Piers Anthony’s Isle of Woman is a monumental epic of unprecedented drama and scope, retelling the saga of humankind in a unique and dramatic way. The culmination of more than a quarter century of research, it is a stunningly ambitious achievement from a master of imaginative fiction. At once grand in scope and intimate in human detail, Isle of Woman tells the story of a man and a woman born at the dawn of human history, separated by fate, yet united by an unquenchable passion that even time could not conquer: Blaze, the fire worker who raised his kind of savagery, and Ember, the beautiful green-eyed woman who forever haunted his dreams.
Through their eyes and those of their descendents, we witness humanity’s odyssey from savagery to civilization as they are reborn again and again throughout history. We share with these two eternal lovers an unforgettable odyssey of triumph, tragedy, and discovery that takes them from the African savannah to the ancient Middle East, from the South Pacific to the caves of northern Europe, from the court of imperial China to India during the British Raj, ending in a stunning reunion in an America in ruins only a few short years from now.
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About the Author
Piers Anthony is one of the world’s most popular fantasy writers, and a New York Times–bestselling author twenty-one times over. His Xanth novels have been read and loved by millions of readers around the world, and he daily receives hundreds of letters from his devoted fans. In addition to the Xanth series, Anthony is the author of many other bestselling works. He lives in Inverness, Florida.
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Isle of Woman
JGeodyssey, Volume One
By Piers Anthony
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1993 Piers Anthony
All rights reserved.
The earliest clear evidence of our kind's upright stance was found in the hardened ash of a volcano in east Africa dating a bit over three and a half million years ago. Three sets of footprints extended about seventy-five feet, going north, before being eradicated by erosion. The shape of the prints and pattern of pressures are typically human. These folk walked like men. The largest may have been male, about five feet tall, weighing perhaps a hundred pounds. The next may have been female, a little over three feet tall, perhaps fifty pounds. The third was a small child.
These were made by folk called Australopithecus afarensis—never mind the pronunciation, which is changing from right to wrong—one of whom the anthropologists called Lucy. They have no names and no real language, just a collection of a few useful words. They may seem more like apes than men, at this stage, but that may be deceptive.
They came near the fierce mountain and saw the mountain's breath spread across the plain, turning it gray. It was safe to cross, because the mountain was not roaring today, but it was nevertheless a marvel.
The man walked straight ahead, intent on his mission: to find something to eat. He was big and strong, and his fur was thick and even, showing his health. The woman followed just behind, keeping a wary eye on the child. Though she was much smaller than the man, her fur too was sleek and her body lithe. Her chest was flat, signaling her fertility, for she had weaned her son a year ago. She also gazed around, fascinated by the changed scene.
It was just at the end of the dry season. The creatures of the plain had grazed the grass down to the roots and moved on. Soon the big rains would come; already there were light showers. Meanwhile the mountain sent out its breath, which resembled the smoke of a great fire when it emerged, and the ash of that fire when it settled to the ground. She saw the tracks of animals in it: birds, rabbits, antelopes and even giraffes. A recent shower had made little holes in the powder wherever the drops struck. Some tracks had already been covered, and also some beetles. She saw a deserted bird's egg, and the outline of animal dung dusted with gray.
The child took to the powder immediately. He stretched forth his little legs and stepped in the new prints made by the adults. Sometimes he went to the side, making his own little prints, then returned to the safety of his father's tracks. He chortled. The woman smiled, taking pleasure in his pleasure.
She heard something. She turned to her left and paused, listening and looking. It was only guinea fowl, spooked by their approach.
The man grunted peremptorily, and the woman resumed her motion. They passed on beyond the ash-covered region, and the ground resumed its normal colors.
They were in luck: some distance farther along they found a patch of ripe gourds. The plant had been withered by the mountain's breath, but the fruits remained firm. The man cried out, and others of their band came to gather the food. The man picked up several, and the woman took two more, and the child one. They carried these back to the band's camp.
The woman and the child began to tire, so the woman employed a familiar device: she made a grunt of sexual suggestion. The man reacted as expected: he set down his burden, allowing her and the child to do the same, and drew her into him for a bout of copulation. The other members of the tribe paused, considering; then several others paired off, liking the notion. Sex was always a satisfactory interlude.
The woman relaxed, letting the man support her. He held her upright, facing him, her feet off the ground. He sniffed her genital region, excited by the odors there. Then he let her slide down to make contact with his erect penis. Most creatures approached their females from the rear, but the upright posture enabled these ones to be frontal if they wished, and often they did wish it, liking variety. The woman was like a doll in his embrace, allowing him any liberty he chose to take. It had been several hours since their last coupling, so he was quite amenable to her suggestion. He bounced her around, squeezed her, and kissed her fur as his member drove deep into her. This might have seemed like rough play, but she was tough and he was vigorous rather than violent.
By the time he was done, both the woman and the child were rested. They picked up their burdens and resumed their trek. The other couples were also breaking up, satisfied. Sex had no significance beyond the pleasure of the moment and the continuing association it signaled.
