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Come to the world of the River.
Come to a world distant in time and space, a world where the pace of life is counted by tides of the great River, but where, as in the river itself, there are swift dark currents flowing under a placid surface.
Meet Pamra Don--a young woman scarred by her mother's death, lured to a preist-hood where the truth must be hidden from the faithful. And meet Thrasne, a young boatman who trades from town to town, free from the iron control of the towers of the Awakeners, and the priests of the world of the River--free, that is, as long as he never speaks his mind. These two, by design and accident both, are about to discover many truths. And on the Northshore of the River, the truth can kill you.
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Sheri S. Tepper was born in 1929. She began her career as a writer composing children's stories, and published her first adult book in 1982. In 1991, her novel Beauty won the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel. She currently lives on a ranch in Larkspur, Colorado.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
There was no need for watchmen on the boats that plied the World River. Since everything moved at the same speed, pulled by the same invincible tides, there was little chance of collision; this no less on the barge Gift of Potipur than on any other boat. Thrasne, third assistant owner's-man, had appointed himself watchman nonetheless, borrowing the title from those who manned the gates between townships on Northshore.
Northshore with its Awakeners and frag powder merchants, its oracular Jarb Mendicants and blue-faced priests of Potipur, glittering with sacred mirrors. Northshore, with its processions of black Melancholics, flailing away at the citizens with their fishskin whips and given good metal coin to do it. Northshore, with its puncon orchards and frag groves and wide fields of white-podded pamet and blue-tasseled grain.
And Northshore's River edge, where lean forms of stalking Laughers, tight-helmed in black, announce their approach with cries of scornful laughter, ha-ha, ha-ha, making the heretics run for cover. Echoing the Laughers, stilt-lizards hoot through their horny lips, scattering the song-fish from around their reedlike legs only to snatch them up one by one to gulp them down headfirst. Ha-ha ha-ha.
Once in a while Thrasne would see the up-pointed finger of a Tower scratching at the sky, fliers gathered around it like flies around dead fish. Once in a greater while he would see the lonely knuckle of a Jarb House. And the River itself, some places smooth as a rain pond, other places full of rocks as a worker pit, everywhere dotted with blight-buoys and striped with jetties, as wide as half the world.
Township after township, town after town, with fences between to keep people from moving east and gates between to let people move west, the World River tugging the ships along on the endless tides, and all the panoply of life laid out for Thrasne's watching.
He knew watchmen were necessary on land to keep fool-hardy youths from sneaking between townships in the forbidden direction or greedy caravaners from rushing too quickly westward, clogging the orderly flow of commerce. He knew that on a boat a watchman could only watch, but that was what Thrasne did best. He wasn't bad at handling sails or sculling oars. He could make the fragwood deck gleam as well as any boatman. He could give orders and see they were carried out, which is what gained him the third assistant's post. And he could stow a cargo so that what was wanted next was always on top. These were necessary and useful talents, but he felt his talent for watching was better than these. Certainly it was more developed.
He had created a little cubby in the forewall of the owner-house, up top deck, where the ventilation shaft opened from the forward hold. Across this shaft he rigged a high grating of poles with a sack of loose pamet on top. When his round was done for the day he could sly up to top deck, wait until no one was looking, then hang himself by his fingertips from the owner-house roof with his toes on a handwide railing and shinny around into the cubby. No windows there; no owner's wife looking for anyone not occupied so she could find something unnecessary for them to do; only the sun-warmed boards of the owner-house wall vibrating to the ceaseless flow of the tides. Sometimes he'd stay until dark, and sometimes past that if there were things to see.
It was from the cubby he had first seen a flame-bird set fire to its nest, from the cubby he'd first seen a strangey, rising from the depths like some great green balloon, looking at him out of huge, wondering eyes from its fringes as it spit its bones at him.
It was from the cubby he had first seen a whole ship and its crew caught by blight, drifting ever farther into the unknown southern currents with wooden men standing at the rail as though they'd been carved there.
It was from the cubby he had watched the golden ship of the Progression gliding by on its seven-year journey, the doll-like figure of the Protector of Man held high on the arms of the personal guards.
It was from the cubby he had watched the crowds on shore, thousands of shouting townspeople and file on file of mirror-staffed Awakeners and gem-decked priests all shouting the Protector's name, "Obol, Obol, Obol."
It was from the cubby he had seen all there was to see for the four years he had been Blint's man, and it was from the cubby he now noticed the hard lines of jetties wavering over the River surface not far ahead, where no jetty was supposed to be.
According to the section chart-of-towns, there were no piers closer than Darkel-don, a good ten-day's tide yet, and just yesterday owner Blint had told them they could fish as they liked till then with no worries at all. Now, having seen what he'd seen, there was nothing to do but slither below and tell Blint of this, though it might put him to wondering how Thrasne had seen the piers. They wouldn't be visible from deck level for some time yet, and it wasn't Thrasne's shift to work the rudder deck at the high stern of the boat.
