Summers in the colony were bright and brief, like a taste of the light golden sap of the maka-tree, burning the lips with its searing sweetness. Children splashed gaily in the green, green Odaay river, their mothers staying to chat with each other as they warmed their skin outside.
Inside her uncle’s mind, Juvianna could not feel the sun.
There, it was dank and fetid, with a pervasive smell that reminded her of a wet swim-tunic sitting too long in a pile in the corner of her hut. The dim shapes of memories and emotions writhed and coalesced at her periphery, like vegetation moving in slow water. She brushed through them, drawn by the instinct that was her gift. There. A tight hard new memory, which smelt like rot. She felt a shudder in her chest as she touched the memory with her mind, feeling the heat within it, and plucked it away.
It flailed where she had ripped it loose, but it was already dying and disintegrating, dripping away, gel-like, till it was gone.
That was the easy part.
Juvianna moved again lightly through the flotsam of emotions. The memory she had pulled out had not formed in isolation. There, a root stemming from her uncle’s need to look good in the eyes of the elders of the colony; there, a tendril of envy over his neighbor’s hut, and there, her uncle’s rage, inflamed and pulsing and curling in on itself. Juvianna soothed and smoothed, paring and pruning back those emotions, plunging deeper into the murk of her uncle’s fear and spite.
Even when she was done, it took a while to come back. It took longer now than when she had started more than a year ago; it was easier to get in, easier to see the way and shape what she found, but harder, harder each time get back and see the world again. The streets, caked with red-brown mud; the laughter the sun brought to the colony for a short time every year; children darting and dripping from their swim. Sights and sounds of these wafted in through her aunt’s window, but they only dimly intruded at the very edges of Juvianna’s awareness, even though her eyes were open.
A pressure at her right hand, squeezing. Juvianna blinked. She felt a trickle of sweat run down between her shoulder blades, she heard the high-pitched squeal of children outside and could smell ravberries and roasted quintbeast drying in the sun.
“Ju,” a voice said softly at her side.
It was Davvi of course. The sight of him prickled her because she knew he didn’t want to be there. And as always, when she returned she felt exposed and naked, and like she needed to plunge herself in the Odaay river to feel clean again.
“Leave me alone,” she muttered.
Davvi released her hand and winced slightly. He hesitated, and she thought he was going to speak, but then he left without a look.
He’d be back. Often she thought she had pushed against him so hard that he would find a way out of this duty he detested, and be gone for good. But he was always there, the next time.
Juvianna’s aunt looked into the room and entered hesitantly. “How is he?” she asked.
Juvianna looked at her uncle, slumped in his carved wooden chair. He would sleep for a while, she knew. She also knew that when he woke he wouldn’t be quite the same man.
He’d be calmer, more peaceful, purged of the resentment that had layered and layered over itself creating twisted spirals of spite. He’d be a little vague and absentminded for a while too, but that was only temporary.
“He’ll be fine,” she said.
Her aunt still looked worried. “I didn’t know he had it in him. He had a bit of a temper when he was younger you know, but... oh and Rinaald, he’s always been the most bothersome of neighbors but he’s harmless he is, and you should see his poor face.” Juvianna had not been there when her uncle had bashed Rinaald with the chair leg, but she had a vivid picture from his mind of Rinaald’s nose and the left side of his face, red and pulpy like overripe varmelon. “Oh, and what will I say to Silveena in the marketplace? I can’t show my face!”
“Hush,” Juvianna said gently. “It’s diaforra now,” she reminded her.
Diaforra—it didn’t exist anymore. The perpetrator had been wiped of the event and its precursors, and was no longer to blame. Diaforra, it was a ghost word, belonging to no-one, nothing.
“Yes,” her aunt murmured, straightening. She moved forward as if to touch Juvianna’s cheek but let her hand drop. No one touched Juvianna. Davvi was the only one who dared, but he was also the one who dared disapprove of her, and the only one who dared to get cross with her and treat her like a child.
Juvianna had to shield her eyes from the glare of the sun as she left the hut and stepped back into the street. She could feel the heat of the path under her bare feet, the hardness of the cracking mud. It felt like she had spent hours inside the hut, but the red sun had barely moved across the sky.
Her aunt had not thanked her. It was not the done thing to thank her, not that the word seemed to spring to many lips. It was her maka, her duty. Juvianna had been declared attitra of the colony two years ago, after her father’s accident. Her father had been attitra before her, and her grandfather before that. The colony was small, too small—it was devastating to lose a member, both for the breeding pool and for the essential functions that each carried out. Losing one diminished them all. Before this the punishment for violence against another colonist had been death. Since the gift of attitra there was an alternative.
