It was too late in the day to start back to Indoberia. Kaslo tried to find ways to busy himself about the castle, but his thoughts would not leave him alone. Finally, he went up to the flat roof of one of the larger towers and leaned against the parapet as the planet’s sun sank below a horizon no longer broken by the Commune’s skyline. In the opposite direction, the stars were coming out, but Kaslo saw only a handful of the glittering orbitals that used to stretch in a sparkling, glinting arc across the night sky.
The stranger came at dawn, walking out of the barren land like a mirage—gradually shimmering into existence beside the bronze line of the rails: a wide-brimmed hat, a long cloak, the glint that might have been a rifle or an obsidian-studded sword. Xochipil, who had been scavenging for tech at the mouth of Mictlan’s Well, caught that glint in her eyes—and stopped, watching the stranger approach, a growing hollow in her stomach.
On the nights Mrs. Wainwright let me work in the barn instead of the tavern, I used to sing to the horses. They would greet me with their own murmurs, and swivel their ears to follow my voice as I readied their suppers. That was where Captain Smythe found me: in the barn, singing a song of my own making.
Quentin told lies to people for money. Or drugs. Or kittens. Or anything, really. The particular currency didn’t matter, so long as what was being offered had value to the person who needed the lie.
It was April, and down in the orchard the first flashing blades of the new year’s growth were pushing aside the old, worn, winter stuff. The sky was blue and very clear, but the wind was cold. So the nursemaids put the little princess down under an apple tree, wrapped in her shawls, and ran away to play tag under the twisted apple branches, to keep themselves warm.
They travelled all day, and at night came to rest by one of the large rocks that jut from the desert. The last caveat to voyagers before the plains of windswept sand. Here is what the boy heard: “Long ago, almost fifty years by official counting, there was a boy named Alladin.”
Every night, before going to bed, Rina checked the refrigerators. There were two in the kitchen, on separate circuits, one with a fancy ice dispenser on the door. There was one in the living room holding up the TV, and one in the bedroom doubling as a nightstand.
The piano player drums away with her left hand, dropping all five fingers onto the keys as if they weigh too much to hold up. The rhythms bounce off the rhythms of what her right hand does, what she sings. It’s like there’s three different people in that little skinny body, one running each hand, the third one singing. But they all know what they’re doing.
“I’m taking Bodwon with me,” Erm Kaslo said. “He’s handy.” Diomedo Obron did not look up from the ancient tome in which he had been immersed when his security chief entered his work room. “All right,” he said.
Remembering Cimmeria: I walk through the bazaar, between the stalls of the spice sellers, smelling turmeric and cloves, hearing the clash of bronze from the sellers of cooking pots, the bleat of goats from the butcher’s alley. Rugs hang from wooden racks, scarlet and indigo. In the corners of the alleys, men without legs perch on wooden carts, telling their stories to a crowd of ragged children, making coins disappear into the air.