Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Songs of Earth and Power Omnibus, Page 37

Greg Bear

  Michael looked down and saw Clarkham running toward the house. The flames beat him back, but he unrolled a sheet of ice from nothingness and plunged inside. From the corners of the pavilion, Shahpur and Harka ran to help their master. Shahpur's wrappings issued trails of smoke.

  Strains of music rose from the vibrations of the hill and palace. Michael ran to escape the falling shreds of burning tent. Only when he was through the soapstone gate did he realize he must be hearing the original Infinity Concerto, as it had sounded decades before.

  Mora and Bin waited for him on the lawn beyond the dome's foundation. Nikolai struggled to stand upright a few yards behind them. Biri led the way down the side of the chasm, away from the hill and the fire spreading from the dome to the orchards and cedar forests. In their flight, they passed Bek, Tik and Dour, who seemed to melt into the smoking trees.

  They didn't stop until they stood by the granite guard near the gate of the outermost wall. Biri still held Mora's hand. Her face was a mask of grief and remorse.

  Nikolai danced from foot to foot, watching the conflagration. "Jesus, Jesus! Look what you've done! I have never seen anything like that! What in hell are you, Michael?"

  Michael looked at the papers still clutched in his hands. All the writing had been neatly burned out, line by line, leaving brown-edged shreds held together by margins.

  The hill sagged. The conflagration was now a pillar of smoke and fire reaching up to smudge the sky.

  "That dream is ended," Biri said, lifting the ruined pages from Michael's hand and scattering them over the grass. "You are free to go now."

  "Go where?"


  "What happens to everybody else? To the humans?"

  "That is Adonna's concern. You have served your purpose. You are spent." Biri regarded him with contempt. "You threw off Sidhe discipline. In our eyes, you are nothing now."

  Do not reveal yourself. He is merely a wheel, not an engine.

  Michael recognized the voice now; it was Waltiri. He felt the power still residing in his mind, and smiled at Biri. He did not need to dispute the Sidhe.

  The hill was now level with the plain. Water flooded from its perimeter in high-vaulting fountains, spreading to form a lake. Ice bobbed lazily in the water. At the center of the lake, a whirlpool formed, its horrible sucking sound audible even at the outer wall. Michael felt a tug in the center of his stomach.

  "Clarkham made one mistake," Biri said as they watched the lake vanish. "He trusted a Sidhe." The words struck Mora deeply. She backed away from him and threw down his hand.

  "Nikolai," Michael said. "Will you be all right?"

  "I am fine," Nikolai said. "Why?"

  "Something's happening."

  "Your gateway is falling through the Realm," Bin said. "Down to the void. Go home, man-child."

  "Michael! Wait!"

  Nikolai lunged for him, but a thread pulled tight - the long thread of his existence in the Realm. The grass, scraps of paper, walls, Bin and Mora, Nikolai, all took off around him in a violent spin. He arced high above the Realm and was drawn with incomprehensible speed over the river, grasslands and forests -

  Cometing through the Irall, Inyas Trai, across the barren mound of the Crane Women and through the flat, burned village of Euterpe -

  Through Lamia's house, where the huge woman lingered in shadow, discarded by all now that her work was done -

  Across the ruined field to the softly flickering gateway -

  Down the alley, past the slumped figure of the guardian sitting under the trellis -

  And into a warm, dark early fall breeze.

  Filled with the sound of leaves scattering over pavement, the smells of fresh-mowed grass and eucalyptus, the sensation of complex and ever-changing solidity.


  And in the distance, a motorcycle.

  Chapter Forty-Four

  Contents <> - Prev <> / Next <>

  He stood beneath the moon-colored streetlight, half in the shadow of a tall, brown-leafed maple. Four houses down and on the opposite side of the street was the white plaster home of David Clarkham. It had been deserted for forty years and its lawns were overgrown; its hedges thrust uncontrolled branches in all directions; its walls were cracked and spotted with mud. There were no curtains in the front windows. The FOR SALE sign on the front lawn leaned away from the house, shunning it.

