Authors: David Mason
Tags: #science fiction, #science fantasy
The Deep Gods
A LANCER BOOK • 1973
Once, there was the great land, Eloranar, where it was said that men walked first in all the earth. On every side of the land, the sea rolled wide and green, and in it were the People of the Sea. In Eloranar it was believed that the People of the Sea were older and wiser than
and that in some way the People had caused the creation of mankind; though how this had happened was not known. But many of the people of the land went every year to dance in the sea with the People of the Sea, and there were some who spoke often with the sea folk.
Winter and summer were different, in Eloranar, from the seasons as they pass in the rest of the earth; here, winter was a long night, and summer a long day.
But then there came a winter which did not end. The sun returned, but the ice remained, and snow fell, deeper and colder over the land. The broad rivers froze and the forests died as the cold deepened.
From every shore of the land of Eloranar, the survivors sailed away toward what had once been called the Hot Lands; now, it was said, those lands were cooler, and it was seen that the sea had grown less, somehow, so islands were appearing where none had been. Many clung to their homes, and died in time, under the deepening snow, and many died in the broad sea, though the Eloran had always been seafarers. Some came to the shores of the nearer lands and settled there; others went farther, as far as the Middle Land.
The Middle Land was that broad, fertile plain far to the north, where a wall of earth blocked off the sea at one end; Narr’s Wall, it was called, after he who was said to have begun its building. That Narr, whoever he was, had lived long ago, and had made a compact with some of the Sea People, who helped to build the wall. Then the shallow sea that covered the Middle Land dried and the people of Narr’s clan, and many others, settled in the plain, sailing from Eloranar.
Now, the last of the Eloran, the best of their ships and men, went all the long way north and found new homes there in the Middle Land, with those who had come earlier.
And in Eloranar, the snow continued to fall and the ice gripped the shore in broad white cliffs. The towns and cities were long since
the harbors vanished; only a few hardy birds and animals remained of all that had lived in Eloranar. Of mankind, only a few hundred remained, in a single place.
Here the sea city called Alvanir, the home of the Vanir, had once been, on a broad arm of the sea. Steep cliffs rose on either side, higher now than they had been, with their loads of deepening ice. But a part of the ancient city still remained, and a portion of the land behind was still green; the water of the fjord was warm, too.
This, Alvanir, had been the home of clever men, builders and men of craft; Narr himself was a Vanir man. In the narrow valley, hot springs boiled out of the earth with a stench of sulphur, and in some places fire could be seen deep in the rocks. So, when the cold came, the Vanir fought back, using that which the earth had given them. The boiling springs were brought, in great pipes, to warm the city; the heat warmed the earth under the gardens, as well. Ultimately, that water which remained poured into the sea, warming it somewhat; also, the earth fires were there under the sea bottom as well. Still, the sea beyond the harbor was icy, and deadly.
Dense fogs hung over Alvanir in the last years; the ice walls ground slowly closer on every side, and all who dwelt there knew that some day even their city would be no more. But they were a stubborn people; and some would always say that even the longest winter might end, in time. Still, some gave way and took such ships as remained, going northward. And at last only a very few were left.
But even these few still went down into the sea each year to dance with the Sea People as they had always done; in the chill water they turned and swam in a long spiraling dance while the great dark shapes of sea folk wove in and out with them. The music that can only be heard underwater, the many-toned piping of the Sea People, kept time to that ancient festival, and the age-old compact was renewed again.
In those days men could swim as otters do, deeper and for longer periods than they could do later; and women swam deeper still, bearing their children in their arms. The women especially hoped for the special thing which sometimes happened, when a child of human kind and a young one of the sea folk would find a particular, wordless linking. From that time on, the child would be able to speak directly with the dwellers of the sea; he would be called a Brother, and be a great man among the land folk.
One man, called Egon, was such a Brother of the Sea People; he was the youngest of the handful of people that remained in Alvanir. There were only a dozen others, now, and only a few hundred people.
Egon was a tall, broad man, black-haired, and always smiling; best fisherman of all the people, and because of what he was, unafraid of the cold grey sea outside Alvanir. He was skillful in many other ways, too; he claimed descent from the builder Narr himself. Besides, he was crafty with women, loving many. But, after a time, he came together with a young woman named Ammi, who was the granddaughter of Sefil the Elder. She was light-haired, grave and calm, while he was in all things her opposite; yet, while he remained with her he ceased his gaming with others, at least most of the time.
Then, a day came when Egon and his two brothers had gone fishing far out into the sea, in their boat. The winter dark was already far advanced; the sun came above the horizon for only a little time each day. And this time, the boat did not return.
After a long time, the dark forms of sea folk were seen, leaping as they came up the narrow way; and with them, others of their kind who moved more slowly, bearing something in the sea. As it came closer, those on the shore could see it was a mass of broken wood; and on it, three bodies lay. Then Ammi, staring harder, cried out a single time, and was silent.
Sefil, oldest of those who were Brothers, and Gar, went slowly into the grey water until they were out there with the wreck; after a time they returned, dragging that which the sea had given back. Others came into the water, taking the three in their arms, and brought them up on the shore.
Ammi’s eyes were tearless; she was a strong woman. But her face was like Egon’s, where he lay staring blindly upward. She came to her grandfather, Sefil, and waited silently till he spoke.
“The sea folk say that he went far, into a storm,” Sefil said quietly. He looked down at the dead face of Egon, and then at the two others. “They were not to be saved, though their brothers came as quickly as they could.”
It was the custom of the Vanir to burn their dead. The people silently collected wood and made piles there on the strand; adding that which remained of Egon’s boat, at the last. A cold wind blew from the sea and a strange, keening sound came out of the dark water. The Sea Dwellers mourned him as well, in their own way.
