A Time of Changes
By Robert Silverberg
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 1971 Agberg, Ltd.
All rights reserved.
I AM KINNALL DARIVAL and I mean to tell you all about myself.
That statement is so strange to me that it screams in my eyes. I look at it on the page, and I recognize the hand as my own — narrow upright red letters on the coarse gray sheet — and I see my name, and I hear in my mind the echoes of the brain-impulse that hatched those words. I am Kinnall Darival and I mean to tell you all about myself. Incredible.
This is to be what the Earthman Schweiz would call an autobiography. Which means an account of one's self and deeds, written by one's self. It is not a literary form that we understand on our world — I must invent my own method of narrative, for I have no precedents to guide me. But this is as it should be. On this my planet I stand alone, now. In a sense, I have invented a new way of life; I can surely invent a new sort of literature. They have always told me I have a gift for words.
So I find myself in a clapboard shack in the Burnt Lowlands, writing obscenities as I wait for death, and praising myself for my literary gifts.
I am Kinnall Darival.
Obscene! Obscene! Already on this one sheet I have used the pronoun "I" close to twenty times, it seems. While also casually dropping such words as "my," "me," "myself," more often than I care to count. A torrent of shamelessness. I I I I I. If I exposed my manhood in the Stone Chapel of Manneran on Naming Day, I would be doing nothing so foul as I am doing here. I could almost laugh. Kinnall Darival practicing a solitary vice. In this miserable lonely place he massages his stinking ego and shrieks offensive pronouns into the hot wind, hoping they will sail on the gusts and soil his fellow men. He sets down sentence after sentence in the naked syntax of madness. He would, if he could, seize you by the wrist and pour cascades of filth into your unwilling ear. And why? Is proud Darival in fact insane? Has his sturdy spirit entirely collapsed under the gnawing of mindsnakes? Is nothing left but the shell of him, sitting in this dreary hut, obsessively titillating himself with disreputable language, muttering "I" and "me" and "my" and "myself," blearily threatening to reveal the intimacies of his soul?
No. It is Darival who is sane and all of you who are sick, and though I know how mad that sounds, I will let it stand. I am no lunatic muttering filth to wring a feeble pleasure from a chilly universe. I have passed through a time of changes, and I have been healed of the sickness that affects those who inhabit my world, and in writing what I intend to write I hope to heal you as well, though I know you are on your way into the Burnt Lowlands to slay me for my hopes.
So be it.
I am Kinnall Darival and I mean to tell you all about myself.
LINGERING VESTIGES OF THE customs against which I rebel still plague me. Perhaps you can begin to comprehend what an effort it is for me to frame my sentences in this style, to twist my verbs around in order to fit the first-person construction. I have been writing ten minutes and my body is covered with sweat, not the hot sweat of the burning air about me but the dank, clammy sweat of mental struggle. I know the style I must use, but the muscles of my arm rebel against me, and fight to put down the words in the old fashion, saying, One has been writing for ten minutes and one's body is covered with sweat, saying, One has passed through a time of changes, and he has been healed of the sickness that affects those who inhabit his world. I suppose that much of what I have written could have been phrased in the old way, and no harm done; but I do battle against the self-effacing grammar of my world, and if I must, I will joust with my own muscles for the right to arrange my words according to my present manner of philosophy.
In any case, however my former habits trick me into mis-constructing my sentences, my meaning will blaze through the screen of words. I may say, "I am Kinnall Darival and I mean to tell you all about myself," or I may say, "One's name is Kinnall Darival and he means to tell you all about himself," but there is no real difference. Either way, the content of Kinnall Darival's statement is — by your standards, by the standards I would destroy — disgusting, contemptible, obscene.
ALSO I AM TROUBLED, at least in these early pages, by the identity of my audience. I assume, because I must, that I will have readers. But who are they? Who are you? Men and women of my native planet, perhaps, furtively turning my pages by torchlight, dreading the knock at the door. Or maybe other-worlders, reading for amusement, scanning my book for the insight it may give into an alien and repellent society. I have no idea. I can establish no easy relationship with you, my unknown reader. When I first conceived my plan of setting down my soul on paper, I thought it would be simple, a mere confessional, nothing but an extended session with an imaginary drainer who would listen endlessly and at last give me absolution. But now I realize I must take another approach. If you are not of my world, or if you are of my world but not of my time, you may find much here that is incomprehensible.
