From the second book of the Elder Light Series. Motherhood does not always come easily or naturally, nor is it necessarily a blessing. For one accustomed to control of herself and her circumstances, it is in fact nothing short of hell.
There were ways of terminating a pregnancy. She had a hazy idea about what they were, mostly from literature. But it was not a problem she had ever had to deal with in real life, and she had no means to research the matter. Such lore was certainly known to the Freefolk, but there was no guarantee that what worked for a Pallideen would work for her, even if she trusted their primitive medical knowledge. Aside from that, she hesitated even to ask. The very idea that she would consider terminating her pregnancy would horrify them all, particularly Tristramacus, who would certainly find out.
So she did nothing about it, just tried to carry on each day, doing what needed to be done, thinking about it as little as possible. Her midsection began to expand to accommodate its tenant, and her breasts began swelling in anticipation of that tenant’s future nutritional needs. It took her unpleasantly by surprise the first time she felt it stirring. It was eerie to have this thing completely independent of her thrusting out its appendages enough to protrude under her skin. Like having swallowed a cat.
“The pregnancy seems to be progressing quite normally,” Rose pronounced. The old woman was considered the authority on all matters of female health, boasting that she had successfully seen enough babies into the world to populate a village.
“My back is dreadfully sore and my ankles are swollen,” Brinnalamaya complained. “I can’t get my boots on. And I’m short of breath all the time.”
“All quite to be expected my Lady,” Rose said, working her toothless gums. Rose. What a mockery her name was! This repulsive creature, whose fingers were sprinkled with warts and whose face further emulated a toad. Brinnalamaya hated her touch. Her young apprentice, Tresh, scrutinized Brinnalamaya’s swollen abdomen. “A girl, I think.”
“Nay,” Rose said with a firm shake of her head. “Boy. You can tell by the way she’s carrying.”
“A son!” Tristramacus preened, as puffed up as an old rooster.
No one understood the horror of it.
Depression enervated her. Navigating her heavy, clumsy body through any task was too much trouble. They excused her from chores, waited on her, saw it all as normal. Her lack of appetite was normal, her lack of energy was normal, the embarrassing oozing of her sore, swollen breasts was observed with approval, not with the disgust that Brinnalamaya felt.
“There you are, Madam, here’s your tea.” She took the cup from him and Tristramacus fussed a bit with the blanket. It had been folded over several times to make a comfortable cushion over the hollowed log he’d hewn out for a seat. It even had a level spot next to her where she could set down the cup. “Now, enjoy the sun and drink your tea. One of the folk will be by to check on you presently.”
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“Wood gathering, up the south slope. Got to have plenty on hand come cold weather. Don’t you worry, now, just take it easy.”
“This tea is dreadful.”
“Oh, now, it’s not so bad. Drink it up, it’s good for you.”
“If you say so,” she sighed.
“I know, it all tastes wrong to you now,” Tristramacus said. “Just another effect of your condition. Perfectly normal.”
Normal. She wanted to cry.
“Not much longer now, I calculate,” he said. “Then you’ll be back to your old feisty self.”
On the one hand she wanted the misery to be over. On the other hand, the birth would mean having to take care of a baby. Her life was changed, never to be her own again.
She forced herself to take a drink of the tea, grimaced and then put the cup aside.
Tristramacus knelt on the ground in front of her. “It’s going to be fine, Brin. Not a thing to worry about. When the time comes, you’ll have us all around you to help.”
She nodded, trying with limited success to smile.
“Here now, I’ve had some experience myself with birthing, even difficult ones.”
“Livestock and Pallideen,” she said.
His thin lips compacted slightly. Then he said, “Don’t underestimate me. I’ve seen plenty and know more. I’ll take good care of you, Brin.”
He took her hand and pressed his palm against hers in a quick gesture of reassurance. “We understand how you feel,” he said. “Remember, you’re not alone.” He stood up. “Just give a holler if you need anything. There’ll be folk down working the field all morning, glad to help.”
“All right,” she said, and watched him go. You do not know how I feel, she thought, and I am absolutely alone.
Another excerpt concerning Galamandria, and the difficulties of trying to raise an Elder child among Pallideen.
