Trockern and Ermine were asleep. Shoyshal had gone somewhere. The geonaut they preceded had come to a halt, and stood gently breathing out its little white hexagonal offspring.
Sartorilrvrash woke and stretched, yawning as he did so. He sat up on his bunk and scratched his white head. It was his habit to sleep for the second half of the day, waking at midnight, thinking through the dark hours, when his spirit could commune with the travelling Earth, and teaching from dawn onwards.
He was Trockern’s teacher. He had named himself after a dangerous old sage who once lived on Helliconia, whose gossie he had met empathically.
After a while, he heaved himself up and went outside. He stood for a long while looking at the stars, enjoying the feel of the night. Then he padded back into the room and roused Trockern.
“I’m asleep,” Trockern said.
“I could hardly waken you if you weren’t.”
“You stole something of mine, Trockern. You stole my explanation of why things went awry on Earth, in order to impress your ladies.”
“As you see, I impressed fifty percent of them.” Trockern indicated the peacefully sleeping Ermine, whose lips were pursed as if she was awaiting the chance to kiss someone in her midsummer dream.
“Unfortunately you got my argument wrong. That possessiveness which was once such a feature of mankind was not a product of fear, as you claimed- although I believe you called it ‘perpetual unease.’ It was a product of innate aggressiveness. The old races did not fear enough: otherwise they would never have built the weapons they knew would destroy them. Aggression was at the root of it all.”
“Isn’t aggression born of fear?”
“Don’t get sophisticated before you can walk. If you take Helliconia as an example, you can see how every generation ritualises its aggression and its killing. The earlier terrestrial generations you were talking about did not seek to possess only territory and one another, as you were claiming.”
“In truth, Sartorilrvrash, you cannot have slept well this afternoon.”
“In truth I sleep, as I wake in truth.” He put an arm about the younger man’s shoulders. “The argument can be taken to greater heights. Those ancient people sought to possess the Earth also, to enslave it under concrete. Nor did their ambitions die there. Their politicians strove to make space their dominion; while the ordinary people created fantasies wherein they invaded the galaxy and ruled the universe. That was aggression, not fear.”
“You could be right.”
“Don’t abandon your point of view so easily. If I could be right I could be wrong. We ought to know the truth about our forebears who, wicked though they were, have given us our chance on the scene.”
Trockern climbed from his bunk. Ermine sighed and turned over, still sleeping.
“It’s warm- let’s take a stroll outside,” said Sartorilrvrash.
As they went out into the night, with the star field above them, Trockern said, “Do you think we improve ourselves, master, by rethinking?”
“We shall always be as we are, biologically speaking, but we can improve our social infrastructures, with any luck. I mean by that the sort of work our extitutions are working on now- a revolutionary new integration of the major theorems of physical science with the sciences of mankind, society, and existence. Of course, our main function as biological beings is as part of the biosphere, and we are most useful in that role if we remain unaltered; only if the biosphere in some way altered again could our role change.”
“But the biosphere is altering all the time. Summer is different from winter, even here so close to the tropics.”
Sartorilrvrash was looking towards the horizon, and said, rather absently, “Summer and winter are functions of a stable biosphere, of Caia breathing in and out in her stride. Humanity has to operate within the limits of her function. To the aggressive, that always seemed a pessimistic point of view; yet it is not even visionary, merely common-sensical. It fails to be common sense only if you have been indoctrinated all your life to believe, first, that mankind is the centre of things, the Lords of Creation, and, second, that we can improve our lot at the expense of something else.
“Such an outlook brings misery, as we see on our poor sister planet out there. We have only to step down from the arrogance of believing that the world or the future is somehow ‘ours’ and immediately life for everyone is enhanced.”
Trockern said, “I suppose each of us has to find that out for our-self.” He found it delightful to be humble after sunset.
With sudden exasperation, Sartorilrvrash said, “Yes, unfortunately that’s so. We have to learn by bitter experience, not blithe example. And that’s ridiculous. Don’t imagine that I think the state of affairs is perfect. Gaia is an absolute ninny to let us loose in the first place. At least on Helliconia the Original Beholder planted phagors to keep mankind in check!” He laughed and Tockern joined in.
“I know you think me wanton,” the latter said, “but isn’t Gaia herself a wanton, spawning so riotously in all directions?”
His senior shot him a foxy look. “Everything else must bring forth in abundance, so that everything else can eat it. It’s not the best of arrangements, perhaps- cooked up and cobbled together on the spur of the moment from a chemical broth. That doesn’t meanto say we can’t imitate Gaia and adopt, like her, our own homeostasis.”
