An sat there, alone at her table. She should have just had her dinner in her room. Or gone somewhere else. But she was too tired to go somewhere else. Far too tired. And it was later than she intended, since she had slept for a couple hours after she arrived, rather than the five minutes of resting her eyes that she had intended. Maybe she should have just skipped dinner entirely, and gone straight up to see Jelana and Daved. But they weren’t expecting her until tomorrow, and she wasn’t sure she’d trust herself on the road now.
She hated eating this late. It upset her system, made her cranky for the next day as well.
And her system was already upset, since she was two weeks late getting here. Her left hand reached up and touched her temple. She was getting such a headache. Never again, she vowed, would she delay like this.
Then she sighed again. Right, she had resigned her job, so there shouldn’t be any reason to delay again.
She opened her eyes and looked up, and saw Mattan looking at her curiously. She turned her face away. Usually they managed to ignore each other, at most exchanging polite nothings if they chanced to meet. Then she changed her mind and looked straight at him. Anything was better than continuing to eat alone.
* * *
Mattan had seen Anilyne arrive earlier that afternoon. He’d tried to ignore her, but couldn’t help noticing how tired . . . and defeated? . . . she had looked as she went in the back door of the building, pulling her suitcase behind her. He didn’t think she had seen him, but maybe she just had done a better job of ignoring than he had.
He had tried puttering around the workshop after he had seen her, but eventually gave up, and went out and weeded the garden, not caring particularly if he also pulled up the young plants as well.
He recognized his anger, and sat back on his heels and sighed. At least he saw it this time. After all these years, just seeing Anilyne could still bring the anger out. And it didn’t help that he knew that a good portion of what had happened between them was his own fault.
After he had pulled up all of the weeds, and a good portion of the plants, he felt more at peace. He looked down at the back of the restaurant. No doubt it was busy, of course. But in a couple of hours . . . Anilyne always ate early, so there’d be little danger of actually seeing her, and maybe Jasin or Belinda would have a few minutes to talk as things wore down. Maybe one of them would be able to tell Mattan why Anilyne had looked so . . . defeated as she had when he had seen her earlier. He shook his head. All these years, and he still cared about what she was going through. Even knowing it was none of his business. Anilyne had made that perfectly clear.
* * *
Mattan had finished his rather late meal at the restaurant. Jasin had been too busy, or rather, too distracted, to do any more than greet him. He eyed the size of the crowd remaining, and decided that Jasin was thinking about something else, not too busy to talk, like he usually did. In fact, Mattan had the distinct impression that Jasin was worried.
In fact, Jasin had been less forthcoming about news of Anilyne for this past year or two than he had been for years beforehand. And Mattan was too stubborn to ask.
He got up to leave, and saw Anilyne, probably about half-way through her meal, sitting in a booth. As he looked at her, she looked deep in thought, then raised her eyes and looked straight at him. They both looked quickly away, and Mattan prepared to continue to walk off, when he heard Anilyne call him.
“Mattan,” she said, “Would you mind sitting with me for a bit?”
He shook his head slightly. “Ani–An,” he began, “I don’t really think–“
“Please,” she said. “I know we haven’t really talked in years, but . . . I’m . . . afraid . . . of eating alone.”
“An?” he said, startled. Anilyne had never minded being alone. Often she preferred it. He looked at her again, seeing again the exhaustion in her features, in the lines of her body. Exhaustion, and perhaps fear, too. He stood undecided for a moment, as Anilyne looked up at him, expectantly, but not hopefully.
“An,” he said again, and sat down across from her, not even sure why he did so. “Is something wrong? You look aw–You look exhausted.”
She smiled a little with her usual humor, but it never reached her eyes, and gave a brittle laugh. “And you’re looking well yourself, Mattan,” she said tartly. “I’m just tired. After a weekend of resting, I’ll be back to my old self. You’ll see, come Monday.”
“Rested, and ready to get back to work?” he asked.
She started, and deliberately looked away, and took a couple of bites before answering. “Yes, of course,” she said, flatly.
He sensed the lie, and continued looking at her uncertainly, his forehead creased.
“No,” she said at last. “I’m afraid I’ve resigned. Going to spend the next couple weeks looking for a small apartment around here somewhere.”
“An? May I ask why?”
“I can’t live on Jasin and Belinda’s hospitality forever, you know. Though I’m sure they’d say I’ll always be welcomed,” she said, just as if that were the part of the statement he was most questioning.
“But you’ve always loved your work,” Mattan said. Then again, perhaps things had changed since the last time he had heard anything from her.
“It’s all right, really it is,” she said. “I’ve got enough saved up to live on for a couple of years.” She sighed, and said quietly enough that he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to hear. “And if I need more than that, I’ll figure something out.”
“An,” he said, about to try again, when what she said sank into his brain. “Ani-An? Please . . . let me help. what ever it is, I’ll try to help anyway I can.”
He watched her, as she closed her eyes and opened them, suddenly staring at him with intense, pure hatred, then blinked again, rubbing the side of her head with her left hand, only exhaustion on her face. “dorst, have I got a headache,” she said. “I think I blanked out for a moment again, didn’t I?”
“An, why do you hate me?”
“Please, Mattan,” she said. “It wasn’t me. Whatever you just saw, whatever it said, it wasn’t me.”
“Then what was it?” Mattan said.
“Who? What? I don’t know.” She kept looking firmly at her plate. “I thought for years I was going crazy, that the Other was somehow a part of my mind. But she isn’t. Jelana says . . .” She checked herself.
“I can go,” Mattan said, starting to get up.
“No, stay, please,” she said, reaching out her hand to him.
“If that is what you really want,” he said, sitting down again.
She looked at him, and half smiled, the smile not reaching her eyes.
“You look well, Mattan,” she said. “I’d think you were younger than me now.”
“Maybe,” he said. “I have no idea. Age can be such a fluid concept.”
