by Susan O'Fearna

As Tarin ducked the next blow she knew she'd messed up. Oh, gods, please don't let him kill me this time, she thought. Oncle Oni was really mad, and very drunk. Last time he'd beaten her while both irate and sloshed, he'd broken three ribs and she'd lost sight in her right eye for two whole weeks.

Oni, her second cousin, insisted on being called Uncle, a term of respect. A subtle revenge was that Oncle, while sounding similar to Uncle (the Kaite word for older male relative of parental age) actually meant 'hated' in Tarin's language, the forbidden Marush tongue.

Usually the reasons for her beatings were logical only to Oni, but this time Tarin knew what she'd done. She'd been caught enjoying herself with a book. That, alone, was the cause for her current beating.

An especially hard blow landed right in her ribs, still sore and healing from being broken less than a month earlier. "Whoosh!" Her breath escaped her and while she fought for air against the sudden pain he hit her again, knocking her over.

The brutish man, six-foot-two two hundred eighty pounds to her four-eleven eighty pounds hulked over her fallen form. She curled up into a protective ball, arms crossed over the back of her neck, chin tucked under her knees.

"She uz doin' my homework, Pa!"

Tarin looked up, totally confused at first, then remembering. She was supposed to have been doing Brush's homework, but she'd been reading a book she'd found in the medoc's library and borrowed without asking -- he'd have insisted on getting approval from either Oncle Oni or Aunt Rin. A make-believe book instead of Brush's Conqueror-Age History, which she hated anyway -- the people being conquered were her father's people, the Marush.

She was still confused as to why the spiteful chemosh was actually helping her. Realization dawned slowly in her mind. If Brush didn't turn in her homework on Lodina she'd get the 'royal treatment': a public humiliation of spending the week as a nude handmaiden for Marvek after being stocked for the day with no food or water.

Of course if Tarin were badly damaged, she wouldn't be able to finish Brush's homework. Brush didn't have a chance of finishing it on her own.

Oni backhanded Brush. "Well, why dint ya say so earlier?"

Nine months earlier, when Tarin and Solis had moved in with their relatives, Oni himself had assigned Tarin the duty of doing Brush's homework. The humiliating punishment Brush faced was seen as a failure on Oni's part. Dro, Oni's wife, was child-minded; there was nothing she could or would do. After miscarrying her tenth child (the first and third lived: Karoa and Brush) she retreated from reality and never returned. Thus, it was Oni's responsibility to raise his children; a failure was a reflection on him.

Brush wasn't stupid enough to argue with her father as he turned from Tarin's rolled body and wandered back to the family room and the picture box.

Brush looked at Tarin. "Get up and finish my work, huh?" She exited the hall through the open doorway.

As Tarin started to slowly unroll herself Solis poked her head around the outside door to make certain Oni was gone.

"Oh Gilis! Tarin, are you all right?" Solis helped her half-sister up and into a bedroom.

As usual, it was just as Solis removed Tarin's shirt to check for new damage that Jon whispered in. The seven-year-old abruptly turned an attractive shade of scarlet and turned to face the wall. "Is it bad?" he asked.

"I don't know, yet," Solis admitted. She placed both palms firmly but not tightly on the ribs just under Tarin's armpits while Tarin held her arms out from her sides. Solis lowered her hands one rib at a time. "Does this hurt?" she'd ask as examining each rib. If Tarin winced she'd apologize and move on to the next one. Only twice did Tarin have to bite her lip and inhale sharply, momentarily losing the battle she was undergoing to catch her breath.

Solis closely examined the two. "Are they broken again?" Tarin asked.

"No, I think they're just bruised. You'll be a little more sore, but we won't have to go to the medoc. This time." Solis helped her rearrange her shirt for modesty's sake and sneaked out to get some ice and numb-salve. On her way out the door she ruffled her little cousin's hair and planted a tender kiss on his head.

Jon turned around, finger-brushing his hair back into place. "Did he kick you this time? Man I wish he wouldn't kick." His large black eyes looked as liquid as the tears threatening to overflow them.

"Not this time. He barely even hit me. Only a couple times or so." Tarin embraced the boy, hiding an involuntary wince as the movement tweaked her sore ribs made her aware of a new welt from Oni's ring.

He inhaled sharply. "How's yours?" she asked, in reference to his nearly matching wound-patterns.