“You need to learn how to read and write,” Brinnalamaya repeated wearily, as she did every time they fought this battle.
“It’s boring!” Galamandria protested, as she always did. “I hate night time. All the animals go to sleep and I have to do boring things. Why do they all have to sleep?”
“Sleep is something that ordinary creatures need to do to heal and freshen themselves. We sleep too, occasionally, when we are sick, or when we need a little break from the constant stress of living and thinking. Babies sleep nearly all the time, and you still need regular naps.”
“But I don’t sleep nearly as much as they do. Why do they need so much sleep? Why can’t they stay awake the way we do?”
“We are a very advanced type of being, with powers they don’t have.”
“Like what Father taught me today,” she said.
Brinnalamaya’s mouth tightened with displeasure. “Yes, like that. Some animals have a rudimentary form of personal energy, but not anything like ours. Our species is unique in many ways.”
“How did we get to be this way, so different from other animals?”
“Through a process of evolution, over many generations. Our ancestors were probably much like the Pallideen.”
“Why didn’t they do evolution and become like us?”
“The answer to that question is very complicated,” Brinnalamaya explained patiently. “And it can be found in the books and data collections in the Subcity. But you must first learn to read to be able to access those answers.”
“Why can’t you just tell me?” Galamandria protested. “Why do I have to learn to read? Father says that you can access parts of the data collection in the Subcity that talk to you, and you don’t have to read them.”
“That’s true, but knowing how to read and write gives you a great advantage. You can access far more.”
“Father says the most important things I have to learn in life don’t have anything to do with letters,” Galamandria said.
“That may be true, too, but it doesn’t mean letters aren’t important. That’s why the Pallideen value the art so much, why they have fought so hard to preserve it. They know reading and writing is the key to wisdom. It is a way of preserving and sharing knowledge, especially in a world like this where there are no computers or data collections. Books and journals are precious, like the history Karl has collected.”
“We can just remember the important things,” Galamandria said.
“Don’t you want to be able to read what Karl has written someday?”
“Someone else could read it to me.”
“Wouldn’t you rather be able to read it yourself? Being able to read also helps you to learn to think for yourself.”
“Father says I’m pretty good at that already.”
That was certainly true. Brinnalamaya said, “Just be glad you don’t have to do your work as the Freefolk used to, with a sharpened stick in the dirt. You at least have a slate and chalk.”
“Per told me about that, how they used to have to hide in the cellars because doing letters was a crime, and you could get arrested for it.”
“Exactly! Here in the Valley we enjoy the freedom to learn without fear.”
“Because Father defeated the Prophet of Lies,” Galamandria said proudly.
“His name was Mirramarduk.”
“The Freefolk call him the ‘Prophet of Lies’. Father calls him ‘the old snake.’”
“I know,” Brinnalamaya sighed. From time to time she still wondered what had become of him. Poor sick creature.
“Now, then,” Brinnalamaya said briskly, “That is quite enough talk. You will spend the next hour studying this text and copying the letters.”
“Yes! Now, I am going to go and find your father. I have something to talk to him about. You will keep at it until I return. Understand?”
Galamandria grumbled rebelliously, but turned her attention to the page and slate.
Brinnalamaya found Tristramacus tending the fire in the cooking room where the meat from last hunt was roasting slowly. It would be ready to distribute to the various families in the morning.
“Tris, I need to talk to you. I still cannot believe what happened today.”
“A great many things happened today,” Tristramacus said, poking the coals.
“You know what I mean! That incident with Galamandria and that boy, Hahn. How could you do that to your own daughter?”
“It was necessary,” he said.
“Necessary! Violence is never necessary when bringing up a child!”
“You’ve been pestering me to deal with the problem, and now I’ve dealt with it,” he replied.
“I wanted you to talk to her. Reason with her. Not use force on her! What kind of an example does that set? Civilized people should never resort to force to solve their differences. What kind of message—“
“Exactly the message she needed!” Tristramacus snapped.
“To be hurt by her own father—“
“You’re the one who is always complaining that you don’t know anything about children! So don’t presume to lecture me about how to raise Galamandria!”
