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Authors: Sheri S. Tepper

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BOOK: Raising The Stones
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Spiggy said something yowllike in response, which Dern interpreted as, “Thanks for your help.”

“So we’ll all bury our people up here from now on,” said Dern.

“You feel that in your bones, do you?”

“You brought it up, Topman.”

Harribon Kruss rubbed his neck and smiled, wryly. Yes, he had brought it up. And from now on, they’d all bring their people up. Because it seemed like a good idea. Because it was a way, a convenience, a kindness.

It took two
days for the search-and-seize line of troops to cross Green Hurrah. Many of the people of Green Hurrah were known to men of Karth’s command. The army had been stationed in Jeramish for years, and they had made repeated forays into Green Hurrah, encountering the people who lived there on almost a daily basis. Persons who could not be identified or vouched for by trusted inhabitants were sent to the rear, under escort. Three camps had been set up at the border of Green Hurrah, and two of them were already swollen with internees from Ahabar. By nightfall of the second day, the line of men had reached the coast on either side of the thin neck of Skelp, and barriers were being constructed across that neck and all along the shore.

Across the main roads leading into Skelp, barricades had been set up—deep ditches, fences, overlapping suppressor fields to bring fliers down. Other suppressor fields covered the coastlines to either side, and beyond the fields were automatic weapons to bring down anything coming from the sea.

“What if people from Voorstod tried to go straight out, north?” asked Sam, curiously, pointing at the top of the chart. Across the room, Saturday and Maire sat at the table, remnants of a midafternoon meal scattered before them. Maire was slumped deeply into her chair in an attitude of dejection.

The Commander reached for another chart, showed Sam a line of coast north of Voorstod. “Icecap,” he said. “Beyond that, open ocean. Beyond that, the province of Caerthop and more guns. East and west, gunships with suppressors. They’d have to go straight out, off Ahabar, to escape this blockade.”

“Can they?”

“Not that we know of. No Doors. No intrasystem fliers.”

“No army?”

“No. They’ve always advocated terrorist tactics, not battle. Their biggest group is their Faithful, the brethren of the Cause led by that group of fanatics they call the prophets. If you ever want to meet a wildman, meet a prophet. But, in addition to the Cause, there are probably a hundred splinter groups, all of them devoted to terrorism of one kind or another, some of them with only half a dozen members. One nice thing about them, they’ve never been able to work together. No man of Voorstod takes orders from any other man of Voorstod. Has to do with their Doctrine of Freedom.”

“Uhm,” said Sam, who had never listened when Maire had explained the doctrine. “How many do you think there are in there who would fight you?”

“Fifty thousand Faithful, anywhere from twelve to eighty lifeyears old. Whipped up by their prophets, they’d run naked into the guns; I’ve seen them do it. Other groups? A few hundred each, maybe a thousand in the largest of them.”

“And how many in your army?”

Karth snorted. “Three million, if we call up the reserves. I’ve a million men involved in this blockade.”

“Then there’s no question you can go in and crush any opposition.”

“No question.”

“But many will die if you do.”

“Before we got there, they’d kill all the Gharm they could get to, I imagine. Plus many of the women and children. These men are the kind who would kill their slaves and families rather than let us free them.”

“No matter what the women want?” The question was surprised out of Sam. It was not one he wanted an answer to.

“Women have no rights in Voorstod except under System law. It always surprised me that they let their women leave. I always expected to hear they’d locked them up.”

“Too much trouble,” said Maire, roused from her dejection. “More trouble than we were worth, so they said.”

“But no longer?” Karth asked her.

“You’ve got to understand they’re a puritan people, Commander. Sex is a very powerful taboo among Voorstoders. They delay it and forestall it when they can. The prophets of the Cause tell them sex is power, and being celibate stores up their power. The priests tell them married sex is all right, but only that. Both priests and prophets tell them not to look at women, not to think of women, that women are evil snares of the devil. And all women past puberty wear robes that cover all of them but their eyes. So they wouldn’t have been inclined to hang on to us, not until now.” She sat up, rubbing her head.

