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Exit

La Mer allée avec le soleil
(Tyranaël -5)

by

Élisabeth Vonarburg

 

(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. Tourists.

"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 you zoom?"

Not only Lagrangian tourists, but Lagrangian tourists discovering the joys of antiquated photography on Virginia when the Sea is there.

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 this ability."

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 more.

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 all together..."

"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, earthquakes..."

"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?"

"Yes."

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


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