But how could anyone be sure that those tutelary biospheric spirits, the Original Beholder and Gaia, had a real existence?
There was no objective proof, just as empathy cannot be measured. Microbacterial life has no knowledge of mankind: their umwelts are too disparate. Only intuition can permit mankind to see and hear the footsteps of those geochemical spirits who have managed the life of a functioning whole world as a single organism.
It is intuition, again, which tells humanity that to live according to the spirit it must not possess, must refrain from dominating. It was precisely those men who met so secretively on Icen Hill, shut away from human contact, secure from contact with the outside world, who most feverishly tried to possess the world.
And if they succeeded?
The biospheric spirits are forgiving and adaptable. Intuition tells us that there are always alternatives. Homeostasis is not fossilisation but the balance of vitality.
The early tribal hunters who burned the forests to secure their prey gave birth to the ecosystems of the great savannahs. Mutability informs Gaia’s cybernetic controls.
The Original Beholder’s grey cloak was sweeping across Helliconia. Human beings defied it or accepted it, according to their individual natures.
Beyond the pale of human possession, the creatures of the wild made their own dispositions. The brassimip trees greedily stored food resources far below ground, in order that they might continue to grow. The little land crustaceans, the rickybacks, congregated in their thousands on the underside of stones of alabaster, working lodgements for themselves in the stone with secretions of acid; they would derive such light as they needed to sustain them through the stone itself. The horned sheep of the mountains, the wild asokin, the badgered timoroon, the flambreg on their scoured plains, indulged in fierce courtship battles. There was time for one more mating and perhaps one more: the number of living offspring born would be decided by temperature, by the food supply, by courage, by skill.
All those beings which could not be described as part of the human race, but remained suspended by a quirk of evolution just outside the hearths of humanity-wistfully looking towards the camp fires-those beings too made their dispositions.
The Driat tribes, given the gift of language and well able to curse in it, cursed and moved down from the hills to rocky shores of their continent, where they would find food in abundance. The migratory Madis were driven from their dying ucts to seek shelter in the West and to haunt the ruined cities mankind had deserted. The Nondads burrowed down between the roots of great trees, living their elusive lives little differently from in the scorching days of summer.
As for the ancipital race, each generation saw global conditions reverting to what they had been before the invasion of Freyr into their skies. To their eotemporal minds, the stereotype of the future was coming more nearly to resemble the stereotype of the past. On the broad plains of Campannlat, phagors became increasingly dominant, relying for meat on the herds of yelk and biyelk, which appeared in growing numbers, and becoming bolder in their attacks on the Sons of Freyr. Only in Sibornal, where their presence had never been strong, were they subject to organised counterattacks from humanity.
All these creatures could be seen as vying with one another. In a sense it was true. But in a wider sense, all were a unity. The steady disappearance of green things destroyed their numbers, but they remained intact. For all of them depended on the anaerobic muds on the Helli-conian seabeds, working to bury carbon and maintain the oxygen of the atmosphere, so that the great processes of respiration and photosynthesis were maintained over land and ocean.
All these creatures, again, could be seen as the vital life of the planet. In a sense it was true. But fully half of the mass of Helliconian life lived in the three-dimensional pasturages of the seas. That mass was composed for the most part of single-celled microftora. They were the true monitors of life, and for them little changed, whether Freyr was close or distant.
The Original Beholder held all living forces in balance. How was life possible on the planet? Because there was life on the planet. What would happen without life? There could be no life. The Original Be- holder was a spirit who dwelt over the waters: not a separate spirit endowed with mind, but a vast cooperative entity, creating well-being from the centre of a furious chemical storm. And the Original Beholder was forced to be even more ingenious than her sister goddess, Caia, on nearby Earth.
Somewhat apart from all other living things, from algae and rutting sheep and rickybacks, were the humans of Helliconia. These creatures, although fully as dependent on the homeostatic biosphere as other units of life, had nevertheless elevated themselves to a special category. They had developed language. Within the wordless universe, they had assembled their own umwelt of words.