“You’ve let your hair grow again,” she said, reaching out to him, then stopped herself, and put it on the table.
“It has been a few years,” Mattan said. “Hair grows.” He looked over at her. “You’ve cut yours short.” He placed his hand next to hers on the table.
“It was easier to care for this way.” She looked away again.
They were silent for a while, as An continued slowly eating.
“That’s a lovely necklace,” Mattan said at last, indicating the smooth wooden ring, about the size of her palm, which hung on a chain around her neck. “Is it a replacement for the Star Stone?”
“In a way, perhaps,” An said, touching it lightly with her fingers. “You heard I gave the Star Stone up?”
“I’ve seen Glorina wearing it around town,” he said. “It didn’t take much to figure it out.”
“It was time to pass it on,” An said with a sigh. “It wanted to go. Though now . . . Mom was so mad at me for passing it out of the family. Said I should have given it to one of Jasin’s girls, or Thrandri’s daughter. I tried to tell her that it liked Glorina better than the others, but she couldn’t hear me.”
“I can see why she’d say that,” Mattan said.
“So can I, but it wasn’t the point.”
“May I see it?” Mattan asked, indicating the wooden necklace.
“I . . . I suppose so,” An said doubtfully.
She slowly took it off, and wrapped the chain around her hand, and held out the wooden circle for him to look at. He smiled, and put out his hand and barely touched it, then jerked back his hand like the necklace burned him. An’s eyes opened wide, and for just a moment it looked like she went completely out of focus. She quickly put it on again.
“Where did you get that?” Mattan asked, trying to sound casual, while he still shook out his hand.
“Daved gave it to me,” An said.
“Daved?” Mattan said, with a sense of relief. “That expl–that was generous of him.”
Wood was a poor holder of magic, but that wouldn’t occur to Daved, whose whole life was wood. And Daved couldn’t intentionally use magic for evil, which was his first worry when he so unexpectedly felt the tingle of magic beneath his fingers.
“Yes,” An said absently. “It is a great gift.”
“Anilyne,” Mattan began.
“No, An.” An said sharply.
“Call me An. You have no right to call me Anilyne. Not any more.”
“Yes, An. I’m sorry,” he said quite contritely. “I’d forgotten. I’ll try to remember.”
An looked down at her hands. Then she looked at him. “I’m afraid this was a bad idea.” She started getting up.
“A very bad idea,” she said, and turned and left. She spoke briefly with Jasin on the way out. Jasin looked briefly in Mattan’s direction as they spoke.
* * *
Mattan sat down again. Jasin headed over, and started clearing the table into his dish-bin. “Did An tell you anything?” he asked, briskly. “I know you used to be friends, before . . .”
“Jasin, what’s wrong with An?” Mattan asked reaching out and grabbing his arm. “She could barely hold on to a conversation.”
Jasin sighed and pulled back. “So she didn’t tell you anything.” He ran his hand through his hair. “To be expected, of course, but when I saw you together, I had hopes.” He sat down suddenly. “We don’t know what’s wrong, Mattan. She won’t tell us. Belinda’s tried asking, but she gets frozen out. I just try reminding her that if she needs anything . . . anything, we’ll be there for her.” He looked across at Mattan. “So, was there anything that she did say? I don’t want you to betray any confidences, but she is my sister. And I’m worried about her.”
“She said, she said that she had quit her job . . . would look for a small apartment in the area.”
Jasin looked at him bleakly. “An always loved her work.” He sighed, and stood up again. “An doesn’t need . . . she could stay with us as long as she wanted.”
“She doesn’t want to impose on your hospitality forever,” Mattan said. “And she said . . . she said she has enough money saved up to see through a couple years, and she’d figure something out if she needed more.”
Jasin dropped the dish bin, dishes and silverware flying everywhere, as he looked down on it, unseeing.
“An always was frugal,” he said, his voice sounding strangled.
Belinda came running over at the crash, but stopped when she saw her husband’s face. “What’s wrong, Jasin?” She glanced from one face to the other. “Why don’t you take a break, dear? We can handle things for a while.” She looked over at Mattan again. “I can see you have a lot of things to talk about.”
Jasin shook his head, and seemed to come back to himself. “I’ve got to clean this up,” he said. “I–“
Belinda shooed him off. “Don’t think about it. We can handle it.” A couple of waiters came over at her signal, and started picking up the mess.
“Would you let any of them not help clean up, if they dropped something?” he said, half teasing.
“If they had the same expression on their face as you just did, yes,” she said seriously. “Jasin, rush is over. We can handle this. Go have your talk.”
“Belinda . . . there’s nothing left to talk about.”
“There’s that expression again,” she said, looking at him. “I’m sure you’ll find something.”
Mattan rose. “Come on, Jasin. The lady obviously doesn’t want us here.”
Jasin looked from one to the other and threw up his hands. “You win,” he told Belinda. “I wouldn’t be much use the rest of the night anyway. But let me help clean up my mess.”
“Too late, Jasin,” she said, smiling up at him. The last of the waiters stood back up, and one came over with the vacuum cleaner.
“You’ve always been sneaky,” he told her with admiration.
“That’s why you married me,” she said. “Now, get.”
* * *
“So, tell me,” Mattan said, after he and Jasin were settled into the Smyth’s living room (upstairs from the restaurant). “What’s going on with An?”
“Wish I knew,” Jasin said, leaning back. “She won’t tell me. Won’t tell Belinda. I think Jelana and Daved know, though. But they won’t tell us, either. An will probably go out tomorrow afternoon and spend a few hours in Daved’s woods, and come back herself again. Or as much like herself as she gets, nowadays.”
Mattan nodded, then shook his head. “No, tomorrow afternoon? Maybe you should see that she gets there tomorrow morning. Or tonight.”
“She’ll feel better after a full night’s sleep,” Jasin said. “Not up to her usual self, maybe, but at least able to follow a conversation.” He added,” And she’s promised the girls to go out with them, before they head out for their trip. They love being able to spend time with their aunt. Even if she’s grown snappish of late.”
