Phoenix Without Ashes
would be a sin.”
    “The dream, or the telling?”
    “Both.”
    “Tell me...” He drew her closer and they shared the warm shelter of her winter cloak. “Is this a sin?” Again he kissed her.
    “Yes. I think so. I don’t know.” Rachel shook her head agitatedly.
    “Was it a sin to come here tonight?”
    “Yes,” said Rachel. “Yes. I sneaked from the house and woke no one.” She felt his fingers trail across the secret places of her body. “Devon—”
    “A knowing sin? But why?”
    Rachel felt her body begin to move, as though of its own volition. She felt peculiarly detached. “I can now sin,” she said. “I am already damned.”
    “We are neither of us damned,” said Devon. He touched her and at first she did not resist at all.
     
    The moon seemed to race down its track to the west. The darkness of moonfall and the unlighted valley were no less black than the dark sanctuary within the folds of cloak and woolen blanket.
    “Perhaps it was because we sinned,” said Rachel.
    “No!” said Devon angrily and in frustration. His voice softened. “I think it was because we both were frightened.” He carefully traced the topography of her invisible face. “It can’t be sin just to touch each other.”
    “I’m sorry,” she said.
    He wasn’t sure what she meant, but replied, “No. I’m sorry.”
    They lay silent until the quiet became uncomfortable for both of them. “Devon?”
    “What.”
    “Tomorrow. Will you come back to Cypress Corners?”
    “Maybe.”
    It was nearly dawn when Rachel smoothed her long dress, got up stiffly from the pine boughs, and started down the hillside.
     

FIVE
     
    He was getting too old, Elder Jubal kept telling himself, to be running these errands for the Council. Too old, too slow, too tired. But then who among the Elders was not old? No one. Jubal answered his own question and continued picking his way up the steep hillside. Overhead the sun was framed precisely at noon.
    If the Creator wishes me to die here of apoplexy, Jubal thought, then let it be His will. He sighed morosely and stopped to gather his breath. Jubal tilted back the flat brim of his hat and scanned the slope ahead. Where is the boy?
    The hillside was matted with thick grass that had begun to yellow with the season. No one’s flock had grazed this slope for a cycle. Eventually they would, once the pasture below was depleted.
    That was the plan, thought Jubal. The flocks would graze, the hills would then be left undisturbed again, spring would return to the valley; another cycle would swing ‘round. Everything by order of the plan. Jubal smiled to himself.
    Being somewhat more portly than most of the other Elders, he had begun to puff. He stopped to wipe the sweat from his forehead, then realized how close was the top of the hill. Jubal deliberately concentrated on placing one foot after the other until he reached the summit. Once there he paused, trembling with exertion.
    “And was it a pleasant climb, Elder?”
    Jubal raised his head and saw Devon lying beneath a pine. The young man was sprawled, his own head cradled comfortably by a hammock of laced fingers. For a moment Jubal wished a sudden, terrible fate upon that young man; those fine, strong young limbs withered and broken. For the barest moment. Then Jubal let charity sweep back through his soul.
    “Young Devon, is that a suitable position of respect?”
    Devon got to his feet and stretched lazily. “I am not Young Devon. Only Devon. Have you forgotten, Elder?”
    “I had not forgotten,” said Jubal. “It is more than ten cycles since Old Devon perished and was joined with the Creator.”
    “Twelve,” said Devon.
    “Twelve, then. Have a care with thy tongue, boy.”
    “Of course, sir.”
    “Do not mock me,” said Jubal.
    “No, sir.”
    The old man felt a tendril of anger rising. He smothered it with a pious thought. “No matter,” he said. “I bring thee a summons from the Council of Elders.”
    Devon awaited

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