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Authors: Sheri S. Tepper

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BOOK: Raising The Stones
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“You won’t have time for your books anymore,” his mother had sympathized after he had been selected Topman. “What a pity. Oh, I do like them, Sammy. They smell so good.” Which, indeed, they did, being rare leathers and woods, whatever he could lay hands on at the artisans’ market at CM. The pages were generated by Archives, of course, though Sam had taken some pains in determining the size of them, and the type style and the spacing and arrangement of paragraphs. He had selected the pictures also, deciding for each book whether it was to be illustrated in the style of woodcuts or of engravings or of paintings, or even with something that looked like photographic images, any of which Archives could produce as easily as it could spew plain print. Each book had one or more of the stories he had found in the Archives—he had done Theseus’s story first—each one modified and augmented by Sam, written and rewritten until it suited him, until it was properly heroic. When they were printed, he enclosed them in hard, well-made covers with fancy endpapers handmade by a woman in one of the other settlements, and with titles embossed in gold. When Sam finished a volume, it looked very much like the ones the Archives showed him, the ones the museums kept in vacuum containers, their millenia-old names going back even to Manhome.

“They smell so good,” Maire had said, never thinking of reading what was inside. She had never read an old-style book. Outside the universities or the great libraries, few people had. If you wanted to know what was in some old volume, it was so much easier to ask the stage to summarize for you, or do a commentary, or even dramatize it, if you were in the mood for that.

“Why do you take all this time?” Sal had asked, holding the children back from the shelves, lest they pull one of the things out onto the floor and ruin it. Sam, however, had reached for his favorite volume and had sat down with one child in the lap and one over each shoulder as he showed them the pictures, fascinated them with the story of the hero of ancient Manhome time whose father had left him a sword and a pair of shoes buried under a heavy stone. And then, when he found his father at last, he was sent away to fight the wicked Minotaur.

“Why would the King do that?” breathed Sam’s oldest nephew. “The boy just got there.”

“What’s a father?” asked the next oldest.

“Like a progy,” Sam had replied, slightly annoyed. “And the King knew his son wanted to be a hero, so he sent him to do something heroic.” The Archives hadn’t really said that, but Sam thought that’s the way it should have been, and Theseus had not contradicted him.

“I could have been safe in Athens,” Theseus had told him. “But mere safety wouldn’t have been worthy of me. So I volunteered to go to Minos. I went to face the Minotaur with a song in my heart. At least, so my face said.” He turned up his lips and became a mask, beaming with confidence and courage.

“I know,” Sam had breathed. “You had to face danger and death without flinching to be worthy of the King.”

Sal’s comment was, “The hero and his father did get together at the end of the story, I suppose?” She said it with a certain wry emphasis, which Sam ignored. “That’s the point of the story, isn’t it?”

“I suppose,” said Sam, remembering that the story hadn’t ended all that happily. The hero’s father had died, at the end, because of something the hero did, or didn’t do. But then, that was destiny, working itself out. He had been destined to die all along.

Sam also read the children the story of Heopthy Jorn, who promised his father he would care for the kingdom, whose older brother imprisoned him as a sacrifice for the horrible Chagrun, which was eating the people, and how he escaped and came back to win the kingdom as his own and father many sons.

“There’s a lot of fathering in those legends,” Sal commented, disapprovingly. “A lot of fathering, a lot of kinging, a lot of death and violence, and very little uncleing and ordinary kindly living. We are a matrilineal society, Sam, and there’s good reason for that.” Sal wholly approved of the society the way it was, but then she’d been too young to remember anything else.

“Some of the legends do say uncles,” Sam had admitted, a little wearily, wondering momentarily why he bothered to show Sal anything at all. She was so unrelentingly …
Tricky, as Theseus said. Not at all understanding.

“The children could punch up Archives and get the same thing,” Sal had persisted, still curious as to why Sam did these things. She had always wondered why Sam did the things he did.