“Excuse me, Juvianna,” said a middle-aged man on the path, stepping out of her way.
“It’s ok,” said Juvianna shortly. Everyone was so polite to her that they didn’t seem to notice if she wasn’t all that polite back. Davvi always noticed, but then he would. Then he’d be disapproving. They can’t help it, Ju, he’d say, with his irritating habit of shortening her name. Of course he’d take their side, he was one of them after all.
When she was closer to the river someone called her name. She recognized Staal, the mair’s youngest son. He dropped his eyes before her as most people did, but then he raised them halfway up with something in them that made her feel clammy and hemmed in.
“You’re requested at Council. Hour next,” Staal said.
“Is it for you to question, Attitra?” he said with an odd little smirk at his lips. “The mair wants you to be there.” Juvianna could not argue the mair’s wishes.
“All right,” she said ungraciously, and turned on her heel.
After trekking in the heat following the Odaay further upstream Juvianna reached her destination: a rocky outcrop that overhung the river, shaded by the broad leaves of the maka-trees. She let out her breath in a puff of annoyance when she saw Davvi there already. He stood, body poised, and Juvianna saw the arc of the stone he had just thrown against the bright blue of the sky, before it sent up a splash and disappeared into the green. He looked fit, hunt-ready, she hardly ever noticed his limp these days.
“What are you doing here?” Juvianna said.
He turned at her approach. “This is my favorite place,” he snapped.
“Mine too,” she said shortly. Both of them already knew this. Davvi reached down for another stone.
It was too hot to argue. At least Davvi wasn’t afraid of her, and at least he wasn’t polite; even her own family were killingly polite. Juvianna sat down on the ledge, dangling her legs over the side and watched the sparkle of the river a meter below her feet. She picked up a stone, smooth and cool to her fingertips, and tossed it out towards the water. It didn’t even go half as far as the one Davvi had thrown.
Davvi’s maka was as her minder. She knew he would rather be hunting with most of the other young men his age, but his leg made it hard for him to keep up. Juvianna resented that she was the first attitra to have a minder. It’s because I’m a girl, she often grumbled to herself. But she knew that wasn’t true, or not completely. It was because of how her father had died.
“I’m called to Council, hour next,” she threw her words to the side, a peace-offering.
Davvi looked at her. The peevishness left his face and was replaced by a faintly worried look. “Why?”
“I don’t know,” Juvianna admitted. “I guess I’ll find out.” In the colony gossip ran like wildfire through tall grass. Juvianna was always officially summoned to Council if her gift was needed, but she usually had a pretty good idea who had done what and why she was required. And it was so soon after her last call. In summer, the colonists were usually more relaxed. It was the long, cold winters, when the colony moved to the underground caves, that patience chipped and shattered like thin ice, and little things stewed and brewed large in the darkness, like the shadows cast on the walls of the caves.
Staal was there to usher her into the Council. She hoped he would leave once she was inside, but he made his way to the back of the room.
It was dim inside as the Council hut had no windows, and Juvianna stood in the entry, waiting for her eyes to adjust after the bright sunshine outside.
“For our next order of business we welcome our attitra Juvianna,” she recognized the precise, moderated tones of the mair. As the shadows began to make sense she saw him sitting there, a short man, but bulky. He looked directly at her with eyes that didn’t waver.
“My maka for the good of all,” Juvianna said the traditional words. She recognized all six council members, but it was the mair she addressed.
“Your call, this morning?” queried Javv, the Council member she liked the most.
“It is done.”
“Rinaald will need some weeks to recover.” Luperrt, a wiry, graying Council member said.
Juvianna nodded. She was not surprised.
“His skills in making the traps will be sorely missed in that time.”
“Yes.” She knew that. Where were they going with this?
“We still have Bennart to work on the food storage preparation which is useful,” Luperrt added. Juvianna was not expecting this. To mention her uncle in connection with Rinaald’s injuries skirted on the edge of the forbidden. It was diaforra. “But we are still left lacking. Losing one, even for a time, diminishes us all. Do you understand?”
Juvianna nodded again. Of course she understood; it was in part why her calling was so important to the colony.
“What if we could save not just one, but both?” It was the mair speaking now, in his soft, even voice that could somehow cut right through a crowd.
Now Juvianna did not understand. She could do nothing for Rinaald’s face; she was not a healer, that was not her maka.
“Your maka benefits us all,” the mair continued. It was more acknowledgment than she usually received. “But perhaps you could do more.”
“More?” The word tumbled from Juvianna’s lips in her surprise.
Then they told her how her maka was to grow, and what they wanted her to do.
