(Excerpt: Chapter 2, p. 40-46)
Spurning the carriages without consulting each other, they
walk towards the Ceremonial Wharf, which is a few hundred metres
away. They go by the grassy waves of the greenish yellow attila
grass, Cristobal's only concession to what is theoretically the
tropical Winter, then turn onto the tingalyai-lined lane that
climbs the three terraces to the summit of the esplanade. Small
groups of people are going in the same direction as they are.
Before they start to climb down through the colossal scarlet
tiers of the amphitheatre, Taïriel notices the activity
around the basin, above the locks - they have opened the boathouse
doors. The boat should be here soon.
If Samuel is a member of the Immortals, he does not show it:
he goes and sits down across from the second lock instead of
joining the blue-robed people on the Wharf. He would stick out
like a sore thumb, anyway, in his street clothes. Taïriel
follows him. The gigantic amphitheatre seems deserted - barely
more than three thousand people in a site that can accommodate
five times as many, but for so early on a New Year's morning
it's not bad. Considerably more than the time she came for the
arrival of the boat, back... Twenty seasons ago, the first time
she came to Cristobal. Time flies, when you're having fun...
You would think that everybody, or every little group, would
take advantage of this huge space, but no, everyone congregates
on either side of the canal. Or at least the spectators. The
actors, if that's what they can be called, have gathered on the
Wharf itself, in front of the wall of fog. Taïriel has enough
imagination, and she has seen enough reproductions: one contemplates
the blue light of the Sea to the horizon, more or less veiled
in a light mist. There are, up there, about twenty blue tunics
- Immortals - and the chorus, about a hundred individuals, among
which there are a few tall silhouettes characteristic of the
halatnim of Atyrkelsaõ.
Two middle-aged women come and sit down in the tier immediately
below, cameras hanging over their bellies, broad-brimmed straw
hats. "I tell you, those are Ranao," declares one,
who remains standing as she takes her camera out of its case.
From her accent, and the paleness of her shoulders exposed by
her light dress, like those of her companion, Taïriel guesses
they are Lagrangians and he cannot help making a little face.
"Impossible," says the other, "the Ranao never
cross. Only the hybrids."
"But look at them!" insists the first one, aiming
her lens. "Dang it, how does this thing work anyway, can't
Not only Lagrangian tourists, but Lagrangian tourists discovering
the joys of antiquated photography on Virginia when the Sea is
Samuel leans forward: "It's manual." The woman turns
around, scowling. "The zoom, it's manual," he repeats,
pointing at the wheel that controls the mechanism. The woman's
face brightens. "Oh, yes, of course, I forgot."
She aims her camera again towards the small group of halatnim,
and mumbles: "Don't tell me those are not Ranao! Golden
skin, red hair... And that woman there even has violet eyes!"
Samuel looks like he's enjoying himself: "They're not
Ranao," he says. "Your friend is right, the Ranao cannot
cross with the Sea. Only the hybrids, the halatnim, have developed
Both women are turned towards him now. He concludes: "But,
of course, after all this time, the halatnim from the other side
are sometimes indistinguishable from the Ranao."
"And what about the other ones, in blue, the... ah...
hekel, right?" asks the first woman, who is the older of
the two. She rolls the initial "r" sound excessively.
"No," says Samuel, in a friendly tone, "there
aren't any yet Virginia." Taïriel is tempted to poke
him with her elbow; if he gets started, it will never end! He
concludes: "Those people are Immortals."
The woman makes a face: "The ones who throw themselves
into the Sea?"
"Only when they have attained Enlightenment," Taïriel
intercedes. If they completely satisfy their curiosity at one
time, maybe they'll go back to their photos and leave them alone.
"Those ones won't. They've come to welcome the crossers.
No one throws themself into the Sea in public. It's something
very private. A religious act."
"And only during the Departure of the Sea," Samuel
adds in a hushed voice.
The woman suppresses a shiver as she murmurs, "But still..."
She takes a few photos then sits down again without saying anything
The curiosity of the other woman has still not been quenched:
"But that's what the..." She searches in the book in
her hand, which is bristling with little coloured sticky papers.
"... the Baïstoï do, right? They throw themselves
"That's different. And we don't have any of those either.
The Ranao used to send, and still send, young people to join
the Sea outside of Enlightenment, excellent telepaths, all volunteers.
They provide... a communications relay with it. A buffer, mostly,
to mitigate its effect on contact for those who join it, for
those who was travelling on it, and for the Communicators."
"It says here they contribute to controlling hurricanes,
"When the Sea is there, yes, sometimes, with its help."
