wont to sit, watching all that transpired under his jurisdiction with a beady eye. He was not present today.

Harsan leaned over the age-blackened railing to peer down into the hubbub of scribes, peasants, landowners, merchants, and priests. Three pyramidal daises occupied the centre of the hall, the middle one standing three man-heights above the chipped grey marble pavement, the other two somewhat lower. From these, narrow gangways ran down to still lower platforms; short stairs, runways, ramps, and little wooden bridges travelled thence to still lower, broader daises, and finally to the floor. So great was the Tsolyani love for the visible display of all abstract relationships that one could almost trace the structure of the temple’s administration from the heights, arrangements, and interconnections of these daises.

All of the levels were occupied by shaven-headed, inkstained priests of the Second and Third Circles, men and women who had devoted their lives to the neat rows of entries of fields and produce, the ciphering of columns of tithes and taxes, and the recording of markets and trade. Here one entry announced the arrival of an infant into this world of Tekumel; there another line of script indicated his or her clan, profession, and status; a further squiggle noted the person’s marriage; other registers recorded the payment of taxes and tithes, the ownership of lands and goods, the growth of a family, children, servants, and concubines; and still another entry marked the citizen’s departure from this life and the final journey into the Halls of Belkhanu, the Lord of the Excellent Dead. All of the events of a thousand, thousand lifetimes were here in these scrolls, tossed carelessly back and forth from one careless sacerdotal hand to another.

Lamps for the melting of sealing wax burned blue with the pitchy redolence of Wes-wood. Young children did futile battle with cloth whisks against clouds of bottle-green Chri- flies. Older boys and girls carried brass trays of earthen cups brimming with Chumetl, the traditional daily drink of watered and salted buttermilk, to this outstretched hand or that. Clay wateijugs spread wet stains of welcome coolness over the soiled matting of the daises. Servitors in once-grey kilts bustled up from the lower platforms to pass some document to those higher up; others bore officiously sealed decrees down again to the petitioners waiting below.

Today the Hall of Enactments was crowded. The place thronged with villagers and the local gentry of the Chakas. Harsan noted the presence of Lord (-if one could dignify him with so lofty a title-) Se’eqel, the richest landowner of the district, surrounded by his little entourage of servants and bully-boys. There stood an awkward group of Kachor chiefs from the Inner Range, gaudy in their sleeveless tunics of Hma — wool and Kheshchal — feather headdresses. Townsmen in open vests and pleated kilts ostentatiously embroidered with their clan symbols milled around the scribes of the lower levels, jostling with traders in stained leather kilts, particoloured overcloaks, and laced travel leggings. Peasants of both sexes, nude save for brief clouts of Daichu — bark cloth, strove for the attention of the rows of bored petition-writers seated crosslegged along the back wall of the chamber.

Slightly apart from the rest, in a circle of their own, four graceful Pe Choi communed together like dancers before a performance. Harsan’s gaze lingered upon these; the six slender limbs, the upper pair of which ended in tiny skeletal hands, the middle pair used now for grasping and now for standing, and the two heavier rear limbs spread in a perpetual grasshopper-like crouch; the shiny black chitinous integument (these were males- females would be bone-white); the long, segmented tail switching restlessly to emphasise some point made by its owner; the delicate black-to-grey shading of the ear-ridges of the long, sleek heads; the lambent green eyes; the dainty jaws filled with peglike teeth. For a moment Harsan’s perspective did a sudden somersault: these Pe Choi were the Ntu-ntik, “the People,” and the soft-fleshed, hairy humans were again the Tkik-ntik, “the Outsiders.” One of these Pe Choi he recognised as old Tna-Chu, the Pqa E'etk, “the One to Be Consulted”-as much as human speech could match the connotations of the many-layered Pe Choi term, and as nearly as a human tongue and lips could reproduce the clicking, whispering, hooting language-of the nearest Pe Choi village some twenty Tsan into the forest to the west.

A stir in the chamber below brought Harsan back to his mission. A man dressed in the grey-lacquered Chlen — hide armour of the temple gate guards had thrust his way through the throng and was speaking earnestly with the scribes on the lower daises. Even as Harsan turned towards the staircase at the far end of the balcony he realised that he could never reach the highest dais before the guard did.

