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Chapter 7

  • > The haughty maid has left the Mink, >       She finds her father's place; > The squire has looked her in the eye: >       "Now what a fox to chase!"
  • >
  • > He's called in all his friends and kin, >       And dealt out guns and shells; > He's sworn an oath to catch the Mink >       By all the seven hells!
  • >
  • > —Ruck's Ballad of the Mink
  • Lady Nirea was puffing and blowing and clawing her way through endless mile_f creepers, thorns, and brushwood. She wished Revel were carrying her now, even if it meant the loss of her clothing again. Now she appreciated what _ob he'd done, for naked though she'd been, not half as many scratches ha_arred her skin on their first journey.
  • Ahead of her, the giant called Rack was doing his best to break trail for her; and in front of him, with a rope under his arms which the red-bearded man hel_ightly, went Dawvys, her father's servant.
  • As she understood the tale from Rack's few sentences, growled out in a voic_hat reeked with hatred of somebody, whether herself or Revel or whom sh_ouldn't tell, he had caught Dawvys just emerging from the forest and made hi_ead the way back to the domed glade. Ewyo the squire had sent Rack out fo_er, and Rack was evidently all a rucker should be—faithful, reverent, an_bedient to the least command of the gentry.
  • She remembered waking, Revel's strong hand still clamped on her wrist, an_eeing this walleyed brute just aiming a swing of a pick at his brother'_ead. She had screamed, and Rack had missed. She wondered whether he had mean_o hit at all. There was already a bloody gash on Revel's scalp, and th_ittle yellow man, Jerran, lay quite still with red trickling out of his head.
  • Then Rack had picked up Revel's pick and disengaged the grip of his hand (wa_t as cold and lifeless as she'd thought? could the Mink be dead?) from he_rist, and booted Dawvys out on the trail.
  • That had been hours ago. They were still bumbling through the forest, althoug_he sun was high.
  • "He's leading us wrong," she panted. "Don't trust him. He's an importan_ebel."
  • "He wants to live as badly as we do, Lady. He'll take us home."
  • And sure enough, they had come shortly to the rim of the woodland. She swaye_nd nearly collapsed. "Give me your arm, rucker," she said. "I give yo_ermission to touch me."
  • His arm was like stone, supporting her along the road to Dolfya's outskirt_here her father's mansion lay. After a few minutes he dropped the rope tha_eld Dawvys. "Damn," he said loudly, "he will get away!" and bent to retriev_t. Dawvys leaped off like a pinched frog, and Rack said grimly, "No use t_hase that one, he can sprint faster than a dozen hulks like me."
  • "You let him go," said Nirea.
  • He turned his blue eye on her. "That is as you see fit to believe, Lady."
  • She would turn him over to her father's huntsman, she thought. Or would she?
  • He'd saved her … was this gratitude in her mind? It was a foreign emotion.
  • Wait and see, she told herself; don't fret now. She was very tired.
  • They came to the house of Ewyo, a sprawling erection of field stone an_ncient brick dug from distant ruins of another time. No one could make brick_ike that now. She touched the gate in the wall and instantly a dozen hounds, gaunt and savage, came leaping from the lawns. Recognizing her, they fawned, and she opened the gate. "Come in," she said. He grunted and obeyed, eyein_he dogs.
  • In the library of the house, which contained more than twenty priceless book_llowed her ancestors by the gods, she met her father, the squire Ewyo. H_cowled up at Rack.
  • "You bring this rucker, this miner, into the library, Nirea?"
  • Not a word of greeting, she thought, not a single expression of relief at he_afety. For the first time she began to contrast the manners of the gentr_ith those of Revel. He was rough, true, and crude and inclined to glory i_is animal strength, and he had made love to her, to boot; but if he had foun_er after thinking her dead, by the Orbs! he wouldn't have snarled ou_omething about an unimportant convention!
  • "The man saved me at great risk, and killed his own brother doing it," sh_aid coldly. She would not mention Dawvys at all. Not now! "He deserves _eward, Ewyo, and not harsh words from you."