"Almost healed. I'm just glad the medoc doesn't turn us in." The threatening tears overflowed his eyes. "I hate Oni so much! I want to hurt him and hurt him like he does to us. And then I want to hurt him some more for what he lets Karoa do to Solis ... and ... and ..."

"I know," she whispered, wiping his tears away. "But don't let that hate get kill your love. If you do that, he wins. He'll make you like him and Karoa and Brush. And that would hurt more than all the beatings he's given either of us."

Solis had slipped into the room while Tarin was talking and fought her own tears. "Here's your ice."


Tarin took the ice and put it against the weal on her shoulder. "Hey Solis, take a look at this. Is it bleeding?"

"Nope," Solis announced after examining the wound. "Doesn't seem to have broken the skin which is good -- being cut by such filth would almost guarantee infection."

The three laughed at the old joke and all used the rag Solis had also brought, to erase the traces of tears. Never let them see you cry was a rule of safety for the children.

The sound of their laughter brought its usual audience; Jon's twin sister Srin entered the room.

"What's so funny?"

This of course, made them all laugh again. Tarin looked at the only living people she still had to love, and nearly ruined it by starting to cry again, but restrained herself. As Solis applied the numb-salve, she though of how her world had shrunk.

Her sister who was unmistakably her father's daughter, according to a diary they'd found. Gunnar had been their mother's biggest social sin. Demar had married a foreigner -- a Valian named Gunnar.

Before Solis was born Gunnar wanted Demar to move to Irus, the largest known city -- away from the community she'd always known. When she'd first found she was pregnant she'd gone to the local priest, Marvek, and asked for the rites of family. When refused, she'd lost her faith in her community and agreed to move.

When Solis was almost a year old, Gunnar died in an accident. Gunnar's womb-sister, Flora, lived just up the road from them, though, to continue the education the Valians considered essential. She had family.

Despite this, Demar contemplated returning home, but just before Solis's second birthingday (a Valian custom not shared with the Kaite) she'd met Milnor. The day before Solis's third birthingday Demar and Milnor were married.

Two months later, when Demar found herself pregnant, Milnor told her his biggest secret: he was Marush, a race hunted to supposed-extinction by the Kaite and several other races. The standing genocide law was based on the fatal crime of magic, an innate ability of the Marush. The law, over two millennia in effect, made Milnor, Demar and their unborn child vulnerable to Demar's people. It was a sign of Demar's love for Milnor that she'd stayed with him and had his child.

Demar and Milnor had been killed nine months earlier in a riot.

Next, Tarin looked at Jon, who also resembled his father. Rin, Demar's baby sister, had also married a foreigner, but the Ossians were more like neighbors than strangers were. Still, Rin, Soma and Jon were all treated as oddities. Rin for marrying outside the community, Soma for being from outside the community and Jon for resembling his father.

Jon had thick, glossy black hair, swarthy skin, and eyes so dark they appeared black. He was tall and slender and limber. Worst of all, he was sensitive. The fear Tarin felt for Jon was that Oni would kill him or his sensitivity.

Lastly Tarin examined Srin. The child was undeniably lovely, an attractive blend of both her parents. Her skin was light, her long chestnut brown hair was thick and lustrous, her blue eyes shone like orbs in her pretty face. She was tall, but not too tall, slender and flexible as a noodle. Though simple, she had a charm innate to many children who would never learn that the world was hard.

After Soma was killed in a hunting accident, Jon had no one to love him -- except for Srin, who was as simple and selfish as she was pretty. Since Rin had moved in with her cousin, Jon had been a punching bag for Oni, Karoa and Brush, but Rin didn't protect her son who so resembled her dead husband. She treated the children as if the cruelties apparent in the household never happened. Tarin had never seen Rin actually look at her son.

Solis suffered greatly, too. Karoa had decided that Solis was a gift from his God to him. He was fourteen, a whole year older than Solis. A week after her first mense, seven months earlier, Karoa had raped Solis. She'd fought hard, but Karoa was much stronger than she was. He'd moved Jon's things out and Solis's things in from the room she shared with the other children the next day. Oni was no help; he cheered his son on for his 'manly' actions. So, for the past seven months, Solis had shared furs with Karoa, helplessly unable to change a hateful situation.

