shrugged. “I sent him at once.”
Soraya clutched her mother’s hand, feeling the uncon-
trollable trembling that racked her weak body, and
railed mentally against the capriciousness of fate.
“Shall I go for Marouz?” Yana suggested.
“Thank you, but Firdausi was with me at the water-
works, and he has gone already. Not that he’ll be any
help,” Soraya added bitterly.
“You shouldn’t talk so. He’s the wisest man among us
as well as the oldest!” Yana sounded horrified.
“What use is wisdom without practical applications?
He can tell us to be duriful children and loving parents,
and we do our bestand my mother who is the kindest
of women has the quakes.” Soraya put up her hand to
wipe away a tear.
“Sssh! He’s coming now,” Yana murmured, and
turned to bow as Marouz dipped his white-bearded head
under the low lintel.
“Honour and profit upon this house,” the mage said in
a single rapid burst, and limped to a chair which Yana
brought up beside the bed. “Hmmm! Has your mother
drunk unboiled water, Soraya?”
“You think I would let her?” Soraya jumped to her
feet, appalled. “I, who work where I do? What do you
take me for?”
“Soraya, that’s unwise,” Firdausi said softly; he had
come in just behind Marouz, holding Baby Hakim’s
“I don’t care!” Tears were gathering in Soraya’s eyes
also now. “I don’t care! My mother lies sick to death,
and all he can think of is that she might have drunk un-
boiled water! What has water to do with it, anyway?
My father tended the waterworks before me, and he’d
never have let her do such a thing, and I wouldn’tand
still she has the quakes! What can water possibly have to
do with it?”
Marouz’s face went hard as stone. “We are taught by
the wisdom of the ancients” he began.
“And a fat lot of good it does us!” Soraya blazed. But
on the last word she collapsed to her knees before him,
her shoulders heaving in helpless sobs.
“There, there,” Marouz said, giving her an awkward
pat on top of the head. “These things are sent to try us,
daughter. We do what we can, but we are still far from
understanding all life’s mysteries. When you grow as old
as Iwhich may you do!you’ll have learned patience
with the inescapable.”
“I’m sorry,” Soraya choked out. “But I love my
mother, and she’s done so much for me . . . Is there no
help you can give?”
“Spiritual comfort I would offer, but I know your
mother as a fine, noble-hearted woman in small need of
my advice.” Marouz waggled his flowing beard regret-
fully. “The only counsel I can give is to you. And yon
know what that is, for I’ve suggested it before.”
“I’ve urged it on her also,” Firdausi put in. “And she
“Take my mother away from her own home, and send
her who knows where?” Soraya exclaimed. “It seems to
me soso heartless!”
“Now, now, my daughter,” Marouz soothed. “We all
hate necessity, but that’s no use. The Receivers of the
Sick are good men, full of ancient wisdom and kindly in-
tentions. Is it not better to see your mother in safe keep-
ing than lying here quivering her life away on this
narrow hard bed?”
There was silence after that blunt question, until at last
Marouz stirred. “Well, I can do no more than I’ve
done,” he said, and reached for Yana’s arm to get to his
feet. “Make your mind up quickly, Soraya the Re-
ceivers are coming to this area in a few days’ time, I
hear, and they won’t be back for months, at least.”
He hobbled out, and automatically they threw good
wishes after him in the form traditional for very old per-
sons”May good health attend you to your grave.”
Firdausi caught Yana’s eye and she took the hint.
Crossing the dirt floor to retrieve her young brother, she
said in a strained voice, “Well, I have things to see to
next door. I guess you’d like to be alone, anyway.”
The moment she was out of sight, Firdausi put his arm