Friday, October 9, 2015

Beyond the Rim Installment 20

"In the western foothills, far from this city and far from the Queen, lived a peaceful people. They harvested the crops of the wild trees of that region, a fruit of which I cannot even begin to tell you, and herded cattle. There were among them no rulers, for each house was far from the other, and against one another there was no ill will. Thieving was harder than honest work in those days, so far apart did people live, and also because the wilderlands were not without danger. Though humans did little that was unfair to one another, nature himself was harsh, for he did not care to have humans in that place. The hills were sacred to him; they were to him an art he had made, and to see them sullied with human flesh made him angry.
"Nature sent his manticores down from his sacred slopes, from those temples to him above mist and cloud, and they scoured the hillsides, gobbling goats and sheep, and chasing people into caves or under roofs.
"A certain of the manticore descended upon a lonely lodge, where lived a young man by himself, without wife or child. The beast descended from the sky with a roar, invoking that unutterable name of Nature, which no ear but..." and Thurgod winced, "no ear in this valley can hear in total. The roar was terrible, but the man was brave, and he burst from his lodge with a long spear.
"But this manticore was more terrible than others. His tail was long, and split into three on the end, each spiny spike dripping with greedy venom. From his jaw draped a beard longer than the man in height, advanced by two fangs nearly like tusks."
"Like what?" asked Oorgo.
"Like teeth the size of arms, little one."
Oorgo had learned that perfect balance of fear which makes the story more exciting but does not distract from it.
"The manticore was most beautiful, perfect in each dimension, sullied only by its love of human blood and even, when most enraged, the blood of manticore."
Oorgo gasped a little, as he had learned that the bard enjoyed. He had heard that manticore and yeti were too civilized to eat one another.
"The sight that greeted the man was terrible. Even in the moment it had been on the ground it had slain nine of his animals in the very fold, each now writhing on the ground as the venomous tail slashed about, looking to catch more. In a surge of bravery the man leaped forward, plunging his spear into the flank of the brute, caught unawares, for the lodge of that man was carved into the hill, and few would have seen it even from the ground.
"The manticore whirled about, its tail indiscriminately swatting down a few living animals, which lay still on the ground in petrified fear. The suddenness of the turn caused the man to drop the spear, and he lay sprawled on the floor of the fold, the manticore staring into his own eyes."
"The manticore said, 'Fool! I am a beast of majesty, and you a petty human. Your wound is nothing to me,' and even as it spoke thus one of its tails curled around the weapon, still lodged in its flank, and cracked it off, then dug out the head. The venom expunging from the tail proved a balm to the flank, and its blood ceased quickly.
"Then in a flash the middle tail of the manticore slashed over its own head and struck the man in his foot, pinning it to the ground. The greedy venom rushed in, and slowly seeped from the foot to the ankle, and then towards the knee.
"'Nature will have its way with thee,' growled the beast, and then it launched into flight. The man dragged himself back into the lodge, where he found his own ax and severed his leg just below the knee, just above where the venom had reached.
"In the following dayshe built for himself a false leg so that he might still walk, and tend to the animals. For a year he lived thus, until the leg was no pain to him. For another year he lived, and soon none could have told he had ever fought a manticore. In another year he took a wife, and in another year he had a son. In another year, the manticore returned.
"It was the same noble beast that had come before, and now it had spotted the fold again. When it struck the ground it remembered the lodge, and forgetting the animals it strode towards the door. It could smell the human smell. But before it even reached the door the door was flung open, and the man emerged, holding again a long spear. He said, 'Take the animals and go, or I will spill your blood again.'"
"The beast laughed, 'Was my blood spilt in a time past? I have no fear of you.'"
"'The scar on your left flank belies you, as does the grass which never grows where your life was drained, if even only for a moment.'
"'Shall I flee and be left hungry, because a man pointed a bit of a tree and a stone at me?' it bellowed, bristling its tails.
"'Do not flee hungry, but full, for all the animals may be yours, and you need not fear to spill blood.'
"The beast replied not at all, but turned and in a handful of moments had slain every creature in the fold and devoured it, and then it flew away."
"After five more summers the beast returned, and said, 'Not your animals this time, human. I must bring home human blood. Give me your son.'