Tarin prayed frequently to every god she'd ever heard of: Kaite, Marush, Valian, Ossian and others. She prayed that Solis would be able to get away from Karoa without conceiving. That Jon would live long enough to leave and, hopefully, take his sister with him. That Karoa would not turn his ugly eyes to Srin, though she knew that was just a matter of time.

The evening bell bonged, signaling lights-out. Tarin and Solis hugged the twins and left Brush's room where the twins slept. In the hallway, seeing neither Karoa nor Brush coming, the sisters hugged each other and Solis went into the room she shared with Karoa.

Tarin heard Karoa coming and headed for her sleeping-place. Six months earlier, shortly after Solis moved out of the room with her and Brush, after her first major beating at Oni's hands, Tarin had found a hidey-hole.

Under Oni's house was a secret room. The entrance was rather small, but so was she. Brush, whose hatred for the world often focused on Tarin, would barely be able to fit; she was claustrophobic and wouldn't be able to make it through the tight tunnel from the crawlspace under the house. Soon, she'd be unable to fit at all, which pleased Tarin no end. The privacy-loving Tarin had immediately moved into it: her books, her clothes and grooming things and a mat from an old daybed. It was the perfect bedroom. She'd even managed to secret in some candles.

"Now that you've mastered Ground-&-Center, now is the time for you to learn Open. In order to do this, begin by finding your center and grounding. Then go into the trance we learned in out last lesson and block out everything. After your senses have all ceased to..."

The Lesson was one she really wanted to learn. If she could master it, if it was one of her 'gifts' she'd be able to do things. She'd be coming into her own magic.

She thought back to four years ago, just before Doda went home to visit his family.

She was playing with the lights. She liked to play with the lights; they played back. Solis was always gone playing things with other big kids but, because of her size, Tarin couldn't go. And Solis was the youngest local kid besides Tarin. The three-year age difference translated into Tarin only coming up to Solis's stomach. Doda said it was because their kind matured much more slowly than Kaite-folk. He explained that since Solis's Da had been Valian Solis would always be lots taller than Tarin. So Tarin had no friends. Moma was off making barter-stuff so they'd have a big feast-day before Doda left.

Tarin was being watched by Doda's shadow -- it would make sure she wasn't bad or didn't get hurt. This was the first time she'd been allowed to watch herself and she was being good and careful. Playing with the lights... the lights... lights...

"Tarin! Tarin! Wake Up! What are you doing? What happened?"

Doda was here. He wasn't a minute ago. Tarin rubbed her eyes. "When did you get here, Doda?"

"Oh, bless Anala! You're back with us!"

"Where did I go?"

"Never mind that, tell me exactly what you were doing just now."

"I was playing with the lights."

Doda reached out and plucked one of the 'lights' right out of the air. "These? You were playing with these?"

She nodded the affirmative.

"How long have you been able to see these 'lights' baby?"

"Always, Doda. They're my friends. They tickle me and play with me when Solis is gone. I was playing with them just now. Making picture-lines in the air." Tarin hesitated and when her father hadn't answered, "Was I bad, Doda?"

Milnor winced at her tone; she was always so eager to please. "No, baby, you weren't bad." He thought carefully, then asked, "Can you show me one of your patterns, one of your picture-lines?"

An eager grin split her face, "Oh, yeah!" She grew very still and her eyes unfocused.

Milnor was frightened to see that with no grounding and no centering, she dropped her shields --- even those he'd installed fell as if they never were.

Next she began weaving the elements and if her untrained openness had frightened him, what she was doing now scared him nearly to his grave. She was weaving, with her mind the five elements into one. This was a skill he'd heard of, but as a history lesson, not as something to look forward to in his daughter. This was an adept-skill, one only true-adepts possessed -- a lost skill from before the Invasion, when the Ossians, Valians, Kaite and other races determined that magic was punishable by death.

Out of curiosity he slipped his shadow into her now-empty shell and borrowed her 'sight,' and, for the second time nearly died of fear. The earth was rent from the air and water, and his daughter, his six-year-old daughter was weaving them back together. Preventing the earthquake that was nearly imminent.

Suddenly his shadow was thrown out of her shell with such force it almost ripped free. She was back. "Pretty, isn't it Doda?" she blinked at him.

He looked and saw that one of the newly formed subterranean trench was gone. Half the reason for his impending departure was to report the newly formed trenches. On a hunch he asked, "Do you know what made the..."

