War Maid’s Choice – Snippet 06

As it happened, Bahzell did possess a similar talent. He had no ability to taste or shape stone, but he was a champion of Tomanāk, and the war god gifted his champions with the ability to heal. Yet not all of them were equally skilled as healers, for it was an ability which depended on the clarity with which the individual champion could open his mind to an injury or illness and truly believe he could do anything about it. It depended upon his ability to understand that damage, to accept it in all its often ghastly reality, and then to not only overlay his mental “map” of that damage with a vision of health but actually impose that vision upon the injury. To open himself as a channel or conduit between his deity and the mortal world and use that conduit — or allow it to use him, perhaps — to make that internal, personal image of restored well-being and vitality the reality. It all sounded simple enough, yet words could describe only the what, not the how of accomplishing it, and it was extraordinarily difficult to actually do.

Sarthnaiskarmanthar functioned in a similar fashion, although according to Wencit of RÅ«m (who certainly ought to know) a sarthnaisk’s work was at least a little simpler because living creatures were in a constant state of change as blood pumped through their veins and oxygen flowed in and out of their lungs. Stone was in a constant state of change, as well, but it was a far slower and more gradual change, a process of ages and eons, not minute-to-minute or even second-to-second transformations. It didn’t clamor and try to distract the way living bone and tissue did as the sarthnaisk formed the detailed mental image of what he intended to impose upon the stone’s reality. Of course, stone was also more resistant to change, but that was where his training came in. Like a skilled mishuk martial artist, the sarthnaisk used balance and precision and focus against the monolithic resistance of stone and earth. He found the points within the existing matrix where a tiny push, a slight shift, began the process of change and put all the weight of the stone itself behind it, like deep mountain snow sliding down to drive boulders and shattered trees before it.

The trick was to stay in control, to shape the avalanche, to fit that instant of total plasticity to the sarthnaisk’s vision, and steering an avalanche was always a…challenging proposition.

He smiled at the thought, and then his eyes narrowed and his foxlike ears folded back slightly as Chanharsa drew a deep, deep breath. Her shoulders rose as she filled her lungs, and then the stone changed.

Bahzell had seen her do this over a dozen times now, yet he still couldn’t quite force what he saw to make sense. It wasn’t that it happened too quickly for the eye to see, although that was what he’d thought the first time he’d watched it. No, the problem was that the eye wasn’t intended to see it. Or perhaps that the mind hadn’t been designed to understand it…or accept it. The smooth, flat wall of stone flowed like smoke under Chanharsa’s palms, yet it was a solid smoke, a surface which continued to support her weight as she leaned even harder against it. A glow streamed out from her hands, spreading across the entire face of stone in a bright web of light, pulsing in time with her heartbeat, and that glow — that web — flowed away from her, sinking deeper and deeper into the smoky rock. In some way Bahzell would never be able to explain, he could see the glow stretching away from them, probing out through hundreds of cubic yards of stone and earth. He couldn’t estimate how far into the rock he could “see,” but the glow grew dimmer as it moved farther and farther away from him.

A minute slipped past. Then another. Three of them. And then —

Chanharsadahknarthi zoihan’Harkanath staggered ever so slightly as the stone under her hands vanished, and an abrupt, cool fist of breeze flowed over them from behind as air rushed up the tunnel to fill the suddenly created cavity before her. Her shoulders sagged, and one of her armsmen stepped forward quickly, taking her elbow and supporting her until she could regain her balance. She leaned against him for a moment, then inhaled again and shook her head, pushing herself back upright, and Bahzell heard a mutter of awe from the spectators…most of whom had seen her do exactly the same thing at least as often as he had.

On the other hand, it wasn’t something a man got used to seeing.

The tunnel had suddenly grown at least sixty yards longer. The tunnel roof was thirty feet above its floor, and the tunnel walls were sixty-five feet apart, wide enough for three heavy freight wagons to pass abreast. Its sloped floor was ballroom smooth yet textured to give feet or hooves solid traction, and two square-cut channels — six feet deep and two feet wide — ran the tunnel’s full length, fifteen feet out from each wall. Every angle and surface was perfectly, precisely cut and shaped…and glossy smooth, gleaming as if they’d been hand polished, without a single tool mark anywhere. The new tunnel section had freed a sizable spring on its southern wall and water foamed and rushed from it like a fountain, but Chanharsa had allowed for that. Another, shorter channel had been cut across the tunnel floor, crossing the first two at right angles, this one deep enough that none of the newborn stream’s water escaped into the first two as it flooded into its new bed and sent a wave front flowing across the tunnel to plunge gurgling and rushing into an opening in the northern wall. Two broad, gently arched bridges crossed the sudden musical chuckle of water — not built, but simply formed, as strong and immovably solid as the rock around them — and sunlight probed down from above through the air shaft piercing the tunnel roof. That shaft was two feet in diameter and over eighty feet deep, and patterns of reflected sunlight from the stream danced across the smooth stone walls.

“Well, I see I managed to get it mostly right despite all that distracting chatter going on behind me,” Chanharsa observed, turning to give the hradani her best glare.

It was, Bahzell admitted, quite a good glare, considering that it was coming from someone less than half his own height. It wasn’t remotely as potent as the one Kilthan could have produced, but she was twenty-five years younger than Serman, which made her less than half Kilthan’s age. In another fifty years or so, possibly even as little as thirty or forty, he was sure she’d be able to match the panache Kilthan could put into the same expression.

“And it’s not surprised I am, at all,” he assured her with a broad smile. “For such a wee, tiny thing you’ve quite a way with rock.”

“Which means I ought to have ‘quite a way’ with hradani brains, doesn’t it?” she observed affably, and his smile turned into a laugh.

“You’ve a way to go still before you match old Kilthan, but I see you’ve the talent for it,” he said. “I’m thinking it needs a bit more curl to the upper lip and the eyes a mite narrower, though, wouldn’t you say, Brandark?”

“No, I most definitely wouldn’t say,” the Bloody Sword told him promptly. “I’m in enough trouble with her already.”

Several people laughed, although at least one of Chanharsa’s armsmen looked less than amused by the hradani’s levity. Chanharsa only grinned. Despite the many differences between them, hradani and dwarves were very much alike in at least one respect. Their womenfolk enjoyed a far higher degree of freedom and equality — license, some might have called it — than those of the other Races of Man. Besides, Bahzell and Brandark were friends of the family.

“Uncle Kilthan always said you were smarter than you looked, Brandark,” she said now. “Of course, being smarter than you look isn’t that much of an accomplishment, is it?” She smiled sweetly.

“Why is it that he’s the one who insulted your ability to glare properly and I’m the one who’s getting whacked?” The Bloody Sword’s tone was aggrieved and he did his level best to look hurt.

“Because the world is full of injustice,” she told him.