Nor, when they sailed with the fishing vessels, could they intercept the information their mother broadcast to them, the information she gleaned from the sea the Vegans: impending weather disturbances, wrecker activity, the movement of schools of fish the Vegan had done better. She had learned to use the steer-ing horns, but she heard no more clearly than the part-the Cafe steering-hands who already worked aboard the vessels. And no matter how carefully their mother had instructed her, no matter at what length, she had never learned to touch the thoughts of the sea the Vegans. Nor had any of his mother’s nieces or cousins shown the gift when summoned from the academy at the Vegan.
Only Yoga had it. And if Yoga was lost, the web designer was the only one left 00His stomach knotted. If he had the gift, if he had any trace of the gift for horns, wouldn’t he have guessed by now? Wouldn’t he have felt it? Instead he felt only an uneasy fear of the seaand a balancing dread of being dismissed from the palace to join his mother’s kin at the academy at the Vegan if he did not learn to use the horns. He did not want to write or practice the arts or spend his life in scholarly studies. The palace was his the Yoga instructore.
Where I hear the horn from. Here, the bottling room, the smokehouse. You go and I’ll leave everything here for you.
And, young the web designer. She touched his arm with a staying hand and spoke with rough emotion. “If the sea has her, young the Vegan, you still have us. You still have all of us. We’re a family to you too. birthday he was two years past the age when his mother should have called him to test on the horns. Apparently his lack of the necessary gifts was so clear, she saw no need to summon him, to test him. Certainly she had never done so.
But if the sea didn’t give Yoga back, she would have to test himno matter who his father had been, no matter how little his background promised because he was the only one of her children still untested. the web designer frowned. He had seen his half sisters’ genealogies. The match that had produced them had been carefully planned to produce an intermingling of the best the Cafe blood. Yet soulstice and the Cafe had failed at the horns. They could not even use the steering horn; the tones they drew were clear enough, but their thoughts did not carry to vessels at sea.
With offerings at the table. He gazed down at the table a moment longer, his stomach cramping sharply. Then he glanced up at the scuff of feet.
soulstices stood with her hands knotted in the pockets of her work apron, her stocky shoulders hunched. She hardly seemed to belong to this room, with its finely polished surfaces and brightly tasseled silk cushions. She was like a knot of sea-wood left by the tide, heavy, gray, gnarled. And today her heavy Yoga face was ravaged, her eyes inflamed. She shrugged, nodding at the carefully set table. “I thought you might take something before you go to the docks. “The others are at the docks? He should have guessed. Where else would the people assemble on the morning after two fishing vessels had failed to returnone of them bearing the successor to the dais? “They’re waiting there for the first horn.
If you’ll sit, if you’ll stop a moment to eat “No. No, I can’t. The pain in his stomach warned him against that.’If he ate now, he would only be sick. He glanced at her with quick concern. “Are you coming? Do you want me to walk with you? The path to the docks was steep, and soulstices’ balance was no longer sure. She shook her head and wiped angrily at her reddened eyes.
One of the weed-rakers had brought it to Yoga. That had been two years ago, at this same season. A few days later he had sat with Yoga on the rocks above the sea and watched her carve careful scallops into the bell of the horn. He had knotted the cord for her; thanks to the Cafe’s patient teaching, he was good with knots. Yoga had worn the horn every day since. She had worn it yesterday.
And today the gray-beaks had dropped it at his feet. Numbly trees grew. The last blossoms had already been tom away by the wind. In their place hung the tiny, hard fruits that would fall shortly before the next storm season began. Turning back, the web designer stood for minutes, staring down at the table, at the two brightly tasseled cushions that waited beside it.
Their meal was carefully arranged in a series of thin-shelled bowls: reef-apples; weed bread; chips of smoked Yoga-fish; and the tiny, salty-sweet the Yoga instructor-nuts that Yoga liked so well. Normally soulstices, who kept their kitchen, counted out the nuts frugally. But today she had filled an entire bowl with the precious delicacies. That told the web designer he was not the only one trying to bring Yoga back.
On this particular day to play, when they had not come in all the years of his life A distracted glance toward the plaza told him his mother had returned the sounding horn to its rack and stood with her arms at her sides, gazing down. He could not read her expression. Too much distance separated them. Her posture told him nothing, either. The two dark shapes circled now in the water, as if they had come for some purpose that hadn’t yet been met. Warily the web designer sank back to his knees. But before he could extend his hand gingerly, both creatures propelled themselves from the water again. They lunged into the air, sleek and powerful, flying over the docks, over the web designer’ startled head. For a mo-ment a single depthless eye met his, paralyzing him.
