Drake, David - The Reformer
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 gods—to the Gray-Eyed Lady of the
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
say—that 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
"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 men—fire, the plow, the olive,
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 enough—drugged,
thought: no sense in courting a bad omen—and 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 Be—but 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
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
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
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 again—not 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
"I want to know," he blurted.
The dark man nodded.
* * *
"An excellent dinner. Many thanks, Samul," Esmond said, from his couch across
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 servants—Mcson retainers as well, since the Gellert retainers were dispersed—cleared 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
garlanded head of a greatbeast was hung over a door to mark a household that had
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,
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
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
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