A story of Aligare
Heidi C. Vlach
Published by Heidi C. Vlach
Copyright 2011 Heidi C. Vlach
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A note about Remedy
This story takes place on another world, among people who are not humans. The three peoplekinds live together in varied mixtures, with no history of war or racial strife. They work together and still have troubles to face.
In this world, the Remedy story begins.
Go where sixteen winds whistle
The sky is a festival attended by light
Fly until your wings blaze vigorous
Enjoy falling – air or earth will catch you
-Song of the Skywager dance, translated from korvitongue
In all the years Peregrine spent working and living, he had learned that sad days dawned eventually. His friends had only a few years to spend on him. Ferrin were a people full of life but they weren't spirits, nor gods; Peregrine had the same long portion of time as any korvi but he couldn't hold back fate.
He laid a last cornstalk on the funeral pyre. Kelria would leave this land on a blaze fit to warm the fire god. Under berry-bright paint, her bundle looked smaller than even a ferrin ought to – because Peregrine thought about the eighteen bursting years Kelria had sat on his shoulder. A friend's presence couldn't fit into any wrapped bundle.
Tillian sat in earferrin position now, on Peregrine's shoulder, shifting her silk-furred weight and curling her tail close around her. It was good of her to oblige an old mining korvi at a time like this, while watching her mother depart.
“She was–” Peregrine stopped and swallowed careful. He bolstered his voice so his clan might hear him. “She was everything we could have asked for. Even if we might not've thought to ask.”
Silence held the plains that evening. If Peregrine's mate or children spoke, he couldn't hear them and Tillian said nothing about it. Wind pulled at his quill feathers; he yanked his wings closer to his back, out of the wind's insistent way.
He shook his head. He had nothing more to say, only sour regret in his belly and a daughter-friend perched on his shoulder. The sight of Kelria passed behind his eyes, a middle-aged Kelria seated in the grass outside the mine, lacing a basket together. She made such tight, sure basket weave, tied off double for luck. She might have been a weaver and made a trade for herself, if she hadn't been an earferrin.
Touch rested on Peregrine's back, gentle as straw. Giala stood at his side, smiling wan and offering the murmuring words he couldn't.
Peregrine could guess the majority of what she said; grief formed the same flowing shape whenever his dear partner spoke at a pyre. He still wished he could hear the details, the sounds folding off her tongue: he touched Tillian's foot and she repeated in high, clear voice.
“In this life, we all loved Kelria Kellen, call her Kelria, and held her dear as anything. Her service was a gift to Redessence Clan, and we folk gathered here will miss her. Great Ambri keep her safe, all right?”
Without waiting for the gods to answer, Giala knelt, the silvery jingle of her horn ornaments piercing the quiet. Swelling with a deep breath, then blowing her firecasting essence outward, she set the pyre alight. Firelight splashed red over her feathers, carving her stark with shadows. And then she was only a shape on two retreating feet; the pyre called Peregrine's eyes; the leaping flames wouldn't let him go.
They watched in growing quiet. The rest of Redessence Clan, all of Peregrine and Giala's borrowed children, brushed close to his ankles. He took Giala's hand in his; she held tight and grateful. Perhaps she was wondering, too, if goddess Ambri minded these services of fire. Ferrin carried electricasting sparks inside them, but whatever Kelria's kind, whatever her element, she had lived as a member of a korvi clan. All of Peregrine's earferrin had.
Because his earferrin would always live this way, and pass on this way. So their promise said and so it would be. Peregrine felt chill inside, heavy as wet earth, and his inner fire could never bring that to boil.
The worst part of a funeral was waiting for the smell to burn away. Tillian fidgeted rarely, to her merit; breathing in cremation's burn through a sensitive furkind nose was a torment Peregrine could nearly imagine.
The flames were soon gone, the embers faded, the ash motes fled on the wind. Redessence ferrin approached one at a time, lolloping uneven, their ears low with uncertainty. Wellis hesitated, his posture stiff and full of thoughts; he glanced a question to Peregrine.
