Trethen te Balamont reached out with her private mind, a new adult freedom that had come with the unfurling of her hlao, and contacted one of her younger sister’s Guides. =Ingarra? Are you free to speak?=
A response came immediately. =Certainly, Trethen. How do you fare?=
=Well, thank you. Gredin wished to see my dress for the dance. Is she with you?=
A sense of fond amusement colored the reply. =No, she is out in the garden.”
“The garden? Again? I think she would sleep out there, if you permitted it!”
“She has a new stone she was eager to show to Dreff. Beda was needed at the Orchard Holding yesterday, and Gredin and I accompanied him. She discovered it in an old grove of spangin trees. Likely the excitement of sharing her discovery chased all thoughts of your preparations from her mind. Shall I Send her to your chambers?=
=No need. I will step out into the gardens and call her, myself.=
=Very well. She’ll likely be at the water-flower fountain. Of late, it is her favorite place in the gardens.= Warmth flowed across the contact. =Enjoy tonight’s dance, Trethen. One’s first dance is always memorable. Your partners will be excited by the presence of a pretty, new dancer in their midst. And, if the Power so wills it, you might even find your Chosen, this night.=
That possibility, however slim, was thrilling, and Trethen flushed in nervous anticipation. Then her cheeks grew even more heated as she realized that her response to Ingarra’s gentle teasing had traveled along the mind touch. =If my partners are pleased to see me, it will be in no small part because of you, Ingarra. My dress is even more beautiful than I hoped it might be.=
=Stitching it was my pleasure, Trethen. Your mother wanted you to have a special gown to mark the occasion, and I was happy to exercise my Gift towards that end. Dance a ribellee for me, tonight. It is my favorite.=
=I will, Ingarra. My thanks.=
With that, Trethen ended the mind touch and went in search of her tardy sister.
She chose to walk through her chambers to the opening onto the gardens, enjoying the airy feel of her dress and the way it swirled around her calves. Humming a happy melody – one that was perfect, in fact, for dancing a ribellee – she stepped out onto the soft moss of the garden path. Someday, once she had found her chosen, they would have rooms with their own private garden. For now, however, her chambers opened onto the common garden for this part of House Balamont, with the water-flower fountain just visible from her chamber archway.
The gardens were looking particularly lush, the assorted colors of the blossoms pure and deeply saturated in the late afternoon sunshine, as if the light had transformed into a pale golden syrup that poured over everything. The water-flower fountain was made of ivory stone, carved with stylized fellen leaves, and the light-colored stone made it easy to see the two people sitting on its wide rim.
“Gredin?” Trethen called, and raised her arm to wave at them. “Gredin!”
Her gesture caused a burst of rainbow colors to shimmer from her dress, as the thin band of geddel crystals adorning the dipping neckline caught the sunlight and refracted it outward. Whether it was the brilliance of her dress or the sound of her voice, or both, something caught Gredin’s attention, and she shot to her feet and gave an answering wave before turning back to the boy seated next to her.
From the animated gestures that followed, Trethen supposed she was telling Dreff she had to leave. She watched as Gredin hurriedly bent, and knew she must be tucking her stones – those odd little stones that seemed to accompany her everywhere – into their pouch, and the pouch into the pocket of her teslan. It was likely the only teslan in the entirety of House Balamont that possessed a pocket, Trethen reflected with wry affection. But that was Gredin, never quite like the rest. And Ingarra indulged her.
Gredin whirled back to face her sister, all hasty motion, only to be halted as Dreff placed a hand on her arm, arresting her flight. Trethen saw his lips move, which won an answering nod from Gredin. Then, in a blink, they vanished from the fountain area.
And reappeared a heartbeat later in front of her.
“Trethen, I am so sorry to be late.” Gredin’s eyes were wide with regret and apology. “Please, forgive me. I know how important this day is for you. I didn’t mean to forget.”
Trethen sighed. It was impossible to stay exasperated with Gredin. Her remorse was always so sincere that no one could remain unmoved. Moreover, she reminded herself, the two who stood before her were still children. Dreff was clearly the older of the pair by a fair margin, but even he still wore his hlao snugly around his wrist, as did Gredin. Trethen stroked the lovely, unfurled sweep of her own hlao, loving the way it glittered in the sunshine.
“It’s all right,” she assured her sister. “Dreff, my thanks for bringing her to me. Say your goodbyes now, Gredin, for it is getting late. I will await you in my dressing chamber,” she said, and sent herself there.Even then, it took longer than she’d expected before she heard the soft whisper of Gredin’s footsteps and saw her dart into the room, glowing with excitement. “Oh, Trethen!” she cried dramatically, “you looked so beautiful in the garden, like some lansa-shaped luminth come to life!”
Trethen laughed, well pleased with Gredin’s compliment. Her gown was fashioned from layers of lavender gossamer that seemed lighter than air as she posed and twirled beneath Gredin’s admiring gaze. “My dress is the color of lansa blossoms, isn’t it? I love it.”
“It’s beautiful!” Gredin exclaimed. “Ingarra wouldn’t allow me even a glimpse while she was making it. She said you deserved to be the first to see it. May I touch it?”
