"I'm your friend, Jo. My name is Kira."
"Please, I want me mum," the tyke pleaded. She sounded very young.
For some reason Kira thought of the enclosure that had been built on the site of her old cott. Now tykes were penned there, enclosed by thorn bushes. It seemed cruel. But at least they were not isolated. They had each other, and they were able to look out through the thick foliage and see the village life around them.
Why was this small tyke locked in a room all alone?
"I will come back," she called softly through the door.
"Will you bring me mum?" The little voice was close to the keyhole. Kira could almost feel the breath.
Matt had told her that the tyke's parents were both dead. "I will come back," Kira said again. "Jo? Listen to me."
The tyke sniffled. In the distance, on the floor above, Kira heard a door open.
"I must go," Kira whispered firmly through the hole. "But listen, Jo: I will help you, I promise. Hush now. Don't tell anyone I was here."
She rose quickly. Clutching her stick, she made her way back to the staircase. When she reached the second floor and rounded the corner, she saw Jamison standing in the open doorway to her room. He came forward, greeted her with sympathy, and told her the news of Annabella's death.
Suddenly wary, Kira said nothing of the child below.
"Look! They're setting up a dyeing-place for me."
It was midday. Kira pointed down to the area below the window, a small piece of land between the Edifice and the edge of the woods. Thomas came to the window and looked. Workers had raised a structure that Kira could see was to be a shed; under its roof, long poles from which to hang the wet yarns and threads to dry were already in place.
"It's better than anything she ever had," Kira murmured, remembering Annabella wistfully. "I'm going to miss her," she added.
It had all happened so quickly. Annabella's death, so sudden; and now, only a day later, the new dyeing-place was being made.
"What's that?" Thomas pointed. To the side, the workers were digging a shallow pit. A support for hanging kettles was being pounded into place at the side.
"It'll be for fire. You need a very hot fire always, for the boiling of the dyes.
"Oh, Thomas," Kira sighed, turning away from the window, "I'll never remember how to do it all."
"Yes you will. I have it all written down, everything you told me. We'll just repeat it and repeat it. Look! What's that they're bringing?"
She looked again and saw them stacking bundles of dried plants beside the new shed. "They must have brought all the ones Annabella had hanging from the beams in her cott. So at least I'll have a place to start. I think I know the names, if they haven't mixed them all together out of ignorance."
Then she chuckled, watching one of the workers set down a covered pot and turn his face away with a grimace of disgust. "It's the mordant," Kira explained. "It smells terrible." She didn't want to say the rude word to Thomas, but it was what Annabella had called her pisspot, and its contents were a surprisingly vital ingredient in the making of the dyes.
The workers had begun to arrive early that morning, bearing the kettles and plants and equipment, while Jamison was still in Kira's room describing the events of the day before. A sudden death, he had explained, the way death often came to those of great age. She slept, Annabella had, napping on the rainy day, and didn't wake. That was all. No mystery to it.
Perhaps she felt that she had completed her job by teaching Kira, Jamison pointed out solemnly. Sometimes, he told her, it was the way death came: a drifting-away when one's tasks were accomplished. "And there's no need to burn her cott," he added, "because there was no illness. So it will stay as it is. Someday you can live there, if you like, after you've finished your work here."
Kira nodded, accepting his words. The old woman's spirit, she realized, would still be in her body. "She'll need a watcher," Kira pointed out to Jamison. "Could I go and sit with her? I did for my mother."
But Jamison said no. Time was short. The Gathering was coming. Four days could not be lost. Kira must work on the robe; others would do the watching for the old dyer.
So Kira would mourn all alone.
After Jamison had gone she sat silently, remembering how solitary Annabella's chosen life had been, how unconnected to the village. Only then did it occur to Kira to wonder, Who found her? How did they know to look?
"Thomas, come away from the window now. I need to tell you about something."
Reluctantly he came to where she was sitting at the table, though she could see from his face that he was still listening to the noise of the construction below. Boys, Kira thought. They were always interested in such things. If Matt were around, he'd be down there underfoot, getting in the way, wanting to help with the building.
"This morning —" she began. Then, sensing his inattention, "Thomas! Listen!"
He grinned, turned toward her, and listened.
"I went to the room below, the one where we heard the tyke crying."
"And singing," Thomas reminded her.
"Yes. And singing."
"Her name is Jo, according to Matt," Thomas said. "See? I'm paying attention. Why did you go down there?"
"I was looking for Jamison at first," Kira explained, "and I found myself on that floor. So I went to the door, thinking I might peek in and see if the tyke was all right. But it was locked!"
Thomas nodded. He looked unsurprised.