  The house was empty.

  Michael pulled the hair back from his eyes and felt the growth of silky beard on his cheeks. He looked down at the sweater and shirt and slacks that Clarkham had given him to wear.

  In the lapel of the shirt was the glass rose.

  He removed it and smelled it. The scent was gone.

  Chapter Forty-Five

  Contents <> -Prev <>

  Michael sat across from his parents in the living room, his discomfort growing with the silence. His mother had stopped weeping momentarily, and his father looked down at the carpet with a face full of pain and relief, the end of grief and the beginning of helpless anger. "Five years is a long time, son," he said. "The least you could have done-"

  "There was no way. It was impossible." How could he tell them what had happened? Not even the glass rose would convince them. And five years! It seemed less than five months.

  "You've changed," his father said. "You've grown a lot. You can't expect us to just…accept. We grieved for you, Michael. We were sure you were dead."


  His father held up a hand. "It will take time. Wherever you were, whatever you were doing. It will take time. We…" Tears were in his eyes now. "We've kept your room. The furniture, the books."

  "I knew if you were alive, you'd come back," his mother said, brushing strands of red hair from her eyes.

  "Did you ever talk to Golda Waltiri?"

  "She died a few months after you… went away," his mother said. "She sent a letter for you, and there's a letter from some lawyers." She looked down at the carpet. "Such a long time, Michael."

  "I know," he said, his own eyes filling now at the thought of their pain. He got up from the chair and sat between them on the couch, putting his arms around them both, and together they hugged and cried and tried to push away the strange time, the long time apart.

  After dinner, after hours of catching up on news and telling his folks repeatedly that there was no way he could describe what had happened - not yet, not without more proof - he took the stairs to his room and stood amid the books and prints and the writing table he had now completely grown out of,

  He opened the letter from Golda and the papers from the lawyers of Waltiri's estate and lay back on the pillow. Golda's handwriting was elegant, old-world, clear, spread with conservative margins across green-lined airmail paper.

  Dear Michael,

  I have not told your parents, because I know so little myself. Arno - mysterious husband! I hardly know how to describe my life with him, wonderful as it has been - Arno requested that our estate be placed in your care, upon my joining him (dare I hope that? Or is something more powerful at work here?),* which I believe will be soon, for I have been under great strain. Do not feel bad, Michael, but much of this strain has come from withholding certain facts from your dear parents, who have been so kind to me. But what can we tell them - that you have followed my husband's suggestions - and, despite his last words, perhaps even his wishes? I do not know where you have gone, and I am not even certain you will return, though Arno, apparently, was. I am not so old that I may be excused the confusion I feel, but excuse me, dear Michael, for I do feel it. That, and the sadness, the sensation of being in circumstances for which I am totally inadequate either in knowledge or mental capacity. Perhaps, on your return, you will know why Arno has made this request, and what you should do with our resources, which are not small. You will also control the rights to Arno's work. There are no other specific requests, and all of these will be detailed in letters from our lawyers. Dear boy. Turn a glass down for us - one glass only, since
Arno never drank wine, and told me to drink for him when celebrations were on - when you have safely returned and your loved ones rejoice. As all our people have said for centuries, dear Michael; May there come a time when all shall share their stories, and all will be unveiled, and we may revel in the cleverness and the beauty of the tales thus told. So clumsy, this note, for a young poet to read!

  He folded the letter and put it into its envelope, then removed the legal instructions and skimmed them. He would be financially secure; his duties would be to organize the Waltiri papers and provide for their publication, and oversee the publications currently in progress; he could live in the Waltiri home if he so wished.

  The letters slid down his chest as he sat up and folded his strong brown arms around his blanketed knees. Of all things now, he wished he could speak with Golda, have her help him with his parents, perhaps put all their minds to rest.

  If it would have done Golda any good to know - as much as Michael knew - what Arno Waltiri was, and that he was not dead. Not in any human sense.

