The planet Rithonon circled a star near the edge of the Tharion Sea, as it is named in Eratzira. Jake Connolly lived in the Thalanin village of Brown Hill on the western edge of the mountains of Itelmir, which ran eastward to the ocean far away. Brown Hill lay hard against the mountains in a long valley filled with many other villages, all given to mining. All these Thalanin villages were administrated by the Nanyan city of hCathad, whose towers dwarfed the many ancient ruins scattered throughout the valley. Long ago Rithonon had been an outpost for watchmen who guarded the borders of an ancient star-kingdom.They had patrolled Rithonon’s star and its neighbours and had safeguarded the rich mines of Rithonon. Those men had now been gone for long ages, but the mines remained.
Brown Hill lay below what had once been a tall fortress that had housed a garrison of many men and starships. The citadel now lay in ruins, but farther down the hill, a tall watchtower still stood. It was in this tower that Jake Connolly lived with his many birds, for he was a vèralamenasi. His parents before him had also been vèralamenasin, but they had died many years before while on holiday, leaving Jake to care for the birds alone.
Chief among the vèralamen Jake cared for was a falcon named Faluin, offspring of the great Starlords of old. Jake alone had been able to tame him, and he had served Jake and his family for many years. When Jake’s parents died, it was Faluin who brought him the news, and from those days Faluin became his friend and counsellor. Jake never hired out Faluin but used him only to carry private messages and to keep an eye on the lands all around.
Being the only vèralamenasi in the valley, Jake never wanted for patrons. Even Thalanin came to enlist the service of the vèralamen, though they always wrote their messages upon small scrolls. Other Thalanin would hire Jake to translate Nanyan or to serve as interpreter for meetings with Nanyanin officials. He made a good living and never lacked for anything.
In his tower Jake lived mainly in two rooms—the kitchen on the ground floor and his bedroom near the top. The rest of the rooms had been sealed off except for a large chamber on the topmost floor where the vèralamen roosted. Jake fed them when necessary, but the vèralamen often hunted their own food. Automaton creatures were not uncommon in the valley, though they were far outnumbered by animals of flesh and blood. The fields surrounding Jake’s tower were wholly given to farming and ranching, and it was not unusual for Jake to see cattle grazing outside his window or to watch a farmer driving a cart down the neighbouring roads.
From the upper windows, Jake could see all the rooftops of Brown Hill, for it was a small village. One main road ran through the centre of town, and many shops and tradesmen were to be found there. Jake was friendly with most of the villagers, and they seemed to like him well enough.
Of all the places Jake frequented in the village, his favourite by far was the Grey Griffin—an inn that lay on a side street off the main road. It was sheltered enough to seem isolated, but it was always busy. Miners would eat there before their work began and then again after their long labour. Two old men were often seen playing draughts and talking about the other patrons as if no one else could hear them. There were other regulars besides—all good people and each a special kind of peculiar.
But by far the person Jake found most intriguing was Samantha Brown, the innkeeper’s daughter. She was a bit younger than Jake was, bright-eyed and overflowing with cheerfulness. Jake had never seen her unhappy, and she always greeted him with a shy smile. He had seen much of her in recent days, for she seemed to enjoy his company, and she had at times visited the tower on the hill just to say hello or to tell him some bit of news from the inn.
One particular day Jake journeyed down to the inn for breakfast, as was his custom. Though a number of the townsfolk were still asleep at that hour, the brown-stone streets were far from silent or empty. Jake passed several men driving their carts overflowing with produce towards the market. Miners trudged in small groups here and there—some boarding transports for the more distant mines, others following the road that led to the Brown Tunnel Mine just south of the village. Constable Gibbs was already up and about, and Robert Lofton, the town beggar, hid in the shadows as the constable passed.
All over town early risers were raising banners and streamers from buildings and lampposts. Women on tall stepladders hung lanterns from ropes strung between the streetlamps. Tents and stalls of wood and cloth appeared in many places, and in the town square, three men were building an enormous wooden platform. The Brown Hill Autumn Festival was to be held the following evening, and many of the townsfolk were busy with its preparation. Jake usually skipped most of the festival, coming down only briefly for a bit of food and a walk around to look at all the commotion before returning home. It was not much fun going all alone, but this year he planned on a change.
As he continued on through the town, Jake breathed deeply. The air was clear and cool, and only a few clouds floated lazily over the town. The air smelled of things baking in the shops along the street. Mrs Arlington’s pastry shop stood near the centre of town, and every morning the smell of her sweet rolls drifted in and out of streets and lingered over the town until late in the afternoon. Jake’s stomach made a noise, but he did not divert his course or his purpose, for there was more than breakfast on his mind.
The Grey Griffin Inn stood two storeys tall around a stone courtyard, making a wall on three sides. Its upper storey overhung the yard so there was a walkway underneath. Its wooden pillars held up white plaster walls, and red tiles covered the slanted rooftop. At the centre of the courtyard, a stone fountain stood, dry and partially overgrown with moss. Jake could not remember if the fountain had ever run at all. On the far side of the courtyard, two wooden doors stood partially open, and though the air outside was chill, wafts of warm air flowed ceaselessly out into the courtyard.
Jake entered the doors and, passing through the cloakroom, found himself standing in the common-room of the inn. The room was large and filled with many tables and chairs, some partitioned by half-walls or by differences in the height of the floor. A long bar with many stools lay on one side of the room, and off in the corner a few cushioned chairs sat ready to welcome weary guests.
At this time of morning, the common-room was not busy. Only a few patrons sat scattered amongst a handful of tables throughout the room. The inn was quiet and peaceful, and from the kitchen floated smells of bacon, sausage, and fatback cooking, mingled with the permeating smells of coffee and strong cider.