"But they've never locked my door, Thomas," she said.
"No, because you were already grown, already two syllables when you came here. But I was young; I was still Tom when I arrived," he said. "They locked my door."
"You were held captive?"
He frowned, remembering. "Not really. It was to keep me safe, I think. And to make me pay attention. I was young and I didn't want to work all the time." He grinned. "I was a little like Matt, I think. Playful."
"Were they harsh with you?" Kira asked, remembering the sound of Jamison's voice speaking to the little girl.
He thought. "Stern," he said finally.
"But, Thomas, the tyke below — Jo? She was crying. Sobbing. She wanted her mum, she said."
"Matt told us her mother died."
"She doesn't seem to know that."
Thomas tried to recall his own circumstances. "I think they told me about my parents. But maybe not right away. It was a long time ago. I remember someone brought me here and showed me where everything was, and how it worked —"
"The bathroom and the hot water," Kira said, with a wry smile.
"Yes, that. And all the tools. I was already a Carver. I'd been carving for a long time —"
" —the way I'd already been doing the threadings. And the way the tyke, Jo —"
"Yes," Thomas said. "Matt said she was already a singer."
Kira, thinking, smoothed the folds of her skirt. "So each of us," she said slowly, "was already a — I don't know what to call it."
"Artist?" Thomas suggested. "That's a word. I've never heard anyone say it, but I've read it in some of the books. It means, well, someone who is able to make something beautiful. Would that be the word?"
"Yes, I guess it would. The tyke makes her singing, and it is beautiful."
"When she isn't crying," Thomas pointed out.
"So we are each artists, and we were each orphaned, and they brought us each here. I wonder why. Also, Thomas, there's something else. Something strange."
He was listening.
"This morning I talked to Marlena, a woman I know from the weaving shed. She lives in the Fen, and she remembered Jo, though she didn't know her name. She remembered a singing tyke."
"Everyone in the Fen would know of such a tyke."
Kira nodded, agreeing. "She said — how did she put it?" She tried to remember Marlena's description. "She said that the tyke seemed to have knowledges."
"That was the word she used."
"What did she mean?"
"She said that the tyke seemed to have knowledge of things that hadn't happened yet. That the people in the Fen thought it was magic. She sounded a little frightened when she talked of it. And, Thomas?"
"What?" he asked.
Kira hesitated. "It made me think of what happens sometimes with my cloth. This small one." Kira opened the box he had made for her and held out the fabric scrap, reminding him. "I told you how it seems to speak to me.
"And I remember that you told me that you have a piece of wood that seems to do the same —"
"Yes. From when I was just a tyke, just beginning to carve. The one on the shelf. I've shown it to you."
"Could it be the same thing?" Kira asked cautiously. "Could it be what Marlena called knowledges?"
Thomas looked at her, and at the cloth that lay motionless in her hand. He frowned. "But why?" he asked at last.
Kira didn't know the answer. "Maybe it is something that artists have," she said, liking the sound of the word she had just learned. "A special kind of magic knowledge."
Thomas nodded and shrugged. "Well, it doesn't matter much, does it? We each have a good life now. Better tools than we did before. Good food. Work to do."
"But the tyke below? She sobs and sobs. And they won't let her out of the room." Kira remembered her promise. "Thomas, I told her I'd come back. And that I'd help her."
He looked dubious. "I don't think the guardians would like that."
Kira again remembered the severity she had heard in Jamison's voice. She remembered the slamming of the door. "No, I don't think they would," she agreed. "But at night. I'll creep down then, when they think we're all asleep. Except —" Her face fell.
"It's locked. There's no way I can get in."
"Yes you can," Thomas told her.
"I have a key," he said.
It was true. Back in his room, he showed her. "It was a long time ago," he explained. "But here I was, locked in, with all these fine tools. So I carved a key. It really was quite easy. The lock on the door is a simple one.
"And," he added, fingering the intricately carved wooden key, "it fits all the doors. All the locks are the same. I know because I tried them. I used to go out at night and roam the hallways, opening doors. All the rooms were empty then."
Kira shook her head. "You were really mischievous, weren't you?"
Thomas grinned. "I told you. Just like Matt."
"Tonight," Kira said, suddenly serious. "Will you come with me?"
Thomas nodded. "All right," he agreed. "Tonight."
Evening came. Kira, in Thomas's room, looked down through the window at the squalor of the village and listened to its chaotic din as workers in the various sheds finished their last chores. Down the lane she could see how the butcher threw a container of water over the stone doorstep of his hut, a useless gesture toward cleaning away the clotted filth. Nearer, she watched the women leaving the weaving shed where she had worked as helper for so much of her childhood.