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Far Horizons: All New Tales From the Greatest Worlds of Science Fiction
Far Horizons All New Tales From the Greatest Worlds of Science Fiction 3
“Thank you, Gana. I’m grateful for your skill and kindness.”
She bobbed, but did not reverence, and left the room. She herself walked lame, but upright. “All the grandmothers are rebels,” somebody had told him long ago, before the Uprising.
The next day he was able to get up and hobble to the broken-armed chair. He sat for a while looking out the window.
The room looked out from the second floor over the gardens of Yaramera, terraced slopes and flowerbeds, walks, lawns, and a series of ornamental lakes and pools that descended gradually to the river: a vast pattern of curves and planes, plants and paths, earth and still water, embraced by the broad living curve of the river. All the plots and walks and terraces formed a soft geometry centered very subtly on an enormous tree down at the riverside. It must have been a great tree when the garden was laid out four hundred years ago. It stood above and well back from the bank, but its branches reached far out over the water, and a village could have been built in its shade. The grass of the terraces had dried to soft gold. The river and the lakes and pools were all the misty blue of the summer sky. The flowerbeds and shrubberies were untended, overgrown, but not yet gone wild. The gardens of Yaramera were utterly beautiful in their desolation. Desolate, forlorn, forsaken, all such romantic words befitted them, yet they were also rational and noble, full of peace. They had been built by the labor slaves. Their dignity and peace were founded on cruelty, misery, pain. Esdan was Hainish, from a very old people, people who had built and destroyed Yaramera a thousand times. His mind contained the beauty and the terrible grief of the place, assured that the existence of one cannot justify the other, the destruction of one cannot destroy the other. He was aware of both, only aware.
And aware also, sitting in some comfort of body at last, that the lovely sorrowful terraces of Yaramera might contain within them the terraces of Darranda on Hain, roof below red roof, garden below green garden, dropping steep down to the shining harbor, the promenades and piers and sailboats. Out past the harbor the sea rises up, stands up as high as his house, as high as his eyes. Esi knows that books say the sea lies down. “The sea lies calm tonight,” says the poem, but he knows better. The sea stands, a wall, the blue-grey wall at the end of the world. If you sail out on it, it will seem flat, but if you see it truly, it’s as tall as the hills of Darranda, and if you sail truly on it, you will sail through that wall to the other side, beyond the end of the world.
The sky is the roof that wall holds up. At night the stars shine through the glass air roof. You can sail to them, too, to the worlds beyond the world.
“Esi,” somebody calls from indoors, and he turns away from the sea and the sky, leaves the balcony, goes in to meet the guests, or for his music lesson, or to have lunch with the family. He’s a nice little boy, Esi: obedient, cheerful, not talkative but quite sociable, interested in people. With very good manners, of course; after all, he’s a Kelwen and the older generation wouldn’t stand for anything less in a child of the family, but good manners come easy to him, perhaps because he’s never seen any bad ones. Not a dreamy child. Alert, present, noticing. But thoughtful, and given to explaining things to himself, such as the wall of the sea and the roof of the air. Esi isn’t as clear and close to Esdan as he used to be; he’s a little boy a long time ago and very far away, left behind, left at home. Only rarely now does Esdan see through his eyes, or breathe the marvelous intricate smell of the house in Darranda—wood, the resinous oil used to polish the wood, sweetgrass matting, fresh flowers, kitchen herbs, the sea wind—or hear his mother’s voice: “Esi? Come on in now, love. The cousins are here from Dorased!”
Esi runs in to meet the cousins, old Iliawad with crazy eyebrows and hair in his nostrils, who can do magic with bits of sticky tape, and Tuitui who’s better at catch than Esi even though she’s younger, while Esdan falls asleep in the broken chair by the window looking out on the terrible, beautiful gardens.