The moon in its last quarter shone overhead. Sartorilrvrash pointed to the red star burning low by the horizon.
“See Antares? Just north of it is the constellation Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer. In Ophiuchus is a large dark dust cloud about seven hundred light-years away, concealing a cluster of young stars. Among them lies Freyr. It would be one of the twelve brightest stars in the sky, were it not for the dust cloud. And that’s where the phagors are.”
The two men contemplated the distance without speaking. Then Trockern said, “Have you ever thought, master, how phagors vaguely resemble the demons and devils which used to haunt the imagination of Christians?”
“That had not occurred to me. I have always thought of an even older allusion, the minotaur of ancient Greek myth, a creature stuck between human and animal, lost in the labyrinths of its own lusts.”
“Presumably you think that the Helliconian humans should allow the phagors to coexist, to maintain the biospheric balance?”
“ ‘Presumably . . .’ We presume so much.” A long silence followed. Then Sartorilrvrash said, reluctantly, “With the deepest respect to Gaia and her Serpent-Bearing sister out there, they are old biddies at times. Mankind learnt aggression in their wombs. I mean, to use another ancient analogy, humans and phagors are rather Cain and Abel, aren’t they? One or other of them has to go . . .”
Trumpets sounded above the heads of the gathering. Their voices were muted and sweet, and in no way reminiscent of those work trumpets buried far below their feet-except to Luterin Shokerandit.
The dignitaries in the great chamber swallowed their last bird-shaped pastries and put on reverential faces. Luterin moved among them feeling cumbersome among so many ectomorphic shapes. He lost sight of Insil.
The Keeper and the Master, Insil’s father and husband,were returning down the spiral stair. They had assumed silken robes of carmine and blue over their ordinary clothes, and put on odd-shaped hats. Their faces were as if cast from an alloy of lead and flesh.
Side by side, they paraded to the curtained windows. There they turned and bowed to the assembly. The assembly fell silent, the musicians tiptoed away over creaking boards.
Keeper Esikananzi spoke first.
“You all know of the reasons why Bambekk Monastery was built, many centuries ago. It was built to service the Wheel-and of course you know why the
Architects built the Wheel. We stand on the site of the greatest act of faith ever achieved/to be by mankind. But perhaps you will/permissive allow me to remind you why this particular position was chosen by our illustrious ancestors, in what some people regard as a remote part of the Sibornalese continent.
“Let me draw your attention to the iron band running under your feet which divides this dome in half. That band marks the line of latitude on which this edifice is built. We are here fifty-five degrees north of the equator, and standing upon that actual line. As you scarcely need reminding, fifty-five degrees north is the line of the Polar Circle.”
At this point, he gestured to a servant. The curtains concealing the windows were drawn apart.
A view over the town was revealed, looking south. The visibility was good enough for everything to be seen clearly, including the far horizon, bare except for a thin line of denniss trees.
“We are fortunate on this occasion. The cloud has cleared. We are privileged to witness a solemn event which the rest of Sibornal will be commemorating.”
At this point, Master Asperamanka stood forward and spoke, stiffening his speech with High Dialect. “Let me echo my good friend and colleague’s word, ‘fortunate.’ Fortunate we are/tend indeed. Church and State have kept/keeping/will the people of Sibornal united. The plague has been/aspirational eradicated, and we have slain most of the phagors on our continent.
“You know that our ships have mastery of the seas. In addition, we are now/will building a Great Wall to serve as an act of faith comparable with our formidable Great Wheel.
“This is/proclamatory a New Great Age. The Great Wall will run right across the north of Chalce. There will be watchtowers on it every two kilometres, and the walls will be seven metres high. That Wall, together with our ships, will keep/keeping out all enemies from our territory. The Day of Myrkwyr is the harbinger of Weyr-Winter ahead, but we shall live through it, our grandchildren will live through it, and their grandchildren. And we shall emerge in the spring, the next Great Spring, ready to conquer all of Helliconia.”
Cheers and handclaps had sounded throughout this speech. Now the applause was clamorous. Asperamanka stared down to hide the gleam of satisfaction on his face.
Ebstok Esikananzi raised a hand.
“Friends, it is five to noon on this solemn day. Watch the southern horizon. Since it is small winter, Batalix is below that horizon. She will rise again with her puny light in another four tenners, but-“
His words were lost, as everyone pressed to the windows.
