Between Worlds: the Collected Ile-Rien and Cineth Stories

BOOK: Between Worlds: the Collected Ile-Rien and Cineth Stories
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Between Worlds:

The Collected
Ile-Rien and Cineth Stories

 

by Martha Wells

 

 

This is a work of
fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional,
and any resemblance to real people or current events is purely coincidental.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Martha Wells

eBook Cover by Tiger Bright Studios

www.marthawells.com

 

 

 

“The Potter’s
Daughter” first appeared in
Elemental
in May 2006.

“Night at the
Opera” is original to this collection.

“Holy Places”
first appeared in
Black Gate Magazine
#11 in August 2007.

“Rites of
Passage” first appeared on marthawells.com in April 2014.

“Houses of the
Dead” first appeared in
Black Gate Magazine
#12 in July 2008.

“Reflections”
first appeared in
Black Gate Magazine
#10 in March 2007.

The
Potter’s Daughter

 

This story takes place sometime before the events of
the novel
The Element of Fire
.

 

The potter’s daughter sat in the late afternoon sun
outside the stone cottage, making clay figures and setting them out to dry on
the flat slate doorstep. A gentle summer breeze stirred the oak and ash leaves
and the dirty grey kerchief around her dirty blond hair.

Someone was coming up the path.

She could hear that he was without horse, cart, or
company, and as he came toward her through the trees she saw that he was tall,
with dark curly hair and a beard, with a pack and a leather case slung over one
shoulder. He was unarmed, and dressed in a blue woolen doublet, faded and
threadbare, brown breeches and brown top boots. The broad-brimmed hat he wore
had seen better days, but the feathers in it were gaily colored. Brief
disappointment colored her expression; she could tell already he wasn’t her
quarry.

Boots crunched on the pebbles in the yard, then his
shadow fell over her and he said, “Good day. Is this the way to Riversee?”

She continued shaping the wet clay, not looking up at
him. “Just follow this road to the ford.”

“Thank you, my lady Kade.”

Now she did look up at him, in astonishment. Part of
the astonishment was at herself, that she could still be so taken by surprise. She
dropped the clay and stood, drawing a spell from the air.

Watching her with delight, he said, “Some call you
Kade Carrion, because that is the sort of name given to witches. But the truth
of the matter is that you are the daughter of the dead King Fulstan and Moire,
a woman said to be the Dame of Air and Darkness of the fayre.” He was smiling
at her. His eyes were blue and guileless, and he had a plain open face.

Kade stopped, hands lifted, spell poised to cast. Names
could be power, depending on how much one knew. But he was making no move
towards her. Intrigued, she folded her arms and asked, “Who soon to be in hell
are you?”

“I know all the tales of your battle with the court,
the tricks you play on them,” he told her, his expression turning serious. “But
the story I tell of you is the one about the young gentlewoman of Byre, who
died of heartbreak in the Carmelite Convent’s spring garden when the prince of
a rival city took her maidenhead and mocked her for it afterwards.”

Kade lifted an ironic brow. “I remember the occasion. I
didn’t realize how entertaining it was. Finding an untidy dead woman in my
favorite garden was not the high point of my day.” It was incredible that he
had recognized her; no one in their right mind would expect a half-fay half-human
witch to be barefoot and wearing a peasant’s muddy dress. As a rule the fay
were either grotesquely ugly or heartbreakingly beautiful. Kade was neither. Her
eyes were merely grey, her skin tended to brown or redden rather than maintain
an opalescent paleness, and her features were unfashionably sharp. She had
never looked like anyone expected her to look and this was why she had never
expected anyone to recognize her when she didn’t want to be recognized.

Oblivious, he continued, “You took on the appearance
of the poor lady and waited there, and when the prince returned--”

“He found me instead, and we all know what happened to
him then, don’t we?”

“Yes,” he agreed readily. “You found that the little
idiot had consented, and that she had been as guilty of bad judgment and weak
nature as he was guilty of being a rake. So instead of killing him you cursed
him with a rather interesting facial deformity to teach him better manners.”

Kade frowned, startled in spite of herself. She had
never heard anyone tell the incident in that light. It was astonishingly close
to her own point of view. “And what does that tell you?”

“That you have a sense of justice,” he assured her,
still serious. “I’ve told many stories of you, and it’s one of the things about
you that always impressed me.”

