Authors: Randall Garrett
The River Wall
Copyright © 1986 by Randall Garrett and Vicki Ann Heydron.
All rights reserved.
Published as an ebook in 2014 by Jabberwocky Literary Agency, Inc.
Cover art by Tara O'Shea
Images © Dreamstime
I hope I have done well.
—Good morning, Recorder.
—Welcome. All is prepared?
—Everything has been done according to your instruction, Recorder. Attendants will await our return from the All-Mind. We will not be disturbed, no matter how long this session lasts.
—Has something upset you?
—No. Yes. That is—yes. Our plans for this session were strongly opposed.
—I believe you expected that.
—I expected the opposition. What surprised me was the way I felt when I faced it.
—Were you angry?
—Not so much angry as indignant. I felt offended, as if the concern of my friends were an insult….
—As if contradiction of my wishes were the highest crime.
—I see. Then I shall not ease your turmoil, for I must add my caution to theirs, and remind you, once again, that there is danger in this.
—Then I can only repeat what I’ve told you before, Recorder: there is more danger in not doing it this way. Every day that passes, the memories are more distant. It becomes more difficult to reconstruct the details of thought and action. And in spite of my commitment to the completion of the Record, I come to it ever more reluctantly.
—Do you refer to the intensity of experience in reliving the time of the Record? Surely that is familiar to you by now.
—Of course it is, Recorder. I do not expect this session to be entirely pleasant, but there is nothing here worse than the terrible grief that beset me when Keeshah closed off our mindlink, or when one of his cubs was killed by the vineh.
—What is it that you fear, then?
—The Record has a mirror quality that lets me see myself with unsettling clarity. I have the feeling that I have edited my memory of this time, and that the act of Recording will uncover what has been concealed. I may not like the man I find in the Record.
—You are not speaking the truth.
—You have no right to challenge my word! … Forgive me, Recorder.
—The hidden truth disturbs you. Speak it, that we may achieve the calmness with which to join our minds to the All-Mind.
—I have hidden it even from myself, Recorder. The truth is, I know that meeting the past man will help me see the present man more clearly. I’m afraid I won’t like the way I have changed…. Why are you silent, Recorder? Are you afraid to say that you see the changes more clearly, and that you disapprove?
—I hesitate in order to consider whether I may answer you. I think I may not, as this is a matter concerning the Record.
—I see. You may not judge as a Recorder. But can’t you speak only for yourself, as an individual?
—I can, and will do so when the Record is complete.
—By then, I will have seen the truth for myself.
—Truth is sometimes a matter of perception. You fear that yours has been clouded by the passage of time and events; I have the same fear. When we have shared the memory of actual events, we will share our refreshed perceptions, and thus build a stronger truth.
—Very well, Recorder. Anytime you’re ready.
—Rest a moment. Allow yourself to become totally calm and relaxed. Now make your mind one with mine, as I have made mine one with the All-Mind …
Tarani and I were walking the wide, stone-paved avenue through Lord City, dressed for the desert trail in loose-fitting trousers and tunics. Travel packs—leather pouches laced together in pairs—were slung across our shoulders. We had gathered a small following of children from, the seven extended families of the Lords of Eddarta. They hung back, skittered after us, whispered.
Minutes earlier, Tarani had told only three people that their new High Lord was leaving Eddarta again: Indomel, Tarani’s brother and enemy; Zefra, Tarani’s mother and uncertain friend; and Hollin, the Lord in whom Tarani had vested her power for the duration of her absence.
I wish I felt better about leaving Indomel and Zefra loose in Lord City,
Still, Tarani seems satisfied that they won’t make trouble, and she trusts Hollin. I like him, too, and I think he could handle either Indomel or Zefra alone. Tarani thinks they hate each other too much to cooperate against her, and she may be right.
Zefra, in fact, is still enjoying Indomel’s defeat too much to notice that she hasn’t collected any power for herself as a result of Tarani’s accession as High Lord. But Indomel? As soon as Zefra shows the slightest discontent, he’ll try to convince her that Tarani has abandoned her, and that they should work together and use their mindgifts to destroy the government Tarani has set up.
Should I tell Tarani I’m worried?
I looked around and noticed that we were approaching the arched stone gateway, the only entrance to Lord City except for the meandering branch of the Tashal River that paralleled the avenue to our left. Two guards, standing inside the gate, straightened into alertness as we approached. They were members of the High Guard, the security force maintained by the family of the High Lord.