“Oh, you know,” Jasin paused and looked at him. “Or maybe you don’t. It’s been so long since you’ve really talk to her. An will be going along in a good conversation, then suddenly come out with an insult, or snide remark, out of nowhere, then seem to be unaware of what she just said.” He paused. “Most of the time just half an insult, then she stops herself.” He took a deep breath. “It might be related to her ‘death glare’. I know you’ve familiar with those. All of a sudden, she’ll stare at you like–“
“Like she hates you, and can’t stand the sight of you,” Mattan said with a shudder. “Yes, I’ve seen them.”
“Yes, well, it comes over her just as quickly, and seems just as involuntary. And usually with the same headache. Been worse, though, all of it, since she gave up the Star-Stone. And it keeps getting worse.”
“I knew she didn’t mean the glares,” Mattan muttered, as if to himself. “I should have remembered. She told me enough times.”
Jasin looked over at him sympathetically. “Did she give you one of those glares tonight? And you thought it was real?”
“As out of it as she was . . . ” Mattan began, “And I had annoyed her by touching her necklace . . .”
“That wooden circle? She’s been wearing it since shortly after she gave Glorina the Star-Stone. Maybe the last year or so.”
“The same time she’s begun getting more ‘snappish’,” Mattan remarked. “I wonder, she said it was a gift from Daved.”
“Was it?” Jasin said, glancing at him. “That might explain a few things.”
“There’s magic in it,” Mattan said.
“Did she tell you that?”
“No, I can feel magic.” He sighed, spreading out his hands and looking at them. “Not in as much detail as someone like Jelana, or probably Daved. But enough.” He sighed again. “And, I don’t know if it’s come up for years, but when I touch something magic, I absorb it. Not quickly, but it’s not something I can control either.”
“Like An’s glares,” Jasin said.
Mattan looked at him oddly. “I never thought of it that way. But when I touched that necklace . . . as soon as I felt the prickle of magic, I pulled my hand back, but she changed in that moment. Like she went out of focus. She was back to herself a moment later, but seemed even more tired, more . . . snappish.”
Jasin sat looking at him for a long moment, then quietly, slowly, began talking. “Mattan, it’s really none of my business, and neither you nor An ever said anything about it, but you obviously still care about her, like she does you. What happened between you all those years ago? All I know is that you were really good friends, perhaps more, then suddenly, bang, you’re furious, she’s withdrawn, and neither one of you’ve spoken more than politenesses to the other in all the years since.” He looked over at Mattan again. “I’m sorry, I really shouldn’t have said anything, after all this time. But I know how hard-hit An was over losing your friendship.”
“Hard-hit.” Mattan shuddered. He was suddenly thrown back those five years, feeling again the sting of the slap on his cheek, and grabbing her wrist as it came up to strike him again, her fingers curled for scratching, the gleam of hatred in her eyes, her face.
“And now I’ve said something wrong,” Jasin said, watching Mattan’s face. “I don’t know what it was, but, I’m sorry.”
“No, you couldn’t have known. Unless she had told you. And you said she didn’t say anything.” He sighed. “I never realized it was so obvious how angry I was.”
“Still are, apparently,” Jasin remarked.
Mattan shook his head. “Maybe for back then, but the way I saw Anilyne tonight, I couldn’t stay angry at that.” He sighed again.
“I should have made more of an effort to talk to her when she came in,” Jasin murmured. “But we were busy, and there’s always tomorrow.” He paused. “Except when there’s not.” He looked off into the distance.” “An’s always been there for me, you know? Even when we were kids. My big sister. We fought a lot, of course. But when it mattered, she was there for me. And I tried to be there for her. And now to find out that she thinks she might have only a couple of years left . . . And she hasn’t even told me.” He shook his head. “I need to do something.”
“I probably shouldn’t have told you that,” Mattan admitted. “But she didn’t say it like she was keeping a secret. And she may not have even meant it the way it sounded.”
“I suppose, if she was as far out of things as you’ve been saying. She may not have even realized she said it.”
Mattan leaned forward, resting his head on his hands. “An hit me,” he said softly.
Jasin looked up. “What? An? When? I would have thought that I would see something like that.”
“Not tonight. You were asking what happened five years ago. She didn’t seem to realize that I had been angling for more than friendship, and then she slapped me, hard. An would have done it again, if I hadn’t stopped her.” He looked away.
“An? I don’t believe it.” Jasin thought a bit. “No wonder you were angry. Are angry. But are you sure it was An?”
“What do you mean? Of course it was her. She was seated right across from me, hatred in in her face.”
“And did she know she’d done that?” Jasin persisted. “I mean, did you ever tell her that she hit you?”
“How could she not know?” Mattan asked.
“So, you didn’t tell her.” Jasin nodded. “Mattan, does that really sound like An?”
“No . . .” Mattan said, “but that’s what happened.”
“Did she have her sudden bad headache immediately afterwards? Like after her ‘death-glare’?”
“What? . . . I . . . don’t know. I just told her that she should have told me she really hated me that much years ago, and not wasted both our time. And then I walked out.” He paused for a moment. “We were at a restaurant. I’m not sure, but I think I left without paying.”
“Leaving An stuck with the bill?” Jasin shook his head. “I thought you were better than that.”
“I’m not proud of myself,” Mattan admitted. “But I was so furious, and didn’t ever realize it.” He paused for a long time. “And there’s something I’m even less proud of, now that I think about it. An tried calling me several times over the next few months, and I never answered them, never called her back.”
“Is that so?” Jasin said, coldly. “An’s far more patient than I would have been. She’s at least been polite, whenever you happened to meet, all these years. I don’t think that I would have been, if I knew.”
Mattan nodded. “By the time I realized . . . it was too late. An had moved on. And not that she could have forgiven me, anyway.”
