Star of wonder, p.24

Star of Wonder, page 24


Star of Wonder

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  * * * * *

  Amanda sat up shakily, accepting the handkerchief held out to her. “I’m so sorry,” she said, hating the way her voice wobbled, as she dabbed the soft cloth first under one eye, then the other. “What you must think of me—”

  “I think you are a woman who has been very strong for a long time, under difficult conditions,” said An-jing’s mother Deirdre, sitting next to her on the ground, “and you thought your need to be strong alone had ended. It is hard to have that need suddenly restored, especially when it also means the loss of one you have loved. And in your case…” Her eyes went hard and cold as flint. “I have never been able to understand those who abuse the trust of the ones they should most cherish. It is one of the few things in this greater galaxy which is not an improvement over the ways of my childhood.”

  “Your childhood?” Amanda blinked at the older woman, feeling decidedly stupid. “You can’t be that old. Or did you come from a planet that didn’t have a lot of improvements?”

  “Ah, do you not know our story, mine and my Kenneth’s, and his sister’s and my cousin’s as well?” Deirdre laughed, her voice rich and full. “We will have to tell it to you at some point. But that is a tale for another time, indeed. For now, yes, a planet without many improvements is certainly one way to look at it. And that is one of the reasons why we maintain this area onboard our ship.” Her hand circled around them, indicating the seemingly endless expanse of forest and grassland in which they sat. “It makes those of us who grew up planetside feel more at home, it allows us to train our children in certain necessary skills, and it is part of how we earn our living. And it is in that third capacity in which I think it may be of some service to you.”

  “Service to me?” Amanda shook her head, swallowing against the thickness in her throat which always came after a bout of tears, and feeling her heart begin to speed up yet again with worry. “You’ve already been so kind. I can’t let you do any more, especially if it could get you in trouble.”

  “My dear, you have not let us do anything. Helping others, especially when their problems are as complicated as yours, is one of our great missions in life. And I must tell you that if trouble does not seek out my family and my clan every few weeks, I begin to suspect that they are falling ill.” Deirdre laid a finger against Amanda’s lips as she began to speak again. “No, not another word. Or if you must speak, tell me this. Do you have any plan for finding the ship where your beloved has been imprisoned, or for bringing yourself to it, or even for convincing the authorities that he is not dead but alive, and that you are not mad but sane?”

  “No, I don’t.” Amanda closed her fist around a clump of grass. “But that doesn’t mean I have to like taking help from people. I’ve never liked it. Not unless I get to choose the people, not unless I already know them and trust them, and I don’t know you. I have no reason to trust you. How do you know you’re not lying to me instead? How do I know this isn’t all part of some even bigger game, a way to make sure I really will go mad? How—” She clapped her hands over her mouth, appalled at the words she had just heard herself saying. “I beg your pardon,” she said, her voice wobbling more than before. “I don’t know what’s come over me.”

  “I may have an idea.” Deirdre’s voice had turned decidedly dark. “Although I do not like it. Do you notice that you become more and more agitated the longer you stay away from your grandparents? And did you not say your grandmother seemed uneasy about the fact that you left their quarters without eating lunch?”

  Amanda started to answer, but a wave of dizziness swept over her, and her eyes dropped closed. From a distance she heard a curse in another language, felt strong arms sweep around her. “Stefan!” Dierdre called out. “An-jing! Taran sho!”
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