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David Drake - The General 7 - The Reformer

By Alfred White,2014-06-11 23:20
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David Drake - The General 7 - The Reformer

Drake, David - The Reformer

ONE

    The High City of Solinga had been the core of the ancient town once; first a

    warlord's castle, then the seat of the city council. Three centuries ago, when

    Solinga was capital of the Emerald League, several million arnkets of the

    League's treasury had mysteriously found their way into a building program to

    turn it into a shrine to the city's godsto the Gray-Eyed Lady of the

    Stars,

    first and foremost.

    Money well stolen and spent, Adrian Gellert thought, as the procession mounted

    the broad flight of marble stairs that led to the plateau. Right hand tucked

    into the snowy folds of his robe, left hand holding the gold-capped scroll that

    marked him as a Scholar of the Grove, he kept to the slow hieratic pace suitable

    for a religious occasion. About him gulls swooped and shrieked; before him stood

    the cream-white marble pillars, the golden roofs, the great forty-foot statue of

    the Maiden holding Her bronze-tipped spear aloft to guide the mariners home.

    Behind him was the tarry workaday reality of Solinga smelling of fish and offal

    and sea salt, narrow crooked streets and whitewashed walls peeling to show the

    mud brick, tile roofs and only occasionally the walls and colonnades and

    courtyard gardens of the rich. But here, amid the scent of incense and the light

    silvery tones of hand bells, was the ideal the reality served. We may have fallen from our forefathers' power, but this at least we can

    saythat we alone gave godlike things to the gods, he thought with a melancholy

    pride that edged out the anxiety and grief of his father's funeral. The procession halted as a priest confronted them, a blue-edged fold of his

    blanketlike mantle over his head like a hood. "Why do you come to this holy

    place?"

    "To render homage to the Goddess, in such seemly wise as is allowed to mortal

    men," Adrian's uncle said, speaking as the eldest adult male of the Gellert

    clan. Besides, he was paying for the ceremony. "In memory of Ektar Gellert, a

    free citizen of this city, that the Maiden may judge him kindly; and in the name

    of his sons, Esmond and Adrian Gellert, that She may watch over them in the

    trials of life."

    "Come, then, and do worship."

    The procession resumed; Adrian, his brother Esmond, uncles, cousins, grandfathers, hangers-on, with hired musicians following behind playing

    double-pipes and lyres. Pilgrims and priests and citizens making sacrifice

    parted before them. Their sandals scuffed across the pavement, slabs of

    white-veined green marble edged with gold. They passed the Plinth of Victories,

    a huge column set with the beaks of captured warships; past the black-basalt

    fane of Wodep the War God, the pink and gold marble of Etat the All-Father, and

    at last to the great raised rectangle of the Maiden's fane. It was a simple

    affair of giant white columns, each ending in a riot of golden acanthus leaves.

    The roof was copper-green tiles, and all around from pediment to architrave ran

    mosaic panels done in gold glass, lapis, amber and semiprecious stones. Some

    showed the Goddess giving Her gifts to menfire, the plow, the olive,

    ships, the

    art of writing. Others were scenes from the Five Year Festival, the city's

    knights on their velipads, the Year Maidens bringing the great embroidered

    shawl, the athletes naked in their iron pride.

    "Follow, then," the priest said.

    Hot charcoal fires burned in a pair of tall tripods of fretted bronze. Gravely,

    Esmond and Adrian strode up the steps. Each took a silver bowl from the

    acolytes, pouring a stream of translucent grains into the white-glowing bed.

    Fragrant smoke rose, bitter and spicy.

