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Young Maia is fast approaching a turning point in her life. As a half-caste var, she must leave the clan home of her privileged half sisters and seek her fortune in the world. With her twin sister, Leie, she searches the docks of Port Sanger for an apprenticeship aboard the vessels that sail the trade routes of the Stratoin oceans.
On her far-reaching, perilous journey of discovery Maia will endure hardship and hunger, imprisonment and loneliness, bloody battles with pirates, and separation from her twin. And along the way she will meet a traveler who has come an unimaginable distance — and who threatens the delicate balance of the Stratoin's carefully maintained, perfect society.
Both exciting and insightful, Glory Season was NOMINATED: 1994 Hugo award for best novel, and NOMINATED: 1994 Locus SF award for best novel.
"While I have the floor, here's a question that's been bothering me for some time. Why do so few writers of heroic or epic fantasy ever deal with the fundamental quandary of their novels ... that so many of them take place in cultures that are rigid, hierarchical, stratified, and in essence oppressive? What is so appealing about feudalism, that so many free citizens of an educated commonwealth like ours love reading about and picturing life under hereditary lords?
"Why should the deposed prince or princess in every clichéd tale be chosen to lead the quest against the Dark Lord? Why not elect a new leader by merit, instead of clinging to the inbred scions of a failed royal line? Why not ask the pompous, patronizing, "good" wizard for something useful, such as flush toilets, movable type, or electricity for every home in the kingdom? Given half a chance, the sons and daughters of peasants would rather not grow up to be servants. It seems bizarre for modern folk to pine for a way of life our ancestors rightfully fought desperately to escape." — David Brin
Amazon.de Germany: Die Clans von Stratos (German-language Kindle ebook)
indiebound.org US: paperback
Kobo.com US: ebook
Powell's US: paperback
A limited number of autographed first edition hardcover copies of Glory Season are available for sale for $60. Go here for ordering details.
"We would have every path laid open to women.... Were this done ... we would see crystallations more pure and of more various beauty. We believe the divine energy would pervade nature to a degree unknown in the history of former ages, and that no discordant collision, but a ravishing harmony in the spheres, would ensue." — Margaret Fuller
"This book began with a contemplation of lizards. Specifically, several secies from the American Southwest that reproduce parthenogenetically — mothers giving birth to daughter clones. Perfect copies of themselves.
"From there, I discovered aphids, tiny insects blessed with two modes of reproduction. During periods of plenty and stability, they self-clone, churning out multiple duplicates like little Xerox machines. But when the good times end, they quickly swing back to old-fashioned sexual mating, creating daughters and sons whose imperfect variety is nature's mortar of survival."
. . .
"These days, nothing is politically neutral. The lizards I referred to earlier have recently been cited in a thought-provoking, if inflammatory, radical feminist tract posing the question 'Who needs males, anyway?' Many times, over the ages, insurgent female philosophers have proposed independence through separation. Given the plight of countless women and children in the world, they can hardly be blamed. In fact, the name 'Perkinite' was taken from Charlotte Perkins Gilman, whose novel Herland is one of the best and pithiest separationist utopias ever penned. Her brand of sexual isolationism is far gentler than the extremist doctrine I depict, which shamefully misuses her name on planet Stratos." — David Brin
"It was after I started studying langur monkeys that it began to dawn on me how many sources of variation in female reproductive success there were. It brought the old paradigm into question. For so long it had been assumed that males were basically polygynous [many sexual partners] while females were monandrous [one sexual partner]. Watching langurs convinced me that this was not true. When I examined the wider literature I realized just how common polyandrous mating by females actually was across primates. Now we realize it’s not just primates, it’s across the animal kingdom." — Sarah Blaffer Hrdy
"Would self-cloning lead kinship lineages to imitate the social life of ants or bees, dwelling in 'hives' with like-gened sisters? This notion, too, has been explored before, often by cramming antlike behavior into bipedal bodies. On Stratos, the daughters of an ancient clan would exhibit solidarity and self-knowledge unimaginable to vars like ourselves, but that wouldn't necessarily make them automatons, or stop them being human." — David Brin
For those interested in the game of cellular automata (or "Life") Brin used to create Stratoin society, here are a few resources:
Learn more about all of Brin's novels and books here.
