Stitching Time V: Alliance
Anna flung open the door and strode through. "Gehn," she began decisively, giving him no chance to look up and spot her first. "We must talk--"
Anna halted, pinned by narrowed green eyes not so different from her own.
The girl put her pen down carefully and precisely in a mannerism far too reminiscent of Gehn himself, and sat up straight behind the desk. "The Lord Gehn is not here." She spoke D'ni. The intonation was his, although the slight accent was not. "Am I to take a message?"
Each regarded the other with intent scrutiny, the elder seeking clues, the younger issuing a silent challenge.
Anna's heart was somewhere near her knees as she surveyed the bone structure of the girl's face with the eye of an artist. Gehn's? Had he fallen in love again so soon with some other unfortunate woman? Was this--?
No. She was not D'ni. No D'ni had such eyes.
The girl seemed to read her thoughts. "You are not D'ni." Eloquent fingers sketched circles around her own eyes. "Which Age is yours?"
She's another slave from his Ages, Anna guessed with a pit in her stomach, remembering the giant who had carried poor Atrus back here... somewhere... what had Gehn done with him? How many more of his minions must she face to fight her way through to her grandson?
Atrus. He was all she had to live for now. Life was so simple, with one fixed goal.
"This one." She saw disbelief flare in the girl's eyes. "Who are you, and what are you to Gehn?"
Anna blinked, caught offguard. She had not heard D'ni spoken in so long. Had she misunderstood?
The girl lifted her chin and rolled down a band of cloth around her throat, baring a brand in the shape of a five-pointed seal. A tiny number was set in its center. "Of the Guild of Writers."
Atrus was not the only one who was trapped here, Anna realized with a sickening certainty.
A hollow silence fell of a kind to be found nowhere else but in D'ni, empty yet as heavy as the miles of rock poised above them.
"I have come for my grandson," Anna said grimly. "Where is Gehn holding him?"
Something shifted behind the girl's intent gaze: the first pale flicker of trust? Or more? There was something strange about her which Anna could not pin down. "Your grandson?"
"Atrus." She weighed the unfamiliar word in her mouth. "I do not know him."
Anna sagged. "He is here somewhere."
"Gehn is not your master, is he?" The girl seemed to be trying to work something out. "You don't serve him." Her eyes flicked to the wrinkled skin at Anna's throat.
Odd to have to think of Gehn as enemy, and anyone working for him a danger as well. "No," Anna said finally, and took a step towards the desk, folding her arms. "Is that a problem?"
Wariness fell away from the young woman's face like leaves from a tree. The sad, soft laughter that suddenly filled the room seemed to make the`shadows sit up and take notice. "Only if he catches you."
Anna stared at her. It took her several seconds to realize what the girl meant, in spite of her grandson's current predicament. The old woman's mouth thinned into a flat line. What had her son done to these people?
Anna's eyes dropped to the book open under her unlined brown hands. The characters were not letters. Garo-hevtee, she was sure, although the girl cupped her fingers over them.
"Do you Write?" Anna asked.
"Lord Gehn says that only D'ni can Write." The words came out smoothly. Her expression was opaque. "Do you?"
Anna's voice was very dry indeed. "How could I? As you said, I'm not D'ni either."
Thin eyebrows arched expressively. "I... see."
They shared knowing smiles then. The old woman held out a hand, and said with some warmth, "Anna."
The girl leaned acrossed the desk and placed one hand above Anna's, one below. "Katran."
How many years had it been since Anna had looked into the eyes of a friend? Her face broke into a broad grin. "Let's talk. But first, let me tell you a story..."