The Many-Coloured Land

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Part II

The Initiation

Chapter One

"Come along, sport, come along now. Step down a little. We're the guardians of the time-portal. We're here to help you. Come on. You're feeling zonked-out right now, but that'll pass away right quick. Just relax and come along. You made it safe to Exile. You're safe, you hear me, cob? Come on now. We're all going along to Castle Gateway. You can relax there. We'll have a nice jabber and answer all your questions. Come on."

As the pain receded and his wits phased in again, Bryan was at first aware only of the nagging voice and brilliant light. He was conscious of somebody holding him by the right wrist and upper arm, a blurred figure he couldn't quite focus on. Another someone seemed to be vacuuming dust off his clothes with a hand-held machine. Then he was being forced to walk and he looked at his feet and saw them quite clearly, shod in a pair of pigskin boots with crinkled soles, moving first over damp granite, then on thick sod with grass that had been mowed or cropped short. He was stepping on small daisylike flowers. A butterfly with zebra stripes and long swallowtails hung motionless on a dew-spangled weed.
"Wait," he mumbled: "Stop." The insistent tugging left off and he was able to stand still and look about him. The newly risen sun shone over a wide expanse of green tableland going golden in its higher, drier reaches, Tanzania? Nebraska? Dorubezh?
Nearer, there were rounded boulders of crystalline rock. They had been used to mark the sides of a path that led back to a peculiar, indistinct block hanging in the air like a heat mirage. Men dressed alike in white tunics and pants with blue cords about the waist were gathered around Richard and Stein and Felice, Several more guardians stood waiting for the other members of Group Green to arrive. The wavering force field winked out. Bryan insisted upon standing still until it reappeared with four more human figures, which the guardians hastened to lead into open ground.
"All safe, sport. You can come along with me now. The rest'll all be tagging along."
Bryan discovered that the ordinary voice belonged to a skinny, deeply tanned man with grayish-blond hair and a long nose bent to one side. He had a prominent larynx and wore a twisted necklet of dark metal, about as thick and as round as a finger, incised with intricate little markings, and fastened in the front with a knoblike catch. His tunic, apparently of finely spun wool, had a streak of dried food down the front. For some reason, this reassured Bryan. He did not resist when the man began pulling him along the path again.
They were ascending a small hill a couple of hundred meters from the time-portal area. As the anthropologist's mind cleared, he was excited to see a stone fortress of considerable size perched on the eminence, facing east. It did not resemble the fairytale chateaux of France, but rather the simpler castles of his English homeland. Except for the absence of a moat, it was something like Bodiam in Sussex. When they came closer, Bryan saw that there was an outer ringwall of rough masonry about twice the height of a man. Inside this, beyond an encircling space that formed an outer ward, was a four-sided bailey, a hollow square without a central keep, with towers at the corners and a great barbican at the entrance. Above the gate was the effigy of a bearded human face, crafted in yellow metal. When they came close to the outer wall, Bryan heard an eerie howling.
"Right through here, cob," said the guide reassuringly. "Don't pay no mind to the amphicyons."
They went into a passage that led through the outer ward to the portcullis of the barbican. On either side were stout wooden grilles. A dozen huge creatures galloped clumsily up to the ban and began slavering and snarling.
"Interesting watchdogs," Bryan said unsteadily.
The guide kept hustling him along. "Too right! Primitive canids. Bear-dogs we call 'em. They weigh about three hundred kilos and eat anything that bloody well doesn't eat them first. When we have to secure the fortress, we just lift these grilles and give the beasts access to the whole outer ward."
Inside the large barbican structure was a corridor that branched right and left, leading to peripheral rooms behind the massive curtain-wall. The guide led Bryan up an open stairway to the second level. Here the corridors were whitewashed and there were handsome brass sconces with containers of oil ready to be lighted at nightfall. Deeply bayed windows giving onto the inner court let daylight into the hall.