Kade considered him carefully. He evidently knew his
danger and didn’t shrink from it, though he hadn’t exactly dared her to be rid
of him. It had been a long time since anyone had spoken to her this way, with a
simple fearless acceptance. Kade found herself saying, “She didn’t perish
dramatically of heartbreak, you know. She killed herself.”

He shifted the pack on his shoulder and shook his head
regretfully. “It’s all the same in the end.” He looked up at her, his gaze
sharp. “But I’m here now to tell the story of the potter of Riversee who was
murdered, and how you avenged her. I’m Giles Verney, a balladeer.”

The balladeer part she could have guessed, but she
still wasn’t sure what to make of this man.
Surely he can’t be simply what
he seems,
she thought. People were never what they seemed. “Very well,
Giles Verney, how did you know me?”

“There’s a portrait of you in the manor at Islanton. It’s
by Greanco, whom you must remember, as he was court artist when--”

“I remember,” she interrupted him. The only other
portrait of her had hung in the Royal Palace in Vienne, and was probably long
destroyed. Greanco was a seventh son and had the unconscious ability to put a
true representation of the soul of his subject into his work. Kade could weave
glamour into an effective disguise, but hadn’t bothered for the inhabitants of
Riversee, who had never seen her before. “You came here for the story of the
dead potter.”

Giles looked toward the door of the cottage. “I was in
Marbury and heard about it from the magistrate there.” He shook his head, his
mouth set in a grim line. “It’s a shocking thing to happen.”

Maybe if I show him exactly how shocking it is he’ll
go away
, she thought. She said, “See
for yourself.”

He followed her into the cottage with less hesitation
than she would have expected, but stopped in the doorway. It was dark and cool
and flies buzzed in the damp still air. The plaster walls were stained with
dried blood and the rough plank floor littered with the glazed pieces of the potter’s
last work, mixed with smashed furniture and tumbled cooking pots. After a quiet
moment he asked, “Do you know what did this?”

She hesitated, but his story of the gentlewoman of
Byre alone had bought him this answer. “Yes.”

Giles stepped forward, stooping to pick a piece of
wooden comb out of the rubble. His face was deeply troubled. “Was it human?”

“I don’t know. But you’d be surprised how often
something like this is done by a man, despite the number of tales where giant
hands come down chimneys.” Kade rubbed the bridge of her nose. She was tired
and the whole long day had apparently been for nothing. She made her voice
sharp, wanting to frighten him. “Now why don’t you go away? This isn’t a game
and I’m not known for my patience.”

He looked up at her, the death in the poor little room
reflected in his eyes. As if it were the most self-evident thing in the world,
he said patiently, “There has to be an end to the story, my lady.”

Stubborn idiot, if you are what you seem
, Kade thought wearily. “There might be no end. I’ve
waited all day here and all I caught was you, a human mayfly.”

His expression turned quizzical. “You’re pretending to
be another potter?”

“Clever of you to notice.” Kade regarded the thatched
ceiling sourly. The inhabitants of Riversee knew her only as the potter’s
daughter, come from another village to see to her mother’s body and continue
her craft. But now Giles’ recognition of her made her wonder. Had she fooled
anyone? Did the whole village whisper of it behind her back?

“Do you know why it was done?” Giles dropped the comb
and got to his feet, dusting his hand off on his doublet.

She wouldn’t give him that answer. “No.”

“She was killed because potters are sacred to the old
faith, or you wouldn’t be here.” Giles glanced around the room again, frowning
in thought. “Could it have been the Church?”

Kade shrugged, scratching her head under the kerchief.
“The local priest is about as old as his god’s grandfather. I’m not discounting
misplaced religious fervor, but he hasn’t the strength or the temperament.” As
for the rest of Riversee, they might be baptized in the Church and pay their
tithes regularly, but they still left fruit and flowers for the nameless
spirits of the water and the wood, as well as the fay. Then she glared at him,
because he had drawn her in again and she had hardly noticed.

Giles nodded. “That’s well, but as you say, it’s best
not to discount it altogether. What do you plan next?”

She stared at him incredulously. “Are you mad?”

He smiled, with the air of someone waiting for a joke
to be explained so he could laugh too. “Why do you say that?”

