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Authors: Maurice Gee

Motherstone

BOOK: Motherstone
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MAURICE GEE
The O Trilogy: Motherstone

PUFFIN BOOKS

Contents

Chapter one: Osro

Chapter two: Stinkweed

Chapter three: ‘Use Yer Loaf

Chapter four: The Freemen of O

Chapter five: The Hotlands

Chapter six: Thief

Chapter seven: Furthermost

Chapter eight: The Speaking Stone

Chapter nine: Face to Face

Chapter ten: The Fallen City

Chapter eleven: Motherstone

Chapter twelve: A Last Look at O

PUFFIN BOOKS

MOTHERSTONE

Maurice Gee is one of New Zealand’s best-known writers, for both adults and children. He has won a number of literary awards, including the Wattie Award, the Deutz Medal for Fiction, and the New Zealand Fiction Award. He has also won the New Zealand Children’s Book of the Year Award. In 2003 he received an inaugural New Zealand Icon Award and in 2004 he received a Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement.

Maurice Gee’s novels include the
Plumb
trilogy,
Going West, Prowlers, Live Bodies
and
The Scornful Moon
. He has also written a number of children’s novels, the most recent being
The Fat Man, Orchard Street
and
Hostel Girl
.

Maurice lives in Wellington with his wife Margareta, and has two daughters and a son.

Also by Maurice Gee

The World Around the Corner

Under the Mountain

The Halfmen of O

The Priests of Ferris

The Fire-Raiser

The Champion

The Fat Man

Orchard Street

Hostel Girl

For E and A
a last look at O

Chapter One
Osro

On the afternoon of the first day Osro and his ten companions travelled without concealment on the cart road leading east. It took them through the fringes of the town, where they broke into a shop and stole jerkins and trousers and deer-hide boots, and shed their white priest-suits, and dressed as townsfolk. Several of the younger ones wept at the change. They had been ordained only a short time and now the glory of priesthood was taken from them. They lacerated their faces and wailed at their shame, until Osro spoke with a bitter kindness: ‘Everything is changed. There are no more priests. But we will take this land. No one else shall have O. We have the means. Silence now. Our priest lives are done with.’ And when one cried his grief a further time Osro knocked him down and threatened him with a knife. ‘Another sound and you die. There is no place for weaklings.’

They buried their suits in a forest clearing beside the road, and climbed a hill and looked back at the town and the Temple and arena. Birdfolk wheeled in the sky and the cheering of the crowd made a sound like waves on a beach. Men ran on the road between the Temple and the arena, waving flags painted with a new emblem, an O.

‘They think they are free,’ Osro said. ‘They listen to speeches. And dream of parliaments. Let them dream.’

‘Master,’ said a man, ‘what of your Weapon? We had no time –’

‘The formula is hidden in my cell. None will find it.’

‘But the secret?’

‘Locked in my skull. And in the Hotlands I will find an army.’

‘Master, Birds in the sky.’ He pointed at three Birdfolk warriors flying heavily down from the mountains towards Sheercliff.

Osro twisted his mouth. ‘Yes, they come. The old life is over. These vermin infest our land. But do not fear. Remember now, we are in the guise of Freemen. We travel on our business. But soon we will take a hostage they dare not harm. Then there will be no need for pretence.’

He said no more, knowing the value of mystery and silence. His was the darkest, subtlest mind in O.

They turned their backs on the Temple and travelled all that day and all the next. The cart road petered out and they followed hunting trails in the bush. A man, Steen, a woman, Slarda, a girl, Greely, had been warrior priests. They made crossbows and killed deer and birds and the fugitives ate well on the their eastward march. On the fourth day a Woodlander girl approached with gifts – ‘To mark,’ she said, ‘the new friendship between Woodlanders and Humans’ – and Osro smiled wolfishly, and took the gifts, and made a sign to Slarda, who shot her down. ‘I make no pact with vermin,’ Osro said. ‘Bury her. Birds must not see.’

Two days later, as they climbed into the mountains, Bird Warriors swooped down and hung over them with arrows notched on their bowstrings. ‘Who are you? Where do you travel?’

Osro answered boldly: ‘We are free men and women of the land. Birds do not rule us. Go your way.’

‘Why do you carry crossbows?’

‘To hunt our food. Why do your carry bows?’

The Warrior Bird answered less certainly: ‘We patrol these lands by order of the Council of Freemen. The priesthood is outlawed and defeated. We hunt down renegade priests who murder in the lowlands and in Wildwood. And there are packs of dogs running wild.’

‘We have seen none,’ Osro answered. ‘We are townsfolk who left the Temple when the High Priest fell. We have heard of good land north and east and travel there to make our lives. We would be farmers and live in peace.’

‘Go in peace then,’ said the Warrior Bird. ‘But watch for outlaws. Most are in the swamps where the battle was fought, but some travel eastwards.’

‘What news of the battle?’ Osro cried.

‘The priest army is scattered. The Candidates are banished or dead. And a free Council rules from the Temple.’ The Birdfolk wheeled and swung away south over Wildwood.

‘By Susan, we will rule. Priests will come again,’ Steen said softly.