"Glory Season offers thrills, chills, political intrigue, and other good old scientifictional fun, along with yet another round in the battle of the sexes."
"There is violence and death, pursuit and discovery, betrayal and maturation, immense enjoyment and final satisfaction, all in the service of a thoughtful approach to the question of intergender relations."
"David Brin relentlessly develops this big idea, to see exactly where it takes him. He follows it through the sciences: biology, sociology, psychology, and more. By pursuing this idea so relentlessly, he constructs a society that is very alien to our own (uncomfortably so, in cases) but yet is still very recognizable."
"The tale of a young misfit forced into rebellion against a corrupt society and helping to overthrow it has been told many times before. Brin tells it as well as any and better than all but a handful."
"Set against this backdrop is a familiar storyline, of a smart young innocent setting out on her own, witnessing things that were meant to remain secret, and getting swept up in the midst of intrigue and adventure. Given the low tech level of Stratos, the story often feels like a standard adventure set in pre-industrial times. However, the depth of the setting, and the differences in attitude and philosophy of the characters, keeps the whole thing feeling novel and interesting."
"Brin's handling of this material is cool and rational. While he criticizes some of the weaknesses of Stratos life, he also makes as good a case for its viability and benefits as might any feminist."
"Glory Season is an imaginative and entertaining novel set in a world where women have decisively won the battle of the sexes ... Fascinating."
"As a story, it's good. As a social experiment, it's very well done. If I had a daughter, I would want her to read this novel. If I had a son, I would require him to read this novel."
"A considered and nuanced speculation rather than a stale battle-of-the-sexes tract. Brin's prose echoes the influence of Asimov, Frank Herbert, and Aldous Huxley.... His world is so painstakingly drawn and is splashed with such radiant and varied hues."
"One of the most important SF novels of the year."
David Brin's science fiction novels have been New York Times Bestsellers, winning multiple Hugo, Nebula and other awards. At least a dozen have been translated into more than twenty languages. They range from bold and prophetic explorations of our near-future to Brin's Uplift series, envisioning galactic issues of sapience and destiny (and star-faring dolphins!). Learn More
Short stories and novellas have different rhythms and artistic flavor, and Brin's short stories and novellas, several of which earned Hugo and other awards, exploit that difference to explore a wider range of real and vividly speculative ideas. Many have been selected for anthologies and reprints, and most have been published in anthology form. Learn More
Since 2004, David Brin has maintained a blog about science, technology, science fiction, books, and the future — themes his science fiction and nonfiction writings continue to explore. Learn More
Who could've predicted that social media — indeed, all of our online society — would play such an important role in the 21st Century — restoring the voices of advisors and influencers! Lively and intelligent comments spill over onto Brin's social media pages. Learn More
David Brin's Ph.D in Physics from the University of California at San Diego (the lab of nobelist Hannes Alfven) followed a masters in optics and an undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Caltech. Every science show that depicts a comet now portrays the model developed in Brin's PhD research. Learn More
Brin's non-fiction book, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?, continues to receive acclaim for its accuracy in predicting 21st Century concerns about online security, secrecy, accountability and privacy. Learn More
Brin speaks plausibly and entertainingly about trends in technology and society to audiences willing to confront the challenges that our rambunctious civilization will face in the decades ahead. He also talks about the field of science fiction, especially in relation to his own novels and stories. To date he has presented at more than 200 meetings, conferences, corporate retreats and other gatherings.Learn More
Brin advises corporations and governmental and private defense- and security-related agencies about information-age issues, scientific trends, future social and political trends, and education. Urban Developer Magazine named him one of four World's Best Futurists, and he was cited as one of the top 10 writers the AI elite follow. Past consultations include Google, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and many others. Learn More
Do not enter if you want a standard "Party" line! Contrary Brin's community pokes at too-rigid orthodoxies, proposing ideas and topics that fascinate and infuriate.
reviews and recommendations
"Brin slathers a sober and hard-edged landscape at one turn, and in the next pinpoints with pixel clarity the humanity all jumbled up in the epic action. There are no mutant cockroaches or other absurdities. On every page we see the dirty, lined, broken faces of hardscrabble existence, but we also see them light up at the simple gesture of receiving a piece of mail from a long-lost loved one. And we see mythopoesis right in our faces."