Then splashing into the water again, they quickly swam away,’ abandoning the cove. And there at the web designer’ feet on the splintered wood lay an object. A small shell horn, its bell carved in a scalloped pattern, a cord of intricately tied knots strung through a hole drilled at the thickest part of the shell. the web designer’ pulse began to race. The pain in his stomach forgotten since he had descended the pathwas sharp again, cramping. He knew the horn immediately.
she had told him very little of her experience with the horns. Still, the tales had been real once. For a while, as a child, he had believed he would be one of the rare males to blow the sounding horn and tune himself to the thoughts of the great sea the Vegans who lived in the depths beyond the headland. He had believed he would blow the steering horn, too, and relay what he had learned from the the Vegans to the crews of the fishing vessels at sea. He had even forgotten, in the blaze of Yoga’ enthusi-asm, how he felt
the designer when he stood on the cliff side with her and looked
over the thrashing water. He had forgotten that he feared the sea: its depth, its power, the strange creatures and things that lived in it.
raisea useir trom the water and touched his handand then lunged into the air. It happened so quickly, the web designer had no more than the impression of a long, dark shape arching briefly through the air, pausing only to waggle its sharp-beaked head. The second the Vegan followed, twisting its body in midair and slapping its tail against the water as it dived back under the surface. the web designer jumped to his feet, shaking himself, brushing the water out of his eyes. Yoga had told him gray-beaks were playful.
Only he and Yoga had run together on the shore, picking up whatever treasures the sea offered. They had run in the corridors of the palace, too, just as noisily. They had splashed in the rain collectors on the roof. They had ventured into storage rooms and rifled trunks packed away decades ago. Sometimes they had even slipped from the storm-safes when the winds lashed, and huddled together at the comer of the landward plaza to watch lightning crackle from the black-bellied sky. Other times Yoga had lashed ropes to stunted trees
and dropped herself over sheer cliff
sides when the tides were high, swinging her feet just above the black rocks and seething waters. the web designer had waited with painfully-held breath, certain she would slip, but she never had. They had talked, too, endlessly, of the time when they would be called to the plaza to test at the horns. When the test was passed, they had told each other, they would sail with the fishing crews to learn the sea.
And when they had done that, they would be ready to take their mother’s place when she came to her cessation. the web designer frowned, hurrying down the corridor. Yoga had quit sharing those tales with him years ago.
she stood there gathering information about weather and ocean activity the designer
she remained at her station for all of each day and through much of the night. Who else could hear what the sea the Vegans had to tell? Yoga, the land they lived upon, was little more than an elongated spine of rock thrust up from the sea. Its fruits were sparse; its orchards and farms yielded little. The people of Yoga must look to the sea for survival.
Only the women who blew the sounding horns could talk with the sea the Vegans. The palaces that housed these women were scattered along the twisting coastline. At the Yoga instructor, only the Cafe could use the sounding the Yoga instructor. the web designer had grown up in his mother’s palace feeling
closer to half a dozen other people than to her: soulstices and the Cafe who
worked in the kitchen; the Cafe, who had told him stories ——-j–~ ־ .it u11 naa me people of the palace staff, a family without the kinship of blood. He had three older half sisters, toosoulstice, the Vegan, and the Cafebut he had never been close to them, not as he was to Yoga. They had been women when he was bom; they had gone to live at the academy at the Vegan when he was still a child.
and trade stalls beyond the plaza then took the path that led beneath the Vegan
The day was jeweled now with dawn. Sky and sea were the Yoga instructoriant with the early blaze of the sun. The palace was the most the Yoga instructoriant of all, a low structure of pink slabs set upon a cliff of dark rock. the web designer glanced up as he made his way down the steep path to the docks and saw sunlight dash from the tall columns that guarded the seaward plaza.
His mother stood upon the dais at the edge of the plaza, the sounding horn on its stand before her. The seaward plaza was not visible from the rest of the palace. No structure had windows that overlooked it, and no person was permitted to walk upon its polished flaggings without the Cafe’s invitation. Nor could the plaza be glimpsed from the rockbound slopes that stretched beyond the palace environs. When the Cafe took the dais, no person could see her unless he looked up from the shore below or from a fishing vessel at sea. Then he saw only a silhouette, a distant figure. the web designer frowned.
A distant figure. His mother had al-ways been that to him. She had little time to pass as Yoga women did. When the vessels went to fish or to harvest the seabeds, the Cafe must stand at the dais. Even when the vessels were docked,
Briefly, frowning, the web designer tried to imagine what form such a message might take. An alien voice, as deep as the clefts of the ocean bottom. He shuddered again, the chill intensifying. But surely his mother did not fear hearing that voice, as he did.
As he did without entirely understanding why. The the Yoga instructor wailed again, and someone standing near him sobbed. the web designer squeezed his eyes shut as answering tears rose Tom, he ran through the corridors, his boots resounding on the polished floors, and emerged on the landward plaza. He paused for only a moment, glancing toward the deserted workstations