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Secrets and Illusions

By Jessica E.M. Connelly
                                                                 Secrets and Illusions 1


                                                                Jessica E.M. Connelly
                                                                  56 Brigantine Circle
                                                                 Plymouth, Ma 02360
                                                                         508-224-7002
                                                                        108,683 words




Editor‟s Note

       Over the last few years there has been an increased demand for materials

on Mirane Damaskaya and Jimareteal Tearisia, or Xylvan, in Grythian, Sian, and

Darung languages; especially primary documents, as the market is already

saturated with speculative pieces; even at the most academic and scholarly

levels. I cannot promise the reader that this work will not present as equally

speculative, for it will make several difficult to believe assertions.

       First and foremost of these is the authenticity of this document. The

mystery of Prince Jimarateal‟s unfinished memoirs has haunted Damaskoi

scholars for hundreds of years and has been as much of a mystery as his ultimate

fate, scholars often believing the two are intertwined. In fact, several forgeries of

this document have been on the market for several generations, created out of a

minimal amount of primary source material and, more increasingly, of popular

folk tales. This document owes both its authentication and provenance to the

royal librarian, Amate Ratha of Queensrealm Xylianth of Prince Jimarateal‟s

fourteenth great niece, the Queen Xylianth of Queensrealm Xylianth.                Her

discovery of this document, a mere fragment of the believed quantity originally
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 2


written, was a source of great joy throughout the Queensrealm. It was examined

by no fewer than twenty experts who examined the paper it was written on, the

ink it was written with, the language, the references, the handwriting and known

biographical details. There is no doubt as it to it veracity or its author. Footnotes

have been added to confirm certain details and to reference other works.

       Once the issue of its authorship is clarified there can be no issues rising

from its content, despite many concerns that Prince Jimareteal had no way of

knowing Mirane‟s thoughts or whereabouts until Mirane spoke fluid Sianese and

accepted its most particular dialect that of shared experience and mental

exchange. This long held assumption is being argued now based on the facts

presented in this document. In addition, it is believed that Prince Jimareteal

wrote these memoirs long after his return to Sian and therefore had his wife‟s

own memories to call upon. Unfortunately, Xylvan‟s recollection of this will

shed both light and shadow on that mystery.

       It will be of no surprise to many Xylvan and Mirane scholars that this

fragment is primarily centered on Mirane, as opposed to much of the material

available to the scholar today. No matter how well regarded our national hero

remains today he owed everything in his life to her.

       And so it is that we, admirers and scholar, have now what we have

always wished for, the truth.        For that, reader, I cannot overstate their

importance in world history but to the casual reader: enjoy this tale as a love

story, a love letter perhaps from a Prince to his own love. That they led our
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 3


country into war for the first time in a millennia, that they changed the face of

half the world need not play into your interpretation of their early lives together,

know them as young lovers, or even fictional figures for their legacy cannot be

trusted.
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 4


Editor‟s Note

Second Printing

       It has been over twenty years and much examination since I wrote the

preface for the first fragment of Prince Jimareteal‟s memoirs. Since then, of

course, the full set has been discovered, as much as we believe might ever be

discovered.     Now that we have the entire work, it is clear that this is the first

section that the Prince composed and is of additional interest for that reason

alone. It may be that he believed it to stand alone, for he makes scant reference

to these events in the more complete volumes.            Therefore, I have added

additional notes to help reference other works of the Damoskoi and to bring this

rather small incident of this warrior into a greater perspective for the general

reader.

       This fragment, which we have published once again in its original form,

represents a small but pivotal winter in Prince Jimareteal‟s life. He always refers

to this time as the most important in his life so we, as scholars, must respect that.

To situate the reader this fragment takes place five years into Xylvan and

Mirane‟s life together. Mirane has both converted to Prince Jimarateal‟s religion

and denied his repeated proposals of marriage. During this time Mirane has

continued to circuit the western borders on her quest to create a secure border.

Xylvan and Mirane have developed their fighting style, integrating the

representative illusion-warfare that he learned at his mother‟s court with her

very exacting and deadly swordplay and brilliant strategic mind.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 5


Shendown

         In the small pale light of morning, Mirane stood at the frosty window. Her

muscled body draped in a thin blanket and by the long, heavy, dark chestnut

hair that fell and twisted below her waist. She shivered a little and pulled the

blanket closer to her scarred skin. She looked out across the rooftops of the town

and smiled. Towns like this had always appealed to the small village girl inside

her. She had seen larger cities; they were immense stinking places where the

faces you met told you that before you crossed its limits. She avoided the cities,

even if there were more contracts to be had there. She stayed to the towns, to the

villages, and to the still dangerous borderlands where, she felt, they needed her

most. She dedicated her life to those villages and towns; those who chose to live

far too close to the murderous Darung and those who did not seem to have the

sense to protect themselves. She did whatever she could to teach them about the

danger within miles of their homes whether they believed her or not. She picked

up whatever income she could en route and during the winter when Darungs

stayed in the much warmer north. And now as winter approached she began to

become more and more anxious about finding a job to fund next years‟ tour and

about how many fewer villagers she would encounter after this gruesome winter

ahead.

         She turned her eyes away from the town and towards me. I was still

wrapped in the warm blankets of our rented bed. She should not have left my

arms so early; I, very well, might not let her back now that her body had the
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 6


morning chill on its skin. She thought about how I loathed cold frozen hands and

feet, how I cringed at snow and desired nothing more than to curl up in a burrow

and hibernate till spring. Long ago she had accepted this weakness in me, I was

not capable of changing. I was of a people who lived far to the north where the

balmy air never fell to a chill. I was a creature of perpetual summer, a species so

far removed from her winter that she barely recognized the kinship of our souls

and the intimacy that the last five years had given us. Regardless, our

differences failed to do anything other than excite her. Our races had so

infrequently met, neither of us were a liability to one another; we were only what

we were. My Sian traits, violet tongue, long woven black hair, long sleek body,

gold liquid eyes, and long fingers were among the most enticing traits she had

encountered. These were her thoughts on that morning, while I slept. I cracked

my eyes open to the bright room and the morning light.

       “Good morning,” I said and sat up against the headboard.

       “Good morning.” Her eyes did not leave the window or what it saw

beyond the glass. I never asked her what she thought and I never attempted to

read her thoughts. I had learned from the very beginning that I would need to

learn a new way of reading her, the Gryth way of facial expression and voice

intonation. I was never able to learn much. Occasionally, I was comforted by the

fact that no one really knew her; there were no persons close enough to her to

give me insight into her mind. In those years, I knew nothing more about her

than she told me. When she told me anything at all I considered it a gift. She
                                                                                 Secrets and Illusions 7


firmly discouraged questions. And yet, I remained with her for these years. I

loved her. I must have because I would never have tolerated such a secluded and

stubbornly closed mind and soul in my own country. I had fallen in love with

her before I realized that such secretive ways were not the ways of her people,

most were warm and generous and easy to know, but not my love. I loved a

woman of steel, a woman more of blade than flesh. She was a woman who killed

more people than she called friend and whom I could never begin to understand.

Regardless, her every glance reminded me that I was hers. I did not question my

love for her. She was intoxicating.

         “Come back to bed.” I said.

         “Are you sure?”

         “Quite,” I replied. She walked over to me with her bare shoulders and her

long chestnut hair. Chestnut hair was still so exotic to me. I had never seen hair

any other color than black, except for my father who had dark brown, nearly

black. Since arriving here, I had, in fact, seen all shades of red, brown, and even

white and blonde. But chestnut, a color that was red on top of brown, layers of

beautiful color, a color that was so distinctly Mirane, was the color I liked best.1

         I reached my arms up around her and pulled her close to me. I kissed her

and rolled her beneath me.            I felt more strongly for her than for anyone, no

other woman, no family, no friends were enough of a draw to cause me to leave

1
  It is the belief of many Mirane and Xylvan scholars that Prince Jimareteal never intended for this memoir
to be a state document. Many continue to believe that these were a both musings and travel journal. A
secondary theory is that Prince Jimareteal wished to convey a true sense to his family, who may have been
the desired audience of this memoir, of his experience in Gryth.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 8


her. Before I knew her, my family was everything to me. Again I pushed

thoughts of them from my mind, an exercise I performed quite frequently now. I

had Mirane; she was all that I needed. I kissed her mouth. I loved her mouth.

Her cold skin gradually warmed against my skin as her muscled body relaxed

into the bed. Her hair spread across the pillow. I buried my face in the crook of

her neck kissing her and nuzzling her. “I love you.”

       “I love you.” She said smiling as she traced her fingers along my spine. I

kissed her neck and across her chest. I could feel her warm breasts against my

cheeks and my arousal jolted hard against her. She reached down for my miake

and gently stroked it, letting it bounce against her hand. I did not know if she

was feeling intimate or playful. I did not care. I caught her hand and entwined

my fingers with hers. I drew it to my lips and kissed each finger and deposited it

on the pillow by her face. I traced my finger along her ribs and her waist; I drew

my finger along the sharp bone of her hip to her folded nyvish and tickled her

hidden yshant. After five years, I knew where to touch her; I knew the secrets of

her nyvoish even if the secrets of her soul remained a mystery to me. I caressed

her, driving her to greater heat. I smiled as she squirmed beneath, thrusting her

hips at me.

       “Why do you tease me?”

       “Because I love this.” I replied gently pinching her and driving my fingers

into her body. “I love this.”

       “Love me.”
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 9


       Mirane reached down and guided me into her body. She pushed even

closer to me. She tried to bring my body into hers and hers into mine as we

rolled our hips together. Five years had given us each other‟s rhythms, each

other‟s rises and falls. I pushed into her and she gasped with pleasure. I reared

up so I could dive further into her and watch her breasts move with each motion.

Mirane closed her eyes and curled her toes.

       “Patience, my love,” I whispered to her pushing into her again and again

giving her no time to breathe.

       “Patience.” She exhaled, riding the crest of each wave of her body‟s

internal undulations. Tight muscles clenched and unclenched around my shiyv.

My gut clenched as I spilled it all into her. I groaned in pleasure.



       Mirane lay back in my arms and kissed my face with tiny touches of her

lips. I lay back, smiled and touched her face. “I was dreaming of my family,” I

said feeling I could take this opportunity to breach this difficult topic. Mirane

smiled tiredly. I could see that she was fatigued by this argument. How many

times in these years had I offered, how many times had I longed for her to come

with me and how many times had she refused? My family would love her; my

family was based on strong passions and fierce women. If Mirane belonged

anywhere at all, she belonged in my mother‟s house.

       “I wish to go see them.” I knew that this was dangerous territory. I did

not understand why but, Mirane had always been dead set against coming with
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 10


me to Sian and I could never get her to say why. I watched her shrink from me

and tried not to regret asking. But I knew what was to follow.

         “Go then.” There it was, she said it, and she always responded that way,

refusing to accompany me and thoroughly denying, perhaps, she should.

         “And what will you do?”

         “That really is not your concern.” Mirane answered coldly. She could not

go to Sian; she could not leave her country again undefended. Mirane stood and

crossed the room to her pack.

         “It is my concern.”

         I cannot go, she left unvoiced.

         “Just for the winter.”

         I cannot meet them.

         “We will be back on the border for spring.”

         They‟ll know.

         “They‟ll love you.”

         They‟ll take you away. She pulled on her legging and her tunic all in

black.

         “It will be inexpensive.” It was strange to me to argue about money. I

grew up a prince, I had never wanted anything I could not acquire and yet

Mirane saved every piece we earned to fight her war.

         “Then go.”

         “I do not want to go without you.”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 11


       She took a deep breath. “Do you think if you went, you would return?”

       “Of course, we would be back for spring.”

       “If you went without me, would they let you go?"

       “Who could stop me?”

       “Your mother, your brothers…I do not know.”

       “I do not know either, my mother would not wish to keep me. My mother

sent me here in the first place. And my brothers, they have lives of their own.

My life is here with you.”

       “Your mother put out the nanny decree on your life.” Mirane smiled, it

still baffled her that my mother had the power to protect us everywhere we went

but that no one could protect the people on the border. That is what Mirane

continued to call the Nanny decree. “Mothers protect, has she done anything

like that since?” I defended.

       “I do not know. Perhaps she will take one look at you and see that you

have lived too much danger and lock you in a tower to protect you until you

come back to your senses.”

       “Perhaps she will take one look at you and send an army to protect you.”

I said with some desperation. Was my homeland some sort of fairy tale place

with princes in towers, to her?

       “You joke.”

       “Of course, but you do not know my mother and you know we have

nothing this winter, not one hint of a job.”
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 12


       “That is not true we have Jonko of I-think-I‟ll-take-that-too and friends.”

       “That is nothing.”

       “We will find something more.”

       “Why do we have to? Let us go to the north.”

       “Go then, just go.”

       “I will not go without you.”

       “Afraid I‟ll get killed without your protection?” Her scathing remark was

accompanied by an icy and hard stare.

       “Yes.”

       “Damn you.”

       “Damn you.”

       We both left the argument there; there were no further points to be made.

We were both tired of it. I would not go without her. I could not trust her to

remain alive in my absence. She kept herself as a hostage against me. Her life,

her body, her love were held by her alone and I had no control because I loved

her with so much of my own life. Instead, we both dressed and prepared to leave

in search of this sad little bounty and then onto the next sign of trouble.

       That was what we did. Mirane was a legend, it was true, and I had heard

them. She was a legend and I was her sidekick.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 13




The Beginning

       Mirane‟s fingers seemed frozen solid to the steel blade as she drew it

across the cold, late autumn air. Her opponent, Jonko, leapt forward with his

blade, a long thick piece bought cheap, crashed dully into hers. She had already

taken down his two comrades, but they had been hired to do away with all three

and she was not leaving this man standing. This was the least of the men; he was

not as large or as skilled. She could not figure why he was causing her the most

difficulty. She was exhausted, of course, but there was anger in him that was

giving him the benefit of talent with no skill.

       He lunged again and nearly caught her with his poor metal. She cursed.

Where in Sian Hell is Xylvan! She swore beneath her breath, what is he doing?

       Mirane foolishly threw her weight at him, she felt her strength at its nadir

and she worried that perhaps something had happened to me. Her opponent

then took the advantage and threw Mirane to the ground. She was able to roll

away from his first blow but the second would have killed her. Instead of

delivering it, however, he stopped and smiled. Mirane felt sick to her stomach,

this was not the smile of a man whose mind was filled, courtesy of myself, with

the fulfillment of his most intimate desires. Instead he reached down and in one

fluid motion grabbed her shoulder, lifted her and slammed her head on the

frozen ground. She saw painful white flashes and then blackness and then

nothing.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 14


       I had never seen Mirane lose a battle. She knew her sword as an extension

of her own arm and she had trained it for a lifetime to kill. Frantically, I searched

his mind for anything to use against him but other than vague images of spirits

and spirited women there was nothing. While she fought, I conjured over a

dozen illusions but he responded to nothing, his companions had fallen so

quickly. This had happened before, mostly with individuals who were very

simple. However, if that were the case he should not have been besting Mirane.

I had no explanation, and there was no time to think. I ran to the edge of the

clearing. The man was hovering over her looking at her face. Then he stood and

went to the far end of the clearing. I moved, soundlessly, to a third point and

watched. I waited for the man to see me. Then I spotted Mirane‟s blade lying

strangely apart from her, like a leg broken at a wrong angle, it made me sick. I

nudged it over with my boot and held it behind my back. The man turned

around and saw me standing there.

       I scanned his mind and saw all the grotesque and covetous thoughts that

filled his small mind. I did not cringe. I wanted to appear simple and

unthreatening. Only when the fighter realized that the woman‟s sword was

gone did he stop his slow move towards me. I waited for that moment and then

heaved the sword over my head and directly into the man‟s chest. I did not

watch the man die; I rushed to Mirane.

       Kneeling by her side, I saw that her breathing was shallow and her hair

was filled with blood. My own heart found a place lodged in my throat, my eyes
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 15


filled with tears. I held on to the one driving thought that she was still alive, but

it was clear that I did not move her she would die. I cradled her head in my

hand and lifted her like a child; Her blood ran over my hand and fingers.

       I carried her for over an hour stopping only to make sure her heart still

beat and the blood did not flow. There remains no question in my heart that God

looked on us that day. Soon we found a village. The innkeeper asked for no

money, he directed to a room at the top of the stairs. A healer was called in, he

told me that she would recover but I sensed both doubt and fear in him. The

man was afraid of me. That was different. But I used that to ensure his presence

would be nearly constant until she woke. He came and went over those next

days but I did not leave her side for days. My grief at what might have been and

what still could happen consumed me. I prayed constantly. I prayed for her

regained health, I prayed for my own death if she were to die. I prayed that I

would love her so much stronger if she was to return. I prayed that if I could

have her back, if God could see to it that she could be mine…I never finished that

prayer but had I known what I was going to have to do to keep my promises I

might have prayed different words.
                                                                                Secrets and Illusions 16




Scolar



         When Mirane opened her eyes she saw me sitting at a small table in room

she did not recognize. I was quiet and her head was too heavy to call to me.

Without moving she looked around her. The bed was narrow but felt very clean.

The floor had large white patches of light spread by the windows, puffs of dust

hung in the dry air. The room was inhospitable like a Sian comfort station2. It was

no place to spend so long, barely better than staying outside. The windows were

bare and the only light source except maybe the candlestick holder set on the

table.

         I looked up from the table and saw that she was awake. I hurriedly stood

and rushed to her. “Mirane,” I whispered but the look on her face seemed to not

know the word. “Mirane,” I repeated, “are you alright?” She did not quite

understand me. I put my hands to her face, which was cold to the touch. I kissed

her forehead and her cheeks.

         “Is he dead?” she groaned, it hurt to speak. Do not speak.

         “I killed him.” I answered and Mirane closed her eyes. She opened them

again.

         “Is he dead?”

2
  In far north of Sian where travelers face both extremes of hot and cold temperatures and fierce weather
the North Queen has always sponsored comfort way stations. These fully stocked shelters usually
contained water substites and nonperishable food stuffs, a small sleeping platform, first aid supplies and
oxygen tanks. They were used for life and death situations and were hardly comforting at all.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 17


       “Yes.” I smiled. She tried to smile.

       “What happened?”

       “You hit your head.”

       “I did?” Her voice suggested that she were more curious as to why than

how?

       “Very hard.”

       “Am I alright?” She closed her eyes again and swallowed.

       “Do you know your name?”

       “Mirane Damaskaya.” I looked at her for a long time, she had never said

that name, she had never whispered it in her sleep, and never had anyone

mentioned it in passing or let it slip in thought. Was she making it up?

       “What‟s your name?”

       “Mirane Damaskaya,” she repeated, she did not seem to know what she

was saying. I wished she were lucid, of course, if she were though there would

be no disclosure.

       “My name?”

       “Xylvan.”

       “Good.” I lifted her body; a body that was entirely muscle and it fell limp

in my arms. She had no strength. “Thank God you are alive.”

       “Thank God,” she whispered, though it did not seem to me that she was

convinced of her own life.

       “I will never loose you again.”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 18


       “Am I lost?”

       “Will you marry me?”

       “Of course, you are my love.” My spirit soared, my heart filled, I had

waited for this, wanted this and she said it was such pleasure, such acceptance, it

broke my heart all over again to know, as she slipped again into

unconsciousness, she would forget.



       Mirane woke again several mornings later; she sat up and went to the

window. She looked out and saw how small the sun looked, it was already

winter and the hot sun loathed winter and retreated until the summer returned.

Below her, she saw the small town, just a few buildings. The townspeople

outside were tightly bundled. She put her fingers to the glass and felt how cold

it was. She shivered and withdrew from the window. She was tempted to lie

down again and sleep through the morning. She had no strength to waste but

she resisted and tried to get a feel for her body. As she dressed she looked over

her scarred legs and arms and found nothing new. She reached beneath her hair

and felt the wound closing up; it would probably drive her crazy trying to not

scratch at it as it healed.

       When I returned from the kitchen I saw that she was awake, “You are

awake.” I entered the room carrying a tray of steaming breads. “And up. How

are you feeling?”

       “I‟m sore, how bad was I hit?”
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 19


       “The healer did not feel particularly confident you would live.”

       “What‟d he hit me with?”

       “The ground, knocked you on a patch of earth.”

       “At least it took the whole planet to get me down.” She laughed half-

heartedly. “Where is he now?”

       “Dead. I killed him.”

       “How?” She looked both surprised and impressed. I was surprised and

impressed she did not say in that tone, “You?”

       “Your sword, I threw it at him. I got him in the chest before he knew what

happened.”

       “That worked?” She emitted a small dry laugh.

       “Yes.”

       “That will not work twice.”

       “I‟ll try not to make it my usual strategy. Hungry?”

       “Starving.”

       “Good.” I put the tray on the table and Mirane sat down and picked away

at it. I was glad she was not trying to eat too quickly.

       “How long has it been?”

       “Almost three weeks.” I did not want her to see just how concerned I was.

She would not have respected that.

       Three weeks, Mirane said to herself. Three weeks. “Where are we?”
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 20


       “Scolar,” I answered with hesitation. “I‟d never heard of it, until we

arrived.”

       “Scolar?” Mirane shook her head. “Does not seem to be very big?”

       “It is not much more than just this building, some stables and a worship

temple. I think it‟s mostly farmers.”

       “Probably.” Mirane chewed absently on the bread. “Anywhere to re-

provision?”

       “Not really. But we‟ll find a place on the way.”

       “Well, we cannot stay here too long, we‟ve got to find someplace where

we stand half a chance, at least, of finding spring contracts.”

       “We do need to stay a few more days here,”

       “Why?”

       “I will not leave without the healer‟s clearance.”

       Mirane reached behind her head, “alright.” Any hint of an argument died

as her fingers explored her still tender skull.



       Mirane recovered quickly over the next few days as it all her mending had

been done while she slept. “I‟m going for a walk,” she said suddenly one day. I

had seen her pacing the floors and I should have tried to distract her. I should

have done many things at that moment, I should have reminded her of her

promise to wed me; I should have taken her in my arms; I should have gone with

her.
                                                                  Secrets and Illusions 21


           “I shall come with you.” I said looking up from the Chuanaha3.

           “No, you stay and read.”

           “I‟ve read this before,” I laughed and began to put it down, “I will get my

things.”

           “Xylvan, I just need a breath of fresh air.”

           “You will give the town a scare.”

           “It will be good for them,” she quipped, “please stay, I just need air. I

promise to return shortly.”

           “I walked the perimeter when we arrived.” I lied.

           “No, you sat by my bed and you did not move.” She teased me for my

devotion, for my concern. She leaned over and kissed me. There are moments in

a man‟s life that change the course of it completely. These moments are no mere

forks in the road where choices can be made but are times that you are

blindfolded and spun around and told to walk towards an unseen goal. Such as

when I left my homeland, such as now and I did not know it either time.

           “Go then, walk the town, it could not be a safer place for your

convalescence." Mirane walked back over to me and planted a sweet kiss on my

head. It was such a sweet domestic gesture that had she been anyone else it

would have been completely ordinary. I smiled at her.




3
    The Sian holy book.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 22


       Mirane could see the whole town from the inn steps but it did not stop her

from walking the perimeter a practice that had long since lost its original urgent

meaning and passed into a place more of religion and superstition. She was

never one for the powers of magic over the power of a sword and

swordswoman‟s brain but she walked a protective circle around that tiny town

just as assuredly as a Darung witch walks her spell-circle. Unfortunately for me,

that spell could not keep out what had snuck in years before.

       When she returned to the inn she was invigorated by the cold air and

quite energized. Instead of returning to our room as she had promised, she went

to the common room. It was early and she was the only one there. She looked at

the woodwork scrubbed clean and smooth. The room was exceptionally orderly

except one wall that seemed to have been vandalized, of course it was not, it was

merely a prayer wall. She had seen hundreds of them in her life and she hardly

ever read them. But given that her choice was to return to the tiny room we

shared or spend a few more minutes away she decided to read it.

       Systematically, she read each of the messages across the top and then the

next row and then the next. Each was a wish, or prayer or other quick note

scribbled in a hundred different scripts.

       Perhaps it was like waking from a nightmare, or like a familiar hand

reaching out among strangers but it stopped her just as suddenly and jarringly

when she saw her name. Icy air brushed against her neck and her hairs stood up

on end. “May my beloved wife, Mirane Damaskaya, be retrieved from the men
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 23


who stole her from me on our wedding night and that she be delivered back into

the arms of waiting husband and family.” She read it again and again. Each

time it said the same thing; the same, unbelievable thing.

       Mirane slowly walked to a small table in the corner of the common room,

her hands curling and uncurling into fists. She sat down and buried her face in

her hands. How many years has it been? She cried inside of herself to think that

her family still searched for her, that they had traveled this far to write messages

on common boards in prayers that she would be returned. Only Mirane, herself,

could answer this prayer, she or God. Tears ran down her fierce face and landed

unstopped onto the bare boards of the table. Mirane let the tears flow as if she

were the wife and child these people once knew as their own.

       “God,” she prayed, “how can I bring them such pain, such shame?” How

her prayer was answered that day or on any day I can never know.

       Mirane dropped her arms to the table. Scars upon scars ringed her wrists

where shackles had once bound her, she thought of the scars that slashed

through each part of her flesh and that had annealed her into the person she was.

These people, her husband, her mother, her father, were better off believing that

she were dead. She had always believed that. But apparently, they did not

believe it at all. They had not given up believing that she lived. They had

endured these nine years believing she was alive. Mirane crossed her arms

across her chest and wondered what they had done, in addition to writing prayer

walls, to find her. Mirane thought of her own efforts on behalf of missing
                                                                              Secrets and Illusions 24


relatives. She had known and seen this desperation. She ached for her mother,

her sister, and her father that they felt this pain for nine years. And what of her

poor husband, certainly he would have given up; certainly he would have

married again. Nine years is long enough. Three years is long enough to have

the marriage dissolved in absentia4. And a single night for the single night they

shared is long enough to forget that he was ever married to her.



        How could she not have thought of them? During her captivity such a

thought would have destroyed her, but over the past years, why had she not

thought of returning? She knew the answer to the question: shame. She was

ashamed of what had happened to her and she was ashamed to show her face to

them. It was better for them to believe that she was dead.

        I wish that I had seen her there, at that table, tears covering her face.

Perhaps she would have confided in me. Perhaps she would have said, „Xylvan

there are things that you should know‟. I know what I would have done. But

that was not her way and I knew that, too. And so, to her, it became very black

and white. She could chose to stay and accept my proposal as a polyandrist, live

4
  The laws of marriage in the borderlands in the time of Mirane are a hybrid of secular, Gryth law, local
religious beliefs, and some practical changes to account for living in the borderlands. Marriage is
accomplished by posting three banners of intent on three different days followed by a religious ceremony
with the local priest or if he or she is unavailable the person in the community with the highest rank.
Divorce, or dissolvement proceeds by the same process, three banners of intent filed with the person in the
community of the highest rank, such as a town Lord, and a couple can consider themselves free and clear of
one another. A dissolvement in absentia may be gained when one member of the marriage has been gone
for more than three years with no evidence of death, if the remaining partner files a banner with the town
Lord, usually the only administrator in the village of town. As long as these forms and banners where
properly posted and filed the village would respect them and hold the couple to the appropriate code of
behavior and fidelity. Those who fell outside it would be severely punished. This could include but not
limited to, death.
                                                                Secrets and Illusions 25


forever on the edge, and leave her family to suffer their misplaced grief, and her

husband to remain something between a married man and a free widower while

she stayed with me. Or she could leave and repair what has happened and

return free to marry, free to speak the truth. And when that became clear to her,

there was no choice at all.

       Only when the first group of patrons began to enter the room did Mirane

find the strength to leave. She stood up and returned to our room.

       Had I known what had happened during her walk, had I even suspected

that her impervious exterior had been breached, I would not have said what I

said next. But I knew none of it. “Mirane, I think we should go to Sian.” I said as

soon as she sat on the bedside. I was prepared with many good reasons but she

looked at me with a firmly blank look. She was surprised that I had said

anything at all.

       “I‟ll let you know in the morning.” I did not give her any of the reasons;

this was the first time she had not dismissed it out of hand.

       “Are you alright?”

       “Yes, I‟m fine.” She knew she was lying but she pretended that I was

asking about her health. Realizing, I was not completely convinced, she smiled

and enticed me onto the bed with her. She knew what she must do. How could I

resist her? I kissed her and fell into her warmth. “I love you.”

       “I love you.” I kissed her lips again and she smiled. How could I resist

that smile? That smile made me believe that she was the universe. That smile
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 26


could have convinced me to do anything and I did not know that it concealed

even more secrets. While we made love that afternoon there was so much I did

not know and so much that I could have done had I known.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 27




Mirane‟s Commission

       Mirane woke in the night with a sudden revelation. It was so clear to her

and simple. She would go to them. She would go to them, dissolve her marriage

and reassure her parents that she was alive and then she would return, to me, in

the spring. It may be hard to believe, but this is the way it was with Mirane in

those years. Once a decision was made there was neither need to review it nor to

consult anyone else.

       Mirane silently slipped into her boots. I remained deep in my sleep. She

put her meager belongings in her pack and slid it outside. She was so

meticulously careful not to wake me that I could view that as contempt or

courtesy with equal judgment. She looked at me sleeping and smiled. I prefer to

believe that it was not easy for her to leave me, although Mirane‟s

determinedness once a decision was made there were no emotional fragments

left to colour it one way or another.

       She did not stop to think about her decision any longer. She crept from

the door and down the street. She walked through the dark common room and

out into the freezing midnight. She had a few hours of walking available to her

before I would notice her missing. She had left a message for me that the

innkeeper could read to me. It promised to meet me here again in the spring, I

was to reserve a room for us. She refused to believe that I might to do just

exactly as instructed.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 28


       Mirane left the village and turned west. She would soon have to find a

ride; it was too far to walk with the severe southern winter weather coming. If

she were able to ride half the way it would harder for me to follow her. She had

never spoken of her family and I had no idea where she was before the day I met

her. She hoped I would travel to Sian; remove that obsession from my soul. This

is the best thing for everyone, she thought. This is what he needs, she told

herself.

       Outside the protection of the buildings a cold fast wind beat at her. She

pulled her hood up over her face and thanked the Sian god that it was at her

back. By dawn Mirane was tired of the howling wind and the cold light that

lingered on the trees ahead of her. She rested at a small inn just after the sun had

caught fire to the treetops behind her and inquired from the innkeeper about

passage to Kaira, the nearest town to her village.

       “As far as I know no one‟s going out there.” He said gruffly not lending

himself to other questions. Mirane turned her back and took a seat. The man left

the room and came back, never asking her to leave. When he returned half a

mark later she approached him again.

       “May I have a room?”

       “What would you be willing to trade for passage to Kaira?” he asked

suddenly.

       “I am a skilled swordswoman, I have taken and completed commissions

up and down this country. I can offer safe travel.” This was the only thing she
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 29


could or would offer, for whatever it was worth she was fortunate to live in this

part of the country where it was very necessary. It seemed, at time, barbaric to

me that she still made her living by fighting. To remember my uncle, Juminatwe,

was a lecturer, my father a diplomat, my brother Jonquil was a scholar, a friend

of mine was a quantum particle engineer, my older brother was learning to build

atomic transport gates for long range travel; having my lover be a fighter was

still very alien to me, as if a I had time traveled thousands of years in the past

and was camping there.

          “May I rent a room for the day? I need to get a few hours of sleep.” I

need to be very asleep, she thought with some tension.

       “Are you terribly tired?” he asked and she shot him a queer look.

       “No,” she answered honestly, hoping he would divulge his reason for

asking.

       The man said nothing and left the room, she hoped it was to retrieve his

ledger. Instead he returned with a man with light brown hair heavily strewn

with gray. His shoulders where slightly stooped but his clothes were good, clean

and new.

       “Is this her?” He asked staring at Mirane and trying to sound tougher

than he really was. She stood up taller and looked at him through the sides of

her eyes.

       “I am Mirane.” She introduced herself and took the few steps over to

shake his hand. The man looked at her with an amount of awe and fear. To his
                                                                Secrets and Illusions 30


ordered eyes she looked like a wild creature, such as a bear, that was only held

under control by a thin tenuous string and an unreliable handler. Mirane smiled,

let him think it, it has always worked for her before.

          “I am Yuav Hunte5.” He extended his hand and offered her a seat.

          “How can I help you?” Her confidence had a way of making people feel

they were in her own home.

          “Our friend,” he nodded to the innkeeper, “says you are a guard on her

way to Kaira.”

          “I need a cart, horses, and a wagon, for the trip.”

          “So he says.” The man looked again at the innkeeper. “I have that.”

          “What do you need from me?”

          “My daughter is going to Kaira,”

          “I can get her there safely.” Mirane exuded confidence and competence.

          “You would do this in exchange for the transport. What assurances do I

have?" His voice trailed off leaving many unspoken horrors between them.

          “I do not wish to be blunt, but there are no assurances. But if you do not

know my name you do not know that I am more likely to get your daughter to

Kaira than anyone else you will meet. If you do know my name you know my

reputation, you know that I accept commissions to pay for my work on the

western front. I am no profiteer. This is an exception. I need transportation. I do




5
    Pronounced in Sian: Wave Huntay
                                                                Secrets and Illusions 31


not need to take this job. I'll find it elsewhere. But, now, I need to sleep and I

need to leave today.”

       “We were not quite ready yet.”

       “I need to get there as soon as possible, it has already been too long.”

       “Send her tonight,” said the innkeeper, and then turned to Mirane, “You

are the Mirane, correct, that saved my cousin at Pendleton”

       “Joshua?” Mirane answered remembering there was only one man at

Pendleton who required her assistance.

       “I cannot afford such a name.” Yuav exclaimed.

       “Sir, I need only transport, I wish to reach Kaira before the winter sets in.”

       “You will not do that walking?”

       “No, I will not. If you will please excuse me.” Mirane left off any future

negotiation in favor of taking her bed.

       “Will it just be the two of you?” He called after her.

       “Yes.” She replied as she took the first steps on the stair.

       “Will you take her?”

       Mirane thought it very fortunate for them that she had come along

fortunate for her, as well “I will, tonight.”

       After they had made all the arrangements, Mirane followed them back to

their house and curled up to sleep in one of the rooms. She had watched me

track people before like this. She knew it was slow and tedious but very accurate

within a certain time frame. She had planned her escape knowing each step I
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 32


would use. She knew that if she slept it would harder for me to find her; I needed

conscience thought to find people. She slept very well and awoke by mid-

afternoon, the house was filled with activity and while she slept four or five

different young women had separately checked in on her.

       Mirane stood up and straightened the bed. She looked out of the thick

glass windows and could see part of the village. She looked around the room

and thought of her own room, years ago that had had glass windows and lace

curtains, it had had quilted blankets and a dressing chest filled with all the things

she had made for her wedding, as well as, the much nicer things others had

made for her. Mirane touched the items in this room and they whispered to her

memory. She glanced in the mirror and saw her long hair braided away from

her face and like a thick rope hung down her back to her waist. It was dark red,

almost brown. Her face, that had once been considered pretty, was hard and

difficult for her to see. That I had always told her she was beautiful lingered in

her memory but it was not the prettiness her husband would recognize. Beneath

her tight-laced blouses and trousers was a body hard with muscle and skin

engraved with deep scars. Her body had been so completely changed he would

not recognize her.

       Mirane cleared her head of this. She was not going to doubt her decision.

She was not going this far to reconcile with Larken; she was going to set him free.

She had learned from the inn-keeper that he had written that message just one

year before and that he had often traveled there as part of his work. That was the
                                                                Secrets and Illusions 33


limit of his journeying she had been told. Mirane would go and spend the winter

with her family and free Larken from their marital obligation. He was legally

wed to her; the marriage had been consummated. How many times, she

wondered, had he wished that it had not, wished perhaps, that the attack had

come just a few hours before and not given him a chance to know her.

          “Mistress Mirane?” spoke a small voice at the door.

          Mirane opened the door and saw a woman already visibly pregnant.

“Yes?”

          “I am Dazja6.” She said it with a small degree of humility. “I wanted to

thank you for this. I am looking forward to rejoining my intended.”

          “You are very welcome. When you are ready to leave we can go?”

Mirane said with a smile that was warmly returned by the young woman.



          Dazja‟s family served a huge send-away feast. “Please, come sit.” Dazja‟s

mother said as she pushed a chair under Mirane. Mirane sat and looked at all of

their anxious eyes and did not remind them of the hurry they were in. Dazja‟s

sisters began to bring in great platters with vegetables and meats and then took

their seats.

          “Would you object if I were to say grace?” Yuav Hunte looked at her with

respect and wariness.


6
    See Rogether’s Kaira Formal Register pages XIV-XVII.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 34


      “Of course not.” She smile, he was head of the household and need not

ask her. But, of course, she did not mind, the saying of grace.

      “We are a very religious family,” Yuav said this as if he were half-

apologizing for their religiosity and half for that they suspected she was not

religious at all. Mirane smiled graciously and bowed her head gently.

      “Please lead us in grace, Lord Hunte.”

      “Dear Lord, thank you for this feast in front of us, thank you for all the

gifts you have given us, those that we are ready to accept and those that are

harder. Please give our beloved daughter safe passage to Kaira. Thank you for

providing a guardian and a guide in our guest and savior Mirane….” Mirane

listened and when he had finished Dazja‟s sisters piled her plate high with food.

      “Please, I have a small appetite.” Dazja said.

      “We are your family, we saw you eat before this baby and we know if

there is a small appetite inside that pregnant body it most assuredly was eaten

up by your own appetite. Eat.”

      Dazja and her sisters laugh wonderfully and embrace each other.

      “You need to eat,” Dazja‟s mother patted Mirane‟s back and kissed her

head. Mirane turned quickly and looked at the woman who suddenly then, for a

moment thought that she had made a mistake.

      “Yes, ma‟am.” Mirane smiled and Dazja‟s mother relaxed.

       “Dazja has never spent a night out of my house,” mourned her mother.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 35


      “Well, once,” said one of her sisters but sharp glances from the others

shamed her into temporary silence.



       When the feast was over, at last, she and Dazja climbed into the wagon

and drove into the night. Dazja had tears in her eyes and Mirane let her shed

them in peace. By the time they were away from the village Dazja had stopped

and a smile crawled across her face despite the wind and the threat of snow.

After several hours Dazja went into the covered wagon to rest and Mirane drove

onward.

      After a long night‟s drive Mirane found a place that was both away from

the road and far from trees. She wanted to have time to react to any

approachers, even if that meant the winds would sweep across her in her sleep.

At dawn, when Dazja emerged from the wagon still sleepy and surprised by the

cold morning, Mirane brushed down the horses and warmed herself up. “I need

a few hours of rest,” she said as Dazja‟s face went pale. “I do not sleep very

solidly, if anyone snaps a twig within fifty yards, I‟ll be awake. Do not wander

though, stay here.”

      Dazja looked around, “Where would I go?”

      “Nowhere,” Mirane replied. Dazja watched Mirane curl up on the

driver‟s bench and fall directly to sleep. Mirane knew that the girl was in no

danger and that she herself was the only one with anything to lose. They were

not so far from Scolar that I could not find them. She prayed I would not even
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 36


try, if I would stay in Scolar or go to Sian then all would be fine. She could not

have me with her now.

       Mirane woke up at midday and found Dazja ensconced in a warm corner

of the wagon. “Are you ready to go?”

       “Yes,” Dazja replied and wrapped herself in her warmest cape, the one

she had worn the night before and seated herself next to Mirane on the driver‟s

seat. She was drawn to Mirane; she had never met anyone like her. She knew

that from looking at her. She also knew what her future was going to be like.

She knew that she would have her child, the first and then many others. Some

would live and some would die, she would grieve. She would be a good wife to

her husband and she would run his household. She would be a good daughter

to his mother and assist her in everything she needed. She would never take up

a sword and travel the country and she did not think she wanted to but while

she was in the company of this woman she would imagine herself to be

adventurous.

       “You do not have to sit up here, if you‟re cold.” Mirane said by the middle

of the afternoon. She was used to the exposure and she had dressed warmly

from the start. She had on many layers and a long cape that fell to the ground in

woolen folds.

       “I‟m warm enough.” Dazja said as she shivered and pulled the cloak

warmer around her.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 37


       “Alright.” Mirane coaxed the horses along as they slowed and allowed

herself to fall into her own thoughts. “Have you ever killed anyone?” Dazja

asked and her question floated over the memories barely heard.

       “Excuse me?”

       “Have you ever killed anyone?” Dazja repeated a little quieter.

       “I do not think it will be necessary on this trip.” Mirane answered and

tried to quell her fears.

       “I do not think so either, I was just curious.”

       “I have.” Mirane answered without looking into her memories for the

images. Dazja remained quiet and satisfied with that answer for a while and

Mirane drove silently along.

       “You‟ve been injured too, pretty badly?”

       “Yes.” Mirane could not help remembering those wounds, a slice or a hit

that would bruise her.

       “Why do you do it?”

       “I do not do it on purpose.”

       “I know, I mean though, I‟ve never been injured by someone nor have I

killed anyone. I‟m getting married and having a baby. This is the most

adventurous thing I‟ve ever done.”

       “You mean then, why do I put myself in a position to do it?”

       “Yes,”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 38


       “It is what I do.” Mirane could not say she could not put into words why

it was because it would mean remembering. Remembering was coming but not

yet; there was time.

       “Have you ever been married?”

       “Yes.” Mirane answered, “I am married.”

       “Really.” Dazja was intrigued. As interested in the life of the adventurer

swordswoman she had some very real and practical questions about marriage.

Mirane answered what she could, mostly from her experience with me, since

most of Dazja‟s questions had little to do with her legal marriage status.



       They traveled on this schedule for several days and at no time left Dazja‟s

curiosity behind. She was inquisitive and nervous which made Mirane nervous

that it was slowing them down. It was not.

       “About the baby, y‟know.” Dazja started one afternoon.

       “You do not need to explain it to me,” Mirane smile trying to make Dazja

feel comfortable. Mirane understood.

       “I do not want you to think badly of me.”

       “I do not.”

       “You must.”

       “I do not.”

       “We were supposed to be married in the summer. He had traveled from

Kaira and stayed at his mother‟s house, in our village. We would have been
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 39


married the next day so it did not seem to be too harmful. We were curious.”

She paused, “I was curious.”

       “I cannot imagine.” Mirane teased with a smile. Dazja was very likeable

and Mirane felt that she could allow herself to speak freely with her.

       “He was called away by Kaira, messengers were here and they took him

with them. I wanted to get married then, and then travel with them. Our

mothers were furious, they were not about be cheated out of a wedding. He

returned to Kaira and I stayed. Our mothers were even more furious to find out

I was with his child.”

       “You will be married in Kaira then?”

       “Oh yes, his mother is there already, has been since she found out about

the baby. She went to make sure there would be no other incidents.” Dazja

smiled at the cluckings of these old women.

       “Why are you going to Kaira?”

       “I grew up just outside the town.”

       “A swordswoman with a hometown.” Dazja giggled.

       “Yes,” Mirane smiled. Mirane laughed then at how successful she‟d been

in convincing everyone she had no such home.

       “How long till we get there?”

       “Few days till we get to Kaira.” Mirane said realizing for the first time that

this was real.
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 40


       “Then you will see your family, and I shall begin mine.” Dazja smiled and

held her pregnant stomach. She seemed so happy. Mirane tried not to feel sick

with anxiety. My family, who knows even how many of them there will be? Do

not think, Xylvan thinks, do not think, if you think it will happen.

       “Are you alright?” Dazja asked noting that Mirane‟s face looked darkened

and sullen.

       “I‟m fine.” Mirane smiled, just smile, she said to herself, just smile.



       When they came upon it, Kaira emerged from the trees at midday and

Main Street opened up to them directly from the forest. Dazja came up to the

driver‟s bench to watch all that was happening. This was only a town and one

that was settling in for the winter but there was enough going on to keep her

entertained. It was the warmest day they had had, the sun was out and the wind

had died down.

       “I have been instructed to bring you to your fiancé‟s mother‟s residence.”

       “Yes, I‟ll stay with her until the wedding.”

       Mirane smiled. Is there anything you need to do before I take you there?

Mirane was praying she would say „yes‟, in order, to put off her own reunion.

       “No, my mother-to-be is very kind.”



       It was not far to the house and Dazja‟s mother had given them excellent

directions. “This is it.” Mirane announced at the gate.
                                                                              Secrets and Illusions 41


        “Yes,” Dazja was impressed she had never imagined the house to be so

grand; she had never been to a house that required a gate and a wall. Her fiancé

was very important. She swelled with pride.

        “Can I help you ladies?” said a guard who approached them with

anything but helpfulness on his face.

        “Yes, I am the escort for the Lady Dazja.” Mirane answered very officially

and Dazja had a hard time not smiling.

        The guard was expecting her and so sent a small child away to fetch

someone. He unbarred the gates and let them into the courtyard. The pregnant

woman looked safe but her escort was anything but. Mirane saw that the guard

was uncomfortable with her and she was content with that. She made eye

contact with him and waited for him to look away. He was a large man, and he

seemed strong but he knew he was no match for this woman and he was not

going to upset himself over it. He looked away. Mirane did not want to let

anyone in this household believe that once she was gone Dazja would be without

protection.

        Just then a group of women converged on the courtyard with giggles and

shrieks. All were dressed very well and all seemed to be full of good health.

They rushed Dazja with smiles and shouts of welcome. They had nearly taken

her into their pack when a tall slim woman dressed in Trysal7 covered wool



7
 Trysal a fabric created in imitation of Hysyl though still very expensive. The process remains the same
but the plant is much more abundant and the fibers three times as thick.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 42


quilted with an intricate floral pattern and fit to her handsome figure moved

slowly toward them. The women parted to let this grand dame view the girl. At

first the woman seemed severe but soon a wonderful smile spread across her lips

and she embraced Dazja.

        The women set to unpacking Dazja‟s belongings and carrying them into

the house. Once empty the wagon was carried off by two grooms. “These all

belong to Dazja.” Mirane was not about to have them make off with Dazja‟s

things.

        Dajza's mother-to-be approached her. “Of course they do, they are to be

with her for the rest of her life.”

        “Of course.”

        “You were very kind to bring her here. Thank you very much. We can

finish now what we began.” Mirane thought for a moment that the woman

smiled. Mirane could sense nothing insincere about his woman and could not

think of any reason to linger. Her duty was complete and she thanked the

woman.

        “Where can you be reached?” The woman said as Mirane was turning

away.

        “I shall be about half-a-day out of town in Krahan.” Mirane said she was

not about to let a future contract go uninitiated. “I am planning to winter there, if

not I will return to Scolar.”

        “If you are in Krahan, I shall send you a wedding invitation.”
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 43


       “Thank you, I‟d like that.” Mirane must have smiled that perfect smile.



       Mirane chose not to stay in Kaira. Instead she took the south road to

Krahan immediately. Her pack felt strange on her back after having the luxury

of the wagon this past week. She found herself thinking of Dazja now instead of

me. She thought of Dazja‟s reception and how even this enraged mother-to-be

had embraced Dazja and welcomed her. She wondered whether she would be

recognized and her feet slowed on the path.

       As Mirane walked closer and closer to Krahan, she felt more and more

like a stranger. Fleetingly, she thought of all the stories she had heard about

happy villages ruined by the approach of a stranger. She imagined herself as the

vanguard of a great shadow that would doom them. She pushed that image

away and started noticing her body; in away she had not seen it since she was an

adolescent. Her sword hung apart from her at her hip, she noticed it like she

had never before. Her leggings seemed immodest. She wished she had

something in her pack that would be more appropriate. Then she reminded

herself that she was here to release them of any obligation to her, which would

be easier if she were the stranger, if she were that dark ship, if she were

inappropriate and inapproachable.

       When she saw the first curl of smoke and the first rooftops she stood

paralyzed within herself. Her breathing became a labor and her feet solid ice to

the frozen ground. She took the first steps towards the houses and crept around
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 44


the back of the village. It had long since recovered from the raiders burning.

Houses were standing, fences were whitewashed and gardens were harvested

year after year. She knew her parents land holding was now in front of her.

       Inside their house there was a fire going, even a cedar log burning in the

smoke. She could smell the faint remains of dinner and she smiled when she

thought how her mother would worry that she had missed dinner. Tears

clouded her eyes as she thought of how many meals and days, and nights she

had missed with them. Mirane the swordswoman fell inside and Mirane

Vallanishe Damaskaya stood quaking in her own back yard.

       She had no courage to approach the house and she stood there a long time

before they took notice of her. Her father peered out of the glass window,

opening and then closing the curtains. A moment passed and then he emerged,

armed, in the back yard.

       “Trouble has no business here.” He yelled from the door. Then he

stepped out, a heavy ax in his hand and he moved towards her. Mirane felt

sorry that she had frightened him. She unclasped her sword and tossed it to the

ground between them. She took off her cape and her pack and let them fall on

the ground. She unbound her roped hair to whip in the wind around her. She

stepped forward, tears in her eyes.

       “Who are you?” He shouted and she tried to believe it was the darkness

or his old eyes that failed to see her and not that he did not know her. They

forgot me, she cried silently.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 45


       “Pappa,” she choked as if she were a child. Her voice cracked. He now

stood paralyzed. “Pappa,” she repeated and then fell to her knees. Her hair fell

over her, fell to the ground. It was darker now than she thought it would be.

       “Her father approached her and touched her head gently. She looked up

and saw him. He was so much older now than she had remembered him. He

could not have fought her off with his ax.

       “Mirane?” He said crying and fell to his knees. Both held each other, in

silence, for a long time. Mirane only became aware of time and of her

surroundings again when her mother and family joined them in the garden; each

new person wrapping her arms around her or trying to touch her with so much

as a finger.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 46




Loss

       I spent the night dreaming, alternately, of my family and of Mirane. I

dreamt of her, as she must have been, before we met. My mind created the

process of her education as it had for quite some time, in that year. I spent the

night deeply asleep and content.

       I woke in the morning with full light already flooding our room.

“Mirane,” I called into the room, where is she? I shrugged. I got up and set

myself to straightening the room and packing our belongings. Good thing we

had not spent the winter here, we could make ourselves at home very fast. I

packed slowly, putting my own clothes neatly into my pack. Soon, I noticed that

neither her clothes nor her pack were near. I thought for a moment that, maybe,

I had not retrieved them from our last camp, but I knew that I had. There was no

logical explanation for where they were. Yet, I continued to pack, growing more

and more aware that she was gone, that her clothes and her pack were truly

missing. I was surprised by her readiness and peeked out the door to see if it

rested there. It did not.

       I felt great anxiety rise in me. I searched the room for any clue to her

disappearance. Still battling to maintain my composure and not succumb to

panic, I went downstairs to see if anyone had seen her go. Within moments the

Innkeeper pulled me aside and asked to speak with me. “It is about the
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 47


woman,” he ventured, lest I think he was nagging for the rent. It had been paid,

in full, in advance. There was no reason to press me for it.

         “Do you know where she is?” Fear or anger flashed in my eyes, I saw him

recoil from it.

         “She has asked me to tell you this. She had to go to her own family. She

wants you to winter with your mother. She promises to return the first night of

spring.”

         “Excuse, me, you must be mistaken.” I said.

         “She left,”

         “Left?”

         “Left.” The innkeeper hated giving bad news. He cringed. He did not

know how I would react.

         “Did she say anything more?” My voice was loud. My mind roaring, I

had to speak louder than the cacophony.

         “I should not tell you this. But you seem a nice man.” His compassion

seemed more ameliorating than genuine. “Yesterday, she discovered our prayer

wall.”

         “Prayer wall?” I looked around the room and found it.

         “Folks come and write their wishes, thoughts, hopes, that sort of thing,

there. Some people believe that if you write on a prayer wall, your prayer will

come true.” He was nervous, unsure of me. I just looked at him waiting for him
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 48


to tell me everything he knew. I scanned his mind but he had few thoughts

beyond beer inventory.

       “What do they say? I felt the writing beneath my fingers and tried to

discern which one had changed my life. I expected the offending characters to

burn my fingers.

       “This one here.” This Innkeeper touched Mirane‟s name.

       “Read it…” I asked my voice barely holding.

       “I cannot. Go to your home I know she will return here.”

       “Read it!” I shouted. Other men came closer to circle around the

innkeeper.

       “It is a message from a husband to a wife and to God.” The man felt

superstitious, it was bad luck to read another man‟s prayer, aloud. The men

tightened their circle

       I stood and changed my tone. “Please read it.”

       Very reluctantly and only because he could see that I was in pain did the

man finally agree to read the passage? “It says, „May my beloved wife Mirane

Damaskaya be retrieved from the men who stole her on our wedding night and

may she be delivered back into the arms of waiting husband and family.‟” The

Innkeeper paused and, perhaps, wondered if I had been among those who had

taken her from the nice man who had scrawled this message. I could see flashes

of memory, of the writer; long narrow face, blue eyes with tan etched skin

around each, light brown, very straight hair, and very sad.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 49


      My legs were suddenly too weak to hold my heavy heart and I sunk to the

floor clutching my gut. The Innkeeper left me alone and I force myself to I find

the strength to stand. I returned to the small room that we had rented to heal her

from our last battle. Mirane had always been strong and sometimes it is harder

to love someone who needs so little from anyone else. But I loved her more than

I knew. The innkeeper downstairs could hear me howl in pain.

      I felt her betrayal all through my chest and my mind. I was sick with it.

For once, I was happy to be in this sole minded country, there would be noone

who would feel this with me, no one to ache with me. I would not inflict this on

another person. How could she leave me? She was not married. Was she

married, when did she ever see him? How could she be married? She would not

marry me. She loathed marriage. How could she leave? I ran these questions

through my mind again and again trying to get the right angle on it. I had not

known she was married, I did not know anything about her before the day we

met. She always danced around questions like that; when pressed she would

change the topic. I could account for five years of her life and then no more. As

my chest loosened, I began to think more clearly and I began to piece together

what I did know about her.

      First of all, I knew that she was an excellent swordswoman and that she

was entirely self-trained. She had never told me that, but once a teacher at the
                                                                           Secrets and Illusions 50


Sword school in Writalth8 had told me that her technique was good but it was

undeniably untrained. He offered to take her into his school and teach her

everything else but he told her she would still be the best even without it. I also

knew that she did not speak the dialect of the North Country and had always

deliberately steered us away from the south but year-by-year we went further

and further south, as if the region were drawing her near.

        I now knew that she had been deliberately heading to her husband and

her family. I knew that her name was Mirane Damaskaya. How could I have

proposed to her, held her, made love to her, traveled with her, and loved her for

these years without knowing her surname? I was embarrassed. I now knew that

raiders, presumable Darung had taken her; I could not imagine any one taking

Mirane against her wishes. I now knew that she was capable of leaving me in the

night without a word. I knew that she loved someone else more, more than me,

despite our many years together. I knew that I was sinking into a coil of anger

and depression that would make it impossible to find her.

        Hundreds of questions ran through my mind. Of these, why had this

never come up before, had any of these messages been seen before, was her

home nearby. These were analytical questions; I was preparing to track her

down. I was in no way about to be sent up to Sian this way. How could I go




8
  At the time The Sword School In Writalth was regarded as the premier academy of Swordsmanship for
the King’s guard and remained so for over two hundred years. Its remains are still accessible.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 51


home heartbroken and ashamed? Was that not how I made my debut here in

Gryth?

      As the room grew dark around me, I thought of the day we met. I

remembered so clearly and wonderfully the way she looked at me when I

emerged from the branches looking more Sian than I had for years now. I

remembered the way she looked, tall and strong. She was beautiful as her face

softened to me. “You did that?” she asked looking me directly in my eyes. She

did not search for my pupils as other Gryth humans did. She just looked at me.

      “Yes,” I replied to her in my memory but had accidentally said it aloud in

the tiny room where she had left me. I now set to planning my strategy. In my

estimation Mirane could be found and that I would find her. With this clear

resolution soundly set in my brain I was able to sleep.



      In the morning I wrapped myself in layers of warm clothes. It was

already beginning to snow and I cringed at the thought of ice on my skin.

However, I was not tempted to stay in Scolar. I knew from experience that the

tracking spell only worked for a few days. In addition, I was not good at it. It

was one of the few spells I knew. I had picked it up from Patrich when he had

traveled with us. So far I had her direction narrowed down to West. That was

not as helpful as I would have liked, I thought cynically. The Innkeeper, I

discerned did not know where Mirane‟s husband had come from except to say

from the West. I had tapped into the man‟s thoughts just as I would in battle and
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 52


had learned very little from his mind. Mirane had been very careful in what she

said and had neither given the man any specifics nor led him to draw any

conclusions. I did not want to think that she had anticipated that I might do this,

I did not want to embark on the journey believing she wanted to betray or escape

me. I did not want to even think I was wrong in following her. It was

irresponsible of her to leave the way she did. She might even need me.

Sometimes, I thought objectively, she just did not think things through. Of

course, she always told me, I thought too much.

       I stepped into the cold and felt the raw air on my face. I knew that this

would be slow going. The tracking only went a few yards. If I pointed west and

set the spell for her, concentrating on her hair and her skin, a path on the ground

would “glow” for me. It would be faint and fuzzy. If it had been raining or

windy an entire area may glow. That was what happened to me now. I would

go to the end of the area and have to recast at several points to be led in the right

direction. Anyone watching me would think I was insane. It took me a whole

hour to get out of Scolar. Then it became worse as there was no longer shelter

from the wind. The path in front of me would glow but there would be “dust”

sometimes several feet away.

       By mid-day I was exhausted and stopped to rest.

       It took me two days to get to the small village where the “glow” was the

strongest. I was exhausted; the energy that allowed me to work the spell was

fading. This had its natural effect on my mind and his body. Reluctantly, I had
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 53


to admit that tracking her magically would no longer be possible. Fortunately, I

was not out of skills. This last bit of glow told me that she had spent at least a

few hours here; she was not traveling or skimming around town. She had stayed

here and that meant she would have come in contact with people.

       I had come to the village late in the day; folks were coming in from the

fields and shutting up their businesses. I found the small building that seemed

the busiest and the least comforting and hoped it was the common house.

Mirane and I had, long ago, realized that any given small village would have a

place like this, one the villagers could gather in for truly secular ventures.

Sometimes it was just tables and sometimes quite a bit more. The building

would be strong but not comfortable or inviting. In the south country this was

more pronounced. I found the place easily and followed the long shadows to it.

       Without drowning myself in thought, I stepped over the threshold. Inside

was a single musician playing to an almost empty room. I slipped in and went

straight to the small table by the fireplace. I sat quietly listening to the musician

and let them stare at me. I wanted them to approach me but I was willing to wait

for them to get over my race.

       After some time it was clear that they might ignore me all night. I was

very comfortable with strangers once the introductions were out of the way;

approaching them was always Mirane‟s strength. She did not so much confront

them as intrigue them. She made them want to find out about her. She would

look around a room and appraise everyone and then with a smile would discern
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 54


which ones would be most easily broached. She would watch them. Those who

stared were of no interest to her, those who shied away and then made eye

contact. Those were the ones she caught. If they were not in need of her services

they almost always knew someone who was. I looked at people but did not try to

discover if they were looking at me. I knew that they were and for whatever

reason they stared it was their own.

       From my seat in the corner I began to scan the faces around me. I took

note of the way they dressed and the way they sat, whether they slouched or

leaned forwards. I tried to watch them as if I were not there, I did not stare at

them, never that, but I became aware that they were uncomfortable.

       “Can I help you, sir?” The voice came from the large woman who put her

hand firmly on my shoulder.

       I turned and smiled at her. I thought of the way her hair was curled and if

she happened to smile how beautiful her face would be. Human women

responded, I found, differently if you believed them to be beautiful before you

spoke to them. I never said it aloud, but believing changed something subtly in

my face. I always believed it. “Yes.” I replied in a voice that was just a slightly

bit softer than I would ordinarily speak.

       “What brings you to our little village?” She said, not ready to trust me, a

North Country foreigner. She knew what I was but she was not ready to let that

change anything.
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 55


       “Please sit down, if you have a moment.” I motioned to the empty chair

beside me. She hesitated and then sat. A couple of people at other tables looked

up and then quickly away.

       “What is it?”

       “It is nothing to you, I am sure.” I started to speak. I needed her to believe

that although she had no obligation to help me, I would be indebted to her. “But

it is very important to me.”

       “I do not know if I can help you. What do you need?” She replied, just a

hint in her voice that she wanted to help and a hope that she could. To any

observer she‟d still be fortified.

       “I have lost a friend of mine.”

       “Lost?”

       “Yes, she is alive, I hope.” I paused; I was no longer acting for her benefit.

“She came through here, maybe three days ago.”

       “Where was she going?”

       “I do not know, she is my partner, I do illusions, she needs me.” I was

pouring out my hopes to this strange woman.

       “Not a lot of strangers come around her. Unless they are on their way to

Kaira.”

       “I do not know where she was going. She was there in the night and gone

in the morning.”
                                                                           Secrets and Illusions 56


        “I‟d love to help you.” The woman began to stand; her tone was very

closed and cold. She had no desire to help me at all.

        I paused and hung my head. “I know you would. I ask only that if

anyone mentions anything to you that maybe a woman came through, let me

know, that‟s all.”

        “Where will you be?”

        “Right now I‟m stuck, I do not know where to go.” I picked a few coins

out of my pouch; “I think that I‟ll have to ask the proprietress for a space on the

floor tonight.”

        “That will be enough for a room, y‟ know.”

        I looked down at the coins and made sure I had counted right. I wanted

there to be more than enough. I hoped the extra would buy my information. All

it did was buy me a map9. The woman brought it to me late in the evening and

together we looked it over. The woman translated each place and I wrote them

down in Sian so I would have it. Together we decided I would go to Damal,

which was due south from this village. It bore a fragment of her name and there

was a good chance there was a connection there.