“I know when something is wrong,” Brinnalamaya insisted.
“Obviously not,” he shot back. “How is she going to learn about what personal energy can do?”
“You must explain, rationally—“
“Stagscat! That’s the problem with you, Madam, you are always preaching bloody reason, all these fiendish tangles of logic and compromise, like all the rest of those idiot bureaucrats! Well, there are some problems that aren’t best solved by the interminable blowing of hot air, and this is one of them. Direct, clear action. An unambiguous demonstration that she will never forget.”
“A blast of pain from her own parent’s palm?” Brinnalamaya said hotly. “Whatever quarrels you may have with my methods of governing, which I may remind you, succeeded in keeping peace and order for hundreds of years, there are certain guidelines that all civilized people agree on when it comes to the handling of children, and one of them is that you do not use force! It is never as effective as love and reason in disciplining a young mind.”
He scowled at her. “You may have noticed,” he said, “that we do not live in a civilized world anymore.”
“All the more reason not to abandon—“
“That is precisely what I’m trying to teach Galamandria!”
“That’s not the way—“
“Don’t interrupt me!” he bellowed. “In a civilized society in which there are children, which, I’ll remind you, hasn’t existed for several thousand years, those children play together. They grow up together. They learn about how personal energy works in their own battles with each other, which are kept from getting out of hand by the supervision of adults. It may be a damned distant memory, but I remember growing up. Do you?”
“Well, yes. Of course. We had to learn—“
“You’ll notice a decided absence of other children of our kind, Madam! An absence very firmly enforced by you! How in blazes is she ever going to learn what she is doing when all she has for companions are Pallideen?”
That stung. Brinnalamaya turned and looked away. The cooking room was dark beyond the orange glow of the coals. Shadows of the roasting meat shifted over the rough walls of the cave, the shadows multiplied by their two auras, a cool, bluish contrast to the hot carnelian of the fire.
“That’s not fair, Tris,” she said.
“Fair? What’s fair got to do with it? It’s a fact. You’re so bloody terrified of the possibility that you might be inconvenienced by another pregnancy that you won’t even let me touch you!”
“Inconvenienced?” she echoed, incredulous. “Inconvenienced?!? You have no idea what a miserable, wretched ordeal it was!”
“You had a perfectly normal pregnancy and a somewhat difficult but successful delivery, and produced a healthy child. The first child born to our people in millennia! I should think you’d recognize the importance of that! I’d think you’d reckon it worth a bit of discomfort!”
“I certainly do recognize the importance of it,” she shouted back, shaking with anger, “But it was a great deal more than a bit of discomfort!”
“Females have been putting up with it routinely since the beginning of time and accepting it as just part of life! Why should you be so blessed different?”
“Because it is the right of every female to choose whether or not she wishes to bear a child! Control over one’s own body and life choices is one of the most fundamental rights of an individual in any civilized society—“
“You keep prattling on about ‘civilized society’! Well, it doesn’t exist any more, my fine lady! You just can’t seem to get that through your head! Maybe someday we’ll have that grand, gracious civilized society again, where everyone can have the luxury of doing as they please, but in the meantime you had better adjust to the reality we have now, with all its gritty, messy discomforts! You can’t just mandate away distasteful biological processes like copulation and childbirth! That’s why the glorious, orderly society you so proudly brag about ruling all those years fell apart! Died a prolonged, pitiful death! All that’s left is the Subcity, all neat and tidy and orderly as a tomb, which is exactly what it is!”
She stared at him, the fight drained out of her by the appalling truth of what he said. She murmured, “There are still living people there. I was there.”
“And you might as well go back,” Tristramacus said cuttingly, “because you sure as death don’t fit in here!”
“You’re quite right,” she said, and walked out of the cave, stunned.
This excerpt tells of Brinnalamaya after Tristramacus disappears from the Valley, and she goes to the South in search of him. She finds instead Mirramarduk, a broken wretch, but he may be all that is left to her.
Rising to her feet and striding to the edge of the outlook, standing where Tristramacus had once stood, with tears in her eyes Brinnalamaya shouted into the hazy distance, “I will find you! If it takes all of eternity I will find you again! I will never give up! Do you hear me? Never!”
