One of the few in Nevèrÿon who can read and write, pryn has saddled a wild dragon and taken off from a mountain ledge. Self-described as an adventurer, warrior, and thief, in her journey pryn will meet plotting merchants, sinister aristocrats, half-mad villagers, and a storyteller who claims to have invented writing itself. The land of Nevèrÿon is mired in a civil war over slavery, and pryn will also find herself—for a while—fighting alongside Gorgik the Liberator, from whom she will learn the cunning she needs as she journeys further and further south in search of a sunken city; for at history’s dawn, some dangers even dragons cannot protect you from.
The second volume in Samuel R. Delany’s Return to Nevèrÿon cycle, Neveryóna is the longer of its two full-length novels. (The other is The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals.) An intriguing meditation on the power of language, the rise of cities, and the dawn of myth, markets, and money, it is a truly wonder-filled adventure.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Samuel R. Delany including rare images from his early career.
About the Author
Samuel R. Delany published his first novel, The Jewels of Aptor, at the age of twenty. Throughout his storied career, he has received four Nebula Awards and two Hugo Awards, and in 2008 his novel Dark Reflections won the Stonewall Book Award. He was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 2002, named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America in 2014, and in 2016 was inducted into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame. Delany’s works also extend into memoir, criticism, and essays on sexuality and society. After many years as a professor of English and creative writing and director of the graduate creative writing program at Temple University, he retired from teaching in 2015. He lives in Philadelphia with his partner, Dennis Rickett.
Read an Excerpt
Or: The Tale of Signs and Cities
By Samuel R. Delany
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1993 Samuel R. Delany
All rights reserved.
Of Dragons, Mountains, Transhumance, Sequence, and Sunken Cities, or: The Violence of the Letter
... The modality of novelistic enunciation is inferential: it is a process within which the subject of the novelistic utterance affirms a sequence, as conclusion to the inference, based on other sequences (referential—hence narrative, or textual—hence citational), which are the premises of the inference and, as such, considered to be true.
JULIA KRISTEVA, Desire in Language
SHE WAS FIFTEEN AND she flew.
Her name was pryn—because she knew something of writing but not of capital letters.
She shrieked at clouds, knees clutching scaly flanks, head flung forward. Another peak floated back under veined wings around whose flexing joints her knees bent.
The dragon turned a beaked head in air, jerking reins—vines pryn had twisted in a brown cord before making a bridle to string on the dragon's clay-colored muzzle. (Several times untwisted vines had broken—fortunately before take-off.) Shrieking and joyful, pryn looked up at clouds and down on streams, off toward returning lines of geese, at sheep crowding through a rocky rift between one green level and another. The dragon jerked her head, which meant the beast was reaching for her glide's height ...
On the ground a bitter, old, energetic woman sat in her shack and mumbled over pondered insults and recalled slights, scratching in ash that had spilled from her fireplace with a stick. That bitter woman, pryn's great-aunt, had never flown a dragon, nor did she know her great-niece flew one now. What she had done, many years before, was to take into her home an itinerant, drunken barbarian, who'd come wandering through the town market. For nearly five months the soused old reprobate had slept on the young woman's hearth. When he was not sleeping or incoherent with drink, the two of them had talked; and talked; and talked; and taken long walks together, still talking; then gone back to the shack and talked more. Those talks, the older woman would have assured her greatniece, were as wonderful as any flight.
One of the things the barbarian had done was help her build a wooden rack on which stretched fibers might be woven together. She'd hoped to make some kind of useful covering. But the funny and fanciful notions, the tales and terrifying insights, the world lighted and shadowed by the analytic and synthetic richness the two of them could generate between them—that was the thing!
One evening the barbarian had up and wandered off again to another mountain hold—for no particular reason; nor was the aunt worried. They were the kind of friends who frequently went separate ways—for days, even weeks. But after a month rumor came back that, while out staggering about one winter's night, he'd fallen down a cliff, broken both legs, and died some time over the next three days from injury and exposure.
The rack had not worked right away.
