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Authors: Sheri S. Tepper

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BOOK: Raising The Stones
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Jep, who was working on a section of his own, merely grunted. They stayed in the temple for an hour or more, leaving behind them several completed leaves and a long stretch of twining vine. The next afternoon, when they returned, Jep brought with him several varieties of stickum, one of which proved to be suitable for gluing the scattered tesserae to the larger paving stones beneath. By the following week, they had acquired a dozen helpers from among the settlement kids around their age.

The ten-year-old twin Miffle girls who were not and would never be interested in crawling about on their hands and knees, joined the eleven- and twelve-year-old Tillan brothers, whom they admired greatly, in cleaning out all the mess: the stubby rooted sulla daisies and the pinch-bush coming up through the stones; the dust that had settled in knee-high mounds along the walls; the bits of scattered human trash, containers and paper and plastic bits and pieces. When that was done, the girls decided to continue their help by sorting stones into small boxes, so that the workers did not have to search for the correct size or color. The smoothly washed stones, though all shaped very much alike, came in a wide assortment of colors and shades: grays ranging from very light to very dark; several distinct greens; cream and white; various shades and tints of rose. Sorting them could be done anywhere, which meant the Miffle girls could work near the Tillan boys, wherever they happened to be.

By the end of the third week, the reconstruction was in full swing, with the entire floor being worked on as though it were a giant jigsaw puzzle. Boxes of accurately sorted stones stood ready. Tubes of stolen stickum were ranked at the bottoms of the arches. Crews ranging in size from three to a dozen youngsters showed up at odd times and, without direction, continued to rebuild a pattern which none of them had ever seen.

When the floors were four-fifths done, Saturday began to complain about the dust. “I wish we had some big beams,” she said, wielding a makeshift broom made from bundled stipweed. “The wind keeps blowing dirt all over the pattern, and we have to keep sweeping it off to see what we’re doing. If we had some big beams, we could put a roof on.”

“It doesn’t take big beams,” Jep commented. “Haven’t you ever been in the Bondru Dharm temple? Didn’t you ever notice the ceiling?”

Saturday had been there and had not noticed the ceiling. With an extended finger, Jeopardy drew in the dust two concentric circles, one about a fourth the diameter of the other. He pointed at the center circle and invited consideration.

“That’s the middle, where the grills are, where the God goes, right?”

The other children, who gathered at any excuse for a break, agreed that the God went in the middle.

Jeopardy drew a series of radiating lines from the small circle to the larger one encompassing it. “Those are the stone arches,” he said. “There’s twenty-seven of them in this temple. So, all we need is stuff long enough to go crosswise from one arch to the next. That’s about six feet at the outside, and it’s hardly anything in the middle where they get skinny. In the Bondru Dharm temple, the roof’s made of wolf-cedar trunks laid up tight to each other.”

“How come you noticed that?” Saturday was moved to ask.

Jeopardy started to answer, then stopped, aware of some vacancy inside himself where the answer should have been. He should have had a reason, more than mere curiosity, for what he had actually done several days before, which had included climbing a set of footholes along an arch at the Bondru temple and cutting a sample of the ceiling, which he had then taken to his mother for identification. He really couldn’t say why he had done that. “I just did,” he replied lamely. “I just did.”

“I guess we could cut wolf-cedar with a lase-knife,” one of the Tillans remarked in his usual imperturbable manner. All the Tillans looked and sounded alike. “I’ve got one.”

Several others of the children also had access to tools suitable for the cutting of wolf-cedar, including the other Tillan boy and the two Quillow boys, Deal and Willum R., as well as their girl cousins, Sabby and Gotoit. While the main body of their colleagues continued repairing the mosaics, these larger and stronger young people began exploring the wolf-cedar forest and marking slender trees from which to build a roof. They returned from the forest at dusk, singing, Saturday’s voice darting and hovering above the youthful chorus like a prophet bird.

Maire Girat was
drawn to the porch of her sisterhouse by the sound of Saturday’s singing. The child’s voice was unmistakable, unselfconscious as rain. Maire’s earliest memories were of similar music. Not herself singing, but voices singing, marvelous voices in her head, solo and chorus, making wondrous melodies inside herself. Saturday’s voice was like one of those she had heard within her when she had been a child.

