Year 1116 Eraasian Reckoning
ERAASI: HANILAT STARPORT DEMAIZEN OLD HALL
Ribbon-of Starlight, foremost guardship in the sus-Peledaen fleet, waited on the landing field at Hanilat like a dark, angular bird. She was the largest family ship that could actually touch the soil of Eraasi. The merchant ships she escorted were bigger--huge constructs, hold-swollen with cargo--but they never left orbit. The shuttles that would bring up the flats and bales and crates of tradeware clustered like nestlings on the burnt ground next to the Ribbon's protective bulk.
Arekhon Khreseio sus-Khalgath sus-Peledaen, riding out to the guardship in the back compartment of an open land-hauler, gave the shuttles nothing more than a cursory glance. Ribbon-of-Starlight--his home for the remainder of his fleet apprenticeship--claimed the greater part of his attention. She was a new ship, no more than a couple of voyages old, but already known for a lucky one. 'Rekhe squinted at her, trying for the catch and angle of sunlight that would let him see the eiran wrapping and weaving around her.
A moment ... there ... yes. To the right eyes, Ribbon-of-Starlight was rich with luck, hung about with it in lacework so thick it looked like silvery gauze.
Arekhon himself was a slight, dark-haired youth. He'd worked with the fleet Circle in Hanilat since he was first able to count his age in two digits, but now that he was, by everyone's reckoning, old enough to make a full commitment to the Mages, his duty to the family came first. His brotherNatelth was the head of the sus-Peledaen family's senior line, and Natelth wanted 'Rekhe to go through his apprenticeship in the fleet ... so an apprentice, perforce, 'Rekhe would have to be, and the Circles could wait until later.
"Here you are."
'Rekhe blinked, and the luck-lines went away, leaving the Ribbon looming stark black as before, only much nearer. A door was open high on one curving side, and a narrow metal ladder led up to it.
"Thank you," he said politely to the driver of the land-hauler, collected his duffel, and climbed out of the back compartment onto the ground. The hauler sped off on its next errand. 'Rekhe shouldered his duffel and started climbing.
A young man in a blue work coverall was waiting for him when he reached the top of the ladder. The crimson piping and insignia on the man's coverall told 'Rekhe that he was a clerk-tertiary, not long out of his own training days.
"Arekhon sus-Khalgath?" the clerk said.
"Reporting for instruction, sir." Everyone outranked an apprentice--even when the apprentice came from the family's senior line--and 'Rekhe took pains to keep his voice respectful. Natelth had made it plain that he would not have his younger brother disgracing the family by causing trouble and discontent.
"Come with me." The clerk-tertiary led the way into the coiling three-dimensional labyrinth of the Ribbon's interior, and 'Rekhe followed.
He tried to memorize the route as they went, but in spite of his efforts he knew that he would have to spend time with the ship's map-models later. The ground-based portion of his prentice-training had given him an understanding of the basic principles of ship construction, but each ship had its own set of variations on the common design.
The clerk-tertiary halted before an airtight door like all the others they had passed by, or through, on the way inward.
"Prentice berthing," he said. "Stow your gear and report to the junior wardroom in an hour."
With that, he departed, leaving 'Rekhe to confront the door alone. Fortunately, it was merely closed, rather than dogged down tight. 'Rekhe pulled it open and stepped over the sill.
The compartment held four bunks, stacked two deep on either side of the door. Corresponding lockers filled the rest of the available space alongthe bulkheads. The bunks were rigged with the cushions and webbing to double as acceleration couches.
A girl sat cross-legged on one of the lower bunks, reading a flatbook and making notes on the margin-pad with a stylus. She wore prentice livery like 'Rekhe's own--more dark blue trimmed with crimson--and her short brown hair curled around her bent head in a loose mop. She looked up as 'Rekhe stepped into the compartment.
"It's first-come, first-served on the bunks," she said. "You might as well take the bottom one on the other side before somebody else does."
"I like the top bunks," said 'Rekhe. "Nobody steps on your face every night and morning."
The girl shrugged. "No accounting for taste. I'm Elaeli Inadi, by the way."
"Arekhon sus-Khalgath," he said, sketching a bow.
And the eiran that had hung like cobwebs around Ribbon-of-Starlight's dark metal hull began to weave themselves into a newer pattern.
On the day that the Ribbon left Eraasi for her trading voyage to Ildaon and beyond, Serazao Zulemem was at work in the outer office of the Harradi Group, a firm of legalists specializing in the financial affairs of Eraasi's middle and upper nobility. The Demaizen estate was about to pass into the hands of its final inheritor, and Serazao had drawn the work of sorting and filing all the hardcopy that the case had generated during two decades of legal contests.