Down in the village below, a bonfire had just been lit. The villagers were seen as ants, running about it, arms upraised, swaddled in woollens or furs.
Fresh drink was brought to the watchers in the dome. Mostly, it was drunk as soon as received, and the empty glasses thrust out for more. An unease had settled on the privileged crowd, whose faces made a gloomy contrast to the merry gestures of the ants far below.
A bell began to sound noon. As if in response to its brazen tongue, a change took place on the southern horizon.
On that horizon, the road could be seen as it wound from the village. Elsewhere was unbroken white, trees and buildings standing in frosty outline. Wisps of snow perpetually blew from lodgements, streaming out on the wind like smoke from candles newly extinguished. The horizon itself was clear, and bright with dawn-with sunrise.
Above its crusty line rose a rim of red, a red of heaviness, of congealing blood, the upper part of Freyr’s orb.
“Freyr!” came the exclamation from the throats of all who watched, as if by naming the star they could have power over it.
A shaft of light spread upon the world, casting shadows, flooding a range of far hills with pink light till they gleamed against the slatey sky behind them. The faces of the privileged in the dome were made red. Only the village below, where the ants were circling, remained in shadow.
The privileged glared upon that sliver of disc. It remained as it was, growing no greater. The most intense scrutiny could not determine the instant at which, instead of increasing, it began to shrink. Sunrise was enantiodromic sunset.
Light was withdrawn from the world. The range of far hills faded, was absorbed into the increasing murk.
The precious slice of Freyr shrivelled still further. By now, the giant sun had in actuality set: what remained behind was an image of it, a refraction through the thickness of atmosphere of the real thing below the horizon. None could tell the image from the real. Myrkwyr had already begun, without their knowing it.
The red image shrivelled.
It divided itself into bars of light. Shattered.
Then it was gone.
In the centuries ahead, Freyr would hide like a mole beneath the mountain, never to be seen again. In the small summers, Batalix would shine as previously; the small winters would remain unlit, under the shadow of the greater winter. Auroras would unfold their mysterious banners in the skies above the mountain. Meteorites would briefly glitter. Comets would occasionally be sighted. The stars would still shine. Throughout the next ninety revolutions of the Great Wheel, the major luminary, that massive furnace which had given life to the Sons of Freyr, would be little more than a rumour.
For all who experienced it, Myrkwyr was a day of doom. The faceless deity who presided over the biosphere was powerless to intervene, relying perhaps on the shortsightedness of the humans, on their involvement in their own affairs, to damp down its psychic shock. She was carried along with her world.
Seen in wider perspective, Freyr continued to shine, and ever would do until its comparatively brief lifespan was finished: its darkness was merely a local condition, of small duration.
For most of nature, there could be only submission to fate. On land, the sap, the seed, the semen, would wait, dormant for the most part. In the sea, the complex mechanisms of the food chain would continue unabated. Only mankind could lift itself above direct necessity. In mankind lay reserves of strength unknowable to those who held them, reserves which could be drawn upon in situations where survival demanded.
Such reflections were far from the minds of those in the assembly who watched Freyr shatter into fragments of light. They were touched by fear. They wondered for their family’ssurvival and their own. The most basic question of existence faced them: How am I to keep fed and warm?
Fear is a powerful emotion. Yet it is easily overcome by anger, hope, desperation, and defiance. Fear would not last. The great processes of the Helliconian year would grind on towards apastron and the winter solstice. That turning point of the year was many generations away. By then, the twilights of Weyr- Winter would have long since become all that northern Sibornal knew. The rise of Freyr once more, majestic in the Great Spring, would be greeted with the same awe as its departure. But fear would have died long before hope.
How mankind would survive the centuries of Weyr-Winter would depend upon its mental and emotional resources. The cycle of human history was not immutable. Given determination, better could succeed worse; it was possible to row into the light, to navigate in the tide of Myrkwyr.
Keeper Esikananzi said solemnly, “The long night holds no fear for those who trust in the Lord God the Azoiaxic, who existed before life, and round whom all life revolves. With his aid, we shall bring this precious world of ours through the long night, to bask again in his glory.” And Master Asperamanka shouted spiritedly, “To Sibornal- united th roughout the long Weyr-Winter to come!”
Their audience responded bravely. But in every heart lay the knowledge that they would never see Freyr again; nor would their children, nor their children’s children. On the latitude of Kharnabhar the brighter sun of Freyr would never shine in the sky until another forty-two generations had been born and died. Nobody present could ever hope to see that brilliant luminary again.
