West of the Sun
Argo IV answered Dunin’s brown hand at the tiller, sliding south under a following breeze. Her chief designer Paul Mason liked to call her a sloop, admitting that on no planet would any sloop have cared to be found dead with a pair of twelve-foot oars amidships. She was thirty-six feet fore and aft. Without a sawmill, shaping boards for her strakes had been harder than trimming and placing the single tree trunk that was her keel. Much of her joining was with wooden pegs; there was iron in her too, from the single deposit of ore on the island of Adelphi. Her building had started seventeen months ago in the Year Nine. One month ago Paul’s daughter Helen had cracked across her bow an earthen flask of wine brought to maturity by Nisana and Argo IV had slipped out of the mouth of the Whitebeach River for a maiden voyage--a forty-mile circuit of the island, including the passage of a strait where a current from open ocean ran formidably between Adelphi and a small nameless island in the south. Since then she had journeyed short distances up and down the coast, learning her own fussy ways and teaching them to her makers.
Argo II had been a clumsy oared raft of heroic history. Nine Lucifer years ago, roughly the equivalent of twelve Earth years, Argo II had not only brought fifteen survivors of a war to the island, she had also, broadened and repaired, returned to the mainland over the ten-mile channel to pick up a sixteenth survivor, Abara, and the gentle white beasts he had refused to abandon. He had guided them south, through seventy miles of unknown terrors, and ten miles further along the beach, until it came to an end at sheer cliffs; here _Argo II_ found him. One by one--probably no one but Abara could have coaxed them aboard--Argo II had ferried all five of the olifants across. During the rains that came for a dark ending of Year Two, the swollen Whitebeach River had torn Argo II from her moorings and she had been swept away down the channel. Now she would be driftwood scattered over the infinity of the unexplored; she was remembered.
Argo III, still in existence and more often called Betsy, was only a boxed platform with outriggers and two pairs of oars. With four giants at the oars and a favorable current she could approximate three miles an hour and carry several tons. She had been built in the Year Four and was still busily bringing slabs of building stone from the base of the coastal range. The stone was red and black or sometimes purple, heavy, already smoother than marble without polishing; unlike any common stone of Earth, it was so hard that wind and sun and water over the centuries had done little with it. Wright believed that was why the coastal range could rise to such heights from a narrow base. While the years in their millions had turned other mountains to level ground, the glassy rock remained: it could be broken for use but defied erosion like a diamond.
Argo IV was unequivocally a ship; after her trial Paul had carved for her bow a figurehead with the dreaming face of Pakriaa.
“Maybe,” Dunin said, “with a few more like this the first explorations could be around the coast instead of overland? If we had two or three more ships when Kris-Mijok is old enough to go?”
Paul knew Dorothy had winced, though her face was turned to the evening-reddened field of water. “If he still wants it, when he’s old enough to go...”
Kris-Mijok Wright, her third-born child and only son, had been born in the Year Three; in Earth years he was only nine. His hunger for the long journeying might be mainly a reflection of his devotion to Dunin, herself full of visions and not yet a woman. A tentative half joke, a means of channeling a child’s fantasy into patience, had somehow become a sober adult plan: that the first major explorations would begin when Kris-Mijok would have a man’s strength to take part in them.
“We might have such ships by then.” Paul tried to sound judicial. “Say the Year Eighteen or Nineteen. Yes, a coastal exploration might be better than trying to cross the continent. Not a circumnavigation though, at first.”
Dunin’s big face blossomed in a grin. “Only about thirty-six thousand miles by the old map made from the air. Open water at north and south poles, plenty of it. Could do it in less than a year.”
“More like fifty thousand, allowing for deflections, tacking, pull of currents we don’t know. Storms, flat calms, contrary winds, repairs, expeditions ashore for provisions. You pull your horns in just a bit, my girl. Do you remember a desert plateau the map shows in the southern hemisphere? Solid cliff rising out of the sea for over seven hundred miles, and on top of it roasting sand all the way across the continent--and that plateau is only a small part of the coastal desolation down there. From the equator to the 30th parallel I don’t think you’d have a chance to go ashore--and nothing to help you if you did.”