Trethen looked down at her younger sister and smiled. Indeed, she had been smiling all day. Tonight, she would attend her very first dance, and having Gredin join her while she finished her preparations made the occasion doubly sweet. “Of course you may touch it,” she said, then couldn’t resist teasing, “unless you have dirt on your hands from the gardens.”
Gredin, who was the tidiest of children except when she was digging for one of her stones, nevertheless examined both hands conscientiously before venturing forward to finger the delicate fabric. Her eyes sparkled as she said, “Yours will be the prettiest dress at the dance.”
The idea was a pleasing one. “That might actually be true,” Trethen told her. “This fabric is freshly arrived from Tradepoint. I have never seen its like before. Indeed, no one has, beyond the traders and travelers themselves.”
“Which House made it?” Gredin asked.
The innocence of the question made Trethen chuckle. “No House, silly. Haven’t Beda and Ingarra spoken to you about Tradepoint?”
“No,” Gredin murmured, and looked down at the carpet, her cheeks reddening.
Trethen touched her pale curls gently. “Don’t be embarrassed. I didn’t mean to shame you. The fault is mine. I forget, sometimes, how young you still are. I am certain your guides will tell you all about Tradepoint, when they deem it proper for you to know.”
“But what is it? I’d rather know now.”
Trethen twirled again, for the pure pleasure of feeling the fabric swirl around her. “Tradepoint is a special place, far away from here. All manner of people go there to meet and exchange their goods – and most of them are not Vennan!”
Gredin took a step back, her eyes widening. “Not of Balamont, you mean?”
“Not of Balamont. Not of any House. Not of Venna. Not of this world.”
“I don’t understand,” Gredin said, frowning. “Everyone is Vennan.”
Trethen reached down and tucked a stray curl behind Gredin’s ear. “Not so, little one. Everyone on Venna is Vennan, yes. But there are worlds other than ours that have people of their own – people who do not talk or think or dress or even look like us.”
“What do they look like?”
Trethen shook her head. “I have no idea, for it is not my Gift to travel the River. But I’ve heard it said that the people who come to Tradepoint are very different. They do not share our ways, nor are one race’s ways like those of the people from another world. But all people who are peaceful and wish to trade in harmony are welcome at Tradepoint.”
“It sounds like the Grand Market.”
“Indeed, I think it is very like the Grand Market. Members from all of the Houses of Venna may visit the Grand Market whenever they wish to do so. Our House –”
“Balamont,” Gredin said, pride shining in her eyes.
“Yes. Members of House Balamont take the surplus fish and fruit and vegetables from our Holdings, or the loaves that we bake, or the beads that we fashion and paint, and offer them to the other Houses in exchange for their goods – cheeses made from the milk of House Avilar’s rista herds, or chairs carved by the artisans of House Kendar, or perhaps table runners or carpets woven at House Bentain. Or for anything else that we desire.”
“Then why do we need Tradepoint?”
“Well, some goods are not made by any of our Houses. Certain items that we enjoy, like the fabric of my gown, do not come from Venna at all. Just think, Gredin! Members of a race of people we will never meet wove this fabric, and yet I will wear it here, tonight. And if I chance to encounter my chosen, he will see me dance in a gown made from a fabric created on a far-away world, and the sight of such a dress will be utterly new to him, just as our love will be utterly new to us both, and we–” She stopped speaking, her color high, her breath quickening as the importance of the evening impressed itself upon her once again.
“Trethen?” Their mother came into the chamber, calm and smiling. “Don’t overexcite yourself or you’ll be worn out before the dancing even begins. It’s nearly time for tonight’s festivities to begin. Gredin, you need to return to your guides. They have your supper ready.”
“I want to go!” Gredin exclaimed.
Their mother gave her a startled look. “You know perfectly well that the dance is not for children.”
“No,” Gredin protested, “I don’t mean the dance. I want to go to Tradepoint!”
“Tradepoint. I want to go to Tradepoint.”
“Where did that notion come from?” their mother demanded, sounding both shocked and amused.
Trethen sighed. “It is my doing. She admired my dress, and so I was explaining about the fabric and its origin.”
“Well, thanks to your Gifts, neither of you girls need ever leave the safety of Venna. Tradepoint is a destination for those unfortunate few who lead reckless lives, called by their Gift to travel the River.” She placed her hand lightly on Gredin’s head. “Going to a place like Tradepoint means time spent away from House and family, and what sensible person would want that? You are going to grow into a fine speaker, one who will serve House Balamont well.” She raised a single brow and said, “Right now, however, it’s time for evening meal, child. Beda and Ingarra are waiting for you. Be on your way, so that your sister can finish getting ready.”
Gredin turned and threw her arms around Trethen. “Thank you,” she said, her voice muffled against the lavender fabric. “Thank you for letting me see you in your dress. Thank you for telling me about Tradepoint. Be happy at the dance.” She drew back and closed her eyes, a pleat forming on her brow as she focused. “Beda,” she murmured, calling on the guide-bond that Trethen well knew from her own recently completed childhood.
Before Trethen could even draw breath to reply, Gredin vanished, recalled to her own chambers by one of her pair of guides.
“Your sister is excitable,” their mother said, and smiled. “You’ve made Gredin very happy, letting her share in the anticipation of tonight’s event, but I imagine Beda and Ingarra will have quite a time calming her enough to go to sleep. Now, come and sit down, and I will braid your hair.”