There was a creaking sound near the back door. Marissa stood still, waiting hopefully, but then nothing else happened. She sighed and went back to her chores. She took a pair of books from Jon's desk and looked for a place to put them away. It had probably been the wind, or wishful thinking. After an hour of meticulous dusting and sweeping, she wouldn't have been surprised by a ghost. She'd already imagined wood sprites, elves, little dragons, and other things she'd already forgotten. Mostly she'd thought about Logan.
Laik had said some time after noon. She was looking forward to seeing him. The drawstring he gave her was tied around her wrist. She couldn't wear it all the time because Jon would see it and start raining brimstone.
Marissa glanced at the back door again, wishing she were home. She bit her lip then. Home hadn't been better by much. It only meant a bigger town, where it was easier to get away with trouble. A tiny splinter, not much, of her swagger melted. Most of her life she'd had to live down being Jon's godchild, morality this and divinity that. She swallowed back an unhinging feeling inside her chest. It made her uncomfortable. She looked at her hands as they tightened around the books.
Jenna and the other children had gone out to do whatever they had to do hours ago. Jon and Thaisa had left a little while ago, not more than an hour. Thaisa reminded her of her own mother. Marissa smiled wanly at that. Her mother had died when she was six, during the last plague. Her thoughts drifted over to Logan, and she wondered what life had been like here. The Woodlanders were tough, but there had been stories about whole towns disappearing.
This time she heard the doorknob click. Logan stood on the far side of the preparing table, closing the back door. They both showed their string-tied wrists to each other. "You look better," she observed. That was an understatement. Before he looked like a bloodied-up maniac. Now he was her lad again, with a bruise or two added. "How's the nose?"
"Still works." He walked over and leaned against the table.
Marissa put down the books and pulled over a chair. "We don't have much time, say only about an hour."
"How's he been treating you?"
"About as bad as I thought he would." She opened her mouth and made a gagging gesture with her hand.
"I wonder what he's going to do when the harvest festival comes around."
"Tie me up?"
"That'd work. I'd let you out, though."
She grinned broadly, mischievously biting the tip of her tongue. Logan smiled. There was a difference between his expression and her own. He had a touch of the death wish that people like Laik savored. Logan wasn't foolish, but he wouldn't be afraid of a little thunderstorm in his life now and then to liven things up. Marissa's eyes sparkled knowingly. She pulled her knee up, wrapping her fingers around it.
"Oh." Logan reached behind his back and took something from one of his belt pouches. "Do you want to try something?" Balanced between his hands was a tiny bottle, like people kept spices in.
Marissa leaned towards him. "That's too small to be brandy."
"It's perfume. My mother made it for you."
Marissa took it from him, uncorked it and sniffed. Her chin tilted curiously. "It smells like wildflowers. Tell her thank-you for me." She put some on her fingers and spread it down her neck. "I'll have to wash this off before Jon comes back."
The smell of it began to swirl around her. It wasn't strong. In fact, it was one of the lightest scents she could remember. Marissa sniffed the bottle again, more deeply, and came away blinking. "I feel dizzy," she giggled. She also felt warm, and the feeling spread like water all the way down to her toes.
"Dizzy? How do you mean?"
Marissa's thoughts began wandering. She pressed the bottle against her cheek. Keep your head, girl. They didn't have time for anything like that. She knew they didn't. The warm feeling rushed over her again, leaving her knees tingly.
Marissa took off one of her shoes and began stroking her bare foot against the side of Logan's leg. He drewan uncomfortable gasp. She liked how easily his bravado vanished. She leaned back in the chair, smiling at him.
"Does that bother you?"
He forced a smile. "No. Of course not."
Logan was looking at her strangely. Maybe he wondered if she was all right. She gazed over his face, and not with the same, playful mischief in her eyes that she had just a moment ago. She stood up and walked away from him. Given the size of the room, she wasn't that much farther away, but that wasn't the point. She'd seen the look on his face that night by the fire, and knew that looking at her drove him mad. The smell of wildflowers played around her nose again, and she put dabs of the perfume onto her wrists.
"You look very pretty today," Logan said.
Marissa turned. She smiled at him. "Pretty?"
