Jasma’s day came at last. They left at dawn, towards the end of summer, when the season seemed tired out by its own heat. Perhaps Swan had hoped to avoid a scene, by setting off at the break off the day. He should have known better; once the wagon was glimpsed, laden down with supplies for the months-long ride, the village roused itself out of sleep.
Children were hanging from the branches of the Benefator tree, staring at the scene as if they planned to remember it forever. Only the oldest inhabitants had not come out to see Swan, Jasma and Greatcastle setting off for the Seven Nations.
When had the Anarchy become the Seven Nations? That was what Fox found himself wondering, staring from the edge of the crowd. There were still people who used the older term. It was mostly those who remembered the Great Trek to this place, those who had lived in that other society to which Jasma was travelling.
The younger people, though, had been swayed by Greatcastle’s tales. When he was not smiling at women, or smoothing his clothes, Swan’s servant liked to proclaim the greatness of the Legislatrix, and he always had an eager audience. He had been giving his own readings on her Star, using his copy of The Flame of True Self. Most of the young people—and quite a few of those not so young—knew where they fell on the Star. A boy of twelve would tell you, with an air of pride, that his direction was North, his season was summer, his animal was a bird, and his colour was blue. Asked to explain what that meant, he would usually shrug, as if the explanation didn't matter in the least.
Others were more sophisticated in the art of the Star, though. A sixteen-year-old girl might tell you she was East, winter, an insect and green. She would then explain, with great solemnity, that she had to check her tendency to dominate others, to stop striving for perfection in all things, to accept her impulsive side, and that her special gift was to help others develop their true nature. It was
astonishing how accurate these readings were; nearly everybody felt the Star described them perfectly. There was advice, too, which many of the more serious students of the Star followed to the smallest detail.
Even those who refused to join in were given readings. The questions used to find your position on the Star were almost impossible to answer for another—“What is the saddest time of day?” was one—but it didn’t stop people trying. Not only that, but the questions had become so familiar to the Star’s students that they managed to drop them into conversation with those who took no interest in it, using them later to read on their behalf.
Fox had agreed to be read. He had learnt he was West, autumn, a bird, and his colour was white. Greatcastle had read the description of this “house” aloud. Everybody agreed he had a pleasant reading voice, and he seemed well aware of that fact. Nobody else was allowed to touch the book, which he called his “sword and shield and bread and wine”.
Fox, sure that it would all be nonsense (but curious nonetheless), had been surprised by how much he agreed with the description. How could the Star have known that he hid his true feelings from others?
He had asked Armala what she thought of the Star, at the end of a long lesson where she had got him to recite a short ballad more than fifty times.
“The Star?”, she’d asked, not smiling as he had expected her to. She frowned instead. “People have been creating systems to make sense of the world for centuries.”
“And all of them have been failures?”, asked Fox.
“I didn’t say that”, said Armala.
She became more mysterious as time passed, not less. But Fox had begun to win a reputation as a storyteller, as well as a reciter of poems. People seemed to regard him as almost an adult now. He wasn’t sure that he liked that. It embarrassed him at times.
So now the young people called the Anarchy the Seven Nations, and wondered—when there were no older people around—if it was really such a bad place as the Elders said it was.
The crowd stood around the wagon, watching Greatcastle and Jasma loading it with the last of the packs. It had stood in the stables ever since the visitors arrived, and most people had gone in to look at it, but its bright paint and velvet cushions looked so much more impressive in the rising sun.
More than one girl was fighting tears at the prospect of never seeing Greatcastle again. Now and again, one of them would call, “Our love follows you, Greatcasle”. He would look up, wave and smile. From time to time, Jasma held his arm protectively. She seemed to be always watching him, as if she was frightened he would disappear, unwatched.
Swan sat at the front of the wagon, smiling at the scene. He did not look at Fox. He had left him a book as a parting gift. It was a history of his own city, Arganth. There was a street map printed across two pages, showing the centre of the city, and Swan had pointed out the street where his own house was.
“It’s never been the same since Anki died”, he said. “But it’s still that one place nowhere else can ever replace. The centre of the universe. Home.”
“I don’t have a home like that”, said Fox, missing Grandy’s old house in the Empire. “I don’t have a home at all.”
