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After The Fall: Shades Of Magic

After The Fall: Shades Of Magic

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After The Fall: Shades Of Magic

Länge:
429 Seiten
6 Stunden
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Oct 31, 2013
ISBN:
9780957407763
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

Long ago, the crew of the foundation ship ‘Good Hope’ was sent to establish settlements on a distant planet in preparation for an expected fleet of colony ships. Most of those original settlers and their equipment were dropped to the planet’s surface in cheap and simple ‘one-shot’ craft, in an operation nicknamed ‘The Fall’.
Those first settlers never expected their descendants to be deprived of all technology for a millennium - nor did they doubt that all the established laws of Earth science would hold true on the planet which they named ‘Nuome’; but their machines failed, their science seemed not to work, and the planned scheme of colonisation fell apart. As, one by one, all of the trappings of their civilisation collapsed, religious factions grew – and worse, the science they had believed in was being slowly replaced by what many were forced to call ‘magic’...
This collection of sixteen short stories begins with the last days of technology when the descendants of those first scientists, already ignorant of how their old technology worked, attempt to call for rescue. Later stories tell of the growth of magic and follow the adventures of several different magicians, faced with different problems to overcome.
Each of the stories can stand alone – but they are much stronger when the reader follows the interconnections between the events and characters within them. Individual stories cover different aspect of the ‘magic’, how it can be used to help others, or for personal gratification; and how it can be used for either good or evil; and also how magic often does not solve the more human problems of its practitioners and instead sometimes exacerbates them. Perhaps you long for fame... or for anonymity? Perhaps you have a weakness, for gambling, for example? Perhaps you are looking for vengeance... and maybe don’t like what you find? Through almost all of the stories the famous adventures of a single character, ‘Tria of Hammer Pass’, serve to affect the different people’s actions in different ways. You will meet the Heroine Tria, and she may well surprise you!

Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Oct 31, 2013
ISBN:
9780957407763
Format:
Buch

Über den Autor

Hi. I’m Graham Buckby. I was born and raised in Leicester (England), went to university at York, got a history degree, and spent 34 years teaching history, mostly in the same comprehensive school on the east coast of Lincolnshire. I quit teaching when the mounting tide of government inspired, management enforced, documentation finally swamped my pleasure in actually teaching kids. I first met Alan Denham - my co-author - while doing my postgraduate teaching certificate. He had the room next to mine and regularly woke me by pounding on my door when my alarm clock had woken him... but not me! He introduced me to the local S.F. group. I started writing in the ‘80s (when usable home computers were invented). Alan joined in. Between us we developed our ‘Nuome’ world scene... but then work got in the way for a while... like 20 years! What am I like? Alan reckons I’m eccentric... but so’s he! I’ve been married - twice. I’ve got one wonderful daughter, still at college - studying theatrical make-up. I like real ale, real dogs and motorbikes... oh, and writing.

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After The Fall - Graham Buckby

After The Fall:

Shades of Magic

by

Graham Buckby

&

Alan Denham

After The Fall - Shades of Magic, by Graham Buckby and Alan Denham

Published by Graham Buckby and Alan Denham at Smashwords

Smashwords Edition.

Copyright © Graham Buckby and Alan Denham 2013.

The right of Graham Buckby and Alan Denham to be identified as the authors of this work has been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Other titles by the same authors coming soon at Smashwords:

After The Fall – Shades Of Gold

After The Fall – Shades Of Smoke

After The Fall – Clissa’s Lay

ISBN 978-0-9574077-6-3

Cover illustration: Captain howls to the wolves

from ‘New Beginnings’.

(Captain portrayed by Alfie)

If you were a magician,

living in a wild and dangerous world,

what would you do with your magic?

Use it to take a life?

Or use it to save lives?

Use it to stop cheats?

Or perhaps to cheat others?

Or maybe you wouldn’t want that power at all?

It all rather depends on who you are...

and whether it really is magic.

Contents

Prologue.

The Last Chance.

New Beginnings.

The Diary.

The Reluctant Apprentice.

What’s In A Name?

A Most Unholy Alliance.

The Pursuit.

Mirla.

The Pirate.

The Princess Of The Arran.

An Illusion Of Death.

The Thaumaturge.

Clissa’s Song.

A Solstice Tale.

The Diary – Appendix.

The Last Adventure.

Prologue.

