There aren’t any spoilers in this one. (Kinda sorta.)
Roshni sat at her table and watched Farmer Leafen take another long, noisy slurp of her tea, wondering how she was going to get the woman to leave.
One of the liabilities of a position that didn’t demand established and long hours was that people believed they could drop in whenever they felt like it. This was not always an annoyance – Roshni usually enjoyed company – but it seemed to her that as time went by, the aggravating visitors were outnumbering the pleasant ones. And the aggravating ones, most of them, were circling around the same topic of conversation.
“Come now, Wind Watcher,” the farmer chided her. “You can’t deny he’s a changed man.”
After greeting Roshni and thanking her for the tea, Farmer Leafen had asked her whether she had spoken to Lord Tarce, Lady Westsea’s brother, at any time that day. She had been starkly disappointed and tsked in disapproval when Roshni had answered in the negative. Since those comments, Roshni had been unable to shift the woman from questions about Lord Tarce.
“Not at all.” Roshni was coming to believe that Lord Tarce really had changed into a more thoughtful, mature person. True, at first, she had thought he was only assuming a veneer of civility to lure her in. She would have never said so, it sounded too arrogant, but Lord Tarce had let her know this was his motivation, expecting her to be honoured and flattered. She had had no doubt that had she slept with him, he would have reverted to his former behaviour. She wasn’t an idiot.
But then his changes had increased in scope. Lord Karish’s influence extended beyond lessons in smiles and compliments. People who were not very perceptive might have thought Source Karish and Lord Tarce were very much alike, both handsome aristocrats who didn’t have much to do. But Source Karish wasn’t just a Source. During every difficulty, he was among the first to lend assistance, despite the fact that many would consider such labour beneath him. He was an excellent example of working beyond the limits of one’s duty. Apparently, Lord Tarce had begun to take this example more seriously.
Being so badly beaten by Kent’s men, followed by the period of contemplation imposed upon him by his recovery, had appeared to encourage re-examination of his life and his behaviour.
Roshni believed Kent’s attack on Lady Westsea had instilled in Lord Tarce a sense of obligation to his sister, a new belief that he needed to do more than live off her generosity. So he had taken it upon himself to speak to those tenants with complaints to bring before Lady Westsea, lifting this responsibility from his family’s very busy solicitor. He had then decided to summarize the complaints in writing, enabling Lady Westsea to familiarize herself with the nature their disputes before seeing the parties. Apparently Lord Tarce had some skill at this, for few complained of his descriptions of their conflicts.
Speaking to so many of the tenants seemed to change his opinion of them, and he ceased to maintain such a frigid distance from them. This increased their respect for him, which had the additional effect of increasing their respect for Lady Westsea.
It seemed that once he’d started performing useful tasks, he wanted more. Roshni wondered if his former unpleasant manner had been the result of boredom. Lord Tarce began to speak to the local titleholders on Lady Westsea’s behalf during formal communications, making himself a step that had to be climbed before direct access to Lady Westsea would be granted. That caused resentment and there were many charges of arrogance levelled at Lady Westsea. She thought highly of herself, didn’t she, standing behind her brother because the titleholders weren’t worth her time. But everyone came to accept it. Lady Westsea was left not only with more time to do the work she was actually supposed to be doing, but the space and privacy to enjoy her own pursuits.
These changes, they all created a much more honourable man. Roshni was happy and willing to admit that.
That didn’t mean she wanted to sleep with him.
And the changes that mattered, they’d really had nothing to do with her. It baffled her that no one else seemed to recognize this.
“To see a young man prepared to do so much for the person he loves,” Farmer Leafen said in a dreamy tone. “It almost makes me believe in true love again.”
True love. Roshni felt nauseous.
Besides, Roshni didn’t believe Lord Tarce actually loved her. He didn’t know her. They’d never talked about anything of substance, or done anything together purely for the sake of each other’s company. She had met him when she’d met the duchess, and all of a sudden, he was offering her gifts and asking her to events.
“And if I had someone willing to do so much for me, I would be grateful.” The farmer’s tone sharpened on the last word, her gaze growing a little less friendly.
Gratitude. An excellent reason to sleep with someone.
“Especially someone so handsome and wealthy.”
More excellent reasons to sleep with someone.
The wind outside began to howl.
