Section I: Episode 8
September 7, 2014
Sourros rose up in a blue pillar, above all of Ieik, his form disembodied, his voice carrying on the aften, the voice of Sourros:
YET MOST OF IT THE KINDRED
HAVE NEVER TROD.
DEPART FROM THE ROADS OF KNOWING
AND BE REAVED OF ALL CLARITY.
LET THE TOLGAL ALIVE IN YOUR BIRR.
GO IN THESE LATE YEARS AND DETERMINE
RELANCE ONCE THOUGHT.
THIS I IMPLORE YOU,
ON THE EVE OF THE DAWN.
When he ceased, there was silence all around Galavar, despite the many dozens of people. Ornithate and Galavar himself were equally hushed.
Finally, murmurs resumed, a few distinct pioneers at first, and then the festive din. Some people cheered, others shouted praises, their whoops and prayers rising up above the clatter.
"You did that," Ornithate managed. When he looked at her, her face was pale.
"Surely it was just a coincidence," he began, but he wasn't sure at all. "And yet…"
"What is it?"
"I don't understand what he said."
She gave him a worried look.
"Nor I. We should go, Galavar, see the River." ★
"Yeah…I think you're right."
The festival seemed distant now. They turned a corner and departed from the wagon rows to head for the White Tables, and as they went Galavar noticed people discussing what God had meant. At least Galavar was not the only one confused.
"If it was a reply to me, I have no idea how it connects." He wracked his wits. "The world is fully charted. Maybe not every clod of dirt has been literally stepped on, but we know every region. And what's this about 'late years'?"
"Don't try and answer it alone," she urged.
"Could it have been a coincidence?"
Questioning Sourros flippantly, like Galavar had just done, was not common, but neither was it unheard of.
"It's entirely possible," he reasoned, "that someone else in Ieik asked a question at the same moment."
"Sourros hasn't spoken outside the Fateful Well in years," said Ornithate. "Last time he did it, I was small."
He laughed. "You're still small!"
It felt good to laugh.
"You know what I mean."
They came in good order to the brightest if not the liveliest part of the whole festival, the White Tables, a small plaza now serving as a dancing floor, surrounded by massive tables of moonstone, unbelievably large crystals of adularia, shaped and beveled into smooth curves, fit to dine upon. Here the leaders and august of the town now sat in banquet, receiving guests, exchanging conversation, and being attended by their waiters and bearers. They who were so inclined wore mostly white, the color of absolute knowledge in Ieikilii tradition. It was a rare color, hard to dye and hard to keep white. Few wore it who were not among the elite, for even among the elite it was accepted as a pretension, and one had to be judicious not to have too many of those.
Surrounding the plaza, the lights themselves were white, suspended atop tall iron poles and fed by vapors of mercury. Yet even these orbs of high luminescence, which towered above the ordinary torches and gaslamps in majesty and brilliance, were humbled by the roaring White Flame in a fine pit at the visitor's end of the plaza. Lit only three times a year, the White Flame was literally and perfectly white, yet otherwise was an ordinary fire, with heat and passion.
Across the way, at the west end of the Tables, was a series of three terraces with stairs on either side. Unlike the platforms in the relay, these terraces were permanent, a series of marble slabs built into a small incline in the lay of the land. At the top, of course, was the Seat of the River of Ignorance, First Citizen of Ieik, where he could enjoy a splendid view of the White Flame, the plaza as a whole, a good portion of the festival grounds, and most of eastern Ieik. Then, should he choose to turn around, a much greater view awaited him to the west: the remainder of Ieik, and much of the Hidden Bowl, which sheltered their village from the merciless winds above. That was his preference at the moment, for as Galavar and Ornithate entered the White Tables at the visitor's end they looked across all that distance and found themselves facing the River's backside.
His name was Jahvoy.
He was a fine sort of mate, still rather youngish, still fairly new in his seat, with short brown hair, strong hands, and a gregarious manner. Just now he had a goblet in one hand, and his other hand resting around the shoulder of the Magister of the Academy, with whom he was speaking closely.
A garcon stepped politely in front of Galavar and Ornithate's way.
"Good evening, Athletes," he said. "May I help you?"
"We'd like to see the River, please," Galavar said.
