A bearded man stood staring at the three of us in a room too bright, so black and white it hurt my eyes. As I blinked back at him, shaking, I felt his eyes lingered hungry on my face, yet in a manner charged with eagerness. I did not know him. He was clad in a white shirt more brilliant than I had ever seen any cloth, however carefully sun-bleached by our cotton spinners, and black leggings. He said something. I could make no sense of it at all. As Thane Gehir explained later, his words were simply a greeting, and he smiled slightly at Gehir, the crooked smile of a man who blends worry with affection as he faces a man over whose dangers he has fretted. But he stared at me, with an expression I could not understand though it seemed warm it also held some terrible need as though he would consume me with his eyes.
I stood and shuddered like a frightened sacrifice.
Thane Gehir replied in similar jargon, and this time I gradually realized that their words had a similar structure and sound to ours, yet the cadence had changed, and some of the hard consonants were softened and slurred, others accentuated. Still I could not understand it. Thane Gehir loosened my grip on his arm, not without trouble, and continued to earnestly talk with the person in white. Gehir lifted Daniel again and took him into another room while I follewed. The stranger seemed to acquiesce with Gehir’s speech, but his eyes burned on us in another long examining look, a greedy look, before he went back into the room of our arrival. He caught my eye with his blue brilliant gaze and smiled at me, wistfully as if it meant more than it should. One would have thought he knew us. Gehir took us both up a long ascent, carrying Prince Daniel through a doorway and thence along a corridor and outside into a world without colors.
I am troubled when I try to order or arrange visions of the places Thane Gehir took us. I recognized buildings resembling the Fortress, yet much much taller. So numerous they were that they seemed like a forest more enormous than any forest I had seen, made of stone. But they moved slightly over us like grasses in the slightest breeze. Gehir did not talk, except in reassurance, but later I managed to ask him one question.
“No, the carrying carts don’t befoul the water roads. They put out their feces in gases, which blow away.”
“Are they then animal servants?”
“Yes, something similar. I am sorry, Ti but I should not explain them to you because they do not belong to your place or time. You are fulfilling your oath to me, and it is upon me that any possible guilt of this lies. Pray to the Simple God for her mercy, and forgiveness, but she will understand. You are in my place, in my world now and I swear to you that we shall carry no evil I can foresee, home to contaminate your world.”
We entered at last another building, which felt comforting to me for at least the world did not seem quite so big or noisy any more, though it was just as hard and bright as the outside. Prince Daniel still slumped sleeping in Thane Gehir’s arms, and I felt a great fear, for he had a pallor I found familiar. I had seen it before in warriors with internal injuries.
“Will he live? I asked. “He does not look like it.”
“We have to try,” Thane Gehir said, and hurried his steps.
We entered a big room, crowded with all manner of people. I felt they acted disorganized, and rude, like those I had seen on the streets. They wore garments of diverse colors, outrageously bright as if to make up for the lack of vividness in their outside. Many of them seemed unwell. Indeed, some of the clothing looked entirely inadequate to me as covering and it made me feel cold and uneasy to look upon these. They appeared to be like Laymaster’s boys, dressed to sell, but they came in both sexes. So many men. Strange to see so many males in one place. We stood and sat, and stood again, and Thane Gehir spend much time talking for us, to a variety of persons, all clad in the extremely white coverings. Finally a woman clad in a white robe who seemed to be in a hurry, came and seemed angry and full of blame as she talked in choppy sentences to Thane Gehir. He shrugged and put his hands out in apology. She did not waste any more time upon him. Instead she had the Prince placed upon a carry bed on wheels, with attendants, and urged me to follow as they pushed him from the room.
She made several comments to herself, then sighed, and put us by ourselves in a small cubicle which contained many items of metal and glass and some in a soapy feeling stone I did not recognize.
“Don’t touch anything,” Thane Gehir said absently. He looked tired and worried as he stroked the brown hair back from Prince Daniel’s closed eyes.
The woman in white returned, then sent us from the room. We waited in the hallway, watching men and women, all in white robes like the priests of some god, come and go. I did not like the smells, nor the stale perfume of the air which felt harsh in my throat.
