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Authors: Sheri S. Tepper

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BOOK: Raising The Stones
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“So,” said the other engineer, Betrun Jun. “What happened to the twelve survivors?”

“Ah …” Horgy reviewed what he had said and found his place again. “Through the immediate efforts of topflight philologists and xenolinguists, it was learned that, far from resenting the presence of humans upon their world, the Owlbrit people welcomed settlement. Such had been foreseen, they said. Such had been promised by their Gods, in order that the will of the Gods could be accomplished.”

“Nice for us humans,” said Betrun Jun, with a wink at his companion.

Horgy acknowledged this with a nod and went on. “The last of the Owlbrit people died about five years after settlement, though the last of their Gods remained in the condition which has been called ‘alive’ until just recently.”

“Why didn’t I ever hear about the Owlbrits?” asked the brunette member of Horgy’s trio, a young person of astonishing endowments. “I never heard a word about them.”

“It seems they didn’t build anything,” said Theor Close, thoughtfully. “No roads, no monuments, no cities.”

“They didn’t create anything,” added the other Phansuri. “No art, no literature, no inventions, What did they leave, Endure? A few ruined villages?”

Horgy, badly off his track but grateful for their interest, regrouped with his charming smile once more. “That’s about all. From space, the clusters of little structures look much like multiple meteor strikes, which is probably why they were missed on first look-see. The onsite surveyors found ten live Owlbrit, in ones and twos, among the ruins on the escarpment. They found one mostly ruined village down on the plain containing two Owlbrit who said they’d been waiting for us. ‘Waiting for somebody to show up,’ is the way the linguists translated it. That’s where Settlement One was put. A couple of xenologists were housed there until the last Owlbrit died. I recall reading that the last Owlbrit told one of the linguists that watching the humans had interested him so much that he stayed alive longer than he would have otherwise.”

“So there’s really nothing left of them,” Theor Close said, his voice conveying both wonder and regret.

“The ruins and a few words and phrases of their language we’ve adopted as localisms,” admitted Horgy. “Names for places and things.
, that’s a kind of local fish.
, that means noon. We can make only an approximation of their sounds I’m afraid. We can’t really duplicate their language vocally.”

“That’s why I never heard of them, then,” said the brunette with satisfaction. “They were all gone before I was even born.” Her tone conveyed the unimportance of anything that might have happened, anywhere, before she came upon the scene. Horgy’s assistants tended to be self-approving.

However self-absorbed, she was right. The Owlbrit, an enigmatic people, less than legendary, were indeed gone, as the people of Hobbs Land knew. Xenologists in various places read books about them, or wrote books about them, but in the last analysis there seemed very little to say about the Owlbrit except they had lived once but were no more.

Turning to the engineers, Horgy said, “Before you go out to talk to Sam Girat at Settlement One, a few brief words about the geography of Hobbs Land. …” And he summoned up pictures of undulating and remarkably dull plains to get himself on track once more.

When Samasnier Girat
, his sister, Saluniel, and their mother, Maire, had arrived on Hobbs Land, when they had first set foot upon the glassy sand beyond the Door, with the wind of a strange world riffling their hair, Sam’s mam had knelt down to touch the soil.

“Thanks be to God!” Maire had cried. “There are no legends here.”

She had uttered the words with a certain fatalistic satisfaction, in the manner of a woman who is packing up house and has resolved to abandon some troublesome possession even though she knows she may miss it later. Her words, uttered coincident with their arrival, had carried the weight of prophecy, and the whole event had seemed so pregnant with intent that Sam never forgot it. Even when he was grown he could recall the feel of the wind, the smell of the air—an empty smell, he had thought then and often since—his mother’s haggard but beautiful face under the dark kerchief she wore, her heavy shoes beside his small ones on the soil, the very sack she had set down, the one that held their clothes and Sal’s doll and his own carved warriors, Ire and Iron and Voorstod, though Mam had not let him bring his whip. The sack had been threadbare and stained, with a leather drawstring, and Mam had carried it all the way from the town of Scaery, in Voorstod upon Ahabar.