“Maybe you do”, Swan had said, his eyes twinkling. “Maybe you just haven’t found it yet.” His finger still rested on the map, and he smiled.
Fox had cried when they said goodybe, and Swan had dried his tears, telling him that he still cried every year on the date that Anki had died.
Now he was grinning though, and occasionally waving at at those who shouted messages of goodwill. And, when Jasma and Greatcastle had finally boarded the wagon, and Greatcastle had taken the reins, he stood up.
“My dear Ezwayna!”, he had shouted, in an unsteady, quivering tone that gradually grew more confident. “I thank you with all my soul for the welcome you have given me and my servant! And he thanks you for the beautiful lady you have given him!”
There was laughter and cheers at this, and Swan went on, encouraged.
“May you prosper ever more in this wild, wonderful country! And when I return to the Seven Nations, and the people ask me about the Ezwanya, I shall tell them: the Ezwayna are the most remarkable people in the whole world!”
There was a huge cheer at this, as might be expected, and they could hardly hear Swan’s last words: “Greatcastle, take us home!”
The dignity of the departure was only a little reduced by the fact that most of the children raced after the wagon, so that it seemed that half the Ezwanya would follow them to the Seven Nations. But before long they had fallen behind, and soon even the figure of Swan, still standing and waving, became a speck in the distance.
“I wonder how long it will take him to realise what she’s really like?”, said a female voice behind Fox.
He turned around, and saw Secret standing there, wearing a thin grey shawl and a dull brown dress. She had just arrived, as if she had decided to turn up at the last moment. Fox hadn’t seen her talk to Jasma in a long while.
“What do you mean?”, asked Fox, though he already knew.
“Oh, she’s been all honey and sunshine for the past few months”, said Secret, and her face was pulled tight with emotion. “But when he’s made her his wife, then she’ll show her true nature.”
“Won’t you miss her, Secret?”, asked Fox, remembering what friends they had once been.
Secret said nothing for a moment, and then her face crumpled, and tears started from her eyes. “Oh, shut up”, she said, and she turned around and stalked back towards the village.
A lot of others were walking back, too, though most were still standing around, as if they expected the wagon to come back for something it had forgotten. Fox saw Truevow’s sisters amongst them, and he realised that he had not seen Truevow in the gathering.
Suddenly concerned for the young man who had saved his life, he turned and made his way back to the village. It had a curious atmosphere about it now; awake earlier than usual, but no longer having any reason to be. He saw people standing around the tamzans, chatting, looking rather disappointed. Life was back to normal, and suddenly normal felt rather duller than before.
He knocked on the door of Truevow’s tamzan, but there was no reply, so he lifted the flap and stepped in.
It was hot. Truevow was standing in front of the fire, dressed in nothing but a pair of long shorts, his body yellow with the glow of the flames. He was staring into the fire, and he did not turn around when Fox said hello.
Fox stepped forward himself, looking into the crackling fire, and he saw three or four books were burning in the flames.
“What are you doing?”, cried Fox, who had to stop himself from reaching into the blaze to save them. “What are those books you’re burning?”
“Only poetry”, said Truevow, his voice flat.
“Why?” asked Fox, looking around the tamzan to see if there was anything he could use to fish them out. But they looked past saving now.
“It’s all they’re fit for”, said Truevow, a little more energetically. “Idle rubbish written by airheads. None of it really means anything.”
“But…” said Fox, marvelling at the complete lack of expression on Truevow’s face, his eyes lit only by the glow of the fire. “But you were the one who taught me to love poetry!”
“I taught you foolishness, then”, said Truevow. “I should have listened to you, instead”
“What do you mean, listened to me?”, asked Fox, stepping back a little from the heat of the fire.
Now Truevow turned to look at him, but his eyes had become dark holes, no longer glistening with firelight. “You told me the truth and I didn’t listen to you. My poetry is terrible. Jasma would never love me. Who would love me? And people think I'm a joke.”
“I was angry when I said all that!”, said Fox, hating himself. He felt almost as angry now. At Truevow, and himself, and Jasma, and Greatcastle. “Nobody thinks you’re a joke. They think you’re brave, and a hero. They say you’re one of the best Spiral players.”
“Spiral”, said Truevow, with a bitter grin. “Maybe that’s all I’m good for, after all.”