He reported the sighting in a quiet voice, hoping his very mildness and lack of excitement would throw Blint off the scent. Which it might well have done had not Blint-wife been standing near, overhearing him, going at once to peer over the rail.
"Jetties? There aren't any jetties! I can't see any jetties!"
"Well, boy?" demanded Blint.
Blint's eyes crinkled at the corners. "He saw them from above wife. I told him to be sure to check the owner-house roof was tight."
"Tight? Of course it's tight, Blint. It was rebuilt only a Conjunction ago. What do you mean, tight?"
Blint, who answered few of her questions, did not answer this one, "How close?" he murmured.
"Close enough, sir. We'd better get our nets out of the water or the fisherman caste of the place--assuming there is one, for why else have piers--they'll be heaving stones at us."
"We could move into deeper water."
"There was that bunch in Zebulee with the catapult."
"Ah. So there was. Well then, go tell the boys. Haul in and hide the evidence, tell them. No fishskins drying on the deck. No strangey bones lying about. I'll leave it in your good hands."
"Any chance of trade, you think?"
"Well, we'll have to see, won't we." Owner Blint strolled away, no whit disturbed, leaving it in Thrasne's good hands. If Thrasne hadn't been available, he'd have left it in firstman Birk's good hands, or secondman Thon's. Thrasne scrambled into action. At least the boatmen wouldn't argue with him. The memory of that catapult was too recent.
When they were hard at work getting the nets in--they'd have to be stowed wet, which would stink up the net locker--Thrasne went to the chart room to take another look at the Northshore section chart. They were passing Wilforn now. Nothing of interest listed on the section chart for Wilforn. Next place was Baris, and the section chart didn't say a word about Baris having jetties. Baris had pamet, art work, confections, puncon fruit--when the weather was right--and toys. The Baris Tower was listed as middling active, not fanatical, which meant the Awakeners weren't likely to search the Gift for any kind of contraband, books or such. And that's all Blint had written down six, seven years ago when he'd been by last. Thrasne made a mental note to hide his own books--if there were changes in one thing, there might be changes in others--and to add a description of the piers as soon as he'd had a good look at them. Probably some fisherman moving west had come to Baris and decided piers would be a good idea. Probably sold the local Tower on the idea and got a worker crew to build them. In which case, Thrasne snorted, spitting in habitual disgust, it was sheer luck they were still standing.
He returned to the deck in time to help empty the nets. Not much in the way of fish and two or three hard, clattering things bumping on the deck with an unmistakable wooden sound.
"Blight-fish!" one of the boatmen cursed. "I swear by the carrion birds of Abricor, it's too much. All we get lately's the blight."
"Come on, Swin, it's not that bad. We haven't really seen any of it since Vouye. Be careful!" Thrasne pulled him back. "You almost touched that one."
"It's hard. Probably blight's gone out of it. Almost."
"'Almost' gave the boatman a wooden leg."
The men snorted. An old jest, but a true one. What the blight touched, it turned to wood, slowly or quickly, and if it touched the boatman's hand he would have the choice of cutting the hand off--if he moved without hesitation--or becoming a life-size carving of himself.
Some said once the blight hardened completely it lost its power of contagion, but Thrasne had seen a man lose a foot kicking something that seemed very hard indeed. "Just push it over the side, Swin. Don't stand there looking at it, or you'll forget what you're looking at and pick it up."
Swin grunted and pushed the fish overboard with a boathook. The few remaining fish were free of blight, thrashing around on the deck making high-pitched squeals from their air bladders. The men began clubbing and cleaning them, tossing the gutted fish down where other crewmen waited with the salt kegs. Thrasne turned to stowing the nets. Blight meant extra care there, too. They would have to be lowered into the net locker without touching them and sprayed with a mixture of sulphur and powdered frag leaf. Only when they had steeped in this mixture for a day or two could the men safely handle them again. Now they were plying the long hooks in gingerly fashion, pushing the nets below, and Obers-rom was already mixing frag powder. A good man, Obers-rom. Never needed to be told anything twice.
Thrasne leaned over the rail to watch the blighted fish moving alongside, sinking very slowly as they went, still visible after long minutes had gone by. They floated right side up; they looked almost alive, only the lack of movement betraying that they were fish no more. Or perhaps fish of a different kind. Thrasne had seen a man touched by b...
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Book Description Condition: new. Seller Inventory # think0312890222
Book Description Orb Books, 1994. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0312890222
Book Description Orb Books, 1994. Paperback. Condition: New. Brand New!. Seller Inventory # VIB0312890222
Book Description Orb Books, 1994. Paperback. Condition: New. First Omnibus edition. Seller Inventory # DADAX0312890222
Book Description Condition: New. New. Seller Inventory # M-0312890222