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Exit

Reine de Mémoire
3. Le Dragon fou

by

Élisabeth Vonarburg

 

 

(Chapter 10, p. 85-91)

 

 

"...Alas, we were swept away in one of the terrible hurricanes that strike these seas at the time of monsoons."
Gilles's hand goes still, and his eyes reread what his quill has just written. He can't recount the shipwreck this way! Won't they object that their talented should have predicted the storm and kept the ship away from it, since, as he has taken a sly pleasure in pointing out elsewhere, Nathan did it easily many times? Suggesting that Nathan was caught off guard is out of the question. Gilles would never detract from the demonstrations of his talent to make that sudden failure plausible. He imagines all too well the mocking scorn of the Magisterium and the Hierarchy: of course, a wild talent, and an infidel too! What is more, if they thought that Nathan had not been able to predict it, that would leave the door open to speculation about the possibly magic nature of that storm. No, he would have to proceed differently.
Quill paused above the page, he listens for a moment to Ouraïn's babbling: she is playing in front of the rattan table he uses as a desk, sitting on the mat among the toys he made for her. He is tempted for an instant to play with her. But he has to continue the task he has set for himself: finish the report that he will send to the French Monarchy - he does not yet know when or how, but he will send it. He has to, for Ehmory and the sailors of L'Hirondelle, but now too, most of all, for Ouraïn.
Let's see, except for native magic, which has no place in the report, why would Nathan not have been able to predict this storm, as sudden as it was, and so violent in the narrow strait where he has it occur?
After a few moments, with a sigh, he must admit that he can imagine no reason. Nathan would have to have been totally incapable of performing his magic. A terrible backlash caused by some previous accident during which he had had to use his magic intensely? But the astonishing mild effect of backlashes with Nathan was common knowledge - one reason, and not the least, for the suspicion the Magisterium felt towards Nathan.
An accident. And what if Nathan himself had been the victim of an accident? It can happen to mages.
Yes! Even a mage can trip over one of the cats on the ship, as happened to Bénédict, the cabin boy; it would only show to what extent Nathan was, in fact, very ordinary, never considering trying to predict, heretically, his own destiny. And, quite the contrary to Bénédict, who only got a big bump on his head, Nathan could have had a very bad fall, splitting his skull, being rendered unconscious. Some will think, will surely say, that it was perhaps Ehmory's punishment for not hiring two mages on board as he should have, but no matter.
That's it. Nathan was incapacitated and unable to predict the storm, which picked up the boat and hurled it against the reefs... Oh no, there would have been wreckage. There must be no trace. The storm capsized the ship. And a sole survivor, clinging to a spar, was washed up on the shore in the Land of the Dragons. Then, everything will follow very well without any magic intervention: a native rescues him on the beach, cares for him, becomes his friend then takes him to Garang Xhévât and not to Daïronur, because the man is part of the clan of the Natéhsin, an ancient, powerful tribe and because the sacred city is closer than the royal capital. There, he meets Kurun, and the rest follows. He will subsequently describe the great reluctance of the natives to broach the subject of magic, and their total refusal to show him any being used, even from a distance. He will leave it up to his readers to imagine the possible reasons. He must not show too much interest in the question. He is himself, because of Harmonization, utterly inaccessible to any possible native magic, a respectable Geminite castaway without talent, persuaded to never again see his homeland, and who tries to adapt as best he can to his new circumstances. And it is the truth too. The best lies are the ones that tell the truth without saying the whole truth, aren't they? The lies that say enough without saying too much. All in all quite an entertaining exercise, even if he does not yet know the outcome. Since, in the end, he still does not actually know if he will ever again see, if not his homeland, any Geminite compatriots.
Suddenly surprised by the silence, he looks up. The baby is staring into space, now lying on the floor on her back. What does Ouraïn see that fascinates her so? He glances up at the ceiling, sees nothing special, not even one of those giant geometrids that find a slightly cooler refuge in the house in this heat wave season. The play of shadows, perhaps, with the daylight winding through the foliage? The little girl is captivated, in any case. And astoundingly still. She doesn't even blink her eyelids.
"Ouraïn? What are you looking at, my little marvel?"
She does not react. Not a quiver.
He drops to his knees beside the child, opening his talent, terrified... And Ouraïn isn't there. He searches in vain for the condensations characteristic of the child, but Ouraïn... is nowhere.
