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Authors: Sheri S. Tepper

Six Moon Dance

BOOK: Six Moon Dance
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SHERI S.
TEPPER

S
IX
M
OON
D
ANCE

Contents

1 On Newholme: Mouche

2 Ornery Bastable, and a Bit of History

3 The Establishment of the Questioner by Haraldson the Beneficent

4 Orientation to the Amatory Arts

5 Life as a Lobster

6 On Old Earth: The Dancing Child

7 The Questioner and the Trader

8 Native and Newcomer: A Conversation

9 Amatory Arts: Fitting into the Family

10 Three Angry Men

11 On Old Earth: History House

12 The Amatory Arts: What Women Want

13 At the Mercy of the Mountain

14 A Diversion of Dancers

15 Meeting MarooI Mantelty

16 The Amatory Arts: Stories Women Tell

17 Mouche Becomes a Hunk

18 Ornery Bastarle, the Castaway

19 The Invisible People

20 The Dutter Boys

21 Among the Indigenes

22 A Dream of Falling Water, Flowing Green

23 Dancers in Transit

24 Harassments

25 The Long Nights

26 Amatory Arts: the Hagions

27 The Questioner is Announced

28 A Family Man Visits the Hags

29 Calvy and his Friends

30 Mistress Mantelby Investigates

31 The Questioner Approaches

32 Ornery Bastable Goes Upriver

33 Marool Mantelby and the Hags

34 Pressed into Service

35 Timmy Talk

36 Pressed Men at Mantelby

37 An Intimate Disclosure

38 The Questioner Arrives

39 Gardeners, Molds, and Intricacies

40 Questioner Visits the Panhagion

41 Assorted Persons In Pursuit

42 Marool Worships Morrigan

43 A Journey Toward Dosha

44 A Consternation of Hags

45 The Camp of The Wilderneers

46 The Second Expedition Sets Out

47 Round the Down Staircase

48 Westward the Wilderneers

49 Sailing the Pillared Sea

50 The Abduction of Dancers

51 Madame Meets A Messenger

52 Leggers, Tunnelers, and Assorted Traffic

53 The Farther Shore

54 Assembly At The Fauxi-disalonz

55 The Tale Of Quaggima

56 A Gathering Of Monsters

57 Quaggima And The Chasm

58 Tie Jongau And A Matter Of Gender

59 Into The Fauxi-Dizalonz

60 Many Moons

61 Love Cards Wild

Praise for SHERI S. TEPPER and: SIX MOON DANCE

Cast of Characters
Abbreviated list of characters, in order of appearance (walk-ons not included).

Other Books by Sheri S. Tepper

Copyright

About the Publisher

1
On Newholme: Mouche

“I
t’s all right,” Mouche’s mother said. “Next time we’ll have a girl.”

Mouche knew of this because his father told him. “She said it was all right. She said next time …”

But there had been no next time. Why the inscrutable Hagions decided such things was unknown. Some persons profited in life, producing daughter after daughter; some lost in life, producing son after son; some hung in the balance as Eline and Darbos did, having one son at the Temple, and then a daughter born dead at the Temple, and then no other child.

It was neither a profit nor a great loss, but still, a loss. Even a small loss sustained over time can bleed a family: so theirs bled. Only a smutch of blood, a mere nick of a vein, a bit more out than in, this year and then the next, and the one after that, a gradual anemia, more weakening than deadly—the heifer calves sold instead of kept, the ewe lambs sold, the repairs to the water mill deferred, then deferred again. Darbos had taken all he had inherited and added to that what he could borrow as his dowry for a wife who would help him establish a family line, to let him wear the honorable cockade, to be known as g’Darbos and be addressed as “Family Man.” He had planned to repay the loan with advances against his share of the dowries paid for his own daughters. Instead, he had paid for Eline with the price of the heifer calves, with the ruin of the mill. Her family had profited, and though families lucky enough to have several daughters often gave those daughters a share of the dowry they brought in (a generosity Darbos had rather counted on), Eline’s parents had not seen fit to do so. Still, Eline’s daughters would have made it all worth while, if there had been daughters.

Their lack made for a life not precisely sad, but not joyous, either. There was no absence of care, certainly. Eline was not a savage. There was no personal blame. Darbos had created the sperm, he was the one responsible, everyone knew that. But then, some receptacles were said to reject the female, so perhaps Eline shared the fault. No matter. Blaming, as the Hags opined, was a futile exercise engaged in only by fools. What one did was bow, bow again, and get on.

So, each New Year at the Temple, while g’Darbos waited outside with the other Family Men, all of them sneaking chaff under their veils and whispering with one another in defiance of propriety, Eline bowed and bowed again. Then she got on, though the getting did not halt the slow leaking away of substance by just so much as it took to feed and clothe one boy, one boy with a boy’s appetite and a boy’s habit of unceasing growth. As for shoes, well, forget shoes. If he had had sisters, then perhaps Eline would have bought him shoes. In time, she might even have provided the money for him to dower in a wife. If he had had sisters.

“If bought no wife,” so the saying went, so forget the wife. More urgent than the need for a wife was the need for daily grain, for a coat against the wind, for fire on the winter’s hearth and tight roof against the storm, none of which came free. Eline and Darbos were likely to lose all. After nine barren years, it was unlikely there would be more children, and the couple had themselves to think of.
Who can not fatten on daughters must fatten on labor
, so it was said, and the little farm would barely fatten two. It would not stretch to three.

