The Boat of a Million Years

The Boat of a Million Years

by Poul Anderson

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Overview

A New York Times Notable Book and Hugo and Nebula Award Finalist: This epic chronicle of ten immortals over the course of history “succeeds admirably” (The New York Times).
 
The immortals are ten individuals born in antiquity from various cultures. Immune to disease, able to heal themselves from injuries, they will never die of old age—although they can fall victim to catastrophic wounds. They have walked among mortals for millennia, traveling across the world, trying to understand their special gifts while searching for one another in the hope of finding some meaning in a life that may go on forever.
 
Following their individual stories over the course of human history and beyond into a richly imagined future, “one of science fiction’s most revered writers” (USA Today) weaves a broad tapestry that is “ambitious in scope, meticulous in detail, polished in style” (Library Journal).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504053662
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 09/18/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 470
Sales rank: 22,258
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Poul Anderson (1926–2001) grew up bilingual in a Danish American family. After discovering science fiction fandom and earning a physics degree at the University of Minnesota, he found writing science fiction more satisfactory. Admired for his “hard” science fiction, mysteries, historical novels, and “fantasy with rivets,” he also excelled in humor. He was the guest of honor at the 1959 World Science Fiction Convention and at many similar events, including the 1998 Contact Japan 3 and the 1999 Strannik Conference in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Besides winning the Hugo and Nebula Awards, he has received the Gandalf, Seiun, and Strannik, or “Wanderer,” Awards. A founder of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, he became a Grand Master, and was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

In 1952 he met Karen Kruse; they married in Berkeley, California, where their daughter, Astrid, was born, and they later lived in Orinda, California. Astrid and her husband, science fiction author Greg Bear, now live with their family outside Seattle.
Poul Anderson (1926–2001) grew up bilingual in a Danish American family. After discovering science fiction fandom and earning a physics degree at the University of Minnesota, he found writing science fiction more satisfactory. Admired for his “hard” science fiction, mysteries, historical novels, and “fantasy with rivets,” he also excelled in humor. He was the guest of honor at the 1959 World Science Fiction Convention and at many similar events, including the 1998 Contact Japan 3 and the 1999 Strannik Conference in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Besides winning the Hugo and Nebula Awards, he has received the Gandalf, Seiun, and Strannik, or “Wanderer,” Awards. A founder of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, he became a Grand Master, and was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

In 1952 he met Karen Kruse; they married in Berkeley, California, where their daughter, Astrid, was born, and they later lived in Orinda, California. Astrid and her husband, science fiction author Greg Bear, now live with their family outside Seattle.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Thule

1

"TO SAIL beyond the world —"

Hanno's voice faded away. Pytheas looked sharply at him. Against the plain, whitewashed room where they sat, the Phoenician seemed vivid, like a flash of sunlight from outside. It might only be due to the brightness of eyes and teeth or a skin tan even in winter. Otherwise he was ordinary, slender and supple but of medium height, features aquiline, hair and neatly trimmed beard a crow's-wing black. He wore an unadorned tunic, scuffed sandals, a single gold finger ring.

"You cannot mean that," said the Greek.

Hanno came out of reverie, shook himself, laughed. "Oh, no. A trope, of course. Though it would be well to make sure beforehand that enough of your men do believe we live on a sphere. They'll have ample terrors and troubles without fearing a plunge off the edge into some abyss."

"You sound educated," said Pytheas slowly.

"Should I not? I have traveled, but also studied. And you, sir, a learned man, a philosopher, propose to voyage into the sheerly unknown. You actually hope to come back." Hanno picked a goblet off the small table between them and sipped of the tempered wine that a slave had brought.

Pytheas shifted on his stool. A charcoal brazier had made the room close as well as warm. His lungs longed for a breath of clean air. "Not altogether unknown," he said. "Your people go that far. Lykias told me you claim to have been there yourself."

Hanno sobered. "I told him the truth. I've journeyed that way more than once, both overland and by sea. But so much of it is wilderness, so much else is changing these days, in ways unforeseeable but usually violent. And the Carthaginians are interested just in the tin, with whatever other things they can pick up incidental to that. They only touch on the southern end of the Pretanic Isles. The rest is outside their ken, or any civilized man's."

"And yet you desire to come with me."

