Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Barren Time: Part Three


When the hot winds finally opened fully the leaves of the trees, Ryn Batyst and the boy he carried met another man at one of the Wells of the Dead outside the city. He was standing there beneath the northern cliffs and dressing when he turned astounded toward the sound of Ryn’s heavy footfall and then the infant’s cry. He quickly pulled his trousers back on and looked to run into the darkness. His upper body shone slick with gel. 

“Wait,” said Ryn, as gently as he could and still be heard. The man was younger and of average height and build and lacked even the shoulders of a laborer. And Ryn was aware that his size could frighten others. He suspected it was one of the reasons women shied away from him, not because he could hurt them – many men could do that – but because they never knew any other men who could have stopped him.   

“They call me too,” Ryn said again. He walked into the center of the clearing and sat down in the Voidlight, cradling the infant in his lap. After a while, he motioned the startled man to come and sit beside him. The man hesitated before he did and haltingly answered Ryn’s questions about himself and the Well. He worked as a clerk for a moneychanger and had come to perhaps a dozen Wells and did not know what they were. He lived with his sister and did not often go to Temple and had never seen anyone else out in the valley at night. He had not received an infant. Of course he had never woken any Profusionist technology. He agreed that they should tell no one.

After a while, they embraced and when the man left Ryn went into the Well with the boy. He briefly wondered if he lived the same memories the clerk had or different ones. He knew the infant often mirrored his reactions. When he awoke on the hard ground above the Well the other man was gone. The boy, cradled in his arms, cooed happily. 

Three nights later, he met a disheveled baker at the river’s edge just south of the city. In the western hills again two nights after that, he met an engraver and his wife. The boy liked everyone, smiling and gurgling before they went into the Wells and again when they came out. Ryn worried that the strangeness of the Wells would come to affect the boy, no matter how happy and calm the living memories seemed to make him. 

The next night he and Del, as he was coming to call the child, met a woman in a pine clearing far northwest of the city. She was standing in the open center directly above the Well as if making it wait for her. She had her face turned up toward the night and her face was pale and smooth and calm and the curls of her hair were that strange shade in the darkness that meant they would be crimson in the sunlight. When he coughed she turned to face him and her smile was frank and eager, like a current in the river.  

“I enjoy watching the stars,” she said. “They said that you might come.”

“Who?” he asked. He only took one step forward. “What?”

As she walked toward him, her eyes flicked to the ground beneath her feet. “Everyone remembers a blacksmith with a baby. Did you really think you were alone?” 

He had always felt alone. Even as a child his size had set him apart so that the other children shied away from him in silence. As a youth he had come to understand that the only people he did not intimidate were larger men, like those toiling away at the nearest smithy. Women he had seldom dared approach, and as the years passed he tried that less and less until his aloneness settled around him like the cloak of the Guild he had earned through determined and skillful toil. 

“I never thought anything else was possible.”

She took his hand in hers and smiled again. They disrobed and cradled the infant between them and went into the Well together. After, the two of them woke up together in the center of the clearing. They lay side by side watching the sun sweep down the mountains overhead. Del lay wrapped in the bundle of smith’s clothing at his feet. 

“We should call ourselves the Blooded,” he said.


After the winds and the rains had stopped there came to the city on its plateau only the warm dry breezes from the southern plains and the calm cloudless skies of early summer. The breezes, as they went, scurried up clouds of white dust and swept them into the corners outside the blacksmith’s shop.  

“I want to name you as my bursar,” Ryn told his friend one day, yawning. Such had been the genius of the first Faith that half the year, the walls of all the buildings in Ariel were bright enough from sunlight that they needed no interior illumination. But not even brightness could keep Ryn Batyst alert when all he deeply wanted was to sleep.
Pol frowned, sitting back. “You can’t be running for re-election yet…”

 “And I want to talk to the Thieves.” Ryn leaned forward, finding his friend’s eyes, which went wide when he worked through the first of the smith’s two declarations. 

“You can’t be serious! You want the Chair! You’re too new.”

Ryn nodded. “They stagger the elections just so that this can happen.” The Chair embodied the wishes of the Council and directed its affairs, becoming a personal advisor to the Faith. 

“They stagger them so that…” Pol let out his breath in a sigh. “Well. You were persuasive on Free Cities.”

“I was right on Free Cities.” The day the iron miners of the Fackablest had formed their guild, the first Historian in four hundred years had walked into the port city Wesing, an army of scribes around him. 

“And you’ll need to keep believing that. But why the Thieves? They haven’t had a seat on the Council in fifty years.”

Ryn considered telling him. “I just want to talk to them,” he said instead. 