A millennium ago, during the Age Of Expansion, the huge starship ‘Good Hope’ had disgorged its cargo of colonisers onto a deceptively Earth-like planet, a process which those colonisers nicknamed ‘The Fall’.

The colonisers dutifully established settlements and bio-engineered embryonic Earth plants and animals to flourish in the alien environment of the planet which they called Newhome. From the surface of that far planet, they faithfully beamed signals of their success. There was no reply. So they watched the sky, and waited... and waited...

Within a very few years they began to split into factions; those who stubbornly clung to the rapidly failing technology which they had brought with them, and who still saw their prime task to be continued preparations for the arrival of the main colonisation fleet; and others who vehemently insisted that they must adapt themselves to this new life on Nuome.

Even in the first generation there were fanatics on both sides.

Within a few generations the descendants of those fanatics had turned principle into religion.

Yet, however hard they prayed, no more ships ever came.

Those first colonisers never even doubted that all the established laws of Earth science must hold true on this planet. Their empirically trained minds could never have grasped the significance of the subtle elemental differences which the planet was concealing, holding in store for their descendants...

Left to their own devices they resorted to all of the other traditional occupations of mankind...

And one or two that were perhaps new.....

The Last Chance.

‘Tibbie?’

Her voice shattered the silence on the frozen snowfield covering the bleak, lifeless mountainside, cutting the thin, biting cold air.

Tiberius J. Hibbon III grimaced and looked up from his work at the shapeless blob of thick clothing. He wished Anitia wouldn’t call him that. It made him sound like a pet cat.

‘Yes, Annie?’

Inside her copious wrappings Anitia the Copyist squirmed, though not at the familiar corruption of her proper name. ‘Are you sure that... thing... still works?’

Hibbon was about half way into his great grandfather’s space suit. He frowned. ‘It should do. The last time it was used was when my great grandfather, James Hibbon, last piloted a shuttle, eighty odd years ago. Unlike poor old Rover there it’s not been worked to death.’

They both looked at the scarred and battered load-sled. She had seen better days... and some better decades for that matter. That she had ever managed to carry them all of the way from First Fall to what everyone was now calling ‘The Barrier Mountains’ had surprised both of them. The two ascents up the smooth ridge which the explorers had nicknamed ‘The Way To The Stars’ had all but finished the poor old girl off. The crunching, grinding noises she had made during this ascent were darkly ominous.

That was the crux of the problem, Hibbon thought bitterly. The very last remnants of off-world technology were dying, and their every attempt to create any locally manufactured technology had failed. Even attempts to manufacture new parts to replace worn out components from off-world technology had been disastrous. They had given up trying six decades ago.

The first generation had recognised the problem, and had failed to explain it, or even understand it, let alone solve it. The simplest things went wrong. Every sort of ore was present in abundance, but locally-made copper windings fused, whole sets of phosphor bronze bearings inexplicably simultaneously shattered or melted. The metals were tested down to a molecular level, and no differences could be found, no anomalies, no explanation. Even locally constructed buildings containing off-world technology would sometimes unaccountably burst into flames or crumble to dust. Every native material on this wretched planet seemed to be... infected... with the same problem. Attempts to build steam engines had been even more disastrous... explosively so.

But no-one could explain why.

Hibbon smiled drily to himself. Eventually, in a fit of madness driven by desperation, one scientist had very tentatively suggested that perhaps - somehow - all identical materials on this world were in some way... er... linked together so that they all reacted... er... equally? He had been shouted down, ridiculed, and banished to work in the southern mines for his scientific heresy. People still laughed at that tale now.

Hibbon grimaced. Yet other things here had gone so very well. Everything else about the planet of Newhome was so alluringly Earth-like. Embryonic Earth animals and plants had easily been adapted to the alien environment. Some native plants had even proved both edible and nutritious. More and more land had been taken under cultivation. Centres of Reception had been dutifully built to absorb the expected incoming waves of colonists. None of the dreaded native plagues had appeared. In many ways the colony had prospered, but...

Hibbon refocused on the icy mountainside, looked at Rover, and shook his head. She was the very last working sled. Still, she only had a few more kilometres of steadily sloping mountain to accomplish, Hibbon consoled himself. If necessary they could walk down.

Anitia shivered in the bitterly cold air despite her layers of thick, hand-woven, woollen coats.

‘How long does it allow you to breathe?’ she gasped, gesturing at the space suit, struggling to find enough air to talk at this high altitude.