Hanno in his turn studied his host before replying. Pytheas too was simply clad. He was tall for a Greek, lean, features sharp beneath a high forehead, clean-shaven, with a few deep lines. Curly brown hair showed frost at the temples. His eyes were gray. The directness of their glance bespoke imperiousness, or innocence, or perhaps both.

"I think I do," said Hanno carefully. "We shall have to talk further. However, in my fashion, like you in yours, I want to learn as much as I can about this earth and its peoples while I am still above it. When your man Lykias went about the city inquiring after possible advisors, and I heard, I was happy to seek him out." Again he grinned. "Also, I am in present need of employment. There ought to be a goodly profit in this."

"We are not going as traders," Pytheas explained. "We'll have wares along, but to exchange for what we need rather than to get wealthy. We are, though, pledged excellent pay on our return."

"I gather the city is not sponsoring the venture?"

"Correct. A consortium of merchants is. They want to know the chances and costs of a sea route to the far North, now that the Gauls are making the land dangerous. Not tin alone, you understand — tin may be the least of it — but amber, furs, slaves, whatever those countries offer."

"The Gauls indeed." Nothing else need be said. They had poured over the mountains to make the nearer part of Italy theirs; a long lifetime ago war chariots rumbled, swords flashed, homes blazed, wolves and ravens feasted across Europe. Hanno did add: "I have some acquaintance with them. That should help. Be warned, the prospects of such a route are poor. Besides them, the Carthaginians."

"I know."

Hanno cocked his head. "Nevertheless, you are organizing this expedition."

"To follow knowledge," Pytheas answered quietly. "I am fortunate in that two of the sponsors are ... more intelligent than most. They value understanding for its own sake."

"Knowledge has a trick of paying off in unexpected ways." Hanno smiled. "Forgive me. I'm a crass Phoenician. You're a man of consequence in public affairs — inherited money, I've heard — but first and foremost a philosopher. You need a navigator at sea, a guide and interpreter ashore. I believe I am the one for you."

Pytheas' tone sharpened. "What are you doing in Massalia? Why are you prepared to aid something that is ... not in the interests of Carthage?"

Hanno turned serious. "I am no traitor, for I am not a Carthaginian. True, I've lived in the city, among many different places. But I'm not overly fond of it. They're too puritanical there, too little touched by any grace of Greece or Persia; and their human sacrifices —" He grimaced, then shrugged. "To sit in judgment on what people do is a fool's game. They'll continue doing it regardless. As for me, I'm from Old Phoenicia, the East. Alexandros destroyed Tyre, and the civil wars after his death have left that part of the world in sorry shape. I seek my fortune where I can. I'm a wanderer by nature anyway."

"I shall have to get better acquainted with you," Pytheas said, blunter than he was wont. Did he already feel at ease with this stranger?

"Certainly." Again Hanno's manner grew cheerful. "I've thought how to prove my skills to you. In a short time. You realize the need to embark soon, don't you? Preferably at the start of sailing season."

"Because of Carthage?"

Hanno nodded. "This new war in Sicily will engage her whole attention for a while. Agathokles of Syracuse is a harder enemy than the Carthaginian suffetes have taken the trouble to discover. I wouldn't be surprised if he carries the fight to their shores."

Pytheas stared. "How can you be so sure?"

"I was lately there, and I've learned to pay attention. In Carthage too. You're aware she discourages all foreign traffic beyond the Pillars of Herakles — often by methods that would be called piracy were it the work of a private party. Well, the suffetes now speak of an out-and-out blockade. If they win this war, or at least fight it to a draw, I suspect they'll lack the resources for some time afterward; but eventually they'll do it. Your expedition will take a pair of years at least, likelier three, very possibly more. The earlier you set forth, the earlier you'll come home — if you do — and not run into a Carthaginian patrol. What a shame, after an odyssey like that, to end at the bottom of the sea or on an auction block."

"We'll have an escort of warships."

Hanno shook his head. "Oh, no. Anything less than a penteconter would be useless, and that long hull would never survive the North Atlantic. My friend, you haven't seen waves or storms till you've been yonder. Also, how do you carry food and water for all those rowers? They burn it like wildfire, you know, and resupplying will be chancy at best. My namesake could explore the African coasts in galleys, but he was southbound. You'll need sail. Let me counsel you on what ships to buy."

"You claim a great many proficiencies," Pytheas murmured.

"I have been through a great many schools," Hanno replied.

They talked onward for an hour, and agreed to meet again on the following day. Pytheas escorted his visitor out. They stopped for a moment at the front door.

