Stormsinger, First-Among-Mothers, held up
her hands, two-fingered, three-fingered, witness of what had
been given to the work. Whitebird, beside her on the stone
bench, folded her own hands and watched firelight flicker on
Stormsinger's skin. Day of threat and promise, begun under
New-Eye's rising with Whitebird's secret blood first flowing,
ending at nightfall in Stormsinger's hands. Whitebird knew the
twin birds of hope and fear.
The hall deep under the Maker's Bones grew
dark, but no one stirred to light the lamps. Gabble of shrill
voices sank away. All turned eyes to Stormsinger.
"Now," Stormsinger, First-Among-Mothers,
said. "Trust here."
Stormsinger looked down the long table at
each Mother in turn, and Whitebird looked with her. Some were
bent and some were blind, but none dared challenge Stormsinger.
"I choose my successor as every First
Stormsinger waited. Cold moved through the
hall and silence. The two-fingered hand came to rest on
"I name Whitebird First in turn upon my
The hall filled with the sudden hiss of
to challenge, anger straightening her twisted spine. "Halfgrowns
do not lead Folk!"
"Time for new thinking," Stormsinger said.
"She did not give bone." Longwalker held up her own
three-fingered hand in witness of her words.
Down the long table Mother leaned to Mother sighing. Hands
fluttered, four-fingered, scarred three-fingered. Breath caught
in Whitebird's throat, her own fingers clenched. There was more,
but even Longwalker dared not say it in Stormsinger's presence
though she did not hold back when she found Whitebird alone.
"We need no bone now," Stormsinger said. "It is done! The time
comes when we will need what Whitebird brings."
The spark Stormsinger lit long ago in Whitebird's heart flamed
at this prophecy. Halfgrown, newly marked by blood she would not
speak of now or ever, she must answer Longwalker's challenge and
claim her destiny.
Rising, left hand on the table, right hand on the three-edged
knife in her belt, Whitebird held Longwalker's angry gaze. The
hall fell silent. Yellow eyes glittered in the flame-lit hall,
Whitebird raised the knife. "I am Folk. I am not afraid to give
The blade sparked red in firelight. She slashed down at the
five-fingered hand on the table. A spurt of blood and searing
pain -- The smallest finger fell away.
The Mothers wailed, their voices echoing. Whitebird's eyes
closed in darkness. Stormsinger caught her as she fell.