“You trust these people?” I asked, as much to break our silence as for any hope of reassurance. When I looked over, Thane Gehir had slumped in sleep against the wall where he sat, his mouth a little open. He did not look like a wizard nor a wise man now, bleached to gray in this threatening place of no beauty. I looked upon him freely now, as I had never felt I had license to do before, but my scrutiny solved none of my questions. He was not a young man, still I could not tell his age, and in sleep I could not read the spirit in him. Nothing of the rich play of emotion I knew from his waking features now showed. He must trust these people if he could sleep.
I had always said I could sleep where I pleased. This place did not please me and I kept the watch for ten hours before at last the impatient woman returned and woke Thane Gehir by her salutation. She had softened. Even as she had doubtless tired with the passage of her work, she had grown a little kinder and I suddenly realized that this meant she now had hope to offer us.
Gehir smiled such a smile that it startled her into returning it, making me realize that in this world this woman might be considered attractive. A strange thought, to me. She led us into the room at last, and I read in the stance of her body that though my Prince looked much the same, she displayed him like a triumph, and my heart warmed to her. I saluted her, with all my best formality, and Thane Gehir said something in explanation. She returned me a funny awkward bow and smiled again before she turned and left the room.
Prince Daniel opened his eyes and they lightened at sight of us.
“Did my mother come here?” Prince Daniel asked. “I only want to know if she is safe and to what place she went. Was it here?”
“No, my Lord, but I have word she is safe,” I said.
“I believed I had died and come into some bad and evil palace,” Prince Daniel stated. “But it is queerly familiar to me as I examine my surroundings. Do you know why, Lord Thane?”
Thane Gehir did not answer.
“I have dreamed this building,” Prince Daniel said to our silence. “I know parts of it.”
“Rest now, ” Thane Gehir said. “Late on the morrow I hope to bear you home, and this will be no more than a dream again.”
We traveled back in a small covered cart, armored on its outside with colored metal, polished to reflect the sky. Uncomfortable, full of unpleasant smells and noise, it moved quickly over the green befouled waters. Relief filled me when I could unfold myself and stand again on the hard pale ground that felt so smooth. I reminded myself constantly to trust Gehir as my only security in this strange world.
Night had returned during our traveling, and I looked upon marvelous illuminations in these streets, flaring in every hue I could imagine, some like the violence of flowers in full bloom of summer, and some moving as if the light itself had life, swift and intense. These made me queasy and I tried not to focus upon them. To imagine that I had thought this world dull! It simply worked upon an opposite principle, and woke to colors at night.
Thane Gehir helped Prince Daniel from one side, and I from the other. He walked with steadiness and did not need as much help as we gave to him. I had stopped looking around at the colors because I had decided them too unsettling, but the Prince’s face filled with open wonder mixed curiously with disapproval as we went the short distance to the door that Thane Gehir opened with an object like a paper.
“My laboratory is on the lowest floor,” Thane Gehir said, as if that mattered. I saw his increasing nervousness with a spasm of my own alarm. What danger knew he, of which I had no clue? I kept my silence as we entered the building which glowed inside as brightly as daylight glows. I suspect he did not realize that with every step he hurried more. We sped down the flight of sharply-curved steps, Gehir assisting Prince Daniel and finally taking him up again. When he opened another locked door at the end of the stairs, he seemed to make the lights brighten by touching the wall, then thrust us in and closed and locked the door behind us.
A large room this, familiar from our arrival over a day past with desks littered by papers and devices and the hum of something like insects yet more regular. When Thane Gehir touched the far wall, its surface shimmered with sudden light and color, pulsating like some living thing. When I glanced at Thane Gehir, I saw him lift in his hand the little black box that I thought I remembered from the hidden rooms under the Arena, the box that had hurt my arm so that I had flung it incontinently through the shimmering doorway there. He saw my face.
“Yes, Ti of the Wall, we owe you for that deed. If you had not sent us this remote, we would never have accessed your time precisely.”
“But I saw you in the country of the Wall long years before I ever threw that thing.”
“It doesn’t matter. The order of what you perceived is not the order we obey. Someday you can tell me about it. For now…”
He began to work with the little box, pressing it until it made several chirping sounds. As he worked I noted the sweat drawing up on his forehead, and wondered about more than the box.
“Now,” he exclaimed suddenly. “Let us go!”
He grabbed me by one hand and Prince Daniel by the other and we ran into the terrible light.