Beyond the Rim Installment 19

Thurgod's face betrayed feeling less readily than most, primarily because it's expressions were nearly void of movement in the upper face. His eyebrows might still move about, and the far regions of his face twitch as though trying to move his eyes emotively, but the expressions did not resolve. Oorgo was shocked at the expression, of extended jaw and knit brows, that was revealed despite the unholy band.
"Stallid, this part that I have repaired by my skill, it belongs to an augury golem, does it not?"
"You know it does. The augury golems were of your design."
Thurgod winced, "I fashioned them, indeed. And they dig very deep, searching for the rarest metal ores. That is why the Sixth Mine is here?"
Where a man might have approached uncomfortably close to the golem, Thurgod did not, but kept his distance of a few paces. "Then why, in the Queen's name, are there men down there? It was so that no men should risk those hot and hateful depths, tunnels and seams that despise mankind and light, that I constructed the augury golems."
"It was ordered that the mining not cease. With the augury golem out of commission I was forced to send worthless men..."
"What? Is it Stallid that is speaking?" Thurgod stepped closer to the silver golem, his nose turned upward, the movement he would make instead of cocking his head when other men squinted to see.
"You know it is."
"Then why do you call them worthless men? I built you to know that... that... that there was not such a thing," said Thurgod, drawing a corner of his nose tense.
"That is what they are called. It is how I know them."
With a sudden motion Thurgod lurched forward, catching the back of the golem's head with his left hand and drawing it down into his shorter forcefully, though with gentleness. Then in an instant he had pulled out the little metal strips again and was carefully investigating their grooves in his hands, and then under his nose. He replaced them carefully and stood Stallid up again.
"Do you remember the day you were fashioned, Stallid?"
"Tell me of it, servant."
"Of course I do not know from where in the ground came my substance. Yet I do remember the heat, as my metal was made hot and fluid, flushed around to take on a shape, though the shape was not mine. And then I arose, still red hot, but solid, and had mind as metal has. I stood before my lady, the great Queen, and there was told my duty. Why do you ask me to tell you this, Master?"
Thurgod's jaw quivered. He asked as though in a dry throat, "Stallid. Has another, besides myself, come and done the work of the smith-god, to change metal by mind? Has another taken out the slats of thought I gave you and changed them?"
"The Queen herself. She has changed me. Why do you ask?"
"Have any died?"
"Any of the," Thurgod mouth moved to spit but his throat to swallow, "worthless men?"
"One has died, as stone gave way above him. Because I knew this would make the Queen angry I sent you the Flying Word requesting a hastier repair."
Thurgod said nothing until he had breathed three times, while the golem stood still with infinite patience. "He was one of the Queen's worthless men, who owe to her a great debt?"
Thurgod breathed once more, then said, "When it rains, Stallid, you must get under a solid cover," and he turned away, Oorgo forgot to walk until the tug on the line that connected him to Thurgod reminded him, and then he bounded ahead.
"Did the golem say that a man died?"
"Yes, he said that." They walked past the squared golem, but it did not move, as Thurgod inhibited it. The two humans passed through the gate.
"One that owed her a great debt?"
"What, child?" Thurgod was recalled from another thought.
"A man who owed her a great debt died?"
"Yes, child."
"I owed her a great debt."
"In her words, child."
Oorgo said nothing, until, "Would I have died?"
"Whether the Queen would have sent a child to the Sixth Mine I cannot know, nor even if she would have known it."
An off-beat breath escaped from Oorgo's nearly heaving chest, and at last Thurgod thought of the mortal beside him.
"It would be better if you made your mind quiet. This is not a thing for you to think."
Oorgo fell sideways, his head flopping into Thurgod's leg. The child did not struggle with his tears.
"There is no need for you to fear today, Oorgo. You have a master who is a god."
"But you can't keep me safe from her, you said it, you said it..." he clutched his arms around Thurgod's knee, and the deity ceased attempts to walk.
"She hates me and my sister and I've said bad things about her and..."
"And she will do nothing about them. Cyllgod is a foolish..." and the Thurgod too collapsed, narrowly missing Oorgo, and they were left there, Thurgod on his knees gasping as he leaned into the child, and the child with his face plunged into the smith god's chest just under his neck.
The two of them knelt there for nearly a minute, the block shaped golem observing without evaluating. At last Thurgod stood up suddenly, and Oorgo leaned again into the god's hip. Thurgod reached down and grasped the side of Oorgo's head. "Now child, it is not good for us to think so. I may not think the true words, and you do not know them. It is best for you to trust me that this is not your fate, and that if it were, it would be well."
"How can it be well?"
"Your question is large. It must be answered while walking."
"I can't walk," said Oorgo, beginning to breathe faster.
"Yes, you can," said the god, "I have seen you, and there is nothing but yourself stopping you."
Oorgo tottered forward, shaking in trepidation.
"Before I answer your question, I will tell you a story."