Dunin still grinned. “Just sail past it.”
“Yes--well out to sea, with the equatorial sun at work on you. Very few islands in that region, some of them bare rock.” And he thought: _If I might go myself... ! I am fifty now, in Earth years, a young fifty... _
He knew also that Dorothy would not prevent him. She would not go herself: she would remain at Adelphi, faithful to the daily things, undramatic labors and loyalties that make civilization something more than a vision. She was a young thirty-eight, though she had already borne five children. If he went away, she would mind the watch fires on the beaches, as she had done nine years ago; she would work in the school, the house, the gardens, stand by Christopher Wright during the depressions that sometimes overcame him. She would grow old waiting. Therefore, Paul knew, he would never leave her. “The explorations will come in good time, Dunin,” he said. “You’ll have 150 years to watch and take part. I think you’ll live to see the other continent too, and the great islands in the southwest. In the meantime--there’s so much exploring to be done right here!” He watched the water too, aware of Dorothy’s face turned to him, sober and appraising. “You know, Dunin--that island we visited today--that could hold a community of a thousand between its two little hills. And I’m remembering the one forty miles north of us. Argo II was swept ashore there: get Doc to tell you that story sometime. I was sick for a week and laid up in one of the limestone caves while the others repaired the raft. A round island less than five miles across. We might sail there next trip.”
“The other continent,” Dunin murmured, and she watched the rising blue-green mound of Adelphi in the south. “The islands of the southwest...”
Dorothy leaned against the hand-hewn rail, looking northeast, saying lightly, “There he is...” The stone figure in the coastal range grew visible as the channel current pressed them a little too far eastward. The vast features were not clear; one could find the line of shoulder. “And Sears said, ‘He looks west of the sun.’ Was it long ago you told me that, Paul?”
“In a way it was ... Penny for ‘em, Dorothy?”
“Oh----” Her brown face crinkled in the way he hoped for. “I was climbing down off philosophy with my usual bump--wondering what hell the twins have been raising while we’re away. Brodaa’s patience with them passes belief. With her own three sets of twins she’s had practice. I wish Pak could have had children. Twenty-nine--late middle age for her people ... Helen’s going to make a better med student than ever I was--don’t you think, Paul? Seems like more than just a kid’s enthusiasm.”
“I think so.” And Sears’ plump daughter Teddy (Theodora-Pakriaa) would no doubt find herself too, sometime: there was no hurry. Even Christopher Wright no longer seemed to feel that time was hounding him, though his years by the Earth calendar were sixty-five, his hair and beard were white, his wiry thinness moved deliberately to save the strength he had once been able to spend like unconsidered gold... “Look!”
Dorothy said carefully, “But that is impossible.” A column of smoke on the flank of the coastal range, above one of the beaches where building stone was found. Blue-gray against the red and black, it rose straight in untroubled air. “They weren’t taking Betsy out till we got back.”
“Too high anyway,” Dunin said. “No need to climb so high for the stone.”
Dorothy whispered, “I have never quite believed that Ed and Ann----”
“Oh, Dorothy! Well, we----”
“Yes, I saw the lifeboat go down on the channel. It didn’t sink.” She shut her eyes. “It was a misty evening, lover, more ways than one. Remember, Dunin?”
“I’ll always remember.”
“Paul, I know that when the open-sea current below the island took the lifeboat it must have been smashed against the cliffs--oh, of course--and for nine years the sea spiders will have used the pieces of it for their little castles and hideaways. All the same--Ed and Ann could have managed to swim ashore. Cross the range somehow or go around it.”
“Nothing to eat. Barren rock straight up from the beaches, where there are any beaches, for ninety miles south of the only place where they could have landed and for twenty miles north of it.”
