Helliconia Summer [The Helliconia Trilogy #2]
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by Brian W. Aldiss
Category: Science Fiction
Description: Winner of two Hugo Awards, one Nebula Award, and named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America, Brian W. Aldiss has, for over fifty years, continued to challenge readers' minds with literate, thought-provoking, and inventive fiction. Now, E-Reads is proud to make available in eBook format the classic works of Aldiss. Now with a New Introduction by the Author! HELLICONIA SUMMER Book Two of the Helliconia Trilogy 2012 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the original publication of HELLICONIA SPRING, the first volume of the Helliconia Trilogy, and E-Reads celebrates that anniversary with a brand-new re-publication of the entire trilogy, complete with map and afterward material compiled for a follow-up release of the whole series. Helliconia is a world in a very eccentric orbit about its home star which results in a very, very long "year" orbit around the central sun. After long decades of frozen winter, signs of the long-awaited thaw begin to show and an entire civilization essentially existing in suspended animation once again emerges into a world growing warmer, greener and more hospitable climatically. Old knowledge must re-emerge. Old customs begin to repeat--and old conflicts arise once again, renewed in misunderstanding, disagreement and violence. From Brian Aldiss: NASA's telescopes in 2011 detected a planet with two suns, a lesser sun and a bigger sun. Some astronomers thought this was impossible but of course it is precisely what Helliconia is all about. As yet, it seems that the planet involved is called Kepler 16B. I think they should call it Helliconia--in acknowledgement of the way in which science fiction writers can be totally perceptive about something, without necessarily making predictions. Several fans and readers wrote to me pointing to this discovery in deep space. Some of them lauded my prescience.... So here's a case where what in general was considered to be impossible has proved to be possible. This discovery surely adds depth and weight to the Helliconia Trilogy. "There's the sense, even after such a long career, that (Aldiss) may still have something astonishing left to say." -- Locus Magazine Other E-Reads titles from Brian W. Aldiss: Helliconia Spring; Helliconia Summer; Helliconia Winter; Greybeard; Earthworks; Galaxies Like Grains of Sand; Cryptozoic!; The Shape of Further Things; The Dark Light Years; Barefoot in the Head; and The Squire Quartet, including Life in the West; Forgotten Life; Remembrance Day; and Somewhere East of Life.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, 1983
eBookwise Release Date: October 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [798 KB]
Reading time: 489-685 min.
THE SEACOAST OF BORLIEN
Waves climbed the slope of the beach, fell back, and came again. A short way out to sea, the procession of incoming surges was broken by a rocky mass crowned with vegetation. It marked a division between the deeps and the shallows. Once the rock had formed part of a mountain far inland, until volcanic convulsions hurled it into the bay.
The rock was now domesticated by a name. It was known as the Linien Rock. The bay and the place were named Gravabagalinien after the rock. Beyond it lay the shimmering blues of the Sea of Eagles. The waves splashing against the shore were clouded with sand picked up before they scattered into flurries of white foam. The foam raced up the slope, only to sink voluptuously into the beach.
After surging round the bastion of Linien Rock, the waves met at different angles on the beach, bursting up with redoubled vigour so as to swirl about the feet of a golden throne which was being lowered to the sand by four phagors. Into the flood were dipped the ten roseate toes of the Queen of Borlien.
The dehorned ancipitals stood motionless. With nothing more than the flick of an ear, they allowed the milky flood to boil about their feet, greatly though they feared water. Although they had carried their royal load half a mile from the Gravabagalinien palace, they showed no fatigue. Although the heat was intense, they showed no sign of discomfort. Nor did they display interest as the queen walked naked from her throne to the sea.
Behind the phagors, on dry sand, the majordomo of the palace supervised two human slaves in the erection of a tent, which he filled with bright Madi carpets.
The wavelets fawned about the ankles of Queen MyrdemInggala. "The queen of queens" was what the Borlienese peasantry called her. With her went her daughter by the king, Princess Tatro, and some of the queen's constant companions.
The princess screamed with excitement and jumped up and down. At the age of two years and three tenners, she regarded the sea as an enormous, mindless friend.
"Oh, look at this wave coming, Moth! The biggest wave yet! And the next one ... here it comes ... ooh! A monster, high as the sky! Oh, they're getting ever so big! Ever so bigger, Moth, Moth, look! Just look at this one now, look, it's going to burst and--ooh, here comes another, even huger! Look, look, Moth!"
