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Authors: David Drake

Air and Darkness

BOOK: Air and Darkness
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who did not run me down in her Oldsmobile station wagon the day we met in 1973



Dan Breen continues as my first reader. Occasionally I get queries from people who want to join my editorial board, so to speak. No: Dan catches things that are wrong. He does not try to improve my writing; he improves my typing and grammar.

There are people who could improve my line-by-line prose; Harriet McDougal is one of them. There aren't many, however, and Harriet was unique in my experience in making the lines better without trying to make them hers.

Writing is not a group activity in my mind. Dan doesn't imagine that it is, or that he can change me.

My webmaster, Karen Zimmerman, and Dorothy Day are my continuity checkers and, with Dan, store my texts against the possibility of disaster here in central North Carolina. I tend to think in terms of small, carefully aimed meteors.

A more likely problem, however, is a computer catastrophe. Boy, I had a few of these during the course of this book. I only lost (and replaced) one actual computer (the older notebook), but there were repeated software glitches. I tend to blame myself when things go wrong in my electronic world, but this time (these times) I don't think I was the cause. (The prize was when I got an apology from Oracle for sending horrible things that I hadn't accepted instead of the ordinary Java update that I should have gotten.)

In all these cases, my son, Jonathan, fixed matters, twice by shifting everything to an earlier state and reloading the necessary software. In one case, the computer had completely locked up;
I'm damned
if I know how he simply got it off Top Dead Center (to use a phrase from technology I'm more familiar with).

I'm very fortunate in my friends and family. They make my life better and my work possible.

Which is a good place to mention my wife, Jo. She keeps the house running and feeds me delicious, healthy meals. I'm in good shape for my age. This is partly exercise, but in no small measure it's due to meals cooked from scratch instead of being heated with all the additives put in packaged food.

My thanks to those who help me.



The setting of this novel and the series The Books of the Elements is the city of Carce (pronounced KAR-see, as in
The Worm Ouroboros
) and the empire that Carce rules. These are extremely similar in history and culture to Rome of
. 30.

Carce is
Rome, however. This was implicit in the earlier Books of the Elements, though the fact seems to have passed over the heads of some commentators. The difference becomes explicit in the conclusion of
Air and Darkness,
but it's been there all along.

The society of Carce, like that of Classical Rome, is built on slavery. In The Books of the Elements I generally use the term “servant,” but this almost always means “slave.” The horrors of slavery are not my subject—I tell stories; I don't send messages—but I'm well aware of those horrors.

War, like slavery, is an awful business. When I began writing military SF in the early '70s, I described war as I had experienced it in Vietnam and Cambodia: my viewpoint characters, my
saw and did terrible things, as I had seen and done terrible things. At the time, quite a number of commentators believed that I must be advocating the things that I described.

I was not advocating war then, and I'm not advocating slavery now; but my heroes are slave owners and not particularly enlightened about it. To describe them otherwise would be to give a false picture of their society and the society of Classical Rome on which theirs is modeled.

I don't apologize for this, any more than I apologize for giving civilians a glimpse of the reality of war in
Hammer's Slammers
. Many pundits of the '70s and '80s were horrified by that reality and angry at me for describing it. If what I imply about slavery angers people who romanticize the civilizations of the Classical World or the Antebellum South, so much the better.

As in previous Books of the Elements (and in my fiction generally), I use real places and events whenever possible, and I often work literature and folktales into my fiction. The tags from the
Sibylline Books
are real, and classicists may recognize (loud) echoes of the
of Nonnos in
Air and Darkness

I suspect even most classicists are unlikely to recall the City of Magicians, which Philostratus describes as being located between the Ganges and Indus river basins in northern India; and I have taken the haunted city buried in the Indian jungle from
Adventures of a Younger Son
by Edward John Trelawny. I don't vouch for the historical accuracy of either Philostratus or Trelawny, but
didn't invent the stories.