The poor lad's hands dug into the edge of the table as she walked back towards him. "We have to be careful," he said. "This isn't wise. Not today." Before he knew what was happening she kissed him hard on the mouth. She gripped his shirt as their lips pressed against each other. Marissa didn't care if it was wise. Marissa swallowed as a tightening sensation reached between her legs.
She pulled back just a little, her breasts just barely touching his body. She had been closer to him just a few days ago, but not like this. "Close your eyes," she told him.
She shook her head slowly, letting her eyelids fall just so. Her voice was almost a whisper. "Oh, no, good sir. That's a surprise." She felt the muscles in his shoulder, and asked, "Have you ever laid with a woman?"
Logan felt more than a little self-conscious. He made love with Sarina one night during her first harvest festival, when they were able to get away from everyone else. She'd done it on a bet with the other girls, to see if the Listener's son was any different from the other boys. For what it was worth, the answer was no, and he'd won her the bet. Yes. Of course he'd been with a girl before. But the other girls in the village must have already told her.
Logan nodded slowly.
"Close your eyes," she repeated.
Her hand floated down onto his shoulder, her fingers feeling the muscles underneath. He could hear her breathing. He smelled the apricots again, then it was stronger. That she smelled wildflowers before didn't bother him; he and his father saw things differently from other people so much of the time that he assumed it was just a different point of view. Her arm leaned on his chest. "Smell this," she said. Her other hand reached through his hair to the back of his head and pulled it down. He could feel the edge of the bottle on his upper lip. Logan breathed once through his nose.
The breath finished harder than it started out. He was relaxed at first, but the stuff was intoxicating. He picked up subtleties in the scent. Something like the brandy, something like a hearth, something like cider. Something like Sarina's honey perfume. He opened his eyes, and immediately found Marissa's mouth over his again, their soft, forceful touch something that he hadn't felt since Sarina had gone. He closed his eyes again, leaning into the kiss. He pulled her towards him. Logan thought he heard the faintest whisper of his name, but not from Marissa. Something. Was there something wrong?
The room dissolved. She could almost feel the lines of Logan's muscles through his clothes, the leanness, the strength. Her eyes tightened. She heard the legs of the table creak again, and would have laughed if she could have thought to. Wouldn't it be funny if it broke? She doubted either of them would notice.
The world spun as he lifted her off her feet, to the floor. Her skirt was lifted up. Marissa couldn't even think. Logan covered her mouth as they began moving--quiet, they had to be quiet! She felt herself growing weaker. Marissa heard their gasps like hollow, distant sounds. Logan was gritting his teeth, his free hand pinioning both of hers above her head. He bit back grunts with every movement, desperately impassioned, as if his life depended on this one act. He looked possessed.
Marissa finally gave herself up to him, arching her back, and then collapsed. It consumed her entire body. She blinked, but everything resolved into the same wooden color. She didn't cry out. She couldn't even move. Her breathing was the only sound she could hear, and its soft murmur was swallowed up into the murmur of everything else.
"Logan?" she tried to say. It was hard to breathe. Marissa found that swallowing burned her throat. She heard a choking sound. Marissa raised her head, but the woody murk churned and she fell back again.
Logan spent the first moments after he regained his senses trying to understand which way was up. Not that he couldn't see: everything was clear, clear like a knife slash, but now it hurt that much. He couldn't close his eyes. For the longest time he just tried to wake up. What he went through couldn't have happened. He sat against the wall, groping to pull up his pants. His hands couldn't seem to remember how to do it. Logan whimpered in helpless fear. By the time he managed to pull them up, he realized that it hadn't been a dream.
Dumbly, he asked himself what happened. He knew what happened, but nothing made sense. That funny smell from the perfume clouded everything. Logan's mind reeled. Black shadows were inside him, laughing at his fear and his foolishness. Foolish Logan--young Logan...love her again, Logan, yes--, they taunted. They had his voice.
Logan bit into his lip as hard as he could. The pain sliced through him. Marissa. Where was she? He swung his head around, so slowly, then he saw her. He wished he could pull his eyes away.
"No," he wailed softly. "I didn't do that."