— SF Site Reviews
"Thanks again for being part of our "kick-off" program for the KPCC Crawford Forum science series (broadcast on our NPR station). The audience loved it, and we all learned a lot — you certainly do have a lot of fans! We hope we can have you with us again at some time in the not too distant future."
"Even the more advanced and older alien races are not just godlike beings of infinite wisdom, anymore than the Gubru and similar nasties are simply scientific demons. Brin's gift for diversity and for showing paradoxically the human side of alien races is something extremely rare in science fiction authors."
— Fantasy Book Review
"This is a fun novel, rich with ideas, that examines on a very human level the ramifications and side effects of our ambitions and the things we take for granted. It's also a hard-boiled murder mystery with levels of physics and metaphysics that work your brain. But for me, as always, it's David Brin's characters that really pull me into the story and keep me up until three in the morning."
— Barnes and Noble Review
Twenty-six months before her second birthday, Maia learned the true difference between winter and summer.
It wasn't simply the weather, or the way hot-season lightning storms used to crackle amid the tall ships anchored in the harbor. Nor even the eye-tingling stab of Wengel — so distinct from other stars.
The real difference was much more personal.
"I can't play with you no more," her half-sister, Sylvina, taunted one day. "'Cause you had a father!"
"Did n-not!" Maia stammered, rocked by the slur, knowing that the word was vaguely nasty. Sylvie's rebuff stung, as if a bitter, glacier wind blew through the crèche.
"Did so! Had a father, dirty var!"
"Well... then you're a var, too!"
The other girl laughed harshly. "Ha! I'm pure Lamai, just like my sisters, mothers an' grandmas. But you're a summer kid. That makes you U-neek. Var!"
Dismayed, too choked to speak, Maia could only watch Sylvina toss her tawny locks and flounce away, joining a cluster of children varied in age but interchangeable in appearance. Some unspoken ritual of separation had taken place, dividing the room. In the better half, over near the glowing hearth, each girl was a miniature, perfect rendition of a Lamai mother. The same pale hair and strong jaw. The same trademark stance with chin defiantly upraised.
Here on this side, the two boys were being tutored in their corner as usual, unaware of any changes that would scarcely affect them, anyway. That left eight little girls like Maia, scattered near the icy panes. Some were light or dark, taller or thinner. One had freckles, another, curly hair. What they had in common were their differences.
Maia wondered. Was this what it meant to have a father? Everyone knew summer kids were rarer than winterlings, a fact which once made her proud, till it dawned on her that being "special" wasn't so lucky, after all.
She dimly recalled summertime's storms, the smell of static electricity and the drumbeat of heavy rain on Port Sanger's corbeled roofs. Whenever the clouds parted, shimmering sky-curtains used to dance like gauzy giants across distant tundra slopes, far beyond the locked city gates. Now, winter constellations replaced summer's gaudy show, glittering over a placid, frost-decked sea. Maia already knew these seasonal changes had to do with movements of Stratos round its sun. But she still hadn't figured out what that had to do with kids being born different, or the same.
Wait a minute!
Struck by a thought, Maia hurried to the cupboard where playthings were stacked. She grabbed a chipped hand mirror in both hands, and carried it to where another dark-haired girl her own age sat with several toy soldiers, arranging their swords and brushing their long hair. Maia held out the mirror, comparing her face to that of the other child.
"I look just like you!" she announced. Turning, she called to Sylvie. "I can't be a var! See? Leie looks like me!"
