Maia, p.1

Maia, page 1

 

Maia



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Maia


  Maia

  Richard Adams

  Richard Adams

  MAIA

  NOTE

  Readers of Shardik will observe that the maps, included in this story, of the Beklan Empire and of Bekla itself differ from those in the earlier book. These maps are not, however, inconsistent with those. Certain places, e.g., Lak and Tissarn, shown on the Shardik maps have been omitted here, since they form no part of Maia's story. Conversely, other features, e.g., Lake Serrelind, Nybril and Suba, played no part in Shardik, and accordingly were not shown on those maps.

  The events in this story ante-date Shardik by a few years.

  "Maia" rhymes with "higher" (not with "layer").

  LIST OF CHARACTERS

  This list is in alphabetical order (not in order of appearance or importance) and is intended for the convenience of anyone wishing to be reminded, while reading, of the identity of this or that character. Minor characters appearing in a single episode are omitted. On the other hand, several characters are included (e.g., Drigga, Senda-na-Say) who, while they do not appear directly, are recurrently mentioned and relevant to the story.

  Anda-Nokomis: ("The Dragonfly's Son") See Bayub-Otal. Ashaktis: A Palteshi woman, attendant upon Fornis. Astara: See Nokomis.

  Bayub-Otal: (otherwise known as "Anda-Nokomis") The dispossessed Ban of Suba: natural son of Nokomis by the High Baron of Urtah: half-brother of Eud-Ecachlon.

  Bel-ka-Trazet: High Baron of Ortelga.

  Berialtis: An Ortelgan girl: Ta-Kominion's mistress.

  Blarda: A farm lad, brother of Clystis.

  Brero: A soldier, attendant upon Maia in Bekla.

  Chia: An Urtan girl, enslaved in Bekla.

  Clystis: Kerkol's wife.

  Domris: Proprietress of the Lily Pool in Thettit-Tonilda.

  Drigga: An old woman, neighbor to Morca during Maia's childhood: a village story-teller, ballad-singer, etc.

  Durakkon: High Baron of Bekla and nominal head of the Leopards.

  Dyphna: A concubine of Sencho, later a Beklan courtesan or "shearna."

  Elleroth: Son and heir of the Ban of Sarkid: commander of a force of irregulars with Santil-ke-Erketlis.

  Elvair-ka-Virrion: Son of Kembri-B'sai, Lord General of Bekla.

  Enka-Mordet: A baron in Chalcon: father of Milvushina.

  Eud-Ecachlon: Son and heir of the High Baron of Urtah: half-brother of Bayub-Otal.

  Fleitil: A master-sculptor of Bekla (grandson of "the great Fleitil").

  Fordil: A master-musician of Bekla.

  Form's: Daughter of Kephialtar-ka-Voro, High Baron of Paltesh: Sacred Queen of Airtha in Bekla.

  Frarnli: Proprietress of "The Safe Moorings," a tavern at Meerzat.

  Fravak: A Beklan metal-merchant; at one time Sencho's master.

  Gehta: A girl working on a farm northwest of Bekla.

  Genshed: A slave-trader employed by Lalloc.

  Han-Glat: The Leopards' Controller of Fortifications: designer of the fortress at Dari-Paltesh.

  Jarvil: Sencho's door-keeper or porter: later, Maia's porter.

  Jejjereth: A half-crazy orator and self-styled prophet in Bekla.

  Kapparah: A Beklan captain.

  Karnat: King of Terekenalt.

  Kelsi: The eldest of Maia's three younger sisters.

  Kembri-B'sai: Lord General of Bekla: father of Elvair-ka-Virrion.

  Kephialtar-ka-Voro: High Baron of Paltesh: father of For-nis.

  Kerith-a-Thrain: A Beklan general.

  Kerkol: A small farmer.

  Kram: A Suban youth.

  Lalloc: A Deelguy slave-dealer in Bekla.

  Lenkrit-Duhl: Baron of Upper Suba.

  Lirrit: An infant, youngest of Maia's three sisters.

  Lokris: Milvushina's maid in Bekla.

  Luma: A Suban girl.

  Maia: A Tonildan girl.

  Makron: A Suban village elder, husband of Penyanis.

  Malendik: A man employed by N'Kasit.

  Megdon: A slave-trader employed by Lalloc.