“I'll be here a while,” Peregrine said, hardly more than a breath. “Stay or go, however you need.”
Tillian slid closer to his neck – whiskers vibrated against his skin. “I'll stay with you. We talked last night, just before she died, so ... I don't have anything to say to her remains.”
Already tethered to Peregrine. Already sitting with her long ears raised, ready to do earferrin duty.
“Not much remains of her, anypace.” He ran a hand rough through his mane feathers, up to his horns and back down to close his own eyes. “The flames were to bring her luck in finding her goddess, so that's likely where she is. In the thunderclouds, or in the electricstone. I couldn't say where.”
Too-slow motion caught his eye – Giala pausing, reading him. Peregrine forced calm onto his face, letting his feathers lay sleek. He must have looked in passable condition, because Giala gave him a shard of a smile and headed toward home.
Peregrine stood there in the deep purple night, with Tillian as he was always going to be – until she withered with age like her family before her. People's differences were such wretched bedmates in times like these.
“It's quiet,” Tillian said. She paused, considering her own tale-telling hanging in the air. “I just hear grass, waving a bit with the breeze.”
“I remember grass.” Four generations of Tillian's forebearers had told him about it, every rustle and swish and rattle. Grass never changed. “Tell me what you think matters. That should be plenty.”
Vibration hummed through Tillian. “I can do that.”
They stood onward. Sparks winked out, darkening the ash field at Peregrine's feet. He swatted grass with his tailtip; he drew a breath.
“Tillian. It's your trade now.”
“It was already my trade. I don't think a funeral changes it that much.”
This had been underway since she was a kitten. Since her dusting of birth fur began to thicken, since she opened blue eyes and spoke in a flute pitch Peregrine could blessedly hear. He had a cask of wine at home that was older than Tillian. Somewhere on his back, one more feather was likely turning hoary.
“I'm going to listen as well as Mama Kelria did. And as well as Great Great Grandpapa Zitan did. And everybody in between them, too.” Tillian sat on her haunches, straight with pride. “I'll try my best. And I won't talk about the grass anymore.”
“Just the things I need to know about.”
“Yeah.” A moment of thought passed, in which her wide-flared ears must have swivelled. “There's a bird clucking. Over there.”
That might have mattered in some other place and moment. Right now, Peregrine stood in a silence like cave depths, and he was long since sure that he loved Tillian Sri, call her Tillian.
“You're sure you want to take this as your trade?”
“Well, I have to. It'll help you.”
If she hadn't said it sincerely, Peregrine may not have hurt so deep. They walked home, with Tillian snug against his neck.
Peregrine spent years thinking, trying to recall a time that some miner had stopped being a miner. There was no legend wisdom to guide him now, no neat-laid hank of instructions. If such a tale existed, Peregrine couldn't imagine who would tell it to him.
He spent more years hesitating. He noticed lips moving; he found whole phrases mushrooming into his mind before Tillian could repeat them. Perhaps Peregrine had the faculties to interpret for himself, mine-worn though he was – but he still a miner and this was true as a honed blade. Touching Tillian's foot too often – asking her to be silent – discarded the fact that she lived by Peregrine's side.
One dawning month, while Peregrine struck chisel with hammer, he decided to change. He had chosen to be a miner and he could damned well choose otherwise. He roosted on that fact, with fear tight-strung down his back and amethyst ore breaking under his hands.
And on the day he had chosen, he wrapped the brightcasting stone in his hand, swarming his tunnel with shadows. He blew a thread of smoke to touch the quartz surface; the brightcasting spark inside faded according to his will. Standing in black depths now, this was the last he would ever see of his mines. Hammerstrokes still tolled inside his head, burying all other sound. It was time now to unmake himself.
