by Maurice Tuck
This is a science fiction/fantasy novella about the meeting of Merovin, a merger of Old Earth Zen and science, with the inhabitants of Endor, a world of magic and mutants.
It is told somewhat in summary form, which gives short shrift to dialogue and many of the scenes. I intend, some day, to turn this into a proper novel, but, in the meantime, I think it is reasonably readable as is. There is, at the end, a glossary of terms that might be curious or at least unfamiliar.
Thousands of worlds fell into oblivion during the Collapse, returning only slowly, world by world, to the memory of civilization during the Reconstruction. Like the return of prodigal children they brought the parent Universal Government special pleasure at their rediscovery. But no world caused more joy, or more consternation, at its return to the maps of civilization than did Endor.
“Beautiful, yet not seen. Precious without value. Hot, lacking warmth. Cold without winter.”
As well as any folklore, this riddle and its reading reflect the mystique and frustration Endor engendered among the worlds of the Alliance.
The riddle arises thus: Endor is beautiful with its pure white cloud layers, its nearly perpetual cover of mist, and the spectacular silver ring – the remnant of its only moon – which surrounds the planet and seems to shimmer as though filled with stars. But the planet is not seen by off-worlders because the mists obscure viewing from space, and the Endoreans focus the ring, apparently using telekinesis, into a deadly beam of reflected sunlight turned against any uninvited ship, foreclosing first-hand viewing. To date only three ships have ever been invited to make landfall.
Its special preciousness stems from the unique powers of mind the natives possess, or rather the unique degree and universality of these powers among the natives. In the so called psychic phenomena Endor is uniquely endowed, yet this gift is without value to the Alliance because no inter-world trade occurs, no knowledge is exchanged, not one single native has ever left Endor to teach nor have any students from off-world ever been permitted on-world.
From the three ships that have been permitted on-world, the land is known to resemble the aftermath of a tectonic holocaust only recently quiesced, strewn willy-nilly with granite mountains and upcroppings, deep clefts and multitudes of active volcanoes. It is full of hot springs and lava-flows, wrestling with the cold air which rolls down from lofty snows and perpetual polar glaciers. Lying nearly untilted in its equatorial plain, it has scant seasons, its climate being ruled by winds, mists, sleet and vulcanism.
Yet the unravelling of the riddle lies not in the climate but in Endor’s people. It is they who are hot in temper. It is they who lack warmth despite the hot springs and who are cold even without winter. The few visitors report they are haughty, chill-hearted and pitiless, like their planet, which the call World. They say of themselves that they are grown soft, unlike their progenitors of only a few centuries prior when the land itself shook with grinding anger.
The LOREKEEP’S TALE
The Lorekeep shuffled to his flat stone seat, thankful again that his tribal value lay not in strength of body, for that had ebbed, but in the gems preserved in his mind and his skill at sharing their harsh, brilliant inner fires. His gaze rested briefly on each of the thirteen youthful faces awaiting his words. He alone knew as well each of them their mother-lines and father-lines and had reckoned to a nicety the weight of Pride devolving upon each from ancestral Great Ones. He alone knew the exact weight of Pride born by their Tribe and that of many other Tribes and Clings and the tales of Pride of the people of the World, which taught place and kept order.
He delayed his tale as much to catch his wind from the climb as for dramatic effect. His voice still retained its power and beauty, but shortness of breath would have marred the telling, and tonight’s telling must be perfect to match the rare flawless open sky.
His wind-carved features faced the eternal mystery of the SilverPassNaught, flung high over the firmament, and he pondered its silver secret as he had uncounted times before. Long ago the People had been promised a golden gift, but were given this silver one. In his heart he knew its golden hue had been bleached by the People’s overbearing Pride and presumption. So tonight he would tell this tale of Shame — the only tale of Shame in all his stock and store. From Shame comes humility. From humility comes mercy. In mercy the soul awakens to joy. “And,” thought the Lorekeep, “the Guest knows the time is overripe for the People’s soul to awaken.”
His arm lifted in the clear night, the ancient fingers tracing the overhead arc of shimmering insubstantiality, the World-cirCling cordon of moonlight that shed the only illumination the little cluster of listeners needed.
His velvet voice intoned: “In the youth of your grandfathers‘ grandfathers, no SilverPassNaught girdled World; no Overmind tempered its fires and shudderings and crackwinds. No power existed to throw back the ships of the Off-world abominations, the Dead-eyes.”
The eyes of all the children stared into the deep night sky, following the Lorekeep’s lead. On few, very few, nights of the greater cycle were the skies and land clear enough of clouds and mist to afford a penetrating view of that tenuous, narrow, silver world-ribbon, woven among the stars, glittering occasionally along its pale gossamer pathway. But to be without it was unthinkable; it was the fundament of World.
The Lorekeep let his gaze return to his audience. “But the Dead-eyes had not yet found World, and the PassNaught was still a great round moon.” He made a sphere with his hands. Had he been a lesser Lorekeep, he might have bespoken an image of the moon. Some of the Lorekeeps of book-Tribes did so, but the land-Tribes kept to older ways, relying only on memory and voice and gesture in the art of tales.
“Those were mighty days when World was a dragon that roared and belched flames and threw winds, and the People wrestled life from its jaws. Now World is a snowbird, and children play about it as they please. But our Forebears had Pride in strengths which have lessened in us, to our Shame.”
The children stirred perceptibly at the affront, but it had been necessary to say that word. All tales told by all Lorekeeps were tales of Pride – Pride in self, Pride of Tribe, Pride for the People of World, and especially Pride in the Great Ones, the Foremosts from TenTongues onward. But these tales the children already knew or would hear on lesser nights. “Yea, children, this is the Tale of Shame. This is the Tale of TouchStone and StillBorn.” The Lorekeep paused to let the effect seep in – to utter the word stillborn, and to do so in the same breath with TouchStone, Foremost of Foremosts, Morning Star of the People.
His words gathered them now to him, shaken, shamed. “In those days there came into the Waterreed Tribe a womb-child. I do not say a birthling for his Kenning came with him when he left the womb and flowed freely from him like a Healer’s, so his mother named him WaterRunning. Then, as now, some few birthlings became children by the lesser cycle.” His hands mimed the gushings of geyser waters to reflect a lesser cycle. “But never before or since have the People known a womb-child.”
“Many came to see the wonder, and sages and Elders did him honor. The Foremost himself came from HeartKeep to foretell the child would be the touchstone of the People. WaterRunning they called him, but his mind was a cool, deep pool and his wisdom a mighty ocean and his strengths spewed forth diverse and scalding, and holding sway over all the World, like the geyser fields. It may chance that some Elders have two gifts. Among the Foremosts there have even been three-gifted Great Ones. But TouchStone bore all gifts and bore them greatly.”
The children, even the youngest among them, had heard many-times-many these tales of TouchStone, the Pride of World. But the People did not tire of hearing the honor of their own Tribe, and TouchStone, being Foremost, belonged to all Tribes, and all derived honor from him.
But the children sat still or hung their heads, vaguely disquieted. They could not easily hear the word Shame. A council trial ending in pronouncement of full Shame on a person was still tantamount to a death sentence in many land-Tribes. But the authority of the Lorekeep tolerated no dissent. So they listened as the speaker continued.
“By his fifth greater cycle WaterRunning’s Kenning had reached out to touch the Eldest of every Tribe and Cling, however far flung, hidden or haughty. From them he drew wisdom; their inner fires fed his so that he was matured beyond his greater cycles. And as his mother had foreseen he became great among healers, curing not only sickness of body but the strange twistings of the mind as well, and this thing had not been known before.”
The Lorekeep allowed his gaunt body to lean far forwards as though to touch his listeners, and then back to draw them with him into the time of legends, but also into the reality that was then. “Ah, children, you must remember in those days World was harsh. The fire-mountains belched burning stone and choking smoke. The lands shook and trembled at will, and the great winds, the crackwinds, might rage without warning. How could a gentle people have survived? The People were as harsh as the land, but they were strong to live in it. The StrongHands sought to hold the land, and the WindHands fought the storms, and all the Gifts made life possible, but they left no room for pity. So the People honored strength, and WaterRunning was strong beyond thought and was loved without bound.”
The Lorekeep paused to consider and dismiss weaving the crackwinds into his Tale. Like many other perils of the older World, the crackwinds were gone. But their living memory haunted many tales of the People, and they remained the perfect symbol of the capricious destructiveness World had exercised in the days of its cruelty. Crackwind — a pane of dense, cold air, slipping free of and pushed on by the warmer air surrounding it. Gaining ever greater speeds in ear-rending screeches, it would finally break free from the restraints of sanity with a crack heard over the whole continent. Then it would rush, faster than the very sound of its own coming until its fury was spent in the skies or until it struck the land. Where it struck was devastation. A city, a forest, even the face of a mountain would crumble before this hammer blow of the gods.
“But the great gift that WaterRunning brought his People was the chance for mercy and a measure of peace. From what deep necessity did he spring, this man of gentleness and learning who could calm the fire-mountains or silence the thunder? When he attained manhood, the Elders of the WaterReed Tribe gave him the name of TouchStone, and the People clamored to name him Foremost that he should rule the People. But he refused the title, wishing only to counsel, not to rule, and called together the first Council of Elders. There he foretold the coming of the Off-worlders that he would not live to see and named the Keeper Cling to found a school where sages could gather to train their Gifts. And the People prevailed upon him to go to HeartKeep, for the Foremost himself submitted to TouchStone whether he would or not.”
“But these tales you know for many is their telling in Pride. They are the stories of the might of TouchStone for which he receives honor. Now is the tale of his humility for which he receives reverence. This is the tale of how the People raised their Hands against TouchStone, and how they reviled the Guest, and it is told for our Shame.”
Now the children sat quietly. Nor did they sit tall as when the Lorekeep told tales of their ancestral Great Ones, but quiet to disown any connection with a Shame unfairly visited upon them by the blindness of their forebears.
“For thirty greater cycles honor attended TouchStone — honor and great deeds, and he ruled World from HeartKeep. Yet he had not married nor produced a child, and this was not well in the minds of the People. Just when whispers grew to open request, TouchStone left HeartKeep and retired to the school the Keeper Cling had founded deep in the wastelands at his request.
It seemed to the People the fire had been taken from their hearth and set to flame in the wilderness to warm none but Keepers and scholars. Even this betrayal the People would have forgiven TouchStone, if he had left some ember of his fire, some child of his flame to rule in his stead. But TouchStone’s passions had never slaked themselves in the common ways of men.
Then a storm of protest sprang up among the People, and they rose in anger, marching on the Keeper school. No Foremost had ever refused to share his seed, and many great ladies of proud Tribes had offered to house his precious life-gift. This storm threatened to turn into a tempest, though no one dreamed of violence against TouchStone. Yet those who followed TouchStone unquestioningly gathered to his side. Keepers came in great numbers from their Clings in cities, wielding their power as though TouchStone were a ward in need of protection.”
“Though the Keepers might wrap their school in a lordly flame of the Fire that is their Gift, it would have been snuffed like a candle in the wind of the People’s wrath. But TouchStone bespoke the People and foretold he would present them a male child in five greater cycles, and he would be glorious beyond hope. He foretold his child would bring three gifts — the Overmind, joy, and a gift of gold.”