  And what about the humans in the Realm? Helena, and the others? Adonna - Tonn - had said all would be well, once Clarkham was removed. Michael simply could not believe that, but there was nothing he could do. Not here, not now.

  He went to the bathroom to wash his face. Steam rose from the basin of hot water, curling around his face. He breathed deeply, drawing the steam into his lungs to clear away the sorrow and stress. He looked up through the steam into the mirror.

  The position - the angle - wasn't quite right. Familiar, but…

  Michael presented a three-quarters view. The realization was like a cold razor sliding along the glass. He stared at the first face of Hebal Mish, the first visage sculpted from clouds of snow. He had changed so much he hadn't even recognized himself.

  At first he was frightened. He stood in the hall outside the bathroom, then went to his room and flung open the window to breathe fresh air.

  It wasn't over. It would never be over; and he was more involved in it than ever.

  In the depths of the night, a bird began to sing.

  Notes and Acknowledgments

  My special thanks to those who helped with this novel: to Terri Windling who revived it; to Poul and Karen Anderson, exacting readers; to Jim Turner, Ray Feist and David Brin for critiques and encouragements; and of course to Astrid, who read it endlessly in its various printouts. My debts of inspiration are many - portions of this book go back thirteen years - but Jorge Luis Borges is at the top of the list, and once again, Poul.

  The book, of course, is not finished. This is the first half. The second half, The Serpent Mage, will conclude the tale.

  The language spoken by the Sidhe is not completely artificial. Many readers may recognize Indo-European roots and borrowings from various extant languages; most will likely not recognize that other words are derived from some very obscure Irish cants. If you're curious to find out more, please refer to a marvelous book by Robert A. Stewart Macalister, The Secret Languages of Ireland, first published in 1937 by the Cambridge University Press. It's still in print from Armorica Book Com-pany/Philo Press. A good university or public library should also have it. Lovers of languages - or dabblers, such as myself - will find it fascinating.


  The Film Scores of Arno Waltiri (Highlights)


  Queen of the Yellow River

  Dead Sun

  Sea Scorpion

  Warbirds of Mindanao

  Ace Squadron


  Northanger Abbey

  Descartes, a.k.a. The King's Genius

  Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

  Some Kind of Love

  The Man Who Would Be King

  Call It Sleep


  The Serpent Mage

  Songs of Earth and Power Vol. 2

  Greg Bear


  Chapter One <>

  Chapter Two <>

  Chapter Three <>

  Chapter four <>

  Chapter Five <>

  Chapter Six <>

  Chapter Seven <>

  Chapter Eight <>

  Chapter Nine <>

  Chapter Ten <>

  Chapter Eleven <>

  Chapter Twelve <>

  Chapter Thirteen <>

  Chapter Fourteen <>

  Chapter Fifteen <>

  Chapter Sixteen <>

  Chapter Seventeen <>

  Chapter Eighteen <>

  Chapter Nineteen <>

  Chapter Twenty <>

  Chapter Twenty-One <>

  Chapter Twenty-Two <>

  Chapter Twenty-Three <>

  Chapter Twenty-Four <>

  Chapter Twenty-Five <>

  Chapter Twenty-Six <>

  Chapter Twenty-Seven <>

  Chapter Twenty-Eight <>

  Chapter Twenty-Nine <>

  Chapter Thirty <>

  Chapter Thirty-One <>

  Chapter Thirty-Two <>

  Chapter Thirty-Three <>

  Chapter Thirty-Four <>

  Chapter Thirty-Five <>

  Chapter Thirty-Six <>

  Chapter Thirty-Seven <>

  Chapter Thirty-Eight <>

  Chapter Thirty-Nine <>

  Chapter Forty <>

  Afterword <>

  Copyright © Greg Bear 1984,1986 Afterword © Greg Bear

  All Rights Reserved

  To Betty Chater dear friend, teacher, and colleague and for Kristine, a kind of Beatrice

  Chapter One

  Contents <> - Next <>

  Are you ready?

