If it was anywhere possible to be a child in the Family, it was possible at Kethiuy, on Cerdin. There were few visitors, no imminent hazards. The estate sat not so very far from the City and from Alpha’s old hall, but its hills and its unique occupation kept it isolated from most of Family politics. It had its lake and its fields, its garden of candletrees that rose like feathery spires among its fourteen domes; and round about its valley sat the hives, which sent their members to and from Kethiuy. All majat who would deal with Men dealt through Kethiuy, which fended one hive from another and kept peace, the peculiar talent of the Meth-marens, that sept and House of the Family which held the land. Fields extended in one direction, both human-owned and majat-owned; labs rambled off in the other; warehouses in yet a third, where azi, cloned men, gathered and tallied the wealth of hive trade and the products of the lab and the computers, which were the greatest part of that trade. Kethiuy was town as much as House; it was self-contained and tranquil, almost changeless in the terms of its owners, for Kontrin measured their lives in decades more than years, and the rare children licensed tore. place the dead had no doubt what they must be and what the order of the world was.
Raen amused herself, clipping leaves from the dayvine with short, neat shots; the wind blew and made it more difficult, and she gauged her fire meticulously, needle-beamed She was fifteen; she had carried the little gun clipped to her belt since she had turned twelve. Being Kontrin, and potentially immortal, she had still come into this world because a certain close kinsman had died of carelessness; she wished her own replacement to be long in coming. She was a skilled marksman; one of the amusements available to her was gambling, and she currently had a bet with a third cousin involving the target range.
Marksmanship, gambling, running the hedges into the field to watch the azi at work, or back again in Kethiuy, sunk it the oblivion of deepstudy or studying the lab comps until she could make the machines yield her up communication with the alien majat . . . such things filled her days, one very like the other. She did not play; there were years ahead for that, when the prospect of immortality began to pall and the years needed amusements to speed them past. Her present business was to learn, to gather skills that would protect that long life. The elaborate pleasures with which her elders amused themselves were not yet for her, although she looked on such with a stirring of interest. She sat on her hillside and picked an extraordinary succession of leaves off the waving vine with quick, fine shots, and reckoned that she would put in her required time at the comp board and be through by dinner, leaving the evening free for boating on Kethiuy’s lake . . . too hot during the day: the water cast back the white-hot sky with such glare one could not even look on it unvisored; but by night what lived in it came up from the bottom, and boats skimmed the black surface like firebugs, trolling for the fish that offered rare treat for Kethiuy’s tables. Other valleys had game, and even domestic herds, but no creature but man stayed in Kethiuy, between the hives. None could.
Raen a Sul hant Meth-maren. She was a long-boned and rangy fifteen, having likely all her height. Ilit blood mixed with Meth-maren had contributed that length of limb; and Meth-maren blood, her aquiline features. She bore a pattern on her right hand, chitinous and glittering, living in her flesh: her identity, her pledge to the hives, such as all Kontrin bore. This sign a majat could read, whose eyes could read nothing of human features. Betas went unmarked. Azi bore a tiny tattoo. The Kontrin brand was in living jewels, and she bore it for the distinction it was.
The tendril fell last, burned through. She clipped the gun to her belt and smoothly rose, pulled up the hood of her sunsuit and adjusted the visor to protect her eyes before leaving the shade. She took the long way, at the fringe of the woods, being in no particular haste: it was cooler and less steep, and nothing awaited her but studies.
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