The spark-centered quartz stone went into his carrying pouch, followed by the familiar weights of his hammer and chisel. He removed his dust-grimy goggles, settling them high on his head. And for the last time, he walked the path he had carved himself. Serviceable amethyst still laid in this bed of granite; its support timbers held sure, even where Peregrine had carved them higher to let his own horns pass. Someone else might take up this mine. He couldn't imagine who, and supposed that it didn't matter.
Light cut across his path where ventilation holes allowed it in – dust danced yellow in the beams of daybright. His feet knew the way, and his tailtip traced the ground even though his footing was sure – some fool sentiment made him want to touch the rock. He didn't suppose the mountainside would miss one miner. The sky might feel differently, when it was reunited with one of its dragon kin.
Whatever Peregrine had done with himself thus far, however much ore his arms successfully hauled, he was still a korvi. Air and wind and freedom might do him some good, vital as those things tended to be. He would have a needle-bright voice in his ear to encourage him – and as he thought of Tillian, his pace quickened.
Evening-gold gemlight seeped into the mine tunnel; a breeze carried in the fresh savour of grass. The mine's mouth came into blinding view and a slender weasel silhouette waited in the center. Tillian sat on her haunches, tall with anticipation, ears high and brush-tipped tail waving.
Hammerstrokes rang in Peregrine's ears still. Another eightmoment needed to pass before he could hear past the reverberations in his own head – and even then, the ear din of eighty years' mining would swallow up voices, footsteps, all the sounds Peregrine couldn't think of offhand because they were silent and useless now. He needed more of Tillian's aid. That much was clear. He couldn't bring himself to guess how much more time he would need to ask of her.
He stepped out into the daylight, shading his eyes with a hand, the Great Gem's warmth sliding over his back. Tillian stretched to full attention, her head reaching the height of Peregrine's knees. Her dove-grey fur was sleek, groomed with a meticulousness born of having nothing else to do.
Her trained-crisp movements of mouth and tongue showed the words. Even Tillian's voice evaded Peregrine when he was fresh out of the mine.
He wrinkled his snout. Feeling ready didn't matter. Feelings mattered when they drove actions, and no one had ever proven themselves by walking home on a usual path. The sensation of lost direction crowded around Peregrine's heart; these western tunnels and plains weren't going to be his usual path, not after today.
“I suppose I'm finished,” he said.
I got the markers. Tillian opened her hands, letting the row of copper pegs flash.
They would melt down into something useful. Peregrine knelt, mantling his wings around his shoulders for balance, holding the feathered length of his tail level to the ground. “And you've got the stone with Fyrian's snake on it?”
The ... Oh, yes! Tillian's ears twitched higher as she realized; she looked at the ties lining her sarong, and back up at Peregrine. I won't untie it, I've got it in here.
Peregrine must have explained the ways to her before, the traditions behind every marker and charm and trinket. Taught small Tillian by telling her a yarn, perhaps, while her eyes were still gummed closed and her ears already worked fine. Or perhaps he had waited a fourday and taken her to see the ways for herself. No, he had done that with Tillian's mother, he was moderately sure. With each new earferrin Peregrine taught, his memories bled together. Tillian would be the last. He had told himself that until his mind wore threadbare in the spot, and he told himself again now: he would oblige no more ferrin to spend their brief lives on his shoulder.
Tillian poured the marker pegs into Peregrine's open hand. All we need to do is get rid of your mine markers?
“Folk will know what it means if they find a mine with no one's claim around the entrance.”
“All right.” Tillian looked at the bare mine opening, squinting to hone her eyes. “And you have your tools?”
“They're all here.”
Tillian turned a smile toward him. So, if your mining is done, you don't have a reason not to fly.
“I'll need a little fire, first.”
Tillian put a hand to the bare hide of Peregrine's calf. She felt cool, despite furkind being the ones born at a lively temperature. You're plenty warm enough! You've been working.
“Let me walk a little,” Peregrine said, “and muster the fire in my shrivelled old heart.”
“Oh, of course. The heat will unshrivel it. Right?”
“Like a raisin. Stewed in the sweetest brandy.”
