I am brain dead. I am way beyond brain dead . . . and I still have over two hundred pages of the copyedited PEGASUS to go.
So let’s have another glimpse of the beast in question this evening, and I’m going to spend a pleasant hour or two cruising on-line plant catalogues* and then I am going to bed early.
In case you want to remind yourself where you are, the first two snippets of the beginning of PEGASUS are here:
And while subsequent rewrites have done a bit of juggling and hey-prestoing**, I don’t think there’s anything that will prevent you from understanding What Happens Next. PS: Peter wrote the lullaby.
* * *
She looked back at the journal. “Does my father know? Does Danacor?”
Ahathin nodded again. “Certainly the king knows. And the heir. I asked your father if I might show this to you.”
Ahathin said nothing. This meant he wanted her to answer her own question. But sometimes, if she said something unexpected, she got an unexpected response. “Why can’t magicians explain what it is about the pegasi language that the rest of us can’t learn it?”
Ahathin nodded as if this were an acceptable question. “It is a curious skill, speaking to pegasi, and not even all magicians can do it—do you know this?”
Fascinated, Sylvi shook her head.
“We are well into our apprenticeship before it is taught at all, and many of us will already have been sent home to be carpenters or shepherds, for we will not make magicians. And indeed there is little enough of teaching about it, to begin with: Imagine learning to swim by being thrown into a lake in perfect darkness, never having seen water before. Those who do not drown are then taught; the best of them may then go on to become Speakers. But that is the moment when as many as half of us are sent away, although by that time an apprentice has learnt enough that if he—or she—wishes he can set up as a village spell-caster somewhere.”
Imagine learning to swim by being thrown into a lake in perfect darkness, never having seen water before. “But the pegasi—they—they are so light. They—they fly. Drowning in a dark sea—I—it doesn’t sound like anything to do with pegasi.”
“No, it doesn’t,” said Ahathin. “It does not at all.”
Sylvi knew the rest of the official story of the making of the treaty. She was obliged to be able to parrot a brief accurate version of it as part of her training as daughter of the king. She was obliged to be able to parrot a number of historical titbits on command (although why this was considered a necessary attribute in a princess she had no idea, her father sprang questions at her occasionally so that she did need to was not in doubt) but this was one of the few of her history lessons that were live pictures in her head instead of dry words in her memory.
The first beginnings of the treaty had been almost insurmountably difficult; not only was there the obstacle of their spoken languages, of which neither side could learn the other’s, but the pegasi did not have an alphabet as humans understood it, but instead had a complex and demanding art-form of which various kinds of marks on paper were only a part. . . . The human magicians translated its name into human sounds as ssshasssha and said it meant ‘recollection’, and that it appeared to include or address all the senses—sight, hearing, touch, taste, feeling; although how this was accomplished the magicians were uncertain. There were pegasi bards and story-tellers in some manner, presumably, as there were human bards and story-tellers; there were also pegasi . . . they didn’t know. This was the first time the humans heard about the Caves, and the sculptors; but none of this assisted the drawing up of a document that humans understood as legal and binding.
“Did we not both want this union very badly,” wrote the second commander, “such impedimenta as there manifestly are would have stopped us utterly and our company would be homeless again; and I am grateful hourly that thee pegasi want us, for already I love this sweet green land, and would not willingly leave it.”
This sweet green land was probably the most famous phrase of the second commander’s journal; it was one of those phrases everyone used, like sick as a denwirl owl or mad as a mudge. One of the first songs Sylvi had ever learnt to sing herself, when she was still so small she couldn’t say her rrrs yet, was an old folk ballad about a wandering tinker whose refrain was: On the road to nowhere through this sweet green land. The second commander seemed almost to be standing at her elbow as she read the old phrase as he had put it down the first time.
Both sides at last declared themselves satisfied with the final draft of the treaty. “The pegasi ask for little,” wrote the second commander. “They wish their lives—and their Caves, which appear to bee thee chief manifestation of their recollection. But thee Caves lie many days’ journey farther into thee mountains that steeply rise from these lush and fruitful plateaus we humans desire; Gandam says he is middling sure human feet could not take us there besides, and we have not wings. Balsin laughs and says, Good: that he wants all human forces to bend themselves to thee palace he already has in his mind’s eye to build upon thee greatest of these plateaus. It is his own consort, Badilla, who has begun to measure thee landscape for this building; she was trained for such work in thee old countrie, although Balsin says he married her for her beauty. My own Sinsi says she wishes only to finish thee job of securing our new land from its enemies; that what she most wants is to see her belly growing too large for its battle leathers, and a safe place where our babies may play.”
The first song Sylvi could ever remember hearing was about the pegasi. Her nurse used to sing it to her when she was a baby, and would then ‘fly’ her around the room. The tradition was that Viktur’s wife, Sinsi, had written it for their children, although no one knew for sure:
Oh hush your crying
Your friends come flying
In the plumes of their wings
The south wind sings
The treaty was written by human scribes and depicted or portrayed by some makers and devisers among the pegasi, upon thick supple paper made by the pegasi: “Balsin would have it bee parchment, but thee pegasi demurred, that they did not use thee skins of beasts for such or any purpose, and proffered their finest made paper instead, which is very beautiful, with a gloss to it not unlike thee flank of a pegasus, and faint glints of colour from thee petals of flowers. Dorogin did not like this however, and said there was magic pressed into its fibres, but Gandam held his hands over it and said thee only magic was that of craftsmanship, and as Gandam was thee senior, Dorogin must needs give way; and Balsin looked at Gandam and nodded, and Dorogin looked as if he had swallowed a toad.”
Sylvi gave a little hiccup of laughter; the toad wasn’t in the schoolroom copy of the annals either. But reading of Gandam in the beginning always made her sad, because of what happened to him after. She’d never liked Dorogin; he was one of those people who always wanted everything his way.
The signing of the treaty was interrupted by an incursion of their enemies, taralians tearing at them from the ground, ladons, wyverns and norindours soaring overhead to dive and slash from above: “It is a new sort of fighting we must learn,” wrote the second commander, “for we have but rarely known aerial enemies ere now.” But learn it they did; and drove off the attackers with arrows and spears, and any of the winged company who fell to the ground were dispatched with sword and brand.
“Balsin is the worthiest commander of this and perhaps any age, so I do believe,” wrote Viktur. “And it is my honour to serve him. But it has seemed to me in this battle that he is something almost more than human, and that none and nothing can stand against thee Sword he carries, which he won from its dark guardian many years ago, when he was but a young man, as if for this day.”
* * *
* Accomplished, thank you very much. My credit card is having a lie-down and a stiff drink.
**And in fact what I’m posting here is also slightly out of date. The terminally anally retentive, if they have by then finished cataloguing Everything in the Universe^, can create a list of the alterations next autumn when the book comes out, as light relief from their labours. Like I cruise plant catalogues.
^ with Footnotes
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