“Now,” said Harsan to himself, “I shall receive the ‘leather rosary.’ Damned Ferruga will announce this messenger to our beloved Prior before I can get there.” Nevertheless he adopted a fiercely dutiful look, drew five deep breaths to show that he had run all the way, and plunged down the steps three at a time. As he had predicted, he was too late.

Chapter Two

The summons from Prior Haringgashte did not come until after the lector priests had completed the nightly adoration of Lord Thumis, and the jewelled image, attired in robes of deepest purple-grey, had been conveyed upon its gilded litter by forty chanting bearers from the Hall of Divine Supplication to the upper shrine, the Gallery of Gazing Forth by Night. Here sat the priests of the Sixth and Seventh Circles, surrounded by their astrolabes and ephemerides, to ponder the skeins of past, present, future, might-be and might-have-been, in the movements of Tekumel’s two moons and four sister planets. As a newly anointed Scholar Priest of the Second Circle, Harsan had perforce to attend upon chubby old Vrishmuyel, chief of the astrologers, whose interests lay more in dozing than in the imparting of celestial mechanics to his brood of students.

With a sinking sensation, Harsan accepted the little plaque of dyed Chlen- hide, embossed with the symbol of Thumis upon one side and the Prior’s personal glyph upon the other, from the hand of the pretty girl acolyte who had brought it.

The Prior’s apartments were in the eastern wing, almost directly opposite the Gallery of Gazing Forth by Night across the east-west axis of the monastery. Harsan arrived slightly out of breath and paused to collect himself and to ascertain the Prior’s mood from the Meshqu, the little silver hook at eye-height beside the door, upon which coloured plaques of Chlen- hide were hung to indicate the current humour of the occupant within. To Harsan’s surprise, the symbol that hung there tonight was green striped with red: “The Badge of Solemn Contemplation,” rather than the red and black chequered “Fist of Stem Retribution.” With somewhat higher spirits he rattled the wooden clappers hanging from the door lintel.

Qumal, the Prior’s flat-faced, unsmiling body-servant, admitted Harsan to the empty anteroom, led him past the dining chamber, where three children were stacking up the many little golden bowls of the evening’s repast (and surreptitiously stuffing their cheeks with left-overs), and opened the bronze-studded door into Haringgashte’s audience hall.

This chamber was furnished in the simple style preferred by the austere temple of Thumis: grey-washed walls covered with painted devotional texts in black and red, coloured vignettes of the god, a tessellated marble floor overspread with a single carpet of cloud-grey Mnor- fur, several ascending daises, each with its low table set upon legs carven in the shapes of comical Kuruku- beasts, and a larger table in one corner heaped with scrolls, books, inkpots, jars of pigments, and vessels of unknown contents. A single branching candelabrum held twelve tiny oil — lamps. High up beneath the beamed ceiling four small clerestory windows admitted the cool evening breeze that blew nightly down off the Inner Range.

Prior Haringgashte sat alone upon the highest dais at the far end of the room. As with many from his native city of Tumissa, his physique had developed like that of the Choqun- plant: reed-slender in his youth, in his latter years he had become almost bottle-shaped. His small and delicate head joined his sloping chest with little pause for shoulders, and his rotund pot-belly overhung his rounded, almost feminine hips in testimony to his love of sedentary habits — and of good food. The grey vestments of Thumis did little to conceal his girth, nor did the black skullcap of the priesthood hide his bald and mottled scalp. He watched Harsan's approach with a steady and not overly baleful gaze, from which the latter derived some faint comfort. His first words took Harsan by surprise.

“It is related, priest Harsan, that you have been anointed a Scholar Priest of the Second Circle. What was the Labour of Reverence that brought you to this exalted status?”

“My-my Prior, it was a study of the language of the ancient Empire of Llyan of Tsamra…”

“Would you then become a grammarian?”

“Languages come as easily to me, Sire, as swimming to a fish. I know not why. Yet I would also study history, doctrines, and other-’ ’

The Prior put forth a soft hand, palm down, two fingers extended, to show that he wished to continue. “How

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