“What’s wrong with Spiral?”, asked Fox. What he had said was true; the Spiral fans all said Truevow was the best of the Ezwayna players, and might be soon good enough to challenge the players from the Empire. None of the other beginners were even close to that level.
“Oh, get out”, said Truevow, back to staring into the fire. “Just go.”
Taken aback, Fox stood where he was, hesitating. “You said we’d always be friends”, he said, after a minute or two.
“I said a lot of things”, said Truevow. "None of them meant very much in the end. Just go”.
So Fox left, and did not see Truevow again until the day that Truevow played Grandy at Spiral. And that was the day that everything changed forever.
The Spiral board was very different now. The original boards the Ezwayna made had been simple. Now that it mattered more to them—to the young ones, at least-- new and fancier boards had been built. They were richly painted, with little details along the sides; mermaids, dragons, hoops of fire. All the pictures were based on the dozens of pieces used to play the complicated, ever-changing game.
The new pieces themselves were a pleasure to look at, carved like miniature works of art. The knights and demons and wolves had tiny hair, teeth, and pupils painted on.
There were three “official” tables. Every game played on those changed the rules of Spiral, little by little. Once, the players had noted their own moves. Now, the young Ezwanya took turns to record the games. They sat by the players, writing the moves down in long black log-books.
On the side tables, people played out the games from the logs, analysing them and discussing them. It was absolutely forbidden to play practice games, and no true Spiral fan would dare. Every game had to be part of the Game’s history; that was the very essence of Spiral.
The Spiral House was full right now, and Truevow was playing Grandy.
Grandy had always been irritable. Recently, he was as prickly as a thorn-bush. He lost every game against Goodfellow now, and every face in the Spiral House was a mask of misery when he was playing. Watching his humiliations was something they did out of love, and not for pleasure. Where once they had come to admire him, now they turned up out of respect.
Truevow, on the other hand, was improving at a frightening pace. There were five or six other Ezwayna who had been judged strong enough to play games.
Those other players were not nearly strong enough to play Grandy or Goodfellow. They were working through the stages the older players had left behind more than a decade ago. But Truevow was way beyond that.
Goodfellow could still beat him easily. But Grandy was another story.
Truevow was running Grandy closer with every game. And today he was within inches of beating him.
The young man sat there, gazing at the board with a strange expression upon his face. He seemed utterly wrapped up in the game, but as if he didn’t care much about it, either. It was as though all his thought was concentrated upon the pieces, while his emotions were off somewhere else. His long, sensitive face was a blank, and only the eyes were alive, darting from piece to piece, flashing with thought. Now and again, he looked up at Grandy for an instant.
Grandy…it pained Fox’s heart to look at Grandy. He knew that he was not the only one in the audience who felt such distress. Grandy sat rigid, almost glaring at the board, as if he was trying to will the game to go his way. Years later, when he was old enough to think about such things, Fox would decide that nothing was more horrible than desperation. But he was too young to think like that now. Now, he just wanted to get Grandy out of the Spiral House, to make him forget all about this stupid game, to make him proud of himself again. Somehow.
The faces in the crowd looked almost tortured, and none more than Goodfellow, who might have been watching the execution of a relative.
Fox turned away. He couldn’t look. Hoping that Grandy would not see him, he weaved his way through the bodies surrounding the table, heading for the air, tired of watching his grandfather having his spirit crushed. But when he was almost at the edge of the crowd, a huge cheer went up. He turned around.
“What happened?”, he whispered to a girl who was standing beside him.
“He won. Grandy won”, said the girl, and he saw there were tears wetting her cheeks. Tears of sheer relief.
The cheer echoed for a minute or two. This was usual enough; Grandy had always been the most popular player, and his victories were always hailed like this. But never was the cheering so prolonged, so enthusiastic.
Then something else happened, only moments later. The mood in the Spiral House turned as suddenly as it had before, and Fox felt his stomach tighten. Silence cut through the cheers like a knife. Everybody was looking at the players, and Fox could just see—through the tangle of bodies—that Grandy had risen to his feet, and was standing upright as a post.
Soon, there was absolute quiet in the Spiral House, and everybody could hear Grandy’s words: “You let me win.” Fox had never heard such frozen fury in the old man’s voice.