Triumph melted as the others laughed, not just the light-haired crowd, but all over the crèche. Maia frowned at Leie. "B-but you are like me. Look!"
Oblivious to chants of "Var! Var!" which made Maia's ears burn, Leie ignored the mirror and yanked Maia's arm, causing her to land hard nearby. Leie put one of the toy soldiers in Maia's lap, then leaned over and whispered. "Don't act so dumb! You an' me had the same father. We'll go on his boat, someday. We'll sail, an' see a whale, an' ride its tail. That's what summer kids do when they grow up."
With that surprising revelation, Leie returned contentedly to brushing a wooden warrior's flaxen hair.
Maia let the second doll lay in her open hand, the mirror in the other, pondering what she'd learned. Despite Leie's air of assurance, her story sounded easily as dumb as anything Maia herself had said. Yet, there was something appealing about the other girl's attitude... her way of making bad news sound good.
It seemed reason enough to become friends. Even better than the fact that they looked as alike as two stars in the sky.
Never understate the voyage we're embarked on, or what we knowingly forsake. Admit from the start, my sisters, that these partners cleaved to us by nature had their uses, their moments. Male strength and intensity have, on occasion, accomplished things both noble and fine.
Yet, even at best, wasn't that strength mostly spent defending us, and our children, against others of their kind? Are their better moments worth the cost?
Mother Nature works by a logic, a harsh code that served when we were beasts, but no more. Now we grasp her tools, her art, down to its warp and weft. And with skill comes a call for change. Women — some women — are demanding a better way.
Thus we comrades sought this world, far beyond the hampering moderation of Hominid Phylum. It is the challenge of this founding generation to improve the blueprint of humanity.
— from the Landing Day Address of Lysos
Sharply angled sunlight splashed across the table by Maia's bed, illuminating a meter-long braid of lustrous brown hair. Freshly cut. Draped across the rickety night-stand and tied off at both ends with blue ribbons.
Stellar-shell blue, color of departure. And next to the braid, a pair of gleaming scissors stood like a dancer balancing on toe, one point stabbed into the rough table top. Blinking past sleep muzziness, Maia stared at these objects — illumined by a trapezoid of slanting dawn light — struggling to separate such fey emblems from her recent dream.
At once, their meaning struck.
"Lysos," Maia gasped, throwing off the covers. "Leie really did it!"
Sudden shivers drew a second realization. Her sister had also left the window open! Zephyrs off Stern Glacier blew the tiny room's dun curtains, driving dust balls across the plank floor to fetch against her bulging duffel. Rushing to slam the shutters, Maia glimpsed ruddy sunrise coloring the slate roofs of Port Sanger's castlelike clan houses. The breeze carried warbling gull cries and scents of distant icebergs, but appreciating mornings was one vice she had never shared with her early-rising twin.
"Ugh." Maia put a hand to her head. "Was it really my idea to work last night?"
It had seemed logical at the time. "We'll want the latest news before heading out," Maia had urged, signing them both for one last stint waiting tables in the clan guest house. "We might overhear something useful, and an extra coin or two won't hurt."
The men of the timber ship, Gallant Tern, had been full of gossip all right, and sweet Lamatian wine. But the sailors had no eye for two adolescent summerlings — two variant brats — when there were plump winter-Lamais about, all attractively identical, well-dressed and mannered. Spoiling and flattering the officers, the young Lamais had snapped their fingers till past midnight, sending Maia and Leie to fetch more pitchers of heady ale.
The open window must have been Leie's way of getting even.
Oh, well, Maia thought, defensively. She's had her share of bad ideas, too. What mattered was that they had a plan, the two of them, worked out year after patient year in this attic room. All their lives, they had known this day would come. No telling how many dreary jobs we'll have to put our backs to, before we find our niche.