  Mendel-el-Ekna: A Lapanese captain, adherent of Randronoth.

  Meris: A Belishban, concubine of Sencho.

  Milvushina: A Chalcon girl, daughter of Enka-Mordet.

  Mollo: Elleroth's captain of pioneers.

  Morca: Tharrin's wife.

  Nala: The second of Maia's three younger sisters.

  Nasada: A Suban doctor.

  Nennaunir: A Beklan courtesan or "shearna."

  N'Kasit: A Kabinese merchant dealing in hides, leather, etc., in Bekla.

  Nokomis: ("The Dragonfly"; originally named Astara) A Suban dancing-girl, mother of Bayub-Otal by the High Baron of Urtah.

  Occula: A black girl.

  Ogma: A lame slave-girl.

  Otavis: A Beklan slave-girl, later a courtesan or "shearna."

  Penyanis: A Suban lady, wife of Makron.

  Perdan: A slave-trader employed by Lalloc.

  Pillan: Servant to Bayub-Otal.

  Pokada: Prison governor in Bekla.

  Randronoth: Governor of Lapan.

  Santil-ke-Erketlis: A baron in Chalcon.

  Sarget: A wealthy Beklan wine-merchant.

  Sednil: A young Palteshi: lover of Nennaunir.

  Seekron: A Lapanese nobleman, adherent of Randronoth.

  Selperron: A Kabinese merchant, friend of N'Kasit.

  Sencho-be-L'vandor: High Counselor of Bekla: the Leopards' Chief of Intelligence.

  Senda-na-Say: The former High Baron of Bekla, killed by Durakkon.

  Sendekar: A Beklan general.

  Sessendris: Housekeeper (or "saiyett") to Kembri.

  Shend-Lador. A young Leopard, son of the castellan of the Beklan citadel.

  Sphelthon: A young Tonildan soldier. Ta-Kominion: A young Ortelgan noble.

  Terebinthia: Housekeeper (or "saiyett") to Sencho.

  Tescon: A young Suban, adherent of Lenkrit.

  Tharrin: Maia's stepfather.

  Thel: A young Suban, adherent of Lenkrit.

  Tolis: A junior officer in Elleroth's force: lieutenant to

  Mollo. "Zai": Occula's name for her father (actually named Baru):

  a jewel-merchant.

  Zen-Kurel: A Katrian staff officer of King Karnat. Zirek: A pedlar.

  Zuno: A young man in Lalloc's, later in Fornis's employ.

  PART I THE PEASANT

  1: THE FALLS

  Three hundred yards downstream the noise of the falls, muffled by intervening trees and undergrowth in the crook of the bend, was reduced to a quiet murmur of pouring water, a natural sound more smoothly continuous than any other-than wind, insects or even night frogs in the marshes. In winter it might increase to the heavy roar of spate: in summer drought, diminish to a mere splashing among fern at lip and weed at base. It never ceased.

  Below the bend the river ran strongly under the further bank, where its uneven bed of stones, gravel and sunken logs made the surface ripple and undulate, so that the tilted planes glittered in the late afternoon sun. Under the overgrown, nearer bank it was deeper and stiller, dully reflecting sky and trees. All about, on either side, masses of plants were in vivid bloom; some forming wide beds in the shallows, others lining the banks waist-high or trailing from the trees in festoons of saffron, crimson and greenish-white. Their honey-sweet or citrus scents filled the air, as did the hum of insects hovering and gliding, hunting prey or themselves darting in flight. Here and there a fish rose, gulped down a floating fly and vanished, leaving widening circles that died away on the surface.

  Taller than the rushes and swamp-grass filling a marshy inlet on the further bank, a keriot-the green, frog-hunting heron of the Tonildan Waste-stood motionless, watching the few feet of slow-moving water around it with alert, voracious eyes. From time to time it would bend its long neck and stab, gobbl
ing quickly before resuming its still posture.

  At length, as the sun, declining, dipped behind the tops of the trees, throwing their shadows across the river, the keriot became restless. Wary even beyond the common run of wild creatures, it was alerted and made uneasy by such slight intrusions as the change of light, the movement of shadows and the breeze now sprung up among the creepers. Having taken a few restless steps this way and that through the plumed reeds, it rose into the air and flew upstream, its long legs trailing behind the slow beat of its wings. Flying directly up the line of the river, it was making for the still-sunlit falls.

