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Moon, reigning as the Snow Queen, tries to keep her people from the tyranny of the Hegemony, while solving the mystery of the otherworldly Mers
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Joan D. Vinge has won two Hugo Awards, one for her novel The Snow Queen. Author of ten novels and a number of film adaptations, her books have been bestsellers here and abroad. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
TIAMAT: The Windwards
The hand released the bright ribbon of scarf, and it fluttered down. A hundred eager voices made one voice as the cluster of young girls exploded down the shining strand of beach.
Clavally Bluestone Summer sat watching on the cliff high above, feeling the sea wind against her face, feeling it sweep back her long, dark hair. Smiling, she closed her eyes and imagined that it was the wind of motion, that she was running with the others down below. She had run when she was a girl in races like this one, on so many islands across the Summer seas; hoping to be the winner, to be the Sea Mother's Chosen for the three days of the clan festival, garlanded with necklaces of clattering polished shells, fed the best and the sweetest of foods, given new clothes, honored by the elders, flirted with by all the young men.…
Her smile turned wistful; she fingered the trefoil pendant that gleamed in the sunlight against the laces of her loose homespun shirt. It had been a long time since she had run in one of those races. She had been a sibyl for nearly half her life now. How was it possible…? She opened her eyes, filling them with the endless bluegreen of sea and sky, ever-changing and yet ever constant; the mottled clouds, the shimmering ephemera of rainbows from a distant squall. The Twins smiled down on their gathering today, warming her shoulders with luxuriant heat. Spring was in the air, making her remember with longing her body's own springtime.
She glanced over her shoulder at the sound of footsteps. Her smile widened as she saw her husband making his way up the path with a basket of fish cakes and bread, a jug of beer in his other hand. She saw the gray-shot brown of his braided hair, his own trefoil gleaming in the sunlight.
Her smile faded as she watched him struggle up the steep hill. The stiffness in his joints was getting worse every year--too many years spent in drafty stone rooms, or making cold, wet crossings from island to island for weeks at a time. Danaquil Lu was a Winter; he had not been bred to the hard life of a Summer, and his body rebelled against it. But he rarely spoke any word of complaint or regret, because he belonged here, where he was free to live his life as a sibyl…and because his heart belonged to her.
The weather was warming; the Summer Star was brightening in their sky, Summer had come into its own. Perhaps the warmer days would ease his pain. Her smile came back as she saw his eyes, bright and bluegreen like the sea, smiling up at her.
He sat down with the basket of food, trying not to grimace. She put an arm around his shoulders, massaging his back gently as she pointed down at the beach. "Look, it's almost over!" Another shout rose from the watchers below as the runners reached the finish line drawn in the wet sand. They watched a young girl with a bright flag of yellow hair sprint across the line first, watched her being embraced and garlanded and borne away.
"It was a good race, Dana," she said, hearing the memories in her voice.
Danaquil Lu sighed, nodding; but somehow the gesture felt to her as if he had shaken his head. "We're young for such a short time," he murmured, "and we're old for such a long time."
She turned to look at him. "Come now," she said, too cheerfully, because she had been feeling the same way. "How can you say that on a day like this?" and she kissed him, to make certain he didn't try to answer.
He laughed in surprise. They ate together, enjoying the day and each other's company, an hour of solitude stolen from the questions of the festival-goers in the village below.
They came down the hill again at last. A clan gathering was always a joyful time--a time for being reunited with relatives and friends from all across the scattered islands of Summer; for remembering the Sea Mother, giving the Lady the tribute She deserved. This was the annual gathering of the Goodventures, one of the largest clans in the islands. They had been the religious leaders of Summer before the last Change--the clan of the previous Summer Queens--and they still held great influence.
Down by the stone wall of the quay the winner of the footrace, a laughing, freckled girl of no more than fourteen, was tossing the ritual offerings of worshipers and supplicants into the restless green water. Out in the bay, several mers from the colony that shared this island's shores looked on, a sure sign of the Sea's blessing. Clavally watched the girl's face, the sunlight radiant in her hair, and felt a sudden, unexpected surge of longing.