The house stood high on a ridge above the bay. Eastward, beyond city walls, hills glowed with sunset. The streets of the old Greek colony had become rivers of shadow. Voices, footfalls, wheels were muted; the air rested in chilly peace. Westward the sun cast a bridge across the waters. Masts in the harbor stood stark against it. Gulls cruising overhead caught the light on their wings, gold beneath blue.

"A lovely sight," Pytheas said low. "This coast must be the most beautiful in the world."

Hanno parted his lips as if to tell about others he had seen, closed them, said finally: "Let us try to bring you back here, then. It won't be easy."

2

Three vessels fared by moonlight. Their masters dared not put in at Gadeira or any part of Tartessos — Carthaginian territory — and kept the sea after dark. The crews muttered; but night sailing was not unheard of on familiar lanes, and to be out in the very Ocean was a strangeness overwhelming all else.

The craft were alike, so they could more readily travel in convoy. Each was a merchantman, though her principal cargo was well-armed men and their supplies. Narrower in the beam than most of its kind, the black hull swept some hundred feet from the high stern, where the twin steering oars were and a swan's head ornament reared, to the cutwater at the prow. A mast amidships carried a large square sail and a triangular topsail. Forward of it stood a small deckhouse, aft of it lay two rowboats, for towing her at need or saving lives in the worst need. She could get perhaps eighty degrees off the wind, slowly and awkwardly; nimbler rigs existed, but drew less well. Tonight, with a favoring breeze, she made about five knots.

Hanno came forth. The cabin, which the officers shared, was confining for a person of his habits. Often he slept on deck, together with such of the crew as found the spaces below too cramped and smelly. Several of them rested blanket-wrapped on straw ticks along the bulwarks. Moonlight turned planks hoar, cross-barred with long unrestful shadows. Air blew cold, and Hanno drew his chlamys close about him. The wind lulled above whoosh of waves, creak of timbers and tackle. The ship rocked gently, making muscles flex in a dance with her.

A figure stood at the starboard rail, near the forward lookout. Hanno recognized Pytheas' profile against quicksilver moonglade and went to join him. "Rejoice," he greeted. "You can't sleep either?"

"I hoped to make observations," the Greek replied. "Nights this clear will be few for us, won't they?"

Hanno looked outward. Brightnesses rippled, sheened, sparked over the water. Foam swirled ghostly. Lanterns hung from the yard scarcely touched his vision, though he saw their counterparts glimmer and sway on the companion ships. Across a distance hard to gauge in this moving mingling of light and night, a vague mass lifted, Iberia. "We've been lucky thus far in the weather," Hanno said. He gestured at the goniometer in Pytheas' hand. "But is that thing of any use here?"

"It would be much more accurate ashore. If only we could — Well, doubtless I'll find better opportunities later, the Bears will be higher in the sky."

Hanno glanced at those constellations. They had dimmed as the moon climbed. "What are you trying to measure?"

"I want to locate the north celestial pole more exactly than has hitherto been done." Pytheas pointed. "Do you see how the two brightest stars in the Lesser Bear, with the first star in the tail, form three corners of a quadrangle? The pole is the fourth. Or so they say."

"I know. I am your navigator."

"I beg your pardon. I forgot for a moment. Too absorbed." Pytheas chuckled ruefully, then grew eager. "If this rule of thumb can be refined, you appreciate what a help that will give seamen. Still more will it mean to geographers and cosmographers. Since the gods have not seen fit to place a star just at the pole, or even especially close, we must make do as best we are able."

"There have been such stars in the past," Hanno said. "There will be again in the future."

"What?" Pytheas stared at him through the phantom radiance. "Do you mean the heavens change?"

"Over centuries." Hanno's hand made a chopping motion. "Forget it. Like you, I spoke without thinking. I don't expect you to believe me. Call it a sailor's tall tale."

Pytheas stroked his chin. "As a matter of fact," he said, low and slow, "a correspondent of mine in Alexandria, at its great library, has mentioned that ancient records give certain intimations. ... It requires deeper study. But you, Hanno —"

The Phoenician formed a disarming grin. "Perhaps I make lucky guesses once in a while."

"You are ... unique in several respects. You've actually told me very little about yourself. Is 'Hanno' the name you were born with?"

"It serves."

"You seem without home, family, ties of any kind." Impulsively: "I hate to think of you as lonely and defenseless."