Each of the Lord families maintained a Guard of ten to fifty men inside the city and a somewhat larger force at the copper mine run by each family. The city guards served as a symbol of each family’s independence inside Lord City, and acted as perimeter guards around each family area. Their real function was watching slaves, preventing theft, and, occasionally, acting as a deterrent to open conflict between the families. The High Guard, the largest in Lord City, also posted watch along the wall around the city itself, and at its gate.
One of the gate guards was a burly, competent-looking man, and he nodded slightly as we came abreast of him. It was Naddam, the man who had been in charge of the Lingis mine just before my own stint in his position. He had shown all the compassion allowed him by the rules toward the slaves placed in his care. I had come to admire and like the man, and I had seen him again only the day before. Seeing him now helped me decide not to voice my fears about Indomel to Tarani.
Naddam promised to send word directly to Raithskar, if anything goes wrong here
, I remembered. I nodded and smiled as we passed, and wished for the opportunity to speak a friendly word, but Tarani did not hesitate, and I kept pace with her long stride.
She’s the High Lord
, I thought.
If she’s content to leave things this way, then I won’t stir up any doubt. Besides, now that she’s agreed to go back to Raithskar with me, I think she’s as eager as I am to be out of here. We ought to be able to slip away quietly….
We stepped through the thick stone archway, and stopped.
There must have been five hundred people outside the gate. They clumped and milled over most of the grassy slope between the walled city of the Lords and the sprawling, busy streets of Lower Eddarta. When Tarani and I appeared, the crowd focused and shifted toward us, the general murmur coalescing into a louder sound.
I saw Tarani’s shoulders twitch, and I believe I knew what she was feeling. It was all I could do to keep my hand from the hilt of Rika, the steel sword that hung from my baldric. The noise of the crowd was unnerving, but as yet it was neither friendly nor angry, and I had no desire to tilt the scales to the negative side.
The mass of people surged up the slope like a strange kind of tide.
The crowd arced around us from the nearer bank of the Tashal to the wall of Lord City, leaving us in an opening that was shaped like a circles quadrant. To our left, people were pressed to the very edge of the riverbank. To our right, the wall of mortared stone met a wall of people.
The leading edge of the crowd swept toward us, then seemed to grow shy about twenty feet away. When Tarani, moving with grace and without any sign of fear, stepped out into the open space, the people in front dug in their heels and struggled to move back against the pressure of the bodies behind them. In spite of their efforts, our space was shrinking, and I felt a touch of claustrophobic panic.
I answered the mindvoice.
*You’re the reason for the crowd, aren’t you? As soon as they saw you, the Eddartans knew something was up.*
You said come,*
the sha’um answered, with a note of irritation.
*Here since light. Don’t want people.*
*I’m not blaming you
* I soothed him, thinking:
This crowd has been gathering since dawn, too, but nobody inside Lord City took any notice. Tarani’s right—the Lords have been isolated from Eddarta too long.
The crowd was settling down some, but not enough to quell the panic I felt.
*We could use some room, Keeshah
* I said. I sensed restlessness and eagerness from him, and hurriedly added:
*Don’t hurt anyone, okay? Just bring the family through to us; the people will make room for you.*
Keeshah’s rumbling growl sounded behind the outermost ranks pressed against the wall of Lord City. The edge of the mass shrank back from the wall, opening a passage for the sha’um. The big cats walked down the freshly opened pathway and into the pie wedge of open space that Tarani and I occupied. They fairly filled it up: two adult sha’um, nearly man-tall and the length of a man’s trunk between shoulder and hip; and two cubs, still only a few months old but already the size of full-grown tigers.
As if by magic, the pie wedge grew to twice the size.
Keeshah came to me, and turned to face the crowd. Yayshah took a similar place beside Tarani. The cubs approached the nearest people curiously, and Yayshah growled a warning to the cubs. I would not have understood the message from the female sha’um on my own, but I heard it loud and clear through my link with the cubs.
Koshah, the young male who was a startling duplicate of his father, roared a complaint and shook his head, fluffing his mane at his mother. At the same time, he spoke to me.
,* he said, and I crunched down on my impulse to laugh.
Yayshah lunged away from Tarani, and the people in front went into full retreat, banging into and climbing over the people behind them.
“Wait,” Tarani called, her vibrant voice sounding clearly above the sudden uproar. The noise subsided slightly. “Please be calm,” Tarani urged. “Yayshah will not harm you, but you may injure each other.”