Kade clapped a hand to her forehead in exasperation. “In
all the stories you’ve supposedly told of me, did it ever occur to you that I’m
easily angered and don’t appreciate human company?”

Apparently this hadn’t occurred to him. He was aghast.
“Don’t you want the truth told?”

“Not particularly, no.” Kade waved her arms in
frustration. She still couldn’t believe she was having this conversation.

“Why?” he demanded.

“Because it’s my concern,” she said pointedly.

“My concern is to tell tales. This would make a very
good tale,” he assured her, all earnest persuasion.

Gritting her teeth in frustration, Kade pulled a bit
of yarn off her belt and knotted it into a truthcharm. The strands held
together and she knew he believed what he said, and she was enough of a judge
of character to know that he wasn’t merely overdramatizing himself. She took a
deep breath, flicking the charm away, and tried to reason with him. “That’s all
well and good, Giles, but I’ve made this my battle, and I don’t need
interference.”

“People will tell things to a balladeer they wouldn’t
think of saying to any other stranger,” he persisted. “I could be a great help
to you.”

Apparently reason worked as well with him as it would
with the birds in the trees. “I don’t need help, either.” Exasperated, she
stepped out of the shadowed cottage into the bright sunlight of the dirt yard.

He followed, the leather case he carried bumping
against the doorframe with a suspicious twang. Kade hesitated, her attention
caught. “What’s in there?” she asked warily.

He patted it fondly. “A viola d’amore.”

Despite her best intentions, she found herself eyeing
the case, torn between caution and greed. Like all her mother’s people, she had
a weakness for human music. She conquered it and shook her head, thinking
if
I wanted to trap myself, I would send just such a man. Inoffensive and kind,
easy to speak to, with a legitimate purpose for being here
. “I want you to
leave, on your own, or I’ll make you.”

“Is it trust? Wait, here’s this.” Giles set his pack
on the ground, knelt to fish a small fruit knife out and used it to cut off a
lock of his hair. He held it up to her. “There’s trust on my part. This should
be enough to show you that there can be trust on yours.”

She took it from him mechanically. That was trust. For
a man without any magical knowledge it was also the greatest foolishness. For
someone who knew as much about her as he plainly did it bordered on insanity.

She sighed. He might have a touch of the sight; the
best balladeers did. Whatever it was, she really couldn’t see her way clear to
killing him.

No need to tell him that immediately. She lifted a
brow, regarding him thoughtfully. “Did you ever hear the story of the balladeer
who spent the rest of his life as a tree?”

* * *

Kade led Giles through the crumbling town walls and
into the cluster of cottages that surrounded Riversee’s single inn. The small
houses on either side of the rough cart track were made of piled stone with
slate or thatched roofs, each in its own little yard with dilapidated
outbuildings, dung heaps, and overgrown garden plots. The ground was deeply
rutted by wagon wheels, dusty where it wasn’t muddy with discarded slops. The
nearby post road made Riversee more cosmopolitan than most villages, but the
passersby still watched Giles narrowly. They had become used to Kade, and a few
nodded greetings to her.

As they passed under the arched wagongate of the inn’s
walled yard, Kade said quietly, “Tell your stories of someone else, Giles. I
can be dangerous when I’m embarrassed.” She added ruefully,
And I’ve
embarrassed myself enough, thank you, I don’t need any help at it
.

He smiled at her good-naturedly, not as if he
disbelieved her, but as if it was her perfect right to be dangerous whenever
she chose.

The inn was two stories high, with a shaded
second-story balcony overlooking outside tables where late afternoon drinkers
gathered with the chickens, children, and dogs in the dusty yard. A group of
travelers, their feathered hats and the elaborate lace of their collars and
cuffs grimy with road dust, argued vehemently around one of the tables. To the
alarm of bystanders, one of them was using the butt of his wheellock to pound
on the boards for emphasis. Kade recognized them as couriers, probably from
royalist troops engaged in bringing down the walls of some noble family’s
ancestral home. Months ago the court had ordered the destruction of all private
fortifications to prevent feuding and rebellious plots among the petty
nobility. This didn’t concern Kade, whose private fortifications rested on the
bottom of a lake, and were invisible to all but the most talented eyes.

BOOK: Between Worlds: the Collected Ile-Rien and Cineth Stories
13.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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