On the day Mouche was twelve, when the festive breakfast was over and the new shirt admired and put on, Papa walked with him into the lower pasture where an old stump made a pleasant sun-gather for conversation, and there Papa told Mouche what the choices were. Mouche might be cut, and if he survived it, sold to some wealthy family as a chatron playmate for their children, a safe servant for the daughters, someone to fetch and carry and neaten up. The fee would be large if he lived, but if he died, there would be no fee at all.

Or, an alternative. Madame Genevois—who had a House in Sendoph—had seen Mouche in the marketplace, and she’d made an offer for him. While the fee was less than for a chatron, it would be paid in advance, no matter how he turned out.

Mama had followed them down to the field and she stood leaning on the fence, taking no part in the conversation. It was not a woman’s place, after all, to enlighten her son to the facts of life. Still, she was near enough to hear him when he cried:

“Trained for a Hunk, Papa? A Hunk?”

“Where did you learn that word?” said Mama, spinning around and glaring at him. “We do not talk filth in this family….”

“Shh, shh,” said Darbos, tears in the corners of his eyes. “The word is the right word, Madam. When we are driven to this dirty end, let us not quibble about calling it what it is.”

At which point Mama grew very angry and went swiftly away toward the house. Papa followed her a little way, and Mouche heard him saying, “Oh, I know he’s only a boy, Eline, but I’ve grown fond of him….”

Mouche had seen Hunks, of course—who had not?— riding through the marketplace, their faces barely veiled behind gauzy stuff, their clothing all aglitter with gold lace and gems, their hats full of plumes, the swords they fenced with sparkling like rippled water. Even through the veils one could see their hair was curled and flowing upon their shoulders, not bound back as a common man would need it to be, out of the way of the work. Their shirts were open, too, and in the gap their skin glowed and their muscles throbbed. Hunks did not work. They smiled, they dimpled, they complimented, they dueled and rode and wrestled, they talked of wonderful things that ordinary people knew little or nothing of. Poetry. And theater. And wine.

Mouche wondered if they talked of the sea, which is what Mouche talked of, to himself when there was no one else by to speak to, or to Papa, when Papa was in the mood. Not to Mama. Mama did not understand such things, even though it was she who had given him the book of sea stories, and she who had told him about going to Gilesmarsh when she was a girl, and how the shore had looked and smelled, and how the little boats came in full of the fishes that swam there, and how the ships sailed out and away into wonderful places. The seamen didn’t even wear veils, except in port. Mama didn’t mention that, but the book did. Of course, out at sea, there were no women to be tempted and corrupted by the sight of wanton hairs sprouting on a male face, so veils weren’t really needed.

Mouche’s dream of going to sea when he was old enough was not pure foolishness. The books were full of stories about boys who ran away to sea and ships that took them, sometimes with no apprenticeship fee. Poor as Mouche’s family was, he knew it would have to be without a fee. He would have to have something else to recommend him, like knowing things about ropes and nets and repairs and suchlike. He asked his teacher if he could get Mouche a book about all that—which he did, and followed it with others when Mouche was through with the first one. Mouche practiced knots in his bed at night, and learned all the words for the parts of the ship and the pieces of the rigging and how it all worked. “Seaman Mouche,” he said to himself on the edge of sleep. “Captain Mouche.” And he dreamed.

But now it seemed he was not to go to sea. Not even without a fee. He was to be a Hunk. Hunks did not go to sea, did not pull at nets, did not look out to far horizons and distant ports, did not smell of fish. They smelled of perfume. They pranced like ponies. And they fucked, of course. Everyone knew that. That’s what they were for. Though they did not father, they fucked.

Some very wealthy women were known to have several of them. When a woman accepted a dowry from some man she did not know—might never have seen, might grow to detest—thereby making him the sole begetter of her future children, it was her right to include in the contract a provision that after five or seven or ten years, whether she had any daughters or not, she was to have at least one Hunk. This was common knowledge. It was also common knowledge that many of the best-trained Hunks came from House Genevois in Sendoph. Polite people didn’t call them Hunks, of course, Mama was right about that. They called them “Consorts,” but it meant the same thing.

“Consort Mouche,” he said to himself, seeing how it sounded. It sounded dirty, no matter what word he used. It sounded like a teacher saying, “Take your hands out of your pants. What do you think you’re doing? Practicing to be a Consort?”

It sounded like teasing on the school ground, Fenarde saying, “Mouche can’t ever get married. Mouche will have to be a Hunky-monkey.” Which was very dirty talk indeed. All the girls stood and giggled and twitched their bottoms at Mouche and said, “You can be
my
Hunky-monkey, Mouche.
I’ll
put you in my contract.” And then they started kissing Mouche and touching him on his behind. Such evil behavior got the girls a talking to about courtesy and treating males respectfully, because they were not as resilient as girls and their minds weren’t as flexible, and Fenarde got a mouthful of ashes from the schoolroom hearth for starting the whole thing. Mouche merely got a brief lecture. Though the teacher was patient, he didn’t have much time to waste on boys.

BOOK: Six Moon Dance
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