Where manufactured order once reigned, now there is peace. In this second volume of the Well-Built City Trilogy, the dominion has fallen, and its vicious ruler, Drachton Below, has been defeated. Cley has renounced the title of physiognomist, striking out on his own to establish the idyllic village of Wenau, where he lives as a healer and the inhabitants’ protector. But when the villagers suddenly start to succumb to a lethal sleeping sickness, Cley is pulled back into the struggle he thought he had left behind.
In order to cure his community of this horrible malady, Cley journeys back to the Well-Built City, braving dangerous ruins teeming with mechanical birds and werewolves. Amid the wreckage, he finds the deposed ruler, Drachton Below, comatose from the same sickness that has overtaken Cley’s village. Below created this disease, and he is the only one with the knowledge to cure it. In order to create an antidote, Cley must venture into Drachton Below’s mind to gather the information he needs from the source before the disease ravages the village—and Below’s mind—forever.
About the Author
Ford’s fiction has been translated into twenty languages. In addition to writing, he has been a professor of literature and writing for thirty years and has been a guest lecturer at the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, the Stone Coast MFA in Creative Writing Program, Richard Hugo House in Seattle, and the Antioch Writers’ Workshop. Ford lives in Ohio and currently teaches at Ohio Wesleyan University.
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Book Two of the Well-Built City Trilogy
By Jeffrey Ford
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1999 Jeffrey Ford
All rights reserved.
In the years since completing a written account of the fall of the Well-Built City, which told of my personal transformation from Physiognomist to humble citizen and the inception of this once idyllic settlement of Wenau, I never again thought it would be necessary to put pen to paper, but after what has occurred in the past few weeks, I must warn my unsuspecting neighbors. There is a demon loose in paradise—one that beguiles by resurrecting the past. Its victims grow cold to the world, desiring only yesterday, as their souls dissipate for want of exercise in the here and now. Memories swarm about me, every bit as real as the day, and I will attempt to trap them here in this manuscript, like slapping shut the lid on a box full of bees. Then I'll flee northward in order to lose myself in the vast wilderness of the Beyond. It would be a false assumption to think that because I write this with my own hand, in the past tense, that I came through these adventures in possession of my life. Death, it seems, has many definitions.
It was not long after the settlement was founded that the marketplace at Wenau developed into quite a bustling center of trade. The citizens of our new community no longer merely bartered among themselves but also attracted farmers from Latrobia, which lay a considerable distance to the east. River people from as far south as the villages at Constance occasionally arrived on their barques loaded with hand-woven cloth, spices, homemade fishing gear, which they hoped to deal for fresh game and vegetables. Our people became adept at gathering and harvesting food, but the items the outsiders wanted more than any others were those mementos of technology we had taken away with us from the destruction of the Well-Built City.
Something as useless as a single brass gear could be traded for a blanket of the highest quality. The river people wore these remnants as amulets of power on cords around their necks. Little did they know how pleased we were to be rid of them. Everything balanced in the end, though, and there were no squabbles or accusations of thievery. The outsiders, having lived closer to the land for longer, were much rougher than we, but they adopted our peaceful ways. This location we chose for our settlement, nestled between two crisscrossing rivers, engendered its own spell of calm.
I went to the market once a week to trade medicinal herbs, roots, and tree bark I collected from the fields and forests—a practice taught to me by Ea and his son before they left for the Beyond. It was on those days that I also met my neighbors and took appointments to visit the women who were carrying children. Ever since delivering Arla's daughter, word had gotten about that I was an effective midwife, and, because of this, I was in some part responsible for the births of at least fifteen children. My acquired role as that of a healer of sorts pleased me, and I hoped that in the hypothetical ledger of my life it would offset somewhat the harm I had previously done.
A few weeks ago, I carried with me to the market something I never before would have thought of trading—a certain piece of green fabric, the veil left to me by Arla. For years, it remained both a bothersome mystery and a great comfort. On those nights when loneliness surrounded me, I would take it out of the chest beneath my bed and hold it fast for the peace it offered. At other times, I would actually speak to it, as if her face still hid beneath, trying to obtain an answer as to her reason for having left it with me. I often wondered if it was a sign that she had forgiven me or if it was meant to remind me of my guilt.