There was silence in the Spiral House, a silence that became more agonising every second. Finally, Truevow spoke, and for the first time in many weeks Fox heard an echo of the old Truevow in his voice.
“No, I didn’t”, was all he said. But his voice held with a spark of feeling. It was not the same mumble he had used since Jasma left. There was pain in his words, barely to be heard, but still there.
Silence again, except this time with whispers running through the crowd, as low as the buzzing of flies in a hot room.
“I’m going to ask you again”, said Grandy, the fury rising in his voice, though he did not speak any louder. “Upon your honour, this time. Upon your honour, Truevow. Did you let me win?”
That awful silence again, but shorter this time. Truevow spoke the single word they were all expecting, and dreading: “Yes”.
A wave of anger passed through the room, and Fox heard more than a few swear-words being muttered. “Shame”, somebody cried, and the girl standing beside him whispered: “I’ll murder him.”
“Of all the players I have played”, said Grandy, and now his voice was rising, and becoming hoarse, “and there have been dozens, none of them were low enough to insult me like that. You’re a swine, Truevow.”
Truevow said nothing, but there was a chorus of voices agreeing with Grandy.
“Come outside and I’ll respond to an insult the way I always have”, said Grandy, almost shouting now.
“I’m not going to fight you, Grandy”, said Truevow, and his voice had become flat again.
“This is my last game of Spiral”, shouted Grandy, and the very next moment the tamzan was filled with groans and cries. Fox heard “no”, “please”, “don’t”, repeated over and over, in various different phrases. But Grandy’s voice cut through it all.
“That’s the end of it. That’s the end of it. Let me out. Get out of my way.”
The crowd hesitated, perhaps thinking about blocking his passage, but none of them were brave enough. A channel opened between Grandy and the door, and only Fox stood in its way.
He put his hand out, grabbed Grandy’s sleeve as he passed, and said: “Grandy—“. But his grandfather, still physically strong, pushed him away like he was a puppy.
“Leave me alone”, he spat at him, and then he was moving through the fields outside, storming towards the village, his head down, his fists clenched.
Fox stood outside the tamzan, watching him, hardly hearing the commotion that was breaking out in the Spiral House. Distress made him stand still for three or four minutes. Then, desire to be with his grandfather erupted within him, and he broke into a run.
He had only managed two or three paces when a hand grabbed his arm, and another wound its way round his chest, holding him in a tight grip.
“Leave him be”, came Goodfellow’s voice from behind him. For such a small man, he was amazingly strong. “The last thing he wants is anybody with him. You least of all.”
“Why me the least?”, asked Fox, though the words were broken up by tears. Only at that moment did he realise he was crying.
“Because you love him so much him, Fox”, said Goodfellow. “He’ll feel more shame before you than anybody else. He needs to be alone now.”
“I hate Spiral!”, shouted Fox, struggling against Goodfellow’s grip. Not out of desire to escape, but from sheer fury.
“I know”, said Goodfellow. “But if it wasn’t Spiral, it would have been something else. Believe me, Fox.”
Fox sobbed violently for a few minutes, aware of a crowd forming around them. He was not the only one crying, he could hear. Eventually, Goodfellow gently withdrew his arms, leaving only a single hand upon his shoulder..
“Just leave him for now”, he was saying. “Leave him, Fox. Let him curse and swear for a little bit. Give him a few days and he’ll laugh at himself for a fool. I know he will.”
But he was wrong.
Grandy did not emerge from his tamzan that day. Or the next day, or the next day after that. When Goodfellow knocked, he did not answer. When they went in, he was not there. But there were two notes on his bed. One was for Fox, and the other was for everybody else.
The one for everybody read:
I apologise for my behaviour yesterday. Most of all to you, Truevow. You shouldn’t have thrown the game, but I forgive you.
My fellow players, keep on playing Spiral, and thank you for all the joy you have shared with me. But I can’t keep embarrassing you all. My part in the game has ended.
The wilderness is calling me now. I always knew I would end my days away from mankind. I am on my last adventure. Don’t grieve for me.
Prosperity to the Ezwayna, and good cheer to my friends!
The one to Fox read:
Why the tears yesterday? You’re too old for tears. Let those be your last.