She had made a choice when she became a sibyl. It was a hard, restless life, traveling from island to island, speaking the Lady's wisdom to those who needed her, seeking out and training the ones who would follow after her, to guide a new generation of Summers. They said that it was "death to kill a sibyl, death to love a sibyl, death to be a sibyl."…Few if any men who were not sibyls themselves would dare to be a husband to one.
But even after she had met Danaquil Lu, she had gone on taking childbane, because it was too hard a life to inflict on a child, and she had no close relatives to help her raise one. And Danaquil Lu, with his bent back and aching joints, needed more and more of her care. She squeezed his hand tightly, and told her restless body to be quiet. Soon enough her childbearing time would be past, and the questions in her heart would be answered once and for all.
"A question, sibyl--?" A boy came up to them hesitantly, his brown braids flopping against his sleeveless linen tunic. His eyes chose Danaquil Lu to ask his question of; she guessed it was probably a question about girls.
"Ask, and I will answer." Danaquil Lu spoke the ritual response, smiling kindly.
Clavally let go of his hand with a farewell glance, granting the blushing boy privacy. She moved on through the crowd, half-hearing Danaquil Lu's voice behind her murmur " Input…" as he fell into the Transfer, and the boy's mumbled question.
"Sibyl?" A middle-aged, gray-haired Goodventure woman came up beside her, and Clavally stopped, expecting another question. But before her response could form, the woman said, "Are you going to Carbuncle?"
Clavally looked at her blankly. "To Carbuncle? Why?" she asked.
"Haven't you heard?" The woman looked annoyingly smug. "The new Summer Queen. She has asked all the sibyls of Summer to make a pilgrimage to the City in the North. She claims it is the Lady's will."
Clavally shook her head, expressing her disbelief as much as her ignorance. Carbuncle was the only real city on the entire planet, located far to the north, among the Winter clans. Its name meant both "jewel" and "fester." Tied to the offworlders' starport, it swarmed with their wonders and their corruption during the one-hundred-and-fifty-year cycles with the offworld Hegemony controlled Tiamat. During that time the Snow Queen reigned, the Winters claimed the city and all the lands around it for their own--and sibyls were forbidden in Carbuncle. The offworlders despised them, the Winters hated and feared them. Danaquil Lu had been born in the city, but he had been exiled when he became a sibyl.
But now the Change had come again. The Black Gate that the offworlders used to reach Tiamat had closed; the offworlders had gone away, and taken their technology with them. Even now the seas were warming. Gradually they would become too hot for the klee the Summers herded and for many of the fish they netted at sea. The mers, the Sea Mother's other children, were migrating north, and the Summers were preparing for their own migration as well. Their ways would become this world's ways again, as the Winters relearned the old rules of survival and harmony with the Sea, and the Summer Queens showed them the human face of the Lady's wisdom.
"But why would the Summer Queen--or the Lady--want sibyls in the city," Clavally asked, "and not among the people, helping them to find the way to their new lives?"
"She said that she wanted to tell all the sibyls of a greater purpose, their true purpose, that had been revealed to her by the Sea Mother." The Goodventure woman shrugged and wiped her perspiring face. "But there are those who ask, What possible purpose could a sibyl find, which is better than to do what you do now--?"
"Yes," Clavally murmured uncertainly. "It's a strange request."
"What is?" Danaquil Lu came up beside her, raising his eyebrows.
"The Summer Queen has asked all the sibyls to come to Carbuncle, so that she can speak to them," she said. And she watched her husband's face turn ashen. The scars on his cheek--the cruel legacy of his casting-out from Carbuncle--suddenly stood out like a brand. He took hold of her arm, not-quite-casually, steadying himself.
"Oh," was all he said. He took a deep breath, filling his lungs with clear sea air.
"We needn't go," Clavally said softly, looking up at him. "There will be enough others without us."
"A wise decision. But why do you look like the news brings you no joy, Clavally Bluestone?" A heavyset, weathered woman joined them; Clavally recognized Capella Goodventure, the clan headwoman.
Clavally didn't answer, looking back at Danaquil Lu, who was gazing out to sea as if he were suddenly there alone.
