Hegira by Greg Bear Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: Hegira by Greg Bear Read Free Book Online
Authors: Greg Bear
Tags: Science-Fiction
the mountain slopes. The horses picked their way cautiously over the rugged ground. Bar-Woten kept his eyes on the pillars of scoured soft stone walling the gorge on both sides. They were near the bluff below the plateau flats when voices called out. Their owners couldn't be seen.
    “Ua hight thee?” one asked.
    Kiril frowned, trying to understand the dialect from his studies of Obelisk English. He knew the word hight. From that he pieced together the rest. “We are three from Mediweva,” he answered. “Trithi de Mediweva!”
    They continued climbing until they were level with the plateau. Behind a ridge of rocks ahead three faces peered at them. “Your purpose!” one demanded.
    “To travel through Mundus Lucifa. We are scholars.”
    “Your studies?”
    “Folklore,” Bar-Woten undertoned, looking down at his saddlebags and rearranging them nonchalantly.
    “Folklore and myth!” Kiril answered.
    “What would Obeliskers want with an ignorant land?”
    “Natural truth,” he answered, hoping to guess the correct response to the formula. They weren't dealing with simple barbarians. The border guards to Mundus Lucifa were specially trained and erudite.
    “Come forward. You have papers?”
    The Lucifan's Mediwevan was excellent. He had no accent.
    “No papers,” Kiril said. “Our studies aren't condoned in Mediweva. We don't use the Obelisk texts.”
    Two sets of three horsemen galloped from both sides to ride as escort. The three behind the ridge emerged and walked to meet the strangers. The guards wore carefully beaded buskins, patchwork leather leggings, sporranlike pouches, and metal skullcaps engraved with designs in an alphabet Kiril didn't recognize. Their shirts were khaki with square, puffed pockets. Bandoliers hung from their shoulders and supported pouches and scabbards at their waists.
    “You've traveled far?” the leader asked. He was a short, stocky man with a booming voice.
    “Across the chasm,” Kiril said, gesturing behind them.
    The men were tall and dark, except for their leader; almost olive-colored, their skin shining like old leather. Their eyes were white as talc with enormous blue or green pupils. All in all, Bar-Woten decided, they were as handsome a group of men as any he'd met on the March.
    “Ah,” the leader said, nodding his head. “Then you saw the thing at the bottom. You think we built that?”
    “No,” Kiril said.
    The guard looked insulted, but finally grinned and shrugged his shoulders. “The Mediwevans didn't?”
    “I doubt it,” Kiril said, laughing.
    “The old scholars drove you out of the country then, hm?” He shifted subjects without bunking.
    “In a manner of speaking.”
    The guards whispered to each other. The six men on horseback watched the intruders silently. Kiril felt sweat forming on his back. “Listen,” the leader said, “not many people come through this way, and we wonder why you do. You have an excuse, but there's trouble in your country now. So you'll be taken to the city ahead and our superiors will decide what should be done. Follow my men, please.” They crossed the plateau and took an old trail around an escarpment of weathered granite rock.
    Each escort wore a different insignia on the ribbon that secured his skullcap. One bore a coiled snake surrounding a clutch of eggs; another a hawk with wings spread; and a third a rosette of spiked red petals. Three of the horsemen left them at the top of the ridge and rode to the west. The remaining ensigns talked among themselves as they paced, ignoring the intruders.
    The Lucifan with the rosette pointed down the smoothly paved road and said, “Ubidharm.” Coming around a sandy hummock covered with thorny bushes, they had their first view of a Lucifan city.
    It was small but impressive. The architecture was predominantly stone, which was to be expected from the landscape. Walls three times as high as a man curved and snaked around the inner city, which rose from numerous hills like a display

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