On the opposite side of the cell, my view was better. Framed in another Mathic arch was a window affording a fine view of the meadow. This was just another device to magnify frustration and hence boredom, since, if I wanted, I could spend all day looking down on my brothers and sisters strolling at liberty around the concent and (I supposed) discussing all sorts of interesting things, or at least telling funny stories. Above, the Warden Fendant’s overhanging ledge blocked most of the sky, but I could see to about twenty degrees above the horizon. My window faced roughly toward the Century Gate, with the Decade Gate visible off to the right if I put my face close to the glass. So when the sun rose the morning after Tenth Night, I was able to hear the close-of-Apert service. Looking out my cell’s doorway, I could see the chains move as the water-valves were actuated. Then by stepping across the cell and looking out my window I was able to see a silver thread of water negotiate the aqueduct to the Decade Gate, and to watch the gate grind closed. Only a few spectators were strewn about extramuros. For a little while I tortured myself with the idea that Cord was standing there forlornly expecting me to run out at the last moment and give her a goodbye hug. But such ideas faded quickly once the gates closed. I watched the avout take down the canopy and fold up the tables. I ate the piece of bread and drank the bowl of milk left at my door by one of Suur Trestanas’s minions.
Then I turned my attention to the Book.
Since the sole purpose of the Book was to punish its readers, the less said of it the better. To study it, to copy it out, and to memorize it was an extraordinary form of penance.
The concent, like any other human settlement, abounded in nasty or tedious chores such as weeding gardens, maintaining sewers, peeling potatoes, and slaughtering animals. In a perfect society we’d have taken turns. As it was, there were rules and codes of conduct that people broke from time to time, and the Warden Regulant saw to it that those people performed the most disagreeable jobs. It was not a bad system. When you were fixing a clogged latrine because you’d had too much to drink in the Refectory, you might not have such an enjoyable day, but the fact of the matter was that latrines were necessary; sometimes they clogged up; and some fraa or suur had to clean them out, as we couldn’t very well call in an outside plumber. So there was at least some satisfaction in doing such penance, because there was a point in the work.
There was no point at all to the Book, which is what made it an especially dreaded form of penance. It contained twelve chapters. Like the scale used to measure earthquakes, these got exponentially worse as they went on, so Chapter Six was ten times as bad as Chapter Five, and so on. Chapter One was just a taste, meted out to delinquent children, and usually completed in an hour or two. Two meant at least one overnight stay, though any self-respecting troublemaker could bang it out in a day. Five typically meant a stay of several weeks. Any sentence of Chapter Six or higher could be appealed to the Primate and then to the Inquisition. Chapter Twelve amounted to a sentence of life at hard labor in solitary confinement; only three avout had finished it in 3690 years, and all of them were profoundly insane.
Beyond about Six, the punishment could span years. Many chose to leave the concent rather than endure it. Those who stuck it out were changed when they emerged: subdued, and notably diminished. Which might sound crazy, because there was nothing to it other than copying out the required chapters, memorizing them, and then answering questions about them before a panel of hierarchs. But the contents of the Book had been crafted and refined over many centuries to be nonsensical, maddening, and pointless: flagrantly at first, more subtly as the chapters progressed. It was a maze without an exit, an equation that after weeks of toil reduced to 2 = 3. Chapter One was a page of nursery-rhymes salted with nonsense-words that almost rhymed—but not quite. Chapter Four was five pages of the digits of pi. Beyond that, however, there was no further randomness in the Book, since it was easy to memorize truly random things once you taught yourself a few tricks—and everyone who’d made it through Chapter Four knew the tricks. Much harder to memorize and to answer questions about were writings that almost but did not quite make sense; that had internal logic, but only to a point. Such things cropped up naturally in the mathic world from time to time—after all, not everyone had what it took to be a Saunt. After their authors had been humiliated and Thrown Back, these writings would be gone over by the Inquisition, and, if they were found to be the right kind of awful, made even more so, and folded into later and more wicked editions of the Book. To complete your sentence and be granted permission to walk out of your cell, you had to master them just as thoroughly as, say, a student of quantum mechanics must know group theory. The punishment lay in knowing that you were putting all of that effort into letting a kind of intellectual poison infiltrate your brain to its very roots. It was more humiliating than you might imagine, and after I’d been toiling on Chapter Five for a couple of weeks I had no difficulty in seeing how one who completed a sentence of, say, Chapter Nine would emerge permanently damaged.
Enough of the Book. A more interesting question: why was I here? It seemed that Suur Trestanas wanted me removed from the community for as long as the Inquisitors were among us. Chapter Three wouldn’t have taken me long enough. Four might have done it, but she’d given me Five just in case I happened to be one of those persons who was good at memorizing numbers.
The dawn aut—which was attended only by a smattering of avout who were especially fond of ceremonies—woke me every morning. I snapped my bolt off the wooden pallet that was the cell’s only furniture and wrapped it around myself. I pissed down a hole in the floor and washed in a stone basin of cold water, ate my bread and drank my milk, set the empty dishes by the door, sat on the floor, and arranged the Book, a pen, a bottle of ink, and some leaves on the surface of the pallet. My sphere served as a rest for my right elbow. I worked for three hours, then did something else, just to clear my head, until Provener. Then, during the whole time that Lio and Jesry and Arsibalt were winding the clock, I was doing pushups, squats, and lunges. My team were working harder and getting stronger because of my absence, and I didn’t want to be weak when I emerged.