  The big bird was high enough above the river to see,

  over the lip of the falls, the lake beyond lying calm in the sun, its blue expanse contrasting with the tumult and white water of the twenty-foot-high outfall. There were in fact two falls, each about fifteen yards wide, separated by a little, green island bordered, at this time of year, with forget-me-not and golden water-lilies, some nodding and dipping upon the very edge, as though peering down into the welter below.

  The keriot had circled twice and was just about to glide down to the flat stones at the foot of the falls when suddenly it rose again, turned and made heavily off across the nearby thickets of scrub willow, disappearing at length into the recesses of the swamp. Something had evidently decided it to go elsewhere.

  Here, at close quarters, the noise of the falls was made up of all manner of sounds: boomings, gurglings, patterings of spray, sudden spurts and bubblings here and gone above the steady beat of water falling into water and the higher, smacking note of water falling upon flat stones. And amongst this tumult a girl was singing, her voice rising clearly above the plunging boil.

  "Why was I born? Ah, tell me, tell me, Lord Cran! Isthar, isthal a steer. Thou wast born, my daughter, to bear the weight of a man. Isthar a steer, na ro, isthal a rondu."

  The singer was nowhere to be seen. Though her song had alarmed the keriot, a human listener (supposing there to be one at hand) must surely have been affected otherwise, for it possessed not only youthful gladness, but also a kind of tentative, wondering quality of which the singer herself could hardly have been conscious, just as no bird or animal can be aware of its own beauty. Her voice, common and beautiful as any of the flowers by the pool, fell silent, leaving only the water-noises, but still there was no one to be seen along the verge or on the stones beneath the green-and-white stretch of the falls. Then, as though a spirit's, the song resumed from a different place, close to the further bank.

  " 'Fill thou my purse, great Cran; my purse is cut.' Isthar, isthal a steer.

  'Seek, daughter, that horn of plenty with which men

  butt.' Isthar a steer, na ro, isthal a rondu."

  Out through the curtain of falling water stepped a girl, perhaps fifteen years old: sturdy and well-made, the very picture of youthful energy and health, her naked body glistening as the cascade beat down upon it, pouring in streams from her shoulders, her out-thrust breasts and the firm curve of her buttocks. Laughing, she flung back her head and for a moment took the full force of the fall in her face; then, spluttering, she threw up her arms and spread her open hands to shield herself from the water. In this posture she rocked on her heels, swaying back and forth, now disappearing behind the water-curtain, now covered with it as by a bright, translucent cloak and again leaning forward to leave the torrent unbroken at her back.

  Despite the bloom and opulence of her body and the words of her song, both her face and a certain ingenuous quality in her bearing suggested the child rather than the woman. Her absorbed, joyous movements as she played her game (not far removed from hide-and-seek or peep-bo), in and out of the water-curtain; her impulsive, unself-conscious delight, like that of a creature unreflectingly happy in the immediate moment; her very nakedness in this open (if lonely) spot-all denoted a girl who, while she might have learned already to know the world as a place where one could be tired, hungry or even ill, had never yet found it perilous or cruel, or become aware (except perhaps in. stories or songs) of the kind of danger which would certainly have been present to the mind of an older girl bathing alone in this wilderness. Not that she was unconscious of her early maturity and beauty: indeed, standing under the fall, deliberately moving so that the inexhaustible water deluged and caressed in turn her shoulders, her belly, thighs and rump, she appeared sensible of nothing else.

  Longing for the future, dwelling on it, even enacting it in imagination-such blending of syrupy concoctions never includes the sharper ingredients infused by experience. These would be as unpalatable to the immature taste of young girls (who are free to exclude them from their dreams) as they often are to the taste of grown women (who are not free to exclude them from their lives).

  At length, tiring of picking her way back and forth along

  the cool, slippery recesses behind the fall and looking out- like a sentry from a castle-through rifts in the falling water, the girl burst through it once more, hop, skip and jump on the stones, plunged headlong into the pool and swam swiftly down to the shallow water at its foot. Here, as the sand and small gravel of the bed brushed her prone length, she came to rest, turned on her back and lay spread-eagled, legs apart, her head resting on a convenient, flat stump just above the surface.