Pol frowned. “Okay. I might know someone. What’s your issue? You’ll need something. Don’t get me wrong. You stand up, people notice. Lingering grace of the Profusion, you should have heard yourself! Boom, that bass. And presence, I can’t think of the last time the Council actually heard command.”

“I want to campaign for the right of the Council to publically and officially censure the Faith.”

A new silence stretched between them. Pol frowned again. “I don’t…have you switched sides? The Temple, you mean you want to censure the Temple. Insomnia’s finally getting to you.”

Ryn shook his head. “Everyone already knows what the Council thinks of Historians because they tax us. And the Faith opposes the Temple by judging their laws. But the relationship between the Council and the Faith is not guaranteed. He can say whatever he wants and we cannot stop him.”

Pol brought a hand to his mouth, massaged his chin. “Well. Well. People will wonder where you’ve been all these years. By the Void, come to think of it, I wonder where you’ve been all these years. You don’t want to do this, I drag you every step of the way, now you open your mouth and overturn four hundred years of assumptions about this city. Why?” 

Ryn sighed, his eyes heavy and closing. Again, he considered telling his friend. “During the Profusion,” he said, “there was no distinction between common and adept because there was no need for it. All machines woke for everyone, because everyone could use them. All woke for all. That is what Profusion means.”

His friend’s face darkened. “Well, I don’t know what you just said, exactly. But it sounds…seriously, Ryn, where have you been?”

“I was working, Pol.”

His friend fell silent. Outside the window, the sky was clear and blue and warm, the first perfect summer day. Ryn nodded once, jerking himself awake. 


The song of the river ebbed as it carried the last of the snowmelt away from the mountains, falling to its slower summer pace. Ryn Batyst lay beside the woman and the boy and stared into the light and darkness of the Void from whence all humans came. There was no wind that night and the trilling of the birds and the chirps of insects hung in place like the breath of the smith and the woman and the sleeping boy. For a moment, Batyst imagined he could hear the long grasses of the riverbank growing, remembering again that hallucination was one of the effects of prolonged sleeplessness.

            “There’s never anyone else,” he said. “I never see anyone twice except for you and when I do it is only you.” 

            He could feel her shrugging as she smiled beside him. “And never any Historians,” she said.

            He nodded. “No Historians, and no adepts. No one who can wake any Profusionist technology.” The grass was soft and cool and soft beneath him and fatigue wrapped him in its familiar sheets of gauze. 

            “I think we must be adepts of a kind.” She sat with her legs crooked up and the infant lying propped up against them so that she could see his face. “He’s special, isn’t he?”

            “Are you sure you want to do this?” She had given happy attention to the boy from the beginning and he had never asked why she had been waiting for him in the pine clearing that first night or if she had seen any pregnant women among the Blooded.  

             She closed her eyes in the way that meant that she was mostly certain. “He needs a mother and a home. You shouldn’t have to pay someone.”

            “Anything you need, whenever…”

            “Ryn, he isn’t yours! And that’s absurd. I’m a banker. And you know what I meant.”

            “Yes. He likes the Wells. I have not seen any other children.” His eyelids drooped as he said this and he wondered that it was not yet the midwatch of the night. The Well that had called them was almost beside the docks.

            She shook her head. “The first child of the Blooded. I’m pleased to help him. He needs to come back, to keep coming back.”

            “Del Tanich,” he said. “Of the hills. He will know the meaning of his name. But I wonder it’s happening now.” They had not talked, either of them, to anyone who had visited the Wells of the Dead for more than a year.

            She sniffed, thinking. “I have wondered, too. And you know how the Faith balances the Temple when he judges the laws they write? And how the Guardians balance them both when they enforce the laws and when they claim soldiers from among the adepts?”

            The boy’s hand, Ryn felt again, did not even reach around his finger. “Yes.” His mind swerved in the strange way he had nearly forgotten and he felt he could say anything to her or anyone who asked. 

            “Well, what if the machines don’t agree either? We know some of them are sentient. What if something shifts in the balance of maintaining the world, and so now the Wells of the Dead begin to work against it?”

            He grunted. “Then I think he will a very important part.” He smiled to himself.

            Her eyes flashed toward his. “You’re the important part. You’re going to win.”

            “I don’t know what I’ll do. I don’t know when or if I’ll see you again.” The tacit agreement among the Blooded was that they gave each other no true names.

             “You’ll speak for us.”

He did not ask if she meant the merchants or the common or the Blooded because he was not sure he knew himself, and because the groups were not identical. Maybe she meant everyone, all who were not adept. Or maybe he did.

“There may be a time when speaking ends,” he said, as his eyelids fell closed again, and would not open again until the morning. Carefully, the woman gathered the boy in her arms and left, her bare feet swishing aside, with a gentle hiss, the long blades of river grass. 

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