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Chapter 22

A scout arrived at the village, out of breath despite her excellent physical condition. She had run all the way from the big canyon with the news.

Two armies had been spotted approaching the Chiton. Each with thousands of warriors.


A few minutes later, "the Pentagon" was packed with all the members of the council, as well as the scout and Jens Knudsen. They were standing around the three-dimensional clay model of the Chiton which Julius had made.

"It's a good thing Joseph insisted on expanding this hut," muttered Julius. "We'd never have fit in the old one."

Indira forebore comment. She had opposed Joseph's plan to tear down the old hut and build a much bigger one in its place, around the clay model. It had been one of the many, minor clashes between she and Joseph over the past two years. And, as was usually the case, Joseph's will had prevailed.

And, as usual, thought Indira, the boy was right.

A rueful little smile came to her face.

Stop thinking of him as a "boy," Indira. Old fool. The youngsters have matured rapidly in this new world—just as they did in the ancient days on earth.

None more so than Joseph. How old was Alexander when he defeated the Persians at Issus?

She looked across the table at Joseph, who was staring down at the map. There was a frown on the Captain's face. Not a frown of worry, however. Simply the frown of calm, collected thought.

God, he's impressive. In my entire life, I've never met anyone who exudes so much—sureness.

Except Ushulubang.

The last thought brought a sudden decision.

"Someone go get Ushulubang," she said.

Joseph raised his eyes and stared at her. For a moment, Indira thought there would be an argument. Joseph's thoughts were obvious: Why Ushulubang? She's a sage, not a warrior. But then, within seconds, Joseph looked at Jens and nodded. Jens raced out of the hut.

Joseph looked back at Indira.

"I just have a . . . feeling, Joseph," she replied to his unspoken question. "Founders of new religions have to be great politicians, in addition to everything else. And the Way is not a pacifist creed."

Sooner than she expected, Jens returned with Ushulubang. The former legion commander Ghodha was with her, as well as another Pilgrim whom Indira had never seen before. As soon as the sage entered the hut, Indira rapidly sketched the situation for her.

Ushulubang made the gesture of recognition (the one which indicated "recognition of current reality"; there was a different gesture for personal recognition).

"I suspected something of the sort was occurring, from the sudden activity."

Ushulubang gestured toward the gukuy at her side, the one Indira did not know.

"For that reason, I took the liberty of bringing Rottu with me, as well as Ghodha. She is—my other eyes." A humorous whistle. "Not, perhaps, the most subtle of philosophers. But very aware of the world, and uncommonly shrewd."

Indira stared at Rottu. The gukuy was slightly larger than average. And much older than most of the Pilgrims, although not as old as Ushulubang. Like Ushulubang, she bore the cowl-carvings of a high-ranked member of the Ansha. Rottu's carvings, however, had not been scoured clean. Other than the bright pigments in the carvings, there was not a trace of any color on her mantle.

Her shoroku is perfect, thought Indira. Which is what you'd expect—of a spymaster. Spymistress, rather.

Joseph looked at Rottu. "Can you tell us anything?"

"Describe the appearance of the armies." Indira was not surprised that Rottu's Enagulishuc, though heavily accented, was excellent.

The scout—Jauna Horenstein—quickly presented what details of the two armies had been observed.

Rottu extended her palp and pointed to the little wooden piece which represented the army approaching directly from the south.

"These are Utuku. From your estimate of their numbers, it is one of their ogghoxt. Such is the name of the major divisions of their army."

"You are certain?" asked Joseph.

"Absolutely. Only the Utuku, of all the peoples known to me in the world, equip and organize their armies in that manner. A few other peoples use shields instead of forks, but none of them could muster such a great force. And those peoples are far to the southeast, in any event. Beyond Ansha."

"How many warriors?"

"Approximately eighty-eighty triple-eight eighty. The number varies, from one ogghoxt to another, but not by much. The Utuku are highly organized, for barbarians."