“You might be surprised,” Jasin said. “She’s always kept busy, you know An, didn’t spend any time moping. But she always asked after you. Always.”
“I figured as much,” Mattan said.
“And you never asked after her.”
“It didn’t matter, anyway,” Mattan said, absently. “You always told me about her, whether I asked or not.”
“That was my error, hmmm?” Jasin said. “Maybe I shouldn’t have told you anything.”
“Maybe,” Mattan said, still staring off absently.
“But that doesn’t matter any more,” Jasin said, at last. “Now, the question is, how can we help her?”
“Will she let us help her?” Mattan asked. “After all, she’s scarcely admitting anything’s wrong, even to you or Belinda.”
“I think,” Jasin said cautiously, “I could be wrong, but I think she’s reaching the point where she’s realizing that she won’t be able to hide it anymore. After all, if she’s no longer working, and moving down here, people, especially those of us who love her, are going to be looking at her closely.”
“She could hole up in an apartment, and refuse to see anyone,” Mattan said.
“An would hate that. Oh maybe for a week or two, but eventually she’ll need to come out and see somebody.” Jasin sighed. “An must hate this as it is. She’s always been strong.”
“She’s always been able to appear strong,” Mattan agreed.
Jasin shot him a sharp look. “You don’t think she was as strong as she appeared?”
“Usually,” Mattan said. “But not always. A little bluster can take you far.”
Jasin sat back. “We’ve planned to go out walking through the parks tomorrow morning. An wanted to spend as much time with the girls as she could tomorrow before they left on their trip in the afternoon. Then she’ll go out to Jelana and Daved’s woods, spend a few hours there, and come back being much refreshed, almost her old self again.”
“No.” Mattan shook his head.
“If Jelana and Daved can help her, you should take her out there now. Tomorrow morning at the latest. I don’t think she’ll be able to hold herself together until tomorrow afternoon.”
Jasin nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, I’ll suggest that to her, but you know how stubborn she is.”
“Runs in the family,” Mattan said absently, and was surprised when Jasin burst out laughing.
“You can say that again.”
“And she probably shouldn’t drive herself,” Mattan added.
Jasin shot him another glance. “She drove herself all the way down from Haranbeth, apparently without incident,” he pointed out.
Mattan nodded. “‘Apparently’. But still . . . I’d be willing to drive her, if she’d let me.”
“You feel that strongly about it?” Jasin considered. Then he picked up the phone. “I hope I won’t be waking her.”
He called her room, and a moment later she picked up. “An, it’s Jasin,” he said as he nodded to Mattan. “Listen, I know you’re a couple weeks later getting here than you initially planned, and we were thinking, . . . perhaps you should go out to see Jelana and Daved tonight, rather than waiting until tomorrow afternoon.” He listened a bit. “I know that. But still, I’d be more than willing to drive you out there. Or Mattan, if you’d prefer.” He pulled the phone away from his ear as An said a few more words, then slammed the phone down hard enough that Mattan could hear it from across the room.
“Well, that didn’t go well,” Jasin remarked. “I shouldn’t have mentioned you. I might have been able talk her into it otherwise.”
“Yes,” Mattan said. “I didn’t think. Poor Anilyne.”
“What?” Mattan looked at him, confused.
“An used to let you call her ‘Anilyne’ but that was way back then. No one is allowed to call her that any more.”
“Of course,” Mattan said. He looked away. “I keep forgetting. And ‘Anilyne’ is such a lovely name. It suits her so well.”
Jasin shot him another glance. “You may think it’s a lovely name, but An never could stand it. ‘An’ is barely acceptable, and she only goes by it since the rest of her name is worse.”
“‘Anilyne Mirandi Denethra Smyth’,” Mattan said dreamily. “They are all lovely names.”
Jasin snorted. “Yes, Mom when for all of the classics when naming us, all right.”
Mattan drew his attention back to Jasin. “Have I ever heard your full name? Or Thrandri’s?”
“Probably,” Jasin said with a laugh. “But they obviously didn’t stick with you like An’s did.”
Mattan continued looking at him inquisitively. Jasin looked back unperturbed. “Well?” Mattan asked finally.
“Well, what?” Jasin said.
“What are your and Thrandri’s full names?”
Jasin laughed again. “What does it matter? I’m the only one who received a half-way decent name of the three of us.” After a moment more, he relented. “All right, if you must know, I’m Jasin Alleat Fairmir Smyth, and Thrandri was born Mithrandri Delora Metelzi Smyth.”
Mattan stared at him for a moment. “All the classics,” he said, shaking his head. “Those names must have been hard to live up to.”
“You have no idea,” Jasin said, with feeling. He stood up. “We’ll talk again later. Not much more we can do tonight.
Mattan nodded, and stood as well. “Tomorrow we should hopefully all have clearer heads. Including An.”
* * *
After she got off the phone, An stood leaning against the wall, trembling with rage. She’d show them that she was a strong as ever, and didn’t need to be coddled. After a moment, the rage left, and she just stood there trembling, trying to hold herself together.
A defeated portion of her mind, though not, fortunately, the Other, pointed out that the idea really had a lot of sense, and if she were smart she’d call Jasin right back and say she changed her mind.
“Well, I’m not going to be smart,” she growled to herself. Then wondered if the Other were leaking. Jasin! and Mattan! talking about her behind her back!
Of course they were, the other part of her mind said. After that debacle at dinner tonight, how could they not? But she’d not have any more to do with him, after all these years. She shouldn’t even have asked him to sit with her. She should have asked Jasin or Belinda instead. Though that probably wouldn’t have turned out any better. But they were so busy, and she was so lonely. And scared. “Shut up,” she told her mind. “I don’t want to hear it.”
Of course they were talking about her. Probably even Belinda, too. They were worried about her. Even Mattan, who probably hadn’t thought about her in years. If she refused to talk to any of them, what other choice did they have?