“These gifts were strange and unforeseen even by the deepest Seer. Yet now they seemed right and desirable. The very name ‘Overmind’ portended power and glory, though no one knew what an over-mind might be. Yet the sound of it was much to the liking of the People. The gift of gold they now dimly foresaw to be a golden shield in the heavens. Of the three, joy was the strangest to the People. Joy they knew as the fierce pleasure a PowerHand felt in the exercise of his Gift. But the simple joy of the opened heart was a luxury ill-fitted to their lives of trial.”
“And though the People foresaw the gifts only as through a mist, yet they left contented to wait, returning to their home Tribes, glad of the glory to come.”
“For those five quiet cycles TouchStone taught in his school, called TouchStone Keep by the People. Many came, some few to stay forever and teach in their turn. Yet it was required that students set aside ambition and hauteur and submit humbly to discipline, and this was not the way of the People. But of his true students, and many were Keepers for they had else no family to devote themselves to, many came to love him more than life or honor. These noised about his greatness even more than when he had adorned HeartKeep, calling him good as well as great, humble as well as wise.”
“At that time in a Tribe but half a day’s walk from TouchStone Keep, named the WillowLeaf Tribe, there lived a maiden named RavenFair, the happiest and loveliest woman of her Tribe; and she had married well in love and position. Yet for the cycles of her marriage her womb remained barren, and her happiness slowly turned to dust as her Tribe’s contempt for her grew harder. Had her husband, as was his right, left her because of her shameful barrenness, the WillowLeaf Tribe would have fallen on her in deadly wrath for abomination, but he loved her for her beauty and clear sight and could not bear to forsake her.”
“In the first lesser cycles of that greater cycle she finally felt life stir within her, and she foresaw greatness for her child, and for herself redemption of honor. As was the custom her husband removed to his parent’s house until the birthling should be born and show first Kenning and be named by the mother as a human child. Those lesser cycles passed well for RavenFair, and the Tribe felt her happiness even in the pangs of birth which she must endure alone.”
“When the birthling came, the WillowLeaf Tribe felt her Kenning waver in confusion and horror. She had foreseen greatness, but she bore a swart and runty thing whose mind would not awaken to the world that gripped its body. Maybe she thought that hopes and failures had twisted her own Sight false, or maybe she yet hoped it would awaken to life and Kenning before the allotted time. No Tribesman came, of course, to view the birthling, as there could be no true birth until the child had been shown human, yet all the Tribe knew her Shame. So for nine lesser cycles RavenFair nursed the bitter fruit of her womb, hoping and hating with equal effect.”
“When the earth-womb time had passed the Elders came to test the birthling. Long and deeply they sought for any sign of Kenning, knowing that RavenFair would never bear again. But when at last they sighed and sat back, RavenFair saw their answer before they spoke it. Looking upon her disappointment she cursed it, ‘StillBorn I name you. Let the wilderness take you.’ At that time the WillowLeaf Tribe left its mind-blind birthlings in the wild lands, letting the beasts feed upon them, so RavenFair had only cursed her birthling to its inevitable death; but in the same breath she had named it, though Shamefully, and by tribal law the birthling became a child at its naming, entitled to tribal protection until its rites of manhood.”
“When the Elders heard her words they stepped back aghast with anger and dismay. Yet they left secretly relieved that the problem of RavenFair would solve itself. Since she had never borne a child, she embarrassed the Tribe. Now she had forced herself into a blind canyon with no exit except through the door of death. Honor demanded she set the problem to right that night with a murder-suicide. Indeed, RavenFair fulfilled the Elders’ hopes in half measure, for she took her own life before morning. But she left the WillowLeaf Tribe the legacy of a blind runt, a shame-child, named StillBorn.”
“Always when a child’s mother dies some woman of the Tribe will claim mother-right of the child and support-obligation from the father and Tribe, the nearest of kin having the greatest claim. But no woman came forward to claim StillBorn.”
“How the Tribe would have settle its problem none can now know. Tribal law or no, a Shameful deed on a dark night, or a death by starvation was the child’s only prospect. But before noon TouchStone, Pride of the People, arrived alone, unattended, though he had the right to a regal entourage of PowerHands.”
“TouchStone went unguided to the child and lifted him tenderly, taking him before the Elders who stood amazed. ‘Who claims mother-right for this child?’ TouchStone asked the Elders.
But no one answered him for they were speechless in amazement and Shame. The Foremost waited until the silence became an answer, then spoke again, ‘Then I claim mother-right for this child, StillBorn, and henceforth he is my child, as though borne in my womb and born from me into World.'”
“These were in truth the proper words with which to claim mother-right, though he did not claim obligation from the Tribe, but in all the ages of World they had never been uttered by a man in earnest. With these words began the Forsakening and the Days of Doubt. The Elders shook with amazement and confusion, but, of course, did not dream to gainsay the will of the Foremost, and none contested his return to his wilderness keep gently cradling the child, which did but fulfill RavenFair’s curse that the wilderness should take the birthling.”
“Like greasewood fire the tale spread around World, causing the gravest of doubts and distress among the People. Many went to see the abomination-child, perhaps hoping to hear the tale denied or learn the deep and mysterious rationale of TouchStone’s behavior. Yet the Foremost said only, ‘This is my child that I forespoke, and great is my joy to behold him.’ Then the People’s thoughts darkened. They had murmured when TouchStone had retired to a school of Keepers, thought he did not wear the Keepers’ black, which in those days was the color of Shame. They openly gossiped that the Foremost had never lain with woman when so many were so willing. Now they groaned with dismay to hear he had claimed a mother-right, and claimed it of a Dead-eye.”
“In this way matters lasted for a greater cycle, but like a black dog fed foul meat, matters only grew worse. The People raised their voices in protest, demanding that the Elders speak to TouchStone. Even now it is a fearsome thing to see a human’s power leave World unshared. In those days it was a crime to keep one’s Gift only to oneself, when World was so harsh that only the Gifts allowed meaningful survival.”
“The Keepers were tolerated partially because many men were glad to have more than one wife, partially because they were very strong, especially in the Gifts of Fire and rain-fire, and many had also the Gift of healing, but mostly it was reasoned that to kill them would be costly in terms of their own lives, and still the People would not obtain the Keepers’ seed.”
“Yet it could not be borne that TouchStone’s seed should pass away, for chance might not a second time bring such powers as his into World.”
“So the Council of Elders, the very council TouchStone had created, came to him in formal delegation to request that he fulfill his prophecy and father a child. ‘How should I father a child,’ he replied, ‘when I am mother to this one?’ Then among the council were some who wept, and others who wondered if no one had the skill to heal his mind. But to a man they knew that the days of happiness were over, and the long love affair of the People with their Foremost had ended.”
“Still the Foremost was legend and no one spoke of violence to him. They yet vaguely hoped to reason with him and procure his seed. ‘Foremost,this child has no Kenning,’ they argued,’nor indeed even any sign that his mind walks the paths of World.’ But TouchStone laughed, ‘You ask too little. His mind dances among the stars. And call me not Foremost for I took up that title reluctantly and lay it down gladly. A greater one than I is come, and it is Shame to any to be named before him. He is my father and my guest and the Guest of World, and I will tend to his worldly needs. And I give him now his Cling name, for he has all the manhood he will know; I name him StarRise.'”
“Even the Council of Elders could scarcely keep their dignity at being told StillBorn had become their new Foremost and was now to be called StarRise, though he could not feed or clothe himself or focus his eyes. They wondered at his strangely translucent skin. But this same film covering his eyes was clearly a cataract, an infirmity and therefore abominable.”
“They left bitter, and their bile bred in the People. ‘StarRise,’ they muttered, ‘Name him rather NightFall, CoalLump or BleachBone.’ TouchStone they renamed StoneShard and CrackedPot. Their former love for TouchStone soured through betrayal, their adulation turned to anger, ripe for violence.”
“Then quietly, one by one, most of the Keepers of World, dressed in their black, came to the Keeper school, TouchStone Keep, while in the rest of the People anger fomented like yeast growing wild in hot dough. The Keepers had a solidarity, a unity born partially of the pressures all minorities bear and partially arising from their inclinations. Against their massed might, no known strength of World could prevail, for no others would unite so closely in such numbers. With constant vigilance they began to turn away the discontents. Yet strife and dissonance did not leave. They encamped the Keep as though they would lay siege to it. And the curious came to see the besiegers as well as the besieged.”
“Like loose iron filings to a magnet the People homed to TouchStone in ever greater numbers. The Seers of the Council spoke of a cataclysm, imminent, dwarfing even the crackwinds and tidal waves. Perhaps the People had merely never before had sufficient unity of purpose or intensity of emotion to form an Overmind, or perhaps they had never gathered in great enough numbers, for now they had gathered in their hundreds of thousands about the school. Or maybe StarRise was a catalyst.”
“Such tensions could not long endure. Food grew quickly short and tempers even shorter. The sleepless nights were worse than the angry days.”
“Who first raised a power-hand against the keep on that clear night filled with moonlight is not known. Maybe someone called out in Kenning, ‘StarRise go back to the stars’, or ‘TouchStone submit.’ Anger leapt up like a hungry beast. It would not return to its lair before feeding.”
“The Keepers, in an unprecedented union of Kenning, called upon their special power with Fire. They clothed the keep in solid flame which neither thought nor missile could penetrate. Like a titanic flower closing its petals of living light, the keep bloomed in the shadows, an awesome focus for the maddened crowd. Though they could not yet justify violence against TouchStone, this gave them a target which Pride allowed them to strike.”
“The People have always been loath to blend their minds together, to open their secret selves to any but their most trusted intimates. Yet, suddenly a thousand minds bent in unison against the shield of flame, calling forth wind and power, oblivious to their own mental nakedness.
The united minds of the Keepers answered, strengthening the shield and calling forth the rain-fire in a tight circle about the school. Then people in their tens of thousands bent their will against the school, oblivious that its destruction would have brought instant death to TouchStone as well.”
“Then TouchStone, the Bridegroom of Peace, let his mind add its cool, unthinkable power to the barrier around the keep. And none had ever felt its full power before. The People grew drunk in their need, and their drunkenness spread through the crowd. Then the People in their hundreds of thousands flung their full might against that fragile pile of rocks on the plain.”
“In that moment a strange and awesome thing came to pass; the Overmind was born. It arose from the myriad minds of the People, but transcended them, a being unto itself and as unanswerable to its components as is the poem to the liver of the poet. It was at first only a wanton child, but strong. The firmament shook and a World-wind sprang forth that would have flayed World itself bare of life. The impenetrable shield of flame around TouchStone Keep flickered into nothingness. Beside the Overmind all powers that had swept World beforetimes were dwarfed. Its might spoke the united will of the People unto TouchStone the betrayer, and StarRise the irritant, and the word it spoke was ‘Begone.'”
“In that very instant the People quaked at what they had set loose and clung in desperate fear to trees or stones. Not well or wisely had the infant behemoth, the Overmind, been uncaged. But in that selfsame moment, clear as a silver bell, every living mind of the World heard the laughing voice of StarRise, the mindless lump of coal, the luminant godling, answer, ‘As you will.'”
“Then the mind of StarRise reached out and took the Overmind to be his creature and tamed it to his will. The World-wind and crackwinds were calmed and taken from the land, and the tremblings of World were stilled, and the Overmind became a remote, cool power, untouchable but wise and infinitely powerful, yet only vaguely sensed by the most gifted.”