Therefore I must explain. Possibly I will explain too much, and drive you off by pounding you with the obvious. Forgive me if I instruct you in what you already know. Forgive me if my tone and mode of attack show lapses of consistency and I seem to be addressing myself to someone else. For you will not hold still for me, my unknown reader. You wear many faces for me. Now I see the crooked nose of Jidd the drainer, and now the suave smile of my bondbrother Noim Condorit, and now the silkiness of my bondsister Halum, and now you become the tempter Schweiz of pitiful Earth, and now you are my son's son's son's son's son, not to be born for a cluster of years and eager to know what manner of man your ancestor was, and now you are some stranger of a different planet, to whom we of Borthan are grotesque, mysterious, and baffling. I do not know you, and so I will be clumsy in my attempts to talk to you.
But, by Salla's Gate, before I am done you will know me, as no man of Borthan has ever been known by others before!
I AM A MAN of middle years. Thirty times since the day of my birth has Borthan traveled around our golden-green sun, and on our world a man is considered old if he has lived through fifty such circuits, while the most ancient man of whom I ever heard died just short of his eightieth. From this you may be able to calculate our spans in terms of yours, if otherworlder you happen to be. The Earthman Schweiz claimed an age of forty-three years by his planet's reckoning, yet he seemed no older than I.
My body is strong. Here I shall commit a double sin, for not only shall I speak of myself without shame, but I shall show pride and pleasure in my physical self. I am tall: a woman of normal height reaches barely to the lower vault of my chest. My hair is dark and long, falling to my shoulders. Lately streaks of gray have appeared in it, and likewise in my beard, which is full and thick, covering much of my face. My nose is prominent and straight, with a wide bridge and large nostrils; my lips are fleshy and give me, so it is said, a look of sensuality; my eyes are deep brown and are set somewhat far apart in my skull. They have, I am given to understand, the appearance of the eyes of one that has been accustomed all his life to commanding other men.
My back is broad and my chest is deep. A dense mat of coarse dark hair grows nearly everywhere on me. My arms are long. My hands are large. My muscles are well developed and stand out prominently beneath my skin. I move gracefully for a man my size, with smooth coordination; I excel in sports, and when I was younger I hurled the feathered shaft the entire length of Manneran Stadium, a feat that had never been achieved until then.
Most women find me attractive — all but those who prefer a flimsier, more scholarly looking sort of man and are frightened of strength and size and virility. Certainly the political power I have held in my time has helped to bring many partners to my couch, but no doubt they were drawn to me as much by the look of my body as by anything more subtle. Most of them have been disappointed in me. Bulging muscles and a hairy hide do not a skilled lover make, nor is a massive genital member such as mine any guarantee of ecstasy. I am no champion of copulation. See: I hide nothing from you. There is in me a certain constitutional impatience that expresses itself outwardly only during the carnal act; when I enter a woman I find myself swiftly swept away, and rarely can I sustain the deed until her pleasure comes. To no one, not even a drainer, have I confessed this failing before, nor did I ever expect that I would. But a good many women of Borthan have learned of this my great flaw in the most immediate possible way, to their cost, and doubtless some of them, embittered, have circulated the news in order that they might enjoy a scratchy joke at my expense. So I place it on the record here, for perspective's sake. I would not have you think of me as a hairy mighty giant without also your knowing how often my flesh has betrayed my lusts. Possibly this failing of mine was among the forces that shaped my destinies toward this day in the Burnt Lowlands, and you should know of that.
MY FATHER WAS HEREDITARY septarch of the province of Salla on our eastern coast. My mother was daughter of a septarch of Glin; he met her on a diplomatic mission, and their mating was, it was said, ordained from the moment they beheld one another. The first child born to them was my brother Stirron, now septarch in Salla in our father's place. I followed two years later; there were three more after me, all of them girls. Two of these still live. My youngest sister was slain by raiders from Glin some twenty moontimes ago.
I knew my father poorly. On Borthan everyone is a stranger to everyone, but one's father is customarily less remote from one than others; not so with the old septarch. Between us lay an impenetrable wall of formality. In addressing him we used the same formulas of respect that subjects employed. His smiles were so infrequent that I think I can recall each one. Once, and it was unforgettable, he took me up beside him on his rough-hewn blackwood throne, and let me touch the ancient yellow cushion, and called me fondly by my child-name; it was the day my mother died. Otherwise he ignored me. I feared and loved him, and crouched trembling behind pillars in his court to watch him dispense justice, thinking that if he saw me there he would have me destroyed, and yet unable to deprive myself of the sight of my father in his majesty.