Her body was exhausted. Rest could cure that, but what made her vital, like the forest and every thing, was ravaged. Her body showed only a small measure of what that had endured. Marissa's spirit, for lack of better words, was exhausted nearly beyond itself. Logan could barely think in words.
The voice inside his head chuckled. He'd heard that voice before, when he'd gotten drunk and would have settled for any random wench with an appealing figure. It had never been this insistent. Never this strong. Logan bit into his lip again, tasted salty blood, and pounded his head back against the wall. Spikes of pain stabbed into his eyes.
Shaking, he came to all fours. Brave Logan, the voice mocked him. He crept forward, trying only to look at Marissa's face. She was dazed. Her eyes rolled as her head tilted from side to side. It rolled to the ground, jerked away. She seemed too weak to stop her head from hitting the ground, and revulsed by touching it. He took a few berries from a pouch at his belt and bit into them. He quavered a verse used for healing. The blocky texture of his tongue kept him from saying it coherently. The juices soured and made his eyes tear. Logan closed his eyes and repeated the incantation. His senses resolved. It amazed him how subtle the scents in the room were, and how silent his shuffling on the floorboards was. He could feel the shadows all around him, urging and taunting.
Logan held his hands on either side of her head. Marissa's lips moved slowly. He couldn't tell what she was trying to say. "Marissa," he said. He used her name as an incantation.
Frosty icicles broke up and down his backbone. Logan screwed his eyes shut. Oh, great earth, it hurt! He gasped in pain. What were the rest of the words? Logan barely knew what to do. He'd never done anything like this before. He began a different kind of chant. This was the first one his father had ever taught him, the one used in making the healing bags. Marissa's consciousness rebelled at first, then settled under the soothing balm of his words.
She trusts me, Logan realized. Tears fell onto her face. He repeated the chant without pause, lending her his own strength where he had to. The movements he coaxed could only penetrate the thick, seething mire inside him by inches. This was like climbing the Crease with a stone tied around your waist. A forever of time passed, and he repeated the chant again and again until Marissa felt more like herself. He couldn't be sure if it had all been his own effort towards the end.
Finally, Logan sat back down. His belt was still undone, but at least his pants were up. Marissa slept. Half-awake himself, he closed her dress. His hand knocked something as he sat back down. His bleary eyes reached for an off-white blur that lay under the table. It was round, warm to the touch. The bottle.
The bottle that his mother had given him, for Marissa. He understood, if not why, at least how. He held it about a hand's length away from his nose and smelled it. Apricots, of course. He closed his eyes and whispered a verse. The apricot scent had layers to it. The tangy taste of harvest brandy fluttered around his tongue. He recognized the smell of olienberries. Finally, he recognized something in the way they came together. The hand that had coaxed this into being, as identifiable as fresh tracks. It hadn't been meant as a perfume.
The shadows melted away despondently, leaving only a dull, throbbing ache that permeated his entire frame. The serrated edge to his sight was gone. His conscience battered him. True, he hadn't known, couldn't have known what would happen, but it didn't change what he'd done to her. He thought of his mother. Slowly, Logan wrapped his fingers around the bottle. The front door opened. "Marissa, I--"
Logan, Jon and Rolf stared into each other's eyes. Logan saw blacker than black fury on their faces, and understood why. He fell against the chair behind him. Logan could barely stand, let alone defend himself. Rolf seized his shirt and dragged him to his feet. "You son of a--" Logan never heard the last word. His head banged into the table as Jon pulled him up. Jon's fist backhanded his skull again, ringing the bones and sending tumbling to the floor. He hit the chair again. Barely, he kept from landing on Marissa. He couldn't get up. He heard shuffling footsteps, and Jon seized him again. "Rolf," he growled. "I'm going to sing a few hymns. Why don't you hold Logan while I teach him about Light's retribution against the unrepentant heathen?"
Logan wondered what he said, but again, the intention was completely clear. Outside, passers-by wondered why the missionary roared with such fervor as he sang songs of holy glory and the armies of the Light.
"Lightning and flame!!" Alene dropped her stirring ladle, nearly tipping over a pot and putting out the hearth.