The marshpool fluff that pryn's great-aunt had tried to stretch out was too weak to make real fabric, and the sheared fleece from the winter coats of mountain nannies and billies made a fuzzy stuff that was certainly warm but that tore with any violent body movement. Still, the aunt believed in the 'loom' (her word for it in that long-ago distant language) and in the barbarian, whose memory she defended against all vilification. For hadn't he also designed and supervised the construction of the fountains in the Vanar Hold, one of the three great houses around which fabled Ellamon had grown up? And hadn't the Suzerain of Vanar himself used to nod to him on the street when they'd passed, and hadn't the Suzerain even taken him into his house for a while—as had she? While her friends in other shacks and huts and cottages felt sorry for the young woman so alone now with her memories, it occurred to the aunt, as she sat before her fireplace on a dim winter's afternoon, watching smoke spiral from the embers: Why not twist the fibers first before stringing them on the rack? The (also her word) 'thread' she twisted made a far smoother, stronger, and—finally!—functional fabric. And the loom, which had been a tolerated embarrassment among those friends to whom she was always showing it, was suddenly being rebuilt all over Ellamon. Women twisted. Women wove. Many women did nothing but twist thread for the weavers, who soon included men. That summer the aunt chipped two holes in a flat stone, wrapped the first few inches of twisted fibers through them, then set the stone to spin, helped on by a foot or a hand, thus using the torque to twist thread ten to twenty times as fast as you could with just your fingers. But with the invention of the spindle (not the aunt's word, but an amused neighbor's term for it), a strange thing happened. People began to suggest that neither she nor the long-dead barbarian were really the loom's inventors; and certainly she could not have thought up thread twisting by herself. And when it became known that there were other towns and other counties throughout Nevèrÿon where weaving and spinning had been going on for years—as it had, by now, been going on for years at fabled Ellamon—then all the aunt's claims to authorship became a kind of local joke. Even her invention of the spindle was suddenly suspect. And though he never claimed it for himself, the neighbor who'd named it was often credited with at least as much input into that discovery as the barbarian about whom the aunt was always going on must have had into the loom. For the barbarian turned out to have been quite a famous and fabled person all along, at least outside of Ellamon. And the spindle? Surely it was something she had seen somewhere. It was too useful, too simple, and just not the kind of thing you 'thought up' all alone. The aunt spun. The aunt wove. The aunt took in abandoned children, now of a younger cousin, now of a wayward niece, and, several years later, the grandson of a nephew. For wasn't her shack the warmest in the village? When she had made it, she had filled every chink of it with a mixture of oil and mud, into which she had blown hundreds and hundreds of small air bubbles through a hollow reed; it would hold both warm air and cool air for more than twenty-four hours. (She had told the barbarian—whose name had been Belham—about her insulation method that first day in the market; and wasn't that why he had consented to stay with her when the Suzerain of Vanar had put him out?) From all the looms of fabled Ellamon bolts of goats' wool and dogs' hair cloth and sheep wool rolled out, slower than smoke spiraling over winter embers. The great-aunt spoke little with her neighbors, loved her little cousins and great-nieces (and her greatnephew—seven years older than pryn—who had recently become a baker), and grew more bitter. What mountain pasturage there was about the High Hold was slowly given over to sheep, already prized for their thin but nourishing milk. (Sheep wool clearly made the strongest, warmest cloth. But that, alas, was not among the aunt's particular discoveries.) And more and more milk-less, fleeceless dragons leapt from the pastures' ledges and cliffs, with their creaking honks, to tear their wings on treetops and brambles decently out of sight.
Because the slopes around Ellamon sported more rockweed than grass, the local shepherds never could raise the best sheep: Ellamon's fabrics were never particularly fabled.
Today pryn's great-aunt was over eighty.
The barbarian had slipped drunkenly down the cliff more than fifty years ago.
Bound to the sky by vines twisted the same way her great-aunt still twisted goats' fleece and marshpool fluff and dogs' hair into thread that bound that bitter, old, energetic woman to the earth, pryn flew!
Flying, she saw the crazily tilting mountains rise by her, the turning clouds above her, the rocking green, the green-licked rock. Some where below, sheep, bleating, wandered over another rocky rise. Wind rushed pryn's ears to catch in the cartilages and turn around in them, cackling like a maiden turning from her shuttle to laugh at a companion's scabrous joke. Air battered her eye sockets, as a wild girl pounds the wall of the room where she has been shut in by a mother terrified her child might, in her wildness, run loose and be taken by slavers. Air rushed pryn's toes; her toes flexed up, then curled in the joy, in the terror of flight. Wind looped coolly about pryn's arms, pushed cold palms against her kneecaps.