Davvi was not happy. Juvianna could read it in the tension in his stride, the small crease lodged between his brows.
“This does not feel right,” he said finally, as they neared Hensson’s hut, way down close to the shore of the Odaay.
Juvianna kept walking. “Oh really?” she said, glaring at him.
“No, it doesn’t. Ju—” He grabbed her arm and stopped her. “There are a lot of people who are not too happy about this.”
She had been at the public audience. She had heard the rumble of concern, of dissent, passing through the crowd, like low-key thunder grumbling on the horizon, when the mair had spoken of Juvianna using her gift as a preventative measure rather than just a reactive one. But the mair, by pure force of personality coming through his cool and persuasive words, had led the colony back around, gentled their protests before they could build into a storm. He had spoken to their need to feel safe. At the back of their minds, they all knew winter would return. How the darkness would worm its way into the minds of people they knew as their neighbors and friends when they were too long without a glimpse of the sun.
“They listened to the mair,” she said. “If I could save someone... Losing one—”
“—diminishes us all. Yes, yes we all know that, Ju. These people haven’t done anything. Going hunting in their minds...”
“They haven’t done anything—yet,” countered Juvianna. “If you could have felt what it was like in my uncle’s mind, what I find in any of their minds... it is better with it gone, believe me.”
“You are not a god, Juvianna.”
Against her will, she felt herself start to shake. “I never said I was a god. I never asked to do this—they asked this of me... it is my maka, this is my call. You can’t deny your maka, you know that. It is banishment, or death. This is who I am.” And then, because she felt like her stomach was rolling and dragging her like the currents of the Odaay, the heat left her voice and she knew she was truly asking, “What do you want me to do?”
Davvi softened then. “I don’t know,” he said quietly.
Juvianna looked at him a long moment. “We all have our maka, even if we find it disagreeable,” she shot at him. Davvi of all people should understand that.
She stalked into Hensson’s hut, not particularly expecting him to follow. He did though.
Hensson was a middle-aged man, timid, yet with a history of being aggressive and antagonistic under the effects of varmelon wine, or any other summer-brewed intoxicant. He had never in the past crossed the line that would have had Juvianna called to him, but the Council considered him at risk, and not an asset to the colony. His maka was as fisherman, not that he was particularly good at it.
He reacted to Juvianna with politeness that had a tremble underneath it, and his nervousness did not seem allayed by the presence of Davvi.
Juvianna spoke the new words, “I offer you banishment or release of the darkness.” Usually she said death or release, but as he had not committed a crime, death was not on the table here. It did not matter—banishment and death were essentially the same thing. Where would he go, how would he survive if cast out? There were stories of another colony, far, far to the west. But stories wouldn’t save him when winter hit.
“I didn’t do anything,” Hensson said, not looking at either of them.
“Do you choose banishment, or release of the darkness?” Juvianna repeated, her voice gentle.
And Hensson looked up. “I choose release,” he said.
Davvi directed him to a chair in the front part of his hut. Juvianna took his hands and pressed her palms against his. Skin was necessary.
“Look at me,” she said, more softly than usual, and when he did, lightly, lightly, she melted into his mind.
Hensson was a mishmash of conflicting emotion. He felt inadequate, and impotent, and at the same time like he should be ruling the colony, because of his sheer magnificence. His mind was unkempt, full of snags and snarls, growths that headed one way but aborted abruptly and withered, leaving fraying stumps. Juvianna neatened as she went, as if she were clearing mud-caked windows to let in the sun.
When she came back to herself she felt Davvi, gripping her fingers so hard he was almost cutting off the circulation. She had told him many times that she didn’t need him to hold her hand. She yanked her fingers free. They hurt. She opened her mouth to snap at him.
“Ju, I’ve got to go.” She noticed then how white his face was. “It’s Navvan.” Davvi took off, virtually running from the hut. She could see him favoring his left leg as he went.
Navvan was Davvi’s sister’s only child. He was only five, and idolized Davvi, she knew. His sister had lost her wedded two winters ago in a hunting accident. She was very close to Davvi even though he was quite a few years younger.
Juvianna paused to check on Hansson. She felt weary, and slightly sick. Then she rushed out to the street, the sun making her eyes water. She didn’t know how long it had been since she entered the hut, it felt like an age, it always did.
A woman Juvianna didn’t recognize was moving quickly past her, and Juvianna grabbed hold of her bare arm. The woman was browned by the sun, her hair mussed untidily behind her ears. She looked up at Juvianna and her eyes widened with recognition, and then she looked at Juvianna’s hand on her arm with something that might have been horror. She recoiled.
