Chapter 6 Episode 1 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles
Risenton Road ran straight over almost flat country; any unevenness folded more like a wrinkle in a sheet than a hill. As they walked along, the roadside became less rural and more urban.
Within two hours, they entered the City. The buildings here were far, far older than anything they’d seen elsewhere on the island, or in Eisenstadt, where old buildings tended to be torn down and replaced. Soaring buttresses, arches and magnificent carvings reminded Adewole of the thousand-year-old cathedrals and palaces found on the Rhendalian plains, decorated with chiseled mottoes only scholars like Adewole could read these days—mottoes much like the ones he found inscribed all around him. Even among these ancient and impressive structures, newer cob buildings and larger ones of salvaged stone squatted in the margins, their roofs thatched and their few windows unglazed.
People bustled to and fro, most too busy to notice the dusty foreigners, much like cities elsewhere but for the absence of wagons and horses. Barrowmen carted burdens; men carrying covered chairs suspended between two poles transported what must be the island’s rich. For all the bustle, the surroundings were scaled for a much larger city than this.
A square opened up ahead; a large knot of people stood at one end, but the square itself was empty. “Seems we’re expected,” said Lieutenant Lentzen.
“We haven’t exactly been subtle, Izzy,” said the Major, “and we had witnesses to our arrival.” He gestured at the tawny owl now perched on Adewole’s pack.
“Ofira, did you tell the Council we were coming?” said Adewole, shifting so the bird had to find a new perch.
She settled on a nearby road marker. “I told t’unfeathered ‘uns what I knew. No one likes surprises, learnèd ‘un.”
“I do not like them, either. I wish you had told me.” In response, the owl closed an eye and swiveled her head away.
“Mischief makers, owls,” remarked Peter.
They walked on toward the gathering, Major Berger, Adewole and Sergeant Jagels in the lead with Deviatka and Lentzen close behind. An avenue led from the square’s right hand side into a complex of ancient buildings; above the avenue rose a freestanding stone arch. Once, iron gates must have spanned it. Carved along the arch’s curve, an inscription read:
To know the world is to know God
“Pardon me, Peter, but does this archway lead to some kind of college or university? Or perhaps a church?”
“T’old university, how d’you know that?”
“From the inscription. Can you not read it?”
“No use for such as reading in my line. Can you?”
“Aye,” said the professor and read the inscription aloud before he realized Peter couldn’t understand it; it was written in a runic form of Old Rhendalian, not the Middle Rhendalian dialect spoken here. He switched gears and translated.
“To know God?” Peter hissed. “Why would anyone want to do that? And lower your voice.”
Question him as he might, Adewole could get no further explanation from the young man; for some reason religion wasn’t just an impolite topic, it was forbidden. He made a note to tell Major Berger. Though the Eisenstadters were not a religious people on the whole, some—mostly immigrants—did ascribe to one belief or another. He reflected on his own relationship with Jero’s gods. Did he have one, now he was a man? His devout mother would cry at his even asking the question, but she was five years gone.
Surely something greater than humanity existed. What else could have thrown the island into the air?
Adewole emerged from his woolgathering; they were close now to the crowd. Barrowmen, women with market baskets over their arms, the apparent aristocrats and their chairmen, all stared at the Eisenstadters—especially at him. The crowd’s murmuring grew louder. “Are you catching anything, Professor?” said Major Berger at his elbow.
“It is largely about our foreign clothes, and the color of my skin. Also, we should expect a visit from the local constabulary any moment.”
The crowd parted; three men and two women marched up to the delegation. Each wore a brownish-yellow conical hat and armor-like vests covered in iridescent angler bug shells. “The City Guard,” said Peter Oster. “Thass Captain Winston in the lead—a good ‘un.”
“Why aren’t they armed, like those dopes back at the turnip patch?” said Corporal von Sülzle in a stage whisper.
“Silence in the ranks,” growled Sergeant Jagels.
A grizzled older man who must be Winston stepped forward. “What’s all this, then, Peter Oster? I never see nowt as this lot ever in life.” He squinted at Adewole murmuring translations into the Major’s ear. “Do the dark ‘un fall in a nut-brown dyepot?”
“I was born this color, sir,” frowned Adewole, unaccustomed to such remarks.
“Professor Adewole, I don’t know what he said to provoke you, but please keep your temper,” said the Major. “Tell them we are a peaceful delegation from Eisenstadt and wish to speak to their Council.”
“Eye-sen-such? Where’s that?” said Captain Winston to Adewole’s translation.
“Peter Oster tells me you call it Dunalow,” replied Adewole.
Word spread through the onlookers; those behind jostled those in front to see the poor mad people who thought they were from Dunalow. The Guard captain frowned, but didn’t seem surprised. “Time enow to gawk but not now,” he shouted at the crowd. “Make way for the Council, they’ll sort out do this lot be sick in the head or oathbreakers or both.”
The Guards elbowed a path through the crowd. Three men and three women emerged, each dressed in lustrous silk trousers and linen tunics dyed and embroidered in bright colors. They stood out among the drab people surrounding them—parrots among pigeons. One of the three women looked to be about Adewole’s age, the rest of the Council at least in their fifties or older.
Major Berger stepped forward, Adewole beside him, and the rest close behind. The most regal man stepped forward. Silver filtered through his brown hair and beard, and his shrewd eyes flicked over the foreigners. A curious chain made of little gears wreathed his shoulders; a swirling gray pattern like oil on the surface of rippling water marked the metal. “Greetings, gentles. I am Councilman Eichel.”
“I am Major Berger of the Eisenstadt Defense Corps,” said the mission leader through Adewole, who introduced himself as well. “We bring you greetings of peace and friendship from Eisenstadt—your Down Below.”
“Dunalow? That is an extraordinary statement, sir,” replied Eichel, his accent far more sophisticated than the people they’d met so far—almost understandable. He gestured over the Eisenstadters’ heads.
“Guards are filling in behind us, sir, and this new lot are toting spears,” reported Sergeant Jagels. She fingered her coilgun’s grip, but kept it in its holster.