When Maire was only four or five, she had wakened early one morning, before the rest of the family were up, and had seen the curtain moving in a light breeze with a sunbeam shining through it, had felt a song welling up in her throat, and had let it spin out, into the room, into the moving light.

Mam had come running, and Dad, and the four older brothers and sisters, all to stand with puzzled faces around the cot where she’d lain, still a little drowsy, letting her mouth make music. After that, there had been songs for everything. Gradually, the inner music had moved into the background, returning in its full glory only at that borderland between sleep and wakening or when she dreamed at night of great choruses crying ecstatically in the spaces between worlds.

They had lived just outside Scaery in the county of Bight, where the eastern shore and the northern shore of the peninsula of Voorstod came together to make a knobby heel thrust against the gray seas of Ahabar. Here the fields were pillowy and green, and the fogs gathered thick, like the wings of angels, soft and protective. Her brothers and sisters were all much older, so her playmates were the Gharm children. They were smaller than she, and darker, and they had quick, clever hands. They had a private language from some former time, too, which they spoke among themselves, but only when they forgot, for they were forbidden to speak that language. When they were caught speaking that language, the Voorstod pastors came with their whips and punished them, so Maire was told.

Morning times, Maire went out into the mists, around the corner of the house to the quarters out back where the Gharm lived. Fess and Bel were there, the daughters of the Manone house-Gharm, and also Bitty, a son of a Manone field-Gharm.

“What’ll we play?” asked Maire.

“Adventures,” suggested Bitty. “We’ll adventure to a far place and slay a monster.”

“I get to be the monster,” said Fess. Fess was the biggest of the Gharm children, almost as big as Maire. Fess liked to be the monster, or the great ally-gaggle in the swamp, or the giant who had caught them all in her teapot.

So Fess was the monster, and the monster caught Maire and held her fast until Bitty came, just in time, and rescued her.

Fess’s mam, Lilla, had been Maire’s nurse-Gharm. When Maire was a baby, in nappies, Fess’s mam had taken care of her. Sometimes when Maire was unhappy, she still went to Lilla to hold on to her until things were right again.

Sometimes the children went out in the fields to play hide-and-seek. The Gharm were very clever at hiding, because they were so small. It was hard to find them, and when they were found, they collapsed in giggles, scarcely able to walk.

“I love you, Fess,” said Maire Manone. “I love you, Bel.”

Fess hugged her, and then Bel, but neither of them said anything.

“I love Fess and Bel,” Maire told her mam.

Mam became suddenly very quiet.

“What’s their last names, Mam?” Maire asked, only to be slapped quickly across the mouth with Mam’s two fingers, not to hurt, only to say shush, we don’t say that.

“Gharm have no family names,” said Mam, whispering. “Call names only, Maire. No family names. If you want a Gharm, you use the call name. That’s all you need.”

So Fess was only Fess and Bel was only Bel, but Maire was Maire Manone with a family name.

“I have two names, and you don’t,” she crowed at them. “I have two names.”

Fess turned to Bel, eyes wide. Bel frowned. Both of them looked shocked and puzzled and then, all at once, cool, as though some little fire inside them went out. Lilla was standing by the back door of the house, listening to what was said. She always listened to them, very carefully. “Fess, Bel,” she said, “Come in now. There’s work to do.”

They turned away, without a word, and went to Lilla before vanishing in the mists.

“They won’t play with me!” Maire said to Mam.

“They have work to do,” said Mam in a quiet voice. “Let them alone, child.”

“But, I want them to play with me,” Maire cried.

Dad heard her, and Dad said, “You call those whelps by their call name, Maire Manone, and you tell them what you want them to do, and they’ll do it.”

So she called “Fess,” and Fess came. “Play with me,” she said, and Fess stayed and did everything Maire told her to do. Everything. Sit here. Say this. Say that. Get up and go there. Fetch. Only Fess didn’t do anything herself, not anything. Everything Maire said, she did, but nothing of her own.

“You’re not playing!” Maire cried.

“I’m doing everything you tell me,” said Fess in her quiet voice without any giggles in it. “As I must.”

“But you used to play with me!”

“That was before you told us you had two names. When you say that, then you’re master and we’re slaves, and that’s that.”