“What’s happening? What’s going on?” Juvianna said harshly.
“I’m sorry, um, Attitra. I don’t know what you mean. I’ve just come out,” the woman said with her words flittering around like tiny birds. “Can I help you?”
Juvianna ignored her and stumbled into the path of an older woman, her basket full of pungent cheese and bright purple ravberries, obviously fresh from the market.
“What’s going on?” Juvianna asked again, “Navvan, he’s a young boy, do you know?”
The older woman’s eyes became gleeful with the importance of having gossip. “A young boy you say? There was the poor young lad that was found drowned in the river, just this hour past. Terrible, it is, Attitra. So young. The mother wailed and wailed on the shore, they said. You could hear her all along the banks of the Odaay.”
It was usually on the cusp of the seasons changing that the Odaay became most treacherous, but even in the heart of summer the currents could claim a victim. She knew Navvan as a quiet child, who Davvi seemed to bring out some inner mischief in.
Davvi. He had stayed there with her, when he must have wanted to rush away to be with his sister. He had stayed there so she could find the way back.
Juvianna walked back to her hut, grateful for once that no one tried to talk to her, that they cleared a space for her as she passed.
“Ju,” came Davvi’s voice out of the darkness. Juvianna had not been sleeping, she had just extinguished her torch. Neither moon had lit the sky yet.
“Yes?” She whispered, although she didn’t know why she was whispering. Since her father had died she had the whole hut to herself.
“Ju, I need your help.”
She was up and tying a tunic around her waist in moments. She followed Davvi down the street, people were just shapes and mumurs, not many carried torches.
“How’s Slyvvi?” She had not seen much of Davvi in the last three weeks. She’d only had one call in that time, and he’d been quiet and distracted. She’d heard though, that Davvi’s sister had been seen just a few days ago, down by the Odaay, lying in the mud screaming and crying, and refusing to move. When they had carried her away she had scratched and bitten those trying to help her.
“She’s not good, Ju. That’s why I need your help.” Davvi didn’t say anything more, and Juvianna lapsed into silence herself, watching her feet on the uneven path.
Sylvvi also had a hut to herself now, although Juvianna saw evidence that Davvi had been camping out in the first room. Sylvvi was pale and far too skinny. Her hair was lank and matted, and her eyes wandered around like they were looking for a place to rest, and finding nowhere.
“Oh, Sylvvi,” she said. She had not known Davvi’s sister well, but Sylvvi had always seemed gracious, and lovely, if a little sad. Now she looked like a ghost, and one that was haunting herself.
Sylvvi’s eyes stopped on Juvianna. She looked confused for a moment, and then lunged towards Juvianna abruptly.
“Please, please help me, please.” She clutched Juvianna’s hands. Juvianna swallowed; it had been a long time since anyone had touched her voluntarily, apart from Davvi.
“I don’t know... I don’t know how I can help you,” Juvianna said, caught by the woman’s pain.
“Davvi has told me about you. He says you are gentle, he says you are kind.” Juvianna looked at Davvi, who seemed not to be meeting her eye. “Not like your father was.” Juvianna’s father’s touch had been more brutal. His work in minds was done heavy-handedly; it had taken some people a long time to recover. Some of them were never really the same again. “He says you help people.”
This is not my maka, thought Juvianna.
“Please,” said Sylvvi, her eyes were adrift again, and tears were pouring down her face, although she did not seem aware of them. “I can’t do this. I can’t do this anymore.” The last sounded more like a whisper to herself.
“I’ll try,” Juvianna said.
Sylvvi’s mind was a vast wave of sadness; continually breaking and reforming, pounding Juvianna from side to side. There was nothing to grab hold of. All of Sylvvi’s emotion crashed on her, dumping her to tumble over and over. Juvianna plunged deeper, down and down until she found memories of Navvan, like formations in rock. But she couldn’t bring herself to take these away—Navvan should not be diaforra.
There. A formation that stuck out from the others, all jagged cutting edges. It was Navvan being brought in from the water, his eyes open, his arms hanging down and back. The memory pulsed in and out, like it was half sea-creature.
Juvianna left the memory there, but she rubbed and scraped at its edges. It stung, but she kept going, over and over. Eventually the memory was rounded and eroded, as if it had been rubbed smooth by many tides.
“Juvianna. Ju. Ju.” Someone was calling her name. It sounded urgent, desperate. But she was floating. It would have been peaceful if someone didn’t keep dragging on her hand, it was throwing off her balance. “Ju. Come back. Ju.”
Juvianna came back to herself with a huge inward breath.
“Ju,” said someone. Davvi, it was Davvi of course, he had an odd note in his voice. “How do you feel?”