She laughed, a chirping lilt. “Peregrine, you wouldn't use a sweet brandy. Are your ears better?”
Ordinary ear din filled Peregrine's head now, the constant rumbling that overlaid his life. There was no distinct hammerstroke to be heard; Tillian's voice cut through the noise like wire through wax.
They followed the worn smudge of pathway cleaving the prairie grass. Tillian tottered on her back feet, a steady-bobbing presence beside Peregrine, five of her steps matching Peregrine's long-striding one.
She looked up at him – she had something to say and didn't give it voice yet.
Peregrine had enough years to spend waiting. He ruffled his short-cropped mane feathers with both hands; the mine dust on his skin and feathers, Tillian had told him once, made him look like a hot orange coal caked with ash. He hoped that the dust all swept away on the wind, well distanced from her breathway.
“You don't need to give up mining,” she said, “if flying is that hard for you to muster up.”
She knew him better than that. Peregrine harrumphed, frowning at the clouds strung across the gold evening sky. “Mining is the problem.”
If Peregrine hadn't ventured into close-looming tunnels – the way any flighted creature feared to – his strength wouldn't have drained from wings to arms. But he had done it. He entered mine caves, pressing deeper each day, until his flinch reaction stilled and died. How simple it had been to make that choice. Bartering his wings and ears bought a lifetime of honest work. And how simple to ask a clear-eyed young ferrin to do his listening for him, always. Promising to look after Zitan's bloodline was a layered promise but it hadn't seemed immediately so.
“You'll be fine at flying,” Tillian said. “You just need practice!”
She dragged him back to the present moment, back to this path and this daylight and the smell of grass stalks in open air. A korvi and a ferrin walking, only walking.
“Flight will come back to me if I give it more than a half hour each day.” Living a few moments' flight away from his mine was a pittance.
“You just need to use your lizard half.”
A smirk yanked Peregrine's mouth uneven. “If only I had an entire half.” Dragonkind were more like a drop of lizard in a full cup of bird: they were feathers, squawking, flapping, and the occasional, sensible instance of sloughing off their skin to grow.
Tillian chirped a word of agreement. They kept on. Plains grass swelled and bobbed with the breeze.
“The grassbugs are singing,” Tillian said. She fell to all fours to lollop; Peregrine hadn't noticed his pace quickening. “They've been steady all evening.”
That meant it wouldn't rain. Insectkind had a sense for such things, and only singing when they knew the air around them to be safe. Peregrine's memory filled in the creaking voices of grasshoppers and crickets. He nodded.
“And it doesn't smell like rain, either, so I think we'll have fine weather for a while. Can you fly now?”
Sure as stone, Peregrine wasn't going to get a moment's peace until he flew. He stopped and knelt, one knee squared in offering. It was all the signal Tillian needed; she bounded to him, up onto his shoulder with a sudden press of toes on his clothed thigh.
She wouldn't need to come when Peregrine beckoned, someday, sometime. If only he knew how many steps the journey would take. He hadn't a clue which one to take first.
He built firecasting, summoning his own life-strength in his chest, gathering a steady blaze and letting it soak outward through his muscles. Peregrine spread his wings and felt them tentatively sure. Breeze tugged at his quills and instinct made him flap, the urge for air as basic as that of his lungs. Leaping upward with all his legs and tail had to give, Peregrine clawed into the sky.
The wind soothed him some, carding through his feathers, whipping Tillian's fur against his skin. Well-stoked firecasting filled Peregrine with strength borrowed from himself. Flight was all the things a korvi was built to fare well at: fire and strength were fire god Fyrian's traits. Peregrine flew barely enough to remember that.
He was beginning to enjoy the wind when the cramping began. An innocuous burn between his wingshoulders, hardly different from the firecasting before it spread to consume his back. He stiffened, knotting tight. His wings slowed, each beat torn ragged; the earth's pull returned. Peregrine watched the prairie grass slide past continually slower, and knew that his flight had been fine while it lasted. He let the ground rush to meet them.