"We got a small reception room for each of you," the guardian said. "Sit down and rest and have some tucker if you like." He threw open a heavy wooden door and trod the way into a chamber that measured about four by four. It was carpeted with a thick wool rug in shades of brown and gray and furnished with surprisingly well crafted chairs and benches of turned wood. Some had corded seats and backs, while others were padded with black woolen cushions. On a low table were ceramic pitchers containing hot and cold liquids, drinking tumblers, a bowl of purple plums and small cherries, and a plateful of seedcakes.
The guide helped Bryan unfasten his backpack. "There's faculties through that curtained door. Some new arrivals feel the need. A chap from the interview committee will come to you in about ten minutes. Meanwhile, just live it cool."
He went out and closed the door.
Bryan walked to an embrasured window in the exterior wall and gazed at the landscape through an ornamental brass grating. He could see amphicyons prowling in the narrow space below. Beyond the outer wall was the pathway and the rock outcropping with its four cornerstones that marked the position of the time-portal. Shading his eyes against the rising sun, he saw the savanna undulating gently toward the Rhône Valley. A small herd of four-footed animals grazed in the far distance. A bird sang an intricate song. Somewhere in the castle, the sound of human laughter echoed briefly.
Bryan Grenfell sighed. So this was the Pliocene!
He began examining his surroundings, his mind automatically filing away the homely details that could tell an anthropologist so much about the culture of a new world. Walls of mortared stone, whitewashed (casein?), with stained oak framing around the doorways and shutters for the glasslesswindow. The convenience had a smaller louvered slit in the wall for ventilation. Its toilet was a simple hole in the masonry reminiscent of the medieval garderobes to be found in English castles. It sported a wooden seat and a nicely carved lid, and had a box of green leaves mounted on the wall beside it. For wash-up there was a ceramic basin and laver (thrown stoneware, slip-decorated, salt-glazed). The soap was fine-grained, properly aged, and scented with some herb. The hand towel resembled coarse linen.
He strolled back to the reception room. The food laid out on the table added its data to the mass. Bryan ate a cherry, putting the large pit neatly into an empty dish and noting that the flesh was meager but sweet. Probably the original European bird cherry or some close relative, the tiny plums also seemed to be wild. If any time-travelers had brought budwood from improved stonefruits, the resulting trees might have been too susceptible to Pliocene insects and diseases to survive without chemical protection. He wondered about wine grapes and strawberries but seemed to recall that both were rather resistant, and so there was a fair chance that Richard would have his wine and Mercy her strawberries and cream . . .
The cold drink tasted of citrus, and the steaming pitcher turned out to contain hot coffee. Agnostic though he was, Bryan sent up a prayer of thanks for the latter. The seedcakes had a firm texture and a faint aroma of honey. They had been baked properly and decorated with hazelnuts on top. The cookie plate was incised with a simple motif and had a handsome sang de boeuf glaze.
There was a light tapping on the door. The brass latch lifted to admit a mild-looking older man with a neatly trimmed mustache and imperial. He smiled tentatively and sidled in when Bryan gave him a friendly murmur. He wore a blue tunic with a white cord about the waist and had the same necklet of dark metal as the guardians had worn. He seemed ill at ease and perched on the very edge of a bench.
"My name is Tully. I'm a member of the interview committee. If you wouldn't mind, I mean, we can probably help you find your way about and all if you'd tell us just a little about yourself and your plans. Not to pry, you understand! But if we could know just a little of your background and about the trade you've learned, it would help ever so much. I mean, we could tell you which places have need of your, uh, talents if you're interested in settling down. And if you don't want to settle down, perhaps you have questions you'd like to ask me. I'm here to help you, do you see?"
He's afraid of me, Bryan realized in amazement. And then he thought of the kind of persons who might come through the gate, persons such as Stein and Felice, for example, who might react to the initial disorientation and culture-shock with violence, and decided that Tully had every reason to be cautious in his initial encounter with new arrivals. He probably rated combat pay. To soothe the man, Bryan leaned back in one of the chairs and munched on a seedcake.
"These are very good. Made with oats, are they? and sesame? It's reassuring to be greeted with civilized food. An excellent psychological maneuver on your part."