    The others drew up a fold of their mantles to cover their heads as the priest

    raised his hands; the Goddess' moon was visible over the horns of the roof, the

    other two moons being below the horizon at this hour. Adrian's uncle led the

    sacrifice forward, a white-feathered greatbeast with four gilded horns and a

    myrtle wreath around each. It came to the altar willingly enoughdrugged,

    he

    thought: no sense in courting a bad omenand collapsed almost

    soundlessly as the

    broadaxe flashed home with a wet, heavy thud on its neck. Slowly, the tall ebony and silver doors of the temple slid open, rolling soundlessly on bronze bearings. Adrian's mind reflexively murmured three

    citations and an epic poem on the building of the Maiden's Temple; all of them

    described the effect, and all of them inaccurately as far as he knew. The cult

    image came forth on brass rails set into the marble of the pronacs floor, gliding with oil-bath smoothness. It was hidden in a tall cedarwood and silver

    shrine, emblazoned with the full moon on all sides. At a touch the sides sank

    down to reveal a rock. Black, slagged and metallic-looking in spots with a trace

    of rust, a metorite and very ancient.

    Adrian Gellert had long since been trained in the precepts of the Grove; that

    God was Number and Form, and all the lesser images merely avatars or imaginings

    of men unable to conceive of the One. God did not need to Do, only to Bebut he

    still felt a trace of numinous awe as he extended his hand. And of course a

    gentleman showed respect for the ancient cults.

"Scholar of the Grove"

    Adrian held up the scroll in his left hand.

    "Scholar of the Blade"

    His brother Esmond raised his sheathed sword.

    "Receive the blessing of the Goddess, your patron."

    Adrian closed his eyes and let the hand rest on the sacred rock. It was cool,

    cooler than it should have been, and

    * * *

    Where am I? Where am I?

    He thought he screamed the words, but he had no lungs. No eyes, for surely even

    the darkest night at the bottom of the silver mines of Flowerhill was brighter

    than this. He was nothing but Fear, adrift in a world of midnight. Stroke. Heart

    attack.

    Compose yourself, he thought sharply. Remember that anything that can happen,

    can happen to you. All men are initiates of the mysteries of death. That was the comfort of philosophy, but a little hard to remember when one was

    only twenty-one.

    Light. He blinked . . . and saw a room around him. Furnished in an alien style,

    strange padded furniture, a fire burning in an enclosed brick space in one wall,

    tables and chairs of subtly foreign make. And a man standing there, a dark man

    with bowl-cut black hair. Odd clothes, something like those worn in the Western

    Isles, or even among the Southron barbarians; trousers, those marks of the

    savage, a curious tailored coat of blue with tails dangling behind. A curved

    sword and a holster with something rather like a carpenter's tool were lying on

    one table.

    Either I have gone mad, or something very strange has happened, Adrian thought.

    He was conscious of his own terror, but it was distant, muted. He looked down at

    himself, and he was there againnot in the snowy draped robe of ceremony, but in

    an everyday tunic, with inkhorn and pen case slung from his belt. "Adrian Gellert," the oddly-dressed man said; he spoke good Emerald, with a hint

    of a soft accent. "What is it that you desire?"

    It was the manner of the Academy to teach with questions. He closed his lips on

    his own enquiries, on the fleeting ephemeral desires of every day, on the

    anxieties of his father's untimely death. That question had asked for truth.

    Perhaps there was truth in the old stories of Divine intervention in the lives

    of men.

    "I want to know," he blurted.

    The dark man nodded.

    * * *

    "An excellent dinner. Many thanks, Samul," Esmond said, from his couch across

    the table.

    Adrian nodded and murmured something. His brother-in-law Samul Mcson had been a

    catch for his sister Alzabeta. A catch of sorts; the Mcson family was important

    in the dye trade and had a fish-sauce works whose products were sold by name as

    far away as Vanbert, the Confederacy capital. He'd never liked the man, and the

    sneer on the heavy fleshy features showed the feeling was returned. Also there

    was honey-glaze sauce on the front of his robe, which was rose-colored silk from

    the Western Isles. Probably brought back on one of Father's ships, he thought,

    smiling and nodding at his surly relative by marriage.