Friday, October 2, 2015

Beyond the Rim Installment 18

From this point in the West of the city even Oorgo, at his height, could see a fair ways. Because of the elevation of the Way the great road lacked cross-ways, and all traffic moved along its length. Most traffic kept to the outsides, with the center lane reserved for the royal chariots of state. Thurgod and Oorgo kept to the right edge, as foot traffic heading towards the Gate was expected to do. Within a few minutes of starting along the Way, a chariot driven by a servant of Cyllgod and carrying in it one of her demigod agents thundered through the middle of the street.
"Why don't you have a chariot for you, Thurgod?"
"It would be better if you called me Master, child. Others may call me by that name, but you may have a better one."
"But Thurgod's your name. Why can't I call you by your name if everyone else can?"
Thurgod cocked his head once before he got it straight again, but even in that time Oorgo's face went pale. "Because to you the important thing is not that I am called Thurgod, but that I am Master. But I have been a brute and ignored your question. I do not have a chariot because the Queen has not given me one."
"Why can't you have one?"
"Horses are rare, even now."
"But surely a god..."
"There are many gods, have you not seen? Were there not many in the Queen's Court when you went to make your request?"
"But aren't you greater than them?"
"If you want me to answer questions, you must learn to ask them while walking, child."
Oorgo skipped ahead of Thurgod then said again, "But aren't you a greater god than all of them except her?"
"Well, what would make one god greater than another?"
"Being able to do... things!"
Thurgod laughed, and his gait slowed as he did so. "I suppose you mean that I am greater because I can smash metal from one shape to another? Do you think that no one else can do this?"
"And you can make golems! No one else can do that."
"What you say is not strictly true, but nearly enough," he said. As the words left the god's mouth his face might have been seen to wince very briefly, but Oorgo paid no attention, neither did the child see the mirth of the previous question melt completely from the deity's face as he elevated his chin slightly.
"But they can do that thing where they turn into light and fly away. I saw them do it in... what did you call it?"
"Probably the Queen's Court."
"Can you do that?"
"Turn into light? Why would I want to? Light cannot bend metal on this planet."
"What's a planet?"
"It's like a ball of rock very far away up by the stars."
"But can you do it? All of those gods had funny shapes their light came from. Do you have a funny shape inside you?"
"I cannot change into light. And the funny shapes, cores they are called, are only there when a god looks like light."
"How far is it to the Sixth Mine?"
"Long enough that I expect you will ask me that question probably five more times before we get there."
"I wish we had a chariot."
"You might wish it for a moment, child, but from how taught you keep the line I expect you would want to be out of its seat before we got there."
"You said you can see the wheels of the chariots. Are my parents coming here soon?"
"Are your parents made of metal? Or how should I see them?"
"If you could see the wheels..."
"Then how should I know who rides in them? Besides, I cannot see forever. And even did I know I might not tell you that I did."
"I can neither tell you what I know nor why I will not tell it to you."
Oorgo opened his mouth, but Thurgod preempted him, "Nor will I tell you why I will not tell you why I will not tell you, and neither will I be tricked into answering that monosyllabic question again."
"Monosyllabic. It means it only little grunt to say it."
New words slowed down Oorgo. They stuck in his mind as he tried to fill them out with memories and unconscious associations as he had done with all other words. Thurgod did not mind the respite from questioning.
Within a few hours the pair had escaped the Way and then the city proper, descending the winding path which trekked across the steep hillside descending from the capital. The Sixth Mine began down below the ridge, slowly eroding the base of the North Spire, which lay at the north extreme of the Gate. By time they had accomplished only a quarter of the descent Oorgo had grown tired, and rode the rest of the way on the shoulders of the smith god.
At the bottom of the track they were greeted by a stone fence, and in it a gap serving as a gate, guarded by a stone golem with a block shaped head. "State your business here, and show your authorization to enter."
Thurgod set Oorgo down and whispered to him, "The golem asks you a question."
Oorgo just stood, staring at the golem and its curiously squared limbs.
"Why are we here, child?"
"To bring this."
"That is what he wants to know."
Oorgo stepped forward. Somehow this machine was more intimidating even than the butcher or Mister Henlick. "I... I am here to bring this."