A choir sang distantly the anthem, “Oh, May We All Find Light at Last.” Gloom settled in every heart. The loss was as sharp as the loss of a child.
The lackey solemnly drew the curtains again, hiding the landscape from view.
Many in the assembly stayed to drink more yadahl. They had little to say to each other. The musicians played, but a mood of sullen resignation had settled which would not be dispelled. Singly or in groups, the guests were leaving. They evaded each other’s gaze.
Stone steps wound down through the monastery to the entrance. A carpet had been laid on the stairs in honour of the occasion. Cold drafts, blowing upwards, lifted the edges of the carpet. As Luterin was descending, two men emerged from an archway on a landing and seized him.
He fought and shouted, but they locked his arms behind him and carried him into a stone washroom. Asperamanka was waiting there. He had divested himself of his ceremonial robes, and was putting on a coat and leather gauntlets. His two men wore leather and carried guns at their belts. Luterin thought of what Insil had said: “All those leather-clad men . . . doing secret things.”
Asperamanka put on a genial tone. “It isn’t going to work, is it, Luterin? We can’t have you going free in a tight-knit community like Kharnabhar. You’ll be too disruptive an influence.”
“What are you trying to preserve here-apart from yourself?”
“I wish to preserve my wife’s honour for one thing.You seem to think there is evil here. The fact is, we have to fight to survive. The good- and the bad-will naturally surviv e in us. Most people understand that. You don’t.
“You are inclined to play the part of a holy innocent, and they always make trouble. So we are going to give you a chance to help the whole community. Helliconia needs to be hauled back into the light. You are going to go into the Wheel for another ten-year spell.”
He fought free and ran for the door. One of the huntsmen reached it in time to slam it in his face. He struck the man on the jaw, but was made captive again.
“Tie him,” Asperamanka ordered. “Don’t let him go again.”
The men had no cord. One reluctantly yielded up the broad belt of his jacket, and with that they lashed Luterin’s hands behind his back.
When Asperamanka opened the door, they marched down the rest of the stairs, the men flanking Luterin closely. Asperamanka seemed greatly pleased with himself.
“We said farewell to Freyr with courage and ceremony. Admire power, Luterin. I admired your father for his ruthlessness as Oligarch. What a fateful generation ours is. Either we’ll be wiped out or we’ll decide the course of the world. . . .”
“Or you’ll choke on a fish bone,” Luterin said.
They descended to the entrance hall. Through the broad archway, the outer world could be seen. The chill came in, and also the noise of the crowd and the bonfire. The simple people were dancing round the fires they had lit, faces gleaming in the light of the flames. Traders scurried about, selling waffles and spitted fish.
“For all their religion, they believe that lighting fires may bring Freyr back,” Asperamanka said. He lingered at the entrance. “What they are really doing is ensuring that wood becomes short before it need be. ... Well, let them get on with it. Let them go into pauk or do whatever they please. The elite is going to have to survive on the backs of just such peasants as these for the next few centuries or more.”
There was shouting and a stir from the back of the crowd. Soldiers came into view as the crowd parted to make way for them. They carried something struggling between them.
“Ah, they’ve caught another phagor.Good. We’ll see this,” Asperamanka said, with a hint of ancient angers under his brows.
The phagor was lashed upside down to a pole. It struggled violently as its captors brought it to one of the fires.
Behind came a figure of a man, lifting his arms and shouting. Luterin could not hear what he said for the general hubbub, but he recognised him by his long beard. The man was his old schoolmaster, who had taught him-long ago in another existence-when he was lying paralysed in bed. The old man had kept a phagor as servant, being too poor to afford a slave. It was clearly his phagor which the soldiers had captured.
The soldiers dragged the creature nearer to the fire. The crowd ceased its dancing and shouted with excitement, the women egging the soldiers on along with the men.
“Burn it!” shouted Asperamanka, but he merely echoed the voice of the mob.
“It’s just a domestic,” Luterin said. “Harmless as a dog.”
“It’s still capable of spreading the Fat Death.”
Fight though it would, the ancipital was pulled and pushed to the largest of the fires. Its coat began to burn. Another inch-a yell from the crowd-a heav e-and then a mournful call sounded from beyond the gathering. Distant human screams. Into the marketplace poured armed ancipitals on kaidaws.
Each ancipital wore body armour. Some wore primitive skull shields. They rode their red kaidaws from a position behind the animals’ low humps, at the crouch.In this position they could strike out with spears as they went.