“Overhead, World’s eternal companion, its only moon, metamorphosed in cataclysmic silence — its great white orb deformed to an egg-shape, then burst into an endless stream of dust, which slowly, with great dignity reached out to encircle World in infinite arms. But the dust motes were seen to be imbedded in a diaphanous luminance reminiscent of StarRise’s skin and eyes.”
“Next many things came to pass. TouchStone Keep stood calmly, sanely, where it had always stood, but the People were aware that TouchStone himself was no more with them, nor was StarRise. But the Overmind was there, and it was a gift from StarRise as promised by TouchStone. It made orderly the workings of World and the crackwinds came no more, nor did World shake and tremble immoderately. The fire-mountains spew now gently, mere smudge pots, and when the Off-worlders came, the Overmind flung them back, or let them land as it chose, not as they chose. The Overmind has grown more remote so that now only the Great Ones can caress it directly with their minds, but they say it yet resides in the SilverPassNaught and possesses something of the cool essence of TouchStone and something of the star-dancing silver of StarRise.”
“The joy that TouchStone promised has not come, or is slow in coming as the People slowly unlearn their harshness. Or maybe it was stillborn when they forsook TouchStone, or refused to believe in what they could not see for themselves, that a Dead-eyed, mindless child might be a godling.”
“As for the golden gift, we believe it to be the SilverPassNaught, though it is not known why TouchStone promised gold and gave silver. Yet no one now wishes to repeat the mistake of the Days of Doubt.”
“‘Keeper’ now means not only those who keep their seed, but those who kept faith with the Foremost, and black is officially a color of honor. The Keepers yet maintain their school, though many PowerHands still mistrust their teachings and some still call Shame on their Cling. ”
“There is only this to add — TouchStone is still reckoned Foremost of Foremost. StarRise is not counted among the People. We reverence him, yet call him the Guest. And whenever the Overmind whispers to us, or the Hand of the PassNaught reaches down to still a storm or out to bat away an Off-world ship, we remember the Guest and the People’s shame in their presumption, lest ever again we look at darkness and fail to see the glint of gold.”
Then the Lorekeep ended his tale. He looked up to the shimmering band, then down to the children’s eyes until they felt the People’s Shame and turned away.
Sometime during the Reconstruction an age-old courtship had been consummated. The inscrutable Eastern mind lay naked before the scrutinizing Western eye. From the union of East and West arose many fruits, among them the Rem schools. There the precision, the pitiless exactitude of science dedicated itself to metaphysics and psychology, the study of the human mind and body, from yoga to cybernetic martial arts. Mysteries that had required a lifetime to master became accessible at light speeds, through computer-enhanced biofeedback and a molecular-level intervention with the human fabric.
Programming the West had theretofore applied only to silicon, became applicable to the mind. The mystic lay down with science. But the magic of mind touching mind or of mind reaching out to grapple directly with material reality or to unleash physical energies, this eluded the Rem schools, except in tantalizing and fleeting hints.
THE SERPENT’S TAIL
Merovin waited with Rem patience for planetfall, the patience of a seed waiting for Spring. He welcomed the demanding bonds of karma that drew him to an unknown something away from a too-well-known nothing.
Even now, with the vast calm of space about him, he vividly re-lived his amazement of two months earlier when the headmaster of the Rem school at Boston sent an acolyte to request his presence. Merovin had thought himself a nonentity — a once-promising student who had ceased to progress, watching his former juniors go on to purposeful lives. There was no jealousy, of course, no bitterness — such things were dim memories for a Rem student of the sixth form, old chains long burst and discarded. No, there had been no recriminations from himself or his Masters, only long years of meaninglessness.
In the fifth, or at latest in the sixth form, a Rem student finds his Way, that for which he burns, which gives reason and vibrancy to his life. The Rem techniques free students from all the grinding, angry emotions: hatred, fear, shame, guilt, anguish, but they did not teach non-emotion. Their goal was not the separating of the Being’s essence from the illusion men call reality, merely the unbinding of the Being from it to allow full freedom to interact with it. Therefore Rem required its students to cultivate joy, happiness, laughter and passion. Only when he had found a passion for his Way did a student become a Master.
Merovin had never found his passion, and slowly even his joy faded to a vague contentedness. In the five years since his last serious training only one event truly stood out in Merovin’s memory. One night he had chosen to dream of fields of flint, tenanted by a cool, flowing wind. Unbidden, in the midst of that dream designed to evoke the unbidden, crept in a warmth, a golden glow that suffused him and removed him to non-world, a realm of complete rapture. That world held him for perhaps twenty seconds, during which time he slipped from sleep to consciousness without a lapse in the rapture. In that short span he saw clearly revealed as meaningless and evanescent all human sorrows, pains and trials. This Nirvana, this utter rapture would fill any vessel opened to it. For months the afterglow of that moment filled him and he wanted for nothing. But months became years and the rapture never returned and the memory slowly faded to mere memory, and Merovin faded to mere being.
The acolyte had found Merovin the-musty-scholar in some forgotten nook of the school’s ample halls and brought him unceremoniously before the headmaster.
The headmaster had once tutored Merovin personally when his star seemed to rise promisingly. “Merovin, my favorite pupil. I haven’t even seen you for three years. I thought you had fossilized in some dusty corner.”
“Indeed, dear Master, I am afraid you conjectured correctly. I often believed you should have let me go forth from the school. Maybe I would have discovered a passion for social work and been of some use to the world that way.”
The old man’s smile said he held a secret for Merovin, a secret he would unwrap in his own time. “Some passions are found, some are forged. Some come hunting down the seeker on the winds of fate.” He grasped his pupil’s shoulder in uncontainable happiness, “Merovin, Merovin. Last night a clarion call woke me from sleep. A voice from half a galaxy away, yet unthinkably strong and full of laughter. Merovin, the Overmind of Endor spoke to me, directly into my being. It said, ‘Send me Merovin.’ That’s all, and yet, it lasted, oh, for eternal seconds. It was the most joyful moment of my long and questionably meaningful life. It gave me intimacy with meaningfulness.”
The headmaster interrupted his own torrent of emotional words to caress his pupil’s face with his eyes, to sigh, to rejoice. “Merovin, it wants you. This is the Way you have been waiting for for so long. It has come to you and asked you to walk along it.”
Merovin had never seen the old Master, or any Master, so close to out of control, or maybe more exactly, abandoned to giddiness. He knew the old man would have considered the possibility of delusion and the impossibility of arranging the flight to an interdicted planet.
But the crinkled face of the ‘old man’ laughed, “Oh, I see what lurks behind those guarded Rem eyes. Well, I was not the only one the Endorean Overmind contacted last night. Yesterday Civilization considered the Overmind a probable myth. Today a military ship awaits your convenience by command of a Universal Government anxious to accommodate that myth. Too long they have awaited access to that gene pool of magic and too convincingly the Overmind bespoke. It left then no room for a half-hearted response.”
At first Merovin failed to get caught up in the headmaster’s excitement. Why, he wondered, had the Overmind not contacted him? What was he to do on Endor? The bolt had come in such an unexpected form that Merovin couldn’t connect a sense of involvement with it. But he acquiesced. And later, as he boarded the ship, he realized the sense of meaninglessness had left him. Confusion had replaced it, tinged with adventure. And finally a sense that it was his adventure.
The deep space voyage passed uneventfully, as it should, a two month long idyll with time to reflect, study language chips and data on the flora, fauna and geography of the planet called World by its inhabitants.
This information had been more completely gathered than Merovin anticipated, given the infrequency of previous visits. But apparently the Overmind had not wanted future visitors to arrive hampered by technical insufficiencies, unable to communicate even by spoken word, which the Endoreans used mostly for trade and haggling — pursuits which required puffing and deception not readily accomplished when minds directly meet.
While Merovin integrated this information into his warehouse of knowledge, he checked and tuned his physical and mental systems, with no sense of impatience for planetfall.
Special cellular programming gave Merovin conscious access to his entire mind, at least his entire mind as scientists understood it to be. But in some ways the greatest technical difference that set him off from nonRem was the synaptic web, not just a reordering of neuronal structure already present, but a second nervous system of optical fibers operating at light speed and capable of enough mentation to cause his body to fight or flee, if he should be rendered unconscious. Usually it supplemented his innate nervous system, lending the web’s lightning speed to Merovin’s conscious control.
That most of the galaxy’s inhabitants lacked synaptic webs, or Rem schooling, or sophisticated modification did not strike Merovin as inequities, merely differences. As the League of Worlds gathered ever more planets into its fold after the Reconstruction, the galactic inhabitants learned to value the uniqueness the splinter cultures and isolated worlds developed during the Collapse. Rem students knew they had advantages over most other people, but they also knew that each advantage was a disadvantage, even as strength can make it difficult to learn subtlety, and subtlety can corrode honesty. So the Rem accepted their own ways without pride or shame.
Much of the Rem way consisted of bringing order and understanding to the workings of the mind. But for everyone, student and Master alike, there was a level of uncertainty, the realm where the mind could not grasp its own essence, not being larger than its self.
It was to this level that Merovin turned his attention in the last hours of his flight, no longer to prod and probe, but to quiet, to soothe and to wait, for it happens sometimes that clarification comes bearing gems in tranquil moments after hours, or days, of fruitless search. Also he did not want to arrive on Endor with any part of his mind in turmoil.
The polite knock on the door did not surprise him. Heightened hearing had registered the gentle strides two doors off, and he had anticipated the terse message, “Please strap in for landing procedures, sir.” He had sensed the change in the engine driving the pulsar fields which implied the ship was about to leave the costly FTL speeds.
Grateful that the disciplined military personnel had neither violated his solitude, nor resented his top priority status, he complied with the superfluous request. The exit from pulsar space and subsequent landing would occur without even spilling the tea on his desk.
Only Merovin left the ship, and the ship left Merovin almost immediately, not wishing to jeopardize his mission. Merovin’s first sight of Endor was a fantasy landscape of the omnipresent laval vomit which had brought deep earth radioactive isotopes to the surface, presumably the fathering force behind the psychic mutations now uniformly present in Endoreans.
A sole Endorean wove a path through the laval forest, riding a pack animal Merovin identified as a ‘deelie’, and leading a second. The look on the native’s face told Merovin that he was expected and this man would guide him, since the Overmind had seen fit to allow him to land. But the man’s expression also gave Merovin his introduction to Endorean arrogance and contempt for the Off-world abominations. A theme he would encounter with relentless repetition. It was only at that moment that the realization finally struck Merovin that he had found his Way, and the Way was uphill and filled with scree.
At first it seemed the Endorean wouldn’t deign to speak with Merovin, since Merovin hadn’t the basic prerequisites of a sapient being, Kenning — the famous mindspeech of the Endoreans. So Merovin passed a few hours in observation of the planet he had only seen in computer simulation. The ship had left him in a small clearing in a tortured scene of lava stalagmites and arches. Many were broken, and low lying shrubs and scruff grass had invaded the lava realm, telling Merovin that some years had passed since the upheaval which had created the volcanic still life.