They had songs and poems, dramas and histories, debate, lament and proclamation, with which to give tongue to the planet. With words came the power to invent. As soon as words came, there was story. Story was to words as Gaia was to Earth and the Original Beholder to Helliconia. Neither planet had a story until mankind came chattering onto the scene and invented it-to fit what each generation saw as the facts. There were visionaries on Helliconia who, at this time of crisis in human affairs, divined the existence of the Original Beholder. But visionaries had always been there, often inarticulate because they worked close to the thresholds of inarticulacy. They perceived something azoi-axic in the universe, something beyond life round which all life revolves, which was itself at once unliving and the Life.
The vision did not fit easily into words. But because there were words, their listeners could not tell whether the vision was true or false. Words have no atomic weight. The universe of words has no ultimate criteria corresponding to life and death in the tongueless universe. This is why it can invent imaginary worlds which have neither life nor death.
One such imaginary world was the perfectly functioning Sibornalese state as visualised by the Oligarchy. Another was the perfectly functioning universe of God the Azoiaxic as visualised by the elders of the Church of the Formidable Peace. With the defiance of the Oligarch’s edicts and the subsequent burning of Priest-Supreme Chubsalid and his fellow ecclesiastics, the two imaginary perfections ceased to coincide. After long periods of near identity, Church and State discovered to their mutual horror that they were in opposition.
Many of the leading clergy, like Asperamanka, were too much in the pocket of the State to protest. It was the rank and file of the Church, the lowly friars, the unlovely monks, those closest to the people, who raised the alarm.
One Member of the Oligarchy cried out against “those preachers in their cowls running to and fro, spreading false rumours among the common folk”-thus unconsciously echoing Erasmus on Earth many centuries earlier. But the Oligarchy was no defender of humanism. It could respond to the oppressed only with more oppression.
Enantiodromia once more. Just when the ranks were closing, a gulf opened; when unity was within reach, the divisions became widest.
The Oligarchy turned everything to its advantage. It could use the new unrest in its countries as an excuse for yet firmer measures. The army returning from its success in Bribahr was redeployed in the towns and villages of Uskutoshk. A sullen and cowed population stood by while its village priests were shot.
The dissention reached even Kharnabhar.
Ebstok Esikananzi called upon Luterin to discuss the trouble, and watched his mouth rather than his eyes when Luterin counselled caution. Other worthy officials representing one side or other also called. Luterin found himself closeted with Secretary Evanporil and staff for many hours. With his own fate hanging over him, he was unable to decide the fate of his province.
The Great Wheel was involved in the dispute. While it was itself run by the Church, its territory was under the control of a lay governor appointed by the Keeper. The gulf between lay and ecclesiastic widened. Chubsalid was not forgotten.
After two days of argumentation, Luterin did what he had done before when feeling oppressed. He escaped.
Taking with him a good hound and a huntsman, he rode off into the wilds, the almost limitless wilderness of mountain round Kharnabhar. A blizzard was blowing, but he disregarded it. Lost here and there among the valleys, or punctuating breaks in the caspiarn forests, were hunting lodges and shrines where a man could stable his mount, shelter, and sleep. Like his father, he simply disappeared from human ken.
Often he hoped that he might encounter his father. He saw the meeting in his mind’s eye. Saw his father the centre of a group of heavily garbed hunters, the snow swirling about them. Masked hawks sat on leather shoulders. A biyelk dragged a sled carrying dead game. The breath of the hounds rose up. His father descended stiffly from his saddle and came towards him, arms outstretched.
Always his father had learnt of his heroism at Isturiacha, and congratulated him on his escape from death at Koriantura. They embraced . .
He and his companion met no one, heard nothing but the clash of glaciers. They slept in remote lodges, where the aurora flickered high above the forests.
However tired he was, however many animals they had slain, the nights brought bad dreams to Luterin. The obsession overwhelmed him that he was climbing, not amid forests, but through rooms stuffed with meaningless furniture and ancient possessions. In those rooms, a sense of horror gathered. He could neither find nor evade the thing that hunted him.
Often he awoke and imagined that he was again laid flat by paralysis. Knowledge of his real surroundings returned only slowly. Then he would try to calm his mind with thoughts of Toress Lahl; but ever and again Insil stood beside her.