The queen nodded gravely at her daughter's delight in the placid little waves, and raised her eyes to the distance. Slatey clouds piled up on the southern horizon, heralds of the approaching monsoon season. The deep waters had a resonance for which "blue" was no adequate description. The queen saw azure, aquamarine, turquoise, and viridian there. On her finger she wore a ring sold her by a merchant in Oldorando with a stone--unique and of unknown provenance--which matched the colours of the morning's sea. She felt her life and the life of her child to be to existence as the stone was to the ocean.
From that reservoir of life came the waves which delighted Tatro. For the child, every wave was a separate event, experienced without relation to what had been and what was to come. Each wave was the only wave. Tatro still lingered in the eternal present of childhood.
For the queen, the waves represented a continuous operation, not merely of the ocean but of the world process. That process included her husband's rejection of her, and the armies on the march over the horizon, and the increasing heat, and the sail she hoped every day to see on the horizon. From none of these things could she escape. Past or future, they were contained in her dangerous present.
Calling good-bye to Tatro, she ran forward and dived into the water. She separated herself from the little figure hesitant in the shallows, to espouse the ocean. The ring flashed on her finger as her hands sliced the surface and she swam out.
The waters were elegant against her limbs, cooling them luxuriously. She felt the energies of the ocean. A line of white breakers ahead marked the division between the waters of the bay and the sea proper, where the great westbound current flowed, dividing the continents of torrid Campannlat and chilly Hespagorat, and sweeping round the world. MyrdemInggala never swam further than that line unless her familiars were with her.
Her familiars were arriving now, lured by the strong taint of her femininity. They swam near. She dived with them as they talked in their orchestral language to which she was still a stranger. They warned her that something--an unpleasantness--was about to happen. It would emerge from the sea, her domain.
The queen's exile had brought her to this forsaken spot in the extreme south of Borlien, Gravabagalinien, Ancient Gravabagalinien, haunted by the ghosts of an army which had perished here long ago. It was all her shrunken domain. Yet she had discovered another domain, in the sea. Its discovery was accidental, and dated from the day when she had entered the sea during the period of her menses. Her scent in the water had brought the familiars to her. They had become her everyday companions, solace for all that was lost and all that threatened her.
Fringed by the creatures, MyrdemInggala floated on her back, her tender parts exposed to the heat of Batalix overhead.
The water droned in her ears. Her breasts were small and cinnamon tipped, her hips broad, her waist narrow. The sun sparkled on her skin. Her human companions sported nearby. Some swam close to the Linien Rock, others skipped along the beach; all unconsciously used the queen as reference point. Their cries rang in competition with the clash of waves.
Away up the beach, beyond the seawrack, beyond the cliffs, stood the white and gold palace of Gravabagalinien, the home to which the queen was now exiled, awaiting her divorce--or her murder. To the swimmers, it looked like a painted toy.
The phagors stood immobile on the beach. Out to sea, a sail hung immobile. The southern clouds appeared not to move. Everything waited.
But time moved. The dimday wore on--no person of standing would venture into the open in these latitudes when both suns were in the sky. And, as dimday passed, the clouds became more threatening, the sail slanted eastwards, moving towards the port of Ottassol.
In due time the waves brought a human corpse with them. This was the unpleasantness of which the familiars had warned. They squealed in disgust.
The body came swinging about the shoulder of Linien Rock as if it still possessed life and will, to be washed up in a shallow pool. There it lay, carelessly, face down. A sea bird lit on its shoulder.
MyrdemInggala caught the flash of white and swam over to inspect. One of the ladies of her court was there already, gazing down in horror at the sight of the strange fish. Its thick black hair was spikey with brine. An arm was wrapped brokenly round the neck. The sun was already drying its puckered flesh when the queen's shadow fell over it.
The body was swollen with putrefaction. Tiny shrimps in the pool scudded to feed off one broken knee. The court lady put out her foot and tipped the carcass over. It sprawled on its back, stinking.
A mass of writhing scupperfish hung from the face, busily devouring mouth and eye sockets. Even under the glare of Batalix, they did not cease their guzzling.
The queen turned nimbly about as she heard the patter of small feet approaching. She seized Tatro and swung the child up above her head, kissing her, smiling warmly at her in reassurance, and then scampering up the beach with her. As she went, she called to her majordomo.