“But no kaksmas in the coast range either; no omasha, this side. There are beaches here and there. They might have found--shellfish--blue seaweed.”
“It is smoke. Our people wouldn’t be up there...”
“You’ve never wanted to talk much about that day.”
“No, I--haven’t. I didn’t behave too well myself. Yes, there are things I’ve never told ... Paul, Ed Spearman was like somebody I didn’t know. He did say in so many words that he planned to go to Vestoia, not to--to throw himself on the mercy of Lantis, but to ‘give her civilization’--he said. We tried, Ann and I, tried to reason with him against that. I think he had some alternative plan--maybe flying south of Vestoia as far as the fuel would take him and starting a community of his own--with Ann and me, you know, and himself the old man of the tribe.”
“And without us,” said Dunin mildly.
“Yes, dear, I recall that. He put that in words...” In a way, Paul did not want her to go on, living it over again, but she had a need to speak of it. “I suppose his plans made a kind of sense if you accepted the premise. As I couldn’t, of course. When he said you were all lost, I believed (I had to believe) that he was--not lying perhaps, but telling something he hadn’t truly seen. I know that was where I let go--I raged and screamed, and when he grabbed my arm (probably just wanting to quiet me down)--well, if he’s living he’ll have two or three white scars down his cheek. Uh-huh: the Dope comes clean. I ever think I was trying to get hold of my pistol when Arek took it away, and took his away too. After that she forced him to give a precise account of everything that had happened, every detail. She made him tell it five or six times, watching for contradictions. She was--justice embodied. I was afraid of her myself even while I loved her for it. I knew what he told us then was the truth: the fuel was low, he’d come direct to the island with no real knowledge of what had happened to you. He was saner after the telling. He lost a--a certain look of exalted listening, as if somebody behind Arek’s shoulder were telling him what to do. Arek never gave back his pistol. We were on the beach. The giants had been bringing wood all day for a beacon fire. I remember the exact shape of a big shell at my feet, the look of a bit of driftwood tossed in by the channel breakers...”
“Oh, Ann! Tom two or three ways as usual. She was very much in love with him, you know, from our first days on Lucifer. But her mind was a battleground with no armistice. I think Ed always knew that. When he pleaded with her--reasonably too--she couldn’t think, she could only cry and say: ‘I won’t go with you--I won’t go.’ He stopped trying--suddenly, as if he’d knowingly turned off a light inside himself--unsteady light and the only one he had, I reckon. He said, ‘So much for the human race: but I’ll see what one man can do here before I’m dead without issue.’ And he walked off to the lifeboat, while Arek let his pistol dangle from her finger--and, Paul, I shall always think he knew Ann would run after him. I saw her tugging, trying to pull him out of the boat--but she was pulled in and it was gone.”
“And I remember,” said Dunin, “what you did after we lost sight of it.”
“What I did... ? What was that, Dunin? I’m blank there.”
“You went to the beacon fire and put on more wood.”
“Well,” she said vaguely, “of course. We all did ... That is smoke, Paul. Lantis’ pygmies or the wild giants couldn’t be there on the cliffs.”
Dunin said, “Oh, there are no giants in that country, Dorothy. Those low hills I remember west of the first camp--those kaksma hills were an impassable boundary in the old days. The country west of them--nobody went there, ever. And south of them--Vestoia. My wild kindred are all very far north of here...”
Argo IV eased up to the wharf, where Elis and Arek handled her like a toy, making her fast with ropes of a fabric as good as linen. Wright was there with them, and Tejron, and Pakriaa and Nisana, who were inseparable. “Too far,” said Wright, and handed Paul the field glasses. “Just smoke.”
Elis grumbled, “What’s up there to burn? No vegetation. Rock.”
The smoke seemed to be thinning. “How long since our last trip over?”
“Eight days, Paul,” Tejron recalled. “My impatient eldest wanted to see if he could handle Betsy’s oars, remember?”
