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Книга The Jewels of Aptor. Содержание - Chapter X

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She turned a dial beneath the screen and lights flickered over the glass until they formed a sleeping figure. She had short red hair, a splash of freckles over a blunt nose, and her hand lay curled in a loose fist near her mouth. A white sheet covered the gentle push of adolescent breasts, and on the table beside her bed was a contraption made of a U-shaped piece of metal mounted on a board, an incomplete coil of wire, and a few more bits of metal, all sitting on top of a crumpled paper bag.

“That is my youngest daughter,” Argo said, switching off the picture. “She is the one you must take back to the ship.”

“How shall we steal the jewel?” asked Geo.

Argo turned to Snake. “I believe that was your task.” Then she looked around at the other three. “You will need rest. After that you can see about the jewel and my daughter. Come with me, now. Pallets have been set up for you in the far room where you may sleep.” She rose and led them to a further chamber. The blankets over the loose boughs seemed to pull them down. Argo pointed to a trickle of water that ran from a basin carved in the rock wall. “This stream is pure. You may drink from it.” She pointed to a cloth sack in the corner. “There is fruit in there if you become hungry.”

“Sleep!” said Urson, jammed his two fists in the air, and yawned.

As they settled, Argo said, “Poet?”

“Yes?” answered Geo.

“I know you are the tiredest, but I must talk to you alone for a moment or two.”

As Geo raised himself, Urson stood up too. “Look,” he said to Argo, “he needs the rest more than any of us. If you want to question him about rituals and spells, take Iimmi. He knows just as much as Geo.”

“I need a poet,” smiled Argo, “not a student. I need one who has suffered as he has. Come.”

“Wait,” Urson said. He picked the jewel from Geo’s chest where Snake had returned it when they entered the chapel. “You better leave this with me.”

Geo frowned.

“It still may be a trap,” said Urson.

“Leave it with him,” suggested Argo, “if it eases him.”

Geo let the great hand lift the thong from his neck.

“Now come with me,” said Argo.

They left the room and walked back through the chapel to the door. Argo stood in the entrance, looking down at the molten rock. The light sifted through her robe, leaving the darker outline of her body. Without turning, she began to speak. “The fire is a splendid symbol for life, do you agree?”

“And for death,” said Geo. “One of Aptor’s fires burned my arm away.”

“Yes,” she turned now. “You and Snake have had the hardest time. Both of you have left your flesh to rot in Aptor. I guess that gives you a closeness to the land.” She paused. “You know, he had a great deal more pain than you. Do you know how he lost his tongue? I watched it all from this same screen inside the chapel, and could not help. They jammed their knuckles in his jaws and when the mouth came open, Jordde caught the red flesh with pincers that closed all the way through, and stretched it out as far as it would go. Then he looped the tongue with a thin wire, and then he threw a switch. You do not know what electricity is, do you?”

“I have heard the word.”

“Let me just say that when a great deal of it is passed through a thin wire, the wire becomes very hot, white hot. And the white hot loop was tautened until the rope of muscle seered away and just the roasted stump was left. But the child had fainted already. I wonder if the young can really bear more pain than older people.”

“Jordde and the blind prestesses did that to him?”

“Jordde and some men on the boat that picked up the two of them from the raft on which they had left Aptor.”

“Who is Jordde?” Geo asked. “Urson knew him before this as a first mate. But Urson’s story told me nothing.”

“I know the story,” Argo said, “and it tells you something, but something you would perhaps rather not know.” She sighed. “Poet, how well do you know yourself?”

“What do you mean?” Geo asked.

“How well do you know the workings of a man, how he manages to function? That is what you will sing of if your songs are to become great.”

“I still don’t…”

“I have a question for you, a poetic riddle. Will you try to answer it?”

“If you will answer a not too poetic riddle for me.”

“Will you do your best to answer mine?” Argo asked.

“Yes.”

“Then I will do my best to answer yours. What is your question?”