Just as Maia was thinking about slipping back between the covers, the North Tower bell clanged, rattling this shabby corner of the sprawling Lamai compound. In higher-class precincts, winter folk would not stir for another hour, but summer kids got used to rising in bitter cold — such was the irony of their name. Maia sighed, and began slipping into her new travelling clothes. Black tights of stretchy web-cloth, a white blouse and halter, plus boots and a jacket of strong, oiled leather. The outfit was more than many clans provided their departing var-daughters, as the mothers diligently pointed out. Maia tried hard to feel fortunate.
While dressing, she pondered the severed braid. It was longer than an outstretched arm, glossy, yet lacking those rich highlights each full-blooded Lamai wore as a birthright. It looked so out of place, Maia felt a brief chill, as if she were regarding Leie's detached hand, or head. She caught herself making a hand-sign to avert ill luck, and laughed nervously at the bad habit. Country superstitions would betray her as a bumpkin in the big cities of Landing Continent.
Leie hadn't even laced her braid very well, given the occasion. At this moment, in other rooms nearby, Mirri, Kirstin and the other summer fivers would be fixing their tresses for today's Parting Ceremony. The twins had argued over whether to attend, but now Leie had typically and impulsively acted on her own. Leie probably thinks this gives her seniority as an adult, even though Granny Modine says I was first out of our birth-momma's womb.
Fully dressed, Maia turned to encompass the attic room where they had grown up through five long Stratoin years — fifteen by the old calendar — summer children spinning dreams of winter glory, whispering a scheme so long forming, neither recalled who had thought it first. Now... today... the ship Grim Bird would take them away toward far western lands where opportunities were said to lay just waiting for bright youths like them.
That was also the direction their father-ship had last been seen, some years ago. "It can't hurt to keep our eyes open," Leie had proposed, though Maia had wondered, skeptical, If we ever did meet our gene-father, what would there be to talk about?
Tepid water still flowed from the corner tap, which Maia took as a friendly omen. Breakfast is included, too, she thought while washing her face. If I make it to the kitchen before the winter smugs arrive.
Facing the tiny table mirror — a piece of clan property she would miss terribly — Maia wove the over-and-between braid pattern of Lamatia Family, obstinately doing a neater job than Leie had. Top and bottom ends she tied off with blue ribbons, purchased out of her pocket. At one point, her own brown eyes looked back at her, faintly shaded by distinctly un-Lamai brows, gifts of her unknown male parent. Regarding those dark irises, Maia was taken aback to find what she wanted least to see — a moist glitter of fear. A constriction. Awareness of a wide world, awaiting her beyond this familiar bay. A world both enticing and yet notoriously pitiless to solitary young vars short on either wit or luck. Crossing her arms over her breast, Maia fought a quaver of protest.
How can I leave this room? How can they make me go?
Abrupt panic closed in like encasing ice, locking her limbs, her breath. Only Maia's racing heart seemed capable of movement, rocking her chest, accelerating helplessly... until she broke the spell with one serrated thought:
What if Leie comes back and finds me like this?
A fate worse than anything the mere world had to offer! Maia laughed tremulously, shattering the rigor, and lifted a hand to wipe her eyes. Anyway, it's not like I'll be completely alone out there. Lysos help me, I'll always have Leie.
At last she contemplated the gleaming scissors, embedded in the table top. Leie had left them as a challenge. Would Maia kneel meekly before the clan matriarchs, be given sonorous advice, a Kiss of Blessing, and a formal shearing? Or would she take leave boldly, without asking or accepting a hypocritical farewell?
What gave her pause, ironically, was a consideration of pure practicality.
With the braid off, there'll be no breakfast in the kitchen.
She had to use both hands, rocking the shears to win them free of the pitted wood. Maia turned the twin blades in a shaft of dawn light streaming through the shutters.
She laughed aloud and decided.
Even winter kids were seldom perfectly identical. Rare summer doubles like Maia and Leie could be told apart by a discerning eye. For one thing, they were mirror twins. Where Maia had a tiny mole on her right cheek, Leie's was on the left. Their hair parted on opposite sides, and while Maia was right-handed, her sibling claimed left-handedness was a sure sign of destined greatness. Still, the town priestess had scanned them. They had the same genes.