“Freyr die! Sons of Freyr die!” they cried from their harsh throats.
The crowd began to move, less as separate individuals than as a wave. Only the soldiers made a stand. The captive phagor was left with its pale harneys boiling in its skull, but it rose up and made off, coat still smouldering.
Asperamanka ran forward, shouting to the soldiers to fire. Luterin, as an observer, could see that there were no more than eight of the invaders. Some of them sprouted black hairs, a mark of ancipital old age.
All but one had been dehorned-a sure sign that these we re no kind of threat from the mountains, such as tremulous imaginations in Kharnabhar fed on, but a few refugee phagors who had banded together on this special day, when conditions in Sibornal reverted to virtually what they had been before Freyr entered Helliconia’s sky, many epochs ago.
He saw how members of the crowd who were impeded in some way fell first to the stabbing spears: pedlars with trays, women with babies or small children, the lame, the sick. Some were trampled underfoot. A baby was scooped up and flung into the heart of a fire.
As Asperamanka and his two bullies drew guns and started firing, the horned ancipital wheeled its russet-haired mount and charged at the Master. It came straight, its skull low over the massive skull of the kaidaw. In its eye was no light of battle, simply a dull cerise stare: it was doing what it did according to some ancient template set in its eotemporal brain.
Asperamanka fired. The bullets lost themselves in the thick pelage of animal. It faltered in mid-stride. The two bullies turned and ran. Asperamanka stood his ground, firing, shouting. The kaidaw fell suddenly on one knee. Up came the spear. It caught Asperamanka as he turned. The tip entered his skull through the eye socket and he fell back into the monastery entrance.
Luterin ran for his life. He had wrenched his arms free of the belt. He jumped down into the street, into the trampled snow, and ran. There were other running figures nearby, too concerned with saving their own lives to bother with his. He hid behind a house, panting, and surveyed the scene.
Blue shadows and bodies lay on the marketplace. The sky overhead was a deep blue, in which a bright star gleamed-Aganip. Hues of sunset lay to the south. It was bitterly cold.
The mob had surrounded one kaidaw and was pulling its rider to the ground. The others were galloping off to safety-another sign that this was not an ar m of a regular ancipital component, which would not have abandoned a fight so easily.
He made his way without trouble towards Sanctity Street and his appointment with Toress Lahl.
Sanctity Street was narrow. Its buildings were tall. Most had been constructed in a better age to house the pilgrims who came to visit the Wheel. Now the shutters were up; many doors were barricaded. Slogans had been painted on the walls: God Keep the Keeper, We Follow the Oligarch-presumably as a form of life insurance. At the rear of the houses and hostels, the snow was piled up to the eaves.
Luterin started cautiously down the street. His mood was one of elation at his escape. He could see beyond the end of the street, where it seemed eternity began. There was an unlimited expanse of snow, its dimensions emphasised by occasional trees. In the distance stretched a band of pink of the most delicate kind, where the sun Freyr still lit on a far cliff, the southern face of the northern ice cap. This vista lifted his spirits further, suggesting as it did the endless possibilities of the planet, beyond the reach of human pettiness. Despite all oppression, the great world remained, inexhaustible in its forms and lights.
He might be gazing upon the face of the Beholder herself.
He passed an entranceway where a figure lurked. It called his name. He turned. Through the dusk, he saw a woman wrapped in furs.
“You are almost there. Aren’t you excited?” she said.
He went to her, clutched her, felt her narrow body under the furs.
“Insil! You waited.”
“Only partly for you. The fish seller has something I need. I am sick after that performance in there, with the silly drama and speeches. They think they have conquered nature when they wrap a few words round it. And of course mv sherb of a husband mouthing the word Sibornal as if it were a mouthwash . . . I’m sick, I need to drug myself against them. What isthat filthy curse which the commoners use, meaning to commit irrumation on both suns? The forbidden oath? Tell me.”
“You mean, ‘Abro Hakmo Astab’?”
She repeated it with relish. Then she screamed it.
Hearing her say it excited him. He held her tight and forced his mouth against hers. They struggled. He heard his own voice saying, “Let me biwack you here, Insil, as I’ve always longed to do. You’re not really frigid. I know it. You’re really a whore, just a whore, and I want you.”
“You’re drunk, get away, get away
. Toress Lahl is awaiting you.”
“I care nothing for her. You and I are meant for each other. That’s been the case ever since we were children. Let’s fulfill ourselves. You once promised me. Now’s the time, Insil, now!”