He was, oddly, a man of slender body and modest height, over whom my brother and I towered even when we were boys. But there was a terrible strength of will in him that led him to surmount every challenge. Once in my childhood there came some ambassador to the septarchy, a hulking sun-blackened westerner who stands in my memory no smaller than Kongoroi Mountain; probably he was as tall and broad as I am now. At feasting-time the ambassador let too much blue wine down his throat, and said, before my father and his courtiers and his family, "One would show his strength to the men of Salla, to whom he may be able to teach something of wrestling."
"There is one here," my father replied in sudden fury, "to whom, perhaps, nothing need be taught."
"Let him be produced," the huge westerner said, rising and peeling back his cloak. But my father, smiling — and the sight of that smile made his courtiers quake — told the boastful stranger it would not be fair to make him compete while his mind was fogged with wine, and this of course maddened the ambassador beyond words. The musicians came in then to ease the tension, but the anger of our visitor did not subside, and, after an hour, when the drunkenness had lifted somewhat from him, he demanded again to meet my father's champion. No man of Salla, said our guest, would be able to withstand his might.
Whereupon the septarch said, "I will wrestle you myself."
That night my brother and I were sitting at the far end of the long table, among the women. Down from the throne-end came the stunning word "I" in my father's voice, and an instant later came "myself." These were obscenities that Stirron and I had often whispered, sniggering, in the darkness of our bedchamber, but we had never imagined we would hear them hurled forth in the feasting-hall from the septarch's own lips. In our shock we reacted differently, Stirron jerking convulsively and knocking over his goblet, myself letting loose a half- suppressed shrill giggle of embarrassment and delight that earned me an instant slap from a lady-in-waiting. My laughter was merely the mask for my inner horror. I could barely believe that my father knew those words, let alone that he would say them before this august company. I will wrestle you myself. And while the reverberations of the forbidden forms of speech still dizzied me, my father swiftly stepped forward, dropping his cloak, and faced the great hulk of an ambassador, and closed with him, and caught him by one elbow and one haunch in a deft Sallan hold, and sent him almost immediately toppling to the polished floor of gray stone. The ambassador uttered a terrible cry, for one of his legs was sticking strangely out at a frightening angle from his hip, and in pain and humiliation he pounded the flat of his hand again and again against the floor. Perhaps diplomacy is practiced in more sophisticated ways now in the palace of my brother Stirron.
The septarch died when I was twelve and just coming into the first rush of my manhood. I was near his side when death took him. To escape the time of rains in Salla he would go each year to hunt the hornfowl in the Burnt Lowlands, in the very district where now I hide and wait. I had never gone with him, but on this occasion I was permitted to accompany the hunting party, for now I was a young prince and must learn the skills of my class. Stirron, as a future septarch, had other skills to master; he remained behind as regent in our father's absence from the capital. Under a bleak and heavy sky bowed with rain-clouds the expedition of some twenty groundcars rolled westward out of Salla City and through the flat, sodden, winter-bare countryside. The rains were merciless that year, knifing away the precious sparse topsoil and laying bare the rocky bones of our province. Everywhere the farmers were repairing their dikes, but to no avail; I could see the swollen rivers running yellow-brown with Salla's lost wealth, and I nearly wept to think of such treasure being carried into the sea. As we came into West Salla, the narrow road began to climb the foothills of the Huishtor range, and soon we were in drier, colder country, where the skies gave snow and not rain, and the trees were mere bundles of sticks against the blinding whiteness. Up we went into the Huishtors, following the Kongoroi road. The countryfolk came out to chant welcomes to the septarch as he passed. Now the naked mountains stood like purple teeth ripping the gray sky, and even in our sealed groundcars we shivered, although the beauty of this tempestuous place took my mind from my discomforts. Here great flat shields of striated tawny rock flanked the rugged road, and there was scarcely any soil at all, nor did trees or shrubs grow except in sheltered places. We could look back and see all of Salla like its own map below us, the whiteness of the western districts, the dark clutter of the populous eastern shore, everything diminished, unreal. I had never been this far from home before. Though we were now deep into the uplands, midway, as it were, between sea and sky, the inner peaks of the Huishtors still lay before us, and to my eye they formed an unbroken wall of stone spanning the continent from north to south. Their snow-crowned summits jutted raggedly from that continuous lofty breastworks of bare rock; were we supposed to go over the top, or would there be some way through? I knew of Salla's Gate, and that our route lay toward it, but somehow the gate seemed mere myth to me at that moment. (Continues...)
Excerpted from A Time of Changes by Robert Silverberg. Copyright © 1971 Agberg, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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