Further conversations with Bayaye were deferred. The zadyo came with his apologies. The Minister had been called back to speak with the President, would return within three or four days. Esdan realised he had heard a flyer take off early in the morning, not far away. It was a reprieve. He enjoyed fencing, but was still very tired, very shaken, and welcomed the rest. No one came into his room but the scared woman, Heo, and the zadyo who came once a day to ask if he had all he needed.
When he could he was permitted to leave his room, go outside if he wished. By using a stick and strapping his bound foot onto a stiff old sandal-sole Gana brought him, he could walk, and so get out into the gardens and sit in the sun, which was growing milder daily as the summer grew old. The two veots were his guards, or more exactly guardians. He saw the two young men who had tortured him; they kept at a distance, evidently under orders not to approach him. One of the veots was usually in view, but never crowded him.
He could not go far. Sometimes he felt like a bug on a beach. The part of the house that was still usable was huge, the gardens were vast, the people were very few. There were the six men who had brought him, and five or six more who had been here, commanded by the heavyset man Tualenem. Of the original asset population of the house and estate there were ten or twelve, a tiny remnant of the house-staff of cooks, cooks’ helpers, washwomen, chambermaids, ladies’ maids, bodyservants, shoe-polishers, window-cleaners, gardeners, path-rakers, waiters, footmen, errandboys, stablemen, drivers, usewomen and useboys who had served the owners and their guests in the old days. These few were no longer locked up at night in the old house-asset compound where the crouchcage was, but slept in the courtyard warren of stables for horses and people where he had been kept at first, or in the complex of rooms around the kitchens. Most of these remaining few were women, two of them young, and two or three old, frail-looking men.
He was cautious of speaking to any of them at first lest he get them into trouble, but his captors ignored them except to give orders, evidently considering them trustworthy, with good reason. Troublemakers, the assets who had broken out of the compounds, burned the great house, killed the bosses and owners, were long gone: dead, escaped, or reenslaved with a cross branded deep on both cheeks. These were good dusties. Very likely they had been loyal all along. Many bondspeople, especially personal slaves, as terrified by the Uprising as their owners, had tried to defend them or had fled with them. They were no more traitors than were owners who had freed their assets and fought on the Liberation side. As much, and no more.
Girls, young field hands, were brought in one at a time as usewomen for the men. Every day or two the two young men who had tortured him drove a landcar off in the morning with a used girl and came back with a new one.
Of the two younger house bondswomen, one called Kamsa always carried her little baby around with her, and the men ignored her. The other, Heo, was the scared one who had waited on him. Tualenem used her every night. The other men kept hands off.
When they or any of the bondspeople passed Esdan in the house or outdoors they dropped their hands to their sides, chin to the chest, looked down, and stood still: the formal reverence expected of personal assets facing an owner.
“Good morning, Kamsa.”
Her reply was the reverence.
It had been years now since he had been with the finished product of generations of slavery, the kind of slave described as “perfectly trained, obedient, selfless, loyal, the ideal personal asset,” when they were put up for sale. Most of the assets he had known, his friends and colleagues, had been city rentspeople, hired out by their owners to companies and corporations to work in factories or shops or at skilled trades. He had also known a good many field hands. Field hands seldom had any contact with their owners; they worked under gareot bosses, and their compounds were run by cutfrees, eunuch assets. The ones he knew had mostly been runaways protected by the Hame, the underground railroad, on their way to independence in Yeowe. None of them had been utterly deprived of education, options, any imagination of freedom, as these bondspeople were. He
had forgotten what a good dusty was like. He had forgotten the utter impenetrability of the person who has no private life, the intactness of the wholly vulnerable.
Kamsa’s face was smooth, serene, and showed no feeling, though he heard her sometimes talking and singing very softly to her baby, a joyful, merry little noise. It drew him. He saw her one afternoon sitting at work on the coping of the great terrace, the baby in its sling on her back. He limped over and sat down nearby. He could not prevent her from setting her knife and board aside and standing head and hands and eyes down in reverence as he came near.
“Please sit down, please go on with your work,” he said. She obeyed. “What’s that you’re cutting up?”