The golem looked down at him. This was not a phrase it knew. It did not know how to look at a thing and know what it was. It had been given gate duty because it had grown old, and not useful for swinging a pick. But with a silent command from Thurgod's mind it said, "Good. What is your authorization to enter?"
Oorgo looked back at the god. "What does it mean?"
"It wants to know who says you can be here."
"Thurgod, Master Smith, says I can be here," he repeated to the golem.
This command it understood, and after a moment of searching its own mind for the truth it found that indeed, Thurgod had told it from afar that a small boy would be there that evening.
"You may enter," it said, and then resumed its stature looking out from the gate, as it had stood most of each day for dozens of years.
After they passed it, Oorgo asked Thurgod in a whisper, "Is that golem dumber than the other ones?" He looked behind them to be sure it did not here.
"Yes. It was made for swinging a pick, and blocky stone does not hold wisdom well."
"Why doesn't it mine anymore?"
"A fall chipped its right foot, as may have escaped your notice, but enough to make it unworthy of mine work, where a stumble is very dangerous." Then Thurgod raised his voice, "Sallid! Your master needs you here."
Suddenly a tall golem with metal limbs, covered all over in gears, levers, and sliding joints, turned. Its limbs were spindly, thinner in each part than the crystal golems of Cyllgod's house. It strutted over to the pair, other lessor golems adjusting their routes to avoid his as they moved hither and thither carrying loads.
"How can I serve the Master Smith?" the voice clanked. Unlike other golems of a more solid make, Stallid had no definable exterior shell except for the top and front of his head. Where his mouth was to be, as his face was clearly designed, there was a small aperture into a metal box, the most solid thing about him besides the dome which made the top. What wonders went on within the box to produce speech were known only to Thurgod.
"First, you must meet my new mortal servant, the child Oorgo."
Stallid's metal eyes turned unnaturally towards the boy. With the limited dimension of his skull, he occasionally looked through his own head, in this case rolling his eyes downward to look through where a human would have had a jaw.
Thurgod interrupted the golem's greeting, "Have you been out in the rain, Stallid? This is not how I built you to behave."
"An underground sea, it was then? Have you felt any water lately?"
Stallid's eyes rolled back to look straight at Thurgod, and he knit his brow, "I do not recall meeting water, but is the nature of water that I would forget it. What part of my service is unsatsifactory?"
"You forget to turn your head when you look towards things near you, instead rolling your eyes freely. Humans find that unnerving." Oorgo was clutching Thurgod's leg.
"I am sorry, Master Smith..."
"That is not all, Stallid. You I suppose it was that sent me the Flying Word?"
Oorgo looked up and whispered, "Is that the bug machine with the message?"
Thurgod pointed his face down and said, "Yes," in an undertone.
Stallid responded, "Yes. I had not received a golem part back from you which I desperately needed. I have been forced to great pains without it..."
"You wrote your message on parchment, Stallid."
"Yes, sir. That is how I usually send messages of an official nature."
"You have forgotten, then, that I am the blind god."
"A god, blind?"
Thurgod sighed. "Yes. You must have been in water. You have forgotten to use the metal messages I gave you. Kneel down, Stallid."
Stallid knelt into the dirt without protest, sullying his silver limbs. Thurgod reached into the golems head, then drew out a thin bar of metal, covered all over in tiny grooves. He blew on it, then into the compartment from whence it came, and the rust scraped off.
The smith god replaced the thin bar, and then did this action seven more times on other little bars. At last he replaced the last one and said, "Stand up, Stallid."
The golem stood, and for a moment its eyes flicked about, but never beyond their expected places. It even moved its head down to look at Oorgo, and then back up again. It clanked, "It is good. It is like a haze has been blown away. I see much better now."
"May I leave this part with you and have you replace it, Stallid? I am eager to return home."
Stallid reached down and accepted the golem piece from Oorgo. "Yes, this will be easy. When I have done so, I will tell the men to come up from that mine as the golem returns."
Thurgod had begun to turn when he arrested his own movement. He turned back to Stallid and said, "Repeat that. Are you sure the haze is gone?"
"Yes, and you would know better than I. I said I would bring the men back up from that mine when this golem was ready to return."
Oorgo did not like the expression which Thurgod's metal-marred face took on at that moment.