Sam had not bothered to set her straight. They couldn’t punch up Archives and get any such thing. They could get an account of the hero, sure enough, comparing him with a hundred other similar tales and telling what he symbolized, and what the monsters meant, and what the psychological significance was of the tensions between the hero and the King, but one couldn’t get the tale itself. It was Sam who had restored the tale to itself, by pulling it out of the commentary which was strangling it and giving it back its power and blood. If anyone wanted to know the true stories, they would have to take one of Sam’s books and read.

Now, sipping his wine and stroking the soft bindings, Sam reflected that he had never answered Sal’s “why.” Why was simply that he needed to hold the past in this way, to preserve the tales, to make sure he didn’t lose them as he would if they were left in the Archives, lose them as he had lost his dad, lost his whip when he came to Hobbs Land. People vanished, and their stories died with them or were left behind to be buried under a thousand other things. It wasn’t enough that they were in the Archives. Things could stay buried in the Archives forever, like geological strata, layer on layer, never to be raised up again. Here on his shelves, the ancient stories were like bones dug up and made live again, fleshed out, peopled, creatured, whole. He couldn’t make them for his own son (which rankled), but he could for Sal’s sons. When they were old enough to come live with him here in the brotherhouse, then they would read the books together. He had never mentioned that to Sal.

He had mentioned it to Theseus, when he met with him out at the old temple during the night watches. After Bondru Dharm had died, Sam hadn’t seen the hero for quite a long time, but then he showed up again, out north of the settlement, even stronger and more sure than he had been before. Theseus had understood about the books, about tales, about epics and how important they were. He had told Sam to look in his books for tales of monsters, for undoubtedly there were some Sam could fight here on Hobbs Land, to get in shape for his eventual quest.

Sam doubted there were monsters, but he could not doubt the large number of very heavy boulders Theseus found for him to turn over. Sometimes Sam woke at dawn, far from the town, sore and exhausted from the night’s effort.

“Patience,” Theseus always told him, laughing. “The time will come.”

Sam, drinking his wine and stroking the covers of his books with his uninjured hand, leafing through them in search of pictures of monsters and heroes, forgot the minor annoyance of the Phansuri engineers and hoped the time of his own destiny would come while he still had the strength to meet it.

In Settlement One
, the favorite game of the children of the middle school (lifeyears ten through fourteen) had for some time been “Exploring Ninfadel.” Ninfadel was the larger of the Ahabarian moons, home of the Porsa, one of System’s three indigenous intelligent races. What the Porsa were, and how they were, was sufficient explanation for the fact that, except for a guard post, Ninfadel was left strictly alone. It was also sufficient reason for all adults to consider playing at Porsa utterly disgusting, which was probably the reason the children enjoyed it so.

Recently, however, there had been a new game. The children didn’t call it anything except “Going out to Play,” which children had been using for millenia as an excuse for being elsewhere. This particular play was the discovery of the cousins, Saturday and Jeopardy Wilm, who were friends, possible sweethearts (though at around fourteen lifeyears they weren’t ready to admit that to themselves), but constant companions in any case. After afternoon classes, when Saturday wasn’t scheduled for a voice lesson and Jeopardy wasn’t at sports practice, they often went exploring beyond the northern edge of the settlement. In every other direction, cultivated fields stretched for mile after endless mile, but north was the creek with its groves of ribbon willows, north were the ruined temples on their gentle prominence, north was a wide stretch of rising, rocky, undisturbed semi-wilderness reaching all the way to the escarpment.

Though Saturday was slim and dark and Jeopardy was light and sturdy, there was a certain likeness in the expression of the eyes and the curve of the mouths and the tenderness with which their hands found one another’s sometimes, quite by accident. They had discovered the new amusement on a certain afternoon shortly before Saturday’s lifeyear celebration.

“I want to find some glaffis,” Saturday had announced. “I want it to flavor my birthday cakes.” She had tossed her head back, making her dark hair ripple.

“You want
birthday cakes!” Jep had exclaimed. “Yech.”

“It’s almost like new-cinnamon,” she had argued.

“And we’re out of new-cinnamon.”

like new-cinnamon. It’s more like … like famug.”

“Honestly, Jep, your taste buds are all on your ears. When did you ever taste famug? Huh? Your mom and my mom
about famug, but CM hasn’t brought in any famug since our moms were little girls because the blight on Thyker wiped out all the famug plantations, and they ran out of what was left in storage, so when did you ever taste it, huh?”