Hibbon shrugged. ‘It must be for a good time, several hours at least, I imagine. If the electrics still worked there should be some sort of display to tell me, I think.’

He paused for breath. He’d no idea what those ‘electrics’ might have once looked like. Perhaps something like the old displays on Rover had looked? But Rover had carried on working after the last displays had failed, so doubtless the space suit would do the same.

‘I shan’t be that long,’ he continued. ‘I’ll drive Rover another two or three kilometres up the slope, contact the ship’s computer through the L.R.T., try to get the crew’s Class A Oracle to persuade it to shift its signal...’ he paused to greedily suck in the thin icy air ‘...and, if that doesn’t work, I’ll leave the L.R.T. there to beam out its own signal.’

That was the second thing that had gone wrong, Hibbon fumed. The unusually high background static here had disrupted all electronic planetary communications... even simple magnetic compasses refused to work properly. But the colonists had faithfully beamed their signals of their successful landing and establishment of base colonies back to Earth via the abandoned shell of the starship ‘Good Hope’ in its geostationary orbit, and eagerly awaited the returning signals telling them when the main coloniser fleet had set out...

Nothing.

Hibbon’s grandfather had been the first to realise that something was badly wrong. The first signals from the main coloniser fleet should have arrived as soon as their ships started decelerating from light speed, forty years or so ago. No signals had ever arrived. The old man had sought answers, and eventually found one hidden deep in the flight data stored in the Class A Oracle. As their starship, the massive colony foundation ship ‘Good Hope’, had approached light speed the ship’s computer had automatically instigated an insignificantly small shift in course, 0.0000001 arcsec. Grandfather had done the mathematical calculations, and come up with a truly terrifying concept; that, through the light years, the unparalleled mass of the Good Hope had warped space... only minutely, but more than enough that, instead of pointing home, the ship’s microbeam signal was pointing nowhere.

‘The people back home won’t even know we’ve got here, let alone established successful base colonies,’ he had expounded to his assembled family, horrified. ‘They’ll think some disaster befell us during the flight. The rest of the ships aren’t coming, they never set out at all!’

He had presented his findings to the Colonial Council. They had suppressed them. ‘It would create unrest if the people thought the second fleet wasn’t coming,’ the council had explained.

Hibbon’s grandfather had died still arguing his case. Hibbon’s father had taken up the cause, and had come up with this plan: To use the L.R.T. salvaged from the remains of the Captain’s barge - the only transmitter with interstellar capabilities on the planet’s surface - and the only transmitter powerful enough to hope to penetrate through the planet’s static - to negotiate a change in direction of Good Hope’s signal to fit his father’s computations; or, alternatively, to use the L.R.T. to send out a second signal based on the revised computations.

The Ruling Council of Newhome had refused. Shifting the settings of the L.R.T. would mean they would miss the signals from the second fleet coming.

‘No it bloody wouldn’t,’ his infuriated father had told Hibbon when he was a lad. ‘The damned fools can’t grasp that the transmitter and receiver functions are separate. I don’t think any of them really understand the L.R.T. at all. Bloody pompous fools! Ranting on that the people ‘back home’ wouldn’t approve of this or that! They’ve even started wearing matching grey gowns like they’re some sort of blasted priesthood!’ He had glowered more darkly. ‘And I don’t like the way they’ve started calling our landing here ‘The Fall’!’

When his father had died unexpectedly, trampled by a startled cart horse, Hibbon had dutifully taken up the family cause. He found some of his father’s reasoning hard to follow, but accepted it as infallible, including the part about needing to get high enough above the planet’s powerful and disruptive electromagnetic field to beam out a clear signal.

Hibbon had duly presented his case. The Supreme Council Of Nuome had summarily condemned his proposals: ‘They would never countenance such ideas back home!’ and had forbidden him to use the Class A Oracle or the L.R.T. at all. ‘You must remain faithful to your vows, loyal to your duties, and continue to prepare for the coming of the second fleet,’ they had instructed him sternly. ‘Back home they commanded that of us... and we now demand it of you.’

Hibbon had recognised the inherent threat in their words and had publicly acquiesced. Yet, inside him, he had known that they were wrong. Not everyone here still believed the second fleet would ever arrive. In places distant from First Fall settlers had started to call themselves ‘Nuomers’, convinced that their only duty now was to make the best of their new world. They had begun to ignore the directives of the Supreme Council, and had reputedly even stopped building centres of reception. The colony was fast losing its way, fragmenting into factions, and trouble was brewing.