Merovin had accepted the reins his guide held out for him and mounted the deelie, which looked more like a llama than a horse and had a gentle disposition. He knew five hundred years of Endorean breeding and magic had produced this animal; no native life form even approximated gentleness, and the deelies couldn’t survive without their masters’ patronage. He didn’t even have to guide the deelie, as it had a natural inclination to play follow-the-leader and set off after the other pack animal.
Merovin knew that overcast dominated World’s skies for more than 300 days of its 320 day year, but the closeting opaqueness surrounding them surprised him momentarily. Blankets of mist rolled up to low lying dense clouds, which reached up to the nearly perpetually overcast sky. But his mind soon placed the rustling sound of waters rushing up from the earth from many vents and pores, and the complex rhythms of mud holes chattering incessantly. This was World’s timepiece, a water clock. Like the aquifer under Yellowstone on Earth, World’s subterranean waters, heated by the ubiquitous volcanic arteries, periodically burst forth in spectacular activity. But the periodicity lacked the reliability of Old Faithful.
The Lesser Cycles, which Merovin assumed he was witnessing, lasted from two to four days and then quiesced for 20 to 40 days.
The Greater Cycles lasted a week but only put in an appearance approximately every ten or eleven Lesser Cycles. So Merovin assumed the water symphony would end in a few days, and the dense fog accompanying it would lift enough to afford a reasonable view of the countryside. Of course they may have reached whatever destination called them before that.
The overall effect of the land, as far as Merovin could tell from a few hours journey with limited vision, was that of a plain. But a plain riddled with rills and small vales. Downslope, ford, upslope soon became a pattern. Heath and granite, scrub trees and lava, stink pots and hot springs lurched into view scant feet before encountering them, then faded into the mists behind them.
Merovin wondered at first if his guide would have some mystic ability to deal with the fog blankets, but it soon became apparent that neither he nor his deelie felt comfortable traveling faster than a crawl. In fact Merovin would have made better time alone, either on foot or on his deelie, since his physical senses had received Rem boosting. After a while the Endorean began to glance back at his retinue, startled at Merovin’s lack of difficulty in following. The glances became more frequent, and Merovin started to read him.
Perhaps the camaraderie of shared adversity, perhaps boredom, perhaps curiosity — something finally brought the guide to begrudgingly speak to Merovin. His speech seemed hesitant, but due more to embarrassment than to disuse.
“Your brain is not as I believed it would be. I thought it would spew forth the garbage of your mind. Like a beast, only with words. It is said it was so with the Off-worlders who came before you. But your mind is blank. I see its presence, and the bones of it, but there are no thoughts, no feelings. I thought you might be mind-dead as well as Dead-eyed. But I see in your eyes that somehow your mind functions.” Here he paused and looked at Merovin again.
His eyes showed anguish and intelligence and a terrible vulnerable defensiveness. Merovin’s calm eyes invited him to continue.
“We are brothers in Shame. I am called FletchBarb. The Elders of my Tribe foresaw my skill with the bow. I have no Gift, but this is not a Shame in itself; most people do not.” His eyes had dropped when he began to speak, but he glanced almost shyly at Merovin. “Except, of course, for Kenning. But I am shamed that I have no children. ” He stopped to breathe deeply and wrestle with the truth. “I cannot beget children. I am not a Keeper who lies with other Keepers, but my Tribesmen taunt me with my own name. They say I do not fletch my barb with women. My wife has left me, as is her right, and her new husband has got her with child. This increased the burden of my Shame.”
He brought his deelie closer to Merovin’s, and lifted his eyes to regard the Off-worlder squarely on. Somehow Merovin conveyed the impression of openness and honesty, without having spoken a word.
“For this reason I am sent to guide you. I am the lowest of Endoreans, but you are lower than the lowest.” Still Merovin showed no emotion except receptivity to reality. “Those with Sight foretold your coming months ago. Since you are here, the Overmind has permitted you to be here. But this will warrant you no respect or protection, unless the Overmind holds a shield for you. And this we doubt. It is not the way of the Overmind to meddle in the life of a single person.”
Finally Merovin sensed his moment to speak. “My people call me Merovin, but the name has no significance that I know of. Yet the Overmind itself bespoke my Masters and called for me to come to World. It called for me by name. I do not believe it called me here merely to die a meaningless death, so I will go forward, stumble forward where I cannot see clearly, stride forward where my Way is unclouded, to whatever fate awaits me.” He read the Endorean clearly now, saw his muscles flinch to hear that the Overmind had called Merovin personally, saw the taint of being a Dead-eye grow more remote. “I cannot answer for your sense of Shame or whatever repugnance you may feel for me. I receive you only as a man who furthers me on my journey, and I thank you, without making any claim to deserve concern from you.”
FletchBarb weighed the Offworlder for a moment, then led on again, but traveling side by side where the path permitted, and pointing out small sights along the way.
They slept the night in the open, serenaded by the water tunes. But the next morning the geysers stopped suddenly. The Lesser Cycle had ended. Merovin had been awake before first light, but realized he would see no Earth-like dawn. The horizon-to- horizon, low cloud ceiling slowly lightened until a diffuse, subdued light clarified the land. But at no time did he feel a line had been passed from night to dawn to day; no sharpness demarcated the phases of the diurnal cycle.
FletchBarb began the day a little estranged from Merovin, a little insecure at having revealed so much to such a strange stranger, an Off-world Dead-eye. But Merovin’s benign indifference, his undemanding openness soon soothed FletchBarb’s anxiety. And a voluble FletchBarb proved a well of valuable information.
Without the outrush of steam and hot waters the land cleared of fog enough to see sometimes for hundreds of feet, sometimes for a mile, and FletchBarb easily guided the surefooted deelies through the tossed countryside. He talked while they rode.
“We are going to HeartKeep, our capital city. The Foremost, TwoTrees, lives there in the Court Palace, and many Elders come and go, or stay in residence at the Court. There they may eat at the Open Table and might bed so long as they wish. Most finish their business and hurry back to their Tribes, where their strengths are needed, but some stay to become creatures of the Court and dabblers in power. You may eat there. You will be acknowledge as an ambassador of the Off-world. You will not starve and you may sleep in the common sleeping room. Any important courtier will have his private chamber. The common room is often noisy, but your privacy will be honored as much as circumstances allow. Yet you must not think yourself safe there. At least not when you are awake.
“You are a guest here and no one may harm you without reason. And indeed no one will wish to harm you without reason. They will despise you as an insect, but on World we do not squander resources.
“Someone will try to kill you, but it will not be without reason. In the capital there are so many intrigues, plots and counterplots, that sooner or later someone will find a way to benefit from your death. Then, unless you have found a patron, or the Overmind itself interferes, then you will die. Likely you will not even know who will enjoy what advantage by your death. You are deaf to much of the communication in that place. Speech is more common there than in the villages, because deceit is more common there, being a tool of diplomacy.”
Merovin understood that FletchBarb would put an arrow in more hearts at the court than one, if he could. He also knew that his guide spoke freely this way only because he had convinced himself that Merovin could keep his mind from being read.
FletchBarb had tried to tell Merovin the social errors that could be used as an excuse to kill him, despite his protected status as guest, but it proved too complicated for FletchBarb to pull the hundreds of conditions and exceptions from his undisciplined mind. Merovin preferred to trust to his Way in any case.
“You are entitled to speak with TwoTrees, because you are an ambassador, but you may not address him informally or address any other PowerHand, because you are a Dead-eye. Your shame is so great that you should not speak to anyone unless spoken to first, then you must answer quickly and respectfully.”
FletchBarb had many similar do’s and don’t’s. The resignation in his voice implied the impossibility of preparing a retarded child for the etiquette of a court visit. He gave up long before they reached HeartKeep, which they did before the close of the day of the ending of the Lesser Cycle.
Merovin had seen the wonders of old Earth, unrivaled elsewhere in the worlds of humanity. Architects designed whole cities of sky-scaling dreams, made of adamant and gossamer. Computers managed the forbidding details, permitting the human mind to soar into concepts. Building matter embedded with nano-machines gave birth to active materials — self-repairing, flexible marvels that in combination with the master computer made the city more than half living itself. A ceramic and metal entity dedicated to beauty and the well-being of its human populace.
But the technologically facilitated miracles of Earth did not jade Merovin to the magic of HeartKeep. It must originally have been essentially a single solid stone mountain. The founding Tribe that settled there, the StoneCrackers, chose the site precisely because it would allow them to apply the Tribe specialty, the stone carving of their superlative WindHands – PowerHands who had so mastered the winds that they could use them to cut wood and stone.
The building, or carving, project lasted generations and fed upon itself. As the city unfolded, the fame and Pride of the Tribe grew, drawing WindHands from other Tribes to hone their skills or to leave their mark on the most famous artifact on World.
Grey and spare and devoid of vegetation save where someone had hauled in dirt and plants, HeartKeep struck the soul as cold and harsh. But Merovin acknowledged its austere majesty. In bizarre styles rambling from severe to gothic to baroque, a thousand personalities had left their imprint. Some colonnades sported byzantinely intricate friezes or latticework. Some chambers plunged deeply into the stone backbone, lit by brands whose soot WindHands wafted out before it ever stained the pristine walls and ceilings.
But above all HeartKeep remained a city of stone and wind. Here lived more WindHands than in all the rest of World together, so the city took the flavor of a Cling more than a Tribe, though the descendants of the StoneCrackers still held most the reins of power.
FletchBarb had warned Merovin of the First Night, meaning the first night after a cycle. When the darkness of those nights deeply covers the city, the WindHands set free the winds. Every person who cannot master wind stays behind stone and stonewood doors and closets his animals with him. Throughout the night the winds shriek, moan and whistle in some loose impromptu orchestration — Endorean music. The stony souls of World’s people find meaning in the elemental howling, and a sense of justice in the cleansing destruction of wielded power. In the morning all debris, household garbage, and loose ends, all unfinished works lying about and all stragglers too weak to find shelter have vanished.
This had been FletchBarb’s parting warning to Merovin for he had chosen not to enter the city again, turning his deelie back towards wilderness. So Merovin entered the stone maze alone, marked by everyone, greeted by none, guided only by FletchBarb’s verbal maps and endless exhortations of what he must and must not do.
Finding the court palace had been easy thanks to his previous guide. Finding the food halls and the sleeping commons proved trivial thanks to good use of his good nose. But finding out his position in the court, or that of anyone else, proved maddeningly difficult. No one spoke. At least no one spoke to him. Many times he heard hushed conversations, whose speakers supposed themselves too distant to be overheard by anyone. From these he learned himself considered a grotesque, a doomed grotesque. But this he already knew, both from FletchBarb’s frank comments and from the arrogant, contemptuous stares the courtiers favored him with, as though they viewed a deformity someone had had the bad manners to display at a social gathering. But why could he come and go as he pleased, eat and sleep at will and suffer no challenge?
His first evening there, after helping himself to food from the courtier’s table, he identified TwoTrees, the Foremost. A simple matter, everyone deferred to his lean and leathery figure. When Merovin fixed an eye on him, the Foremost addressed him orally from across the room.
“You may speak to me when I sit in state, Offworlder, not otherwise. I do not extend my patronage to you.”
Merovin read strength and strong will in the dry, wrinkled face of the Foremost. But he also read fear, and he realized that the Foremost was much younger than the face would indicate. “Well,” Merovin thought, “that closes that door. At least for now.”