‘No,’ Osro said. ‘No more priests. That game is done. When I sit on my throne the Temple will be a palace. And my name will not be High Priest – it will be King.’

‘But Susan? Holy Susan?’ Slarda stammered.

‘A human girl. A tale for children. For peasant women sitting by their fires. Learn the new lesson. Osro is King. I shall rule by fear and might – because I desire it and because I know the way. And you ten are my fingers, and you will twist and wring.’ He looked at the Birdfolk, tiny dots over the forest. ‘And when I rule I’ll tear the wings off Birds the way boys tear the wings off flies.’

‘But what if Susan comes again?’

Osro smiled. ‘Trust me. I have thought of it. She will not come. Steen, you know these hills?’

‘Yes, Master. I led hunting bands here when I was young.’

‘Are we close to the cave? Susan’s door?’

‘Half a day. But none go there. The place is forbidden.’

‘Not to me. Lead the way.’

‘But, Master …’

Osro struck him. He drew a knife and held it at Steen’s throat. ‘Am I your Leader?’

‘Yes. Yes.’

‘Then obey me. And know this, know it every one of you, and know it every man and woman and child on the planet O. I am King. Osro is King. And what I say, men do. Or they die.’

‘Yes, Master.’ The force of Osro’s certainty overwhelmed Steen. He could not fight. His life had been obedience and faith; and now he gave himself to Osro. Joy, a new strength, filled him. ‘I am yours.’ He turned his eyes on the others. ‘Kneel to him. He is King.’

They too were simple folk, taught obedience all their lives, and used to cruelty; and recently they had been shamed. So they knelt, and were lifted up with a new belief. ‘King,’ they said, trying out the word, ‘Osro is King.’

‘Now, stand up,’ Osro said. ‘Take me to Susan’s door. You are my hands and I am your head. Soon O will be ours.’

They climbed higher, labouring through the middle of the day, and came to a plateau of rock. A jagged cave opened in the cliff.

‘There,’ Steen whispered, ‘that is it. Susan’s door that leads to Earth. So the legend says.’

‘It is fact, not legend,’ Osro said. ‘Do not kneel.’

‘Master, will you lead us there? To Earth?’

‘No. We stay on O. When I am King we will close this door. We need no Earth. But now, we must wait for one who does.’

‘Perhaps she has passed this way already.’

Osro shook his head. ‘We have travelled fast. None are ahead of us. Leave no traces here. We will wait in the cave.’

‘How long, Master?’

‘As long as we need.’

He led them to the opening and they passed inside. They were used to moving in darkness and they crept along the cave with no sound of foot or rattle of knife. Osro led them deep, then stopped on the inner side of a mound of stones. ‘Here. Steen, go back. Wait at the mouth. Bring us warning.’

‘Yes, Master.’ He was gone. The others squatted by the walls of the cave and gnawed food from their satchels.

‘You will dine on scented flesh in my halls,’ Osro said. ‘And these men who call themselves free will crawl on their knees to wait on you.’

They squatted in the dark and dreamed of it. Soon Steen came back. ‘Master, they come. The two from Earth. Birds are with them.’

‘Birds will not enter the cave. Quiet. Wait.’

They heard sounds far away, like whispers down a corridor. Then came a crying of farewells.

‘The Birds are leaving.’

‘Quiet,’ Osro said. ‘Our two will come.’

They heard stones disturbed by uncertain feet, and the brushing of hands on the wall, and voices that whispered because it seemed whispering was natural in the dark. A sound of quiet laughter. Talk of home. Names were spoken. Nick, one was called. The other, Susan.

‘Not long now,’ the boy said. ‘I hope they’ve got some Christmas pudding left.’

‘I want strawberries and cream,’ said the girl.

Osro smiled in the dark. He bared his teeth.

Chapter Two
Stinkweed

They felt their way, Shy flowers in their palms. The perfume was as faint as if it came from secret glades. O began to seem far away to Susan. This cave was almost a part of Earth. Strawberries and cream, she thought, trying not to be sad. The priests were beaten, the rule of the Temple was over, and Susan Ferris was a name that meant just Susan Ferris, nothing more. She could go home and be someone ordinary again. How horrible, she thought, to have people praying to you, and making secret signs, and rattling bones. She had done a good job getting rid of that.

‘I’ll miss Soona,’ she said, remembering her friend.

‘I’ll miss Jimmy and Ben. I’d like to have a bear for a pet instead of dogs.’

‘Ben wasn’t Jimmy’s pet. He was a friend.’ The old man and the Varg were still out there, heading south. ‘I wonder if the Bloodcat got back home.’ He was heading north.

‘He might be in here,’ Nick said. ‘It smells like it, anyway. Joke, joke.’ But there was a rancid odour they had not noticed in the cave before.

‘Something’s using it.’

‘Maybe for a den. We’d better go quickly. Rocks here. Watch your step.’

She climbed them nervously, feeling with her free hand. She heard Nick scrambling down the other side. His breath came heavily. But something was wrong. She had not been aware of the cave as a menacing place, simply as somewhere dark that you got out of quickly. Now it seemed to close in as though it were swallowing them. ‘Nick, I don’t like it.’

BOOK: Motherstone
11.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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