"He's very popular at the moment, as you can imagine," said the garcon. "Look." He pointed to the stairway on the south side. It was full of people in a line, waiting their turn. "Sourros has graced us with an unexpected pronouncement, and there are many curious people who wish to confer with the River as you do."
"I think I may have been responsible for Sourros speaking to us," said Galavar. "May I speak to whomever is available?"
The worry in his face must have shown through, because the garcon didn't question Galavar's unlikely claim.
"Tanderal looks unoccupied." He pointed to a table off to the south side.
"Thank you," said Galavar, with Ornithate fast repeating him.
"We should have figured he'd be indisposed," said Ornithate.
"I didn't think of it either."
Ieik's leaders were not usually an inaccessible bunch. The purpose of their distance—all of these white trappings and personal attendants—was not to loom above the rest of Ieik, as many a ruler in foreign realms would have it, but to govern with the authority that could only come from the impartiality of distance. People needed, it turned out, the image of a leadership. Galavar had recently begun to learn about it from Koro, when he had questioned these trappings. Now he understood their purpose, though he still did not feel it.
"Master Tanderal, good evening," Galavar said firmly.
She looked up from an empty space, caught unawares. She had been thinking.
"The sele of the evening to you, Galavar—and Ornithate. Congratulations on your outstanding performance today."
"Thank you," they both said.
"So, what do you think of it?"
"That's why we're here," said Galavar. "I asked Sourros a direct question, and he spoke immediately afterwards—to all of us. I think it could have been a reply to me."
"I was right there," said Ornithate. "I can vouch for it."
"You asked Sourros a question?"
"I was telling Ornithate that Sourros can hear us from anywhere, and that if we had a question for him we could ask it at will. Then I asked him."
"What did you ask?"
"I asked him why he isn't more accessible to us. Sourros rarely speaks to us, and usually only on formal occasions at the Fateful Well. Sometimes privately, in people's thoughts. And sometimes…sometimes like this, where everybody can hear it no matter what."
"Even the deaf," said Tanderal. "Anyone with the power of comprehension."
"It was my question," said Ornithate. "I don't want Galavar to get in trouble alone. I was just wondering if Sourros would speak to us this year, since he didn't on Dawn's Eve last year or the year before."
Tanderal smiled. "There is no evil in a question like that. Perhaps some will think it flippant to query the Alknowing in so casual a forum, but I wouldn't worry about that."
"What should we do?"
"Can you remember exactly what you asked?"
Ornithate looked and Galavar and said "You asked 'Why not, Sourros?'" Then she looked at Tanderal. "But he was really asking why Sourros doesn't speak to us more often."
"And why was his reply so inscrutable?" Galavar said. "Usually, Sourros makes more sense than that."
"Usually, yes," said Tanderal, "but when he doesn't it almost always conveys an especially great import."
"It certainly sounded that way," said Ornithate.
"I wish I knew what it meant," said Galavar.
"Give it a good think, mates. That's what I'm doing. You will have some time to try. Even in our enlightened society, sometimes the weight of social hierarchies cannot simply be ignored. I'm afraid I can't whisk you through that queue up to the River. But I will most definitely tell him of your concerns, all that you told to me, as soon as I may. Go back to the Athletes' Tables, and be available there. I expect the River will send a summons for you within the next couple of hours."
As they walked away from the White Tables, a strange frown overtook Galavar's face.
"I don't know who Master Tanderal even is," said Galavar. "How embarrassing. At least she's nice."
"I don't know her either. I guess it's bound to happen sometimes. You know, I met a kid in my class a few days ago whom I swear I had never seen before. My own class! But he's been there the whole time. One just can't expect to see everything, I guess."
Galavar frowned more deeply. "That's what Sourros was saying. The world becomes unclear when you look outside the parts of it you know. I just wish I knew what he meant by it."
He looked at Ornithate.
"I know you want to see the concerts up close. I don't think they'll need you at the White Tables. You can go if you want."
"Nah. I'll be able to hear well enough from our table. I don't want you to go through all of this by yourself."
"That's kind of you."
★ The River
The River is one who rives (in this case the River of Ignorance), sounded with a long "I." It's not the "river" as in a flowing body of water.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!