“We were commodities, not valuable ones, but there comes a point at which there probably aren’t enough boy babies being born to make up for the Faithful who die,” she said. “Sam suggested that, and the more I think of it, that has to be it. That’s why they wanted me back, so I could keep others from leaving with my songs. But I fiddled around, making plans, trying to be sure we could get Jep out safely, and I may have fouled up the whole thing. I was supposed to be here long ago. I wasn’t supposed to arrive at the same time as that concert. I wasn’t supposed to be sitting there, watching. They thought to have me safe in Voorstod long before that happened. If they thought at all.”

“They didn’t foresee what Queen Wilhulmia would do either,” said Saturday, shivering. She knew that what had started out as a dangerous exercise was now doubly so. The men in Voorstod would be anxious, fidgety, liable to strike out at anyone and everyone. She could feel their animosity like a palpable thing, like a wind blowing from the north. When she shut her eyes, she saw arms, pointed upward, handless, blood fountaining from the wrists. They were her own arms. She saw a throat cut. Her own throat. She fought down terror and asked, “When is the guide coming?”

“Yes,” said Sam. “When is the guide coming?”

“She’s here,” said Karth. “Been here for a while. I told her you’d finish your food before you started out with her.”

“Where does she take us?”

“Right through Skelp into Wander. The Squire of Wander will give you food and a bed tonight, then he’ll send you on to Selmouth, in County Leward. That’s as far as we’ve been able to plan. After that, you’ll have to deal with the Faithful, for they’re the ones who have the boy.”

The Commander crossed the room and knelt before Saturday, taking her cold hands into his own. “I can’t talk you out of this? It seems a dangerous and useless endeavor, Saturday Wilm. You could stay here in Ahabar, become a concert singer, have young men—maybe even old men—sending you flowers.”

She assayed a smile, managed to arrange a fairly good one, a little tremulous. “No sir, you can’t talk me out of this.”

“It’s a religious matter,” said Prince Rals from across the room. “So she says.”

The Commander looked at Maire, as though for verification of this. Maire merely smiled, a wry smile. Well, it was religious, in a way.

“Is it?” the Commander demanded of her.

“It is,” she nodded. “Yes. If you must have a category for it, Commander, you may file it under religious matters.”

The Commander shrugged; very well, his shoulders seemed to say. Oh, very well. He went to the door and beckoned. A woman came into the light, a person of middle-life, her hair turning gray at the temples, her face lined. “This is your guide,” he said to them.

“I’m your guide,” she agreed. “I don’t tell you my name. You call me Missus. There’s a vehicle outside.”

Sam knelt before his mother and reached up to kiss her, his lips gently touching the edge of her own. He hugged her.

“Oh, Sammy. Why are you here?” she asked him. “I wish I knew.”

“Here to keep Saturday company,” he said. “Why else.” For the moment, keeping Saturday company was the only reason he let himself admit to out loud. Later he would consider others. Such as acting the true hero and bringing an end to these senseless misunderstandings between people. Last night, deep in the dark, Sam had lain awake questioning himself, doubting himself, telling himself he was stubborn and intransigent.

“Maybe you’re supposed to be,” a voice in his mind had said. Theseus, maybe. “Maybe you’re supposed to be. Maybe there’s a reason.”

Heroes, he thought, had to be stubborn perhaps, had to be intransigent, had to cleave to their ideas no matter how many people tried to sway them, even if those people were their mothers or sisters or friends.

The two of them, man and girl, went out into the night with their small packs of clothing and food. No weapons. Carrying a weapon in Voorstod, so said Karth, would get them killed faster than anything. Besides, neither of them knew anything about using weapons. They were farmers. Act like farmers. Sam, ready to object to that, had swallowed his words and pretended to accept them.

They climbed through the barricade, watched stoically by a hundred troopers. Missus put them in the back of the much-used vehicle with their packs, then drove them out of the occupied area and onto the wide road leading north. Theirs was the only vehicle on the road.

“Do the people of Voorstod know they’re cut off from Ahabar?” Sam asked.

“We have eyes and ears,” said the woman. “There’ll be men going out tonight, seeing can they get through. By tomorrow, everyone will know how tight the blockade is, or whether the Queen is only playing with us.”

“Do the people of Voorstod know why?”

“Something the Cause did. They’re not saying what it was.”

In a bleak, emotionless voice, Saturday told her what the Cause had done.