How did she feel? She felt half-drowned and shaky. “I’m fine,” she said. Why was Davvi asking her how she felt, he never did that. “Why?”
“You took a long time, Ju, you took a long time to come back...” He still sounded funny, and it was like he had been going to keep going and say something else. She was too tired to try and think about it.
Juvianna looked sideways at Sylvvi, who was asleep. She looked peaceful.
“Is she...” began Davvi.
The wave had dissipated, Juvianna knew. And she had broken up the guilt and let it wash away.
“She’ll be all right,” she said. “She’ll still be sad, she’ll still remember. But she’ll be all right. I only did for her what time would have done.”
“I don’t know that she had time,” said Davvi.
Juvianna looked down and saw that her fingers were still entwined with Davvi’s. She disentangled hers, and a totally unexpected thought occurred to her.
“How do you know?” she said, “How do you know when I’m done and I need to come back?” It was not something she had considered before.
The crease appeared in Davvi’s brow. “I don’t know,” he said, sounding a bit confused. “I think your eyes must flicker.” But he did not sound overly convinced of that point.
Juvianna yawned suddenly. It felt like the middle of the night, maybe it was. She could see light outside the window, at least one of the moons must be up. Probably both with that brightness. She nodded towards Sylvvi. “You stay with her. I’ll go get some sleep.”
Davvi’s face was tender as he looked at his sister. “She won’t wake for ages. I’ll walk you back.” Juvianna didn’t protest; she knew it was true.
There were many more people around on the walk back to her hut. The moons brought them out; Livvn was waxing, Raa waning, but both were not far off full, and the light was that of a muted, delicate daytime, tipping the edges of the maka-trees with silver.
Juvianna found herself noticing that the people they passed reacted to Davvi with a watered-down version of their response to her. In the past she had seen people stop talking as he walked by, but she had never really thought about it, she had been too focused on herself. Now she watched a man she recognized as a baker subtly startle and slide to the side as he saw Davvi, before he even registered that Juvianna was with him. She wondered if it ever bothered Davvi, having her taint on him. It didn’t seem to, his face never closed down.
Juvianna had fallen a step behind Davvi, and when he reached down for her hand and tugged her along she was about to bristle at him treating her like a child, before belatedly hearing the sound of something ugly in the air.
“Come here, little witch-girl,” came another voice, louder than the first, slurred with varmelon wine and something darker that made her shiver. There were four of them, perched on the low mud-brick wall outside the empty market, drinking.
“It’s not right, to see into a man’s mind,” the closest one said. “It’s not right.”
Juvianna’s initial shock was burned up by the quick flare of her anger. She took a step towards the men, only halted because Davvi had her hand in an iron hold.
“Come on Juvianna, let’s go,” he said, forcibly dragging her down the street. “Do I have to carry you?” he said, as she vainly tried to wrench her hand free. She looked back at the wall, one of the men stood and spat to the side of the path. He was the only one she recognized, the same one who had made the witch comment. It was Staal.
They were nearly at her hut before Juvianna was able to speak again. Underneath her anger was bewilderment and disbelief. No one spoke to her that way. No one dared. She was angry at Davvi too, for not letting her look after herself. But like always, her anger was quick to kindle, but also quick to dissipate.
“I don’t understand,” she said.
Davvi’s face was still grim. “I told you, there are some people who are not very happy over how your maka has changed.”
“But it wasn’t my idea.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“But that was Staal. He is the mair’s son, he’s the last person I’d get called to.” She hadn’t thought of it this way, she’d always believed the calls sprung fairly for the good of the colony, but as she said it she realized it was probably true.
“I know. He... watches you,” Davvi added, somewhat reluctantly, giving Juvianna a sidelong glance.
“Yes.” She didn’t know that Davvi had noticed too.
“Come on, let’s worry about it in the morning. The moons are almost double-full, and you know that makes everyone crazy.” Davvi’s sudden joviality felt forced.
But because she had not been thinking until now how lame Davvi would handle himself in a fight against three drunken men if it came to that, and because before that happened she had been enjoying the walk in the moonlight, she said, “You couldn’t anyway.”
Davvi, usually so serious, startled her with a grin, “Wanna bet?”
It was morning, but the ghost of Raa still rode in the sky, when Juvianna was called.
It was a member of the Council, Luperrt, who came to fetch her, which was unusual in itself, usually they delegated to someone less important.
Juvianna stifled a yawn. What happened to summer being time to rejuvenate and relax? She knew there were many more people on the mair’s list now that her maka had expanded to encompass them. But it would have been nice if they had let her sleep in.
