna, it is beautiful. I will see what I can make from it.’ So for several days he carved and polished, hiding his work from Saranna until it was finished. Then he showed her what he had done. The two circles were separated and from each of them Drewin had carved a perfectly regular ring. Patterns of twining leaves adorned the rings, while at its centre each bore a carving of a Rune; one Ord, and the other Orth. Drewin had cut out the shapes with such skill that the back of each carving was as smooth and attractive as the front, and looked at from the rear they each displayed their rune in reverse. The wood was now polished, and glowed like satin.
‘Oh Drewin; how lovely. Such pretty things; may I have one?’
‘One is for you, little one. See, I have carved here Orth for Saranna, and Ord for Drewin. And we shall wear them forever.’
Saranna reached eagerly for the Orth-rune, saying, ‘I shall look just like Mother, with her beautiful fish necklace.’
‘Now look at this,’ Drewin said. He showed Saranna what he had fashioned from the rest of the driftwood fragment. An oval of wood like the link of a metal chain, skilfully hinged so that it opened or snapped shut easily. As Saranna watched, he fastened the two amulets together with the link. ‘See, if one of us wishes to leave our rune with the other to care for a while, the two may be joined safely.’
On the island of the West Wind Iranor’s children grew; their mother played with them and told them tales; of mortals – their foolishness and joys and sorrows; of her mother Ellanna and the making of the world. And she told how she herself had made the runes for her children. ‘There are eleven runes, and these are their shapes,’ she said, drawing the outlines in the sand. The two children quickly learnt the shapes and sounds, and were able to put them together to make all the words they knew.
‘What clever children you are!’ said Iranor, delighted. ‘As a reward I will do for you what I did for my other children: I will invent runes for you that will call up the sounds of your names for all time, for eternity beyond the end of Skorn itself. For the runes are immortal as you are, and you and each of your runes will exist together forever.’
She made new marks in the sand: marks never before seen. The first was made of two curved lines, down and to the left. ‘This is ‘Orth’, and it is yours, Saranna.’ The second was a line upwards and one to the right. ‘And this is ‘Ord’, and it is Drewin’s.’
The children looked in wonder at the marks in the sand. ‘Mother,’ said Drewin, ‘are they really ours? Are they really new?’
Iranor smiled and hugged both her children to her. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘they are yours, and only yours. I have made them and given them to you, and no-one can ever change or destroy them.’
He called out, ‘Put down your pencils Class One. Bring your work to me.’ He worked his way through the classes, coming to Kor-Sen’s halfway through. The neatness and clarity of the boy’s script pleased him at first sight. After commenting on each boy’s technical achievement in shaping the letters, Karenoran asked, ‘And who can tell me about this piece – what is it, what does it mean?’
There was a lot of shuffling and looking down and muttering. Kor-Sen looked at his classmates in surprise. ‘It is a poem, Sir. An old poem about the people of the desert.’
‘Go on, Kor-Sen.’
‘Well – the poet says that the people are like the stars of the desert sky, wandering over the empty sands just like the stars move across the empty night. And he says that their lives are fierce and harsh like the desert sun; and they are brave and strong as the desert lion, and secret like the hidden springs, and the words are beautiful, Sir.’
Karenoran smiled. ‘Is that right? You, Kan-Den, do you agree?’
‘Me, Sir? I – I didn’t know it was about people – I mean, it doesn’t say it is, does it?’
‘It’s a metaphor, Sir – it is really about the people, but it’s written to compare them to all these other things. That’s a metaphor.’
‘So it is. Learn that, all the rest of you, and today will have been well spent. Now take the two younger classes out into the yard to play, while I deal with Fourth and Fifth Classes.’
‘Now the reason for having schools is that there is so much to learn, such a great store of knowledge in the world, that we cannot hope to just pick it all up from those around us. In schools, the pupils learn from their teachers all about runes and writing, number and measuring, the busyness of the bees, what the stars are saying, music and song and story – and more besides.’ Dal-Nen refreshed himself with a draught of milk. ‘Here in IssKor, there are few schools and very few that are good – at least not to my way of thinking. The Temple School is the biggest, run by the priests, who hold much of their knowledge to themselves so that their power may be greater. It is forbidden by the edict of Jaren to teach girls and women. All this is foolishness, to me. Here in the Southgate, at small schools like the one your young friends go to, boys are taught to think and to ask questions. But even here we only dare to teach in secret if we teach our girls to read. Bah!’
Kor-Sen sat enraptured, a cake growing sticky in one hand and a mug of milk wavering perilously in the other. ‘Could I learn things too? Could you teach me to read too?
Dal-Nen was startled. ‘You cannot read, boy? Why then of course I shall teach you! You and Garnet shall start tomorrow.’
Berget stood silent and stiff in the narrow street, watched by an equally silent crowd of the people who lived nearby. A man with a sword stood next to Berget, while three other men smashed up her loom. A fourth destroyer was methodically breaking up pottery, jugs and bowls and platters, and had even smashed jagged holes through the bottoms of Berget’s one copper dish and one brass pan. To one side was a bale of woven cloth, and Berget’s whole store of wool. As Kor-Sen watched, the men finished their work of destruction, gathered up the cloth and wool, and walked away into the night. Everyone else drifted away, their entertainment finished. Berget did not move.
She turned very slowly, and smiled wanly at him in the dim light from someone’s house-door. ‘Child, what have you done?’
‘I broke his nose. He said you were dirty. What is ‘fatherless’?’
‘My father says I’m not to play with you, you’re a dirty fatherless foreign brat!’
Kor-Sen, a skinny eight-year-old, was pinned by both arms against a crumbling mudbrick wall, held by two large henchmen of the plump, well-dressed speaker. For months he had been trailing after the other boys – young girls did not play in the streets of Sen-Mar – and had been allowed to join in their games from time to time. He would be allowed to make up a team if they were one short of a side for the eternally popular pastime of pursuing an inflated goat-bladder up and down the twisting streets. He might be allowed to carry something particularly heavy for one of the wealthier boys. One of them might now and then grant him a sweetmeat or a sip of sherbet from their purchases when they decided to impress the poorer children by spending their own money – bronze or even silver coins – at the market stalls. He was usually the one left behind to take the blame when the rush and tumble of their games caused the collapse of a stall or the scattering of some household’s washing, and in this way he acquired many bruises. Yet until this day he had been happy. Until this day when the two big boys, poor and dirty boys like himself, had suddenly grabbed him on the orders of Sal-Mor, fat and oily Sal-Mor whose father owned half the weaving sheds in the artisans quarter, and whose rents gave a sorry double meaning to the word ‘fleece’.
A rather wobbly Fluff made it home from the vet about 5.00 last night. His legs wouldn’t do what he wanted them to, his pupils were enormous and he didn’t feel like any tea.
This morning all of those things had improved a little, and as the day has gone on they are improving more.
As it turned out he only had one tooth removed rather than two, since the second one that looked bad turned out to be OK. All the remaining teeth are descaled, his ears have been cleaned, and he’s been eating. Not to mention using the litter tray. So we should be OK now.
Various tests were done and showed him to be still in the normal range of markers for kidney function, albeit at the high end of normal. Excellent for his age.
He has a post-op check in two days but the way things are going he should be fine. He sends a sleepy purr to all his fans.