My teammates must have somehow figured out which cell I was in, for after Provener they’d have a picnic lunch in the meadow right beneath my window. They didn’t dare look up or wave to me—Trestanas must be glaring down at them, just waiting for such a mistake—but they’d begin each lunch by hoisting tankards of beer in someone’s honor and quaffing deeply. I got the message.
Plenty of ink and leaves were available, so I began to write down the account you have been reading. As I did so, I became haunted by the idea that there was some pattern woven through the last few weeks’ events that I had failed to notice. I put this down to the altered state of mind that comes over a solitary prisoner with nothing to keep him company save the Book.
One day about two weeks into my penance, my morning work-shift was interrupted by strange bells. Through my door I could see a stretch of the bell-ropes that ran from the ringers’ balcony up toward the carillon. I moved round to the other side of the pallet, turning my back to the window, so that I could observe the jerking and recoiling of those ropes. All avout were supposed to be able to decode the changes. I had never been especially good at it. The tones melted together in my ears and I could not shape them into patterns. But watching the movements of the ropes somehow made it easier; for such work my eyes were better suited than my ears. I could see the way in which a given rope’s movement was conditioned by what its neighbors had done on the previous beats. In a minute or two, without having to ask anyone’s help, I was able to recognize this as the call to Eliger. One of my crop was about to join an order.
After the changes were rung, half an hour passed before the aut began, and it was another half an hour of singing and chanting before I heard Statho intone the name of Jesry. This was followed by the singing of the Canticle of Inbrase. The singing was vigorous but rough around the edges—so I knew it was the Edharians who were inducting him. During all of that time, it was difficult for me to concentrate on the Book, and afterwards I could get very little done until after Provener.
The next day those changes rang again. Two more joined the Edharians and one—Ala—joined the New Circle. No surprise there. We’d always expected her to end up as a hierarch. For some reason, though, this one kept me awake late into the night. It was as if Ala had flown off to some other concent where I’d never see her again, never get into another argument with her, never compete with her to see who could solve a theorics problem first. Which was absurd, since she was staying right here at Edhar and I’d be dining with her in the Refectory every day. But some part of my brain insisted on seeing Ala’s decision as a personal loss for me, and punished me by keeping me awake.
There was a little lesson hidden in the way I had deciphered the Eliger changes by seeing them. For as I continued to write out my account of the preceding weeks—all the while nagged by the sense that I was missing something—I eventually came to the part where I set down my conversation with Fraa Orolo on the starhenge, and his muffled argument with Trestanas immediately afterwards, down by the portcullis. As I wrote this, I looked out my window to the place where it had happened, and noted that the portcullis was closed—even though it was daytime. I also had a view of the Centenarians’ portcullis. It too was closed. Both of them had been closed the whole time I’d been here. With each day that went by I became more and more certain that the starhenge had been altogether sealed off, and had been from the very moment that the Master of the Keys had slammed the grate down behind me and Orolo on the eighth day of Apert. This closure of the starhenge—which I was pretty sure was unprecedented in the entire history of the Concent of Saunt Edhar—must have been the topic of the angry conversation between Orolo and Trestanas.
Was it too much of a stretch to think that the arrival of the Inquisitors, a couple of days later, had been no coincidence? Ours looked at the same sky as every other starhenge in the world. If ours had been closed—if there was something out there we weren’t supposed to see—the others must have been closed too. The order must have gone out over the Reticulum on the eighth day of Apert and been conveyed by the Ita, to Suur Trestanas; at the same moment, I reckoned, Varax and Onali had begun their journey to the “remote hermitage” of Saunt Edhar.
All of which made a kind of sense but did nothing at all to help me with the most perplexing and important question: why would they want to close the starhenge? It was the
Like a fraa who wakes in his cell in the hours before dawn smelling smoke, and who knows from this that a slow fire must have been smoldering and gathering heat for many hours while he slumbered in oblivion, I felt not only alarm but also shame at my own slowness.
It didn’t help that Eliger was being celebrated almost every day now. For the last year or so, I’d sensed myself falling slowly behind some of the others in theorics and cosmography. At times I’d resigned myself to joining a non-Edharian order and becoming a hierarch. Then, immediately before Trestanas had thrown the Book at me, I’d made up my mind to angle for a place among the Edharians and devote myself to exploring the Hylaean Theoric World. Instead of which, I was stuck in this room reading nonsense while the others raced even further ahead of me—and filled up the available spaces in the Edharian chapter. Technically there was no limit—no quota. But if the Edharians got more than ten or a dozen new avout at the expense of the others, there’d be trouble. Thirty years ago, when Orolo had come in, they’d recruited fourteen, and people were still talking about it.
One afternoon, just after Provener, the bell team began to ring changes. I assumed at first that it was Eliger again. For by that time, five had joined the Edharians, three the New Circle, and one the Reformed Old Faanians. But some deep part of my brain nagged me with the sense that these were changes I had not heard before.
Once more I set down my pen—wishing I’d been given this penance in less interesting times—and sat where I could watch the ropes. Within a few minutes I knew for certain that this was not Eliger. My chest clenched up for a few moments as I worried that it was Anathem. It was over, though, before I could make sense of it. So I sat motionless for half an hour listening to the naves fill up. It was a big crowd—all of the avout in all of the maths had stopped whatever they’d been doing and come here. They were all talking. They sounded excited. I couldn’t make out a word. But I sensed from their tone that something momentous was about to happen. In spite of my fears, I slowly convinced myself it could not be Anathem. People would not be talking so much if they had gathered to watch one of their number be Thrown Back.