After that, during his childhood, Sam thought of legends as things Mam had left behind; not valueless things, like worn out shoes, but things difficult and awkward to transport, things that were quite heavy perhaps, with odd knobs on them, or even wheels, difficult but fascinating things. Without ever saying so in words to himself, and certainly without ever asking Maire, he assumed that one of he difficult things Mam had left behind had been Sam’s dad, Phaed Girat. Sam was never sure from day to day whether he could forgive Mam for that or whether maybe he had forgiven her for it already, without knowing.

Maire had offered Sam his choice, back in Voorstod upon Ahabar, in the kitchen at Scaery, where the fire made shadows in the corners and the smell of the smoke was in everything. Sam could not remember that time without smelling smoke and the earthy scent of the pallid things that grew along damp walls. “Sal and I are going away,” Mam had said. “You can stay with your dad or go with us. I know you’re too young to make that decision, but it’s the only choice I can give you, Sam. Sal and I can’t stay here. Voorstod is no place for womenfolk and children.”

He had wanted to stay with Dad. Those were the words crowding at his throat when she gave him the choice, but they had stuck there. Sam had been born with a quality which some might have thought mere shyness but was in fact an unchildlike prudence. He often did not say what came to mind. What he thought at the time was that he wanted to stay with Dad but it might be difficult to survive if he did so. Dad was unlikely to help him with his reading, or cook his dinner, or wash his clothes. Dad didn’t do things like that. Dad threw him high in the air and caught him, almost always. Dad gave him a whip and taught him to make it crack and to knock bottles over with it. Dad called him “My strong little Voorstoder” and taught him to shout, “Ire, Iron, and Voorstod” when the prophets went by and all the women had to hide in their rooms. But there were other times Dad scarcely seemed to notice him, times when Dad growled and snarled like one of the sniffers, chained out behind the house, times when Sam thought this big man was really someone else, someone wearing a mask of Dad’s face.

Besides, with Sam’s brother Maechy dead—Mam said he was dead and would never come back—wouldn’t Mam need a son to take care of her? Dad needed nobody, so he said. Men of the Cause needed nobody but themselves and Almighty God, whether they had been men of Ire or of Iron or of Voorstod to start with.

So Sam, prudently and dutifully, had said he would go with Mam and Sal. Even when Maire had told him he would have to leave his whip behind, Sam had figured out it was his duty to go, but he wasn’t sure then or later he had made the right choice. As he got older, he still wasn’t sure. Sometimes he dreamed of Dad. At least, when he wakened, that’s who he thought he’d been dreaming of. He also dreamed of hands over his eyes and a voice whispering to him, “You don’t see them, Sammy. They aren’t there. You don’t see them.” He woke angry from those dreams, angry that he’d been kept from seeing something important, or that he’d chosen to come to Hobbs Land, or that Dad hadn’t come along.

Remembering what he could of Dad, however, he could imagine why Maire had left him behind with the rest of the legends. Dad had been much too heavy to move. When Sam remembered Phaed Girat, he remembered him that way: a ponderous and brooding shape with no handles a person could catch hold of. The thought was comforting, in a way. If Dad was too unwieldy to be moved, then he was still there, in Voorstod, where Sam could find him later if he needed him. Voorstod upon Ahabar would always be there, half-hidden in mists, smelling of smoke and of the pale fungi growing along the walls.

On Hobbs Land—as in most places elsewhere in the System—children had uncles, not fathers, and Sam had to grow up without an older man of his own. Though Maire had had brothers in Voorstod, they would not have considered betraying the Cause by leaving it. Sam pretended his carved warriors were his father and his uncles. He put them on the table by his bed, where he could see them as he fell asleep. Clean-shaven Ire, with his sandals and jerkin, his shield and sword; bearded Iron, wearing flowing robes and headdress, carrying a curved blade; and mustached, heavy-booted Voorstod, with his whip at his belt. Voorstod’s name meant “Whip-death,” and he was the fiercest of the three. Sam believed he looked like Dad, the way Dad had sometimes been.

Sam grew up to be both dutiful and willful, a boy who would say yes to avoid trouble but then do as he pleased. He was biddable, but not docile, innovative in his thinking and tenacious in his memories. He had an occasional and peculiarly trying expression, one which seemed to doubt the sensations going on inside himself. Sugar was not sweet, nor vinegar sour, his face sometimes seemed to say, but to hide some other flavor concealed therein. “It’s all right, but …” his face sometimes said, to the irritation of those around him. Beneath each sensation, within each explanation, Sam felt there must be others, more significant and more profound.

