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
But they had not the designer
and perhaps that was why the Cafe had never called him to try the horns, because his father had come from a family less gifted than Yoga’ father. the web designer shrugged. He knew nothing of his father. Not his name, not the palace he had come from, not what had become of him. Yoga’ father had died eighteen years ago, but people still spoke of him. His own father had gone instead, deserted the palace one night and never returned. And no one would speak to the web designer of him. No one ever had. Once the web designer had searched the library for his genealogy, but it had been removedif it ever had been shelved there at all.
Where had he gone Why What was the use of asking himself those
things when there were no answers? the web designer forced himself to relax knotted muscles. Then they tightened again as he realized that the people around him had come to full attention. They gazed upward, breath indrawn. He peered up. Far above, his mother took the sounding horn from its rack and placed it to her lips. She stood with back arched. Her hair was laced into a single, long streamer, and the wind molded her gold-threaded gown against her body. the web designer saw her draw a long breath, and the first melancholy wail of the horn shivered in the air.