I hope I have done right by you. I know you can be strong if you try. Be a MAN.
Think well of me
Everybody told Fox that Grandy would be back soon. Who would he have to complain to in the wild, they asked him? Dozens of Ezwayna were searching the countryside for miles around, hunting for the old man, determined to persuade him to return. But night after night, they returned with downcast faces, and the hollow inside Fox grew bigger.
Week stretched into week, and soon they stopped pretending. Grandy was gone, and he was never coming back.
“I didn’t know if you were going to come back at all”, said Armala.
It had been two months since Grandy left, and Fox had not spoken to the storyteller in all that time. He had not even stepped inside her tamzan.
“Can I come back?”, he asked.
“Backwards is the one way nobody can ever go”, said Armala, after a pause. “But come closer, Fox.”
As he walked towards her, she said; “Sleep says you spend all your time wandering the wild now.”
“That’s right”, said Fox, stepping carefully over the sleeping cats, the cups, the boots that cluttered the tamzan’s floor.
“He’s not coming back,”, said Armala, in a low voice. “You know that, don’t’ you?”
“I know”, said Fox. It was almost easy to admit, after all this time. “That’s not why I do it.”
“Why do you do it, then?”, asked the storyteller.
“You told me that any question that begins with why is a pointless question”, said Fox, sitting down in front of her, crossing his legs and gripping his ankles in his hands.
Armala gave a little smile. She looked like a different person when she smiled, no longer like a bronze statue in the glow of the fire.
“That’s true, though not quite what I said”, she said. “You were never a fast learner, Fox. But you’ve learnt everything I can teach you.”
Fox thought she was joking for a moment, but there was no laughter in her eyes.
“What?”, he asked. “A little while ago you were telling me I still had years of learning to go”.
“Things have changed”, said Armala. “You’ve changed.”
Fox didn’t reply. He didn’t need her to tell her he’d changed. Even his body felt different, after Grandy had left. The wind and the sun felt different. Food tasted different. Life was somehow more and less vivid at once. More real, almost too real, but not as bright as it had once been.
“The stories and the poems aren’t the most important thing”, Armala said. “You can learn those on your own now. You will, whether you want to or not. The important thing is what you understand now.”
“I don’t understand anything!”, said Fox. If he was sure of anything, it was this.
“You do”, said Armala. “It’s like a seed lying in the earth, in the depths of winter. The time will come when it blossoms, if nothing frustrates it. Or kills it.”
“But you could—“ started Fox.
“I can do nothing anymore”, said Armala. “You’ve gone in another direction now. I can’t even tell you which direction.”
“Why do you talk like that?”, asked Fox, months and months of frustration foaming over. “Why can’t you give a straight answer to a straight question?”
“Life isn’t made up of straight lines”, said the storyteller, and now there was amusement in her smile, and a sparkle in her eyes. Her eyes were the eyes of an eighteen-year old girl. “It’s crooked and backward and circular. It’s anything but straight. Apart from sometimes, when it’s straighter than a drop from a great height.” And she laughed.
“Is everything a joke to you?”, asked Fox, though he knew that Armala could be more solemn than a tombstone when she wanted to be.
“By no means”, said the storyteller, though she was still smiling. “But I can’t help finding you funny, Fox.”
Fox laughed himself now. Armala had too much experience of swaying her hearers’ emotions to be resisted.
“So—“ he began, and stopped. So what, he thought? What was next?
A sudden gust of wind whistled through the tamzan. The tapestries and walls and hanging plants shook. The fire dwindled for a moment, then blazed even brighter. It was an old tamzan, and close to falling apart.
Fox thought of Grandy out in that barren, merciless wilderness. Was he still alive? After all, he had gone out there to die.
Grandy was gone. Jasma was gone. Truevow might as well have been gone. He still played Spiral, and was now good enough to beat Goodfellow occasionally, but he had never been forgiven for humiliating Grandy. He made no effort to defend himself, which only made them dislike him more. And he ignored Fox. Fox wished—
“You wish you had gone with Cambrice Swan”, said Armala, watching his face.
Fox was not even surprised. She often anticipated his thoughts. “It’s not like Grandy even said goodbye”, said Fox. “You tell me that my lessons here are over, and the village—“ He stopped.