    The servantsMcson retainers as well, since the Gellert retainers were dispersedcleared away the fruits and pastries and cheeses; the dinner had been

    the traditional seven courses, from nuts to apples. Restrained, at least by

    Confederacy standards; the simple tastes of the antique Emeralds only survived

    in Cadet training and the Academy's dining halls. The broken meats and scraps

    would be distributed at the door to the city's poor, who gathered

whenever the

    garlanded head of a greatbeast was hung over a door to mark a household that had

    made sacrifice.

    Adrian dipped water into his wine and poured a small libation on the mats set

    out on the tile floor. He suppressed a stab of unphilosophic anger at his father

    for dying at such an inopportune time; the business had been going well enough,

    but the capital was all in goodwill, contacts and ongoing trade, and neither of

    the Gellert sons were inclined to take up the shipping business to the Western

    Isles. Their father wouldn't have heard of it, anyway; what had all his ignoble

    labor been for, if not to buy his sons the leisure to be scholars and athletes,

    gentlemen of Solinga, greatest of the Emerald cities? But he'd died too early.

    By themselves the physical assets were barely enough to cover the debts, dower

    their youngest sister and provide a modest but decent living for their mother.

    The younger Gellerts would have to cut short their education and find their own

    way in the world.

    He looked around the room; two dozen guests reclining on the couches, some of

    them rented for the occasion. It was the men's summer dining room, open to the

    garden on one side, with old-fashioned murals of game and fish and fruit on the

    walls. Scents of rose and jasmine blew in from the darkness of the courtyard,

    and the sweet tinkle of water in a fountain. Most of the guests were older men,

    friends or business acquaintances of his father. Esmond lay on one elbow across

    from him, his mantle falling back, exposing the hard muscle of his chest and

    arm, tanned to the color of old beechwood. It made the corn-gold of his hair

    more vivid as it spilled down his back; a rare color for an Emerald,

and the

    only thing besides blue eyes he and his brother had in common physically. I'm weedy, in fact, Adrian thought. Short, at least, and only middling competent

    in the athletic part of the two-year course of Cadet training every well-born

    Solingian youth had to take when he turned eighteen. Once it had been preparation for military service, but that had ceased to be important long ago,

    in his great-grandfather's time, when the Confederacy's armies had conquered the

    Emerald lands.

    The servants brought in another two jugs of wine, yard-high things with double

    looping handles and pointed bottoms. They splashed into the great bulbous mixer;

    light from the oil lamps flickered on the cheerful feasting scene painted across

    its ruddy pottery. Not much like tonight's memorial dinner; no flute-girls or

    dancers or acrobats here, since it wouldn't be seemly. His father hadn't hired

    such for most of his parties. These things are for men with no conversation. He

    smiled slightly, remembering the deep gravel voice and the face weathered by

    twenty years of sea weather and spray.

    "Excuse me," he murmured. Three parts wine to one of water now, and the talk

    grew louder.

    The garden was warm and still, starlight and two of the moons showing the brick

    pathways between beds of herbs and flowers. Not very large, only fifty paces on

    a side, but tall cypress trees stood around the perimeter wall, throwing pools

    of stygian blackness. The pool and fountain shone silver; he could see the

    mouths and tentacles of the ornamental swimmers breaking the surface, hoping for

    a few crumbs of bread as he passed. Down towards the end of the garden was a

    little pergola, an archway of withes covered in a flowering vine, with a stone

    seat beneath and a mask of the Goddess in Her aspect as patron of wisdom set in

    the wall behind.

    The most private place in the house. Outside the womens' rooms, and from the

    noise coming from those, the female side of the party was getting more lively

    than the mens'. He'd often come to this bench to read, meditate and think.

    "If you wish to speakif you are more than the imaginings of my mindthen

    speak," he murmured.

    it is not necessary to vocalize your thoughts, the cold, relentless voice in his

    head replied. It felt . . . heavy, as if it were packing more meaning into the

    forms than the words could properly carry. merely articulate them internally.

    He did so, not an easy task . . . but then, he'd trained himself to read without

    speaking, or even moving his lips, an uncommon skill even among scholars. Who are you?