“And, of course, not to be indelicate, but it’s never wise to put off having children too long. It’s healthier and safer when you’re younger. And for you, you must give yourself plenty of time to train whichever of your children has your talent, so they can act as Wind Watcher when you’re no longer able to. You may have less time than you think. Terrible things happen all the time.”
She didn’t want children. People who didn’t want to have children shouldn’t have children. Many intrusive people claimed she would change her mind once she had a child of her own. She didn’t deny that this did seem to happen to many, but it was clearly not a universal situation. Roshni couldn’t imagine that those who beat their children so very badly had looked upon them immediately after birth and had been overcome with love for them.
And if they had been, well, if they could change so very much over the years, there was no reason to believe Roshni couldn’t as well, that it was impossible.
She thought having a child just in the hope they might have a particular talent was awful.
And to get pregnant, one had to have sex, another thing she didn’t want. It wasn’t just that she didn’t want to sleep with Lord Tarce. She didn’t want to sleep with anyone. She’d had sex a few times. It hadn’t been awful, but it hadn’t been exciting, either, and she didn’t understand why everyone made so much of it. There were so many more interesting things to do.
She was not inclined to explain any of this to the farmer. It was none of her business.
Roshni suddenly felt the hint of bitterness in the back of her throat, the first true warning. “The wind will be dangerous soon. You should go home, Farmer Leafen.”
The other woman scowled. “It is interesting how often Shield Mallorough finds herself with urgent Triple S business in the middle of conversations.”
Yes, Roshni believed a lot of those sudden demands didn’t actually exist. She didn’t blame Shield Mallorough for this trick. A Shield had never been posted in Flown Raven, everyone had been fascinated by her. By her Source, mostly, but also by her. Her Source was entertaining and warm. Usually. Shield Mallorough, while well-mannered, was a little distant, and appeared to many almost mysterious.
Shield Mallorough would laugh if she knew that.
The people of Flown Raven wanted the mystery solved.
The Shield also, Roshni gathered, had little patience for the intrusive questions people in Flown Raven felt they had the right to ask. Rather than risk offending them by outright claiming the right to privacy, Shield Mallorough pretended to suddenly need to attend to duty. Roshni could understand this.
She wasn’t, however, comfortable doing the same. She had lived in Flown Raven all her life. Her friends and neighbours relied on her. They needed to be able to trust her. “Do you not hear the wind?”
The farmer sniffed. “Doesn’t sound all that bad.”
“Do you truly believe I would actually blow the fischen and pull everyone from their work because I didn’t like a conversation?”
The farmer flushed. “Of course not,” she mumbled. “My apologies, Wind Watcher.”
The bitter taste got stronger, and her heart started pumping harder, invigorating her. “You might want to stay here after all, Farmer Leafen. I think this one will be coming quickly.” Then she was hit with the anxiety and she couldn’t delay any longer. “Excuse me.” She ran up to the top floor where the fischen was housed.
The long simple horn, starting with the mouth piece and sloping into a large bell, was supported by a stand. She could never hold it in the proper position herself, it was so long and heavy. There were no keys. It was difficult to get a note out of it, and more difficult to keep the note sounding.
She blew on the fischen, which emitted a low, golden note that was carried by the wind and would be heard all over Flown Raven. It should not have been able to travel that far. If Roshni blew any other instrument, the warning would have never gotten to anyone else. It was just this instrument.
If it had gotten damaged beyond a few dings and scrapes when her original tower collapsed, she would have had to forge another one. She’d been taught to do it, as fischens created by anyone other than a Wind Watcher were ineffective. Roshni practised at the village forge every once in a while, but had never been required to make an actual fischen, and she lacked the stamina and skill. She really had to work on that.
She blew on the fischen until her clothes were drenched with sweat and there were black spots in front of her eyes. Everywhere in Flown Raven, people were halting their labours, strapping down tools and locking up animals, holing up somewhere safe until the fatal winds passed.
Once she got her breath back, she blew again. She could no longer discern what was causing her heart to beat so quickly, the presence of the wind or her efforts with the fischen, but in time the bitterness faded, and that was when she knew she could stop.
She stumbled back to the kitchen, shaking. Farmer Leafen jumped from the table and helped her to a chair. “I’ll brew you some tea.”
Roshni would wager the farmer no longer doubted the reason for the interruption of their conversation.
Farmer Leafen stayed with her until she had drunk her tea and ceased shaking. Once the other woman had left, Roshni put her head on the table and waited for reports of any fatalities.