They came to the tree where the woman's sister labored, watched by other women of the band. They reached her as the great brightness of the sun settled behind a distant hill, setting the clouds ablaze. The sister was of similar size, with smooth light fur, but differed in two respects. Her breasts were prominent, their nipples poking out through the fur of her chest. And she was sexually nonreceptive, because she had already been fertilized. This was why the other woman was kept busier now: it was, in part, her job to protect the security of the family by making sure their man had no reason to respond to any outside woman. Had the family lived apart from others of their kind there would have been little problem, but in a band with several receptive females fidelity could be strained. Two women were enough, in this case, because their cycles of availability were complementary: while one was pregnant, birthing and nursing, the other was receptive. By the time her sister got a baby started, the original woman was ready again. In that manner the two kept the man to themselves, and benefited from his superior ability to forage and to protect them from both outsiders and other men in the tribe. They shared food, when necessary, with others, but not sex or child caring.
They were part of a band that traveled as a unit, but when children grew up the males went out to join other bands and mate with their women. A man was entitled to as many women as he could succeed in taking and keeping from other men. The women in turn preferred to have as much of a man to themselves as they could, and sisters or close friends cooperated in that design. It was almost impossible for a single woman to hold a single man, because of her infertile periods while nursing her small children, but two or three cooperating women could manage it.
Half the babies were lost in their first year, and some fell prey to accidents or illness thereafter, so it was necessary to sire several to be sure one would survive. On average, a woman was sexually receptive about half the time. She was less fertile than other female creatures, so that it could take her a year to conceive. That was what made it possible for only two women to keep one male, if they were correctly phased. If both conceived at the same time, they would lose him, because neither would be able to entice him with sex. Neither the man nor the woman thought of it exactly this way, but this was the mode that enabled the fledgling species to survive.
Indeed, the sister's labor was complete: she held a furry baby boy. There was a red mark on his little forehead, but it did not matter, for he was healthy. Now the man had two sons, by two sister women. It was good.
In this manner the tracks leading toward the full human species proceeded. Yes, they are our ancestors. Normally when the male is considerably larger than the female, he has more than one mate, so their social conventions were probably not the same as ours. Three million years can change things, however. Because he was born as the blazing sun set, and had a birthmark sharing this color, we shall call the new baby Blaze.CHAPTER 2
Two million years before the present, Australopithecus had given way to Homo habilis (HO-mo HAB-i-lis), "handy man," larger and with a bigger brain. He lived in the Great Rift Valley of east Africa. He was, as far as we know, the first of our kind to use tools regularly and effectively. But of the four kinds of tools this sequence shows, only one is what we normally think of as such. And—he wasn't the only descendant of Australopithecus extant.
Ember was four years old. She was bold for a girl, and liked to use her hands. She was always grabbing onto interesting sticks and colored stones and trying to form them into fun patterns. But most of all she was intrigued with fire. Her mother had to watch her constantly when they were near a recent burn, to stop her from trying to take hold of an ember and scorch her fur. Thus her name. She had in time learned caution, but not enough; she still wanted to pick up bright embers, trying to wrap them in leaves to protect her fingers. She also had a small liability: there was a slight tremor or tic of her left cheek that appeared in times of stress or concentration. It was hardly evident ordinarily, but her mother was aware of it when the child nursed, and at other times. She hoped that Ember would grow out of it before others noticed. Fortunately the child was so active, moving her head so frequently to focus on things, that she seldom stayed still long enough for it to be obvious.
Yesterday there had been a burn on the land. It had crossed the prairie and the near valley, destroying their shelter and driving them into the water of the lake for safety. It had burned itself out during the night, but it had not been a comfortable time. Now the women of the band were out foraging for roasted mice while the men were out searching for a new place to make a safe retreat. This was, in a sense, a reversal of the normal order, for now the women were hunting meat while the men sought a homesite. It happened when it made sense.
Ember and her mother walked along the lake shore. It was safe here, because if a dangerous animal came they could wade into the water and the creature would not chase them. The fire had burned right up to the water and stopped. Now the land was covered in black ash, and pockets were still crackling. Ember was eager to go to them, to satisfy her fascination, but her mother stopped her with a terse reminder each time she started to stray. "No!" Ember had learned that word early, as well as her name.
They reached a section the fire had missed. Here the grass remained green and the trees retained their foliage, though some at the edge had been wilted by the heat. Right at the edge, hemmed in by a channel leading from the lake, was a large crackle-section. Oh, wonderful!
But they waded into the lake to avoid this, disappointing Ember. She hung back, staring at the puffs of smoke drifting up, wishing she could go and grab at them. What wonderful stuff fire must be, if she could only get close to it!
However, she did spy a pretty little stone with bright veins making patterns through it. She quickly picked it up and put it in her mouth for safekeeping. It tasted stony.