"Thank you, but I need no sympathy." Hanno mildened his manner. "You judge me by yourself. Are you already homesick?"

"Not really. Not on this quest that I've dreamt of for years." The Greek paused. "But I do have roots, wife, children. My oldest son is married. He should have grandchildren for me when I return." With a smile: "My oldest daughter is now marriageable. I left arrangements for her in my brother's hands, with my wife's advice and consent. Yes, my little Danaë too, she may well have a little one of her own by that time." He shook himself, as if the wind had touched him with cold. "It won't do to yearn. We'll be long gone at best."

Hanno shrugged. "And meanwhile, I've found, barbarian women are usually easy."

Pytheas regarded him for a silent spell and said nothing about youths already available. Whatever Hanno's tastes might be, he didn't expect the Phoenician would become intimate with any member of the expedition. Behind that genial front of his, how much humanity was in him?

3

All at once, like a blow to the belly, there the Keltoi were. A dozen tall warriors sprang from the forest and started across the grassy slope to the beach, a score, a hundred, two hundred or worse. More swarmed onto the twin headlands sheltering the cove where the ships had anchored.

Mariners yelled, dropped their work of preparing camp, snatched for their weapons, milled about. Soldiers among them, hoplites and peltasts, most still armored, pushed through the chaos to take formation. Helmets, breastplates, shields, swords, pike heads shimmered dully in a thin rain. Hanno ran to their captain, Demetrios, caught him by the wrist, and snapped, "Don't initiate hostilities. They'd love to take our heads home. Battle trophies."

The hard visage fleered. "Do you suppose if we stay peaceful, they'll embrace us?"

"That depends." Hanno squinted into the dimness before him. The hidden sun at his back had to be near the horizon. Trees made a gray wall behind the oncoming attackers. War cries went saw-edged over the boom of surf outside the little bay, echoed from cliff to cliff, sent gulls shrieking aloft. "Someone spied us, maybe days ago; sent word to his fellow clansmen; they followed our course, with the woods for a screen; they expected we'd camp at one of the places where the Carthaginians do — we'd see the burnt wood, rubbish, traces, and head in —" He was thinking aloud.

"Why didn't they wait till we were asleep, except for our sentries?"

"They must be afraid of the dark. This can't be their country. And so — Hold fast. Give me — I should have a peeled wand or a green bough, but this may suffice." Hanno turned about and tugged at the standard. Its bearer clung and cursed him.

"Make him give me this, Demetrios!" Hanno demanded.

The mercenary leader hesitated an instant before he ordered, "Let go, Kleanthes."

"Good. Now blow trumpets, bang on shields, raise all the noise you can, but stay where you are."

The emblem aloft, Hanno advanced. He moved slowly, gravely, staff in right hand, naked sword in left. At his rear, brass brayed and iron thundered.

The Carthaginians had cleared away high growth as far as the spring where they got water, a distance of about an Athenian stadion. New brush sprang up to hinder passage and make it noisy. Thus total surprise was impossible, and the Gauls were not yet in that headlong dash which civilized men dreaded. They trotted forward as individuals or small groups, disorderly and deadly.

They were big, fair-complexioned men. Most flaunted long mustaches; none had shaved lately. Those that did not braid their hair had treated it with a material that reddened it and stiffened it into spikes. Paint and tattoos adorned bodies sometimes naked, oftener wrapped in a dyed woolen kilt — a sort of primitive himation — or attired in breeches and perhaps a tunic of gaudy hues. Their weapons were long swords, spears, dirks; some bore round shields, a few had helmets.

One huge man at the forefront of the roughly semicircular van wore a gilt helmet that flared out in horns. A bronze tore circled his throat, gold helices his arms. The warriors to his right and left were almost as flamboyant. He must be the chief. Hanno moved toward him.

The racket from among the Greeks was giving the barbarians pause, puzzling them. They slowed, looked around, damped their shouts and muttered to each other. Watching, Pytheas saw Hanno meet their leader. He heard horns blow, voices ring. Men sped about, carrying a word he could not understand. The Gauls grumbled piecemeal to a halt, withdrew a ways, squatted down or leaned on their spears, waited. The drizzle thickened, daylight faded, and he saw only shadows yonder.

An hour dragged itself into dusk. Fires blossomed under the forest.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "The Boat of a Million Years"
by .
Copyright © 1989 Trigonier Trust.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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