In desperation Hibbon had stolen both the oracle and the L.R.T. and fled across the world to here, to the so called ‘Barrier Mountains’, to find a place high enough to fulfil his father’s scheme.

Luck had been on his side. By sheer chance a group of explorers seeking out new mineral deposits in the foothills of the ‘Barrier Mountains’ had recently stumbled across a spectacularly smooth ridge ascending steadily higher into the mountains. They had even nicknamed it ‘The Way To The Stars’.

Now Hibbon smiled to himself. How appropriate!

His father had been right, he mused as he wriggled his arms into the space suit, a significant increase in altitude, about nine thousand metres or thereabouts, did seem to have diminished the background interference somewhat; it was simply that, as his father had predicted, he still needed to get even higher to be sure of contacting the Good Hope... or to have any chance of beaming out a signal to Earth... thus the space suit.

Just another half kilometre higher should do it, he reassured himself.

‘Yes, Tibbie,’ Anitia said meekly, jerking Hibbon back to the reality of the desolate, frozen mountainside, ‘I’m sure that will work.’

Anitia knew that Tibbie was right. Other people said so too. He had followers, and all of them clever people. Tibbie was extremely clever. Tibbie was Crew... the direct descendant of those who had brought them here. She was just Colonist, and she looked at the ‘space-suit’ with awe and incomprehension and fear. And she listened to his reasoning and knew it must be right... even if she didn’t understand it. If anyone could bring down the second coming... She winced. Tibbie always shouted at her when she accidentally called it that.

She looked up into the sky, so different in colour from this height, but the shining beacon of starlight wasn’t visible yet, there was still too much daylight. She found it almost impossible to think of the Western Star as ‘the ship’, or to imagine what it must be like.

‘Please take care, my love,’ she whispered.

Hibbon focused on her and suffered a surge of guilt. His faithful follower and devoted lover, Anitia the Copyist... That grated. Somehow she had lost her surname... and for some reason that boded very ill. ‘Copyist’? She wasn’t even really that any more. There were almost no working oracles left for her to copy the old wisdom from. The last electronic printer had died in his great grandfather’s day, and they had been copying information from the oracles by hand ever since. Now the last oracles were failing, and all human knowledge not already copied was lost for ever.

In truth, he mused, in ancient historical times what Anitia has now become would have been called a scribe.

Hibbon cleared his throat. ‘Of course I’ll take care, my love.’ He hesitated. ‘I must do this... you know that. This is our last chance, you know?’

Anitia nodded. She might not be so clever as Tibbie, but she could see the changes within her own lifetime clearly enough. Year by year the colony was steadily descending into barbarity. When she was a young child people had still ridden on sleds, and no-one had carried swords. When poor old Rover died there would be no more sleds. She shuddered. She was going to have to learn how to ride a horse!

She focused on her lover... Unless Tibbie managed to call down the second coming, of course. Then the intended paradise of Nuome would be restored, there would be new sleds, and new oracles for her to copy from, and... Oh, all sorts of marvellous things! Yes, this truly was their last chance, she could understand that much.

Hibbon had tugged the suit into place over his body now, and wriggled uncomfortably in it. ‘It’s not a very good fit,’ he complained.

He glanced across at Anitia, steeled himself, and swallowed hard before speaking.

‘If something does go... wrong... Not that it will, my love! But, if it should, then make your way back to Michal at Kidney Vale, give him the letter I have written, and let him know I’ve failed. Then...’ he hesitated, drawing breath and thinking hard - imagining himself and Anitia apart was so very painful anyway ‘...then you’d better avoid the bloody fanatics at First Fall like the plague. They might track us here. You’d be best travelling to that place out in the desert on the southern trail...’ he greedily sucked in more air ‘...Single Hill they call it; they say it’s thriving, they’re Nuomers there, completely independent of the so called ‘Supreme Council’ at First Fall. There’s sure to be plenty of work for a skilled copyist there.’

Anitia nodded, tears moistening her eyes. ‘Please... please take care, my love,’ she repeated. She could think of nothing else to say.

Hibbon nodded reassuringly, lifted the helmet, and struggled to fasten it in place on the neck ring of the silver space suit.