At least his mother had taken to her bed after the feast she had given in his honour, so news that he would not marry Insil had not spread. He saw in how many ways Insil was fitted to be his wife in the years to come; in her was the true unyielding Kharnabhar spirit.
Toress Lahl, by contrast, was an exile, a foreigner. Had he said he would marry her merely to prove his independence?
He hated the fact that he was still undecided. Yet he could not decide finally until his own uncertain situation was made clear. That entailed a confrontation with his father.
Night after night, lying with beating heart inside his sleeping bag, he came to see that confrontation there must be. He could marry Insil only if his father did not force him to it. His father must accept his viewpoint.
He must be hero or outcast. There were no other alternatives. He had to face rejection. Sex, when all was said, was a question of power.
Sometimes, as the aurora cast its glow inside the dark lodges, he saw his brother Favin’s face. Had he also challenged his father in some way-and lost?
Luterin and the huntsman rose early every dawn, when night birds were still in flight. They shared their food together as equals, but never a private thought did they let pass from one to the other.
However badly the nights passed, the days were all happiness. Every hour brought a changing light and changing conditions. The habits of the animals they stalked differed from hour to hour. With the decline of the small year, the days grew shorter, and Freyr remained always close to the horizon. But sometimes they would climb a ridge and see through foliage the old ruler himself, still blazing, throwing his light into another valley brimming in its depths with shadow like a sea, as a king might carelessly fill a glass with wine.
The stoic silence of nature was all about them, increasing their sense of infinity. Infinity came through all their senses. The rocks down which they scrambled to drink at some snow-bearded mountain stream seemed new, untouched by time. Through the silence ran a great music, translated in Luterin’s blood as freedom.
On their sixth day in the wilderness, they spied a party of six horned phagors crossing a glacier on kaidaw-back. The cowbirds sailing above their shoulders gave them away. They stalked the phagors for a day and a half, until they could get ahead of them and ambush them in a ravine.
They killed all six ancipitals. The cowbirds fled, screeching. The kaidaw were good specimens. Luterin and the huntsman managed to round up five of them and decided to drive them back to the family estate. It was possible that the Shokerandit stables could breed a domesticated strain of kaidaw.
The expedition had ended in modest triumph.
The tongues of the sullen bells of the mansion could be heard to toll long before the building loomed out of the blue mists.
So Luterin returned home, to find uproar, and his father’s yelk being combed down in the stables, dead game lying everywhere, and his father’s bodyguard throwing back fresh-brewed yadahl in the gunroom.
Unlike Luterin’s imagined meeting with Lobanster Shokerandit, the real reunion between father and son contained no embraces.
Luterin hurried into the reception hall, throwing off only his outer garments, retaining his boots, his revolver, his bell. His hair was long and unkempt. It fluttered about his ears as he ran towards his father.
Skewbald hounds skulked about the chamber and pissed against the wall hangings. A group of armed men stood by the door, backs to the main party, looking round suspiciously as if plotting.
About Lobanster Shokerandit were gathered his wife, Lourna, and her sister, and friends such as the Esikananzis-Ebstok, his wife, Insil, and her two brot hers. They were talking together. Lobanster’s back was turned to Luterin, and his mother saw him first. She called his name.
The talk ceased. They all turned to look at him.
Something in their faces-an unpleasant comp licity-told him they had been discussing him. He faltered in mid-stride. They continued to regard him and yet, curiously, their true attention still remained with the black-clad man in their midst.
Lobanster Shokerandit could command the attention of any group. This was less by his stature, which was no more than average, than by a sort of stillness which emanated from him. It was a quality all noticed, yet no one had word for it. Those who hated him, his slaves and servants, said that he froze you with a glance; his friends and allies said that he had an amazing power of command or that he was a man apart. His hounds said nothing, but slunk about his legs with their tails tucked down.
His hands were neat and precise, his nails pointed. Lobanster Shokerandit’s hands were noticeable. They were active while the rest of him remained rigid. They frequently travelled up to visit his throat, which was always swathed in black silk, moving with a startled action not unlike that of crabs or hawks searching for concealed prey. Lobanster had a goitre, which his cravat concealed and his hands betrayed. The goitre lent a pillarlike solidity to the neck, sufficient to support a large head.