"And have they really modified the orbits of the moons
to make the eclipses coincide with the Sea?"
Samuel starts laughing: "Of course not! Quite the opposite:
it turns out that the Sea has chosen to have its comings and
goings coincide with the eclipses.
"The Sea certainly likes to show off," remarks the
woman with slightly incredulous amusement.
Taïriel restraints herself. It's strange, when people
speak seriously about this kind of subject in front of her -
in her family, or among Virginians, in any case, she is the first
one to get ironic, but when it all becomes curiosities, tourist
traps, she becomes fiercely protective! What will it be like
in Lagrange! She had never envisaged this aspect of her future
immigrant status - she saw above all the allure of an entire
society of people lacking the least glimmer of psychic abilities
and entirely devoted to a grandiose technological enterprise
to which she would be able to contribute... But will she start
constantly defending every aspect of Virginia once she got there?
Samuel did not comment either on the tourist's remark. And
fortunately, the songs begin, an isolated voice at first, as
always for the first verse, and then the entire choir. They are
professionals and the performance is flawless. More beautiful
here, technically: the sound is not lost in the immensity of
the Park - the tiers of seats were designed to resonate with
it. But less moving. Less spontaneous, even though Taïriel
recognizes the voice of the man who began the first verse of
song of the Flesh, then the voice of the woman for the song of
Love: they also led the singing the previous night. And above
all there are a lot fewer people in the Park. It had to be -
has to be - much more impressive when the seats are filled to
capacity, as they are among the Ranao for the ceremony of the
return of the boat or for the departure of the Baïstoï.
The third song ends, the clear voices of children. Finally,
the song of Peace, and Taïriel finds again a little of her
emotion from the day before, since the spectators too are singing
in the amphitheatre. Then silence. Or almost, for Taïriel:
the two women are exchanging whispers in front of her, the younger
is reading to the older one the translation of the songs from
her book, which is open to the appropriate page.
They both start, and Taïriel too, when the Immortals
gathered at the front of the Wharf, near the fog, give the great
traditional cry of joy, taken up a little raggedly in the amphitheatre
as the others also see the wave arrive from the horizon, carrying
the small dark point of the boat.
Taïriel sees nothing - nor do the Lagrangians. They could
have turned to their book, but the younger one apparently decided
that she had something better handy. She turned to Samuel: "And
now what's happening?"
"The boat has just been spotted."
"Do YOU see it?"
The woman looks at him with curiosity, but without recoiling:
"You're a telepath. A... danvéran, in setlaod, right?"
The accent on "danvéràn" was not correct
and she pronounced "set-la-od" in three syllables,
without the diphthong, but she's made the effort. Perhaps they
come from Morgorod - or are at least sympathizers.
Samuel nods. "We have been saying 'setlâd' for
centuries," he adds.
The woman raises her eyebrows: "My book..."
"...is maybe a little dated," Samuel smiles, still
friendly. "We learned the ancient language, on this side,
through the memory plates. But it continued to evolve on the
other side. There is an excellent bookstore, in the Museum, if
you want the most recent data on it."
Then, in a low voice, he starts describing to them what is
happening as the boat comes near; he has to admit that is less
frustrating this way, with this human voice. They just have to
close their eyes and pretend they're not blind.
It is the small traditional Rani boat, twenty metres long,
high rails, swan-neck prow, with a square sail carrying in the
four quarters the colours and symbols of the Ranao tribes, the
tiger and unicorn of the Paalani, the oar and ear of grain of
the Aritnai, for the South the harp and the arrow, for the North,
the fish and the globe. Painted on the right side of the prow
on the white hull, the big blind solar eye, with its corona of
black rays; on the left side, the violet moon of the eclipse,
with its dark pupil. When the first halatnim crossers arrived
officially from Atyrkelsaõ, in 170, they were on this
boat - an exact copy of the boat of the Baïstoï, the
first Rani gift to the Virginians.
It stops alongside the Wharf, gently, and the huge wave recedes
and disappears into the blue surface, which again becomes calm
- invisible for Taïriel, but Samuel's whisper draws them
in her imagination. A fervent shiver runs through the amphitheatre.
"There are crossers this year," whispers Samuel, still
just as calm. A dozen. They're waving to us, some are laughing,
others crying. Young women and men, dressed in blue and white.
Those are ritual colours, of the Sea and of Hananai, the deity
of the Ranao. They're going to come down the gangway now."
And yes, Taïriel can finally see, the gangway emerging
from the fog and settling on the Wharf, launched from the boat...
© 1997 Éditions
Alire & Élisabeth Vonarburg
find out what happens next...