Early on, an idea had occurred to them — to try using this fact to their advantage.
There were limits to their scheme. They could hardly put it over on a savant, or among the lordly merchant houses of Landing Continent, where rich clans still used the data-wizardry of the Old Network. So Maia and Leie had decided to stay at sea a while, with the sailors and drifter-folk, until they found some rustic town where local mothers were gullible, and male visitors more taciturn than the gossipy, bearded cretins who sailed the Parthenia Sea.
Lysos make it so. Maia tugged an earlobe for luck and resumed hauling her gear down the twisty back stairs of Lamatia's Summer crèche, worn smooth by the passage of generations. At each slit window, a chill breeze stroked the newly-bare nape of her neck, eliciting a creepy feeling that she was being followed. The duffel was heavy, and Maia nursed a dark suspicion that her sister might have slipped in something extra while her back was turned. If they had kept their braids for another hour, the mothers might have assigned a lugar to carry their effects to the docks. But Leie said it made you soft, counting on lugars, and on that she was probably right. There would be no docile giants to ease their work at sea.
The Summer Courtyard belied its name, permanently shadowed by the towers where winterlings dwelled behind banks of glass windows with silk curtains. The dim quad was deserted save a single bent figure, pushing a broom under dour, stone effigies of early Lamai clan-mothers, all carved with uniform expressions of purse-lipped disdain. Maia paused to watch Coot Bennett sweep autumn demi-leaves, his gray beard waving in quiet tempo. Not legally a man, but a "retiree," Bennett had been taken in when his sailing guild could no longer care for him — a tradition long abandoned by other matriarchies, but proudly maintained by Lamatia.
On first taking residence, a touch of fire had remained in Bennett's eyes, his cracking voice. All physical virility was certifiably gone, but well-remembered, for he used to pinch bottoms now and then, rousing girlish shrieks of delighted outrage, and glaring reproval from the matrons. While formally a tutor for the handful of male children, he became a favorite of all summer kids for his thrilling, embroidered tales of the wild, open sea. That year, Bennett took a special shine to Maia, encouraging her interest in constellations, and the mannish art of navigation.
Not that they ever actually talked, the way two women might, about life and feelings and matters of substance. Still, Maia fondly recalled a strange friendship that even Leie never understood. Alas, too soon, the fire left Bennett's old eyes. He stopped telling coherent stories, lapsing into gloomy silence while whittling ornate flutes he no longer bothered to play.
The old man stooped over his broom as Maia bent to catch his rheumy eye. Her impression, perhaps freighted with her own imaginings, was of an active void. Of anxious, studied evasion of the world. Did this happen naturally to males no longer able to work ships? Or had the Lamai mothers somehow done it to him, both erasing a nuisance and guaranteeing he really was "retired"? It made her curious about the fabled Sanctuaries, which few women entered, where most men finally went to die.
Two seasons ago, Maia had tried drawing Bennett out of his decline, leading him by hand up narrow spiral steps to the small dome holding the clan's reflecting telescope. Sight of the gleaming instrument, where months earlier they had spent hours together scanning the heavens, seemed to give the old man pleasure. His gnarled hands caressed its brass flank with sensuous affection.
That was when she had shown him the Outsider Ship, then so new to the sky of Stratos. Everyone was talking about it, even on the tightly censored tele programs. Surely Bennett must have heard of the messenger, the "peripatetic," who had come so far across space to end the long separation between Stratos and the Human Phylum?
Apparently, he hadn't. Bewildered, Bennett seemed at first to think it one of the winking navigation satellites, which helped captains find their way at sea. Eventually, her explanation sank in — that the sharp glimmer was, in fact, a starship.
"Jelly can!" he had blurted, suddenly. "Bee-can Jelly can!"
