Hammerfall (Book Excerpt)
by C.J. Cherryh
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Imagine first a web of stars. Imagine it spread wide and wider. Ships
shuttle across it. Information flows.
A star lies at the heart of this web, its center, heart, and mind.
This is the Commonwealth.
Imagine then a single strand of stars in a vast darkness, a beckoning
pathway away from the web, a path down which ships can travel.
Beyond lies a treasure, a small lake of G5 suns, a near circle of perfect
stars all in reach of one another.
This way, that strand says. After so hard a voyage, reward. Wealth.
But a whisper comes back down that thread of stars, a ghost of a whisper, an
illusion of a whisper.
The web of stars has heard the like before. Others are out there, very far,
very faint, irrelevant to our affairs.
Should we have listened?
-- The Book of the Landing.
Distance deceived the eye in the Lakht, that wide, red land of the First
Descended, where legend said the ships had come down.
At high noon, with the sun reflecting off the plateau, the chimera of a city
floated in the haze, appearing as a line of light just below the red,
saw-toothed ridge of the Qarain, that upthrust that divided the Lakht from the
Anlakht, the true land of death.
The city was both mirage and truth; it appeared always a day before its true
self. Marak knew it, walking, walking endlessly beside the beshti, the beasts
on which their guards rode.
The long-legged beasts were not deceived. They moved no faster. The guards
likewise made no haste.
"The holy city," some of the damned shouted, some in relief, some in fear,
knowing it was both the end of their torment and the end of their lives.
"Oburan and the Ila's court!"
"Walk faster, walk faster," the guards taunted them lazily, sitting supreme
over the column. The lank, curve-necked beasts that carried them plodded at an
unchangeable rate. They were patient creatures, splay-footed, towering above
most predators of the Lakht, enduring the long trek between wells with scant
food and no water. A long, long line of them stretched behind, bringing the
tents, the other appurtenances of their journey.
"Oburan!" the fools still cried. "The tower, the tower!"
"Run to it! Run!" the junior guards encouraged their prisoners. "You'll be
there before the night, drinking and eating before us."
It was a lie, and some knew better, and warned the rest. The wife of a
down-country farmer, walking among them, set up a wail when the word went out
that the vision was only the shadow of a city, and that an end was a day and
"It can't be!" she cried. "It's there! I see it! Don't the rest of you see
But the rest had given up both hope and fear of an end to this journey, and
walked in the rising sun at the same pace as they had walked all this
Marak was different than the rest. He bore across his heart the tattoo of
the abjori, the fighters from rocks and hills. His garments, the long shirt,
the trousers, the aifad wrapped about his head against the hellish glare, were
all the dye and the weave of Kais Tain, of his own mother's hand. Those
patterns alone would have damned him in the days of the war. The tattoos on the
backs of his fingers, six, were the number of the Ila's guards he had
personally sent down to the shadows. The Ila's men knew it, and watched with
special care for any look of rebellion. He had a reputation in the lowlands and
on the Lakht itself, a fighter as elusive as the mirage and as fast-moving as
the sunrise wind.
Copyright© 2002, HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. This excerpt has been provided by HarperCollins and printed with their permission.