The service began. There was no music. I could make out the Primate speaking familiar phrases in Old Orth: a formal summoning of the concent. Then he switched to New Orth, and read out some formula that by its nature had to have been written around the time of the Reconstitution. At the end of it he called out distinctly: “Voco Fraa Paphlagon of the Centenarian Chapter of the Order of Saunt Edhar.”
So this was the aut of Voco. It was only the third one I’d ever heard. The first two had occurred when I’d been about ten years old.
As I absorbed that, a gasp and then a deep moan welled up from the floor of the chancel: the gasp, I reckoned, from most of the avout, and the moan from the Hundreders who were losing their brother forever.
And now I did something crazy, but I knew I could get away with it: I stepped over the threshold of my cell. I crossed the walkway, and looked over the railing.
Only three people were in the chancel: Statho in his purple robes and Varax and Onali, identifiable by their hats. The rest of the place, hidden behind the screens, was in an uproar that had stopped the aut.
I’d only meant to peek over the rail for an instant so that I could see what was going on. But I had not been struck by lightning. No alarm had sounded.
Come to think of it,
Then why hadn’t the Warden Regulant’s staff come and rousted me? It had probably been an oversight, I reckoned. They didn’t have procedures for this. If they were like me, they hadn’t even recognized the changes. They hadn’t realized it was Voco until it had started—and then it had been too late for them to come up and fetch me. They were stuck down there until it was over.
I was free to move about, at least for a little while, as long as I was back in my cell when the Warden Regulant and her staff trudged back up here. Whereupon I’d be in trouble anyway for having ignored Voco! So why not get in trouble for something that people would be talking about in the Refectory fifty years from now?
All of those exercises I’d been doing were going to pay off. I tore around the walkway, took the stairs up through the Fendant court three at a time, and so came into the lower reaches of the chronochasm. Here I had to move with greater care so as not to clatter and bang on the metal stairs. But by the same token I had a clear view down, so I could keep track of what was going on. Nothing had changed that I could see, but a new sound was rising up the well: the hymn of mourning and farewell, addressed by the Hundreders to their departing brother. This had taken a little while to get underway. No one had it memorized. They’d had to rummage for rarely-used hymnals and page through them looking for the right bit. Then it took them a minute to get the hang of it, for this was a five-part harmony. By the time the hymn really fell together and began to work, I was halfway to the starhenge—clambering up behind the dials of the clock, trying to stay collected, trying to move as Lio would, and not let the end of my bolt get caught between gears. The song of mourning and farewell was really hair-raising—even more emotional, somehow, than what we sang at funerals. Of course I had not the faintest idea who Fraa Paphlagon was, what he was like, or what he studied. But those who were singing did, and part of the power of this music was that it made me feel what they felt.
And—given that Fraa Paphlagon and I were both striking out alone for unknown territory—perhaps I felt a little of what
The main floor of the starhenge was just above my head now—I’d come up against the inward curve of the vault that spanned the top of the Pr?sidium and supported all that rested on its top. A few shafts penetrated the stonework, delivering power to the polar drives. A stair spiraled around the largest of these. I ran to the top of it and rested my hand on a door latch. Before passing through, I looked down to check the progress of the aut. The door through the Centenarians’ screen had been opened. Fraa Paphlagon stepped out into the middle and stood there alone. The door closed behind him.
At the same moment I opened the door to the starhenge. Daylight flooded through. I cringed. How could this possibly go unnoticed?
Calm down, I told myself, only four people are in the well where they can see this. And all eyes are on Fraa Paphlagon.
Looking down one more time, I discovered a flaw in that logic. All eyes were on Fraa Paphlagon—
I could not read his facial expression at this distance. But he must have seen the light flooding through the open door.
He stood frozen for a moment, thinking, then slowly lowered his gaze to face Statho. “I, Fraa Paphlagon, answer your call,” he said—the first line in a litany that would go on for another minute or two.
I passed onto the starhenge and closed the door softly behind me.
I had been expecting that everything would be filmed with dust and speckled with bird droppings—Orolo’s fids spent an inordinate amount of time up here keeping things clean. But it wasn’t too bad. Someone must have been coming up here to look after it.
I came to the windowless blockhouse that served as laboratory, passed through its light-blocking triple doors, and fetched a photomnemonic tablet, blanked and wrapped in a dust jacket.
What image should I record on it? I had no clue what it was that the hierarchs didn’t want us to see, so I had no way of knowing where I should aim a telescope.
Actually, I had a pretty good idea what it must be: a large asteroid headed in our direction. That was the only thing I could imagine that would account for the closure of the starhenge. But this didn’t help me. I couldn’t take a picture of such a rock unless I aimed Mithra and Mylax directly at it, which was impossible unless I knew its orbital elements to a high degree of precision. To say nothing of the fact that aiming the big telescope in these circumstances would draw everyone’s attention.
But there was another instrument that didn’t need to be aimed, because it couldn’t move: Clesthyra’s Eye. I started jogging toward the Pinnacle as soon as this idea entered my head.
As I climbed the spiral stair, I had plenty of time to review all of the reasons that this was unlikely to work. Clesthyra’s Eye could see half of the universe, from horizon to horizon, it was true. The fixed stars showed up as circular streaks, owing to the rotation of Arbre on its axis. Fast-moving objects showed up as straight paths of light. But the track made by even a large asteroid would be vanishingly faint, and not very long.
By the time I’d reached the top of the Pinnacle, I’d put these quibbles out of my mind. This was the only tool I had. I had to give it a try. Later I’d sort through the results and see what I could see.