Nowhere.
His panic abruptly diminishes, leaving him almost dazed but not reassured. Nowhere: in igaôtchènzin, like the three Natéhsin, on that far-off day, in the ruins of Banang Thu. As he still sees them sometimes, in the distance, in the small floating pavilion that they now reserve for that purpose.
But the girl is only seven months old! She can't...
He resists his desire to take her in his arms - Divine only knows how that would interfere with the process she is undergoing. This little seven-month-old girl looks like she's two years old. This little girl is Kurun's child.
He calls, terrified. Kurun, Xhélin, the girl...
Bring her to us
, says Kurun. Serenely. How can she be serene?
But how? It's an illusion!
You can touch her, can't you?
A transportation spell...
No. Take her and bring her to us.
It won't hurt her to touch her?
No.
Always this calm, this exasperating certainty! But he asks no more questions. He takes the child in his arms, at once horrified and astounded by feeling her like a wooden doll, and he dashes into the oppressive heat, which is barely alleviated by the shade of the big trees.
The three Natéhsin and Xhélin have brought the pavilion back to the side of the jetty; they are sitting on the veranda; Xhélin is serving tea. The Ghât'sin freezes when he arrives, while Kurun and her two companions look up at the pounding of his feet on the planks. But none of them seem overly concerned when they see the child. He lays her down on the cushions close to her mother, with absurd precaution, but how could he do otherwise? He can touch her! He felt her weight in his arms!
"Is she... in igaôtchènzin?" he asks, out of breath.
Kurun turns towards her daughter with a faint smile, without touching her: "Yes."
"But she's not... a Natéhsin!"
"She is one as well as a Ghât'sin," declares Kurun in an even tone.
Gilles slumps to the floor, suddenly drained.
"There has never been such as child," whispers Xhélin fervently.
Gilles looks at the little girl. His little girl who is seven months old, and who walks, and who talks, and who looks like a two-year-old. Whose psyche is so far away at this instant, in spheres so ethereal that he cannot follow it, and whose soma...
The Natéhsin sip their tea. Xhélin stands up to go get another cup, fills it and offers it to Gilles. It is pink tea from Camtchin, with an intense, fruity aroma. A remedy for heat, it seems, if you drink it very hot. He barely suffers from the heat, but he automatically takes a sip. Clears his throat.
"Kurun, were you this way... were you this way, all three of you, at her age?" he finally asks.
"We were never this age," says Nandèh.
Holding back a sigh, Gilles turn towards Xhélin: "Will she wake up? Will she come back?"
"She is not sleeping," says Xhélin. Who immediately raises a hand to stop Gilles' outburst. "Yes, she will become back."
He ignores the oddity of the phrase, and keeps asking: "Are you sure?"
"You brought her here. You were very agitated. She is without doubt already reassembling herself."
Reassembling herself. A kind of suspension too, after all. Gilles looks at the child again: "What if I call her in the World-Between?"
"No," says Xhélin, "that will not make her rebecome faster. It is necessary to be patient."
Gilles rocks back and forth a bit, his arms around his knees, without ever taking his eyes off the small, still body. The little soma: she is not dead!
A soma that his talent does not perceive, but that his hands touched, carried. A soma becoming insubstantial, and which nevertheless remains.
He quite simply cannot conceive it.
But will it last for hours, as with Kurun and the others?
"How much time?"
"There is no time," says Kurun, smiling.
He suppresses a flash of annoyance. That is what she always answers when he asks her about what she feels during igaôtchènzin. But Xhélin understood what he meant, even though his response is not much more help: "I don't know. There has never..."
"...has never been such a child," mumbles Gilles, feeling too miserable now to be irritated.
Xhélin sighs, unaware of the irony: "No."
"She will rebecome," says Kurun in a soothing voice. "We always rebecome."
"So will she fall into this state anywhere and anytime, from now on?" mumbles Gilles, more and more horrified by the possible future that lies before him. "It can't be good for her! Or else..." A brief hope. "...could it be that this won't happen again?"
"It happened," says Kurun, "it will happen again. What was given by the Goddess will return to the Goddess."
Nandèh and Feï nod silently.
Gilles slumps a little. Their catechism again, this calm certainty.
He stands up to go and kneel by the child. Without touching her, he looks at her shiny braids, her little heart-shaped face, so familiar. A child, his child, their child, the marvel, Ghât'sin and Natéhsin. And those big, wide eyes that are looking at... what?
Ouraïn comes back to inhabit her gaze. The bronze eyes are staring at him, briefly perplexed, then the heart-shaped face lights up with a big smile and the little girl puts her arms around his neck and says: "Gânu, I'm hungry!"

© 2006 Éditions Alire & Élisabeth Vonarburg


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