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.“Then there would be no reason for caution or doubt, and there would be so much more pleasure in doing this.”“Are you still being cautious?” he asked, hearing what sounded like the susurrus of a river not far away.“Yes.If I were not, I would be here as myself, and we could do here what we do in the daily world.” The silk caressed him.“It would be like nothing you have known, Arkady my champion.”“Everything about you is like nothing I have ever known, Surata,” he said to her with a deep affection that pleased and surprised him.“Surata?”“I am listening to the river.Did you want a river?”He shrugged.“I must have.After spending the day in the hot sun, a river, and grass, would be so nice.We could swim, and then lie on the bank until we were dry.”“We can be wet and dry in an instant in this other place,” she reminded him and added more softly, “It would be very welcome, wouldn’t it?”The sound of the river was louder, more luring in the melody of its current which blended with the haunting sound of chimes that remained with them.“And perhaps we can conjure up a feast, with all the foods that are rich and rare to give us luxury and delight.” He was beginning to give his imagination free rein.“What foods do you want, Arkady my champion?”“Oh…” He thought about it a moment.“Pomegranates, for a start.I’ve never tasted them, but I saw some once.And then…honey wine.I have had that, twice, at weddings.And fresh buttercakes, with raisins.” He thought a little more.“Capons soaked in wine and oranges.I’ve never tasted it, but the Margrave Fadey served it to his noble officers once, and I still remember how it smelled.”Surata hummed, making the silk quiver on his skin.“And spiced barley, with green onions.My mother used to make that, with lots of pepper when we had it.” He looked ahead and saw a grassy riverbank forming out of the shifting colors, as beautiful as any he had ever seen as a boy.“Ah!” he cried out for sheer satisfaction.“Is that what you wanted, Arkady my champion? The riverbanks of my home are not like that.” Surata had very little apprehension in her voice, but enough for him to realize she was not certain it was quite right.“They weren’t like this at my home, either, but I wish they had been.Look at it.And the river!” They had come to the place where they could look into the water, and Arkady stood not far from the little bank of sand and pebbles that framed the river, smiling down into the clear, rushing water.“It’s so beautiful.” He reached for the hem of the silken tunic to pull it over his head, then stopped as Surata tweaked his arms.“Arkady my champion, don’t take this off.It won’t matter that I get wet.The clothes will not be hurt and you will feel all of the river that you wish to feel.Let me stay with you, Arkady my champion.” There was sweetness in her tone, and the cloth rested softly on his arms.Arkady chuckled deep in his chest, a low, sensual sound.“If we can stay close, it’s fine with me.”“We are close,” Surata said.(“So close,” Arkady murmured to the rise of her breasts.)He shouted, running over the spring-smelling grass to the bank of the river where the little pebbles rolled underfoot.He felt the first splash of the river as his left foot hit the water, and he made a half-dive into the ripples, gasping a breath of air just before he hit.The water was cool but not cold.It closed over his head as he started swimming, then lapped around his chest as he came up once again.Arkady tossed his head, shaking the water from his hair, a joyous grin stretching his mouth.He let his feet drift down and was pleased that they touched bottom at a depth that allowed him to stand with his head and neck out of the water.There were rounded stones under his feet, and the light pressure of the current to remind him of the strength of the river.He wondered, briefly, if the water would harm Surata, and he called out her name, not knowing what he would hear.“There is nothing that will bother me, Arkady my champion,” she said, sensing his concern.“Silk does not breathe air, and this water is like the other things in this other place.”“But if the bruises I get are lasting in the daily world, can’t I drown here, or you?”“If you truly drown, then it would be in both worlds, yes,” she said.“But do not let that ruin your pleasure.It would not be easy for you to drown in this river.”“But not impossible,” he qualified.“No, not impossible.” There was a pause, and the touch of the silk seemed to warm him in the cool embrace of the river.“But I am here, Arkady my champion, and I would not permit you to drown or come to hurt, I promise you.”Arkady began to swim again, going slowly across the river, floating every now and then with the current.He turned and looked up at the fleecy clouds in a sky so blue that he thought he might be able to rise and swim in it as well.“If that is what you wish, Arkady my champion,” Surata said.Arkady shook his head.“No.It sounds like too much work for both of us.” He let the current carry him a little way once again.“This is like being a boy once more.All those days when I was terrified of the water, this is what I really wanted to do.When I finally learned to swim, it was too late to take off an afternoon and spend my time on a riverbank.My father was dead and I…”“Then this must please you very much,” Surata said.“More than I can tell you, Surata.I wish I had some way to explain it to you.” He noticed that the current was a little faster, and he sighed.“I suppose it’s time to dry off.”“Unless you’d rather not,” she told him.“I don’t like swimming in fast water—I never did.It’s too much like battle.” He struck out toward the bank, taking long, powerful strokes with his arms.The exertion was as pleasurable as the floating had been.He glanced at the shore, calculating where he would land, and his eyes widened in terror.Chapter 17There were scorpions on the riverbank, thousands upon thousands of them, all with their tails lifted for the deadly sting.Their carapaces shone in the fading sunlight, and Arkady was certain he could hear the clicking of their legs on the pebbles.Arkady yelped in distress and felt the silk he wore tighten on his body, not binding, but guarding.“What is it?” Surata asked, distressed at this change in attitude he revealed.“It must be the Bundhi,” he said, trying to turn away from the bank, but being swept further downstream by the current.“Scorpions!” she exclaimed in recognition.“He has found us.”“Did you think he wouldn’t?” Arkady asked bitterly.“I hoped he would not; you know that,” she answered, beginning to alter the silk to something more buoyant and substantial.The current was increasing, and there was the distinct sound of rapids ahead.Arkady turned in the river and started to swim against the weight of the river.“Arkady my champion, don’t.You’ll only exhaust yourself, and that is more dangerous than any rocks can be.If we must go through rapids, then let it be while you have strength left to fight them.” She was more like woven reeds now, encasing him in a suit like armor that held him up and provided some cushion against impact.The current grew more ferocious, and Arkady was swept downstream at an increasing speed.He felt his legs slap against a hidden rock and tried to gauge how badly hurt he might have been if it weren’t for the woven armor.He was spun once as the water eddied and swirled, and he looked toward the shore in the hope that it might be safe to swim toward it.The scorpions were there, and with them other creatures that Arkady had never seen and could not name.“They are made by the Bundhi.” Surata said breathlessly.“They are only found in this other place; they are not of the daily world [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]