There was a painting on a wall. It was painted in red clay ochre. She had no eyes.
My eyes are haggard as I stare down into the reddish-brown pool. My hair is matted, disheveled, falling down below my shoulders. My garment is made of a tapestry, unravelling now, fire-stained and bearing traces of its former decoration, people gathered around in the ruins of a city waiting for their leaders to speak...
I start to sob. Those two. Those two. Gone now, and nothing will bring them back.
I begin to climb the steps, willing the fog to return to my mind, but it will not come for the asking. A gray rain is falling. The rain is tears, but in my mind it is the ashes of books burned before my eyes, before their eyes- was he laughing, then? I cannot remember. And the Book is gone from my reach, and can never be recovered. Tossed off a balcony, it lay with back broken on the rocks, its heavy metal corners bloodstained more brightly than the rocks onto which it fell. I could never get it back. Never. Its pages were long ago ripped out by the elements or small creatures, winged or fourlegged, carrying the prizes of words back to line their dumb nests.
My feet have found the top of the steep cliff. Up and to my left is the balcony overlooking the canyon floor, bits of shattered green glass on the railing glittering even in the rain.
There are two cairns of cut stone here, two graves. The ground had been too hard to dig. Stones were all that could be managed. Appropriate at least to one of them, born of a race that burrowed in stone.
A girl's voice calls in English from the Solarium, a voice cheerful and innocent. "Need a hand with the water?"
I shake my head. "No, that's all right, Yeesha."
The perfect place to raise a child, a whole world of exploration open to her like a vast treasure chest, provided for in everything except companionship. She does not know that this Age was her father's last gift to her, any more than he did. She does not know the stories contained in those few books of D'ni that were not burned in the fire, a tongue I know too little of to teach myself or her. She does not really understand what "parents" mean, or the broken words I tell her when the fog is not with me, trying to explain about the two who lie beneath the stones. She will never Write or teach. And she will never learn from my lips about the madman with the axe who followed me here, wrecked vengeance, and then leapt into Releeshahn while holding it over the edge of the balcony, so that-before my eyes, head throbbing from a painful blow-I saw him vanish and the book fall from view, flapping like a bird transfixed by an arrow. It took me weeks to find a way to scale the cliff and inspect the broken remains of the book. By then too many pages had been torn away.
I reach the house and go out to the balcony, standing gripping the railings in my knuckles and staring out at the undulating pillars of red rock, losing myself again. The fog starts to turn the tide in my mind, and I am a lizard sunning myself on the rocks...
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Yeesha asked behind me, and I am forceably snapped back to the present, and the past too, hearing her mother's prophetic voice.
"Very beautiful," I agreed numbly.
The perfect place...