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I look back through all the things that have happened since, and it's like looking out through the trees and lanterns of a forest. So many things in between, but there, far off in the distance, is me as I once was, Angie Redlantern, walking along the cliff path to Veeklehouse with my little Candy hopping and skipping and dancing along beside me. On our right is the glowing water, pink and green, stretching away to World's Edge. On our left is the humming forest: dark trunks, shining lanterns, glittering starflowers, on and on blueway as far as the slopes of Snowy Dark. Above us, the huge spiral of Starry Swirl fills up the whole of the black black sky. I am carrying a bag of bone tools to trade. 'Twinkle twinkle little star,' Candy sings, and gives a little twirl. She is four years old: five wombtimes we'd have said when I was a kid, but that Angie back there on the cliff has been living so long among Davidfolk that she's become used to thinking in years.
Ahead of us is Veeklehouse, the Davidfolk's biggest trading place, sitting there on the clifftop in the spot where John Red-lantern once stood long long ago, wondering whether or not to throw Gela's metal ring out into the water. Veeklehouse is bright with firelight – though it's a rough dirty dangerous brightness, completely different from the soft light of forest – and it sits under a flat cloud of smoke that's pretty much always there, glowing a faint dirty orange against the starry sky.
That's me and Candy, long ago: little dots on the clifftop, between the shining water, and the shining forest, and the high cold light of the stars.
'Look, Mum,' says Candy. 'Lots of boats!'
I'd first seen Veeklehouse some ten years previously. A bunch of us came down in a boat from the little sandy grounds I grew up in, way up rockway from Veeklehouse and ten miles out into the water. Me and my friend Starlight were so excited we ran up the cliff like little kids, leaving the older grownups behind us to follow the best they could. Gela's heart! The colours, the people, the things they traded! It all seemed wonderful to us. And that was before we'd even seen the Veekle itself behind its high fence, that huge mysterious metal thing, steeped in the strangeness of Earth.
But that later me, the me walking along the cliff path with Candy, had lived near Veeklehouse about eight years. I came along this path every couple of wakings back then with a bag of the little things that my bloke Dave carved out from buckbone – knives, scrapers, earrings, beads – and Veeklehouse had come to be something ordinary. Things always do, I've found: you grow tired of the ordinary things and long for some bright and wonderful thing that you can't reach, and then you find you can reach it, and it turns out to be just another ordinary thing. I never gave a second look at the buckfat lanterns any more, though their restless light had once seemed so strange and dangerous and full of possibilities. I didn't look at the earrings made of coloured feathers, or the bats waiting in cages to be done for and cooked on the spot. I just went straight to the traders who would take the things I had to trade, and give me sticks in return, on to other traders who would swap those sticks for things we needed, and then back again to Michael's Place.
As to the metal Veekle behind its fence, well, aside from taking my kids to see it – as well as Candy, I had my big boy Fox and my baby boy Mehmet: Metty as we usually called him – I never even thought about it. Yes, the Veekle was huge. Yes, it was made using skills we couldn't even imagine. Yes, it came from Earth, and three men died in it. But all that was long long ago. I had people to look after now who were still in reach, real living people who needed me. And, when it came to people who'd gone, well, I had plenty from my own life to grieve over. There were three other kids for one thing, little Star, and Peter, and Happy. They all died a few wakings after they were born.
'Mum, look!' Candy said again. 'Lots lots lots of boats.'
'Yes, sweetheart,' I said. 'There are lots of boats here, aren't there?'
I didn't bother to look. Boats were always coming back and forth between Veeklehouse and the rest of Eden. My little Candy always always pointed them out and usually I obliged her by looking and making surprised or amazed or impressed sounds at what she'd spotted. But sometimes, when I was thinking about the past and the things I'd lost, it made me sad looking out over the water, and I preferred to keep my eyes on the things near me, the shining trees, the stones on the path, the waves right below us splashing on the rocks, with the supple branches of the shining watertrees, green and pink, swaying this way and that beneath them. It just seemed to make sense to keep my attention on the things that were nearby, not the ones that were far away and out of reach.
Out there on the bright water was where I'd last seen my friend Starlight. I'd stood crying down there on that rocky ledge and watched her boat, dark on the bright water, until World's Edge swallowed it up. And out there too – out there and behind us, way, way up rockway – I'd said goodbye to everyone else I knew, in little peaceful Knee Tree Grounds in its little patch of water forest, far out in the bright water.
'Come on, look, Mum!' my little girl called out again, tugging impatiently at my hand. 'Lots of boats! One-two-three-four-five boats! And they're all together. You haven't even looked once yet.'
