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Chapter 2

  • > The squire has gathered all his kin, >       To hunt the fox so sly; > 'Tis not a beast with paws and brush, >       But a man like you or I!
  • >
  • > They hunt him down the thorny glen, >       And up the hillside dark; > "O hear him gasp and hear him sob, >       Whenas our hounds do bark!"
  • >
  • > —Ruck's Ballad of the Mink
  • When Revel was due for a rest space, he went through the blue-tinged dusk o_he mine, cleaned his arms and face at the washers, scrubbing the coal dus_rom his big hands, and climbed the ladders, up and up, till day shone in hi_ace.
  • He stood beneath the cross-beam of the entrance, sucking in clean air. The re_nd blue buttons shone in the sun; far down the valley a globe passed betwee_rees, bent on some private business. Another floated by him into the mine; under it trotted a zanph, one of the ugly beasts, six-legged and furry wit_he head of a great snake, that followed the globes and sometimes attacked me_n orders from the hovering gods.
  • Would the deities discover that one was missing? If they found the corpse, h_nd Jerran would be foxes for the gentry… .
  • Revel was a man of the ruck. The ruck was millions and millions of souls, faceless, without rights; Revel had some little protection, more than mos_thers, being a miner and therefore important to the gentry. The gentr_umbered thousands, and they had many rights—owning great estates, lightin_heir homes with candles, drinking wine legally, keeping fierce dogs and goin_here they pleased on big wild horses. No man of the ruck could touch one o_he gentry and live. The gentry, the squires who owned guns and hunted me_hree times a week, men called "foxes"—it was whispered in the illega_rinking huts, the shebeens, that the squires had once been members of th_uck. Above there were the priests, who had always from the dawn of time bee_f the priestcraft, being born a notch lower than the gods themselves, wh_ere the golden globes.
  • "Our Orbs who dwell in the buttoned sky," said Revel aloud, and spat. Befor_hat day he wouldn't have dared to think of such an action.
  • He walked out on the shelf of rock before the mine. Something moved at the fa_nd of the valley, a brown and silver speck that swiftly became a horse an_ider, rocketing toward him.
  • It was a girl, her silver gown pulled up to the tops of her thighs so sh_ould sit astride; she appeared to be having trouble with her mount. Passin_eneath Revel, swearing loudly at the plunging horse, she continued for _undred feet, then fell in a swirl of silver cloth as the brute reared.
  • Revel leaped down the rock shelf as the horse cantered away. He ran to th_irl, who lay flat on her back, long white legs bared below the disordere_own. She was blonde, tall, beautifully slicked. No rucker wore such clothing, or rode a bay stallion, much less looked so groomed and cleanly; she was _quire's daughter.
  • As he bent down she opened eyes the shade of sunlight on gray slate.
  • "Lie still," he said, "you may have broken something, Lady."
  • Her face was scornful. "Stand back, miner," she said, recognizing his trad_rom the distinctive clothing he wore "Death to you if you touch me."
  • A confusion of emotions was rioting in him. So much had happened today—to_uch for sanity. He surrendered to madness gladly. This was the most perfec_ench he had ever seen. "Shut up," he said, and ran his fingers over her body.
  • "We of the ruck are expert at mending things, Lady: bones, pots, and lives.
  • Orbs know, you gentry have busted enough of 'em for us. That hurt?"
  • She sat up, brushing her gown to her ankles as Revel took a last wistful loo_t her legs. Evidently she was quite unhurt. "You'll play fox for my father'_unt," she said coldly. "What made you do it?"
  • "You took a bad fall," he said lightly, wondering at his lack of fear. Neve_efore had he touched a squire's woman. She felt as all women feel, her hig_aste couldn't be sensed in her body. "I'd sit still a moment, if I were you."
  • It must be the killing of the globe, he thought; after that, any crime i_ossible.
  • "Who are you?"
  • "A miner," he mocked, standing. His pick was in his hand, as ever. He thought, Should I kill her too? No sense to that, when I was only trying to help. O_as it her body I wanted to touch? "Who's your father?"
  • "Ewyo of Dolfya, and his hounds will eat you for breakfast tomorrow."
  • Ewyo was one of the richest squires in this part of the world, and Jerran'_ousin served him. "You're Lady Nirea, then. A fine-looking wench."
  • "My Orbs," she gasped, her scorn rattled by his incredible insolence. "My Orb_bove, who are you?"
  • "A dirty miner, who puts coal into your father's hearth but must warm himsel_ver smoldering peat. Why would you report me?"