Serazao's parents, Alescu and Evya, had come to Hanilat from Eraasi's antipodal subcontinent because well-trained legalists--and they were both well-trained--could prosper in the employ of the merchants and star-lords who made the city their base of operations. Her father soon achieved membership in the Harradi Group; her mother, more combative by nature, kept her own office as a court-litigant.
Serazao herself was a quiet, industrious child. From the time she was old enough to make plans for her future and have others take them seriously, she intended to become a legalist like her parents. To that end, as soon as she reached the age of employment, she worked part time--full time during the school intervals--at her father's firm.
The litigation concerning the Demaizen estate had come near to outlasting the family lines that contended for it. Serazao knew from her parents'dinner-table conversation that only the death from old age of one of the parties involved had brought the matter to a conclusion. Now the remaining heir was required to present himself at Harradi's offices to take possession ... in this case, of a portfolio full of deeds and account-books.
Nobody had bothered to mention that the last of the sus-Demaizen line was also a Mage; or if they had, they'd done it so long ago that Serazao had not been there to hear. From the length of time that the estate had been in the hands of the legalists, she assumed that its ultimate heir would be another one like the deceased claimant, whom she'd had the misfortune once to meet: Elderly, avaricious, ill-tempered, and infirm, with more money already in his possession than any one man could reasonably think to spend.
Garrod syn-Aigal was not what she'd expected at all.
Her first impression, when he came into the outer office, was that he was the heir's driver, or perhaps his bodyguard: A big man, broad in the shoulders and firmly muscled, but with none of the clumsiness that so often came with strength. He wore plain street clothes, of good quality but far from new, with a long weather-coat thrown over them. It was the middle of Hanilat's rainy season--she remembered the date ever afterward, very clearly--and both the coat and the loose-brimmed hat he wore with it shed water in puddles on the office floor.
He paused inside the door, still dripping, and looked about with a searching expression that lightened when he saw her at work behind the office-bar.
"Good morning, Syr--"
"Zulemem," she said, and then, in reply to his unspoken question, "There's a coat-rack in the corner behind you."
He smiled, which made his heavy dark eyebrows bristle even more fiercely than they did already. She didn't like men with thick eyebrows--she preferred an elegant antipodal arch, like her father had, or her cousins--but the newcomer's good humor made them, and the roughness of the features around them, surprisingly attractive.
"Ah. So there is. Thank you, Syr Zulemem."
"Serazao," she said, as he pulled off the coat and the hat and hung them up on the polished brass hooks of the coat-rack. With the coat out of the way, she caught her first glimpse of the short wooden staff that the man wore clipped to his belt. Seeing it, she frowned.
He was quick; he caught the change in her expression almost before themuscles of her face made their fractional changes to echo the shift within her mind.
"Is there something wrong?"
"No," she said hastily, "nothing wrong. I didn't realize that syn-Aigal had a Mage-Circle on his side, is all."
"He doesn't, not really." He smiled again. "Or I don't, at least--and I was Garrod syn-Aigal the last time I looked."
She felt the blood rising in her face. If any of the office partners found out that she had, at least by implication, insulted their client ... "I'm sorry; I was impertinent."
"You told the truth as you saw it, Syr Zulemem. No impertinence there."
"Maybe not for you," she said. "But I want to work here someday, when my schooling's finished."
His eyebrows went up again. "You don't look like a legalist to me."
"Oh?" Irritation flared; she frowned at him, never minding what the office partners might have to say. He hadn't looked like a man who would pay heavy-handed compliments of that sort, and it was depressing to find out otherwise. "What do I look like, then?"
Once again, he surprised her. "A Mage."
"About that, never."
"There should be a Circle working near your school," he said. "Ask your instructors; one of them will know. And when you've trained in Hanilat long enough, come to Demaizen Old Hall and ask for me. I'll be building a Circle there."
The wet weather that had been merely annoying in Hanilat was chilly and unseasonable in the Wide Hills district several days later. On the road going up past Demaizen Town, the rain slanted down cold and hard in the driving beams of Garrod's heavy six-wheel groundcar. The vehicle bumped along over the muddy track, then turned the corner in a cut braced by stone shoring and began growling up the final slope.
"There it is," Garrod said. He pointed to the massive stone pile that loomed among its outbuildings at the crest of a long hill. "Demaizen Old Hall."
The driver grunted, unimpressed. "I see it."
The main gate stood open in a twist of rusted iron. The groundcar passed slowly through, and kept on until the road ended in front of the heavy bronze doors of the central building. The beams from the groundcar's driving lamps picked up the Hall's blank windows, its moss- and lichen-spattered walls. Everything here was untended and overgrown, even the road itself; weeds poked up knee-high through what had once been the gravel surface of a circular driveway.
The driver switched the engine to neutral, and the sound dropped to a low throb. "Here you are."