“He could, too.” Paul remembered. “Sears-Danik pulled his weight, my lady. Yes, that was the last time. And we saw nothing unusual.”
Only Nisana thought to ask, “Good voyage today, Paul?”
“Fine, darling. You should have come.”
Wright was carefully calm. “I’ll go over, with Paul, Elis--and--”
“And me,” said Dorothy, not smiling.
“Well ... Okay, Dope.”
Pakriaa’s thin wrinkled face turned to him. “Nisana and I? Miniaan--she would remember the Vestoian dialect--but she is at the city. It would need an hour to send for her, and then it would be getting dark.”
“Yes, come with us...”
The site of Jensen City was not where Wright and Paul had originally dreamed of it but two miles south, where the radiance of Sears Lake hung in the hills. A gap in the west admitted ocean winds; the outlet of the lake ran for a mile to the edge of a red stone cliff and tumbled over in a waterfall five hundred feet high. There would one day be houses along that mile of river. Already, near the waterfall, there was a temple of red and black stone devoted to quiet without ritual, thought of sometimes as a memorial to Sears and to the other dead, more often simply as a place to go for the satisfactions of silence. It had no name; Paul hoped it would never have one.
Miniaan of Vestoia was an eager citizen. The old wound had left one side of her head cruelly scarred; from the other side she was beautiful, by Charin as well as pygmy standards. Younger than Pakriaa, she was the mother of four, by Kajana--the archer whom Mijok had once carried on his shield, who would never walk again nor live a day without pain, and who was more cheerful as a permanent habit of mind than any of the other pygmy survivors of that war. The fifty-four pygmy children of Jensen City were all fathered by Abara and Kajana--a fact which caused old Abara to draw dead-pan comparisons between himself and Mister Johnson and to grow darkly desperate when Kajana wistfully asked him to explain why it was a joke...
Elis shipped the oars; Paul let down the anchor, a heavy block of stone, in two fathoms of blackening water; Elis lifted the dugout over the side and held it for them. He himself swam the short distance to the beach and eased the canoe through the shallows. Even now at low tide there was barely a quarter mile of gray sand between water and cliffs. Chipping away of building stone had created a fair path a hundred feet up; beyond, natural irregularities made it possible to climb another two hundred to the first setback of the great sea wall--a ledge which ran only as far as the next patch of beach, five miles south. Sunset had been ending when Argo IV came home; here there was a depth of evening quiet, no sign of smoke or life, no sound but the long hiss and moaning of small waves. “We might make a fire here,” Wright said. “But there’s enough light. They--they?--must have seen Argo.”
“There,” Dorothy said, and ran up the sand.
The others watched in frozen helplessness as the woman came down the crude cliff path, gaunt, seeming tall only because of the gauntness--flaring ribs, thighs fallen in, every arm bone visible. Her hair was black disorder to her waist, her body a battleground of bruises, dirt, scars old and new, and she winced away from Dorothy with protesting hands. “You mustn’t touch me because I’m very dirty, but I know who you are. Besides, I had to burn the last of my clothes. My baby died. I know who you are. You see, my milk stopped. You’re Dorothy Leeds. I left him on the cliff. Matron would not approve. You see----”
“I have two other sons, but this one died. On the cliff. I used to know a man who called me Miss Sarasate, but that was just his way of talking--I don’t happen to be in practice.” Still trying to fend off Dorothy’s arms, Ann fell on her face...