  • "You  _scum_ ," she said, the snarling hiss of a zanph in her voice. "Do yo_emember when a brewer fell over a dog in Dolfya last year and bumped m_ister Jann? He was hunted over twelve miles before the pack tore him to bloo_nd rags! What do you think  _you_ deserve, who dares address me in that way, and—and fondle me?"
  • "Lady Nirea, if I fondled you, you'd know it," Revel said. Then, seeing th_int of a smile on her sensuous lips, he looked up, for she seemed to b_taring over his shoulder.
  • From the button above them a line of globes dropped, golden globules radiatin_right energy.
  • _Whom the gods destroy, they first madden._  That was part of the Globat_redo, wasn't it? Well, Revel had been gradually made mad that day, and now, by Orbs, he'd show them something before he was destroyed!
  • As the first descended past him, and wrapped two tentacles under the girl'_rmpits to lift her, he lifted his pick to smack it as he had the supervisin_eity in the mine. He felt a tug; another globe had a whiplash arm around hi_ick. Gritting teeth, he threw his tremendous brawn into a swing, and the pic_ore loose from the tentacle and sprayed the guts out of the sphere befor_im. It fell on the grass beside Nirea, an emptying sack. He slashed a secon_nd a third, laughing between set lips. What a way to go down—killing gods!
  • Then he felt a searing pain, a sudden spasm of the flesh, as though a swor_ad been heated in a bonfire and laid alongside his ear. Reflectively h_ucked to earth, sprang two steps forward and spun, rising to his full heigh_gain. One of the bulbous brutes had touched the side of his head, its energ_ura so strong at that close contact that the hair was burned to a char an_he flesh scorched.
  • So they could really hurt a man! He grinned with pain and defiance. If hi_ick wasn't as fast as any damned floating ball, let them kill him! He waited, crouched, keeping his eyes on them; and then they were rising again, leavin_im there in the valley with a screaming girl in a silver gown.
  • Jerran, who had just started his own rest space, evidently, appeared on th_ock shelf and came down, walking faster than Revel had ever seen him go. Th_ittle man came to him and, hardly glancing at Lady Nirea, said, "Were yo_ttacked, lad?"
  • "I did the attacking, when they objected to my touching this wench."
  • Jerran gazed up. "They're spreading out. The gentry will soon be on you, Revel. You've got to hide."
  • "Where can you hide from a god?" It wasn't a hopeless tone he used, but a kin_f laughing, bantering acceptance of his doom.
  • "Come off it," said Jerran urgently. "You're still thinking like a rucker."
  • "I am of the ruck."
  • "You're a rebel now, you fool! Think like one! Listen:  _a man cannot kill _od_."
  • "The Globate Credo," grunted Revel. " _Our Orbs are everlasting, untouchable._rud! I've killed four today."
  • "Right. So stop fearing them and thinking they're omnipotent.  _Our Orbs se_ll we do._  More crud, lad! They're telepathic, adept at hypnosis, but roc_tops 'em. Get rock above you and you are safe for a while, till I can thin_his over and get you some help."
  • "The mine!" Revel barked; to his madness, his exhilaration, was added hope.
  • "The secret cave, Jerran!"
  • "And of course," said Jerran wryly, "you have to take the woman."
  • Revel's jaw dropped. "Why?"
  • "You idiot, she just heard you say about six words too many. She'd lead he_ather's pack straight to us!" Jerran evidently knew the Lady Nirea by sight.
  • "She knows our names, too. It's either take her or kill her." His flinty eye_reased up. "Better kill her, at that. Less danger."
  • Revel looked at her. The talk of murder didn't turn a hair of that flawlessly- wrought coiffure: she was either too sure of the gentry's power, or to_tunned by the gods' death, to be consciously frightened.
  • She was not stunned, for now she said, "You rabbit-brains, you filth_rubbers, you must have lost whatever wits a rucker has. My father will reall_hink up something f—"
  • "Damn your father," said Jerran. "He eats dandelions."
  • "He doesn't!"
  • "My cousin gathers them for the old hellion," nodded Jerran. "I ought to know.
  • Revel, have any of those bulbous bubbles gone into the mine, that yo_oticed?"
  • "Not yet, I've been watching."
  • "Good. Then get going. I'll take care of the wench."
  • Revel saw her lips curl slightly; she didn't believe she could be hurt, eve_hough she had a moment before been screaming at the death of her gods. Sh_as brave, or stupid, or very confident of her untouchability. He glanced dow_ver her body, squeezed tight by the silver gown. Her breasts were fuller an_igher than a ruck girl's, her limbs unbunched with muscles, smooth an_ovely.
  • "No, she doesn't die," he said. "Not unless I do." He bent and picked her u_nd ran with her toward the entrance of the mine.