Authors: Sharon Lee and Steve Miller,Steve Miller
Tags: #children, #fantasy, #science fiction, #liad, #sharon lee, #steve miller, #liaden, #pinbeam
This is a work of fiction. All the
characters and events portrayed in this novel are fiction or are
Copyright © 2006, 2011
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works. First published in WHEN by SRM, Publisher.
Sweet Waters first appeared in 3SF #1,
Sweet Waters ©2002 by Sharon Lee and
A Night at the Opera first appeared in
Murder by Magic, edited by Rosemary Edghill, October
A Night at the Opera ©by
Sharon Lee and Steve MIller
Published April 2011 by
PO Box 707
Waterville ME 04903
email [email protected]
Cover Copyright © 2006 Thomas
Cover design by Richard
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Glennis and Thomas
The trap had taken a kwevit -- a fat
Slade smiled, well-pleased. Beside
him, Verad, his hunting-partner and his oldest friend among the
Sanilithe, saving Gineah, grunted in mingled admiration and
"The Skylady Herself looks after you,
small brother. Three times this day, your spear failed to find its
target, yet you return to your tent with a fair hunting of
"The hunters before us this morning
were noisy and hurried -- making the game scarce and distant even
for your arm," said Slade. "My spear flies not quite so
Verad waved a broad hand at the sky in
a gesture meant to take in the whole of the world, and perhaps the
whole of the universe.
"It is the trail we find today,
Slade nearly smiled -- Verad's
stern-voiced lesson could have as easily come from one of his
merchant uncles, for all that those uncles would scarcely
acknowledge Verad human and capable of thought, much less sly
humor. The humor was lacking at the moment, so Slade kept his smile
behind his teeth, and moved quietly toward the trap and its
"If I am a poor hunter," he asked, "is
it wrong to find another way to take meat?"
"The tent must eat," Verad allowed.
"Still, small brother, a hunter should keep several blades in his
belt, and be equally skilled with all."
Slade knelt on the wiry moss, put his
spear down, and carefully removed his kill from the
"One skill at a time," he
The tent must
speaks with a larger voice
Slade must hunt with
From the side of his eye,
he saw his friend make the sign to ward ill luck. Slade
-- "art," or, as he sometimes thought, "magic" -- was the
province of women, who held knowledge, history and medicine. Men
hunted, herded, and worked metal into the designs betold them by
"If you are a bad hunter and
discourteous, too," Verad commented, settling onto a nearby rock.
"You will be left to stand by the fire until the coals are cold."
He blinked deliberately, one eye after another.
Slade frowned, rubbing the
, the herb hunters
massaged into their skin so the game would not scent
"What if I am left unChosen?" he
asked, for Gineah had been vague on this point. He situated the
trap and set the release, then came to his feet in one fluid
"Those left unChosen must leave the
Sanilithe and find another tribe to take them."
Slade turned and stared -- but, no,
Verad's face was serious. This was no joke.
"So, I must be Chosen." He chewed his
lip. "What if I do not come to the fire?"
Now, Verad stared. "Not come to the
fire? You must! It is law: All blooded hunters who are without a
wife must stand at the fire on the third night after the third
purification of the Dark Camp's borders."
Tomorrow night, to be
thought Slade. He would be
there, around the fire -- a son of the grandmother's tent could do
no less than obey the law. But...
"Sun's going," Verad said.
Slade picked up his kwevit by the long
back legs and lashed the dead animal to his belt. He recovered his
spear, flipped his braid behind a shoulder with a practiced jerk of
his head, and nodded at his friend. "I am ready."
The scattered tents of the Sanilithe
came together for Dark Camp in a valley guarded by three toothy
mountain peaks. It was toward the third mountain, which Gineah had
taught him was called "Nariachen" or "Raincatcher" that Slade
journeyed, slipping out of the grandmother's tent after the camp
was asleep. He went lightly, with a hunter's caution, and spear to
hand, the cord looped 'round his wrist; the broad ribbon of stars
blazing overhead more than bright enough to light his
He should not, strictly speaking, be
away from night camp at all. Man was prey to some few creatures on
this world, several of which preferred to hunt the night. But come
away he must, as he had during the last two Dark Camps -- and which
he might never do again, regardless of tomorrow night's
To the left, a twisty stand of
vegetation formed out of the shadow -- what passed for trees. He
slipped between the spindly trunks and into the shocking darkness
of the glade, where he paused. When he had his night eyes, he went
on, angling toward the mountain face -- and shortly came to that
which was not natural.