"ScufBar! Get this thing off our beach. Have it buried as soon as possible. Outside the old ramparts."
The servant rose from the shade of the tent, brushing sand from his charfrul.
"At once, ma'am," he said.
Later in the day, the queen, driven by her anxieties, thought of a better way of disposing of the corpse.
"Take it to a certain man I know in Ottassol," she instructed her little majordomo, fixing him earnestly with her gaze. "He's a man who buys bodies. I shall also give you a letter, though not for the anatomist. You are not to tell the anatomist where you come from, you understand?"
"Who is this man, ma'am?" ScufBar looked the picture of unwillingness.
"His name is CaraBansity. You are not to mention my name to him. He has a reputation for craftiness."
She strove to hide her troubled mind from the servants, little thinking that the time would unfold when her honour rested in CaraBansity's hands.
Beneath the creaking wooden palace lay a honeycomb of cool cellars. Some of the cellars were filled with pile on pile of ice blocks, which had been hewn from a glacier in distant Hespagorat. When both suns had set, Majordomo ScufBar descended among the ice blocks, carrying a whale-oil lantern above his head. A small slave boy followed him, clutching the hem of his charfrul for safety. By way of self-defence in a lifetime of drudgery, ScufBar had become hollow-chested, round-shouldered, and pot-bellied, so as to proclaim his insignificance and escape further duties. The defence had not worked. The queen had an errand for him.
He put on leather gloves and a leather apron. Pulling aside the matting from one of the piles of ice, he gave the lantern to the boy and picked up an ice-axe. With two blows, he severed one of the blocks from its neighbour.
Carrying the block, and grunting to convince the boy of its weight, he made his way slowly up the stairs and saw to it that the boy locked the door behind him. He was greeted by hounds of monstrous size, which prowled the dark corridors. Knowing ScufBar, they did not bark.
He made his way with the ice through a back door and into the open. He listened to hear the slave boy bolt it securely from the inside. Only then did he make his way across the courtyard.
Stars gleamed overhead, and an occasional violet flicker of aurora, which lit his way under a wooden arch to the stables. He smelt the tang of hoxney manure.
A stablehand waited in the gloom, shivering. Everyone was nervous after dark in Gravabagalinien, for then the soldiers of the dead army were said to march in search of friendly land-octaves. A line of brown hoxneys shuffled in the gloom.
"Is my hoxney ready, lad?"
The stablehand had equipped a pack hoxney ready for ScufBar's journey. Over the animal's back had been secured a long wicker casket used for transporting goods requiring ice to keep them fresh. With a final grunt, ScufBar slid the block of ice into the casket, onto a bedding of sawdust.
"Now help me with the body, lad, and don't be squeamish."
The body which had been washed into the bay lay in a corner of the stable, in a puddle of sea water. The two men dragged it over, heaved it up, and arranged it on top of the ice. With some relief, they strapped the padded casket lid down.
"What a beastly cold thing it is," said the stablehand, wiping his hands on his charfrul.
"Few people think well of a human corpse," said ScufBar, pulling off his gloves and apron. "It's fortunate that the deuteroscopist in Ottassol does."
He led the hoxney from the stable and past the palace guard, whose whiskery faces peered nervously from a hut near the ramparts. The king had given his rejected queen only the old or untrustworthy to defend herself with. ScufBar himself was nervous, and never ceased to peer about him. Even the distant boom of the sea made him nervous. Once outside the palace grounds, he paused, took breath, and looked back.
The mass of the palace stood out against the star shingle in fretted outline. In one place only did a light punctuate its darkness. There a woman's figure could be discerned, standing on her balcony and gazing inland. ScufBar nodded to himself, turned towards the coast road, and pulled the hoxney's head eastwards, in the direction of Ottassol.
Queen MyrdemInggala had summoned her majordomo to her earlier. Although she was a religious woman, superstition lingered with her, and the discovery of the body in the water disturbed her. She was inclined to take it as an omen of her own threatened death.
She kissed the Princess TatromanAdala good night and retired to pray. This evening, Akhanaba had no comfort to offer, although she had conceived a simple plan whereby the corpse might be used to good effect.
She feared what the king might do--to her and to her daughter. She had no protection from his anger, and clearly understood that as long as she lived her popularity made her a threat to him. There was one who would protect her, a young general; to him she had sent a letter, but he was fighting in the Western Wars and had not replied.
