'How could the Outsider have chosen such a bungler? ...When had he ever offered a single sacrifice, however small, to the Outsider? Never! Not one in his entire life. Yet the Outsider had extended infinite credit to him... Certainly he would never be able to repay the Outsider for the knowledge and the honor, no matter how hard or how long he tried.' (Gene Wolfe, Nightside The Long Sun)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The sighting of two goddesses

[Previous episode: The god comes down to collect the dead]

Only I am left awake, and the black man, and the sentries Hypereides has set around us and the ships. A moment ago, a lovely young woman left the largest ship, and seeing that I saw her, halted to speak with me. I asked who she was.

She smiled at that. “Why, Latro, my name’s been on your lips half the day. Would you like to see me fatter, with red hair? I can do that, if you wish.”

“No,” I told her. “You are so much more lovely than your picture on the sail.”

Her smile faded. “Yet plain girls are luckier. Ask your little Io.”

I did not understand her, and I believe she knew it; yet she didn’t explain. “I only stopped to tell you I am going to the Great Mother,” she said. “I was her priestess once; and though I was taken from her long ago, it may still mean something to her, if only a little. Because you’ve loved my beauty today, I’ll ask her to be kind to you.”

“Is she merciful?” I asked, remembering what the tall lord of death had said.

Europa shook her head. “Sometimes she is kind,” she told me. “But we are none of us merciful.”

She has walked into the ridge, which opened a door for her. There is another woman on the ship now. I see her pace the deck in the moonlight, as if deep in thought. She wears a helmet with a high crest, like Hypereides’s, and her shield writhes with serpents.

Her face recalls to me the face of Oior, Oior’s face not as I saw it at any other time, but as I saw it when I looked back upon leaving him and saw him bent over the dead bowman. When I had met him on the beach and when we had talked at the top of this narrow ridge of land, his sun-browned face had been as open as the faces of the sailors, though without their vivacity and native cunning, a face as strong and as simple as the face of a charger or a bullock. It was a face much like my own, I think, and I liked him better for it.

And yet when I turned back to look at him as I descended the slope, it had changed utterly, though all its features were the same. It had become the face of a scholar of the worst kind, of the sort of man who has studied many things hidden from common men and grown wise and corrupt. He smiled to see the dead bowman, and he stroked the livid cheek as a mother strokes her child.

I must remember that.

-Gene Wolfe, Soldier of the Mist (1986)

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