She sat down on the sun-warmed rock. She would go back to searching just as soon as she finished her business here. A faint smile tugged at her mouth. She knew what he would think of it. He’d be disgusted with her for saving Mirramarduk’s life. “Should have left him to die in the street!” he’d snort. “He deserved no better!”
Well, perhaps he didn’t. But she had saved him and now she was obliged to take care of him.
“Why?” she could almost hear Tristramacus say.
“It’s a matter of duty,” she murmured aloud.
“You owe nothing to the likes of him!”
“It doesn’t matter who you’re dealing with when it’s a matter of honor. You kept your word even when it was pledged to him, didn’t you? It was nearly the ruin of you.”
“You made him no promises,” Tristramacus’s imaginary voice argued.
“If I abandon him now it’s as good as murder.”
“Justifiable execution of a sociopathic criminal! Just what do you think his future is going to be if he does live, eh? He is a deranged, sadistic cripple. Of what possible use is he to the world? Or to himself! He’s better off dead.”
“Perhaps I can help him,” Brinnalamaya murmured.
“Help him? Ha! You’re as mad as he is!”
He is one of our kind, she thought. There are so few of us left.
Brinnalamaya felt terribly lonely.
She went down into the Subcity and walked the silent streets. Loneliness mixed with nostalgia for what had been lost. Not just the luxuries, the fine food, the music, soft cloth and elegant clothing, the evenings at the theater, parties in the Garden. Nor even the technologies that made life so much easier and efficient. Never mind computers and pushpad communications; just a pen, for pity’s sake! A common pencil! No, the worst loss was the culture, the people, the way of life. Their great works of art were preserved in the Museum and Archives here in the Subcity, but who could appreciate them? Not this rabble that lived in filth and ignorance, plotting their intrigues and torturing their prisoners. With whom could she discuss the merits of a fine wine, or a well-written novel or a brilliant performance by a skilled musician?
She thought of Galamandria, who knew no other life, who had been raised as much by the Pallideen as by her. She could barely read, didn’t give a damn about her clothes, and swore like a Pallideen stablehand. Although Galamandria was her child, born of her body with the lovely dark skin and lustrous white hair of her kind, she might as well be of another race.
Brinnalamaya came upon Annimodea’s house. The Ozymander government had tried its best to minimize the difference in privilege between the affluent and the less so. The poorest farm family in the Outlands got the same access to education and health care as the Council Prime. The Museum and Academy Library were free to anyone. The Symonia theater put on performances of great works with free admission and air transports could be chartered at government expense to bring people from the farthest fishing village or mountain outpost to experience the culture of the City of Ozymander. They tried their best; they sincerely did.
But there were class differences that simply couldn’t be helped. Those who could afford to, preferred the company of their own kind. One did not care to have one’s elegant dinner party crashed by an Outlands boor whose clothing smelled of manure. There were no laws against any individual working his way up into privileged circles, and many did. Tristramacus, for example. Still, it had to be admitted, there were things the upper echelons had that more common folk did not. One of those things was a second residence in the Subcity.
It was in these Subcity residences that most people installed their Oblivion chambers, safe and secure, far underground. They planned for the long term, thought in the grand scale, and the Subcity was planned for eternity. Should the climate change, should there be floods or another age of glaciers, should there be a plague or war, the Subcity could be sealed off and kept safe. No one had really expected the great City of Ozymander ever to fall. But just in case.
And so here they all slept, safe and secure. For eternity.
Brinnalamaya had grown up with Annimodea, and their friendship had endured all the shifting currents of their lives. They had joked about finding each other again in the future, after Oblivion, and taking up right where they’d left off, as they always did when they’d been apart for any length of time. Wouldn’t it be good to talk to her again! Was it so wrong to think about it? Brinnalamaya found herself walking up to the door, and then opening it.
Her residence bore the touch of Annimodea’s personality. Brinnalamaya stood admiring the Telemanicus prints that were Annimodea’s favorites. The furniture was simple and adequate. Sufficient to the purpose, as Annimodea would have said. The kitchen was the same. She never cooked much, no more than she had to. She always said she was too busy to eat. The floor and ceiling were blue, the cabinets pale aqua, the trim light green. Annimodea always favored those colors.