Tully gave a delighted little laugh. "Oh, do you think so? We've tried hard to make Castle Gateway a welcoming environment, but some of the arrivals are deeply stressed and we sometimes have difficulty calming them."
"I felt a bit wonky at first, but I'm fine now. Don't look so anxious, man! I'm harmless. And I'll answer any reasonable questions."
"Splendid!" The interviewer smiled his relief. He took out a small sheet of writing material (paper? vellum?) from a belt pouch, together with an ordinary twenty-second-century pen. "Your name and former occupation?"
"Bryan Grenfell. I was a cultural anthropologist specializing in the analysis of certain kinds of social conflict. I'm most interested in studying your society here, even though I'm not too sanguine about the possibility of publishing my work."
Tully chuckled in appreciation. "Fascinating, Bryan! You know, there have been very few members of your profession to come through the gate. You'll certainly want to go on to the capital and talk to the people there. They'd be most interested in you. You could provide unique insights!"
Bryan looked surprised. "I'm equipped to earn my living as a fisherman or coastal trader. I never thought my academic credentials would be appreciated in the Pliocene."
"But we aren't savages!" Tully protested. "Your scientific talents will very likely prove invaluable to, um, administrative persons, who'll welcome your advice."
"So you do have a structured society."
"Very simple, very simple," the man said hurriedly. "But I'm sure you'll find it worthy of careful study."
"I've already begun on that, you know." Bryan watched Tully's meticulously barbered face. "This building, for instance, has been well designed for security. I'm most interested in knowing what you secure against."
"Oh, there are several kinds of animals that are quite dangerous. The giant hyenas, the machairodus sabercats . . ."
"But this castle seems more suited to defense against human aggression."
The interviewer fingered his neck-ring. His eyes darted here and there and finally fixed Bryan with a sincere expression. "Well, of course there are unstable personalities coming through the portal, and even though we try very hard to assimilate everyone, we have an inevitable problem with the really serious misfits. But you need have no fear, Bryan, because you and the rest of your party are quite safe here with us. Actually, the, um, disturbed element tends to hide away in the mountains and in other remote places. Please don't worry. You'll find that the high-culture persons have complete ascendancy here in Exile. Everyday life is as tranquil as it can be in a, um, aboriginal environment."
"How nice for you."
Tully nibbled on the end of his pen. "For our records, that is, it would be helpful if we knew just exactly what kind of equipment you've brought with you."
"To be put into the common store?"
Tully was shocked. "Oh, nothing like that, I assure you. All travelers must retain the tools of their trade in order to survive and be useful members of society, mustn't they? If you'd rather not discuss the matter, I won't press. But sometimes people come through with extraordinary books or plants or other things that could be of great benefit to everyone, and if these persons would consent to share, the quality of life for all would be enhanced." He smiled winningly and poised the pen,
"Aside from a trimaran sailing craft and a fishing gear, I have nothing special. A voice writer with a plaque-converter for the sheets. A rather large library of books and music. A case of Scotch that seems to have gone astray . . ."
"And your traveling companions?"
Bryan said easily, "I think you'd better let them speak for themselves."
"Oh, certainly. I only thought I'd . . . well, yes." Tully put away his writing materials and flashed another bright smile. "Now, then! You must have some questions you would like to ask me !"
"Just a few for now. What is your total population?"
"Well, we hardly keep accurate census figures, you understand, but I think a reasonable estimate would be about fifty thousand human souls."
"Strange, I would have guessed more. Do you suffer from disease?"
"Oh, hardly at all. Our ordinary macroimmunization and genetically engineered resistances seem to protect us very well here in the Pliocene, although the very earliest travelers didn't enjoy the full-spectrum coverage of those who have come to Exile within the last thirty years or so. And of course those who were lately rejuvenated can expect a much longer life span than those who were treated with the earlier technology. But most of our, um, attrition has come from accidents." He nodded soberly. "We have physicians, of course. And certain medications are regularly sent through the time-portal. But we cannot regenerate persons suffering really serious trauma. And this world may be said to be civilized, but it is hardly tame, if you take my meaning."