9
 The map was recovered and found to have been falsified. It has been hypothesized that Yuav Hunte
meant to lead Xylvan off the path of his daughter and her protector.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 57


      I did not meander from my southern trek, I followed the signs carefully to

Damal and still it took me three days. It might not have taken that long if a great

southern snowstorm had not risen out of the horizon and nearly swallowed me

in frozen whiteness. The last half of my third day was spent fighting driving

snowdrifts and cruel winds. When I found the common house of Damal and

pushed the heavy doors I was frozen and wet. The proprietor took my money

and gave me a room. I could barely speak.

      “Sir, I know that this might be the last thing you want to hear but I‟ve got

a tub of warm water. I could have it brought up to you and made hot.”

      “Hot clean water?” I pushed the words out of my chattering teeth.

      “Oh yes.” The proprietor seemed happy to have it brought up and I

accepted with absolutely no qualms. “Can I ask you a question?” I said later as

the water was steaming in front of us.

      “Ask.” I said beginning to unlace the wet leather from my feet.

      “You are from the north country?”

      “Sian.” I had never thought anyone was interested in the specifics.

      “Sian, yes. I heard only that the Sian have…”

      “Magical powers.” The proprietor said it suddenly as if all he had for

resolve had dried up. Some people will ask anything. One someone had asked

about my personal endowments in comparison to human men. I‟d been shocked

and Mirane shook in hysterics. No question surprised me anymore.

      “Sian, no, not necessarily. It is a trade, something you learn to do.”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 58


      “Like a priest?”

      “Like anything, like learning to run an Inn.” I was watching the water cool

with regret and the wind howl outside. I was longing to be in the hot water.

      “So you do not do magic?”

      “Why do you ask, if you do not mind my asking?”

      “My wife, she wanted to know, she has these ideas of how it works, and

she wanted me to ask you.”

      “That‟s all?”

      “She was curious.”

      “Well I am, primarily, an illusionist. That is what I was trained to do. I

can create visions for people.”

      “Why would people want visions?”

      “Most do not, it‟s a form of fighting, but some are enjoyable.”

      The proprietor nodded his head and left me to slip into my bath.
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 59




Family



       Mirane sat in her parent‟s house on the furniture that her father had built

and carved since her capture and looked at all the faces. She wanted to hear all

the stories and the little ones, nieces and nephew, were eager to tell them. These

young children were at first afraid of her but she smiled warmly and with a

word of reluctant encouragement from their mother‟s were quick to accept her.

Their mothers, her sisters, were not so welcoming. They eyed her with

suspicion. They needed to smell her, to make sure she was one of them, and that

she had not brought back danger to them and their safe households.

       Mirane had wanted the reunion to go slower. She would have wanted

this first night to be alone with her parents, then her sister Sabrine, and then,

perhaps, sister Theabe brother-in-law, her brothers and sisters-in-law. And then

her husband, whom she must, inevitably, meet. Fortunately, he was away and

would not return until, at least, the following day. “He is such a big part of our

family, Mirane.” Her mother said trying to comfort her.

       “How is he?”

       “He is good, he has built up quite a trade.”

       “That‟s wonderful.”

       “I‟m sure he‟ll teach you all about it.” Her mother was unable to sit down.

This was too much for her. It was a great gift to have her daughter back but she
                                                                                Secrets and Illusions 60


could tell, it was not what it seemed. She was unable to ask about the time

Mirane had been away and how she survived. Mirane thought she could believe

it was the same day all those years ago.

         “Give her some time, sweetling.” Her father said as he held onto his wife‟s

hand.

         “Time.” Her mother said this too loudly, too much of an edge on her

words. Too much time had already gone by, she wished to say. Mirane could

see it on her lips.

         “Sabrine,” Mirane turned to her oldest sister. “Tell me about your fine

sons.” At Mirane‟s wedding, Sabrine had been pregnant with her third baby.

Mirane had already taken mental stock and realized that those boys were here in

front of her the older two sitting back but the youngest was too young10. He was

trying to sit next to her to show her his sword.

         “Grampa made it!” he exclaimed excitedly and matched it up to his aunt‟s

much longer heavier version.

         Sabrine lifted the boy onto her lap to distract him from the blade. This

child was too young; he was not the child Sabrine was pregnant with then.

Throughout the evening, Sabrine pulled this younger child back onto her lap

several times as she spoke of them all. Then, in turn, each mother spoke of their

children. The house seemed to be full of them. Sabrine had three, her sister


10
  Birth records of Krahan on record in Kaira show that Sabrine only had the three sons. It is believed that
one was lost before birth around the time Mirane was taken from the village. Possibly as a result of the
raid.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 61


Theabe had two, and her brothers had each fathered three apiece since she‟d

been gone. Eleven young ones aged newborn and up. Mirane smiled at her

parent‟s forethought to build such a large common room. It seemed the raid had

spurned a wedding and baby boom. She bet the same trend went for the whole

village.

       The talk went on late into the night and only when tired mothers realized

that the floor was littered with sleeping children did they pick them up and take

them home. “Mirane,” asked Sabrine as she left, “Will you be here tomorrow?”

The others lingered outside the door to hear her answer.

       “Yes.” Mirane said and she heard a quiet sigh from everyone.

       “Mirane,” her mother called from the top of the stairs.

       “Yes,” she responded closing the front door.

       “I have a bed already for you.”

       Wordlessly, Mirane went up the stairs and to bed.



       Mirane woke to sound of low voices and bright daylight. She lingered in

her bed and tried to decipher them. She could not, so she lay flat and closed her

eyes again. Around her everything was clean. Her blankets had been washed

and dried outside with her mother‟s special soap. That distinct scent of

raspberry leaves sat in pockets of air around the room. She pulled the blanket to

her face and nuzzled against it. She wondered now how she slept in some of the

places she had. She felt, this morning, as if she were in dreamlike luxury.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 62


       “No, I do not know.” Her mother‟s voice carried up the stairs but Mirane

could not hear the other voice at all. “No, nobody asked,” another pause, “Why

are you so suspicious?”

       Mirane stopped listening, there was nothing she could do about this type

of talk. She knew that all you could do against gossip was to either be a constant

reminder that it was not true or to be completely unashamed. So instead of

lingering, she swung her legs off the bed and got up to dress. Beside the door

was a bowl of warm water that she felt must have been hot, not too long ago, but

now held only a little of its warmth for her. She washed and pulled on one of my

cast-off shirt and her own leggings.

       Outside she saw that a thin layer of snow had powdered the ground.

Across the village she saw her neighbor‟s tracks on the green and she knew that

they had all gone off to their business. For a few idyllic moments she felt that she

had done the right thing.

       “Good morning.” Mirane said as she slipped into the common room.

       “Good morning, did you sleep well?” her mother inquired happily.

       “Oh yes, I slept very solidly, thank you.”

       “Do you want breakfast? I made your favorites.”

       Mirane looked at the plate in front of her and smiled widely, she had

forgotten her mother had ever made her a favorite breakfast. She took a bite, it

was delicious and she remembered that this had always been very good.

Encouraged, her mother began chatting happily. Mirane did not know whom
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 63


she had been speaking with earlier; there were only the two of them in the room

now.

       “I so rarely get to make breakfast for my children.” Her mother was very

happy, not comfortable, but happy.

       “This is truly delicious, thank you.” Mirane reached out and tapped her

mother‟s hand affectionately.

       “Oh, I can do this whenever you want.”

       “Thank you.”

       “I‟m your mother, y‟know.”

       “Yes.” Mirane smiled not remembering the last time she was so happy to

be mothered, probably never. Mirane ate her breakfast while her mother sat in

front of her, watching.

       “I want you to know…” Her mother was trying very hard to get up the

courage to say something. Mirane put her fork down to listen.

       “What is it?”

       “Your father and I want you to know that we want you to stay with us

until you are ready to go to Larken.”

       Mirane said nothing, surely her mother was expecting a thank you but she

had nothing to say. She had not decided where she would stay when she

arrived. There was so much she had not planned or anticipated. There were

many fine details that she had forgotten to think of, and had forgotten that this
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 64


was not a mission. “It would not be right to stay with him,” she answered

distractedly.

       “Then you will stay here, it will take you and Larken some time.”

       “Yes, we will need time.”

       “Tell me mother, has he found anyone else.” Mirane tried to sound as

optimistic and as open as possible.

       “Oh no!” she exclaimed, “he‟s like a son to us, he would never betray us.”

       “I did not mean that.”

       “I know, he misses you, he would never betray you. He writes prayers on

walls in hope that someone will know something.”

       “Really?” Mirane questioned ironically.

       “Yes, now they have come true.” Her mother smiled widely, Mirane

wondered if her mother was deliberately not seeing her or whether she was,

mercifully, reserving judgment. “Do you want any more breakfast?”

       “No, I am full.”

       “Then, I think that we should go to my sister‟s this morning.”

       “Alright.” Mirane replied, leaving the why unsaid.

       “She has some cloth that we can make you something decent with.” Her

mother said this in a low voice. She was embarrassed at Mirane‟s immodesty.

Was not Sabrine‟s husband a tailor? She thought maybe her mother was too

embarrassed to bring her to him.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 65


       “Alright.” Mirane laughed. She was home and nothing had changed

except her.

       As her mother had planned they went to her aunt‟s and then returned

with enough cloth to make two decent dresses. The morning was for sewing; she

could not expect to be seen in public dressed as she was.

       “Put this on.” Mirane‟s mother handed her a shift that covered her from

neck to ankle, shoulder to wrist, in a huge billowy white cloud of cloth. “Come

down when you are dressed.” Mirane pulled it on and looked down at her body,

she felt she was wearing a bag. She went downstairs and saw the project her

mother had set out. A stack of cloth needed to be measured and cut. After an

hour of trying to cut the cloth and making, in her mother‟s opinion, many severe

errors, reinforcements were sent for. Perhaps the sight of ten women cutting,

fitting and stitching had been commonplace when she was child but she could

not recall. She was absolutely stunned by the whirlwind in her mother‟s house

they caused. They all seemed able to talk, move, measure, stitch, sew all at one

without a breath, the threads of their conversations flew like that of their needles.

The conversations were picked up and passed on, dropped and occasionally tied

neatly off. Mirane listened and tried to keep pace. She was out of her element;

she was a whore among the virgins. Every now and then Sabrine or Theabe, her

sisters would move close to her and fill her in on a piece of relevant gossip but

the names she knew of her youth seemed no longer to have faces. She smiled

politely and let them get back to the discussion.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 66


      By mid-afternoon they made her stand on a stool as they wrapped her one

of her new outfits. Her skirt swept the floor and was in a very deep blue. It was

heavy for winter. Beneath that she would wear a soft white skirt. They pulled

the tunic over my blouse and it fit well. It was tight waisted and pleated above

her hips. It had no sleeves so that she could move easily. The neck was squared

in the front and the back. They told her that she would have to make a suitable

blouse but for now the one she had would do. They had created the blue skirt

she wore and also one of green with matching over tunics for both. The green

one had a scallop edge neck that one of the women had taken some time with

instead of helping with the underskirts.

      Mirane was immensely grateful for all they had done especially since she

did not know many of them. She reached out to thank them, she apologized that

she had nothing to offer them. And then in the whirlwind pack they came in

they left as suddenly leaving the room very quiet and very empty.



      Mirane sat in the room she called her own for now and looked through

the small verse of poetry that had been her father‟s pride when she was young.

She read the love poems and later told me that she thought of me. She put the

volume down and resolved not to torture herself. When this was all over she

would return to Scolar and meet me and I would never have to know that any of

this had happened or that she had come here to put an end to this life. Mirane
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 67


picked up her sword and felt its familiar weight it brought her back to who she

was.

       “Mirane,” A man‟s voice spoke from the doorway. Mirane turned her

head slowly and saw him. He was taller than when she had left and older. He

was handsome with light skin and blond hair. His face still had the fineness of

features that had appealed to her when she was young. She did not know him

well then but he was attractive enough and her parents had wished it. She put

the sword back on the chest and turned around to face him. She took a few steps

forward and he looked at her as if she were a ghost.

       “Larken.” She nodded gravely.

       He stepped inside the room; he looked like he wanted to embrace her and

that he thought he should. He looked uncomfortable in his arms; they lifted and

fell again to his side. “It‟s you.”

       “Yes.” Mirane felt she should say more, that she should offer him an

explanation and then let him leave her free from their obligation. Before she

could open her mouth again, he grabbed her and lifted her into his arms.

       “Mirane, my wife, my love, Mirane.” He whispered or cried into her and

put her down again. “You‟re here.”

       “Yes.” This was not going to be as easy as she thought it would be. She

had a sudden desire to not even try. She could leave in the night and return to

Scolar. Given my disinclination to winter weather, she thought she might

actually be able to track me inn by inn.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 68


       “It‟s wonderful” He moved to hold her again but she stepped out of the

way. “Your father told me that you would be staying with them for awhile but if

you tell him you‟d rather be at my house I think he‟ll understand.”

       “I‟d like to stay here.”

       “I know it‟s not so easy is it? I understand, you stay here a couple of

nights and make them feel better. I‟ll have you the rest of my life.”

       “Larken…”

       “I promise that this will never happen again.”

       “I know it will, not to me,” She would have to be killed for them to take

her corpse again. Whether Larken would have the power to prevent that, she

did not know? “Hopefully by the time I leave, this village will have a plan of

what to do.”

       “By the time you leave?” He seemed genuinely surprised and that struck

her.

       “I‟m staying only the winter.” Mirane decided that she would confront

this now.

       “Where are you going?”

       “Larken, it does not matter.”

       “Of course it does.” Color was rising quickly to his face.

       “It does not. I am here to make things right.”

       “Right! Right! And you think that it is right to leave?” He was holding his

temper, just barely.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 69


       “I saw your prayer in Scolar, that‟s why I‟m here.”

       “You were in Scolar. All this time!”

       “No, I was recovering there. I‟ve been all over the country.”

       “Why were you not here?”

       “I do not live here.”

       “You do so, you are my wife and you live in my house and you love me.”

       “No, I am here to dissolve that marriage.”

       “You what!” he boomed.

       “Disolvement.”

       “You‟ve been here a day! A sweaven bloody day and you are here to

destroy me. You just saw me, you do not know enough about me to dissolve me

out of your life.”

       “Larken,” She lowered her voice and looked him straight in the eye. “I

must ask you to leave, we will discuss this another time.” She let his glance go

and turned her back to him. Behind her she heard him smash his hand into the

door frame, swear again and storm petulantly down the stairs and then slam the

front door, swearing again as roared down the street.

       That went surprisingly well, she thought.
                                                                Secrets and Illusions 70




Dissolvement



         “Mirane,” her mother‟s voice whispered persistently into her ear and soon

she let it get through her dreams. “Mirane.”

         “Is it morning?” Mirane asked grumpily.

         “It‟s still early but we need your help.” Mirane jumped to her feet, her

mind cleared and she reached for her cloak. There was no time to dress. Sword,

where is that sword. She put her hand on it and poised in readiness for her

mother to lead her to the problem. The older woman stood back in surprise and

fear. She had never seen her own child wield a weapon. Not even her sons had

held anything more threatening than a wood axe.

         “What‟s happened?" Mirane‟s mind was preparing for all contingencies.

She wondered frantically if it were not already too late.

         “Do not you remember?”

         “I remember, do not worry it will not happen again.” Mirane‟s eyes

burned and her mother took another step back.

         “It is time for laundry.” Her mother offered this quietly and fearfully.

         “Laundry.” Mirane‟s voice was filled with relief soon to be realization and

dread.

         “Yes, it is laundry day.” She was excited, driven by Mirane‟s enthusiastic

reply.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 71


      “Laundry.” Mirane hated laundry day; her voice was now flat.

      “Get dressed and come down stairs.” Her mother cheerfully left the room.

Mirane could hear her singing on the stairs and then out the door. She dressed

slowly and joined the women outside. Mirane shivered a little but it was early

and the day promised to be relatively warm, for winter. Around the garden

were huge cauldrons filled with water. The fires beneath them were already

going and the ropes for drying were already strung across the yard. For a

moment she believed that this might go smoothly and quickly until her mother

began barking instructions. “We have an extra set of hands today, I think that we

can get some of the linens done.”

      Mirane‟s heart sank at those words but when she plunged her hands into

the water as she began to scrub the clothes as they came her way she found her

spirits sinking as low. Then lower. Each time she thought she was making good

time another load needed to be scrubbed. She knew the routine from her youth;

Sabrine got the clothes wet and soaked them with her mother‟s special soaps.

Then two women would bring them to her vat and she would stir them and beat

them until they were clean. When she was child it was one of her aunts but

today it was one of her brother‟s wives, she had not learned yet which once was

which, they both stuck together as if they were sisters themselves. Maybe they

were, she did not know. She did not pretend to, she just worked. From her

station those same women brought the clothes to Theabe and their mother who

were in charge of the final rinse. Sabrine then hung the clothes up to dry.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 72


       It all seemed to go on for hours, Mirane‟s hands were raw and she was

physically tired. She spent several of the laborious hours wondering how she

could best an enemy twice her size and still walk all day and yet could be

brought down with the labor of housework. By the time the clothes were

completely hung, the vats emptied and the fires extinguished Mirane was ready

for bed. If not bed she was ready for a good rest far away from the household.

       She was let down for the second time that day when she saw Larken slip

around the corner of the house. He embraced her mother and then walked

directly to her with no pretense. “Good day, Mirane,” he said and she looked

around to see that all the other women were gone; they had left them alone

together.

       “Larken, how are you?” She continued to busy herself with the hung

linens so her clenched and shaking hands were concealed.

       “I have come to invite you to stay with me.” Larken was trying to be

polite. He was trying to be sympathetic of the ordeal she had been through and

to be gentle with her. His tone suggested, to her, however, that he was not

completely comfortable in this role. That, in fact, he was losing patience with

her. She was too exhausted to think about that. She wondered whether she

would be able to hold her own temper if he asserted himself too far.

       “I am happy with my parents.” Mirane said even though, right now, she

would have been happier fighting five of the biggest eastern soldiers the day

before their yearly bath.
                                                                  Secrets and Illusions 73


        “What I mean to say is that I think it is important for us to be as man and

wife. It looks bad for me that my wife is staying with her mother.”

        “No one thinks that you have done anything. This does not happen every

day.”

        “It is our duty to take care of one another.”

        “I do not wish either of us to carry that duty any longer.” Mirane said as

she sat down on the step and looked at him. She pushed a stray hair out of her

face without breaking her gaze.

        “You mentioned that the other night.” Larken took a step back and rubbed

his chin.

        “Did you expect that I had changed my mind?” Larken nodded to himself,

which was exactly what he had thought.

        “Mirane, do not you see that you are in the best position possible of all

this.” Larken said this all too matter-of-factly for her taste.

        “Why?” She looked sideways back at him with curiosity and a very

controlled temper.

        “The fact that you were married before and that I have chosen to take you

despite your behavior.”

        “My behavior?” Mirane‟s voice was ice cold and she could not exactly

understand what Larken was doing still so brazenly standing there.

        “We heard stories of what you did with them, others returned, and they

told us.”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 74


      “I see.”

      “When you did not return…”

      “And then when I did.”

      “What were we to believe?” Larken gesticulated as if he were making a

serious and profound argument.

      “That I enjoyed my life, that I had fallen beyond decency and morality.”

      “Mirane,” Larken knew she would over react.

      “Larken, I did escape. I escaped over seven years ago.”

      “And what have you been doing since.”

      “Fighting.”

      “That‟s what you‟re going to do in Scolar in the spring?”

      “Larken, I was left to save myself from the terrible situation that I found

myself in. I got no aid from anyone here or anyone who returned. I saved my

own life and I own it.” Mirane stood and looked at him like a fast moving winter

storm. She stopped and looked at him.

      “I am your husband.”

      “Larken, I have three reasons for being here. To answer your prayer wall,

to see my family, to dissolve my marriage with you so that we each may

remarry.”

      “Who will marry you, now, look at you?”

      “Larken, you are angry, I can see that, this is not the opportunity to sting

me. Do not say things that you will regret.”
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 75


       “Why would I regret any of this?”

       “Larken, leave now.”

       “Just tell me who would marry you.”

       “Larken, please do not make me say things that I will regret.”

       “Mirane, there is no one who will take you as his bride by law.”

       “Larken.” To Mirane there were only two ways of ending this and she

chose to turn and retreat into the house. She did not watch to see if he left the

yard. She went to her room and sat quietly until she could regain some of her

composure. Outside she could hear him shouting. “You whore, you bloody

whore!”

       “Are you alright?” Her father stood in the door and looked at her with

concern and sympathy

       “Yes, thank you,” she said warmly. “I am.”

       “Would you like me to speak to him?”

       “He cannot stay there forever.”

       “Are you here to dissolve your marriage?” He asked and Mirane dreaded

answering. She did not want her father to think the things Larken had

suggested, she did not want to see hurt in her eyes.

       “I am not the woman he married.”

       “I know.”

       “I had hoped he would see that.”

       “He is blind about many things.”
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 76


       Mirane managed a half smile. So far she had not seen a trace of sadness in

his face. She looked at him closer than she ever had. He was still tall, his

shoulders slumped a little but they had many years and many losses on them.

His hair had once matched her own but now it was mostly gray and wiry. She

could look into his eyes and see her father from her youth and she knew that her

blood knew his.

       “He is a good man, I love him as my own son.” Her father stopped. “He

was able to be a child for me when I had lost my own. You may not be that child

but neither is Sabrine the baby I knew. You have grown up and you have had a

harder life, so much harder, I am sure, than I would have feared for you in my

worst nightmares.”

       “Pappa.” Mirane wanted him to stop. She did not want him to endure

these thoughts.

       “Mirane, I have you here, alive. No matter where you go in this world, I

will know that you are alive; if I never see you again I will die knowing that you

will not be waiting for me on that otherside, it will be me who greets you there

and it will be forever before I see you there. You have come back from the dead

for me and you remain my beloved child.” Her father leaned over and embraced

her and she held him tightly so that neither of them could see the tears on the

other‟s face.

       “Pappa, thank you.” He lingered in the door for her to say more but her

voice was caught in her throat. She motioned him to sit at the side of her bed.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 77


“Do you know what I do?” She began to explain the years since her freedom and

the work that she did and the work that I did and that she loved me. Her father

left her late in the day and only after her mother insisted she help with the

clothes. Mirane‟s father kissed her on the forehead and they both stood. Her

father went to his shop and she followed her mother to the yard to check on the

clothes.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 78




Unwelcome

       “All I have to do is have one day…one day.” Mirane said to herself as she

rose from her bed. One day of her own, one day when her body ruled, her

muscled worked and she did not have to navigate the changing landscape of

family politics.

       Mirane planned her whole day to be an exercise in avoiding her family.

Whenever she went to the garden she saw wood that needed chopping and

brush that needed clearing, when she went behind it she could not help but feel

the forest was, too closely, encroaching. Clearing this land and preparing

firewood would help her work out her tension. She was ready for a day of

physical work. She borrowed a pair of her father‟s pants and tied them to her

waist; for some reason her own clothes were missing. She pulled on one of his

more abused shirts and coats to keep the cold from touching her before she had

worked up enough of a sweat to shed it. She thought it might snow later, the sky

had that dull gray to it and the smell was unmistakable.

       Mirane went into the yard stretched out her muscles and started gathering

the tools she would need. They were all lined up along the wall of her father‟s

tool closet. She was surprised it was not locked; it was attached to the house like

a tiny room with an exterior door that led only into the tools. She made a mental

note remind him that leaving it open could provide easy access for an enemy to
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 79


weapons. She grabbed a long dangerous looking tool with hooks11 at the end

and went out passed the garden.

          As she raked the brush, the muscles in her arms and back stretched and

hurt. She continued to pull at the tumble of briars and young saplings for hours

despite the strain and soon it went away. She pulled the debris into a pile just

inside the garden and began to sort through any of it that would make

appropriate kindling. She wrapped these into bundles with the twine her father

kept for the purpose and put them on the shelf beneath the wood shed where

their supply was already getting low. The rest of the pile she set to burning

while she prepared to chop wood.

          Mirane returned the rake to the closet and pulled out the ax, the same ax

her father had welcomed her with the first night she arrived. She laughed

quietly to herself and rest in against her knee while she pulled off the coat. It

was warmer now, she thought, she was sweating.

          “Hey what are you going to do with this?” said a man‟s voice behind her

as he grabbed the ax. She was a moment late responding as the coat was still

falling from her arms. She threw it to the ground and in the same motion

grabbed a long staff with blunt metal ends. She spun and prepared the tool to do

damage. Fortunately, for her surpriser she knew that there was a much greater

chance that this was someone she should not kill than that she should. She held

back. She met her brother Samyuel‟s shocked face straight on, the end of her

11
     A Rythwalek
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 80


pike not inches from his neck. He was furious that she had come so close.

“What are you doing!” he screamed.

         “Do not surprise me again.” She said icily. She had never been close to

her brothers and their already cool reception gave her very little reason to be

kind.

         “You could have killed me!” he continued with his accusations.

         “I would have,” she corrected as she put the pike down and took the ax

from him.

         “What does that mean?” he said very angry with her and now more for

her impertinence.

         “It means,” she took a deep breath at the very thought she had to answer

to him. “That you need to be more careful when surprising me and pulling a

weapon on me.”

         “Pulling a weapon on you! I just asked what you were doing, where do

you think you are?” He said this with such derision that Mirane almost doubted

herself. And then with frustration and embarrassment welling inside him, he

shoved her and grabbed the handle of the ax.

         “Samyuel,” she still had a firm hand on it and he could not wrest it from

her. He tugged on it but she was not letting go she was not going to lose a

dangerous battle of wills with her little brother unless she knew what it was

about.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 81


       “Let go.” He ordered but she did not relent. Instead he gave in. “You are

an embarrassment to our family. Why did you even come back?” She could not

say she had not suspected. She was glad he finally said it aloud.

       Mirane let the bar go with a shove that pushed him off balance. He

skidded backwards a few steps with the ax in his hand. She grabbed the pike in

case he felt like challenging her again. He did not. He plunged the ax head into

the chopping block and stalked away. “Your not worth it, your not worth it.”

       With the choice of following him or staying here and chopping Mirane

pulled the ax out of the block and began her work again. She wondered what

sort of gossip or retaliation would come out of this but she funneled all of that

into her swing. She wished it had not happened, she did not want to have to

prove herself with every male in the village nor did she want to be considered a

bully. She knew now that there was no chance of fitting in, the best she that she

could do would be to roll with the blows and take which allies she could.



       When she stopped to rest she had already chopped quite a bit of the pile.

She wrapped the coat around her and looked up to the sky. It was getting darker

with incoming storm and a bit of a wind had picked up. She figured just stack

the wood in the shed and go inside before the snow started. It was at this point

that she noticed she was being watched. A woman stood alone and still. She

was too far away to be recognizable but Mirane stood and tried to make out her

features. The woman did not move so Mirane put down her coat and started to
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 82


stack the wood. Mirane looked up again to see that the woman was slowly

approaching her with little regard for her neighbor‟s garden. The woman finally

made it to the shared fence and Mirane smiled. “Hello,” she called out and

waved.

       “It‟s true.” The woman stayed at the fence and said flatly. Mirane put

down the wood and approached her.

       “Madame Jinten,” Mirane smiled. It had been a long time, naturally, since

she had seen this woman. When she was a child, she and Madame Jinten‟s

daughters would play.

       “Mirane,” The woman said her name like a dead woman‟s name.

       “I think it‟s going to snow.” Mirane said looking above her. Madame

Jinten did not look; she just stared at Mirane.

       “I did not think it could be true.”

       “Madame Jinten, I heard about Adda, I‟m sorry.” Mirane had not visited

anyone to express her sorrow. She felt everyone had forgotten and she did not

know if she had the sorrow to spare.

       “You are sorry. You who lived. You who are here.” Mirane felt a sudden

rush of hostility and anger. The woman‟s face contorted, her vitriol started in the

small of her gut and seethed upwards. Her voice held no charity and her word

held nothing back. “Whore.”

       Mirane took a step back in complete surprise. This was not her day. Was

she not able to count on anyone being pleased to see her? “Madame Jinten…”
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 83


       “My daughter, virtuous and dead, and the whore, alive.” She spat her

words at Mirane and Mirane turned her back on her. The curses did not stop, the

foulness of the woman‟s mouth continued to spew at her until Mirane put a door

between them. Mirane sat at the table and buried her face in her hands and took

deep breaths. She refused to feel guiltly that she was alive but she would not

remain out there with the barrage. She looked down at the floorboards, polished

and clean. If I were a whore, I‟d be a rich woman, but no, I was a slave, she

thought.

       Despite her resolve she was shaking, she did not know why and she

became frustrated with her inability to stop. She shook. After several minutes

her trembling limbs quieted and she was able to stand. She looked out the

window to see her father speaking with Madame Jinten. She stood at the

window even though she was afraid the woman would see her and resume her

barrage.



       Her mother came up behind her and wrapped her arms around Mirane

just to hold her, just to feel that she was real. Her mother had heard the horrific

streaming curses from her dear friend Emilia Jinten whom she had known since

they were children together. She had stared out the window at Julhue and

Emilia talking and screaming as if it were other people. For her mother, Mirane‟s

return was real only in its violent profanity. The real daughter returned still

seemed like a ghost.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 84


       “What is it, Mother?” Mirane asked touching her mother‟s hand and

stroking her still beautiful fingers.

       “I missed you so much.”

       Mirane looked forward trying to stop the flow of tears that were already

stinging her eyes. She toolked up and tried to blink them away. “I love you.”

       “I love you, my daughter, my husband‟s daughter. I did not always

understand you, you have always been so changing that I felt I could never keep

up with who you were, because when I knew her she was already gone. And

then you were gone, completely. And here you are and my heart treads on thin

ice, to risk knowing you again, is to risk losing you completely again. May I just

hold you?”

       “Hold me.” Mirane turned around to accept her mother‟s embrace. They

held one another for a long time. Then after both were fortified, her mother

released her embrace and pulled away. She took Mirane‟s hands, instead and

looked into her eyes.

       “May I ask you a question?”

       “Ask two.” Mirane joked through a clamped throat.

       “Please forgive Emilia, she grieves for her daughter. We often grieved

together but we learned of Adda‟s fate a long time ago.”

       “I do not know how Adda died, I was not there.” Her mother stroked her

hair and knew that Mirane was speaking truthfully.

       “Might you know of Jiatye?”
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 85


      “Yes, I do know of Jiatye.” Mirane remembered the woman. She was a

good friend of her mother and it was not easy to see her slashed through the gut

with dull blade.

      Her mother saw, Mirane‟s eyes and could guess as her fate.    Her mother

bent over and cried for her friend. Mirane held her and they mourned it all

together.
                                                                   Secrets and Illusions 86




Arrangement

       I stood in the plateau. I looked to the east and a vast army spread for miles. It

was filled with purpose and rage and fear, it waited in a frozen moment. I turned to the

east, the mountains burned and the sky filled with smoke. A moment frozen still. It

threatened to explode, it threatened to pour fire down upon us, but it did not, yet. I knew

that it would. I was not afraid. I was heartbroken because she stood above me, just out of

reach. She was there and then gone.

        I awoke with a start unable to fall back to sleep. That morning I got up

from my rented bed and dressed. The dreams that had haunted my sleep that

night threatened to destroy me, all the while feeding my drive. I knew already, I

was in the wrong village. I peeked out the tiny window and saw that a thick

blanket of snow had coated the entire country, too much like the nightmares. I

could only see the back of the village and where the road north would lie.

Damn, I swore. I set my pack in the corner and wrapped my heavy cloak around

me for any warmth I could get from it. I went down to the common room and

found a roaring fire. I went to it hoping some of the flames could flow directly

into my veins. Outside the villagers were attempting to dig themselves free of

snow, I watched them for a moment and tried to feel inspired by their efforts.

They almost had the road cleared but it merely circled around the common green

but it neither led from the village nor freed houses from their cold and icy
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 87


prisons. I wished that I could watch them from the warmth of the inn but I

wrapped the cloak closer around me and borrowed a shovel.

      For the first minutes several of the villagers gave me the queer looks I was

already so accustomed to. However, these soon passed and were replaced by

smiles of thankfulness. For most of the morning I worked along side them and

we accomplished a great deal more than I had thought possible. I shivered each

time frozen droplets crept between my clothes and my skin. I nearly rejoiced

when one of the villagers called out, “Break time.” Each villager, it seemed

immediately filed into the inn where a strong and hot barrel of brew was

waiting.

      “Too bad you could not have magick‟d us out of this,” said one of the

villagers off handedly.

      “Marule tells us you just do illusions.” This second man nodded to the

Innkeeper. They sounded disappointed. I did not show any sign of how

ridiculous I thought that was.

      “At least he put in to dig,” a third man spoke.

      “Sometimes digging is the only way.” I finally spoke, even though the

men would have been happy to continue to draw their own conclusions. I was

thankful now they had not lingered too long on the magic and I forgot about

how cold I was as the brew flowed through my veins.

      “Well, at least you dug.”

      “Only here for a day?”
                                                                Secrets and Illusions 88


         “Yes.” I replied.

         “So what brings you this far south?"

         I scanned a couple of the more broadcasting minds for their motives.

They had already gotten all the information they could from Marule, the

innkeeper, and they were ready to ask me their questions, directly. They were a

friendly well-meaning group.

         “I‟m looking for a woman.”

         “So we all are,” said a young man with an adolescent smile. Behind him

stood a tall woman completely covered in a green cloak. Her face was partially

concealed but her skin seemed very smooth.

         “I‟m looking for a specific one, actually.” I decided that that was the

opportunity to ask. “Her name is Mirane Damaskaya she is tall with a long dark

red braid, she always wears her hair in a braid.”

         “The potter looking for a Mirane Damaskaya, yes?” asked one man to the

woman.

         “Yes,” said the woman, her voice was like a hot thick liquid, “popular

lady.”

         I said nothing; I was unbalanced that they had mentioned, that they knew

of the other man. I felt suddenly that I was following on his path and I was

angry that his path was at an end, as my own continued.

         “Maybe, she is not the same woman,” someone added hopefully. Despite

my doubts and my anger I still refused to see that I might not be in the right.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 89


       “It does not matter unless she is here.”

       “Every one here has been here since the day she was born.” The woman

sat on the table and watched all the villagers.”

       “How long have you been looking?”

       “A week.”

       “That other man said he has been searching almost ten years. Can you

imagine?”

       “She was stolen on their wedding night.” The villagers seemed to know

the whole story. I resented that this other man‟s search was more significant

than my own.

       “He has not been back in what, a year now?”

       “Maybe he found her.” The man who said this was trying to be

encouraging.

       “I think he must have.” I said with more bitterness than I felt.

       “Well if he can…”

       “Back to the digging.” One man called. The villagers, reluctantly, put

down their drinks and headed back into the snow, but I was relieved.

       “Where did he come from?” I asked the man who had been so

sympathetic.

       “Kaira. He made beautiful pots.”
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 90


       “A potter?” I repeated. I rejoiced that finally I had a town to look for. I

was also very stunned by this knowledge of this other man. This man had met

this potter, I could see this young man, my age, fair, and handsome.

       “Oh yes.”

       “Kaira, you say.”

       “Outside the city.”

       “Are you sure?”

       “Oh yes, he wanted us to know, in case we saw her. He wanted to write it

on the wall.” My knew friend was smiling, still incredulous that the man had

asked. “I guess they do that out west.”

       “Thank you,” I could have embraced the man right there.

       “By the way, I‟m Lord Sergus,” the man extended his hand and I

accepted. This man was the closest thing most villages had to a lawmaker.

       “Xylvan.”

       “Ah,” Sergus nodded with recognition. I had stopped wondering what

they knew of me or did not; there was just as much likelihood that it was true as

it was not.

       I followed the men out into the street to help them do more digging. I

hoped that the longer I waited there with them the better the chance that the

road out of town would be somehow miraculously cleared. I looked to it with

frustration every now and then while it stubbornly remained covered in snow.

After hours of work Lord Sergus approached me.
                                                                  Secrets and Illusions 91


       “Were you planning on leaving today?” he asked.

       “Perhaps, maybe in the morning.”

       “A storm is coming up.” He said looking up at the ominous clouds. I

believed him as I, too, surveyed the sky.

       “When?”

       “Couple of hours. Seems like a big one. You can leave but you‟ll get

caught in it.”

       “I guess I will not be leaving, then.” My disappointment was evident and

I made no effort to conceal it.

       “We would like to make you an offer.” The man was sympathetic but he

shrugged it off and continued.

       “What do you need?” It was clear that he had something in mind.

       “Wait out the storm here, in the inn, no charge. Afterwards we will loan

you a sleigh and camlay to get you north. We often do this. There are villages

north west of here that will take the sleigh back to us later.”

       “And in exchange.”

       “Illusions, magic.”

       “Illusions?”

       “It‟s a long winter here.”

       “What kind of illusions?”

       “Oh just anything, keep us entertained for the storm, then go find your

woman.”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 92


      “Alright.” I stared at the sky again for any hint of sunshine. I realized it

was good trade. I offered my hand to seal the arrangement, if Mirane was not so

set on the western border we could probably travel this way more lucratively.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 93




Her Husband

       Mirane looked around the room. Her mother could barely keep her eyes

off of her. Her father watched her mother carefully but did spare time to watch

her as well. Her sister, Theabe had brought her girls and kept sending Mirane

plaintive glances for help. Mirane could not help but think she should send

those glances to her husband who did not seem to be particularly interested in

either of the kids.

       “I‟m going to the com.” Mirane stood and spoke suddenly as if it were as

much of a surprise to herself as to her gathered family. She was out of the door

before they could say a word of protest.

       The cool night air felt clean on her face and the open sky felt more

liberating than she cared to admit to herself. These past days she had been so

closely watched by her family and village she was ready to escape them, ready to

flee into the winter forest. Now out, she wasted no time crossing the common

land to the Com. Inside sat a few villagers who gave her mixed glances as she

entered. Familiar territory. She went directly to the bar.

       “Whatever you have,” she said plunking down her coins.

       “As you like.”

       Mirane took a sip of the watery ale before giving it a firm glance of

disgust. She had wished to drink enough tonight that she could disregard her
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 94


family‟s well-intentioned remarks without sacrificing too much mental acuity.

This brew she was drinking would not help her do either.

      “Anything better?” She inquired blandly.

      “Everything is better than that.”

      “I got the coin, give me something drinkable.”

      “Try this.” He passed her a warm mug. She took a little sip of warm

sweet liquid. It melted down her throat and warmed her whole body sliding

down to her gut.

      “This will do.” She purred. The barkeep smiled at her, seeing her in a new

way. “Thank you.” She replied to his unspoken proposition curtly.

      “You are welcome, ma‟am.” He took himself away rather quickly on a real

or imagined task.

      Mirane sipped at her drink and felt her mind and muscles relax. This was

what she was looking for. Liquid fortitude from askance glances and sharp

criticism. If she were to loose some workings of her mind for the night, she

would happily sacrifice them. She began to take great pleasure in her solitary

drinking. Any one in that room who had made their judgments stood on too soft

ground to voice them, here. They would not wish to cross her, who knows what

irresponsible thing she might do.

      “What are you drinking?” Larken slid in beside her. His blond hair fell in

his face and he pushed it away casually. She looked into his eyes. They were

blue, blue eyes seemed strange to her.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 95


      “They send you?” She asked off handedly.

      “No, I come here often enough.” The barkeep brought him a long narrow

glass filled with a soft brown liquid. She pushed her coins forward.

      “My treat.”

      “Thanks.” Larken could have spit any type of vitriol at her but he just

smiled and nodded his thanks.

      “You are welcome.”

      “So what gets you out here?”

      Mirane placed her mug on the counter. She was even less interested in

speaking with her husband than being scrutinized by her family.

      “They watch you, right? Your mother or sisters made me my every meal

for the first year you were away. They watched me so closely I thought I‟d run

away. It is as if they do not believe you are real, you are some ghost, and you

cannot be trusted.” Mirane looked at this man for a long time. He knew.

      “So what do I do?” She asked him.

      “You mean besides move in with me?” Mirane smiled for a flash and then

turned her eyes down on him. “Drink.” He said.

      “Barkeep.” She ordered another round and slouched down on the bar. “I

probably should not be talking to you.”

      “Because I might get the wrong idea?” Larken asked, sarcastically.

      “Because all these eyes will see what they want to see. Because this is your

village—they are all rooting for you.”
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 96


      “Your sisters, the first year, their friends the second.” Larken continued.

      “Were women throwing themselves at you?” Mirane was slipping more

and more into drunkenness.

      “More like pie tossing.” Mirane and Larken laughed, unable to not laugh.

      “Pie tossing?”

      “Larken, would you like to try this pie, I had an extra.” He affected a

coquettish young woman‟s voice.

      “And did you enjoy these pies.” Mirane barely contained her smiled or

her laughter.

      “I never ate so well as I did that year.”

      The two of them drank and laughed until late in the night. “Will I have

hell to pay in the morning?”

      “If you go to your mother‟s.” He answered.

      “I can handle my mother.” She said slurring her words. Both of them

collapsed in laughter and stumbled out the doors into the cold. Outside, in the

cold Lord Kyltan waited on his horse. “Mirane, let me give you an escort home.”

      “I‟ll escort her.” Larken said. “I‟ll take her home.”

      “I‟m sure you would. “Kyltan replied dryly.

      Despite her inebriation Mirane recognized this for what it was and took

Kyltan‟s proffered hand. “Goodnight, Larken.”

      “Goodnight beautiful.” His voice was clear and sincere lingering on the

winter night.
                                                         Secrets and Illusions 97


      “Goodnight beautiful.” Mirane said laughing. “Good night, pretty boy.”

      “Come to see me at my workshop. See what I do.”

      “Goodnight pretty boy, I will see it.”

      “I love you.” He cried drunkenly into the night. Kyltan grabbed Mirane

by her waist and rode away.
                                                                             Secrets and Illusions 98




Delusions

        Within hours it was clear that the villagers were right, the snow had

begun to fall and showed no sign of abating. I was thankful Marule agreed to

feed me as part of the arrangement12 and even more thankful I was not traveling

although I could not shake the feeling that the more delayed I became the less of

a chance there would be that I could find her. In retrospect, there was also my

pride, I would not return to Scolar

        “Good evening, Xylvan.” Marule greeted me but did not move from his

place behind the counter. “Glad you‟re staying for the storm.”

        “I am very glad.” I took a seat at the counter.

        “Hungry?”

        “Yes.”

        “Let me get you something.” The innkeeper poured thick vegetable soup

into a warm bread boule. “Here, my wife said you eat no meat, that true?”

        “This looks great, yes it is.”

        “Truthfully, why?”

        “Religious obligation,” I replied, naturally I was not permitted to say

more, and God‟s edict against proselytizing was very strict. I‟d found that

„religious obligation‟ was often sufficient.



12
  By contemporary standards, room and board, were far above the fee for a performers services. This is
evidence of the high esteem they held Xylvan potential skill.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 99


       “Hmm.” Marule grunted non-commitally.

       I took a long sip and nodded, the warmth spread through my body very

fast and chased the chill out. I remember winters in Gryth as a constant battle to

keep warm. It was good to have some weapon against it.



       By the time the villagers were settled into the common house and warmed

from their treks through the storm I was dressed completely in Sian styled

clothes and hair, I was not going to cheat them out of any bit of the performance

they were expecting. I had moved some of the tables so there was circle in the

center of the room. I planned to orchestrate the illusion from above the fireplace

but now I moved to the center of the room to thank the villagers and to give a

very general introduction. I did not need to concentrate on what I was saying; I

was able to use this as a curtain for picking at their minds. I noticed that those in

the front of the circle were, the woman with the green cloak, Lord Sergus, and

the innkeeper‟s wife, Lhena, all of whom were rapt with attention, their faces

revealing as much their thoughts. I moved away from them and to the rest.

Most wanted to see far off places and heroes. They did not know what was

possible so they were not advertising any expectations to me. Most believed that

I had a set program and would not stray from it. That made my job more

difficult.

       “Thank you,” I said, “May I introduce our heroine.” I began my illusion.

Before them all and to my surprise, Mirane emerged in Sian clothes, her long red
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 100


hair hoisted in a traditional rack that held all the long locks and cascaded them to

her cheeks and neck. She wore a dark green suit that closed in the back by a

series of braided knots that held the cloth tight against her body. She then stood

in the middle of a northern forest of green, she was hunting, her long blade was

out in front of her and her body was careful about each step. While she hunted

the villagers could also see the reasons why she had taken to the blade.

        I worked through the evening at telling the story and building the images.

I told an old Sian folktale about a princess who was the beloved of a forest

leopard. The leopard had seen her once speaking of compassion and had fallen

so deeply in love with her that he made a deal with the gods, that if he were able

to love her as a man he would forfeit his place in heaven. The gods agreed but

they were only able to give him the night. So by night he courted her and

eventually she took him to her bed for him to disappear before dawn. One

morning he lingered too long in her arms. He slipped away praying he had

enough time to each the forest before the rays of sun touched him. She still slept

and he crept out to her balcony where the light twisted him back into his cat‟s

body.

        Still he believed he was safe, he moved silently along the edge to escape

her eyes if she should wake. It was her brother who saw him and he, determined

to protect his sister, leapt down on the leopard and wounded him. The leopard-

lover was already forgetting that he was part man and attacked the prince and
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 101


killed him. The princess heard the fighting and woke up to see the forest cat kill

her brother. She vowed to kill the cat for this evil act.

       The cat leapt from the balcony and ran into the cover of the forest. All day

the princess pursued the wounded animal. The cat knew out of all instincts of

survival to keep moving despite the pain but it also knew it needed to only go

until sunset when it would have a chance to live again. It was able to continue

through until the dappled forest light became low and red. Darkness stalked

crept across the forest floor. The princess and the cat approached the same

clearing at the same time. They met each other‟s eyes and the cat surrendered.

       The villagers watched the princess and the cat approach one another and

the great cat bowed his head to this woman. The princess lifted her long blade

and stuck it through the heart of the beast that had slain her brother. The

leopard fell to the ground and transformed into her lover again. Grief stricken at

what she had done, she withdrew the blade. Miraculously, the man lived.

       They spent one night together under the moon. She kissed the wound in

his chest; it was so close to his heart. She kissed his lips. When morning came

she had pledged a thousand loves to him and the light of dawn touched both of

them with cat‟s paws.

       At the end of my story, the leopards leapt over the audience‟s heads and

out the door into the storm. Not a few members ran to the window to see them

playing in the snow and running happily through the village. All were

impressed.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 102


       I dissolved the glamour and even reluctantly the leopards. One by one

the villagers approached me, “how did you do that?”

       “That is my trade,” I replied, “I learned to do it as a child. My brothers

and I used to do it together.”

       “That must be a magnificent show,”

       “It is no show, my brothers and I did it to protect our Queen.”

       “Protect your queen?”

       “Yes, it is part of our tradition to settle disputes through representational

warfare.”

       “This is how you fight?”

       “It can be used for fighting, but it is better used for pleasure.” I smiled

hoping they would be happy with shorter answers.

       “How can you fight with it?”

       “Both Queens agree to allow a small group of battle illusionists to

represent them. We use any sort of mythology, stories, legends, biology, that we

know of to convince our opponents of frightening realities. When one is

convinced, it is painfully obvious and he or she is taken from the tournament.

When there is no one left in the team it is clear who the winner is. It is ghastly, of

course, but were these illusionists not merely representational they would be real

soldiers dying over the queens‟ wishes and disputes.”

       “So you have no soldiers, no warfare?” asked the lady in green.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 103


       “We have not in many centuries. Any conflict is usually between

Queensrealms; it is difficult for outside armies to reach us. The Queens are not

interested in spilling the blood of their people.”

       “Our bastard king has no interest in protecting his blood filled subjects,”

someone quipped sarcastically.

       “Damned Eastern War,”

       “But not on the western border?” I asked, the Eastern War was usually a

rallying point for anti-royalists but the western border was hardly ever

discussed.

       “There, he does not send in soldiers to help those folks, just let them die

on the settlements.”

       “It‟s not even just the settlements, the Darungs are going deeper into solid

borders every year. Before long they‟ll be here.”

       “Are we that close?”

       “No, not that close, but Krahan is a two day walk and Kaira is the last

military defense outpost on the south coast.”

       “Kaira, the potter‟s Kaira?”

       “As a matter of fact, yes.” Lord Sergus said.

       “I‟m just two days away?”

       “From Kaira.” The lady in green said. Other villagers cast her a look that

said, your skepticism is not appreciated. “And when you can leave our village, I

shall make sure you have everything you need to get there.” Her smile was
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 104


suddenly warm and comfortable. From then on the conversation turned away

from my illusions and my search. The villagers lingered a long time at the

common house. Some yawned but no one wanted to leave. Soon I understood

their apprehension and brought the leopards back in and sent them up to my

own room. This made them more comfortable, strangely enough, and they went

home themselves.

       Lord Sergus approached me and thanked me personally, before he left.

“Perhaps, tomorrow, something more exciting.”

       “That was not exciting?” I answered his sarcasm; Lord Sergus had gotten

more than his money‟s worth and he was pleased. Soon the only person left was

the green-cloaked stranger but she did not approach me.

       “That was really something,” Marule spoke with awe in his voice. He

could not take his eyes off the stairs where he had last seen the great cats.

       “Did you enjoy it?” I wanted to get the man to realize it was supposed to

be entertaining.

       “Yes, yes,” he answered emphatically.

       “It was wonderful,” added Lhena.

       “Good.” I smiled, “I‟m glad, I have never done that for entertainment.”

       “Really.”

       “Never like that.”

       “Where did the story come from?” The woman with the green cloak posed

the question. She had the cape draped over her arm. She was one of the most
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 105


exotically beautiful women I had ever seen, though to be completely honest most

Gryth women were incredibly beautiful to me. Her hair was a light brown very

straight to her waist. It fell from a part at the center of her head, her skin was a

light caramel color and her eyes were black and liquid. She wore a tight bodice

that offered a glimpse of her breasts, and around her legs was a long wide skirt.

        “This is Sorcha, widow of Lamar Damai. She is our healer.” The

innkeeper cast her a very wary look and it was clear to me that he did not trust

her.

        “I just use Sorcha Damai now, you may call me Sorcha,” She repeated

with an amused smile at the innkeeper‟s unrequested patronism, “you are

Xylvan?”

        “Yes.”

        “It‟s nice to meet you.” She extended her had to me and I took it, it was so

warm.

        “It is nice to meet you as well.”

        “Where did that story come from?” She asked again, she seemed

genuinely curious.

        “It is a Sian Folktale.”

        “And the woman, she was real.”

        “I hope the whole presentation seemed real.” I laughed and she joined

him.
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 106


       “It did.” She said, “I‟m afraid to go upstairs with those cats. She smiled to

the Innkeeper.

       “Are you staying here tonight,” he asked casually.

       “You cannot expect me to walk home in this weather.” She turned then to

me. “I was here last night helping with a baby, I got trapped in the storm.

       “Sorcha, I was asking if you needed a room.”

       “Yes, Marule, I do.”

       “Xylvan has the larger room, do you mind taking the other.”

       “No, not at all.”

       “Well, if you will both excuse me, I‟ve had a very tiring day.”

       “Of course, good night.”

       “Good night,” added the woman from her seat at the bar. She remained

with Marule.



       I returned to my room, unbound my hair and brushed it out. I took off

my Sian clothes and packed them neatly away. I thought of the way Mirane had

looked in the illusion and how I had not meant to conjure her image. I could still

picture her in the Sian forest, so beautiful, just like our first encounter. She

resembled herself on the morning after we had first made love. It was a beautiful

summer night and we had a sense of shared destiny and accomplishment. It was

just after the very first time we used her fighting technique and strategies with

my illusions. We had worked on it for months always looking for the best way
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 107


to communicate, or the best way to synchronize our timings, her actions with my

images. We left without reward, without thanks. We walked deep into the

woods and when there was no sign of people we lay down on the cool moss. I

kissed her; it was not our first kiss. I had often thought of the laces on her girdle.

I untied them easily. Her bindings dropped away and bare breasts rewarded

me. Gryth breasts are distinctly wonderful. I continued to kiss her and she met

each advance and embrace. I built a small campfire and when I turned again

toward her. She was naked, standing there in the clearing. I stripped to the skin

and lifted her up in my arms. I wondered if she had any fear of my strange

body, but if she did she never let me know. She kissed me and drew me close to

herself with no less than complete desire. Her body guided me through such

pleasure I had never known. I was clearly not the first lover she had taken such

was her skill. Later, I would learn how and why that was, but for that night and

for many others, I believed it was love and passion. She wanted to know me as if

we would never have this chance again. I knew that I would not settle for never

again.

         When I awoke to her in the morning I could see the scars on her skin.

Some told stories of her training and others told stories of torture. I touched

some of the more knotted ones, scars upon scars and wished memories of them

away. I wished for Sian healers for her and vowed, someday. I looked into her

eyes. Was she ashamed of them? Had she been afraid she could have dressed

before I saw them. I felt them beneath my fingers that night but I would not
                                                                             Secrets and Illusions 108


have known, she could have the doubt she so treasured. I was a young man

then, barely twenty-two summers, then, some things needed careful explanation

for me. She was telling me so much then, standing there, and I did not see it.

Instead my thoughts were more exalted, I wanted to protect her and to worship

her for the rest of my life. The way she looked that morning was the way she

appeared in the illusion, beautiful, soft and fierce, filled with a difficult quest and

painful past. That was my Mirane and I would be damned if she chose her

husband over me. If she wanted to make that choice she was going to have to

make it with the both of us standing in front of her. And it she wanted to have

that choice I was not going to make it an easy one. She was worth my fighting

for and more worth winning.

        “Xylvan?” A woman‟s voice sounded at my door.

        “Yes?” I said as I looked up to see who it was. The woman took this as an

invitation and slid inside the room.

        “I just wanted to thank you, again, for your display.”

        “You are welcome.” I was glad I had put on a pair of leggings, at least.

Though she gazed at my chest longer than seemed necessary.

        “The woman in your vision, she is the one you seek?”

        “Yes, Mirane.” Sorcha moved closer and sat beside me on the bed. She

handed me a tall glass of ale13. I took a long sip and put it on the table.



13
  The fast acting drug Winnowood used as an aphrodisiac and anti-inhibitor is believed to had been put in
his ale by those who wish to defend the Prince Jimerateal from accusations of knowing infidelity. Prince
                                                                            Secrets and Illusions 109


        “She is very beautiful. She is Gryth?”

        “Yes.”

        “It is hard to lose someone your love.” She said softly.

        “I let her slip away. I did not know that she wanted to leave me.”

        “I could not save my husband, either.”

        “I could not keep her, all my love and I could not keep her.” I took

another long drink of the ale. I scanned her mind. I could not get any grip on it,

if felt that I just slid off of her thoughts. She must have learned to erect mental

barriers at some point, some Gryth did. To some it came naturally.

        “Is she your wife?”

        “No, she would not marry me,”

        “My husband is dead, marriage does not always hold them,” she said

looking at him, her wide mouth low at the corners.

        “She is my partner.”

        “Another illusionist? Perhaps you have imagined it all.”

        “No,” I laughed, “No, she is a fighter.”

        “Really,” I intrigued Sorcha.

        “Self-taught, she is amazing.”

        “She must be very strong.”

        “Yes.”



Jimearteal’s own journal gives us no such statement and as scholars we cannot make that leap. As course
as it is, we must believe that he took Sorcha Damai to his arms out of lonliness and attraction.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 110


      “You must need her, my husband was so strong, sometimes, and I wonder

how I survive without him.”

      “You do, though.”

      “So do you.”

      “I miss her,”

      “The villagers think I‟m dangerous. What is a woman without a man, a

man‟s touch? Danger. ” She sounded as it she were joking, mocking them but

there was a truth in her words. Sian men revered women, were brought up to to

do so. It was strange to me to think of them as danger, power, but not danger,

not to me.

      “That is absurd, where I am from, power is matrilineal, among the most

rich and most powerful it is woman to woman, mother to daughter, never to

sons. It is only nominally recognized in other strata but those powerful women

are free to know the touch of any man they wish.”

      “Were that so. I am not free. I have not known the touch of a man since

my husband and this entire village will let me do nothing but help me remember

that I am the widow. I am alone. I am untouchable.” She lowered her eyes, so

softly, demurely. I think I had never seen such a pretty gesture. Not in I'ridai

not in Mirane, never. It was unexpectedly seductive. “Sometimes…”

      I was drawn into her eyes, so soft in this warm low light. I reached out

and surrounded her shoulder with my palm and my fingers. She leaned forward
                                                                              Secrets and Illusions 111


for me to kiss her. I did. “Sometimes what?” I asked pressing my forehead to

hers.

         She said nothing. She leaned forward and kissed me again. She touched

me gently, arousing such desire in me. I felt a purpose in her. This was no

accident. This was no chance encounter or mutual commiseration.

         I kissed her and held her. I let her seduce me. I let her trace her fingers on

my chest and my face. I let her remove my leggings and tease my llaronh. I let

her pull me to the bed my body and my mind were unwilling to protest. She

guided me to pleasure and took me into her body. We rose and fell with the

natural rhythm of lovers and later, when we had both known our pleasures, I

released into her with a groan. I had no thought for Mirane, I was completely

lost in this woman‟s body and in her sweet foreign gestures.14.




14
  Scholars still argue tenaciously about the issue of this encounter. Many site the Damal record for the
birth of Sianax Damai as solid proof that he is the son of Prince Jimerateal and certainly those who believe
he is continue to site that Xylvan himself believed Sianax to be his son. However, historians with
particular political leanings have denied that Sianax could be his son as of all Xylvan’s children he was
almost undetectably Sian at all, including his three half-Gryth daughters.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 112




Telling



      The sound of breathing and quiet footsteps in her room brought Mirane to

instant alertness. She did not move and she did not open her eyes to see who

was there. She listened more closely and knew that it was not her mother, father

or Larken. She had paid close attention in the past week for the sound of their

steps so that she neither frighten them nor they alarm her. She knew that her

parents were just being kind to let her sleep in the mornings and she should

appreciate it with less suspicion. She tried to remind herself that she was

completely out of danger here, despite her chosen profession she had very few

enemies, none of whom would find her here.

      “Who is there?” she said calmly but not kindly.

      “Good morning,” Sabrine had come in and was seated now on the side of

her bed. By her tone Mirane guessed that she was hurt by Mirane‟s gruffness.

      “Good morning, Sabrine.” Mirane sat up and smiled widely noting that

the room was still very dark. Sabrine visibly relaxed.

      “Never a morning person, were you?”

      “This is still night.” She retorted with good nature.

      “I wanted to be the first to wish you tidings on your birthday.” Mirane

looked at her queerly. She had forgotten that it was even time for that and she
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 113


was ashamed that she had viewed her sister as an enemy when she had the most

innocent of motives. “Mother and Papa are still asleep.”

        “Really, I cannot imagine anytime that they are not working on

something.”

        “They are asleep, the village is still asleep.”

        “You could not?” Mirane asked although she did not really mind being

awake.

        “That is not it.” Sabrine smiled and then pushed Mirane to the side of the

bed nearest the wall and climbed under Mirane‟s warm blankets.

        “You are freezing,” blurted Mirane as she pushed a blanket between

them.

        “I was outside. I wanted to see you.”

        “What is it?”

        “I‟ve missed you.” Sabrine moved closer to her and Mirane wrapped her

arms around her. Sabrine held her tightly; a week passed and she still found it

difficult to believe that her little sister had returned to her family. Sabrine was

the oldest child; next born had been Hayder who died and then Mirane. Sabrine

was so happy for a sister that the four years between them meant nothing. She

loved Mirane at the first moment she saw her. When the young baby cried

Sabrine was the first one to the cradle and smooth her. She never felt as close to

any of the other children. After Mirane, her mother gave birth to twins, Amach

and Samyuel. Then she lost two babies and eventually gave birth to the
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 114


youngest, Theabe15. Sabrine had never smothered Mirane with too much

attention and they grew up as the best of friends.

           “I have missed you.” Mirane said holding her sister‟s soft body.

           “Can you tell me what happened, why did you not come back if you

could?” Sabrine had been forcing herself to ask. She felt she ought to know, even

if no one else could.

           “I could not.”

           “But you can now.”

           “Perhaps enough time has passed, perhaps I was guided. I saw Larken‟s

prayer.”

           “What happened all this time?”

           “Sabrine, you do not want to know this.” Mirane said it softly but without

conviction.

           “Will you not tell me where you have been these many years? We all

believed that you were dead. All of us but Larken, he never thought you‟d been

killed.”

           “I should have come back a long time ago or not at all. I know it has been

a long time.”

           “What took you so long?”

           “Does it really matter now?”




15
     All confirmed by Krahan birth records housed in Kaira.
                                                          Secrets and Illusions 115


      “You do not have to tell me all the hard parts, Mirane, we knew when

they came that some of us would suffer greatly. Other villagers are gone, they

have not come back, and some have.” Mirane had forgotten that there had been

people she had known there. She never saw too much of them. She only

remembered that when she had heard of one of their deaths she would put their

deaths into her steel. It would make her harder for the time when she would

avenge them. She never heard of any escaping.

      “How many of us were there.”

      “Eleven.” Sabrine answered flatly

      “Eleven?”

      “There were eleven missing and ten dead the morning after.”

      “Three have returned.” Mirane answered matter-of-factly.

      “Yes.”

      “That is all there is. The rest are dead.”

      Sabrine choked and then went silent. They lay there like that for a while.

      “None of them had any word of you.”

      “No, I was not with them.”

      “Where were you?”

      “No where.”

      “Please,” Sabrine whispered.

      “Are you sure you want to hear this?”
                                                                    Secrets and Illusions 116


           “Yes, from the beginning.” Sabrine took a deep breath and fortified

herself.

           16“After   the attack,” Mirane started hesitantly, “I‟ve only told this story to

one person,”

           “Your lover?”

           “None of them, not even Xylvan?”

           “Lovers?” Sabrine gulped.

           “That is the least of it, sister.”

           “I need to hear, please tell me, your life is missing, and these years are

missing.”