Her great eyes were close to his.
“You frighten me. What’s come over you? Let me be.”
“No, no, I don’t have to let you be now. Insil-Asperamanka is dead. The phagors killed him. We can be married now, anything, only let me have you, please, please!”
She wrenched herself away from him.
“He’s dead? Dead? No. It can’t be. Oh, the cur!” S he started screaming and ran down the street, holding up her trailing skirt above the trodden snow.
Luterin followed in horror at her distress.
He tried to detain her but she said something which he at first could not understand. She was crying for a pipe of occhara.
The fish seller was, as she had said, at the end of the street. A short passage had been constructed beyond the original shop front, allowing passengers to enter without bringing the cold in with them. Above the door was a sign saying ODIM’
S FINEST FISH.
Tliey entered a dim parlour where several men stood, warmly wrapped, all of them metamorphosed winter shapes. Seals and large fish hung on hooks. Smaller fish, crabs, and eels were bedded in ice on a counter. Luterin took little notice of his surroundings, so concerned was he for Insil, who was now almost hysterical.
But the men recognized her. “We know what she wants,” one said, grinning. He led her into a rear room.
One of the other men came forward and said, “I remember you, sir.”
He was youthful and had a vaguely foreign look about him.
“My name is Kenigg Odim,” he said. “I sailed with you on that journey from Koriantura to Rivenjk. I was just a lad then, but you may recollect my father, Eedap Odim.”
“Of course, of course,” said Luterin distractedly. “A dealer in something. Ivory, was it?”
“Porcelain, sir. My father still lives in Rivenjk, and organises supplies of good fish to come up here every week. It’s a paying business, and there’s no demand for porcelain these days. Life’s better down in Rivenjk, sir, I must say. Fine feelings is about as much good as fine porcelain up here.”
“Yes, yes, I’m sure that’s so.”
“We also do a trade in occhara, sir, if you would care for a free pipe. Your lady friend is a regular customer.”
“Yes, bring me a pipe, man, thank you, and what of a lady called Toress Lahl? Is she here?” “She’s expected.”
“All right.” He went through into the rear room. Insil Esikananzi was resting on a couch, smoking a long-stemmed pipe. She looked perfectly calm, and regarded Luterin without speaking.
He sat by her without a word, and presently the young Odim brought him a lighted pipe. He inhaled with pleasure and immediately felt a mood strangely compounded of resignation and determination steal over him. He felt he was equal to anything. He understood now Insil’s expanded irises, and held her hand.
“My husband is dead,” she announced. “Did you know that? Did I tell you what he did to me on our wedding night?”
“Insil, I’ve had enough confidences from you for one day.
That episode in your life is over. We are still young. We can marry, can make one another happy or miserable, as the case may be.”
Wreathing herself in smoke, she said from the centre of it, “You are a fugitive. I need a home. I need care. I no longer need love. What I need is occhara. I want someone who can protect me. I want you to get Asperamanka back.”
“That’s impossible. He’s dead.”
“If you find it impossible, Luterin, then please be quiet and leave me to my thoughts. I am a widow. Widows never last long in winter. . . .” He sat by her, sucking on the occhara, letting his thoughts die. “If you could also kill my father, the Keeper, this remote community could revert to nature. The Wheel would stop. The plague could come and go. The survivors would see the Weyr-Winter through.” “There will always be survivors. It’s a law of nature.” “My husband showed me the laws of nature, thank you. I do not wish for another husband.”
They fell silent. Young Odim entered and announced to Luterin that Toress Lahl awaited him in an upper room. He cursed and stumbled after the man up a rickety stair without a backward look at Insil, certain that she would remain where she was for some while.
Luterin was shown into a small cabin, before which a curtain did duty for a door. Inside, a bed served as the only furniture. Beside the bed stood Toress Lahl. He was astonished at her girth until he remem- bered that he was much the same size.
She had certainly grown older. There was grey in her hair, although she still dressed it as she had done ten years ago. Her cheeks were rough and florid with the abrasion of frost. Her eyes were heavier, although they lit as she smiled with recognition. In every way, she seemed unlike Insil, not least in the kind of calm stoicism with which she presented herself for his inspection.
She wore boots. Her dress was poor and patched. Unexpectedly, she removed her fur hat-whether in welcome or respect he could not tell.
He took a step towards her. She immediately came forward and embraced him, kissing him on both cheeks.
“Are you well?” he asked.