“Who is Jordde and why is he doing what he’s doing?”

“He was at one time,” Argo explained, “a very promising novice for the priesthood of Argo in Leptar, as well as a scholar of myths and rituals like Iimmi and yourself. He also took to the sea to learn of the world, but his boat was wrecked, and he and a few others were cast on Aptor’s shore. They strove with Aptor’s terrors as you did, and many succumbed. Two, however, a four-armed cabin boy whom you call Snake, and Jordde were each exposed to the forces of Argo and Hama as you have been. One, in his strangeness, could see into men’s minds. The other could not. Silently, one swore allegiance to one force, while one swore allegiance to the other. The second part of your question was why. Perhaps if you can answer my riddle, you can answer that part yourself. I do know that they were the only two who escaped. I do know that Snake would not tell Jordde his choice, and that Jordde tried to convince the child to follow him. When they were rescued, I know that the argument continued, and that Snake held back with childish tenacity both his decision and his ability to read minds, even under the hot wire and the pincers. The hot wire, incidentally, was something Jordde brought with him from the blind priestesses, according to him, to help the people of Leptar with. It could have been a great use. But recently all he has done with the electricity is construct a larger weapon with it. However, Jordde became a staunch first mate in a year’s time. Snake became a watefront thief. Both waited. Then, when the opportunity arose, both acted. Why? Perhaps you can tell me, poet.”

“Thank you for telling me what you know,” Geo said. “What is your question?”

She glanced at the flame through the door once more and then recited:

“By the dark chamber sits its twin,where the body’s floods begin;and the two are twinned again,turning out and turning in.In the bright chamber runs the lineof the division, silver, fine,diminishing along the lanesof memory to an inward sign.Fear floods in the turning room;Love breaks in the burning dome.”

“It is not one that I have heard before,” Geo said. “I’m not even sure I know what the question is. I’m familiar with neither its diction nor style.”

“I doubted very much that you would recognize it,” smiled Argo.

“Is it part of the pre-purge rituals of Argo?”

“It was written by my youngest daughter,” Argo said. “The question is, can you explain it?”

“Oh,” said Geo. “I didn’t realize…” He paused. “By the dark chamber sits its twin, moving in and out; and that’s where the floods of the body begin. And it’s twinned again. The heart?” he suggested. “The four-chambered human heart? That’s where the body’s flood begins.”

“I think that will do for part of the answer.”

“The bright chamber,” mused Geo. “The burning dome. The human mind, I guess. The line of division, running down the lane of memory—I’m not sure.”

“You seem to be doing fairly well.”

“Could it refer to something like ‘the two sides of every question’?” Geo asked. “Or something similar?”

“It could,” Argo said, “though I must confess I hadn’t thought of it in that way. But it is the last two lines that puzzle me.”

“Fear floods in the turning room,” repeated Geo; “Love breaks in the burning dome. I guess that’s the mind and the heart again. You usually think of love with the heart, and fear with the mind. Maybe she meant that they both, the heart and the mind, have control over both love and fear.”

“Perhaps she did,” Argo smiled. “You must ask her—when you rescue her from the clutches of Hama.”

Before turning back to the room with his companions, he looked once more out at the fires of the volcano. Light whirled white and red. Blue tongues licked at black rock siding. He turned away now and went back into the darkness.

Chapter X

Dawn light lay a-slant the crater’s ridge. Argo pointed down the opposite slope. A black temple was visible at the bottom among trees and lawns. “There is Hama’s temple,” Argo said. “You have your task. Good luck.”

They started down the incline of cinders. It took them an hour to reach the first trees that surrounded the dark buildings and the great gardens. Entering on the first lip of grass, they heard a sudden cluster of notes from one of the trees.

“A bird,” Iimmi said. “I haven’t heard one of those since I left Leptar.”

Suddenly, bright blue and the length of a man’s forefinger, a lizard ran halfway down the trunk of the tree. It’s sapphire belly heaved in the early light with indrawn breath; then it opened its red mouth, its throat warbled, and there was another burst of music.

