Authors: Sheri S. Tepper
The End of the Game
Sheri S. Tepper
A CORGI BOOK
0 552 13189 X
First publication in Great Britain
Corgi edition published
Copyright © 1985 by Sheri S. Tepper
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This is a work of fiction. All the characters and
events portrayed in this book are fictional, and
any resemblance to real people or incidents is
I began to write this account upon the Wastes of Bleer, by firelight as others slept, sure I would die upon the morning. I was there because of love, and my own youthful foolhardiness. Even now, thinking back on it, I would not have wanted to be anywhere else.
I had come to that place with Peter—and with Silkhands and King Kelver of the Dragon’s Fire Demesne, with Chance and Vitior Vulpas Queynt. Six of us. Upon that barren height Peter had raised up the Gamesmen of Barish—he had carried them in his pocket for several years—embodying them once more in their own flesh. Eleven of them, plus Barish himself. We were eighteen.
And against us was coming a horde, a multitude, a vast army of living and dead, live flesh and dead bone, which none among us thought we could withstand. Seeing our fear, Queen Trandilar had beguiled us with tales of glory so that our apprehension was allayed. All had fallen asleep except me.
It wasn’t my battle. I had not sought it except that I had sought Peter, determined to be with him no matter what should come. It would be fair to say I didn’t care much about the battle. Huld, the monster, was nothing to me. I had not been harassed and tortured by him as Peter had. Hell’s Maw was nothing In me. I had not seen it. I was sixteen and in love and about to die. The one I loved was asleep, snoring gently, his face like a child’s in the dim light of the fire. So—I took pen and paper and began to write, thinking perhaps that someone might find the pages, long afterward, and remember me for a moment. A tenuous kind of immortality, but the best I could hope for then.
That is not entirely true.
There was more to it than that. I know the story of my life up until then was no stirring account of battles and quests as Peter’s was. I had not sought adventure; I had merely fallen into adventure of a dirty, laborious kind with little glory in it. Still, when my labor was done and my taskmistresses satisfied with the result, I had more than calluses on my hands to show for it. I had a great, world-terrifying mystery by the tail, a mystery I thought not many others had any inkling of. It was more important than I was. Someone had to know. I knew Peter’s family would come after the battle and search for our remains. His mother was Mavin Manyshaped. She would come. Or the Wizard Himaggery, his father. And my account would be there for them to find. One of them, I thought, would go on where I had left off. They were that kind of people.
So, I wrote, almost until dawn. And later, when we did not die in that battle (as you know, if you have read Peter’s account of it), I went on writing, adding to the account as time went by.
I am called Jinian Footseer by some. By some, Jinian Star-eye. And by some, the Wizard Jinian. One or two call me Dervish daughter. But I think of myself most often still as merely Jinian, an unloved daughter of Stoneflight Demesne, who found love later in a strange way. It is that Jinian I wrote of first, there in that horrid night, and that Jinian I must write of at last.
When I was quite young, not more than five or six, my older brother Mendost used to amuse himself by making me wet my pants. He had come into his Talent of Levitation—Flying, as we say—some years before, and he thought it fun to pick me up by whatever appendage offered itself and haul me a few manheights into the air before threatening to drop me. He was, I suppose, twenty or so at the time: a big, brutishly handsome man with red, wet lips. His—our—father, Garz, sometimes observed these occasions with bellowed laughter and loud advice as to which cobble-stones Mendost might best drop me on. Garz and Mendost were not unlike in nature.
One afternoon—I will never forget it, not the smell of the air or the way the wind curled down the low hills to rise about us or the crazy spinning of the courtyard below where the cobbles waited to splatter me—as 1 was about to faint from combined fear and fury, something snapped. Something cold and old sat up inside my head and remarked, It may be better to die than to live like this. I went limp, then. No more screaming, struggling , grabbing at him. I simply went limp with my eyes wide open as I waited to die. My treacherous sphincters stayed shut. Mendost jounced and hollered as he always did, but I simply hung there, waiting for the end. After a time he tired of it and put me down. There were only a few attempts after that, each ending in sulky yelling on his part, “Dead body Jinian, dead ass, dead ass.” Soon he gave it up and let me alone.
All Demesnes have some pensioned-off oldsters about, Gamesmen or pawns useful for running errands or watching babies. There was one old woman—Murzemire Hornloss, her name was—who had come to Stoneflight Demesne from someplace to the north when I was a babe. She pulled me over to her after Mendost put me down that first time, wiping my hot face with a bit of rag and patting my hand. “Th’art a Wize-ard, chile” she said. It was the first time I had heard the word, the first time anyone had said anything to me indicating I was more than an unnecessary impediment to the business of the Demesne. I never forgot it.
Mendost was the oldest of us children, all of the same mother but with varying inheritance from male progenitors. Mother, Eller of Stoneflight, was scarce more than a child, fifteen or so when she bore him. One father begat Mendost and me—first and last, as Mother used to say (and I had my doubts about it, even then)—but Garz had been absent for many years in between and at least two other men begat my three brothers, Jeruval, Poremy, and Flot. I don’t believe we ever knew which man begat which brother, and since both Gamesmen had gone elsewhere in the lands of the True Game, it didn’t much matter. Mendost’s father, who was also supposed to be mine, was an Armiger, a Flyer, as Mendost was. The other two had been an Afrit and a Pursuivant. Mother, though of Gamesman caste, seemed to have no Talent of any kind. She was so beautiful she did not need to be anything else. I hid sometimes behind hangings or in the orchard when she was sunning there, just to look at her. I thought I would look like that when I grew up, and did not much consider that she had no Talent else. I fully expected to become an Armiger in my time, like Garz. It seemed a logical expectation. Though I was the only girl in the family, it never occurred to me that the matter of sex would make any difference, and I made no separate prognostication on that account.