Landing was a white sting through his ankles, a sudden state of heaviness crushing his momentum. Then he stood calm, looking past the seed-heavy grass tops at Skyfield village roofs. Tillian uncurled her white tail brush from around her paws; Peregrine opened his grip the moment she squirmed. She clambered onto his shoulder, settling with a brush of whiskers and sarong cotton.
“It's because the hour is late, I guess. There aren't any thermals for you.”
She didn't need to make excuses for Peregrine's failings. Flying all the way to anywhere wasn't a task he had bothered himself with in all forty-eight years of the past elden. He walked through the grass cracking silent under his feet, onto the cart-wheel grooves of the dusty road. Lilac-coloured dusk settled over the land now, the gods' changing of guard, brightcasting light giving way to darkcasting. Peregrine regarded the Great Gem's steady-glowing speck in the sky, gauging its exact hue.
“I hope Giala doesn't worry,” he said.
“Really, finishing a mine is a big enough job. She must know why you're late.” Touch brushed Peregrine's temple, the arc of a ferrin ear sweeping thoughtfully back. “She did go to East Hotrock today. I'd wager that she's busy with a project.”
Peregrine sighed. “Wager the whole house on that.”
Bards could discuss love all they wanted – Peregrine knew what it truly meant. Love was living with with Giala of Heriette, and living calm in the middle of an eager, fluttering windstorm. Love was hours of fussing with gem scraps and clay dust and marble slab, because Giala took a moment to smile over it and kept smiling for days.
“Come on,” Tillian said. “It might be a simple project!”
Peregrine huffed a laugh. Perhaps the Cold and the endtimes bore down on them and his dear mate had decided to work in half measures. He walked, carrying earferrin and pouch and his abraded old wings, as Skyfield's roofs crept closer.
They passed Skyfield's crops, the neat-edged fields of corn and barley; then farming sheds, their boards and grass thatch bound with precisely spaced rope; then the main street spread full of neighbours. Skyfield folk were mostly aemets, the skinny, forest-coloured people moving smooth so as not to joggle their antennae. Korvi and ferrin walked among them, glimpses of fire-coloured feathers and grey fur. Everyone moved with purpose at this hour, leading horses away, gathering sales blankets, returning to their homes the way leaves drifted gratefully to earth.
Peregrine passed the mage home, a thatch building far too large for one bachelor; Maythwind would fill it with family someday, theory held. Folk lingered around it, talking and waving explanatory hands; one fellow eyed the wide tin surface of the chromepiece by Maythwind's door, as though each purple-deepening moment was one she regretted spending on weightless talk.
“Maythwind is charging stones,” Tillian said. Casting must have caught her nose, a trace in the air like crushed spice.
“Is he, now.”
“Not bright or darkcasting, though. It's his plantcasting. Lots of it.” Tillian's voice turned to an intrigued hiss. “He's strong enough to last an ordinary day of healing on his own, isn't he? Why would he stockpile?”
Gossip chafed Peregrine's nerves. He didn't need to know why aemets fretted at any given moment; they sensed changes in the air far less distinct than the weather. Insect intuition kept them drawn drum-skin tight and Maythwind was an especially taut case.
“He worries, I suppose. The sky might come crashing down.”
“He's been muttering under his breath a lot, people say,” Tillian said. “Something about a bad dampness in the air.”
“Ask him tomorrow, if you're curious.” There would be time to figure out what Maythwind was fussing about while Peregrine got his treatment – not that the whole village wouldn't know Maythwind's predictions shortly.
Vibration ran through Tillian's weight. She was splaying her ears and humming dubious, Peregrine saw clear in his mind's eye. But she said nothing.
The main street led Peregrine much like the mine path had, winding dusty under his feet and tailtip. Tillian shifted back and forth over his shoulders, calling out returned greetings to neighbours; conversations slipped away from Peregrine before they even began. Occasionally, Tillian tapped a paw on one of his shoulders – Peregrine at least knew whether to aim a cordial nod to the left or the right.