Now she sent another letter, in ScufBar's care. In Ottassol, a hundred miles distant, one of the envoys of the Holy Pannovalan Empire was due to arrive shortly--with her husband. His name was Alam Esomberr, and he would be bringing with him a bill of divorcement for her to sign. Thought of the occasion made her tremble.
Her letter was going to Alam Esomberr, asking for protection from her husband. Whereas a messenger on his own would be stopped by one of the king's patrols, a grubby little man with a pack animal would pass unremarked. No one inspecting the corpse would think to look for a letter.
The letter was addressed not to Envoy Esomberr but to the Holy C'Sarr himself. The C'Sarr had reason to dislike her king, and would surely give protection to a pious queen in distress.
She stood barefoot on her balcony, looking into the night. She laughed at herself, placing faith in a letter, when the whole world might be about to burn. Her gaze went to the northern horizon. There, YarapRombry's Comet burned: to some a symbol of destruction, to others of salvation. A nightbird called. The queen listened to the cry even after it had died, as one watches a knife irretrievably falling through clear water.
When she was sure that the majordomo was on his way, she returned to her couch and drew the silk curtains round it. She lay there open-eyed.
Through the gloom, the dust of the coast road showed white. ScufBar plodded beside his load, looking anxiously about. Still he was startled when a figure materialized out of the dark and called to him to halt.
The man was armed and of military bearing. It was one of King JandolAnganol's men, paid to keep an eye on all who came or went on the queen's business. He sniffed at the casket. ScufBar explained that he was going to sell the corpse.
"Is the queen that poor, then?" asked the guard, and sent ScufBar on his way.
ScufBar continued steadily, alert for sounds beyond the creak of the casket. There were smugglers along the coast, and worse than smugglers. Borlien was involved in the Western Wars against Randonan and Kace, and its countryside was often plagued by bands of soldiers, raiders, or deserters.
When he had been walking for two hours, ScufBar led the hoxney under a tree which spread its branches over the track. The track rose steeply ahead, to join the southern highroad which ran from Ottassol all the way westwards to the frontier with Randonan.
It would take the full twenty-five hours of the day to reach Ottassol, but there were easier ways of making the journey than plodding beside a loaded hoxney.
After tying the animal to the tree, ScufBar climbed into a low branch and waited. He dozed.
When the rumble of an oncoming cart roused him, he slipped to the ground and waited crouching by the highway. The aurora flickering overhead helped him to make out the traveller. He whistled, an answering whistle came, and the cart drew to a leisurely stop.
The man who owned the cart was an old friend from the same part of Borlien as ScufBar, by name FloerCrow. Every week in the summer of the small year, he drove produce from local farms to market. FloerCrow was not an outgoing man, but he was prepared to give ScufBar a lift to Ottassol for the convenience of having an extra animal to take a turn between the shafts.
The cart stopped long enough for the pack hoxney to be secured to a rear rail, and for ScufBar to scramble aboard. FloerCrow cracked the whip, and the cart lumbered forward. It was drawn by a patient drab brown hoxney.
Despite the warmth of the night, FloerCrow wore a wide-brimmed hat and thick cloak. A sword stood in an iron socket by his side. His load comprised four black piglets, persimmons, gwing-gwings, and a pile of vegetables. The piglets dangled helplessly in nets on the outside of the cart. ScufBar wedged his body against the slatted backrest, and slept with his cap over his eyes.
He roused when the wheels were making heavy weather over dried ruts. Dawn was bleaching the stars as Freyr prepared to rise. A breeze blew and brought the aromas of human habitation.
Although darkness clung to the land, peasants were already about, making for the fields. They moved shadowy and silent, the implements they carried giving an occasional clank. Their steady pace, the downward inclination of their heads, recalled the weariness that had attended their way home on the previous evening.
Male, female, young, old, the peasants progressed on various levels, some above the level of the road, some below. The landscape, as it slowly revealed itself, was composed of wedges, inclines, and walls, all of a dull brown colour, like the hoxneys. The peasants belonged to the great loess plain, which formed the central southern part of the tropical continent of Campannlat. It ran to the north, almost to the borders with Oldorando, and east to the River Takissa, where Ottassol stood. The loamy soil had been dug over by countless workers for countless years. Banks and cliffs and dams had been constructed, to be continually destroyed or rebuilt by succeeding generations. Even in times of drought like the present, the loess had to be worked by those whose destiny it was to make crops grow from dirt.
