I just renewed the contract on MASTER OF NONE, which is a novelette from 2008. It's one of two stories set in my TIDES Universe, an alternate history version of the Cornish coast during a time of intense culture contact. Adiún's people are the original inhabitants of the environment, and suffer under environmental degradation and social oppression wrought by Norvanders from across the sea...
A naïf from the coast, Adiún sets off in search of Devi, the lover who was taken from him the previous autumn. His travels to the city teach him hard truths about how his world is changing, and how little he knows beyond his own village. Arriving in the nearest city, he hooks up with a troupe of performers. They take Adiún in, helping him as he searches brothels and those in the slave trade for signs of his love. But when they finally find Devi, he’s not the man Adiún remembers…
This story is very close to my heart, as it started its life as a series of vignettes I wrote to distract a dear friend from a painful recovery from a bicycle accident. I'd be tickled if you gave it a chance!
All commenters to my posts today will be entered in a random drawing to win a $5 Torquere Gift certificate, to be drawn 24 hours from my last post of the day.
Here is the (rather dark) prologue to MASTER OF NONE:
Adiún blinked smoke from the funeral fire out of his eyes. Most of the villagers had walked away from the pyre, but he would stay until morning, watching over Melle and her babe until the fire died.
One figure remained on the far side of the flames and approached when Adiún raised his head.
“You will leave us now, I fear,” the old man said.
Adiún regarded the village story-father with bleak eyes. “Fear? Rejoice instead, for I go to bring the other half of our stories back to us.”
“And have you spoken with the mab rhi? Surely your father objects.”
Adiún looked into the story-father’s startling eyes --in his wrinkled, ruined old face with its faded tattooing they glistened like new coals, dark and full of promise. “I am not first son, and I am no one’s father.” He swept his hand to take in the fire. Melle and the infant were no longer discernible within it.
“You will not return.”
Adiún blinked hard, this time from surprise. Sometimes the story-father saw true. “If I do not, then our stories die with you.” Perhaps it was unkind to remind the story-father of his oncoming death, but the winter that just passed had taken so many, and had also taken Adiún’s tact.
“The oldest ones remind us that half our stories are dead already. We burned them with my story-sister months ago. There is no balance without them.”
“So even if I find Devi and bring him back...” Devi! His love’s name, spoken as the fire took his hearth-mate and Devi’s sister, wrung his heart.
“Even if you find Devi and bring him back, and with him the stories my sister taught him, half the stories, the ones I taught Melle, die a true death.”
Adiún looked out over the water at the little rounded fishing barks ranged along the shingle. He couldn’t imagine this old, pocked coast without this village. It had always been here, so it seemed. “Surely half our stories are better than none,” he countered, feeling like a child begging for reassurance.
The old man regarded him evenly. “Is half a heart better than none?”
“It’s worse than none,” Adiún whispered.
“Go forth, find Devi, but do not return. Even after he left, when you and Melle began to share a hearth, I had hope.”
Adiún heard what the story-father didn’t say; that now there was no hope. No hope for the village, none for the stories of their people. He remembered hopelessness from the late autumn, when the last caravans of strangers had come through, trading on their way to the cities of the eastern shores where the norvanders now ruled. Crops had failed and fish departed all along the coast, and whole villages were on the move.
Adiún stared into the flames and remembered the last caravan of autumn. At the very end of the warm season, when it had become clear that the crops would prove unequal to the winter, and that the fish would spurn their nets, strangers came as they had been doing all summer. Like all the young people of their village, he and Devi and Melle went to the guesthouse to offer hospitality to the strangers, completing their welcome and acknowledging their contributions to the feasts laid in their honor. All three lay with the same man, who said they were a pretty picture, Devi and Melle so light and Adiún so dark. Big and friendly, he took them with good humor if not much gentleness.
In the morning, when the strangers left, Devi went with them, with the laughing man, who laughed loudly and left more goods with the mab rhi. Adiún wept for his love and Melle wept for her brother and the story-mother wept for the end of the stories only Devi would know after the story-mother died (she knew she was too old to teach a new boy). The rest of the village rejoiced because the gifts the laughing man made to the village would feed them until the fish ran again in the spring.
When he and Melle had each mourned their grief to soft tatters, and wore it like old clothes, they raised their heads and realized they had begun to share a hearth, and that Melle was with child. Adiún called the child his, though none could know whose loins had sparked it.
The story-father’s quiet voice broke his reverie. “Take this, when you go.” He pressed the storymother’s amulet into Adiún’s hand, the vessel carved upon it digging into Adiún’s palm.
“He will wear it,” Adiún promised.
“And you must wear this,” the old man said, removing his own amulet and dropping it over Adiún’s head. Adiún stared dumbly at the round shell with its relief of the polestar standing out pale against the deep purple of the surface.
“I have no stories, father,” Adiún said bitterly, trying to smile so the story-father wouldn’t think he reviled the gift.
The story-father looked closely at Adiún with his glittering black eyes. “Your father intended to save our people, Adiún, not ruin them. The traveler wanted Devi and none other. The goods the he offered seemed a worthy trade, to the mab rhi. After all, one cannot eat stories.”
And with that, the old man walked away, his stooped shoulders wreathed in funeral smoke.
Adiún watched the dawn through the dwindling flames and drifting smoke of Melle’s fire, then went to find his father.
There was no argument, for Adiún kept the spark of his anger hidden, grasping the story-elders’ amulets hard in his hand to remind him why he must go, and why he must keep his own counsel. His departure would be scant loss to the village, for he wasn’t first son. His father nodded and gave Adiún a knife and pelts enough to make a pack.
At the next tide, Adiún rubbed his body with the cooled ashes of Melle’s fire, then plunged naked into the freezing sea, sending her spirit and the child’s onward. He emerged blue and shivering, resolved. He had loved Melle, would have loved the child, but Devi, even at a winter’s distance, warmed his blood until it glowed in his limbs.
He would follow Devi, even if it were across the western sea, as inescapably as Melle had screamed over the unnatural river of blood that brought their child. Adiún turned his back to the sea and watched the inland trails for the first caravans of spring.
© Lee Benoit