She reached her hand out and picked up the phone and held it. Held it for a long time, just looking off into the distance. Then she dropped it loudly, and hastily put it back into its place. She fell on the couch and burst into tears.
“Idiot.” she told herself. She didn’t quite agree with herself. Perhaps things would be clearer in the morning. She made her way back to her bed. Perhaps everything would be clearer in the morning.
* * *
The next morning Mattan just so happened to be walking through the town park, and ran into Tolly and Glorina walking along the promenade below the overlook.
“Ah, Mattan, we were just talking about you,” Tolly said, jovially.
“Were you?” Mattan said. “What did you want?”
“No we weren’t,” Glorina said, giving her husband a loving punch.
“Want?” Tolly asked, with false innocence. “What makes you think we want anything?”
“Stop teasing him, Tolly,” Glorina said. “More cabinets, of course. You two talk, and I’ll keep the stroller moving, and look for Belinda.”
“Oh?” Mattan said. “Is she here?”
Glorina looked him curiously. “Yes, she told me her whole family was going to go walking here this morning. Did you want to see her?”
“Yes, well not really. I was wondering if Ani–if An was with them.”
“Oh, is An in town again?” Glorina said. “I hadn’t heard.” She rocked the stroller back and forth a bit. “Now, if you don’t mind, gentlemen, I’m going to keep walking. Young Solan will wake up if we don’t keep moving, and he’ll wake up Sharana.”
Mattan peeked into the stroller at the sleeping toddler, with the sleeping infant behind him. “They both keep getting bigger, don’t they? And Solan’s hair his coming in coppery.”
“I was hoping it’d be orange, like his father’s,” Glorina said.
“He’s getting almost to big for the stroller,” Mattan said. “And you’ll need something else soon, for the next one.” He focused on something far away. “I could make you one for three. It’d have to be light, of course, easy to push, but strong. Maybe some sort of–“
“Mattan, stop!” Tolly said. “The stroller you made us is fine. By the time we need something for the third, Solan will be big enough he won’t need these naps, and can walk with us. We make him walk most of the time, anyway.” He looked down at the two in the stroller with obvious pride. “They do grow so fast.”
“If I see An, I’ll tell her you were looking for her,” Glorina said, as she started pushing the stroller off.
“No, don’t,” Mattan started to say, then got distracted watching the stroller again.
“No, Mattan,” Tolly said again, putting his hand on Mattan’s shoulder. “We really don’t need an improved stroller. This one is just fine, still has lots of wear in it.”
“But I could make it better,” Mattan said, still looking distracted.
Tolly laughed. “No doubt. Then you’d make a better one, and a still better one, and they’ll be old enough to head off to Library, and you’d still be making improvements.” He turned serious, “Now, Mattan, what I really wanted to talk to you about–“
“No.” Mattan said, snapping his attention back to the present. “Tolly, we’ve had this discussion before. I’m not going to make you any more cabinets. You could get them made faster and cheaper by someone else. I can give you names, give you plans, but cabinetry bores me.”
“But the one’s you’ve made are such works of art,” Tolly said in his most reasonable manner. “We’d even let you improve them. You know standard cabinets are a bad height for either Glorina or me.”
“Other people can do works of art, too.” Mattan said. “One or two at a time are a challenge, but more than that . . . And you can afford to have custom work built by anyone.”
“And we want them built by you.”
“And I can afford to say, ‘No’,” Mattan concluded. “Like I said, I can give the plans for the one’s I’ve made to whomever you want. I can give you recommendations. But there’s no need for me to do it myself.”
Tolly looked disappointed, but braced himself for another round of negotiations.
Mattan turned, and saw Jasin running down the stairs to meet them.
“Hi, Tolly,” he said, slightly breathless. “Mattan! I was hoping you’d be somewhere around.”
“What’s wrong?” Mattan asked, looking suddenly alert.
“You were right, but she insisted she’d come with us this morning. And with the girls leaving this afternoon, I couldn’t really argue too hard against it. Though I should have.”
Tolly looked from one to the other, curiously. “She being . . . ?”
“What happened?” Mattan asked.
“Nothing, really,” Jasin said. “She started out almost all right, much more herself than she apparently was last night, but she’s getting more and more distracted. Not to mention a headache. I think she’s just barely holding on. Though she won’t admit it.”
“An,” Tolly said with firmness. “It must be An. You can’t be talking about Belinda.”
“Where is she now?” Mattan asked.
Jasin gestured up the staircase. “They’re all still up on the Overlook. She’s resting on one of the benches, but I don’t think she’s really seeing anything.”
Mattan glanced up the staircase, then looked again. “An?” he said. “Anilyne!” He raced away and up the stairs.
Jasin looked up also, and saw An tottering at the edge of a landing, rocking back and forth. She put out her hands blindly, but didn’t seem to be getting anywhere close to the railings. He raced up the stairs right behind Mattan. Tolly stood blinking up at them in bewilderment.
“An? An, are you all right?” Mattan asked, as he reached her. Jasin was only a couple of steps behind him, too out of breath to say anything.
An didn’t seem to hear them, just doing the same swaying at the edge of the landing, her expression terrified.
Mattan reached out and grasped her right hand to steady her, then suddenly pulled his hand back. He shook out his hand for a moment, then determinedly reached out both his hands, one grabbing her hand, the other holding on to her elbow. And grasped his hand convulsively.
“It’s all right, Ani-An,” Mattan said gently. “It’s all right. I’ve got you.” He glanced up as Jasin took her other elbow. “Jasin’s got you. I won’t let you fall. Jasin won’t let you fall.” He waited, looking into her face earnestly. “An, it’s all right. We got you. You can stop holding on so tightly.” He looked over at Jasin. “I don’t know if she can hear me or not.”
“An, I’m here,” Jasin said. “We’ll take care of you. Please, say something.”
At first, she gave no sign that she was aware of them, but at last she gave a brief nod, and loosened her grip on their hands somewhat.
