Saara's song could make a garden out of a barren mountainside, or cover a hill of flowers with snow. When she sang, it was with a power that killed men as well as healed them. She could sing the winter and the summer, weeping and dancing and sleep. She could sing the clouds in their traces and the water in the bog.
She sang (this particular morning) a mighty song, replete with clouds and boglands, barren hills and lush, summer and winter, weeping, dancing and every other sort of earthly event. She sang from dim matins to high prime. At the end of this singing her voice was ragged; she was blue in the face and she saw spots before her eyes. But Saara's power of song had for once failed her, for she had not been able to sing one doe goat into a good mood.
And this was unfortunate, for Saara neither wanted to kill nor heal, and she desired neither carpets of snow nor flowers, but only the trust of this one ungainly creature, as companion in her loneliness.
Of all creatures (except perhaps for the cat) the goat is the hardest to sing-spell, having more than its fair share of natural witchery. Further, of all the changes one can work upon a goat, contentment is the most difficult state to obtain. To make things even more trying for Saara, this particular doe was encumbered by a dead winter coat she was too out of condition to shed, and was uncomfortably pregnant besides. Her gaunt sides resembled a hide-covered boat matted with brown algae. She wanted nothing to do with company, and had to be chased from the pineslope to the hill-dome crowned with birches before allowing herself to be befriended.
Yet this obdurate goat was all the company springtime had delivered to Saara amid the Alpine crocus and the purple hyacinth. Saara was not about to let the beast starve herself through obstinacy, not while Saara herself so needed some kind of voice in her ears besides her own.
But this was not strictly true--that she heard no other voice but hers. There was one other: the one that echoed in her head like her own thoughts, and yet was foreign to her, a voice soft and deep in slurred Italian. A voice which asked her questions.
"Where is he gone?" it asked her and, "Is it time to go home? Can I go home now?"
Never had Saara any answers for it.
This bodiless voice had been couched within her own head for over a year, serving only to make Saara feel as discontented as it was and more howlingly alone.
To distract her from these unanswerable questions she had tried work, until now her garden was blooming as never before and all her herb-pots were full. Then she had played with the weather, making the nearby villagers miserable. Following the visit of a brave delegate from Ludica, she curtailed experimentation and attempted to lose herself in her own woods, in bird shape. But that effort was least effective of all, for what reply has a wood dove to questions a Lappish witch cannot answer?
Now, as springtime took hold of the earth, Saara found nothing in all her wild refuge to interest her but this one strayed goat.
And the goat was disappointing. After spending all morning trying to entice her, Saara could approach just close enough to feed the doe a few willow withies and some fiddleheads of the new ferns. Most of these treats the animal spat out (as though to say she was no common nanny, to eat anything that happened to be green and given).
So Saara sang the goat a new song: a song of the first day in June, with a romping kid on the hilltop (instead of kicking in the belly), crisp sun in the sky and dry feet in the grass.
Saara sang in the strange tongue of the Lapps, which was her own. It made as much sense to the doe as any other tongue. The animal stared dourly at Saara with amber eyes the size of little apples, each eye with a mysterious black box in the center.
After receiving enough song-spelling to turn all the wolves in Lappland into milk puppies, the doe condescended to recline herself in the Utter of spring bloom.
Saara was already lying down, flat on her stomach, head propped on hands, mother-naked. She had braided her hair into tails when she had her morning bath. It subsequently dried that way, so now, when she freed it from its little pieces of yarn, it gave her a mass of rippling curls which shaded from red to black to gold in a cascade down her petal-pink back.
She might have been a tall peasant girl of sixteen. Her body was slim and salamander-smooth, her face was dimpled and her green eyes set slantwise. With one foot pointed casually into the pale blue sky, Saara looked as charming and ephemeral as a clear day in March.
She had looked that way for at least forty years.
"Goat," she announced, aiming at the animal a green disk of yarrow, "you should eat more. For the baby."
But the goat was still chewing a sliver of green bark she had deigned to take ten minutes before. She flopped her heavy ears and pretended she didn't understand Lappish.
"Haven't you ever been a mother before?" continued Saara. "I have. A mother has to be more careful than other people. A mother has to think ahead."
The goat made the rudest of noises, and with one cloven hind hoof she scraped off a wad of musty belly hair, along with some skin. Then she bleated again and rolled over, exposing that unkempt abdomen to the sun.
"I could sing you a song that would make you eat every leaf off every tree in the garden--or at least as high as you could reach," the woman murmured, yawning. "But then you'd explode, and that, too, would be bad for the baby." Saara, like the goat, was made lazy by the sun. She turned over and watched her blue felt dress, freshly washed and dripping, swinging from the branch of a flowering hops tree. The wind played through the hair of her head, and through her private hair as well. She chewed a blade of grass and considered.