           She took a deep breath, “We traveled that night to the west and even the

next week, riding hard, the west is beautiful country but dangerous, it is

untamed. It is a country of wide plains; you have never seen so much flat land.

There were forests, occasionally but they were mere oases of trees. The ground

was hard from fall to spring and in the summer, a mud flat. Through this we

went north. When we reached the territory they called their own, I did not know

anything, I did not remember my name, anything.”

           As Mirane began to tell the story she thought back through years of

strength, and the years of nothing alive capable of hurting her and all this still

seemed close. She had never told anyone about it and now, to her closest sister

and her oldest friend it began to painfully come to her lips. “I was a slave to

16
     For complete account see Biography part the first.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 117


them for a year, I was told what to do and I did it. I think they believed they

were enacting some sort of education on me that would prepare me for a

glorious life of pleasure. After a year I still was not my own but I no longer

believed that I was theirs. I slowly began to find and collect weapons, lost, old or

discarded swords and blades and I watched the fighters closely. They were

clumsy, they could slash through a village in minutes but they had no

refinement. Any soldier or trained fighter could take them on alone if they had a

plan. But because they were all I had, I watched them and I learned from where

they did not, their mistakes. Secretly, I practiced. I was careful to keep on the

extra pounds my life as a pleasure giver had given me and that they in their

perceived generosity had allowed me. Once I was broken, they thought they

acted kindly towards me but if they ever became displeased with me I knew the

great pain they were capable of inflicting.” Mirane seemed on the verge of

revealing more with a long silence.

       “In these first two years I saw my own blood more than I would like but I

was learning. I was trusted and thought of by one of my users as a treasured pet.

He was the one who thought that I should come along with a group of them.

They were planning on being away from their “city” for a nearly two months

and they were not planning on taking their own wives. I went along because I

was told. I had no thought of escape, not a thought, truly. I was on the back of

his horse holding on for my life when he shouted a battle cry and the twenty of

us rode upon a village. I could not believe that I was there. I spoke their
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 118


language after my time with them so the sound of my own tongue caught me by

great surprise. People were shouting the alarm; young men came out with farm

tools. Farm tools were nothing against them. It did not take long and they

burned and stole. I saw that quite a few of the villagers had escaped and it was

too dangerous for any of us to pursue them. We took about eight captives.

       “That night I was ignored in favor of the new acquisitions including some

very young people, not children,” she stopped to whisper a prayer and then

restarted, “but not, yet, married. Two were used so badly their bodies failed.

The remaining ones were enlisted to carry all the supplies we had stolen. We

were supposed to rendezvous with a group who would bring these back to the

city while we continued our raiding.

       “It was on the third night of the hunting party that my life changed. They

were drunk, this could not have happened at that point if they were not. One of

the men thought that after all their drink that it would be more fun to watch. I

was pushed to the center and one of the older captive males was unbound. He

was beaten already but he was pushed towards me. I had no plan but to obey,

his blood was a reminder of my own. I was ordered to excite him and to

copulate with him while they laughed. He did not understand their tongue and

I, not remembering my own, began to remove my skirts these people wore, that I

wore.” Mirane thought of the long skirts, layers of hard silk and all in red, bright

red. The costume was designed to give anyone access to her flesh easily. The

top skirt was an apron to cover open slit skirts beneath that tied at her waist. If a
                                                                  Secrets and Illusions 119


man had wanted her he needed only to untie these. She was forbidden to wear

anything else beneath it unless she was bleeding and then after a while it never

happened and they did not expect it. She wore a red brassiere and a veil also in

red. Most men would remove the brassiere and not the veil. “I removed the

apron and dropped it to the ground in front of the man who had ordered this.

This excited him because he knew that the other skirts would do nothing to

provide modesty.

           “‟Please, forgive me,‟ the captive said to me as if it were possibly his fault.

I was shocked. I looked at him, I am sure, quite strangely, but in that instant I

knew my own language, my name and my family, everything everyone had

done to raise me and to educate me as a child and all of the pride I had once had

and how I betrayed them. I told them that he refused and that I would explain it

to him, I kept them from hitting him, I told them that he would not be any fun to

watch unconscious. They, reluctantly, agreed and I asked for a long blade. I told

them that I wanted to have some fun with him, too. I told them man that this

was to end, but that he would need to go along with me. I told him in the tongue

I speak now. He did not expect me to know it and he nodded gravely as if I was

very wise and very powerful. They gave us the blade; a couple of them threw

the blades at us. I was surprised. The man, his name is Neveth17 and he lives in

his home village quite north of here, and I began to entice one another it was too

dangerous to pretend techniques, he later said he did not want any of the

17
     See Biography Part the second.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 120


performance to give away our true intentions. Soon most of my company had

broken off to sleep, they did not even remain awake for the entertainment they

had ordered. I was so well trained, in their mind, that they just assumed that,

afterward, I would go to my place and that the guards would retie the man.

When we saw that they were asleep we attacked the guards. These three had

taken no wine but they died on my clumsy blade. Then Neveth and I

slaughtered the rest in their sleep. We wasted no time leaving. The seven of us

stole the horses and returned to his village. We rode as quickly as we could with

the injured captives and when we found his burned house we rode to the next

village where the surviving villagers had found sanctuary. We collapsed and I

woke to safety for the first time since I was last here.”

       “Mirane.” Sabrine said nothing else she stroked Mirane‟s loose hair that

seemed to cover them both.

       “I cannot stop there.” Mirane felt weak. She hated weakness, she hated

stories and she had memories. She missed me, I was the storyteller, she my

constant listener.

       “Go on.”

       “Then I lived with Neveth and his Fricey to whom I owe the clarity of my

mind and the quality of my life. For months they did not ask, they just loved me

like I was there own child even though neither of them was as old as me and

already they had a young son. Soon, though, I was ready to cause pain. I

trained each day and I learned. My body became lean and hard. Scars that criss-
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 121


cross it now were still healing and sealing from those wounds. I was ready and

in the night I headed west. I traveled to the city which really only housed a

hundred women and men. I lured out the guards and slew them in the darkness.

I killed every man I had known and every woman who had struck me or who

still wore the careful work of my village. Perhaps, Neveth had not quite given

me sanity. I did not wipe out the entire tribe but anyone who had seen me or

had known that I was alone, perished, too. Maybe forty souls met their creator at

the end of my blade.

       “You see that in those years I went from Papa‟s girl and your sister,

Larken‟s new bride to a killer and a warrior. I had taken and fulfilled bloody

terrible vows and I was tired. I returned the land of the civilized and still felt like

a wild damaged creature. From there I traveled by horse and then when I had to

sell him, by foot. I have not ever returned to Neveth, I spent my time in the

North. I have not even been this far south since. I could not come back and I did

not know that anyone waited here for me.”

       “You‟ve never told this to anyone?”

       “No. There is more, it is not as terrible.”

       “Please.” Sabrine held onto her sister but her body shivered even under

these warm blankets.

       “I started to work in the villages I came across, especially those out in the

west. I fought off occasional raiders and I made them all have arrangements for

evacuations. And then I met Xylvan.”
                                                                             Secrets and Illusions 122


           “Xylvan, this is the man you have been with since.”

           “Yes. I saw him in the Francinian Wood18. He was traveling alone and by

night. He was afraid of any Gryth who moved. He came knowing few people

and he thought he was being smart. I saw him two days before he saw me. He is

Sian, do you remember, that country, from our lessons. As absurd as it sounds,

more like a story than a life, his mother is a Queen and his father a Gryth man.

Xylvan does amazing illusions, but I did not know this. I saw a man alone and

unprepared to protect himself. I was under commission to rid a small town of a

very unwelcome element and I tracked them to a place about three miles out of

the limits. I was fighting them successfully but I was exhausted and influenced

by the strange wood.

           “Xylvan saw and stepped in, he made them believe the other was the

enemy and killed each other. From then on we worked together and then we

became lovers. I left him in his sleep to come here. I will meet him on the first

night of spring. I need to have him. He does not know about what I did, he does

not know any of this, he knows me as I am.”

           “You left him because you saw Larken‟s message.” Sabrine was having a

very difficult time absorbing all of this but she had wanted to hear it. In order to

know her sister, in order to have her sister truly return to them she needed to

bridge these years.

           “Yes.” Mirane said.

18
     See Biography Part the Second. See also Tales of the Francinian Wood by Charlt Maguir
                                                                  Secrets and Illusions 123


       “Will Xylvan be there that night?”

       “I do not know.”

       “Will you tell this story again?”

       “No,” Mirane felt the blood, hers and all that she had spilt now well inside

her. She wondered if she cried whether it would pour out of her eyes and cover

Sabrine. “Do you understand?‟

       “Yes.” Sabrine and Mirane lay quietly listening to each other‟s breathing

and watched the morning sky grow brighter with the dawn. “Happy Birthday.”

       “Thank you.” Mirane smiled widely and tried not to believe that she had

let all of the evil of her story into the air by telling it. I told her stories all the time

and I never had to worry about letting them out. Of course, my stories were

never so terrifying.

       “Do you usually linger this long in bed?” Sabrine asked with a smile full

of mischief and good cheer. Sabrine needed to feel light again, she needed to

know sister but, more than that, she needed to love her.

       “When in a bed, I linger.”

       “No wonder you sew so badly. Personally I‟m almost afraid to even think

about your cooking.”

       “Hey.” Mirane rolled on top of her sister and began to tickle her. Sabrine

laughed very loudly and their parents came to the door afraid for their daughter

and nearly yelled at the girls for making so much noise before they realized that
                                                         Secrets and Illusions 124


they were women and that there was nothing so incredible or joyous as the

racket they were making.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 125




Damal Nights

       Despite the weather, no man, woman or child, lingered in their homes.

Every able body was crammed into Marule‟s inn. All the tables had been moved

to an already packed room. Children sat cross-legged at the front while their

parents sat on any bench or chair that would hold them. Marule‟s wife moved

deftly among the crowded room bringing drinks to thirsty patrons. I came down

from my room, already dressed in my Sian clothes, to a full house.     I scanned

their minds for ideas. The night before they had no ideas as to what they should

expect but tonight their brains were vibrating with secret wishes.    The dramatic

folk tale and exotic animals had whet their appetites for something more foreign,

but the after the hard labor of the day they we hungry for something lighter, and

with the children in the room their minds were pressing for a story with

children.

       I stepped through the crowd while I thought about any story that would

delight them and I had my story before I reached the front of the room. I turned

to face the crowd. Among illusionists, battle illusionists are held in highest

regard, they are respected and adhere to a certain military dignity, especially

those borne by a queen. I stood in front of the audience that expected a

performer, not a rigid Queensguard, and looked into the expectant faces of the

small children in the front row and tried to be, merely, entertaining. It was far

more difficult.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 126


       “Good evening,” I said aloud but also inside their minds. They looked

around amazed. Before the show began they were smiling. “So what kind of

story would you like tonight?” I sat down on the hearth and stretched my legs

out long in front of me and folded my hands in my lap. A certain sense of mild

confusion fell across the minds in the room. Noone said anything but merely

looked at one another. I smiled. I tried to smile like Mirane does when a

situation is uncertain; I tried to stretch my lips gently and reassuringly across my

teeth but such a smile is awkward on my face. So I winked, instead, and drew

my lips back together.

       “Tonight, I have a story for the children,” I said aloud. :With something

for their parents, too. : I whispered into their minds. “Are you ready?” I asked

the children looking intently into their eyes.

       “Yes,” they cheered.

       “Alright then,” I returned and made myself comfortable on the raised

hearth leaving a small place on the floor for my audience to focus on. My

illusions would be both in their minds and projected in that space. I had trained

in techniques for both, and both had their advantages over one another in one

aspect or another but I found I was most successful when I used both, especially

in this foreign south country. Here, as they had no language from one mind to

another save audible and verbal, they also required certain visual stimula. The

most comprehensive illusion was the one created for both.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 127


       I created for my audience my own childhood room: pillows surrounded a

sunken floor of Torilian hexagonal tiles, sculpted animals hung from the domed

ceiling; my bed tucked into a custom niche lined in green Hysyl and, of course,

all of the study implements of a school aged boy. Then, slowly, I brought in four

Sian boys, my brothers and I, all seated on the pillows. Juminatwe, my eldest

brother was sitting with his legs crossed. His long Hysyl pants touched the

muscles of his equally long legs. His long black hair fell straight down his back

and spilled like a ribbon over the pillows. He was fifteen years old and had yet

to take on the Gryth girth he would get the following year. He looked very

much younger than his years, to the kids in the front row of the tavern. I sat

across from him. I was just as tall as „Twe and even slighter. I had my hair

pulled back in a single knot chain. „Twe and I were distinguishable by our eyes,

my gold and his blue gold, as if the sky were reflected on the back of a spoon. I

was thirteen years old but the children in my audience would have thought me

only ten or twelve. Next to me sat my younger brothers, Jynquill and Kyjhime;

they were eleven and nine, respectively. Jynquill is, by far the smartest of us

and so when we tell this story amongst ourselves, we always blame him for

having not stopped us. He blames „Twe for being the oldest and Kyjhime and I

ride it out, goading our brothers on. Jynquill sat on the pillows, superimposed

by, b’yaliar illusion,over a hard wood floor thousands of miles south of his home,

looking so lifelike to me, I expected to see his long thin face look to me, the

performer, and ask, “What are you doing, brother? What happened to that great
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 128


mind of yours?” Jynquill was always very concerned with matters of the mind.

Kyjhime sat there, too. Kyjhime was the child of our hearts. Kyjhime arrived

after „Twe and I looked at our younger brother and knew he would be no fun at

all. When we reported this to our father, he reluctantly, agreed. Though we

knew little of the mechanisms involved, it was less than a year later the vivacious

bouncing boy was born to my mother. Jynquill, at a very precocious two, took

one look at the newest arrival and said with perfect open-faced sincerity, “That is

what we need.” And that was our family as we wished it, us four boys.

       I saw us sitting on those cushions and remembered why we were

gathered there. “The Princess is turning three.” Juynquill said. We may have

wished for our family to never change but as princes of the great Queen Tearisia

we had to accept that it would. That day was marked by the birth of our sister,

the Princess Helenestra, who by law, must succeed our mother. Sadness,

betrayal, reluctance, and bitterness were pushed instantly away the moment we

four saw our newborn sister. She took our breath away.

       “I want to get her the most perfect gift.” Kyjhime said first, but we were

all thinking it.

       “Father gave us money, if we combine it we can get her the most

expensive gift, ever.” I added. I had a thing about my dad. I never wanted him

to be forgotten. It seemed, if I were not careful he would disappear into his

workshop and my family may never notice. I was particularly careful about this
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 129


in matters concerning Helenestra. He was not her father and I never quite

reconciled that.

       “Not possible, there are so many courtiers there, we will never outspend

them.” „Twe said and we nodded.

       “We must give her something that only her brothers would give her. “

Jynquill said firmly and we had all long ago agreed that he was the most wise in

matters like these.

       “We should give her a pet.” Kyjhime‟s face lit up, he was certain it was a

great idea.

       “She does not have any pets.” „Twe agreed.

       “That is why it is a great idea.” Juynquill announced.

       “What will we get her?” I asked.

       “A mirror lizard.” Kyjhime was the authority on reptiles. He had read

everything he could get his hands on and he was sure. I conjured an image of a

mirror lizard for my audience. They are, admittedly, small harmless animals no

longer than a child‟s hand. Similar to other chameleon animals they take on the

colors of what they are hiding on, however, these could take on multiple

textures, colors and patterns along the short length of the lizard. They were the

best-known concealed animals in the world. Anything better, had not yet been

discovered.

       “Little girls do not like lizards.” „Twe said uncaring for Kyjhime‟s feelings.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 130


      “I‟m afraid he‟s right.” I said, “but let us get a swamp sloth.” I conjured

an image of a cute swamp sloth cuddling against our little sister.

      “They smell like swamps.” „Twe shot my proposal down just as he had

Kyjhime‟s.

      “We shall get her a firebird.” The three of us looked at Juynquill.

Juynquill was not prone to any whimsy, so he was clearly serious. I provided

my audience, again, with an image of the animal. Firebirds were incredibly

beautiful. They came in all kinds of colors. They had long tails that sparked all

day in sweet tiny fireworks, and once a day they burst into glorious flame. For

such a violent creature, they had sweet plaintive faces and wide black eyes.

      “Do they not explode into flame?” Kyjhime ventured.

      “Just once a day.” Juynquill as if it were nothing.

      “No, we shall get feathered boa.” „Twe said. “A feathered boa is the best

gift for a small girl. They are fun, they can be chased, they can be worn, they can

be cuddled and they do not burst into flame.”

      “There is nothing wrong with a mirrored lizard.” Kyjhime returned.

Clearly, he had not abandoned the idea.

      “A feathered boa is far superior.” „Twe declared.

      “Hardly, when compared to a firebird, they are glorious.”

      “You mean, dangerous.”

      It was not long before all of us boys were fighting. Though we would

never have come to blows, I did stage a tussle for my audience‟s pleasure.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 131


Finally, Juynquill separated himself. “I do not need any of you to contribute to

my gift. I‟ll get her my own thing.” And once said, it was agreed that we would

give different gifts. In a huff, each of us went off in our separate directions.

       My audience, at the inn, watched in turn as each boy purchased and

smuggled their gifts home with them, each stubbornly sticking to the pet he had

proposed. I showed Kujhime working on a tiny model of Helenestra‟s nursery in

which to present the lizard. Then I showed his room entirely covered in white

powder, trying to track the tiny lizards tiny footprints in the powder. Kujhime

quickly was covered head to toe.

       Juynquill, for all his reading had failed to discover one very important fact

about firebirds. They do, in fact, burst into flame once a day, an experience that

was not too destructive, but that it lasts eight or more hours once ignited. This

discovery had him creating a make-shift enclosure for the bird in an antique

porcelain fireplace. I was careful that each of the children saw Jynquill‟s very

charred eyebrows.

       Next, I showed myself. As cute and cuddly as a swamp sloth may have

been in my mind, I had done no additional research. I enlisted several of my

friends to help me remove the very pungent odor that consumed it and

permeated everything that it touched. I learned two of the most important

things I know now, that day. Swamp sloths bite and they do not like baths. My

arms, and those of my cohorts, were scored and bitten by the not-so-slow sloth
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 132


before we had it back to its perch, where it licked its lips at us and then went to

sleep for the next thirty-seven hours.

       Finally, I showed my brother Juminatwe and his purple and black

feathered boa. The thin creature had an abundance of long puffy feathers. It

squibbled and looped playfully around the room. It wrapped itself around his

neck and nuzzled his cheeks. It was the most energetic and loving creature „Twe

had ever met. He was delighted by it and played with it all day. What he

learned about feather boas is that they love to play and they do not like to be

ignored. As soon as Juminatwe rest his head and closed his eyes to sleep he was

jarred awake by the harsh metallic scream, “Huhruhnnng!” that reverberated

through his room, his head, and probably the entire Queensrealm. He leapt

awake to find it staring sweetly at him ready to play.

       “I‟ve got to sleep, little guy,” he cooed and reached out his arm and let it

encircle it. Juminatwe slid back into his bed and tried again to sleep.

“Huhruhnng!” It screamed again. It screamed like this anytime he tried to leave

it, do something else, sleep, or turn his playful hands away.

       None of us could wait for the day we could give our gifts to our sister.

       “And on the day of the birthday,” I said to my audience. “All of the court

was there.” I showed my Gryth audience the fantastic clothes and dances of a

Sian court. I showed them my mother in all her splendor. I showed them my

very Gryth father, dressed in his unique hybrid of styles. And I showed them

the tower of gifts that awaited my young sister.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 133


       Each of our gifts was waiting outside in the corridor. At the party,

Helenestra would only open the family‟s gifts so my mother called for each of us

in turn. “Kujhime, bring in your gift,” she said. Kujhime had located the lizard

and put it into the tiny model he had made. He joyfully ran to get it and

presented it to her with such pride. She opened it and immediately smiled. “For

my dolls?”

       “No, for this.” Kujhime pointed at the lizard and it moved when my

brother poked it. Helenestra slid her delicate hand in and poked it, too. She

screamed. The lizard went scurrying out of the diorama and into the guests.

Our mother motioned for a guard to search for it. Helenestra looked at us for

meaning. “A mirror lizard.” Kujhime said with pride, “you will see when I get it

back.” Mother gave us a pointed look of warning and then smiled. “Juynquill,

why do you not go next?”

       “Yes,” Juynquill looked patently relaxed and relieved. Juynquill had

migrated the ignition to the exact time he would present the gift. He took it from

the corridor and brought it in, in all its glory. Suddenly, furtive whispers

surrounded us. “Is that what I think it is? Are they not illegal?” Juynquill was

on unfamiliar ground but he stuck to the idea that he was in the right. He

reached the bird as high as his eleven-year old arms could go and said, “To my

radiant princess.” Just then the bird whooshed into tremendous flames. No less

than ten guards came with water to extinguish the bird and to rush it outside.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 134


       To credit my mother‟s elegance and grace, no flash of anger touched her

face. She bowed her heads to the heroic guards and despite the horror of what

could have happened to two of her children, which she radiated to everyone in

her family, she merely reached out her hand to her son and took Juynquill up on

her lap.

       “‟Teal, do you have a nice gift for your sister.” There was a significant part

of me that wanted to walk out of that room and never walk back in, but perhaps

she would like my gift, so I retrieved it. As soon as it entered the room, the first

most sensitive noses began to twitch. “What is that odd smell?” they said. I

pressed forward, preceeded only by wrinkled noses and sharp intakes of breath.

I brought my swamp sloth to my sister who gingerly reached out to touch it. To

my great surprise; it did not bite her, it bit me. I was relieved of my present

almost as quickly as Juynquill had been relieved of his. “Clearly, my sons felt

their sister needed a special companion.” My mother said and the court laughed

with her. Her eyes turned to „Twe and I think „Twe shrank a little. Some sort of

discourse occurred between them and mother forced a smile on her face. “It

seems they all agreed. Go Juminatwe, let us see this piece of the natural world.”

       The court held its breath while „Twe went to get his gift. He left the room

and returned with the most stunning feathered boa we had ever seen.

Helenestra was immediately delighted by it and it squittered around her with

equal enthusiasm. She giggled and it nuzzled, she squealed and it shook. They

were a perfect match until our mother picked up her youngest child to be seen by
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 135


the whole court. “Happy birthday, Princess Helenestra.” The court sang her song

and the attention was away from our gifts.

      It was at that juncture that a faint hearted older lady located the mirror

lizard burrowing beneath her breast. She screamed and alerted everyone to the

problem. Kujhime leapt to her aid, pushing her expensive beaded shirt away

from her dropping bosom to find the lizard. Our mother ordered him back and

the guards forward. It was utter chaos for a Sian court, and it was the moment

that the feathered boa realized it was being neglected and released its most

desperate cry. “Huhrungg!!” throughout the nervous systems of all present.

Mother stepped down from her Dias to grab the creature when she began to

fitfully sneeze, a sound that deeply offended the feathered boa.

      “Huhrungg!”

      “Achoo!”

      “Huhrunngggggg.”

      “Achoo, Achoo.”

      “Momma, don‟t hurt it.”

      “Achoo, achoo.”

      “Hahrunngggg.”

      “I have the lizard.”

      “Achoo.”

      “Nobody move, I think I dropped it.”

      “Huhrunnggg.”
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 136


      “Achoo. Achoo, pleathe, thumone, take thith think.”

      “Alright, I have the lizard.

      “Huuuhrungggg.”

      “Clear the court.” Our father‟s voice rose above them all.

      Within moments, the courtiers had disappeared, the animals were spirited

away and we were left to face our very red-in-the-face mother and our

disappointed sister.   Our father took the youngster and held her on his hip

giving her little kisses on her head. He may not have fathered her but he loved

her just as deeply. We brothers had no place safe to look except at each other.

      My audience was rolling on the floor so I decided to end the illusion there

with none of the dampening consequences. I resurrected the image outside the

menagerie my father designed to house our gifts. My mother made sure there

was constant attention and care given to each of these unique animals even if the

feathered boa found its way into the house more often then she cared to know.



      I sent my Damal friends to their homes laughing and recalling their own

childhood antics. Then I retired to my own room feeling homesick for my

family. My brothers had been my entire life until my apprenticeship at nineteen

with my uncle Juminatwe. That was the year my brother Juminatwe married,

and the year Juynquill took up permanent university residence and Kyjhime

poured himself into his studies. I have not seen them in almost eight years.

Certainly in that time, Kyjhime had come up for air and Jynquill had returned
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 137


home and Juminatwe might even have children. Kyjhime could even be married.

I wondered then, if I might have been summoned home for these events.

Suddenly my time here seemed to be an exile rather than an adventure. I

resolved again to return. I resolved then to return with Mirane. I would not go

home with eight wasted years. And just as I would not consider that Mirane

would not choose me over her husband, I would not consider that my mother

and family would not want me to return. What could I have done that would

have merited such an exile?

      Just as my thoughts were spiraling to answer that question, the lovely

Sorcha slid into my room. I smiled at her and she handed me a goblet from the

bar. “Have a drink. That was such a wonderful performance tonight. Where

was that?”

      “My home.”

      “Sian?”

      “Yes, my mother‟s palace.”

      “It is very beautiful, so different from here.”

      “There is great beauty here,” I said, taking the goblet from her hand.

      “What is this?”

      “Just a little of the house brew.” She replied.

      “It is delicious.”

      “Yes.” We did not talk for long. I finished my drink and put it on the

bedside table.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 138


       “Do you have your room?”

       “Yes,” she answered moving closer to me. Already my head was heavy.

She leaned closer and kissed my shoulder. She was so very beautiful there. She

looked up, her wide Gryth eyes looking at me, expecting love, and expecting

everything. Those eyes were filled with need; I had never seen such a thing in a

woman or a lover. Through a sleepy haze I could see two paths like a dream.

One path was the difficult martial path I had set out with Mirane, often

dangerous, often too twisty to follow and never going in the direction I think it

should go. The second path, still foreign, still exotic, but wide and opening, clear

and easy. The paths blurred in front of me as my head got heavier. Soon there

was nothing but dreams, unbroken till morning.



       The next night, Marule filled his inn again, with no room for tables. The

snow had stopped and the skies had opened up to the sunlight in the waning

hours of the day. This would be my last night here. The villagers were pressed

closer to the hearth than last night. I stepped over them and took my place at the

front of the room. Excited faces looked at me with anticipation. I already knew

the story I would tell. I looked at the eager faces of the children in the first row.

They wanted something scarier than last night‟s tale and I hoped this would be

gory enough for them. I could always control the imagery in their minds.

       “Good evening,” I said, “Thank you, again, for hosting me, while I waited

out the storm. I hope you have enjoyed my stories and they have paid my keep.”
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 139


The audience whole-heartedly agreed. A Sian storyteller could do quite well

touring this country, I thought.

       I set the stage, a dark wood and four fighters. The trees were close

together entwining their limbs above the fighters‟ heads. Beams of light entered

through the canopy when and where they could and shot passed the fighters. I

watched them from above, as I had on that day.

       Together, on one side, were three dangerous men, one the other side was

an even more dangerous woman. There was nothing spectacular in either their

dress or appearance besides the powerful beauty of the woman. The men were

nothing. The woman was Mirane, and this was the first time I laid eyes on her.

This is the occasion that I saw what she was and decided to follow her anyway.

       In my illusion, swords clashed and the red haired woman slashed at the

eldest of the men. She held her very heavy sword in two hands whacking away

at him, slashing at him as if he were no more than underbrush. He defended as

best as he could but her blade cut through him. He dropped so much slower

than I had ever seen anyone fall. His body still believed it had life in it buts as

the death spread down from his neck, through his torso, down his legs to his feet

each part of him crumbled.

       At this both surviving brothers turned tail and fled. Mirane could scarcely

believe it. She ran after them, cutting through the early spring debris with no

thoughts of stealth. They were able to keep up a respectable pace and it was an

unreal time before she and they faced one another again.
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 140


      The men had both drawn their blades now and she was forced to fight

them at once. She stayed focused concentrated on one blow at a time.

      After some time it seemed almost that she would lose. She prepared

herself for that and grew angry. Through her anger, she grew stronger and

managed to gouge one of the men. This was when the battle took a strange turn.

Both men began to fight each other. They gouged at each other‟s faces and

within moments delivered fatal blows. Mirane stepped back during the fighting.

She had never seen anything like that.       She looked around the forest and

wondered again if the legends of it were true, we were after all in the Francinian

Wood, a place steeped in haunted legends.

      My Inn audience knew of it and was taut with excitement.

      In this case it was no haunting but my own interference that caused the

shift in battle. I had been taking refuge in the forest canopy. The old growth

trees had enormous branches and it felt safer up there than on the vulnerable

ground. I had camped there during the night and had woken to the sounds of

the fight. I could have remained there; they would never have seen me. I

suppose I would be back in Sian now, had that been the case, but I had not. I

scanned the minds of the combatants. The men had committed horrible crimes

for which they had shown no remorse, well so had many Gryth, I was not their

god or judger. I might never have interfered if the course of it had not changed

so much in their favor. Her mind was difficult to read, to see. I could sense from

her clarity of purpose but nothing else. Perhaps, I could have scanned further
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 141


and learned that she was the hunter and they the prey, but it would not have

changed anything for I was a young man then, enchanted by a great beauty, a

warrior princess, a mythic huntress, and I could not have caused her to come to

harm.

        However, I did not expect to see what I ,then, saw.

        Mirane went to the bodies and checked for any signs of life. There were

none. She pulled out a sack she kept for this purpose and laid it beneath the

larger man‟s head. With a strong graceful swing she lopped it from its torso and

shimmied it to the bottom of the bag. She did the same for the second. When

she stood a slight breeze rustled through the wood. “I‟ll leave you the rest.” She

called out to the unseen forces as she wiped her blade clean on the inside of the

sack. She turned to find the third brother. The path they cut should be easily

enough retraced. She hoisted the sack of bloody heads onto her back and started

for the wood.

        “Madam,” I said from behind her. She was startled. Slowly, she turned

expecting to see almost any ghastly thing. Instead, her eyes directly met mine.

“Are you alright?” I broke the silence and looked at her expectantly.

        “Yes,” Mirane answered surprised. Of course she was, she had had the

unique presence of mind to bring a bag for the heads.

        “I am quite relieved.” I said feeling a little like a hero, Mirane looked at

me.

        “Are you alright?” she asked.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 142


       “Oh, yes.” I replied.

       Mirane suddenly realized the source of her victory. “Did you make them

kill one another?” She did not quite believe it, but she could not, not ask.

       “No,” I lied, “Not exactly.” I dodged. Mirane noticed my evasion but she

did not pursue it further.

       “Thank you. You saved my life.” Mirane was grateful.

       “You are welcome.” I said softly after both had taken long looks at one

another. Mirane finally was able to break the spell.

       “Thank you.” She said again with a clumsy tongue. She turned to go.

       I watched her start away. “Madam, it is not safe here.”

       “It is safe enough.” Mirane answered. Between us was a long moment of

silence. Mirane started to lift the bag but she didn‟t look away.

       “May I accompany you to your home.” I blurted out.

       “No, thank you,” she answered, too quickly.

       “Then where you are going, then.” I said as quickly. Was I trying to be

with her? She wanted to know, Mirane stopped herself in that thought.

       “Alright, then.” She answered and stepped closer to him. “My name is

Mirane.”

       “Xylvan.” I replied with a wide smile.
                                                          Secrets and Illusions 143


      In my illusion, I showed my audience the awkward beginning of us, the

long moment of looking at each other trying to span the distance of two vastly

different creatures, and the whim of a moment that fused our paths.

      I followed her to the site of the first body and watched her take its head

and put it in the sack with the others. I did not ask any questions about it. She

did not say anything, either. Occasionally, she looked at me, she thought that I

was beautiful.   Occasionally, she caught me looking at her, too.      When we

reached the outside edge of the woods Mirane paused then and looked straight

at me preparing to lay out the situation for me. She would rather me leave her

company now, after a mere two hours than later. She knew even after these two

hours she felt a link to me and did not think she would ever want to be separated

from me. I, of course, learned of this so much later, but I should have known by

the way she looked at me, and by the way I look at her. I was just as transfixed

and just as enchanted.

      “So where are we taking these heads?” I asked. The question itself felt

strange in my mouth. Have I ever uttered that sentence? I could not think of any

time when I had to inquire of such a thing. No one in my audience had ever

asked that question either.

      “I have a man in Marrak who will pay one hundred pieces for them.”

Mirane answered curtly. I looked at her very closely, wishing I could read her

mind. I forced myself to smile over my discomfort.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 144


       “That is a lot of money.” I said, hoping that that was the proper thing to

say.

       “It‟s a good start.” She answered. “I suppose you will be wanting a

share.”

       “No,” I said defensively but also very honestly. I wanted to be able to

reach the end of my life and answer the question, „have you ever sold another

man‟s head for money?‟ with a clear no.

       “Well, we both have to eat.” She answered non-chalantly deciding to

share the wealth. Mirane looked at me again wishing that she could read my

thoughts. Later, she will remember this with irony.

       “Yes,”

       “We‟ll see.” She answered launching her long legs into a broad stride. I

followed her and matched her step for step.

       After another hour of walking the sun began to set and the temperature to

drop. I was shivering despite our solid pace. Remembering my warm quilted

coat, I pulled it out of my backpack. For every story my father had told us, it still

surprised me how very cold it was in this country. Once I had wrestled the coat

on Mirane began to laugh at me. She thought I was overdressed for our mission.

Instead of telling me that, however, she stopped laughing and glared at me, as if

I had wasted her time.

       “I‟d like to get there, tonight.”

       “Good,” I said, “I‟d prefer not to sleep beside your delivery.”
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 145


      “Squeamish?” she teased.

      “No, I‟d think they‟d attract animals.”

      “Hungry ones.” Mirane winked.

      “What sort would we encounter?” I asked trying to sound casual as if it

did not matter to me. As if the most terrifying beast were to approach us with

salivating lips, that would mean nothing to me, hell, I might just invite him over.

But my voice failed to convey the casualness I intended. “Rywolves, Forestcats,

maybe a Rainworm, but it will not care about the heads. Our biggest threat

would be the Willowbeast, if they are up for the season, they will be hungry.”

      “What is a rainworm?”

      “Do they not have them where you are from?”

      “No.”

      “They live in the swamps, mostly in the south where it is colder but they

have been seen this far north. I saw one myself last winter. Are you concerned

about animals?”

      “No, I‟ve never had a problem,” a true statement, as far as it went. My

experience in the country court of my uncle or in my mother‟s palace was

blissfully free of rainworms which I imagined were small and slimy and fell from

the sky.

      It was another hour by the time we reached Marrak.           Mirane led us

through the dark streets to a certain Lord Youl‟s house and she knocked loudly
                                                          Secrets and Illusions 146


at the door. The young Lord Youl admitted us. He barely gave me a look. “I did

not hire you?” he said half-questioning. He had been drinking heavily.

      “No.” I brushed off his drunkenness.

      “I have what you wanted.” Mirane said, “Shall we go to your den?”

      “Of course, let‟s go to the den.” He said this very loudly as if there were

another person hiding in the walls. Mirane looked around for anyone else but

the house was silent. We followed him down the hallway and closed the door

behind them.

      “Our agreed upon price.” Mirane held out her hand and the bag. “Do you

wish to see them?”

      “Yes.” Again, his voice was awkwardly loud. He refused to take the bag

from her. Mirane cleared a place on his desk and dumped them out. She faced

them all toward him, squarely on their neck stumps. I modulated the blood and

tearing for my audiences‟ comfort.

      “These are the men?” She said abruptly as Lord Youl alternately looked

closely at them, and then upon discovering their ghastly visages, leapt away.

      “These are the men.” His voice was soft.

      “Our agreed upon price.” Mirane repeated. She could smell him, the

liquor had penetrated his skin and veritably soaked him. It made her nauseous.

She kept her mind on business.
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 147


      Without removing his eyes from the dead, he pulled his purse from his

waist. Wordlessly, he handed it to her. “This is the whole amount?” she asked

weighing the coins in her hand.

      “Do you want to count it?” he challenged her.

      “Yes,” I said, when it seemed that Mirane could not see that he was clearly

lying, “You are lying,” Mirane knew whom she believed. Lord Youl backed up

away from her suddenly and with great fear.

      “Give me the rest.” Mirane asserted.

      “It is all I have,” he replied.

      I looked at him. There was no doubt in the matter. For whatever reason

he wanted the heads and Mirane had acquired them for him, it was only fair that

she be paid. It was not hard to insinuate into his mind the illusion of movement.

Each head seemed to come alive to him. For the children in the audience they

sang a funny little song that only the child knew and found funny while for the

adults they whispered to him of all his deep secrets. These heads sat there on the

desk singing and hissing, their faces completely alive and ridiculous in their

mortum while he stared at them in utter disbelief and horror.

      Lord Youl‟s scream shattered the silence of his house. No one came, but

he continued to shriek. “Be silent!” he screamed.

      “Where is the money?” I asked, pretending to be completely unaware of

why he was so upset.

      “Top drawer, Top drawer.”
                                                          Secrets and Illusions 148


       Each head took it in turn, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

       “Mirane, the rest of the money is in the top drawer.” I just watched the

man, I had hoped other men of this country would be more like my noble father

and less like my swine uncle but I had to confess there were few good specimens

yet. Mirane found the additional money quickly and poured the coins into her

purse. “Say, thank you,” I advised this man.

       “Thank you.” Lord Youl said keeping his eyes fixed to the heads.      Then

the man started to calm down.

       “Thank you,” Mirane said smiling.

       “Go! Now!” he shouted at us. We left him spewing his drunken shouts at

us while we quietly went away.

       “I think, perhaps it would be better to sleep, elsewhere.” Mirane said as

we both, fleet-footedly, left town. Mirane did not trust men with unearned

power or men in their cups.

       “Agreed.”



       I hoped that this particular illusion would keep them from preventing my

leave both for its questionable taste and the fact that any man who would follow

a swordswoman-head-trader was going to be undeterred in his quest to reunite

with her. Regardless, the novelty of the illusions and even the odd little tale

itself was a success with the villagers.
Secrets and Illusions 149
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 150


Immersion



         Sabrine went home to her husband and Mirane got up for the day. She

dressed in the very modest dress that her aunt had made for her half way

through last week. Mirane always remembered how difficult it was to make new

clothes and now in under a week she had a very full wardrobe. She could not

figure the mystery out until she caught her mother showing her leggings, my

blouse and her girdle to several of the village matrons. Each time her mother

showed it, some scandalized crone got it in her mind to make her something

appropriate. Her aunt had been the most generous. The dress was very

beautiful and also relatively comfortable. This was the one she chose to wear

today.

         Once she was dressed she went downstairs and had her breakfast with her

parents. They kept exchanging warm smiles between them. “So what are you

doing today?” they asked between bites of warm bread and broth.

         “Today, I promised Sabrine I would go with her to Theabe‟s to help her

for the morning and this afternoon when Larken returns I plan see his

workshop.”

         “Good.” They looked at her with a content smile.

         “Yes, I seem to be in demand, now, but soon the novelty will wear off and

I will have to find something more productive.”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 151


       “I do not think the novelty will go away.” Her mother said this as if it

were a fact.

       “I hope not.” Mirane smiled. All her life she had been able to disarm

people with her smile, which no one ever thought of as less than beautiful. She

had good teeth that she had always made an effort to care for. Her lips spread

across them at the right times and never too quickly.

       “Will you be home for dinner?”

       “Yes.”

       “Good.” Her father said with satisfaction and then got up from the table.

“I will see you then.” He kissed her on the head and then left.

       “He is glad to have you here.” Her mother said this in the mother tone

that let you know that you had better be very grateful.

       “I had better go to Sabrine‟s.” Mirane got up from the table and grabbed

the long cloak she wore when she arrived. She had to fight them to keep them

from embroidering it with flowers. Had she borrowed it from me she might

have agreed but there was no way that she could resume next season with daisy

chains on her chest.

       The village was built so that a large open space occupied the center then

was four blocks of houses at each corner of the common square. Sabrine lived in

the cluster that was furthest from her parents and shared a smaller square with

those houses but the front of her house faced the center of the village. Inside it

had shiny wood floors that were waxed with a great deal of care and from the
                                                                  Secrets and Illusions 152


windows hung lace curtains. Her husband, Gyan, had made quite a success as a

tailor19. His designs were being worn in Kaira by the wealthy and were sent

much further to the east where they were sold for a quite a bit more to the very

wealthy. He had made wise contracts and received quite a bit of the profit.

Sabrine was the joy of his life and he made every effort to see that she got

everything she deserved. He would have moved long ago to Kaira had she not

wanted to stay here with her parents.

           Mirane waited for Sabrine in the pretty front room that was soft with

fabric and carpets. Sabrine yelled down that she was coming but instead Gyan

stood in front of her.

           “Good morning, Mirane.” He said kindly, he was a good man.

           “Morning. I‟m glad the snow has melted some.”

           “I am too, I need to get to Kaira tomorrow.”

           “Larken is supposed to get back today, I‟ll ask him how the road is.”

           “That would be helpful, it‟s not a long trip but if I‟m trudging through the

snow it will be awful.”

           “I know it.”

           “No problem, are you thinking of leaving tomorrow.”

           “I was hoping to but I had not decided.”

           “Just to Kaira?”

           “That‟s as far as I need to go again till spring.”

19
     See Elements of South Kairanese Design by Walte Grimchult.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 153


         “If you need company let me know, there is someone up there I‟d like to

peek in on.”

         Gyan thought about it a moment and thought of how useful it would be to

have a professional fighter accompany him. He would not have thought to ask

her but her offer was tempting. “Let me prepare, we could go in just a few

days.”

         “I have nothing else, we will go when you are ready,” Mirane nodded.

         “Do you think you could wear the black?” Gyan referred to the leggings

and girdle his mother-in-law had shown him. He imagined that Mirane looked

quite dangerous in that. His business mind went into action; he could transport

a few more valuable garment designs to the city with no fear of thieves.

         “You are a married man.” She teased with a coy smile.

         “But you are too irresistible.” Mirane was pleasantly surprised that he

had chosen to tease her in kind. She smiled and Gyan said goodbye with a smile

on his own lips. He crossed Sabrine in the doorway and kissed her on the cheek.

         “Leaving so early.”

         “I have a lot to do if I want to get to Kaira by the end of the week.” He

nodded to Mirane.

         “Any day, Gyan,” she replied and he left the room.

         “Any day?” Sabrine asked as straightened a few of the statues that Mirane

did not realize were out of order.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 154


       “Gyan has to go to Kaira and I offered to go with him. I know a young

woman there who might need to see a friendly face.”

       “Wonderful. I can never leave here with the boys.”

       “What does Theabe need us to do?” Mirane stood up and watched

Sabrine work; she did not seem able to sit down.

       “Once a week she decided she would have me watch the girls and she

would go visit with her girlfriend.”

       “And you agreed.” Mirane could not imagine anything more terrifying

than watching small children. Theabe‟s girls were both under three and one was

still at the breast. Mirane was thankful for that, at least, she would have to

return in a small amount of time.

       “It‟s just once a week and it‟s so nice to watch girls.”

       “Hmmf.” Mirane tried to take comfort in this thought. She had met these

girls, though, and did not feel that they were even the slightest bit calmer or less

hassling than Sabrine‟s boys were, or for that matter any other wild animal.

       “Are you ready?”

       “Yes.” Mirane steeled herself for the trial to come and followed her sister

out of the very ordered pretty house to a smaller house down the block. Theabe

was pointedly ignoring the cries of the older girl and was finishing up feeding

the baby. She smiled widely, covered herself and then passed the baby to

Sabrine.
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 155


       “Good morning Mirane. You‟ll have such fun. You and a baby it‟s so

sweet.” Theabe was trying very hard to leave the house with as little

conversation as possible. She picked up Terah and put her in Mirane‟s arms so

that the child could scream directly into Mirane‟s brain.

       “Good-bye Theabe,” said Sabrine cheerfully.

       “Bye, enjoy.”

       “Goodbye, Theabe,” added Mirane as Theabe left them behind. Theabe

was not nearly as meticulous as Sabrine. The furniture was not polished and

there was too much of it, enough for a house twice the size. Morning dishes

were still on the table and Sabrine began to clear them away. She put Linna

down in the cradle and began speaking to her so she would stay quiet. She

washed Terah and washed the dishes. Mirane looked at the baby and tried not

to make it cry. She half wanted to pick it up and see if it weighed a lot or if it

smelled any better close up and half wanted to be back at her mother‟s house.

She had held babies, her sister, of course, she must have held Theabe but it felt

alien to her. She had probably held babies all her life and never thought about it

but she really did not recall. Perhaps it was for the best that the Darungs took

that from her, too.

       By the time Theabe returned to her small house, Sabrine had cleaned it

and Mirane was utterly exhausted from playing a strange game with Terah.

Theabe returned, having had a lovely morning with her friend and was almost

able to take the children back. Mirane was ready to leave but now Theabe, her
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 156


house clean and her children calm, was ready to chat. It was lunch before

Mirane and Sabrine had an opportunity to leave. Sabrine made them a nice loaf

of sweet bread and then Mirane left.



         Larken‟s workshop was quite near Sabrine‟s house. Mirane was tempted

to cut through the common land but decided to take the longer way around. It

was comforting to her to have a moment to think of nothing. She had a brilliant

mind for her specialty and had a surprising range of other subjects on which she

could discuss but in the world of relationships she would prefer not to think.

         She approached Larken‟s door calmer and almost ready to handle him.

She knocked on the front door more than half hoping that he had not returned

yet. Despite her unvoiced prayer, he opened the door immediately.

         “You remembered.”

         “Yes, I was looking forward to it.”

         “Were you?” he did not trust her. He still wanted her to suffer the

humiliation he felt that he had endured these last years.

         “If you do not want me here, I will go.” She was tired of his attempts to be

cruel.

         “No, come in.” Having been chided, Larken sulked but relented.

         “Thank you.” She said it without reproof, like a mother who knew that

she had won a small battle.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 157


       “I dropped by your parent‟s when I came back, they said you were with

Sabrine.”

       “Yes, I spent the morning watching Terah and Linna.”

       “Well, uhm.” He was visibly impressed. “Give you any ideas?”

       “Plenty.” Mirane sighed heavily and Larken knew that none of them were

in the direction of remarrying him and having a house full of children.

       “Would you like to see the shop?” Larken had learned since her return

that he could not assume that she would be his wife. He still expected her to

want him and to think of herself as his wife.

       “I‟d like that.”

       Larken led her through the house, which looked quite like her mother‟s

house and then out to an L-shaped addition. This was quite obviously the

workshop. On one wall were shelves of finished pieces, vases, kettles, pots,

dishes, jars and many other types. Some were quite heavy looking and others

were very delicate they were painted accordingly. There was table in the center

of the room covered with works in progress and at the far end was a large oven.

       “That‟s the kiln.” He said this with pride and she knew that he had built it

himself. Mirane walked around the room and saw that he was obviously very

talented.

       “You‟ve created some wonderful things here.” She was impressed and she

felt no need to hide that. She had on occasion seen work like this and knew that
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 158


it was valuable. She had never purchased any but had admired it where she saw

it or was handed a substantial bill for its replacement.

       “I, too, make a good living.”

       “I‟m sure you do. You take these quite a distance, do not you?”

       “Scolar is about as far as I get northeast but south of that I do quite a bit.”

       “You are very good, I would imagine that you can demand quite a price

for some of these.”

       “Some of them. Sometimes I just trade straight out. Gyan does my

clothes, can you imagine?” Larken touched his finely made tunic with pride and

Mirane remembered the small statues in Sabrine‟s sitting room and smiled.

       “What do you do?” He asked quietly.

       “What do I do?” she repeated, surprised that he had asked.

       “Yes, you said you made a living as a fighter. What do you do?”

       “I, I mean Xylvan and I, accept commissions from towns and villages,

sometimes individuals to defend them or to rid them of a dangerous person or

group. We would also show them defense strategies to help themselves.”

       “And you make a living at this?”

       “Actually we do not do that badly.” She said with pride.

       “Is Xylvan a fighter too?”

       “No, he works illusions, he makes people, the people we are fighting,

believe that they have found their fantasies. Very few continue to fight with me

when their heart‟s desire is being waved in front of them.”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 159


        “That is a very strange way, to me, to make money.” Larken looked at her

waiting for her reaction. He could not imagine doing something as dishonest as

that. He knew as soon as he had said it that she would not like to hear it. She

looked at him and completely broke down in laughter.

        “Yes it is, but that‟s what we do.” After she had recovered from her

hysterics she was able to answer him. Mirane surveyed the room. “What does

that do?” She asked pointing to his wheel. Larken showed her some more

examples of his work and then turned to her. “You have given your heart to this

man?”

        “Yes.”

        “How, when, what did he say that stole you?”

        “He did not steal me.”

        “How did he win your heart from me?”

        Mirane ignored the second half of his question and answered the

question, how did I win her heart. “I did not need to take a partner. When we

met, I thought him very attractive. He won my respect shortly after that. He can

read minds and he chose not to read mine.”

        “Why not? If I could read your mind, I would read nothing but your

thoughts.”

        “He knew I would ask if he had violated me in that way and he wanted to

answer me with the truth, that he had not.”

        Larken looked at her, he did not understand his wife.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 160




         When it was dark Mirane took her leave. She had enjoyed her day and

she could tell that Larken was kindling dangerous hopes. He had tried to touch

her shoulder with a gentleness that seemed perilous to her. He spoke wistfully

of the type of life they could have and she was glad to find an opportunity to

leave.

         “Goodnight,” Larken said as he leaned on the inside of his door. He did

not offer to walk her home.

         “Goodnight.” Mirane smiled and waved. When he had closed the door

she wiped the dust from the workshop from her skirt and started home. She was

not paying attention; her mind seemed to go in circles of blank thoughts.

         “Good evening.” A man‟s voice caught her and surprised her. Just to her

left was a tall man mounted high of a fine animal. She could barely make out his

features in the dark. She felt for her sword and remembered too late that it was

at her mother‟s house, “Identify yourself.” She ordered in her iciest voice.

         “Excuse me.” He took offense and she could detect surprise in his voice.

         “Identify yourself, now.” She repeated with cold metal in her tone. She

was not about to be surprised.

         “Identify yourself.” He responded and she could tell that he was rearing

up even taller.

         “Sir, I beg that you cooperate with me.” She did not want to fight this

man. She did not have her weapon or the energy.
                                                                   Secrets and Illusions 161


           “I am Lord Kyltan20,” he was slightly annoyed that she had pressed the

point but he could understand that he had approached her. “I thought that I was

well enough known in this village.”

           “Kyltan,” she said without any titles. She knew him. He had been the

constable since she was a child. He served her village and a neighboring one.

He was highly educated and he knew the law. She smiled. “You should not

sneak up on defenseless women.”

           “You are right.” Kyltan still did not know her but he was getting the

feeling that she was anything but defenseless.

           “Mirane Damaskaya,” she offered. “It‟s been a long time.”

           Kyltan had heard rumor that she had returned but he had not seen her yet

and did not want to upset her parents if it were only a rumor. He quickly

dismounted and embraced the woman. “Mirane.” He squeezed her tightly.

           “I think that‟s the warmest reception I‟ve received.”

           “Where are you going?”

           “Home.” She answered. Kyltan saw that she was walking away from

Larken‟s house. “I am staying with my parents.” She answered the unspoken

question.

           “Can I see you safely to their door?”




20
     See Rogether’s Kaira Formal Register pages XI-XV.
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 162


       “I‟ll be alright.” Mirane smiled, she could see the windows already yellow

with the fire.

       “I‟m glad you are back.” Too many years had gone by. He hurt thinking

about how he had failed to save them. He hurt to think that he was away and

that so many people‟s children had been taken. To think of the young bride he

married just before he left had been one of the ones most hurt and longest gone

had weighed on his conscience all this time.

       “I‟m glad I came,” Mirane was used to this dialogue this is the way she

had answered all the questions posed to her. She was stricken now by him. “Are

you alright?”

       “Yes, do you mind if I do see you home?”

       “No.” She clasped his hand and together they walked to the common

house. She did not feel she should bring him to her parents.

       By the time they reached the doors he seemed composed. He waved to

several other patrons and together they took a table. “I‟m sorry.”

       “It‟s alright, no one seems to be immune to my return.” She smiled and he

noted that she seemed so thin almost wiry. He flashed her a look to say that she

had misinterpreted him. “Lord, do not worry about me. How are you, how are

your boys?”

       “Grown and married. They help me out.”

       “You do not need help.” Mirane did not lie. Kyltan was still very young,

his boys were men now but he seemed to still have the dark in his hair and age
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 163


lines had only begun to crease his face. He stood tall and his bones were covered

with the muscle of his youth. “I hear that you have implemented security

measures for the village, I would like to hear more about them.”

       “I do not know how well they are being followed now, it‟s been so long

since the last attack. People forget.” He said this with regret.

       “I know. That‟s what I do, I remind them.”

       “Remind them?”

       “I try to at least. We travel, my partner and I, and let villages like ours

know how to prepare. It amazes me the amount of people who believe it‟s not

them.”

       “Or it will not happen again.” Kyltan filled in the last bit. “When did you

escape?

       “ Years ago.”

       “You did not come home.”

       “No, I could not.” Mirane answered. “This is better, I need to do this.”

       “And your partner?”

       “He needs to follow me, it seems.” Mirane smiled. “Xylvan would

probably have left the Gryth country long ago if it were not for me.”

       “Xylvan of Sian?”

       “Yes,” Mirane knew that he had read of them. He had that look, that look

like they had a hero in front of them.

       “That is you?”
                                                                Secrets and Illusions 164


           “Not stricken are you?” She asked sarcastically.

           “No,” he smiled in kind, “I just did not know, I‟ve been following stories

about you two.”

           “Really, Patrich has done more than we thought.” If she ever got her

hands on that young man‟s neck again she would…

           “Not stories, reports. The King is not quite sure how he feels about this.”

           Mirane raised her eyebrows; she had not thought it had gotten quite so

noticeable. “He is too busy fighting the eastern war21 to care?”

           “It would seem.”

           “I should go, I have not seen my mother all day, she should be beside

herself by now.”

           “Can I talk to you soon?” Kyltan asked.

           “If you would like,” She smiled and took her leave of him. He stood and

left after her to make sure she got home safely.




21
     See Winterax’ Boundary wars on the Eastern Front.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 165


Influences

       I woke up in my Damal bed, again and now more than ready to move on.

The villagers, despite, their delight in his illusions were honest about the

weather. If they said it would start to snow then it would storm, furiously. I had

provided them with entertainment since that first night and I enjoyed it but after

a few strangely unreal nights my thoughts were more set towards finding

Mirane.

       I got up, dressed and prepared to go dig. I did not even peek out my

window. “Good morning, Xylvan.” The common room seemed brighter than

usual and the innkeeper was quite cheery. “The storm is over.”

       “Really,”

       “Oh yes, the last of the snow fell in the night. At least for a few days.”

       I ran outside to see the mound piled high on the side of the road and the

drifts sloping at the sides of homes. However, that meant nothing to me, the sun

was bright in a cloudless bright sky. The snow in the village was almost

beautiful for something so loathsome, cold and wet. I smiled to and allowed

myself to believe that I could return to my voyage.

       “You‟re letting all the heat out.” The innkeeper reproved me and I pulled

the door closed. “Hungry?”

       “Yes, what is for breakfast?”

       “What do you want?” The innkeeper had never asked me he usually just

handed me something warm.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 166


       “Oh, I do not know, do you have any egged bread left.”

       “I‟ll make up some for you.”

       “That would be great.”

       “So you will be leaving today?” he asked, partially making conversation

and partially eliciting desirable information to spread about the village.

       “Well, I need to get a weather forecast from Sergus but if the weather is

good then I will be going.”

       “Sergus has not mentioned this yet but he will…”

       “What?”

       “Sergus wants you to stay the entire winter.” Marule said it like it was

confession and then looked to me to absolve him.

       “He has not said anything at all.” I wondered if this was going to be a

problem.

       “No, I did not think he had. He does not think that you‟ll say yes.”

       “I really cannot. ”

       “Your woman?”

       “Yes, I have to find her.”

       “Sorcha says that she will meet you in Scolar on spring night.”

       “That‟s what she thinks. No, I have to find her before then.”

       “I understand.” Marule said this but his disappointment was evident.

Having me had been a boon to his business, a relief to his wife, a friend to

himself and a treat to the village.
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 167


          I did not reply, I did not want to tell one more person that she had left me

in the night and that she was not my wife. I had beat myself up quite a bit

already for not having found out why she would not marry me instead of taking

her answer at face value. I never wanted to pursue her stories too fiercely; she

never wanted to tell them. Marule put the egg soaked bread in front of me and I

ate it slowly. “I have enjoyed my time here, you have all been such wonderful

hosts.”

          “Go find your Mirane.” Marule cheered and smiled at me like my father

would. He wanted me to stay, so much drink had flowed passed this bar since I

arrived but I knew that it would continue to flow.

          “Will Sergus have the sleigh?”

          “He‟ll get it ready for you and give you directions to where to take it.”

          “How does this work?”

          “That village will hold onto it until someone comes down here.‟

          “And the animals.”

          “We have too many for the winter, we‟ll send some with you.”

          I shrugged, Marule did not seem to have much better of any explanation

to give me.

          “Xylvan,” Sorcha stood behind me.

          “Hello.” I turned around and embraced her.

          “Are you here to talk me into staying? Sergus and Marule have already

tried.”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 168


       “I would not need to talk,” She smiled very seductively and I felt ashamed

and weak. “So you are leaving?”

       “Yes, this is not my home.”

       “We get attached to people very quickly here. Most of us already feel we

have known you a long time.”

       “I may return some other winter.”

       “You do not know that, you may be killed before then. Who knows what

trouble she‟ll get you into?” Sorcha was teasing me.

       “I might.”

       “You might. I‟m here to make sure that you do go and find her.”

       “You do not want me to stay.”

       “No, I‟ll remember you well enough.” Sorcha continued to smile at me.

There was something in her voice that made me think, I should scan her mind to

find out what was behind that coy smile. But then I stopped, I veritably slid off

of her mind. “I was sent here to get you to think about it, though.”

       “This village will stop at nothing to get what it wants.”

       “Yes it will, I will be the last try.”

       “And you want me to go?”

       “You cannot stay here.”

       “No, I cannot.”

       “Well, take this with you then.” Sorcha handed me a small package

tightly tied. I went to unwrap it but she stopped him. “It is just herbs, very basic
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 169


ones for minor ailments. I drew pictures on them so you will know what each

one is for.”

       “Thank you.”

       “You are welcome.” Sorcha hoisted my pack and put it on the table. She

took back the packet in tucked it inside. “Are you ready to go?”

       “Yes.” I took my pack over my shoulder and followed Sorcha down the

stairs to the awaiting sleigh. At the fore of it were two huge animals covered

with long white hair. They had long necks and sweet eyes. I looked at their feet

and found that they were larger than mine were and completely circular.

       “You have never seen Camlay?”

       “No, they‟re lovely.”

       “Yes, very bright too. These two are from Hytul; they came down at the

last storm last year. They know the way there. All you need to do is to feed them

three times per day and brush the ice out of their coats. They are very sweet and

will not give you any trouble.”

       “Sounds simple enough.”

       “It‟s very simple. They‟ll drive you right into Hytul in about two and a

half days. When you get there introduce yourself as from Damal, they will know

by looking at them but they like to have verification. If you meet Samyer he‟ll

ask you all sorts of questions about the Camlay, he is the breeder and trainer, he

loves them. Tell him that you were not here all summer but that they ate

prodigiously and seemed as if they would mate but did not. Tell them I told you
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 170


to tell him that.” Sorcha nodded to me to tell him that that was all and then went

to the Camlay to nuzzle her face in their long white manes. “Make sure you

brush them.” Her hands were still in the fur as she said this and I imagined it to

be very smooth. I stepped beside her and felt the long silken hair in my own

hands and then a steady vibration. The Camlay turned and looked at me, their

eyes half closed in pleasure.

       “What do you eat?” I asked the Camlay directly using a gentle voice.

       “Oh, their food, enough for four days, is under the sleigh. They‟ll know

that so if they get a little fresh that‟s why.” Sorcha pointed to the seat of the

sleigh and I did not wonder what she meant by fresh.

       I crawled up into the seat and Sorcha let go of the pulls. The Camlay,

realizing suddenly that they were free to go looked around to see whether

anyone was watching and very slowly began to move. I saw that all the villagers

had made a point of not watching and that the Camlay believed they were doing

something mischievous. It took a little creeping to leave the circle of buildings

that was the village but once away they picked up speed. I found that there was

very little I needed to do. I had the reigns in my hands but the Camlay found the

road marked Huytel by memory alone. I pulled my coat closer to me and

watched these magnificent animals stay above the snow and carry the sleigh

effortlessly with them. I was enchanted by the way their long hair bounced with

each step and the near silent crunch of snow when one of their massive feet

touched it. Mirane and I had once spoken about purchasing horses, but I believe
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 171


I would advocate for Camlays in the future, this was the way to travel. They

were like pillows crossed with sheepdogs crossed with curious toddlers crossed

with homing pigeons.



       That night I slept in the sleigh and the Camlay leaned up against one

another for any warmth that their long coats could not provide. Above us the

sky stretched in endless blackness speckled by a million bright star points. I

looked for familiar constellations and saw them, the huntress, the sorceress, the

temptress and the healer. They were all there just like at home. I felt crisp air

around my face but was otherwise quite comfortable ensconced in the seat and

my coat. I dreamt then of women. I dreamt of Sorcha, she was standing next to

the Camlay completely naked except for her long brown hair. I beckoned her to

me but she would not come, she had spotted someone else behind me. I could

not turn to see them but she was waving to them and smiling. She ran passed

me clutching her stomach but smiling. I watched her go but never saw the

person who had distracted her. After she had gone, I‟radai approached me. “I

should not be here, your uncle would not approve. Your mother would be very

unhappy.” Her face was pinched and she was in a hurry to leave. I looked after

her retreating figure, it was easy for her to leave me, she without a word. Then I

dreamt of Mirane. Her hair was completely loose around her and bright like fire.