“Dueli, master,” she whispered.
It was a vegetable he had often eaten and enjoyed. He watched her work. Each big, woody pod had to be split along a sealed seam, not an easy trick; it took a careful search for the opening point and hard, repeated twists of the blade to open the pod. Then the fat edible seeds had to be removed one by one and scraped free of a stringy, clinging matrix.
“Does that part taste bad?” he asked.
It was a laborious process, requiring strength, skill, and patience. He was ashamed. “I never saw raw dueli before,” he said.
“What a good baby,” he said, a little at random. The tiny creature in its sling, its head lying on her shoulder, had opened large bluish-black eyes and was gazing vaguely at the world. He had never heard it cry. It seemed rather unearthly to him, but he had not had much to do with babies.
He said, “Please, Kamsa, my name is Esdan. I’m not a master. I’m a prisoner. Your masters are my masters. Will you call me by my name?”
She did not answer.
“Our masters would disapprove.”
She nodded. The Werelian nod was a tip-back of the head, not a bob down. He was completely used to it after all these years. It was the way he nodded himself. He noticed himself noticing it now. His captivity, his treatment here, had displaced, disoriented him. These last few days he had thought more about Hain than he had for years, decades. He had been at home on Werel, and now was not. Inappropriate comparisons, irrelevant memories. Alienated.
“They put me in the cage,” he said, speaking as low as she did and hesitating on the last word. He could not say the whole word, crouchcage.
Again the nod. This time, for the first time, she looked up at him, the flick of a glance. She said soundlessly, “I know,” and went on with her work.
He found nothing more to say.
“I was a pup, then I did live there,” she said, with a glance in the direction of the compound where the cage was. Her murmuring voice was profoundly controlled, as were all her gestures and movements. “Before that time the house burned. When the masters did live here. They did often hang up the cage. Once, a man for until he did die there. In that. I saw that.”
Silence between them.
“We pups never did go under that. Never did run there.”
“I saw the…the ground was different, underneath,” Esdan said, speaking as softly and with a dry mouth, his breath coming short. “I saw, looking down. The grass. I thought maybe…where they…” His voice dried up entirely.
“One grandmother did take a stick, long, a cloth on the end of that, and wet it, and hold it up to him. The cutfrees did look away. But he did die. And rot some time.”
“What had he done?”
“Enna,” she said, the one-word denial he’d often heard assets use—I don’t know, I didn’t do it, I wasn’t there, it’s not my fault, who knows…
He’d seen an owner’s child who said “enna” be slapped, not for the cup she broke but for using a slave word.
“A useful lesson,” he said. He knew she’d understand him. Underdogs know irony like they know air and water.
“They did put you in that, then I did fear,” she said.
“The lesson was for me, not you, this time,” he said.
She worked, carefully, ceaselessly. He watched her work. Her downcast face, clay-color with bluish shadows, was composed, peaceful. The baby was darker-skinned than she. She had not been bred to a bondsman, but used by an owner. They called rape use. The baby’s eyes closed slowly, translucent bluish lids like little shells. It was small and delicate, probably only a month or two old. Its head lay with infinite patience on her stooping shoulder.
No one else was out on the terraces. A slight wind stirred in the flowering trees behind them, streaked the distant river with silver.
“Your baby, Kamsa, you know, he will be free,” Esdan said.
She looked up, not at him, but at the river and across it. She said, “Yes. He will be free.” She went on working.
It heartened him, her saying that to him. It did him good to know she trusted him. He needed someone to trust him, for since the cage he could not trust himself. With Rayaye he was all right; he could still fence; that wasn’t the trouble. It was when he was alone, thinking, sleeping. He was alone most of the time. Something in his mind, deep in him, was injured, broken, had not mended, could not be trusted to bear his weight.