Beyond the Rim Installment 17

"Now, Oorgo, we must go out of the compound and return to the main thoroughfare. Do you know the way?"
"I think I do, Master."
"Good. The sixth mine is against the Setting Wall; we avoided it when we climbed into the mountains."
"When I explored the little cave high up there, and then told you about the sunset because you could not see it?"
"That is not why you told me about it, but it was that day. Unless you learn to talk while moving your feet we will have to cease talking, if we are to make our transit there and returned before the day grows late. I do not prefer to walk back in darkness."
"Doesn't it all look the same to you?"
"That is a question which I think I am unable to answer honestly, because neither yes nor no speaks the truth. But see here, your feet are still planted. I'll not answer another question until we are out of the gate."
Oorgo bounded, Thurgod feeling the tension increase on the guiding chain increase suddenly, and began to walk. Within another moment Oorgo called, "I'm out of the gate!" then Thurgod heard the sound of his feet pattering along the stone road.
Thurgod grinned as he stepped beyond the door into his walled compound. "You're out but not going far. This chain is for more than my guidance." And immediately there was a thud as Oorgo tripped up, held back by the god's planted feet as the deity dropped the metal latches of his door shut again. "Now we may move forward, boy."
Oorgo ran along excitedly, with Thurgod stomping along his short strides behind him. The line that connected them stayed nearly taught. From its varying direction, Thurgod could tell that Oorgo was running hither and thither across the street, looking down the streets that crossed with theirs.
Thurgod lived on what been the western edge of the city a thousand years ago, but was now surpassed by two more quarters of the city, a distance which the city had grown in the first few centuries of the city's growth, whereupon population growth, except by immigration and forced resettlement, ceased. His home lay within a walled compound - the exterior walls of his home were the walls - all surrounding that inner courtyard in which the messenger machine had landed. His living quarters occupied less than a quarter of this ring, with storage sheds and work chambers forming most of the rest. The gate of his compound faced south, towards that main causeway of a road which ejected from the Rim Gate, which, truthfully called, was merely a door into Cyllgod's castle, for none ever ventured beyond the Rim. The road was more of a causeway because it insisted upon remaining perfectly level, ignoring the fluctuation of terrain, and so was, by time it reached this distance from the Rim Gate, being considerably beyond the tallest foothills, nearly forty feet above Thurgod's home.
What it lacked in practicality, Cyllgod's Way made up in grandeur. Built in an era before Cyllgod's attending demigods had grown proud and lazy, each of its stone was laid by immortal hands which did not tire from lifting, and which might work for five hundred years at one task and not grow weary. Oorgo could hardly help but find a path to it, as the road loomed overall the houses, apartments, and shops which lay between Thurgod's compound and the Way.
On the north side of Thurgod's compound the ground had been worthless before the compound was built. When Thurgod had been established there and had drilled down for water he had discovered a great lake of it, fed by snowmelt draining through the mountainsides and into subterranean rivers. The stories said that he and an army of golems had descended thither, and below the ground built mighty waterworks which provided the moisture for the soil downhill, and thus was established the Smith Farms, a colony of growing food in the valley.
By now they had reached the foot of the Way, and Oorgo had stopped, forgetting in which direction the stairway was located. Thurgod's legs, though, knew the way, Oorgo to guide or no, and he naturally turned to the right, against the way their little road up from his gate, which lay at the end of a north-south road, had veered. Oorgo immediately agreed and came up along Thurgod, this time not running further on.
"So does it all look the same to you?"
Thurgod's mind had been otherwise occupied, but he quickly recalled the topic from which this question sprung. "My eyes see things no differently, but I see different things."
"I thought you didn't see anything."
"Now, child, you know I see some things. Or how else did you think I could make the device you carry far too unsteadily?"
Oorgo unconsciously tightened his left arm. "You can see metal. But metal's the same in the day or the night."
"What men do with metal is different. More knives and, whether you would believe it or not, more coins move around at night than at day."
"Can you see other people's coins?"
"They are all my coins. Every coin with which every thing is bought and for which everything in the Rim is sold was made by my strike, by my mold, or by my golem, and they all bear my seal. I have given them to the Queen's nation, so that it may profit by trade."
"How far can you see?"
"But how far? Can you see the Queen's crown from here?"
"If I stopped to look for it, yes."
"And the rims on the wheels of her chariots, can you see them?"
"If I cared to."
"And the golems with metal heads in other towns, do you see them?"
"There is no golem within the Rim that I do not see."
"Are there golems outside the Rim? I was taught there was nothing outside the Rim?"
Thurgod suddenly sat down and drooped his head. He rubbed his hand against the Band, but then quickly withdrew it.
"Can't you talk about things beyond the rim?"
"No, I can't, Oorgo. It is forbidden."
"Does the Queen not want anyone to know about things past her gate?"
Thurgod fell down flat on the stone pavement, and Oorgo began to cry.
"I am sorry, Master. I am sorry. I..."
Thurgod put up a hand to tell the child to stop, or otherwise to grasp the child's shoulder, but instead ended up palming the boy's face. This, by reason of its strangeness, had the desired affect of ending the child's blubbering. Thurgod stood up, then released the boy's face.
"There is no need to cry for my pain, child. When I chose you I might have known you would have questions on questions, and some I could not answer. I am older than this pain, and fear it not. See, even now it is gone. We must be walking up the stairs"
Before Oorgo could wimper any more he found himself being pulled along by the leading line, and then in another minute he had forgotten the last time he made his master drop down short, though anyone who was the pink lines of tears which had appeared as rapidly as they do for children would have known something had happened amiss.