“I saw you yesterday. I was waiting outside the Wheel when they let you free. I called to you but you did not look my way.”
“It was so bright.” Still confused by the occhara, he could think of nothing to say. He wanted her to make jokes like Insil. When she did not, he asked, “Do you know Insil Esikananzi?”
“She has become a good friend of mine. We’ve supported each other in many ways. The years have been long, Luterin . . . What plans do you have?”
“Plans? The sun’s gone down.”
“For the future.”
“This innocent is again a fugitive. . . . They may even try to blame me for Asperamanka’s death.” He sat down heavily on the bed.
“That man is dead? It’s a mercy. . . .” She thoughtand then said, “If you can trust me, Luterin, I could take you to my little hideout.”
“I would only be a source of danger.”
“That’s not what our relationship is based on. I’ m still yours, Luterin, if you will have me.” When he hesitated, she said pleadingly, “I need you, Luterin. You loved me once, I believe. What choices do you have here, surrounded by enemies?”
“There’s always defiance,” he said. He laughed.
They went down the narrow stairs together, taking care in the dark. At the bottom, Luterin looked into the rear room. To his surprise, the couch was empty and Insil had gone.
They bid good-bye to young Odim and made their way into the night.
In the gathering darkness, the Avernus passed overhead, making its swift transit of the sky. It was now a dead eye.
At last the splendid machine had run down. Its surveillance system was only partly functional. Many other systems- but not the vital ones- were still operational. Air still circulated. Cleaning machines still crawled through walkways. Here and there, computers still exchanged information. Coffee machines still regularly brought coffee to the boil.
Stabilisers kept the Earth Observation Station automatically on course. In the port departure lounge, a toilet regularly flushed itself, like a creature unable to suppress weeping fits.
But no signals were returning to Earth.
And Earth no longer had need of them, although there were many • who regretted the termination of that unfolding story from another world. For Earth was moving beyond its compulsive stage, where civil- isation was measured by the quantity of possessions, into a new phase of being where the magic of individual experience was to be shared, not stored; awarded, not hoarded. The human character became involuntarily more like that of Gaia herself: diffuse, ever changing, ever open to the adventures of the day.
As they went through the dusk, leaving the village behind them, Toress Lahl tried to talk of superficial things. Snow fell, blowing in from the north.
Luterin did not reply. After a silence, she told him how she had borne him a son, now almost ten years old, and offered Luterin Anecdotes about him.
“I wonder if he will grow up to kill his father,” was all Luterin said.
“He is metamorphosed, as we are. A true son, Luterin. So he will survive and breed survivors, we hope.”
He trudged behind her, still with nothing to say. They passed a deserted hut and were heading for a belt of trees. He glanced back now and again.
She was following her own train of thought. “Still your hated Oligarchy is killing off all the phagors. If only they understood the real workings of the Fat Death, they would know that they are killing off their own kind too.”
“They know well enough what they’re doing.”
“No, Luterin. You generously gave me the key to JandolAnganol’s chapel, and I’ve lived there ever since. One evening, a knock came at the door and there was Insil Esikananzi.”
He looked interested. “How did Insil know you were there?”
“It was an accident. She had run away from Asperamanka. They were then newly married. He had brutally sodomised her, and she was in pain and despair. She remembered the chapel as a refuge-your brother Favin had taken her there once, in happier days. I looked after her and we became close friends.”
“Well . . . I’m glad she had a friend.”
“I showed her the records left by JandolAnganol and the woman Muntras, with the explanations of how there was a tick which travelled from phagors to mankind carrying the plagues necessary to mankind’s survival in the extreme seasons. That knowledge Insil took back with her, to explain to the Keeper and the Master, but they would take no notice.”
He gave a curt laugh. “They took no notice because they already knew. They would not want Insil’s interference. They run the system, don’t they? Theyknew. My father knew. Do you imagine those old church papers were secret? Their knowledge became common knowledge.”
The ground sloped. They picked their way more carefully toward where the caspiarn forest began.
Toress Lahl said, “The Oligarch knew that killing off all phagors meant ultimately killing the humans- yet still he passed his orders? That’s incredible.”
“I can’t defend what my father did-or Asperamanka. But the knowledge did not suit them. Simply that. They felt they had to act, despite their knowledge.”
He caught the scent of the caspiams, inhaled the slight vinegary tang of their foliage. It came like the memory of another world. He drew it gratefully into his lungs. Toress Lahl had two yelk tethered in the shelter of the trees. She went forward and fondled their muzzles as he spoke.