That first night Merovin lay awake, listening to most astonishing wind tempest he had ever known, and replaying every word FletchBarb had said to him. For seven days matters changed little. Merovin fed himself and lived in a world where he felt even less connected than in the Rem halls in Boston. Here he touched no one; no one noticed his existence, except to glare at him contemptuously. But at least he had realized this grew out of the conflict between the strict rules concerning the treatment of guests and the almost pathological revulsion the Endoreans felt for a human lacking Kenning. Concisely stated, everyone wished him dead; no one would kill him until he violated a guest rule. Since he felt his Way fading, Merovin decided the time had come to violate some rules.
Dinner presented an opportunity. A lady of the court, a shimmering amazon of statuesque proportions, had circled him several times before, looking for an opening, but Merovin had avoided eye-contact. After dining, when he saw her stalking from the corner of his eye, he brought his look directly to her face. She needed no greater opening.
“Do you know,” she purred, “that on World the Unnamed, those with no Kenning, never live longer than nine lesser cycles?” Her words stuck Merovin like sharp claws in the velvet fur of her voice. For a fleeting second he wondered if she wanted him physically.
“Do you also destroy the physically impaired, even when Gifted” he asked, “and social deviants?” The room had immediately gone still, its inhabitants turning slightly smiling faces on the beauty and the beast. Merovin knew they smiled in anticipation of his pain, but the licking smiles meant more that yet eluded him.
She came closer. “The winds and wilderness weed out those whose Eye and Hand do not compensate for bodily failures. As for deviants, have you not noticed FireFall of the Keepers watching you every night at feast-time? Or perhaps you too are a Keeper?”
She came closer yet, within touching distance, and turned her body so its curves said, “Behind these doors lie rapture, but touch not. These doors are closed to you.” From the sudden clenching in his throat and the stirring of hormones, Merovin knew that she had caressed him with some mysterious psychic gift. This was what the smirking crowd looked forward to, his writhing in sexual longing, his demeaning himself yet further before someone saw fit to kill him, some self-righteous slayer of the unclean.
But Merovin’s training allowed him to recognize the changes and readjust them. Even without this skill, he was trained not to be ruled by his body. But he could well imagine the effects her power would have on any man not so trained and shielded.
“Where is FireFall?” he asked. He had noticed many people watching him carefully every night, watching him and those who watched him. He wondered how far he had to push before he clearly violated court propriety.
She measured him with her eyes, surprised, perhaps even slightly ashamed at the ineffectiveness of her allure. But if she thought to read him, she met with no more success than all the others who had tried. His emotionless, disciplined mind was as dark to them as a machine. Other Off-worlders had been as open as animals, but this mind seemed as dead as his Eye was blind.
Indeed it was Merovin who found the Endoreans easy to read. They built strong walls against psychic prying and then betrayed their thoughts and emotions on the screens of their faces. Their godlike powers dwelt in untrained minds, undisciplined bodies. Even as on ancient Earth it was not the hearing who usually learned to read lips, so here the inhabitants’ extra senses had their price. Over-reliance on mindreading left them without the ability to read nuanced facial expressions.
Finally the amazon nodded out a man dressed all in black, Merovin had noted before — one of the few who did not wallow in his feelings, but kept his counsel behind a guarded face. Even now as the man named FireFall noticed the direction of Merovin’s attention, he neither acted nor reacted, he merely observed.
“What are the Keepers?” Merovin asked. Although he already had formed an idea from FletchBarb’s comments he still sought to milk the well before she dried up. As was his wont he held his body almost uncannily still.
Again her disdain showed. “Those who adhere to the Keeper Cling.” Merovin had already learned that a Cling was like a Tribe, but made of people bound by oaths and shared commitment, instead of blood ties. “They do not share their seed with the People. So they do not multiply and must take their numbers from Tribes and other Clings. We would not tolerate this in women. World kills too many people to allow women who do not breed. But there are always plenty of men anxious to breed with them, so we tolerate the Keepers.” She punctuated her comment with another thrust of her sensuality, her eyes showing her anger when he did not respond. Her glance then went to FireFall, and Merovin read that she tolerated him not from magnanimity, but because he required it of her and had the power to enforce her restraint. For someone of her special talent, FireFall’s indifference might have been a heavy blow. From Merovin it was even worse.
He felt a sudden dangerous tension, centering on him. Of course, the rest of the room’s occupants had sensed the tension in greater detail on another plane, one closed to him. Ah yes, they glanced from him to FellBlade, a man he had heard introduced at court as the blade of the CrowsNest Tribe, a title which apparently meant that he championed all matters involving the honor, or Pride as these people said incessantly, of that Tribe. Presumably he had some facility with the sword he bore.
Space cleared itself between FellBlade and Merovin, who realized some communication had passed on that other channel. “Deadman,” FellBlade made speech a condescension, “the abomination of your birth cannot be laid to your feet, but each man must answer for his own deeds, be he human or animal.” He tried to make his voice a formality. “You have presumed above your station. The Lady ClearFlame is betrothed to LongClaw of the CrowsNest.
“I have not sought to intrude at all, but have taken only words that were offered me.” Merovin knew ClearFlame’s interaction had been staged to induce him to violate a propriety he still did not see. He thought, “Someone has found some dreary reason for my death, and wants me to hurry to my fate without even knowing why.”
FellBlade did not intend any reconciliation. “If you have not the stomach to fight me, cowards are allowed to take their own lives in a painless manner.”
Merovin wondered for a moment if he should try to invoke immunity as an embassy called by the Overmind. Being branded coward by FellBlade had no leverage on him, but he felt the hand of fate moving matters. “This comes upon me. It is mine,” he realized and gathered in the offering. “If Pride requires you to fight, I will accommodate you, FellBlade.”
“I would not kill even an Eye-closed Dark-mind unarmed.” He signaled an underling from his entourage, who drew a rapier-like sword for Merovin, FellBlade’s smile showing he knew swordplay was virtually unknown Off-world. Many Endoreans had had vague visions of Off-world life; had seen in their mind images of fireballs crowned with lightening, irresistible in their destructiveness; had been dazzled by sheer blades of pure light that could reach out from the infinite void to slice through stone-wrapped mountains. These and other marvels had shaken the People, whose culture so deeply valued violent strength. But the Off-world strengths only made the Off-worlder more contemptible in his weaknesses, as long as the Overmind defended World from those strengths.
Duels, or cleansings of abominations, seemed to count as a priority court amusement. No one objected to an instant settling of accounts, and without preamble FellBlade glided smoothly into a fighting stance. Merovin had run a quick check-test of his web as soon as he had felt the tension build, and now he did not deign to posture, but stood with rapier at his side.
Merovin had thought FellBlade would try to play with him, to humiliate him, but the motivating political niceties had passed him by. FellBlade attacked in earnest without preliminary. His lunge might have done credit to an Old Earth master, but to Merovin’s eyes it crept towards him leisurely, leaving ample time to analyze the inefficiencies of the pose, the redundancy of muscle flexion. Merovin turned slightly, stepping outside and into the attack and with his free hand slapped nerves in FellBlade’s sword wrist to disarm him. He did not even raise his sword. It was his turn to show the contempt demanded by Outer Theater in the situation. He knew mere humiliation would not suffice, that he would have to kill, but a killing must force itself. All other exits must be exhausted first.
The room gasped in instant grasp of the enormous implications of Merovin’s move; having witnessed a hundred duels, the Endoreans understood Merovin’s demonstration, and FellBlade burned with the return of his earlier contempt. The turn generated even greater interest. FellBlade made his own calculations of Pride and necessity.
He drew his knife with his other hand and lunged again with a lethal attack. Again Merovin saw a tardy glide, easily avoided, but this time his muscles would not move. A vice clamped them tightly, a steel trap as immovable as a mountain. “A godling’s powers in a childling’s mind. Is my death now?”
Merovin had time to wonder this much, before a flickering shudder removed the mountain. Merovin moved in his finest, most fluid death dance — the mountain might not be moved a second time. A fractional dodge of the knife point, a stabbing step, a hammer fist to FellBlade’s temple.
The room paused for a silent breath of comprehension, then everyone moved. FellBlade’s entourage checked his unbeating heart and gathered him up. Some of them gave Merovin looks that promised revenge; others hung their heads in shame as they carried him out. ClearFlame averted her eyes, her cheeks flushed, caught in some demands of Pride, impalpable to Merovin.
FireFall, the Keeper, crossed the room quickly. “Please excuse my forwardness, Skillful Sir. I am FireFall, Keeper, and wish to offer sanctuary in my embassy rooms.” And in a quieter voice he added, “Quickly.”
Fate had never needed issue Merovin two invitations to the same dance. He had already understood the need for haste. He followed FireFall through the room, almost surprised they were allowed to leave. He had been in the endless twisted corridor called the Hall of Embassies before, but never down the branching FireFall took.
The same device carved above the door to FireFall’s suite graced the pennants draping the reception room walls beyond the door. Noticing Merovin’s glance, he explained, “World officially recognizes six hundred twenty Tribes and Clings, each of which has a formal embassy in HeartKeep city. But only important ones have their embassy rooms in the palace. My Cling is old and strong, but no one would violate the sanctity of even a dying Cling.” FireFall made few superfluous gestures. Merovin made none. They both sat.
“Why did you break FellBlade’s mental grip on me?” Merovin asked.
“Why did you come to World?” FireFall countered.
“World called me. I know nothing more than this.”
“You risk your life for a blind mission with an unknown goal?”
Merovin delayed his answer fractionally. “The hand of fate compels me. I would have come even if death were certain, as it now seems.” Merovin wondered if he was still sparring, but he read no deathwish for him in the other’s face.
“As would I, Off-worlder. Yet you forsake your mission, dallying in this palatial decadence.” He swept his head in a small curve to indicate the court.
Merovin waited the space of twenty heartbeats. “FireFall, if you have something to say, I will gladly hear it.”
The Keeper went to a cabinet of oiled dark wood with dramatic grains. His body outmeasured Merovin’s by several centimeters and looked well-worn but fierce, like the granite crags and outcroppings Merovin had seen breaking the plains. His hair, once dark, showed flecks of grey. He took a map from the cabinet, while his body, perhaps only by accident, blocked Merovin’s view of the cabinet’s interior.
He spread the map out on a massive desk, inviting Merovin by gesture to view it. “Have you heard the term ‘Foremost’?” he asked.
“Yes. The term applies to TwoTrees, Eldest of the StoneCracker Tribe, High Lord of World.”
“No,” FireFall replied quietly, emotionlessly. “The term misapplies to him. He receives it only because palace politics dictate such wisdom. This city is World’s heart, and his Tribe dominates the city. And truthfully he is very strong, and the Overmind has not objected to his claiming the title.
“But tradition reserves the term to that person whose Eye sees deepest and whose Hand holds strongest. TwoTrees is mighty, and the Overmind has favored his Tribe, but in his heart he knows another deserves the title of Foremost. It rightly belongs to WindSong, Eldest of the Tribe of the HuntingCats. Her Tribe lives here.”
Merovin examined FireFall’s finger tracings on the map — mountains a hundred kilometers northeast of HeartKeep. His host continued, “Of all the People, the Overmind most closely embraces her. If you have a mission on World, it is not here at World’s heart, but there,” he touched the mark on the map, “with World’s soul. We can journey to her Tribe in six days if you agree to go and have the endurance for the saddle.”