"Whoa," said FloerCrow, as the cart rumbled into a village by the roadside.
Thick loess walls guarded the aggregation of dwellings against robbers. The gateway had broken and crumbled during last year's monsoon and had not been repaired. Although the gloom was still intense, no lights showed from any window. Hens and geese scavenged beneath the patched mud walls, on which apotropaic religious symbols were painted.
One item of cheer was provided by a stove burning by the gate. The old vendor who tended the stove had no need to cry his wares: the wares gave out a smell which was their own advertisement. He was a waffle seller. A steady stream of peasants bought waffles from him to eat on their way to work.
FloerCrow dug ScufBar in the ribs and pointed with his whip to the vendor. ScufBar took the hint. Climbing stiffly down, he went to buy their breakfast. The waffles came straight from the glowing jaws of the waffle iron into the hands of the customers. FloerCrow ate his greedily and climbed into the back of the cart to sleep. ScufBar changed hoxneys, took the reins, and got the cart moving again.
The day wore on. Other vehicles jostled on the road. The landscape changed. For a while, the highway ran so far below the level of the ground that nothing could be seen but the brown walls of fields. At other times, the way ran along the top of an embankment, and then a wide prospect of cultivation was visible.
The plain stretched in all directions, as flat as a board, dotted with bent figures. Straight lines prevailed. Fields and terraces were square. Trees grew in avenues. Rivers had been deflected into canals; even the sails of boats on the canals were rectangular.
Whatever the view, whatever the heat--today's temperature was in the hundreds--the peasants worked while there was light in the sky. Vegetables, fruits, and veronika, the chief cash crop, had to be tended. Their backs remained bent, whether one sun or two prevailed.
Freyr was pitilessly bright in contrast to the dull red face of Batalix. No one doubted which of the two was master of the heavens. Travellers faring from Oldorando, nearer the equator, told of forests bursting into flame at Freyr's command. Many believed Freyr would shortly devour the world; yet still rows had to be hoed and water trickled on delicate growths.
The farm cart neared Ottassol. The villages were no longer visible to the eye. Only fields could be seen, stretching to a horizon which dissolved in unstable mirages.
The road sloped down into a groove, bounded on either side by earth walls thirty feet high. The village was called Mordec. The men climbed down and tethered the hoxney, which drooped between the shafts until water was brought for it. Both of their little dun-coloured animals showed signs of tiredness.
Narrow tunnels led into the soil on either side of the road. Sunlight showed through them, chopped neatly into rectangular shape. The men emerged from a tunnel into an open court, well below ground level.
On one side of the court was the Ripe Flagon, an inn carved out of the soil. Its interior, comfortingly cool, was lit only by reflections of the light striking down into the courtyard. Opposite the inn were small dwellings, also carved into the loess. Their ochre facades were brightened by flowers in pots.
Through a maze of subterranean passageways the village stretched, opening intermittently into courts, many of them with staircases which led up to the surface, where most of the inhabitants of Mordec were labouring. The roofs of the houses were fields.
As they ate a snack and drank wine at the inn, FloerCrow said, "He stinks a bit."
"He's been dead a while. Queen found him on the shore, washed up. I'd say he was murdered in Ottassol, most like, and flung in the sea off a quay. The current would carry him down to Gravabagalinien."
As they went back to the cart, FloerCrow said, "It's a bad omen for the queen of queens, no mistake."
The long casket lay in the back of the cart with the vegetables. Water trickled from the melting ice and dripped to the ground, where a pool marbled itself with a slow-moving spiral of dust. Flies buzzed round the cart.
They climbed in and started on the last few miles to Ottassol.
"If King JandolAnganol wants to have someone done away with, he'll do it..."
ScufBar was shocked. "The queen's too well loved. Friends everywhere." He felt the letter in his inner pocket and nodded to himself. Influential friends.
"And him going to marry an eleven-year-old slip of a girl instead."
"Eleven and five tenners."
"Whatever. It's disgusting."
"Oh, it's disgusting, right enough," agreed ScufBar. "Eleven and a half, fancy!" He smacked his lips and whistled.
They looked at each other and grinned.
The cart creaked towards Ottassol, and the bluebottles followed.