‘Ah!’ he said. ‘The high electromagnetic energy here has sparked some of the suit’s old electrics back into life. There’s a pretty orange light flashing. That bodes well! At least we know the damned thing’s working. And if this thing works there’ll definitely be enough power to operate the infusers in the oracle and the L.R.T. Now, don’t worry, my love, I’ll be back soon.’

With that he snapped the visor on the suit shut, his face disappearing behind the black reflective screen.

‘Can you hear me?’ he asked.

‘Yes, Tibbie.’

She didn’t say the rest. She didn’t try to express to him the terrible feeling that the space suit seemed to have devoured him, and that his voice now sounded somehow inhuman, metallic...

‘Ah, good!’

Hibbon was relieved. If his voice still carried clearly from inside the suit then he didn’t need to use the ancient Hibbon family codes to activate the oracle and L.R.T. yet. Even with background electricity to infuse, and the vital secret codes and the ritual command ‘minimise power usage’ properly intoned, the life of the worn out power pack in the oracle was becoming dangerously brief.

Ungainly in the suit, Hibbon clasped Anitia into his arms and hugged her hard. ‘I really shan’t be long,’ he promised.

Then he struggled to mount the dilapidated sled, positioned the L.R.T. and Oracle on the worn out seats to either side of him, fumbled with his heavily gloved hands on the battered control stick, then set off resolutely up the slope, the sled grinding and creaking ominously beneath him.

Anitia watched as Rover crawled onwards up the mountain. Time passed. In the distance she saw Hibbon turn the sled till he was facing her. He waved one arm above his head reassuringly, a shiny speck of movement in the vastness of the still mountains. She waved back. He reached out for the L.R.T. and oracle...

Then he stopped.

Anitia kept her watch, straining her eyes to see, her teeth chattering with cold, her feet going numb however much she stamped them. High above her the tiny figure of Hibbon remained frozen in position. She waved, and waved again. There was no response. The sun crept remorselessly across the sky and began to sink behind the mountains to the west.

‘Tibbie!’ she cried.

Her cry echoed away to nothing amongst the frozen mountain peaks. Still Hibbon didn’t move. She waved and called out until the exertion left her on the point of fainting, and sobbing for breath. The beacon of the Western Star gleamed on the horizon. The Firstmoon rose. All of the time Hibbon remained perfectly still. Tears ran down Anitia’s cheeks and froze there.

‘Good bye, my bravest love,’ she whispered.

At last, driven by the piercing cold, Anitia turned away and began to fumble her way numbly down the long rocky slope. Bereft, and her mind in turmoil, she desperately tried to tear her thoughts away from her lost lover. His words echoed round her mind: ‘This is our last chance, you know?’

If this was our last chance, then, in pity’s name, what will become of us?

With difficulty she turned her thoughts to his last advice.

Single Hill? she wondered vaguely.

Behind her, high on the mountain, the distant, faceless, silver figure sat unmoving, looking down over a world poised to slip into an eternal barbarity, a figure stripped of its humanity by the space suit... a somehow godlike figure...

New Beginnings.

Edrin sat in the cool shade of the solitary tree which they called ‘the shade tree’, guarding the family’s lunches and surrounded by the pack of farm dogs. In the valley below the rest of his family were working, weeding the neat rows of wheat, and it was his turn to rest. The dog pack were alert. Brownie’s ears were up as she scanned the woodland, and she sniffed the air for the slightest scent of nerwolf. Only old Captain lay fully sprawled, basking, warming his aged muscles in the edge of the sunlight. Poor old Captain couldn’t hear or see so well now, and he left the guarding to the younger dogs. But old Captain had had his day. Edrin reached out and stroked the old dog’s head lovingly. Captain raised his grey-fuzzed snout a little and the tip of his tongue flicked out in response.

‘Don’t worry, old boy,’ Edrin said, ‘you’re my dog.’

Captain sighed contentedly and closed his eyes.

Apart from worrying about Captain, Edrin was also suffering that same sense of unease and foreboding which he suffered whenever he sat here, because this was where it had all begun, nine years ago. Nine years ago he had been a toddler, left here to play with the doggies while his parents hoed the strips of crops... then the nerwolves had come.

Edrin could remember nothing at all of what had happened that day, and his grandparents had been far away, on a trading expedition to the nearest town; but when their nearest neighbours had arrived, two days later, alerted by Captain’s howls, they had found the traumatised Edrin and the young dog called Captain.