The night before my trip to the market, I was called on to deliver a child. All went well as far as the mother's health was concerned, but the baby came forth stillborn. I worked for over an hour to try to revive him, knowing soon after I began that my efforts would probably be hopeless. No one blamed me for this tragedy, and, surprisingly enough, though I felt bad, I could not even blame myself. On my walk home through the night, I stopped to look up at the immensity of the starlit sky and for some reason, I still cannot say why, I suddenly felt released from my responsibility to the past. The thought leaped into my mind: "Cley, you will trade away that green veil. It will not do to simply dispose of it. No matter how meager the material worth of the item you trade it for, you must find someone who wants it."
The market was crowded the following day with haggling traders, children at play, and the old, entertaining with comic and cautionary tales. I carried my sack of medicines thrown over my left shoulder and wove my way amidst the practical confusion of the place, searching out likely patrons.
At first, I went about my business, selling what I could. People knew me well and knew that my medicines were genuine. They described complaints to me, and I would tell them exactly what they might use to alleviate their suffering. After making a few trades for thread and fish-bone needles, salt and powdered orian (a bean from the south that when mixed with boiling water made a beverage that was a dull imitation of shudder), I took out the green veil and tried to trade it.
Those I approached were as polite as usual, but I could tell they remembered the purpose that it had once served and were reluctant to even gaze at it. Although Arla had been gone for years, she remained a mythical figure to the inhabitants of Wenau. The legendary horror of the face that green cloth once masked, its death-dealing power, was too much for them to overcome. I might just as well have been trying to barter a winding sheet stripped from one of their relatives.
Jensen Watt, the owner of the stills that brewed a form of alcohol that was known as field beer, and a good friend of mine, came over to me and put his arm around my shoulders.
"Cley," he said. "No need to trade such a personal item as the veil. What do you need? I'll send it over to your place before the sun goes down."
"I need to trade this veil," I said.
"You delivered my daughter, for which you asked no payment, and I still owe you from our last card game, but even I wouldn't take it off your hands. You're spooking the entire marketplace by waving that thing around."
"I can't keep this ghost in my house anymore," I told him.
"Tie a stone in it and toss it in the river," he said.
I shook my head. "I must find someone who wants it."
He took his arm off me, leaned back, and raked his fingers through his beard. "Bring it over to my stall. I have six Latrobians there drinking off the price of a mule I borrowed from them last spring. One of them might be drunk enough to trade a trifle, not knowing the story behind it."
I thought this was a sound suggestion, but we never made it to Watt's makeshift tavern, for as we set out across the marketplace, some slight commotion could be heard among the traders at the different stalls. "Look, look," I heard quite a few of them say. I wondered for a moment if they were reacting to the sight of the veil, which I still held in my left hand, but when I turned around, I saw that they were pointing upward at something overhead.
It came circling down from a great height in an ever-diminishing gyre. The wingspan must have been five feet across, and, though its features bore some resemblance to a giant crow, it shone brightly, reflecting the sun from metallic wings. Silence swept through the marketplace as everyone gathered close to the point where it was evident it would land. With perfect mechanical grace, it glided silently down to perch with chrome talons atop a six-foot flagpole that stood at the center of the market.
My heart sank at the sight of it sitting there, cocking its head from side to side as if taking in the entirety of the crowd through its steel eyes. Accompanying each of its movements was the whisper-whir of gears turning within its tin-feathered body. Those gathered around me were smiling in wonder at it, but I knew there was only one person who could have given life to the glimmering creature.
My worst fears were confirmed when it finally opened its beak and words came forth in a mechanized imitation of the voice of Drachton Below. Everything that followed was like a nightmare. My neighbors seemed to have, in the eight years we had been free of him, forgotten the Master's voice. I wanted to warn them, to tell them to run, but my words came forth as pinpricks, and my legs seemed mired.
"Greetings, people of Wenau," said the bird. It flapped its wings, and the children clapped their hands. "You have all been so very busy since last I saw you. Now, it is time to sleep. Watch for me in your dreams."
