Kira looked at him dubiously. For weeks now she had worked with the dyer. The lists of plants, the many characteristics of each, the details of the dyeing procedures, so much complex knowledge; all of it was clear and complete. Kira had seen no sign, no hint of a wandering mind.
Might the old woman know something that no one else — even someone with the status of Jamison — knew?
"Have you seen beasts?" Kira asked him hesitantly.
"Many, many times. The woods are filled with them," Jamison said. "Never stray past the village limits. Do not go beyond the path."
Kira looked at him. His expression was hard to discern, but his voice was firm and certain.
"Don't forget, Kira," he continued, "I saw your father taken by beasts. It was a hideous thing. Terrible."
Jamison sighed and patted her hand sympathetically. Then he turned to leave. "You are doing a fine job," he said again, appreciatively.
"Thank you," Kira murmured. She put her hand, still feeling his touch, into her pocket. Her special scrap of cloth lay folded there. She felt no comfort from it. As the door closed behind Jamison, she stroked the cloth, seeking its solace, but it seemed to withdraw from her touch, almost as if it were trying to warn her of something.
The rain still fell steadily. Through it, she thought for a moment that she could hear the child sob on the floor below.
The sun was shining in the morning but Kira woke groggy after a fitful sleep. Following an early breakfast she tied her sandals carefully, anticipating the walk to Annabella's. Maybe the clear, cooler air after the rain would wake her a bit and make her feel better. Her head ached.
Thomas's door was closed. He was probably still asleep. There were no sounds either from the floor below. Kira made her way out of doors, relishing the breeze that lingered after the storm and was pinescented from trees that were still glistening and wet. It blew her hair away from her face and the misery of her sleepless night began to subside.
Leaning on her stick, Kira made her way to the place where she ordinarily turned from the village and entered the woods on the path. It was quite near the weaving shed.
"Kira!" A woman's voice called to her from the shed, and she saw that it was Marlena, already at the loom so early.
Kira smiled, waved, and detoured to greet the woman.
"We miss you! Them tykes that clean up for us now are worthless. Horrid lazy! And one stole my lunch yesterday." Marlena scowled her outrage. Her feet slowed on the treadle and Kira knew that she was eager to chat and gossip.
"That be him now, that wicked tyke!"
A familiar wet nose touched Kira's ankle. She reached down to scratch Branch and saw Matt grinning at her from behind the corner of the weaving shed. "You there!" Marlena called angrily and he drew back to hide.
"Marlena," Kira asked, remembering that the weaving woman lived in the Fen, "did you ever know a girl tyke named Jo?"
"Jo?" The woman was still peering toward the shed corner, hoping to catch a glimpse of Matt and scold him. "You there!" she called again, but Matt was too sly and too clever to respond.
"Yes. She used to sing."
"Ah, the singing tyke! Yes, I knowed her. Not her name though. But her singing, we all knowed that! Like a bird, it was."
"What happened to her?"
Marlena shrugged. Her feet began to move slowly again on the treadle. "She be tooken off. They give her off to somebody, I guess. She be orphaned, I heared."
She leaned forward and whispered loudly, "Some said her receive the songs by magic. Nobody teached her. The songs, they just come."
Her feet paused. She gestured to Kira to come closer. Furtively, Marlena confided, "I heared that them songs was full of knowledges. She be only a small tyke, you know? But when she singed, she had knowledges of things that wasn't even happened yet!
"I never heared it myself, only heared tell of it."
Marlena laughed and her feet took up the rapid pace on the treadle that caused the rhythmic motion of the loom. Kira nodded goodbye to her and started toward the path.
Matt met her there, appearing from behind a tree where he'd been hiding. Kira glanced back but Marlena was busy at her loom and had forgotten them both.
"Are you coming with me this morning?" she asked Matt. "I thought you found it boring at the dyer's hut."
"You mustn't go today," Matt said solemnly. Then he glanced at his dog and began to laugh. "Looky! Old Branch, him trying to catch him a lizzie!"
Kira looked and laughed too. Branch had chased a small lizard to the base of a tree and was watching, frustrated, as it slithered up the trunk beyond his reach. He stood on his hind legs and his front ones churned in the air. The lizard looked back and a moist stiletto tongue darted in and out. Kira watched for a moment, chuckling, and then turned again to Matt.
"What do you mean, I mustn't go? I missed yesterday because of the rain. She's expecting me."
Matt looked solemn. "She not be expecting nobody. She be gone to the Field right when the sun be coming up. Draggers tooken her. I seen it."
"To the Field? What are you talking about, Matt? She couldn't possibly walk to the Field from her cott! It's too far! She's too old! And she wouldn't want to anyway."
Matt rolled his eyes. "I didn't say she be wanting to! I said they tooken her! She be dead!"
"Dead? Annabella? How can that be?" Kira was stunned. She had seen the old woman two days before. They had sipped tea together.