So finally I looked, and I saw five boats side by side, strung out along World's Edge: five dark shapes with their windcatchers changing from pink to green to pink in the waterlight shining up from beneath them.
'So there are, Candy. Five boats. Clever girl. You're getting good good at counting.'
It wasn't at all unusual to be able to see five six boats all at once out there. Often there were more than that. Veeklehouse was a busy place, and boats came from all over Eden, but I'd never before seen five all together like that, all heading the same way. I wondered where they were from. Time had been when you knew that any boat with a windcatcher must have come from New Earth, but everyone was making them that way by then, and no one bothered with logboats any more, or with the little bark Knee Boats we used to make back on Knee Tree Grounds. Once again, I guess, the Johnfolk had led the way.
'I wonder what they're bringing,' I said.
'Metal,' said Candy. 'Or colour-stones. Or buckfat. Or bark.'
She knew these were things that pool-traders brought to Veeklehouse, because me and her dad had told her. Metal came from New Earth. Colour-stones came on boats from Brown River (though I'd heard that the stones themselves came from Half Sky, over on far side of Snowy Dark). Buckfat was brought in every waking from up and down poolside, wherever there were still fatbucks left to be hunted, to feed the hungry lamps of Veeklehouse. Bark came once in a while from my old home, Knee Tree Grounds, out there up rockway across World's Edge. No one made boats with it any more, but it was pretty good for roofs.
'I guess so, sweetheart,' I said.
A nagging worry was beginning to stir inside me, like a tubeslinker inside a tree, scrabbling up an airhole with its hundred hard scratchy little legs. Why would five boats arrive all together and side by side? And why, I wondered, as they drew closer and I could see them more clearly, were there so many people standing on each one, looking out towards us across the bright water? So many people, and so little in the way of a load.
'Look!' cried Candy excitedly. 'More boats.'
Oh Gela's heart. There were another five of them behind the first lot, another row of five, appearing from across World's Edge. My hand tightened round my little girl's, and she glanced up worriedly at my face.
'What's the matter, Mum?'
'Oh, probably nothing, dear,' I said, 'but let's go and find your dad and your brothers.'
'But we're going to Veeklehouse!' 'Another time, sweetheart.' I pulled her back the way we'd just come. 'I just need to ... well, talk to your dad about those boats.'
'Ow, Mum, you're hurting me.'
I glanced back at the Pool. I could see the faces of the men on the first five boats now, lit from below by the waterlight, and I could see they weren't faces, but metal masks.
I snatched Candy up and started to run.
When I went to Veeklehouse that first time with Starlight and the others, I thought it was just for fun. We'd do a bit of trading, have a look at the Veekle, and then go proudly back again to tell the story to all the folk in Knee Tree Grounds who'd never been further than boring old Nob Head. That was what I thought would happen. Nothing would really change.
But in fact everything did. When we were there, Starlight met a strange, beautiful, powerful man called Greenstone. He was one of the Johnfolk from New Earth across the water and he talked English in such a weird way that at first it was hard to make out what he was saying. He had a brooch made of metal, and men with metal spears who followed him round and did whatever he asked of them. It was obvious from the beginning that he was a high high man, and it turned out that he was as high as could be, the son of the Headman of New Earth. Like all high men, he was used to getting what he wanted, and as soon as he saw Starlight, well, he wanted her. She was pretty pretty and smart smart, and, now I think about it, she was kind of used to getting what she wanted too, especially from men. She went away with him, far far away across the water, and the rest of us returned to Knee Tree Grounds without her.
I had lost my best friend. I had learned that there were things in the world that my best friend valued more than my friendship, and I had seen for myself that there were things that could happen to someone beautiful like Starlight that would never never happen to me. Because I am a batface. I can't properly close my mouth because it's joined up with my nose in a single messy hole that's lined with twisted gums and twisted teeth. If I worked hard at it, people liked me when they got to know me, but no one was ever ever going to fall for me as Greenstone fell for Starlight, or as she fell for him. (Greenstone himself could barely bring himself to speak to me or look me in the face.)
And now Starlight was going to a new and wonderful place where they'd found how to make metal, and boats that blew with the wind – Greenstone said it would make bright Veeklehouse look small and dark – and I was going back to a little patch of sand to cut bark and gather waternuts with the same bunch of people that I'd known all my life. Good old Angie: she's not much to look at, but she works hard and she has a kind heart.
Oh I felt sad sad, like a big aching hole had opened up inside me. But I still thought that life on Knee Tree Grounds would carry on as before.
I was wrong wrong wrong. The ripples from what happened in Veeklehouse were still moving outwards across the world. They would break over New Earth, they would reach Brown River, and along Brown River right through the mountains and into the ground called Half Sky. And one of the things they did was make the Davidfolk look at us Kneefolk in a different way. That changed Knee Tree Grounds for good.