"Beacon? You mean a lighthouse?" She had pointed to the spire marking Port Sanger's harbor, its torch blazing across the bay. But the old man shook his head, distraught. "Former! ... Jelly can former!" More phrases of slurred, nonsensical man-dialect followed. Clearly, something had happened which was yanking mental strings. Strings once linked to fervent thoughts, but long since fallen to loose threads. To Maia's horror, the coot began striking the side of his head, over and over, tears streaming down his ragged cheeks. "Can't 'member... Can't!" He moaned. "Former... gone. ... can't ..."
The fit had continued while, distraught, she maneuvered him downstairs to his little cot and then sat watching him thrash, muttering rhythmically about "guarding" something... and dragons in the sky. At the time, Maia could think of but one "dragon," a fierce figure carved over the altar in the City Temple, which had frightened her when she was little, even though the matrons called it an allegorical beast, representing the mother spirit of the Planet.
Since that episode on the roof, Maia had not tried communicating with Bennett again... and felt ashamed of it. "Is anyone there?" she now asked softly, peering into his haunted eyes. "Anyone at all?"
Nothing fathomable emerged, so she bent closer to kiss his scratchy cheek, wondering if the confused affection she felt were as close as she would ever come to a relationship with a man. For most summer women, lifelong chastity was but one more emblem of a contest few could win.
Bennett resumed sweeping. Maia warmed her hands with steamy breath, and turned to go just as a ringing bell cracked the silence. Clamoring children spilled into the courtyard from narrow corridors on all sides. From toddlers to older threes and fours, they all wore bright Lamatia tartans, their hair woven in clan style. Yet, all such bids at tasteful uniformity failed. Unlike normal kids, each summer brat remained a blaring show of individuality, painfully aware of her uniqueness.
Except the boys, one in four, hurrying like their sisters to class, but with a swagger that said, I know where I'm going. Lamatia's sons often became officers, even shipmasters.
And eventually coots, Maia recalled as old Bennett blankly kept sweeping around the ruckus. Women and men had that much in common... everyone grew old. In her wisdom, Lysos had decreed that life's rhythm must still include an end.
Running children stopped and goggled at Maia. She stared back, poker faced. Dressed in leather, with her hair cropped, she must look like one of last night's revelers, gone astray from the tavern. Slim as she was, perhaps they took her for a man!
Suddenly several kids laughed out loud. Jemanine and Loiz threw their arms around her. And sweet little Albert, whom she used to tutor till he knew the constellations better than Port Sanger's twisty lanes. Others clustered, calling her name. Their embraces meant more to Maia than any benediction from the mothers... although next time she met any of them, out in the world, it might be as competitors.
The clanging resumed. A tall lugar with white fur and a droopy snout lurched into the courtyard waving a brass bell, clearly perturbed by this break in routine. The children ignored the neckless creature, peppering Maia with questions about her braid, her planned voyage, and why she'd chosen to snub the parting ceremony. Maia felt a kind of thrill, being what the mothers called a "bad example."
Then, into the courtyard flowed a figure smaller but more fearsome than the upset lugar — Savant Mother Claire, carrying a tang prod and glaring fiercely at these worthless var brats who should be at their desks.... The children took heel, with a few of the boldest daring to wave one last farewell to Maia before vanishing. The distressed lugar kept swinging the bell until the wincing matron put a stop to the clangor with a sharply-driven elbow.
Mother Claire turned and gave Maia a calculating regard. Even in old age, she embodied the Lamai type. Furrow-browed and tight-lipped, yet severely beautiful, she had always, as far back as Maia remembered, cast a gaze of withering disdain. But this time, instead of the expected outrage at Maia's shorn locks, the headmistress's appraisal ended with an astonishing smile!
"Good." Claire nodded. "First chance, you claimed your own heritage. Well done."
"I..." Maia shook her head. "...don't understand."
The old contempt was still there — an egalitarian scorn for anything and everybody non-Lamai. "You hot-time brats are a pain," Claire said. "Sometimes I wish the Founders of Stratos had been more radical, and chosen to do without your kind."
Maia gasped. Claire's remark was almost Perkinite in its heresy. If Maia herself had ever said anything remotely slighting the first mothers, it would have meant a strapping.