“How did you get yourself in this mess?” Mattan muttered. She pulled away from him slightly. He said, more gently, “The steps are flat and even. Do you think you can walk down them if we help you?”
After another long moment, she gave another small not.
“An, can you say anything?” Jasin said. “What’s the matter?”
She turned her face toward him, but her eyes were unfocused. Her lips moved, but no sound came out.
“An, An,” Jasin said, “Why did you–” He broke off as Mattan shook his head at him.
“An,” Mattan said. “Let’s try to go down the stairs, all right? We’ve got you. Do you think you can do that?” She turned her face back toward Mattan, and slowly nodded again.
“Good,” Mattan said. “Now, let’s try putting your right foot out, and down a step, all right?”
She hesitated, then pulled back a little. “We’ve got you,” Mattan said again. “Jasin and I have you. We won’t let you fall. Do you understand?”
She nodded again, a little easier. Her left foot came forward and went down a step.
“Good! Very good,” Mattan said. “Now, let’s try it with your other right foot.”
Her lips twitched, and she gave a look of intense concentration as she moved the other foot.
“Good.” Mattan said again.
“This will take forever,” Jasin murmured, looking down at how many steps remained between the landing and the promenade. “It’d be faster to carry her.”
“It’s all right, Ani-An.” Mattan said. “You can do this.” She took another step. “But perhaps . . .” He looked down to where Tolly was still watching them, though he’d come up a few stairs. “Tolly!” Mattan bellowed. “Could you come up here for a moment? We could use your help!”
Tolly waved at them, and ran up the stairs far more quickly than one would expect from a man his size.
“About time you called,” he said. “What’s wrong? How are you, An?”
“An’s feeling a bit faint,” Mattan said. Jasin started at that. Mattan continued, “Could you help her to the main level?”
An pulled back a little.
“Why, certainly, it’d be my pleasure,” Tolly said, and stepped up to take her arm.
As he came within a few feet of her, suddenly An’s eyes snapped back into focus, and she gave a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Tolly,” she murmured gratefully, taking his arm, as Mattan moved out of the way.
Tolly looked at her closely. “You really do look weak, An. Would you like me to carry you down?”
She smiled up at him. “No, thank you. I can walk,” she said, still quietly. “Just be there.” She took a deep breath, and confidently walked down the stairs beside Tolly.
Jasin and Mattan watched for a moment. Mattan started to follow, but Jasin grabbed his arm. “Magic?” he demanded. “All that trouble An’s in is caused by magic?”
Mattan shook his head tiredly. “Didn’t you know that?” He shook his head. “No, neither one of you can feel magic, can you?”
“But you can?” Jasin said.
“More or less,” Mattan said. “I should have known from the pendant, but I didn’t actually touch her, until just now.”
“That’s why you pulled your hand away,” Jasin said, with sudden certainty.
Mattan rubbed his hands against his pant legs. “Whatever it is,” he said, “it was foul. And seething.”
“And it’s killing An,” Jasin said, grimly. “Why wouldn’t she tell us?”
“Could you have done anything?” Mattan asked.
“Stood by her, seen that she got help,” Jasin said. Then, “which we were doing anyway, I suppose.”
He looked at Mattan’s grim face. “But could you have helped her if you’d known?”
“Maybe,” Mattan said. “If I had known sooner. If I knew more. If she’d accept my help.”
“Big ‘if’s,” Jasin said. “They’ve almost reached the bottom. I need to catch up.”
He raced on ahead, while Mattan continued at a more usual pace.
“I hope you’re feeling better now,” Tolly was saying to An, as Jasin caught up to them.
“Much,” she said, smiling up at him. “Thank you, Tolly, for your help.”
“Anytime,” Tolly said. “And perhaps some time you could let me in on what is really happening.”
She gave a weak laugh. “Don’t you believe Mattan?”
“Oh, I’m sure what he said was true enough,” Tolly said. “But it wasn’t all that was going on.”
An gave a little shudder, then looked up with a glad smile as Jasin came up. “Jasin!” she said. “Thank you!” Her smiled wavered as she saw Mattan following along somewhat behind. “And I suppose I need to thank Mattan as well.”
“Here’s a bench,” Tolly said. “Perhaps you should sit down.”
She swayed just the tiniest bit. “Maybe you’re right.” She sat down, leaned back, and closed her eyes.
“Will you be all right?” Tolly asked.
“Just let me have a couple minutes,” she said, without opening her eyes. “Jasin is here to look after me.”
“Do you need anything?” Tolly persisted. “Water? Something to eat?”
An’s face twisted. “I don’t think I could eat anything if I tried,” she said. “Thank you, Tolly.”
He glanced around at the other two. Jasin went and sat on the bench next to his sister. Mattan stood back a bit, watching them closely.
“Well now,” Tolly said, walking over to Mattan. “I guess we’ll have to finish that talk later, you and I. What with everything else coming up and all.”
“We already finished our discussion, Tolly,” Mattan said, his eyes never leaving An. “I said ‘no’. Numerous times.”
Tolly glanced from Mattan to the others, and back again. “As you say. Well, I’m sure we could find other things to talk about, if you’re so inclined. As for now, I think I should go find Glorina and the the children again. Good day to you all.” He made sort of a general bow to them all, and ambled off.
“Is he gone?” An asked after a moment. “Tolly, I mean.”
“Yes,” Jasin said.
“And . . . and Mattan? Is he gone, too?”
“I’m still here, Ani—I’m here, An,” Mattan said.
“That was quick thinking up there, Thank you.” She didn’t say anything for another long moment. “I should have let you drive me out to Daved’s woods last night,” she said, her eyes still closed. “I shouldn’t have been so stubborn.” She sat up a bit straighter, her left hand rubbing her temple. “Threll, do I have a headache.”
Jasin put his arm around her shoulders. “Are you all right now, An?”