Ottassol was the great invisible city. In colder times, the plain had supported its buildings, now they supported the plain. Ottassol was an underground labyrinth, in which men and phagors lived. All that remained on the scorched surface were roads and fields, counterpointed by rectangular holes in the ground. Down in the rectangles were the courts, surrounded by facades of houses which otherwise had no external configuration.
Ottassol was earth and its converse, hollowed earth, the negative and positive of soil, as if it had been bitten out by geometrical worms.
The city housed 695,000 people. Its extent could not be seen and was rarely appreciated even by its inhabitants. Favourable soil, climate, and geographical situation had caused the port to grow larger than Borlien's capital, Matrassyl. So the warrens expanded, often on different levels, until they were halted by the River Takissa.
Paved lanes ran underground, some wide enough for two carts to pass. ScufBar walked along one of these lanes, leading the hoxney with the casket. He had parted with FloerCrow at a market on the outskirts of town. As he went, pedestrians turned to stare, screwing up their noses at the smell which had floated behind him. The ice block at the bottom of the casket had all but melted away.
"The anatomist and deuteroscopist?" he asked of a passerby ''Bardol CaraBansity?''
Beggars of all descriptions called for alms outside the frequent churches, wounded soldiers back from the wars, cripples, men and women with horrific skin cancers. ScufBar ignored them. Pecubeas sang from their cages at every corner and court. The songs of different strains of pecubea were sufficiently distinct for the blind to distinguish and be guided by them.
ScufBar made his way through the maze, negotiated a few broad steps down into Ward Court, and came to the door which bore a sign with the name Bardol CaraBansity on it. He rang the bell.
A bolt was shot back, the door opened. A phagor appeared, dressed in a rough hempen gown. It supplemented its blank cerise stare with a question.
"What you want?"
"I want the anatomist."
Tying the hoxney to a hitching post, ScufBar entered and found himself in a small domed room. It contained a counter, behind which a second phagor stood.
The first phagor walked down a corridor, both walls of which it brushed with its broad shoulders. It pushed through a curtain into a living room in which a couch stood in one corner. The anatomist was enjoying congress with his wife on the couch. He rested as he listened to what the ahuman servant had to say, and then sighed.
"Scerm you, I'll be there." He climbed to his feet and leaned against the wall to pull his pants up under his charfrul, which he adjusted with slow deliberation.
His wife hurled a cushion at him. "You dolt, why do you never concentrate? Finish what you're doing. Tell these fools to go away."
He shook his head and his heavy cheeks trembled. "It's the unremitting clockwork of the world, my beauty. Keep it warm till I return. I don't order the comings and goings of men...."
He moved down the corridor and paused at the threshold of his shop so as to inspect the new arrival. Bardol CaraBansity was a solid man, less than weighty, with a ponderous way of speech and a heavy skull shaped not unlike a phagor's. He wore a thick leather belt over his charfrul, and a knife in the belt. Although he looked like a common butcher, CaraBansity had a well-earned reputation as a crafty man.
With his hollow chest and protruding stomach, ScufBar was not an impressive sight, and CaraBansity made it plain he was not impressed.
"I've got a body for sale, sir. A human body."
Without speaking, CaraBansity motioned to the phagors. They went and brought the body in between them, dropping it down on the counter. Sawdust and ice fragments adhered to it.
The anatomist and deuteroscopist took a step nearer.
"It's a bit high. Where did you acquire it, man?"
"From a river, sir. When I was fishing."
The body was so distended by internal gasses that it bulged out of its clothes. CaraBansity pulled it onto its back and tugged a dead fish from inside its shirt. He threw it at ScufBar's feet.
"That's a so-called scupperfish. To those of us who have a care for truth, it's not a fish at all but the marine young of a Wutra's worm. Marine. Sea, not freshwater. Why are you lying? Did you murder this poor fellow? You look like a criminal. The phrenology suggests it."
"Very well, sir, if you prefer, I did find him in the sea. Since I am a servant of the unfortunate queen, I did not want the fact widely known."
CaraBansity looked at him more closely. "You serve MyrdemInggala, queen of queens, do you, you rogue? She deserves good lackeys and good fortune, does that lady."
He indicated a cheap print of the queen's face, which hung in a corner of the shop.
"I serve her well enough. Tell me what you will pay me for this body."