The white hair of this remarkable head was brushed straight back as if raked, receding from a broad forehead. There were no eyebrows, but the pallid eyes were surrounded by thick dark lashes-so thick that some people suspected Madi blood somewhere. The eyes were further bolstered by grey pillows or bags below them; these pillows, having a certain goitrous quality, acted as embankments behind which the eyes watched the world. The lips, though ample, were almost as pale as the eyes, and the flesh of the face almost as pale as the lips. A sebacious sheen covered forehead and cheeks-sometimes the busy hands went up to wipe at the film-s o that the face gleamed as if it had recently been recovered from the sea.
“Come near, Luterin,” said the face now. The voice was deep and somewhat slow, as if the chin was reluctant to disturb the mound of goitre lying below it.
“I am glad you are back, Father,” said Luterin, advancing. “Had you good hunting?”
“Well enough. You are so metamorphosed that I scarcely recognised you.”
“Those fortunate enough to survive the plague take on compact shape for the Weyr-Winter, Father. I assure you I feel excellently fit.”
He took his father’s neat hand.
Ebstok Esikananzi said, “We may assume that phagors feel themselves to be fit, yet they are proven carriers of the plague.”
“I have recovered from the plague. I cannot carry it.”
“We certainly hope you can’t, dear,” said his mother.
As he turned to her, his father said sternly, “Luterin, I wish you to retire to the hall and await me. I shall be there presently. We have some legal matters to discuss.”
“Is there something the matter?”
Luterin took the full force of his father’s stare. He bowed his head and retired.
Once in the hall, he paced about, heedless of the tongue of his bell. What had made his father so cold he could not guess. True, that august figure had always been distant even when present, but that had been merely one of his qualities, as much taken for granted as the hidden goitre.
He summoned a slave and sent him to fetch Toress Lahl from her quarters.
She came questioningly. As she approached, he thought how appealing her metamorphosed shape was. And the frost prints on her face had healed.
“Why have you been so long away? Where have you been?” There was a hint of reproach, although she smiled and took his hand. As he kissed her, he said, “I’m entitled to vanish on the hunt. It’s in the family blood. Now listen, I am anxious for you. My father’s back and evidently displeased. This may be something that concerns you, since my mother and Insil have been talking to him.” “What a pity you were not here to welcome him, Luterin.” “That can’t be helped,” he said dismissively. “Listen, I want to give you something.”
He led into an alcove off the hall, where a wooden cupboard stood. With a key taken from his pocket, he unlocked the cupboard. Within hung dozens of heavy iron keys, each labelled. He ran a finger along the rows, frowning.
“Your father has a mania for locking things,” she said, half laughing. “Don’t be silly. He is the Keeper. This place has to be fortress as well as home.”
He found what he wanted and picked out a rusted key almost a hand’s span long.
“Nobody will miss this,” he said, locking up the cupboard. “Take it. Hide it. It is the key to that chapel built by your countryman, the king-saint. You remember, in the woods? There may be a little trouble-I can’t tell what. Perhaps about pauk. I don’t wantyou harmed. If anything happens to me, you will be in danger of arrest at the least. Go and hide in the chapel. Take a slave with you-they’re all longing to escape. Choose a woman who knows Kharnabhar, preferably a peasant.” She slipped the key into the pocket of her new clothes. “What can happen to you?” She clutched his hand. “Nothing, probably, but-I just feel an apprehension. . . .” He heard a door opening. Hounds came scurrying, nails clicking on the tiles. He pushed Toress Lahl into the shadows behind the cupboard, and stepped forth into the hall. His father was emerging. Behind him came half a dozen of the conspiratorial men, bells clanking.
“We’ll speak together,” said Lobanster, lifting one fi nger. He led into a small wooden room on the ground floor. Luterin followed, and the conspiratorial men moved in behind them. The last one in locked the door on the inside. The biogas hissed when turned up.