“Oh well,” said Iimmi. “I was close.”

They walked further, until Iimmi mused, “I wonder why you always think things are going to turn out like you expect.”

“Because when something sounds like that,” declared Urson, “it usually is a bird!” Suddenly he gave a little shiver. “Lizards,” he said.

“It was a pretty lizard,” said Iimmi.

“Going around expecting things to be what they seem can get you in trouble—especially on this island,” Geo commented.

The angle at which they walked made one of the clumps of tree before them seem to fall apart. A man standing in the center raised his hand and said briskly, “Stop!”

They stopped.

He wore dark robes, and his short white hair made a close helmet above his brown face.

Urson’s hand was on his sword. Snake stood with his feet wide, his hands out from his sides.

“Who are you?” the dark man declared.

“Who are you?” Urson parried.

“I am Hama Incarnate.”

They were silent. Finally Geo said, “We are travelers in Aptor. We don’t mean any harm.”

As the man moved forward, splotches of light from the trees slipped across his robe. “Come with me,” Hama said. He turned and proceeded among the trees. They followed.

They passed into the temple garden. It was early enough in the morning so that the sunlight lapped pink tongues over the giant black urns that sat along the edges of the path. Now they passed into the temple.

As they passed, Hama turned, looked at the jewels on Iimmi’s and Geo’s necks, and then looked up at the gazing eye of the statue at the end of the altar. He made no other sign, but turned again and continued. “The morning rites have not yet started,” he said. “They will begin in a half an hour. By then I hope to have divined your purpose in coming here.”

At the other side of the stairway they mounted a stairway, and then entered a door above which was a black circle dotted with three eyes. Just as they were about to go in, Geo looked around, frowned, and caught Iimmi’s eye. “Snake?” he mouthed.

Iimmi looked around and shrugged.

The man turned and faced them, apparently unaware of Snake’s departure. As he closed the door, now, he said, “You have come to oppose the forces of Aptor, am I right? You come to steal the jewel of Hama. You have come to kidnap the Incarnate Argo. Is that not your purpose. Keep your hand off your sword, Urson! I can kill you in a moment. You are defenseless.”

“Damn! I’m sleepy.” She rolled over and cuddled the pillow. Then she opened her eyes, one at a time, and lay watching the nearly completed motor of metal bars and copper wire that sat on the table beside her bed. She stood up.

Then she collapsed on the bed and jammed her feet under the covers again. With thirty feet of one and a half inch brass pipe, she mused sleepily, I could carry heat from the main hot-water line under the floor which I would estimate to be about the proper surface area to keep these stones warm; let me see, thirty feet of one and a half inch pipe have a surface area of 22/7 times 3/2 times 30 which is 990 divided by 7 which is… Then she caught herself. Damn, you’re thinking this to avoid thinking about getting up. She opened her eyes once more, put feet on the stone, and held them there while she scratched vigorously at her uneven mop of red hair.

She looked at the clock. “Yikes!” she said softly, and ran out the door, and slammed it behind her—almost. She whirled around, caught it on her palms before it banged shut, and then closed it with gingerly care the final centimeter and a half of the arc. Are you trying to get caught? she asked herself as she tiptoed to the next door.

She opened it and looked in. Dunderhead looks cute when he’s asleep, she thought. There was a cord on the floor that ran from under the table by the priest’s bed, over the stones, carefully following the zigzag of the crevices between them, and at last the end lay in the corner of the door sill. You really couldn’t see it if you weren’t looking for it, which had more or less been the idea when she had put it there last night before the priests had come back from vespers. The far end was tied in a knot of her own invention to the electric plug of his alarm clock. Dunderhead had an annoying habit of re-setting his clock every evening making sure that the red second hand was still sweeping away the minutes. (In her plans for this morning she had catalogued his every habitual action, and had observed this one for three nights running, hanging upside down from the bulky stone portcullis above and outside his window. )

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