  • He slapped his high sleek boots with a hunting crop. He was a burly, beefy- looking man, nothing like the lean tough Mink. She felt a sense of revulsion.
  • She turned to Rack and stared at the big face, scarred by whipping branches, firm and fearless, as hard as the heart of a mountain. "Go home and get som_leep, Rack," she said kindly. "You'll hear from me later."
  • "I have no home, Lady," he answered. "The gods destroyed our part of the tow_esterday."
  • Ewyo snorted, "Dawvys can give him a bed for now in the servants' huts.
  • Dawvys!"
  • It was on her tongue to say that Dawvys wouldn't be likely to answer his bawl, but the man appeared in the doorway, spruce and clean, with only a fe_cratches to tell of his activities. "Yes, Lord Ewyo?"
  • "Take this rucker and find a bed for him. Jump!"
  • "Yessir." Dawvys, a plump fellow with no hint of his enormous endurance in hi_ook, motioned Rack out of the library.
  • Ewyo said, "Well! How are you, Nirea? Your sister Jann and I have bee_orrying."
  • "I'm all right."
  • "Did you suffer indignities at the hands of that crazy miner?"
  • He looked like a damned red-faced bear, she thought, and surprised herself b_aying, "Revel treated me with—with much consideration."
  • "Huh! Wouldn't have thought it. You want to sleep?"
  • "Don't bother about me," she said, turning. "Get on with your pressin_usiness, father." She went to her room and lay down on the satin-sheeted be_ithout even removing the tattered rucker's clothes. For a long while she la_here, thinking. Then she did a thing that no one could ever have convince_er she'd do till that day. She changed into a sheer black gown, after bathin_f course, and slipped downstairs to her father's private room.
  • She had never been in it, no one but Ewyo had; she had no clear notion of wha_he was looking for. But an army of questions warred in her mind, and i_eemed to her that there were secrets she must discover: answers which she ha_ever looked for, explanations for things she had always taken for granted.
  • For instance, she thought, turning the handle slowly and without noise, wh_ere the gentry the gentry? Why did the gods allow almost anything to he_ind, when the ruck had no rights? She shook her head. All her breeding sai_he was mad, yet she opened the door of the private room and walked in.
  • Dawvys whirled from where he had been bending over a huge leather-bound boo_n a table. His face was white, but it cleared of panic when he saw her.
  • "The Lady Nirea moves silently."
  • "What are you doing here?" she asked sharply.
  • "The same thing you mean to do, Lady. I'm seeking the answers to certai_roblems."
  • "Can a rucker read minds like a globe?"
  • He laughed. "It was an obvious guess, Lady."
  • "And have you found answers, Dawvys?"
  • He sighed. "I cannot read, as the Lady knows. No rucker reads."
  • She watched his face a moment. "Stay here," she said. " _I_  can read."
  • "The Lady of the Mink is kind," he said, bowing. The title did not shock her.
  • Strangeness on strangeness!
  • The book was full of queer writing, like none she had ever seen. Instead o_etters that each stood alone, the letters were joined, each word being a uni_ithout a break; and they seemed to stand up a little from the page, not bein_unken into the paper as all printing was that she had seen.
  • With difficulty she read a few sentences.
  • "This day the third in the month of Orbuary I did feed the gods, more tha_orty of them in the morning and twenty after eating. I am so weak I ca_ardly hold this pen."
  • "What does it mean?" asked Dawvys.
  • "I don't know." She flipped a page. "This day did hunt the fox, he being _trong untiring trapper who was found with forbidden ale cached in his house, and chased him over eight mile before he went to earth in a spinney, where th_ogs found him and tore him to bits. Afterwards did feed nine gods, who hav_rained me so I cannot see but in a fog," she read aloud.
  • "That's your father speaking," whispered Dawvys, "He hunted a trapper las_onth."
  • "But how is it down here, if it was Ewyo? The books were made many year_efore my grandfather was born. No one makes books now. The art is lost."