"The rips? It was the man who made Moma cry, he and his smelly friends. They can't see the lights unless they put them in bottles 'n jars and then they die, the lights, and the stinky men can see them. There's holes ripped where the lights should be. Their friends can't stay put in holes so they come to play with me. I can tell they're sad so I put them back in their holes and make pretty pictures with them with lines, so they'll stay. Only problem is there's too many holes 'n not enough lights." She reached up and held his face, as if he were the child instead of the other way around.

Looking him dead in the eye she made the most profound statement he'd heard in his 250 years: "They shouldn't kill the lights, Doda. They shouldn't play with the things they wanna kill us for seeing."

He kissed her on the crown of her head, "Well, can you play with your toys and not the lights, at least until I let you know it's OK? Doda's gotta talk to his family about this."

"Sure, Doda. The books aren't as much fun and the man who makes Moma cry says they're evil for girls, but I'll play with them now." She showed him her dimples again. Then serious again, in the blink of an eye, "Doda, what's evil?"

He recoiled from the thought. "Ask your Moma, baby. Ask your Moma."

As she stood and walked to her bookshelf he left the room, deep in thought. So, Demar's been back to that cursed priest again. And I can't believe she took Tarin! 'The man who makes Moma cry,' indeed!

"Doda, she won't ever take me to see him. She's scared of him to see me."

Brought up short by the sudden realization that the child could listen in on his thoughts he put up shields like he'd never put up shields before. She didn't need to be privy to this.

Three days later, after a grand feast-day Milnor hiked out of the city till he was sure he felt no watchers. He stopped and opened a doorway between worlds and entered the land of his people.

"So the elders gave me this ring for you to wear. When you are old enough and strong enough to work the spell to remove it, you'll be able to see the lights again and play with them to your hearts content. Until then, you won't be able to listen in Doda's head or see the lights anymore." It broke his heart to restrain her like this, but untrained as she was, to not restrain and shield her could prove fatal. And not only to her!

The ring was old, older than anyone knew... it was used for this purpose, according to the museum papers, so the parents of gifted kids could live without supervising their adept-gifted children all the blasted time. The entire counsel couldn't have been enough supervision without the ring... she was just too strong.

Tarin was so pleased to get the ring that it was on her finger before the impact of her father's words hit her. Like a brick. She was so used to not shielding, to being wide-open, that the sudden blanket of shields was an almost physical blow.

Unable to watch, he handed out more gifts to Solis (barter-credits for three brand-new outfits) and Demar (barter-credits be-damned, he'd brought silky things for a private gift, but 5 pounds of milk sweets). By the time he was through with that, Tarin had forgiven him the shields and was ready for her other gifts.

Before bed that night he gave her the first of the books. "There are six of them and they're not fun books, but they're need-books. My teachers told me to start training you. Not to wait till you're fifteen and start your growing-time, but to start now.."

And that was how she'd gotten the secret books. He'd started training her that night, warning her that with the ring and her age, advancement would be slow.

She couldn't skip ahead, either. The books were spell-locked. Until she mastered a lesson, she COULD NOT move on. In three years she'd learned to center and to ground, with Milnor's help. Since his death, she'd already learned a new gift -- to be open again -- but her sight was still locked and she still couldn't see the lights.

She thought she had the Lesson down. Hopefully, because Oni was on a rampage again. Jon broke the bread-crust on his sandwich and Oni backhanded him so hard he flew across the room like an ungainly raven. When Tarin and Solis checked he was lucky the resultant bloody nose wasn't broken. And now was her turn to take meal to the sangda.

The two of them, she and Solis, had made soup because there wasn't enough meat for a main course meat dish and not enough of much else for anything but a casserole (which Oni wouldn't eat) and soup. If Oni realized the reason for the soup they were in trouble.

"Here's your stew, Oncle Oni." She hoped the bowl was the right color, that it wasn't too hot, that they hadn't put anything in he didn't like or left out something he wanted. Just in case she quickly grounded, centered and focused on Oni's pea-brain.

Whelp. Soup. Wonder what it tastes like... he tasted the soup. Damn! It's good, but just in case... he backhanded her and she had the ever-so-slight forewarning to prepare for it. As his hand descended she unfocused and pushed off the floor and made herself fall backward. Maybe if he thought he'd hurt her, she wouldn't get more of the same.