“Who is it today, Luperrt?” she asked, keeping her tone respectful, but he only hurried her along. She would have to swing by and get Davvi on the way back from Council if they hadn’t sent someone for him too, which sometimes they didn’t. He’d probably be grumpy being woken up early after last night.
When she saw the mair’s face Juvianna became very, very still. The word she would have said usually best described the mair was contained. This morning something raw and disturbing played over his features, and he looked as if he was holding himself together only with great effort.
“Attitra,” he said formally, his voice thick.
“My maka for the good of all,” Juvianna said.
“Attitra, our summer has been marred by the worst kind of crime. A man lies dead, by another’s hand.” A murder. It happened rarely in the colony, but she had been called for one once before, and she knew her father had seen a handful. She was watching the mair though, there was something else coming.
“Staal is the man who has been lost. His maka was the builder of huts, and he was learning the way of the Council.” The mair paused, his eyes glittering. “His loss diminishes us all.”
Juvianna could not prevent her quick indrawn breath of shock and surprise. Staal. She had seen him, mere hours ago. He had spat as she’d left. She could still hear his voice, slick and slimy, as it had played out in her head before she had managed to sleep, Come here, little witch-girl.
“Who... who am I called for?” Juvianna said, her heart beating fast in her chest, so loud she thought they all must hear it.
Unbelievably, the mair smiled at her. It was the most ghastly smile Juvianna had ever seen. “Come and see,” he said.
They led her to the small hut adjacent to the Council. With every step Juvianna felt increasing dread, although she couldn’t have said why. The structure didn’t have windows, and was one of the only places that could be locked, with a heavy wooden plank barring the door. It was usually used for storage, but had been used this way in the past, it was the only form of jail the colony had.
He was sitting in the corner, and raised his head as she approached on soft feet. His face was smeared with dirt and blood, the face she had last seen brightened by an unexpected grin that lit up his eyes. Davvi.
“Davvi?” her voice spiraled high and she fought to control it. It didn’t make any sense. How could Davvi, be a murderer?
“Attitra, you are called to this man,” the mair said.
“But, this can’t be right,” Juvianna stammered.
“Attitra, it is not for you to question a call,” the mair said quietly.
“We have two witnesses to the death of Staal, and Davvi has confessed,” it was Luperrt, with his own grimness.
She looked at her huddled and grimy minder, and saw him give the slightest nod. “It was me, Ju.”
She didn’t understand, and she felt like something sharp was jabbing her stomach, but the sooner all of this was diaforra, the better. “Davvi?” she said, kneeling and holding out her hand, palm upwards. “Do you choose death, or release of the darkness?”
At that, she saw something frantic on his face. “No,” he said, pushing himself backwards. She’d had this reaction before, but Davvi, being repulsed by her? Underneath everything she was conscious of a tight ball of hurt. “No, Ju, this is not for you,” he said. Not for her? Who else was there? “I followed Staal and his friends to the river. We fought. I hit Staal, and when he fell he hit his head on a rock. I did this, Ju. Me. This is not for you.”
But the alternative was death.
“What do you choose?” It was the mair.
“Davvi, you can’t die. Sylvvi needs you. I... please, Davvi.” They were not the formal words. She could feel the mair’s eyes on her. “Do you choose death, or release of the darkness?”
For a moment she thought Davvi wasn’t going to answer. “Release. But wait—she needs a minder, you have to have someone here to look after her.” What was Davvi doing still thinking of her now? She waved it off, but saw the mair gesture to Luperrt and guessed he would stay.
She took Davvi’s hand. It was warm. She looked into his eyes, which were green like the Odaay river, and she went to him.
Davvi’s mind had a sharp, fresh smell, like the air before the rain begins in a summer storm. Juvianna found what she was looking for almost immediately. The memory felt hard and glassy, and when she held it she knew what had happened.
She knew Davvi had followed them down to the river, to listen to them, to see what they were up to. And she knew they had heard him behind them, and that part of him had wanted that to happen.
Through Davvi’s eyes she saw Staal. She saw him pick up a rock twice the size of his fist. I hope you don’t mind, minder boy, but if your little girlie is so fond of peering at people’s brains, I think it’s time we had a look at her brain. He’d hefted the rock from hand to hand, while his friends hooted. Root around looking at her secrets, hmm? And maybe while we’re there we’ll do a little rearranging of our own? You can still mind her all right, he’d purred, eyeing Davvi with his weak leg, don’t worry about that, she’ll be needing someone to wipe her drool. She saw Staal smile.