Maire went in the house to cry. Dad came in. He was tired and mad from something that had happened. He asked her what the trouble was, and she told him Fess wouldn’t play with her. So Dad took his whip and went out, and Maire heard Fess scream.

Mam was looking at her, tears running down her face. “I thought you loved Fess.”

“I do,” Maire said, frightened at the screaming, which went on and on, the animal sounds, as though the throat uttering those sounds had forgotten whose it was and went on uttering without a mind behind it.

“She’ll play with you now,” said Dad, coming back into the room, coiling the whip up. It was wet, and it dripped on the floor, little spots of darkness that nobody saw but Maire.

Maire saw Fess’s back, next day, when Mam went to the Gharm quarters with medicine and food. “Look at it,” Mam hissed at her. “Remember it. That’s what you did when you let Dad hear you complain of the Gharm, Maire. There’s some might send for the pastors to do their whipping, but not your dad. Remember that!”

Fess’s back was bloody, striped, raw, like meat in the kitchen, the startling white of bones showing through. Fess lay with her face to the wall and didn’t speak. Her breath came into her throat like a little scratching thing, trying to get out. Fess died, lying that way, with her face buried in the corner between the bed and the wall. She burned with fever and she died, and after that none of the Gharm ever played with Maire again, and she never asked them to.

That’s when the music inside herself began to fade. There had been a dream in which white curtains blew softly from tall, arched windows, while voices sang upon a green hill. Sometimes she dreamed of it still and wakened, weeping at what had been lost.

“Why are you crying, child?” Mam would demand, impatient of her tears.

“I miss the voices in my head,” she’d wept. “All the voices in my head.” It was Fess she missed, and Bel, and Bitty. It was innocence she missed. The little dark spots were still there on the floor. No one washed them away. The broom in Lilla’s hands slid over them, leaving them there. How could she say she missed Fess? She talked of the music in her head, instead.

Mam shushed her and told her not to talk foolish or somebody might tell the prophets, and they’d come take her away. “Bad enough that you sing out loud, where people can see you, where men can see you,” she said. “If you weren’t so young, it wouldn’t be tolerated. If you start talking crazy, they won’t tolerate it, no matter how little you are.”

So she learned not to complain of the Gharm. Unless one wanted them killed, or crippled, or maimed, one did not complain of them. If one complained, a man took up his whip—even some women did that—or they sent for the pastors, and the Gharm ceased. It was easier not to see them. The mists made that possible. If one didn’t go out back, one never saw the Gharm houses. If one didn’t pay attention, one never saw the house-Gharm or the field-Gharm. One learned to look by them, over their shoulders, as though they were invisible. One learned not to speak of them, for someone might act on that speech.

Maire went to the girls’ Ire-school, to be taught by the celibate teachers there, and in school she sang. She went to County concerts, and once to an all-Voorstod one, held in Cloud, on a platform built over the whipping posts in the public square. She was twelve lifeyears old, and it was the last time she went anywhere without a veil. She became a woman then, and could not sing to anyone except women, or her family, or on sound recordings, which did not show her image. She put on the robes the prophets commanded all women wear in public until they were old women, past stirring lust in anyone, for men were too important and precious to be exposed to the evil temptations women exuded like sap. Why should men risk paradise over some woman’s face or the line of a woman’s breast? Only when Maire was old would she be allowed to take off the robes once more and be herself, her face exposed to the sun and wind as it would not have been since childhood.

Before she was veiled, she began writing songs of Voorstod, songs of meadows and copses and stony shores, songs of love for uncomplicated things, songs of eagles over the crags and crows among the corn. The flying things in Voorstod were not precisely eagles or precisely crows, the crop was not precisely corn, but the ancient names did well enough, and the prophets commanded that no new words be coined if old ones could be found to fit.

She was fourteen when she first sang for money, a musical background for an information stage diversion, with other female musicians. It was Maire’s voice in such diversions which gave her the name the Voice of Voorstod. The recording was arranged for, and the money was given to her father, not to Maire herself, though he passed on a bit of it to her, “to encourage her,” he said. He liked the money and wanted more. It came in handy for treating his cronies at the tavern or buying more Gharm or having new jeweled coup markers made for his hair. The best coup markers were very expensive, made by craftsmen on Phansure.

BOOK: Raising The Stones
3.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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