Beneath the fisheye lens was a slot carved to the exact dimensions of the tablet in my hand. I broke the seal on the dust jacket, reached in, and got my palm under the opaque base of the tablet. I drew off the dust jacket. The wind tore it out of my grip and slapped it against the wall, just out of reach. The tablet was a featureless disk, like the blank used for grinding a telescope mirror, but darker—as if cast in obsidian. When I activated its remembrance function, its bottom-most layer turned the same color as the sun, for that was the origin of all the light now striking the tablet’s surface. Because the tablet was out in the open with no lenses or mirrors to organize the light coming into it, it could not form an image of anything it saw—not of the bleak winter sun lobbing across the southern sky, not of the icy clouds high in the north, and not of my face.
But that was about to change, and so before doing anything else I drew my bolt over my head and shaped it into a long dark tunnel. If this precaution actually turned out to be
I introduced the tablet into the slot below the Eye and slid it home, then closed the dust cover behind it. It would now record everything the Eye saw—beginning with a distorted image of my bolt-covered backside scurrying out of view—until it filled up, which at its current settings would take a couple of months.
Then I’d have to come back up here and retrieve it—a small problem I had not even begun to think about.
As I was descending the Pinnacle, thinking about this, something big and loud and fast clattered across the empty space between me and the Millenarians’ crag. It scared the life out of me. It was a thousand feet away, but it felt as immediate as a slap in the face. In tracking its progress, I sacrificed my balance and had to collapse my legs to avoid toppling from the rail-less stair. It was a type of aerocraft that could rotate its stubby wings and turn into a two-bladed helicopter. It made a slicing downward arc, as if using the Mynster as a pylon, and settled into a steep glide path aimed at the plaza before the Day Gate. My view of this was blocked from here, so I rose carefully to my feet, ran down to the base of the Pinnacle, then sprinted across the lid of the starhenge. Realizing that I was about to hurl myself from the Pr?sidium—something I no longer cared to do—I aimed myself at one of the megaliths, put on the brakes, and stopped myself by slamming into it with my hands. Then I peered around its corner just in time to see the aerocraft—rotors now pointed up—settling in for a landing on the plaza. The rotor wash made visible patterns in the surface of the pond and splayed the twin fountains.
A few moments later, two purple-robed figures came into view, having just emerged from the Day Gate. Varax and Onali stripped off their hats so that the wind from the rotors wouldn’t do it for them. Two paces behind was Fraa Paphlagon, leaning forward into the hurricane and hugging himself, clawing up handfuls of wayward bolt so that he wouldn’t be stripped nude. Varax and Onali paused flanking the aerocraft’s door and turned back to look at him. Each extended an arm and they helped Paphlagon clamber inside. Then they piled in behind him. Some automatic mechanism pulled the hatch closed even as the rotors were spinning up and the aerocraft beginning to lose its grip on the plaza. Then the pilot rammed the throttles home and the thing jumped fifty feet into the air in a few heartbeats. The wings tilted. It took on some forward velocity and accelerated up and away over the pond and the burgers’ town, then banked away to the west.
It was just about the coolest thing I’d ever seen and I couldn’t wait to talk about it in the Refectory with my friends.
Then I remembered that I was an escaped prisoner.
By the time I got into the chronochasm, Voco was long since over. The sound of voices still crowded the well, but it was dwindling rapidly as the naves emptied. Most were leaving the Mynster but some would ascend the stairs in the corner towers to resume their work in the Wardens’ courts. I banged and clanged in my haste. As I got lower, though, I had to be more judicious in my movements in spite of the fear that the quickest of the climbers would get there before I could.
The first ones up were two young hierarchs on the Warden Fendant’s staff who were climbing as fast as they could in the hope that they could get to their balcony and catch a glimpse of the aerocraft before it flew out of sight. I reached the Fendant court from above just before they reached it from below. Caught on the walkway, I looked for a place to hide. This level of the Mynster was cluttered with things that only a Warden Fendant could think of as ornaments: mostly, busts and statues of dead heroes. The most awful of these was a life-sized bronze of Amnectrus, who had been the Warden Fendant at the moment of the Third Sack. He was depicted in the pose where he’d spent the last twenty hours of his life, kneeling behind a parapet peering through the optics of a rifle that was as long as he was tall. Amnectrus was cast in bronze but the rifle and the lake of spent shell-casings in which he was immersed were actual relics. The pedestal was his sarcophagus. I dove behind it. The two fleet-footed ones sprinted down the walkway, headed for the west side of the balcony. They passed right by me. I got up, took the long way round to avoid any more such, and plunged down the steps to the Regulant court. I dove to the floor behind the half-wall that ran around the walkway, then levered myself up to hands and knees. In that attitude I scurried round until I found my cell. I’d never thought I’d be happy to see the place.
Now there was only the small problem that I was streaming with sweat, my chest was heaving, my heart was throbbing like the rotors of that aerocraft, I had abrasions on my knees and palms, and was trembling with exhaustion and nervousness. There was only so much I could do. I used some blank leaves to wipe sweat from my face, drew my bolt around me to cover as much as I could, and arranged myself on my sphere before my window, back to the doorway, as if I’d been gazing out at the scene below. Then it was just a matter of trying to control my breathing as I waited for the moment when someone from the Warden Regulant’s staff came to look in on me.
I turned around. It was Suur Trestanas—looking a bit flushed herself from the climb.
She stepped into the cell. I had not spoken to her since Tenth Night. She seemed oddly normal and human now—as if we were just two cordial acquaintances having a chat.
