Friday, August 26, 2011

The Philosopher's Coprolite, part 002

The clouds and the shafts of the high towers against them were turning brown, like an old painting in oil, the color of a fading masterpiece. Long streaks of grime ran from under the pinnacles down the slender, soot-eaten walls. High on the side of a tower there was a crack in the shape of a motionless lightning, the length of ten stories. A jagged object cut the sky above the roofs; it was half a spire, still holding the glow of the sunset; the gold leaf had long since peeled off the other half. The glow was red and still, like the reflection of a fire: not an active fire, but a dying one which it is too late to stop.

No, thought Edwil, there was nothing disturbing in the sight of the city. It looked as it had always looked.

He walked on, reminding himself that he was late in returning to his chambers. He did not like the task which he had to perform on his return, but it had to be done. So he did not attempt to delay it, but made himself walk faster.

He turned a corner. In the narrow space between the dark silhouettes of two towers, as in the crack of a door, he saw the turning arms of the Great Astrolabe suspended in the sky. This was a device that the Duke of Nuork had erected last year on the top of a mighty tower, so that citizens might tell the day or the month as they told the hours or the day, by glancing up at a public tower. A complex set of turning, intertwined arms hung over the city, imparting the date to men and goblins alike in the streets below. In the rusty light of this evening's sunset, the configuration was clear: this was the second day of Last Seed.

Edwil looked away. He had never liked sight of that device. It disturbed him, in a manner he could not explain or define. The feeling seemed to blend with his sense of uneasiness; it had the same quality.

He thought suddenly that there was some phrase, a kind of quotation, that expressed what the astrolabe seemed to suggest. But he could not recall it. He walked, groping for a sentence that hung in his mind as an empty shape. He could neither fill it nor dismiss it. He glanced back. The Great Astrolabe spread its arms above the roofs, saying in immovable finality: Last Seed, day two.

Edwil shifted his glance down to the street, to a vegetable pushcart at the stoop of a merchant’s house. He saw a pile of bright gold carrots and the fresh green of onions. He saw a clean white curtain blowing at an open window. He saw a carriage turning a corner, expertly steered. He wondered why he felt reassured -- and then, why he felt the sudden, inexplicable wish that these things were not left in the open, unprotected against the empty space above.

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