Merovin answered, “Since I have no other guidance for my mission and the Overmind has not spoken to me, I would be willing to accept your council and lead. But, FireFall, I do not think I can easily leave this city alive, though I am loath to stay, especially since I noticed you said ‘we can journey.'”
“We will, indeed, be going together, and no one will hinder our leaving. Oh yes, I can guess what Lady ClearFlame said. Many disdain my Cling, but they fear it more. Of all the Tribes and Clings we have most disciplined our Kenning and Gifts, our minds and our bodies. Few of the StrongHands would care to challenge me, even without the specter of vendetta with my Cling.
“No, no one will hinder us, though they abominate us both, me that I am a Keeper, and you, as you must know, because your Eye is closed and your Hand empty.”
Merovin asked,”Do you hold me in contempt, FireFall? I warn you that though my Eye cannot see, yet I will know if you lie to me.”
“From youngest childhood we learn repugnance for the Eye-blind. My belly cries out against you as unnatural. But I have seen you move faster than any person should be able to move, and I sense the deep training of your body. You resisted the power of a LureHand with dignity. Furthermore, I cannot read your thought, while you, it appears, can read mine. Thereby I know the deep training of your mind. So I set aside my contempt and find a sense of wonderment. You would know if I lied. How is it you are Blind, yet see me more deeply than I see you, when I have the Sight?”
“As you say, I have been trained.”
The Keeper paused to look deeply at the Earthling. “And what does your training lead you to say about my offer?”
With no more than a nod from Merovin, FireFall began gathering essentials for a six day journey.
Two days on, the grassy plains rose sheer into youthful mountains without such preliminaries as foothills or climbing ridges. Their tortured slag-strewn path twisted its narrow way on the two-step-forward one-step-back formula. Subterranean rills married lava flows to produce fountains of warm steam which tarried in dells and frequently avalanched over the route. Through such mist blankets, the deelies had to be mind-coaxed. FireFall’s sight penetrated the mist where FletchBarb’s had not, and the travelers made good time. The pack animals’ nimble sure-footedness made them at home on the treacherous mountain paths.
FireFall led through extended mists, using his Eye and Merovin followed closely by sound. The Endorean filled hours unravelling secrets of World’s story — flora and fauna, geology and history, plants and people. He told Merovin about many court intrigues, shedding light on the incident with Lady ClearFlame, the LureHand.
“LureHands usually possess physical beauty,” FireFall said, “but even without that their Gift makes them surpassingly enticing to most males, and guarantees bliss and potency in bed. They bear strong healthy children. And they can also call many male animals and control them to some extent. So they have honor above their mere beauty and pleasure skills.” The two rode side by side through a narrow mountain plain. But mostly the straitness of their path forced them to ride single file and strained their conversation.
“ClearFlame suffered a terrible loss of Pride in foreyesterday’s charade. She acted as agent for TwoTrees. His position as Foremost is insecure. Those Elders who can touch the Overmind have no sense of its blessing for TwoTrees, and those with the deepest Sight have premonitions of his fall. Tradition weighs against this, but TwoTrees felt that your presence could be interpreted as signaling a subtle criticism by the Overmind. He wanted you humiliated and removed before someone found a way to use you to his disadvantage.
When ClearFlame could not provoke you sexually she lost Pride; her Gift could not lure even a less-than-human. When her champion fell to you, she suffered a terrible defeat. You had the legal right to wed her. What a Shame for ClearFlame to have a Dead-eye to husband.” He watched to be sure his words did not hurt Merovin.
But Merovin merely said, “I am sorry to have involved her in Shame.” He turned the subject back to TwoTrees. “I had the impression concerning the Lord of the City of both youth and age. At least by his face he looks old. Which impression is correct?”
FireFall nodded. “Yes, that’s how an Off-worlder would see him. He is really quite young, but he is a master WindHand, what we call a WindWalker. The great among the WindHands can so finely command the winds that they hurl their own bodies safely over long distances, and at great speeds, using only wind. Knowing that the winds can cut stone, you must appreciate the subtlety of control required. But even so the winds dry and wrinkle the skin, aging the face beyond its cycles. To us this is a great beauty because it bespeaks Power. Understand that TwoTrees is a very desirable husband, even to such a prize as ClearFlame.”
They slept at nights under World’s version of open sky, but FireFall always found a hot spring or mud hole to camp by. In the lower elevations this latitude remained warm enough, night and day, to sleep without a fire. But as they advanced into the mountains the nights became cool, and the thermal warmth substituted for a fire. They did build a fire, lit by FireFall’s Gift, briefly each night to warm or cook their meal, depending on whether FireFall had hunted or whether they ate from the provisions they had brought along.
The first two nights they camped early. FireFall expected Merovin to tire before him, and from consideration called early halts. Merovin contented himself to let his Fate take its own time. During the day, conversation occurred sporadically, the travelers letting the time pass in a comfortable silence which fit their natures. At night they talked.
The first night FireFall proved as anxious to learn as to teach. He asked Merovin about time keeping Offworld. When he had heard Merovin’s comments, he said, “Night and day we have, but no larger orderly cycles. Even when we had a moon, its voyage was mostly obscured by heavy clouds, its passage and phases unremarked.
“The closest thing we have to a month is the lesser cycle — the continent wide eruption of the geyser system on World. This happens every twenty to forty days, so you would consider it inexact, but we do not need more. To me it is astonishing to learn you know the precise timing of the rising sun. We know only a gradual lightening or darkening. You live in a world of tiny regular increments. Our world is one of gradual change, punctuated by haphazard violence. We do divide our days and nights into tenths, and in the cities these divisions are kept by candles marked by the Lorekeeps. In HeartKeep and in some lesser cities, these tenths are rung out on bells.
“But who among the People would believe that you divide your tenths, what you called hours, into sixtieths. And should I tell them that you divide those sixtieths into further sixtieth divisions, they would walk away in disbelief, or if they believed they would feel alarm at lives that had use for such tiny precision.”
Later, the gentle rhythmic bubbling of their mud hole reminded Merovin of some of his first Rem exercises; he spoke to FireFall of his school and teachers, and FireFall spoke of some of World’s Foremosts.
“TenTongues, our first Foremost, taught the only stable philosophical structure is the paradox. Take a white sheaf of paper. Trace on it a black design, and then another and another until black covers it entirely, and you will know that though it seems to be an empty black sheaf, yet it contains all words and all designs. In silence Wisdom speaks.”
Merovin had heard these precise ideas expressed on Old Earth. He answered, “Yes. Rem teaches that the deaf hear all music, the blind see all beauty.”
“Indeed, Merovin, those might have been the very words of TenTongues — except that we have no deaf or blind. Either our healers heal them or the Dance takes them.”
The next day Merovin noticed that they had turned aside from the route FireFall had previously indicated. After a few hours he asked his guide, “Have you decided to take a different path to the HuntingCat Tribe?”
“No. We are just taking a short detour. It should not put us off by more than half a day. Down this ravine lives one of World’s oddities. A hermit and a truly holy man. I believe he is the greatest Seer now living. It was he who first spoke that TwoTrees is a false Foremost. He would not have survived such a rash announcement, except that a sense of the Overmind always lingers close to him. He calls himself Malped, which sounds to our ears like an Offworld name.”
As they descended the ravine, the fog grew denser, and FireFall used his powers to find their way and guide the deelies. If Merovin thought the Seer’s name a familiar Off-world sound, he made no reply.
About midday they suddenly came upon Malped. Merovin, despite his keen senses, would have passed him by in the thick mists. He sat completely still and silent, his arms embracing a twisted scrub tree, his head lying in the crook of his shoulder, asleep or dead or metamorphosed into wood and stone. Merovin would have felt no surprise if the abrupt apparition were covered with moss.
FireFall halted the deelies before the Seer and sat in silence for a long moment. Merovin wondered if they communed in their minds, but eventually FireFall said, “Father, knocking at your door are FireFall, Keeper, and Merovin, Off-worlder. Will you not open to us the door of your wisdom?”
Again they sat for a long moment of silence. Finally Malped breathed deeply, and without lifting his head replied, “EmptyShell and SerpentsTail, unmolest me on these Crags of Anguish. Follow your own Ways.” Nothing more came from the gnome, though the travelers tarried for half an hour’s respectful quiet. Then following FireFall’s lead, they turned back up the ravine.
Merovin waited until he felt FireFall had revolved the puzzle in his head to his own satisfaction. “Did Malped’s words mean any thing to you?”
“Oh, yes. I don’t think our detour was wasted time. The empty shell and the serpent’s tail are two of the rune images used by many of the Seers, though disdained by others. The empty shell, which referred to me, signifies the bird has finally come to term and broken its way free. It means a greater fate arrives to one who has waited. Perhaps you would say simply fulfillment, but it is a richer image than that. Since I named myself first to him, and he returned the name EmptyShell first, I think Malped meant to tell me the time has come for me to leave the protective shelter of the Keeper’s walls. But I am not certain what it is I am to do.”
FireFall stopped the deelie and turned it on the narrow path to face Merovin obliquely. “The serpent’s tail he named you for is an interesting image. In its way it means fulfillment, too. The serpent takes his own tail in his mouth and makes a ring. The ring represents perfection, or completion. But the awkward juncture of the mouth and tail make an imperfect ring. So the image means something like – that which was broken made whole; or something brought to fruition, not the way it was meant but better than nothing. It is the sign of cobblers and those who make any kind of repairs.”
He watched Merovin closely to see if his words struck any chord, but as always Merovin’s face betrayed no more than did his naked mind. He merely asked, “What are the Crags of Anguish?”
“Merely a poetic term for World itself, like ‘Land of mists and mystics’. It is a counterpoint to the gift of joy TouchStone promised.”
It was FireFall’s turn to let Merovin digest the Seer’s words. They continued in a companionable silence until their evening camp. FireFall had come to realize that in questions of physical endurance the smaller man easily outmatched him. He made early camp only to afford the opportunity for conversation, if Merovin should be so inclined.
That night FireFall, at Merovin’s request, recounted tales of TouchStone. The relationship of the Keepers to the Foremost of Foremosts particularly interested him.
“Supposedly our garbs of black do us honor now, a privilege for the one Cling that never broke faith with TouchStone. But some say it was easier for the Keepers to accept StillBorn since, in a sense, all our progeny are stillborn, being only a barren sharing of seed. Nonetheless, only at the Keeper’s school can the wisdom of TouchStone be found in unbroken line from Lorekeep to Lorekeep.”
Later in the conversation FireFall referred to TouchStone as the Threefold and Merovin asked for an explanation of the epithet.
“He was called Threefold because he has the triple nature of Father, Mother and Child. Father is another term for Foremost, so Foremost of Foremosts can be expressed as Father of Fathers; the aspect mother in his nature is because he claimed mother-right to StillBorn; and the attribute of child is because he later proclaimed himself to be StarRise’s child, as are we all.”
The prevalence of recurring themes in diverse religions struck Merovin strongly. But after a while he grew quiet, thinking about Malped’s words.
