The Inner Light: Chapter One?
I remember Moog-tha, the Jewel of the Narog'h System, was a verdant,
lush planet when I was a child: a place of waterfalls spilling down
from the stony mountains in the distance, and the mighty Ragh-Na with
its reedy banks flooding the grassy plains below our village. My
brother and I would play in the shallow pools amongst the reeds,
weaving little boats from the leaves, to chase along as they floated
out into the swift currents, away from familiar lands and out of our
When I was twenty years and two our sun went supernova; the wise and
learned men had said it might be so, but no-one believed them; no-one
prepared. Now I am old, and Moog-tha is no longer a jewel, but a drying
crust of bread; the waterfalls no longer spill from the mountains, for
there is no rain, no snow. Ragh-Na is a dwindling stream, from which
all the villages must ration the precious water. Women who bear new
babies take them weeping into the desert, and weeping return
empty-armed: we cannot spare water for those who will have no chance to
live, but save it for those who have already seen many seasons. We are
a dying race; we will soon be no more.
I have made my peace with the gods and the death they have handed us;
I will leave my scrolls here under the flagstone in the coolness of my
home, in the chance that someday, someone will come to this hostile
place and find them. Let the gods lead them here, to know that once I
existed, that Tholmaas existed, and that we loved like only the doomed
I was apprentice in the shop of Mag-thol the spinner, a fine and
honourable trade; it was Mag-thol who taught me the secret of spinning
the lambswool into a thread so fine and silky it could be used to
clothe a newborn child. I had begun my apprenticeship late, long after
the coming of age ceremonies. My mother had insisted that first I learn
to read and write letters, as she had done; she felt it important that
I do so. Were she alive now, I would thank her, for I did not
understand then the freedom that writing has given me. But I was
already twenty when Mag-thol took me on; I had not long been wedded to
Pior'tan, and the other, younger girls laughed behind their hands at me
when I clumsily spun the thread too tight, when it kinked up on the
spindle and I had to begin again. Mag-thol was patient, though, and
because I was her elder brother's daughter did not scold me.
He came into the shop in the morning on a day not long after the cold
season had ended. It was raining, and his mop of wavy dark hair had a
mist of droplets on it, like a bride's veil strung with pearls. A drop
ran off the end of his nose, and I found this so funny I laughed out
loud, which most would have considered rude. He just looked at me with
twinkling eyes; then he laughed, too, and something stirred in me, like
a stone dropped down a deep well.
"I've been sent to buy some wool, but I don't know what it is I'm
supposed to buy," he said. "What is the wool for?" I asked. "To weave a
cloth for a light coat," he replied. "Then you'll want a heavier yarn,
with not much stretch. Try this one." I showed him a skein of
medium-rough yarn, dyed blue with woad. He looked blankly at it; he did
not understand wool. "This is a good quality wool; it came from the
mountain sheep at Vers-ne't. It will make a fine coat," I explained.
"They cost two klutma per skein. Which colour would you like?"
He looked at the rows of wool behind me; Mag-thol and I and the
younger apprentices had spent many long hours soaking and dyeing the
wool, using plants and vegetable peelings and cows' urine. It was a
hot, stinking job, the part I hated the most, but the colours that came
from the reeking cauldrons were of every colour of the gods'
imaginings: reds, blues, yellows, greens, purples, browns. His eyes
glanced at the rainbow hues, and then came to rest lightly on my face,
where they lingered. They were the same blue as the wool in my hand. I
felt myself grow hot. I cleared my throat. "What colour do you prefer,
lady?" he asked finally. I raised the blue yarn I still held. "I like
this the best; it's like the sky in the evening. It's also difficult to
get the colour right. This was a good batch," I added, trying to sound
like an experienced weaver. He smiled again, his eyes still searching
my face. "Then blue it is," he answered.
I gave him twenty skeins, plenty to weave a coat big enough for a man,
and he paid his forty klutma and left. I went back to my spinning; I
would have to tell Mag-thol that we needed to dye more skeins with the
woad. His purchase had nearly emptied the skein-box.