And much of the space between pryn and the ground had gone.
She had launched from a ledge and, through common sense, had expected to land on one. How else to take off once more? Somehow, though, she'd assumed the dragon knew this too.
Trees a-slant the slope rose.
She pulled on the reins, hard. Wings flopped, fluttered, flapped behind her knees; pryn leaned back in wind, searching for ledges in the mountains that were now all around.
She glanced down to see the clearing—without a ledge any side! Treetops veered, neared.
That was where they were going to land ...? Leaves a-top a tall tree slapped her toes, stinging. She yanked vines. Dragon wings rose, which meant those green membranes between the long bones would not tear on the branches. But they were falling—no, still gliding. She swallowed air. The dragon tilted, beating back against her own flight—pryn rocked against the bony neck. Reins tight, she knuckled scales. Dragon muscle moved under her legs. A moment's floating, when she managed to push back and blink. And blinked again—
—because they jarred, stopping, on pebbles and scrub.
A lurch: the dragon stepped forward.
Another lurch: another step.
She pulled on the reins again. The slow creature lurched another step and ... halted.
She craned to see the trees behind her. Above them, rock—
The dragon took another step; pryn swung forward.
The woman, cross-legged across the clearing by the fireplace, uncrossed and pushed to one knee. 'Hello, there!' She stood, putting a hand on the provision cart's rail. 'That your dragon?' The ox bent to tear up ragged rockweed; the cart rumbled for inches. The rail slipped under the woman's palm.
Swinging her leg over the dragon's neck, pryn slid down scales, feeling her leather skirt roll up the backs of her thighs. On rough ground she landed on two feet and a fist—'Yes ...!'—and came erect in time to duck the wing that opened, beat once, then folded. 'I mean—I rode it ...'
The woman was middle-aged, some red left in her hair. Her face was sunburned and freckled.
With suspicion and curiosity, pryn blinked. Then, because she had flown, pryn laughed. It was the full, foaming laugh of a loud brown fifteen-year-old with bushy hair. It broke up fear, exploded curiosity, and seemed—to the woman, at any rate—to make the heavy, short girl one with the pine needles and shale chips and long, long clouds pulled sheer enough to see blue through.
That was why the woman laughed too.
The dragon swung her head, opened her beak, and hissed over stained, near-useless teeth, tiny in mottled gum.
The girl stepped up on a mossy rock. 'Who are you?'
'Norema the tale-teller,' the woman said. She put both hands in the pocket of her leggings and took a long step across the burnt-out fireplace. 'Who are you?'
'I am pryn, the ... adventurer, pryn the warrior, pryn the thief!' said pryn, who had never stolen anything in her life other than a ground oaten cake from the lip of her cousin's baking oven three weeks before—she'd felt guilty for days!
'You're going to have trouble getting that dragon to take off again.'
The girl's face moved from leftover laugh to scowl. 'Don't I know it!'
The ox took another step. The cart's plank wheels made brief noises among themselves and on small stones. The ox blinked at the dragon, which stood now, one foreclaw raised.
Dragons sometimes stood like that a long time.
'You're not one of the regular dragon grooms—the little girls they keep in the corrals above Ellamon ...?'
The ox tore up more rockweed.
The girl shook her head. 'But I live in Ellamon—just outside Ellamon, actually. With my great-aunt. I've seen them, though, flying their dragons with their trainers and guards for the tourists who go out to the hill to watch. They're all bad girls, you know. Girls who've struck their mothers or disobeyed their fathers, stolen things, sometimes even killed people. They've been brought from all over Nevèrÿon—'
'... adventures, warriors,' Norema suggested, 'thieves?'
The girl looked at the ground, turning her bare foot on sand. 'You're a foreigner. You probably don't know much about dragons, or the bad girls who ride them.'
'Oh,' Norema said, 'one hears fables. Also, I've been through this strange and...well, this strange land before. What were you doing on that dragon?'