As FireFall had promised, on the sixth day of their journey they arrived at the sudden upcropping of a mountain of stone that the HuntingCat Tribe called home. The Tribe’s PowerHands had carved their quarters deeply into a monstrous cliff face. Beginning a daunting thousand feet from ground level, the dwellings tiered upwards another two hundred feet, so that the highest were reached only by a steep climb of many stairs.
Merovin wondered if the Tribe had called flames or wind to carve the formidable rock; winds if WindSong’s name echoed a tribal specialty. World lacked lasers, explosives and hydraulics to do demanding tasks. The stone plain upon which the rock town sat seemed too level to be natural, yet Merovin felt somehow it was. The town was located on no more than a large ledge or step in the cliff wall; the precipice continued its thousand foot fall to a lake below.
The cruel beauty of the town clutched at Merovin’s heart. A small procession rode out from the dwellings, circling around the lake.
FireFall slid from his animal. “WindSong comes to greet us, Off-worlder. Now you meet the soul of World – Eldest and Foremost.” He disappeared into that mystic world closed to Merovin.
Even from a distance Merovin saw her beauty, a thing surpassing ClearFlame’s sensual glamour as art eclipses some child’s gaudy bauble. He had anticipated a December crone, wise and wizened, but here approached a May maiden, wrapped in serenity, power and grace.
FireFall returned from his trance to prompt Merovin. “She neither needs nor accepts ceremony, and expects of you only courtesy.”
“Why do you call her Eldest. Has she alone somehow captured undying youth?”
“No, Merovin. She is as young as she seems. She is Eldest not in years, but in wisdom, Sight, and strength. Do not let her translucent frailty deceive you. She too walks the winds. She can call a cutting wind to fell a forest in a tenth-day or carve a mountain face. Not lightly did her Elders name her WindSong. Now she honors you, coming to you dressed in formal Pride, wearing her triple tier of Razorbird feathers.”
Even then her procession drew rein and dismounted. Her honor guard of ten warriors stepped back out of hearing. She and FireFall embraced, kissing one another lightly on the cheek, and he, too, stepped back out of hearing.
She spoke simply with golden tones in a voice that matched her beauty. Perhaps her magics overlaid her speech with glamourie, or perhaps life had made one completely beautiful thing. “Welcome, Guest, my home is yours.”
Many times in Merovin’s life he had found himself without words, having nothing to say. Never before had he found himself at a loss for words, having too much to say. He found that a door in his being had suddenly opened, a door never before unlocked.
“Lady, if I do not presume too much, I believe I have travelled half a galaxy to meet you. I have faced death, seduction and contempt without faltering. But now I stand agog and slack-minded before your grandeur and gentleness, and my mission will fail entirely if you do not help me.”
She smiled, taking his hand in a most natural, sisterly way. “On the night I entered womanhood, the Overmind spoke to me of you. It neither showed me your face nor spoke your name. Yet I knew you more intimately than any born to my Tribe. Since then I have twined with no man, though my fellow Tribesmen would frown at me if they dared. Indeed, I have wanted no man except FireFall, and he is of the Keepers who do not share with women.” She paused to add almost irrelevantly of FireFall. “When he sorrows, the skies weep. When he rages, the fires leap.” Then she came back to Merovin with her eyes. “So now I rejoice you find me beautiful and hope you have taken no vows that will keep you from me.”
She laughed a tiny self-mocking laugh that somehow held more appeal than the courtesan’s seductive wiles. “Pray do not think me in an unseemly hurry to ask for what we both clearly want. I have asked the others to stand away so that I might speak bluntly. I speak so not from a wont of curtesy, but only because my Sight has foretold we should meet and love, yet count our time together not in greater cycles or even lesser cycles, but in days and tenths of days. And I will not waste even one tenth if you will have me.”
The Rem school taught its students techniques to banish anger and anguish, hatred, fear and shame and all the killing cramping emotions. At the same time it nurtured divine laughter and love. Yet Merovin had not felt joy for a decade. He had dwelt in contentment and balance. And that one time when he had awakened from sleep in a transport of rapture, the afterglow had lasted for months. But he had not felt joy, simple heart-leaping joy for years. Now he wondered how he had lived without it.
“Oh,yes, WindSong. If you are my fate, then gladly do I embrace it, and blessed am I among men.”
And so they went together to her dwellings and spent the day and night in love, or small talk, or long sighs, or star-gazing and such other diversions as occur to lovers. And it may be they knew as much happiness in a day as do many in a long lifetime spent together. Yet the morning came and the end of their night, and the call of obligation.
“Merovin, my love, this is the last day before the start of the greater cycle, and today the Eldest must execute certain responsibilities. Being who you are I know you will watch, and I fear you will not like what you see.”
Merovin felt the first faint touch of the cold left hand of Fate on his heart.
“Starlight of my life, I do not believe you are capable of anything unbeautiful. So do as you must, and I will not judge you.”
With the precious charm of the truly innocent she laid her head on his chest and spoke softly. “Today the Eldest must care for the birthlings who failed their Last Test.”
“Ah. I see.” Then a little while later. “How do you do it?”
“I give them to the lake that lies below the ledge. We name it the Lake of Mercy. There are fish in it that eat flesh, and so life flows from form to form and is not wasted.”
They spoke no more that morning, but lay each in his own thought in each other’s arms until shortly before dusk. Then WindSong roused up. “It is time. The rite begins at sun dark, when the sky is lit only by the PassNaught.”
The Tribe attended in full number, though they must have witnessed the rite many times before. WindSong, dressed in breathtaking majesty, performed the rite in eerie silence, though Merovin knew she spoke directly to such minds as could hear her — all those present except him and the child on the altar. Then she flung the child far out over the cliff and watched during the long fall.
After the faint splash, she watched longer and finally spoke in very soft words which the wind somehow carried to Merovin’s ear, “Now the waters embrace him. Their waves ripple out ever fainter, in ever wider circles, until they cannot be seen, yet encompass the whole of the waters.”
Afterwards everything went away, and Merovin sought out FireFall who had gone a ways into the mountain woods and lay by a stream listening to its music. Merovin sat beside him and laid his head on FireFall’s chest.
“I thought her the most beautiful being in all the worlds of humanity.”
“So she is.” And when Merovin did not respond, presently he continued. “Do the Rem Masters teach nothing of the wheel of life and death, and the great love that begets necessity?”
But Merovin would not hear. “Had I been born here, I might have been that child. I am as Deaf and Blind and Empty as he was.”
“And yet she loves you. Do you not know she loved the child, but a different Fate grips you than gripped the birthling.”
Merovin found no comfort in FireFall’s words. He returned alone to the stone plain and the altar by the cliff. There he stared into the ring-illumined lake until an anguish overcame him and he laid his head upon the dark stone to sob, as no Rem student should ever so lose his dispassion and weep.
At first he cried for himself and the child. Later he cried for FireFall and WindSong and all the Endoreans on their cruel planet. Later still he wept for all humanity on all their cruel planets. Then into his vision of human suffering suffused another larger vision where suffering became merely one path to a cosmic goal and a beautiful goodness ordered the cosmos. Finally a golden warmth crept into his being, transporting him into rapture, a soul floating in infinite love and joy.
Suddenly he realized the clouds had cleared to reveal the SilverPassNaught and that he could reach out and touch it. In a stumbling blindness he looked up to the skies and saw the lustrous ring, like a pale rainbow, arcing down just beyond his reach. He reached out for it, stepping forth into infinity, his hand just brushing the immeasurably distant silver ribbon. A rapture, even greater than that he had known many years before, suddenly bloomed in his being. The ecstatic feeling lingered throughout the slow fall to the lake below. When he struck the icy waters, the lake clasped him to its breast. A multitude of ever hungry fish, conditioned to recognize the meaning of the tremendous slap of a body hitting the lake, converged instantly on him.
Later WindSong sat staring over the cliff, but the tremors of his passage had stilled, and the waters were at peace.
She had not moved from the cliff when FireFall found her. He thought he had come to console her, if she would accept his consolation, so he stood unobtrusively at a distance. But WindSong, perceiving his own need for consolation, opened to him the doors of her being, inviting him in. He gently came into her mind, speaking as to an intimate friend. “We have failed the Guest again.”
She answered as Foremost, “We will always fail the Guest. Only thus can his sacrifice have the fullness we need. If ever he comes twice in the same guise the People will know him. So he comes always as a different outcast; he comes always to the dark knot in our hearts.”
She paused, turned her head to face FireFall, and spoke in words, “Be Proud in your Shame FireFall, for the Keepers did not break faith, and their long trial has taught them mercy. Blessed are the Outcasts, for they shall be gathered in the arms of the Guest.” She changed her voice so it no longer taught, but proclaimed. “To you will fall the task of leading the People. You are Foremost of World; the Overmind has spoken it to me.”
For once she had truly caught him off guard. “No, WindSong, no. It is you who are Foremost. I do not want the task, am not fit for it. World will not follow a Keeper.”
“FireFall, you will do as you must. That is your nature, and the time has come for you to leave your shell. As for me, I will leave World with my Dead-eye baby that I carry in my womb. I will be the first in all the ages of World to leave, for surely you have realized that the PassNaught has kept us in as surely as it has kept the Off-worlders out. I will leave to teach and awaken their Kenning, for this can be done, and humbly to learn from them their wisdom. But before all I will set my mind to dance among the stars and be foremost in joy.
The people throughout World, looked up at the PassNaught. A golden tint caught and spread, and the cold silver glowed a warm sun-hue. Then the people felt the first stirrings of something new — and somehow it seemed a joyful thing.
Let it be said that later, much later, the People set Merovin’s name in reverence beside that of StillBorn’s, and they were called the Guests. Some of the great among the Elders said they felt something of his presence in the GoldenGirdle that encircles World.
History records that when the Off-world ship returned for Merovin it found not him, but a solitary figure, lightly burdened with travel bags, young life growing in her womb, waiting with timeless patience, wearing with formal Pride her triple tier of Razorbird feathers, their glorious hues of crimson, purple and gold strangely reminiscent of the Old Earth bird called the Phoenix.
Bespeak – To communicate by telepathy, directly from mind to mind. To use Kenning.
Birthlinq – When a person leaves his mother’s womb, he is a birthling, but not a human. He is not a human until his Kenning, his telepathy, develops. So no birth is celebrated or acknowledged by the Tribe until the true birth when the birthling becomes a human child. If the birthling does not develop its Kenning within nine lesser cycles (approximately nine months), the birthling is disposed of as though it had been a miscarriage, and will never be mentioned by any member of the Tribe, as it is a matter of shame.
BookTribe – A Tribe where reading had become common. Often two or more such Tribes had combined or at least lived closed together, forming the nucleus of a large town or even a small city.
City – Even a major city like HeartKeep was very small by earth standards, almost never larger than 100,000 inhabitants. The older classifications of Tribe and Cling tended to get lost in the few cities, being replaced by quarters or sections. Yet these quarters tended to be nothing more than a Cling or Tribe in a ghetto, without any negative implications to the word ghetto. The Keeper Cling had an enclave in most cities. However, it was clear to most city dwellers that the traditional social structures were well on their way to disintegration in the cities.
Cling – A group of people living together because of some common interest other than blood relationship. Examples are the WaterWalker Cling which is actually a group of sailors, a rare avocation among Endoreans. The chief among its members do indeed have the Gift of walking on water; the Juggler Cling which is a wandering Cling of entertainers similar to a Terran circus. The most famous Cling is the Keeper Cling (See below).