Matt took her question seriously. "It be like this," he replied. He flung himself to the ground, lay on his back with both arms outstretched, opened his eyes wide, and stared blankly upward. Branch, curious, nosed at his neck, but Matt held the pose.
Kira stared in dismay at his grotesque but accurate imitation of death. "Don't, Matt," she said at last. "Get up. Don't do that."
Matt sat up and took the dog into his lap. He tilted his head and looked at Kira curiously. "Probably they be giving you her stuff," he announced.
"You're certain it was Annabella?"
Matt nodded. "I seen her face when they tooken her to the Field." Briefly he made the death face again, with its blank eyes.
Kira bit her lip. She turned away from the path. Matt was correct, she should not go into the woods now. But she did not know where to go. She could wake Thomas, she supposed. But for what? Thomas had never met the old dyer.
Finally she turned and looked back at the large Council Edifice where she lived. The door through which she came and went was in the side wing. The large door in front was the one she had entered on the day of her trial so many weeks before. The Council of Guardians would probably not be meeting today in the big chamber where her trial had been. But Jamison must be someplace inside. She decided that she would look for him. He would know what had happened, would tell her what to do.
"No, Matt," she said when the tyke began to follow her.
His face fell. He had sensed an adventure. "Go wake Thomas," Kira told him. "Tell him what happened. Tell him that Annabella has died, and that I have gone to find Jamison."
"Jamison? Who's he?"
Kira was startled at Matt's ignorance. Jamison had become so much a part of her life that she had forgotten the tyke wouldn't know his name. "He's the guardian who first took me to my room," she explained. "Remember? A very tall man with dark hair? You were with us that day.
"He always wears one of Thomas's carvings," she added. "Quite a nice one, with an outline of a tree."
Matt nodded at that. "I seen him!" he said eagerly.
"Where?" Kira looked around. If Jamison was nearby, if she could find him at one of the workplaces, she wouldn't have to search the Council Edifice.
"He be there, watching, walking beside, when the draggers tooken the old dyer to the Field," Matt said.
So Jamison already knew.
The corridors were, as always, quiet and dim. At first Kira felt secretive and stealthy, as if she should make her footsteps as silent as possible, difficult with her stick and her dragging leg. Then she reminded herself that she was not hiding, not in danger. She was simply looking for the man who had been her mentor since her mother's death. She could even, if she chose, call his name loudly in hopes that he would hear and respond. But calling out seemed inappropriate and so she simply continued down the hall in silence.
As she had expected, the great hall was empty. She knew that it was used only for special occasions: the annual Gathering; trials, such as her own; and other ceremonies that she had never seen. She pulled the huge door open a crack, peeked in, and turned away to look elsewhere in the building.
She knocked timidly on several doors. Finally at one a voice answered with a gruff "Yes?" and she pushed the door open to see one of the tenders, a man she didn't recognize, busy at a desk.
"I'm looking for Jamison," Kira explained.
The tender shrugged. "He's not here."
She could see that. "Do you know where he might be?" she asked politely.
"In the wing, probably." The tender looked down again at his work. He seemed to be sorting papers.
Kira knew that "the wing" was where her own quarters were. That made sense. Probably Jamison was looking for her even now, to tell her of the old woman's death. She had started out much earlier than usual this morning, thinking to make up for the day wasted yesterday by rain. If she had waited, Jamison could have found her, told her of the death, explained, and she would not feel so shocked and solitary.
"Excuse me, but can I get to the wing from here without going back outside?"
Impatiently the tender gestured to his left. "Door at the end," he said.
Kira thanked him, closed his office door behind her, and went to the end of the long hall. The door there was not locked, and when she opened it she saw a familiar stairway. She had tiptoed down it with Thomas and Matt just yesterday during the storm. She knew the stairs would return her to the corridor above, where she would find her room and Thomas's.
She stood motionless and listened. The tender had said that Jamison was probably somewhere in the wing, but she heard no sound.
On a whim, instead of taking the stairs to her room, Kira remained on the first floor. She went to the corner where she and Thomas had hidden the day before, the same corner they had peered around to see where the crying was coming from. In the silence and emptiness, she rounded the corner and approached the door that had been open the afternoon before.
She leaned next to it, her ear against the wood, and listened. But there was no sound of crying, none of singing.
After a moment, she tried the knob. But the door was locked. Finally, very softly, she knocked.
She heard a rustling sound inside, then the muffled sound of small footsteps on a bare floor.
She knocked softly again.
She heard a whimper.
Kira knelt by the door. It was difficult, with her crippled leg. But she lowered herself until her mouth was beside the large keyhole. Then she called softly, "Jo?"
"I'm being good," a frightened, desperate little voice replied. "I'm practicing."
"I know you are," Kira said through the keyhole. She could hear small, shuddering sobs.