“Mm-hmm?” I said, afraid to say more in case my voice would sound funny.
“Do you have any idea what just happened?”
“It’s difficult to make out from here. It sounded almost like Voco.”
I attempted to look aghast. Maybe this was easy given the state I was in. Or maybe she wanted me to be aghast so badly that she was easily fooled. Anyway, she let a few moments go by so that I could twist in the wind. Then she said: “I’m not going to throw the Book at you, not this time, even though it is technically a serious offense.”
“Thank you, Suur Trestanas,” I said. “In the unlikely event that we have another Voco while I’m here, should I go down for it?”
“That is correct,” she said, “and view it from behind the Primate’s screen. Return here immediately afterward.”
“Unless it’s I whose name gets called,” I said.
She wasn’t looking for humor in this situation and so this only flustered her. Then she was annoyed at having become flustered. “How are you progressing on Chapter Five?” she asked.
“I hope I’ll be ready for examination in one or two weeks,” I said.
Then I wondered how I was going to retrieve that tablet from Clesthyra’s Eye and sneak it out of here in that amount of time.
Suur Trestanas actually showed me the beginnings of a smile before she took her leave. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the two Inquisitors had just left, and whatever strange motivation lay behind her throwing the Book at me had departed along with them. Anyway, I got the idea that for all intents and purposes my punishment was finished now, and the rest was just a formality. This made me most impatient to get on with it. During the rest of the day I made more progress on Chapter Five than I had in the previous week.
The next day Eliger rang again. Two more joined the Edharians, two the New Circle, and again the Reformed Old Faanians came up with nothing.
One of the names called out for the New Circle was Lio. I was astonished by this, and wondered for a time if I’d heard it right. It’s difficult to say why, because it made perfect sense. Lio was an obvious candidate for Warden Fendant. His fight with the slines on Tenth Night must have impressed Fraa Delrakhones to no end. Working for the Warden Fendant meant being a hierarch, and for some reason that was associated with being in the New Circle. So why did it surprise me? Because (as I figured out, lying awake on my pallet that night) Lio and I had been on the same Provener team for so long that I’d grown used to his being there, and had assumed that he and I and Jesry and Arsibalt would always be together in the same group. And I had believed that they shared these feelings and assumptions. But feelings can change, and I was beginning to see that they had been changing rapidly while I’d been up in this cell.
Two days later, Arsibalt joined the Reformed Old Faanians. It was just dumb luck that no one down below heard me yelling,
The only thing for it was to get out of this cell. I gave up on daily exercise and stopped writing the journal and did nothing but study Chapter Five after that. By the time I gave word that I was ready to be examined, eleven had joined the Edharians, nine the New Circle, and six the Reformed Old Faanians. My options, assuming I still had any, were narrowing by the hour. In my gloomier moments I wondered if throwing the Book at me had been a sort of recruiting tactic on the part of Suur Trestanas—a way of forcing me to join some non-Edharian order and thereby pushing me down the path that would lead to my toiling in the Primate’s compound as a lesser hierarch, always under someone’s thumb. Ordinary fraas and suurs answered to no one except the Discipline. But hierarchs were in a chain of command: it was the price they paid for the powers they wielded.
My examination took place the next day, following an Eliger in which one more went to the New Circle and three to the Reformed Old Faanians. Of those, two were what Arsibalt had had in mind when he had spoken of floor-sweepings. One was unusually bright. Of my crop, only I and one other now remained. Since I hadn’t been writing names down, I probably would have lost track, by this point, of who the other one was—if not for the fact that it was Tulia.
The examiners numbered three. Suur Trestanas was not among them. At first I was relieved by this, then irritated. I had just sacrificed a month of my life doing this penance, and thrown away any chance I’d ever had of getting into the Order of Saunt Edhar. The least she could have done was show up.
They began by asking me some trick questions about Chapter Two in the hopes that I’d have rushed through it on the first day and then forgotten it. But I had anticipated this, and had spent a couple of hours reviewing the first three chapters the day before.
When I recited the 127th through 283rd digits of pi, the fight went out of them. We only spent two hours on Chapter Five. This was exceptionally lenient. But Eliger had pushed everything back to late in the day. We were nearing the solstice, so it got dark early, which made it seem even later. I could actually hear the examiners’ stomachs growling. The head of the panel was Fraa Spelikon, a hierarch in his seventh decade who’d been passed over for Warden Regulant in favor of Suur Trestanas. At the last minute he seemed to decide I hadn’t been grilled hard enough, and began putting up a fight. But I snapped out an answer to his first question, and the other two examiners said with their postures and their tones of voice that it was over. Spelikon snatched up his spectacles, held them in front of his face, and read something from an old leaf that said my penance was over and I was free to go.
Though it felt later, a whole hour remained before dinner. I asked if I could go back to my cell to collect some notes I had left there. Spelikon wrote out a pass giving me permission to remain in the Regulant court until the dinner hour.
I thanked them, took my leave, and walked around to my cell, waving my pass at any hierarchs who crossed my path. By the time I had reached my cell and pulled my journal out from beneath my pallet, an idea—which had not even existed thirty seconds earlier as I had bid goodbye to the examiners—had flourished inside my head and taken control of my brain. Why not sneak up to the starhenge right now and collect that tablet?
Of course my better sense prevailed. I wrapped my journal up in the free end of my bolt and walked out of that cell—forever, I hoped. Fifty paces down the walkway took me to the southwest corner, the head of the Tenners’ stair. A few fraas and suurs were passing up and down, getting ready for a change of guard at the Fendant court. I stood aside to make way for one who was on his way up. He was hooded, and not looking where he was going. Then my feet came into his view. He pulled his hood back to reveal a freshly shaved head. It was Lio.