"Or your pledged, either," Capella said, her voice prying like fingers. "What clan is he with--?" Clavally heard the tone in her voice which said she knew the answer, although Danaquil Lu wore no embroidery on his shirt, no token of clan membership.
"Wayaways," Danaquil Lu said flatly, looking back at her. His expression said that he recognized the tone in her voice, too.
"Wayaways? But isn't that a Winter clan?" Capella said, with sour insinuation. The sound of her surprise rang as false as a cracked bell. "I would think you'd be eager to return to your home."
"It isn't my home," he snapped. "I am a sibyl."
"Of course you are." She stared at his trefoil. "A Winter who worships the Lady. Aren't you unusual." She rubbed her arms, looking out at the sea.
Danaquil Lu looked away from her again, irritation plain on his face. He did not believe in the Lady; or in anything at all except his calling. But the Lady believed in him. Clavally looked back at Capella Goodventure, frowning. She had never been fond of the Goodventures' elder. She was becoming less fond of her now with every heartbeat. She opened her mouth to inquire whether Capella had a question to ask, or not.
"I would go nowhere near the City, if I were a sibyl," Capella said, looking back at her. "I was in Carbuncle at the last Festival. It was my duty to oversee the crowning of the Summer Queen--and the drowning of the Snow Queen." She smiled slightly; Clavally tightened her jaw, and held her tongue. "And what I saw then made me wonder whether the Lady has abandoned Carbuncle forever."
"What do you mean?" Clavally asked, her curiosity forcing the words out against her will.
"The new queen claims to be a sibyl."
Clavally's eyes widened. Her hand touched the trefoil hanging against her chest. "But isn't that a good--"
"--But," Capella Goodventure went on, relentlessly, "she's white as snow; she looks exactly like the old queen, Arienrhod." Her voice dripped vitriol. "She forsook the proper rituals of the Change; she speaks blasphemies about the Lady's will. She chooses to live in the Snow Queen's palace--and she went so far as to have me turned out of it when I tried to show her how her willfulness could harm us all."
Ah, Clavally thought.
"The Winter gossip says that she is the old Queen's illegal clone, an unnatural copy of herself, made for her by the offworlders to oppress us," Capella Goodventure went on. "She couldn't possibly be a Summer, even though she claims to belong to the Dawntreader clan--"
"The Dawntreaders?" Clavally said, startled. "I knew a sibyl of the Dawntreaders, about five years ago. Her name was Moon--"
This time it was the Goodventure woman who looked surprised.
"Is she the new Queen?" Clavally asked, incredulous. She read the answer in the other woman's eyes.
"You know her?" Capella Goodventure demanded. "What did she look like?"
"She would be young, and very fair--her hair was almost white. Her eyes were a strange, shifting color, like fog-agates.…" She knew again, from the look on the other woman's face, that she had described the new Queen.
"She is a sibyl," Danaquil Lu said abruptly. "We trained her ourselves. And she was a Summer. I would have known if she was not."
Capella Goodventure looked at him, her eyes narrowing; he met her stare, until finally she was the one who looked away. "She isn't right," she said finally, looking at Clavally again. "I will tell you what I have told every sibyl I've seen--I have to return to the city, but you do not. Don't go to Carbuncle." She turned and started away, her angry momentum splitting the crowd like a ship's wake.
Clavally looked at Danaquil Lu, found him already looking at her. "Perhaps the only thing that's truly wrong with the new Queen is that she isn't a Goodventure," she murmured.
Danaquil Lu's mouth twitched with a fleeting, ironic smile; the smile disappeared. "What do you really think?" he asked her.
She brushed at a fly that was buzzing in her ear like doubt, and felt another frown start to form. "I remember the girl Moon Dawntreader that we knew. She was different…there was something about her…but I always felt that it was good. I think that I want to know for myself what the truth is, Dana."
He nodded, his face pinching. "You want to go to Carbuncle."
Slowly she nodded. "But what do you think? What do you feel?…What do you want to do?"
He looked out across the sea again, squinting with the glare of light on water, looking north. She saw him swallow as if something were caught in his throat. At last he said, "I want to go home."
Copyright © 1991 by Joan D. Vinge
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