Her eyes were angry and her sword was drawn. She was fighting an enemy I

could not see and she was losing. I stood and tried to cast an illusion but it
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 172


failed. I could not find any mental trace of her opponents. She tossed her sword

away from her but it came back at her and sliced her open. I screamed in grief as

Mirane‟s bowels spilled out onto the snow. While she lay bleeding, I frantically

tried to return her organs back into her and tried desperately to stop the

bleeding. Then my mother arrived. She was dressed entirely in white flowing

robes and a tall crown. Every inch of her was embroidered or encrusted with

silver and white gems. Her long black Sian hair was swept, dramatically above

her head and strung through the jeweled hair rack. She appeared far taller than

she stood in just her flesh. She came and stood over us both and cried. My

mother never cried, never for a moment had a tear even splashed her face. Now

tears fell like icicles on my back and into Mirane‟s wound. Each fell and crashed

like shattering crystal on them. She said my name.

      I woke suddenly and saw that nothing around me had changed. The

Camlay were asleep and dawn was still many hours away. I was greatly upset

by the dream. What did this portend? At best it meant that I would return to

Sian and at worst. I did not want to consider the worst, losing Mirane to where I

could not follow her. I lay awake and tried to tell myself it would not happen if I

could find her. If I could help her fight that enemy and tell her who it was then

she would not die. She would not die by her own sword.

      I had never been so glad that I was not a seer. My dreams foretold

nothing. There was no meaning beside that which I created. These women were

always on my mind, now they are in my dreams as exaggerations and fears. I
                                                          Secrets and Illusions 173


was thankful that tiredness soon reclaimed me and I slept again a sweet

dreamless sleep.



       The Camlay, in their own hurry to return to Huytel, took only short

breaks during the day and ate more food than I thought was necessary. They did

not stop at nightfall as they had done the previous evening and they continued

for a few more hours. Eventually, I made them stop and they seemed to

cooperate. They closed their eyes and pretended to sleep. Once I was asleep

they quietly hauled me the rest of the way there, they knew there were only a

few short hours left.

       “Sir.” Someone was shaking my shoulder and speaking to me. “Sir.”

       I startled awake. It was still night but morning was not far away. A man

was standing at my head. “Hello.”

       “Hello, welcome to Huytel.”

       “Already?”

       “Already.”

       “We left yesterday.”

       “It seems they were homesick.” The man was nodding to the Camlays.

They just trotted up. He turned and gave me a surprised look but then turned to

nuzzle into the Camlay‟s long fur.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 174


      “They must be exhausted.” I stood up and touched them but they

vibrated happily, their eyes closed in pretend sleep as if to say „we have no idea

how we got here, you told us to sleep, look we are sleeping.‟

      “They have minds of their own.”

      “They let you know everything they need and then kidnap you in the

middle of the night.

      “You know Camlay.” They man laughed and then quieted down to be

sensitive to the dark windows above. “Come in, we‟ll get them bedded down

where they should be and then we‟ll get you back to sleep in a bed.

      “I‟m Xylvan. The Damal lent the sleigh to me, they said you would know

how to get it back.”

      “Nice to meet you Xylvan, I‟m Samyer. I‟ve missed these guys all

summer.” Samyer nuzzled up to their warm bodies and they audibly vibrated. I

knew why.

      I followed Samyer around as he took care of them and then he showed me

where we could catch a couple of hours of sleep. I awoke that next morning

thankful that I had no more dreams.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 175




Rain

       Despite the threat of rain I left Hytel just after mid-day. Not long after

that the skies opened up and poured a deluge of cold wet rain on my head.

Frozen droplets crept between my coat collar and my neck. I grumbled and tried

not to think about any thing worse. Worse hit within the hour. The road ahead

was completely washed out and I was forced to leave the path for the forest

where the ground was a little higher and not quite so muddy. Wet branches

whipped at me in the wind. No shelter presented itself and I promised to stop at

the first shelter I discovered whether it was dark or not.

       However, it was almost dark before I caught sight of a rock outcropping

that teased me with thoughts of a dry night. When I got close I could see that

someone already had a fire going and that they might not be inclined to share.

Regardless, I moved closer.

       Beneath the rock two figures sat, their backs against the wall and the fire

lighting up their faces. One was a gruff man, very large and dressed, smartly for

the weather in an oiled cape and tall oiled boots. The woman seems to have been

caught in the rain. She was dressed too beautifully to have intended to travel in

the forest.

       “We have a guest.” She said looking directly at me. “Come join us.”
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 176


       I stepped forward. The man stood, scratched his beard and came to the

edge of the dry ground. He extended his hand and with a wide smile. “Please,

join us.”

       “It‟s a beautiful day.”

       “Sure is, have not seen rain like this since last week.” The man laughed

and I stepped under the rock.

       “Rain pushed me away from the road.”

       “Bridge is gone. We‟ve been looking for a way around it. Please sit. I am

Decius and this is my wife Sharey.”

       “Xylvan.” I sat and wrung some of the water out of my hair into a puddle.

       “My wife and I are traveling to Scolar.” Decius ventured looking to me for

a response.

       “Why?” I suddenly felt that Scolar had caused all of my problems.

       “We started something there awhile ago, just seeing how it is doing.”

Sharey answered. Her voice seemed familiar and she had an accent that was

very Sian. I looked again at her and she was more human looking than anyone I

had ever seen. Was that possible? “Where are you heading?”

       “Kaira, I am looking for a friend.”

       “A woman.” Sharey filled in for Decius.

       “Is she lost?” Decius asked.

       “No, I suppose not.”

       “Are you lost?” Decius asked
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 177


       “Do not worry you‟ll find her.” Sharey seemed to be speaking more from

what she knew and less from encouragement. I looked at her again for several

moments.

       “My wife, she knows things.”

       “Knows?”

       “She can intuit the future.” Decius said. “Have you not heard of the great

seer, the magnificent Sharey?”

       “No, I‟m sorry.”

       “Would you like me to tell you your future?” Sharey sat up on her knees

and looked at me. Her gown was spread out around her. She reached out to

touch my hand. He did not trust her.

       “It only costs one coin.” Decius said and I relaxed, naturally no true seer

would charge for her services, I was willing to pay a coin for their hospitality. I

produced the coin from my pocket and gave it to the woman.

       “You will find your woman outside the city. You have already had a

difficult journey; it will get easier from here. You will stay in Kaira for a few

days before you see her and in that moment you will not regret the time you

wasted. I believe that the two of you will become very important people. She is

a fighter?” I nodded. “The battles you fight will be like a drop in a puddle.

Rings will trace around it. War.”

       “War?”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 178


       Sharey relaxed for a moment and let go of my hand. “The tricky thing

about this is it is all based on what has happened to you till now. Her country

will be plunged into war if she continues what she‟s doing. You must allow that

or stop that.”

       “Thank you, I think you earned your coin.” She was very convincing in

her prophecy.

       Sharey smiled. “It‟s not going to rain all night, tomorrow it should be dry.

But please, feel free to stay with us tonight.”

       “Our rock is your rock.” Decius smiled and gently hit the side of the

boulder with his fist.

       I spent the night and ate their food. They insisted that they had more than

they needed. In the morning, I parted with an extra coin to thank them for their

hospitality and we each went our own ways. The rain had stopped and with

their directions, I found the road easily. This road was not quite as muddy and

the travel much easier, though soon the road went from a distict highway, to a

path, to a mud path in a dense swamp.



       All through the morning I could not shake the feeling I was being

watched. I tried simultaneously to ignore the feeling and to surprise it. I was

able to go for a while telling myself it was my imagination; it was the rain, that

had not ceased since I had entered this swamp. I told myself it was gases given

off by the mud or it was the damn insects that bit me despite the cold. And for a
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 179


while I would be able to convince myself and I would travel along the broken

path with a surer step. At the other times I would pretend to be a confident

traveler but then, with a sudden movement, turn quickly around to catch sight of

the eyes. I could see it, I was sure, through the corner of my eye, although I

could not see it, directly. I speculated on what or who could follow me.

Borderland Gryth was drier, more coniferous. I knew some of the strange

creatures there, the black wolves, the screaming gossamer lemur, green op‟spine,

hissing fur lizards, but this was a new place, seething with danger.

       By mid-day I was no longer able to believe it was just my imagination.

There was a person or a creature hunting me and I only knew for certain that my

life depended on getting out of this swamp. I walked faster and faster, still

unable to see my stalker.   Beneath my boots the ground seemed to thaw

unevenly. Gases escaped the raw mud and left ugly pustules in the dead strands

of plants.

       I hoisted my pack higher on my shoulder and forced myself to look

straight ahead, I had been assured by Decius that this was the fastest and safest

path to Kaira and I refused to believe anything but that. The rain picked up and

came down in sheets deluging every living creature in this place. I saw in the

trees several animals take cover. I tried to take comfort in seeing the animals

even the more frightful ones because I could believe they were more afraid of me

than I was of them.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 180


      I followed the winding path‟s sharp bend and a giant swamp squirrel met

my eyes not ten spans away. I stopped short. The creature was standing at full

height, my full height. Its long coat was wet and hung on it and its tail was

matted. I wondered what would make this creature live in this place of weak

trees and weaker ground. The squirrel fell to all fours and turned down another

path. I walked passed that place with trepidation but no ill befell me.

      Mid afternoon came and I took faith in Denis‟s promises that the swamp

would only take me till mid afternoon. I believed at each turn that it would be

the one to see the trees become wider, stronger, the ground to become firm and

grass to grow. With each turn I seemed only to find more rain and more swamp.

Even as I wished it to end, a mud river flowed closer to my path. It undulated

and twisted just at my reach. It semelled rotten and vile and I dreaded the time

it would block my path. It was not until just before sunset, the water still coming

down in huge unrelenting drops, that I finally saw the end of the swamp. It

ended rather suddenly at a river that smelled brackish. The path was equipped

with a primitive bridge that promised much dryer forest ahead.

      I stepped on the ancient boards and carefully tested their strength. It

seemed secure and I crossed. Later, when I thought about it I knew I should

never have looked back. Instead I turned. There, two giant unseeing eyes

looked back at me, not a hand span from my face. Never had I seen a creature

like this, it could have been a relative of the borderland worm that grew to 40
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 181


spans but that creature would never be able to survive in so cold a place as this.

This creature looked more like a translucent, bloated, distended, garden worm.

       I took a step back and it followed me step for step. It opened its hideous

mouth and then quickened closer. I ran to the center of the bridge and the worm

stayed with me. I was on safe ground but the worm had gotten my scent.

Mirane might be one who could thrive on panic and adrenaline but I needed

time to think. The worm‟s massive bloated body surrounded me, not touching

me but circling around me. I still had room to move, it had not yet decided to

contact or constrict like the borderland worm. The tail seemed to move of its

own volition as if it had two small brains capable of controlling this body.

       More rain covered us both and splashed to the ground next to us. The

worm seemed to become larger with the rain, it became more bloated and its first

head reared up and slowly leaned into me. It opened its mouth wider than I

would have thought possible and breathed in the warmth from my body. I stood

looking up into its expressionless cold face, it could devour me whole but it only

breathed. I felt the stink of the swamp on it, in it. I looked down and saw the

blood travel through its veins. Neither of us quite knew what to make of the

other. I caught a glimpse of the second head. It was moving to wrap closer

around me. Any warmth I had, I now knew, it wanted.

       My mind raced forward, if this creature got any closer it would kill me.

Much longer and thicker than any border worm this creature would enclose me
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 182


for warmth and crush me in the process. Warmth, I found it difficult to believe I

had any left in me.

       I stepped backwards, my leg hitting the body of my captor. I looked

down and thought I could escape. I planned to slide over it and then run. There

was no way of knowing how fast this thing could be. Running was not an option

and no illusion could help. This creature had no eyes, no ears; just its wide

sensing mouth. It would follow my heat. Heat. Fire. It was at that moment

when one wishes they studied harder in lessons. I could have been a mage.

Certainly a mage, or an animal trainer, or an engineer could have worked out

this problem. I was but a lost illusionist and my talents completely failed me in

all of my current endeavors. Regardless, I had to escape this thing.

       I, slowly, let my pack slip off of my back and I lowered it to the ground.

Deep inside the drenched satchel was my last fire starter, the one I had been

saving. Carefully, protecting it from the rain, I pulled it out. I felt beneath the

slick leaves for something dry to burn. The top layer of leaves had protected the

thicker layer beneath. I cleared the top layer off all around me and revealed the

dry ground cover. The worm moved closer at the heat of my exertion. Before

more rain could douse us, I struck the fire starter and a fire began to spread. It

was too close for me but the worm moved closer. Its massive two-headed body

pulled me even closer to the growing flame as it allowed itself to be burned. I

took my last chance, grabbed my pack and slid across the worm‟s soaked body,

beneath my hands and my thigh, the worm‟s body was soft and too yielding. Its
                                                                                Secrets and Illusions 183


body was like the swamp itself. I stepped away and the worm moved closer into

the flames, its fear of bloating and erupting in cold was more powerful than the

searing heat that ruptured its skin and seared its blood. I felt more rainfall upon

us, the flame was nearly gone but the worm clung to the warm leaves22.

           I forced myself to leave.




22
     A contemporary report verifies the location of a large charred Rainworm at this time.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 184




Bargaining

       Mirane pulled on her long black leggings and my cut down tunic. She

laced her heavy girdle and fastened her boots in place. Her hair felt tight pulled

back behind her head and her sword felt heavy at her side. She smiled widely at

the familiarity of the discomfort. She was not entirely pleased at the flesh she

had put on in the short time she had been here. Her girdle laced too tightly and

her breasts almost strained against the shirt. She would have been more upset if

she did not realize how easily all of the pounds would shed as soon as she no

longer had a warm bed and three hot meals a day. Her body was not used to the

soft treatment and it was taking every opportunity to save up for the spring.

       “Mirane,” her mother took one look at her and sighed her name in

disapproval.

       “ I‟m escorting Gyan to Kaira today.”

       “I know,” she nearly rolled her eyes. Mirane felt like a child and it was

wearing on her. “Do you have to wear that?”

       “Yes.”

       “Can Gyan give you something else?”

       “I do not know.” Mirane tried to answer her unspoken question of

modesty and social embarrassment with her tone.

       “Maybe Larken should go with you. He‟s been on trips like these he

can…”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 185


       “He can what?”

       “Protect you.”

       “From Gyan?” Mirane was trying to keep the situation light.

       “No.” She said this quietly and then sadly added, “I suppose you do not

need him.”

       “I do not need him to be…”

       “You do not need anyone, do you?” Her mother‟s tone was more telling

than her words.

       “I do need people. I need you and Papa, Sabrine and…”Mirane did not

list her entire family but mentioned my name quietly.

       “Xylvan?” her mother heard her anyway. She had heard the name from

Larken and from her other daughters who had penetrated further into Mirane‟s

life than she could. She knew who I was to her and it made her unhappy.

       “Xylvan, yes.” Mirane felt a great desire to be with me and a great loss to

have left me. She wondered now with a pang of regret if I missed her, this was

not the first time. Of course I did much more than she would understand.

       “Xylvan, but not Larken?”

       “Mother?” Mirane was not sure where her mother‟s thoughts were

leading. Mirane was never comfortable with what people did not say, when

necessary she left that to me.
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 186


       “He is your husband,” her voice was still quiet, she seemed that if she did

not reign in her voice it would shout so loudly all would know her pain and

embarrassment. “How can you not need him?”

       “Momma,” Mirane grasped her hand and held it gently; she needed to

make contact with her. “Momma, I need to free him. He‟s been all-alone all this

time. He is so lonely.”

       “He‟s grieved for you, with us, alone, he has been one of our family.”

       “I know, Mother.”

       “He needs you.”

       “No, he does not, he needs a wife and children he can touch and hold

and…”

       “You could be that to him. He wants that so much, “ Her mother grabbed

her long braid and looked at the richness of the color, she looked at her face and

touched it,” You would have such beautiful children. You were the most

beautiful of them all.” Her mother touched a scar that showed above Mirane‟s

blouse, as if to feel the pain of it and the regret that it marred her beauty.

       “I cannot.” Mirane did not to think about children, she never would have

her own.

       “But you can leave us, you can do that.”

       “Not forever, not like before.”

       “You will leave Larken again?”

       “Yes.”
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 187


       “Leave Larken, for Xylvan?”

       “I will dissolve my marriage to him.”

       “Your father told me I should not discuss this with you. I should just…”

       “You can talk to me about anything you want. I will not leave until spring

no matter what we say to one another.”

       Mirane‟s mother thought this remark over and then shifted direction in

her inquiry. “Did this Xylvan ask you to dissolve it?”

       “No, he does not know.”

       “Will you marry him?” It was important to her mother.

       “I do not know. I think that he would like it, he has proposed such a thing

before.” She answered honestly but she was questioning herself.

       “How long will you be in Kaira?” Her mother was visibly upset. She was

only moderately comforted by Mirane‟s vow to stay. She remembered how long

she had worked to find good husbands and lives for her children. Larken was so

good when they were young. But he did not save her and she was ruined. What

was she to do now, how was any of this acceptable to a mother?

       “Just over night.”

       “Alright.” She said as she turned to leave.

       “Momma?”

       “Yes.” Her voice was weak; it had tears choking it up.

       “Larken would have been an excellent husband for me. You chose him

very wisely, I did love him as a girl, but...”
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 188


       She did not turn and she waited a long time before asking, “Xylvan is

good?”

       “He is very good.” Mirane smiled and her mother saw the sides of her

daughter‟s lips spread across her face. Mirane‟s family was no more immune to

the power of her smile than I ever was.

       “What does he do?”

       Mirane was pleasantly surprised by the question. “He‟s a battle

illusionist.”

       “A what?” her mother‟s ambition overpowered her sensitivity.

       “He creates illusions for our opponents to distract them.”

       “Is that fair?”

       “It keeps me alive.”

       “Fair enough.” Mirane‟s mother nearly laughed, she pretended this

conversation was no different from one she would have with Sabrine or with

Theabe. “And his father?”

       “He works with wood, now, he was a great traveler and diplomat.”

       “Have you met his mother?”

       “No.”

       “Why not?” Sarah was almost alarmed. Mirane noticed the subtle raising

of hackles and a mother‟s defense.

       “She lives very far away.”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 189


      “You must meet her.” Her mother was not debating with her. This was

an order.

      “Yes.”

      “We can offer a dowry.” She was not sure if she was obligated to offer

another dowry or whether she got the one to which she went to Larken. Sarah

offered now and would figure it out when the time came.

      “She does not expect one,” Sarah shot Mirane a look of shame and scorn,

“If it is necessary, I will let you know.” Mirane amended. She thought of all the

stories that she knew of the Sian and particularly of my mother and wondered,

what exactly would be a suitable dowry, but she would not insult her mother by

saying so.

      “Thank you.” Mirane was sincere. She knew what it would cost for her

parents to provide a second and the offer itself was valuable.

      “Good morning.” Gyan sang out as he entered the house without

knocking.

      “Good morning.”

      “Great! We‟re going.” He saw Mirane in her battle gear and smiled. “You

look great. So intimidating.” Gyan noted the few extra pounds she‟d gained

since arriving and tried not to think of the erotic quality they gave her and how

unprepared he was for that.

      “Is everything ready?”

      “Yes.”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 190


       “Maybe you could make her something better.” Despite the talk they had

just had, her mother was not willing to accept everything about her daughter.

       Gyan looked at Mirane and wondered if he was sweating. The thought of

having her fit for such tight garments left him dizzied with the most

inappropriate desire. Fortunately, he saw her sword and knew to think of other

things. He knew that she was his sister-in-law, that she was a professional guard,

that she was both married to one man and bound to another, so there was little

reason to believe he could know her in that way. To comfort himself from this

most assured rejection, if even just in his mind he reminded himself of his own

dear wife and his duty to not distract Mirane from her guard duty after all, he

was investing a lot into this trip and he did not want her to be distracted.

       “Let‟s go.” Mirane stood and led them out. “We‟ll be back tomorrow.”

       “Be safe.”

       Mirane led them out to the street where Gyan had left the carriage with

the two very fine horses tethered to the fence. She examined the carriage and

saw that it was well made and small. There was a garment compartment

underneath the seat and it was closed with a lock she recognized to be the work

of Gorghu, one of her fellow captives. The horses, themselves, were very

gorgeous and even more expensive. She was surprised Gorghu had not advised

him against them. Any eastern raiders who came along with theft and raiding

on their mind would take one look at those animals and Gyan‟s life would mean
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 191


nothing. For the price of the lessons learned with the Darung, she was

disappointed that Gorghu had forgotten what he had learned there.



       Throughout the trip Mirane gave Gyan plenty of advice on how to secure

his wares and protect himself. Though he was interested he found that when

they arrived in Kaira he was just as relieved to hear it end. They had not met

any danger on the way. Gyan had not seen even a hint of trouble since the raid

that took Mirane years ago. That did not mean that where they lived on the

western front was safe or that anyone believed it was. Mirane had used the short

voyage to begin letting Gyan, as a villager, know what they could do to prevent

any future problems and to let him know that raiders were not the only danger.

       Despite Mirane‟s good intentions Gyan could barely stand to listen. Her

horror stories put his teeth on edge. Her implication that he had forgotten that

raid was equally difficult to swallow, had he not lost his unborn child and nearly

his wife?

       “Where is the buyer?” Mirane felt the cold that came with her words. The

air frosted in the winter air but it was her tone that sent Gyan to shivering.

       “Not far,” he answered evenly.

       Mirane went to the back of the carriage to make sure the lock was secure.

She sat on the back lip while Gyan drove through the city streets. Her long

sword was drawn across her lap earning her strange looks from the

townspeople. She was remembering.
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 192


      “Gyan!” shouted a man and Mirane swung down from the cart and faced

him. She looked down her nose at the man whose smile went from bright to

frightened.

      “Mirane, this is my buyer, Sagnun.” Gyan introduced her as if only he

could hold back her fury and her strength. Mirane let him use her emotional

response to give drama and power to the meeting. “Sagnun, this is Mirane

Damaskoi.”

      “It‟s nice to meet you.” Sagnun said to her extending a swollen hand

swathed in clothes that rivaled Sian garb. She thought of me and how I would

have desired his wares, especially the elaborately embroidered cuff at his wrist.

      “It is my pleasure.” Mirane did not trust the man but made sure that he

did not sense that from her.

      “I‟m so pleased Gyan could bring all this.” Gyan had opened the back of

the carriage and displayed the excellent pieces.

      “It was not an easy task. The roads are dangerous to Kaira.” Mirane fell

into the role she was most comfortable with and was able to file away her

memories to the back of her mind.

      “I know. I‟ve got to get them east.” Sagnun nodded in agreement as he

gently touched each garment. “Please, both of you come inside.”

      Sagnun led them into a large room that was guarded inside and out. It

was set up as a warehouse and not meant for displaying garments. Mirane

looked around and saw clothes from all over the country and even further north
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 193


and west. Some she had never seen, some with tiny shells sewn into armor and

some so fine they could pass through a ring. Mirane could not reconcile a

warehouse so far from places with any wealth.

        “I import from across the ocean.” Sagnun added this as Mirane was

fingering the seams of a man‟s shirt. The stitches were nearly invisible and the

cloth was woven with more than one color thread, silver and white. She looked

through his collection interested in the exotic, particularly of the far north.

Instead she found her past.

        “And west.” She said looking at open red skirts. Her tone was

unforgiving. Gyan came to her side to find out what she had found to be so

offensive. Mirane offered him no clue, she spun on her heal and looked straight

at Sagnun. “How did you get this?”

        “What?” Sagnun‟s face was flushed and innocence was not even his to

pretend.

        “You know.”

        “I purchased it from a traveler.” Sagnun was lying but he was afraid for

his life.

        “Gyan, this man gives you fair prices?”

        “Very good.” Gyan nodded to Sagnun and the man laughed.

        “It cannot be enough.”

        “Why not?”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 194


       “Is my brother the best?” Mirane asked Sagnun from a short hand span

from his face.

       “Oh yes.”

       “These garments make you extraordinarily wealthy.” Mirane touched the

exotic white tear drop pearls at his collar. Sagnun squirmed. “So wealthy that

you do not care that someone is hurt and abused in that skirt.”

       “I do not hurt anyone.” Sagnun for half a moment believed he could

strike back at this woman.

       “I do not believe that you do not know what I mean and I do not believe

that you are treating Gyan as fairly as you should.” Mirane noticed that several

guards were closing in on them. “I think that you are every bit as hurtful as the

ones who use those slyuisk dryeme. I believe that you take from everyone you

meet and I guess not even your guards receive the compensation you believe

your life to be worth. Now here is what I will tell you.”

       “Tell me.” Sagnun reared up. He was not happy about being treated this

way but he knew that Gyan was an extensive enough part of his business that he

could not afford for a moment to entertain thoughts of angering him. He settled

himself down. “What will you tell me?”

       “I expect much from you.”

       “What do you want?”

       “You figure that out.” Mirane did not know what she wanted from him,

she wanted to scare him, she wanted to hurt hime, but from him, she wanted
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 195


nothing. So instead she bore down on him with dark eyes. “I will leave you to

make your negotiations and visit a friend of mine and when I return those skirts

will be wrapped up for me.” She turned to a guard. “You will do this and I will

hold you to it.”

       “They did not come cheap…”Sagnun made his mistake.

       “They were worth my life,” She drew her sword and touched it to a

vulnerable point at his throat. “Do not make them worth yours.” With that she

returned her blade to her scabbard and turned to the door. “Gyan if you are

displeased with this man‟s compensation for your excellent work we will

renegotiate. I imagine a twenty percent increase, minimum. Do you need my

assistance in arranging that?” As Mirane‟s sword was still at his throat the man

burst out, “Ten percent, of course.”

       “Ten percent, is acceptable?” Mirane turned to Gyan.

       “Quite.” Gyan appreciated the higher terms but he worried Sagnun

would cut him off entirely. He worried his work did not merit the raise. I wish I

had been there.



       Once outside Mirane shook off all her tension and anger. She was too

close to the border now and too close to where her first life ended. There was

something in the land that smelled of blood. She seemed to feel each scar across

her body as they were originally inflicted. How could she have gone so long

without knowing that she hurt so badly? She took a deep breath and tried to
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 196


force the pain away from her. She was thankful that so few knew what had

happened to her. Each mind that knew struck her with mortification. She was

especially grateful that I did not know her secrets.

       This part of the city was mostly two and three story wood buildings. A

shop would occupy the street level and the shop owners would reside in or rent

out the other floors. Second stories overhung the sidewalk allowing the

pedestrian to keep his or her head dry, of course, that was little comfort to the

shopper covered in mud from the dirt streets. As she walked through the streets

she pushed her thoughts down inside her. She hid them in places of her mind

that were strong and would not release her secrets to her again. She

concentrated on the businesses she passed: cobbler, glazer, lender, messenger,

metal smith. She intended to visit Dazja but when she saw the messenger office

she realized there was still hope to save this trip.

       She stepped into the same office and found the clerk. On his head was a

small hat and he sat squeezed into a chair that was too small for him. “Do you

send couriers?”

       “Yes, but they‟re expensive.” He was trying to dismiss her.

       “I have money,” she put more than enough coin on the counter and got

his attention. “I want a courier sent to Scolar, he is to find a man from the far

north and tell him to come to Kaira. The boy must be able to read him the

message and direct him to my village. “

       “And this man will be in Scolar?”
                                                                  Secrets and Illusions 197


       “Hopefully not. If he‟s not then the boy can return.”

       “We are a relay, we do not just send on boy to find him, you know.”

       “I do not care how you do it, I want this man to get this message.” Mirane

wrote out a few short sentences. If you have stubbornly stayed in Scolar there is little

I can do but to invite you to Kaira. When you have arrived please send a messenger to

me. I shall leave instructions with this courier service.

       “Yes ma‟am.” The clerk took her money and her instructions and she had

no idea whether her missive was sent.

        By the time she reached Dazja‟s gate she was clear headed and ready to

meet the happy and innocent people she worried most about. The guard led her

into the house and made small talk with her. “It is good to see you again,”

Mirane did not remember that he was the same guard but she nodded her head.

       “It is good to return, I trust that Dazja is safe here.”

       “Yes, indeed. I have held this post for five years. I apprehended four

attempted thieves my first year, there have been no other attempts made since.”

       “Excellent.” Mirane said that as far as she was concerned having no need

to defend a place was its best defense.

       “Thank you, I appreciate that, coming from you.”

       “And why is that?”

       “I know who you are, I even read your book, and it took me a month.” He

was shy and looked away.

       “My book?”
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 198


       “Yes, about the code of the mercenary, I understand that.” He acted very

young but he was her senior by a decade. She did not have the heart to tell him

she had never written a book. She was saved when Dazja ran to her and

embraced her with kisses.

       “I came to check on you.” Mirane teased and ruffled the woman‟s hair

like a child. Dazja responded to the affection and grabbed her hand to lead her

to her sitting room.

       “How is your family?” Dazja asked holding Mirane‟s hand as it they were

just good friends.

       “They are just how I remember them.” Mirane answered trying to lean

back in the chair.

       “Eek.” Mirane had never heard anyone make that noise in her throat but

it quite accurately reflected how she felt about her return.

       “Yes.” Mirane nodded.

       “Did you get your invitation?”

       “No, not yet.” Dazja produced a written invitation from a box. It did not

have her name on it. “Take this, just in case the messenger has lost it.”

       “Thank you.”

       The two women chatted the afternoon away and Mirane felt a tickle at the

back of her throat that she did not recognize at first and then suddenly realized it

was laughter. Not the same as when she laughed with me, but different. It was
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 199


the laughter she found as a child, late into the night with Sabrine. By the time

she left she felt her scars cool and blend back into her body.

       “You are coming?”

       “Yes.” Mirane embraced the woman who seemed so innocent she was

childlike compared to Mirane, there was less than a decade between them in age.

“I‟m looking forward to it.”

       “It will be good to have a friend among the guests.” Dazja whispered into

her cheek. Dazja was taller than Mirane had originally thought; they were nearly

the same height.

       “Then I shall assure you I will be there on time and dressed.”

       Dazja brightened up and smiled widely. “I am very glad.”

       “Thank you for receiving me today,” Mirane smiled. There was

something appealing about Dazja. She was childlike and innocent. She was

open and unafraid. Every instinct Mirane had was split between protecting her

and shielding her from the outside world and educating her to protect herself.

       “Good bye.” Dazja smiled and embraced her again.

       “Good bye.” Mirane said and then walked out of the house into the dark

winter evening. She found her way back to the buyer‟s warehouse and entered

as the men were looking over some fabric. She looked Gyan straight in the eye.

       “I am satisfied.” Gyan responded and put a bolt of cloth on the carriage.

       “Excellent.”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 200


        Mirane stood at attention for the remaining portion of their meeting. She

did not speak until they were outside and Gyan had told Sagnun that they

would depart in the morning. “I think that we can leave tonight.”

        “In the dark.”

        “That man has a small army, the less he knows about where we are the

better we are.”

        “He is not our enemy.”

        “Is he your friend?”

        “No, he‟s just a buyer.”

        “He buys from the enemy and he has everything to protect.”

        “I have to deal with him, you will not always be here.”

        “I know. Let‟s get home now and we can figure out what to do then.”

        They traveled on the frozen winter road late until the night and when they

had reached the edge of the village and had come safely Gyan spoke for the first

time.

        “I made four times as much as I should have.” He said this with a barely

contained excitement. “I owe you.”

        “I hope I did not ruin your business.” Mirane smirked

        “You are a godsend. I would put you on my payroll if I thought you

would let me, sister, I would like the opportunity to thank you as you deserve.”

        “I do not need payment from you, brother.” She teased him and he

smiled. It is nice to have you around, he thought.
                                                          Secrets and Illusions 201


       “Would you tell me if there is anything you would like?”

       “I will.” Mirane thought for a moment, she was reluctant to ask for such a

large favor.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 202


Prevention



       Mirane woke the next morning more tired than she had anticipated.

Regardless, she burst open her eyes and rigorously stretched out her muscles,

they were tense and knotted. She stood and dressed in the cold room. On the

table beside her were three envelopes, the invitation to Dazja‟s wedding she had

received the previous afternoon, a formal invitation delivered by messenger and

a note from Kyltan to meet him at the common house that evening. Mirane read

each and folded them back into their envelopes. Despite being dressed, Mirane

was still cold in the room and pulled a long crocheted shawl around her

shoulders. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She looked matronly.

She shuddered and was almost grateful that her life had not taken this path.

       Regardless, she wrapped the shawl tightly around her arms and went to

the kitchen to join the family. Her mother sat at the table a scowl on her face.

“Good morning,” Sarah said coldly looking at Mirane very intently.

       “Good morning,” Mirane shivered back and went to the stove to see if

anything was warm. There was nothing except water but the warmth was

enough of a reason to stay. She leaned up against the hard clay wall of the oven

and watched her mother. “It‟s so cold this morning,” she offered by some means

of reaching out.

       “We had a messenger come this morning.”

       “Yes, I saw it, Thank you.”
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 203


      “Are you in the habit of receiving missives by messenger?” Her mother‟s

voice cracked.

      “No,” Mirane looked at her closely trying to read what was coming.

      “You do not use messengers to communicate with people you know and

care for?” Sarah asked without letting Mirane out of her gaze.

      “Mother,” Mirane took a step away from the warm stove.

      “It just seems that you are so comfortable with it, you could have…” Her

mother put her face in her hands and Mirane watched her shoulders shudder.

      Mirane said nothing. She could have. At the time she even wanted, to

especially in the beginning.

      “You receive wedding invitations here and you have only been here a few

weeks. Who would invite you to a wedding that you have only met for a few

weeks.”

      “I did not know her before I came here. I never came so close as Solari.”

Mirane felt her defense mechanisms forcefully dropping into place. “I brought

her here to marry, she invited me for that.”

      “I could not believe the sight of your name on the envelope,” her mother‟s

words were not clear. Sarah had so much grief in her for her lost child. She had

so much anger and sorrow she could neither resolve them nor accept them.

Mirane could do nothing to help her mother. Perhaps inside her, Mirane wanted

to go to her, wanted to wrap her arms around her and absorb the shuddering

tears into her own body but she was not capable of doing so. All she could do
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 204


was sit by her side and stare at her hands. She saw traces of the angry scars

around her wrists and she pulled her sleeves down over them. Sarah cried

herself out within a few moments and spoke again. “Who is the bride?”

       “Dazja, I do not know her fiancé.” Sarah glanced at her daughter in

frustration and Mirane tried not to be hurt by her bright red eyes and wet cheeks.

“I‟ll get the invitation.”

       Mirane returned within a moment, forgoing the temptation to close her

door and stay there until spring, with the invitation in her hand. She passed it to

her mother who looked at it with interest and then incredulity.

       “You know this woman?”

       “As I said, I escorted her to Kaira.”

       “Did you know this is one of the most important weddings of the year?”

       “No, I do not see why.”

       “Of course you do not,” Sarah said absently and Mirane was taken

slightly aback. However, Sarah had tossed aside her grief for the more familiar

territory of mothering and dictating. “You have nothing to wear.”

       “I‟ll wear this.”

       “No, Gyan will make you something.”

       “He has no time.”

       “He will not mind.”

       “There is no need.”
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 205


      “There is time.” Sarah looked at her with no doubt in her mind and spoke

from the very back of her throat. Sarah went to the door and pulled her long

berry-dyed woolen cloak over her shoulders. She passed Mirane Xylvan‟s cloak

and beckoned her to follow. Mirane did and they went directly to Gyan‟s.

      Outside the air was crisp and clean smelling; the cold burned the back of

her nostrils like snow. They came to Gyan‟s workshop door and wordlessly and

without preamble, Sarah handed Gyan the invitation.

      “For you?” he asked Mirane, he was neither impressed nor doubtful.

      “Yes, I traveled with her recently.”

      “Would you allow yourself to wear one of my dresses to the wedding?”

Gyan asked while he looked over her body for inspiration. Then he became self-

conscious of looking and looked back at his mother-in-law.

      “Yes, of course.” Mirane knew that Gyan had established a reputation far

and wide and she knew the benefits of beauty. Within a few moments all was

decided and Mirane agreed to return another day for measurements and fittings,

things she did not understand.



      “That was delicious.” Mirane said cleaning the corners of her mouth with

a clean cloth. Already her mother was busily clearing the table; Mirane had

tried to help at other meals and had proven to be offensively bad at it. She did

not know where dishes went or what could be stored and used for another meal.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 206


She had not tried again. Instead she pushed herself away from the table. “If you

will excuse me.”

       “Where are you going?” her father asked casually.

       “I need to go to the common house.” She replied.

       “Alone!” Her mother exclaimed.

       “No. I am meeting him there.”

       “Larken can come and walk you there.”

       “Not Larken, I‟m meeting…”

       “You‟re not going.” Her mother interrupted.

       “I need to meet…”

       “It does not matter,” The woman put down the stack of plates and came

back into the room. She saw her daughter, she had forgotten the warrior. “Go.”

She said quietly. Mirane looked to her father for some confidence that her

mother was all right.

       “Go ahead,” he said quietly. Mirane sighed and gathered her cape. She

stepped outside. It had begun to snow earlier and it was already pretty deep.

She lifted her face to the night sky; there was no sign of it abating. She pulled the

cape tighter around her. With regret she thought of me. She prayed that I was

somewhere warm and safe. She wished that I were here with her. I had a gift for

diplomacy for smoothing trouble out long after it should have erupted into

battle. That was how she felt here now. She was on the eve of battle; each word
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 207


she spoke could have disastrous consequences, which she would have to deal

with.

        The common house was on the other side of the village. By the time she

reached it she was already quite chilled. In her own clothes she would have

layers of protection from the cold. For that matter she would not be walking

across a village for it she would be ensconced in the room above it. If it were not

for the cape, my cape, she would have frozen half way here.

        She chased her scattered thoughts away and tried to prepare herself for

this opportunity. She spotted Lord Kyltan at a table, he was sitting with some

other men and she hoped that she was not going to have to make a presentation

to the village council. Council, she laughed to herself. Forget it. She approached

Kyltan with a wide friendly smile that she showed warmly to the other men.

Kyltan stood taking his drink with him. “Excuse me, gentleman.” He turned to

her; “I have another table for us.”

        Mirane followed him. “How are you?” He asked smiling. He must have

been here for a little while; he had no sign of snow on him.

        “I‟m well; I have been spending a lot of time with my family.” Mirane was

sugar coating it, she knew.

        “I imagine that is a little overwhelming.”

        Mirane smiled and let out a little laugh. She relaxed and he smiled. “Yes,

I suppose it is.”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 208


       “You wanted to speak with me?” Kyltan changed the topic and Mirane

respected a man who did not wish to linger on small talk, platitudes and

meaningless chatter.

       “Yes. You know that part of what Xylvan and I do is travel the border.”

       “Yes.” Kyltan nodded.

       “We go from village to village setting up escape and survival plans.”

       “Yes, I have heard,” he replied.

       “I wanted to talk to you about doing the same things here. Walking the

village to see where people can hide, telling their children where to hide. That

sort of thing.” Kyltan took a sip of his drink.

       “People here are very reluctant. I‟ve tried, they do not want to think it can

happen again,” Kyltan said.

       “It can.” Mirage urged

       “I know, but they do not talk of it, they do not want to remember.”

       “This will help them survive.” Mirane pushed

       “They survive. They, the village, will always survive.”

       “No, These people, these hunters who took me, they destroy us. They are

scavengers and attackers. They do not value us, only what we have.”

       “I would love to do this. But…”

       “But what?”

       “Mirane.” Kyltan raised his voice to matcher hers.

       “Fine, we go across the village, you and I, we can start.”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 209


       “Tonight?”

       “We have to start somewhere, such as: Where could children hide?”

       “Most of the children do not remember this ever happening.”

       “How can that be?” Mirane asked.

       “They do not. They‟re not afraid.”

       “They need to be afraid, terrified.” She implored, if she could not convince

him she would not stand a chance against the apathetic village.

       “Mirane, we will work on this.” Kyltan knew she was right, he knew that

they had the best opportunity they ever would and they needed to take

advantage. He could see that she was upset despite the coolness in her face. “In

the meantime, I brought you a gift.” Kyltan took a small package out from

beneath the table and placed it in front of her.

       “What is it?” Kyltan watched her long lashed eyes look at the package and

then to him.

       “Open it.”

       Mirane hesitantly uncovered it and found a book bound in good leather.

She picked it up and leafed through it from the back page. When she came to the

front she paused as she saw her name, hers and mine, she read aloud, “Articles

concerning the coming and goings of Mirane the fighter and Xylvan the

illusionist along the Western border.”

       “I thought you might be interested.”
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 210


         “Yes,” Mirane smiled and laughed. Then, incredulously asked, “Are they

true?”

         “I do not know.” He shook his head and leaned back in his chair.

         “I mean are they terribly exaggerated?”

         “They are supposed to be fairly accurate.” Kyltan shrugged. The only

person who could know for certain was the woman sitting in front of him.

         “Who is collecting the information?”

         “Court. They‟ve been following after you, interviewing the folks you‟ve

worked for.”

         “That is really something?” Mirane looked at the book and shook her head

in displeasure. “They‟re following us and not helping the people. Where are

their priorities?”

         “They seem to be mostly interested in your Xylvan.”

         “Why?”

         “It is not in that book, but I‟ve heard rumor that he is very important. His

mother is a Queen. You do not meet a Queen‟s son everyday.”

         “I suppose,” she answered, for in fact, she did meet a Queen‟s son

everyday and good or bad it was not the most impressive thing she had

accomplished.

         “She has sent word that he is to come to no harm.”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 211


       “Really. I had not heard. Sent word to who?” Of course, she was lying to

him; she had often ridiculed me for it. There was something unmercenary about

having your mother put out a legal mandate to not hurt her little boy.

       “King Lioneff.” Kyltan leaned in as he said the name.

       “So they are following us.”

       “Not always following.”

       “What do you mean?” Mirane‟s face went very stern and her voice cold.

       “I do not know.” Kyltan was honest. “No one knew exactly how he met

up with you and became involved with this business of yours. Years ago, he was

touring the wealthy houses outside the capital and suddenly he disappears.

Months later, a kid appears at a school for the first time in years with stories

about the two of you and a message appears from Queen Tearisia.”

       Mirane was quiet, how much political mechanations went on so far above

her head she did not know enough to look up to see it. She wondered if I knew.

She was angry that her king was fighting a war on in the east and sending

guards to watch me but that it was up to her to protect the western border. It

was not secret amongst us that if she ever were to have the privilege of meeting

the King that neither of them would live to tell the tale. “Why is Xylvan‟s life

worth more than the western border villages?” She posed the question

hypothetically.

       “Just read the book.”

       “Are you going to fill your colleagues in with what I tell you?”
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 212


      “Maybe, maybe it‟s a chance to get some of the King‟s support out here.”

      “It is unlikely.” Mirane responded. “King Lionoff would no more send his

money out to the western border than his own child or even one soldier. King

Lionoff‟s kingdom ends about twenty marks east of here.”

      “Funny, we still get taxed like it is his own kingdom.”

      “Do not think I have not had this discussion up and down the western

border. I have. Many believe, as I do, that the only way to get Gryth soldiers out

here would be stop paying the taxes, but that is not something any one person

can do or even one village.”

      “The entire western region would have to do it.”

      “We would have to secede.”

      “Perhaps,” Mirane shrugged. “We would have to mobilize an army and

fight a two front war.”

      “Do you think that is possible?”

      “No.” Mirane answered flatly.

      “So we cannot change the king‟s mind, we cannot band together with

other villages. What other choices do we have?”

      “We are just the buffer.”

      “So we have to stop being the buffer?” Kyltan posed.

      “That is it.” Mirane answered.

      “How does that happen?”
                                                         Secrets and Illusions 213


      “Hopefully we recognize the opportunity when it arises, because I do not

know.” Mirane took a long drink. “Thanks.” She stood and left.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 214




Fitting

          Gyan was desperately trying not to think of Mirane as anything other than

a dressing model, as she stood on his chair and measured her for a gown. He

had promised to make it for her in exchange for her “bargaining” technique that

now guaranteed him a short respite from his own projects. However, he had

forgotten that she would be standing in front on him, his face so close to her

body, so close to her.

          Mirane stood and endured her brother-in-laws leering glances. He had

neither been frightened nor intimidated by her display at Sagnun‟s warehouse

and since they had returned he had taken every opportunity to be with her.         She

had known him since she was a child and she had been at the wedding that

joined Sabrine and him together. He was always so meek and pliable. Watching

Mirane had given him an assertiveness that as soon as his crush wore off would

be helpful to him. Until then she would endure his clumsy measurements and

his long looks.

          As she stood there and he sweated, it suddenly occurred to her that he

could be of use to her. “Gyan?”

          “Yes,” he looked at her and answered quickly.

          “Do you believe in dissolving marriages?” Mirane did not elaborate she

just kept his eyes locked to hers and let him believe what he wanted.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 215


         “Mirane?” he was smart enough to wait before answering. “I believe that

if a marriage is not a true marriage than it should be dissolved.”

         “So do I.” She paused and let him continue to sweat. “What are reasons

that a marriage is not true?”

         “If a woman or a man does not feel a partnership with their husband or

wife.”

         “What if they were too young?”

         “We are always too young.”

         “And to marry someone else.”

         Gyan began to shake. “I love Sabrine.” He blurted this out and Mirane

had all she could do to prevent laughing out loud. Mirane stepped down from

the chair and looked at him.

         “I know you do,” she said with far more seriousness than she thought she

was capable.

         “What do you want to know?”

         “I need your help.”

         Gyan was not one to turn down a beautiful woman in distress. His inner

picture of himself always involved some sort of prince in shining armor. He now

felt honor bound to help her do anything she asked and all he could do was hope

that what she asked was not too far beyond him.

         “I have been away for many years.”

         “You have,”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 216


       “I have loved men, other men, than my husband.”

       “You have?” Gyan was trying not to think of the wonderful life of

freedom she had. She could love other men and then move on and be a hero to

someone else. How he envied her.

       “I have” she smirked, “but now I am love with one man.”

       “You wish to marry him.” Gyan did not let this interrupt his fantasy of

freedom. He tried to think of it as romantic.

       “I would. And I would like to dissolve my marriage with Larken.”

       “I can see that.” Gyan and Sabrine had wondered about that. She still

stayed with her parents and she did not allow Larken to show her any affection.

All could see how he looked at her. He was possessive but he was not a partner.

They were strangers and they would never be more. “We need to do it in a way

that Larken can save his dignity in the village.”

       “Yes.” Mirane understood that this was one of the most important details.

If he felt disgraced he would make it impossible to dissolve. To be honest, if it

did not go smoothly she thought it unlikely that she would stay and fight for it.

Xylvan would still love her despite her legal marriage and in Sian she was

probably free to marry him if it came to that. In her mind this was for Larken‟s

sake, despite, how horrible he has been, and for her family. She would not

disgrace them. “Is there anyone else who might be interested in wedding him?”

       “No.” Gyan answered. “In the beginning there were young women who

thought of it and inquired but he refused them. They have all since married.”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 217


      “Maybe someone younger, then, or a widow.”

      “Perhaps.”

      “Larken is very affluent here.”

      “Yes.”

      “There might be a mother or two who would be interested in a marriage

to our family.” Gyan was quiet for a moment. “If they knew that Larken was

looking for a wife.”

      “The whole village knows I‟ve returned.” Mirane felt that this would be a

deterrent to any marriage minded mothers. No mother would want to marry her

daughter to the husband of a sword-bearing fighter.

      “But everyone, also, knows that you sleep at your mother‟s.”

      Mirane had forgotten what a wonderful tool a particularly small town

could be. “I would not have to put out the first paper of dissolvement, quite

yet.” Mirane had already composed the document, which stated her reasons for

wishing the dissolvement and her intention to live apart from him. One copy

would be sent to the man who married them or his successor and one to Larken.

The second paper of dissolvement was publicly posted and the third was read at

the dissolvement ceremony. If she could get her intentions into the grapevine it

is possible that Larken would have potential suitors before he received the

inevitable news. It has been wrong to keep quiet about it.

      “Confide in Theabe.” He said this as if it would be seem natural.

      “I‟ve never done so, before.”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 218


      “She‟ll tell her friend and her friend will guarantee it is discussed in the

group.”

      “Then I shall try.”

      “Good.” Gyan lifted up two bolts of fabric and showed them to her. One

was a shiny black silk with stitched designs on it while the other was thick and of

a midnight blue that seemed vivid in the light. He chose the second and smiled.

“Great.”

      “Am I done?”

      “Yes, speak to Theabe, I‟ll try to put the thought into some mothers.”

Gyan smiled. He had often been the target of this group of gossips. If even he

thought of going against a town vote they would rein him in. He had bowed to

them too often and now he could release Mirane and her strategic mind into their

ranks and use them for some good.

      Gyan worked on the gown long after she left, exacting each stitch with

perfect precision. “Are you coming in the house at all today?” Sabrine surprised

him and he turned with a guilty face.

      “Oh yes, I just wanted to get this done.”

      “It‟s gorgeous, one of your best I think.” Sabrine said touching the fabric.

      “You always think so.”

      “You think that I have no discrimination.”

      “I think you are supportive.”

      “And forgiving?”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 219


       “Yes.” Gyan looked up from the fabric. “Of course, you are.” His face

softened.

       “My sister is very beautiful and strong, brave, adventurous,”

       “Yes, you are all of these things too.”

       “She is so different now.”

       “So are we.” Gyan reached out for his wife‟s hands.

       “She thinks no one remembers what happened or that we just moved

through it unaffected.”

       “She might.” Gyan responded. “She was not here to see us after it all.”

       “Our parent‟s grief,” she whispered.

       “Our grief, our child, too.” Sabrine fell into her husband‟s arms it had

been so long since she had allowed herself to think of herself that night. She had

been so close to delivering her third child and then to have it born that night.

Born dead on the road, her mother nearly dead beside her. “My love.” Gyan

rocked gently with her tightly to his chest. Together they walked into the house

and gathered up their boys and held them.



       Mirane returned to her home and sat with her mother for a short while.

She had not had an opportunity to tell her about the wedding after she got the

invitation and she thought her mother would be pleased with this sign of

domestication. Afterwards she went upstairs to read some of the books she had

borrowed.
                                                                                Secrets and Illusions 220


           After she had read the biography23 of herself she returned it to Kyltan

with the list of things that were accurate. She had never in her whole life ever

ridden down a man on a giant gray beast I created out of magic. She had never

seen me use any true magic; everything I did was untouchable. She tried to

remember if one of my illusions had been of such a creature. She did not always

see them as her opponent did. Even if that were true she certainly never stood

between a mudslide and a village and saved it. That would not even have been

an illusion I would have used. They had no business in manipulating the

villages.

           Some of the essays read like dreams; the most incredulous of all was one

where they have been called in to the town to slay a giant worm. It began as a

serpent beneath someone‟s house but grew large by eating animals and soon

children and the elderly. They could not stop its voracious appetite and the

parents of the children left town in grief. The worm burned down their homes.

The essayist here took everything the townspeople said at face value. She

remembered that town24. They were there for the winter and while they were

there were four house fires. All of the people were away from them at the time

but more importantly they had settled there only that very year from the Far

West. They did not speak the language and they practiced a different faith.

There were other families and they chose to be vocal about it. Mirane was


23
   The biography referenced here was a contemporary one written for children Articles concerning the coming and
goings of Mirane the fighter and Xylvan the illusionist along the Eastern border”
24
     See Biography part the second
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 221


present the cold day that the westerners and the townspeople went head to head.

She did not do anything to interfere; she and I had agreed that neither party was

ready for a war in the town and that they were largely venting their suspicions.

But it was at this moment that one of the children screamed. She had been

peeking into a hole in one of the town‟s square house and saw the worm. It took

Mirane and several townspeople, including the westerners, to find the creature

and then to pull it out of the crawl space. It was a truly large animal and it had

fully reticulated around a support beam. They all wanted to kill it but I forbid

them to do so. I had seen these before and saw that it was slow and could not

defend itself. At what looked like a random choice to them, I approached a

young man and charged him with the duty of building a house for it and taking

it to the Sian forest flats. Of course, he was the arsonist. Hopefully, no one else

would be inclined to start more fires. There was much conflict in that village,

more than just that poor Sian worm. Even to this day, I wonder how it got so far

south, or more precisely why someone would have brought it so far south.

       She also borrowed the journal of a man who had alleged to travel to Sian.

She knew enough about its people to know when the man was completely

wrong. However, she found the descriptions to be intriguing. The man was

apparently had seen a demonstration of battle illusionists and was

simultaneously repelled and enthralled by the practice. Her countrymen were

constantly engaged in warfare whether it be the formal battles on the east or

raiders on the west, few in her country reached adulthood without blood on their
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 222


hands. The Sian system was representative. Very few illusionists ever died,

some became involved in the process to the point that madness set upon them

and it was impossible to extricate their minds, but there was no innocent

bloodshed. Mirane read through the narrative in search of any mention of me as

the book had been written so long ago and concerned a different Queensrealm.

      The most the book could offer her was comfort and a reminder of me, so

she went and joined her family in the front room. Tonight they were having all

the children and grandchildren over for a community meal. Already Sabrine and

her boys had arrived and Gyan and Larken were sitting together in the far

corner. As Mirane came in Theabe and her girls came rushing through the front

door. Gyan nodded to Mirane in what she thought must be his attempt at

mystery. She smiled and made sure to greet Theabe she would speak to her later

in a more casual way.

      Her opportunity came just after dinner when Theabe‟s daughter was

crying over a fight with Samyuel‟s oldest. They had been caught pulling each

other‟s hair and Theabe carried her away from the scene and close to where

Mirane was sitting with a warm drink.

      “Do you not miss this?” Theabe said this with all sarcasm and Mirane

recognized this as her chance.

      “You have such beautiful daughters, Theabe, do not wish them away.”

      “I do not.” Theabe stroked the girl‟s hair and Mirane thought that she may

not reengage conversation.
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 223


      “So fortunate to have such a loving husband.” Mirane knew that Theabe‟s

husband was well considered to be a fine catch and very devoted.

      “Your husband is loving.” Theabe teased her because it was now common

knowledge that Mirane wanted nothing to do with him. Theabe had not taken

Mirane‟s reunion quite as smoothly as the others had. Mirane was always

considered to be the favorite child and Theabe often felt that she had to compete

with her older sister. After Mirane had been gone long enough her parents

began to give more credit to what she contributed to the house even if Mirane‟s

name was raised up higher in her absence.

      “But Larken and I never had a marriage like yours.” Mirane made eye

contact with Theabe‟s husband, Elhn, and smiled. He smiled and nodded back

and Theabe mistook it for her. “He is so wonderful and so deserves you.”

      Theabe smiled. The thought that Mirane might envy her made her

exceptionally happy and even generous toward her poor sister.

      “I do not think that Larken should be saddled with a wife like me.”

Mirane continued with a great deal of false modesty.

      “No, perhaps you are right.” Theabe had always been fond of him, so

attractive and so grieved.

      “But what can I do?” Mirane did her best to make it sound like a sincere

question.

      “I do not know.” Theabe answered and thought of Larken with pity. You

could dissolve the marriage and never return, she thought. And then she
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 224


thought that Mirane might then leave and she could return to family as adored.

Larken needed to believe that Mirane was an inappropriate wife. As a widower

he could protect her but now that she was here and all could see how she turned

out he could not save her name. With this, Theabe stood and resolved to get

Larken to marry another. “I‟ll see what I can do.”

       “You do not have to do anything, Theabe.” Mirane implored, “I would not

want to inconvenience you.”

       “Not at all.” Theabe left Mirane to her drink. Gyan looked up and saw

that wide cat smile across her teeth and knew what Mirane had set it into

motion. He thought of several young women still looking to marry and thought

he might visit with their fashion conscious mothers.



       By the following night the village believed that she was ready to set the

dissolvement into action. She was trying on the gown that Gyan had finished for

her and hiding in her room from the waves of malicious gossip. She certainly

wanted to stay completely away from these conversations so that they appear

more natural. She sat in front of the mirror that she and Sabrine had played with

as children and admired the dress with its beaded starbursts and yards of blue.

The low squared off collar had a shimmering silver veil to wrap around her neck

and to tuck away in her bosom to hide the network of scars across her chest and

shoulders. She was pleased with it and the affect as she let loose the long waves

of chestnut hair.
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 225


      As she looked at her reflection and mused about how this came about she

had the strangest feeling that I was close by, she looked around the room and it

was empty. It must be nothing she thought and continued to examine the glass.

Soon Larken‟s figure appeared in the top left-hand corner of the mirror and she

turned. He rushed to her and kissed her on the mouth and touched her.

      “You look very beautiful.”

      “Thank you, Gyan is very talented.”

      “I want you to sleep at my home.” This was sudden, but she was

prepared.

      “Why. We already agreed that I would stay here.” She said this firmly.

      “We did not agree.” He was equally firm.

      “Why the change.”

      “I hear that you are filing dissolvement papers.”

      “I will, but I have not, yet.” Mirane replied.

      “Return with me, they‟ll stop speaking if they see you there.”

      “I cannot.”

      “Yes you can, you could be with me before.”

      “That was a lifetime ago.” Mirane answered

      “My lifetime. A lifetime of waiting.” Larken fumed with anger.

      “Larken, please consider taking a new wife.”

      “No.”

      “I have taken other men.”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 226


      “As if I did not know that.” He sneered.

      “I have taken them of my own choice and I have given my heart to one.”

      “It was not yours to give.” He replied coldly.

      “It was.”

      “This is your last chance to live as my wife. Come to my house now.”

      “No,” she said just as strongly, her voice reflected the firmness of her

position and even her desperate husband was unable to change that. She sent a

prayer to God and hoped that I would be in Scolar when the messenger reached

it. Such guilt and regret that she wondered how one can slaughter a city and feel

no remorse but cry for the possible pain of one man‟s heart. It was absurd. She

looked Larken in the eye. “Leave now.”

      Larken turned and left but his entire body was taut and tense.

      Mirane soon went to bed feeling more alone than she had in years.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 227




Union

        Mirane arrived at Dazja‟s wedding on one of Gyan‟s tall horses that she

had told him were dangerously tempting to raiders. However, she had her

sword by her side and felt that she would be safe. She was met at the gate by

two guards.

        “Lady, it is good to see you once again,” he took the bridle and passed it

to the young horse keep.

        “May I take your cape?” requested the second.

        “Please,” He removed the velvet cape.

        “Thank you.” Then he noticed the blade that remained slung on her hip.

“Our hosts have requested that each guest go without her blade.” He attempted

to be diplomatic but he was clearly discomforted by the sword.

        “Do you know who this is?” her guard friend said.

        “There are many wealthy and powerful guests here tonight, I would wish

to comply with our hosts instructions.”

        “Lady, would you relinquish your weapon to my safekeeping.” Mirane

looked from one to the other and back again.

        “And each guest has been disarmed?”

        “Yes.” He replied and the other looked at him and agreed.

        “And where shall it be kept?”
                                                                  Secrets and Illusions 228


           “I shall keep it on my person it all times. It will be available to you,

immediately, if we should have any problems. Were a problem to arise I would

obey your every command.”

           “That, I‟m sure will not be necessary.” Mirane looked them over again and

handed her sword to her admirer.

           “May I escort you to the temple?”

           “As I am unarmed, I shall need all the escorting I can get.” She smiled and

looked at him from beneath her eyelashes.

           “Thank you, Lady.”

           “Thank you.”



           He escorted her through the temple25 and seated her in the second row of

benches. The room was not large but had a high ceiling with low beams. Each

beam was wrapped with green boughs and red winterberries. Candles hung

from them and threatened to ignite the evergreens but never did.

           The ceremony began with the groom‟s family standing in a row at the

front and the bride‟s family clustered around her walking from the back of the

temple. Dazja‟s family would greet his family and then the fathers and mothers

and anyone else would find their own seats and leave Dazja and Justinian26 to

their vows. They knelt before one another and whispered their secrets to one



25
     This temple still stands.
26
     See Rogether’s Kaira Formal Register pages XVI-XIX.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 229


another and then the cleric came to them and touched their heads. They agreed

to stay bound and to love one another and the cleric announced that they were

one creation. Everyone cheered boisterously. Mirane yelled just as loudly.

      From that point, servants laid out dinner and the doors of the temple were

thrown open to the winter night. A large fire burned in several fire cradles in the

courtyard and musicians stood around them and played their instruments for

everyone to dance. A few snowflakes fell on them and Dazja caught one on her

tongue. All laughed. There were just a few flakes and the fire kept everyone

warm. Several men asked her to dance with them and she accepted a few. She

rarely danced; she almost forgot that she knew how. Soon with a little tripping

her feet remembered the steps and she had a wonderful time, she thought that

her cheeks might even be red. The country-dances she had learned at her

parent‟s hearth came to her and she fell into place with the other guests. She

bowed at the appropriate times and she was in step with the music. When the

first round of dances broke, Mirane left the group and went to the side of the

warm fire. “Mirane,” shouted Dazja waving her arm for her attention.

      Mirane walked through the crowd to meet her and gave her a quick

embrace. “Congratulations.”

      “Thank you, I‟m so excited.”

      “You must be. “Mirane squeezed Dazja again and both women smiled.

      “I almost did not recognize you, look at you.”

      “This.” Mirane spun in front of Dazja to show off Gyan‟s handiwork.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 230


      “It‟s lovely, it is beautiful.” Dazja was, of course, the more elaborately

dressed but for her it was such a treat to see this guardswoman in yards of skirts.

“And you have hair!” she teased and put her fingers in the long wavy locks. “It is

so gorgeous.”

      “Thank you.” Mirane smiled and laughed. She did not quite realize the

moment when her beauty was taken for granted to when it became a surprise.

Someone should have said something, she thought. “But this is your night, your

parents seem so very happy.”

      “Do you mean relieved?”