She crab-walked out of the room and he didn't get up to come after her, so she figured she was safe. For now. And the Lesson was learned. Now she could advance.

"Focus on the area needing alteration and visualize the change. Next push the change onto the area till the change occurs.

For your first trial, focus on your smallest finger. Visualize the bones as thinner and longer...

...If after pushing for ten minutes your finger hasn't changed, this is not one of your gifts..."

Tarin was pleased to see that less than one minute had passed before her finger was elongated. This was the first lesson of applying gifts she had encountered, and the gift was hers!

She glanced up at the timepiece. Oh, Anala, I'm late! Running down the lane to the main road into the village she remembered that her finger was long. That was definitely something Dearon would notice. She paused, took a second to catch her breath and pushed her finger back to its regular shape. Then she resumed her run to the medoc's house.

Dearon, the medoc was training her in some herb-lore and healing. Oni had at first balked at letting her go, but it would excuse her from attending the religious meetings Marvek insisted on, thus reducing her chances of embarrassing him by refusing to attend without force. It was the only battle with him that he was aware of losing. Out of what seemed to be sheer hatefulness or perversity, Marvek and Oni locked Tarin in the old smokehouse every temple day, even when the meetings were for men only.

In the year since she'd mastered the Lesson of looking into his mind Tarin had learned to protect herself and Jon from the more brutish qualities of their cousin.

The Lesson after that one was how to alter someone's dreams. She'd started out giving him nightmares, but those just made him more cranky and irascible, so she'd set a permanent dream of Marvek displaced and a priest put in his place who would chastise Oni for being such an abusive guardian. She rather liked the subtlety and the subconscious fear of chastisement had remarkably reduced the beatings.

"Sorry I'm late," she panted as she ran into the clinic. "I was studying and lost track of the time."

"Well at least you were doing something worthwhile with your lost time." He smiled at her rapid recovery and finished writing the quiz he habitually gave her at the beginning of her lessons with him.

As he graded it a few minutes later she asked the question her sister needed an answer to, "Dearon, what plants and preparations are needed to make someone lose a baby?"

He was expecting the situation, but not the question. "Whose baby?" he asked, though he was reasonably sure he knew.

"Solis's. She asked me to see if you knew any way she could lose it before Karoa notices she's pregnant."

"Well, I've never heard of any abortifacient drugs, though I've heard of two or three contraceptives. If I were a woman medoc you might have more luck..."

"That's what I was afraid of."

The rest of the lesson went well, but an idea dawned on Tarin.

"Be still, I don't know if I'm doing this right. Dearon told me what to do, but that it's a closely held secret..." Tarin concentrated on shrinking the uterus and culling the placenta from the side wall. "If anyone asks, you miscarried naturally. And he's going to pretend ignorance, so don't thank him or he'll be mad at me."

"I'll be the model of silence. Now please, Tarin, get it out!"

Tarin pushed the baby loose and nudged the baby on its way out. For her patient's sake, she gave Solis a bitterweed tea that might make her vomit shortly, but wouldn't harm her. "That should take care of it. If you start cramping come get me and we'll go to Dearon's because the baby was bigger than we expected. OK?"

"I got it, 'Doc." Solis grinned around her wince at the taste of the drink and went back into the house.

Three years later...late fall

It was Tarin's 13th birthingday, Solis insisted they celebrate secretly. Brush was serving her obligatory time with Marvek and Rin was off in her own little world. She was getting to be as bad as Dro, who the medoc had recommended the health division take her to a home. Marvek had been so mad over that, two years ago that he'd insisted the church have Dearon moved out. His replacement still hadn't been chosen. The village was having to make do with the barely-trained Tarin and travelling or neighboring healers and medocs.

Tarin had mastered all of the first two of her Lesson-books and was prepared to open and start the third, the one that would begin building her strength up so she'd be able to remove the ring and come into her own powers fully. The last lesson in the first book was incredibly helpful -- it showed her how to alter glands in others and in herself. She immediately rendered Solis, Dro, Brush and her even Srin sterile until she reversed the alteration. Srin would continue to grow, even begin her menses, but would remain childless till Tarin felt it was safe.

Solis had brought Jon and Srin in on the secret little party. Apparently even the Ossians celebrated the event of a child's birth its anniversary and the twins saw a birthing-day party as a special remembrance of their father. She got a new book Solis had traded something for from a tinker at some point, the twins each gave her a drawing they'd made in the temple's annual class on fall herbs.