"I understand. Just one other question for now." Grenfell reached into his breast pocket and took out the color picture of Mercedes Lamballe. "Can you tell me where I might find this woman? She arrived here in mid-June of this year."
The interviewer took the picture and studied it with widening eyes. He finally said, "I think, you will find she has gone to our capital city in the south. I remember her very well. She made a most vivid impression on all of us. In view of her unusual talents, she was invited to, um, go and assist with administration."
Bryan frowned. "What unusual talents?"
In some haste, Tully said, "Our society is quite different from that of the Galactic Milieu, Bryan. Our needs are special. All of this will be made clear to you later, when you get a more complete overview from people in the capital. From a professional standpoint, you have some intriguing investigations awaiting you."
Tully rose. "Have a little more refreshment now. Another person would like to interview you in a short while, and then you can rejoin your companions. I'll come for you in about half an hour, shall I?"
Smiling again, he slipped out the door. Bryan waited for a few moments, then got up and tried the latch. It wouldn't budge. He was locked in.
He looked around the room for his iron-shod walking stick. It was nowhere to be found. He rolled up his sleeve to check on the little throwing knife in its scabbard. He was not surprised to find that the leather sheath was empty. Had his introductory "vacuum cleaning" been a frisk with a metal detector?
Well, well, he said to himself. So this is the Pliocene!
He sat down again to wait.
Chapter Two

Richard Voorhees had recognized the psychic disorientation of the time-portal as a variant of that experienced by humans every time that starships passed from the normal universe into the quasi-dimensional gray subspace during superluminal travel. However, the "snap" of temporal translation was prolonged many times longer than that of hyper-space crossover. Richard had also noted peculiar differences in the texture of the gray limbo. There was a dimly perceived rotation about consecutive axes; a compression (was everything, every atom in the universe, subtly smaller 6 million years in the past?); a quality to the gray that was less fluid and more frangible (did one swim through space and smash through time?); a sense of diminishing life-force all about him that would fit in nicely with certain philosophers' notions of the essence of the Milieu.

When Richard dropped through the air a short distance and landed on the granite outcropping of Exile, he was in control of himself almost immediately, as every starship's master had to be after spatial translation. Pushing aside the eager hands of a guardian, he exited from the tau-field under his own power and did a fast eyeball scan while the guide murmured inanities.
Just as Counselor Mishima had promised, the Pliocene Rhône Valley was much more narrow, and the country on this western flank, where the auberge would one day stand on a wooded hillside, was now flatter and less dissected by streams. It was, in fact, a plateau, rising slightly to the south. He spotted the castle. On the skyline behind it, smoking in the early sunlight, were two titanic snow-clad volcanoes. The northerly one would be Mont-Dore; the larger cone to the south, the Cantal.
There was grass. There were rabbity critters crouching motionless, pretending to be rocks. Off in a hollow was a grove of trees. Did the little apelike ramapithecines roam those woods?
Guardians were leading Bryan, Stein, and Felice up the path toward the castle. Other men in white helped the second group from the time-gate area. Who was in charge of the place? Some Pliocene baron? Was there an aristocracy here? Would he, Richard, be able to elbow his way into it? His mind tossed up question after question, fizzing with a youthful enthusiasm that astounded and delighted him. He recognized what was happening. It was a belated reprise of the spacer's favorite malady, the New Planetfall Eagers. Anyone who ranged widely throughout the galaxy and endured the boredom of sub-space gray was likely (if not too jaded) to work himself into a lather of anticipation over the imminent landing upon a hitherto unvisited world. Would the air smell good? Would the ions vitalize or poop? Would the vegetation and animals delight or disgust the eye? Would the local food ditto the tastebuds? Would the people be successful and sprightly or beaten down by hardship? Would the ladies screw if you asked them to?
He whistled a few notes of the bawdy old ballad through his teeth. Only then did he become aware of the anxious voice and the plucking at his sleeve.
"Come along, sir. Your friends have gone on to Castle Gateway. We've gotta get along, too. You'll want to rest and refresh yourself and like as not ask some questions."
