Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust VI

After that, of course, I remember nothing else; I woke pained and dazed within my rooms. Ryn and I must often both be carried to our homes as though we were too drunk; at least the guards, whether white or green, never question that sunrise scenario. But the Blood of History is far less pleasant than inebriation. It induces something of that state that men call coma, and the more one lingers in the Blood the longer it endures.

All for that which does not care for us. Once, all the Blooded who entered a particular Well of the Dead must have experienced the same memory, shared the thought and feelings of one, and only one, dead person. It would have had no purpose in any other way. Now, whether due to corruption or merely long senescence, one Well of the Dead invites each of us to remember a different ancient dead. Sometimes, it repeats. Sometimes, the Blood of History seems to have no control over itself at all.
So it is not surprising that the Blood itself has never, under any circumstance, called any living soul by name. Until, of course, it did precisely that last night.

By the time I woke it was nearly noon and hot. I had missed the morning’s market profit, the bulk of the day’s prosperity. I felt quite ill. Whatever one might say of the Blood of History, one can never declare that it is natural. The human body does not like it. Often the illness endures for an entire day thereafter. Perhaps this too is due to the degradation of the Blood of History.

I went to work regardless. I was some time getting dressed. My head ached interminably – that’s always the worst of it, of course, and I ate no lunch, though by that time I should have been quite ravenous. Still, I picked up my heavy sacks of seeds and put on the tan tunic and trousers I had washed the day before and stepped out the door, into the light of Ariel’s brilliant whitewashed day.

This made my head ache even more, of course, but if I continue to detail my agony, dear reader, you will think me dull as a drunkard; another’s pain is never nearly as interesting as one’s own, a defect in that trait which men call sympathy. But suffice it to say that I could not have vanished within the crowd, most of whom were brawny workers returning to work after taking their lunch at home. I say this because, while some would put it to the lingering grace of the Profusion to have us meet again a stranger we first encountered only days before, I say only that he would have recognized me easily.

“Have you heard, brother?” the baker asked as I was bending over to pick up my sacks after a rest. I squinted and looked around; sweat poured over my eyes and I could not see much more than the broad fa├žade’s of Ariel’s low buildings – none of them rise more than three levels, a limit imposed by Historian imposition that no building should surpass the Temple’s supposedly majestic height.

“Heard what?” I asked, recognizing him instantly from his deep voice.

“Anything! That a starship has crashed in the Fackablest, in the northern forests, and that the Faith has asked Dovan Santu himself to look for it. That the Eyes of Thaeron have closed and the High Temple has sent no couriers. Any of it?”

Shouldering my sacks, I answered him. “Those all seem like natural reactions,” I said. “Dovan Santu is Guardian of Nogilia and its valkyries; no veilmen could find it faster, and the Free Cities won’t care to look. If the Eyes of Thaeron have indeed closed, then Kasora will be doing their best to investigate and won’t take time for writing missives – because our courier system is horribly outdated.”

The baker furrowed his brow.

“But perhaps,” I added, as I started walking, “you mean to say that the actions that precipitated those events are extraordinary. And indeed they are,” I smiled, “but I can have nothing to add to everything that must already have been said.”

The baker grunted as he walked beside me. “You have a better way with words than me. And you’re certainly right. But you said the other night that you weren’t with the Temple anymore. And I see your scars by daylight now. So, friend, why all these sacks? What poor trade holds you back?”

I showed him my talisman on its pocket-chain.

“Sowers’ Guild, then?” he asked, and nodded when I showed him the talisman on its pocket-chain. “A small but venerable brotherhood.” He looked again at my sacks. “You take the remnants from the barge?”

I nodded; we continued through the various alleys that separate the Market from the district of the Flats that I call home.

“Every Forday it comes for the farmers in the valley,” I said, “massive as a field itself. Seeds from Sepira, Nogilia, Nesechia – everywhere that’s fertile. The farmers always buy in bulk, of course, and the orders never come out even; I take the leavings for a price. Then I hump the sacks up to my place, and from my place to the market. Nearly everyone has some kind of garden on their roof.”

We reached the Market at last, and I wondered why he had not asked for my name, or I for his. Perhaps it was the camaraderie of the market itself. Those who sell there, for all their diversity, always feel some solidarity.

As well they should: crushed more finely here than elsewhere, the famous white stone of Ariel becomes in summer the fine cloud that covers every mountebank, charlatan, and honest man who barks a ware, and anyone who might think of buying it. Because the Market has so few solid buildings to act as windbreaks, that particulate saltates into every beef flank, rice ball, watercress salad and fish fillet available, as well as limning every silver urn, clay bowl, gold carafe and any wicker basket or wooden jug or plate. It works its way into every cotton shift, twill shirt, fine silk chemise or makeshift woolen trouser that any poor hand has sewn, not to mention the tomatoes, plums, artichokes, potatoes, honeydew, durians and strawberries that come from my seeds – or the breads, pies, cakes, torts, and spiceloaves produced by my new acquaintance.

“I rent from Gurloes,” I said, “and sell under his protection.”

The baker grunted an affirmation, and I readjusted the burden of my sacks. “You’ll be to the east then,” he said, “toward the chandler’s row. You’re in your eighth year?”

I nodded. He understood, then, that I was an orphan. “The Temple saw to my apprenticeship when I turned sixteen. They said that people trust me, and I’ve always been able to keep a ledger.”

The baker walked east and I followed; the bakers’ row lay beyond the chandler’s. “Well, they’ve got to be good for something, the Temple. In two more years, you’ll have an apprentice of your own. I’ve had ten now, and they’re good business. Customers know that you’re established. You’re doing alright, for where you come from.”

With the end of this speech he stopped; we had reached my booth. “Well,” I said, “I cannot very well just starve, can I?” I laughed, and the baker did as well. I turned inside, and he held out his hand.

“The Profusion keep you,” he said.

I nodded and shook it. “The Profusion keeps us all.”

I have not seen him since, and doubt I ever will, though I could have sworn I felt his presence lingering on the corner. But I was already opening my sacks and pulling out the smaller bags of seeds within them, having found it better to keep variety rather than quantity of wares. I had just absently placed the first of these on my counter when I felt a warm hand upon my own.

I looked up and found myself looking into the eyes of Adlasola Oso, though they were half-hidden by strands of her scarlet hair, caught in a stray brisk breeze. “A cup of sunflowers,” she said, “for my garden.” Then she leaned closer and whispered, “I seek the Blood of History. They say you know the way.”

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