It was night now, well after sunset, and that made Logan late even by his own teenaged standards. Dellard had gone looking. Her mouth hung open as she watched them come inside. Dellard held Logan up under his arms. Even though her son leaned on his shoulder, Dellard must have done most of the walking. Dellard's forehead dripped from beads of sweat, and the veins in his neck were outlined over the muscles. Logan was a horrifying sight. Dellard had bandaged several cuts and applied ointment to others, but most of those wept through with blood. His face was bruised like an often-dropped apple, everywhere and and dark. Some of them had burst. One of his eyes was swollen and bloodshot, the veins like a tingly red spiderweb that should have been white. His clothes were torn. By the wheeze in his breathing, she knew that his ribs had been hurt. She'd seen him beat up before, but never like this.
"Where did you find him?" Alene took Logan, leading him to a chair by the table. "Halfway from the village," Dellard coughed. He immediately put down his things and went to get the healing herbs.
"Weak, and the bad eye," Logan explained. He refused to sit down. "I needed help. Good thing he heard me."
"Do you have any healing bags left?" Dellard asked. There were a few. They were low on all the herbs after his scuffle with Rolf. Alene handed the bag to Dellard, who started applying it gingerly to some of the smaller cuts. "Who was it? Was it that Rolf again?" she demanded.
"He won't tell me," Dellard said. "He says it was just a fight."
Alene took his hand. "Logan, tell me." Logan snatched his hand back. The red eye stared at her balefully. The hearth made it look even bloodier. She knew it hurt him to open it that wide, but he did it anyway.
"I tried that," Dellard said.
"I'm asking him," she retorted. Alene turned to him. "Tell me who."
In spite of all the batterings, Logan was composed. Quietly, he stated, "It was you." He threw the bottle at her. Alene yelped in shock. "It's your fault!" She stared at the bottle as it bounced onto the floor. Dellard was mystified. "What?"
Alene's eyes widened. They were only bruises. Nothing broken. No lost teeth. Nothing that wouldn't be whole again, except his dignity. "The missionary!" she snarled. A shadow passed over Logan's face. Finally he sat down. She knew she was right, but his stare told her where his anger lay. Alene felt her heart pound as Dellard picked up the bottle and looked at her. "What does this mean?"
She couldn't stop herself. "I won't do anything foolish. I'm just going to go back to that bastard's house and set fire to it." With venomous eloquence, she added, "Or his chapel." She spun away from Logan's gaze, half from being unable to face it. She would not count herself responsible. Jon had gone too far.
Her eyes darted from her son to her husband. Their indifference shook her to her core. "You can't let this be!"
"I'm the one who's hurt," Logan reminded them.
Logan lowered his eyes. He didn't want to waste the effort reasoning with her. Alene glared nakedly at Dellard. "It's not my choice to let it be," Dellard told her. He leaned toward her slowly, wrapping his fingers around the bottle with deliberate pause. "It's his. Almost every other step of the way, he told me he deserved this." Then held the bottle between their faces. "Can I speak to you alone?"
Alene stared at him for a long moment. There was no sound but the hiss of Logan's breathing. What was she hearing? "No. You're wrong. I won't let him treat us like this."
"You tried that already--" Logan interjected.
"Treat us like what?" Dellard asked. "You're the one who's carried the grudge."
"I said to be quiet!" Alene snapped at Logan.
"--and look what happened--" her son continued.
"Logan!" she cried.
"Look at me!" he shouted back.
When she didn't, he angrily shut up. The chaotic, singsong chorus of three voices silenced with Logan's cry.
Dellard looked from his son to his wife. "Now."
Dellard handed her the bottle. "This. I want to know about this. Now."
Logan turned his back on the two of them in a gesture of privacy. There was only one room in the house, and he obviously didn't feel like walking outside to leave them alone.
She had to think. She had to do something. Dellard knew. The bottle left no doubt. What had gone wrong? She wondered what he would do. He loved his son as much as she did. No; more, because Logan would be a Listener one day, and she had violated that.
"Why did you do it?" he asked.
Alene stood away from him. "What do you mean?"
"You did this," he said softly. "You used him to work some kind of revenge on Jon for that fight, didn't you?" The calm in his voice frightened her. She genuinely wished he'd started by throwing her into the wall.
