Chapter 1

Valla's eyes were weak and she barely made out the shape of the farmer that placed the plant on her cloth. She picked it up and felt the smooth, quick growing stem with her fingers while her heart felt the Purposes that surrounded it.

"What is your question?" she asked the farmer quietly. She had been gradually traveling west, into villages that did not know her and had to prompt people for what people farther east would have known.

"This stuff is growing in my corn," he complained. "I've tried cutting it down and it just grows back. I've tried digging it up, but it's roots tangle itself in my corn and I can't dig it up without digging up my corn too."

Valla smiled faintly as she felt the plant's Purpose mesh with the farmer's words.

"Then leave it alone," she replied. "This plant feeds things to your corn that the corn needs and takes from the corn things that have no effect on your harvest."

The farmer did not reply, but Valla could see by the way he shifted his weight back and forth that he didn't believe her but respected the young wise-woman's growing reputation too much to say so.

She held out her hand and the youth that had been guiding her around town immediately took it. She shook his grip off with an impatient gesture and pointed to the farmer. There was a gasp from the collected villagers. Everyone knew Valla didn't like to be touched. They had heard from the last village and she had emphatically told them so, refusing even the basic hand-clasping courtesies.

When the farmer closed the small distance between them and took her hand, she felt a host of Purposes batter at her heart. People weren't like plants or tools. They could have hundreds of Purposes all waiting to be expressed at the same time. But Valla held tight, so tight that she felt the farmer wince, and took the plant in her other hand.

With plant in one hand and farmer in the other, she felt their Purposes slide into place and said, "The stems of this plant are soft and bend easily. You can walk your corn rows, as you like to do, and they will fall beneath your feet offering no hiding place for those animals that like to eat your crops."

With her hand on his, she felt the farmer start at the mention of both his current worry and his morning habit and then felt another Purpose slide into place. "And in the spring," she added, "this plant will blossom with purple flowers and there are ladies in town who like purple flowers."

Valla didn't know who in town liked purple flowers and it didn't really matter. That part was mostly guesswork. Most of the village was gathered around them and had heard her words. Long before spring, many of them would be thinking about the news that the quiet farmer, who never flirted, was secretly yearning for a lady. And she guessed that more than a few would suddenly come to the conclusion that they liked purple flowers.

As the sun was setting, Valla gave the youth who had guided her around town a kiss on the forehead and headed toward the next village. Once free from the structures that men built against the Purpose of the things around them, she felt she Purpose of the path she walked reach out to her and followed it. This deer trail bent to the left because there was something to trip on to the right. This section of land sloped down because there was a stream at the bottom. So it was with some surprise when she caught her bare foot on something hard laying across the path.

Valla cried out as she fell and the object was knocked several feet in front of her. There was a flurry of movement beside her and she saw the outline of an arm reach to where the object had lain before leaping to two feet.

"Didn't you notice you were sleeping on a deer trail?" she asked crossly as she reached for the man's hard object in the dark. It had felt like wood against her hard toes and it's Purpose had been to protect the object held within it from the weather.

"I'm certain the deer wouldn't mind that much," the man said with a bit of humor, "and there are brambles all around us. Where do you expect me to sleep?"

Valla started to answer when her questing hand found the object she was reaching for and touched a wire-wrapped handle instead of wood. She screamed and scrambled away on all fours strait into a bramble as the metal object revealed its Purpose to her. It was called a sword and it was specifically designed to kill people. It had an edge and a point and a pommel, and all had been shaped so that they could better maim and kill.

The man called out when Valla dove into the brambles, taking the sword with her, but he couldn't follow her in the dark. The brambles were protection for rabbits and small creatures against those who would hunt them and Valla tried to use that Purpose now. But Valla was bigger than a rabbit and her body was scored with scratches by the time she sprinted to the next village.

Valla loathed the sword and shuddered every time her hand accidentally brushed it. The scabbard was better, being primarily designed to protect the sword from rust and to provide an easy way to carry it, but it had a hard metal cap on the bottom that had been placed there in case the person folding it wanted a second weapon. Killing wasn't the scabbard's primary Purpose, but it was one Purpose out of many.

Tools, even killing tools, need men to hold them. This is why Valla held onto the sword when she scrambled away. Without its owner, the sword's Purpose was blunted. If the man hadn't been nearby, Valla would have buried the sword in wet earth. But what was buried could be dug back up and Valla was certain that a blacksmith's forge in the next village would destroy this horrid tool faster than rust.

Valla had handled weapons before, but no weapon like this sword. A boar spear could kill a man, but it had a crossbar just down from the point whose primary Purpose was to hold the creature on the point at a distance. It was ideal for boars, which could run up a spear and kill its hunter even as it died. A sword, however, wasn't a hunting weapon or a farming tool that could also be used to harm people. Harming people was it's primary Purpose.

Reaching the next village, Valla's exhausting night-time sprint slowed to a hesitant walk. What if someone saw her bearing a sword, knew its Purpose and thought she was some type of killer? But she needn't have worried. The first villager to see her apparently noticed her bleeding scratches instead of the weapon in her hands because he yelled for his son to run and fetch a healer before he approached her.

Valla started to explain who she was and what she was doing but was having a hard time catching her breath and stumbled on an unseen object. The villager caught her and lifted her into his arms. His name was Kerin and he was an innkeeper and a father of two boys he was proud of and secretly had been having an on and off affair with - and another hand touched her. This hand belonged to Kerin's wife had known about the affair for years but hadn't told anyone she knew although it pained - and another hand touched her. Valla writhed as hundreds of Purposes assaulted a mind and body too exhausted to sort them out or hold them at bay.

The sword slipped from her grasp as unconsciousness claimed her.

When this story gets more text, you will need to Log In to read it

Story tagged with:
Fiction /