"But Lysos was wise," the old teacher went on with a sigh. "You summerlings are our wild seeds. Our windblown heritage. If you want my blessing take it, var-child. Sink roots somewhere and flower, if you can."
Maia felt her nostrils flare. "You kick us out, giving us nothing...."
Claire laughed. "We give plenty. A practical education and no illusions that the world owes you favors! Would you prefer we coddled you? Set you up in a go-nowhere job, like some clans do for their vars? Or drilled you for a civil service test one in a hundred pass? Oh, you're bright enough to have had a chance, Maia, but then what? Move to Caria City and push papers the rest of your life? Scrimp on salary to buy an apartment and someday start a micro-clan of one?
"Pah. You may not be all-Lamai, but you're half! Find and win a real niche for yourself. If it's a good one, write and tell us what you've got. Maybe the clan will buy into the action."
Maia found the strength to voice what she had wanted to say for years. "You hypocritical cat —"
"That's it!" Mother Claire cut her off, still grinning. "Keep listening to your sister. Leie knows it's tooth and claw out there. Go on now. Go and fight the world."
With that, the infuriating woman simply turned away, leading the placid lugar past the nodding, bleary-eyed old coot, following her charges toward the classroom where sounds of recitation rose to fill the cool, dry air.
To Maia, the courtyard, so long such a broad part of her world, suddenly felt close, claustrophobic. The statues of old-time Lamais seemed more stony-chill and stark than ever. Thanks, Momma Claire, she thought, pondering those parting words. I'll do just that.
And our first rule, if Leie and I ever start our own clan, will be — no statues!
Maia found Leie munching a stolen apple, leaning against the merchants' gate, looking beyond the thick walls of Lamatia Hold to where cobblestone streets threaded downhill past the noble clanholds of Port Sanger. In the distance, a cloud of hovering, iridescent zoor-floaters used rising air currents to drift above the harbor masts, on the lookout for scraps from the fishing fleet. The creatures lent rare, festive colors to the morning, like the gaudy kite-balloons children would fly on Mid-Winter's Day.
Maia stared at her twin's ragged haircut and rough attire. "Lysos, I hope I don't look like that!"
"Your prayer is answered," Leie answered with a blithe shrug. "You got no hope of looking this good. Catch."
Maia grabbed a second apple out of the air. Of course Leie had swiped two. On matters of health, her sister was devoted to her welfare. Their plan wouldn't work without two of them.
"Look." Leie gestured with her chin toward the slope-sided clanhold chapel, where a group of five-year summer girls had gathered on the portico. Rosin and Kirstin munched sweet cakes nervously, careful not to get crumbs on their borrowed gowns. Their braids were all primly tied with blue ribbons, ready to be clipped in ceremony by the clan archivist. In cynical conjecture, Leie bet that the pragmatic Mothers traded all that glossy hair to burrower colonies to use as nest material, in exchange for a few pints of zec-honey.
Each of those young women bore a family resemblance, having effectively shared the same mother as Maia and Leie. Still, the half-sisters had grown up knowing, even better than the twins did, what it meant to be unique.
They must be even more scared than I am, Maia thought sympathetically.
Within the dim recesses of the chapel, she made out several senior Lamai and the priestess who had come up from the city temple to officiate. Maia envisioned wax candles being lit, setting aflicker the deep-incised lettering that rimmed the stone sanctum with quotations from the Founders' Book and, along one entire wall, the enigmatic Riddle of Lysos. Closing her eyes, she could picture every carven meter, feel the rough texture of the pillars, almost smell the incense.
Maia didn't regret her choice, following Leie's example and spurning all the hypocrisy. And yet...
"Suck-ups," Leie snapped, dismissing their peers with a disdaining snort. "Want to watch them graduate?"
After a pause, Maia answered with a headshake. She thought of a stanza by the poet, Wayfarer —
Summer brings the sun,
to spread across the land.
But winter abides long,
for those who understand.
"No. Let's just get out of here."