As the shining crow finished its message, a sudden look of recognition swept through the adults in the crowd. Then the bird screeched like a machine unable to cope with a sudden surge of power, and their faces gave way to expressions of horror. "Below," Jensen yelled a second before the thing exploded with a deafening roar, spewing gear-work, springs, and metal shards amidst a billowing yellow cloud.
I could hear the others screaming and choking. In their attempts to escape, they knocked into each other, trampling the unfortunates who had been felled by the blast. My eyes burned so badly from whatever chemical had composed the cloying mist that all became a watery blur before me. Luckily, I had the veil in my hand, and at the first sign that the yellow fog was more than just the smoke of the explosion, I covered my mouth and nose with it.
Staggering blindly, I made my way to the river, which was just beyond the marketplace. I cleared my eyes well enough to make out the edge of the bank, and when I surmised I was right above the water, I dropped my sack and let myself fall forward. Like a dead man, I sank toward the bottom, and the slow-moving current swept around me, washing the acrid yellow fog from my eyes and clothing. I stayed under as long as I could and then worked my way back to the surface, where I drew in a huge draught of fresh air. When I felt as though I had cleansed myself of the Master's evil, I swam to the bank and crawled out.
I could hear the groans of the wounded back at the marketplace, and I knew I had to return to help them, but my head was reeling. "Rest for a moment," I told myself, and collapsed onto my back. Staring up into the empty sky, I breathed deeply in an attempt to calm my nerves. All I could think of was Below and how foolish we had been to believe that he could ever let us live free of his interference. As I worked to compose myself, my memory took me back to the Well-Built City, where I had held the title of Physiognomist, First Class. I had done Below's bidding, deciphering the faces of the populace, bringing my calipers to bear on foreheads, cheekbones, chins in order to determine the moral character of that city's inhabitants. The Master, with his self-assurance, his powerful magic and technological genius, had made me believe that his physiognomical standard would allow me to correctly read all of those books by their covers. In the process, I had sent men, women, and children to their doom for no more than the shape of an earlobe, condemned the innocent to prison for the prominence of a brow.
Surface was everything, and at the height of my arrogance, I had even believed I could increase a young woman's virtue by changing her outer appearance with my scalpels. In the end, I had butchered her, the woman I loved, to the point where it was necessary for her to go about with a green veil covering her face. When I realized the ugliness I had created, I finally understood the essence of Below. I then helped to subvert his power and topple his regime. The last I saw of him, he stood amidst the wreckage of the Well-Built City, restraining, by a leash, the pitiful wolf-girl, Greta Sykes, while circling high above him was the demon he had brought back from the Beyond. "There is so much work to do," he had said. "Last night, I had another dream, a magnificent vision." That vision had just become reality in the marketplace at Wenau.
The yellow mist cleared by the time I made my way, dripping wet, back to the marketplace. Others who had fled were also just returning to help the wounded. Bodies lay everywhere. The sounds of anguish had ceased only to be replaced by an eerie quiet. I found a small child, dead, with the bird's silver beak embedded, like a dagger, in his forehead. A woman's face had been ripped completely off by the blast. Five had actually been killed by the explosion. The others who lay about, eighteen in all, were still alive but had succumbed to the yellow mist. These victims exhibited no obvious signs of distress, but appeared just to have dozed off in a midafternoon nap. The peace with which they slept was almost enviable.
I tended to the minor wounds of those who lay in the fog-induced coma while others cleared away the dead. It was a grim business amidst the groans and curses that came from the relatives of the victims. Although everyone was dazed and scared, we worked together to try to bring the situation under control. Even the outsiders pitched in and did what they could. Jensen, who I was happy to see survived the blast, led his drunken Latrobian patrons to the river, where they fetched water to be used to try to revive those under the spell of the chemical.