Then, the people went around the places where the three lay, saying their farewells. Only Ammi said nothing at all, where she stood a little way off, looking always at Egon.
A young man came, carrying a burning torch from the fires inshore; he slowed, stopped before the woman Ammi, and handed the torch to her. This was her right.
She put the torch to each pile, first to those of the two brothers of Egon; and at last, she returned to the pile on which her own man lay. Twice she began to bend toward that pile, and twice drew back. Then she groaned and threw the torch blindly toward the wood.
And at that moment, the man who lay on the pile groaned too, and opened his eyes.
Those who saw cried out, and Ammi screamed. She kicked aside the torch and caught at the awakening man with her hands. Then, as the others crowded around, she shrieked again, dreadfully, and recoiled.
“Egon is alive!” someone called out, and others repeated it; old Sefil thrust through the crowding people as they called out, “Egon! Egon lives!”
The man sat, staring about him strangely, on the wood on which he was to have been burned; and Ammi, the woman of Egon, stood staring toward him, her eyes wide.
Sefil said; and the man looked toward him, with the face of Egon, with Egon’s eyes.
“He is not Egon,” Ammi said in a strange voice. A great silence fell on everyone there. And at last the man rose, stiffly, still looking around at everything as though he had never seen anything like it before. In a hoarse voice, he spoke; but his words were in a language no one had ever heard before.
It was true. Egon’s body lived, but Egon no longer lived within it.
Some said the man should be killed, that a demon of some kind had taken Egon’s body. In the old times there were superstitions of that sort, and some still believed them, a little.
Others said that it was truly Egon; that he had been hurt, causing him to forget everything. This was known to have happened in the past, to other men. But those were said to have come back to themselves in time, and this one did not. He spoke only the language in which he had called out when he awoke; and, as he learned the Eloran speech, he insisted that his name was not Egon, but “Daniel,” a word without meaning.
Ammi, who had been the woman of Egon, said that this was not her man; only his body, with another soul in it.
She called him Daniel, as he wished; and the others began to do so too, after a time.
Still, Ammi was always with the new one, guiding him, teaching him to speak, preparing his food, even giving him the bed in which Egon had slept. But she did not share it with him, and he did not try to make her do so; when this was known, it became clear to all that Daniel was certainly not Egon as he had been.
All that dark season Daniel learned to speak and went from one place to another in the city. He seemed extremely curious, constantly seeking new things, wondering at what he saw; the half-ruined halls and towers, the misty streets and the towering ice-cliffs all around. And, as he learned to speak, he told Ammi and those others who
a strange tale, of his own life and how he had come there.
There was one thing he said which no one could quite understand; hard to believe, though there was no reason he should lie. This was that he, Daniel, had been born in a time which was still to come, many thousands of years in the future.
It was not possible for most people to understand how such a thing could be; yet Sefil, who was wise, believed it, and so did others. Daniel himself said that he did not know how it could happen, and that he knew of no one else to whom it had ever happened; but that people in his own time told tales about such things.
Yet, he was sure. He said that the land of Eloranar was known in his time; that it was called Antarctica, and that it was frozen over still. He said also that it had always been so; that no trace of human life remained there.
When people heard this, those who still hoped that the warm summer would come again grew sad, and some said Daniel lied; but they knew he did not.
On the walls of certain houses he saw pictures of sea folk, and wondered at them; he called them “dolphins,” and “whales.” When he was told that they were a people, wise and older than man, he found it strange; and when he was told of the dancing under the sea, he seemed unable to believe that it was so. But what he told of his world was even stranger, and more fearful.
In his time, he said, the sea folk no longer spoke with land dwellers. Worse, he said that his people killed sea folk, as though they were animals, and ate their flesh. When he said this, those who heard him were sickened, and some spoke again of demons.
But he told of other things, strange and wonderful, machines even greater than those which had once been in Eloranar, strange nations of men and their ways. Sometimes, he found pictures and books that remained of the old time in Alvanir, or he looked at such works as were left. These things he found very wonderful; though the people no longer cared about them.
To find such things seemed to make Daniel happier; also, as he learned to speak, he became more like one of the people, and less alone. At first he had sometimes grown angry, shaking his fist at the sky and uttering what seemed to be curses in his own language. Sometimes he became very drunk on the black wine made of marshberries, the only wine still made in Alvanir. At such times he would speak longingly of his own place and those he had known; and curse again, saying that a man who died once ought to stay dead, and other such things.
But as spring grew nearer he seemed less unhappy, and the others began to forget the strangeness of his coming, somewhat.
“You are still not Egon,” Ammi said as they walked together one day at the city’s edge. The sky was still grey-dark; beyond, the torch fires of the distant earth-furnaces lit the narrow valley. Daniel stared out at the shadowy world and shrugged.
“I don’t know who I am, girl,” he said harshly. His eyes came to her face. “This isn’t my body. Not the one I was born with.” He laughed. “Mine wasn’t half as good, I’d say.
And ten years older, too.
But—well, it was mine, and I’d gotten used to it.
As I’d gotten used to my world.
and this body… too strange for me.”
“You are not Egon,” Ammi said again.
“You aren’t—Sheila,” he answered sharply, and stared into the dark.
“Your woman, there,” Ammi said, in a voice that was a little less edged than before. “You spoke of her. You—miss her, as I do Egon.”
“Yes.” he said.
“If I wore her flesh, then,” Ammi said in a low voice, “if I seemed to be that woman, as you—as you seem to be Egon, would you wish to lie down with me?” She stared at him for a moment, and then laughed strangely. “Yes, I think you would. Men are not like women, are they?”
He was silent for a while.
Then, “If I knew how this had happened, at least.
If I knew