This room had a wooden bench and table and little else in the way of furniture. People had been interrogated here. There was also a wooden door fortified with iron straps, which was kept locked. It was a private way down into the vaults, where the well was whose waters never froze. Legend had it that precious brood animals had been preserved down there in the coldest centuries.
“Whatever we discuss should be said privately, Father,” Luterin said.
“I don’t even know who these other gentlemen are, though they make free in our house. They are not your huntsmen.”
“They are returned from Bribahr,” said Lobanster, speaking the words as if they gave him a cold pleasure. “Eminent men need bodyguards in these times. You are too young to understand how plague can cause the dissolution of the state. It breaks up first small communities and then large. The fear of it disintegrates nations.”
The conspiratorial men all looked very serious. In the limited space, it was impossible to stand away from them. Only Lobanster was separate, poised without movement behind the table, on the surface of which he played his fingers.
“Father, it is an insult that we should have to converse before strangers. I resent it. But I say to you- and to them, if they are capable of hearing-that alth ough there may be truth in what you say, there is a greater truth you neglect. There are other ways of disintegrating nations than by plague. The harsh measures being brought against pauk-the commo n people, the Church-the cruelty behind those measures-will eventually bring greate r destruction than the Fat Death-“
“Cease, boy!” His father’s hands went to the region of his throat. “Cruelty is also part of nature. Where is mercy, except with men? Men invented mercy, but cruelty was here before them, in nature. Nature is a press. Year by year, it squeezes us tighter. We cannot fight it but by bringing to bear cruelty of our own.
The plague is nature’s latest cruelty,and must be fought with its own weapons.”
Luterin could not speak. He could not find, under that chill, pale gaze, words to explain that while there might be a casual cruelty in circumstances, to formulate cruelty into a moral principle was a perversion of nature. To hear such pronouncements from his father turned him sick. He could only say, “You have swallowed utterly the words of the Oligarch.”
One of the conspiratorial men spoke in a loud, rough voice. “That is everyone’s duty.”
The sound of this stranger’s voice, the claustrophobia of the room, the tension, his father’s coldness, all mounted to Luterin’s brain. As if from afar, he heardhimself shouting, “I hate the Oligarch! The Oligarch is a monster. He murdered Asperamanka’s army. I’m here as a fugitive in stead of a hero. Now he will murder the Church. Father, fight this evil before you are yourself devoured by it.”
This he said and more, in a kind of seizure. He was scarcely aware of their bringing him from the room and helping him outside. He felt the bite of the chill wind. There was snow in his face. He was pushed through a courtyard where the biogas inspection pit was, and into a harness room.
The stablemen were sent away, the conspiratorial men were sent away. Luterin was alone with his father. Still he could not bear to look at him, but sat clutching his head, groaning. After a while he listened to what his father was saying.
“. . . only son left to me. You I must groom to take over the role of Keeper. For you there are particular challenges, and you must meet them. You must be strong-“
“I am strong! I defy the system.”
“If the order is to wipe out pauk, then we must wipe it out. If to destroy all phagors, then we must destroy all phagors. Not to do so is weakness. We cannot live without a system-all else is anarchy.
“I hear from your mother that you have a female slave who has influence over you. Luterin, you are a Shokerandit and you must be strong. That slave must be destroyed, and you will marry Insil Esikananzi, as we have planned since your childhood. There is no question but that you must obey. You obey not for my sake, but for the sake of freedom and Sibornal.”
Luterin gave a laugh. “What freedom would there be in such circumstances? Insil hates me, I believe, but for you that’s neither here nor there. There’s no freedom under the laws now being imposed.”
Lobanster moved as if for the first time. It was a simple gesture, a mere removal of one hand from the throat, to extend it in appeal towards Luterin.
“The laws are harsh. That’s understood. But thereis no freedom, nor any life, without them. Without laws firmly applied, we shall die. Just as Campannlat dies without law, though the climate favours it above Sibornal. Campannlat already disintegrates under the coming of the Great Winter. Sibornal can survive.
“Let me remind you, my son, that there are one thousand eight hundred and twenty-five small years in a Great Year. This Great Year has but five hundred and sixteen more years to run before its death, before the time of greatest cold, the winter solstice, when Freyr is farthest from us.