    We, the other voice replied, the voice of the strange dark man. I am Raj

    Whitehall, and my . . . companion is Center. I'm . . . I was a man, on another

    world. Center is a computer.

    Despite the utter strangeness, Adrian's dark brows drew together at the last

    word. Computer. It wasn't one he was familiar with, but in the Scrolls of the

    Lady's Prophet there was a remote cognate . . .

    A daemonic spirit? he thought. Interesting. I thought those superstition. And

    you are a ghost, you say?

    A mental sigh. Not exactly. Let me start at the beginning. Human beings are not

    native to this world . . .

    An hour later he was sweating. "I . . . understand, I think," he muttered, and

    looked up at the starry sky.

    Other worlds, whole worlds attendant on the stars! The stars are suns! It was

    more radical than even the speculations of the ancient Wisdom Lovers, the ones

    who'd spent their time trying to measure the sun or the shape of the earth,

    before modern philosophy turned to questions of language and virtue. The scale

    of time involved staggered him; the vision of men coming to this world of

    Hafardine in great ships of the aether, falling out among themselves, tumbling

    down into savagery after wars fought with weapons that had eerie parallels to

    the most ancient legends.

    "Why?" he went on. "Why me?"

    Because, lad, you're a man who wants to find out the truth of things, Raj's

    voice said. This world has gotten itself on a wrong road, and we need a man to

    set it right. So that, in due time, Hafardine may take its place within the

    Federation of Man.

    Adrian gave a shaky laugh. "Me, a world-bestrider like Nethan the Great?" he

    said. "You should have picked my brother Esmond; he's the warrior in our family,

    the one who burns to bring back the days of the Emerald League." not a conqueror, the slow, heavy voice of the . . . machine? continued: a

    teacher. although elements of collective violence may well be necessary to

    disturb the established order on this world.

    "What's wrong with the established order?" he said, curiously. "Apart from those

    vulgarian bumpkins from the south ruling the Emerald lands, that is." observe:

    The world vanished, as it had in the High City by the temple of the Maiden.

    Again he saw Hafardine as it had been just after the fall of the Federation's

    machine civilization. Little villages of farmers scattered through the valleys

    and plains of the figure-eight-shaped main continent and along the coasts of the

    islands; bands of hunters in the vast forests of the mountains and the southlands. Some of the villages grew. He gasped as he recognized the great

    cities of the Emeralds in their earliest days, their rise to greatness, the long

    struggle with the Lords of the Isles and the founding of the Emerald League. His

    heart beat faster as he saw Solinga in the days of her glory, as the deathless

    beauty of the High City rose from the dreams and hands of men. Then the long,

    terrible civil wars, city against city, the League against the Alliance. Solinga's defeat that solved nothing, and then the Confederation's armies moving

    in from the south.

    observe. the world as it now exists.

    A view from above, first. The Confederacy's wall across the narrow waist of the

    continent, separating the barbarian southlands from the land of cities and law

    to the north. The estates of the Confederacy's nobles expanding across valley

    and plain; Vanbert growing from a straggling shepherd's camp to a city far

    vaster than any in the Emerald lands. He could sense years passing. the maximum-probability result of a continuation of present trends. Images . . .

    . . . armies clashed, both sides in the armor and equipment of the Confederacy.

    Behind them a city burned . . .

    . . . a view down a street. It was the buzzing heat of noon, and nothing moved;

    a fine broad paved street, arrow-straight, obviously in the Confederacy's

    heartlands. A body lay in one gutter, the exposed skin purple and swollen. Flies

    buzzed around it. A handcart came slowly down the pavement, drawn by men with

    cloth masks around their faces and more of the swollen bodies piled high behind

    them.

    "Bring out your dead!" one of the men called. "Bring out your dead!" . . . men in shabby tunics and women in drab gowns gathering as a proclamation

    was read from a plinth in some anonymous farm town. The plump official droned

    on, and on, some sort of edict setting prices and wages: "And the price

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