Brinnalamaya paused in front of the chamber door. It was strictly against protocol to intrude on another’s Oblivion. But, as she had tried to argue with Tristramacus, these were unusual times. She wouldn’t disturb her. She just wanted to see her old friend’s dear, familiar face, to sit with her a moment, perhaps even–silly as it sounded–to talk to her. There was so much violence, loss and sorrow all around her, she needed just a few moments of sanctuary.
Brinnalamaya entered the chamber. But instead of Annimodea’s peaceful visage, she saw a desiccated corpse.
Horror choked and seared her. She stumbled, gasping, out of the chamber and out of the house, and fell in the street, sobbing. Another shock, the worst yet, Death catching her in its paw and laughing at her. The terrible finality of it, the void, the cold, stark emptiness. Annimodea wasn’t merely in Oblivion, she was gone. Gone forever. No possible revival, no reprieve. No hope of return, not a chance, no, absolutely not. Gone. Permanently. Dead. Annimodea was dead.
How many others were the same? Was Brinnalamaya’s survival a mere fluke? A singularity? Was she surrounded by the irretrievably dead? Corpses where there should have been living, breathing, sleeping people? Rotting, crumbling bodies, hollow-eyed skulls, grey hair? Afraid to know, yet desperate to know, she ran into the next residence, a stranger’s house, and looked for the chamber. She found the same horror within. The residence across the courtyard was the same. The Subcity was a graveyard. All her people were dead. This was truly the end of their race and culture, never to be rediscovered or reborn. The future, all hope, was gone.
Suddenly Mirramarduk’s life seemed incalculably precious.
[return to Elder Light] or read another brief excerpt regarding books:
Brinnalamaya found a comfortable chair in an adjoining room. She checked on him occasionally as he twitched and muttered with unpleasant dreams. She stirred the soup and passed the time with reading.
The rich wealth of story collections and novels produced by their culture over the centuries was stored in the data vaults of the Museum and Archives, accessible to anyone with a computer or other reading device. Brinnalamaya always kept pleasant and interesting reading material stored on her computer for when she had a moment or two to relax. She also drank the tea that was quickly made by machine, generically flavored, served in mugs easily washable and not easily broken. Such was the necessity of having a busy life with many obligations; one needed convenience and efficiency.
But when she had genuine leisure time, a luxurious expanse of hours during which she could turn off the messenger, pretend she was not at home, and do just as she pleased, she would make tea from boiled water and steeped from choice selected and blended leaves, perhaps sweetened with a drop of honey, served in a lovely mug of unique and somewhat fragile design. From a shelf, especially made for their storage, she would choose one of the books she had collected, favorite texts turned into old-style, bulky, inefficient, obsolete and splendid artifacts. She would take it down, feeling the smooth texture of the cover in her hand, touching the pages and turning each leaf. She would settle in her most comfortable chair, one with good lighting above it, wrap herself in a particularly soft afghan, sip her tea, and read.
The beautifully rendered illustrations and the carefully chosen print style of a well-made book pleased the eye in a way that no screen image or hologram could. Mere information could be shared on demand through networks. Even works of art could be reproduced electronically for the benefit of the masses, for their appreciation and education. But for that education to be complete one had to at least once see the object as it was meant to be seen, physical, present, unmediated. Paintings, sculptures, performances of music, theater, all were best appreciated when one was there, in the same room, sensing all the subtle nuances of the experience. Books performed that service for written text. If it was truly art, it needed to be rendered into a form that did it justice. Not virtual images on a screen to be quickly scanned, consumed, discarded. But a book which endured, had presence, continued as a palpable reality even when it wasn’t being actively read.
Brinnalamaya loved books.
This was not the ideal situation for reading. The chair was not very comfortable. What tea was available was mediocre at best. The light was adequate, but the situation was dreadful. Having to be alert every moment for a sound from the other room kept her from becoming truly immersed in the text. The book was a comfort just in itself, in its familiar solidity in her hand, in the familiar words which associated themselves with pleasanter times. She needed that comfort and clung to it.