“Go ahead and say it”, said Armala. “I know already.”
“Well, things have changed here. There are…sides. And whispers. And nobody trusts me. When I walk into a tamzan, I feel….watched. People stop talking. Especially the young people.”
“They think you’re my spy”, said the storyteller. “They think that their schemes and their plotting are secret, the fools.” There was no bitterness in the last word. In fact, Fox could not remember ever seeing Armala so sad.
“They want to leave, don’t they?”, asked Fox, encouraged by Armala’s opennness.
“They’re going to leave” said Armala. “And before another winter comes.”
“But the Elders—“, said Fox.
“They think that we’re going to try to stop them”, said the storyteller, folding her arms around herself, though it was rather too warm for Fox by the heat of the fire. Armala was getting frailer all the time. “As if we’ve ever blocked anybody’s path, or forced them to do anything.”
“Aren’t you even going to talk them out of it?”, asked Fox, amazed at the old woman’s resignation.
She shook her head, slowly. “They’re beyond all that now. When the moment comes, we’ll warn them that they’re racing to disaster. But they won’t listen. Some of them might stay, but nothing in the world could keep them all here. You might as well try to turn back the winter.”
“What will happen to them?”, asked Fox, trying to imagine the empty, endless miles that lay between the village and the Anarchy. That place he had only glimpsed in stories.
“Who knows?, asked Armala. All the weariness of the world was in those two words. “I’m not sure that they’ll even reach the Anarchy. So many of us died on the Trek…but then, we were city folk. These younger folk are used to the elements, to the rigours of nature. Perhaps…perhaps that might stand for them. I don’t know.”
“And in the Anarchy?”, asked Fox. He thought of the pictures in the book Swan had given him, the book about his home city, Arganth. It seemed like a pretty place from those pictures, with squat, pointed towers, cobbled streets, three-branched lamp-posts. And well-dressed, smiling people. But the tiny people in the pictures had no faces. That spooked him a little. The book was written in a different language, so he couldn’t read it.
“Who knows?”, said the storyteller. “I pray that the tales are true, and that this famous Legislatrix has made a new world out of the old. I pray, but I hardly hope.”
“What about the coldfire stones?”, asked Fox, lowering his voice to a whisper.
“They will be given them, at the last”, said Armala, “and perhaps they will keep them fed and roofed for a while. If nobody swindles them, or worse. But we shall not tell them where they came from. We will tell them they were brought from the Anarchy. We will not let them throw their lives to the frolic bears in search of more.”
Fox shuddered. He still had nightmares about the frolic bears. The wind gusted through the tamzan again, and this time the fire was almost blown out. Dust danced in the air.
“And what will happen to the people who stay here?”, asked Fox.
“We’ll survive, probably,” said the storyteller. “Those who have children will remain, as well as those who are too old to make the journey, and those who cannot bear to leave. More will stay here than will set out. It’s the men and women of forty and fifty who are the backbone of our society, Fox. And they won’t leave. I do not fear for us. I fear for the ones who go.”
But the first go was Truevow, and he went alone.
Like Grandy, he went in the night, without saying goodbye to anyone. Even his sisters did not suspect him. They cried and wondered how he could hope to survive on that great journey, without any more supplies than he could carry on his back.
“Why did they blame him, Fox?”, asked his sister, her eyes puffed from tears, looking thin and worn though he had left only two days before. She was sitting by their scratched table, a cold cup of chora in front of her, an unheeded cat rubbing against her legs. Goodfellow had persuaded him to call on them. “Why did they blame him for Grandy’s leaving, when he was only trying to save his pride?”
“It makes no sense to me, either”, said Fox, wondering if he should put his arm around her shoulders. He was too embarrassed to try. “Armala always said that sense was the language of the head, and that the language of the heart was impossible to put into words.”
“I always hated that woman”, said Truevow’s sister, with startling venom. “So full of nonsense. No wonder so many people want to leave. We’ve been ruled by senile fools for too long.”
“That’s not true”, said Fox, feebly. Truevow’s sister only sniffed, and sobbed.