I've taken a number of the incidents and themes from Indian folktales. One of them put me in mind of
Apollonius, King of Tyre,
which made me wonder how many Greek prose romances may have been drawn from Indian originals (or the reverse, of course).

There's an enormous non-literary influence on
Air and Darkness:
my trip to Italy while I was planning it. This comes through in matters as minor as the carpet of acanthus beneath the Tarpeian Rock, to my description of Bomarzo: ancient Polymartium.

Bomarzo, carved into the Park of the Monsters in the 16th Century
, has an amazing spiritual aura, which I hope pervades
Air and Darkness.
I expect the experience to be part of everything I write for the rest of my life.

And that's not a bad thought with which to end this introduction and The Books of the Elements themselves: there is a truly wonderful world out there. Open yourself to it; become a part of it. There are Bomarzos around the corner for every one of us, if we're just willing to accept them.




Help us, Mother Matuta,
” chanted Hedia as she danced sunwise in a circle with eleven women of the district. The priest Doclianus stood beside the altar in the center. It was of black local stones, crudely squared and laid without mortar—what you'd expect, forty miles from Carce and in the middle of nowhere.

“Help us, bringer of brightness! Help us, bringer of warmth!”

Hedia sniffed. Though the pre-dawn sky was light, it certainly hadn't brought warmth.

The dance required that she turn around as she circled. Her long tunic was cinched up to free her legs, and she was barefoot.

She felt like a complete and utter fool. The way the woman immediately following in the circle—the wife of an estate manager—kept stepping on her with feet as horny as horse hooves tipped Hedia's embarrassment very close to fury.

“Let no harm or danger, Mother, menace our people!”

The things I do to be a good mother,
Hedia thought. Not that she'd had any children herself—she had much better uses for her body than to ruin it with childbirth!—but her current husband, Gaius Alphenus Saxa, had a seventeen-year-old son, Gaius Alphenus Varus, and a daughter, Alphena, a year younger.

A daughter that age would have been a trial for any mother, let alone a stepmother of twenty-three like Hedia. Alphena was a tomboy who had been allowed to dictate to the rest of the household until Saxa married his young third wife.

dictated to Hedia, and certainly not a slip of a girl who liked to dress up in gladiator's armor and whack at a post with a weighted sword. There had been some heated exchanges between mother and daughter before Alphena learned that she wasn't going to win by screaming threats anymore. Hedia was just as willing as her daughter to have a scene, and she'd been threatened too often by furious male lovers to worry about a girl with a taste for drama.

Be satisfied with us, Mother of Brightness!
” Hedia chanted, and the stupid
stepped on her foot again.

A sudden memory flashed before Hedia and dissolved her anger so thoroughly that she would have burst out laughing if she hadn't caught herself. Laughter would have disrupted the ceremony as badly as if she had turned and slapped her clumsy neighbor.

I've been in similar circumstances while wearing a lot less,
Hedia thought.
But I'd been drinking and the men were drunk, so until the next morning none of us really noticed how many bruises we were accumulating.

Hedia wasn't sure that she'd do it all again; the three years since that party hadn't turned her into a Vestal Virgin, but she'd learned discrimination. Still, she was very glad for the memory on this chill June morning.

Help us, Mother Matuta! Help us! Help us!

After the third “Help us,” Hedia faced the altar and jumped in the air as the priest had told her to do. The other dancers carried out some variation of that. Some jumped sooner, some leaped forward instead of remaining in place as they were supposed to, and the estate manager's wife outdid herself by tripping and pitching headfirst toward the altar.

It would serve her right if she knocked her few brains out!
Hedia thought; but that wasn't true. Being clumsy and stupid wasn't really worthy of execution. Not

The flutist who had been blowing time for the dance on a double pipe halted. He bowed to the crowd as though he were performing in the theater, as he generally did. Normally the timekeeper would have been a rustic clapping sticks together or perhaps blowing a panpipe. Hedia had hired Daphnis, the current toast of Carce, for the task.

BOOK: Air and Darkness
10.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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