When Sam was about twenty, he sometimes lay on his bed looking out at unnamed constellations, thinking deep thoughts about who he was and what Hobbs Land was and whether he belonged there. The settlers talked about all kinds of worlds, real ones and ones they had only imagined. Hobbs Land had to be real, for who would bother to dream up a world like this? No one. Hobbs Land was dull and bland, and not worth the effort. Except for a few blotches (scarcely more than pimples, really), a few thousand square miles of field and farm and vineyard and orchard where the people were, there was no human history or adventure in this place. No human-built walls staggered across the shallow hills; no menhirs squatted broodingly upon the escarpment; no painted animals pranced at the edge of the torchlight in chambered caves, full of wonder and mystery and danger, evoking visions of terrible, primitive times.

Of course, men had never been primitives on Hobbs Land. They had come through the Door already stuffed with histories and memories and technologies from other places. They had come from troubled Ahabar and sea-girt Phansure and brazen Thyker and this moon or that moon. They had arrived as civilized peoples—though not as
civilized people, which might have given them the sense of common identity Sam thought he wanted.

And so far as monuments were concerned, it made no difference what kind of people had come there. Hobbs Land had no monuments of any kind, civilized or not. No battles had been fought here, no enemies defeated. The landscape was bland as pudding, unstained by human struggle, empty of triumph. so he told himself, lying on his bed, longing for something more. Something nameless.

A few years later, Sam kissed China Wilm out by the poultry-bird coops on a starlit evening and thought he might have found what he wanted. He sought among unfamiliar emotions to tell her how he felt. He couldn’t find the words, and he blamed Hobbs Land for that. He told himself he wanted similes for the feel of her lips, which were silken and possessed of an unsuspected power; he wanted wonderful words for the turmoil in his belly and groin and mind as well, but nothing on Hobbs Land was at all tumultuous or marvelous.

“Sam, she’s a child!” Mam had exclaimed, not so much horrified as embarrassed for him. China Wilm was only twelve and Sam was twenty-two.

Sam knew that! But Sam was willing to wait for her! Sam had watched her grow from a glance-eyed toddler; he had picked her out! He had no intention of despoiling a child, but she was his, he had decided, no matter whether she knew it yet or not. Even at twenty-two, he was an ardent and articulate lover who loved as much in his head as in his body. So he kissed her chastely, said only enough, he hoped, to be intriguing, and let her go—for a time—while telling himself it must be those missing
that frustrated him. Among them, he was sure, he could have found all the similarities and examples he needed. Surely if he’d had a chance to talk with his dad, Dad could have made it clear how it all fit together.

Unthinkingly, Sam said as much to Maire Girat the words left his mouth and he knew in that instant they should never have been spoken. She turned away from him, and after a time he realized she was crying. Her tears made him uncomfortable, and he tried to remedy matters.

“But there were good things on Voorstod! You were important there, weren’t you, Mam. People used to ask me if I wasn’t proud of you, you were so famous.”

‘To some I was famous,” she said, wiping her eyes. “To a few.”

“Because of your singing,” he went on, keeping the conversation going with an effort and wondering—oddly, it was the first time he had wondered that—why she no longer sang.

“Yes. That,” she said in a dismissive tone, her mouth knotted uncomfortably.

“Did you sing of love, Mam?”

Surprised, she laughed harshly. “Love, Sammy? Oh, yes, I sang of love. Out of love. For love.”

“Were there legends of love then, there in Voorstod?”

Her lips twisted at one corner. “It was said by the prophets in Voorstod that what men call love is merely lust, to be controlled at all costs. We women were said to provoke this unholy lust unless we covered our faces and bodies and stayed well hidden. Men were too valuable to be exposed to such feelings. What we felt was of no matter. They could walk with their faces showing, but we were instructed to hide ours. Such teaching leaves little room for songs of love.”

His expression told her this wasn’t what he had meant.

“What is it, Sammy?” she had asked him.

BOOK: Raising The Stones
13.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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