I made good use of the herbs and roots in my sack to create poultices that would stave off infection in minor wounds. To the mother of the dead child, I administered a dose of owl's beard, a stringy moss that grows only at the tops of old yew trees. This calmed her for the time being, but I knew, as did her trembling husband, that there was nothing in nature that could quell the loss forever. We tried everything to revive those trapped in that strange slumber. I broke sticks of ice mint under their noses. Cold water was applied, light slapping followed, and when we grew frustrated, we shouted their names into their ears. They remained wrapped in a deep sleep, each of them wearing the most damnably subtle grin as if they were all dreaming of paradise.
I did not head for home until well after dark, when all of the dead had been buried and the sleeping had been carried safely to their beds. Before taking leave, I borrowed a change of clothes from Jensen and sat with him and some of the others down by the river, where we drowned our anguish with field beer. The conversation was subdued, focusing mainly on the lives of those who had died that day. No one had any answers, but each of us asked at least once what the fog could have been. At the time, it was a better question than, "Will they ever awaken from it?" This was not the only thought unvoiced that night. We all knew that we would have to deal with Below, which would mean returning to the ruins of the Well-Built City. It was clear that we would probably have to kill him.
On my way home through the meadow, I stopped in the same spot I had the previous night and again looked up at the sky. Reaching into my pocket, I retrieved the green veil and held it out to look at it. Even if I had gotten someone to take it off my hands, I realized that I could never really be rid of it. Besides, it might very well have saved my life.
I spent a sleepless night, the candles burning brightly, unable to face the demons, werewolves, and mechanical exploding birds I might find in my dreams. The stone knife I held in my right hand was for Below, should he appear from out of the darkness; and the veil, which I held in the left, was for me.CHAPTER 2
When the sun finally rose to show me that Below wasn't lurking in the shadows, I lifted my stiffened body from the chair in which I had kept my vigil and crept over to the bed. I fell into it much the way I had fallen into the river the day before. No sooner did I close my eyes, though, than a knock sounded at the door.
"Cley, are you in there?" said a familiar female voice. It was Semla Hood, a young woman whose child I had delivered and whose husband, Roan, was a fishing companion of mine.
"No," I called out with a heavy sigh, and rolled myself to a sitting position.
"Please, Cley, you must come. Something terrible has happened."
I stood slowly and shuffled to the door. My only solace was that I did not have to change, since I had spent the night fully dressed, supposedly ready for action. I opened the door.
"Cley," she said. "Roan has fallen asleep."
Excerpted from Memoranda by Jeffrey Ford. Copyright © 1999 Jeffrey Ford. 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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Table of Contents
Reading Group Guide
In the critically praised THE PHYSIOGNOMY, a New York Times Notable Book of 1997, Physiognomist Cley chronicled the fall of the Well-Built City, created from the mind of the evil Master, Drachton Below, and the inception of the independent city of Weanu. In MEMORANDA, Cley, no longer the Physiognomist but a humble citizen, realizes that the antidote to the sleeping disease that has infected the people of Wenau is locked in symbolic form in a new mnemonic "palace" in the sleeping Below's memory. With the help of a demon, Cley must venture into the city of Below to search for the symbolic form that holds the secret of the antidote. As he searches through the bizarre city, Cley falls in love, knowing full well that the lady is merely the symbolic representation of an idea and that he must lose her if his quest to save the people of Weanu is to succeed.
Questions for Discussion
The Author Recommends
The following novels have influenced Jeffrey Ford: "The writing styles, the craft, the stories of these books all seem to be in perfect balance as if one small change would ruin them. Most importantly, they instilled a sense of wonder in me -- something childlike, mystical and profound."
THE FOUR WISE MEN by Michel Tournier
THE BARON IN THE TREES by Italo Calvino
ARABIAN NIGHTS AND DAYS by Naguib Mafouz
FREDDY"S BOOK by John Gardner
MYSTERIES by Knut Hamsun
THE STREET OF CROCODILES by Bruno Schultz
MY LIFE IN THE BUSH OF GHOSTS by Amos Tutola
THE WOMAN IN THE DUNES by Kobo Abe
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Sequel to "The Physiognomy", gives us more information about the evil Drachton Below. Interesting that both Ford and Crowley (in the Aegypt series) are use material from Frances Yates' books on Giordano Bruno and memory palaces. Both start there, but go in different directions with the ideas.