There was so much to say that neither of us knew where to begin, so we just stared at each other and made incoherent sounds for a few moments. Which was probably just as well since I didn’t want to say
“You have to talk to Tulia,” he muttered, as we were ascending to the Fendant court. “You have to talk to Orolo. You have to talk to
“Going to your new job?”
“Delrakhones has me doing an internship. Hey, Raz, where the heck are you going?”
“But that’s—” He grabbed my arm. “Hey, idiot, you could be Thrown Back!”
“It’s more important that I do this than that I not be Thrown Back,” I said. Which was pretty stupid, but I was feeling rebellious and not thinking very hard. “I’ll explain it to you later.”
I had led Lio off the inner walkway, which was too crowded for comfort, and out toward the periphery of the Fendant court as if we were going to stand on the ledge. Along the way we had to pass through a narrow arch. He made an after-you gesture. I stepped into the arch—and realized at the same instant that I’d just turned my back on him. By the time that had penetrated my brain, he had my arm wrapped up the wrong way. I had a choice: move, and spend the next two months with my arm in a sling, or not move. I chose not to move.
My tongue still worked. “Good to see you again, Thistlehead. First you get me in trouble—now this.”
“You got your own self in trouble. Now I’m going to make sure you don’t do it again.”
“Is this how they do things in the New Circle?”
“You shouldn’t even try to speak of how Eliger came out until you know what’s going on.”
“Well, if you’ll let go of me so I can get up to the starhenge, my next step will be the Refectory where I’ll get all the latest.”
“Huh,” I said, “no wonder it’s so clean up there.”
“Let go! I promise I won’t go any farther up,” I said.
Lio released my arm. I slowly and judiciously got it arranged in a more human position before standing up to face him.
“What did you see?” Lio wanted to know.
“Nothing yet, but there’s a tablet up there I have to retrieve that might—
He considered it. “That will be a challenging operation.”
“Is that a promise, Lio?”
“Just an observation.”
“Do those Ita go up there on some kind of a predictable schedule?”
Lio parted his lips to answer, then got a shrewd look on his face and said, “I’m not going to tell you that.” Then something occurred to him. “Look, I’m late.”
“Since when do you care about
“A lot has changed. I have to go.
He turned to look back at me.
“Who was Fraa Paphlagon?”
“He taught Fraa Orolo half of what he knew.”
“Who taught him the other half?” I asked, but Lio was already gone. For a minute I stood there listening to the upward progress of the Ita, wondering whether they checked the equipment for tablets. Wondering where I could get myself an Ita disguise.
Then my stomach growled. As if it were wired directly to my feet, I headed for the Refectory.
It had been ten years and a couple of months since I had watched a moving picture, but I could still remember a kind of scene where a spaceman walks into a starport bar, or a steppe rider into a dusty saloon, and all goes silent for a few moments. That was how it was when I entered the Refectory.
I had arrived early—a mistake, since it gave me no way of controlling who I would sit with. A few of the Edharians had come early and staked out tables, but they glanced away from me when I tried to catch their eye. I got in the queue behind a couple of Edharian cosmographers, but they turned their backs on me and put on a show of discussing, with great intensity, some new proof that they had found in the ten years’ worth of books and journals that had been dumped on the threshold of the library at Apert.
It was the Reformed Old Faanians’ night to serve dinner. Arsibalt gave me an extra dollop of stew and shook my hand—the first warm greeting I had received. We agreed to talk later. He seemed happy.
I decided to sit down at an empty table and see what happened. Within a few minutes, fraas and suurs of the New Circle began to cluster around me, and each had some jovial remark to throw my way about my time in the cell.
After a quarter of an hour, Fraa Corlandin showed up cradling something old, dark, and crusty, like a mummified infant. He set it down on the table and peeled off some wrappings. It was an ancient firkin of wine. “From our chapterhouse to you, Fraa Erasmas,” he announced, in lieu of a greeting. “One who has endured extraordinary penance deserves an extraordinary libation. This won’t give you those weeks back. But it will help you forget everything about the Book!”
Corlandin was being a little bit clever. I was glad of it. Given his liaison with Suur Trestanas—which I assumed was still going on—this moment was bound to be awkward. The wine was both a kind gesture and a way of sliding past that awkwardness. Though as he fussed with the stopper I felt a little uneasy. Was this also meant to be a celebration of my joining their order?
Fraa Corlandin seemed to be reading my mind. “This is strictly to celebrate your freedom—not to encroach on it!” he said.
Someone else had fetched a wooden case and opened it to reveal a matched set of silver thimbles, each engraved with the crest of the New Circle. A fraa and a suur plucked these one by one from their velvet-lined niches and polished them with their bolts. Corlandin busied himself with the stopper, a brittle contraption of clay and beeswax, difficult to remove without shattering it and contaminating the wine. Just to watch Fraa Corlandin was to feel a link to a time when concents had been richer, classier, more well-endowed, and—though this made no sense at all—somehow
The cask was obviously made of Vrone oak, which meant that the wine inside of it had been made, in some other concent, from the juice of the library grape, and sent here to age.