      “No, I mean, happy.”

      “I‟m so glad you came, it is good to have a friend here.” Mirane sensed a

depth and sincerity in the young woman and embraced her again. “Will you see

me again?”

      “I will.” Mirane promised but then several other people were trying to

get the bride‟s attention so Mirane congratulated her again and retreated into the

crowd.

      As the evening progressed, several gentlemen asked her name.

      “Mirane Damaskoi,” she answered.

      “Intriguing,” they replied, and Mirane knew they did not have an idea

who she was. They would know later, they would read it in one of their journals

and wonder how it was they had met her, but at the moment they just wanted to

hold her hand and kiss her cheek. They stroked her back and asked her to dance.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 231


She accepted and answered their small questions. If they asked who made her

dress she told them and if they asked if she would come away with them she

smiled and declined. She partook in some of the most delicious food her lips

had ever tasted and the lightest spirits to ever go right to her head. Eventually, it

was time to go. She smiled her way to the gate and was met by the servant with

her cape and the guard with her mount and sword.

       “I hope that we will be seeing you again, Lady Mirane.”

       “I do believe that you will.”
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 232




First and Second Sight

      I found Kaira on the morning after a snowfall dusted over its streets and

after too many serpentine roads. When the main street emerged from the forest I

swore I had never seen a place more mythic and enchanting. From here I knew I

was just days away from finding her and that filled me with a hope I was fast

losing. The immediacy of finding her had subsided now, and more rational

thought had prevailed. I could not simply approach her until I knew what was

happening. These thoughts had come at a high price and had harassed me the

whole time here. I could speculate on any number of motives she might have

had for coming here, but the truth was, I knew very little.

      First, I found an inn and stowed my gear there. I spent the day wandering

the town, watching people work and children playing. I saw with a pang of

sadness a couple kissing and a group of women decorating a church for a

wedding. I wondered if I should envy their lives and whether Mirane had left

me to seek this life. She had never expressed a desire for this domesticity and if

she had come here to join it now, even I was reluctant to pull her away.

However, had she ever desired this, I certainly would have happily provided it

for her. I would have provided anything she wanted and thought that I had.

She asked nothing of me but to be with her, to follow her, and I did.

      I returned to the inn and joined the innkeeper for dinner. Soon several,

obviously, affluent townspeople, accompanied us. I looked at my plate for most
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 233


of the meal until one of the guests, he was sporting an a-line jacket with silver

worked designs at the cuffs, piqued my interest. The man noticed my attention

and looked up at me.

       “Gyan hired a female guard to bring me this jacket” The man said this in a

too casual tone that clearly meant something more.

       “For that one jacket?” asked another incredulously.

       “He brought the biggest shipment I‟ve ever received. “

       “Anything for an innkeeper.” He laughed.

       “A Gyan coat to serve beer,” said another who was dressed just as plainly.

“If he‟s hiring guards, Gyan will raise the prices.”

       “This one was his sister.” The well-dressed man spoke again. “She was

no one to mess with.”

       “What‟d she look like?” I asked and they all sent me a look to say, how

dare you interrupt us. I was simply unaffected by their regional snobbery. I sat up

taller and leaned back in my chair. I gave each of them a nice image of whom I

easily could be, an even more wealthy regional lord. I could have shown them

the truth but they would not have believed it then.

       The man dressed in silver braid looked at me to discern if it was a

challenge but changed his demeanor. “She was dressed entirely in black and

stood a head and a half taller than me. The sword at her hand reached from one

arm to another and she was unafraid to draw my blood.”

       “Dark hair, braided down her back?”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 234


        “Yes, like a rope. Her eyes were darker than her dress. Light hit them

and was absorbed.” I smiled at this description, She had very light eyes that

toggled between green and blue. Often in battle, her opponents saw her eyes as

dark, saw her as dark.

        “How long ago was she here?”

        “Couple of days ago.” I looked back at his plate and scanned the man‟s

mind.    I saw how he feared Mirane and how Mirane had drawn her sword to

his neck and humiliated him in front of his guards and his client, Gyan.    Mirane

had stolen something from him that he deemed valuable and then paid Gyan

more than he had ever had to before. I stayed in his mind only long enough to

find out that they were from a village called Krahan, half a day south of town.

The man had sent out a guard to catch them the day of their departure but they

slipped by somehow. “Why so interested?”

        “I am looking for her.” I replied with as much authority as possible.

        “What for?” they laughed.

        “Perhaps, none of you gentlemen are aware of quite who that woman is?”

        “Gyan‟s sister? We do know who Gyan is, what else do we need to

know.”

        “You are worldly,” I said with undetected irony, “Please, excuse me.”

        I left them more and more curious and went to my room. I had asked for

a small room, it had only a bed and a narrow area to put my pack. I was hoping
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 235


to save money by the smaller room and I did manage to get a fair price. I sat on

the narrow bed and blew out the lantern so that I had no distractions.

       Now that I knew the direction to send my mind I had a chance of finding

her. I guided my thoughts south and honed it on what I guessed to be a village

from the amount of minds that were conscious. I „looked‟ for what seemed the

most familiar and it was not long before I found her. I had promised her many

things concerning my talents of intrusion, her words, but tracking her was not

one of them. I imagined that that was how she eluded me in the first place by

sleeping in those first critical hours. However, now she was awake and I was

able to attach my mind to her sight and to see what she saw. I could chose to see

or to hear but I chose to see because it was tied so closely to the way she feels.

       At first the adjustment to human eyes, her human eyes, left me with a

clouded picture but soon it became as clear as they allowed and I was confronted

by her reflection. She was facing a mirror and dressed very finely in a dark blue

dress with crystal beads sewn to the fabric to catch each flicker of light. Her face

was softened and her long hair tumbled freely around her head and shoulders.

She was calm and seemed to be day dreaming at first and then her head perked

up and her jaw drew tense. A figure of a man appeared at the upper left corner

of the mirror and she turned suddenly to face him. I noticed that he was young

and attractive, dressed very simply but well. He leaned in and kissed her on the

mouth and she looked at his hand upon her waist. He looked annoyed and then

withdrew his hand. They spoke for a while and then he kissed her again. He left
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 236


and her eyes were red. I would not have been able to pick up many of her

thoughts but those directly related to me would create a connection between us.

She thought of how she loved me and regretted leaving me the way she did.

Then she thought of her husband and how I might respond to that, she reasoned

that I knew by now. She began to pray that I would be there on that spring night

and for a moment my connection to her was broken. No god I knew of liked to

have a third presence involved. Soon, I cut off my scan, I knew that I had broken

my promise to her but at least I knew where she was. I hoped it would be worth

it, if she were to ever learn of this. Of course, if any one blieved that the ends

justified the means, it was Mirane.



       I woke up the next morning without any of the loneliness I had slept with

all that night. I spent the morning debating on whether to find her village or not

and eventually decided to spend another day in Kaira. I needed time to think. It

did not appear that she was reconciling with her husband. Nothing appeared to

be what I had expected.

       I steadied my concerns by looking for a small gift for her. I would need an

excuse to approach her and her family when I saw them, if I had a gift, even the

most tenuous excuse could be forgiven. For a small town, particularly one on the

borderlands, this small town had quite a few merchants. Mirane would be

pleased, the businesses had uninformative signs and good security and the

houses had tall walls and metal spiked gates. Despite this, I did manage to find a
                                                          Secrets and Illusions 237


metal smith who did fine work. I had learned about sword making from Mirane

and I knew a good one when I saw it. He was good and no doubt Mirane would

appreciate his work but I did not want to get another sword. I was, however,

half tempted to purchase one for myself in case I needed to defend myself.

Hopefully, not from Mirane.

      “So, will I be selling you one of these today?‟

      “They are very fine,”

      “I have developed a technique that makes them even stronger then those

who could purchase in the city.”

      “I was looking for a gift.”

      “A sword makes a great gift.” He said with a wide smile and a salesman‟s

confidence.

      “This is a gift for my lover.” I said.

      “I do make a great sword, but perhaps your lover would like something

more delicate.”

      “To be truthful, my lover would prefer the sword but I would like to give

her something less lethal, more decorative.”

      “Please, may I show you?” The metal smith brought him over to a thick

table and brought out a tiny lacquered box. Inside there were more than a dozen

beautifully crafted golden rings. One quickly caught my attention, detailed knot-

work wrapped around the band interrupted by flecks of garnet surrounding a

very perfect bloodstone.
                                                                    Secrets and Illusions 238


           “How much are you asking for this one?” I asked holding it between my

fingers.

           “Three hundred pieces, ten weight.”

           “Alright.” There was no need for Mirane to know that I always had a little

extra coin27 in my pack. I handed over the coins.

           “She is going to love that.”

           “God willing,” I commented unsure that I would find her or she would

consent to accept me, “Thank you for it, though.”



           It was nearly dark as I walked back to the inn. The town was settled in for

the night and eating their evening dinners. Most streets were quiet and I felt

lonely for that, too, company. For weeks I had wandered this country alone and

I was greatly relieved to be back in the company of others. As I passed one of the

streets I had explored the day before the shouting and laughter I heard reminded

me of those times. I stayed in the shadows as long as possible even as I walked

towards the merriment. Soon, however, lanterns were lit and there was a great

party being held beyond a gate. It was the wedding I had watched them

prepare. The happy couple must have said their vows by now. Guests were

dancing and eating. The couple could not be seen from where I stood but I

remained just to be near people. I watched, with an admiring eye, the array of




27
     Mirane would not have considered this “a little extra coin”.
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 239


costumes that floated by me. I remembered, with fondness, the costumed events

my mother had held with great flair and style.

       I watched for a long time, the dancing, and tried to learn a few steps from

them. I knew formal Sian dancing and that was all. The human steps seemed

random and unsynchronized. I did not believe I would ever be able to learn it

and though I loved human culture some things were not as good as their Sian

counterparts. My father had always taught me that there was a great deal of

value in both cultures but that just because you loved one or another did not

make all they had to offer without flaw.

       Despite that, I was enjoying my voyeurism at that wedding. I veiled

myself in invisibility just to be close to the festivities. I have never been so

thankful that my desperation in this search had led me to such immoral

behavior. It was late when I caught a glimpse of something I could not have

expected. I saw yards of thick, dark, soft looking fabric encrusted with starlit

beading disappear behind a crowd of people. I looked through the crowd and

tried to pick up pieces of their minds that would present me a picture of her face.

Several saw her and she introduced herself. Mirane.

       She was here, she was just a few feet from me, and if she turned she might

even see me. She might. Despite my veil, I retreated more into the shadows,

resisting the nearly overwhelming urge to leap the gates and hold her. I could

see the long dress she wore and the back of her head, she stubbornly did not turn

and I felt that we were waging some sort of battle of wills that she was not aware
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 240


of and I could not prevent. Her hair was equally encrusted with starlit pins so

that her whole body seemed to glitter in the night. I imagined that Sian

cosmetics had been applied to her face and that they too glittered. I longed for

her to turn so that I may see her face.

       She did not turn. Instead she was kissing the bride on her cheek and

bidding all these strangers such fond good-byes. She touched their hands and

bestowed upon them her wonderful smile. She was slowly extricating herself

from them and was met at the gate by a man who handed her the reign to a tall

and beautiful horse. Another man came with a long cape that I knew was hers.

Slowly, she began riding away from the ceremony.

       I stood for a moment and listened to the beast‟s shoes upon the hard

street. Then, I left my place in the shadowed corner and ran quietly after her.

She left the town, slowly riding the horse and never pushing me beyond a walk.

I stayed far enough away that she not heard me but not so far that I would lose

her direction if she decided to travel faster.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 241


Reunion

       Mirane thought of the beauty of the wedding the entire ride home. Dazja

had been so beautifully adorned and her new husband was so handsome and

kind. The temple was dressed as if for the highest holidays in green boughs.

Despite the cold and the late hour Mirane felt truly good. She‟d danced and been

admired without fear and she allowed herself to think of this life, the life she

protected for others.

       The trip with Gyan‟s horse took considerably less time than the journey

weeks ago and she was home in just over a mark. The night was cold; her breath

froze in the air. The forest smelled icy and the sound of her horse‟s hooves

echoed out among the trees.

       When she entered the village all the windows were dark, all except her

parent‟s windows, which were filled with a warm glow. They were waiting for

her to return home, Gyan was probably with them waiting for the return of his

gorgeous horse and the reviews of his dress from the guests.

       She dismounted at the back and entered the house. She expected that they

would want to know all the details, these last few days they were unduly curious

about her invitation and how she knew this woman. Dazja‟s fiancé was a rather

important man in Kaira and her parents wanted all the details. Mirane had

hardly realized that she had attended a rather exclusive ceremony. She did not

pay much attention to the guests‟ names because she did not recognize any of
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 242


them. That was probably what made her successful, she was not overly

impressed nor did she want to curry their favor.

      “You are home,” her mother said standing, stretching and trying to look

casual. “How was the wedding?”

      “It was beautiful…”Mirane started to speak.

      “Who was there?” Gyan asked.

      “Did you tell them who made the dress?” her mother asked.

      “I told everyone. I‟m sure you will get multiple offers for it.” She smiled

to cover a yawn, trying to pretend she was not tired.

      “What was for dinner?” Someone asked and Mirane answered all of their

questions with as much detail as she could. Soon, however, the late hour and the

excitement of the day caught up with her. “Please, I am so tired,”

      “You are tired?” her father teased.

      “Yes, father, I am.”

      “Then, good night.” Her father stood up and kissed her forehead. She left

him there.

      “Good night.” The household followed and Gyan slipped out of the house

to his own.



      Mirane had only sleep on her mind when she entered her room. When

she saw the package on her bed she knew that she would not be able to close her

eyes. She had forgotten she had coerced the dress buyer into giving her the red
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 243


skirts, Gyan must have brought them that night. That they were now in front of

her was frustrating. They were a source of panic and shame. There was no way

she would be able to sleep with them in the house. They deserved only one fate.

She grabbed the package close to her and silently left the house still wearing the

dress Gyan had meticulously created, with little care for it, now. She went far

into the woodlands to the east of the village. She would have cut it down a long

time ago so the village would have a longer range of sight but did not. She

walked further and further, ignoring her exhaustion. Her body often paid the

price of her passion.

       When she knew the village was far enough away she built a fire so strong

it burned hot and high. She took her cape off despite the winter night and hung

it on a low branch. The light of the fire cast a ring around her and left the

surrounding forest in a deeper darkness. She unwrapped the package, felt the

fabric and fingered the laces that would hold it closed. She touched the

decorative border on the open front; it bristled and stung. The buyer had not

purchased the apron, so little honor he had. She wanted desperately to throw it

upon the flames; she needed to see the flame eat up the weave but something

stayed her hand.

       “Please.” It was voice a timbre she intimately knew but that could not be

here, certainly, of all times, now. Only the calm and familiarity of the voice

stopped her from grabbing her blade.
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 244


       “Please,” I said, I had not expected to confront her now. I had wanted to

identify which was her house and to return to Kaira. It had been hard to stay

behind her but once I saw the horse standing in the yard it was not hard to see

her slip out of the back door and run into the forest. The immense fire was my

unmistakable beacon to interfere. Whatever her intentions in coming here were,

there was more than that going on now and it had already gone too far. I

watched her crush what I believed was a dress in her hands and felt such pain

emanate from her. I did not search for it, it came unshielded from her head and

her chest, hotter that the fire and colder than this bitter night.

       “Please,” I said wanting to comfort her. I wanted to hold her again and to

take this pain upon myself.

       “You‟re here?” She said this turning and facing me, not able to really see

me. Red fabric tumbled from her hands like it was spun of blood.

       I stepped into the ring of light and embraced her. “Mirane.” I kissed her

head and her tumbling hair.

       “How did you find me so quickly?” She asked thinking of the messenger

who was dispatched only a few days ago.

       “I love you.” So quickly, it seemed like months had gone by since I had

last seen her.

       Neither of us said anything for quite awhile. We stood in each other‟s

embrace and felt the warmth of the fire. Between us were the skirts to be burned

and she thought suddenly, despite herself that they had probably always been
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 245


there. “Help me burn this?” Mirane looked at me, later she would remember the

fire was reflected in my golden eyes, later she might put this all together

differently, but tonight, I was a miracle, a dream, an impossibility.

       “I will help.” I took the skirts from her fingers. “Will you tell me what it

is?”   Mirane stood, tears dropped from her. I helped her throw it, my hand on

top of hers. We watched as each layer caught on fire. I caught each layer of her

thoughts as she revealed them to me. Together, wordlessly we watched the fire

burn out. I held her close to me. When the last embers died I stood and stomped

out the rest of it. Mirane took my hand and led me home.



       Mirane hoped she was not mistaking the emotional upheaval of the day

for the sense of fate and enchantment she felt. Of course, I was not just any man,

was I? She and I walked to her house and crept together into the front room.

Practical decisions needed to be made about her marriage and her family to save

them from disgrace but not tonight. Dawn was a short time away and Mirane

knew that once the long rays of the sun pierced through the trees I would not be

just hers and she not mine. She kissed my mouth and salty tears that were

neither hers nor mine but born out of separation and the pain lovers cause one

another wet her lips and cheeks. She undressed me and felt my hands. Her

body ached for them and each electric touch reminded her of that.

       I felt my body melt with hers. I loved her.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 246




Family

       Growing up, as I did so close to my mother and father, my brothers and

my sister, then coming to this country and meeting so many of my father‟s

family it had never seemed to me that being without your family was truly

possible. When I met Mirane it seemed she had sprung from some ancient

mythology rather than born of a mother. Of course, I had speculated, rather

enjoyably at what such a family would be like, some liaison between a godly

warrior father and a beautiful maid, perhaps. Mirane, so adamantly, kept all

details of her life before she met me a complete secret that the hope of ever

meeting her family had never raised in my heart. The revelation that she had a

mother and a father came with the solid knowledge that she also came with a

husband that even in my quest to find her I did not speculate on what would

happen when I met them. So I had not prepared for this moment, a rather

significant one, as I had planned for her to meet my own family. And so neither

had I planned on doing so having spent the night on their floor. An accute sense

of alarm and impropriety came over me in my state of half-sleep and I,

immediately, jolted to full wakefulness.

       I could barely make out the features of the room in the pre-dawn

darkness. I shook Mirane. She slept solidly next to me. I could not remember

too many mornings when I woke before her and could watch her sleep. I stopped

and admired her long hair flowing unbraided across the hard wood floor; her
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 247


naked body wrapped in a thick quilt sewn together of many colors. Beneath my

fingers, I could feel the tiny stitches that held the quilt together and the rough

human weave that had created the cloth. I lifted my hand to stroke her cheek

and her hair. She looked peaceful, a change from her usual fretful stirrings. I

touched my lips her ear, “Mirane?” I thanked God that she was with me again.

       She stirred and pulled the quilt closer around her. I smiled but shook her

more firmly. “Get up.” I got up and pulled on my clothes. I had no intentions to

meet her family naked on their floor. Sleepily she complied. She opened her

eyes and closed them in the near darkness.

       “It‟s early.” She moaned sweetly.

       “We should appear to be decent.” I smiled and kissed her lips. She

moaned again. There was not much we could do about my midnight arrival

without a great deal of subterfuge. The less said, probably the better. I was sure

Mirane would agree.

       “That‟s not what you want,” she said as she reached down to tease me.

She was still sleepy, content and safe in a way I had never seen her. She was

unafraid and relaxed. It was so very pleasant and I wanted to let her draw me in.

       “We‟ll wake your family.”

       “We did not last night.”

       “They‟re probably already coming out of sleep.” I stood and pulled on

my clothes.
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 248


      Mirane groaned, “You‟re right, I‟ll be right back.” Mirane crept silently

away, leaving me alone in the room. I stood, uncertain, that I would not be

discovered. Would I put on an illusion, to look like Mirane instead, to be unseen,

to be something else entirely? I laughed to myself and took a seat on one of the

pretty benches around the wall. My hand traced the intricate carving on the lip

of the bench as my eyes wandered the room. Above on a high shelf were several

beautiful pots with the most luminescent color I had seen outside of Sian. I

wondered if they were the work of her husband. I had not prepared myself for

such displays of this other man‟s presence. I would not let him win her.

      A few minutes later she returned. She was even less recognizable than

she had been at the wedding. She wore a long homespun skirt, a blouse and a

vest with a small amount of embroidery in a similar pattern to the carving on the

bench. She would have looked sweetly charming if it were not for the

strangeness of it. “I would prefer you say nothing,” she said unequivocally.

      I stood up and approached her. I said nothing but I fingered the cloth, the

seams and the feminine details of it. Then, slowly, I said with a measured voice,

“I do not know how you expect me to say nothing.” I could barely contain my

laughter never mind the smile that cramped at the sides of my mouth. She was a

picture of bucolic loveliness; a picture of a milkmaid from the rural countryside

could not have been lovlier.

      “I expect that you will refrain from thinking about this at all. Does not

your superior Sian education assure you know how to refrain from speaking?”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 249


       “No, I do not think it does.” I answered, amused and delighted. She took

me, tears of laughter swelling in my eyes, outside to discuss the battle plan. The

sky was lightening already and what little warmth the day promised seemed

already to have been reached with the gray sky. I held her as much from the

cold as fear that she could slip away again. She held me to reassure herself that

this was how this was supposed to happen.

       “What has been happening here?” The question escaped before I could

stop it. Certainly Mirane would not answer such a personal question.

       “You are difficult to read.” She looked straight at me, looking as it she

wished she could read my thoughts. “Your eyes betray nothing. My eyes reveal

it all but not yours, your body remains straight and strong without so much of a

hint of weariness or concern. I have tried these years to discover these signs

about you but there is nothing. ”

       I could not have spoken had my life required it. Fortunately, she

continued. She spoke slowly and clearly as it she were deliberating on each

word. “I have come to believe that you learned to communicate almost

exclusively through your shared thoughts that all physical aspects of that

disappeared or never developed. I see myself in your eyes, molten strange eyes,

that I have loved since I first saw them. And I try so hard not to let my feelings

reflect as easily as my face does. So I do not know what it was that you saw last

night, I do not know what you know, now, that you did not know when we

parted, or yesterday. But I have lived in fear you would discover who I really
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 250


am? And when you did you would turn your beautiful eyes away from me and

never looked at me again.” Throughout our lives there were few moments of

softness or of vulnerability. Make no mistake here, she was a hard woman and it

I chose to remember these moments it is because I lived for them and they stand

out in my memory as the best times we had.

        I looked at her, really looked at her, searched her for any sign that she

believed that. She did. She did at that moment and she would, at times,

throughout our lives. She possessed a sense of self loathing that beat her and

drove her, that I would never understand. I was choked, my gut was twisted. I

wanted to dismiss her concerns, I wanted to wave them away with a light and

witty remark. But I did not feel that lightness. I felt tormented. I had failed to

show her my devotion. I was not sure what I knew now, a little more, and she

was right, it had changed how I saw her but in no way I could identify. I spoke

with a halting deliberation equal to her own. “How can you not know that you

are all that I live for, that I would risk life and death to be near you, that I would

cross the world to find you? How can you not know that?” I wanted to move

closer to her and embrace her but I held my hand on her should bracing me from

her at an arm‟s length. “There is nothing that could be revealed that could

change that. You are who you are and because I am who I am, I can only love

you.”

        Mirane came only to my chin height wise and I remember her looking

much smaller. Her eyes darted between my chest and my eyes. She started to
                                                                Secrets and Illusions 251


speak a few times with a soft breathy failed word. “I have lived a long time now

fearing that you would discover what you may have discovered last night. I am

ashamed by what you saw. I could not stand for you to think less of me.”

       “There is nothing you could tell me that would change the way I feel for

you.” I repeated. I would say it all day. Someday I would fear she would learn

things about me that would justify her fears and raise doubt in her own heart.

       “That is very romantic of you,” she smiled softly, then she looked me

directly in the eye, “but no one can promise that.”

       “I can.” I replied and I meant it. I did not let our gaze drop, I would not

look away and I did not let her. “I love you with your secrets or without them.

Anything that you could tell me would only increase my regard for you.” If only

she would tell me. I should have known it would not be so easy.

       She looked at me for a long moment. I thought that she might begin to

speak and to reveal her secrets, that she might divulge them to me. Instead she

spoke slowly. “I cannot, but please tell me what you know.” That was the

Mirane I knew already building up her steely exterior.

       “You are married.” I said trying to keep any intonation of we’ve been

together for five years and at any time during those years, you could have mentioned

that, from my voice. Instead I smiled.

       “Yes.” She breathed a sigh of relief. I wondered what she feared more

than that.

       “That seems significant?” I prodded for more.
                                                                               Secrets and Illusions 252


           She smiled as it I weight had been lifted from her. “No, not significant,

not really. Larken and I were not much more than children when we married, a

match made largely by my mother‟s will and perhaps some adolescent affection.

The night of our wedding, Darung raiders attacked this. They came in the dark

with deathly quiet stealth. Larken and I awoke to the horrifying reality of our

room ablaze. We gathered what we could and then rushed out. Like everyone

else we fought off with what we could, Larken and I working together. Larken

was knocked unconscious and I was grabbed from behind and taken away.” She

paused for a long time trapped in her thoughts, trying to choose what she would

reveal and what she would still keep to her. She left more than a little out.

“After my time with the Darung… and then, after I was free, I chose other lovers,

three to be precise and in the interest of honesty. You‟ve met Robideaux, he was

my lover before you. And before the others one, a guard in the King‟s outpost

and the other, a mercenary, I attached myself to early28. I thought less and less

about my husband. After I met you, I only thought of him with regret and then

when you declared your self, proposed marriage, he became a source of conflict

in my heart. ” She paused her stilted retelling and looked at me. This could be

my only opportunity to hear these truths. I wrapped my arm around her and

kissed her head.

           “Please, go on.” I whispered.




28
     Xylvan was aware of Robideaux, Neveth’s father, but not of any specifics of either man.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 253


       “Yes, my husband, I had no idea that he even lived until you brought me

to Scolar. If I thought about him at all, it was with pity, it was with the hope that

I had been declared dead and that he could marry again. In the beginning, I had

considered returning to my home but I could not bring them my shame, and if I

were to return home there would be no more life for them. Then, I rarely

thought of them. In Scolar, I happened to see an inscription upon the wall; it

bade me to return. I came. It then became my intention to let my parents and

family know that I was alive and to legally dissolve my marriage to Larken. I

need to, legally, free him to marry another.” Mirane looked at me, challenging

me to say something. Her declaration stayed any other question.

       “You would consider my proposal, then?”

       “I have long considered it.” She replied with a small smile and sincere

eyes, “I have been considering it since the moment it was made, every time it

was made. I have known that you love me, that you follow me, that you weep

for me. I do not believe that I am your best choice, but I believe that you made

it.”

       I was careful about my response. The proposal she spoke of initially

happened over four years ago. “I did not know you would take me, you said

nothing.”

       “How could you not know?” She smiled. “I simply was not free to marry

another.” I schooled my thoughts, how I would have done things differently,

then, had I known this.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 254


       “Is it possible that you will be free now?” I was not quite sure of Gryth

law. Sian dissolvement was rare and only under very specific conditions.

       “Yes, quite, at this point I need to make three public postings of my

intentions and to participate in an unbinding ceremony. “

       “And you want to do this?” I raised my eyebrow.

       “Yes, very much.” Her smile was so warm and her eyes seemed to hold

such love, “But.”

       “But?”

       “But my husband has to live here and I will leave, so he has to be

subjected to as little humiliation as possible.”

       “Ah.” I nodded. “What have you done already?”

       “All the wrong things, I‟m sure.” Mirane answered. “I have started a

rumor about my dissolvement and I have set my brother-in-law to finding him a

wife. I have also told my parents and sister that I have intentions to marry

another.”

       “You have?” I asked, that she had agreed to marry me after so many years

was still worming its way into my mind.

       “I have mentioned you, but I have not elaborated.”

       “What do they know?”

       “That your father was a diplomat and that he works with wood.”

Summarizing this made Mirane laugh out loud. She never believed I would be
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 255


here. Despite how little she had planned for this, having me here was a factor

that never entered into any of her thoughts even after she sent the messenger.

       “Works with wood?” I laughed as well. I remembered all the stories I had

told Mirane about my genealogy and my parents and of all those stories, many of

which would endear a mother to a future son-in-law, she had chosen “works

with wood”.

       “Also that you are a battle-illusionist and that you travel with me.”

       “Do they know that I am your lover?” I asked this as I burrowed my face

into her hair and kissed her neck.

       “Some have come to that conclusion.” She smiled and kissed me back.

       “So they know all the bad stuff. “ I seemed to think it would be easy now.

“All I have to explain, now, is that the my mother is a Queen and that I am a tall

dark prince from the far north ready to sweep their rough-hewn daughter away

to a life of royal luxury.”

       “Sure.” Mirane imagined her very provincial parents taking one look at

eyes, like solid gold balls and hair twisted in black chain-knots or a morsel of

food slowly masticated on a purple tongue and could not think of a single thing

that could be said that would be acceptable. “That will work.”

       “Do you want me to return to Kaira?” I offered with some sincerity. I

could wait there until she sent for me. I offered but I regretted it and prayed she

would not accept.
                                                                          Secrets and Illusions 256


        “No.” The abruptness of her answer was rather warming. “Would you

want to?”

        “No.” I smiled. I reached to her face and pulled her lips close to me

pressing mine against hers full, warm, and delicious. I felt a sense of my thirst

quenched in those lips.

        She broke away and smiled. Then she continued with her thought, “I

never gave them time to prepare for me, what is one more surprise.”

        “Mirane!” From inside the house her mother was shouting for her.

“Mirane? Did she leave? Where did she go? She did not sleep in her bed?”

There was unmistakable panic in her voice. I worried for her.

        Mirane and I stood. “Are you ready?”

        29“Yes.   If it comes to violence, I‟ll mystify them with my illusions and slip

out the back.” I was trying to influse our sudden situation with humor, for

Mirane‟s sake. Together we walked towards the house, hand in hand.

        “Let us keep that for our backup plan,” she whispered Then she shouted,

“Momma,” Mirane called out and her mother raced back into the kitchen. She

was relieved to hear her daughter‟s voice. She had seen her after the wedding,

not hours ago, but something always spoke at the back of her mind that this

child could be so easily taken away again, sword or no sword. She turned the

corner from the pantry and saw me standing with her. Our eyes met. She slowly



29
  Though thought by many biographers to be apocryphal this first meeting made a major impression on
both Mirane and Xylvan and most assuredly happened.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 257


wiped her hands on her apron and approached me. Mirane spoke but her

mother did not look at her. Her eyes were focused on me and every sense with

them. “Mother, this is my close friend, he has been traveling a long time to find

me.”

       “Xylvan.” Her mother did not choke. “Xylvan?”

       “Madam, it is a pleasure to meet you.” I grasped her hand so quickly and

gently she did not think to resist. I kissed her fingers and did not let her look

away from my eyes. She was enthralled. “I am dreadfully sorry for the surprise.

Mirane was not aware that I was searching for her. Else, she certainly would

have prepared you for my visit.”

       “It‟s no surprise,” she lied.

       “You are too polite.” I had a reserve of manners from my youth that every

now and then, were incredibly valuable. “I cannot even ask for your forgiveness

and I stay only at your leave.”

       “Please stay.” Her mother was not experiencing one of my illusions so

Mirane refrained from interfering. Her hand covered her amused mouth. I

scanned her mother‟s mind. When she had heard of me from Mirane‟s older

sister, she had extrapolated a hybrid image of Mirane‟s rough exterior and

warrior wardrobe and some great and fearful picture of borderland masculinity.

With it came a rough mouth, dangerous ideas and atrocious manners. I was glad

that man did not walk in with us, I would have been no match at all for him in

combat over Mirane.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 258


       “Thank you.” I released her hand. She continued to stare at me. She

gingerly reached upward and touched my face. Mirane stood back a little and

did not prevent this either. I closed my eyes slowly and her mother withdrew

her hand once she had felt that my flesh was solid and clean-shaven at that.

       “He is from a country called Sian.” Mirane touched my shoulder to show

her that I was safe.

       “In the north?” her mother asked, she had heard about it.

       “Yes.” I decided that I would field all questions about myself so that

Mirane was not put in the position of censoring what they knew. I was prepared

to answer any questions. “I am from Queensrealm Tearisian. That is a small

part of the country not too far from your northern border.”

       “Tearisian?”

       “Yes. The name comes from our Queen‟s name, Tearisia.”

       “And you are like all men from Sian?” her mother asked. Mirane‟s

mother had tried to be subtle in her approach to her children and their families.

She had tried to learn things about them indirectly, but now, faced with me, a

man than she had never seen she felt that any danger needed to be confronted

directly. She did, secretly, wonder to herself if it were only a sense of danger that

made her so aware of me. She promised herself not to be too trusting, like

mother like daughter, I thought.

       “No, I am only half Sian. My father is a Gryth man, a diplomat to our

Queensrealm and our country.”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 259


       “And your mother?”

       “Is Queen Tearisia,” I decided she might respond well to this. If she

viewed me as a personal threat to her safety it might be allayed somehow.

       “Did you find her?” Mirane heard her father coming down the stairs.

“She‟s here.” Mirane‟s mother‟s face revealed her own concern.

       “Good morning, Mirane.” He called down to her but he had not emerged

in the kitchen yet.

       “Papa, I‟d like you to meet someone.” She called this out before she

realized what she was doing and to her mother‟s complete consternation. Her

mother believed that her interview should continue without her husband‟s

knowledge and inevitable interference.

       “I‟m coming down.” He set foot in the kitchen and looked at his wife, her

face somewhat guilty and then looked to his daughter searching her face for an

explanation. And lastly, he saw me. He looked me over, taking stock of my long

black hair and embroidered clothes. Then he nodded at me with approval.

       “This is my partner, Xylvan.” Mirane introduced us, “Xylvan, this is my

father Jillhue.” The man was barely as tall as Mirane, his hair was thin at the top

and he had a sweet look in his green heavy-lidded eyes. He was the type of man

you wanted to make proud, he was the picture of fatherhood. He looked in

some ways like my own father. How my father must have looked at his sons

with bewilderment, so Sian we looked, so unlike himself.
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 260


       “Xylvan,” her father extended his hand and refused to be surprised. He

smiled at his daughter. He had been overjoyed each morning to know that once

again she was under his roof and he was making it his personal mission to see

that she be neither taken nor driven away. He knew without a doubt that this

was the man his daughter had taken as her mate and he could see it between us

even now. He knew from Sabrine, another daughter that Mirane had left me in

the night and not told me where she had gone. He could reason then that I had

tracked her all this time and has now come. As a father, under these

circumstances, he did the only thing that he could. “You are welcome in my

home.”

       “Thank you, sir.” I bowed my head in deference to the head of this

household and he reached out to grasp my hand.

       “Will you join me for a walk, Xylvan?”

       “Yes, sir.” I allowed the man to walk passed me and then he followed

him out the door. I felt Sarah‟s sense of loss, her husband had robbed her of her

something and left her with Mirane. When we were beyond the women‟s

hearing her father began.

       “I have noticed that Mirane often does things rashly. She does not pay

much attention to the effect it will have.”

       “She did not bring me here. I assure you I came on my own.”

       “Oh yes, I am certain of that.” Jillhue put his arm around my shoulders.

“I wanted to apprise you of what having her back has meant to us. “
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 261


       “I have no intention of taking her away again.” I said.

       “I‟m glad to hear it. We do know that we only have till spring,” he said

coolly, he did not expect to keep her longer than that. His only hope was that if

things went well for her while she visited she might be so inclined to visit them

again another year.

       “Spring?”

       “Yes, she said she would stay till spring and then return to Scolar.”

       “Yes, she promised.”

       “Maybe now she‟ll stay longer, now that you are here.”

       “I do not know.” I answered. Jillhue knew then the way of things

between us and nodded.

       “Did you arrive last night?” he asked.

       “Yes, I saw her on the road.” I replied

       “You keep an eye on her?” He said by way of a question

       “I try, she‟s a hard one to keep up with.” I said, testing Jillhue‟s humor.

       “Yes, she is. Not afraid of anything, it seems.”

       “I think she is.” I had never seen Mirane quake in battle and here at home

all she has done is tremble.

       “She‟s faced a lot. She‟s very brave to come here and be who she is.”

       “Sir?”

       “My wife takes those black clothes around and shows them to the

neighbors. The young women, even those who were friends to her, gossip
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 262


maliciously. My sons‟ wives will have nothing to do with her. They are afraid

their own daughters will get the wrong idea.”

      “About Mirane.”

      “They say she‟s ruined.”

      “Does she know that?”

      “Oh yes, but she just smiles. You know the way she does.”

      “Like nothing hurts her and no one stands in judgement of her,” I said.

      “Like a cat.” Jillhue retorted. “Perfectly content.”

      “And the rest of the family?”

      “My son-in law Gyan, thinks that she‟s a hero.” He smiled and I could see

Mirane in him. “My daughter, Theabe, thinks she‟s, at best, an inconvenience.

No one knows what to make of her.”

      “She makes herself.”

      “Yes, she does. You will protect her here?” he asked this, suddenly, and I

knew that this was the reason that he had asked him out here in the cold winter

morning. It had nothing to do with parental approval or a father‟s wishes for his

daughter. He had lost all his hopes and dreams for her years ago and now that

she was back, he just wanted her to stay, to be safe, to be…” His thoughts trailed

into a pain at the bottom of his stomach. How he loved her.

      “Of course, I will.”

      “You love her.”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 263


       “Oh yes. Sometimes, sir, I don‟t understand it, but when I think about it,

it is bigger than anything else I know.”

       “Wait until you have children,” he mused. “You will be her ally here. It‟s

her against the village and if it is not yet, it will be.”

       “And her husband?”

       “With you here he will agree to the dissolvement.” Jillhue seemed relieved

and confident but also sorry for the young man. I could feel Jillhue‟s

attachement. He had taken the son when he had lost the daughter.

       “Why now?”

       “When he sees you, he‟ll give up.” Jillhue sounded more convinced of this

than anything so far.

       “Thank you, sir.”

       “Thank you.” Jillhue squeezed my arm and gave me another stern nod of

approval. He thought I was strong and frightening and was capable of holding

influence over of his daughter. “If my daughter permits you to become her

husband, I will be proud to call you son. Is it your desire to marry her?”

       “It is my most ardent desire.” It shamed me to be her lover and not her

legal husband. A man with no legal connection could be set aside, his woman

may be asked to do that politically. That would hardly apply to the two of us but

I had long ago decided, I would never be my father. But I had followed his

footsteps this long, I could only hope I could have what he did not.

       “Let‟s go in, it is cold.”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 264




      “Xylvan, do you eat eggs?” Mirane‟s mother had already put a feast in

front of me. Mirane could barely contain herself from laughing.

      “I do. But there is already enough food here.” I replied. “Please join us.”

Mirane‟s mother sat and then stood again.

      “Mirane never eats anything.”

      “Momma, please sit.” Mirane implored and Sarah eventually complied.

To keep her seated Mirane pushed some food onto her plate.

      “Thank you.”

      “You are welcome.”

      “What do the Sian people eat?” she asked popping a dumpling into her

mouth but not blinking, not allowing me a single unobserved second.

      “Mostly the same things you do.” I replied truthfully before noting her

disappointment. “However, we have a tree, in the north, that yields a bitter fruit

and we cook it in a hot fire and mix its ashes with cream and it produces the

most succulent liquor.”

      “Really.” Her eyes lit up and she longed to hear more.

      “Oh yes.” I smiled. Mirane‟s mother was quite different than I would

have speculated. This is the woman who gave birth and raised the most

powerful and dangerous woman I had ever met, perhaps excluding my own

mother, and yet this woman was more like a doting country wife. “Call me

Sarah,” she had said, as if she were not someone deserving of far more respect.
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 265


“And there is tiny plant lives in the river with pink flesh. In my tongue is called

a Hyuinjuial.”

         “This is not your first language.”

         “No, it is my father‟s tongue, he taught it to me so that I could travel here

and meet his family.”

         “You speak it very well.”

         “Thank you, I have tried hard to learn. There is a different dialect here

than where my father was raised. Some words are still unclear to me.”

         “Mirane has helped you?”

         “Yes, she is a good teacher.” I smiled at the thought. One night, our first

winter together, she spent the entire night deliciously teaching me all the terms

for making love in the human tongue.

         “Good.” Sarah said and looked approvingly at her daughter. Mirane

flashed me a look that I took to mean, how dare you enchant my mother.

         “I did no such thing.” I replied. In Sian I would have said it between us.

         “Did not do what?” Sarah asked.

         “ Sarah, she believes that I have somehow altered your perception of me.

Please believe me, I have done no such thing. I shall not put you to the

inconvenience of describing what you see, so please do forgive Mirane if she

does.”

         “I will not.” Mirane blurted out, she was mildly amused at my tactics with

her mother. She and I had often teamed together to defeat a common enemy, it
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 266


was the very basis of our life together, but rarely we sided against one another to

form trusting relationships with strangers who needed to be deceived. This was

the natural corollary to the adage, “if you are not with me you are against me,” if

you are against Mirane, then you are with me.

       Sarah looked at me and waited a long time before she spoke, “Ah yes, I

know that you are another kind of man,” She was careful with her phrasing,

“and I know that you have strange ways, you do not look as I do, and you

worship a god I do not know and about whom my daughter will not say.” I was

surprised that she said this. No one speaks of god or even thinks of it, it is a rare

exception to our otherwise open society. It would be like discussing making love

I suppose. Making love is only discussed with the lover, of course, I truly

believed her next question would be about our sexual relations. I was equally

surprised that Mirane had mentioned it at all.

       Sarah looked at me and the three of us sat quietly for a moment without

saying a word. And then she began to think the situation through. She thought:

“He is very handsome, regardless of that strange tongue and certainly good

enough. He is a prince and certainly that should be good enough for my

unsettled barbarian of a daughter. I must not let Mirane drive him away.” And

that was that. I had gone from a stranger to be feared to a prince, superior to her

own child. I wondered then how exactly my own mother would react to Mirane.

Or, for that matter, how would my sister, Helenestra, ever marry, would there be

anyone good enough for her?
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 267




       After Mirane‟s mother made me speak in Sian so she could mimic me and

try a few words and after I had answered fifty questions, Mirane asked that we

might be excused. Sarah picked up the dishes and I began to help. I was shortly

shoo-ed away and we were allowed to leave the kitchen. “So what do we do

now?” I asked as we walked through the house.

       “What would you like to do?” Mirane asked expectantly. I took her in my

arms and nuzzled her close.

       “I want to kiss you, again, I want to run my fingers along your arms, your

face, your breasts.”

       “That would not be seemly.” She teased but she did kiss my mouth.

When she pulled away, she smiled, later, tonight.

       “Well then, what have you been doing here?”

       “I have done some reading and I have visited my husband‟s workshop, I

have watched my sister‟s children, I have escorted my brother-in-law to Kaira, I

have attended a wedding, I have even had a birthday.”

       “You have.” I had asked her when she was born and she had always said

she did not remember. Of course she must have remembered but I never pressed

her. In those years before this, I never pressed her. When I met Mirane she

seemed wild to me, so different from the women I had known, my regal mother,

my sophisticated lover, my genteel sister, my juvenile cousin and then Mirane.

The very day I met her I watched her remove the heads from three men and
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 268


deliver them to a fourth. She was dangerous and, please, reader, remember I

was a young man. Mirane‟s lithe body, large breasts, sculpted pink face and

chestnut hair were absolutely irresistible. It was during this time, that

everything changed for me.

        “Yes, my sister came to tell me.”

        “So do I dare ask, what is your age?”

        “I am twenty-xix.” Mirane answered. I smiled, for I had always wondered

whether she were older, she had seemed to me to be older. “We are the same

age.”

        “You knew that and never told me.”

        “I never thought of it.”

        “Then I have a gift.” I reached into my pocket and pulled out the topaz

ring. I wished that I were able to put a spell on it so that if she were to ever be

away from me I would be able to know where she was and she, I. I wished there

were a cord strung between our hearts that we never be separated again. I held

her unadorned fingers in mine. “May I?”

        “Yes, it is beautiful, I do not have anything like it.” Mirane did not know if

she had owned anything so exquisite with the exception of last night‟s gown.

        “I found it in Kaira. I thought I might need an excuse to come and find

you.” I tried to smile with all my charm.

        “It is very beautiful, thank you. I am awkward in such things, am I to

consider this a beautiful but mere gift or…”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 269


         “Or a token of our engagement?” I asked her. I looked at the ring and felt

equally awkward. I did not have a Sian sho’en’shy. I worred that this trinket was

insufficient. “I shall not ask a married women to marry me, and when I do ask

you, you shall have something far more suitable.” I was once asked how I could

not rail at her for this betrayal, how I could be so calm with her. It was clear, by

this time, I had explanations. She had only ever given me mystery and now

there was truth and with this truth there was action.

         “Well, thank you.” I tried to discern if that was disappointment in her

eyes but she looked again at the ring. I do believe there was but I could do

nothing differently.

         “Do you like it?”

         “Very much, I do like jewelry.” She said as if she had said it a hundred

times.

         “Then I should make sure you have more.”

         “Yes, you should.” Mirane smiled and reached for my hand.

         “And so how will we spend this winter.”

         “You just arrived, take some time to enjoy the quiet.” If I had been wrong

about how she would be affected by jewelry I could understand that, but I was

certain that Mirane had never said that we should relax.

         I laughed and agreed. “All right then.”

         “Let us go to my room, after all.”

         “What about your mother?”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 270


       “I do not know.” Regardless, she led me upstairs with her hands and her

kisses. She closed the door and gathered me to her, pushing her against the

door. Her fingers unbuttoned my shirt and pulled back the Gryth linen over my

shoulders. She kissed them with hot hungry lips. She pushed my shirt down my

back tickling my spine with her fingertips. I unfastened the ties that held her

dress in place and pushed them off her shoulders and to her waist. Her scarred

body was just as beautiful as the first time I saw her. I traced my finger along the

line of her collarbone across her chest to the center of her throat and then slowly

to the valley of her breasts. I leaned in and kissed her throat, her chest and her

breasts, taking each nipple into my mouth. As scarred as she was about her

wrists, her back, her ankles, her abusers had left her face and breasts unmarred.

These scars represented torture and no aesthetic. She had told me once; they

were because she was a warrior. I had accepted it. Warriors have scars. I knew I

had mine.

       I lifted her breasts to my mouth and then lifted her to me. Those who hear

stories of her remember her as taller with broad muscled shoulders but she was

easily a head shorter than I. I lifted her up to my face and she wrapped her legs

around my waist, her village skirt fell around her in all directions. She counter-

balanced our weights and tumbled me to the bed. She unfastened my trousers

and took me into her mouth. “Love,” I growled and pulled her up to me. We

had a very pleasant afternoon, completely undisturbed.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 271




Sarah‟s Feast

         Almost as soon as we had disappeared upstairs, Sarah had made up her

mind. She left the house to our use and went to the home of her eldest daughter

Sabrine. From there Sabrine‟s three sons were dispatched to the homes of her

twin sons and her youngest daughter.

         “And Larken?” Sabrine asked.

         “He is away.” Sarah said with a twinge of guilt. There was no doubt in

her mind that she was replacing one son with another. Moreover, as wrong as,

she felt that might be, she knew there was no other choice. “And the prince is

here.”

         “The Prince?”

         “The Prince, Xylvan.” Sarah smiled as Sabrine‟s jaw slackened.

         “When?”

         “Last night.”

         “But we all saw her last night.”

         “He came after her, he tracked her here.”

         “And what is he like?”

         “He is completely unbelievable.”

         “Do you like him?”

         “It does not matter.”

         “Of course it does.”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 272


       “Mirane likes him.”

       “Yes…?”Sabrine responded.

       “He likes her. He followed her here.”

       “What else do you know, have you spoken with him, tell me more.”

       “Yes, I have spoken with him. Tonight you will know more. We shall

feast for him tonight.”

       “Why not now?

       “They are not here.”

       “How can she hide him?”

       “They are reacquainting themselves.” Sarah was not as uncomfortable as

Sabrine would have thought. Sabrine looked at her mother. “I‟ll see you

tonight.” Sarah collected herself and swished out of Sabrine‟s house with a

satisfied turn of her skirt. It was good to occasionally have information Sabrine

did not have.



       That evening Sabrine was the first to arrive with her three sons, Jothy,

Kale and Miro. Immediately, they were clashing wooden swords and making

enough noise to draw Mirane and I downstairs. Mirane looked around with a

suspicious eye. Before she could back us up the stairs one of the most beautiful

women I had ever seen caught my eye. She was so clearly Mirane‟s blood,

shorter but with her long chestnut hair. Her eyes were bright blue on a perfect

human complexion. She and I locked eyes. This could be no other than a sister.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 273


Mirane, once a loner with no history, now stood not four hands from a sister.

Sabrine raised her hand to acknowledge me without looking away.

       Mirane looked back and forth between us. She took a breath and steeled

herself. She reached behind her for my hand. Together we joined Sabrine‟s

family.

       “Sabrine, This is Prince Xylvan.” Sarah flew forward and introduced me.

       “Xylvan, this is my oldest daughter Sabrine.”

       We nodded heads to one another and Sabrine flashed me a smile so like

her sister‟s I caught myself leaning towards her. “And these are her sons, Jothry,

Kale and Miro, named for his prodigal aunt. Sarah put her hands on each of her

grandson‟s heads. Her pride in them was clear. “Everyone is coming tonight,

my sons, daughters and grand children. Please make yourselves comfortable.”

She said before she took herself back to the kitchen.

       “They are such handsome boys, Sabrine.” I told her. She smiled and I

sensed a wave of loss from her that did not surprise her, it was just part of who

she was.

       “Thank you.” I nodded to her with respect but felt I could not address

her, without addressing her sadness and her grief. I wondered how her family

lived with it, did they see it.
                                                                   Secrets and Illusions 274


           :Achem des-ett hun jumin jenpaleh, ceridwin des-ev shy’isiah30.: I sent her an

unspoken prayer of Sian comfort, she did not understand the words but she

recovered from her sadness and smiled.

           “They are my pride and joy.”

           “Where is Gyan?” Mirane asked rather obstinately not seeing her sister‟s

grief.

           “He‟ll be along shortly, he is…” before she could finish her sentence

another sister arrived. This one was even shorter than Sabrine. Her Krahan

chestnut hair was evident but thin and cropped short. She was too thin and

severe; she had neither Mirane‟s muscled body nor Sabrine‟s luxurious curves.

By her side stood a tired looking young man and on each of their hips perched a

little girl.

           Sarah stormed out of the kitchen to make the introductions. “Xylvan, this

is my daughter, Theabe, her husband, Lome and their daughters, Terah and

Linna.”

           “Hello, Grandma.” Linna, said and reached out for Sarah.

           “Hello.” Sarah smiled.

           “Xylvan,” Theabe looked at me harshly. She was a spiteful little woman.

           “It is a pleasure to meet you.” I lied.

           “Yes. Are we to call you brother?” Theabe said with spite and derision in

her voice. Mirane shot her sister a murderous glance.

30
     It is of no comfort, I know, but your daughter is with God
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 275


      “You may call him, Prince Jimerateal of Queensrealm Tearisia.” Mirane‟s

voice, when she wanted, was sharper than her sword.

      “And what sort of place is that?”

      “My mother, Queen Tearisia‟s, Queensrealm.” I, deliberately, spoke

slowly to make her think, that I thought she was slow. Then I filled her mind

with visions of my mother‟s palace.

      “Well that is fine then, welcome brother.” Her entire family was watching

and she felt compelled to conform to them.

      “Please, there is no need of that, Xylvan shall suffice,” I said with a

charming smile. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”

      “Indeed.”

      While Mirane finished speaking with her youngest sister, the house was

once again filled with guest as two additional families entered. Theabe retreated

from her sisters and joined her brothers near the door. “These are my brothers,

Sam and Amach and their wives Avsha and Andray and their children.” Mirane

waved her hand in their direction. “I do not know their names.”

      “Perhaps we should introduce ourselves to them.”

      “We will find no allies among them.”

      Had I not just met that Theabe, I would have had a hard time believing

that her whole family was not overjoyed for her return. I imagined how it would

be if one of my brothers were to leave for so long, there would not be a single one

of us who would not embrace him and welcome him back home. But then,
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 276


again, it was not just one of my brothers who had left, it was me. I hoped that I

would receive a more receptive homecoming than my love received here.

        “How do you know?” I whispered.

        “A short skirmish with the business end of an ax left little question of their

filiality.”

        The fear that my own Sian return be met as coldly and the idea that her

own family insulted and rejected her had me across the room to meet these

brazen, judgmental young boys. I was there before Sarah or Mirane could cross.

“Come in, come in.” I said neglecting to introduce myself.

        “Boys.” Sarah said, ignoring all evidence to the contrary. One of the

identical men glowered down at her and she glared right back into his eyes.

“Sam, I‟ve heard enough from you already.”

        “Where‟s my brother?” Sam said.

        “Beside you.” Sarah gritted her teeth daring him to push the subject.

        “Who is this?” Sam looked at me and his twin measured me with his eyes.

I was taller but they were each broader and heavier. They were very serious

young men with no obvious sense of humor or lightness. I was considerably

under impressed with each one.

        “Goodness,” I said extending my hand. “I‟m Xylvan. I thought you might

have known.”

        “Why would I know you?” Amach spat at me. Sam was the leader of the

two of them but Amach would clearly put in a derisive comment if he were
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 277


confident his brother would approve. Regardless, I was brought up in a civilized

court of Sian. I certainly could parry their amateur slights if I wished. There was

no need to as I sent him an image of his sister giving me quite an inviting glance.

The man scowled. “He is her lover.” „Lover‟, had never sounded quite so vile to

me.

       “Her affíanced.” I corrected.

       “Not possible,” Sam replied with such arrogance I was embarrassed for

his wife and children. “She is still wed to our brother, Larken.” Sam said

Larken‟s name as if the man were a saint, a model husband, and a hero.

       “It is true.” I was unconcerned. I had been assured the dissolvement

would be easy to procure and I had little doubt of Mirane‟s love. “I look forward

to meeting him. I wish to discuss our mutual dilemma. It is my understanding

that he is away and will be for at least a few days.”

       “If she were my wife I would not leave at all.” The twins looked at one

another in agreement and skepticism in Larken‟s judgement. I scanned their

thoughts and neither was pleased with Larken‟s patience and complacency.

Both believed if you wanted something or someone you just took them.

       :Is that not the way our Mirane was taken on her wedding night, just

taken?: I said into their minds. I had not realized it but every one in the room

was watching us. We had said nothing in several seconds but had locked eyes

and showed no sign of relenting control.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 278


       “What are you?” Sam said derisively, as if I were an animal and he a

civilized man.

       “I am partner to Mirane and I am a Prince of Sian. I am someone of whom

two young cubs should be wary.”

       “Do not threaten us.” Amach said.

       “I‟ve never failed to win any battle I began, I have received the best

education and training money can buy, I‟ve traveled for years with the greatest

fighter Gryth and the borderlands have or have ever had and I do not make

threats.”

       Before these arrogant boys could say another word, I turned to our

hostess. “I cannot believe you have put together such a feast. I am honored to be

among you. I do not wish to cause any conflict in your home. Please forgive me

for defending my love‟s honor.”

       Sarah had secretly, always wanted a man for Mirane who would be her

protector, someone who loved her as unconditionally as her parents had and as

passionately as a lover, regardless, of how difficult and different she was. She

flashed a look of shame to her sons, which each of their wives made sure they

saw.

       I looked across the room to where Mirane and Sabrine were watching.

Sabrine released Mirane‟s hand and Mirane strode across the room to my side. If

her brothers had anything else they wished to say, the sight of Mirane changed

their minds. Mirane wrapped her arm around my waist and turned me around.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 279


       “What, „never failed to win in a battle I began.‟”

       “Please, have you ever seen me bested in battle?”

       “Never,” she smiled and kissed me. It meant little that she had never seen

me in a physical battle.

       Although they had been shamed and humiliated, Sam, Amach, and

families stayed for the feast and made themselves comfortable in the great room

with Theabe and her husband.

       The worst the evening had to offer had happened in those first

introductions. Sarah‟s feast was delicious and a line had been drawn through the

table and it was clear who supported Mirane and who did not.

       Then just as we were sitting down, one more joined us. He was a small

thin man with neatly cut hair, shaved face, and quick smart hands. “Ah, Prince

Xylvan,” said Sarah as if she were conducting a royal affair. “Allow me to

present our genius, Gyan Ciarov, the tailor.”

       I stood to welcome him. I was in disbelief, certainly there was no way that

I would be sitting at the same table as Gyan Ciarov of Gryth. “Is Ciarov a

common name?” I asked awkwardly.

       “Why, no, why?” Mirane asked motioning for Gyan to come closer. She

began to suspect that the only person I would hold in any esteem would be the

gifted tailor. She was more than amused with her revelation.

       “Why are you laughing?” Sarah asked annoyed with Mirane.

       “Because, my love may just leave me for my sister‟s husband.”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 280


      “Mirane, that is inappropriate.” Sarah clucked at her. Mirane continued to

laugh even as her brothers threw down their forks and glared at her.

      “Mirane?” I said.

      “Xylvan, this is Gyan Ciarov,” she turned to Gyan, “every time he sees

your name somewhere he either buys something and sends it north or he covets

it for himself. I do not understand Sian clothes worship but you very well may

be a god to them.”

      “Now blasphemy, I‟ve had enough.” Sam shouted.

      “Quiet down,” Sarah chided off handedly. “We do have quite an

assembly of a family, heroes, Princes, and famous artists.” She smiled widely and

with such pride her sons had reservations that it did not include them.

      “Gyan, it is a great honor to meet you.” I reached across the space

between us and took his hand. Gyan knew that his clothes traveled widely and

that there was sometimes a demand he could not meet, but he was humbled that

I would know him.

      “Thank you, it is an honor to meet you as well.”

      “Ah, I am no one, I am but Mirane‟s shadow.”

      “And I am but her dresser.” The two of us looked at each other and smiled

at our shared connection. Sam was not happy. But nobody noticed that. Gyan

took his seat by his wife and they shifted imperceptibly closer to one another like

two plump ducks.
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 281




Training

       Mirane‟s brothers‟ beds were short and hard. Hard headboards must

have bound them in their sleep for the years between their first growth spurt and

the time they took their wives to other houses. Clearly, their moods had not

improved since. I was sure they reposed in huge beds with no footboards.

However, since I would not disrespect my hosts by suggesting I should return to

their daughter‟s bed, I was in this room for the duration.

       When morning came with the first appearance of gray light in the narrow

eave window, I creaked from the bed and dressed beneath the low gable. Then I

went to the highest point in the room and stood as tall as possible. There had to

be a better way for this room to be. I moved the two small beds together and

pushed them into the gable. Then I could sleep diagonally across them, I could

get a little more space that way for the nights and I could stand in the middle of

the room. This did also make for an unexpected discovery. Beneath one of the

twin‟s beds was a set of wooden practice blades. I pulled them out. They were a

good weight for me, although I did think Mirane would scoff at them.

Regardless, she and I had talked of training me for years, perhaps this would be

a chance to do so.

       I laid them across the bed and went into the hallway. Mirane‟s door was

still closed and I looked at it for a long time, tempted to slip inside, to slip inside
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 282


her bed and her body. I wanted to watch her sleep. I wanted to wake her.

Instead I went downstairs and joined her parents at their table.

      Their house was very charming. Two large rooms occupied the first floor

each running from the front of the house to the back. Toward the back of the east

room was a large table for meals, a large cooking hearth and beautifully carved

cabinets. The front of the room had built in benches and shelves; I had spent my

first night there. I believed there were bedrooms or storage rooms beyond the

wall. Upstairs, of course, were three small bedrooms.

      “Is Mirane still asleep?”

      “I believe so, I did not look in on her.”

      “Jill, perhaps you should find a project for her.” Sarah said looking at her

husband. “I‟ve tried to interest her in work around the house but I do not think

she understands.” I never thought I would be so grateful to have non-readers

near me. The absurdity of anyone trying to coax Mirane into housework was

more than I would have been able to shield.

      “Why does she need a project?” Jillhue asked.

      “Is she going to spend the entire winter sleeping, pubbing, reading,

and…” she looked at me with a mother‟s eye and my cheeks blushed?

      Jillhue looked at me and then taunted his wife with a: “Why not?”

      Sarah gave him a hard look, “Because it is unseemly, a young woman

should have things that she is doing.”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 283


       “She is, she…”Jillhue knew that there must have been something but they

were not coming to the top of his mind.

       “What does she do during the rest of the year?” Sarah turned to me,

surely she had spoken to them of her work.

       “Winter is our fallow season, if you will. In the winter we set up contracts

for paid jobs. Some of which can be done in the winter but most are done in the

spring. In the early spring we work our way towards the western border, several

hundred marks north of here, I suppose. Then we travel north along the

settlement borderlands throughout the summer. We travel to about eighty

towns, villages and settlements in this area. Mirane reviews their progress from

last year, she advises them of their next phase of building and she makes a case

for why this is important. I interview survivors, speak with witnesses about any

recent attacks and try to discover patterns that we can defend against. I also help

to distance survivors‟ memories so they can be a little easier to bear. This takes

us through the early fall, we start moving south east again to make paid

contracts to support next summer.”

       “So what would Mirane be doing now?”

       “Sleeping, eating, reading, and…”I joked but Sarah did not see the humor.

Jillhue looked away and smiled. Mirane had clearly gotten her smile from her

father. I could see a lot of the child in the man. I made a promise to spend more

time with him, perhaps I could learn about her.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 284


       Mirane chose this moment to enter the room. She was dressed in her

regional apparel and was fresh faced. Her long hair was wound around her

head in a continuous braid. No sign of last night‟s adventures showed on her

face. “Good morning.”

       “What are you going to do today?” Her mother shot at her.

       Mirane looked at me and to her mother and father. Her mother was

waiting for an answer. Mirane looked at her, I could see Mirane‟s mind

discarding a long line of nasty retorts and sharp replies to find one that was

appropriate or at least, speakable.