  " "The flowers of spring, Lord Cran, they cannot be

  counted.'

  Isthar, isthal a steer. 'They bloom in the green field where the mare was

  mounted.' Isthar a steer, na ro, isthal a rondu.

  'I will tell thee, my daughter-' "

  She giggled, sinking a few moments below the surface, so that the words were lost in bubbling. Then, standing up, she began wandering here and there through the shallows, pulling the long-stalked lilies, gold and pink, piercing their fibrous, dripping stems with her thumb-nail and threading them into a wreath. A tangle of scarlet trepsls hung over the opposite bank, and she waded across and wrenched out half a dozen strands, twining them into the lily-garland until it was nearly as thick as her arm.

  Hanging it round her neck, she stood dabbling her feet, picking up sticks between her toes and bending her head this way and that to smell the great collar of bloom that covered her shoulders. Then, off again like a child who cannot remain still but must find some outlet for its energy, she began gathering more flowers-pulling tufted heads off the clustering hellias, plucking daisies out of the grass, campions, orange ladies' cups-whatever came to hand. She made a belt, bracelets of flowers and a lopsided, fragile crown that would not hold together until she had bound it with another strand of trepsis. She put a crimson flower behind each ear and another in the hollow of her navel- whence it almost at once fell out. Then, smiling-for in imagination she was teasing an outraged, invisible companion-she tore up a sheaf of forget-me-nots and, pinching the thin stems one by one from the plant, threaded them in and out of the fleece of hair at her groin, until it

  was first speckled and then almost completely hidden beneath a close mat of small, sky-blue flowers.

  "I am the Queen of Bekla!"

  Raising open arms, she began pacing with measured dignity across the shallows, but unluckily trod on a pointed stone, cried "Ow!" and stood wobbling on one leg. Petulantly, she kicked the water, sending up a shower of drops; then bent down, pulled up the offending stone, spat on it and tossed it away among the trees. Another impulse coming upon her, she climbed out on the bank, ran to the head of the pool, took three steps into the deeper water, turned on her back and slowly drifted, flowers and all, out towards the centre. Here she floated, arms at her sides, only her breasts and face above the surface, gazing up at the sinking disc of the sun.

  "You dazzle me-reckon I'll dazzle you!" she whispered. "Go on, try and burn me, then-yah, I'm in the water!"

  As she remained floating, the current, rippling over and past her, gently soaked and pulled at her frail finery, gradually loosening and untwining it, so that the flowers began to drift away piecemeal from her body; here a lily, there a daisy carried awa
y on the stream, some vanishing swiftly, some twirling in slow eddies under the bank, until at length, save for a bloom or two, she was naked as at first. Last of all, she allowed herself to drift downstream until she was standing once more at the tail of the pool, the water to her knees.

  The sun had dropped lower and now the falls lay in shadow, their multifoliate white faded to a single, smooth gray. The girl-a strong swimmer, continually in and out of the water all her short life-had swum far out into the lake that afternoon before returning to laze by the pool. Now she felt weary; hungry, too, and a little cold. Wading to the bank she paused, straddling her thighs to make water in the stream. Then, putting one knee on the short grass of the bank to clamber up, she wrung out her long, wet hair with quick, impatient twistings, pulled her shift and worn, homespun smock over her still-wet shoulders, scrambled up the slope to one side of the falls and, barefoot, sauntered away down the lakeside in the light of the sunset.

  She had neither seen nor heard anything to suggest to her that she was observed. In fact, however, she had been

  watched for some time by a man hidden among the trees, the sound of whose approach and later occasional movements to keep her in view had been covered by the noise of the falls. As soon as she had gone he stepped out of hiding, hastened along the bank, flung himself down on the turf and in a matter of seconds gratified himself, panting with closed eyes and in his transport pressing his face into the grass where her naked body had lain. He was her stepfather.

  2: THE CABIN

  It was already dusk as the girl strolled through the hamlet near the upper end of the lake and on a few hundred yards, down a high-banked, narrow track leading to a timber cabin. The cabin, fairly large but in poor repair, stood beside a fenced grazing-field with an old shed in one corner. Between it and the surrounding wasteland lay three or four cultivated patches of millet and close by, the greener, conical sprouts of a late crop of brillions.

 
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