“We have to live like iron men until that time. Then the plague will be gone, and conditions will improve once more. We have known these facts since birth, for we hold Kharnabhar. The life of the Great Wheel is dedicated to getting us through that black time, to bringing us again to the light and warmth-“
Now Luterin confronted his father and spoke composedly.
“Agreed, the Wheel does as you say, Father. Why, then, do you approve-a s I gather you must-these wicked deeds whereby Chubsalid, Priest-Supreme of our Church, is burnt and the Church in general attacked?”
“Because the Wheel is an anachronism.” Lobanster made a throaty noise resembling a laugh, so that his goitre trembled under its black covering. “It is an anachronism, without meaning. It cannot save Helli- conia. It cannot save Sibornal. It is a sentimental concept. It functioned properly only when it imprisoned murders and debtors. It conflicts with the scientific laws of the Oligarchy. Those laws, and those alone, can bring us through the Weyr-Winter which will be upon our children. We cannot have two sets of laws in conflict. Therefore the Church must be demolished. It was as a first step towards that demolition that the Act against pauk was passed.” Again Luterin found no words.
“Is that what you brought me here to tell me?” he asked at last. “I was not going to have others hear our discussion. I’m chiefly concerned with your contempt for the laws concerning pauk and the ex- termination of phagors, as reported by Evanporil. If you weren’t my son,
I would have killed you. Do you understand?”
Luterin shook his head once. He cast his gaze to the floor of the tack room. As in childhood, he was unable to face his father’s eyes. “Do you understand?”
Still Luterin could not speak. He was utterly dismayed by his father’s imperviousness to his feelings.
Lobanster wiped his shining brow and crossed to the table, on which lay a saddle bag among other pieces of harness. He flicked open the buckle on the saddle bag so that a wad of posters came spilling out. He handed one to his son.
“Since you are so fond of Acts, have a look at the latest one.” Sighing, Luterin took it. He barely glanced at it before letting it drop. The sheet sailed into a corner of the room. It stated in black letters that, as a further measure to prevent plague, persons found in a metamorphosed state would be put to death.
By Order of the Oligarch. Luterin said nothing.
His father spoke. “You see that if you do not obey my wishes I cannot protect you. Can I?”
At last Luterin stared at his father in misery. “I have served you, Father. I have done as you wished all my life. I went into the army without protest- and acquitted myself well. I have been-and desired nothing better than to be-your possession. No doubt something of the same was in Favin’s mind when he leaped to his death. But now I have to oppose you. Not for my sake. Not even for religion’s sake, or for the State. After all, what are they but abstractions? I must oppose you for your own sake. Either the season or the Oligarch himself has driven you mad.”
A terrible fire shone on his father’s face, while the eyes remained as stoney as ever.
He snatched a long black shoeing knife from the table and held it out to his son. “Take this, you fool, and come outside with me. You must be made to see who is mad.”
The snow was coming down fast, whirling round a grey angle of the mansion as if bent on filling up the courtyard to the very top of its walls as soon as possible. The conspiratorial men stood in a group, hands tucked under their belts, waiting under a porch, heels knocking together for warmth. To one side stood yelk, still saddled, with an anxious stableman still standing among them. Near at hand was a pile of phagor corpses; they had been dead for some while: the snow settled on them without steaming.
To one side, close to an outer gate, a row of rusty iron hooks stuck out from the wall above head level. The naked bodies of four men and a woman dangled by ropes from the hooks.
Lobanster pushed his son in the back, urging him forward. The touch was like fire.
“Cut these dead things down and look at them. Have a good look at their monstrousness and then ask if the Oligarch is not just. Go on.”
Luterin drew near. The killing appeared recent. Moisture stood on the distorted faces of the dead. All five corpses were of people who had survived the Fat Death and metamorphosed.
“Laws have to be obeyed, Luterin, obeyed. Laws are what make society, and without society men are only animals. We caught these people on the way to Kharnabhar today, and we hanged them here because of the law. They died so that society can survive. Do you now think the Oligarch mad?”
