angel’s lapis lazuli eyes fixed on her from across the room, and her hands became even clumsier.
At last the blaze was built and looked hearty enough to last. Rachel stumbled to her feet and edged toward the door—but he was there before her, blocking the exit, staring at her with those incredible jewel-colored eyes.
“Lord?” she asked hesitantly and bobbed a graceless curtsey.
He did not move out of her way. His eyes traveled over her face, her hair, the threadbare gown, the shackles and chain. “Unbelievable,” he said, and even his speaking voice was melodic enough to make her absentminded. “Rachel, daughter of Seth and Elizabeth.”
G abriel had had an extraordinarily trying three weeks. He had spent a few days in the general vicinity of the ruined village, hoping to find information about the vanished community. He had no luck. The few hardy families he found on independent farms a few miles distant were either suspicious and misanthropic, or recent arrivals who could shed no light on events more than ten years past. He flew east to the Jansai trading city of Breven to see if he could find out what traveling bands went through that portion of Jordana, but the few who would talk to him at all unanimously disclaimed any knowledge. He had expected some wariness—after all, what Jansai would admit to an angel that he had participated in the destruction of a farm village?—but he was frustrated nonetheless.
“I am not trying to find a war band just to level accusations,” he said to one nomad chieftain. “I am looking for someone who once lived there—”
The man had laughed in his face. He was big, deeply tanned, completely bald and draped with a fortune in gold. “And I am trying to tell you, there is nothing for the Jansai in the wretched farmlands of northern Jordana,” he said. He counted on his fingers. “No gold—no commerce—nothing to trade for. Jansai only travel the routes of profit, my friend.”
“Someone came through that village.”
“Ask the Edori,” the chieftain advised. “They travel all through Samaria, for curiosity’s sake. Some Edori, at some time,has strayed into that village circle, I swear to you by Jovah’s wrath.”
“But which Edori? And why?”
The chieftain laughed again. He had very large teeth. “Who can tell one Edori from another?” he said. “And who knows why they do anything? Ask them and see what they will tell you.”
So Gabriel had left Breven and begun an exhausting search through all of Samaria for an Edori tribesman who could tell him what happened in a nameless Jordana village ten years ago. Like most of the angels, Gabriel had little experience with the Edori, so he was awkward and unsure around them. The city merchants, the farmers, even the Jansai, felt respect and a certain fear for the angels; they believed that only the good will of the angels protected them from divine wrath. But the Edori were not so certain of this most basic principles of theology. When they cared to appeal to Jovah, they did so themselves, holding unstructured firelit Glorias at their Gatherings. They also sang to the god to celebrate a birth, a death or some other important event, and many of the Edori singers whom Gabriel had heard had exceptional voices.
But they did not believe that a baby had to be dedicated to Jovah at birth; they did not believe that only an angel’s voice would find its way to Jovah’s ear; and, most shocking of all, they did not believe that Jovah was the one true god, the only god, the source of all good and the potential source of total annihilation. Instead, they believed in a god more powerful than Jovah, who directed Jovah and to whom Jovah was answerable—or so Gabriel understood, though he could hardly credit it. It was contrary to the basic principles of his existence.
He flew, low and with no particular direction, a day and a half from Breven before he came to an Edori tribe camped at the far southeastern