       “Mirane, perhaps today is a good day to begin our arms training. I found

practice blades under the beds.” Mirane looked at me with genuine gratitude.

       “Training.” Her voice was velvety and kind despite the many unkind

thoughts that had gone through it. “Did you have something else planned for

me?”

       “What do you mean by training?”

       “Xylvan relies too heavily on his hocus pocus, I think he should know

how to carry and use a blade.”

       “He does not!” Sarah exclaimed.

       “No.”

       “And you drag him through the borderlands, unarmed.” Sarah‟s position

seemed to flash around faster that Mirane‟s sword.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 285


       “Training begins today!” Her mother declared. As much charm and

intelligence she had received from her father, her authority came from her

mother. “Upstairs with you both, I want to see you both down here in old

clothes you can work in.”

       And up we went.



       Mirane lifted her wooden sword and I lifted mine. “You‟re ready for

this?” Mirane said this as she rushed at me with the practice staff. I had no time

to block, so I deftly stepped out of the way. She was smart and did not loose her

balance. Instead she shifted her weight and spun around low catching my leg

with the weapon.

       Despite the shooting pain in my leg I squared off with her again and

leaned forward to attack her. I thought of creating an image of myself, one that

was considerably more adept at this. Had I not promised her I would use no

illusions, I may have done just that. Last winter we had discussed my learning

to fight but we had not done it. As I watched her come at me with her staff I

could not help think that I was hoping I could put this off indefinitely. I just

barely evaded her blow before launching my own.

       I brought my blade down with all my weight and she deflected it and

unbalanced me entirely. I rolled on the ground and wretched my shoulder. I

stood up and squared with her again. She was giving me no verbal instruction;

she expected that I would watch her and learn. I wondered if she planned on
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 286


beating it into me herself. Already her staff was poised for smashing my body

into much smaller pieces. I avoided again by stepping to the side and she caught

me in the waist. I could not beat her or best her, my only hope of maintaining

any dignity was to avoid moaning and crying out.

      It seemed a long time that we smashed weapons together, that is, she

smashed weapons against me. She was glad that I had agreed to learn. As she

fought she worried about me and whether I was safe. If I had some skills she

could concentrate more on her own battle. She had great faith in my illusions

and knew they had saved her on many occasions, however, in her mind they

were no substitute for iron.

      “How are you doing?”

      “Not good.” I smiled and held my side. “Is this how you teach?”

      “It‟s better than the way I learned.”

      “That is little comfort.” I was still gasping for the breath she had hit out of

my lungs.

      “Had enough?” Mirane put down her blade and stretched her limbs out.

She did not have a lot of room to move around it with the tight bodice but she

did not want her body to be any less limber.

      “I think that is enough for today.”

      “Fine.” Mirane collected my weapon and we went back in the house.

Inside her mother had put out some warm water for them to wash.

      “Mirane?” her mother said softly with her hand on my arm.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 287


         “Yes.” Mirane had splashed the water on her face and her neck with no

regard for her dress or hair.

         “You were so hard on him.” Mirane and I shot each other a look of great

surprise and mixed feelings of comfort and danger.

         “Madam,” I began.

         “Sarah.” She corrected.

         “Sarah, Mirane has learned to fight in a way that fighting is used. She

knows, I know that it is not pretty or choreographed.”

         “But she struck you.”

         “I should not have let her.”

         “Are you alright?”

         I ignored the spreading bruises I knew were under my coat and lied.

“Yes.”

         “Mirane, why do not you let Xylvan have the warm water and you can

wash out back.” Her mother had just punished her and she cast me a helpless

look.

         “Sarah, I need to learn to do this.”

         “I can see that.” Sarah replied and grasped Mirane‟s wrist and led her out

of the room.

         “Can you not start slower, he‟s never done this.”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 288


       “Xylvan is a grown man.” Mirane replied. She needed to dispel any

protectiveness her mother had concerning me if we were to accomplish anything

here at all.

       “Does that mean you can pummel him with your sword.”

       “It was a practice staff.”

       “You do not want him to leave you, do you?”

       “He will not leave. Look how far he has come.”

       “Exactly, how much can a man take?”

       “He is not leaving.”

       “Just go upstairs and change your dress. That one needs to be aired out.”

       “Mother.”

       “Go.” Her mother was very firm with her and she chose not to argue.

She climbed the stairs to her room and chose one of the dresses that the villagers

had made for her. They were all basically the same with the notable exclusion of

Gyan‟s gift. She pulled the dress, a dark green one with a bit of trim at the collar,

over her head and straightened it along her curves. It was intended to fit tightly

and it did. She took a deep breath and secured the laces. She unbraided her hair

and ran a brush through it several times. If her mother were going to exile her to

her room she would take her time there. When her hair was free of tangles she

wrapped it and pinned it to her head in the style she had noted the ladies at the

wedding had used.

       “Are you pouting?” I asked as I pushed the door ajar.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 289


       “No, come in.” Mirane stood gestured to open the door for me.

       “I think we should find somewhere else to practice.” I sat down on her

bed and pulled her into my lap.

       “I think you are right.” Mirane touched my head and I closed my eyes so

she would stroke it. “I‟ll brush out your hair.”

       “Really?” I had never heard her ask. So different she was after this time at

home. In winter she was always softer and more affectionate but the thought of

spring kept her focused on finding work. Here she could not have a thought

further from her mind.

       “Yes.” She reached for the brush and kneeled behind me. I had it chain-

knotted only a few times, which she undid and watched the hair puddle onto the

coverlet. Her mother made the bed for her while she was gone. She pulled out

any knots. “Are you dreadfully injured?”

       “No, your mother has never seen this, I would guess.”

       “I do not know what she‟s seen.” Mirane stroked my head and I

practically purred my enjoyment. As she brushed she kissed my head. We

spoke about small things, comforting words in their ordinary way. She brushed

my long hair until it shown glossy and silky. I loved the attention, I loved the

feel, I loved the intimacy of it.

        “Stand!” she said after a long while and I complied. She gave the length

of my hair one last stroke and then folded it up and tethered it at my neck. “Let

me cut this?” She teased.
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 290


      “Cut my hair?”

      “How can you stand it?” She asked

      “Yours is as long.” I retorted.

      “But it is up out of the way.” She gestured to its neat pinnings

      “It is not in my way.” It was not. That would be like saying why not go

naked, these clothes are in the way.

      She plunged her fingers into it. “I would not mind that.”

      “If I went home without it, no one would recognize me.” I replied.

      “There is something to be said about being unrecognizable when you go

home.”

      “There is?” I pulled her into my arms and brought her close to my chest.

      “We all change too much to go home.”

      “But here you are.” I said.

      “Here I am.” She repeated.

      “And all is better than you could have expected?” I asked.

      “What do you mean?”

      “I mean that it took you so much to get here, there must have been

something to be afraid of, and yet here we are, together under your own parent‟s

roof. It is miraculous to me. What can happen now?”

      “Mirane,” her mother called up the stairs. “Miro came over while you

were out back and asked if you would go out there.” Mirane rolled her eyes at

her mother‟s intrusion.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 291


        “Thank you,” she called back.

        “Are you going?” Mirane could hear her mother on the steps.

        “Did he say why?”

        “No.” Her mother stood in the doorway.

        “Did he say if it‟s an emergency?”

        “Oh no, he came out for preserves”

        “And…”

        “He saw you beating up Xylvan and wanted you to show him how.”

        Mirane smiled and avoided letting her irritation show through her face. “I

would like to visit your sister again. We did not get to speak at the feast.” I

offered

        “Xylvan does not need to go if he does not want to.” Her mother wished I

would stay. I smiled and shrugged my apology. “I‟ll get your cloak.” Sarah said

and disappeared.

        “You did not …”Mirane saw her mother‟s disappointment. Mirane

turned to me and started to ask.

        “Of course not.” I shrugged. “Perhaps she has your exquisite taste in

men.”

        Mirane kissed me and then grasped my hand. “Let‟s go.”

        “You are not going to beat up those boys are you?”
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 292


       “Mother!” Mirane‟s shock came through in her voice. Her mother looked

to me with a countenance of apology for her unruly daughter. Mirane did not

try to remedy it, she just left and I followed her. “I just might.”

       “Just think. When we go to Sian my father may fawn over you and tell me

I‟m being a total oaf.”

       “We will see.” Mirane may have just promised to go to Sian with me,

however, I did doubt it.

       “Where does your sister live?”

       “Not far.” I looked around the village and knew that no one lived very far.

Mirane pointed to the house with the quaint little white washed fences and

curtains in all of its glass windows. The same house that had a small herd of

little boys was running around it. They saw us and ran toward us.

       “Aunt Mirane!” one or more boy shouted at them and they broke through

the gate and onto the frozen road. They stopped suddenly when they saw me up

close. They huddled closer together but no one left.

       “Miro said he saw you with your sword,” said one boy nudging his little

brother. All were waiting for her to answer yes.

       “Can you show us?” called another boy and Mirane noticed a few of the

boys were girls and they were shouting just as loudly. She looked around and

saw that curtains were being pulled aside and prying eyes were peeking around

to see what all the noise was about.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 293


       “Let us go back to your mother‟s house.” She touched the top of one

Kale‟s head and led them to her sister‟s back yard where the garden was frozen

over and only a thin layer of snow dappled the ground. Once there she kneeled

down next to them and I went to the back of the group.

       “Show us.” They shouted but Mirane‟s serious face sobered them. She

looked up over their heads and made eye contact with me. I tried to decide

which images they could be shown with as much impact as possible.

       “It is not a game and you need to be very careful when practicing that you

do not seriously hurt your opponent. Fighting has only one purpose and so do

swords. That is killing. If you draw your blade your enemy has to make a

decision, kill you or be killed.” This was an exaggeration certainly but she felt

the distinction did not need to be made now to these boys. I used one of the

illusions I had used in Damal and began to set in motion in the center of the

boys. They watched, engrossed, as the two fighters squared off with such anger

in their eyes. Their exceedingly long blades were drawn and they clashed loudly

in the boy‟s ears. One of them got in a good swing and produced a terrible gash

in his opponent‟s leg and blood started to flow on the snow. If there was blood

in an illusion, I usually tried to put in snow too. Of course, snow is a Gryth

phenomenon, it is cold and terrifying, but it also makes the perfect white

backdrop to pools of blood. The boys were cheering and I knew that it was time

to escalate the illusion. When I was done and the boys‟ faces were completely

pale. They looked to Mirane. “That could not happen here,” they said.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 294


       “It happened here when you were babies.” She replied and they turned

their lost faces to her. So she gave them a short lecture on how to protect their

village and their parents and never had this village ever seen such an attentive

group of school children. The girls hidden among the crowd asked very pointed

questions and all the children agreed to go home and talk to their parents about

an evacuation plan. Each child would have a place to hide until their parents

came to collect them. Even the older boys agreed to these terms.

       After this the boys scattered back into the village and the few girls

remained with a few more questions. Mirane found it harder to allay their fears.

       “Alright.” She said. “If your mother‟s let me know it‟s alright, I will show

you how to protect yourselves.”

       “Will you talk to them?” The girls were scared and Mirane wondered how

she was going to convince these women, most of who were her brother‟s wives

or their friends, to let the girls learn this. Mirane then realized they would never

consent so she spent the rest of the afternoon showing the girls how to hide and

how to remain very still. She taught them how to recognize possible weapons

around them and where to hit an enemy to cause maximum pain with minimal

danger. When she was done she knew that she would be making a lot of

apologies and that her mother would have more than a few choice words for her.

Even though Sabrine had come out and listened to the lesson she knew it would

not be enough. It would be made more complicated that she was not sorry.

Those girls now knew better than any one in the village and if they were attacked
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 295


those girls would be safer than just about anyone else. That is if they

remembered what to do and if they realized that dying was the worst thing. She

charged them to find several hiding spaces in the village and just outside of it

and she told them to practice. “If any others want to know tell them or send

them to me.”

       The girls thanked us both she and I and then returned home just before

dark. “Do you think I will be lynched?” she asked light heartedly.

       “Maybe, I saw that illusion and watched the boys run away. “

       “It could happen.” Mirane replied.

       “It has.” Sabrine said quietly. She wished her own boys had stayed as

long as the girls. She was glad that Mirane decided to teach first and ask

permission later.

       “Sabrine, it is a pleasure to see you again.” I took her hand in mine and

squeezed it. Her resemblance to Mirane was irresistible.

       “Thank you, it is good to see you. I thought perhaps, you would like your

own evacuation plan from mother‟s.”

       “Yes, it is going to be a long winter.”

       “I wish it to be long, a long winter is all we have.” Sabrine looked sadly at

her sister. Sabrine loved her sister deeply and was the most moved by her

return.

       “So how do you think other mothers will feel about our teaching this

afternoon.” Sabrine looked at her straight in the eye.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 296


       “I do not care. It keeps my sister alive and teaches my little ones the

gravity of where they live and how to stay alive themselves. I love it.” Sabrine

was very serious she had not thought that there were tangible things she could

teach the little ones and she lived in fear that she would loose them in front of

her eyes like last time. “Please come inside, it is so cold here.”

       “Yes. Thank you.” I was the first one in the house. Already I had endured

this frozen winter day too long.

       “Are you expected back for dinner?” Sabrine asked as she set plates out

on the table.

       “I believe we are. Mother barely relinquished him to come here.”

       “Then sit, I will make tea and we shall all enjoy the time we have.”

Sabrine was desperate to hold onto her sister. She was desperate to mother her

and confide in her, to befriend her and teach her. She was mourning the sister

she knew and affirming the Mirane who returned. She had no time for her

sibling‟s foolishness or her mother‟s fretting. She had serious things to do. For

Sabrine, serious things happened in the afternoon, around the hearth, with a cup

of tea. Mirane took my hand and squeezed. I held her shoulder and massaged

the tense muscles beneath the skin.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 297


Accusation

      “You are not going up there,” was the first sound that woke Mirane a few

mornings later. Each of us bolted upright when we heard the shouting. Mirane

hoped it had not disturbed me as she recognized Larken‟s voice. We each stood

and dressed. She met me out in the hall and we went down the stairs together.

Her parents barely held Larken back from barging up to us.

      “Larken.” Mirane‟s steely voice had stopped some of the most dangerous

men we had ever encountered; it had stopped drunken men, crazed desperate

men, cruel women and worse. It was unmistakable and very effective.

      “Mirane! This is too much. How dare you allow the whole village to

believe we are going to dissolve our marriage and then bring in this man?”

Larken was too busy shouting to look at me.

      “Larken, lower your voice.” Mirane said very firmly. Her voice had no

affect on him.

      “I will not lower my voice. These are your parents. We have no secrets

from them.”

      “Lower your voice, sir.” I put my hand on Larken‟s shoulder and let him

feel the weight of it. I was a stair above him and attempted to look as foreign

and as dangerous as possible.

      “Take your hand off of me!” he shouted. He shoved me hard and then

pulled out a knife from his trousers. Mirane did not wait to see whether I lost

my balance or not, she clutched his neck, disarmed him and pushed him down
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 298


the stairs to a bench in the kitchen in what seemed to her parents to be one fluid

action.

          “You will not lay a hand on my guest in my home.” Mirane‟s frozen voice

gave Larken more reason to fear her. She removed her hand and he stayed

where he was, constrained by fear, angry and humiliation.

          “Who is this?” Larken pointed to me. Slo, I walked over to him and stood

at his knees looking down on him. I glamoured a little more height and size than

I, naturally, possessed. This man was no rival, he was not worth Mirane‟s

meticulous efforts to maintain his pride.

          “My name is Prince Jimareteal, Xylvan.” Larken seethed with anger, his

body vibrated with rage. Venomous thoughts spiked in his mind unsaid by

some miracle. I did not recoil. I stood taller.

          “Please leave our home, Larken.” Jillhue said this without regret. He had

now seen enough, more than enough. “You will receive your dissolvement

paper today. Tomorrow I shall post it and we shall begin to assemble the formal

ceremony. In three days this shall be over.”

          “Papa.” Larken bleached at Jillhue‟s announcement.

          “Consider yourself no longer a member of this family.”

          Larken stood and stumbled to the door. “You cannot mean this.”

          “Please, Larken,” her father‟s voice was suddenly gentle and he reached

out to hold the door for Larken. Jillhue put his hand on Larken‟s shoulder, “Do
                                                                Secrets and Illusions 299


not make me choose between you and my child.” Larken looked back at me and

I could feel the heat of his hatred us. Then he left quietly.

       “Father,” Mirane‟s eyes were wide and she could hardly believe what he

had done. She did not want to say he had gone too far. This was the start of

something dangerous.

       “It is done.” Her father was sad to lose Larken who had been a friend to

him and had helped him shoulder the burden of his shame and grief. He missed

that Larken and not the Larken who came to his steps to threaten his daughter.

Certainly, if Larken proves himself more hospitable and kind he will return to

Jillhue‟s good graces and will be welcome at his hearth again. “Go back to sleep,

its over.”

       “No, we are up.” Mirane went to the kitchen and I followed. No one was

hungry but they prepared a small meal for Jillhue to take with him to his

workshop. No one spoke and a silence hung on the house all morning.

       By afternoon, however, a sly humor had begun to creep into the house

again. Mirane and I trained in the yard. She, using her brutal style of attack and

I with my desperate method of defense. A few curious onlookers stood nearby

so Mirane took the opportunity to discuss with me all of the nearby objects that

could be used for defensive or offensive maneuvers. I had had this discussion

with her, probably fifty other times. She like to have it in common rooms, in

temples,weddings, namings, or really any where she was that there were people

gathered around her.
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 300


      After we trained and pointed out the eighteen ways a garden hoe can

maim an enemy, we rested on the back steps. Winter had always been relaxed

for us. It was always when I could enjoy her humor, her unintended glances, or

peace; this winter especially so. She was almost completely unguarded. Her

laughter came quickly and naturally, her smile, decidedly more genuine. She

even seemed, if I might say, young. We were together and we were enjoying

being together, not partners on a missions, but friends.

      That evening the events of the morning were all but forgotten. Sarah

made a delicious meal and afterwards we sat on Mirane‟s parent‟s comfortable

furniture and watched the crackling fire; a thoroughly enjoyable way to pass an

evening. I wondered why the Sian never did that, but then, again, perhaps they

did when they got older, I remembered thinking.

      “Mira,” Jillhue said as if he suddenly remembered something. “Would

you be willing to play the…”

      “Mirane looked up, knowing where he was going with that thought. I

haven‟t in over a decade. I haven‟t even touched one.”

      “What is it?” I was curious.

      “She was a brilliant Caladesh player.” Jillhue said proudly, proud of her,

proud that he could tell me something I did not know. “Had she not gotten

married, I wanted to send her to music school.”

      “You never said that to me.” Sarah looked up, disappointed, herself, as if

she were to blame.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 301


       “When a man has a child as gifted as this, he wants everything for her.”

Jillhue said. I felt such a profound sense of loss emanating from him. She was

his favorite child taken, she was his greatest achievement, destroyed and the

memory of what she had been, what she could have been was raw in him. I

returned to him, images of her heroics, of lives she ahd saved, little children she

had saved. He looked at me, his eyes filled with untold pain and untold thanks.

He gave me a strange smile to say that he did not understand how, but he had

received my gift. Then he turned back to his daughter. “Would you try? I still

have your instrument.” Jillhue rose from his seat and went to one of the storage

benches on the other side of the room. He withdrew a tiny instrument that

looked like a long thin cylinder with a series of valves and buttons. He handed it

to her with hope and reverence.

       Mirane took the sweet little instrument to her mouth and gave a tentative

trial blow. The air pushed through the Calendesh with a pure sweet base.

Mirane pulled it away from her lips and looked at it. She wrapped her fingers

around it and loosened the valves and her own joints, letting however many

years of practice return to her fingers. She drew the instrument up once more

and played a simple, elegant melody. Her talent and technique mesmerized me.

Her parents watched her with pride. Despite the beauty of it, I could hardly

reconcile the strangness of it, as if I had just seen my mother walking on her

hands, or flying for that matter. Something so extraordinary was happening that

I could not quite believe it. I could have listened to her play all night. I leaned
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 302


back in my chair and closed my eyes, my greatest fear was that the song would

end and the silence would be deathly. Instead, a harsh knocking at the door

interrupted the sweet song. We all sat up and Mirane broke off the music

abruptly.

         “Are you expecting anyone?” Jillhue asked, to no one in particular.

         “Who knocks?” Sarah replied, by way of response, “All the kids have

keys.”

         Jillhue stood and went to the door. We could not see who was out there,

from where we three stood, but we stood still and listened. “How can I help you

tonight?” Jillhue asked.

         “I‟m here on business.” The voice said. Mirane stood up and rushed to

the door.

         “What is it?” Mirane was poised to fight.

         “May I come in?” The man asked.

         “Of course.” Mirane and Jillhue replied together and then stepped aside

for the visitors to enter.

         A large very large, well-dressed man entered with three younger copies

behind him. He looked around the room and saw me. He nodded his head and

then looked back and forth between Mirane and her father. He did not speak

and he avoided meeting anyone‟s eyes.

         “What is it, Kyltan?” Mirane did not want to wait for him. He looked

down at his feet.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 303


       “As I said, I am here on business. I take no pleasure in carrying out this

duty.” He briefly looked up and then to the ground again. He was decidedly

nervous, his entire mind and body reverberated it. “There is no way to say it but

to say it. I spent a considereable amount of time today with Larken Damal. He

has formally pressed charges against Mirane for adultery.” Sarah gasped with

utter horror.

       “Certainly…” Jillhue started to speak but he said nothing.

       “He came this morning, he would not accept the papers.” Mirane said. I

went to take them from the mantel.

       “It would not have done any good. He is charging from the first.”

       “And what man is the first?” Mirane narrowed her eyes and dared Kyltan

to name the man. I had seen Mirane‟s face change from beauty to danger many

times but never had I seen such ferocity in it. Enemies are easy to hate and

desire a certain amount of hatred and scorn before they can be dispatched. But

for Mirane, a friend that had betrayed her, the vein runs deeper, it plunged to

someplace in her gut and elicited from her a horrible fury which she revealed

only in her eyes. A long tense moment set between them.

       “Larken need not identify individuals to press his case. He has sufficient

evidence to proceed with a trial.”

       “And you are going to arrest me.” Mirane challenged him. Although, I

now stood directly behind her, I did not touch her. Every muscle in her body

was taut to the breaking point.
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 304


       “You are not taking my daughter!” Sarah erupted as if she had been

bracing for this inevitability ever since Mirane reappeared.

       “Sarah, please, I have no…”Kyltan tried to calm the fierce Sarah.

       “No sense, no compassion, no right.” Sarah spewed her accusations

through teary eyes and failing voice.

       “Sarah, Jillhue, Mirane‟s return has meant a great deal to me. I regret,

more than you know that she was taken, that I could not find her, that I could not

save her, that I do not stand here granting her her lawful dissolvement and

celebrating with you all. But the law has put me in this position, your inactions

have put me here and the only thing that can be done about this is to do this by

that law. Mirane Damaskoi you are, hereby, under arrest for a charge of

adultery. Prince Xylvan you are, hereby, under arrest for unlawful relations with

Mirane Damaskaya. We are here to escort you both to the accommodations

prepared for you above the common room to await your trial in the morning.

       “Then arrest me.” Mirane said flatly. She changed her stance and I stood

beside her trying to look dangerous. Kyltan‟s three sons were not looking

forward to trying to take us by force.

       “Having said that,” Kyltan started again. “I am executing this warrant

exclusively under the law. I‟ve no desire to forcefully take either of you. At this

point my intention is to give Larken a fair trial in the mornig and to give you a

public hearing of defense. This town has been lining up behind one of you or
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 305


another, rampant with half-truths, gossips, and moral speculating. Tomorrow

we will see the end of this.”

          “The end of this, you‟ll see my daughter on a stake to „see the end of

this‟.”

          “Sarah, I have no such desire.” Kyltan turned his gaze back to us. “Will

you submit to arrest?” Kyltan met Mirane‟s eyes and held them for several long

seconds.”

          “I will have an opportunity speak to the village?” Mirane asked, her face

betraying her busy thoughtful mind.

          “Yes.” Kyltan replied meeting her gaze.

          “What are you doing?” Sarah grasped Mirane‟s sleeve, tugging her

towards her.

          Mirane did not look at her but turned to me. “Xylvan, I do believe we are

under arrest.” I looked at her, sure she wished me to submit to this. I was a law-

abiding person with a natural respect for authority, yet, I could not fathom

allowing them to lock us up and try us.

          I looked at the men just as Mirane had, trying to decipher the

configuration of their faces and the integrity of their eyes and thereby discover

their earnestness and trustworthiness. Such an effort could have taken a very

long time and never met with any success. Instead of pursuing it, I scanned their

minds. Each was ready to best us and hope that we submitted quietly so they

not be defeated, or worse. These men had combined their memories of Mirane as
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 306


a student with what they had read of us and were not certain they could best her

or me. Kyltan‟s thoughts seethed with Larken‟s hatred and humiliation, they

combated his love of the law with his respect and regret for Mirane, and they

prayed for a civilized resolution. He looked to us to be that civilized ending, that

answer to his conflict. He intended to try us and by trying us, exonerate us.

Beneath his romantic thoughts was the one frightening ideas this it might not

work, that the town would turn against him and, again, we would be his

solution. “We are willing to accompany you,” I said holding Kyltan‟s gaze.

       The six of us walked silently across the dark village. Kyltan led the way,

and his sons encircled us. I reached for her hand and she gave it. It was warmth

against the freezing night. All around us the smell of fires and the glow of

yellow windows reminded us of home and of family, and of how we were

decidedly outside of both.

       At the commonhouse a crew of men I had not met were moving the tables

and the chairs, creating a primitive court. Mirane walked through with all eyes

on her. She looked back at them with an unveiled challenge. Some looked away

sooner than others. The things she had seen and done had long ago taught her to

disregard the moral postulating of others. She lived by her own code and her

own faith. She answered to God alone. She raised her chin and shook out her

long hair sending chestnut ripples through it. Her face let them know, they were

not fit to stand in judgement of her.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 307


       One man approached us; hatred filled his mind. “Lord Kyltan, shall we

erect the pyre?” Kyltan flashed him a dangerous look but it was Mirane who

spoke. She slipped out of our escort and took the man by the neck.

       “You erect a pyre for me. I‟ll nail your cowardly, dastardly, shriveled

balls to it and set it alight.” I helped her colorful words strike their intended fear

with this man. Already his responses were dying on his tongue. Kyltan‟s sons

were trying to pull her off but her lock on the man‟s throat and her own solid

strength made her unmovable until she chose to move.

       Kyltan looked at us in fear for the first time. He had imagined Mirane as

educated in his own house, stolen, and in that time, annealed into a righteous

fighter, campaigning for safety and defense on the western front. He had cast

her as the virtuous heroine aloft on pedestals. He saw, then, she was not this, she

had been pounded into a warrior and virtuous defensive traits had been equally

bronzed into her character as those dangerous, fierce and frightening qualities I

had seen my first day.

       “Please take us to our room. “Mirane said and silently we all walked

upstairs. The room itself was an ordinary commonhouse room. The bed

occupied the center of the room and, besides a small table and chair, was the

primary furnishing.

       “My sons will each take shifts outside your door that you may sleep

tonight. Although, I will be serving as the moderator in tomorrow‟s proceeding I
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 308


cannot guarantee what will actually happen. “ Kyltan had never said anything

more true. “I shall leave you both, tonight, to work out your strategy.”

       “Thank you.” Mirane said as he turned. “ Oh yes, Kyltan, regardless of

what might happen to me, I must make you aware that Prince Xylvan has

diplomatic immunity. He will walk away.”

       “Yes, Mirane, I am aware. And Mirane, you will both walk away.”

Kyltan closed the door behind him and left us alone.

       “And so,” I asked, “May I presume you have a reason and a strategy for

this detour.” I was angry. Mirane walked over to me and touched my arm. Her

forehead was so close to my lips, I could smell her hair.

       “Xylvan, do you not see what an opportunity this is?” She stroked my

arm and then my chest. “Everything I have to accomplish here can be

accomplished with one pass.”

       “You intended to be arrested and I followed to be declared your whore.” I

snapped.

       She continued to stroke me until I relaxed my tense body. She led me

over to sit on the bed and then closely against me. “This trial, if we play this

properly will grant my dissolvement, it will remind the village of the danger it is

in, it will focus their minds on defense, it will quell the gossip that follows me

and, ultimately, it will clear our names.”

       “It can do all that?”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 309


       “There is the chance, there,” she replied. “You and I could bust out of

here right now, we‟ve escaped more difficult situations, but then, I would have

none of those victories. I would still be married to Larken and none of us would

be free to marry again. I would lose the family I have just refound, this village

would be at just the same level of danger and my name, your name will be

destroyed here. How would we continue our work with these charges over our

heads?”

       I wanted to say, let us go to Sian. The events in this backwater-nowhere

would be inconsequential there. But she was right, this needed to be done, and it

would be done with a trial.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 310




Adultery

       Neither of us had gotten any sleep and by morning the entire village knew

what had happened. Their opinions ran the gamut from outrage to

righteousness. Mirane‟s supporters came from places she did not know and her

detractors from her own family. The village was waiting outside when the sun

came up and Mirane could see them shivering as they waited for the opportunity

to see her face her crimes.

       “Are you up for this today?” I asked as she brushed her skirt clean of dust

and stood to stretch.

       “I am.” She looked directly into my eyes as she stretched her long

cramped arms to the low ceiling.

       “And what are we going to do?”

       “Kyltan is a man of the law, I believe that this will be our opportunity. If

it is not, if the town turns against us, well then, I do not know. You create an

illusion of us running out the back door and while they chase us down and

evacuate the building, we stay in one place and sneak out later.”

       “Is that your plan or your perverse sense of humor?” I reached out to

touch her stomach. Beneath the tightly pleated bodice her body was solid

muscle.

       “Xylvan, have you not learned, when all of your plans fail, all you have is

your perverse sense of humor.”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 311


       “That may have been the most revealing thing you have ever said.”

       “Well, keep your eyes open today, who knows what you‟ll learn.”

       Just then the lock jiggled and the door opened.

       The Lord‟s sons were there to escort us downstairs. They were wordless.

They emerged in the common room to see that most of the village had been

admitted. Kyltan sat at the front and there was a place to the right of him where

they would sit. At the tables sat her family closest to her. She knew they had

drawn their lines in the sand. Her parents, Sabrine and Gyan sat close to the

right of the room to be close to them. At the far end were Theabe and her

brothers‟ wives. Her brothers were nowhere to be seen. Larken was on the left

side of the room.

       I scanned the thoughts of some of the villagers and picked up a general

consensus. I intrigued them. They were there just as much to see me as to see

Mirane. When they saw me they knew that she had fornicated with me. They all

had a wide range of images that they unknowingly broadcast at me. Most were

anxious about this trial, if she were to be killed for being with me they could

reluctantly approve of it but they had gotten word of previous charges.

       “Settle.” Kyltan had spent an extraordinarily restless night and he was not

prepared to be gentle or patient with this village. He turned to us and spoke

more kindly, “Please sit.” We complied and he began to list the charges.

“Mirane, you are accused of having adulterous and lascivious relations with men

not your husband while in the company of the western enemy. You have
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 312


admitted to having three other relationships with men after you left them

including the man seated with you. Because family is the very foundation of the

way we live, because adultery is not tolerated in our society, these charges are so

grave and so serious, you must be made aware that they carry with them the

price of your life. Do you understand these charges, you will have a chance to

defend yourself shortly?”

      “I understand these charges.” Mirane‟s voice had neither humor nor

warmth.

      “Xylvan, you are accused of fornicating with this woman, the wife of

another man. This conviction also carries the price of your life. Do you

understand this charge, you will have a chance to defend yourself?”

      “I understand.” I answered, calmly, taking Mirane‟s lead.

      “I have every intention of concluding this hearing today.” Kyltan did not

want this to carry on and he had no intention of putting us to death. “It is within

my rights and responsibilities to hear testimony and to pass judgment both

within the written law and the spirit of the law. Do you understand? I am also

your arbiter of justice, my verdict must be respected by this community or I shall

dismiss these charges immediately.” Kyltan addressed the audience but did not

give them a chance to answer. “The accuser, Larken Damask, shall testify first.”

      Larken stood and gave testimony to all he knew.

      “Ten years ago I came to this village, I was just a boy, a young man. I

came with my father, we had been traveling through all the villages in the south,
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 313


but there was something different about Krahan. Within moments of arriving, I

met Sarah. She bought one of my most elaborate pitchers and asked me to hold

it. My father winked at me, this had happened before.” Larken smiled and

shuffled his feet. “She disappeared for just under half a mark. When she

returned a perfectly ordinary encounter became extraordinary. Standing beside

my mother-in-law, stood Mirane, and I knew she would be my wife. Perhaps

some of you remember my wife when she was a young woman. She was

beautiful. She was incredible.”

      Although I was not projecting his words, I was certainly reading them

from his mind. She was very beautiful. Her long chestnut hair was similar to

how it was that day but far more wild with gently wisps. She was tall and thin

but her body was more curves than lean. Her dress was cinched tightly at the

waist and the bosom so her young breasts rose up from the fine fabric. She was

everything about herself but innocent, unscarred, optimistic and soft. She was

the picture of Gryth beauty. There was a murmur of consensus from the crowd.

      “That night, despite my father‟s advice to the contrary, I began to court

her. She prepared the most delicious meal that night for her family, her cooking

so like her mother‟s.” I did not laugh and Mirane did not flinch to the untruth of

it. “I remember so clearly the feelings that flickered between us, smiles and

glances. I loved her. She accepted my proposal. Many of you were at that

wedding. You saw us wed, legally.” The villagers again murmured. “I need not

say what there is in the bond between a man and a woman on the night of their
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 314


wedding. I need not tell you what happens then, the beginning of a lifetime

love.” Larken paused.

       “I was more asleep and content than I had ever been before or since when

Mirane woke me. Our building, this building was on fire. She roused me

throwing our cloaks over our bodies before leaving. Mirane wore only the

nightdress Gyan had made for her and out we went. All around us our friends

and family were in chaos, armed men on horses were slicing through us. The

village had exploded. Mirane was passing me burning wood to defend us from

them until something hit me in the head and I went down.

       When I woke the raiders were gone, thirteen members of our village were

gone including my new bride. My father and hers broke the news to me gently

but you all know how I grieved. That morning I left with the men to follow the

raiders. How it is after two weeks of tracking and searching and running and

riding that we did not find them, as if they had disappeared into thin air, I do not

know. I wished to hell I did. Exhausted and out of options I returned to the

village and grieved. Many of you told me to forget her. Jillhue, a man I now

called my father, gave me dissolvement papers. But I had married her, I loved

her, I grieved her and if there were any chance that she were alive I would not

dissolve my marriage to her.” Larken stopped for a moment and wiped his face.

Tears and sweat had covered it. I felt sick with him, so strong was his pain.

       “My father strongly suggested I leave with him and forget her but I did

not. I set up shop in this destroyed village. I helped rebuild. I tried to be a good
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 315


son to my wife‟s family and I waited. Almost ten years, ten sweaven years! I

waited and loved and remembered and protected her memory.

         “So what choice is there for me, she returns and rejects me. She returns

and brings a new man, an alien stranger man to take my place. She swove the

men who took her, she took other lovers and she brings to my home

sweaven…”Larken did not finish his sentence. We were all frozen by his ranting

and his screaming and unable to step in to stop him. Only when he fell to the

ground on his knees weeping did any of us move.

         I began to truly believe that we would not escape this. I feared that we

would be fighting our way out of this village and I was not convinced that

Mirane would be able to kill these people.     Larken‟s testimony, I knew,

convinced several in the village as to our guilt.

         “Mirane Damaskaya do you have any questions from this witness?”

Kyltan asked.

         “I do not.” I looked at her but said nothing.



         After Larken several others stepped forward to testify. Kyltan dismissed

them. He tried to dismiss Drayan but Larken insisted he had the most relevant

evidence. “If his story is to be included in my decision then he shall tell it. Is he

here?”

         “Yes.” The man stood up and was trembling.

         “Come to the front.”
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 316


       “Yes, constable.”

       “You will be required to tell the truth and Mirane will have a chance to

ask you questions if necessary. You will answer all honestly.”

       “Yes sir.”

       “State your name.”

       “I am Drayan Rylk.”

       The man told his story the very same way that he had told Larken. I

listened and felt sorry for the torture he had endured. He said that he had seen

Mirane dance on one occasion and on two others having sex with men from the

raiding mission. I watched Mirane throughout the telling and wished that I

could touch her mind to comfort her. She looked forward and said nothing, her

face was an icy countenance. She said nothing. No hint of pain touched her

perfect mask of composure. When he was done he stood and waited for Mirane

to tear him to pieces.

       Mirane stood. She had considered several questions and wondered how

best to preserve his dignity. All her strategies were now focused on preserving

her life and mine. “She did not look at the villagers or her family. “You were

taken with me?” she asked.

       “Yes, that same night.”

       “I do not remember seeing you.” The man looked stunned. “It does not

matter though because I do not need to know that to know what you went

through.” Mirane paused and began to unlace her dress. “You were burned and
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 317


you were stabbed with sticks that were so hot you thought you would scream

out?”

        “Yes.”

        “You still bear those marks, do you not?”

        “Yes,” His voice was soft, ashamed.

        “You were cut and you learned what they wanted you to, yes?”

        “I was burned and cut. Yes”

        “Did you speak their language?‟

        “No.”

        “Did they order you to work?”

        “Yes.”

        “Did you know what they wanted you to do?”

        “Yes.”

        “How?‟

        “If I did it wrong I felt a blade or a whip.” The man trembled and Mirane‟s

heart was cold to him. He knew what it was all about and he had said these

things about her.

        She finished unlacing the top of her dress and slowly began to pull it off

her shoulders. “How long were you with them?” Listen closely, she had told

me, who knows what you‟ll learn. I knew those scars and now I knew those

wounds.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 318


      “A couple of moons.” He was distinctly uncomfortable as Mirane

disrobed in front of him. Those sitting in the court were equally discomforted

but were as persuaded by her argument as they had been with her husband‟s.

      “You learned quickly though?”

      “Yes.”

      “What did you do for them?”

      “Anything they asked.”

      She dropped her dress to the ground and revealed the network of criss-

crossed scars that told the story more clearly than anyone had wanted it said. “I

learned slowly. I held onto what I could of my dignity and my modesty.”

Mirane turned around to show that those same scars covered equally front and

back, shoulders to ankles. I was familiar and comfortable with them as a part of

her physicality. Those in the assembly gasped. I looked to her family, her

mother had buried her face in her hands and was weeping. Her father‟s face was

solidly looking at her, taking inventory of each mark to emblazon it upon his

own soul. His jaw was locked against a single show of emotion, he knew that

others were looking at him, desperate for him to react. He refused. He refused

to be ashamed of her. He refused to look away. Mirane turned back to her

witness, her bare back, buttocks and legs to the audience.

      “How did you escape?”

      “I do not remember. I ran.” The man was clearly unsure.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 319


        “You were not shackled to a ring in the floor?” Mirane gestured to the

scars at her ankles, there scars banded around her bones again and again. I

shook there in my seat. I was riveted by her performance there but slowly I

knew it was the truth I had been waiting for. I had never formed the thought in

my mind, I had brushed away suspicions. She had been a sex slave. More

horrible than being married, such was her relief.

        “No.” The man stood completely shaken. “I‟m so sorry.” Now, several

members of the audience were crying.

        “You may sit.” Kyltan felt such a rage towards Larken. Mirane slowly

pulled on her dress and pulled the laces back together so that she seemed before

them completely modest. She stood to the side and watched Kyltan.

        “This does not explain why she did not come back and why she took these

other men to her bed.” Larken‟s shouting did little to help him win sympathy.

        “Do you have proof that she has taken other lovers?”

        “Sabrine said.” Larken raved.

        “That is not proof.” Kyltan was veritably pressing him with his heavy

gaze.

        “She confessed it to our sister, Sabrine.”

        “Sabrine, is this true?” Kyltan asked. Sabrine looked away but answered.

She did not want to be her sister‟s betrayer.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 320


       “She told me that Xylvan wished to marry her.” Sabrine felt this was the

best of what she could tell. Kyltan did not press he was sure that Mirane had

taken me as a lover and he did not need Sabrine to testify to that.

       “And other lovers?”

       “Only her confession.” Larken answered sadly. “When she told me that

she had known other men and that she would not be a wife to me.”

       “Before we hear Mirane‟s defense I think it appropriate that Xylvan give

his testimony. Are you prepared to answer my questions?” I was not. My whole

world had just shifted. My heart was broken. Mirane had not yet looked at me.

I could not show it. Mirane‟s fears would not find fertile ground in my heart.

       “Yes sir.” I cast him a look that said clearly, do not play games with me.

       “How long have you been Mirane‟s partner?”

       “Five years.”

       “Have you ever been to Krahan before?”

       “No, not until I joined her here.” I replied.

       “Where were you born?”

       “Queensrealm Tearisian Sian.”

       “Did Mirane ever tell you she had been married for one night and stolen

on that same night.”

       “No.”

       “Did she tell you she was married?” Larken shouted across the room but

one of Kyltan‟s sons quieted him and pushed him firmly into his seat.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 321


        “Did you take her to your own bed? Please answer precisely.” Kyltan was

broadcasting: please never have taken her to your own bed, in Sian.

        “No.” I answered his strange question, fighting my instinct to say nothing

more.

        “Did you ask her to marry you?”

        “Yes, but she declined.”

        “Did she say why?”

        “No.” These people did not know her at all.

        “Is there anything else you would like to add?” I scanned his mind and I

knew immediately that this man had no intention of convicting us. This was for

the town.

        “No.”

        “Very well, then.”

        “Mirane?”

        “Yes.”

        “Why did you come here?”

        “I found a note on a wall in Scolar from Larken to return. I came to see

my family and to dissolve my marriage.”

        “Why did you not do it sooner?”

        “Before I came here, I did not even know he was alive and unmarried and

since because I was hoping he would realize it on his own. I wanted to spare his

feelings.”
                                                         Secrets and Illusions 322


      “His feelings?”

      “His dignity.” Mirane said

      “Then we shall adjourn for the day and I shall give my decision

tomorrow.”

      “Ask her if she was with him!” Larken screamed. Mirane and I were

escorted back to our room. Neither of us saw Kyltan‟s boys wrestle Larken to the

ground or Kyltan approach him and tell him he had received what he had asked

for within the parameters of the written law.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 323




Attack



         “He‟s going to release us tomorrow.” I said once we were locked inside

the room, again.

         “I guessed as much, that was merely a show trial.” She fell back on the

bed and closed her eyes for a moment.

         “And you gave them a show.”

         Mirane sat up and looked at me, searching for a hint as to my meaning,

suspicious.

         “I do not disparage you, Mirane, no.” I reached out and held her.

         “This is what I do, this is the vow I made before God, and you know that.”

         “Your vow was that no one would experience this, they would be

educated and prepared.”

         “These people, this village that raised me, that saw me grow and wed, this

village is putting you and I on trial. It will take more than just taking them into a

meeting hall and pointing out the escape routes.” Mirane smiled at her joke.

“When you and I go into a village we make an impression, you and I, for what

we do and what they see. Here, they remember me as a something between a

little girl and a depraved whore. Either way, I am not making an impression that

will save their lives.”

         “This is not just any village.”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 324


       “I know that. I felt that that was the best way to make that impression, to

get their attention to make my case in this insane trial.” Mirane paced the room.

       “You made an impression,” I said.

       “My parents?” Mirane bit her lip.

       “Your father, particularly.”

       “He needed to know these things.”

       “I did not know these things.”

       “Of course, you did.” Mirane said. But I do not believe I did, not until

later, much later. Mirane looked at me with sadness and fatigue in her face. In

her eyes it was clear that she would not speak of this more.

       “No, I did not.” I wanted her to know that I had never thought of her that

way.

       “And now you do.” Her eyes were downcast and she walked to the

window.

       “Will we ever speak of it?”

       “What more would you know?”

       “I would want to lessen your burden, to carry this alone…”

       “It is mine to carry.”

       “Damn it.” I swore low and took a seat. It was a long time before either of

us said another word. This was the secret and now it was known there would be

no more spoken of it. I needed more. I knew I would need to wait.

       “So what do we do?” I finally spoke, changing the subject.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 325


       “We just stay until tomorrow.”

       “That is all?”

       “That is all.” Mirane sat down on the bed and I joined her.

       “Do you think they‟ll bother us until then?” I leaned in and kissed her.

       “I do not know. But that would be something.” Mirane laughed aloud

taking me into her arms. “So when we go to Sian, do you think that we‟ll be

arrested?”

       “I do not think so,” I said absently as I kissed her, “what, and when are we

going to Sian?” She was smiling.

       “After this fiasco, we will go next winter.”

       “I love you.” I embraced her and pushed her to the bed. “So what did you

say you were thinking.

       “Well, what if this does not go our way?” Mirane asked.

       “I do not even want to think about it.”

       “Can you imagine what will happen? A Prince of Sian killed for

pummeling a village wench. How Sian history would record that.”

       I tried not to laugh. “I have no intention of dying in this town you call

home.”

       “I have no intention of letting you.” She smiled broadly with that familiar

look of desire in her face.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 326


       Later, long after the night had filled the forest and had blanketed the

village, Mirane woke up with a feeling of dread and alertness. She remained in

the narrow bed by the wall and she lay perfectly still. Her senses were

completely aware and sharp. She sat up quietly and went to the window. In the

forest she saw dark figures moving slowly. She woke me and I knew

immediately to keep silent. I stood, dressed and went to the window and saw

the same figures. There were too many to count.

       “Who are they?” I turned and asked but by her face I knew exactly who

they were. “Darung.”

       “I‟ve come full circle in this village.” She said as she searched the room for

anything that could be used as a weapon. “It is going to kill us one way or

another.”

       I began to scan their minds to pick up the most superficial of their desires.

They were starving and cold, exhausted and fearful. They believed that this

village would have enough for them to take back to their families and they were

ready to kill for it. I sensed over fifty adult male minds approaching.

       “We are the first building and we are most likely the only ones who know

yet.” Mirane set her battle face and voice in place.

       “Here, use this to pry the door.” She broke the bed at the joint and

handed me a board.

       One of Kyltan‟s sons had his blade raised to us, “Stop!”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 327


       Mirane steeled her jaw and looked at him with such cool, clear, ferocity

that he looked to her. “You will stand down,” Mirane gave him directions like

he was one of her own soldiers and he responded. “Look out that window. Do

you see those men?” He nodded. “They are going to try to kill us all.”

       Mirane reached and took his sword. “Follow me.”

       The three of us went down the stairs and the young man broke away to

wake his father. Mirane knew that we did not have a long. I had fear in my

belly. I remember feeling sick with it. I hated fighting.

       “Xylvan,” Mirane took each of my arms in her hands and looked me in the

eye. “We have been teaching and practicing this for years. This is the time

anything we have ever done is going to matter, really matter. This is our test.

This is my home. Any moment houses will be set ablaze and chaos will break.”

       “I have a plan.” I said.

       “Do it.” She looked at me with such confidence. “Please, first go to

Sabrine‟s and wake them. Tell them to escape. I will find them when it is safe.” I

went and let Mirane go to her parent‟s where her sword was. “Here take this.”

       I held the blade she had taken from the young man and ran to Sabrine‟s

house. I found the door open and burst through. I found them in their beds and

shook them. I gave them a mental image of what was happening, it was so much

faster than explaining. I watched them leave and followed their evacuation as I

returned to Mirane. She had her sword and she was going to the center of the

village. Her father was nearby and he ran to the small temple to sound the
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 328


alarm. Mirane and I crept back to the common house and turned the corner just

in time to see a dozen mounted raiders burnishing torches and holding thick

blades.

       I opened up a dual-styled illusion, both in their minds and outside, of a

chasm for them to fall into. I made it clear for the horses and their riders. Those

first riders stumbled into the deep hole before they knew what they were not

seeing. I built a wall of fire for the others and they paused believing they could

feel the heat on their faces. Others continued to come. They went around the

illusionary flame. By now the alarm was ringing and disoriented villagers were

fleeing their homes. Small children were leading them away from the center and

into the woods. Mirane knew that the raiders would look there, too, if she did

not destroy them.

       She found that one of the horses had stood and wandered through the

flame. She grabbed it by the neck and flung herself up on its back. Her sword

was held high above her head and rode hard into the crowd of them. She sliced

through their unarmored bodies so easily. She had done this before. Blood

splashed across her face and her clothes.

       Several saw what she had done and turned their attention to her. I saw

them swing clumsy swords at her. Immediately, I created a dozen illusionary

Miranes to fight them. They splintered away to fight them. Their tired minds

were easily molded to believe these illusions and I found that I was able to bring

most of them into the fold. I targeted the leaders and those closest to them, for
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 329


their pleasure I set all the houses of the village ablaze. Some of the invaders

stopped dead in their tracks and tried to make sense of it. I wanted them to see

illusions of their comrades down on the ground but I did not wish to stretch their

credibility. Naturally, once one, otherwise unexplainable, occurrence is

discredited the others may be as well.

        While I did this, Mirane, the real Mirane continued to kill these Darung.

She had lost count of the bodies she sliced open and that she forced this poor

animal to trample. She kept a sideways glance on the villagers to see that some

of them believed their homes were on fire and others could not imagine what

they had seen. She had lost track of me and hoped that I had lit those fires, she

wished she knew for sure.

        The sky was just showing signs of brightening and Mirane wondered how

many hours or mere minutes she had fought. Her first opponents had fallen in

the first moments of battle and others since had come when Xylvan had led them

to corners and paralyzed their minds. She was still amazed that their comrades

had not decided to retreat. As her training and instincts governed her motions

her brilliant mind kept close watch on those around her. The children and wives

of the villagers were in hiding at this point. The men who felt they could fight

had joined us and were using everything they could put their hands on to fight

of the Darung. Kyltan and his sons, among the few genuinely armed had taken

down some of them as well. It seemed that we would be done with the battle

soon.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 330


       “Gruh akh rent.” Screamed one and Mirane turned to see which man was

marked for death. I saw her face ashen before I saw that two of the Darung had

singled me out. Two raiders had backed me up to one of the burning houses.

They did not know how I was doing it but they knew, without a doubt, that if

they could defeat me that they could turn this around for themselves.

       Mirane rode up behind them and sliced one of them before the other

turned to her. “Tryiz Skat?” her voice was icy and the man could hardly believe

she had spoken, particularly that she had spoken in his own language, I could

read through him that she asked him if he wanted to live. She was completely

sluiced with blood and he was sickened to realize it was not hers, it was that of

his fallen comrades and that it would soon be of his, too.

       I took the sword he had not let go of and crashed it into the man‟s back.

As he fell dying I picked up from his mind his last few thoughts. All concerned

the tale of a massacred city.

       “How many of the dead are real” Mirane asked me as she touched my

shoulder.

       “All,” I replied looking the back of her horse to a mounted man riding on

us very hard. His beast rode beneath him, his legs wrapped around its muscled

body. The Darung attacker had a long bow in his hands, an arrow already

notched in place and aimed at Mirane. He had confidence in his ability. He had

her. My eyes went, in an instant from him to her and back again. Before I could

think of anything to do, I slapped her horse and it startled forward. The arrow
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 331


sliced through the air, missing its target and flying over my head. Mirane heard

it hiss and turned back to see me. She smiled such a look of love and victory.

        And in that fraction of time, that sliver of a second neither of us saw the

second arrow leave the bow of the attacker. It was all in an instant that Mirane

smiled at me and then turned her ride towards the Darung but that sister arrow

left the bow before she could reach him. I felt the shaft go through my abdomen

and heard it emerge on the other side. Mirane‟s face bleached beneath the sheath

of blood and she turned again on the man attacker. The man had loaded a third

arrow and Mirane was galloping hard towards him. Her blade was high and she

was screaming for blood. The bow, arrow and head fell to the ground with a

solid thud before his body crumbled.

        The fires began to disappear and everyone could now see that they had

not been real at all. Villagers that had stood in the center awaiting the slaughter

disappeared in the same way. I was not able to keep this up. I felt my body

losing more and more blood each moment I stood. I stumbled to the ground.

The sky was brighter even now and she could see around her who stood. There

were not many left and the man she had just decapitated, apparently, was a

leader to them. She rode to the remaining men and paused the beast in front of

them.

        “None of you will live.” She said and they began to run. The adrenaline

ran hotter in her veins than her own blood. She sliced them down like so much

tall grass and when the sun burned on the treetops so many were dead. She
                                                          Secrets and Illusions 332


stopped and looked far to the west. Her heart was still pumping with bloodlust

but she did not ride after them.

      The villagers started to approach her to talk her down from the animal.

The blood on her face frightened them. “Find your children and account for

your families.” She ordered and noted that the village had taken miraculously

little damage and except for the strewn bodies, it might not have been more than

a winter storm. She scanned the village for any other invaders and then

dismounted. She went directly to me. There would be time to follow the

escapees and kill them later, she thought.

      When she got to me, I was barely able move. “Xyl?” She kneeled beside

me and kissed my mouth.

      “I‟m alright.” I offered

      “You are cold, are you dizzy?”

      “No,” I answered but she did not believe me. She forced me to open my

eyes and looked at them wondering what she should see there, they were

unchanged and unrevealing. She rolled me over to my side and examined the

wound. The Darung arrow had cut completely through me. If it had hit a vital

organ, I would need the best Sian healer and even then, I probably would not

have survived the night.

      “This is going to hurt,” she said. She may have torn a piece of her own

clothing to apply to the wound but there was not a single unblood soaked inch of

her. “Take off your shirt!” I heard her growl at someone, “now!”
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 333


       “Hurt?” I groaned, I was barely holding onto consciousness.

       “Yes.” She then, in one quick motion broke the arrowhead off. With that

gone she pulled the shaft out of me. As she had expected, blood soaked the

cloth. Unfazed, she pushed it harder against my back. I moaned and clenched

my teeth. Mirane felt my blood all over her hands. She pressed against the front

of the wound with her hand as if she could force the blood to stay in my veins.

“This is not right, you must stay safe, that is all that is asked of you,” I had never

been injured like this. She hurt for me. She thought, her own gut was twisted

and any thought she had of chasing the deserters had escaped her. Her only

concern was for me. I knew that even as my blood pressure dropped and I lost

consciousness.

       Even more tentatively, a few of the villagers began to approach us. No

one had been killed. Between what the villagers saw during the battle and what

they saw now they could barely reconcile how it was they were unharmed. But

they did know why and they were, for a time, indebted. When Mirane could see

them out of the corner her eye she lowered me to the ground and slowly reached

for her blade. She was still full of bloodlust and she did not trust them.

       “Mirane, honey,” it was Sabrine‟s voice cooing at her sister. Knowing

Sabrine, as I have come to know her, I know that it was no small thing for her to

approach Mirane on that morning. Her hair, clothes and face were covered with

blood. Mirane‟s sword was sluiced with the blood and flesh of the enemy. But it

was her eyes that were too wide, too focused on the far off enemy that struck the
                                                                              Secrets and Illusions 334


most fear into Sabrine‟s heart. But she knew she must ignore the sword and

avoid her sister‟s horrifying gaze and approach. Mirane gave her a warning

glance but let her proceed. “We need to get him to the safest place and bind that

up.” Sabrine said this slowly and softly. Her voice was filled with love, pure and

warm.

         “Do it.” Mirane said through gritted teeth.

         “Can we move him?” Sabrine was asking permission. Two men behind

her had a blanket; they were waiting for Mirane‟s agreement. Without it, there

was no guarantee she would not slice them down, too.

         “Yes,” Mirane stood but held her blade. The two men, whom she had

known all her life but could not, in that moment, remember anything about,

spread the blanket on the ground behind me and then gently rolled me onto it. I

was bleeding still and my face was completely ashen. Mirane followed them

wordlessly like a windahx31. They entered Sabrine‟s house and lay me down on

one of her boys‟ beds.

         “Where are your children?”

         “Gyan has them, they are safe.”

         Wordlessly, Mirane squeezed her sister‟s hand and stood watching the life

bleed out of me. She went to my bedside and stripped off my shirt so she could

apply more pressure to the bandages. Soon she realized that the bleeding had


31
  Windhahx folklore varies greatly but the story Xylvan would have been most familiar with would have
described Windahx’ as mindless artificial warriors scultpted to kill but given no other purpose. Bereft of
purpose, without reason, windahxes would follow their creator like a curse.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 335


slowed. My heart still beat and tiny breaths still escaped my mouth. She kissed

my mouth and cried.

       Sabrine brought her a basin of water and a change of clothes. “Let me

take these,” she said, gently tugging on Mirane‟s blood soaked clothing.

       “I will not leave him to you.” Sabrine bore the insult and motioned behind

her. Their mother and father stood there, ready to approach.

       “I will stay with him, I will watch him.” Jillhue said stepping forward.

“You can trust us, we have not hurt you. We love him.” Sabrine stroked

Mirane‟s cheek, blood rubbed off on Sabrine‟s hand. Sarah took the clothes and

water from Sabrine so that she could continue to stroke and guide Mirane away.

       “I will not leave him!” She shouted.

       “You do not have to leave.” Sabrine said, stroking her sister‟s hair, “We

are here, you are here, he is here.” Mirane‟s eyes never left me.

       Soon after that Jillhue, Sarah and Sabrine left us alone. The village, too,

left her alone with me and she believed that they were busy accounting for

families. But it was not true, they were too afraid to disturb her. Kyltan,

eventually decided it was necessary to break in on us. He looked over to the bed

and saw I was still without senses or consciousness. I was stripped to the waist

and Kyltan could see my bandages covered in dried blood.

       “Has the bleeding stopped?”

       “Yes, I want to be sure before I remove them. It needs air.” Mirane said

without looking up.
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 336


           “Good.” Kyltan watched us hurting. He had read about us and about

what we had done for villages along the western frontier. He had followed our

exploits through correspondence with friends in the north. We were legend to

him, he never expected to have to watch us fight and to die. He wanted to help

us but he needed our help even more. “Mirane.”

           “Yes.”

           “We have accounted for everyone, miraculously, all are safe. The stories of

heroic children are going to be told for generations32.”

           “Good.” Mirane looked up at him for one instance and then returned her

eyes to me.

           “We counted twenty-nine dead, and four wounded now sitting gibbering

in our prison.” Mirane thought of the nice room she had spent the night before in

and thought it too good for them.

           “There were more.” Mirane said flatly, Her strategic mind starting again.

           “Yes.” Kyltan responded

           “You need to take action.”

           “Yes. What would you suggest?” he asked honestly. She would know

exactly what was best.

           “Send word to Kaira for reinforcements. Send a party to go after the

deserters and kill them. The village may need to evacuate if it is possible but that

is a last resort. In the meantime, a full census needs to be taken of survivors.”

32
     See Children of Damal
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 337


      “We all survived.”

      “You must ensure that. Then lock down the village, post patrols at each

entrance and when the Kaira guard arrive complete a perimeter around the outer

lands. Wash down all homes and buildings in water, I do not want a single

spark to be simmering somewhere. Gather the bodies and begin to dispose of

them.” Mirane answered soullessly. Only her depth of knowledge and

experience allowed her to answer at all. She had thought that the worst had

happened to her years ago, how could these Darungs hurt her or hers again.

      “Word has been sent to Kaira, my own sons went. I shall begin

everything.”

      “Good.”

      “Do you think they will return?”

      “No.” Mirane said solemnly.

      “Is it possible?”

      “It is.”

      “Is there anything I can do?”

      “No.” her voice was soft.

      “And what of the wounded survivors?”

      “They can go to Hell!” She stood up and yelled louder and more frenzied

than anyone in the room had expected. “Please, leave us.” She said this softly,

ashamed perhaps. But not likely Mirane, did not feel shame like other people.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 338


       “Yes, Lady.” Kyltan wanted to thank her for saving the village and all the

lives. He knew that she had instructed the children to find hiding places and

that had saved them. He felt he could represent the town‟s joy at being safe but

he could not thank her. He could not trade all those lives to her while my life,

her love, still hung in the balance.

       “Thank you.” Mirane said and Kyltan closed the door behind him.

       Mirane slid beside my body. It was still very warm and she was relieved

it was not feverish. She stroked my cheeks, my hair, and my chest anywhere she

could touch without fear of hurting me. “Xylvan. Wake up! It‟s time to get up.

We have too much to do.”

       Mirane just wanted to speak to me. Maybe my body could forget its pain

and my mind could wake up. “Xylvan, I do not have the time for this, get up.”

Mirane had woken me up this way, many mornings. It angered and frustrated

her that I stubbornly refused to wake up on this morning. I would have if I

could have.



       By the following nightfall the village was filled with the Kaira militia.

Their uniform tents were staked into the frozen center of town and Mirane

watched as they encamped. She was told that one of the commanders wanted to

speak with her but that he was turned away at the door. Sabrine could be very

fierce. I still showed no signs of waking and Mirane refused to leave me. She

stood at the window and watched the militia. A mounted patrol prepared to
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 339


leave and she watched as they armed themselves and left the village. She was

not tempted to go with them or to give any more to the village. She had slain

twenty-nine and she had sacrificed me. This is what she told herself as she

watched the young untried men leave the village and head into the night. They

were ill-equipped and inexperienced. They were already dead. And that was

when I, once again, regained my mind.

      “Is it still dark?” I asked. My voice was scratchy and weak. It made her

spin on her heel.

      “It is dark again.” She responded. Her whole body fought the outpouring

of emotion.

      “We are alive.” I murmured, half a statement of surprise and half a

question.

      “Yes, we live.” She whispered this like a prayer, “we live, you live.”

      “We live.” I repeated with a heavy head.

      “How do you feel?”

      “Sore.” I struggled to sit up. Mirane held my shoulder and whispered for

me to stay still. “Are we safe?”

      “Yes.”