The guardian was a dark-haired man, well built but rather raw-boned, with the spurious youthfulness and overwise eyes of a fairly recent rejuvenate. Richard took in the dark metal necklet and the white tunic that was probably a lot more comfortable in this tropical climate than Richard's own black velvet and heavy broadcloth.
"Just let me look around a little, guy," Richard said, but the man kept tugging at him. To avoid argument, Richard began to move along the path leading to the castle.
"That's a nice commanding position you've got there, guy. Is that mound artificial? What do you do for a water supply up here? How far to the nearest town?"
"Easy on, traveler! Just you come along with me. The interview committeeman will be able to answer your questions better than I can."
"Well, at least tell me the prospects for local gash. I mean, back in the present, or the future or whatever the hell you call it here, we were told that the male-female ratio here was about four to one. I wanta tell you that almost turned me off from coming over! If it wasn't for certain pressing circumstances, I might not have come to Exile at all! So how is it really? You have women up at the castle?"
The man replied austerely, "We're hosting a number of female travelers, and the Lady Epone is temporarily in residence. No women live permanently at Castle Gateway."
"So where do you guys get it? Is there a village or a town for weekend passes or whatever?"
In a matter-of-fact manner the man said, "Many of the castle staff are homophilic or autoerotic. The rest are serviced by traveling entertainers from Roniah or Burask. There are no small villages in this area, only widely separated cities and plantations. Those of us who serve at the castle are happy to remain there. We're well rewarded for our work." He fingered his necklet with a small smile, then redoubled his effort to rush the new arrival along.
"Sounds like a real organized setup," said Richard in a dubious tone.
"You've come into a wonderful world You're going to be very happy here once you've learned a little about our ways . . . Don't mind the bear-dogs. We keep them for security. They can't get at us."
They hurried through the outer ward and into the barbican, where the guardian tried to steer Richard up the stairway. But the ex-spacer pulled away, saying, "Be right back! Gotta take a look at this fascinating place!"
"But you can't . . ." exclaimed the guardian.
But he did. Clutching his plumed hat, Richard broke into a run that was only slightly slowed by the weight of his backpack. He went clattering over the flagstones into the deep interior of the gatehouse, dodging around corners at random until he emerged into the large inner courtyard of the castle. This early in the morning, the area was deeply shadowed, surrounded on four sides by the two-storey hollow wall with its corner towers and battlements. The courtyard was nearly eighty meters square. At its center was a fountain with trees planted around it in stone boxes. More trees grew at regular intervals around the perimeter. One entire side of the yard was taken up by a large double corral neatly walled in perforated stone. Half of it contained several score large quadruped animals of a type Richard had never seen before. The other half of the corral seemed to be empty.
Hearing the voices of pursuers, Richard dodged into a kind of cloister that ran around the other three sides of the inner ward. He ran for a short distance, then turned into a side corridor. It was a dead end. But on either side were doors leading into apartments within the great hollow wall.
He opened the first right-hand door, slipped inside, and closed the door behind him.
The room was black. He stood perfectly still, catching his breath, gratified to hear the sound of running feet grow louder, then fade away. For the moment, he had escaped. He fumbled in one pocket of his backpack for a light. Before he could switch it on, he heard a faint sound. He stood immobile. A line of radiance had sprung into being across the darkened room. Someone was opening another door with infinite slowness and the illlumination from the inner chamber swept toward him in a widening beam until he was caught. Silhouetted in the doorway was a very tall woman. She was dressed in a filmy sleeveless gown that seemed almost invisible. Richard could not see her face but he knew she had to be beautiful.
"Lady Epone," he said, not knowing why.
"You may come in."
He had never heard such a voice. Its musical sweetness held an unmistakable promise that set him on fire. He dropped his pack and came toward her, a figure dressed entirely in black drawn by her bright allure. As she went slowly into the inner chamber, he followed. Dozens of lamps hung from the ceiling, reflecting off draperies of shimmering gold and white gauze that curtained a vast bed.

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