Mattan saw her face change, and called out a warning, just in time. Jasin raised his arm, and blocked her from hitting him. He looked full into her face, which was twisted from undisguised loathing.
“That’s enough, An,” he said, very sternly.
She glared at him for another moment, then blinked, and her face changed again, showing only exhaustion and bewilderment.
“Jasin?” she said, uncertainly. “What just happened?”
“It’s all right, An,” Jasin said, hugging her. “Just the Other.”
“You almost slapped him,” Mattan told her.
“Mattan, not now!” Jasin said.
She drew back, and looked at Jasin. “Please,” she said, her voice breaking. “It wasn’t me. It wasn’t me. Jasin, I wouldn’t do that.”
“Hush, hush,” Jasin said soothingly, putting his arms around her shoulders, as she broke down in sobs. “I know that wasn’t you, An. I know.” He shot a glare at Mattan.
Mattan drew back. “I had no excuse,” he muttered to himself. “All those years, and I had no excuse. I knew that all along.” He went and sat down at the next bench, his head in his hands.
After a bit, Belinda and the girls came down the stairs, Belinda a bit anxiously. “An,” she said, coming to sit on the bench next to them. “You just vanished up there. Are you all right? Jasin, what happened?” She placed her hand on An’s shoulder.
“I can’t go to lunch with you today,” An said, her voice muffled. “I thought I could, I want to, but I can’t.”
“We need to get An to Jelana and Daved’s, fast,” Jasin told his wife. “I should have taken her already.”
She looked from An to Jasin and back again. “All right, then. I’ll get the car.”
An raised her head. “No, I can drive myself. You need to take the girls out to that lunch you promised them.”
“No,” Jasin said firmly. “You can’t drive today. You’re more important than lunch, An.”
She took that in for a moment. “But I don’t want to ruin their last day home.”
“They’ll only be gone two weeks, An,” Belinda said. “It’s all right. There will be other lunches.”
“Then how about . . .” she looked around and saw Mattan sitting at the next bench, his head still in his hands, not paying attention to anything going on around him. “How about Mattan? If he’s willing to, of course. You said something about him driving last night.”
Belinda and Jasin exchanged glances. “You’d be willing to do that, An?” Jasin asked.
She gave a not very convincing laugh. “It’d be all right. Really.” She paused. “He was the one who helped on the stairs, right? And you, Jasin, of course. I think I can put up with him for one car ride, I think.” She smiled, and Jasin shook his head.
“I’ll go ask him,” Belinda said. Mattan had raised his head at the sound of his name, and now looked at her blankly.
“Mattan,” Belinda said, sitting down beside him. “Would you be willing to drive An up to see Jelana and Daved?”
He continued looking at her blankly for a moment, then gave a start as what she said sunk in. “Is she really willing to go with me?” he asked.
“It was her idea,” Belinda said. “I don’t understand what happened, but . . . if you’re willing.”
He nodded. “It’d be an honor to drive her,” he said. “I’ll go get the car.” He stood up. “Tell her I’ll be right back.”
“He’s gone to get his car,” Belinda reported back to An. “He said it’d be an honor.”
An nodded, her face suddenly tight.
“Change your mind?” Jasin asked. “It’s not too late.”
“No, it’s just, it’s been years. Mattan . . . and now . . .”
“I think he’s done a lot of thinking lately,” Jasin said.
“I hope he won’t try to talk to me,” An murmured, as the car drew up. “I can’t think.”
Jasin and Belinda watched as Mattan helped An into the car.
“What do you know, after all these years of them not speaking to each other, and now this,” Belinda said. “What do you think will come of it?”
“Nothing, probably.” Jasin shook his head. “It may be too late,” he continued quietly. “I wish she had told us what was wrong sooner. Or at all.” He continued watching the car drive off. “I’ll tell you one thing, though. Mattan still thinks of her as ‘Anilyne’.”
“After all these years?” Belinda said.
“If they weren’t both so stubborn, they could have straightened this out years ago,” Belinda said.
* * *
Mattan stole furtive glances at An sitting next to him. She had climbed into the car without a word to him, and scarcely a glance. Now she sat there, leaning back, her eyes closed, looking somehow frail, as if she could float away at any second. The ride wasn’t very long, he felt he had to say something before the end of it, when who knew what would happen. “Ani-An. I was wrong,” He said to her gently.
After a long pause, so long Mattan wondered if she were awake, An said without opening her eyes, “About what?”
“All those years ago. I was wrong. I should have told you . . . I shouldn’t have walked out that night.”
“And returned my phone calls?”
“That too,” he admitted. “Ani- I mean An, I handled everything wrong.”
“Yes.” She still didn’t open her eyes.
Never had this short drive seemed so long.
“Mattan,” An said at last.
“Please don’t talk to me. I don’t have . . . I can’t think right now. Please don’t make me think.”
“Of course, An,” Mattan said, and lapsed into silence.
* * *
It was with some relief that Mattan pulled into the parking lot. “We’re here, An,” he told her.
She sat up, and looked around with unseeing eyes. Mattan looked at her groping to find the car door handle. “I’ll help,” he told her. He got out and opened the door for her. “Take my hands, An,” he said. “Lean on me.”
“Jasin’s right, I shouldn’t drive,” An murmured under her breath. Mattan wasn’t sure that he was supposed to have heard that, so he didn’t say anything, just supported her and kept her from falling when she tripped.
“Jelana? Daved?” Mattan bellowed as they entered the woods. “An needs you!”
“No need to shout,” Jelana said, suddenly stepping out of the woods beside them. “We can hear you.” She took An’s hand, and her own hand melted into water that surrounded it. Mattan looked away. “Oh, An,” Jelana said. “How could you let yourself get into such a state! you should have come far sooner.” She glanced up at Mattan, her eyes curious. “Mattan, help me get her to the clearing. She can rest there.”
“I didn’t know,” An said weakly.
“What, An?” Jelana said.