The library grape had been sequenced by the avout of the Concent of the Lower Vrone in the days before the Second Sack. Every cell carried in its nucleus the genetic sequences, not just of a single species, but of every naturally occurring species of grape that the Vrone avout had ever heard of—and if those people hadn’t heard of a grape, it wasn’t worth knowing about. In addition, it carried excerpts from the genetic sequences of thousands of different berries, fruits, flowers, and herbs: just those snatches of data that, when invoked by the biochemical messaging system of the host cell, produced flavorful molecules. Each nucleus was an archive, vaster than the Great Library of Baz, storing codes for shaping almost every molecule nature had ever produced that left an impression on the human olfactory system.
A given vine could not express all of those genes at once—it could not be a hundred different species of grape at the same time—so it “decided” which of those genes to express—what grape to be, and what flavors to borrow—based on some impossibly murky and ambiguous data-gathering and decision-making process that the Vrone avout had hand-coded into its proteins. No nuance of sun, soil, weather, or wind was too subtle for the library grape to take into account. Nothing that the cultivator did, or failed to do, went undetected or failed to have its consequences in the flavor of the juice. The library grape was legendary for its skill in penetrating the subterfuges of winemakers who were so arrogant as to believe they could trick it into being the same grape two seasons in a row. The only people who had ever really understood it had been lined up against a wall and shot during the Second Sack. Many modern winemakers chose to play it safe and use old-fashioned grapes. Developing a fruitful relationship with the library grape was left to fanatics like Fraa Orolo, who had made it his avocation. Of course, library grapes hated the conditions at Saunt Edhar, and were still reacting to an incident fifty years ago when Orolo’s predecessor had pruned the vines incorrectly, poisoning the soil with bad memories encoded in pheromones. The grapes chose to grow up small, pale, and bitter. The resulting wine was an acquired taste, and we didn’t even try to sell it.
We had better luck with trees and casks. For while the Vrone avout had been busy creating the library grape, their fraas and suurs a few miles up the valley at the rustic math of Upper Vrone Forest had been at similar pains with the trees that were traditionally fashioned into casks. The cells of the Vrone oak’s heart-wood—still half alive, even after the tree had been chopped down, sliced into staves, and bound into a cask—sampled the molecules drifting around in the wine, releasing some, making others percolate outward until they precipitated on the outside of the cask as fragrant sheens, rinds, and encrustations. This wood was as choosy about the conditions under which it was stored as the library grape was about weather and soil, so a winemaker who treated the casks poorly, and didn’t provide them with the stimulation they liked, would be punished by finding them crusted and oozing with all the most desirable resins, sugars, and tannins, with nothing left on the inside of the cask but cleaning solvent. The wood liked the same range of temperature and humidity as humans, and its cellular structure was responsive to vibrations. The casks, like musical instruments, resonated in sympathy with the human voice, and so wine that had been stored in a vault used for choir rehearsals would taste different from that stashed along the walls of a dining room. The climate at Saunt Edhar’s was well suited to growing Vrone oaks. Better yet, we were somewhat renowned for our prowess with aging. Casks felt comfortable in our Refectory and our Mynster, and responded warmly to all the talking and singing. Less fortunate concents shipped their casks here to age. We ended up with some pretty good stuff. We weren’t really supposed to drink it, but every so often we would cheat a little.
Corlandin got the stopper out without incident and decanted the wine into a blown-quartz laboratory flask, and from there served it out into the thimbles. The first of these was passed to me, but I knew better than to drink from it right away. Everyone at the table had to get one—last of all Fraa Corlandin, who raised his, looked me in the eye, and said, “To Fraa Erasmas, on the occasion of his freedom—long may it last, richly may he enjoy it, wisely may he use it.”
Then clinking all around. I was uneasy about the “wisely may he use it” part, but I drank anyway.
The stuff was tremendous, like drinking your favorite book. The others had all stood for the toast. Now they sat down, allowing me to see the rest of the Refectory. Some tables were watching the toast and hoisting tankards of whatever they were drinking. Others were involved in their own conversations. Standing around the edges of the place, mostly alone, were the ones I most wanted to talk to: Orolo, Jesry, Tulia, and Haligastreme.
Dinner became quite long, and not very ascetic. They kept refilling my glass. I felt very well taken care of.
“Someone get him to his pallet,” I heard a fraa saying, “he’s finished.”
Hands were under my arms, helping me to my feet. I let them escort me as far as the Cloister before I shook them off.
My time in the Mynster had made me well aware of which parts of the concent could not be seen from the Warden Regulant’s windows. I made several orbits around the Cloister, just to clear my head, and then went into the garden and sat down on a bench that was shielded from view.
“Are you even a sentient being at this point or should I wait until the morning?” a voice asked. I looked over to discover that Tulia had joined me. I was pretty sure she had woken me up.
“Please,” I said, and patted the bench next to me. Tulia sat down but kept her distance, the better to get a thigh up on the bench and turn sideways to face me.
“I’m glad you’re out,” she said, “a lot has been going on.”
“So I gathered,” I said. “Is there any way to sum it up quickly?”
“Something’s…funny with Orolo. No one knows what.”
“Come on! The starhenge has been locked! What else is there to know?”
“That’s obvious,” she said, a little bit annoyed at my tone, “but no one knows why. We think Orolo knows, but he’s not telling.”
“It has been shaping Eliger. Some fids who were expected to join the Edharians have gone to other orders.”
“I noticed that. Why? What’s the logic?”
“I’m not so sure it
“Rethink it how?”
“It got everyone thinking politically. They made decisions they might not have done otherwise. For one thing, it cast doubt on the wisdom of joining the Edharians.”
“You mean because they are on the outs politically?”
“I’m starting to get it,” I said. “So a guy like Arsibalt, by going to the Reformed Old Faanians, who want him desperately—”
“I noticed he was serving the main course at supper.” That was an honor normally reserved for senior fraas.
