“Don’t talk about it,” Sallo tells me.
“But what if it’s going to happen? Like when I saw the snow?”
“That’s why not to talk about it.”
My sister puts her arm around me and rocks us sideways, left and right, as we sit on the schoolroom bench. The warmth and the hug and the rocking ease my mind and I rock back against Sallo, bumping her a little. But I can’t keep from remembering what I saw, the dreadful excitement of it, and pretty soon I burst out, “But I ought to tell them! It was an invasion! They could warn the soldiers to be ready!”
“And they’d say—when?”
That stumps me. “Well, just ready.”
“But what if it doesn’t happen for a long time? They’d be angry at you for giving a false alarm. And then if an army did invade the city, they’d want to know how you knew.”
“I’d tell them I remembered it!”
“No,” Sallo says. “Don’t ever tell them about remembering the way you do. They’ll say you have a power. And they don’t like people to have powers.”
“But I don’t! Just sometimes I remember things that are going to happen!”
“I know. But Gavir, listen, truly, you mustn’t talk about it to anybody. Not anybody but me.”
When Sallo says my name in her soft voice, when she says, “Listen, truly,” I do truly listen to her. Even though I argue.
“Not even Tib?”
“Not even Tib.” Her round, brown face and dark eyes are quiet and serious.
“Because only you and I are Marsh people.”
“So was Gammy!”
“It was Gammy that told me what I’m telling you. That Marsh people have powers, and the city people are afraid of them. So we never talk about anything we can do that they can’t. It would be dangerous. Really dangerous. Promise, Gav.”
She puts up her hand, palm out. I fit my grubby paw against it to make the vow. “I promise,” I say as she says, “I hear.”
In her other hand she’s holding the little Ennu-Mé she wears on a cord around her neck.
She kisses the top of my head and then bumps me so hard I nearly fall off the end of the bench. But I won’t laugh; I’m so full of what I remembered, it was so awful and so frightening, I want to talk about it, to tell everybody, to say, “Look out, look out! Soldiers are coming, enemies, with a green flag, setting the city on fire!” I sit swinging my legs, sullen and mournful.
“Tell me about it again,” Sallo says. “Tell all the bits you left out.”
That’s what I need. And I tell her again my memory of the soldiers coming up the street.
Sometimes what I remember has a secret feeling about it, as if it belongs to me, like a gift that I can keep and take out and look at when I’m by myself, like the eagle feather Yaven-dí gave me. The first thing I ever remembered, the place with the reeds and the water, is like that. I’ve never told anybody about it, not even Sallo. There’s nothing to tell; just the silvery-blue water, and reeds in the wind, and sunlight, and a blue hill way off. Lately I have a new remembering: the man in the high room in shadows who turns around and says my name. I haven’t told anybody that. I don’t need to.
But there’s the other kind of remembering, or seeing, or whatever it is, like when I remembered seeing the Father come home from Pagadi, and his horse was lame; only he hadn’t come home yet and didn’t until next summer, and then he came just as I remembered, on the lame horse. And once I remembered all the streets of the city turning white, and the roofs turning white, and the air full of tiny white birds all whirling and flying downward. I wanted to tell everybody about that, it was so amazing, and I did. Most of them didn’t listen. I was only four or five then. But it snowed, later that winter. Everybody ran outside to see the snowfall, a thing that happens in Etra maybe once in a hundred years, so that we children didn’t even know what it was called. Gammy asked me, “Is this what you saw? Was it like this?” And I told her and all of them it was just what I’d seen, and she and Tib and Sallo believed me. That must have been when Gammy told Sallo what Sallo had just told me, not to talk about things I remembered that way. Gammy was old and sick then, and she died in the spring after the snowfall.
Since then I’d only had the secret rememberings, until this morning.
I was by myself early in the morning, sweeping the hall outside the nursery rooms, when I began remembering. At first I just remembered looking down a city street and seeing fire leap up from a house roof and hearing shouts. The shouts got louder, and I recognised Long Street, running north from the square behind the Forefathers’ Shrine. At the far end of the street smoke was billowing out in big greasy clouds with red flames inside them. People were running past me, all over the square, women and men, most of them running towards the Senate Square, shouting and calling out, but city guards ran by in the other direction with their swords drawn. Then I could see soldiers at the far end of Long Street under a green banner; they had long lances, and the ones on horseback had swords. The guards met with them, and there was deep shouting, and ringing and clashing like a smithy, and the whole crowd of men, a great writhing knot of armor and helmets and bare arms and swords, came closer and closer. A horse broke from it, galloping up the street straight at me, riderless, lathered with white sweat streaked red, blood running from where its eye should be. The horse was screaming. I dodged back from it. And then I was in the hall with a broom in my hand, remembering it. I was still terrified. It was so clear I couldn’t forget it at all. I kept seeing it again, and seeing more. I had to tell somebody.
So when Sallo and I went to get the schoolroom ready and were there alone, I told her. And now I told her all over again, and telling it made me remember it again, and I could see and tell it better. Sallo listened intently and shivered when I described the horse.
“What kind of helmets did they have?”
I looked at the memory of the men fighting in the street.
“Black, mostly. One of them had a black crest, like a horse’s tail.”
“Do you think they were from Osc?”
“They didn’t have those long wood shields like the Oscan captives in the parade. It was like all their armor was metal—bronze or iron—it made this huge clanging sound when they were fighting with the guards with swords. I think they came from Morva.”
“Who came from Morva, Gav?” said a pleasant voice behind us, and we both jumped like puppets on strings. It was Yaven. Intent on my story, neither of us had heard him, and we had no idea how long he’d been listening. We reverenced him quickly and Sallo said, “Gav was telling me one of his stories, Yaven-dí.”
“Sounds like a good one,” Yaven said. “Troops from Morva would march with a black-and-white banner, though.”
“Who has green?” I asked.
“Casicar.” He sat down on the front bench, stretching out his long legs. Yaven Altanter Arca was seventeen, the eldest son of the Father of our House. He was an officer in training of the Etran army, and away on duty much of the time now, but when he was home he came to the schoolroom for lessons just as he used to. We loved having him there because, being grown up, he made us all feel grown up, and because he was always good-natured, and because he knew how to get Everra, our teacher, to let us read stories and poems instead of doing grammar and logic exercises.
The girls were coming in now, and Torm ran in with Tib and Hoby from the ball court, sweating, and finally Everra entered, tall and grave in his grey robe. We all reverenced the teacher and sat down on the benches. There were eleven of us, four children of the Family and seven children of the House.
Yaven and Torm were the sons of the Arca Family, Astano was the daughter, and Sotur was their cousin.
Among the house slaves, Tib and Hoby were boys of twelve and thirteen, I was eleven, and Ris and my sister Sallo were thirteen. Oco and her little brother Miv were much younger, just learning their letters.
Copyright © 2007 by Ursula K. Le Guin
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