The Spiral games went on. The Spiral House was the only part of the settlement that seemed alive, now. Even though was an excitement amongst the young people, making their not-so-secret plans for departure, it was a fevered, nervous excitement. But in the Spiral House, people could forget the anxiety sharpening the air elsewhere in the village. They could forget about the Trek, and the Legislatrix, about the Red Dogs, about the pull of the future and the weight of tradition. Even Grandy’s absence didn’t make it sad. Fox sometimes felt that his spirit still hung around the boards, lingering where it had been happiest. He no longer pretended that Grandy was alive. An old man could not survive the biting cold that had come upon the world that winter.
The Day of Casting Off came. Nobody forbade Fox from participating this time, but he had no desire to join in. To his surprise, everybody else in the entire village turned out, apart from those who were too old. He watched them from a distance, watched them standing in a huge ring outside the Great Hall, chanting their history, all the deeds and disasters and triumphs that had made them into a people. It sounded like a lament.
After that, the rebellion went beyond whispers. Meetings were called. Not openly, but not secretly either. Two or three tamzans in the settlement became the centres of the conspiracy. The young people—most in their twenties, though some were in their forties—seemed to be goading the Elders into a response. The response never came, and the rebellion became more open all the time.
The rituals of the Ezwayna went on, as they had gone on for generations, and even those most eager to return to the Anarchy joined in. But the rituals seemed meaningless now. On one of the coldest days of the year, the entire settlement gathered by the Firstfather Tree, the blue-green evergreen that had been the first tree the Ezwayna had planted in this country. The epic poem, Seasons of the Seed, was recited by the Mother of Mourning. She had ceased to criticise her hearers; now that the battle had been lost, she was as gentle as silk. Fox saw tears shimmering in many of her listeners’ eyes.
He watched the games in the Spriral House. He spoke to Goodfellow, who always seemed pleased to see him, but embarrassed and at a loss for conversation. Grandy had always been there to keep the discussions flowing, in the past. Fox had mostly listened. Suddenly he was aware of the distance of years that separated him from Grandy’s friends.
He visited Armala, who seemed neither pleased nor displeased to see him, and insisted she had nothing left to teach him. She had even stopped making mysterious remarks. He milked cows and herded sheep. He helped to build walls. He went out on the lakes with the fishermen a few more times. They were not as talkative a they had been before. There was an atmosphere of mourning about the whole village.
So he spent most of his time wandering the country beyond the village. Always hoping to see Grandy, and knowing that the hope was ridiculous. He climbed the highest hills he could find, and gazed out at the landscape beneath. It seemed so stubborn, so hostile. It had taken the Ezwanya such a colossal effort to win a living from it, and now it all seemed wasted.
Even on the coldest days he roamed through the wild, wrapped in a heavy leather greatcoat and woollen undercoat, with thick boots. One frozen morning, he was already miles from the village before most people had even woken up. It would not be light for hours, and the cold kept any early risers indoors. But the village was becoming unendurable to Fox. It made him think of Grandy, and Jasma. He no longer felt he belonged there; he no longer felt he belonged anywhere. Sometimes he had cried, despite what Grandy had written in his last note. He kept wishing that Piper had never walked into Grandy’s house, on that day in the Empire.
His despair reached a peak that frosty morning. He had climbed the hill called Fancy’s Peak, and was gazing down on one of the biggest lakes in the era, the Great Ring. He was too high above it, and it was too dark, to tell if it had been frozen over. It was merely a huge patch of darker darkness, under the sky that seemed like it would never be touched by dawn.
He thought of the village, which now seemed even emptier than this landscape, and his soul seized up with horror at the thought of returning. He longed, with all the force of his heart, to be somewhere else, somewhere far away, where life could begin again. A picture in Swan’s book came into his mind. It showed the enormous statue of three-handed Saram, the young god who carried a book in one hand, a sheaf of wheat in the other, and a sword in the third. Beneath the statute, in the huge Sagacity Square, tiny figures went about their business, in ones and twos and threes.
And then it happened. As if the heat of his longing had set the air around him on fire, there was a flash. A purple flash. The world disappeared behind it, and when the flash had faded, he was no longer standing in the country of the Ezwayna..
He stood in an enormous, paved, echoing square, looking up at a massive statue, around which snowflakes whirled. Its three arms held a sheaf of wheat, a book and a sword. The crowd swirled around him, a sea of humanity.
This, at last, was the Anarchy.