“He could become the FAE. Or a hierarch. Maybe even Primate. And he could fight some of the idiotic things that have been going on lately.”
“So the ones who
“Are the best of the best.”
“We’re going to screen you Edharians, protect you on the political front, so that you can be free to do what you do best,” I said.
“Uh, that’s the gist of it—but who’s this ‘you’ and ‘we’ you’re talking about?”
“Clearly where this is going is that tomorrow you join the Edharians and I join the New Circle.”
“That’s what everyone
“That’s an awfully blunt way of putting it.”
“I can’t believe the Edharians want me that badly.”
“If they held a secret ballot, well, it’s not clear that they would vote for you over me. I’m sorry, Raz, but I have to be honest. A lot of the suurs in particular want me to join them.”
“Why don’t we
“It is considered impossible. I don’t know the particulars—but some sort of deal has been made between Corlandin and Haligastreme. It’s decided.”
“If the Edharians don’t want me, why are we even discussing this?” I asked. “Did you see that keg the New Circle tapped for me? They want me bad. So why don’t I join them and you go to the loving embrace of the suurs of the Edharian chapter?”
“Because it’s not what Orolo wants. He says he needs you as part of his team.”
That affected me so much that between it and the wine I almost cried. I sat quietly for a while.
“Well,” I said, “Orolo doesn’t know everything about what is going on.”
“What are you talking about?”
I looked around. The Cloister was too small and quiet for my taste. “Let’s go for a walk,” I said.
I said no more until we were on the other side of the river, strolling in the moon-shadow of the wall, and then I told her about what I had done during Voco.
“Well!” she said, after a long silence. “That settles that, anyway.”
“What settles what?”
“You have to go to the Edharians.”
“Tulia, first of all, no one knows besides you and Lio. Second, I’ll probably never come up with a way to retrieve the tablet. Third, it’s probably not going to contain any useful information!”
“Details,” she scoffed. “You’re missing my whole point. What you did shows that Orolo is correct. You do belong on his team.”
“What about you? Where do you belong, Tulia?”
She wasn’t comfortable with that. I had to ask her again.
“What happened, on Tenth Night, happened. All of us made decisions. Maybe later we’ll think better of them.”
“And to what extent is this seen as my fault?”
“I don’t like the way you are thinking about this at all,” she said. “It’s like the rest of us became adults while you were up there—and you didn’t.”
That one made me stop in my tracks and blow air for a while. Tulia kept going for a couple of paces, then rounded on me. “To what extent is this seen as my fault?” she said, mimicking me. “Who cares? It’s done. It’s over.”
“I care because it has a big effect on how I am seen by the rest of the Edharians—”
“Okay,” I said, “sorry, but I’ve always thought of you as a person others could talk to about those kinds of feelings—”
“You think I want to spend the rest of my life being that person? For everyone in the concent?”
“Apparently you don’t.”
“All right. We’re done. You go find Haligastreme. I’ll find Corlandin. We’ll tell them that we are joining their respective orders tomorrow.”
“Okay,” I said with a fake-nonchalant shrug, and turned around to walk back toward the bridge. Tulia caught up with me and fell in step alongside. I was silent for a while—a little bit distracted by the prospect of joining a chapter that didn’t want me, many of whose members might blame me for taking Tulia’s place.
Some part of me wanted to hate Tulia for being so hard on me. But by the time we had crossed over the bridge, that voice, I’m happy to say, had been silenced. I was to hear it again from time to time in the future, but I would do my best to ignore it. I was scared to death to be joining the Edharians under these circumstances. But to forge ahead and just do it without leaning on Tulia’s, or anyone else’s, shoulder felt better—felt right. As when you just know you’re on the right track with a theorical proof, and all the rest is details. A splinter of the beauty Orolo had spoken of was reaching out toward me through the dark, and I would follow it like a road.
“Do you want to talk to Orolo?” was Fraa Haligastreme’s question, after I broke the news to him. He wasn’t surprised. He wasn’t overjoyed. He wasn’t anything except tired. Just looking at his face in the candlelight of the Old Chapterhouse told me how exhausting the last few weeks had been for him.
I considered it. Talking to Orolo seemed like such an obvious thing to do, and yet I’d made no move to do it. Considering how the conversation had gone with Tulia, I was no longer inclined to stay up half the night telling people about my feelings.
“Where is he?”
“I believe he is in the meadow with Jesry conducting naked-eye observations.”
“Then I don’t think I’ll disturb them,” I said.
Haligastreme seemed to draw energy from my words.
“Tulia is correct,” Haligastreme said.
“Then here is where I want to be, even if the welcome is lukewarm.”
“If it seems that way to you, it’s largely out of concern for your own well-being,” he said.
“I’m not sure I believe that.”
“All right,” he said, a bit irritated, “maybe some don’t want you for other reasons. You used the word
“Are you one of those?”
“Yes. We, the lukewarm, are only concerned—”
“That I won’t be able to keep up.”
“Well, even if that’s how it works out, you can always come to me if you need to know some digits of pi.”
Haligastreme did me the courtesy of chuckling.
“Look,” I said, “I know you’re worried about this. I’ll make it work. I owe that much to Arsibalt and Lio and Tulia.”
“They’ve sacrificed something to make the concent work better in the future. Maybe with the result that the next generation of hierarchs will be better than what we have now—and will leave the Edharians to work in peace.”
“Unless,” said Fraa Haligastreme, “being hierarchs changes them.”