He heard the flyer come down in the morning. That night Rayaye invited him down to dinner. Tualenem and the two veots ate with them and excused themselves, leaving him and Rayaye with a half bottle of wine at the makeshift table set up in one of the least damaged downstairs rooms. It had been a hunting lodge or trophy room, here in this wing of the house that had been the azade, the men’s side, where no women would ever have come; female assets, servants, and usewomen did not count as women. The head of a huge packdog snarled above the mantel, its fur singed and dusty and its glass eyes gone dull. Crossbows had been mounted on the facing wall. Their pale shadows were clear on the dark wood. The electric chandelier flickered and dimmed. The generator was uncertain. One of the old bondsmen was always tinkering at it.
“Going off to his usewoman,” Rayaye said, nodding towards the door Tualenem had just closed with assiduous wishes for the Minister to have a good night. “Fucking a white. Like fucking turds. Makes my skin crawl. Sticking his cock into a slave cunt. When the war’s over there’ll be no more of that kind of thing. Halfbreeds are the root of this revolution. Keep the races separate. Keep the ruler blood clean. It’s the only answer.” He spoke as if expecting complete accord, but did not wait to receive any sign of it. He poured Esdan’s glass full and went on in his resonant politician’s voice, kind host, lord of the manor, “Well, Mr. Old Music, I hope you’ve been having a pleasant stay at Yaramera, and that your health’s improved.”
A civil murmur.
“President Oyo was sorry to hear you’d been unwell and sends his wishes for your full recovery. He’s glad to know you’re safe from any further mistreatment by the insurgents. You can stay here in safety as long as you like. However, when the time is right, the president and his cabinet are looking forward to having you in Bellen.”
Long habit prevented Esdan from asking questions that would reveal the extent of his ignorance. Rayaye like most politicians loved his own voice, and as he talked Esdan tried to piece together a rough sketch of the current situation. It appeared that the legitimate government had moved from the city to a town, Bellen, northeast of Yaramera, near the eastern coast. Some kind of command had been left in the city. Rayaye’s references to it made Esdan wonder if the city was in fact semi-independent of the Oyo government, governed by a faction, perhaps a military faction.
When the Uprising began, Oyo had at once been given extraordinary powers; but the Legitimate Army of Voe Deo, after their stunning defeats in the west, had been restive under his command, wanting more autonomy in the field. The civilian government had demanded retaliation, attack, and victory. The army wanted to contain the insurrection. Rega-General Aydan had established the Divide in the city and tried to es
tablish and hold a border between the new Free State and the Legitimate Provinces. Veots who had gone over to the Uprising with their asset troops had similarly urged a border truce to the Liberation Command. The army sought armistice, the warriors sought peace. But “So long as there is one slave I am not free,” cried Nekam-Anna, Leader of the Free State, and President Oyo thundered, “The nation will not be divided! We will defend legitimate property with the last drop of blood in our veins!” The Rega-General had suddenly been replaced by a new commander in chief. Very soon after that the Embassy was sealed, its access to information cut.
Esdan could only guess what had happened in the half year since. Rayaye talked of “our victories in the south” as if the Legitimate Army had been on the attack, pushing back into the Free State across the Devan River, south of the city. If so, if they had regained territory, why had the government pulled out of the city and dug in down at Bellen? Rayaye’s talk of victories might be translated to mean that the Army of the Liberation had been trying to cross the river in the south and the Legitimates had been successful in holding them off. If they were willing to call that a victory, had they finally given up the dream of reversing the revolution, retaking the whole country, and decided to cut their losses?
“A divided nation is not an option,” Rayaye said, squashing that hope. “You understand that, I think.”
Rayaye poured out the last of the wine. “But peace is our goal. Our very strong and urgent goal. Our unhappy country has suffered enough.”
“I know you to be a man of peace, Mr. Old Music. We know the Ekumen fosters harmony among and within its member states. Peace is what we all desire with all our hearts.”
Assent, plus faint indication of inquiry.
“As you know, the Government of Voe Deo has always had the power to end the insurrection. The means to end it quickly and completely.”