“Seems a small thing to cause so much ruckus,” the woman said. “One Gharm. Here there’s hundreds every year. Whipped. Hands cut off. Feet cut off. Blinded.”

Sam turned his head away. Surely, he thought, surely she didn’t believe that. One, as a terrorist ploy, but not hundreds.

“You don’t sound as though you care,” said Saturday, sickened.

“If I cared about every Gharm that got mutilated, I’d do nothing but care,” the woman responded. “I save my caring for what I can help.”

“Your children?”

“What I can help,” the woman said, shutting off the conversation.

Skelp was a hilly region where the road ran up through rocky defiles and out onto steep uplands before plunging down again, almost to the sea. From the uplands they could see the coast, off to their right, the sea reddened by sunset.

“Not many people in Skelp,” ventured Sam.

“More than you’d think,” the woman said. “There’s villages west of us, where there’s good pasture in the mountains. Mostly herdsmen here in Skelp. And fishermen, down along the shore.”

“Lots of hiding places,” said Saturday. “For those who escape.”

“Lots of hiding places,” the woman agreed. “For those who know the country.”

“You know the country,” said Sam.

“Yes,” she responded. “Yes, I do.”

They drove on as darkness came. Gradually the land flattened. They passed an occasional vehicle headed in the opposite direction. Night came, velvety dark, but clear enough that they could see the stars.

“I thought Voorstod was all misty,” said Saturday.

“Farther north it is,” said the woman. “Look there. You can see the lights of Wander Keep, off there to your left.”

They were coming down a long slope and could see the scatter of lights burning in the shadow below them.

“The Squire,” said the woman. “Still alive, though the Cause has taken one foot and a hand and one eye.”

“What has the Cause against the Squire?” Saturday asked.

“He turned his Gharm free. He told a prophet he was a raging fanatic destined for Hell. He told the Cause to quit trapping itself up as a religion, because no God could endorse such evil. So the prophets cried anathema on him and put a price on his head. They do that a lot, the prophets, whenever someone does something they don’t like. Then the church excommunicated him. Prophets and priests always go hand in hand on matters important to the prophets. The Squire doesn’t care. He has services in his house every day. There’s apostate priests live with him, so it’s said.”

“Where’s the Cause strongest?” asked Saturday.

“Strongest? In Cloud, I should say, where the big citadel is. And in Selmouth, in County Leward. And in Scaery, in County Bight. And in Sarby. There’s not enough people in the mountain counties, and there’s nobody much in Panchy or Odil but farmers.”

“Cloud’s capital is Cloudport, right?”

“Mostly we just say Cloud. You planning to go there?”

Saturday shook her head, realized she could not be seen in the darkness and said, “No. We’re not planning anything. Just to find my cousin and take him out of here.”

The woman snorted and said nothing more. The lights grew closer, larger. After a time they could see that the lights were the windows of a fortress, high upon a sheer-sided hill. “Wander Keep,” said the woman. “I’ll let you out at the bottom of the hill. There’s a gate there.”

“Thank you for your trouble,” said Sam.

“No trouble,” said she. “You’ve never seen me, nor I you. We haven’t met, so there was no trouble.”

She paused only a moment, for them to unload their packs, then the vehicle sped off into the darkness. Behind them, a voice said, “Put down whatever you’re holding and put your hands out away from your bodies.”

Sam sighed. Thus far, there had been nothing heroic for him to do, and this did not seem to be the time to try. He dropped his pack next to Saturday’s and held out his arms. Metal clanged. Someone came up behind him and beeped at him with a device. When they were allowed to turn around, the device was run over the packs.

“Come in,” they were invited. “Come through the gate.”

They went into deeper darkness. Metal clanged once more. Then there were dim lights, a dusty path, and long flights of stairs carved from the rock.

“No gravities, sorry,” said their escort. He was a short, heavy man with a hood over his head, showing only his eyes.

“I suppose we’ve never seen you, right?” asked Saturday, trying to make a joke of it.

“Right,” he said, surprised.

“Why is that?” Sam asked.

“Because if the Cause wants to know, you don’t know. You’re going north where the Cause is, and they want to know all sorts of things.”

BOOK: Raising The Stones
13.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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