'Flying,' pryn answered, then wondered if that sounded disingenuous. She bent to brush a dusty hand against a dusty knee. 'It's something I've always wanted to do. And I'm growing—everyone always tells me how much I'm growing. So I thought: soon I shall be too tall or too fat. I'd better do it now. The girls they use for riders up in the dragon corrals are half starved anyway, till they're thin as twigs. They're all twelve and thirteen years old—forever, it seems like.' She smoothed her overblouse down her waistless stomach. 'I'm short. But I'm not thin.'
'True,' Norema said, 'you're not. But you look strong. And I like your laugh.'
'I don't know how strong I am either,' pryn said, 'but I caught a wild dragon, bridled her, and led her to a ledge.'
'That seems strong enough.'
'You've been here before ...?' It sounded more suspicious than pryn meant. But suspicion was a habit of tongue picked up from her aunt more than a habit of mind; and, anyway, her laugh belied it. 'What are you doing here now?'
'Looking for a friend,' Norema said. 'A friend of mine. Years ago she used to be a guard at the dragon corrals and told me all about those ... bad girls. My friend wore blue stone beads in her hair and a black rag mask across her eyes; and she killed with a double-bladed sword. We were companions and traveled together several years.'
'What happened to her?' pryn asked.
'Oh,' Norema said. 'I told her tales—long, marvelous, fascinating tales. Sometimes I wasn't sure if they were tales told to me when I was a child, or tales I'd made up. I told her tales, and after a while my masked friend grew more interested in the tales than she was in me. One night, sitting on her side of the campfire, cleaning her double blade, she told me she was going off the next morning to see if one particular tale I told were true. The next day when I woke, she and her bedroll were gone—along with her double-bladed sword. Nor was I worried. We were the kind of friends who frequently went separate ways—for days, even weeks. But weeks became months; and I did not run across my friend's campfire on the rim of the Menyat canyon, nor did I hear any word of her tramping along the northernmost Faltha escarpments, nor did I meet her taking shade in one of the Makalata caves at the rim of the western desert, nor did I hear rumor of her lean-to set up a mile further down the beach at Sarness.'
Squatting, pryn picked up a stick. 'So what did you do?' She scratched at spilled ash.
'I decided to take my cart and go look for her. I've looked many places; no doubt I'll look many more. But I've come to Ellamon because my friend once worked here and was happy.'
'Mmm,' pryn said, suspiciously.
The woman looked down to see what pryn had been scratching. '"Pyre,"' she read. '"Ynn." Pyre-ynn?'
'"... pryn",' pryn said. 'That is my name. In writing.'
The woman stepped around the figures and squatted too. 'Here.' She took the stick and added a line above the two syllabics the girl had etched in ash. 'You, "pryn". That's your name. In writing. That line there means you squish the two sounds together into one. Otherwise you'll have people mispronouncing it every which way.'
In late sunlight pryn squinted at the woman. 'How do you know?'
'Actually—' the woman looked back at pryn with a moment's uncertainty—'because I invented it.'
The girl frowned. 'Invented what?'
'Writing. A long time ago. I must have been about your age—now I don't mean I invented every kind of writing. I just added the idea of making written signs stand for particular words, so you could say them. Till then, you know, written signs stood for animals, foods, amounts, tasks, instructions, ideas, even people, even kinds of people—whole complexes of notions. But written words—that's my innovation.'
Excerpted from Neveryóna by Samuel R. Delany. Copyright © 1993 Samuel R. Delany. 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
Contents1. Of Dragons, Mountains, Transhumance, Sequence, and Sunken Cities, or: The Violence of the Letter,
2. Of Roads, Real Cities, Streets, and Strangers,
3. Of Markets, Maps, Cellars, and Cisterns,
4. Of Fate, Fortune, Mayhem, and Mystery,
5. Of Matrons, Mornings, Motives, and Machinations,
6. Of Falls, Fountains, Notions, and New Markets,
7. Of Commerce, Capital, Myths, and Missions,
8. Of Models, Mystery, Moonlight, and Authority,
9. Of Night, Noon, Time, and Transition,
10. Of Bronze, Brews, Dragons, and Dinners,
11. Of Family Gatherings, Grammatology, More Models, and More Mysteries,
12. Of Models, Monsters, Night, and the Numinous,
13. Of Survival, Celebration, and Unlimited Semiosis,
Appendix A: The Culhar' Correspondence,
Appendix B: Acknowledgments,
Preview: Flight from Nevèrÿon,
A Biography of Samuel R. Delany,