Then Davvi had thrown a punch at Staal, and Staal had bashed at Davvi with the rock, glancing a blow off the side of his head. And just as Staal’s friends had stopped swigging and laughing and come to join in, Davvi had landed his second punch under Staal’s chin, falling against him with his full weight. And Staal had gone down, and his head had hit the very same rock.
Juvianna beat at the memory, kicked it until she had pummeled it out of existence. Her breath was coming in short, quick, odd little gasps.
And there was something else; she couldn’t help but see it. One of the precursors to the hard black memory that she had just destroyed. Nothing forms in isolation; that was one of the first things she had learnt. It was a shell-like thing, spiraling out with curved segments within, creating many chambers. It looked like it was opening and breaking at the same time.
She knew what this was. She had pretended not to notice, and even convinced herself, but she had always, always known.
Juvianna had seen what people were like inside. She knew how ugly and twisted and thwarted things could become, even when they’d grown from something fine. If she could look inside herself, what would she find? Sharp broken things? Hidden things she hadn’t named, wouldn’t name?
It was softer than a shell as she held it. The spirals radiated outwards, til they touched almost everything.
She’d suspected it, deep down, but she didn’t know it would be like this. Not anything like this. It was beautiful.
It was Davvi’s love. For her.
Juvianna’s father had not had a minder. One winter day, he had been called to the mind of a young man called Trell. No one knew what happened. He and Trell had been alone in the cave, and people had waited and waited, before entering and finding them both on the floor. Trell was asleep. He woke up a while afterwards, a little clouded, and never as sharp and devious as he had been, but cheerful. Her father was dead.
When Juvianna stayed in her kneeling position, unresponsive, for many hours longer than was usual for a call, Luperrt grabbed her hands, and called her name. He snapped his fingers before her open eyes, and pleaded with her to come back. Later, he yelled at her, and later still he doused her with a bucket of water.
It was only after a full day, when Davvi woke from his long sleep, saw Juvianna, and took back her hand, that she came back.
“Hi Ju,” he said. She saw a sleepy bewilderment in his eyes, but it was still Davvi. She had left the shell-like thing there in his mind, even though it was connected to his crime.
She looked down at his fingers mixed with hers. “Hi.”
The mair was at his persuasive best at the next audience. “I lost my son,” he told the crowd, his voice low and controlled. “I lost my son because people carry the darkness inside them and we never know when it might be unleashed. It could be your son next time, or your daughter.” Juvianna stood to the side with her hands gripping the edge of her tunic as the mair explained about the sweep—Attitra Juvianna would be called to everybody, one by one. The size of the colony made this impossible—there was no way she could get to everybody—but she would start with the young men. They would all have a choice, banishment or release.
Later he told them, “It is those with the most darkness who will protest,” which stilled the whispering and had people looking suspiciously at each other. “Those protestors will be the first to be offered the choice.”
Juvianna caught Davvi’s eye across the square. She read dismay, surprise, and something sterner on his face. She looked at the amassed crowd, mind after mind after mind, and all of them afraid of her.
When people started to dissipate, Juvianna broke and ran, her feet slapping against the red mud path. She ran without intention, but ended up at her favorite place, the rocky ledge overhanging the Odaay.
A leaf had fallen from one of the maka-trees shading the outcrop. Maka-trees, named for meaning, named for purpose. They didn’t drop leaves often. She laid her hand on top, the leaf was much broader and bigger, against it her hand looked small. It knew its design. It knew when it was time to fall.
Juvianna stood, then threw her arms forward and dived, arcing through the air down, down to the river below. The green got darker and darker the deeper she went.
When Juvianna told the Council she was refusing to take part in the sweep, she saw something flicker in the mair’s eyes.
“Do you deny your maka?” he said, low and steady.
“I don’t think... I don’t think this is my maka,” she stammered. “This is not what I am meant to do.”
“Denying your maka is death,” he continued.
“Banishment or death,” Juvianna said, although in truth, this was seldom enforced, and people were encouraged to find a new maka, or find their way back to their old one.
The mair paused. “A maka as strong as yours, as vital to the colony, cannot be denied without the harshest of consequence.”
Then they took her to the small hut they used as a prison, and barred the door against her.
It was hours later, and she knew it was dark, even though the hut was windowless, that Davvi opened the door.
“Davvi, what are you doing here?” she said, alarmed and yet warmed somehow by seeing him.
“I had to see what trouble you were getting yourself into,” he said lightly, reaching to push the hair from her forehead.
“But Davvi, they can’t see you here, they’ll—”
“Hush. They won’t find me. I’m stealthy.” Incredibly, he almost made her laugh.
“I can’t do it Davvi. All those people, I can’t. It’s not right.”