As Luterin hesitated, his father said harshly, “Go on, cut them down, look at the agony in their faces, and then ask yourself if you prefer that state to life. When you reach an answer, you can get down on your knees to me.”
The lad looked in appeal at his father. “I loved you as a dog its master. Why do you make me do this?”
“Cut them down!” One hand flew convulsively to the throat. Choking, Luterin came level with the first corpse. He raised the knife and looked up into its distorted face. It was someone he knew.
For a moment, he hesitated. But there was no mistaking that face, even without its moustache. Luterin recalled vividly seeing it in the Noonat Tunnel, livid with exertion. Swinging the knife, he cut down the remains of Captain Harbin Fashnalgid. At the same time, his mind opened, fust for a second, he was the boy about to prefer a year’s paralysis to the truth. He turned to his father.
“Good. That’s one. Now the next. To rule you must obey. Your brother was weak. You can be strong. I heard of your victory at Isturiacha when I was in Askitosh. You can be Keeper, Luterin, and your children.
You can be more than Keeper.”
Flecks of spittle flew from his mouth, to be carried along in a vortex of snow. The expression on his son’s face made him pause. In an instant, his demeanour altered. His bell rattled at his hip almost for the first time as he turned to look for his conspiratorial men.
The words burst from Luterin. “Father, you are the Oligarch! You! That’s what Favin discovered, wasn’t it?”
“No!” Lobanster suddenly changed. All command was gone. As he raised his crablike hands, every line of his body expressed fear. He clutched his son’s forearm as Luterin drove the knife up under his rib cage, straight into his heart. Blood burst from the torn clothing and covered both their hands.
The courtyard became a scene of confusion. First to move was the saddler, who cried in terror and rushed out of the gate. He knew what befell menials who witnessed murder. The conspiratorial men were less quick to respond. Their leader was falling to his knees in the snow and then collapsing slowly, one reddened hand tugging weakly at his goitre, over the body of Fashnalgid. They stared at the sight as if paralysed. Luterin did not wait. Horrified though he was, he ran over to the yelk and flung himself on one of them. As he galloped from the yard, a shot came, and he heard the men behind him rushing to follow.
Slitting his eyes against the snow, he spurred on the yelk. Across the rear square. Men shouted. His father’s recently returned cavalcade was still beingunloaded. A woman ran, shrieking, slipped, fell. The yelk leaped over her. At the gate there was a move to stop him. It was ill-coordinated. He struck out with his revolver, trying to smash the face of a guard who made to grab his rein. Then he was in the grounds.
As he rode, heading for a belt of trees and the side road, he was saying something over and over again. His mind had lost its rationality. Only a while later could he grasp and understand what he said.
What he constantly repeated to himself was, “Patricide is the greatest crime.”
The words formed a rhythm to his escape.
Nor did he make any conscious decision as to where he was going. There was but one place in Kharnabhar where he might be safe from pursuit. The trees flashed by on either side, smeared across his slitting vision. He rode with his head low on the yelk’s neck, breathing its misty breath, shouting at the creature to tell it what the greatest crime was.
The gates of the Esikananzi estate loomed out of the flying twilight. There was a flicker of lamplight at the lodge, and a man ran out. Then he was torn from view. Beyond the drum of the yelk’s hoofs, above the whistle of the wind, came sounds of pursuit.
He was into the village before he knew it. Bells clashed about his ears as he passed the first monastery. There were people about, muffled to the eyes. Pilgrims screamed and scattered. He glimpsed a waffle stall overturned. Then it too was gone and there were only guardhouses before him until-out of the murk-loomed the ramparts of Mount Kharnabhar. The tunnel with its mighty figures was before him.
Without waiting to do more than check the yelk’space, Luterin flung himself off the animal and ran forward. Above, a great bell tolled. It spoke in solemn tones of his guilt. But the instinct for self- preservation drove him onwards. He ran down the ramp. Priestly figures came forward.
“The soldiers!” he gasped.
They understood. The soldiers were no longer their allies. They hurried him into the gloom, while the great metal doors clanged fast together behind him.
The Great Wheel had claimed him.