Captain, slashed and bloodied, had been standing guard over him; and close around them were the savaged bodies of three repulsive yellow and black mottled nerwolves, shaped like giant groundrats, their razor sharp teeth and claws all black with dried blood. Down in the near edge of the field were his parents’ bodies, or what was left of them, with another four nerwolf carcases spread out around them. Everyone concluded that the nerwolves had run them down as they attempted to reach the safety of the dog pack. The rest of the dogs were gone, no bodies, no bones, nothing, simply gone; but Captain alone had remained behind, loyally standing guard over Edrin for two whole days and nights... and probably repeatedly fighting for his life.

But now Edrin’s uncle grumbled darkly about old Captain not paying his way any more, and how sometimes, on moonlit nights, he would wake everyone up when he went out and howled to the forests.

From the depths of the forest, the wolves would howl back. No-one knew exactly where the wolves had come from, or when, but since they had appeared, attacks by nerwolves had become rarer and rarer. Everyone reckoned that the wolf packs were hunting down the nerwolves. No-one knew why Captain alone of all the village dogs howled to them, but Edrin had his suspicions, that perhaps that dreadful day the rest of the farm dogs had not simply run away... but had pursued the nerwolves, and kept on pursuing them; and their offspring were still pursuing them now, wreaking an endless vengeance for his parents. He never voiced that suspicion, the hard-headed villagers would scoff that it was too far fetched and romantic.

Edrin was always careful what he said now, because he was already treated with a measure of caution by his uncle’s family, and by the villagers. When they thought he couldn’t hear they would whisper amongst themselves that those traumatic events had left him ‘not quite right’, and Edrin knew that he was a little different.

Edrin also knew that being different was more than the simple physical difference, that he had grown smaller and thinner than other boys of his age.

He had been sitting on this same hill with his aunt, looking over the fields of corn and flax while they ate their own lunch when he first saw the patterns. He had watched the patterns of the wind moving across the flax - creating further patterns within it - noticing how the cornfield showed strangely different pattern from the flax, and marvelling how those patterns had seemed to fill his head. He remembered waving his arms to try to match some of the patterns.

‘Who are you waving at?’ his aunt had asked.

He had stumbled to try to explain.

‘What patterns?’ she had asked, puzzled, gazing blankly round the tranquil fields and pastures, and beyond to the forests stretching unending into the distant snow-capped peaks of the southern Alps.

He had eventually realised that his aunt simply couldn’t see the patterns.

Then he had innocently commented on those same patterns to his cousins. They had all looked bewildered. ‘What patterns?’ they had said. ‘The drill lines in the crops?’

That wasn’t it at all, and again Edrin had tried to explain.

They had all looked at him most peculiarly.

It had gradually dawned on Edrin that no-one except him could see the patterns at all.

To make matters worse, there was the sparkling. It had begun nearly a year ago, a most peculiar sensation within his head, first just a very faint... sparkling, but that sparkling had gradually grown and grown, and started swirling round inside his head. It didn’t make his head hurt, or ache, there was no feeling attached to the sparkling at all, but, as it had grown, he had tentatively approached his aunt.

‘A sparkling, you say, in front of your eyes?’

He had shaken his head and explained that the sparkling wasn’t effecting his vision at all, it was inside his head...

‘Oh, that is just a part of growing up,’ she had reassured him, ‘your body is changing, and you get some funny effects from it. It will fade away in a little while.’

And she seemed to have been right. One night he had gone to sleep with his head crammed with sparkles, and he had woken with a splitting headache, but the sparkles had gone. He had told his aunt. She had smiled at him.

‘I told you so,’ she had said.

Edrin had been profoundly relieved. Then, three or four days later, the first sparkles had reappeared, and, week after week, the sensation had grown ever stronger... So he had nervously asked his cousins.

‘A sparkling?’ they had answered blankly. They had looked at him most peculiarly... again. ‘What do you mean, a sparkling...?’

Everything seemed to be contriving to make him a little more different, he resolved bitterly.

Now he tested his head. Yes, the sparkling was there, filling his head, surging around inside his skull. He felt a sudden cooling puff of breeze on his face and looked down the hill. Again, he watched the wind make patterns as it swept across the standing crops, and saw the pattern within the patterns. He could feel a rhythm to that pattern. He marvelled how the pattern and the rhythm grew, and became one, filling his awareness until the whole rang inside his skull, blending with the sparkling which pulsed in time to it...

