Chapter 7 Episode 1 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles

The formal diplomatic mission arrived a week after the landing; though the Risenton Council was offered a fact-finding mission of its own to Eisenstadt, all six declined in horror. The diplomats' arrival relieved Professor Adewole of most of his duties as translator; along with Ambassador Weil came a small cadre of Middle Rhendalian scholars. Adewole spent two weeks teaching them the Risenton dialect--some as he learned it himself--and by the middle of Juli he found himself more or less free to do as he wished. "I would very much appreciate having you on the island for consultation," said the Ambassador. "You still possess greater linguistic skills than the rest of the translation corps. While I almost understand the aristocracy here, the common people are near-incomprehensible."

Adewole assured her his fellow academics would soon be up to speed but he'd be delighted to stay, "especially if I might be granted access to the University of Risenton Library."

Councilwoman Lumburgher was in nominal charge of the University, and upon applying to her, Ambassador Weil was repelled. "I suggest you try directly, Professor," she said. "You have dealt with Henrik Blessing. I'm sure you can manage Imogen Lumburgher."

Adewole learned what he could about the Councilwoman, asking questions among Peter Oster's friends and the people he met in the marketplace. She was suspicious of her neighbors, notoriously tight-fisted, a jealous guard of her family's place in Risenton society, and an amateur historian. Armed with what he knew, he obtained an appointment and now sat in the receiving room of the Lumburghers' ancestral, stuffy town residence. To his surprise, the Councilwoman set refreshments before him: delicate little oaten pastries topped with rosehip jelly, and spicebush leaf tea. Unlike the bitter dregs they drank in Eisenstadt, it warmed from the inside and left a peppery taste in his mouth.

At first, Councilwoman Lumburgher remained firm, but when Adewole explained his intention to translate the books and research the island's history, she sucked in one cheek, as if to chew it. "I could not permit the books to be moved."

"Of course, I would not dream of removing them. I doubt they would survive the stress--they are very old, are they not?"

She stroked the crepelike skin on the back of her hand. "Many predate the Rising."

"You are a historian yourself," he said, sipping his tea. "What can you tell me about the island, ma'am, that you think I should know?"

Councilwoman Lumburgher launched into a recital of her family's lineage in a memorized rhythm approaching poetry. She traced her ancestors back to the Rising--an hour that would have tried the patience of most. Adewole sat listening, elbows propped on knees, hands clasped between them, completely focused. The woman's lined and suspicious face relaxed into something reverent as she recited, as if her spirit traced her bloodline in the chant.

When she finished, he leaned back in his chair. "A beautiful recitation, ma'am. I have heard illiterate people, such as those on the tiny islands fringing Shuchun and the isolated villagers in the Tirrash Mountains near my home give similar histories from memory. Did you have portions of this from the Library's books?"

The old woman flushed, spidery, broken capillaries mottling her cheeks. "I cannot read them, I fear. No one can. The language is forgotten. Though I am quite literate in the modern tongue, thank you," she added tartly.

"I do not doubt it for a moment, ma'am," he said.

"I don't want you in the Library. You won't be able to read the books. You'll just chop them up as curiosities. You people seem to think that's all we're good for up here."

In fact, Adewole had warned Major Berger about soldiers pocketing artifacts, everything from lightcrystals, the precious, mysterious rocks lighting up more than one Risenton home, to angler bugs. Word had been sent through the ranks: such activities resulted in court martial. The Major's exact words were, "If you take anything off this island more than the dirt on the soles of your shoes, I will pitch your sorry ass over the side myself." The petty thievery had stopped, and items had mysteriously re-appeared from where they'd been taken.

"Councilwoman Lumburgher, please believe me, cutting up a book of any kind, old or new, is to me akin to cutting up a child," said Adewole, horrified at the suggestion. "I could not do it, for any amount. It is a form of murder. And I can read the forgotten language, I am certain of it. It is a runic variation of Old Rhendalian. I translated the old inscriptions on the University gate and the Town Hall, after all."

"So you say." Her voice dropped to a superstitious whisper. "'To know the world is to know God.' Why would anyone write such a horrible thing--for all we know, you're making it up!"

"I can only give you my word."

The Councilwoman put down her cup. Her sharp eye fixed him. "Your word. Well, in the time you've been here you've comported yourself more like a gentleman than most of your sorry lot."

Adewole thought their 'sorry lot' hadn't been all that sorry. Major Berger and then Ambassador Weil had dealt fairly with the Risentoners, perhaps more fairly than even the Jerians would have. In exchange for Eisenstadt's continuing presence on the island, the government offered food, cloth, technology and other supplies. Adewole worried perhaps the Eisenstadters' hands were too open; the islanders might develop a dependency, but as poor as they were and as determined as Eisenstadt was to maintain a presence on the island, it seemed inevitable. Already the Ambassador and Major Berger were trying to persuade select Risentoners like Peter Oster and his brother to take free passage to the ground--a stipend, an education and employment. So far they'd had no takers; the autogyros terrified the superstitious Risentoners, but they wouldn't be frightened forever. It made Adewole's work that much more pressing. Who knew how much longer there would be a Risenton to document?

Councilwoman Lumburgher resumed, and he pulled himself from his thoughts. "You may study in the Library under one condition. The other Families will have it their roles in Risenton history are greater than the Lumburghers'. I want your reassurance you will not be swayed by them."

Adewole swore he would let no one sway him in his work, though the promise was not quite the one the Councilwoman thought she'd extracted. He refilled her tea cup. "Then I might have access to the books?"

The old woman sighed, picked up her cup and smiled. "You may. Are all your people so courtly, Professor, or are you original?"

Embarrassed, Adewole bowed his head. "I love books, ma'am. Anything I do is in service of knowledge."


Cheez-It's picture

I was wondering what Earth culture the Jerians are based on. My guess is Ethiopia.

MeiLin's picture

Most High

I've been asked what culture Jero is based on. Jero's language tonalities are based on Yoruban, the main local language of Nigeria. I think of Jero itself as a mash up of Egypt, Nigeria and Paris. It is the most literate and cultured of the city-states in the DIC, and one of the oldest, probably the oldest. Life there is slow during the hot day, brilliant in the cool of evening, and everyone from pedicab drivers to food stall cooks to professors loves to talk--politics, books and music, especially. Everyone has an opinion and expresses it enthusiastically, and while there is a class system as there is everywhere, the cab driver has no qualms discussing things with the professor, and the professor is expected to listen, if not heed.

Questioner: I hadn't considered Ethiopia, but yes, there are similarities. I'm picking many a cultural pocket and may have rifled through that one.

One reason never stated in the book as to why Adewole manages to wrap Imogen round his long finger is that she reminds him of his grandmother, a similarly stately and prickly lady he learned to wheedle sweets out of as a boy.

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