The goat bored her, though there was a certain satisfaction in helping the beast produce a sound kid. But Saara came from a herding people, and did not regard livestock with sentimentality.
No, it was not Saara, but the child-voiced presence within her that wanted to talk to the goat. She could isolate this presence from herself-proper and feel its warm edges. It was a bundle of visions, memories, instincts and ... and fire. It was a shadow with dark eyes and skin: a guest in her soul. It was young, eager, a bit temperamental....
And undeniably full to bursting with sentiment. It liked to talk to goats.
Its name was Damiano Delstrego--or at least the presence belonged by rights to this Damiano, who had left it with her, like some foundling at a church door, and not part of his own being.
It was wearisome that he should do this, wearisome in the extreme. Sprawled flat on the sunny lawn, Saara let her song die away. Then, for an instant, she had the urge to rush at the sad, partial spirit she harbored, dispossessing it and recovering the unity of her own soul. But if she did that, she knew that Delstrego himself, wherever the fool had wandered (west, he had said), would be half dead, instead of only divided in two.
Despite the passage of seasons and the bitterness with which Saara and the Italian had fought on this very hill one day, killing two loves together (or maybe three), Saara remembered Damiano as he had knelt in the snow before her, weeping over the body of a little dog, and so she refrained.
Besides, the dark immaterial eyes with their sad questions trusted her and depended upon her, and Saara had been a mother.
And the most important reason that Saara did not evict her strange tenant was the same reason for which she courted the attentions of this unmannerly goat. She was lonely. For the first time in twenty years and more Saara was lonely.
She flipped onto her belly again and used her hands to thrust herself off the earth, snapping her feet up under her. The goat also sprang up with a startled bleat, flailing her broomstick legs in all directions. Sunlight kissed the top of Saara's nose--already slightly burned with such kisses--and polished her shoulders.
Once upright she stood still, panting. Suddenly she flinched, though nothing but sun and soft wind had touched her. At the peak of her irritation with the voice in her head, a realization had come to her. It was Damiano himself who was making her so unaccountably lonely. It was he whom she wanted to see: this son of a bad lineage, who had ripped her soul apart, and who afterward had spared no more than ten minutes out of his affairs to come and repair the damage he had done.
Leaving her with a burden it was his own business to bear: a voice inaudible and dark eyes unseen. It was Saara's immaterial baby, and would never grow up. After a year and more its longing for Damiano had become her own.
She ought to find him, she thought, and make him take it back. Whether he would take it or not, still she would be able to see the fellow again, and to discover what he was doing. For a moment she was quite intrigued, imagining where the dark boy ("boy" she called him always in her thoughts, to remind herself that she was no girl) might have gone to, and what strange languages he might be speaking, to what strange men. And women.
She had every right to seek him out, for he was a witch born, and so one of her kind.
For a few minutes Saara played with the idea of finding Damiano, but then uncertainty rose in her mind. It whispered to her that if Damiano had a matching desire to see her, this would have been plain in the regard of those dark eyes that looked at her through the darkest hours of night. If he thought of her as often as she thought of him, then surely she would know it, holding his soul as she did. But the eyes stared without seeming to know what they saw, and the voice which accompanied the eyes never spoke her name. It seemed to Saara that all the caring in this strange bond was on her side.
And even if Damiano would welcome her ... even if time had changed his unpredictable Italian mind ... to search him out through all the plains and ranges of the West would be an arduous task. It could be done, certainly, by a witch as experienced and learned as she was. But though Saara was powerful, she was a woman of the northern emptiness. She was disturbed by throngs of people, and the close dirt of cities disgusted her. And at bottom she was afraid of such a journey: most of all afraid of another meeting with Guillermo Delstrego's son.
Why should she want to visit Damiano anyway--a witch born with command in his voice and a mind that might learn wisdom, who had maimed himself, throwing away wisdom and birthright together? That denial was inexplicable: an act of perversion. So what if Damiano played the lute and sang a pretty song or two? Any Lappish witch could sing, and Damiano's southern songs had no power in them (save over the heart, perhaps. Save over the heart).
He was nothing but a moonchild, twin to the hopeless presence he had left Saara to tend. There were no signs he would grow into a full man. Without a single soul, he could not.
All this Saara repeated to herself, letting the long-sought doe goat wander off among the birches. If she reasoned long enough, surely she could talk herself out of a long journey that must only have disappointment at the end of it.
But as she reflected, her criticism became something else entirely. It became a certainty as strong as presage: a certainty that Damiano as she had last seen him (a creature neither boy nor grown man, splashing carelessly over the marshy fields) was all the Damiano there was destined to be. She shuddered in the sun. Whether foresight or merely foreboding, this certainty caused her surprising pain. Saara sat wretchedly in the grass, undecided about her journey and about her own feelings, but reflecting in how many ways men disorder the lives of women.