Plugs

Alex Dally MacFarlane’s story “The Devonshire Arms” is available online at Clarkesworld.

Read Daniel Braum’s story Mystic Tryst at Farrgo’s Wainscot #8.

Luc Reid writes about the psychology of habits at The Willpower Engine. His new eBook is Bam! 172 Hellaciously Quick Stories.

Angela Slatter’s story ‘Frozen’ will appear in the December 09 issue of Doorways Magazine, and ‘The Girl with No Hands’ will appear in the next issue of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.

Archive for the ‘Tale of the Astrolabe’ Category

Lessons in the Dark

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Today’s story continues last week’s The Tale of the Astrolabe.


“Why am I learning all this?” asked Saan after his first day on the shore of the subterranean ocean.

The scorpion-man was the one who finally answered. “Study a year and a day, and you’ll know.”

“You’ll tell me?”

He didn’t answer, and if his carapace-skin hadn’t been translucent, Saan wouldn’t have seen his smile.

Beyond the sea-light’s shimmer, everything was unchanging darkness. Saan had no idea when days began or ended. He doubted he’d have much more sense of a year.

First thing after waking, he cleaned and repaired owl towers. Rather than keeping mice out of fields like their counterparts above, these owls kept lungfish from overrunning the delicate gardens of land-coral. Before sleep, Saan polished the astrolabes they hung to scare off the fish the owls didn’t get.

Between, he had lessons.

The troglodyte women taught about the world below. Irzell taught history and her sister Zirell, geography. Some days, he was sure they switched, but the subjects blurred anyway–listing Aldressorian battle-griots led naturally into recounting the shifting borders of their telling-lands down the years of the memory wars.

The baboon doffed his filigree robes for long strips of cloth like mummy wrappings to teach combat, hand and blade. He had to repeat every move a hundred times before Saan could make his far less flexible body imitate the vaguest shadow of the motion.

Saan sat with the scorpion-man for hours, rehearsing protocol, which was even more elusive than the other subjects. If you were given a snail, the proper thing was to praise the sky over the land of the snail-giver’s birth. Unless you were in the south of Uil, where saying anything before eating the snail was a mortal offense. Unless this was during the festival of Noltu, and the snail was spiced. Then you needed to feign sneezing, and remember that loudness counted for sincerity among the Uilish…

Saan had gone from wondering why he was learning these things to wondering if he was learning anything.

Irzell sensed his uncertainty. “There are patterns to everything. All knowledge is written in stars above us.”

“We’re in a cave,” said Saan, but, looking up, he saw faint glints on the far-off cave ceiling.

“The knowledge of a dozen lost libraries is there, encoded.”

“But how do you decode…” he said, and remembered the garden’s astrolabes.

A year and a day didn’t seem quite as long.

The Tale of the Astrolabe

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Beyond the city lay fields of grain watered by irrigation tunnels from under the mountain. Between the fields and the herdsmen’s savannah stood a line of towers, roosts for owls who kept the fields clear of mice. Tower-keepers patrolled with slings, killing any snake that might climb up to raid eggs from the nests.

A boy named Saan was one of the few not born into the role–his mother and grandmother arranged the job, hoping he might be the first male in five generations of their family not to be devoured by lions while tending the herds.

One evening, as he walked the path between towers, he saw an owl disappear down a dry irrigation tunnel, an astrolabe in its talons and he ran after it, thinking that whatever magus had lost the instrument would pay a good reward for its return.

Down he ran and down, not realizing how far he’d gone until the dog-headed guardians challenged him with riddles. Saan had heard enough stories to know that the first answer was always “death;” the second, “fear;” the last, “hope.” As he answered the final riddle, a cart drawn by dozens of fennec foxes drew up. He climbed on, and they rolled away into the darkness.

The cave went on, a moonless, starless midnight desert of salt dunes. The only light was an occasional ruby glow deep under the salt-sand, by which Saan could see his fellow-travelers–a pair of elderly troglodyte women, a baboon in a filigree robe, and a scorpion-man with translucent carapace skin and sting-tipped fingers. They rode for hours, and Saan’s stomach rumbled with hunger even though the baboon had shared some dates and the scorpion-man had passed around a bowl of candied scarabs.

The cave narrowed to a tunnel which brought them to the shore of a silent, faintly luminescent sea, along which stood a line of towers like those he’d left above.

“We have arrived,” said the scorpion-man, and the others nodded.

“Where?” said Saan.

“The place of your training,” said the baboon.

“Of your testing,” said the troglodyte women in unison.

Saan saw that the fennec-drawn cart stood near the passage back to the salt desert.

“Can’t I just go home?” said Saan.

“Anytime,” said the scorpion-man.

Then Saan saw that the entrance to the cave passage was carved like the mouth of an immense lion.

“I guess I’ll stay,” he said.

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