Hegira

Hegira by Greg Bear Read Free Book Online Page B

Book: Hegira by Greg Bear Read Free Book Online
Authors: Greg Bear
Tags: Science-Fiction
of stone drinking cups and hourglasses. Bar-Woten spotted an aqueduct plunging in a straight line from a snow-hatted peak. It was large enough to satisfy this town, certainly, and several more like it. The water rushed over baffles in the stone run and glistened with white foam.
    Kiril had seen similar architecture years before as a child on his short journey to the western border of Mundus Lucifa. But it had been scrubby and undisciplined compared to this. The walls were painted in browns and earth greens with intricate mandaias, highlighted by hemispheres of white marble as big as a man's head. Red sandstone crenels topped the walls, capped by balls of gray granite expertly cut and polished. The city within was a complete contrast to the smoke-stained buildings of Madreghb. Brilliant whitewashed masonry and plaster caught cloud-filtered, greenish mountain light and stood out like snow against the black volcanic rock. The glare was dazzling. Beyond the walls on all sides natural protrusions of stone hid Ubidharm from view of all but the highest peaks.
    Barthel looked it over with gaping delight. “Some cities in Khem were like this,” he told Kiril in a hushed voice. “Holy places where prophets lived.”
    The gates of Ubidharm were open, lightly guarded by a few men dressed like the escorts. They passed through the outer village, a hundred-meter stretch of low mud and brick buildings dun-colored, neat but unimpressive; then under the corbel arch of the gate. They stopped at a red brick structure, which Kiril guessed was a custom house, or a guard station, or both.
    They were signaled to dismount and go into the station.
    The interior was square and clean with a polished slate floor and furniture made of rugged wood and rattan. The officer of the guard — without a skull-cap, but wearing a green sash around his neck like a prelate — looked them over noncommittally and spoke to the escorts. He took the guard with the rosette into a separate room.
    They returned a moment later, and the officer extended his right hand to Barthel, apparently starting with the darkest and working down. “Welcome to the Land of Light,” he said. He was tall and black with a bristling moustache and a head shaved clean but for three closely braided stripes running from nape to crown. “Who leads this party?” He looked at Barthel expectantly. The young man stammered and was about to point to Bar-Woten.
    “No one,” the Ibisian answered. “We travel as equals. We appreciate your welcome.”
    “I hear you are scholars of the Obelisks — readers, I take it?”
    Kiril decided a modified sort of truth was best. “I'm a reader,” he said. “A scrittori, actually. But we haven't come here to preach.”
    “No.” The officer went to a heavy wooden cabinet with thin horizontal drawers and opened one. He pulled out a short stack of forms and took a reed pen from a cup on the desk. Til have to know your purpose in the Land of Light. Your names, where you are from — Pashkesh, am I correct?“ he asked Barthel. The Khemite nodded. ”And where you intend to go within the country. Few Mediwevans cross this part of the border. None for at least five years. And some — ah — Ibisians have escaped here recently. Thirty or forty in fact."
    Bar-Woten nodded casually. “We heard of the final purge,” he said. “Where a river runs to ground, some drops must escape.”
    “A particularly foul and nasty river, too.” The officer's eyes examined him closely. “What were you in Mediweva, sir?”
    “A balloonwright. I took my learning in Minora, outside Madreghb, and left with my companions to avoid — ”he hemmed, “rigid thinking.”
    “We have sympathy for the Obeliskers,” the officer said, scribing away at one of the forms. “No understanding, perhaps, but sympathy. We do not fear preachers here. Usually they are the ones with something to fear. The people of Ubidharm are mountainfolk; and insular, proud. Missionaries who are obnoxious

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