“You don’t have to explain,” Alise said suddenly. “We’re more alike than you think we are.” She gave a shaky laugh. “Sometimes, do you find reasons to disdain people you haven’t met yet, just so you can dislike them before they dislike you?”
“Well, of course,” Thymara admitted, and the laughter they shared had a brittle edge. A bird flew up from the river’s edge, startling them both, and then their laughter became more natural, ending as they both drew breath.
Alise wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. “I wonder if this is what Sintara wanted me to learn from you. She strongly suggested this morning that I seek you out. Do you think she wanted us to discover that we are not so different?” The woman’s voice was warm when she spoke of the dragon, but a chill went up Thymara’s back at her words.
“No,” she said quietly. She tried to form her thought carefully, so as not to hurt Alise’s feelings. She wasn’t sure, just yet, if she wanted to be as friendly as the Bingtown woman seemed inclined to be, but she didn’t want to put her on her guard again. “No, I think Sintara was manipulating you, well, us. A couple of days ago, she pushed me to do something, and well, it didn’t turn out nicely at all.” She glanced at Alise, fearing what she’d see, but the Bingtown woman looked thoughtful, not affronted. “I think she may be trying to see just how much power she has over us. I’ve felt her glamour. Have you?”
“Of course. It’s a part of her. I don’t know if a dragon can completely control the effect she has on humans. It’s her nature. Just as a human dominates a pet dog.”
“I’m not her pet,” Thymara retorted. Fear sharpened her words. Did Sintara dominate her more than she realized?
“No. You’re not, and neither am I. Though I suspect she considers me more her pet than anything else. I think she respects you, because you can hunt. But she has told me, more than once, that I fail to assert myself as a female. I’m not sure why, but I think I disappoint her.”
“She pushed me to go hunting his morning. I told her I preferred to fish.”
“She told me to follow you when you hunted. I saw you here on the riverbank.”
Thymara was quiet. She lifted her fish spear again and walked slowly along the river’s edge, thinking. Was it betrayal? Then she spoke. “I know what she wanted you to see. The same thing I saw. I think she wanted you to know that Jerd and Greft have been mating.”
She waited for a response. When none came, she looked back at Alise. The Bingtown woman’s cheeks were pink again, but she tried to speak calmly. “Well. I suppose that, living like this, with no privacy and little supervision, it is easy for a young girl to give in to a young man’s urging. They would not be the first to sample the dinner before the table is set. Do you know if they intend to marry?”
Thymara stared at her. She put her words together carefully. “Alise, people like me, like them, people who are already so heavily touched by the Rain Wilds, we are not allowed to marry. Or to mate. They are breaking one of the oldest rules of the Rain Wilds.”
“It’s a law, then?” Alise looked puzzled.
“I…I don’t know if it’s a law. It’s a custom. It’s something everyone knows and does. If a baby is born and it’s already changed so much from pure human, then its parents don’t raise it. They ‘give it to the night’ they expose it and try again. Only for some of us, like me, well, my father took me back. He brought me home and kept me.”
“There’s a fish there, a really big one. He’s in the shadow of that driftwood log. See him? He looks like he’s part of the shadow.”
Alise sounded excited. Thymara was jolted at the change of subject. On an impulse, she handed her spear to Alise. “You get him. You saw him first. Remember, don’t try to jab the fish. Stab it in like you want to stick it into the ground beyond the fish. Push hard.”
“You should do it,” Alise said as she took the spear. “I’ll miss. He’ll get away. And he’s a very big fish.”
“Then he’s a good big target for your first try. Go on. Try it.” Thymara stepped slowly back and away from the river.
Alise’s pale eyes widened. Her glance went from Thymara to the fish and back again. Then she took two deep shuddering breaths and then suddenly sprang at the fish, spear in hand. She landed with a splash and a shout in ankle-deep water as she stabbed the spear down with far more force than she needed to use. Thymara stared openmouthed as the Bingtown woman used both hands to drive the spear in even deeper. Surely the fish was long gone. But no, Alise stood in the water, holding the spear tightly as a long, thick fish thrashed out its death throes.