“Mom told me what it tastes like,” he said, trying to remember if she had.

“That’s what I meant. Your taste buds are in your ears.”

“Well, I know what glaffis tastes like, and I still say, yech. Don’t expect me to eat any.”

“Wait until you’re invited.”

“I’ll be glad to.”

They had left the edge of the settlement behind them and were crossing a brookside line of ribbon-willows, beyond which the ruins of two old temples sprawled in the amber sun of afternoon.

“If you really want the stuff, I saw some growing inside one of these temples,” Jeopardy offered.

Saturday made a face. She’d been into the old temples now and then, along with others, when they were exploring or playing last man, but she didn’t really like being there. Something about the arches or the way the floors scooped made her slightly uncomfortable, like certain styles of music, kind of creepy. However, she didn’t dislike them enough to complain about going there. Provided they didn’t stay too long.

They splashed through the narrow stream, circled two squatty ribbon-willow trunks, parted the straplike leathery foliage, which hung in curtains around the tree, and walked slowly up the slope toward the temples. From this angle the temples looked like building blocks, each a round fat lower layer with a narrower chunk on top.

“They’re funny looking,” opined Saturday. “Like a muffin with a candle stuck in the middle.”

“In the middle is where the God lived,” Jeopardy instructed her. “Like Bondru Dharm. And they wouldn’t look so funny if they had roofs on them.” They clambered over fallen stones and piles of trash to reach the opening and went through it onto the narrow flat place inside. Before them the floor swooped down in a gentle arc, then up at the far side to the base of the stone ringwall perforated by grilled arches. Over this declivity stretched a radiating series of arches, each outer leg buried in the outer wall, each inner leg resting on the ringwall. Saturday decided that, from the inside, the thing was shaped like the doughnuts Africa made sometimes, when she felt like it.

“Let’s go in where the God lived,” Jeopardy suggested, sliding on his bottom down the sloping floor and then scrambling up the other side on all fours. Tiny stones rattled behind him as fragments of the original mosaic floor gave way. At the ringwall, he peered through one of the grills, waiting for Saturday to join him, before they both walked clockwise around the wall to the single door. Inside the central space, they found drifted soil and dried leaves around the waist-high stone pedestal at the center. The tops of the walls ended against the sky. Nothing was left of the roof.

The perfume reached them before they saw the glaffis bush against the stones, waving its sprays of bright oily leaves in the rising air.

“See there,” Jep crowed. “I told you. Mom says it grows in natural stone chimneys along the escarpment, too. It likes to grow where the air goes up, to spread the smell, so the pollinators can find it.”

Saturday took a filmbag from her pocket, nipped off a few leaflets with strong fingernails, and stowed them away in a pocket. “Okay, now what do you want to do?” she asked, sniffing at her fingers. Glaffis was aromatic, not sweet, but very pleasant. Saturday’s mother, Africa Wilm, sometimes hung twigs of glaffis leaves over the heatsource, letting the warm air spread the smell throughout the sisterhouse. Now that Saturday had smelled the herb, the ruined temple seemed suddenly familiar, and she felt almost reluctant to leave. It was cool and shady under the arches, and it smelled nice; why should she want to go?

They went out of the central space to slide into the trough again. This time, however, they stayed there, making the circuit of the temple, kicking at the small stones which had made up the mosaic floors. When they came to a patch of intact mosaic, Saturday knelt and stared at it.

“This is pretty,” she said. “See, it’s a leaf pattern. Leaves and vines and fruits. See this, this is a willow, and this one is wolf-cedar.”

“Where’s fruits?” he knelt beside her. “Oh, I see. You mean nuts.”

“And you a botanist’s son. Nuts are fruits.” She began extending the intact pattern into the surrounding area, laying out the small, flat stones that were scattered around her. “Jep, can you get any stickum.”

“What kind of stickum? Construction? Machinery parts?”

“To stick these down.” She had completed a leaf and the long section of stem which bordered it. “I’d really like to fix this. It would be fun.”

BOOK: Raising The Stones
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