“My father did not know what would happen if Sibornal was rid of phagors for ever. He just believed that it was something necessary to do, whatever the consequences. We don’t knowwhat will happen either, despite what it may say in some fusty old documents. . . .” More to himself, he said, “I think he felt some drastic break with the past was needed, no matter what the cost. An act of defiance, if you like. Perhaps he will one day be proved right. Nature will take care of us. Then they’ll make a saint of him, like your wicked saint JandolAnganol.
“An act of defiance . . . that’s mankind’s nature.
It’s no good just sitting back and smoking occhara. Otherwise we should never progress. The key to the future must lie with the future, not the past.”
The wind was getting up again; the snow came faster.
“Beholder!” she said. She put a hand up to her rough face. “You’ve grown hard. Are you going to come with me?” she asked.
“I need you,” she said, when he did not answer.
He swung himself up into the saddle, relishing the familiarity of the act, and the response of the animal beneath him. He patted the yelk’s warm flank.
He was an exile in his own land. That would have to change. Asperamanka was done for. The obscene Ebstok Esikananzi would have to be brought to an accounting. He did not wish for what Esikananzi had; he wanted justice. His face was grim as he gazed down at the yelk’s mane.
“Luterin, are you ready? Our son is waiting for us in the chapel.”
He stared across at the blur of her face and nodded. Snowflakes settled on his eyelids. As they nudged their mounts down among the trees, a wind cut through the forest, slicing down from the slopes of Mount Shivenink. Snow cascaded across their shoulders from branches overhead. The ground sloped towards the hidden chapel. They wound by what had once been a waterfall and was now a pillar of ice.
At the last moment, Luterin turned in the saddle to catch a last glimpse of the village. The light of its fires was reflected on the low cloud cover blowing in.
Holding the reins more firmly, he urged the yelk faster down the slope and into the thickening murk. The woman called to him with anxiety in her voice, but Luterin felt exhilaration rising in his arteries.
He raised a fist above his head.
“Abro Hakmo Astab!” he shouted, hurling his voice into the distances of the forest.
The wind took the sound and smothered it in the weight of falling snow.
For the nature of the world as a whole is altered by age. Everything must pass through successive phases. Nothing remains for ever what it was. Everything is on the move. Everything is transformed by nature and forced into new paths. One thing, withered by time, decays and dwindles. Another emerges from ignominy, and waxes strong. So the nature of the world as a whole is altered by age. The Earth passes through successive phases, so that it can no longer bear what it could, and it can now what it could not before.
Lucretius: De Rerum Natura 55 DC
My dear Clive,
There you have it. Seven years have passed since I began to consider these matters. This volume will achieve first publication in a year when Vie. both reach a new decade, and when my age will be exactly double yours.
As I walk in Hilary’s garden wondering what form of words to use, it occurs to me that the question to ask is, Why do individuals of the human race long for close community with each other, and yet remain so often apart? Could it be that the isolating factor is similar to that which makes us feel, as a species, apart from the rest of nature? Perhaps the Earth mother you meet in these pages has proved less than perfect. Like a real mother, she has had her troubles-on a cosmic scale.
So the fault is not all ours, or hers. We must accept a lack of perfection in the scheme of things, accept the yellow-striped fly. Time, in which the whole drama is staged, is, as J. T. Fraser puts it, “a hierarchy of unresolved conflicts.” We must accept that limitation with the equanimity of Lucretius, and be angry only at those things against which one can be effectively angry, like the madness of making and deploying nuclear weapons.
Such matters are not generally the subject of literature. But I felt the necessity, as you see, to have a shot at incorporating them.
Now at last I have done. The rambling edifice of Helliconia is before you, with my hopes that you will enjoy the results.
Your affectionate Father
Boars Hill Oxford
In a career spanning a quarter of a century, Brian W. Aldiss has written more than two dozen books, many of which have come to be recognized as classics of science fiction. His novel The Long Afternoon of Earth won a Hugo Award in 1962, The Saliva Tree a Nebula Award in 1965, Starship the Prix Jules Veme in 1977. In 1969 he was voted Britain’s most popular science fiction writer and the following year he re- ceived the Ditmar Award as the World’s Best Contemporary SF Author. One of his most influential books is The Billion-Year Spree, a history of science fiction. Helliconia Spring, Helliconia Summer, and Helliconia Winter comprise a trilogy, his most ambitious undertaking. Mr. Aldiss lives near Oxford, England.