"You have come all this way for ten roon, not more. In these wicked times, I can get bodies to cut up every day of the week. Fresher than this one, too."
"I was informed that you would pay me fifty, sir. Fifty roon, sir." ScufBar looked shifty, and rubbed his hands together.
"How does it happen that you turn up here with your malodorous friend when the king himself and an envoy from the Holy C'Sarr are due to arrive in Ottassol? Are you an instrument of the king's?"
ScufBar spread his hands and shrank a little. "I have connections only with the hoxney outside. Pay me just twenty-five, sir, and I'll go back to the queen immediately."
"You scerm are all greedy. No wonder the world's going to pot."
"If that is the case, sir, then I'll accept twenty. Twenty roon."
Turning to one of the phagors standing by, flicking its pale milt up its slotlike nostrils, CaraBansity said, "Pay the man and get him out of here.''
"How muzzh I pay?"
ScufBar let out a howl of anguish.
"All right. Fifteen. And you, my man, present Bardol CaraBansity's compliments to your queen."
The phagor fumbled in its hempen gown and produced a thin purse. It proffered three gold coins, lying in the gnarled palm of its three-fingered hand. ScufBar grabbed them and made for the door, looking sullen.
Briskly CaraBansity ordered one of his ahuman assistants to shoulder the corpse--an order obeyed without observable reluctance--and followed him along the dim corridor, where strange odours drifted. CaraBansity knew as much about the stars as about the intestines, and his house--itself shaped rather like an intestine--extended far into the loess, with entrances to chambers devoted to all his interests on several lanes.
They entered a workshop. Light slanted down through two small square windows set in fortress-thick earth walls. Where the phagor trod, points of light glinted under his splayed feet. They looked like diamonds. They were beads of glass, scattered when the deuteroscopist was making lenses.
The room was crammed with learned litter. The ten houses of the zodiac were painted on the wall. Against another wall hung three carcasses in various stages of dissection--a giant fish, a hoxney, and a phagor. The hoxney had been opened up like a book, its soft parts removed to display ribs and backbone. On a desk nearby lay sheets of paper on which CaraBansity had drawn detailed representations of the dead animal, with various parts depicted in coloured ink.
The phagor swung the Gravabagalinien corpse from his shoulder and hung it upside down from a rail. Two hooks pierced the flesh between the Achilles tendon and the calcaneum. The broken arms dangled, the puffy hands rested like shelled crabs on the floor. At a blow from CaraBansity, his assistant departed. CaraBansity hated having the ancipitals about, but they were cheaper than servants or even human slaves.
After a judicial contemplation of the corpse, CaraBansity pulled out his knife and cut the dead man's clothes away. He ignored the stench of decay.
The body was that of a young man, twelve years old, twelve and a half, possibly twelve years and nine tenners, not more. His clothes were of coarse and foreign quality, his hair was cut in a manner generally used by sailors.
"You, my fine fellow, are probably not of Borlien," said CaraBansity to the corpse. "Your clothes are Hespagorat style--probably from Dimariam."
The belly was so distended that it had folded over and concealed a leather body belt. CaraBansity worked it free. As the flesh sank back, a wound was revealed. CaraBansity slipped on a glove and thrust his fist into the wound. His fingers met with an obstruction. After some tugging, he extracted a curved grey ancipital horn, which had punctured the spleen and sunk deep into the body. He regarded the object with interest. Its two sharp edges made it a useful weapon. It had once possessed a handle, which was missing, possibly lost in the sea.
He regarded the body with fresh curiosity. A mystery always pleased him.
Setting the horn down, he examined the belt. It was of superior workmanship, but the sort of standard thing sold anywhere--at Osoilima, for example, where pilgrims provided a ready market for such goods. On the inner side was a button-down pocket, which he flipped open. From the pocket, he withdrew an incomprehensible object.
Frowning, he laid the object in his grubby palm and walked across to the light with it. It was like nothing he had ever seen before. He could not even identify the metal of which it was chiefly made. A shiver of superstitious fear crossed his pragmatic mind.
As he was washing it under the pump, removing traces of sand and blood, his wife, Bindla, entered the workshop.
"Bardol? What are you doing now? I thought you were coming back to bed. You know what I was keeping warm for you?"