Pakriaa was speaking softly, in the room where Ann was sleeping--Wright’s room. “She will be healed,” Pakriaa said. “I can remember--and you remember it too, Paul--how my own mind refused to be my servant for a while.” Since Ann had been brought to Jensen City, Pakriaa and Nisana had never left her: the little women, both now far from youth, took on the duties of nursing with a fierce protectiveness, so that there was little for even Dorothy to do. Ann had slept heavily all night and morning. At noon the stone-walled house remained cool; mild air entered at the screenless window openings, stirring the wall map of Adelphi and the three of Paul’s paintings which were the only decorations Wright allowed in this ascetic shelter. There was glass-making now, but in such a climate, with no serious insect pests, it seemed a waste of effort to make windows; a long overhang of the eaves was sufficient against the rains. The house was large, U-shaped around a garden courtyard open toward Sears Lake; the walls were of black stone, the roof of a material indistinguishable from slate, carried by hardwood timbers. Wright shared this house with Mijok and Arek, Pakriaa, Nisana, Miniaan, and their children and Arek’s. There were five other such communal houses overlooking the lake; a seventh was building. The children were everywhere: it was, and would be for many years, a city of the young. Rak had died in the Year Four, a matter of falling asleep without waking, but Kamon lived, sharing a house with Tejron, Paul and Dorothy, Brodaa and Kajana. Lately Sears’ daughter had taken over the task of caring for Kajana in his helplessness, lifting him to and from a wheel chair that Paul and Mijok had contrived or carrying him to a hammock slung near the waterfall, where he could watch the ocean and its changes. In middle age, Kajana had taught himself to write, and kept a journal of the colony with a sober passion for detail.
Ann had not waked when Dorothy and Nisana washed her and clipped the dreadful tangle of her hair. “She will be healed,” Pakriaa insisted. “Maybe in the next waking.” And when Ann’s gray eyes came open an hour later, they did show a measuring sanity, recognizing Dorothy and Paul, but wincing away when Nisana smiled and touched her.
“Do not be afraid of us,” Pakriaa whispered. “We are still proud. But our pride now is that no one is afraid of us ... You came to my house in the old old days, remember? My blue house, and I thinking I would be Queen of the World? I laugh at that now. Do not look at what I was, Ann.”
“Pakriaa ... Paul, you haven’t changed much.”
“One of our other friends is about to bring a man-sized meal----”
“Why, Paul, you must be----”
“Fifty, Earth calendar----”
Dorothy said, “We measure it in Lucifer years, pretty please.”
“Nicer,” Paul admitted. “That way I’m around thirty-seven. Ann, you--let’s see: one Earth year, one point three eight--damn mental arithmetic--let’s call you half past twenty-seven.”
“Imagine that.” Ann achieved a smile. “And--Pakriaa?”
“Twenty-nine. See--already I am an old woman and ugly.”
“Don’t be absurd, Pak,” Dorothy said. “And this lady----”
“You would not remember me,” said Nisana.
“Oh, but I do, I do. You--voted for Paul----”
Pakriaa chuckled with unforced gaiety. “Politics,” Nisana chirped. “P.S., I got the job.” Paul pinched her tiny ear lobe and stepped out to the kitchen, where he found Wright with Arek. The children were at school, with Brodaa, Mijok, and Miniaan: ordinarily Wright would have been there too. When the youngest of this house were through with lessons they would go wandering in the hills with Mijok and Muson, so that Ann might have quiet, with only distant sounds of the laughter and playing in sunlight. “She’s awake,” Paul said, and Wright hurried to the bedroom, but Arek lingered, filling a tray.
Arek had grown almost to Mijok’s height, filling out, a red mother goddess still bemused by inner discoveries. Her fine soft-furred fingers fussed at the earthen dishes on the wooden tray. “No ambition, no achievement--nothing, I think, could be worth the price of what’s happened to her. Whether she recovers completely or not. There’s human right and wrong. I think sometimes, Paul, it’s not necessary to do much wondering. You can look straight at a thing and say: ‘This ought not to be.’”
“Granted,” Paul said, watching the garden through the broad kitchen window. His eldest, Helen, must have elected to do a little work after school instead of strolling away with the others. She was weeding, her brown head sheltered from the sun by an improvised hat of leaves; but for that she was prettily naked as the day she was born, and though she was humming to herself, she restrained the sound so that Paul could hardly hear it. She saw him in the window and grinned and waved. She had most of Dorothy’s warm coloring, with Paul’s long-legged slimness.