Great. A rigged game. I kept my face neutral, but suspected that the eldress guessed my thoughts. She smiled slightly and then tapped the blue bead with her withered finger. "The first test was to prove that you cared enough about your freedom to take it. You proved that by running away from your master and finding us." She sat back with a nod.
"So what do we do now?" Tamar asked, still afraid that she'd be sent to live with the children.
"We split up in the summer, into subclans and soldier brotherhoods and sisterhoods. Lauria will go to live with the soldier sisters," the eldress said.
"I want to go with Lauria," Tamar said.
"Ordinarily we would not a.s.sign two newcomers to the same band."
"Do you divide sisters?" Tamar asked. "Because we are sisters by blood."
The eldress sat back; for the first time, she had the faint smile of one who'd been ever-so-slightly bested.
"No," she said. "We do not separate sisters-especially not sisters by blood. Well. It was Janiya who found you; I will send you to serve with Janiya. She'll be pleased, no doubt." The acid tone in her voice made it clear she knew Janiya would be anything but. "I'll have someone take you to her. There will be a feast tonight, to welcome the two of you, and to celebrate the end of the spring gathering." The eldress struck a small bra.s.s bell, and a young man quickly presented himself to escort us to Janiya's encampment. "Oh," she called as we reached the door to the tent. "The Greeks tell their slaves all sorts of stories about us, so perhaps you'd like to know, you won't be the feast tonight. We don't eat human flesh, and Prometheus and Arachne don't ask for sacrifices, let alone the lives of young men and women.
We offer our courage and our strength to the G.o.ds, not the flesh of former captives. We're not fools enough to keep poisonous spiders as pets, either, and we don't throw away the lives of new recruits on meaningless 'tests' of spider bites or walking through flames."
Although Tamar had insisted that the stories of human sacrifice were lies, I saw a slight exhalation of relief at the eldress's words. Of course, she could be lying, to put us off our guard, I thought. But she hadn't taken away my sword, and that was a good sign.
"The only people we kill in cold blood," the el-dress added as we turned away, "are bandits, rapists, spies, and traitors."
Tamar smiled at that and gave an approving nod. It took every drop of self-control I possessed to do the same. Bandits, rapists, spies, and traitors. Well. I'm two out of four. I wonder how they'll execute me if they figure it out?
Tamar twiddled the bead with her fingers as we walked across the valley. The Alas.h.i.+ were up for the day now; people were carrying buckets of water from a well or stream I hadn't seen, hanging laundry, visiting with friends, mending clothes and boots. A pack of children tore past us; I overhe
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