“How is the mining,” Tillian repeated, and then carried on talking to the Steltons' daughter as though Peregrine had answered.
In a sense, the mining was faring wonderfully – he would never carry more out of a mine than what he had filled his pouch with today. Peregrine wanted to smirk and found the expression false. This quiet-chattering village would figure out his plans eventually, and hopefully Peregrine would figure them out for himself before then.
The ground sloped downward as they neared the river groves. Neighbours passed by with buckets of water, moving stiff with effort. Houses' door curtains hung closed now, with moving shadows and fire light escaping underneath to fan out into the street dust. The thatch home painted clay-red, however, had its curtain tied wide open: Peregrine's own Redessence Clan threw light like a guiding torch.
“Hearth fire roaring, this late in the day,” he said. “Do I want to know why?”
“It doesn't matter if you want to know. You'll find out anyway,” Tillian said lightly. Suddenly, stretching taller, she added, “Somebody's coming. Left side. They're ferrin-sized.”
Peregrine imagined crunching movement, a clumsy mental sketch of whatever Tillian was hearing. The bushes waggled and someone emerged, basket clamped in their teeth. No one but Della had such an uneven, twitching lollop; she looked to them, eyes shining orange with the firelight.
Della said a greeting, muddled into the ear din. She hopped a step closer, ears suddenly limp against her neck, her voice forced quiveringly high – as though her natural speaking pitch was her own fault. “Sorry, Peregrine. Um, hi, welcome home! We're almost done for today.”
“Can I help,” Tillian asked. Her weight slid forward, hands spread braced on Peregrine's chest.
“Oh, no, I'm fine, we're fine,” Della cried. She chewed on her hand, ears splaying. “Sorry. It's kind of a mess in there, I'll clean it up. But wait 'til you see what Giala's doing!”
She darted into the Redessence Clan home. Peregrine followed, the heat slamming around him before the door curtain had even brushed his horn. He could imagine the bustle that had gone into the work today, all the wood and coal and clay and water and excitement; he thanked fortune that he had missed it. Distracting as thinking was, he narrowly avoided a slimy clay puddle, by placing his foot in a different slimy clay puddle.
Giala made the mayhem look right. She sat bent over her potter's wheel with rapt attention, shadowed deep by the fire. Glancing up, she smiled for him.
“Hello, my light.” Her smile spread wider, stretching her crisp-shaped words, creeping into the high edges of her voice. “Long day, isn't it?”
“This clan,” Peregrine said, righting a bucket even though its contents had long since spilled and crusted, “should have been called Redearth.”
“Marshsplatter sounds nicer, I think.” Giala got to her feet, flicked her hands clean of wet clay, and jaunted closer. “How are your wings?”
Once Tillian leaped to the floor, Peregrine straightened, in time to meet his better half in his arms. “They've been better.”
“That's not what I asked, though.”
“Feh.” Peregrine laced fingers through her blonde feathers, where dense wing muscles curved down her back. “I flew most of the way home.”
“Good.” Giala pulled back to grin at him, her horn ornaments jangled a fanfare. The two of them were equally powdered with the dust of their work, although Giala was fire-warm enough to be giddy about it. “Flying will get easier, truly, it will. It's like practicing a dance.”
Korvi didn't hatch with a need to dance. They hatched waiting for their feathers to grow, looking skyward and wanting. Although Peregrine couldn't speak for Giala on that front; she said she danced out of her eggshells and that wasn't the least likely story Peregrine had ever heard.
“I've got good news!” Pulling from Peregrine's arms, turning so her every mica-jewelled bauble flashed, Giala returned to her potter's wheel. “Aside from remembering to move the carpets before mixing clay.”
“That's kind of you.”
She poked her tongue between her teeth at him. “Now, I'm sure you've gathered as much, but I have a project.”