All in all, it was a good party and they weren't discovered.

Late the next spring...

"Tarin, I need to talk to you. In private." They were cleaning up the kitchen after dinner one evening.

"What's cooking? Or would that be cleaning?" Tarin asked her sister. Solis had been keeping a secret. A secret big enough that she'd hidden it behind so many unknown shields that even Tarin could barely read her. A secret so secret that Solis didn't even think it around her sister.

"Seriously now, Tarin," Solis started. "I..." she looked around suspiciously. "Read me." Solis abruptly dropped her blinding shield and let her sister see what was in her thoughts.

The thoughts were disarranged, but one image was foremost. It was a young man. His name was Crand. He loved Solis and she loved him. Even more, he knew about Karoa and didn't blame Solis, still wanted her even though. He wanted her to run away with him, marry him. More: he wanted her to bring her sister and younger cousins. That was the main theme of the secret! Her sister was in love with someone who could see past the things that had been done to her, that they weren't her fault.

"Oh, Solis! I'm so happy for you. He really wan--" She remembered where she was. In the house of the enemy.* Tarin closed her mouth with a nearly audible clack of the teeth. She rushed over and hugged her sister and whispered in her ear, "Tomorrow while I gather herbs. Come with me to get some wild onions or something. Oni has to let me go, I have to get birthwort for Marveg's prized bitch and we can meet up at the ghost rock. Leave after I do and go to the rock. I'll get the onions."

"I'll be there with bells on," Solis answered with a smile.

"Bells would just ruin the effect of sneaking around, silly!" Tarin completed the joke and turned back to rinsing the dishes, a smile for her sister hidden, just in case company joined them in the kitchen.

The next morning... 8 days till Solis' 16-th birthingday...

Tarin sat on the rock waiting for Solis to arrive. Her hands itched from the birthwort leaves and the wild onions made her eyes water even while still in their skins with the soil on them. Marveg's favorite bitch was due to have a litter within the next couple of days and the root wasn't effective when dried. It had to be fresh; picking roots was a chore she could only plead once a week unless something extreme happened. Since the Medoc's transfer from the village Tarin was the closest thing they had to a healer.

When the women of the village had babies a midwife from a neighboring village came to visit for the delivery. These rare occurrences provided Tarin a chance to speak with a fellow herbalist; someone from outside Marvek's influence. Birthwort was one name for the plant whose root provided easement during birth labors, but in quantity was poisonous as its leaves. Most farmers considered it a weed because it was always growing, regardless of the season, and so they rooted it out. She had to go out into the wilds to find the root.

Her thoughts on the uses of the root were interrupted by her sister's arrival. She smiled at her, held out the wrapped onions and scooted over on her rock. "So, tell me all about him. How did you meet him? How did you have the time to get to know him well enough? How did you ever keep this a secret from me?!?"

"Crand is a Valian, just like my Da. We first met when he came to get Dearon. He was doing his internship with the medoc's guild so he could stay here, in Keton instead of going back to Valia as an orphan. He was raised by the medoc's guild, but not as a healer. He still has to do the government service to become a citizen. That was his last duty as their intern and moved to Idale and comes to Invek about once a week to clean the medoc's cottage. He comes when the men are in Temple, so I am able to sneak out and meet him then. That's the time when they put you in the punishment house."

"You sneaky devil! You were even making sure I didn't know. Why?"

"I didn't want to get your hopes up in case ... Karoa ..."

"I understand. What are we going to do now? You and I both know Oni and Marvek promised Karoa he'd marry you off to him as soon as you're sixteen and legal. We both know they won't approve of a handfasting to anyone but Karoa and their approval is required till then and after your sixteenth they'll be marrying you off to Karoa. Goddess, what are we going to do!"

"Tarin," Solis whispered, "Watch that 'Goddess' stuff. If you slip like that at home, they'll execute you as a heretic." She looked over her shoulder, worriedly. Then she smiled. "I need your help.

"Crand and I are going to 'elope'!"

"'Elope?' What's that?"