“I didn’t know. It’d get this bad. This fast. I thought I’d have more warning.”
“Daved is ready for you,” Jelana said. They reached the clearing, there was a wooden reclining seat in the middle of it. “Put her here, Mattan. Then step back a bit. But don’t leave. I need to talk to you.”
Mattan nodded, lightly touching An’s face before he left. “You’ll be all right,” he told her, then left the clearing, and walked down to the pool below the waterfall.
“Is he gone?” An asked weakly.
“Mattan? He stepped away,” Jelana said.
“Get rid of him,” An said, as firmly as she could.
“Why, certainly, if you wish,” Jelana said in some surprise. “After I talk with him, of course.” An nodded. “I need to find out what happened, and, forgive me, child, but you’re in no condition to tell me at the moment.”
An opened her eyes and looked at her. “Jelana, I almost hit Jasin,” she said, clutching at Jelana’s arm. “Jasin! What can I do? This can’t go on.”
“First, you’re going to take a long nap,” Jelana told her, gently taking An’s hands of her arm. “An even longer nap than usual, I think. Then we’ll talk and discuss. Daved and I are here with you, child. We’ll take care of you. Now, close your eyes.”
An nodded, and obediently closed her eyes. A breath later she was asleep.
“That wasn’t necessary, Daved,” she told the air tartly. “She was exhausted as it is. She would have fallen asleep in a minute or two entirely on her own.” She paused for a moment, as if listening. “Well, if you say so, love. But I’ll let you deal with her when she wakes up. You know how much she hates it when something else controls her.” She listened for another moment. “Yes. And soon.” She gently brushed An’s hair away from her face, and walked off to find Mattan.
* * *
He was pacing when she found him, walking back and forth by the small sandy beach of the pool. He reached up as if to break a branch off one of the trees.
“I wouldn’t do that, if I were you,” Jelana told him.
“What? Oh, right.” He pulled back his hand without pulling the branch. “Will Daved be coming out today?”
“He’s busy tending to An. Maybe he’ll come out and talk to you later, if you’d like.”
“That’s not necessary.” Mattan took a deep breath. “How is Anilyne?”
“An’s sleeping, Mattan. She’ll sleep a few hours. Then, we’ll see.”
“I’ll wait for her.”
“No, you won’t. An doesn’t want you here, Mattan.”
“But . . .” Mattan took a deep breath, and relaxed his shoulders. “Right. Why should she?” He leaned up against a tree. “I just want to make sure that she gets back safely.”
“We’ll see to that, child,” Jelana told him gently. “This I promise you.” She came over, and put her hand on his shoulder. He shied away from her touch. “Mattan . . .”
“Guess I’ll just get going then?” Mattan said.
“No, not so fast. I need to talk to you. What happened this morning? How did you, of all people, get to drive her here? Come, let’s go sit down.” She led him over to a picnic table near the waterfall.
“It was her idea. They said.” Mattan sat down and put his head in his hands. “But then she wouldn’t talk to me, said she didn’t want me talking to her.” Jelana said nothing, just watched him. He sighed, and looked up at her. “That didn’t help any, did it?”
“Not much, no.”
Mattan shook his head to clear it, then briefly told what had happened that morning.
Jelana listened gravely to his story. “I’ll talk to my brother,” she said. “Tolly shouldn’t be pestering you about those cabinets.”
“That’s hardly the . . .” Mattan started, then gave a short laugh. “Oh, you got me, didn’t you?” He looked at her closely. “What’s wrong with Anilyne?”
“It’s troubling. Very troubling.” Jelana shook her head. “An should tell you herself. Or at least tell her family. She should have told them long ago.” Jelana stared off into space. “I don’t think . . . she’s never struck anyone before. Just vicious comments. And she was wearing the necklace, too.”
“Yes she has,” Mattan said, without thinking.
Jelana gave him a penetrating stare. “You?”
Mattan immediately regretted speaking. “It was nothing. Years ago. Probably not even related.”
“Tell me,” Jelana commanded, and edge of ice in her. And Mattan found himself telling, almost against his will, the story of that night, five years before.
“I went up to Haranbeth,” he began. “Like I’d been going up every week or two for almost a year. I wasn’t even using the excuse of business anymore. Just going up to see Ani-An. That night was different, though.” He sighed. “I was going to ask her to marry me.”
“Oh, Mattan!” Jelana said.
“I know, yes, I should have known better. But I thought she might like me, at least a little. At dinner, she was even more animated than usual, her conversation flowing from topic to topic, so fast I could hardly keep up.” He shook his head. “I was basking in it. Enjoying just being near her energy. After dinner, while we were still sitting there, I tried to get her attention, to let her know that I wanted to talk about something serious. Then she looked at me, and her whole face changed. Evil, hatred. Sure, I’d seen that before . . .”
“An’s ‘death glare’,” Jelana said gently. “We’ve all seen that, Mattan. It’s the face of the Other, not An.”
“The Other?” Mattan shook his head. “I knew it wasn’t really An. Or thought I did. So I waited a moment, for her to change back. But she didn’t. She raised his hand, and slapped me across the face. Hard.” He rubbed his right cheek absently, as if he could still feel the blow. “I was too surprised to do anything, other than call her name. Then she raised her hand again, with her fingers curled like she wanted to scratch me. I caught her hand, and pushed it back down on the table. Took all of my strength to hold it there.” He paused in thought. “Then she seemed to come back to herself. I was so angry. I told her that she should have told her she hated me so much, before we had both wasted so much time.” He hid his face in his hands. “I know, I was an idiot then. I should have known better. I did know better. I just walked out. Tried not to speak to her again.” He was quiet for a moment, then looked up. “I thought she was mocking me. Trying to make a fool of me. I should have known better. But what made it worse, over the next few months she tried calling me several times. I never called her back, erased her messages without listening to them. She was trying to reach out to me, and I did nothing.” He shook his head.