      “My hero does it again. Another village safe for families and trials.” I

could not help my sarcasm. It helped me focus on something other than my

foggy brain and throbbing body and the slow burning gash in my back.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 340


       “You did it.” She lay beside me. Tiny kisses spread over his body as she

attempted to impress on her mind the whole of my life. “You made it possible.”

       “Yeah.” My voice betrayed my lack of cohesion and thought.

       “Yeah.” She continued to touch and kiss me. “Is there war in Sian?”

       “Yes, my mother, she starts it.” I was mumbling.

       “Oh,” Mirane laughed in spite of herself.

       “I‟m tired.”

       “Alright.”

       “Can I go to sleep?” I leaned forward for another one of her kisses.

       “Do you promise to wake up?”

       “Yes.” The fog in my mind cleared.

       “Promise?” Mirane sat up to look him in the eyes. Liquid eyes promised

her that I would wake. “I will be here when you do.”

       “I promise, how badly am I hurt?”

       “It depends on what is in that gut of yours.”

       I groaned something unintelligible, but she just touched me and

continued.

       “Good.” She kissed me. “Let me take a look at your gouge.”

       “Alright.” I answered trying to see in the dark. She pulled the bandage

away. It was still a very dangerous wound but had avoided all my organs.

Unfortunately, with a wound like this it needed to be constantly cleaned and

allowed to air.
                                                   Secrets and Illusions 341


“No more stopping arrows,” she said as she pulled a blanket over us both.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 342


Reinforcing

       “Do not wake them,” whispered Sabrine.

       “Should we not check on them?” Kyltan replied. He was half-glad Sabrine

was holding him back.

       “They look alright,” Sabrine hesitated to say. Both stepped closer, to the

very edge of our bed.

       “I just want to look at that wound.” Kyltan approached, anxiously, and

lifted the corner of the blanket. I shifted and moaned. Mirane woke up.

       “Good morning.” Kyltan offered, still holding the blanket and revealing

my torso to the cold.

       Mirane stood up and took the blanket from him. “It is fine. I washed it

out several times in the night.” Some time in the night the analytical part of

Mirane‟s mind began to run through what happened and what could have been

done to prevent it. Each scenario she ran through told her the same thing and

held the same man responsible. Mirane had little sense of fairness, it was

Kyltan‟s fault, fair or not. Her voice displayed her anger and her unwillingness

to give him access to me. Of everyone in the village she believed that Kyltan was

most responsible for this. He did not drill the village over the last years and he

locked her up on the eve of the attack. He might as have just ordered the attack

himself.

       “Clean?”

       “Yes.”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 343


       “Did he regain consciousness?”

       “Yes.” I said opening my eyes. I tried to sit. “He did.”

       “Thank the Heavens.” Sabrine said looking in that direction.

       “What‟s going on this morning?” I wanted Kyltan to recap everything we

had missed.

       “Everything is fine.” Sabrine said quickly but Kyltan passed Mirane a look

and we both knew that that was a lie.

       “What‟s happened?” I repeated. Mirane was tempted to go along with

Sabrine‟s collusion but felt it was being kept from her, as well.

       “What‟s happened?”

       “Mirane, Xylvan, one of the advanced scouts came in about half a mark

ago.” Kyltan did not want to burden us with this.

       “And?”

       “As far as he knows he‟s the only one alive. The traveled hard all night.

About seven hours from here they encountered a city of tents.” They were

ambushed by some of the perimeter guards but were killed.”

       “Except this man?”

       “Yes.”

       “How many did you send?” I asked.

       “Ten.” Kyltan bowed his head as if it had been his decision.

       “Kaira is sending reinforcements?” Mirane poised this as a question but

one to which she would only accept one answer.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 344


         “Yes, but it is going to take a couple of days.”

         “I see.” Mirane felt terribly for the men who had gone out there to die in

the forest. Mirane felt nothing but complete disgust with the way this was being

handled and with Kyltan.

         “Do you think we have that long?” Sabrine asked.

         “I do not know. This is no mere raiding party if they have migrated the

city. These people are far more desperate than an ordinary raid.”

         “Should we leave?” Sabrine ventured.

         “I would say yes, but,” Mirane paused, “they may be watching the roads

to Kaira. East you would stand the best chance.” Sabrine bit her lip in concern

for her family.

         “Where could they go if they went east?” I asked pulling himself up on his

hands.

         “Nowhere, really,” answered Kyltan. “A few villages but none could hold

off an attack.”

         “Will they attack?” Sabrine asked.

         “Essentially, that is the only reason they are here.” Mirane answered her

eyes focused beyond the room to the village outside.

         “They are desperate, most of them are starving.” I said and Mirane

nodded in agreement.

         “Why cannot they just save summer stock for winter?” Sabrine did not

understand their desperation.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 345


      “They cannot, they do not farm and they trade only with one city far to

the west.”

      “They could trade with us.” Sabrine suggested.

      “It does not work that way. They would rather kill us and owe us

nothing.”

      “We have plenty.” Sabrine pushed.

      “They are not like us.” Mirane said icily and Sabrine refrained from

speaking again.

      “What can we do?”

      “I‟ll go and take care of this.” Mirane stood and started for the door.

      “What do you intend?” I asked. I could not say that the idea of peaceably

trading did not appeal to me as a reasonable solution, certainly worth

exploration. I looked at Mirane if there were any sign in her face that she agreed.

      “I‟ll burn the city.” Her voice was deadened. I closed my eyes and leaned

back again not realizing how tired I was.

      “Would that not make them more desperate?” Sabrine asked quietly.

      “They will not be alive to starve, or retaliate.” Mirane was attempting to

stare us all down and we were careful about voicing our opinions.

      “Mirane, we would have to stay forever, killing them will just make others

come.” I said, they would never be safe.

      “Not necessarily.”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 346


       “Let us try to see what they need?” Kyltan, who had been listening and

trying to decide the best course of action.

       “Sure, let us just march ourselves out there, hand them our children and

prepare to die.” Mirane was barely in control of her temper or her tongue.

       “I‟m not suggesting that.” Kyltan defended. “I said they were starving.

Certainly we can come up with some food. What else do they need?”

       “Are you intending that we allow them live and so close at that? Only one

scout came back, what about the other nine that did not. Do you know what

happened to them?”

       “How far do you want to take this? Do you want to go and slay them?”

Kyltan was not prepared for her trying and failing. Kyltan was a gentle man. He

was not prepared to issue that order.

       “Mirane, I really believe we ought to consider this option.” I was not

afraid of her anger. I knew that she hated them and I knew that she would have

no problem slaying them all for the town, or slaying them for her own reasons.

“What do they make that would be useful here?”

       “Nothing, they create nothing.” Her tone was poisonous. Everyone in the

room stepped back.

       “That cannot be true.”

       “They steal, they rape, they murder they do not create.”

       “What do they trade among themselves?” I pursued.

       “Nothing.”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 347


       “Please, Mirane.” I was not above using my diminished state to gain her

sympathy. “They must have something worthwhile.”

       “No, there is nothing, let them starve, let them die.” Mirane looked at all

of us with deep unease. Did we think she was mad? We did, but we all thought,

she was entitled to this madness. Finally, she spat out, “Textiles. Cloth. They

weave.” Her answer came from clenched teeth.

       “They weave?”

       “Yes.” Mirane knew what few people knew, that their weaving was some

of the finest in the world and it was treasured among them. It was very rarely

given away. One could discern the entire lineage of a weaver by looking at his or

her piece. Each tribe had a different technique they had developed for centuries.

“Very fine quality, they make everything they wear or live within, it is a currency

among them.”

       “Certainly the village could use that and sell it to other villages and

Kaira.” Kyltan suggested.

       “They will not part with it.” Mirane looked at us like we were wasting

precious slaughter time.

       “Not even for food?” Sabrine asked.

       “Why should they?” Mirane said, “They can get anything they want by

stealing it. They can do that by killing us, why give us something if it is easier to

kill us. This is how they think, you do not know.”
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 348


       “But they cannot get all that they need,” I replied. “They are not getting

anything here.”

       “They are not done yet. If they have a city this close, this village is going

to be a constant target. And not just this village, every village within days of

here will be in danger. Even if they agree to trade we are still going to be a

target.”

       “So are you saying that the only way out of this is to kill every last one of

them?” I tried to exaggerate to get Mirane to realize the outrageousness of her

thoughts. I wanted her to see the absurdity of it, the inevitable escalation of it.

       “Yes.” Her reply was colder than I could have predicted. I had spent time

with her, teaching villages to protect themselves but I had never faced the

Darungs themselves, with her. I always knew that she despised them but never

had I experienced the totality of that dark hatred, I suspected then that I would

never experience it but I might see the devastating results of it.

       “Mirane.” Kyltan was not surprised by her total hate. He had seen those

marks on her body and could only guess at the severity of the pain she had

endured. He knew that she was a warrior and that she was paid to kill.

However, he did not wish to have all of these deaths on his head, the bodies

stacked outside sickened him. Kyltan‟s conflicted heart reverberated throughout

the room. I did not envy his position.

       “May I remind you, they attacked us, we did not hunt them on their land,

we did not put knives to the bodies of their children, we did not brandish flames
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 349


in the dead of night. They came here.” Mirane looked at each of us, her eyes

staying with us until each one of us looked away. “Why are we even considering

opening ourselves to this level of danger?”

       “We are not thinking about the immediate. We have to start thinking

about this as a pattern. They have done this to us for generations. Long ago we

should have thought of a solution.” Kyltan argued. He was the elected leader of

this village and he was not bound to make his case to her, but he felt that she was

the only one who could offer any advise at all. Ultimately what she said would

be their best course of action. But, if he could convince her, then she would make

it possible.

       “Do you want to pursue this?” Mirane looked to me again. Her eyes were

hard and serious. I wanted to break my vow to her. I wanted to see what was

behind the blackness of her eyes.

       “I want to know more.” I replied. I knew only that these people were

desperate. They may be willing. “If this were a viable course, I would pursue

it?”

       “How well are you feeling? Their arrow went through you.” Mirane said.

       “Indeed it has.” My hand went to touch the snug bandage that covered

that gaping wound. “But we are the more civilized people.”

       Mirane looked at me for a long time searching my face for some answer.

She had come close to losing me, too close, for her mind. It has raised my value
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 350


to her considerably, I thought. I was willing to use that to save lives. “You feel

this is what we should do.”

       “The peaceful solution is always better.”

       “I do not agree”

       “But if it could work, do you know how many villages we could save.”

       “How can you ask this?” She looked at all of us like we were now the

enemy. “How can any of you ask this?”

       “I can ask it, no one was hurt,” I said.

       “You were hurt.” Mirane‟s face softened for a moment, “You were

hurt…” her voice trailed away leaving my heart lurching for its final words.

       “I will recover. This is the right thing. This is what you were meant to

do.” I said trying to think like Mirane, trying to say the things that would sway

her mind.

       “This is what you want.”

       “Yes,”

       Sabrine, Kyltan and I watched her and perhaps innumerable thoughts and

one difficult choice worked their way through her mind as we stood there trying

to discern her progress. A long moment went by before she looked each of us in

the eyes. “We shall take first steps.” Her voice left one unmistakable thought in

all of us, she will cooperate but this will be on her terms.

       “What do you have in mind?” Kyltan asked. I will accept your command.

       “Where are the prisoners?”
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 351


       “They are under guard.” Kyltan responded.

       “Here is the deal, so far. “ Mirane was putting this in no uncertain terms.

She would keep this village alive, she would not bargain with their lives and she

would not hesitate to kill as many of these raiders as she could reach by sword.

       “Yes?”

       “Xylvan and I will interview two of the prisoners. Surely the guards have

determined who, if any, are the leaders among them. I speak their tongue and

Xylvan will monitor their thought for deception and desperation. If both of the

men are receptive to the idea of trading, if their thoughts reflect that their fellows

will also be receptive. If their thoughts do not betray a desire to kill us then we

shall put together a small amount of food. Xylvan, if he is able, Kyltan, and I will

go to the city and we shall trade with them. If either of these men feel that killing

my family is more important than their own families living through this winter, I

will slay the entire group of them.”

       Kyltan hated to admit it but this would be the best he would get. He did

not want to walk a line of danger with these people. “Xylvan, can you walk?”

       “I can try.” I swung my legs to the side of the bed and tried to stand.

Sabrine averted her eyes from my nakedness. “I can stand.” It was painful,

excruciating, but I forced myself to do it.

       “Then if you would excuse us for a few moments we will prepare.”

Mirane dismissed Kyltan and Sabrine.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 352


       “I cannot let you go to that city alone.” I leaned forward to grab my

clothes. The wound shot painful burst through me and I stopped. If my words

had any power or influence I felt them gone with the appearance of my

weakness. Her voice had the tiniest almost imperceptible softness.

       “I have not said I am going?”

       “No, but I fear that you will.”

       “I want you to be there, but I cannot risk your getting hurt again.” She

touched the wound in my gut and I winced as the pain shot through me. She

reached for my shoulders to steady me. Her anger at the Darungs flared in her

cheeks. I touched her. There was nothing I could say. If I could touch her mind

then I would have comforted it, I would have opened up my pain to her so she

could see it was not as great as those she has borne herself. Instead, I could only

touch her face and keep her focused.

       “Do you think there is a chance they will take the trade?”

       “It will depend on these men.”

       “Who is back at that camp?”

       “Mostly women and children, I would say. Usually the men go out at half

force so that the other half will be fresh for the next raid. However, if they are

desperate enough to bring the entire city down, they may have gone out

stronger.”

       “So you‟re likely to face another fifty.”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 353


       “I think so, another fifty men, at least one hundred women, not so many

children if they were starving.”

       “Tell me, would you kill children?” I asked before I thought of whether I

wanted to know the answer. I knew that the mission God had given her

required her to do things that I could not conceive of, or understand, and yet it

was hard for me to know the darkness and bloodshed of which she was capable.

It was harder for Sabrine.

       “They killed mine.” I saw a moment of deep sadness and then I saw her

push it away. She was exhausted and weakened. Always so good at concealing

her emotions, and protecting her thoughts, it was hard for her to keep such

sorrow from her face under such duress. This disclosure hit me like a punch.

Those children suddenly felt like mine. She had mentioned this to me on

isolated and rare occasions and as many times as we had lain together no child

ever formed in her womb. Despite this, I never truly believed it was true. Even

then I believed we were in some sort of prelude to our lives, Mirane who had

lived so much in so little time had not lived yet at all. I would rather believe that

someday there would be children. I did not tell her that, instead I reached out

and held her hand.

       “I have a procedure that will force them to tell the truth. Do you think that

that could be of any value?‟

       “Of course, but for this interview I want to know more what they are

thinking and less about what they perceive to be the truth.”
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 354


       “I will describe what they are thinking to you.” I suggested.

       “I do not know if this is possible, but could you project their thoughts to

me, visually, as they happen. Not for their eyes.”

       “I can illustrate their thoughts to you directly of course, or I could project

it so you and Kyltan can see it just as is.”

       “Alright. Are you sure you are strong enough?”

       “Yes.” I drew her face to me and kissed her. I pushed my hands into her

hair and held her close to me. I could not lose her any more than she could me.



       Against his better judgment, Kyltan accompanied Mirane and me over to

the common house where the prisoners were being kept. He asked the guards

which two had taken leadership roles while in custody and those men were

selected. Heavily tethered they were brought down to the common room. Both

were visibly anxious and fearful. Both men were older than Mirane and I but not

by much. Their bodies were built for fighting and perhaps each man had once

been a powerful warrior but extended malnutrition and starvation had stretched

their sallow skin across their massive bones. Broad faces had sunken cheeks and

dark circles beneath wrinkled eyes. These men had shaved the sides of their

heads and wore the hair on the top of their head in a black top knot wrapped in

silken threads. None of the prisoners were allowed to wash and blood splatter

covered their clothes and face. As Mirane entered the room their cavernous faces

grew dark and haunted. I was tempted to soothe their fears but the look on
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 355


Mirane‟s face clearly told me that their fear was in their own best interest. Two

chairs were put in the middle of the room and they were tied to them. Kyltan,

Mirane and I stood in front of these men and looked down on them.

           “Kak faz yublai33.” Mirane began asking them for their names. I watched

them closely and began to create the images of their thoughts behind them.

Mirane watched as the events of the raid played out. At first the men were

triumphant and then it all went wrong and everyone was afraid, scrambling to

escape. “Why did you attack us?” She asked.

           “Hyhban,” began the man who called himself Scrazt, “Hyhban ordered

the attack.” The man was telling the truth but not all of it. He was surprised the

woman knew their language and was not sure what kind of a test this was. He

wanted to keep as much unsaid as possible. “Giving credit to Hyhban would be

good for the tribe regardless of what happens here.” Mirane told us.

           “What did he want here?”

           “Animals and food.”

           “We have both.”

           “Yes, we saw.”

           “Are you hungry, now?”

           “Yes.” Scrazt avoided answering but this companion, Uime, blurted his

response.

           “Are you married, Uime?”

33
     Tense used is derogatory.
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 356


        “I have only two wives.” Uime thought of them and two very thin women

appeared behind him, they were crying and ashamed. Of course, this did not

mean that they were crying or ashamed but that Uime imagined that they were.

        “Would you like to stay here?” Mirane said this seductively but Uime‟s

thoughts went only to his wives. It was very clear to me, that he was fond of

them.

        “What would you give to go home?”

        Uime‟s mind went blank and tears ran from his eyes over the dried blood.

I felt very sorry for the man who was sure that he was going to die. That did not

bother him but the thought that his wives would have to marry other men

bothered him, he sensed a loyalty to the women and the value they had as his

wives in addition to genuine affection. He formed an image of giving his own

life for theirs.

        “And you Scraszt? What would you lose?” This man had no wife, she was

already dead and he believed he was, too. “What would you give to live?”



        It was Uime who started to look at Mirane differently. Behind him a wall

of flame appeared accompanied by the most horrific smell of burning hair and

flesh. The potency of the sensation caused me to gasp and choke. I stumbled.

“What‟s happening?” Mirane wrapped her arm around me.
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 357


       “I‟m fine,” I lied, still choking. I forced myself to stand and as I did, I

caught Uime‟s vision. From the wall of flame, from the stench of death emerged:

the silhouette of a woman. Uime believed it was Mirane.

       These men had cast her in the story of a massacre, a bloody devastating

massacre that filled them with such fear and disgust. In those first five years, I

vicariously, experienced many reactions to Mirane from condescension to

irrelevance to desire, lust and arrogance but I had never experienced anything as

instantly intense and specific. Her presence was horrifying to them. It was

revolting to them in the way of nightmares.

       Mirane looked away from the men and to the illusion that stood in back.

Clear to Kyltan, Mirane and I, was the massacre. Mirane, or a woman who

looked remarkable like her stood in front of a burning tent city. It was early in

the dawn but the fire and the smoke rose high and black. Behind her were dead

and blackened bodies. The woman did not look back. She strode very

confidently away from the fire, her hair blew behind her, her face and clothes

streaked with blood and ash.

       “What is this?” Mirane demanded of Uime and she forced his body to

turn and look at the image. For a frozen moment he looked at the image, then

screamed and turned back to her to beg for forgiveness. He struggled against his

bindings to fall to his knees. He pleaded for his life in a rapid tumbling of trilled

syllables flew from his mouth.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 358


       Mirane grabbed him by the throat, “What is this, who is that?” Despite

everything she was, everything Sians will come to believe of her, she was not

prone to a sudden temper. Kyltan and I stood back as Mirane lifted the man by

his neck and demanded that he answer.

       “The Seraflegh,” he answered collapsing to the floor. Mirane looked at

him for a long time.

       “What is a Seraflegh?” Kyltan asked.

       “It is a legend.” Mirane answered distractedly. Later, so much later, I

would learn what and who the Seraflegh was, but Mirane knew at that moment.

Her demeanor changed immediately.

       Mirane lunged across the room again and grabbed Uime by his neck.

Scraszt reached for her but the guards held him bak; I had not though Kyltan‟s

sons could move that quickly.

       “You miserable bastard, Faze wirdin fukdanto,” she switched effortlessly to

Darung. Before last night I had never heard her whisper a word of it. “Jup en faz

lintieng.” Uime looked at her and suddenly there was not a single breath in the

room. “These men, Prince Jimerateal of Sian and Lord Kyltan of Gryth

Territories, these important Diamon Dren, have come to speak to you wirdin

fukadantoo, listen.” Mirane dropped her hand and both Scrazt and Uime sat up

and looked to us. Mirane turned to me with a perfectly calm face, “Would you

like me to translate?”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 359


       “Yes, if you would.” I replied unsure if it was safe to reject her offer and

trying to seem as important as she had made me out to be.

       “Yes, of course.”

       “We would like to propose a joint trading venture between this village

and your tribe.”

       Mirane spoke harshly for several minutes, far longer than any translation

should take. I could see their reactions and images she put into their minds.

Mirane‟s colorful translation was probably the least diplomatic statement I‟d

hear in my life, short of, „If you want to know what your own liver tastes like,

then may I suggest you continue to hassle me over the price.‟ Which by no

coincidence was also Mirane‟s negotiating style, the previous year. We did not

get that contract.

        The men had not thought trade would be possible and no one in their

tribe had ever suggested it. There was a group in the north that sold their

tapestries to a city and received enough food and fuel to live on throughout the

year. They were too ashamed to come to the festivals and were considered to

have very low prestige.

       “If trade kept you all alive would you do it?”

       “Yes.” Uime answered with embarrassment. His thoughts went to a tiny

scrap of food.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 360


       “Mirane, I think this interview is over.” I touched her shoulder. I knew

that she was desperate for any excuse to destroy them but there was not reason

here. Kyltan took the men away.

       “They are desperate.” I began, “and they were very frightened of you.”

       “Of course, they watched me butcher their tribesmen last night.”

       “More than that, they knew who you were.”

       “What do you mean?”

       “They know that you have taken their blood before.”

       “What are you talking about?”

       “That legend, they suspect and they believe. They associate you with a

myth about a woman of flame and beauty who betrayed them some time in their

history.”

       “That is an old legend, a bogeyman, a finger woman, it means nothing

unless it helps us.”

       “Are we going to try to trade?” I asked bluntly.

       “We will continue onto the next step but I do not know how far we will

get. How are you doing?”

       “I think I need to rest.”

       “Of course.” Mirane felt my forehead. I should not even have been

walking at this time but I could not let Mirane conduct these interviews on her

own. I believed that she was capable of killing our prisoners. I could not let her

do that. Strange that I could follow her for years, helping her with her quest
                                                          Secrets and Illusions 361


against these people and yet so loathe the idea of what she might do to them and

so confident I would protect them. “You are warm, let us go to Sabrine‟s.”

      Mirane wrapped her arm around my waist and helped me to the door.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 362


Proposal

       Mirane slipped from my warm arms and put her feet to the cold floor.

Outside the village was dark with the still night. The militia had arrived late last

night and had settled in on the green. Most of them were asleep; however, they

had posted guards around the perimeter. These men were on the watch for the

raiders and would not notice one villager leaving.

       She dressed in darkness, her clothes were black and thick, and her boots

were wound with black wool and her cape tied close to her body. She left the

room we shared and crept silently to Sabrine and Gyan‟s common room. She

went to the fireplace and smeared black ash on her hands and face. She left her

long hair clean and tucked it all up within her cap. She pulled a long bow across

her body, tied long unfinished arrows to her back, and tucked her sword into its

familiar place at her side.

       Once outside the house she borrowed one of Gyan‟s horses and filled its

packs with food. Earlier she had composed instructions for Kyltan and given

them to Sabrine‟s youngest son to give to Kyltan or Sabrine the next day. Those

plans outlined what they should prepare within that day. The boy was sworn on

his honor and his not insignificant crush on his famous aunt. When she stepped

outside, Mirane looked at their fresh tents and knew that underneath them slept

shop keepers, new dads, young husbands, over grown boys who‟d all signed up

to be volunteer warriors and spontaneous heroes and as such, were the most

unqualified for it. It had to be her; there was no way she would let these boys do
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 363


her work. Of course, if she failed, it would fall to them. “God save us from

that,” she thought. The militia must be prepared to attack the Tent City if she

did not return within three days. She would be back in two if she lived.

      It was just as easy to slip through the holes in the militia‟s perimeter as she

thought it would be. She entered the western forest unseen and was riding hard

through the predawn darkness. She was not tired but she rested occasionally for

the poor animal that had been drafted into her service. It was the same fine beast

that had borne her to the wedding and it was not accustomed to such hardship.

In the early morning light she could see that they had both sustained rips and

tears from the thorns around them. The animal looked at her pleadingly to stop

but she explained to him that it was necessary for them to do this. Despite being

unappeased the horse allowed her to remount.

      It was hours before the first sign of the Tent City confronted the delicate

nose of this decorative horse. Mirane prayed that the horse remain quiet until

they could get close enough. It was not even an hour later that Mirane got a

sight of the sprawling group of tents. The tribe that had held by always

clustered their tents and quality that made it easy to kill them. This group either

had learned from that mistake or felt there was no danger here. Their tents were

spread further than she was used to. They were brightly dyed in reds and

violets, against the winter plain below. The forest was behind her and she hoped

that she melted into it still. She had approached from a flank that gave her a

good vantage but would be difficult to approach with an army. They had backed
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 364


their camp against its steep rise. She looked at it and knew that she could ride

her mount down it even though it would be slow going.

       She crouched down and watched the group. It was already midday but

there seemed to be little activity. By now they must be aware that the original

attack had failed, especially since the Kaira group had come after the deserters.

They were not quite in the state of confusion they might be. She hoped that the

boy had given Kyltan his instructions because there might be danger if they have

already sent the second group of raiders. It would be a terrible thing for the

village but even worse for this city. She had not seen any sign on the way that

they had already come through but they might have gone a different route.

       She stayed perched until she counted as many as twenty different males

still in the city. She looked around her; she needed something to get their

attention. She went deeper in the wood so they would not see her, then built a

small fire. She used the ash to darken her face again in case it had lost its

blackness and then set two arrows on fire. She hurried back to the ridge and

struck both arrows into the air. She watched as the first and then the second lit a

tent each on fire. Its inhabitants ran screaming outside and were soon joined by

others alerted by the noise. They had not figured out what happened, no one

had seen the arrows and she was flat against the earth.

       Now that she had a third of the city out in the cold she prepared two more

arrows for flight. To one she attached a small packet of salted meats. She knew

that they considered this to be a great treat. This arrow landed in front of them
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 365


and she stood up to deliver it. Half of the group was staring at her and the other

at her gift. She tore her cap off her head and released her mane of fire hair. She

knew that the men had associated her with their legend and she knew better than

I that they could not be more correct. As they stared up at her she could almost

taste their fear and their confusion. The horse was close enough for her to catch

its reigns and pull it to the edge.

       Below her, she could she that some of the fighters had grabbed swords

and long bows. Archers were already pointing their arrows at her. She mounted

the animal without fear; she sensed from them that they would not shoot unless

she did anything else dangerous. She prayed she could trust her instincts on

this. She held the animal tightly in her thighs and forced it to begin its trek down

to the plain. It took each step hesitantly and very slowly, that did not matter to

her. She still had one arrow poised on her bow and aimed at the city. It was not

alight but they still respected it.

       When the horse reached the floor of the plain it was shaking and nervous.

She whispered sweet soft words to it to comfort it; she had already pushed it

farther than she believed she could have. Together they walked into the city.

She saw around her that they were starving, their bodies were emaciated and

tired. The food that she had shot at them was gone, she had not seen anyone

take it or eat it but it had been moved away from the group. Each step the horse

took the more room they gave her until they completely surrounded her.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 366


       “Darung” she began addressing them in their own word for themselves.

She had not thought of that word in a long time. She was so comfortable with

“raiders”, and “enemy,” that this word for people pronounced so softly

discomforted her. “You know who I am.”

       They were silent; one woman grabbed for a small child near her and

hugged it close to her. The child itself seemed sexless, it had on ripped clothes

that seemed to have no warmth, and its hair was cut short. The woman had all

her hair, but her own clothes were lacking the fineness that she should have had.

“Are you here to kill us, too?” asked one man finally.

       “Yes.” She answered coldly. Weapons were still raised against her but

none were being used. Did they believe that she was not killable? Had she

passed into some popular legend as an immortal or a demon? “But I will not.”

       They stopped screaming and wailing and looked at her for reasons.

“What are you here to do?”

       “Why did you come to my village the other night?”

       “Because my children are starving, because my wife is dead,” yelled one

man who picked up two small babies and hoisted them up at her.

       “Why my village, why attack, why kill?”

       “There is only so much food in the world. Your village grows fat with it,

when is our turn?” Mirane had heard this argument before but never so

impassioned. Largely it was a joke and the thinnest veiling of an excuse. Mirane

nearly killed him for that but she retained her calm and her temper.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 367


      “I am able to offer you all life.” Mirane looked at all of them at once, she

made eye contact with the men who had spoken up and forced their eyes to look

away. “It comes at a price.”

      “What price, anything.” Several Darung mumbled this and one woman

shouted, pleadingly.

      “My village has food, more than enough, all of it good, none of it rotten.

They will exchange it with you for something.”

      “A trade. We have nothing.”

      “You have your weaving, your tents, your clothes, we will take only these.

We will not take anything that you have stolen from other villages only the items

you have made.”

      “That is all, food for these rags?”

      “This year.”

      “And next?”

      “Next year we will want finer things made. You will all be busy

throughout the summer creating these things while we grow food from the

ground. Then you will travel back to this place and meet us.”

      “We shall need time to consider your terms,” this was spoken by the

oldest Darung woman she had ever seen. The woman wore very fine garments

and walked with the aid of a long staff, though she too was starving.

      “There is no time.”

      “There is always time,” replied the woman.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 368


       “Not this time, I have left instructions that an army will come in two days.

They are three hundred strong and they are prepared to kill you all, down to the

smallest babe. Do you believe me?”

       “Yes.” The woman was knowledgeable and powerful; one did not reach

that age by being anything but.

       “I will be returning to my village with your answer this very day. If you

agree you will send five of your strongest people to this spot with ten horses.

Each animal will have all the extra fabric, garments and canvas you can spare

this winter. Two of these people will be Uime‟s wives, Caliopp and Miysh. We

five will return to my village to make a fair exchange. In addition, I want all

your red skirts.”

       “No red skirts, we have none. And if we decline?”

       “Then you have two days to move this city as far you can from this spot as

you can before the most massive army you‟ve ever seen has been amassed and

tracks you down by my sword. Now go, speak among yourselves.”

       “And if we kill you.” One man came from behind and screamed. She

turned easily and sliced him. He fell to the ground bleeding and screaming.

       “Do any of you want to starve trying to kill me? I have lived among you, I

know starving. I‟m not too tired to kill you all with my own blade. I know you

believe that I can. Those who do not should rethink that.”
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 369


           The decision that would change the history of their tribe was made in less

than a mark34. It was often said among the Darung that decisions were always

made as a choice between two equal evils. The members of this city felt that this

was the only choice they could live with and it was.

           Women she presumed to be Caliopp and Miysh were the first to arrive at

the designated spot. They came dressed in red, the color of birth, of

menstruation, of bloody death, and the color of blood. They believed they were

a being led to the sacrifice. Mirane did not care. The three other representatives

came with their animals soon after and Mirane descended to the plain again.

They met her with averted eyes and fear. She believed that was the best she

could hope for. She checked them all for weapons, especially the two women.

None of them had so much as a cutting wheel on them. The old woman was

very wise.

           Before they left friends and family bid them tearful farewells and Mirane

made them pull away. She did not comfort any of their unspoken fears. “If there

is even the slightest threat to my life all of you will die. I shall tether you high in

the trees and let the birds pick you apart.” To illustrate her point Mirane looked

up at those same high branches. She was so far satisfied with this expedition and

even more relieved that I was not with her. I would be a comfort to them and

showing them my illusions to help communicate with them. She spoke their




34
     See Borderland Relations in the South by Walte Grumche
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 370


language and she knew of what they were capable. They were already

desperate; a little fear would not force them into a riot.



       The hours back to the crawled as slowly as the captives moved. Mirane

did not speak. She thought that if she spoke even a word she would betray the

extent of her growing exhaustion. She kept her mind focused on getting home

alive and handing these representative traders over to Kyltan who could handle

it from there. She hoped he would be wise enough to have the militia escort

them back and on their way. It would be in the best interest of Kaira for the

militia to patrol that area for a short time to insure they did not return until the

designated trading time.

       When she saw the first set of perimeter guards she felt all her muscles

relax. She forced herself to stay rigid upon her mount. The guard that first saw

them had already called over several others and they were ready to greet these

newcomers. Mirane had not met these particular men before.

       “What is your name?” the first said to her with authority.

       “My name is Mirane Damaskoi.”

       “What is your business?” Her name meant nothing to her interrogator.

       “Did you not get your assignment to be at this post from Kyltan?”

       “Ma‟am you are running out of time. What is your business?”

       “I‟m here to deliver these prisoners to Lord Kyltan.”

       “Prisoners?”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 371


       “Yes, I have five Darung prisoners for Kyltan.”

       “I‟m going to need you to dismount.” The young soldier had been poorly

briefed and Mirane was in no mood for his officiousness. As far as she was

concerned the army did nothing to prevent these attacks and yet had the nerve to

subject her to their protocol.

       Mirane nudged the animal forward. She stood up taller and her hand

went decidedly to her large sword. “I‟m going to need to speak with your

commander.”

       “Lady, I‟m going to need you to dismount.” He repeated. And Mirane

did. Faster than any of the young soldiers had ever seen someone move she had

dismounted and pulled him down to the ground. She disarmed him simply and

while the other two were dismounting she pulled them off their animals and

pushed them to the ground. The first stood up on his knees, at face level with

Mirane‟s extended blade.

       “I need to speak with your commander, what is his name?”

       “I am his commander.” Kyltan walked up behind the downed men all

kept down by Mirane‟s sword and force of will.

       “Did you get my message?”

       “Yes, I did.” Kyltan looked at the three young soldiers with a mix of

disdain and frustration. He had no choice but to call them in to protect this

village but they could be brought down by one of the villagers, a villager he
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 372


could not control. So instead of the plan going as planned he had Mirane going

rogue and his soldiers causing her additional trouble. He scowled.

       “I have the first representatives of your ground breaking trading treaty.”

Kyltan looked away from the soldiers and away from Mirane and to the four

frightened Darungs.

       “Welcome,” he said and approached them with open arms.

       “They will not understand you.”

       Kyltan shot her a quick displeased look.

       “I did not ask for this to happen. I did not wish to pursue this plan but I

am supporting it, I am the only one who could have gotten them here, do not

look at me that way.”

       “Mirane,” he said but she did not let him finish his sentence.

       “Lord Kyltan, take them to the common house, that woman is Uime‟s

wife, I do not see that they should not be reunited. I need to clean up and sleep,

then Xylvan and I will join you to help with translation.” Mirane‟s voice was icy

and allowed no room for Kyltan to speak again. Mirane stalked away.



       Angry, exhausted, and self-righteous, Mirane left Kyltan and returned

directly to Sabrine‟s house. Some part of me, at the time, wished that I were not

there, that she would have to seek me out. But I was waiting for her there. It

soon became clear to me that her leaving me now for this second time was less

surprising than that she had not done it at all during the first five years.   When
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 373


Mirane stepped into the bedroom we shared she found me just as angry,

exhausted and self-righteous as she was. I was standing, my wound from the

other night bandaged and I was packing to go.

       I never wish to know what would have happened had she given me

enough time or opportunity to leave.

       “Good morning,” she smiled sleepily as she closed the door behind her

quietly.

       “Mirane,” my face was stern and my voice icy.

       “Are you alright, are you in pain?” Mirane kept her eyes on me and had

not yet seen my pack. She was dressed head to toe in black, her face covered in

sweat streaked ash. Her hair was loose and tangled around her. Looking at her

made it harder to do what I intended. She stepped forward and tried to pull

apart my clothes.

       “No, I‟m fine.”

       “You are dressed, where are you going.”

       “I assume you succeeded.” I changed the subject. I wanted to yell at her

for leaving, I wanted to make her understand that she could not run away and be

the hero. She had Kyltan and his army surely she could have thought of some

way of using these resources. Why did she feel she needed to run ahead and

take care of it all herself. She could have been killed, should have been killed, the

odds were inexorably stacked against her.

       “Well, we‟ll see.”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 374


       “What do you mean?”

       “I brought back, with me, five young people and ten horses. They

brought their trade for the year. I left it up to Kyltan and the village how to

arrange the matter but I made sure the Darungs knew that they would be

moving their city much farther west.”

       “They agreed to the trade.”

       “They were forced to agree.”

       “By you?” I gave her a hard look trying to see her, really see her.

       “By it being the right thing to do for them.” Mirane was too exhausted to

argue or defend against unspoken accusations. She stripped off her leggings and

washed in the cold basin. The ash sluiced from her face and hands and darkened

the water. She promised herself a much better bath later that day and pulled a

long dress over her head and tied the laces loosely. She looked back to me and a

look of betrayal had settled in thin hollow cheeks. “What is it?”

       “I am leaving.”

       “Yes, I asked you where you were going.” Mirane no longer looked like

she was ignoring what was plain and obvious between us. She was carefully

controlling difficult feelings and a quickly growing fury.

       “Home. I‟m going home.”

       “Home to Sian.”

       “Yes.” We looked at each other for a long moment. It hung behind us

with a sense of finality. If I could reach out to her mind, if I knew what she was
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 375


thinking, if I could feel her perhaps it would all end differently. Mirane was no

more than she had always been. She was impatient and hasty. She thought of no

one but herself and her need to save everyone single handedly. She was not a

part of my soul as I had spent these last years believing. She was the love of my

life but she had no love. Even as I thought this I knew it was a harsh assessment.

She had loves, she must, but she was unwilling to share them. She had left me

behind in Scolar and I dutifully followed believing I had crossed her for not

staying behind. She wanted me to follow her because that was how our lives

went. She led and I followed blindly sometimes. I now wanted those blinders to

be removed.

        “I see.” She said and pushed back her exhaustion to somewhere else in her

mind. “When are you leaving?”

        “Today.”

        “You are going to travel in the winter?”

        “Damn it, I traveled here through this frozen hell of a winter to get here.”

        “And why the hell did you do that?”

        “I do not know.”

        “And for that matter, how did you do that, it took me three times as long.”

        “It took me even longer than that. I tracked you from the day you left.”

        “I told you to stay, I told you to go to Sian and now that is exactly what

you are threatening. You want to leave me, you cannot stand for me to leave

you.”
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 376


       “That is it, Mirane. That is exactly it. It is so easy for you to leave me as if

I am nothing to you. You live, you plow through the world and I revolve around

you waiting for your next inspiration, instruction, whim, decision, passion

whatever it is that you plow to next and I can keep up or be left behind, unless it

is your wish that I be left behind.”

       “I would have wanted you there today.”

       “You are lying.”

       “Yes, I am. I did not want you there. I needed to play on a myth, they did

not believe I was human, they did not try to kill me out of pure fear. Pure fear.

Fear that is in their skin, fear that controls their brains against making any other

decision from the decision I wanted them to make. You saw that when we spoke

to them. If you had been there they might not have made that connection, I

would not have had fear on my side. If I had that militia they would have not

thought twice about throwing themselves on our swords. I followed the plan

that you had advocated, I brought representatives back for a trade and I left

written instructions as to what to do while I was gone in order to prepare for my

failure.”

       “But you left without a word. You could have gone alone even if Kyltan

and I knew that you were going.”

       “Of course, I could not.” She pictured Larken and Kyltan stopping her,

her family protesting and my asking her to reconsider. “And even if I could then

I would not have had the power I had.”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 377


      “And what power was that.”

      “I was willing to kill them.”

      “I cannot live like this, Mirane,” I growled.

      “Like how?” She asked her voice filled with her own anger restrained only

by the knowledge of how thin these walls were.

      “Mirane, I do not know who you think that I am to you but you have no

thought at all for my partnership. Do I just work for you, should I collect my

gold from you at the end of the year.”

      “How could I possibly afford the services of the great Prince Jimareteal,

the Prince who has secured us immunity from the law. The Prince who has

changed the way the entire borderlands think about their security because he can

show them what they fear the most. The Prince whose very presence means that

I cannot move as I wish, cannot think as I wish, must hide every horrible thought

that I have lest you discover it, the Prince whose very presence I could not leave

in the Francinian wood, the Prince who changed everything about me. How can

I pay that in gold each year? If you want to leave, leave. Leave me forever and

return to your northern paradise leave me changed and leave me alone.” She

was an inexplicable mix of sarcasm, scathing and sincere.

      “What are you saying?”

      “I am saying nothing that you should not already know.”

      “What am I to know? How am I to know it?”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 378


         “That I love you. How are you to know that I love you? Is that what you

are asking me?”

         “Yes, how?”

         “Did you not propose marriage to me, did I not accept, did you think I

took nothing you have said for five years with value. Leave Xylvan. Just leave.”

Mirane tried to stand taller, tried to look even more aloof but she did not. She sat

down on the bed, with her back to me. I looked at her and knew that this was

the moment that I could stay or go. If I stayed, I had to risk that she would not

change, that I could find myself once again in a cold bed with her riding off to

her death, to another man or to wherever she chose but if I went, if I went, I

would not get to spend a single moment more with her. Even if I knew nothing

about her before the day I met her, even if I never got to know more than I knew

at that moment than I could still learn about her future. So I risked it all. “Do

you want me to leave?”

         She turned around, she stood and with every ounce of conviction in her

body she looked at me, her evergreen eyes wide and clear. “No.”

         “Then I need to be more to you. I will be a partner to you, someone who

protects you as you protect me, someone who is as much a part of the decision

making as you are…”

         “You are always part of the decision. When we bargain you strike the

deal.”
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 379


      “More than in business, Mirane. When I suggest we go to Sian, you end

the discussion. You want to see your family but you have never mentioned that

they live to me. You want to end your marriage, and yet I do not know you are

married. You want to set up a trade agreement with a Darung city and I do not

know that you have gone. I will not be so far away.”

      “We are going to Sian, but regardless, you did not want me to go to Sian,

you did not want to come here, you did not want to watch me slay the Darungs.”

She was still shouting.

      “You do not know any of that, here I am, I have seen you kill, and I have

seen you fight. I know that I want to be with you. Each day I learn that there is

nothing you can do that would make me want to leave you, if I know that you

are with me.”

      “Are you going to leave? Are you going to stay with me while I wait for

you to punish me and leave when I least expect it?”

      “No, Mirane. I am not going to punish you.”

      “Are you going to Sian?”

      “Are you coming with me?”

      “I will.”

      Slowly the anger in the room dissipated. I came forward to embrace her.

“I love you.”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 380


       “I love you. You are my prince, my love.” She kissed my mouth and

pressed her body against me. A practiced and subtle shift in her body weight

cued me to lower her to the bed.

       “Will you leave me again?”

       “No,” she whispered in my ear, “now you‟ll have to come everywhere

with me.”

       “With pleasure.” I kissed her again and she met my kiss with warmth

before falling back on the pillows. My hair fell over her in a dark straight curtain

and she pushed it away, tossing it over my shoulder.

       I kissed her as deeply as I could. I pressed my body against hers lining

my legs with hers, my stomach with hers, my hips with hers, her breasts to my

chest, fingers entwined. I did not wish there to be a single inch of her body that I

could not reach, that I could not touch. We who love warriors have to accept that

we lose them all the time. We lose our hearts to them and they take them into

battle and we stand to lose it all. I was staying, little if anything would change

between us. She was who and what she was and while I had her, while I could

touch her I would keep her and feel her as fully as I could. I stripped off her

filthy clothes and left her naked on the bed. Her criss crossed flesh was a

reminder of what she had endured and what I had to do to amend. I kissed her

face and her neck. I kissed the valley between her breasts and down to her taut

muscled stomach. I kissed her hips and her knavish, stroking these sweet folds

with my tongue. Mirane‟s body was taut and quivering from battle. I reached
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 381


up to her chest and reminded her to relax. I lapped at her nyvish while she

moaned her pleasure. It did not take long before quivering from battle had

turned into quivering with pleasure. I stroked the flesh at the top of her leg and

separated her to open to me. She reached. I returned to her mouth and kissed

her as deeply as I intended to penetrate her body. Despite my wound, I needed

her. I needed her if I were going to heal; I needed her if I were going to live.

       “I need to sleep.” She whispered and I looked again at her. Her hair was

filthy with dirt and ash. There was dried blood across her face and hair and the

clothes on the floor. Subtle lines on her face were filled with ash and dirt.

       “I need to be with you.” I groaned unfastening my trousers and slipping

out of them. “I need to feel you and…”I slid into her waiting body. I did not

finish the sentence. She rolled me over and rode me, rocking me and caressing

me. She drove me to the peak of pleasure, taking hers as she wanted. When I

finally released into her body, I felt waves of pleasure wash over me. She

shuddered on top, closing her eyes and tossing her head back. I loved to see her

pleasure.

       She rolled off and curled up beside me. “We need a bath.”

       “It can wait.” She answered sleepily. Her eyes barely stayed awake. “I

need a bath.”

       “Yes, you do. I‟ve never seen you so dirty.” There was a lilt of humor in

her voice. “Your own mother would not recognize her. And she was correct.

Mirane was the first person I had ever seen covered in blood or dirt for that
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 382


matter. Bathing, in Sian, is a veritable art form. Certain bath techniques were as

treasured as rare slices of Punta mushrooms. Bathing in my own country was

considered an absolute daily necessity. Bathing in this country was barely

considered. By the time I finished the thought Mirane was deeply asleep. I

pulled the covers to her chin and tiptoed from the room.



       Outside the room, both Sabrine and Gyan were pretending not to listen.

Both looked as if they had not slept in days, which I knew to be true. They

looked at me with intense concern but what specifically gave them such concern

was difficult to discern from their weary faces and their confused thought. Each

had a dozen questions on their tongues but neither spoke.

       “All is well.” I said first, a phrase I often used when speaking to those

who have had connections with Mirane. “Last night, Mirane left this house and

on a plan Kyltan, Mirane and I were discussing, Mirane went to the Darung

village. Through great personal strength Mirane did not harm a single person

but convinced the tribe to send a delegation to negotiate a treaty that would

prevent any further attacks. Per usual she acted on her own and there are no

further details to give you. She is resting now.”

       “Are you leaving?” Sabrine asked.

       “No,” I smiled as reassuringly and jovially as possible as the questions

when what I really felt was just relief. “But I might have to, if I cannot find a

place to bathe.”
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 383


       “Are you sure that is a good idea?” she said looking at my wound.

       “If you have a place, I‟ll take care of it.”

       “Yes, we have a bathing room.” Gyan said. “I built it for clients to steam

but it will allow you a decent bath.” I looked at Gyan and wondered what kind

of a life he had before he ended up in a backwater town like this. It seems this

village was full of men who had urban lives that were sidetracked to marry

Krahan women. “You look surprised.”

       “I apologize, I‟m just very grateful.”

       “Come,” Gyan patted his wife on the shoulder and led me through the

house to the back steam room. Gyan already had a fire burning in the center of

this beautiful wood room. Light wood benches were built around the fire and

the burning coals. Gyan pulled off his clothes and sat down. I followed suit and

Gyan splashed some water over the coals. The room filled with steam and I

leaned back. If I could not sit in a bath, I could sweat off all this dirt and blood.

We said nothing as more and more steam filled the room. “Too hot for you?”

Gyan asked as he splashed another ladle of water on the coals.

       “This is perfect.” I groaned as I leaned against the wall. Gyan tossed me a

clean rag to wipe myself. The filth came off my body. “Can it be hotter?”

       “Are you sure?” He asked

       “Definitely.” I moaned. “Unless, you are uncomfortable.”

       “I can, I can go a little hotter.”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 384


       “This is fine.” I felt so good, the grime of months was coming off me, I

was warmer than I had been since I had left Sian, and for the first time since then,

I felt that I was in a civilized place.

       “Sian gets pretty warm, I hear.”

       “Have you been?”

       “Of course not, the borders are sealed.”

       “You would be welcome there.” I smiled.

       “What?”

       “Your reputation precedes you.”

       “My designs are in Sian.”

       “Yes, as a young man I gave one to my lover.”

       “Mirane?”

       I laughed “I have only had the pleasure of seeing my love, Mirane, in a

Gyan dress once. No it was for my first lover, I'radai.”

       “A Sian woman?”

       “Of course,” I could see a couple of interesting flashes cross Gyan‟s mind.

“Mirane is my first human lover,” I paused at the explicitness of his thoughts.

“Sian is a language that is spoken both verbally and mentally. I do not want to

use the word mind readers but it is not a bad comparison.” Gyan‟s face went

quite pale as we sat naked in this steam and his mind went to the most

outrageous notions of sexual compatibility. I laughed for a moment, “Can you

pass the ladle?”
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 385


       “Sure.” I dipped the silver ladle into a bowl of warm water and poured it

over my legs, arms and chest. I wiped myself down and leaned back again.

Neither of us spoke again until the heat finally, overwhelmed Gyan almost an

hour later.

       “Please, stay as long as you would like.”

       “Don‟t say that, I‟ll be here until summer.”

       “Is he in there?” I heard Mirane‟s voice from beyond the steam and that

steady stream of escaping hot air.

       “Yes, he is,” I called back and with that Mirane crawled inside the steam

room settling herself next to me.

       “Kyltan wants us to translate and negotiate with the Darungs before he

makes a general announcement.”

       “I do not speak Darung.”

       “Not speaking a language has rarely stopped you from communicating

with anyone.”

       “Do you suggest, I violate their thoughts?”

       “Are you giving me a hard time? You do that everyday, I‟m surprised you

speak at all.”

       Mirane relaxed along the wooden bench and put her head in my lap. I ran

my hand along her chest and cupped one familiar breast. “Are you feeling better

after your rest?”
                                                                Secrets and Illusions 386


       “Yes, of course. Are you feeling better after this extended steam. How

hot is it in here?”

       “It could be warmer.”

       “Is this what it is like in Sian? A giant steam bath.”

       “Yes, this is exactly it, we have to learn to speak in our minds because the

steam is so thick we cannot see one another.”

       “Now I know you are giving me a hard time.”

       “Let me wash your hair.” I said reaching out for her.

       “No, Sian is some great vast bathtub, and yes the steam is this thick all the

time perhaps the air is filled with bath bubbles.” With that I pulled over a large

bowl of warm water and dumped it over her head. She sat up sputtering and

shocked.

       “What was that?”

       “I wanted to see if you could swim, since you promised to go with me.”

Before she could say another word, I kissed her mouth. From then I untangled

her long filthy braid, washed and combed her heavy hair. So much blood, dirt,

ash, and other materials rinsed out for quite awhile before her auburn sheen was

revealed again.



       A mark later we emerged from Sabrine‟s house freshly dressed and

brushed. We looked like new people. Mirane wore her clean black travel

leggings, freshly brushed boots that covered her knees, a clean white shirt and a
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 387


Sian styled vest I had purchased for her several years ago. Her damp hair was

pulled back in a long braid that bounced on her shoulder and down her breast. I

was wearing a similarly simple pair of black leggings, boots, and white shirt but

with a more elegant Sian coat embroidered with Hysyl threads. My very long

straight hair hung down my back unknotted or adorned. Even that seemed too

elaborate for this place where the signs of battle were still obvious and the mud

sucked at my boots.

       We strode across the muddy ground in step. I can still picture us walking

so purposefully, so confidently that those who saw us thought better of

distracting us. I remember thinking that although I had walked by her side for

years this was the first time I was truly walking at her side, as a partner. I

wondered about those Darungs in the common house, waiting for Mirane to

return, waiting to know if she was going to keep her promise, waiting to know if

they were to die or even just waiting to know what was in store for them.

       Kyltan stood at the front door, arms were crossed on his chest, looking at

nothing in particular.

       “Good day,” I offered at our approach. Despite our rather difficult first

introduction I found myself liking Kyltan more and more with each subsequent

meeting. He was a man of decided loyalty and a profound sense of duty. Even

while he was arresting me I could clearly read that it was a source of great

conflict in him to do so and if it had not appeared so clearly in the law he would

have tossed Larken out on his ass.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 388


      “It is,” he paused, “A day.” He looked to be a man at the end of his

resources. “What am I going to do with these people?” Kyltan nodded his head

into the common house.

      “You are going to let them change Krahan history.” Mirane said with

more surety than she felt.

      “I know this seemed like a workable solution.”

      “We make this work or we all kill one another today or another day.”

      “Let‟s make this work then,” I said and wrapped my arm around Mirane.

She did not recoil as she may have before. She had rules to affection, never when

she was on a mission, never when her body went hard and her face

expressionless. But she did not stop me. She brushed her fingertips across my

own and turned and smiled.



      Inside the room it seemed as if we had quite a Darung gathering. Uime,

Caliopp and Miysh were sitting in the far corner of the room. Caliopp and

Miysh were speaking in hushed tones that fell silent when we entered the room.

Scraszt sat with the young men she had brought back with her, as well as, the

other prisoners from the raid. In total there were a dozen, an even dozen.

Mirane and I looked them over. I saw how tired and frightened they looked, if

the rest of the tribe looked half so starved as these it was no wonder they had

fallen to stealing. Mirane looked at them with far fiercer eyes. They disgusted

and angered her. She pushed it down inside her and strode forward with a look
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 389


of conciliation and welcoming.       Kyltan and I fell into step behind her. Her eyes

did not let the men move, her eyes caught them and kept them just as securely as

the guards outside the room. She stood in front of them, poised to speak, to say

something profound, but not words struck her tongue and she stood there

staring at them and they at her.

           Slowly, and very tentatively, one of the Darungs stood. His face was

intelligent and handsome. He had his long rough hair pulled in back in a leather

thong, his beard curled close to his face, and his eyes glowed blue. His eyes were

filled with fear, daring, strength, and hope and those eyes met Mirane‟s. They

did not leave hers as he stood. For all he knew she could have strode two steps

and sliced him through, so even though the others crouched on the ground and

sank into their chairs, this man stood.

           “Muanuq, prau bay Grythpunt.” The young man spoke only Darung and

addressed Mirane with great respect and used the respectful nominal Muanuq,

reserved for the most elderly and revered crones of their society. Mirane stood

taller and the young man, named Grythpunt35 breathed easier.

           “Prau baya Mirane, by huarth Yun Jimerateal I Tearisian, e by Lord

Kyltan.” She introduced each of us and then spoke a few words I did not

understand before she translated.

           “This man is Grythpunt, he has his muanuq‟s permission to speak and

negotiate for the tribe. He understands that he will be negotiating with both

35
     His name means Infidel Slayer
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 390


Lord Kyltan and the village and he is pleased that a great Prince of Sian will be

mediating the process. I will translate for as long as necessary.”

       “You agreed to all of that?‟

       “What else is there to say, there are no other options. These men can

chose to negotiate with us or they can choose to die. Grythpunt knows that, all

of these men and women know that.”

       “So what happens now?” Kyltan asked. Mirane flashed an angry look at

Kyltan.

       “Now it is time to begin, make arrangements for their quartering in finer

places than this room, if you feel that you can get the village to agree to this plan

you might ask for volunteers, if you get no support well then inform them as to

where they will housed.”

       “If I get no support, what is the point of this?”

       “I am not the woman to ask.” Mirane looked at him, I had not noticed that

he was shorter than she and she used that advantage to make him stand taller.

“You need to convince the villagers this is the best way, you need to negotiate a

treaty that prevents raids from ever happening again and gives both Krahan and

the Darungs a feeling that it has brokered the superior side of the deal. I cannot

do that. You must do that. Do not ask me what is next.”

       Kyltan stood up taller and looked at her. At first his eyes saw her as a

petulant child but his mind had no vision of her to match, he could only recall

how bright she was, how shining, a different child than the child that stood in
                                                         Secrets and Illusions 391


front of him. And as these thoughts passed his mind his face went from angry to

respectful. He stood taller and wasted no more time, he strode forward and

addressed the Darungs. Mirane and I stepped forward, Mirane translated and I

listened. We had begun.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 392


Village Peace



       Later that night, Kyltan, Mirane and I stood on a makeshift dais and

Kyltan addressed the assembled village. Mirane looked out across the crowd

and said nothing. Then she turned her attention to Kyltan, who began to speak.

       “Four nights ago, this village was brutally attacked by a Darung raiding

party, as everyone here knows, it was not the first time and it was not the first

village. And nobody here wants to be told how very fortunate and blessed we

were that not one person, not one man, woman or child in this village was

injured, not one house damaged. Everybody here knows exactly why and to

whom we owe our lives.” Kyltan watched the crowd and gave it a steely stare.

“I do not need to tell you that we owe our lives to our own Mirane Damaskaya

and to her consort Xylvan Jimareteal. But we are not here to discuss them, we

are here to discuss what happens when they are not here. Because they will not

be here to protect us, we need to ensure that this never happens again. There are

three paths ahead of us and you need to decide which one we will follow. First,

let us look back. When this last happened we had a choice to defend ourselves,

to build up our own militias to train, to seek out security but instead we grieved,

we healed, we denied and we forgot. This time a miracle saved us, a coincidence

of time saved us from such losses that shall not happen again. Second, we can

secure this village; we can make it a citadel of strength. Or we can change our

own destiny we can change this now.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 393


       “Many of you know our Mirane, you saw her grow up, and if you were

old enough you remember when she was taken on her wedding night. We

searched for her and we failed to save her. She lived with the Darungs, she

fought and she escaped. And since then she has dedicated her life to seeing that

what happened to her never happen to another village, to another young bride.

God brought her back to us in time to prevent it from happening to us, do not

doubt that. She, a woman who hates these people to the very core of her soul has

given us the opportunity to make the choice of a lifetime. She rode out in the

night, her lover dying in this village, she left and she offered the Darungs that

choice. They could die on her blade or they could change their destiny.

       “And so tonight we change our future, they change their future and if we

can work together we all benefit.”

       “I know there are those of you tonight, those who have lost family,

friends, loved ones who will be horrified by my next suggestion. But we cannot

look to the past with this, we may be the first to ever do this. I have every

intention of entering into official and legal negotiations with the representatives

behind me to establish a long-term trade treaty with the Darungs. “

       When Kyltan finished there was a silence for the briefest moment before a

cacophony of voices rang out.

       “Who do you think you are?!” shouted some with an eruption of colorful

explicatives. It soon became clear that the village would not go along with this

quietly or complacently. Did Kyltan believe that they would? Did Mirane? I
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 394


looked at Kyltan, and I could tell by his crestfallen face, that yes, he did. The

idea and nobility of a peace without bloodshed had ensnared Kyltan. If Kyltan

could broker this peace he would be a hero.

       “This is one of the most difficult things we will ever do but it is the most

important. Friends, if we do this, we can change the western borderlands, we

can take back land, and we can be safe. We are a proud people with good reason

to be. We grow the best crops, have the most lovely wives and beautiful

children, and have creative artists, strong workers, and good souls. But when

we have to choose between our pride and our lives, we have no choice. That is

what I am putting in front of you today. You may not like it. You may despise it

and me, too. But we have to make it work. This is the time that you can help or

hurt. Anyone who wishes to participate in negotiations needs to speak with me.

       “In addition, while all of you are settling your mind on this issue, I wish to

make an additional announcement. Our legal proceedings were interrupted and

I was unable to deliver my judgment regarding Mirane and Xylvan. It is my

verdict that Mirane is not guilty of adultery in this case and I annul the marriage

of Mirane and Larken. Thank you all, for your time.” Kyltan stepped down and

the village erupted into unexpected cheering.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 395


Sabrine

      I remember that day for the incredible transformation that overcame

Krahan that afternoon. The short weeks I had resided there, I saw few others

than her family until our trial. Kyltan‟s proclamation had brought them all out

of their houses and workshops into the square. They clustered in little groups

beneath the dais their minds working to discern their position. I scanned their

minds, shamelessly seeking those who would be most amenable allies and who

would be our most staunch opponents.

       Of those who were opposed, there were several motives. The most

serious and damaging to the effort were those who had been in Darung custody

and had felt their torture. This was a different tribe, I hoped that would work in

our favor. Some opponents were merely opposed on principle, I would work on

them but if there were no significant voices among them, they might amount to

nothing. I looked across the square to see the epicenter of the majority of these

thoughts. The opponents were quick to identify one another, the blacksmith that

had been taken with Mirane, an older woman who had lost a daughter, Mirane‟s

twin brothers, her sister Theabe and her husband, and several other villagers

with deep fears and great need for security.

      I scanned minds for those most likely to help in this. Gyan and Kyltan

were already speaking with some of their friends. Already visions of trade

success, opened markets, reduced need for security were forming in their minds.

But these two camps had few members. For the most part the village was
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 396


questioning. There were those who were weary of how this would play out,

there were those who had legitimate concerns about this but were tentatively

supportive. And then there were those who were waiting for Mirane. If Mirane,

a woman who bore such horrible scars, a woman who had traded her good life to

fight the Darung could so radically change and accept this treaty than they could

too. This group was considerably larger than any other. I wished that Mirane

could see that, I wished she could see that all she would need to do is speak with

them.

        “Mirane, many here are looking to you.”

        “I know.” She replied. “I can see them.”

        “You must talk with them.”

        “No. They will come to me, they need to think, they need to speak among

themselves and come to their on conclusion. They will come to me when they

are ready.”

        “Do we have time for that?” I asked her.

        “It does not matter.” She replied and then motioned over to the cluster of

men discussing trade and success. “They are going to make this happen. Gyan

will convince Sabrine, Sabrine will lead them to me.”

        “That is your family, alone. We must rally this entire village.”

        “Don‟t you know?” Mirane asked. “This village is my family.”

        I looked around and all over I could see pieces of her family. I could see

her chestnut hair, her eyes, her height, and her smile. The whole village was not
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 397


related, exclusively, by blood, that was clear but in each one of them, I could

sense some relationship, cousin, aunt, husband, brother, parent. The thought

had simply not occurred to me. I had such a close family, a connected and

powerful family that was essentially alone in a metropolis, my brothers,

Jynquille, Juminatwe, and Kyjhime, Helenestra, our half-sister, my mother, her

mother‟s lover‟s grandson, Juminatwe for whom my oldest brother was named

and with whom I have enjoyed a rather illuminating apprenticeship; and our

Gryth father. As my mother was the sole child of my grandmother Helenoise

and a man we do not know. For all the strong memory of family I have built in

these past years, I did not have the family Mirane had. She had this village and I

could count my family on my fingers. The thought left me strangely off set and

discouragingly alone. It strengthened my resolve to return to my homeland with

Mirane. In the meantime, I could only wait for Mirane‟s prediction to come to

pass.