Indira translated the numbers in her mind. The gukuy numerical system was based on the number eight, rather than ten. The term "eighty" meant the same thing as the human "hundred"—base multiplied by itself. Sixty-four. "Eighty-eighty" meant that multiplied again. Sixty-four times sixty-four. Plus "triple-eight eighty:" three times eight times sixty-four.

Five and half thousand warriors, she thought with a sinking feeling. How can we possibly face so many? Even behind the protection of Adrian's Wall? And the fortifications are not finished in the other canyons, in any event. The Utuku would have only to choose a different route.

Joseph spoke then, with not a trace of despair in his voice.

"And the other army?"

Rottu made the gesture of ironic surprise.

"Now that is what is interesting." She looked at Jauna. "You are certain that they are north of the river?"

Jauna nodded vigorously.

Rottu stroked her arms together in that gesture which was the equivalent of a human scratching her chin. Her next question was addressed at Joseph.

"Do you maintain scouts on the western side of the Chiton?"


"And they saw nothing?"


"Thus this other army appeared out of nowhere. Already across the river. It can only have come from here."

She pointed to the pile of moss on the map which Julius had used to indicate the huge jungle that stretched southwest of the Chiton.

"From the Lolopopo Swamp."

Anna Cheng gasped. "But—the swamp's impenetrable!"

Rottu again made the gesture of ironic surprise.

"So it is always said. But I know that there have been some gukuy who have lived in the swamp. Escaped helots from the south. They must have provided guides for this other army to cross the swamp. After they were defeated by the Utuku many eightweeks ago."

She made the gesture of profound respect.

"It must have been a heroic trek."

Realization came simultaneously to everyone in the hut. Joseph vocalized it:

"The Kiktu."

"Yes. There is no other possibility. Logic tells us so—and then, there is your scout's description of the one who marches at the front of the army. That can only be a battlemother."

Joseph's face was impassive. "All accounts I have heard say the Kiktu were destroyed in the battle. Those few who survived were scattered refugees. Yet this is not a horde of refugees. It is a well-organized army, and big."

He looked at the scout. "How many again, Jauna?"

"More than two thousand. Probably three."

Joseph began to translate for Rottu, but the gukuy made the gesture of understanding.

"More than four eight-eighty," mused Rottu, "Probably six. Incredible."

She made the gesture of profound respect.

"I would not have thought it possible. Even for Kopporu."

"Explain," commanded Joseph.

"It is true that most of the refugees from the battle say the Kiktu were utterly destroyed. But I have heard a different rumor, from a few. They say that after the battle was lost, the leader of the right flank led a retreat of the entire flank into the swamp. An organized retreat, not a panicky rout. The leader's name was Kopporu, and she was reputed to be the greatest battle leader of the Kiktu."

Rottu's armstrokes were now rapid and vigorous.

"I discounted the rumor, at first. But recently I have spoken to a new refugee, who hid in a fuyu grove after the battle. By luck, she was not discovered, even when the Beak of the Utuku established her command yurt nearby. The refugee remained hidden in that grove for three days. And watched, while the Beak of the Utuku ordered the execution of more than double-eight of her battle leaders."

Rottu whistled with humor. "The death of Utuku battle leaders is naturally a blessing. But why? And why so many? True, the Beak is perhaps the cruelest ruler on the Meat of the Clam. Even so, her army had just won a great victory for her. One would have expected rewards, not executions."

Rottu stared at the map. "There must have been a great disaster in the middle of that battle. I wonder. Kopporu was, among other things, famous for her mastery of the art of ambush."

A moment's arm-stroking. Then, with the tone of assurance:

"It must be so. I can think of no other explanation. Several Kiktu refugees have told me that it was well known that Kopporu was opposed to the Kiktu clan leaders' plan of battle. She had predicted disaster beforehand, and then demanded the command of the right flank. She was admired for that nobility of spirit, it seems. But the truth was different. She hatched a plot, and carried it out. Led the retreat of her flank into the swamp. Set a terrible ambush for the Utuku who pursued. And then—led the remainder of her tribe across the Lolopopo Swamp. Seeking refuge, I expect, in the Chiton."

"Treason, you are saying?" asked Joseph.

The gesture of questioning.

"Treason, yes. Or—supreme loyalty."

Joseph took command of the meeting then.

"Our options are clear and simple. From what the scouts report, the two armies will contact each other at the base of the Chiton, before either can reach any of the canyons. A battle will inevitably ensue—in two days, at the earliest. Probably three."

He stared at the map.

"The Kiktu are outnumbered, but if we throw ourselves on their side, it may be enough to turn the tide."

"And the other option?" asked Takashi.

"We marshall our forces behind Adrian's Wall and wait—while the Utuku and the Kiktu fight it out. The Utuku will probably win, but the Kiktu will inflict massive casualties upon them. Very massive, I would think— if Rottu is right and they are still under the leadership of this Kopporu. Massive enough, probably, that the surviving Utuku will not be able to force their way up the canyon. They will retreat, and return to the main army for reinforcements. That will take some time, which we can use to prepare ourselves."

The other Lieutenant in the hut, Andrew MacPherson, spoke for the first time.

"So. If we join the Kiktu, we risk everything at once. If we wait on the sides, we give ourselves some breathing room. That, I think, sums it up."

Joseph nodded.

"Which do you prefer?" asked Takashi.

"It is not for me to decide. The decision is not simply a military one. It involves the fate of the entire colony—and everyone else on the Chiton, gukuy and owoc alike."

Indira took command.

"Joseph is right. The council must make the decision. And we should—"


She was stunned into silence. Joseph's voice had been like a thunderclap.

She stared at him. "But, Joseph—the council is the only—"




Silence filled the hut. Indira looked around. The faces of all the young members of the council mirrored Joseph's—even the face of Anna Cheng. She looked at Julius. After a second, he looked away.

Joseph's voice drew her back to him.

"This"—he said, pointing to the map, "is not a decision like any other. It is the decision that will change everything. It is the decision that will make the future. It is a decision which can only be made by that person who understands the future, and its perils."

His face was like stone.

"And its secrets."

Indira's mind was blank. Like a bird, paralyzed by the gaze of a cobra.

Black as night. Implacable.

Joseph's face softened, slightly.

"I'm sorry, Indira. I am not angry with you, as I was before. I have been listening to Ushulubang, these past nights, and—"

He took a deep breath. "I know that I terrify you. I even think that I understand why. Some part of it, at least. This decision—" He pointed to the map "—seems obvious to me. As simple and easy to make as—as whether to cherish the owoc. But you see deeper than I. Than any of us."

Joseph paused, groping for words. He glanced at Ushulubang. Then said:

"This decision is not simply an answer. It is a question. A great question. Maybe the greatest question of all. The answer may be obvious, but the question is not. Therefore, only you can make the decision."

She started to protest.

"It is true—mother."

Desperately she scanned the room. Every face was like stone—even, to her horror, that of Julius.

No, not every face.

"Leave," she commanded harshly. "All of you—except Ushulubang."

Without hesitation, the young humans filed from the hut, Joseph leading the way. As Rottu and Ghodha turned to leave, Ushulubang said to them softly:

"Gather the apashoc. Tell them the flails of the Pilgrims are now under the command of the Mother of Demons."

Julius hesitated at the doorway, and turned back.

"I'm staying," he announced firmly. Seeing Indira's hard gaze, he shrugged.

"Indira, Joseph's right. For years, we've been able to stay on the sidelines. A cozy little colony, in a cocoon. But all things come to an end. Whatever decision you make, we are going to plunge into the mainstream of history. To sink or swim. And if we sink, we'll pull others down with us."

"Don't you think I know that?" she demanded angrily. "But why do I have to be the one to make the decision?"

"Because you're the only one who can, love. Joseph's right about that, too."

"That's nonsense!" shouted Indira. "The decision is obvious. Tactically, strategically—even morally."

Julius shrugged. "Then make it."

Indira opened her mouth, then closed it. Desperately, she looked at Ushulubang.

"How may I be of service?" asked the sage.

Indira whispered, "Do you understand?"

Ushulubang's mantle flooded brown with grief.

"Yes, Inudira, I understand. You cannot bear taking responsibility for the future. You cannot bear being—the Mother of Demons."

Tears began pouring from her eyes. "Let me tell you the truth about the future, Ushulubang, and its secrets. And its agony."


She spoke for three hours, without interruption. Her words were disjointed, at times. She made no attempt to present her thoughts in an organized and scholarly manner. Had she done so, it would have made no difference, in any event. Much of what she spoke were names which were completely new and unfamiliar to the gukuy who listened.

So many names. So many, many, strange demon names. Names of places, for the most part.

Places of infinite slaughter:

Auschwitz. Dachau. Hiroshima. Tuol Sleng. Dresden. Nagasaki. Verdun. The Somme. Bokhara. Sammarkhand. Rwanda.

Places where the strong savaged the weak:

Rome, and its victims. Rome, sacked. Jerusalem, sacked, and sacked, and sacked. Magdeburg. The Mfecane. Amritsar. Wounded Knee. Nanking. Sharpeville. Vietnam.

Places where the rich battened fat on the misery of the poor:

The helotry of Egypt and Sumeria and Sparta. The slavery of Athens and Rome. The knout of the Tsars and the boyars. The Middle Passage. The plantations of the Caribbean and the South. The Belgian Congo. The sweatshops of the industrial revolution. The Irish potato famine. The coal mines of Appalachia. The German slave labor factories of World War II. The Gulag. The Great Leap Forward. The International Monetary Fund.

Names of cruelty:

Hitler. Stalin. Tamerlane. Ivan the Terrible. Pol Pot. Nazis. Einsatzgruppen. Ku Klux Klan. Inquisition.

Deeds of cruelty:

Kristallnacht. The pogroms of Russia. The lynchings of the American south. The Albigensian Crusade—and all the other crusades.

Name after name after name—in a babble, at the end, until she finally fell silent.

Throughout, Ushulubang had not even moved. Now, she stirred slightly.

"So. Truly, a terrible road. Worse than I had hoped. But not, perhaps, as much as I have sometimes feared, in the darkest nights of the soul. You are here, after all. On this world which we call Ishtar, because the name given to it by demons is one which we can all agree upon."

Indira snorted. "Demons. It's a good name for us. Who but demons could be so cruel?"

"Yes. And who but demons could be so courageous?"

The sage stared up at the ceiling of the hut. "It is such a wonder to me. To be so brave and powerful. To cross the Infinite Sea."

Indira shrugged. Ushulubang gazed at her for a moment, before speaking again.

"Tell me, Indira. Is it true, as I have been told, that you did not flee to our world? That you came here of your own will?"


"What was your purpose, then?"

She explained, as best she could. Of an Earth ravaged, but at peace. Of a humanity which was struggling to rebuild a planet. Of those few, among the many preoccupied with immediate necessities, who had yearned for the stars. Who had managed, after much labor and effort, to equip a single expedition to come to the one star in the vicinity of Sol which had been determined to possess a habitable planet.

"Just so. A terrible road—but a road of beauty, also."

"I suppose. Yes."

"Another question. Of the many names which you told me, there seemed to be one name which appeared more often than any other." The gesture of apology. "It is difficult for me to pronounce. The—Natushishu?"


"Yes. Truly, a terrible tribe. Worse than the Utuku, even. Or, perhaps, simply more powerful. You said they swept across the land like a fire, leaving nothing but death and destruction behind."


"But you did not tell me what happened to them, in the end."

Indira stared out the doorway.

"They came to a place called Stalingrad."

"Another place of horror?"

Indira thought of the soldiers of the Wehrmacht Sixth Army, encircled by the Soviet counterattack. Over three hundred thousand of them, caught in a maelstrom they had never created. Years later, a few thousand would return to their families. The rest—part of the unknown multitude washed away into the ocean called History.

"No," she said. "It was a place of glory, and beauty."

"Did the glory last? And the beauty?"

She thought of Stalin's purges. Of the Gulag.

"No. But—"

"It was a place when the road forked. And the right fork was taken. Horrors along that road, as well. But not so many as along the other."

"Yes. Yes, but—"

Ushulubang made the gesture of understanding. "You are terrified, not by the agony alone, but by its inevitability. Not by the decision which fork of the road to take, but by knowledge that all roads must lead through horror. And that by choosing one fork it will be you yourself who creates the horror of that road."

She nodded.

"Just so. Do you remember when I smashed the idol at Fagoshau?"

Again, she nodded.

Ushulubang whistled derision. "Did you think I was so foolish as to believe I could smash idolatry? Did you think I failed to understand that, after my death, new idols of Goloku would be erected?" Another whistle of derision. "And of me as well, I expect."

Indira stared at the sage. "I did not . . . I don't know."

"Just so. Many years ago, Inudira, I found myself at a fork in the road. Much like the one which you face here. I saw the fork coming, long before I reached it. In my confusion and fear, I went to Goloku.

"I told her that the day would come, after her death, when the apashoc would be savagely persecuted. I thought that because of my position in the Ansha that I might be able to survive. I alone, perhaps, among my sisters. If I debased myself, and groveled, and wriggled through the anger of the clan leaders like a slug.

"The idea was—loathsome. But, I thought, perhaps it would be my duty. So I went to Goloku."

"And what did she say?"

"She told me I had understood nothing of what she had ever said. She flailed me mercilessly, with words like stone."

Ushulubang's huge eyes were pitiless. Her mantle flashed black as night. Implacable.

"I shall now flail you with the same words. There is no Answer, fool. There is only the Question."

Suddenly, Julius spoke.

"Do you remember the first time we met?" he asked Indira.

The question took her completely by surprise.


"The first time we met. We had an argument. Do you remember what you said to me?"

Her mind was like a field of snow. Empty.

"I don't—remember. Why?"

His rubbery face twisted into a grin. "How strange. I have never forgotten it."

She shook her head, clearing away the confusion caused by Julius' odd question. Then, suddenly, remembered.

If there is one thing that historians know, it's that nothing great was ever achieved except by those who were filled with passion. Their passion may have been illogical, even bizarre to modern people. Their understanding of the world and what they were doing may have been false. It usually was. But they were not afraid to act, guided by whatever ideas they had in their possession. Do not sneer at such people. You would not be here without them.


Moments later, Indira left the hut and walked into the center of the village. Joseph was waiting. He stood alone, apart from the others of the council. Whatever decision Indira had made would now fall upon his shoulders.

Before speaking, Indira looked around. The village was packed with people—gukuy and ummun alike. Even some of the owoc had come, understanding, somehow, that a great turn had come in the Coil of Beauty.

She looked up at the sky. The same sky, years before, had been colored with a huge red mark. All that was left of a man who had tried the impossible. Tried, and failed. But not before giving the future to his children.

She looked down at her boy, and spoke.


The story would be told for generations after, by chantresses across a continent. Of the day when the Mother of Demons matched flails with her soul.

So terrible was that soul!
So great a struggle!
Even the Mother of Demons
would not have conquered it
Without the sage Ushulubang.
So terrible was that soul!
Its cry of defeat shook the world!
You did not hear?
It echoes still.
The sound of that cry will never end.


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