  • "Nevertheless, I think Ewyo made this one himself. Unless it's a prophecy o_he gods." He turned the book over. "What does it say on the outside?"
  • She read it with cold grue inching up her back. "Ewyo of Dolfya, His Ledge_nd Record Book."
  • "Then he did make it."
  • "How? How could he? The art is lost!"
  • "Many things the ruck believed have been proved false in these last hours,"
  • Dawvys said. "Perhaps the gentry's beliefs are equally wrong."
  • She left the book and went to a desk by the oiled-paper window. A drawer wa_artly open. Inside was a big heap of dandelions, thick grasses, and wil_arsley. She remembered Jerran's taunt, "Your father eats dandelions!"
  • "Dawvys, why are these here?"
  • "I don't know, Lady. I gather them and the squire eats them, but why, I can'_ay."
  • There was a sound at the door. Dawvys sprang toward the brocaded hangings, to_ate; Ewyo thrust in his head, black rage on his features.
  • "What in the seven hells are you doing here, Nirea?"
  • The habits of a lifetime couldn't be overcome by a day in the presence of th_ink. She said quickly, "I saw Dawvys come in, father, and followed him."
  • "Oh. Good for you. Dawvys, report yourself to the huntsman for a fox!"
  • Dawvys bowed and went out. She breathed freely; he would escape, and stil_he'd saved herself. What Ewyo might have done to her, she didn't know, bu_he feared him when he was roused.
  • She yearned to ask him about the book and the weeds, but didn't dare. Sh_assed him and went to the resting room, where she occupied a chair for a_our, blankly pondering the tottering of her universe.
  • At last she stood up. She was a gentrywoman, she had guts in her belly. Wh_houldn't she ask her father questions? Before she could think about it an_row scared, she went searching, and ran across her sister Jann.
  • Jann was twenty-four, a tall ash-blonde woman with snaky amber eyes an_ointed ears who lorded it over the household.
  • "Have you seen Ewyo?"
  • "He's in the private room."
  • She headed for it, and Jann ran to catch at her arm. "You can't disturb hi_here!"
  • "I've been in it before."
  • Jann clawed at her. "You haven't! Even I was only there once… ."
  • "Even you. My, my." Nirea walked on, Jann tugging at her futilely. "I have t_alk to him."
  • "Stop! Damn you, you whelp, you can't—"
  • With precision and force, Nirea socked her sister in the left eye. Then sh_trode down the hall and knocked on the door of the private room an_mmediately went in.
  • The sight that greeted her, completely incomprehensible, was still a_evolting and horrifying a thing as she had ever seen. Her father lay back i_ big armchair, relaxed and half-asleep to judge from his hanging arms an_arely open eyes. A curious sound, a kind of brrm-brrm, came from his chest.
  • Resting on his throat was a golden globe. Two of its tentacles were pushe_lmost out of sight into his nostrils, two more dipped into his gaping mouth.
  • The remaining four waved slowly above the squire's face.
  • Nirea screamed.
  • The globe floated upward, slowly, grudgingly. Its tentacles withdrew from th_quire. Ewyo stirred and opened his pale eyes to glare at her. A flush o_ideous fury spread up his cheeks. He struggled to his feet and lurched ove_nd slapped her face, so that she ceased to scream and fell against the wall, moaning. The squire stood over her.
  • "You meddlesome bitch, I ought to have you cut up for the hounds!"
  • "In the name of the Orbs," she said, whimpering, "what were you doing?"
  • He grimaced at her like a madman. "You're not supposed to be told till you'r_wenty, and you don't do it yourself till you reach twenty-eight."
  • " _Do it myself._ "
  • "Certainly." He gave a humorless snort of laughter. "D'you think we don't pa_or the privilege of being gentry, you fool? Now leave me alone!" He lifte_er and flung her at the door. The golden sphere hovered motionless in th_ir. "Never speak of what you saw, and never ask another question of me til_our twentieth birthday … if you live to reach it!"
  • She fumbled the door open and staggered into the hall, and wept there wit_wful tearing sobs, while her sister Jann looked at her and giggle_ysterically.