        It took a few days but while Kyltan, Gyan, and other Krahanes began to

meet with Liami, Uime and other Darungs those with concerns were talking

among themselves, they slowly came to the consensus that Mirane held their

answers and there was no choice but to speak with her. By an almost unanimous

and unspoken consensus, Sabrine was chosen as their representative.

        “Xylvan, Mirane, do you have a moment, could we speak,” Sabrine said to

us one morning after her husband had already left the house.
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 398


       “Of course,” as we had been expecting this we were pleasantly surprised

it had happened so soon.

       “Please have a seat.” Sabrine twisted her hands and furtively motioned to

us to sit down.

       “What is it?” I asked sensing Sabrine‟s anxiety was far more than she was

showing. I tried to scan her thoughts but her mind was screaming, it was more

than unsettled. I reached out to touch her but she was wound so strongly I

thought she might snap.

       “I have been asked to speak with you. That is on behalf of some of the

villagers.”

       “Please.” Mirane said, uncomfortable with her sister‟s nervousness.

       “We are very worried.”

       “Worried?”

       “Yes, worried, we are very concerned. This is all very bad.” Sabrine

paced back and forth across the room. “Yes, we, they have been trying to learn

as much as they can about what this will mean. We have even tried to speak to

some of the Darung. They, too, have concerns. There are rumors that you are

some sort of a massacrist, that you have killed thousands of people and no one is

strong enough to stand up against you. We worry that the Darung will renege

on these treaty measures and that we will die without any protections.”

       Sabrine‟s throat was closed so tightly she could barely speak, she was

sucking in breath but unable to utter a clear word. I stood and wrapped my
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 399


arms around her. Her breathing slowed and she tried to pick up again. “They

believe that Mirane is the only one who can help us, the only one who can

defend us but that soon she will be gone, and they do not know if that is a good

thing or not. They feel that they must choose between the protection of the devil

or the loss of that protection. How can I say any of this? I saw what I saw. I saw

you kill them all and now I see you extend a hand of friendship. I do not know

what to believe, I do not know what to do or think. We are not sheep but we

need guidance, we need to…” Sabrine balled her hands into and out of anxious

fists.

         Mirane sat in her chair looking at her sister, wordless. I know now that

she was deeply wounded. Everything she had ever feared about returning

home, about taking on a family and a past had just happened and from whom

she least expected. But she merely steeled herself to deflect her sister‟s

judgments.

         “Thank you Sabrine, I see that that was difficult. Although I cannot speak

to all your points at this time, I can to some. This treaty is no easy thing for me to

accept. I strongly believe that once it is signed it will be binding and I believe the

Darung will work to spread them through the western expanse. Is this how it

will work? I do not know, but I do know that the Darung are starving in the

expanse, they are watching their wives and children die every day. Whether

there are rumors about me and murder and blood, I cannot say what they

imagine but I do know that not one of them is unaware of the very real danger of
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 400


death by starvation that was days away for some of them, not now. If they are

here out of fear, if they attacked us, if they are our blood enemies, I have no

doubt, but they are here to create a binding treaty and save their lives. If we save

their lives we save our own. Go to your friends; tell them that tell them to pray

to God for guidance for that is His domain. This treaty is right for this village.”

       Sabrine stood and embraced her sister. Mirane froze and did not embrace

her back. “Now if you will excuse me.” Mirane stood and left the room. I heard

the bolt slide across the inside of the door.

       “What is it?” Sabrine said, knowing that she had crossed the line.

       “She has much work to be done.” I made her excuses for her and changed

the topic. “If you are willing, I do believe you should have a seat on the treaty

council.”

       “But I couldn‟t, I am a mother, I have…”

       “Your voice is needed at that table.” I looked into her eyes. I left her no

doubt as to the veracity of that statement.

       “Alright, then.” Sabrine accepted the position.

       “Alright then.”

       I did not see Mirane again for several hours.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 401




Negotiations

      Representatives of Krahan met for days talking with other villagers and

compiling a list of tradable goods and their expectations of the Darung. The

representatives of the Darung did the same. Within just a few days we

assembled in the common house around a cluster of tables. Mirane and I sat in

as a type of mediator position between each side. Kyltan, Sabrine, and Gyan sat

to our left. Darran, one of the most prosperous of the landowners and Jeddahn,

captain of the Kaira militia sat with the other Krahans comprising our entire

negotiating council. To our right sat Uime and Scraszt whom we had become

acquainted with before the proposal and Shelagh, the Darung wise woman and

her son Hyhban, who had ordered the attack, and a man named Liami who had

nearly killed Xylvan in the raid but who had shown a fairly good head on his

shoulders since.

      We sat at our tables for a long time before anyone spoke. I could feel the

thick air and such hostility it was difficult to bear. Finally Shelagh, a woman

with remarkable grace for her advanced age stood. All at her table deferred to

her, and I knew that she was the one who had met Mirane that morning. “Before

we begin these negotiations, I would like to thank the people of Krahan for so

honorably treating our dead. It is a sign that we are among respectful people

whom we can negotiate.” None of the Darung had learned to speak any Gryth

and so I understood her meaning if not her words, Mirane translated them into
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 402


her mother tongue. Shelagh sat down. That may have been the most reasonable

thing that was said that day. When Shelagh sat her son Hyhban stood up and

began to enumerate their expectations.

       I could feel the Krahans becoming more and more shocked the longer he

spoke. Although they had a list equally outrageous they were deeply affronted

at his audacity. I listened, they shouted at one another and Mirane translated for

the better part of the morning until one by one exasperated members of the

counsel left their seats and left the proceedings.

       “And so it is just you and I, now.” Mirane said watching her patient and

generous Gyan leave.

       “They will return. Each believes that they will have maintain the upper

hand by having the power to walk away.” I had felt it in each one of them,

except perhaps Gyan who had been the last to leave.

       “Ridiculous.” Mirane laughed.

       “In the long term, yes.” I looked at her and thought, that is what you do and

you have always won, until now.

       “Will anyone get what they want?”

       “Of course, but nothing like what they are asking for.” I replied.

       “So we retire?” Mirane‟s voice was hopeful but she knew it had just

begun.

       “Now we build.”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 403


       When we gathered the next morning, having convinced them all of the

importance of these negotiations and of the prestige staying would give them,

we returned to the common house. Mirane and I were deliberately the last to

arrive. We had hoped that if they had some time alone they might begin to

makes connections. Instead they all stood outside the common house.

       “Let us go inside,” I said solemnly.

       “We cannot.” Kyltan said pulling on one of the immense beams nailed

firmly to the common house doors. The barkeep circled around with Mirane‟s

brothers, the blacksmith, and the tanner behind him.

       “I own this building, I will not permit this to happen in it.”

       Kyltan stepped forward, “Grilliam, we have a contract to use this building

for official business.”

       “I am severing that contract.” Grilliam responded and turned with the

other men and left.

       “And what shall we do?” Gyan asked.

       “We shall force it open,” Kyltan was humiliated and infuriated. He did

not appreciate his authority being so blatantly undermined.

       “We shall resume this afternoon.” Xylvan said, allowing Kyltan to storm

after Grilliam. “Mirane, I shall follow him.”

       Mirane stood alone with the Darungs. They eyed her fearfully and

suspiciously. Some had seen what she had done here, while others feared mere

legends and shadows of her. I can see her now, her body smaller than all but the
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 404


wise woman‟s, her auburn hair rolling down her back, her breathtakingly

beautiful face pretending not to know that they hated her, feared her. And then

the old woman came to her.

       “Slyuisk,” she said, and Mirane turned a shade of crimson fury no one

should have to see.

       “I shall kill you for that.” Mirane coldly drew her sword and walked

towards the woman.

       “My mistake, please forgive me. It would do no good to kill me, it would

harm your treaty.” The woman looked at Mirane as seriously and dangerously as

Mirane looked at her. Mirane held the sword but the woman held everything

else and Mirane had so much more to lose.

       With all the strength she had in her she spoke slowly, “I forgive you, do

not make that mistake again.”

       “Lady, please, I believe we have the great round tent with us, am I not

mistaken that you might know how to assist us in its erection.”

       “I could be instructed,” Mirane answered.

       “It shall give us a place to meet, if your common house remains unusable.

       Mirane, Shelagh and Hyhban went to the Darung camp and unpacked the

enormous tent silks and poles. Over the next mark the three worked to set it in

the village square. Shelagh watched her so carefully and when the last of the

stakes were pounded into the ground, Shelagh grabbed Mirane‟s wrist very

fiercely.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 405


         “Woman,” she said, “You must know, I know what you are, and I know

who you are. I am no young man spooked by legends. I know a story from the

truth. I know what it is to be a red skirt, I know what it is to be trained and

used.”

         “I have misunderstood you, Lady, I shall return you to your home.”

Mirane‟s sense of honor flared in her.

         “Home, I have no home. I learned the lesson you learned. A woman is

made great by the blood that she sheds. The blood shed from knives across her

bones,” Shelah traced her finger on the scars along Mirane‟s arms. “From the

blood she sheds of her maidenhead,” Shelagh‟s eyes went to Mirane‟s crotch.

“From the blood she sheds in childbirth and the sons that she bears. And from

the blood she sheds of others.”

         “You understand nothing.” Mirane was deeply disturbed by the woman‟s

words. Mirane did not believe that. Mirane whipped her hand away from the

woman. That was no way to live. Mirane stood and stalked off to Sabrine‟s. She

told herself again and again, that she was no blood shedder, no defiler or

murderer. But she was and she knew it. She was a mercenary, a warrior, a

fighter, and a sword drenched in blood.

         She stopped where she was and looked around the village.

         She did not defile the village with the idea that men had had her or that

she had chosen to live by their rape than die by their sword. She defiled it with

blood she shed and she haunted it with her own army of ghosts. Mirane looked
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 406


to the sky and tried to feel her god. “I do not wish to live this life,” she

whispered.

        “You do not have to.” I said, not knowing what she meant. She looked at

me for a moment, a long moment.

        “You are right.” I strange look I had never seen before washed over her

face.

        “I am?”

        “We must finish this. Then we retire.”

        “Retire?” I blurted.

        “I believe that we should.”

        “But your work?.”

        “And if we succeed here, it will be done.”

        “We will succeed.” I was never more determined to succeed in my entire

life.



        My enthusiasm saw the next three days of painstaking negotiations.

Mirane translated and more and more frustration levels rose. I could not see the

problem until is had gone too far.

        “Mirane,” Darran the farmer, pulled her aside, after the third day. “May I

speak to you for a moment”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 407


       “Of course,” Mirane pulled her skirt around her and led him off away

from the tent. “I have a few ideas about getting the…” Before she could finish

her sentence, he stopped her.

       “Yes I‟m sure that you do, but please listen to me, I am a honest man, I

cannot help but speak the truth as I see it.” He paused.

       “Yes, that is why Kyltan recommended you for this.”

       “Kyltan asked me because he knew he needed my goods to make it

happen.” Darran smiled like she was child who needed to have it made clear for

her. I was around at your birth, I was at your wedding. I was at your trial. I

know what these people did to you.” Mirane narrowed her eyes. People had

short memories.

       “Everyone here thinks they know.”

       “What I‟m saying is that we cannot have you translate for them, they

cannot trust us and we cannot trust them if we cannot trust you.”

       “There is no one else who speaks both languages.”

       “Your prince does. He sees what we all see, he can share the images with

us all, he has already started to do so.”

       “So he asked you to speak with me.” Mirane made herself taller and

formidable.

       “Do not get defensive young one, I‟m speaking to you on my own. I do

not think your prince would appreciate what I‟m saying.”
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 408


       “You are right, Darran, what are you saying?” I said neither of them had

seen me follow them.

       “I am saying that Mirane is jeopardizing this entire enterprise.”

       “She is the one who started this entire enterprise.”

       “Well, it is time to bring it to the real negotiators, time to make it happen.”

       “Nothing will happen without her, without her there is nothing.”

       “Do not take this the wrong way, I know you think she hangs the moon

but she does not. We can let her stay and obliterate all we have done or she can

excuse herself and this treaty can happen.”

       “If you do not take her, you do not have me.”

       “You have value and skills. We need you.” Darran said looking me in the

eye. “You have more education and ability than ten of us. We know that. We

cannot make this deal.”

       “I‟m walking out on this.” I said.

       “No, you are not!” Mirane turned her back on Darran, “You need to be in

there, if you can translate, I can absent myself.” Mirane looked at me with tired

eyes. No bright charming smile spoke to me of her better plan. No quick wink

showed me that she was about to turn around and teach this man respect. “I

hope you all do better without me.” It is all she said before she left us.

       “Hey, she‟s still yours to sweaven.” Darran had such little regard for

Mirane. Before I quite knew what I was doing, I had rolled my hand into a fist

and swung it across his jaw line. He dropped like a stone.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 409


      “She is a leader, you are a shit hole.” I did not think I had the phrasing

quite right but I passed him an image, as he tried to stand, that he would not

soon forget.



      Negotiations resumed without Mirane. I wished that I had been more

surprised to find them more successful. A palpable fear had vanished, a hard

tension no longer reverberated through the air. I joined her in the evenings and

nuzzled against her skin and her body. I would kiss her and stroke her head as

we fell asleep. She asked no questions and I was just happy to be with her.
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 410




Veilish

       “We are meeting your parents‟ for breakfast.” I reminded her as she

dressed. Her mind was elsewhere and she did not hear me.

       “Of course.” She replied as absent-mindedly. Then she sprang awake.

“What are we doing today?”

       “We are expected at your parents‟ for breakfast.” I repeated.

       “Yes, but this day of all days.”

       “I had not thought. We did not observe Candlenight or Rumine.”

       “But, Veilish, we have always observed.” She was right, Veilish was the

day she had found my God and it was important to her. Of course we always

had to improvise our worship as so many of its traditions could not be done.

       “And what do you wish to do? I cannot see us setting up for a day of

prayer in the village center.”

       “Perhaps not.” Mirane had not spoken of her conversion to her parents or

family, as far as I knew. “We have always made a place for ourselves in the

woods, away from eyes before.”

       “We have always tried.” Thoughts of a Sian Veilish filled me with a deep

sense of connection that I have missed. I would not trade a Veilish with Mirane

for a lifetime of those with my family and the court but there is something about

the city stopping all commerce and occupation, casting off their lives, their

jewels, their finery and gathering in all parts of the city irregardless of station
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 411


and remembering that we are equal. Remembering that all the possessions that

shape our lives every day of the year are meaningless and we are barely flesh,

that we are part of the Holy God. There is nothing like a Sian Veilish. Of course,

saying that your flesh means nothing is far easier in the warm dry winter of

home than it is in the depth of a Gryth winter. Regardless, I promised myself

that our next Veilish would be in Sian and she could see and experience what a

hundred thousand prayerful voices sounded like on the gentle winds of Lake

Furnian, with a hundred thousand swaying bodies.

       “It is snowing.” She said and I looked out the window to see that it was

coming down quite quickly.

       “We shall make time, we shall find a glen in the woods and we shall pray,

or we shall do it here. We shall celebrate.” I said, kissing her. I pulled my winter

cape over my shoulders and the hood over my head. I had not yet shaken my

aversion to the snow. “I will see you tonight.” I kissed her again and made for

the door.

       In my previous life, the life I had before Mirane and her quest, I had

classes each day, appointments with civilized people, trysts, social events and a

life very far removed from forest survival and dangerous territories. I had never

even spent a single night outside. When my mother suggested I take a trip to my

father‟s homeland I had expected to find a strange and undeveloped place where

certain comforts had to be sacrificed. At that time I could not have cared for such

a thing. I was a young man with a broken heart. I could not have thought I
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 412


would have not returned at all, that I would have become embroiled in regional

politics and a one-woman guerilla war. And after I had spent the last five years

in this strange world Mirane had around herself, this war so removed from the

sophisticated Sian world I had known. I found it difficult to conform again to a

schedule, a way of composing oneself towards business, the way in which I had

grown through adolescence.

       My homesickness grew greater each day I spent in this village. That it

was Veilish and I was so far from home only further strengthened my resolve to

complete this treaty. I could, as Mirane said, bring an end to this war. For the

first time since I was small, I sensed that my mother would be pleased. I walked

a little taller, I took a longer stride and felt as if I were unconquerable. This

feeling lasted until the moment I opened the tent flap and saw ten sets of eyes

glaring at each other ready to give it all up, again.

       It was time to work.



       I returned that evening exhausted but looking forward to our spiritual

retreat. I found Mirane in Sabrine‟s kitchen polishing her sword with a

compound Sabrine had for her silver. Sabrine‟s kitchen was as clean and as

modern as one could expect this far away from the capital. She had an inlaid

wood floor, stone hearth, and stone sink. Her furnishings were polished cherry

with glass fronts. Being in Sabrine‟s kitchen was the very picture of domesticity.

To see Mirane in Sabrine‟s kitchen was difficult to reconcile. She was
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 413


anachronistic. Her body was slick with sweat, her traveling clothes were

drenched in it, as well. She was sweat encrusted in dirt. She had been training

all day, it was clear. I think she must have been giving lessons, too. She looked

serious and practice blades were piled up on the cherry dining table. I

sympathized with Sabrine but her sister never whispered a word, she would

simply pick them up and stack them neatly in the corner of our room if they

were in her way. I thought of all the people in this village, Sabrine and Gyan

would be the happiest to visit Sian. Of anyone, including my love, they would

be the most adaptable.

      “Hello,” she greeted me with pleasure and weariness.

      “Hello,” I answered. “I have not seen you all day.”

      “I have been very busy. I did not think to check on you.” Mirane did not

think, I simply may have missed her. “Did you need me?”

      “No, we did manage just fine.”

      “And what does that mean?”

      “It means we will be looking at a final treaty in the next day or two, I

would say. There is no point on which they could possibly clash, remaining”

      “Excellent.” She kissed me and squeezed my hand. “I was equally

successful. I have secured Gyan‟s steam room for our Veilish.”

      “A steamroom?” Veilish was always outside.

      “A steamroom will offer us, privacy and warmth. We would be able to

express another aspect of Veilish, if that is acceptable.” Naturally, Mirane had
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 414


read the Veshix as comprehensively as I, even if she had not been schooled in it.

She understood the meaning and importance associated with such things. “I

could not think of anything to oppose it.”

          “No, neither can I.” I smiled and drew her to me. “Are we to be

undisturbed then?”

          “Yes, I have told them, we have a marathon session of lovemaking ahead

of us.”

          “And they said?”

          “They rolled their eyes.”



          That night, after much of the village had retired, Mirane and I slipped into

the steam room. We built the fire and filled the room with heat and warmth.

When it was warm enough, we disrobed and lay across the wooden floor,

holding hands. For the next hour we recited Veilish prayers and poems feeling

our own spirits reuniting with the greater spirit of God. Certainly no Sian has

failed to feel that in themselves and in those hours we too remembered our souls.

When we had felt our prayers run through and felt the intensity diminish we

smothered the fire and began to redress.

          “We saw what you were doing!” Samyuel came into the steam room

suddenly.

           Mirane pulled on one of my tunics and I casually asked him, “And what

did you see?”
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 415


      “You know,” he spat, “my brother has gone to get Larken.”

      “And what did you see that requires Larken?” Mirane‟s voice was cold

and dangerous. Had I not been equally angry I would have feared that voice.

      “The two of you, naked, writhing.” The man could barely speak and his

fury had blinded him. “Larken is coming. Dad is coming!” He said.

      I remember how she looked. Her long chestnut hair was loose and damp

around her. She was dressed in my Sian tunic, which hung loosely about her.

She had a glow or sensual and spiritual pleasure emanating from her skin. She

looked the least like the Mirane I met five years ago than she had at any time

since. And despite that her eyes were unmistakingly those of the warrior she so

obviously was.

      “Samuel Damaskoi, I‟m going to say this to you clearly, because it seems

you need it explained to you. I am not married to Larken and I am free to do as I

wish with whomever I wish.”

      “You are not free. You may not! None of us are free and you are not free

to ruin the sweaven horrible lives we already live. You destroy our homes our

families, everything!”

      “Stop!” I said and his hand went to my chest, grabbing my shirt and

pulling it around my throat.

      “You stop!” he said. The man emanated hatred and fear. His whole body

vibrated with enmity. His mind was filled with so many tangled ropes I could

not separate them.
                                                               Secrets and Illusions 416


         “I did not steal her.” I said pulling on one tightly wound strand of

thoughts.

         “We did not invade this village.” Mirane took my cue and softened her

voice.

         “Do not patronize me, whore.” Sam said.

         “Do not challenge me,” she steeled her voice and stepped forward. “I

have beaten you once, I have beaten you a hundred times.”

         “That is it, is it not? What can Mirane do to make this all about her?” His

voice was less furious but he was lying, he was goading her to keep her from the

learning the truth his own mind kept secret.

         Amach, Larken and Jillhue arrived as the two of them attempt to stare

each other down.

         “What is this about?” asked Larken trying to glean something from the

scene.

         “I saw your wife and this man.” Before he could finish the sentence

Larken looked at the three of us.

         “She is not my wife. Kyltan said it in front of the village.”

         “So you relinquish her like that?” Sam turned his tongue and his anger

onto Larken.

         “Yes, I do. I prayed, traveled, tracked, searched and survived for her for

almost ten years for a woman who did not want any of those things from me. I

cannot love her any more.”
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 417


      “After all we did for you?” Sam shouted.

      “What did we do for him, Sam?” Jillhue said placing his hand on Larken‟s

shoulder, drawing him into an embrace.

      “We tracked her, we made you our brother. We changed our lives around

that night.” Sam‟s voice was too angry to be desperate or pleading but there was

some quality in it that made me pity him.

      “That is not Mirane‟s fault.” Jillhue said.

      “She dishonors everything we did.” Sam turned around and swung his

closed fisted hand at Mirane. Any of us would have taken that blow before we

saw it coming but Mirane had him on the ground, her knee ground into his neck.

Larken watched. Suddenly he felt a sense of relief, understanding and

acceptance. His Mirane was gone, Jillhue had taken him again as his son and he

was still a young man, still able to have the family he dreamed of. This

happened in the same moment Jillhue grabbed Sam by the face and I pulled

Mirane off her brother.

      “Stand up!” Jillhue commanded. This quiet man‟s voice roared. He was a

patient man now unable to stand it any longer. “Cannot you see any thing? Can

you not see blessings, can you not see the world?”

      “All of this is, what it is, stop fighting it.”

      “Stop fighting against what I believed to be wrong.”

      “And your sister is what is wrong?”
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 418


       “By her whoring up and down this country you say she is right. That she

tells our wives to accept dishonor over the loss of their lives, that she tells our

children to hide and not to fight, that she parades around our village, a village of

good people trying to raise good children with her lover, spurning her own

husband. These are not the things I was raised to believe.”

       Jillhue and I had a thousand responses but Jillhue just looked at him. And

then Jillhue turned his back.

       “She is a hero, isn‟t she?” Amach‟s voice was unexpectedly quiet

compared to his huge body. I had not heard him speak before.

       Jillhue nodded his head, Larken met Amach‟s eyes and we could see his

agreement there. “Sam we have been talking this fight for too long. Let us get

out of the way so that those who actually fight for it and can fight it, can win it.”

       “So you are on their side?” Sam spat at his brother. Amach stood the full

quarter digit taller he had over Sam and looked down at his brother.

       “We need to back down, Sam.” He replied in a careful measured way.

       Sam and Amach regarded each other for a long time. Sam considered

himself the smarter of the two but Amach the stronger, stronger of body and

Sam suspected stronger of resolve. I insinuated some particularly heroic images

of Mirane into Amach‟s mind to strengthen his stand.

       “Amach, you saw them, how can you let her commit such depravity

within our village.”
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 419


      “I do not know what I saw.” Amach spoke slowly and looked at this sister

for the first time as she really was. “You do not stand in my judgment, I stand in

yours and when it comes my time to stand before God, I only pray he is

forgiving of the way we have treated you.”

      “Thank you, Amach.” Mirane was sincere and she too, finally saw her

brother the way he truly was. She pitied him. He had been too young when it

happened and he had grown up with too much of it.

      “Come Sam, we have work to do.” Amach looked at his brother and his

tone left no room for disagreement. The two brothers left the house. Larken and

Jillhue who both seemed relieved to be back in each other‟s grace followed them.

Mirane and I stood alone outside that door and wondered if we would ever win

this war if all of our allies harbored such suspicion and hatred as Sam.
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 420




Negotiations Conclude



         Kyltan looked from my face, to Liam‟s face and around the table from

there. “Is that the last issue?”

         I nodded, I looked around the table and only smiling faces met my glance.

It had taken over a month to get to this point and so many things had almost

caused it to crumble.        And now the most stubborn group of successful

negotiators I had ever met, surrounded me.

         “We are done.”

         “Done?” Liami turned to me and smiled. He reached out and embraced

me. One month ago this man tried to kill me and now we were friends. “Prince

Xylvan, Thank you.”

         “Thank you.”

         Generous thank-you‟s and self-congratulations flew around the group of

us.

         “I could not be more satisfied.” I told them.

         “Shall we review the terms,” Kyltan said looking at suddenly nervous

faces.

         “Yes.” Liami said in beginner Gryth. Kyltan handed me the document he

had written.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 421


       “In two nights we shall feast the conclusion of these negotiations. We will

toast this treaty, which will change both this village and this city, but also it will

transform this entire region. The first term is that of mutual protection. None of

the parties: Krahan, Kaira or the Marki Darungs will allow any militia, hunting

party, raiding party, or otherwise organized group to harm Krahan, Kaira or

Marki Darungs. The second term is the dates of exchange, once in the spring and

once in the autumn. The third term is the quantity of exchange. Due to the

unpredictability of crop yield from one year to another these parties have agreed

exchange ten percent of yearly crop and textile yields. The fourth term is in place

to ensure the success of the first three.       Krahan and Marki will exchange

members to learn the other‟s ways. These are to be voluntary. Am I correct in

that three Marki families have already volunteered and one has been selected.”

       “Yes, that is corrected,” answered Liami.

       “Congratulations.”

       “Additional terms specify the quality of the exchanged items and in great

detail. Do I need to read these?”

       “Let us have all of this final.” Kyltan said and I continued to read. He

read and minor discrepancies were discovered and quickly rectified. And after

nearly five weeks of negotiations we were truly done.

       “Congratulations gentlemen, it is finished.”

       Another round of self-congratulations circled the group, handshakes and

embraces. I looked around and felt for the first time that I had accomplished
                                                         Secrets and Illusions 422


something outside the shadow of my true love. I pushed that thought to the

realm of exhaustion. “Well done,” I said as Uime patted my arm in thanks.

“Well done.”

      “Would anyone object if we were to say a word of thank you to our God,”

asked Liami.

      “I have no objection,” Kyltan said and we all bowed our head in prayer.

Liami, Uime and the other Darungs knelt on the ground while Kyltan led us in a

general prayer of blessing and thanksgiving. Regardless of the Gryth prayer the

Darungs seemed pleased and I remained quiet. But instead of being unaffected I

felt a real sense of God surrounding me, us. „Go to her,‟ spoke clearly in my

mind. „Go to her.‟ A certain sense of love and immediacy accompanied my

Lord‟s words. Kyltan finished and I said a quick good night.

      “Will you join us for a drink?” Kyltan asked.

      “No, thank you, I must go.” There was something in my eyes that told

them there was no point in pushing me harder. I slipped out into the cold night

and rushed across the muddy roads to Sabrine‟s house.
                                                                Secrets and Illusions 423


Vows

         It was nearly midnight when I returned from the negotiations. Despite

the late hour I was invigorated and I burst into Sabrine‟s house nearly forgetting

the beds of sleeping children and tired parents. “Mirane.” I whispered into her

sleeping ear.

         “Xylvan!” Mirane sat up to embrace me but I swooped her up and pushed

her back down to the bed. I kissed her. “Xylvan,” she chided touching the wall

behind her to remind me that it was very thin and shared with her sister.

         “Let us go for a walk.” I said, leaping up from the bed. I grabbed her

warmest cape and pulled her out of bed. I felt like a very young man. Outside it

was still winter down here even though my body was sure that the heat and sun

should be blasting in already. I wrapped her up in the wool before she could

argue.

         In the still air I tried to remain calm. I could barely control myself. In the

silent night I felt a great desire to shout out, to sing or to dance. I should have

been beaten by the tedium and frustrations of those proceedings. “What is it?”

Mirane whispered keeping up with me in stride if not spirit. I thought I heard a

hint of a giggle in her voice. I had heard it before, I was glad it was no stranger

to me.

         “I do not know.” I smiled widely and led her further into the woods

behind her parents‟ land. I held her hand while I half danced around her. Soon

we reached the place where Mirane had lit her bonfire and I had found her.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 424


There we both stopped, wordlessly, as if the place had a power of its own. My

exuberance sobered. “Are you sorry I came?” I asked staring at the cold

moonlight off the burnt ground. I was compelled to ask. I braced myself for the

answer.

       “No,” she replied genuinely. We looked at one another for a long time

before speaking again.

       “I have loved you since the first moment I saw you.” I told her.

       “I too, have loved you. You sitting there in that tree in the haunted

Francinian wood. Sitting there like a myth. Did I ever tell you that that was not

the first time I saw you?”

       “No, but you are the keeper of secrets.”

       “I have told you some, I just told you how I saw you in a village the day

before I saw you in the forest. I told you about the red skirts.”

       “Could you have told me more, if you‟d tried? Could you have told me

any of this?” I asked. I stood very close to her and wrapped my arms around

her. I wanted to push her into my heart, into my chest.

       “Some, not all. Do you believe I should have?”

       “Of course.”

       “That is not true, if you knew it before, so much could have been

different.”

       “Different would not have been bad.”

       “It might have been.”
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 425


       “Is it alright that I know, now?”

       “No,” she said looking at me with her steely eyes.

       I wanted to ask if she hated me, if she wanted to keep herself separate

from me. “Why?”

       “I needed you to believe what I told you. I did not want that to change.”

       “I should have seen it, your illusion was no different than mine. I should

have been able to see the real you.”

       “You saw the real me, you saw everything I wanted you to and you saw

even more than that.” It was still very difficult for her to speak like this.

       “But you cut yourself short, you are stronger, warmer, more lovely than I

could have believed, that I love you more now…”

       “But you would have left? You tried to leave before.”

       “I never want to leave.” I looked into her eyes and was seized with a

great swell of power. “Then I wish to say it now.” I stepped back and held my

hands high in what I hoped would look very dramatic. “I swear now in front of

this woman, in front of God that I shall never leave this woman nor will I ever

cause this woman to leave me.” The air filled with light and Mirane did not

know if it was an illusion or real magic. We believed it was real and it was all we

possessed. “I vow,” I continued, encouraged by the power around me, it fed me

and I knew instinctively it was real. “I vow that I give myself to her and pray

that I deserve her. I give her all I have, my heart, my soul, my name, my

devotion, my love, my flesh, my blood, my bones, my mind, my hand in an
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 426


unbreakable bond. May I never walk upon a world without her, may I never

meet the man or woman or the army that would threaten to tear us apart.

Mirane, will you accept me?”

      When I finished the air crackled around the two of us. Someone was

listening and remembering what we said. I waited for her response; there was a

sense that more needed to be said. She and I both felt something that needed to

be said before this increasingly demanding crackle would subside.

      “I accept.” Mirane‟s response was all that was needed to seal us both to

this covenant.

      After she spoke, there was a sudden silence in the wood as if a terrible

noise had been blasting around us and suddenly disappeared in a moment and

we had not noticed it until it was gone.

        We looked at one another in that moment of silence. Mirane‟s face

looked joyful for a moment as if she remembered something wonderful. I

reached out to embrace her. “What happened here?” I said.

      “I, I felt it all, something magic?”

      “I think it is something more divine.”

      She looked me straight in the eyes at that moment: a final moment of

connection. And then something changed in her eyes.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 427


Connection

       Rapid images began to flow into my mind, strange images that had no

context: a very young and happy looking Larken, a cruel man with a sword, an

old woman with a cup of steaming tea a particular image that filled me with

abject fear; a rape, rape, upon rape upon rape. My body hurt, my skin cracked as

unseen hands punched and cut me. I saw such a kind set of eyes, frightened but

so human and kind. I felt attached and detached at the same moment. I felt free

and shunned, brave and petrified, more furious and hate filled than anyone had

ever felt. I screamed in my mind, screamed in the forest.

       Mirane‟s hands reached out to touch me, for a moment her memories

were flooding my senses while she had yet to experience mine. She had told me

some of it, but to feel it as if it were happening to me was both natural for me

and so horribly unnatural. My people could never speak like we did if memories

like these were among us.

       Long seconds later, I forced up the shield that had kept me from looking

at her thoughts. As soon as I put it up it violently collapsed. I could not keep

these images out and worse I could not see what images Mirane was receiving. I

was caught in a moment of feeling her past while watching her face as she

experienced mine. It was fortunate that my pampered upbringing had such

minimal pain. My worst pain came from grief, from betrayal and abandonment:

my mother leaving my father to conceive my sister, the death of Chaih

Ujikrealm, and the end of my life with I‟ridai.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 428


      For what seemed like centuries we remained their locked in each other‟s

hands holding onto any piece of ourselves. Any attempt to hide thoughts

brought them rushing to the forefront. Lifetimes of pain seared my soul and

branded my body. If we were to ever emerge from this I expected that I would

see scars, if I could survive the wounds themselves.

      And when there was no pain to be remembered there was only pleasure

and love that remained and by God‟s mercy we received that in equal measure.

Mirane had known love, she had known triumph and victory. I could feel what

it felt for her to love other men, why she had selected them, I could see what she

saw in them. I could feel her love for me. I knew, unlike men even in my own

home, what it was to feel her love and not just be the object of it. Her love was

different from mine. It was fierce and protective, sure that it would end by her

own actions, and it was a heat inside her that was unspeakable to her. She

believed with her whole soul that if such a love were to be voiced or breached it

would be unstoppable, uncontrolled and uncontrollable. It was hot and jealous

and it tapped into her darkest life and things she was capable of and the things

she had done. It was both the greatest thing about her, as well as, the most

dangerous. She feared it. And she had no reason to believe it had not just been

unleashed.

       “What have you done?” Her eyes were filled with anger, her thoughts

screamed in my mind. I pulled her close to me and held her. I tried to impart to
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 429


her simple methods we learn as children to close out thoughts but my memories

continued to batter her.

       Perhaps had such a gift been given slowly, we might have loved it, both of

us felt such pain. “Think of nothing.” I told her. “Sing a song”

       She began to sing, a soft sweet song that children sing. I joined her after

the first verse. I held her close to me, each of us sitting on the cold thawing

ground, our fingers entwined, singing children‟s songs. When she was calm

again, I spoke. She continued to sing.

       “Think of nothing. I did not do this. Think of nothing, I do not wish to

know more than you wished to tell me. Think of nothing, sing and listen. I will

teach you everything you need to know to keep everything private.”

       “I can hear your thoughts.” She stopped singing to speak. It was the first

time, since it happened, that I heard her voice in my ears and not my mind.

       “Yes,”

       “You are happy?” Her voice was haunted. Her eyes were lost.

       “God, no.” I looked down upon my branded flesh expecting it to be

flayed.

       “There are no marks, you did not live it.” She whispered to me. “This is

horrible to you? But you know it more than I could have told it.”

       “It is not horrible to me,” I selected my words carefully for I knew she

would be able to detect if I were lying. “I could not have known…” I wanted to
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 430


hold her. I wanted her to be as vulnerable as I felt but that was not her way. Her

panic was already dissipating.

       “I can see myself.”

       “Where?”

       “The beginning, from above.”

       “Above?”

       “When we met.” She smiled.

       Mirane began to see more and more of my memories. This was meant as a

gift and part of that gift was to make it easier for her to accept. Over the next

hours, Mirane explored my mind. She selected both memories that I would have

chosen for her, as well as, those I would not have. Moments we had experienced

together gathered fit together in a new complete way, such as the moment she

converted to our faith, or the first time we made love or the first time we

successfully worked together with illusions. Our past became interconnected

and our future became permanently locked together. Only in madness would

we be able to separate. No distance would ever be sufficient to break this.



       Dawn lit the sky but we did not move. We sat in this strange glen,

removed from the world still exploring thoughts of the moment and those

deeply hidden. “Fearful of my mother, of my country?”

       “I was not even thinking of that.”

       “I went looking,”
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 431


        “It does not seem to matter.”

        “I am not afraid.”

        “Not now?”

        “Do you wish just to tease me, with this new thing?” Mirane closed her

eyes and smiled as she looked through my own mind, “I‟ridai” Among my

people, our closeness of thoughts has a certain etiquette involved. Mirane would

have to learn it, sooner rather than later, but I was inclined to believe she would

not learn it at all.

        “I understand that I should not discuss such things with others, but you

are my lover, and I have a certain propriety to such memories. “So, who is

I‟ridai?” Mirane then sat up suddenly, a certain look of modesty or shock upon

her face.

        “She was my lover years ago.” I tried to sound casual.

        “You have told her of me, before, yes, but I never guessed you loved her

so much.”

        “I love you more.” I leaned in to kiss her cheek, to feel her warmth on my

own cheek.

        “May I rephrase? I never guessed you loved her so enthusiastically.”

Awkward grayness rose in my face.

        “We need not discuss this.”

        “Is this not what you wanted?”

        “I did not ask for this, I did not cause this.”
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 432


       “I know. I believe you.” Mirane looked at me. “There are no lies between

us, no secrets any longer. But you wanted it.”

       “I wanted this, yes.” I leaned forward and took her mouth to mine. Her

long hair spilled over my hands and I lowered her beautiful head to the ground.

I felt so drawn to her and she could now feel it. I touched her belly and moved

my fingers over its soft skin slowly to her hip. She could see in my mind each

place I wished to touch and how I wanted to touch it. She reached out and

wrapped her hand around my waist to pull me close. Our mouths closed on one

another again. Her every desire was now apparent to me. Everything we had

learned about one another over the five years was heightened and affirmed.

Each kiss shot through both of us.

       “Is this what it was like with I‟ridai?”

       “No, this is what it is like with my soul mate. This can only be with you.”

I kissed her again. Gently I pried open her nightshirt and revealed her amazing

body. I touched her scars. :Not now, later:

       :When you want, maybe never.:

       :Someday.:

       :Now, I want you:

       :I want you.: For the first time her body instructed me how to kiss her and

I took every clue.

       :Shall we return to Sabrine‟s?:

       :Are your thoughts always so practical?:
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 433


       :My thoughts are always of you.:

       I made love to her that day. Had we been wed on the first day we had

met and then made love on that day, it could not have been newer or more

exciting than it was on that day of our merged minds.



       Afterwards we dressed and returned to the village, already awake and

fearful for us. Mirane told them nothing and they may not have sensed it even

though we radiated the change so brightly I would not have been surprised to

hear from my own family about it.



       That day Mirane slept very deeply. I woke before she did and no amount

of gentle shaking roused her. I wondered if she had willed herself to sleep so

solidly or whether her body and mind were so exhausted there was no other

way. I leaned next to her in the narrow bed and stroked her hair. It was rare that

I had the opportunity to study her sleep so closely. I had always loved watching

women sleep. I pushed another stray hair away from her face and the slid in

closer beside her.

       :You always enjoy watching women sleep?: Her voice slipped into the

back of my thoughts. She did not open her eyes or change her breathing.

       :If I wanted this I was mad.: I thought.

       :Did you sleep well?:

       :Yes, are you still asleep?:
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 434


      :I would like to be: Her sleepy mind purred.

      :You are calmer,:

      :I am no hysterical woman.:

      :I‟d never thought so.:

      :Good.:

      :Will you wake up today?:

      :Is there a reason to?:

      :Practice.: I had not meant to say that.

      :You are very practical, I wish I had known, there was so much more I

could have had you do.:

      :We should practice this.:

      :Why?:

      :So that some privacy is maintained.:

      :For years you have wanted into my thoughts, did you not imagine it

would be reciprocated.:

      :I did not imagine you would wish to explore my mind with such vigor.:

      I had come to believe that we would never share this between us. For

whatever unnatural reason she had, she was closed to the idea so, perhaps, I

would have thought having it thrust upon her, in what still remained

unexplained circumstances, would have caused to react angrily or frightened.

Perhaps, I expected her to become hysterically enraged, but not my Mirane. She

did not take it in stride but she had had to accept so many worse things in her
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 435


life that she could quickly see that this was no evil thing. As we explored it

together she found that, contrary to her fears, she was not revealed to anyone but

me. She could neither receive nor influence the thoughts of others, which even

she felt was a disappointment. This thing was only between us and she saw it

for what it was, a tool, a bond.

       Sometimes, I think of her, particularly in those early years, as a maelstrom,

a force unto herself who demanded all or nothing loyalty, things to be done her

way or no way. But she was never that. She often felt that she was alone and

that if things could not be done her way than she would best do them herself, but

she was neither inflexibly stubborn nor furious of temper. Thus she took to this

new gift with more alacrity and acceptance than I had expected.

       :You are surprised.: She said to me.

       :Surprised?: I asked. I had become lost in my own thoughts. Over the

passed few years, I too, had become used to my own thoughts.

       :You are surprised. You thought I would become hysterical.:

       :Not exactly.: I evaded, she was very good at this with very little training.

       :You hoped I would become hysterical.: She sat up in bed, :Hoped, you

hoped I would become hysterical and you would be the hero.:

       :Do I need to watch my every thought?:

       “Well, yes, if you have such absurd thoughts you may wish to watch

them.” Mirane, effortlessly, switched from mental to verbal communication and

then subsequently began to laugh uproariously.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 436


      :You will attract the family.:

      :Good, I can tell them all about this.: She was quite amused with herself

and my possible humiliation, I said nothing but it was useless, she ridiculed both

my silence and the wounded pride beneath it.

      “I‟m leaving, I agreed to meet with Kyltan this afternoon.

      “I‟m sorry,” she purred and pulled me back into bed. “Sometime we need

to discuss Sorcha.” She smiled, “when did you have time for that?”

      “Sorcha?” I asked only half able to remember her. The image we shared

was of a woman clad in green, she bristled with lazy sensuality. “I met her on

my way here, why?”

      “There is something about her, its unclear, isn‟t that strange.” Mirane said,

then probed further.

      “I barely remember her at all.” I replied truthfully.

      “I am going back to sleep.” Mirane rolled onto her side and nuzzled her

head on my chest.

      :Good night.: I said kissing her hair.

      :Good night.: she thought and slipped back into sleep.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 437




Festival

    The tent that had been a feature in the town center for the last month was

transformed into banquet hall. Long tables were constructed for the night in a

square around the outside with chairs on the inside and the outside. Oil torches

were at each intersection of the tables and they burned bright enough for the

whole room. Pine boughs were hung at all the corner to freshen the closed space.

The warm spring day had gone and the colder winter evening stood at the doors.

    As people started to file in they took their seats, villagers and Darung sitting

together reluctantly. Without saying it, they understood that if on this night they

could not find common ground it would all fail. And so they sat Darung and

villager side by side and smiled.

       Mirane and I went slowly to the tent already bright and full. Spirits

flowed freely by the sound of the festivities and the increasing volume of the

laughter. “Are you going in now?” inquired a voice behind us.

    “Kyltan,” I turned and shook his hand. I smiled to see him and patted him

on the shoulder.

     “Xylvan, Mirane,” he gave each of us a respectful nod. He knew that his

village, this night, and everything that saved them was due to us and he owed us

for all of it. I could sense this in him and yet neither Mirane nor I shared that

assessment.

    “Yes,”
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 438


    “No one has taken your seats.”

    “We have seats?” Mirane asked and glad now that she had taken the time to

bathe and dress. Beneath her cloak and hood she was dressed in the long gown

Gyan had made for her and her long chestnut hair fell around her unbound. The

dress, which was so beautiful by itself, was transformed when she wore it. Gyan

had sculpted the dress only for her and that was quite apparent, there was only

one in the room that was its equal, the one he had created for his own wife,

Sabrine. I, too indulged in a little vanity as I would have frequently done in my

mother‟s palace. I wore my hair brushed out to my hips. I also wore a suit Gyan

had made especially for me. It was an amazing hybrid of Gryth and Sian styles.

I consisted of long brocade leggings, a coat to my knees in a matching green

brocade with no trim but long sleeves, lined with Sian Trysal. I was immensely

pleased with it.

    “They put you at the head table, everyone wishes to honor you.” Kyltan left

it unsaid that Mirane was only recognized as my consort and as such she would

be allowed to sit with me. I could feel it burn her to be considered no more than a

consort to these people who had once held her as a slave. :Do not unravel our

peace.: I warned and pleaded.

    Mirane stood taller, a picture of perfection. Any Sian queen would have

envied her poise and elegance. We entered the tent and removed our cloaks.

Soon all eyes were on us as we proceeded down the center of the room. Any

light in the room touched us and was absorbed into our dark clothing or it
                                                                              Secrets and Illusions 439


glinted off of the crystals in Mirane‟s dress. We walked arm in arm as if we were

being presented to my royal mother. No one spoke while we, suddenly their

own royalty, took our seats. We looked at them all, still silent. :What are they be

thinking?: She asked. She had not yet learned to read others thoughts36 as I had.

         :They are too stunned to think: I replied.

         We took our seats. Then as if to begin the ceremony one of the Darung

stood up and lifted his drink to us. “To Prince Jimareteal Xylvan Queensrealm

Tearisia! Wars between our people have gone on for more generations than we

have family and friends in front of us, and yet this man‟s leadership has brought

us to peace,” and by way of aside, “and to a very lucrative trade contract. To

Prince Jimatreteal.”

      “To Prince Xylvan!” everyone shouted. After that the drinking continued

and so did the conversations. The noise level in the tent and also the

temperature continued to rise. After a short while several people left the tent

only to reappear with huge platters of food. These would feed not only the

people in the tent but also those who did not fit inside the walls, who held their

own celebration outside by several huge bonfires.

      After dinner, one wall of the tent was raised and the tables were arranged in

a large horseshoe. The platters of food were spread out on the sides and the

delegates prepared for the signing at the far end. All of the villagers, children

36
  There has always been a point of contention among Mirane scholars as to whether Mirane’s telepathic
abilities were contained strictly between the two of them or not. One school of thought suggests that she
secretly develops a powerful sense of others thoughts and a strong shield but is never willing to allow any
one other than Xylvan into her thoughts while many claim that she never learned to do it at all.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 440


who were up past their bed times and Darungswho had made a special trip to

join the celebration stood between that far table and the bonfire. I stood behind

the table holding myself with the composure and dignity they had come to

expect from me and that this occasion demanded. Beside me stood three

generations of Darung men and women on one side and three generations of

Krahan men and women. Mirane stood in front of the table with her parents,

none of them were asked to represent the village. The representatives of village

stood nearby; Gyan, Kyltan, Sabrine and the others.

    “Tonight your villages have taken the first steps to a new border. You are

the first, but by no means will you be the last. You all stand to gain great wealth

and influence by what you do here. Already the power of your names on this

paper is greater than anywhere else.” I spoke clearly and simply so my words

would impact them and so that they would be remembered. It was important

that this generation, this first treaty not fail. In front of me stood, Mirane, the one

woman who still had blood on her mind, blood for an entire people and I knew

that I would have to fight for her. Now I knew the enormity of what had

happened to her and what she was willing to do to make sure it never happened

to anyone else, ever. I took inspiration in the control she had exercised since

bringing them here and though no one saw it or recognized it, she had

contributed to this treaty as much or more than I could have, more than anyone

could have. I looked to her and she was smiling, her beautiful smile matched

with eyes looking at me and only me, told me I was correct.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 441


    “Would the representatives please sign?” I handed them the pen one at a

time and each put his mark to the paper. I waited for them all to sign and then

wrote my own name, Prince Jimareteal of Queensland Tearisia-Xylvan.

    And when the last drop of ink was committed to paper, the crowd erupted

with joy. Kyltan came forward with a basket of meat and the Darungs came

forward with a beautiful piece of weaving that was as fine as anything I‟d ever

seen. The two representatives both finely dressed and freshly washed

exchanged token goods to seal the treaty. Once done, the crowd cheered and

only waned in their applause when the musicians softly struck up music.

       The village had provided some players as the Darungs had and soon

they were competing. One half-known tune was tossed between each culture

back and forth until everyone knew part of what was played. Similar rythms

and notes enchanted the dancers among each group to stand and perform.

Village dancers shared steps with Darung dancers, and then returned the favor.

The Darungs were far more reserved, as if the dances of this little village were

too wild, but they were willing to try. As a watched I thought I should have

had these artists make the peace, their minds and bodies were already interested

in learning about each other‟s ways. I watched and tried to memorize all the

intricate steps so that I might replay them when I returned home. Ancient

country styles hybridized with each other beautifully and I did not want to be

anything other than a spectator.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 442


       When their Darung friends played solo, the next round, Mirane stood and

walked to the center of the crowd. Her cloak fell to a puddle of fine wool on the

ground. The crystal beads caught the warm firelight and drinks still flowed. The

pain-haunted music began to play, and Mirane‟s once beaten body slowly began

began to move. As each note struck, she fought to regain her life, to reclaim those

years and to build her own bridge back to her family. Despite how much they

knew there was still so much she would never tell them. Somehow she thought,

:let them watch me, let them know that I was there, it was horrifying and

humiliating, and it was constant, it was almost two years of being a Darung thing

and this is what it looked like.:

       Her arms shaped themselves into serpents; her hips slowly and sensually

circled and marked time with the exotic rhythm. More and more celebrants

began to watch her. Darungs who ever had any doubt that she was woman from

the north, the fire-haired assassin, had that doubt removed from their minds and

stood in paralyzed terror. Her family stood mouths wide while the daughter

and sister they had not yet reassimulated and did not really know put on her

performance. In their minds when she was taken, she was gone, to some she was

even dead, but this display of Darung culture reminded them that she was not

merely away from them, she was with her captors learning their ways, she was

living a life that was unimaginable to them.

       Larken stood in the crowd watching her with no simple thoughts. She

was and had always been a stranger to him. These last years he had created a
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 443


Mirane from his own adolescent memories and had idealized her as a woman of

youth, sweetness, kindness and who loved and longed for him. That was the

woman he had searched for and that had never been the true Mirane. Now that

he had seen her true body, her true love and her true self he was forced to admit

that the memory and woman were two entirely different creatures and he could

hardly see where the real fit into the imagined. And then he knew what he had

to do.

         Despite them all, her body kept its undulation with the music and the

musicians grew bolder with the perfection of the dance. They felt blessed to

have such a skilled dancer, all the while, feeling too afraid to stop playing for

her.

       I watched her dance and was blind to the thoughts that I should not have

been able to ignore. In her dance were the pain and the pain of telling. This

dance was the closest she would come to telling her village what happened and

as close to telling the Darungs that she had assimilated their culture and could be

more Darung than they if she need to be, that she had survived them and she

had defeated and, ultimately, she had forgiven them, or would before they

would ever. Her dance with its intricate skill did not pretend to be strong; she

was vulnerable in the new way between us. I needed to rescue her. I needed to

feel my arms embrace her and to love her.

         When the music wound down, I rushed forward and scooped the woman

up with only one thought on my mind. One thought that everyone in the crowd
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 444


could recognize and no one denied. I kissed her in front of them all and the very

drunk crowd cheered. I gave them a nod of finality and she buried her face in my

chest. Together we went to Sabrine‟s house and to the room we had shared since

the battle.

     “I did not know you could do that?” I kissed her mouth. Her lips tasted

faintly like salt. They were hotter than her hands; they were hungry and thirsty.

I remember the eagerness in her kiss that night. It reminded me then of our first

kisses, our first months of love making, desperate moments of very young

people finding love for the first time and afraid that it will be, too soon, ripped

away. Neither of us were that young, then, neither of us believed that our love

would last. Whether, at the time, either of us believed it was love at all, I do not

know.

     “I can.” She smiled and kissed me.

     “I love you. I need you. I have always needed you.” I groaned into her

chest. I kissed her over her heart.

     “I think that our lives are about to begin.” Mirane said with a distance and

eeriness to her voice. I looked at her and smiled. There was a feeling of strength

and great hope between us. I often, in my young days believed I could not have

loved her more. Still, now, I remember that night as one when I truly did burn

for her. Even now, I remember that night clearly and perfectly.

     “What will your family say?” I laughed for neither of us were concerned

what any one thought of us.
                                                            Secrets and Illusions 445


    “I do not know.” Mirane smiled, and said silently, “I do not care.” She

kissed me and then again. To the sounds of drunken festivities and boisterous

partying, she and I, very slowly, made love. Our thoughts, like our bodies,

intimately found one another. Though I had experienced love making with an

active, Sian connection, I found such pleasure in it with Mirane. Her surprise

and wonderment were delicious. I discovered in her the breadth of knowledge

she had at her sexual fingers and I looked beyond that to feel the intensity of

attention and devotion she showed me. We rediscovered each other and

ourselves, as outside, the festivities waned and the light grayed the sky.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 446


Departure



        Mirane cracked her eyes to the sun that crashed into her room. She was

alone in the narrow bed, I was out at the Darung tent. She smiled when I

realized she was awake and peeking into her mind. All my life I had been able to

block people out of my thoughts if I needed to, but now that Mirane could see

inside, I was unable to prevent her. :Good morning:

        :Are you getting up?: She heard and wished I could have lingered with

her.

        :Yes: she replied, silently, but with reluctance.

        :You‟re going to miss it all.: I said

        “Get up,” This time the voice was her sister‟s and was accompanied by a

shove. “It‟s late, you do not want to miss it all.” Sabrine said.

        “That‟s what Xyl says.” Mirane mumbled.

        :Xyl?: I asked.

        :Trying something new?: She replied

        “Xyl?” Sabrine gave her a quizzical look. The change between Mirane and

I had not gone unnoticed by Mirane‟s observant sister or, for that matter, any one

else.

        Mirane wrapped the blanket around her naked body and swung her long

legs over the bed.
                                                              Secrets and Illusions 447


       “I do not suppose I need to ask what happened to you last night.” Sabrine

said referring to our quick departure, Mirane‟s cat-like smile and her unabashed

nudity this morning.

       “It was a great celebration.” Mirane smiled pulling her under tunic over

her head as her sister tossed her additional clothes.

       “Seems to have been.” Sabrine teased.

       “I‟m just glad it is all over.” Mirane cast her sister a sideways glance.

Soon she would begin to start a new life.

       “I did not know you could dance like that.”

       Mirane pulled on her over tunic and stood to straighten out the long skirt.

“I can.” She said this with no shame. Mirane had spent the years since her

capture denying that she felt shame and after that night shedding it like a skin,

and never to feel it again on her bones or her soul. Mirane broke her gaze with

Sabrine and went to the frozen wash-basin to rinse the sleep from her face.

Sabrine grabbed a hairbrush and began to try to disentangle the long chestnut

waves.

       “How can you travel and keep all this hair?” Sabrine asked pushing some

of it out of the way. I overheard her and whispered to Mirane, :I love it. Please

do not change an inch of it: “For that matter how does he do it either, his is

worse than yours.”

       “He‟s meticulous and religiously vain.” Mirane said aloud to her sister but

I heard it, as well. I am sure she said it for my benefit.
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 448


       “He can afford to be vain.” Sabrine said clearly.

       “What? Why?” Mirane said neither word, Sabrine‟s matter of fact tone

stunned her.

       “He‟s the most beautiful man I‟ve ever seen and a King‟s son, too, from

what I understand. I think he can show a little pride.”

       “Good thing he cannot hear you,” Mirane laughed, “You might actually

cause his head to float away with hot air and his own importance.” Once again

her teasing was primarily for my benefit. As I spoke to one of Kyltan‟s very

serious sons, I was hard pressed to remain focused on the matter.

       “But surely you agree,” Sabrine said, “you have taken him to you.”

Sabrine may have thought to say something else but she knew the seriousness of

the love between us and did not wish to degrade it. She had such respect for her

sister, now; she never wanted anything or anyone to degrade her again.

       :She is going to force me to say something nice about you,: Mirane

whined into my brain like a petulant and adorable child. I appreciated it, Mirane

was rarely so light hearted.

       :Then you should, you should gush endearments and your passions.:

       :That is what you think!: Mirane laughed in my brain, I do not know if

she did so in front of her sister. :I think, I liked you better when your thoughts

were just as much a mystery as my own.:

       :What made you think you were the only one with secrets?:
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 449


      :Foolishness, I suppose,: she smiled, she smiled in my mind and it was

every bit as charming and contagious as her true smile. No matter what else

Mirane would be able to do in her whole life and no matter what she ever

accomplished I cannot help but believe that being able to smile directly into

someone‟s brain is the most powerful thing she ever did.

      “What are you doing?” Sabrine said pulling a lock of Mirane‟s hair. “You

look dabble-headed.”

      “What?”

      “Dabble-headed, you are standing there with a stupid grin and your eyes

are off to nowhere. Come on it is time to go.” Now it was my turn to laugh, and

I received a succinctly put command to desist. Sabrine wrapped Mirane in a

beautiful white cape and pulled on one equally lovely herself.

      “Thank you.” Mirane said looking at it in the mirror. The two left

together arm and arm.

      When they arrived the Darungs were already lined up to leave, the tent

was taken down and the village was almost its formal pastoral self, despite, the

militia lined up with the procession. Mirane walked straight through the

assembled villagers and militia towards me. I caught her glance when another

man called out for her. Immediately, my own defense system activated and I

saw Mirane‟s entire body respond to my fear and anxiety before she had seen the

cause. Her smiling face turned instantly into a mask of strength, her shoulders
                                                                Secrets and Illusions 450


drew up and squared, her eyes flashed in the morning sun. :Larken,: I said by

way of warning and disarming. She did not relax.



        “Mirane,” her name in Larken‟s voice called to her above the noise of the

parade. He approached her slowly and handed her a single piece of paper.

       “What‟s this?”

       “Your dissolvent,” He said, adjusting a heavy looking pack on his

shoulder.

       “Our dissolvent?” she responded incredulously.

       “Yes, I‟m going with the Darungs, if you can do it, so can I.” I could feel a

flash of rage cross Mirane‟s mind, if you can do it, so can I, the same thing!

       :Do not kill him.: Was the only think I could think to say and even that did

not seem to be enough.

       “It‟s too dangerous.” She said through barely unclenched teeth.

       “Maybe, but what have I got here?” He said sadly but without any

remorse.

       “I‟m sorry.” She softened but there was no regret in her or sorrow.

       “I‟m sorry, too.” Larken leaned forward and kissed his former and my

future wife good-bye. Mirane accepted the kiss and I felt a momentary instance

of feeling for the man, a stray thought of what might have been or a gentle touch

they had shared. The tenderness with which she regarded him in this moment of

parting gave me a moment of jealousy but I pushed it away, hopefully before she
                                                           Secrets and Illusions 451


sensed it. I forced myself to think of this man. He knew that she had chosen me

over him. After the trial no one believed he was her husband, anymore. Maybe

he could become a hero to them by doing this and maybe in the Darung west

there would be adventure and love. “Goodbye, Mirane.”

       “Goodbye, Larken.”

       Mirane felt Larken draw away and then watched as he fell into the

Darung line. She hoped that he would protect himself and she new he did not

have any inkling of what he was getting involved. She was glad she would have

no occasion to meet him and to hear how the Darung are really good people and

that the red skirts are valuable and educated. He seemed to have forgotten his

own years of pursuit as well and as easily as her pain.

       The line moved west and soon all that remained of the Darung was the

family and the dwelling. The Darung man who chose to stay and learn their

ways had one wife and one girl child. He was a man who had shown himself

within these few weeks to be thoughtful but free with his laughter. He was

expressive with his face and hands, his wife was quick witted and friendly, and

his daughter was very enchanting. If this agreement had any chance of success,

this family would be a big part of it.

       Mirane pulled her cloak around her tightly to keep out the cold gray of

morning. She felt she should leave, her work was done here and payment made.

Anywhere else, the village would be glad to rid themselves of the fighter and the

Sian illusionist, both of whom made them uncomfortable. Perhaps here they felt
                                                             Secrets and Illusions 452


the same way but she prayed they would not ask her to go, she prayed they

would remain afraid of her just long enough that she could leave on her own

terms. The cold continued to seep through her cape. I could feel her thoughts as

I came up behind her.

        “Mirane,” I kissed the top of her head and wrapped my arms around her.

“It is done.” Her head rested back just below my chin.

        “Yes. I cannot believe it went so far.”

        “It has a lot further to go.”

        “I hope it can.” Mirane‟s voice was almost empty. She felt very tired and

she did not feel strong enough to accept all this change.

        “Do you?” I asked hopeful that this peace could begin to bring her

comfort.

        “I will.” Mirane smiled and tried to look hopeful. She felt such a loss

today and despite all the revelry around her she could not celebrate. The lives

around her that were saved she could count and think of their children but there

was something sacrificed within her she had not known was there. Mirane

handed me the paper Larken had given her. “It is my dissolvement.”

        “So now you are my Mirane Damaskaya?” I asked, kissing her on the

head.

        “Well, in truth, Mirane Vallanishe.” She replied with deliberate

casualness; another name to begin another life.

        “What kind of name is Vallanishe?”
                                                          Secrets and Illusions 453


      “The name I was born with, it is my family‟s name.”

      “Then, soon you shall take my name?” I said proudly.

      “And what name is that?”

      “Prince Jimerateal Xylvan Myrrk Queensrealm Tearisia.”

      :You do not have to wonder: she whispered in my brain. :I will be

marrying you.:

      And that was the day I contacted Sian to arrange for us to come to Sian.
Secrets and Illusions 454

				
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