“I know. Ju—let’s go. There’s another colony, if we go west, it’s got to be better than here. You can’t stay here Ju.” That had been her half-formed plan when she had met with the Council. Accept banishment, take a canoe, and set off down the Odaay, find the second colony that rumor and story mentioned. It sounded naïve and ridiculous when Davvi said it.
“Davvi, you can’t go. Sylvvi needs you, you have a life here.”
“I killed Staal.”
“No, Davvi. It is diaforra. You are blameless, you are free.”
“I don’t remember it, but I know I did it, Ju. And I am not blameless anymore either.” He gestured to the door.
Juvianna looked out. A tall man—Taav, one of the Council lackeys—sprawled motionless in the dirt. Of course, she’d had a guard.
“Davvi, what did you do?” She’d wiped him clean of one crime and he’d gone and committed another. More violence. For her. Because it all came from the same place, and she’d let it be. “Bring him in here.”
Davvi dragged Taav’s still form inside the hut and Juvianna closed the door. She put her hand on Taav’s forehead. He was unconscious, which meant he could not fight her. She barged into his mind, quickly locating and snipping his last memory, of Davvi’s face. Now he would sleep.
“How long?” was the first thing she said to Davvi when the world came back to her.
“Not too long, Ju, half an hour maybe.”
She looked at him. “What about Sylvvi?”
“She’s okay now, Ju, thanks to you. I wish I could be there for her, but I’m not letting you go alone.” She knew that was true.
“All right.” She thought rapidly. “Let’s go to your hut, it’s less obvious. We can find provisions.” They could get to Davvi’s hut by skirting around the main part of town. Fewer people would see them, not that one person wasn’t as bad as twenty the way the gossip trails ran. It was still dark, that was good.
They entered the hut via Davvi’s back window, and he searched for something sturdy that she could wear.
“You’ll look good in this, Ju,” he said, turning with a smile. And then stopped and looked at her. He knew her way too well.
“Davvi,” she said, taking his hand.
He wrenched his hand from her grasp. “No.” His voice was fierce and cracked. “That’s mine.”
“It’s okay Davvi,” Juvianna said, her voice falling. He would never let her go alone. He would kill for her, he would die for her, he would go down with her. She leaned in and kissed him, and slipped into the green of his eyes.
She found his love for her, it was shining and almost iridescent, opening and breaking, both together. Cradling it, she felt it become softer and softer, until it slipped away like mist and was gone, leaving her hands empty. She brought them to her face as if there was some remnant still clinging to them.
“Davvi,” she said.
Juvianna could see the faintest swirl of red at the edge of the sky after she’d stuffed all the food she had into her sack. Morning. She hadn’t known if she would be able to come back to the world, but she had woken with her cheek pressing against the sleeping Davvi’s face, the whole night gone.
She clutched her hands together, willing herself to be able to enter her own mind, to pluck out her gift, to stomp on the emotions that were filling her eyes with water. It didn’t work.
They caught her by the river, attempting to untie a canoe. Handling her somewhat tentatively they brought her back to the small hut. Juvianna didn’t protest. Mid-morning, the mair came.
“Death, or the fulfillment of your maka,” he said, as if they had never been interrupted. “It is the only choice you have, Attitra. And maybe you would like to tell me what caused the injuries our Taav has sustained.”
“It was me,” she said quickly. “I called him in, and I hit him.”
“With what, exactly, did you hit him?” the mair asked, his eyes scanning the empty hut.
Juvianna made her hand into a fist and held it forward.
“Such a small fist, Juvianna.” He knew. Of course he knew.
She slumped her head forward. “Please, not death,” she whispered.
“What was that, Attitra?” His eyes gleamed. He leaned towards her.
“Please, banish me, I can’t do what you want, let me go.” She clutched his hand in entreaty.
Most everyone else was afraid of her.
He was not afraid of her.
He should be.
She left him sleeping. They would find her, or not. It depended on how much the rest of the Council felt like looking. She had rooted out all memory of Davvi from the mair’s mind and had shredded all plans for his sweep, just in case. She had felt the grief he carried for his son, she was sorry for that, but she left it there. She had not been gentle. Juvianna didn’t know what he would be like when he woke up, if he woke up. She had propelled herself out of his mind at the end, kicking her way free. Coming back to herself much sooner than she had expected. That may have done some damage as well.
No one bothered her on her way to the river. Juvianna was used to that. She felt an ache to see Davvi, but their love was diaforra. It was no one. It was a non-thing. A sudden shadow over her face made her look up. Clouds were rolling in. She felt a chill that was nothing to do with the drop in temperature.
Summer was over.