"It's a Valian tradition when two people wish to marry but at least one of their families doesn't approve. The two run away and get married on their own. That's what we're going to do. Crand says mostly they live with one of their families unless both families disapprove of the wedding then they have to start all on their own. Because Oni doesn't approve and Crand's an orphan we thought we'd have to run away and be alone, but at the Valian gathering last year he met Mother Flora; my Da's womb-sister. She's been worried about us, you and me both. Crand didn't know she was my relative but she asked him if, in his duties with the medoc's guild he'd ever been to Invek or if he knew either of us.

"They got to talking and she wants all of us to sneak away and go with her family to Valia. You and me and Crand and Jon and Srin... Her husband's womb-brother is a Valian priest and he'll do the ceremony and everything... Isn't this so great!?"

Tarin reached over and gave her sister a huge hug, "It's beyond great. I couldn't think what to do. There's less than a fortnight till your 'joyous' day and Srin is showing signs of physical maturation. I've been so scared for both of you, but did you hear what Marveg and Marvek were talking to Oni about last night?"

"No, I wasn't able to hear over that dog's barking as it tried to eat us," Solis grinned. Marveg's hunting dogs really didn't like either Solis or Tarin, unless they were hurting and needed Tarin to help with that. They were mean and dumb, but not totally stupid. "What were they talking about?"

"Marvek was telling Oni that I was too much of a trouble for his 'small household' and that Marveg was going to need someone to 'keep house' for him when the new houses are ready. He wants me to move in with that sadist in a relationship just like yours with Karoa. Dro piped in that I haven't started my menses yet and so must stay in the household but Marveg pointed out that I'm technically an orphan, that I'm his father's responsibility to 'dispose of,' and that I was too much of a trouble for Oni and Dro and even Rin. I was going to have to try to run away even if I had to go alone. You and I both know that he'd either kill me or I'd have to kill him to keep him from killing me.

"Oh, Solis! This gets us all out of here."

"You'd have left me here?"

"Solis, as I get older you know that my differences become more pointed. If I stay here much longer they'll burn me for being a witch. The medoc's guild won't accept me because I'm a girl. Marveg's getting horny and I'm the only female in the village whose family wouldn't up and move away if he started showing any interest in them. I have to leave. I have no choice. You and Crand have just make it a whole lot more palatable."

"Where would you have gone?"

"One of Doda's books tells me how to go to his people. I think I would have gone to them."

"Well, aren't they the ones who made Milnor give you that ring that won't come off? The one that seemed to hurt you?" Solis stopped the questions and thought about it. "Well, at least it was to protect you and they didn't hurt you because they just liked hurting you. And I can see why you couldn't take anyone else... but wouldn't it have been very dangerous?"

"And living almost 4 years with Oni and Karoa, not to mention Marvek and the addition of his son's return isn't dangerous?"

Solis thought that over for a moment, "Ok, point made." She looked at her timepiece and abruptly stood up, "I've been gone too long. So have you, and you still have to go back to the other side of the village." She hugged her little sister and turned to lope away. "Make it home in time to help me with dinner, huh?" She waved good-bye.

That night...

Lesson 10

This is the last lesson in this, your second Lesson book. This is the first of the non-talent rites. Anyone can do this but most would not and very few are welcome. This is the rite of world passage. Follow the steps below to travel between the worlds, specifically the world of the People of Marush and the world of our origins, where the barbarian peoples have driven us out, into exile. You will need to fill the list of ingredients and use the meditation techniques taught in the previous book and the lessons you've mastered in this book. To return to the land of the People, this is what you will need...

Tarin looked up as her candle went out. I have all of those things... I can go there instead of going with Solis and Crand...

6 days later... the day before the 'wedding'

"OK, the men are gone on the hunt, Rin and Dro are with the mothers and ... where's Brush?" Solis crept to the corner and looked into the main room of the house, listened to see if her cousin was in the house.

"I haven't seen her since yesterday morning when Karoa and Oni left with Marvek and Marveg on the 'hunt' for supposed Marush." She turned to Jon and Srin, "have either of you seen her; she could really mess things up."

The twins looked at each other, shrugged, "Srin saw her leaving with D'vin after she got off shift at the temple this morning," Jon answered. "Brush and D'vin are foolin' around. If Uncle Oni found out about it he'd probably skin them both, so with all the men gone and D'vin considered too young to hunt the dangerous Marush they've gone off to be alone together."

Tarin and Solis looked at eath other in surprise. "You mean a boy wants to actually spend some time with Brush. Alone? Yuck!"