"I didn't think it would come out this way," she said. Disparate emotions flickered across Alene's face. Fear was foremost among them. Never, in her entire life had she seen him like this. "I could never hurt him."
"But you could use him to hurt someone else." His voice began to rise. His hands were working themselves in and out of fists. Alene shook her head insistently. "You could use Logan. You could use your own son."
"It was only a fight! How could you be so wretched?!"
"No!!" she cried.
"You're responsible! Didn't you look at him?" A tangent thought leaped into his mind. The girl. The two of them might have touched shirha without knowing it. Dellard grabbed her arms and shook her wildly. "Don't you know what you could have done? Don't you?"
"Doesn't it matter to you what he did to him?" she wailed.
"I want the rest."
"Let go of me!"
He squeezed more tightly. "Whatever you've been hiding. I won't let it touch him, Alene. Look what it's done already!"
She felt her gorge rise but checked herself. Logan did something wrong. Whatever it was--but none of that mattered now. She couldn't argue with him. He wouldn't listen, and if anything, it would probably make him angrier. "It isn't fair," she said softly. "You can Listen in the forest, you can hunt, but you forbid what I've learned."
"No," Dellard said, just as softly. His grip loosened on her arms. "That isn't why. You know it isn't why. I didn't forbid you, and you promised me. I've never forbidden anything until now."
Carefully, she stated, "It is why. I'm weaker now. I can't move them as well as I used to. Not as well as you can. If you bore a son, you'd be weakened, too."
Dellard's jaw shifted slightly. He shook his head. "I'll look for it if I have to."
She sighed, her shoulders crumpling. He wouldn't have to turn the burrow upside-down to do it. He knew what to look for, and once he was looking, it wouldn't be hard to find. "Let go of me, and I'll show you."
Dellard let go. Alene took the shawl from her box. "It's all in here," she said. "Beads, cards, figures, and stones. There isn't anything else." He took it from her. She put the box back and sat down on the bed. "I'd take out what I needed, and just keep it with me until I was alone." Dellard lifted the bag from the bottom, an expression of distaste on his face. He seemed to be trying to look at the contents without touching them.
"Dellard, I want you to understand. I didn't want to spite you, or hurt anyone."
Dellard held the bag tightly. He reached inside the bag and produced a rust-red stone, veined with white scratches. He closed it in his fist and spoke an invocation. Alene lowered her head. "The blood on this stone's yours," Dellard said. "So are the scratches."
"That protects us from disease. The blood awakens the stone's power," she sputtered helplessly.
He raised his fist until it was before him. "No. That's not what you've used it for." She used the stone to make herself more persuasive. The more difficult merchants had stones like that secreted inside their wares, palmed there before she began to haggle for them. Dellard dropped the stone back into the bag. "I wouldn't care if you learned how to make an eternal summer, Alene. It's over now."
Logan finally looked up as his father crossed the room. He looked at his mother. The bleeding, battered face showed no unkindness, but a dispassionate understanding that Alene found harder to bear. Dellard threw the bag into the hearth. She let out a shriek and ran towards it, but Dellard interposed himself. "Let it burn."
Alene looked past him helplessly. The fabric was already catching. The rest was smoldering. Her father had given it to her before she married him. He couldn't be doing this! He held her back, as if there was any point. It was all ruined now. She could see the beads sweat and crack open. Bits of the cards were sucked into the chimney like fireflies. The paint in the carvings to her stones was melting away.
In anguish, she tore her gaze away from the hearth. She felt as if he'd beaten her. She ran to the door, flung it open, and ran out into the night.
Wolfmark watched her go. There was nothing more he could say to her. Logan simply looked away. He muttered something quietly.
Still looking away, Logan repeated, "I said, 'Sometimes I hate it when Laik is right.'" He paused, applying the bag to one of his bruises. One last tear fell from his bloodshot eye. Logan bit his lip. "Why did she do it? Why did she make me hurt her?"
Wolfmark looked at his son. He lowered his eyes to the floor shamefully, and when he spoke, Logan could barely hear his words: "Because your mother is a Listener of Shadows, and she doesn't know how to control her power."