"I love it, but I have something else to do." He flashed her one of his solemn smiles. She was of middle age--at twenty-eight and one tenner almost two years younger than he--and her rich russet hair was losing some of its colour; but he admired the way she was still aware of her ripe charms. At present, she was overacting her resentment at the smells in the room.
"You're not even writing your treatise on religion, your usual excuse."
He grunted. "I prefer my stinks."
"You perverse man. Religion is eternal, stinks aren't."
"On the contrary, my leggiandrous beauty, religions change all the time. It's stinks which go on unchanged for ever."
"You rejoice in that?"
He was drying the wonderful object on a cloth and did not answer.
"Look at this."
She came and rested a hand on his shoulder.
"By the boulder!" he exclaimed in awe. He passed it to Bindla, and she gasped.
A strap of cunningly interwoven metal, much like a bracelet, supported a transparent panel in which three sets of numbers glowed.
They read the numbers aloud as he pointed to them with a blunt finger.
The numbers writhed and changed as they watched. The CaraBansitys looked at each other in mute astonishment. They watched again.
I never saw such a talisman before," Bindla said in awe.
They had to look again, fascinated. The figures were black on a yellow background. He read them aloud.
As CaraBansity put the mechanism to his ear to see if it made any noise, the pendulum clock on the wall behind began to chime thirteen. This clock was an elaborate one, built by CaraBansity himself in his younger days. It showed in pictorial form the rising and setting times of the two suns, Batalix and Freyr, as well as the divisions of the year, the 100 seconds in a minute, the forty minutes in an hour, the twenty-five hours in a day, the eight days in a week, the six weeks in a tenner, and the ten tenners in a year of four hundred and eighty days. There was also an indicator to show the 1825 small years in a Great Year; that pointer now stood at 381, the present date by the Borlien-Oldorando calendar.
Bindla listened to the mechanism, and heard nothing. "Is it a clock of some kind?''
"Must be. Middle numbers make it thirteen o'clock, Borlientime..."
She always knew when he was at a loss. He chewed his knuckle like a child.
There was a row of studs along the top of the bracelet. She pressed one.
A different series of numbers appeared in the three apertures.
"The middle one's the year, by some ancient calendar or other. How can that work?"
He pressed the stud and the previous series appeared. He set the bracelet down on the bench and stared at it, but Bindla picked it up and slipped it over her hand. The bracelet immediately adjusted itself, fitting snuggly to her plump wrist. She shrieked.
CaraBansity went across to a shelf of worn reference books. He passed over an ancient folio copy of The Testament of RayniLayan, and pulled out a calf-bound Seer's and Deuteroscopist's Calendrical Tables. After fluttering through several pages, he settled on one and ran his finger down a column.
Although the year by the Borlien-Oldorando calendar was 381, this reckoning was not universally accepted. Other nations used other reckonings, which were listed in the Tables; 828 was listed. He found it under the ancient, discarded "Denniss Calendar," now associated with withcraft and the occult. Denniss was the name of a legendary king supposed to have ruled all Campannlat.
"The central panel of the bracelet refers to local time..." He tested out his knuckle again. "And it has survived inundation in the sea. Where are there craftsmen now who could manufacture such a jewel? Somehow it must have survived from the time of Denniss..."
He held his wife's wrist and they watched the numbers busy with their changes. They had found a timepiece of unparalleled sophistication, probably of unparalleled value, certainly of unparalleled mystery.
Wherever the craftsmen were who had made the bracelet, they must be secure from the desperate state to which King JandolAnganol had brought Borlien. Things still held together in Ottassol because it was a port, trading with other lands. Conditions elsewhere were worse, with drought, famine, and lawlessness. Wars and skirmishes wasted the country's life-blood. A better statesman than the king, advised by a less corrupt scritina, or parliament, would make peace with Borlien's enemies and see to the welfare of the population at home.
Yet it was not possible to hate JandolAnganol--though CaraBansity regularly tried to do so--because he was prepared to give up his beautiful wife, the queen of queens, to marry a stupid child, a half-Madi. Why should the Eagle do that, if not to cement the alliance between Borlien and its old enemy, Oldorando, for his country's sake? JandolAnganol was a dangerous man, all agreed--but as much under the cudgel of circumstance as the lowest peasant.
The worsening climate could be much blamed. The madness of the heat, increasing generation by generation, till the very trees caught fire...
"Don't stand dreaming," Bindla called. "Come and get your ridiculous contraption off my wrist."