It might seem at first glance a
shattered boulder, overgrown with such vegetations as were able to
take root along its pitted surface.
At next glance, assuming one hailed
from a civilized world, it was seen to be a ship, spine-broke and
half-buried in the ungiving gray soil.
Slade moved forward. Upon reaching the
remains of his ship, he fitted the fingers of both hands into an
indentation of the tertiary hatch, braced himself and hauled it
back on its track, until there was a gap wide enough to admit
Inside was deep darkness, and he went
slowly, feeling his way along the broken corridor, his soft-soled
boots whispering against the dusty plates. His questing fingers
found an indention in the wall, he pressed and a door clicked
Carefully, for there was torn and
broken metal even inside the one-time supply cabinet, he groped
His search gained him several small
vials, a single cake-bar of the survival food he'd wrinkled his
nose at in pilot training class, and an ironic appreciation of his
situation. He had fought the ship to the plains, knowing it unable
to survive a planet-fall in any of the world's salty
By the seas, he might have found a mix
of food and vitamins better suited to his off-worlder needs -- but
the scant beaches below the cliff-lined continents were all of
shale and broken rock, and he had thought an inland grounding might
preserve his ship.
Choices made. Or as Verad
might put it,
this was the trail he found
He unzipped the cake wrap, the burp of
preservative gas letting him know it was still edible, and --
though the sweetness of it was surprising -- ate it as if it were a
delicacy as he continued to rummage through the former
One more tiny container came into his
hand -- the last of the wide-spectrum antibiotics. He tucked it
into his pouch with the others, pushed the door shut, and crept
onward in the dark.
As he moved, his back brain did the
calculations: if he rationed himself to a single dose every three
days, he could stretch the vitamins he needed to survive through
one more migration cycle.
At last, he gained the piloting
chamber, where a single go-light glowed, faint. He inched forward
and sat in the chair which, with its webbing and shock absorbers,
had doubtless saved his life, and reached out to touch a
The stats computer came up sluggishly,
the screen watery and uncertain. Despite this, he felt his heart
rise. His ship was alive.
Alive, yet mortally wounded. The
distress beacon, its power source undamaged, gave tongue every six
Standard hours, hurling ship ID and coords into the heedless chill
of space. For two full turns of the Sanilithe seasons -- almost
three Standard Years -- the distress beacon had called.
With no result.
A less stubborn man might
by now have given up hope of rescue. He supposed, sitting there at
the dim board in the shattered belly of a dead ship, on the eve of
being either mated or cast out, that he
to give up. Surely, the
choices before him were daunting.
Were he cast out of the Sanilithe and
left to his own methods, he might hunt well enough to feed himself.
Perhaps. Certainly, he could not expect any other nomadic,
hardscrabble tribe to adopt him. It bewildered him yet, that Gineah
had taken him in -- undergrown, wounded, and without language as he
As to the probability of being Chosen
at the fire -- he considered that approached negative numbers.
Worse, if he were, by some passing madness of the local gods,
Chosen, he would forthwith have broken every non-fraternization reg
in a very substantial book.
The consequences of which were merely
academic, unless he were rescued.
And, surely, he thought, flipping his
braid behind a shoulder and leaning toward the board, if he were
Chosen, his underfed and nutrient-lacking seed would quicken no
child among the Sanilithe.
If he were, against
, and left thereby the
tent of his wife, she would not suffer. Her sisters would care for
her, and share with her the profits of their tents, until all
converged upon the wintering Dark Camp again, and she might Chose
another hunter to serve her.
And if he were Chosen and remained
unrescued -- well.
The day's trail did not always yield
He touched a key.
The screen blanked, then swam back
into being, displaying the last entry he had made in the log, on
the night before the Sanilithe broke apart into its several Light
Season bands and roamed far, gathering what foodstuffs could be
wrested from the sullen land.
Carefully, he placed his fingers on
the pad and began, slow and hesitant over his letters, to type,
giving as the date Dark Camp, Third.
Last night, the final
purification was done by the eldest and most holy of the
grandmothers. Tomorrow night, I am to stand around the fire as a
candidate husband, for the choice of any woman with need. If this
chance comes to me, I shall seize it, in order to remain in
proximity to the ship and to the beacon.