A few days later, Chess was walking again, through the hallways. He had heard a rumor that the girls might be back today. They had been gone for over two weeks. Sariel had been gone for over two weeks, and his desire for her had not lessened at all. And today, she might be back! He was filled with a nervous excitement, and, although there were things he wanted to do: tweak the data-mining project, work on his samiz research, make another attempt to find Lodestar… he could not concentrate at all. And so he wandered.
As he walked, his imagination, out of habit, wandered back to the story of the indigo priestess. Chess the master thief was still searching for her, as always. But today, he was beginning to think that he might be close. People around here had at least heard of her, so he was certain that she had passed through this way, and a fierce hope resurfaced in his heart.
“Priestess?” one man had said gruffly. “Yeah, we know of her. You’d do well to stay clear of her, though.” He leaned in confidentially. “I hear she summons demons. She’s evil, that one.”
“Oh no,” Chess the thief protested. “She does only good things. She’s a great healer. And she’s a representative of the goddess. She can intercede for you with prayers and offerings.”
An old peasant woman who had been standing nearby suddenly turned to them. “Goddess,” she scoffed. “Who cares? What does a goddess -- even a benevolent one -- know about life down here?” She turned and spat contemptuously on the ground. “What can a goddess do about our problems?”
And suddenly, Chess realized that his thoughts had shifted away from Sariel, and he found himself thinking about Ileana.
The hours passed and still Chess walked the hallways and stairways and glass corridors. At some point, he found himself getting close to the glass corridor that was elevated -- the one that he passed under, through the overgrown garden, on his way to shelter -- the one that he would never venture down again: the one guarded by Woolf’s men.
Still, the thought of that encounter sort of made him chuckle to himself. Because, although the specter of Woolf and his men was more than enough to make Chess avoid the area, he had - with Sariel’s help - not suffered too much from the incident, so he did not feel any lingering anger toward them. Rather, he sort of imagined them now as barmons: the dog beasts from his old game back in civ: the beasts who could smell anyone entering their territory and would attack immediately.
Briefly, Chess wondered what the guy, Woolf, would think about being compared to a dog-beast. And then he quickly turned and headed for another hallway.
Once back among the crowds, Chess began to wonder about the time. By the cloudy daylight, it seemed to be at least mid-afternoon, and again he wondered if he might see Sariel today.
Suddenly, his progress was halted by an increased density of the population. Raised voices warned of an altercation happening somewhere in the hallway just ahead of him. He tried to turn and go back the way he had come, but curious onlookers began to hem him in.
“Don’t try begging here!” a woman’s shrill voice cried. “I’ve got my own family to feed!”
“If you can’t take care of yourself, you better get out!” a man added indignantly.
The crowd then took up a scattered chorus. “Get out! No beggars here!”
Chess was knocked sideways as one of Razor’s men pushed through the crowd and, in the slight opening made by his wake, Chess glimpsed the object of the crowd’s fury: a thin, exhausted-looking man who was wobbling unsteadily as the people circled him. Chess saw Razor’s man grab him roughly by the shoulder. At that point, Chess felt that he had seen more than enough and pushed his way out of the area. As he walked through the door at the end of the hallway, he muttered softly, “If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll make it out to the back of the compound, to shelter… and I’ll see you there.”
Chess continued on his way, down a less-crowded corridor.
Continued next page...
Bookseller: Olsen's Standard Book of British Birds? … Well, we do have that one, yes. (He goes and takes the book off a shelf.)
Customer: The expurgated version, of course.
Bookseller: The expurgated version of Olsen's Standard Book of British Birds?
Customer: Yes. The one without the gannet.
Bookseller: The one without the gannet?! They've all got the gannet. It's a standard bird, the gannet, it's in all the books.
Customer: I don't like them. They've got long nasty beaks! And they wet their nests.
Bookseller: …All right! (He tears out the relevant page.) Anything else?
-Bookshop Sketch by members of Monty Python (March 1967)
My tenth-grade English class was right after lunch, and the memory still makes my stomach clench. The teacher was a gray-haired old lady with a barbed, contemptuous demeanor and a frighteningly quick red pen. (minus 2 points for spelling; minus a whole lot more points if she thought you were trying to be funny.) She was also an amazing freethinker, and probably the most radical person that I had met, up to that point.
She made us read Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 – and I can still sing the Denham’s Dentrifice subway jingle the way that she did – and, more than that, I remember that she sang it to demonstrate the societal noise that distracts us from actually thinking. After that, she made us read Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four… but that was not the book that gave me nightmares.
“H. P. Love…craft?” one of the class loudmouths asked derisively.
“Yes, it’s a book about the craft of making love!” she shot back with acrid sarcasm.
Like an ancient goddess, the woman truly conferred both knowledge and terror.
She clucked with disapproval when the class seemed to be ignorant of the existence of the Spanish Inquisition, specifically because it was such a staple of Monty Python fare – but I was at least keeping up with her in that area. Toward the end of the year, she assigned each of us to do a project on someone who had made a significant contribution to the literature of the western world. My historical figure was Henrietta Maria Bowdler, whose chief contribution was that she expurgated books. Bowdler was a censor who redacted portions of books, including the plays of Shakespeare, which she found to be immoral. Presumably, this was done so that upstanding citizenry of the approaching Victorian Era could then read the books without fear of scandal.
Looking back from this distance, I can see a clear theme to everything in that English class -- it conveyed essential knowledge, even if the information was sometimes unpleasant. The entire thing was a brilliant and witty exercise in the rebellious and the subversive. Indeed, my teacher was so emphatic about freedom of speech and the press, she should have been a librarian. (Now those are some resolute advocates of freedom!)
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