Then the pattern consumed everything and a darkness enveloped Edrin.

* * *

He woke in his bed back at the farmhouse. He had a bad headache.

‘Too much sun,’ his aunt reassured him, and explained how his uncle hadn’t been able to wake him and had loaded him into the wheelbarrow and brought him back here. ‘You were asleep near a whole day,’ she added, and he could hear the concern clear in her voice.

Something warm and wet nuzzled his hand. Old Captain was sitting beside his bed, looking at him worriedly with big, reproachful eyes.

‘He’s not left your side, not even the once.’

‘Good dog,’ Edrin muttered, and stroked his shaggy head. ‘Go and eat now, boy.’

Captain rose laboriously to his feet and padded slowly out, limping pronouncedly on one back leg, just as he had always done since that fight with the nerwolves.

‘You’d think he understood your every word,’ his aunt marvelled, then her expression darkened. ‘But he’s getting very old you know?’ She looked away. ‘He won’t be here for ever.’

‘He’s still a good guard dog,’ Edrin replied defensively.

‘He certainly used to be,’ his aunt answered softly, ‘when he could still hear and see properly.’ She shook herself. ‘Now, how do you feel?’

Edrin tested. The sparkling had gone again. ‘I’ve got a headache, but otherwise I feel fine.’

His aunt frowned. ‘You’re still going to stay in your bed for a while, the rest of the day at least, and eat plenty, till you get your strength back.’

A whole day, stuck in bed? With nothing to do? Edrin licked his lips.

‘Please, can I read The Book?’ he pleaded.

His aunt considered that dubiously. ‘You’d have to be very careful not to damage it,’ she warned him, ‘we could never afford to replace it. Somehow the more wheat we grow and wool we shear, the lower the prices seem to fall. If it wasn’t for the flax and the rope we make we’d struggle to make ends meet at all.’

‘I swear I’ll be careful,’ Edrin vowed.

His aunt produced the family’s great treasure, carefully unwrapping it from its thick covering of cloth – an actual book, parchment-printed, with intricate wood-cut pictures, and leather binding; the book which she had used to teach all of the children how to read their letters.

‘This goes back to the time just after The Fall, you know?’ she said. ‘The time when we first came to this world. The Sky People left us with their knowledge and their machines – but the knowledge failed, and the machines broke, and we couldn’t repair or re-make them. This was one of the last things the old machines gave to us; their copyists strove to take all their useful knowledge from their machines, to record it, so it could be printed onto paper, could be kept and passed on. But making books is very expensive; this is valuable beyond words, take the greatest care of it!’

Edrin opened it with a care approaching reverence, and studied what he saw on the title page: ‘A Compendium Of Useful Hand Crafts’. The whole book appeared to be an instruction manual to teach the basic skills required for a whole variety of crafts. On the next page was a list of the crafts, and, as he read carefully down the list, his curiosity was aroused by the chapter heading: ‘Macramé – A Useful Hobby For Long Evenings’.

Presumably it would also work for long days as well, he resolved.

It showed diagrams of how to make dozens of knots. Some were common, well known, and simply functional, others were complex, and would take a long time to do – they were closer to weaving than simply tying knots – but they were clearly intended mostly for decoration, because much of the chapter was dedicated to making useful objects into pretty ones by adding knotted string pretty well anywhere that it wouldn’t actually interfere with function. Edrin was fascinated! There were patterns here such as he saw within the crops, sweeping lines and twists and curves and... He studied it avidly.

When his aunt brought him his lunch, she found him still engrossed in the designs.

‘Trust you to choose the most useless craft!’ she chided him lightly.

‘Please, can I have some off-cuts of string?’ he begged.

He was still tying knots, more complex ones, when dusk fell... and his uncle turned up.

His uncle considered him dubiously. ‘You’d best stay close to the house till the physician has seen you.’

Edrin’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.

‘Aye, we’ve passed word on to the town that we need the physician. And you’d best stay in the yard till he’s found out what’s wrong with you, lad. We can’t have you fainting away alone out in the fields.’ His uncle scanned the complicated knots disparagingly. ‘We’ll find you some work in the rope shed.’ A ghost of a smile creased his weather-beaten face. ‘Just nowt too fancy, like.’

As he left, he glanced down at Captain sprawled on the rag-rug beside Edrin’s

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