Alys shivered as she walked outside in Queen Thera's encampment. The air was crisp and cold, colder than she was used to even in late Oklemer, having lived in Calypsa at a lower altitude for most of her life. She hugged Jorys closer to her. He was swathed in two of her shawls and fussed at her for taking him out into the cold. Alys glanced at the cabin that she shared with Tarran and wondered if she dared go back inside.
He'd been undressing her with his gaze all morning--or some part of him had; Alys wasn't quite sure how to describe it. He seemed to be a man of infinite moods, now, rather than simply the normal, somewhat testy man she had cautiously grown used to.
Lately, he could be anything--openly lusty; oddly considerate and helpful with the cooking and with Jorys--while at the same time staring off into the distance with smouldering eyes; mocking; timid and cowering; almost like himself, but emotionless; or, the most terrifying--just purely unpleasant--as if he despised her and had nothing but contempt for the rest of the world.
Even the lear was better than that.
In her arms, Jorys let out a squawl and pressed at her nipple. Alys sighed and headed back toward the cabin. It was far too cold to nurse outside, but even in warmer weather, nursing one's baby in public just wasn't done.
But consorting with Morgausite priests is? Alys asked herself.
She rolled her eyes at the thought and went inside. Tarran sat at the table, replacing a spoke in a spinning wheel that had been knocked over and broken. "Hello," he said and gave Alys and Jorys a brief glance as they came in. "Cold enough out there for you?"
Thank the Three, Alys thought, wanting to faint with relief. He seemed himself, for the moment. "It's windy out, and Jorys is hungry, so I decided to come back in." She sat down on her bed and began to nurse Jorys.
The sight didn't embarrass Tarran; he'd seen his mother and older sister Irel do the same thing countless times. "Be thankful he hasn't learned to walk and talk yet, or he'd be running about the cabin, driving you insane," Tarran said. He finished sanding a replacement spoke and tried to fit it into the holes made for it.
"Still too thick. Damn!" he muttered. Frowning at it, Tarran cut a wafer-thin sliver off with his penknife and finally grunted that it was satisfactory. He began sanding the slender piece of wood until it was smooth once more and at last got it to fit snugly into its holes.
"There. Just needs staining and some varnish, and Melora can have it back," Tarran said. "Maybe then, Garen will cease badgering me about his wife having too little to do."
"I think he beats her," Alys said in a low voice. "When I see Melora at the well sometimes, she has bruises."
Tarran gave her a sharp look. "I didn't realize," he said, "but I think you're right. She was falling all over herself to apologize for the trouble, when she and Garen brought this to me." He frowned, then began to brush the wood stain onto the new spoke.
He finished applying the stain, then brushed his fingertips lightly over the spinning wheel as if he were a blind man, or like someone carressing a lover. Alys stared. "What are you doing, Tarran?"
"He will pay," Tarran murmured in a determined, self-assured voice that chilled Alys' blood. "When I show myself to her, she will ask, and I will grant it. And then he will pay."
If she could be sure of one thing, Alys thought, she could be certain that Tarran Glennis was no mad crusader burning to avenge the sufferings of battered women. "Who are you?" she demanded and set Jorys down.
Tarran turned on his heel and smiled at her. In that moment, he looked oddly...beautiful, his green eyes somehow larger and more lustrous than usual, his entire demeanor filled with confidence and a glowing intensity at complete odds with his normally more restrained self. "I am She who is Vengeance," Tarran said. "And I will give you yours, if you wish it. You are deserving."
Alys went dead-white, and her legs felt as if their bones had vanished. She stared at the person who was not Tarran. "I-I--how? How am I deserving?" she breathed, and her voice shook.
The stranger smiled at her through Tarran's face. "You killed him, once. Had someone not...interceded, he would be dead. You took action against the man who killed your husgand, but you were cheated. You are not a sniveling little coward. You deserve satisfaction."
Alys trembled. "I deserve justice. Jobak says vengeance is for the Three to take."
The person who was not Tarran brushed off that comment as if it were a speck of dust on his sleeve, then laughed. "Justice is what we make of it, child. I am Matog, and Vengeance is mine. You deserve vengeance, and so does he, So did the woman who bore him. So many are afraid to take it."
Suddenly, Matog-Tarran stood directly in front of her and brushed Alys' forehead with a feather-light touch. "Have you forgotten how you felt, child?"
Alys squeezed her eyes shut and fought not to relive Jorey's death or the hours she had sat sobbing nearby as the bodies of both her husband and his killer lay sprawled around her. Despite her best effort, she relived watching Tarran stir and sit up.
"He didn't kill us," Alys said in a broken voice. "He--delivered my baby, and he hasn't done a thing to me, since. I don't know why!" She was crying now, but Alys didn't care. There was no woman in the encampment to whom she could explain the situation, but the goddess sounded as if she knew about and understood the entire thing. "There are times when I like him, and I don't know why. I should hate him! Why don't I hate him? He does loathsome things!"
"Sometimes, people who are taken captive come to sympathize with their captors," Matog pointed out.
"That's insane!" Alys gave Matog a horrified look.
"Perhaps, but it's also true," Matog said. "There might well come a day when he asks you to assist him in a High Revel, and you agree to it."
Alys went rigid. "No way in hell would that happen!" she retorted. "Tarran would never ask that of me! He's--"
"A decent man?" Matog asked gently.
Alys glared at Matog, aware of the irony. She made a frustrated gesture, then finally burst out with it. "Yes! He's a royal pain, and he does things I hate, but at the core of it--yes. He's a decent man. He wasn't acting like himself when he killed Jorey. He was acting more like..like one of you."
Matog positively beamed at Alys. "Not only are you strong, but you are intelligent, as well." She straightened and for an instant, looked slightly more, yet somehow less, like Tarran. "You shall have your vengeance, Alys Maldon, though it is I who will exact it. And may it be the best vengeance of all--a happy life despite the heartache."
The goddess paused. "But, for the moment, I have someone else's to see to." Still wearing Tarran's form, she glided out the door.