None, this time. There were no names to add to the list.
The next day, she got another unexpected visit. This one, from the first moment, appeared to be more interesting than the last. Healer Browne, Whaler Talen Brice, and his son, four year old Davor, stood before her door. They all looked grim, and the boy was a little teary-eyed. “What’s wrong?”
“Can we come in?” Healer Browne asked.
Roshni sat them down in her kitchen and brewed some tea. The boy kept sniffling. His father was pale and tense. No one would speak, though, until they’d all been served and Roshni had joined them at the table.
“Talen has noticed some strange behaviour in Davor,” said Healer Browne. Whaler Brice tightened his grip on the cup of tea he wasn’t drinking. “Sometimes, Davor gets very upset for no reason anyone else can see. Frightened, it seems. And he can’t keep still. If left to it, Davor runs around the house and knocks things about and doesn’t stop. Nothing can calm him.”
This was disturbing, Roshni felt sympathy for the boy, but what did this have to do with her?
“I started watching him,” Whaler Brice said in a voice that carried a slight waver. “To see if there was something happening to him that I didn’t know about it. It took me a long while, but I realized he only goes that way just before a strong winds hits, and he won’t settle until it’s past.”
“He might be disturbed by the sound of the fischen,” Roshni suggested. Some of the residents hated the instrument because of what it meant.
“No, it happens before the wind gets strong. Every time. The only time.”
It was obvious where this was going. “Do you get a strange taste in your mouth when this happens?”
He grimaced. “Da’s vether soup.”
Vether soup could be bitter if not properly prepared.
“That’s it, then, aye?” asked the whaler. “He’s a Wind Watcher? Or he will be?”
“I think it’s a little early to make that kind of judgment.”
“But he’s a brave boy. I’ve never known him to be frightened while he’s awake. He broke his arm a few months back. He was very good when it was set. It’s just this.”
Roshni wasn’t sure what to think. If the boy really had the talent, that would be a benefit and a relief. But she’d never met anyone else with the talent, not since she’d taken on the position herself. Making such a call would truly be premature. “I think I would have to see for myself before I could offer a valid opinion.”
The whaler nodded and swallowed hard. “That means I have to give him to you, aye?”
The tears in Davor’s eyes thickened.
This was another hard shock for Roshni. “Of course not.”
“But if he’s a Wind Watcher, he belongs here, doesn’t he?”
She sat back in her chair. She didn’t know. She hadn’t thought of this possibility, not really.
If she wanted to watch him, he would have to stay with her. She wasn’t going to run out to his home when she had to attend to the fischen, and she certainly wasn’t going to expect him to risk the wind to come to her.
But what was she going to do with a four year old? Day to day? Protecting him, disciplining him? She didn’t know how to do that, and she had no interest in learning.
It was obvious that both father and son expected to be separated, and that they were both devastated by the idea. If the boy did live with her, it would not take him a great distance from his father. They’d be able to see each other every day. But Roshni knew that wasn’t the same as sharing their home.
She could think of only one solution. She hoped it wasn’t going to be a horrible mistake. “I think you should both stay here until we know for sure. And then, if it turns out that Davor does have the talent, we’ll have to think of something suitable for the long term.”
The whaler’s eyes widened. “You would let me stay here?”
“There is no reason why you shouldn’t, for now. If Davor is a Wind Watcher, I will help him deal with the effects of the wind, but it will be years before I can give him any true instruction. I am not a parent. I know nothing of raising children. I’m on the shore, living here won’t interfere with your work. I have space.” Space for a family she had no intention of creating.
The whaler looked stunned. “Really?”
She frowned. “Why would you think I would be eager to separate a son from his father?”
“I didn’t think you’d have a choice.”
“I don’t have rules to follow, Whaler Brice. Other than those I make for myself.”
His shoulders lowered in relief. “Thank you.”
She pointed a finger at him. “I will not accommodate ill humour, drunkenness, or disorder. I do make the rules for this tower and they will be obeyed.”
The whaler probably wasn’t even listening to her, he was so relieved that he wasn’t going to, as far as he was concerned, lose his son. “Of course, Wind Watcher.” He ruffled Davor’s hair.
Davor was all smiles.
This was interesting. If Davor was a Wind Watcher in the making, maybe everyone would relax. Maybe everyone would stop harassing her about having children.