Then they spied something alarming. A big cat was crouching in the brush. But it wasn't after them. It had brought down a giraffe and was chewing on it.
They quickly retreated, keeping quiet. Ember knew that silence was essential in the presence of danger. She was frightened. She felt her cheek quivering. She almost swallowed her stone, so she poked it into her cheek for safekeeping.
They returned to the shore beyond, casting wary glances behind, then ran back to the place where others were gathering. This was beside a cache of stones they had gathered and deposited here before the fire. They had similar caches scattered strategically around the lake, so that there was always a source of tools or weapons near where they might be needed.
"Cat! Cat!" Ember's mother cried, pointing. Then: "Giraffe." She made a gesture as of something lying on the ground.
That was clear enough. Several men picked up stones, carrying them in their crooked arms, and moved toward the place. Ember's mother went along to show them the way, so Ember went too, staying close.
They entered the water by the crackling place and made themselves as quiet as possible. They came to the cat. It was a single one, not a pride. It looked up at them, blood on its monstrous fangs. It growled warningly.
But they were several, and it was one. They had the protection of the water, which the cat would not enter by choice. They could attack it with impunity, and they were hungry.
The first man flung a stone. His aim was good, and the missile struck the cat on the flank. The cat jumped up, snarling. It made as if to charge them, but stopped at the water's edge.
Reassured by this, the others flung their stones. Ember wondered whether she should throw her pretty pebble. She hoped not, because she wanted to keep it. Two stones missed, but two more struck. The cat screeched and turned, snapping at the stones, but getting nowhere. Then, as the men advanced toward the shore, throwing their last rocks, the cat realized it was overmatched and retreated, reluctantly. One more stone caught it near the tail, and it bounded away.
Ember knew that was a good thing, because the men had beenxs bluffing: they had used up all their stones. But the cat didn't know that. So it had given up when it was at the point of victory, because no man would have stepped onshore while that fearful predator was there. They would not even have approached it, had they not been very hungry and had the protection of the water.
Then men took hold of the carcass and dragged it to the water. There it floated, making it easier to move. They hauled it along until they reached the crackling place. Then they dragged it out and rolled it right into the heart of the crackle.
There was a horrendous sizzle and big cloud of vapor that delighted Ember. The fire was trying to eat the giraffe! But it couldn't; it could only burn it, making a special smell. The smell of burned mouse, only bigger.
There was a cry from the lookout. "Ape!"
Everyone looked. There were many apes coming, attracted by the commotion. They wouldn't have come while the cat was there, but it was gone. They wanted to know what was happening here, and whether there was anything good to eat.
The men moved into the lake. Some went to fetch some of the stones they had thrown. But though the apes were dull, they knew about stones. They charged over in a mass and swept up the remaining stones and hurled them at the men. Each ape was much larger than each man, and had much stronger arms. The men retreated back into the lake and ducked down as the stones came.
Ember took a breath and held it and went down under the water. She heard splashing near her, but didn't know whether it was from a man or a stone. The stones could not hurt anyone under the water, but it was hard to stay down long. Ember had to come up to breathe.
She saw that the apes had used up the stones and lost interest. They were wary of the crackling place, not understanding fire, and they didn't like the smell of the roasting flesh. So they moved on, disappointed. They were strong, but stupid.
The men came out. The giraffe was still cooking, and the smell was very strong now.
They brought out the special stones, the ones with the sharp edges, and as the fire died down they used these to slice across the hide so they could pull it off, and to slice across the meat so they could get pieces. They passed these around, and Ember and her mother got to bite into the meat. It was tough, and not as good as fresh fruit, but after the fire they hadn't found much fruit.
Then Ember and her mother walked to the new place the men had found, beyond where the fire had been. It was a big tangle of thorns and nettles and stingy plants, but there was a hole in it for them to get through. No bad animals would come for them here! Ember settled down with her mother, huddling close for warmth as the night cooled, and others lay close on either side. Tomorrow they would make a better shelter, and hope it didn't burn soon. But the fire had helped feed them today.
Ember was satisfied. She took the stone out of her mouth, which she had preserved despite eating the hot meat, and tried to focus on its prettiness. But it was too dark now for her to see, so she put it back in her mouth for tomorrow.
This day's activities show the manner Homo habilis used his tools and his wits to survive in a sometimes hostile environment. He entered the water to avoid the prairie fire, and used the water also as protection from large predators, such as Megantereon, a saber-toothed cat the size of a lion. He used available fire to cook the body of Sivatherium, a short-necked giraffe that stood seven feet tall and had antlers. He used thrown stones as weapons, and chipped stones as knives for carving flesh or fruit, and maintained caches of such stones in scattered places so that supplies were usually handy. He used thorny brambles to make safe shelters. Thus water, fire, stone and brambles all were tools. He was smart enough to take advantage of the situations in which he found himself, so he got by though he was by no means the dominant creature of the region.
Excerpted from Isle of Woman by Piers Anthony. Copyright © 1993 Piers Anthony. 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.
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