Chris Wooding: Weavers of Saramyr

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Chris Wooding Weavers of Saramyr
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    Weavers of Saramyr
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Chris Wooding

Weavers of Saramyr


Kaiku was twenty harvests of age the first time she died. There was no memory of how she had come to this. place. Recollection evaded her, made slippery by ecstasy, the sensation of tranquillity that soaked every fibre of her body. And the sights, oh, such sights as would have made her weep if she could. The world to her was a golden shimmer, millions upon millions of tiny threads crowding her gaze, shifting, waving. They tugged and teased her gently, wafting her unhurriedly onward towards some unseen destination. Once they parted to delineate a shape that slid through them, a distant glimpse of something vast and wondrous, like the whales she used to watch off the coast at Mishani's summer house. She tried to catch it with her eye, but it was gone in a moment, and the tapestry had sewn shut behind it.

These are the Fields of Omecha, she thought. Yet how could that be so? She had not passed through the Gate yet, not met the guardian Yoru, the laughing, pot-bellied dwarf with his red skin and piggy tusks and ears, carrying the endless jug of wine given to him by Isisya to ease his long vigil. No, not the Fields, then; merely the approach to the Gate, the soft path to the entrance of the realm of the blessed dead.

She felt no remorse or sorrow. She was full of such harmony that she had space in her heart for nothing else. She thought she might burst from the wonder of the golden, glittering world she drifted through. This was what the monks strived for when they crossed their legs and sat for years upon a pillar in contemplation; this was what the old addicts in their smokehouses sought when they sucked on their pipes of burnt amaxa root. This was completeness.

But suddenly there was a wrench, a terrible burning in her breast. She felt a shudder through the shimmering fibres that caressed her, felt them draw back… and then, appallingly, she was being pulled away, down, back to where she had come from. She thought she saw the outline of the Gate in the distance, and Yoru laughing and raising his jug in farewell to her. She wanted to scream, but she had no voice. The beauty was deserting her, fleeing her heart, draining like water through a holed bucket. She fought to resist, but the force pulled harder now, the burning stronger, and she was sucked away…

Her eyes flew open, unfocused. Lips were on hers, soft lips pressing hard, and her lungs seared as agonising breath was forced into them. A face, too close to determine; black hair lying against her cheek.

She twitched, a single brief spasm, and the lips left hers. The owner drew back, and Kaiku's vision finally found its focus. They were on her sleeping-mat, in her room, and straddling her hips was her handmaiden Asara. She brushed the long, sleek fall of her hair back over her shoulder and regarded her mistress with eyes of liquid darkness.

'You live, then,' she said, strangely.

Kaiku looked about, her movements frightened and bewildered. The air felt wrong somehow. Flashes of purple flickered in the night outside, and the thrashing of rain underpinned the terrible screeching roars from the sky. It was no ordinary thunder. The moonstorm her father had been predicting for days had finally arrived.

Her surroundings slotted themselves into place, assembling an order from her fractured consciousness. The once-familiar sights seemed suddenly alien now, disjointed by a slowly settling unreality. The intricately carved whorls and loops of the shutters looked wrong, subtly off-kilter, and when they rattled in the wind the clacking was like some desert snake. The deep night-shadows that gathered among the polished ceiling beams seemed to glower. Even the small shrine to Ocha that rested in one corner of the minimally furnished bedroom had changed; the elegantly laid guya blossoms seemed to nod in sinister conspiracy with the storm, and the beautifully inlaid pictographs that spelt the name of the Emperor of the gods seemed to swarm and shift subtly.

Behind Asara, she could see a sandalled foot poking from the

hem of a simple white robe. The owner lay inert on the hard wooden floor.


She sat up, pushing Asara off her. Karia, her other handmaiden, was sprawled as if in sleep; but Kaiku knew by some dread instinct that it was a sleep she would never wake from.

'What is this?' she breathed, reaching out to touch her erstwhile companion.

'There's no time,' Asara said, in a tone of impatience that Kaiku had never heard before. 'We must go.'

'Tell me what has happened!' Kaiku snapped, unaccustomed to being talked to in such a way by an inferior.

Asara grabbed her hard by the shoulders, hurting her. For a moment, Kaiku was seized by the wild notion that she might be struck by her handmaiden. 'Listen,' she hissed.

Kaiku obeyed, mostly out of shock at the way she was being treated by the usually meek and servile Asara. There was another sound over the awful screeching of the moonstorm and the pummelling tattoo of the rain. A slow, insectile tapping, coming from above; the sound of something moving across the roof. She looked up, then back down at Asara, and her eyes were full of terror.

'Shin-shin,' her handmaiden whispered.

'Where's Mother?' Kaiku cried, suddenly springing up and lunging for the curtained doorway. Asara grabbed her wrist and pulled her roughly back. Her expression was grim, and it told Kaiku that all the things she feared were true. She could not help her family now. She felt her strength desert her, and she fell to her knees and almost fainted.

When she raised her head, tears streaked her face. Asara was holding a rifle in one hand, and in her other she held a mask, an ugly thing of red and black lacquer, the leering face of a mischievous spirit. She stuffed it unceremoniously inside her robe and then looked down at her mistress. Kaiku's feathered brown hair was in disarray, forming a messy frame around her face, and she wore only a thin white sleeping-robe and the jewelled bracelet at her wrist she never took off. For a moment, Asara pitied her. She had no conception of what was happening, what stakes she was playing for. Less than five minutes ago she had been dead, her heart stopped, her blood cooling. Perhaps she wished now she had stayed that way; but Asara had other plans for her.

A scream sounded from somewhere in the house; thin, cracked. The grandmother. She seized Kaiku and pulled her towards the doorway. A sawing scrape from outside cut through the house, the voice of the moonstorm. A moment later came the sound of a shin-shin, rattling across the roof slates. Something darted past the shutters, crawling down the outside wall of the building. Kaiku saw it and shuddered.

Asara took her hand and looked into her eyes. They were wild and panicked.

'Listen to me, Kaiku,' she said, her voice firm but calm. 'We must run. Do you understand? I will take you to safety.'

Trembling, she nodded. Asara was satisfied.

'Stay with me,' she said, and she slid aside the thin curtain in the doorway and stepped out on to the balcony beyond.

The country retreat of Ruito tu Makaima – Kaiku's father and a scholar of some renown – was built in a clearing in the midst of lush woodland, a hollow square enclosing a central garden. It was built with an eye for aesthetics, in the fashion of the Saramyr folk, ensuring ostentation was kept to a minimum while the spare beauty of its form was picked out and assembled in harmony with its surroundings. The austere simplicity of its pale walls was contrasted by ornate wooden shutters and curved stone lintels shaped into graceful horns at either end. It sat in eerie serenity even amid the howling storm. A ruthlessly tamed lawn surrounded it, with a simple bridge vaulting a stream and a path leading from the front door that was so immaculate it might have been laid only yesterday. Within the boundaries of the clearing, the more untidy edges of nature had been excised for the sake of perfection; it was only where the clearing ended that the forest regained dominance again, crowding around the territory jealously.

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