You see, the people in Veeklehouse were Davidfolk, as were the people nearest to Knee Tree Grounds at Nob Head, along with all the other people along poolside from up Rockway Edge, down through Veeklehouse, and on until the edge of Brown River Ground, way down alpway. But of course the people from New Earth were Johnfolk. And yes, okay, the Davidfolk at that time were letting the New Earthers come to Veeklehouse and trade their metal, but that didn't change the fact that the Davidfolk would never forgive them for stealing Gela's ring, or for breaking the Circle, or for splitting up Family, or for bringing killing into the world. And nor did it mean that the Johnfolk had forgiven the Davidfolk for driving John Redlantern out of Family, and trying to do for him and his people. Never mind that all these things happened long before anyone still living was born, long before the parents of anyone still living were born, long before even their great-grandparents. That made no difference. The Johnfolk and the Davidfolk still hated each other.
We Kneefolk, in our quiet little grounds, ten miles out from Nob Head, weren't on either side. We didn't actually use the word when we spoke about ourselves – we just called ourselves Kneefolk – but, if the others were Davidfolk or Johnfolk, then we were Jeffsfolk. Our great-great-grandparents had followed not John Redlantern or David Redlantern, but Jeff Redlantern, and Jeff always said there was no point in fretting about the past, and arguing forever about which story was the true one. He and the people with him came to Knee Tree Grounds so they could get away from the fighting that was going on back then between the followers of David and the followers of John, and live their lives in peace.
When I was born, of course, that fight had been over for generations. There were still Johnfolk living way down alpway at Brown River, and we knew that John himself and some of his followers had disappeared over Worldpool with the ring, but when we paddled across to Nob Head to trade, the only people we ever met were Davidfolk. (Except for once twice, when there was a trader there from Brown River: 'Look!' someone would say. 'That man is one of the Johnfolk,' and we'd all stare at the guy in amazement, like he had two heads, or wings sticking up from his shoulders like a bat.)
So we Kneefolk were the odd ones out. The Davidfolk knew this, and sometimes they teased us for the funny way we talked, or for following someone like Clawfoot Jeff, but we were no threat to them out on our little patch of sand, and they liked the bark boats we brought them. They'd let us alone for generations.
She didn't mean to, of course, but Starlight had changed all that. A lot of people in Veeklehouse had seen what was going on between Greenstone and our Starlight – well, of course they had: they'd watched the Headmanson of New Earth like a leopard watches a buck, they'd taken note of every little thing he did! – so the Davidfolk knew that one of our people had gone with Greenstone. And that reminded them that we Kneefolk weren't Davidfolk but Jeffsfolk, and that actually Jeff was John's cousin, and had taken John's side when Family first split in two. So now they asked themselves whose side we were really on, and what it was that New Earth wanted with us. Among the Davidfolk, you see, the high men chose their shelter-women from the daughters of men they wanted to have as friends.
What was more, the Davidfolk had learned that the Headman of New Earth was thinking of attacking them – some of the New Earth traders had boasted as much when they'd drunk too much badjuice in Veeklehouse – so now they wondered whether the Headmanson had chosen Starlight because Knee Tree Grounds would be useful to New Earth. A little place like Knee Tree, far out in the bright water: their ringmen could gather there, couldn't they, after crossing Deep Darkness, before they pushed on into the Davidfolk Ground with their metal spears?
So Starlight going with Greenstone had moved the pieces on the chessboard that lay, so to speak, between the Davidfolk in Mainground and the Johnfolk over in New Earth. Suddenly Knee Tree Grounds had become an important square and the Davidfolk started to take an interest in it. They sent guards over with their big blackglass spears, they sniffed round, they asked us questions. Of course we tried to tell them that we really weren't on the Johnfolk's side. After all, whether or not Jeff had sided with John all those generations ago, we had far less in common these wakings with the New Earthers, who'd lived for generations on far side of the Pool, than we had with the Davidfolk, our trading partners, who lived just ten miles away. We pointed out to the guards who came over that Starlight was the only one of us that had ever ever gone to live in New Earth, while many many Kneefolk had crossed to Mainground to live among the Davidfolk.
The guards listened to all this. They smiled and nodded and agreed it was all true, but they still kept coming. And not just guards, but guard leaders. Traders came too when, up to now, we'd always crossed over to Mainground to trade.
And then one waking a shadowspeaker came.
Excerpted from "Daughter of Eden"
Copyright © 2016 Chris Beckett.
Excerpted by permission of Atlantic Books Ltd.
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