Collapse – The Period of cultural and technological decay among all the inhabited worlds, following the Galactic Wars. It lasted about three hundred years and ended when the Reconstruction began. Since the Reconstruction began on Earth and spread slowly like a Renaissance, an exact date for the end of the Collapse is meaningless on a Galactic scale.
Council of Elders – A body created by TouchStone to help rule Endor and offset the power of the Foremast. Each Tribe or Cling was entitled to send one Elder to the Council.
Dead-eye – Someone who does not have Kenning or mental telepathy. His third eye, or psychic eye, is dead, and he is not considered a true human.
Earth-womb – A person is borne for nine lesser cycles in his mother’s womb. At the time he comes from her womb he is considered a birthling, but not a human. He is now allowed another nine lesser cycles with the earth as his womb, to become a human by developing his Kenning. This time is the earth-womb, as opposed to his mother-womb.
Endor – A world never intentionally inhabited. Its natives originated from a colony ship destined for Talena 3, forced to land and never able to take off again due to the start of the Galactic War and the breakdown in available support ships. Its extreme vulcanism brought up dangerous levels of radioactive materials, which had caused the planet to be listed as uninhabitable. The original colonists lost their technology, due in part to the surprising lack of metals on Endor. They endured a very high rate of mutation and death. Functional mutations were tolerated, even valued, by the Endoreans. Nonfunctional deviance was dealt with by death. It is not known exactly when the psychic mutations began to become prevalent, but eventually they became the norm and highly developed. The planet has only one large, equatorial continent that is inhabited, a smaller antarctic land mass that is permanently frozen along with a much larger area of ice shelf. The arctic land mass is larger, but also permanently frozen as the planet is only slightly tilted on its axis and therefore has scant seasons. It is surrounded by a ring, which is the remnant of its moon and appears to be under the mental control of the natives as a device to ward off off-world ships.
Foremost – The title given the most gifted and strongest person of Endor at any given time. Before the advent of the Overmind, this title was arrived at by consensus, or occasional1y by actual battle between contenders. It was tantamount to World ruler, although there was no actual system of World government and never any such World organization as would imply taxes or school systems. Nevertheless the position implied real power and great prestige. Barring an accident or a challenge, which were surprisingly few for reasons of Pride which off-worlders find complicated, the Foremost’s rule was a lifelong tenure. TenTongues was the first Foremost. TouchStone was the greatest Foremast and was called the Foremost of Foremosts. After the advent of the Overmind, it was assumed that the Foremost had the stamp of approval of the Overmind, and challenge became unthinkable.
Gift – A psychic power in addition to Kenning. While every person must have Kenning to be considered human, maybe only one out of five had any Gift. The most common Gift was Foresight, or simply Sight. Many of those who had this Gift had it only weakly or sporadically, so that excluding these maybe only one person in twenty had a Gift. The Gifts were divided into the Gifts of Power and the Lesser Gifts. The Lesser Gifts included water walking, healing, foresight, controlling animals. The Gifts of Power included controlling the wind, the volcanoes, calling lightening and fires. Those who wielded these Gifts were called PowerHands as it was considered that they had an extra psychic hand. The Great among the WindHands were called WindWalkers because they could so control the winds that they could cause their own bodies to be hurled safely through the air. This so dried their skin that they had a characteristic weathered look, which was very fashionable as it betokened power.
Greater Cycle – From nine to thirteen lesser cycles. Its variability did not bother the Endoreans who considered a child of ten greater cycles to be ten whether each greater cycle had lasted nine lesser cycles or thirteen or any combination. Like the lesser cycles the greater cycles were punctuations of activity in the continent-wide geyser system, but the activity was much greater and frequently lasted six or seven days. In the days before the Overmind, the greater cycles were accompanied by intensified volcanic activity. (See also Time.)
Guest(The) – A title given to StarRise or StillBorn, as he was considered not of the people but a guest come to the people. Endor had very stringent customs concerning the treatment of guests, and part of the great shame attached to the People’s treatment of StarRise was their failure to observe even the most rudimentary guest law. Of course that was due to their failure to perceive that he had Kenning and was therefore human, but this failure was also a source of shame to the Endoreans, who took extreme care in their testing for Kenning. To kill a human child under tribal protection was a mortal sin. The Guest was considered to have been a principle of power who took on human flesh to bring redemption to the people.
HeartKeep – The capital city of Endor, where by tradition the Foremost lives.
Keeper Cling – So called because they “Kept their Seed from the people.” ‘Keeper’ could refer to any person who refused to produce a child for any reason. As a matter of law this was illegal and theoretically not tolerated by the Tribes. As a matter of practicality this law was only enforced on women, as there was always some man willing to impregnate a woman and accept responsibility for her child. A barren women was considered an abomination and frequently subject to a death sentence, unless she had a valuable Gift. A man who kept his seed for any reason, even impotency, was usually cast out of the Tribe, unless he had a valuable gift. He was required to wear black as an indication of his shame. A number of different Keeper towns grew up, but in some sense they were all considered part of the same Cling, a situation unique among Clings and Tribes. Many Keepers were great Healers, but this Gift had less prestige than the other common Gift of Keepers, that of Fire and especially Rain-fire.
Kenninq – Telepathy. The ability to communicate directly from mind to mind, without which no Endorean is considered a human. To lack Kenning is to be a Dead-eye.
Land-Tribe – A rural Tribe, usually very traditional, often entirely illiterate.
Lesser Cycle – From twenty to forty days. The inhabited continent of Endor was riddled by a system of geysers, mud holes, hot springs and lava pools. Every twenty to forty days these pores of the underlying vulcanism would suddenly start into activity. The springs would overflow and the geysers would spout. This Erratic regularity was as close to the concept of month that the Endoreans came. Even when they had had a moon, the sky was so often overcast that only specialist knew that there was a system to the moon’s phases, let alone had a notion of the length of its periodicity. (See also Time.)
Lorekeep – An important official in an Endorean Tribe or Cling, responsible for keeping in his memory the lore and tradition of his and other Tribes. He is especially required to know the tales of Pride of his Tribe and the degree of Pride his Tribe is entitled to with respect to any other Tribe, and the degree of Pride each member of his Tribe is entitled to with respect to any other member of his Tribe. He is responsible for the education of the young in these matters and is judge in cases of disputes of any nature where degree of Pride may be used to settle the issue. His importance is greatest in the land-tribes, but has lessened somewhat in the book-tribes. It is also his task to keep track of the cycles and of the tenths of cycles (by use of candles).
Overmind – A mental power that arose from the unified minds of all Endoreans, but which has an existence of its own and cannot be controlled by any individual or group of individuals. Each Endorean is like the cell of a human body, and the Overmind is like the human being that is greater by far than the amalgamation of the cells of his body. Who, by studying a single cell, could ever foretell that amassing billions of such cells in a particular way could create a configuration capable of gardening or designing a space ship? In a like manner the Overmind transcends its components. StarRise seems of his own to have been on a par with the Overmind. At any rate he was able to commandeer it and set it to his purposes. It is now somehow physically associated with the Si1verPassNaught. It first arose in the time of StarRise.
PowerHand – Anybody possessing one of the Gifts of power such as control of wind, fire or lightening. See Gifts.
Pride – Essentially the same concept as Honor or Face, but much more formalized. An individual receives Pride from his own accomplishments, those of his family and ancestors, less from other members of his Tribe, and still less from Folk Heroes. Pride conveys legal status and creates a hierarchy of command with the force of law. Shame offsets pride legally as well as informally.
Rainfire – A word for lightning.
Reconstruction – The period of cultural and technological growth following the Collapse at the end of the Galactic Wars. Much of the old technology was rediscovered, but a great deal more emphasis was placed on the science of mankind as a subject, both as a social being and as an individual being. This included the establishment of schools for rigorous mental and emotional training, along the lines of a high tech yoga or Zen school. Of course, it was the exceptional person who had attended such a school. High tech theory existed often side by side with stone-age reality as civilization slowly regained lost ground.
Shame – The strongest social sanction against an individual or Tribe. As a legal term it also allowed legal action against an individual such as the confiscation of property, the lessening of status, and even the taking of life. It was offset by Pride. A person with great pride could legally get away with an act one of lesser Pride could not. His pride, however, was thereby diminished.
Si1verPassnauqht – The great ring surrounding Endor, made from the dust of the shattered moon which once attended Endor, so called because it allows nothing to pass to or from Endor without permission. It is also said to control much that happens on Endor. It is somehow physically associated with the Overmind.
Stronqhand – The same as a PowerHand.
Time – The Endoreans had what we would consider only a rudimentary knowledge of time. Their principal time keeping system, the geyser system, was much less regular than our own Old Faithful, although it did follow rough limits. Their days had no clear beginnings or endings, as the heavy cloud cover obscured sunrise to nothing more than a gradual brightening of the sky, with nothing even approximating a sharp distinction between twilight and day. They did have the concept of “tenths”, each daylight period and each night period having ten tenths, but without clocks this usually amounted to each persons judgement. In the cities officials kept candles with ten rings around them and would ring a bell upon the tenth. So the tenths were frequently called “rings”. Midday and midnight were terms used, but only with inexactitude. The notion of dividing the days into exact fractions called hours, and those into exact sixtieths called minutes, would strike the Endoreans as anything from grotesque to amusing. To think that minutes throughout civi1ization were commonly divided into sixtieths called seconds would be unbelievable, or if believed, alarming. (See also Greater Cycles and Lesser Cycles.)
Tribal Council – A council made up a the Elders of the Tribe. The ruling body of a Tribe or Cling.
Tribe – The fundamental unit of social organization on Endor. Each Tribe was autonomous, but subject to great homogenizing pressures in its mores. Each Tribe was ruled by its Elders, who were in fact not always the oldest, but the members with the most Pride, who were also usually the strongest of the Tribe in Gifts of power. In theory the Elders owed allegiance to the Foremost, but due to the general lack of mobility, this seldom amounted to any practical consideration. A Tribe was composed of blood relatives and those who married into the Tribe or were officially adopted into it. Its members had diverse Gifts and interests as opposed to a Cling, which see.
Universal Government – Actually only a galactic government as exploration had never gone beyond the bounds of the Milky Way. This is the governing body which arose after the Collapse. Its actual seat of administration is mostly Earth, although a number of functions and administrative subsets are located on other planets. Its main coercive strength is economic, not political or military. It has, however, functioned with reasonable effectiveness for two hundred years as more and more worlds are brought under its economic penumbra. It numbers about six thousand worlds, which is over two-thirds the total number of worlds known to have been inhabited before the Galactic Wars.
WindHand – Someone whose Gift is the power to control the winds. (See Gift.)
Womb-child – When a person is first born he is considered a birthling, not a human child. He has this status until he shows his first sign of Kenning, at which time he is considered to be a human. This is the time his birth is celebrated. If a person should have his Kenning active when he first comes from the womb, then he would be born a human child, a womb-chiId. This happened only one time in the history of Endor, and that was at the birth of TouchStone, who was called WaterRunning to commemorate his being born with his Kenning flowing.
Other vocabulary: FLT; Razorbird; REM School; Synaptic Web; Alliance of Worlds; LureHand
Copyright 2012, Maurice Tuck
Use only with permission.