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Beast Master's Circus Part 18

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Laris shook her head. "No. But Logan, I did terrible things. I helped Cregar steal Storm and Tani's animals. You were hurt because of me. And that isn't all." She fished under her tunic and began to draw up the ring. "Cregar gave me this. I guessed where it came from but I loved it so much. Take it, and if you don't want to know me, I understand." She dropped the ring into his hand. Storm took it from his brother.

"The ring of Walks-Soft-as-a-Puma. Brad will be happy to see that back again."

"I'm sorry," Laris choked. "I'm sorry." Prauo moved to stand with her. In Storm's mind words and images formed to combine a plea.

*She has fought. Against the camps, her bond-master, those who would have ill-used her.* Swift flicking pictures of Laris cowering under blows, the sensation of hunger, a blast of fear and pain. *Her life has been only strife until now. She had no place of her own. None save me to love for long and long.* Now a black cloud of lonely misery was sent, to pierce Storm with Laris's remembered emotions. *Do you now cast her out? What of your path? Has it been so free of wrongdoing. So smoothly perfect?*

*No.*



*Then as the dark woman judged, do you also judge, with honor and mercy.* Storm closed his fingers about the ring and his other hand was laid on Laris's arm.

"When the war finished I came to Arzor," he said softly. "I planned to kill a man I believed had betrayed me and mine. I found a man with honor but shut my eyes. Yet in the end I opened them to truth. Because of that man's mercy I stand now with my own family. With a place. Long ago a wise one of the people said that a gift should be passed on, not back." He turned Laris a little, so that she faced him.

"You kept Surra from dying, took care of Hing and her family well." He took in a deep breath. "For my part I forgive anything done against me in your name. It is dust on the wind. Forgotten."

Laris stared. Tani smiled down at her. "You cared for Minou and Ferarre. The clan accepts blood-price. Buy something of the sky here and gift it to them." She laughed softly. "I know where you could buy a meteor. A small black sky-stone. The clan would forgive much for that gift to the Thunder-talker. It is a thing of great power. They would forgive the debt. None of them were wounded and they took four bow-hands."

"I'd pay happily." Laris gulped. "Could I afford it?"

"Oh, indeed. You have not yet seen Versha's report on Cregar." She would save until later the news that the man had been kin. Tani held up a list. "Your friend was wealthy. In the hiding place of which you told us there was a disk. It holds bank records. I have spoken to one who knows. With all gathered together you inherit..." She spoke a sum which left the girl gaping. "You can afford a sky-stone. And land too, if you wished." With slow incredulous hope the girl moved to gaze at Logan. He held her.

"For my blood, you pay time. Come back to Arzor. Stay with the family three months. Ride with us. Know the land. If you choose then to stay or leave, any debt to me is paid." Storm swept Tani hastily out of the room after her final words.

"I think they'd like to be alone, dearling." Tani, catching one quick glimpse of Laris locked in Logan's arms, agreed.

It took time. Laris submitted to a longer probe session for information. Anders's friendly banker sorted out finances and transferred credits: A final sum which would buy a meteor-and quite a lot of land should Laris wish for the latter. Five tigerbats returned to semi-freedom on Lereyne. The Thunder-talker's bracelets were found hidden in Dedran's quarters on the circus ship. Tani would return them along with a trophy lock of hair from the three: Baris, Ideena, and Dedran, and the tale of how they died. The clan would approve.

But before they took ship back to Arzor Laris stood alone on a hill and allowed ashes to sift through her hands. She knew now by whose hand she had been aided. Jason Regan Trehannan, who had taken his grandfather's surname to honor that old soldier when his grandson enlisted. Jason Trehannan who had become Jason Regan, then Jas Cregar, and who in the end had redeemed his honor. To the silence of the surrounding trees she spoke softly.

"Be free of your sorrow and pain, Cregar. May the spirits of your team find you now. Let them walk with you so you are no more alone. May you find also my mother, your sister who loved you, Uncle. And be doubly comforted. All debts are paid." She descended the hill to Logan's arms.

The ship seemed to move like a snail through space. They landed on Arzor at sunrise. Laris looked up to see the lavender sky lighting up the land as the warm air brought them the scent of falwood blossoms. The girl could feel her tension drain away.

The land took her to its heart, making her its own. She hunted with Tani, laughed, teased, and rode with Logan. Storm unbent sufficiently to show her the frawn herd.

Brad talked to her. Telling her of Ishan, of the people from Cornwall, Ireland, and Brittany who had gone there to bring back their language and some of the old ways. Then the Xik had come and Ishan was a burned-out cinder orbiting in death, but before that happened many settlers had moved to DuIshan, the new world settled from the mother planet. It was from DuIshan that Mandy, Tani's paraowl, came. One day perhaps, Laris could visit DuIshan and see her origins for herself.

Quietly too Brad and Storm attempted to find out something about Prauo. Was he a kidnapped cub from another race, or a gene-spliced experiment? Whatever or whoever he was none could deny his intelligence. It made no difference to the big cat. Home was where Laris lived. She was his sister; he would abide by the choices she made for them both.

Twelve weeks after her return to Arzor she rode out with Logan to sit her horse on the edge of the basin. In the far distance High Peaks showed purple as Prauo's eyes. It called to her. The rocks, the high hills, the dry scent of the desert fringe, the solitude, and the silence. Logan watched as she gazed over the scene. He spoke softly.

"I won't hold you if you feel you can't stay here. But if you wanted to stay and you liked the idea, we could buy land together." He kept his voice neutral, he'd not pressure her. "Do you want to leave?"

She said nothing for many minutes, allowing her heart and Prauo's to decide. At last she turned to him.

"Home is where you are. Why would I leave our home?" she said.

About the Authors

For more than fifty years, ANDRE NORTON, "one of the most distinguished living SF and fantasy writers" (Booklist), (Booklist), has been penning bestselling novels that have earned her a unique place in the hearts and minds of millions of readers worldwide. She has been honored with the World Fantasy Convention's Life Achievement Award and with the Nebula Grand Master Award from her peers in the Science Fiction Writers of America. Works set in her fabled Witch World, as well as the Time Traders, the Solar Queen, and Beast Master series, to name but a few in her great oeuvre, have made her "one of the most popular authors of our time" has been penning bestselling novels that have earned her a unique place in the hearts and minds of millions of readers worldwide. She has been honored with the World Fantasy Convention's Life Achievement Award and with the Nebula Grand Master Award from her peers in the Science Fiction Writers of America. Works set in her fabled Witch World, as well as the Time Traders, the Solar Queen, and Beast Master series, to name but a few in her great oeuvre, have made her "one of the most popular authors of our time" {Publishers Weekly). {Publishers Weekly). She lives in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where she presides over High Hallack, a writers' resource and retreat. More can be learned about Ms. Norton's work and High Hallack at www.andre-norton.org. She lives in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where she presides over High Hallack, a writers' resource and retreat. More can be learned about Ms. Norton's work and High Hallack at www.andre-norton.org.

LYN MCCONCHIE has written many books, including collaborations with Andre Norton, among them The Key of the Keplian, The Key of the Keplian, a Witch World novel, and a Witch World novel, and Beast Master's Ark. Beast Master's Ark. She lives in Norsewood, New Zealand, where she writes and runs a farm. She lives in Norsewood, New Zealand, where she writes and runs a farm.[image]

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