  The pale, translucent forms bent over Michael Perrin once again. Had he been awake, he would have recognized three of them, but he was in a deep and dreamless sleep. Sleep was a habit he had reacquired since his return. It took him away, however briefly, from thoughts of what had happened in the Realm.

  He is pretending to be normal, one form said without words to her sister, hovering nearby.

  Let him rest. His time will come soon enough.

  Does he feel it?

  He must.

  Has he told anybody yet?

  Not his parents. Not his closest friends.

  He has so few close friends…

  Michael rolled over onto his back, pulling sheet and blankets aside to reveal his broad, well-muscled shoulders. One of the forms reached down to squeeze an arm with long fingers.

  Stop that.

  He keeps himself fit.

  The fourth figure, shaped like a bird, said nothing. It stood by the door, lost in thought. The others retreated from the bed.

  The fourth finally spoke. No one in the Council knows of this.

  It was a surprise even to us, the tallest of the three said.

  Michael's eyelids flickered, then opened. He caught a glimpse of white vapor spread like wings, but it could easily have been the fog of sleep. With a start, he held up his left wrist to look at his new watch. It was eight-thirty. He had slept in. There would barely be time for his exercises.

  He descended the stairs in a beige sweatsuit, a gift from his parents on his last birthday. There had been no candles on his cake, at his request. He did not know how old he was.

  His mother, Ruth, was reading the newspaper in the kitchen. "French toast in fifteen minutes," she warned, smiling at him. "Your father's in the shop."

  Michael returned the smile and picked up a long oak stick from beside the kitchen pantry, carrying it through the door into the back yard.

  The morning was grayed by a thin fog that would burn off in just a few hours. Near the upswung door of the converted garage, his father, John, was hand-sanding a maple table top on two paint-spattered sawhorses. He looked up at Michael and forearmed mock-sweat from his brow.

  "My son, the jock," Ruth said from the back steps.

  "I seem to remember him still carrying stacks of books around," John said. "Don't be too hard on him."

  "Breakfast ling
ers for no man," she said. "Fifteen minutes."

  John wiped the smooth pale surface with his fingers and applied himself to a rough spot. Michael stood in the middle of the yard and began exercising with the stick, running in place with it held out before him, hefting it back over his head and bending over to touch first one end, then the other to the grass on both sides. He had barely worked up a sweat when Ruth appeared in the doorway again.

  "Time," she said.

  She regarded her son delicately over a cup of coffee as he ate his French toast and strips of bacon. He was less enthusiastic about bacon - or any kind of meat - than he had been before…

  But she did not bring up this observation. The subject of Michael's missing five years was virtually tabu around the house. John had asked once, and Michael had shown signs of volunteering… And Ruth's reaction, a stiff kind of panic, voice high-pitched, had shut both of them up immediately. She had made it quite clear she did not want to talk about it.

  Just as clearly, there were things she wanted to tell and could not. John had been through this before; Michael had not. The stalemate bothered him.

  "Delicious," he said as he carried his plate to the sink. He kissed Ruth on the cheek and ran up the stairs to change into his work clothes.

  Michael had not yet assumed the position of caretaker at the Waltiri house. The time was not right.

  After two weeks of job hunting, he had been hired as a waiter in a Nicaraguan restaurant on Pico. For the past three months, he had taken the bus to work each weekday and Saturday morning.

  At ten-thirty, Michael met the owners, Bert and Olive Cantor, at the front of the restaurant. Bert pulled out a thick ring of keys and opened the single wood-framed glass door. Olive smiled warmly at Michael, and Bert stared fixedly at nothing in particular until he was given a huge mug of coffee. Shortly after the mug was empty, Bert began issuing polite orders in the form of requests, and the day officially started. Jesus, the Nicaraguan chef, who had arrived before six o'clock, entering through the rear, donned his apron and cap and instructed two Mexican assistants on final preparations for the day's specials. Juanita, the eldest waitress, a stout Colombian, bustled about making sure all the set-ups were properly done and the salad bar in order.