Erm Kaslo came to Cheddle on the Adelaine, a tramp freighter that didn’t mind taking passengers who didn’t mind the quality of the accommodations. He could have come on a liner, but he preferred, when working, to make his entrances unnoticed.
They had struggled for days through a wasteland of broken rock, high in the mountains, on their way through a pass that maps had indicated would take them to a country of promise. The first of the rocks were chipped and quarried, and showed signs of having been worked by artisans as much as by nature. But after a time, the unfashioned stone gave way to broken figures. The general impression was that a nation of statues, its entire populace, had been carried to the heavens and then dropped, so that all were shattered. Fractured heads and torsos, truncated limbs, toes and fingers of every size, from gnomic to gigantic, lay strewn from peak to peak, as if spread across the high mountain valleys by glacial action.
The locker room is always tense before a game. Alisa is trying to get her uniform to stay in place, counting more on safety pins and prayer than she probably should, and Birdie—true to her name—keeps whistling, which is probably going to get her slapped if she doesn’t stop soon. Cram twenty girls from opposing squads into one small space and tensions are going to flare.
As I was reading last night—reading a book, I should explain, which was otherwise merely commonplace; one of those somewhat political, somewhat philosophical, somewhat historical books which can now be bought by the pound each month—I was struck by a certain remark of the author’s.
“How many kids now?” I asked. “Twenty-five we can identify for sure. But that’s out of a couple of hundred a week. Not all those are ours.” “Don’t say ours, Bela. They’re nothing to do with me.” I looked out the window. My reflection stared back. Beyond that I watched the night speed past. I should have been at my next-door neighbour’s eighth birthday party, pretending I didn’t like children; I shouldn’t have been here.
When Jantz spotted a black skeleton jutting up above the water, at first she thought it was just a tide-battered tree, but before long she could make out the shredded ropes and scraps of sail. The wooden bones were the charred yardarms of a sunken ship.
The tiny cottage at the edge of Sanli Village—away from the villagers’ noisy houses and busy clan shrines and next to the cool pond filled with lily pads, pink lotus flowers, and playful carp—would have made an ideal romantic summer hideaway for some dissolute poet and his silk-robed mistress from nearby bustling Yangzhou.
“I have my limits,” said Gorlen Vizenfirthe, hooking a full mug of cheap brew toward him with one of the petrified fingers of his stony right hand. A coarse black strand of beard-hair poked up from the foamy head like a sick fern’s frond. “And you, sir, are quickly approaching several of them at the same time.”
The wooden house and outbuildings caught fire fast, blazed up, burned down, but the dome, built of lathe and plaster above a drum of brick, would not burn. What they did at last was heap up the wreckage of the telescopes, the instruments, the books and charts and drawings, in the middle of the floor under the dome, pour oil on the heap, and set fire to that. The flames spread to the wooden beams of the big telescope frame and to the clockwork mechanisms.
The earliest movements she knows are not her mother’s movements but the sea rocking her mother, who lies unconscious on the ship’s deck, rescued. In that way, the sea can be said to be her mother. She is born under the morning star, and so is named Ushakiran. The surgeon delivers her into a world of storms and blood, of darkness and creaking wood, of a blanket wrapped close around her, cold arms that cannot hold her.