"Thanks, Yuva," Garrod said. He pushed open the passenger-side door. The wind took it, smashing it fully open against the front engine cowling. The rain stung like needles and plastered Garrod's hair flat in an instant. He jumped out of the groundcar, his staff swinging from his belt, and ran the ten feet to the doors.
The arched opening gave at least some protection from the wind, but the doors were locked. Garrod frowned. The keys had not been part of the inheritance.
He unclipped his staff. A moment's preparation, a reaching-out and a pulling-in, and the staff began to give off a steady blue-white light. He touched the door and bent his energies toward persuading it to open, but to no avail--the locks were rusted fast, their mechanisms destroyed by more than a generation without maintenance.
Garrod sprinted back to where Yuvaen waited in the groundcar. "Back her up to the doors," he shouted above the howling wind.
The groundcar lurched forward, then swung back and to the left. Its wheels ground and bumped up the shallow steps until the rear towing bar nearly touched the bronze doors.
Garrod opened the cargo compartment and pulled out the tow chain. He threaded it through the handles of the doors, linked it with a clevis bolt to the rings on the towing bar, and stepped aside.
"Yuva! Ahead slow!"
The groundcar sent out a puff of chemical vapor from its upper tubes, and growled forward. Hinges and bolts gave way behind it in a howl of tearing metal, and the bronze doors buckled under the strain.
"Hold up!" Garrod shouted.
The groundcar stopped. Yuvaen shut off the engine and emerged from the driver's side.
"Give us a light," Garrod said. "Let's see how it looks."
"Right." Yuvaen had brought an electric lantern with him from the groundcar. He turned it on and lifted it to shine a yellow light at the doors of the hall--the right-hand one pulled entirely away from the frame, the one on the left tilted crazily and hanging by a single hinge. He cast a gloomy eye over the damage. "It'll cost you a pretty to have those fixed."
"I've got all the money I need," Garrod said. "What I don't have is time. Come on."
The two men entered the Hall. White-sheeted furniture stood ghostlike in the foyer. Dust lay thick, and gnawing creatures had worked on much of the interior woodwork. Garrod pointed through an arch to where a staircase went curling upward.
"There," he said, and started up toward the long gallery on the second floor. Yuvaen followed.
At the entrance to the gallery, both men paused on the threshold. Their rain-soaked clothing clung to their bodies like wet leaves, and the glow from Yuvaen's lantern cast a swaying circle of yellow light on the space within, where the sus-Demaizen kept their tablets of remembrance.
Plaques and memorials covered the walls--ancient slabs of grey slate scratched with names in a language no longer spoken by anyone living, and newer tablets of painted wood and cast metal. On the altars beneath them, long-guttered candles spilled out their wax across carven wood.
Garrod strode into the center of the room, where a small altar stood in front of a freestanding memorial on tripod legs. The candle holders were empty--whoever had last tended the memorial had scraped them clean when the rite was done--and a spray of white flowers, long since dried, lay on the altar between them.
"This is an end and a breaking," Garrod said. With that he picked up the memorial and flung it out through one of the high, west-looking windows in the center of the long wall. The window glass gave way in a jagged, shivering peal, and the memorial went crashing down onto the gravel drive outside.
"Wait!" Yuvaen cried over the noise. "Hasn't there been enough broken already?"
Garrod put his hands against the wooden altar and shoved it toward the broken window. "No," he said. "Not enough by half. Before I am done, I will break our very universe."
The altar smashed against the low sill and tumbled over it to the ground below. Rain poured in through the gap in the window, driven slantwise by the rising wind.
"Your ancestors will curse you," Yuvaen said.
"My ancestors mean nothing to me," Garrod said, "and I mean nothing to them." He pulled another of the tablets from the wall, and the dried wood splintered in his hands. He threw the tablet out onto the gravel with the other wreckage. "I am the last of my line, and what follows after will follow the older days."
"I don't understand."
"The sundering of the galaxy is not just a parable, or an allegory suitable for children and scholars," Garrod said. He was pulling tablet after tablet away from the plastered walls, working now with a fierce, unstoppable intensity. "It is nothing less than the truth. And I intend to bring together that which was split apart."
Yuvaen shook his head. "You're right not to fear your ancestors. It's the gods themselves that you should fear."
Garrod fished in his pocket and pulled out an incendiary, of the kind used by workers in the metal and construction trades. He pulled the igniter and tossed the incendiary down onto the tangle of broken wood on the gravel drive. A brilliant white light blossomed up, mixed shortly after with red as the wood caught fire. The western windows glowed with the color.
Garrod heaved another wooden tablet out of the broken window and into the flames. "I don't have time to fear the gods, Yuva--you'll have to do it for me. Come, help me clean out this space, for here will be our workroom."
"May the gods forgive me, then," Yuvaen said. "Because I'm with you."
The two men embraced, then fell to stripping the walls of their memorials, and clearing the floor of its altars.
Copyright © 1999 by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald