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Watson, Ian - Black Current 03

BOOK: Watson, Ian - Black Current 03
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The Book


Ian Watson




Tam’s Pot




L’o it was
as a child just a quarter short of my third year that I was installed in the
temple of the black current in downtown Pecawar. I'd be public proof of how we
could all be saved by the grace of the Worm, courtesy of its Ka-store. Whilst
in actual fact the whole human cosmos was about to come to a sticky end, maybe
no longer than two years hence!

I soon called in the promise which
Quaymistress Chanoose had rashly made; namely that in addition to my honour
guard of guilds- women I might gather a few friends about me. I asked for Tam
to come.

It may have been cruel to wrench Tam
away from fair artistic Aladalia to dusty Pecawar. It might have been
inconsiderate to ask him to squander his one-go on the river so that he could
squire a mere child, in
happened to have been
reborn the young woman he had loved besottedly. Nevertheless I wanted him. I
knew I would need the services of a loyal soul or two.

"Tam's a potter," I told
Chanoose. "Doesn't Pecawar, baked by the
the colour of clay already, need a potter to give it some bright glaze? Doesn't
my temple need ornaments—such as vases for the flowers my pilgrims will bring?
And splendid faience plates for them to pour coins into?"

I also requested the presence of
Peli, the songful water-wife. Peli originally hailed from Aladalia too.

"It might be better,"
replied Chanoose, "if you chose your companions from different
directions—not both from the same place! Can't you think of someone from
Jangali or Tambimatu? That way you'd be forging symbolic ties. Two from
Aladalia seems like favouritism."

"I want Peli." Her, I could
trust. "Besides, then Tam won't feel so lonely." It almost sounded as
if I was trying to fix up a marriage between Peli and Tam.

"Oh, as you please! I don't
suppose it matters; if it'll make you happy."

We were talking in the audience
chamber—alias throne room—of my temple. Let me describe the edifice.

It had been a disused spice warehouse,
which was swiftly but quite elegantly converted by masons, carpenters and
furnishers hired by the guild. The rear backed directly on to the river; a new
covered verandah overlooked the water. The front faced
, which converges on
close to the Cafe of the Seasons. The
claybrick frontage was dolled up with outriding sandstone columns to provide a
roofed arcade, where food hawkers and lemonade lads soon took up residence
along with various licensed souvenir vendors; chief amongst whom was the
bookstall proprietor who held the temple franchise to sell copies of
The Book of the River.
(This was shortly
going to be reprinted with my private afterword included, according to

A grand flight of steps bridged the
arcade, running up to an entry porch above. These steps were clad with thin
flags of purple Melonby marble to prevent the feet of countless pilgrims from
wearing them away too soon. There hadn't been enough stock within easy reach of
Pecawar to build the steps of solid marble. In any case, think of the expense.
And the effect was the same.

In this manner the entrance was
relocated one storey upward—so as to convey a sense of ascendance. Yet the
steps mustn't be too steep; nor must they commence in the middle of
. Consequently the entry porch had to be
recessed well behind the original wall. This meant that busy teams of craftsmen
had their work cut out reconstructing a lot of the interior to accommodate
stairway, upper-floor porch and foyer. They laboured overtime and even through
the nights by lamplight at double rates.

My audience chamber, which led off
the foyer, was mostly panelled with rich gildenwood. A couple of tapestries
covered stretches of cheaper old wood. One of these tapestries was a rather
abstract representation of desert dunes; it flowed nicely into the gildenwood.

The other tapestry pictured a
fishmask regatta at a fanciful Gangee. I was assured that weavers would soon
set to work upon thoroughly relevant new tapestries depicting scenes from my
past life—such as how I had ridden in the mouth of the Worm with the sun's rays
shining forth from my ring. Or how I had confronted a giant croaker in the
jungle, me armed only with a sharpened wand (the weavers would need me to be
holding something, for the composition).
Or even how I had
been martyred (but surely not cowering under a bed?).

And in my audience chamber upon a
dais, I had a tiny tot-size throne of rubyvein with a fat tasselled cushion for
my bum.

The honour guard—who doubled as
temple officials—occupied the remainder of that upper storey. My own private
living quarters were down below; as were those of my parents, various empty
rooms destined for my personal retinue, and the temple treasury— which, when I
moved in, was also empty. Short of jumping into the river off the verandah I
could only leave my new home by mounting and using the main entrance, which
immediately involved an escort; this kept me conveniently in my place.

It had been decided not to include a
kitchen in the temple. A tad undignified, perhaps, to have smells of stew
wafting over my waiting worshippers? Thus meals were ordered in from outside;
and mine were generally cool by the time they reached me. This was a fatuous
strategem, since the whole place reeked of spices. All of the surviving fabric
was imbued; and doubtless there was a carpet of spice dust a thumbnail deep
beneath the ground floor. A thorough scrub-out with soap didn't make one whit
of difference.

When eventually there was enough
money in the coffers, the idea was to erect a really stately temple mostly of
Melonby marble, with a large courtyard, somewhere out in the suburbs. Meanwhile
I must make do with this converted warehouse, which looked sumptuous enough so
long as you didn't try to prise off the veneer, and made believe that the
powerful odour was some kind of incense as in old tales.

And why not make believe? In spite of
new gildenwood panelling and those tapestries which blanketed the surviving old
wood, for some reason the smell of spice seemed particularly noticeable in my
throne room. This set me to wondering whether visitors from other towns might
imagine that it emanated from my presence, diffusing hence to spread throughout
the town! Just so had I once imagined that Dad, in his working clothes, was the
source and origin of Pe- cawar's native

Which brings me to
the matter of Dad himself.
His was a slightly tragic case, which I was
truly sorry to see—albeit that I was to blame.
Me; and
Chanoose's machinations in making me a priestess.

Mum was up; Dad down. Mum revelled in
the glory. She was proud and committed. Dad, on the other hand, was out of a
job— since he could hardly continue counting spice sacks and totting up ledgers
now that his daughter was a high priestess. Worse, he was out of a job inside a
former warehouse where every sniff reminded him of his previous independence.
He who had ever held his job at arm's length, far from family matters—save for
those excursions with Nary a during the war—now had his nose rubbed in empty
reminders of the past; with wife and "false" daughter always close at
hand. However, he put a brave face on necessity. Mum and Dad occupied a decent
suite adjacent to my own; and whilst Mum found much to busy herself with in
improving the accoutrements of the temple, Dad gravitated inevitably (though a
little grimly) towards the counting house. Soon he was totting up donated
fish-coins with wry perseverance and improving the bookkeeping.

By now our family house had become a
museum. Mum happily countenanced this and acted as advisor in the matter. Dad
refused to go back there or have anything to do with this conversion of his
former home into a tramping place for curious strangers.

So now we had two prongs of
pilgrimage: the temple, and our house along the dusty lane. A third holy place
could obviously be the cemetery where Yaleen's murdered body lay—
keep pilgrims busy! Give them a full itinerary!—and
about this, debate grew a little heated, with me entering the fray.

It was a lamplit evening in my throne
room, and Chanoose had a pronouncement to make. Present to hear it were myself,
Mum and Dad—and Donnah, captain of the guard and major-domo of the temple.

Donnah was a tall busty redhead, with
noteworthy muscles and strapping shoulders, whose attitude to me—the holy
brat—I still hadn't quite figured out. By her accent Donnah was from further
Sarjoy or somewhere.
She managed to be both
extremely protective, to which end she always wore a four-shot Guineamoy
pistol, and quite offhand in her duties as major-domo; which was how Mum found
an easy entree into temple management. To be sure, the temple was Donnah's
command; but it wasn't exactly a boat, to be kept spick and span. I suspected
that Donnah was the restless sort and may have felt miffed to be made captain
of a revamped warehouse—never mind that she was performing sterling service
for her guild: its prestige, its revenues. In Donnah, I fancied, Chanoose had
appointed someone who wouldn't become a kind of rival quaymistress in town. Yet
Donnah's inner person remained opaque to me; far more so than dear conniving
Chanoose. Of one thing I was certain: Donnah wouldn't allow me to manipulate
her, or gain the upper hand.

I perched on my throne. The others
squatted on quilted floor-cushions, Jay-Jay guildhall-style, except for
Chanoose who stood.

"We must decide about the
cemetery," she declared. Donnah immediately nodded agreement.
"Yaleen's grave ought to be visited."

"That could be difficult,"
I pointed out, "seeing as I'm sunk in sand in an unmarked spot."

"We must mark it, then."

"And how would you find it, to
mark it?"

Mum spoke up. "I'm sure /
haven't forgotten the spot." Chanoose smiled brightly at her.

"Maybe my death-box already
broke surface and got burnt," I said.

"Oh no."
Chanoose shook her head. "Impossible.
Far too soon.
Now as to a memorial—"

"But the sands shift," said
Dad. "The memorial would lean. It might fall over. That isn't very

"In that case," suggested
Donnah, "maybe we should retrieve the body and build a proper marble tomb
nearby? With the corpse embalmed within?"

Dad twisted his hands about. "I
doubt if the people of Pecawar would consider a tomb all that proper! You
should leave her poor body be. She was my daughter—I do have a right to say

"I still am your daughter,

Dad looked bewildered for a moment.
He sighed; subsided.

"It seems to me," I went
on, "speaking as your priestess, that the whole idea's nonsense. It
defeats the purpose of why I'm here in this temple. What we're concerned with
not bodies. Not that I'm
disparaging bodies! But damn it, I've had three of them by now."

"You are the three-in-one,"
said Chanoose, amiably toying with this new phrase.
Surely you can spare one of them for cult purposes?"

"No, no, no. It's stupid."

We argued a
while; and to my surprise I won. The guild would not, after all, exhume my
semi-mummified remains from the sands. Instead they would merely affix a plaque
to the stone archway of the graveyard. Then of course eager pilgrims could
always hope that a fierce gale might blow up on the night before their visit.
The corpse of Yaleen might possibly surface in its death-box
for them. The Rods could rake in some spare cash, if they were ingenious. They
could try to sell relics.
Hanks of hair.

Visits! By pilgrims! Now we come to
the meat of my role as priestess (as opposed to the bones in the sand).

BOOK: Watson, Ian - Black Current 03
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