Tarin gave her sister's arm a playful push, "Hey, it's not like the women outnumber the men or anything. They're almost 15 and it's only natural that they're going to want to spend time together or with anyone of the opposite gender." She gave a shudder, "But I can't see why D'vin would choose Brush. Ick!"

Their playfulness ended abruptly as a knock came at the back door. Solis jumped up and ran to answer the door. As expected it was Crand with a very large, empty pack.

"Hey, darlin'" he said hugging Solis. He looked at the other three, "Can a guy get a group hug around here?"

The twins and Tarin all jumped up from the floor and hugged their savior. Tarin took the pack from him and went back to the nook where Solis and twins' personal belongings made a pitiful pile. She started putting all the things in the pack and was not terribly surprised when it still had plenty of room. Crand was watching her closely, "I see Solis' things, Jon's things and even Srin's things, but where are your things?"

Solis noticed then, too, that the smuggled belongings did not include her sister's. "Where are your things? We cannot leave you here, Tarin. They'll kill you, flat out, when they see that we've gone."

"I'm leaving, but I'm not going with you," Tarin replied as she reached into the cupboard under the sink and got her pack. Speaking quitely only to her sister, she continued, "I found some directions in one of Doda's books that will help me get to his family. If they don't help, I know where to find you guys, but I don't want the 'witch' scare starting up and I especially don't want to be burned at the stake. You know it'll happen whether I'm here or elsewhere; my talents are getting to be unmistakeable." Her sister didn't even know she was Marush, but her natural talents couldn't be hidden from someone as close as they were.

"But Tarin, since they died we haven't heard anything from his family or even anyone who claimed to be his friend are you sure you'll be welcome there? I mean, we never even met any of them; what if they don't believe you're his daughter or something."

Tarin held up her right hand and flashed her ring at Solis. "This is probably proof enough; I still can't take the dang thing off. Remember when Doda brought it back and said his teacher gave it to him for me to wear? It'll either be enough or I'll have to rejoin you guys."

As Solis was about to answer they heard the temple bell ring third hour, the arranged time for departure. Crand shouldered the now-full pack and went to the door followed closely by Solis, Jon and Srin. Tarin grabbed her own pack. They all looked around the trees at the rear door of the house. Tarin was the first to see Flora step out of the trees, beckon and disappear again into the foliage. She grabbed Solis' arm and pointed. They all started off for the trail that Flora was on; no one said a word and all tried to make as little noise as possible.

Jon and Srin were holding hands, Solis was holding Crand's hand and Tarin was alone. They reached the woods and Flora was there. Solis started quietly sobbing silently, let go of Crand's hand and hugged her father's sister. Flora hugged her back, pulled away and looked at her niece with pride, then motioning them all to silence started off on the woodland trail to where her trade-wagon was hidden.

They walked like this for about two hours then Flora stepped off the trail and suddenly the whole group could see the wagon. Crand and Tarin set their packs down as Flora went to the wagon and rapped on its side twice. The back door of the trade wagon opened and two little girls and a man stepped down.

"This is my husband Rain, my children Leeha and Mahri," she introduced her family. "Solis, Tarin, Jon, Srin and you all know Crand by now."

Welcome was exchanged by all involved. "Rain, why don't you take their packs and put them in the wagon. I want to be far from here by nightfall." Flora walked around to the front of the wagon and climbed up, followed closly followed by Solis.

Crand handed Rain his pack and the men started loading the four youngsters into the back of the wagon. Rain reached for Tarin's pack, but she wouldn't hand it to him. Everyone stopped and turned to her. "Well, come on, girl, we have to get moving. Now."

"I thank you for the opportunity, but I have to go somewhere else. Solis knows why, but I have family and hope to get to them. I wish you all the luck in the world and will love you all till the day I die but for now I have to go to my father's people and I have to go alone. I'll try to visit again, but I can't guarantee if or when that will be. I will miss you all." With that Jon and Srin jumped out of the back of the wagon and ran to her she hugged them both, trying not to cry. The twins let her go and went back to the back of the wagon where Rain pulled them back inside. Solis went to her sister and hugged her; by this time they were both soggy with tears. Even Crand and Flora went to her and hugged her.

"I'll miss you all."

"In The House Of My Enemy" is a short story by Charles De Lint