The two old men—who seemed always to be present at the inn—called out to Jake from their usual table in the corner.
“Good morning, young Connolly,” the one man said. “Another day in the aviary, eh?”
“Always.” Jake tried to sound polite.
“She’s in the back,” the other man said with a wink. “She was out here looking for you a second ago, but you just missed her. She was called into the kitchen—something about a pile of dishes. I guess you’ll be lucky to see her at all.”
“She’ll come back,” the first man said. “If she knows he’s here, she’ll come back.”
“Ah, but will she know he’s here?” the other said. “She could be in there for an hour or more, and her mother won’t let her come out if she sees there’s work to be done.”
“Bah!” said the first man. “You’re too old and shrivelled up to remember the burning fire of a young heart. I say she’ll be here, mother notwithstanding, and young Mr Connolly will wait here, I’ll wager, till she comes out—even if it takes until he’s as old as we are.”
Jake’s ears turned red, and the two old men howled with laughter. Jake slipped away from them and took a seat at the bar near the kitchen. He strained his neck to look over the kitchen door, but he could see no sign of anyone, and no one came out to serve him.
Outside in the courtyard, voices grew loud, and a moment later a half-dozen miners entered wearing dirty overalls and carrying their hats in their hands. They were talking amongst themselves very loudly (Jake always suspected that miners were almost deaf), and they sat at a table not far from the kitchen. Jake could not help but overhear them as they spoke to one another.
“But he was a queer-looking man,” one of the miners was saying. “He weren’t like no Regulator I’d ever seen afore. New fellow he must have been, but where he came from, he wouldn’t tell me. He just asked to see the foreman, so I shows him the way. I tried to make talk with him—‘How do you do today, sir?’ and all that—but he never says a blessed word. He only keeps looking round him at everybody we go by, like he was looking for something—or someone, but he wouldn’t say who.
“Nanyan folk are a queer lot. They live so awful long that it don’t do them no good! They get tired of living, I think, and they can’t find nothing better to do than to poke their noses into other people’s business.”
The others asked him many questions, but he did not know any more than he had already said. Jake listened, not thinking very much of it. He rarely understood miners, for he knew little of their work or organization. He knew what Regulators were for sure; one visited him promptly every monthto be sure his business was run legally, but what this mining Regulator was up to, Jake could not guess.
At that moment the kitchen door swung open, and Samantha appeared, her face bright and her eyes sparkling. She walked up to the bar, wiping her hands on her apron.
“Good morning,” she said warmly.
The sight of her and the sound of her voice drove all else from Jake’s mind. “It is indeed,” he said.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here when you came in,” she said and then added quickly, “to serve you, I mean. I’d left the dishes in the sink from last night. I guess I’d forgot about them when you walked me back home yesterday.”
“I hope I didn’t get you in trouble,” Jake said. “I didn’t realize we had been talking so late.”
“Oh, it’s no trouble,” Samantha said. “Besides, I would much rather be out walking with you than cooped up in this place all evening.” She sighed. “I was born here, and I’ve lived here all my life. I reckon I’ll probably die here too.”
Jake shook his head. “Never,” he said. “You’ll leave this town someday. You’ll be up on Telethoram before you know it, and from there, who knows? You might even make it to Earth.” He gave her a wink.
Samantha smiled shyly. “That’s too much for me to imagine,” she said. “I’ve dreamt of Earth—walking its green fields, breathing its fragrant air, seeing all the stars in their primeval shapes. But I can’t let myself hope for things so impossible. Telethoram is good enough for me. Have you ever been up there?”
“Once,” Jake said, “but that was a long time ago.” The memory suddenly stabbed him. “My parents, they…they took me there. They wanted me to see it.” His voice died away, and he turned his head.
“Oh.” Samantha turned red and nervously wiped the counter with a cloth. “I didn’t mean to…I mean, I didn’t think about…I mean, your parents and all…”
Jake turned back to her and attempted a smile. “It’s all right,” he said, “but I do miss them terribly.”
“I didn’t mean to bring it up,” Samantha said. “I can’t imagine…Well, I…I’m just making it worse.” She turned away, and by the shaking of her shoulders Jake could tell she was crying.
He reached out and grabbed her arm gently. “Please don’t worry about it,” he said. “I don’t mind talking about them—at least not as much as I used to—and you don’t need to feel bad about anything. You’ve done nothing wrong.”
Samantha still faced away from him. “If you say so,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. Suddenly she straightened up. She took a deep breath and turned back around, wiping her eyes with the cloth in her hand. “Well,” she said weakly, “this is embarrassing. I don’t usually cry in front of customers.”
“Then I’ll consider myself special,” Jake said with a grin. “So special I just might get to take someone to the festival tomorrow.”
A twinkle came into Samantha’s eyes. “Maybe,” she said with a shy smile. “Is she a special girl?”
“She’s dear to me, yes,” Jake said.
“Well then, why don’t you ask her?” Samantha put her elbows on the bar, leaning over so that she stared straight into Jake’s eyes.
The look on her face caught Jake off guard, and his mind went blank. He fumbled for a moment as he tried to speak. “Well, I…” he said. “I…just might do that. Do you think she’d say yes?”
“Well what if—”
Samantha interrupted with a giggle. “Oh, just ask me already!”
“Very well, then.” Jake cleared his throat, and in a tone that jested at chivalry, he said, “Would you please permit me to accompany you to the festival?”
Samantha met the jest with a curtsy. “With pleasure, sir.” She looked up, smiling broadly. The noise of the room seemed to fade away to a great distance, and Jake felt a great feeling of contentment wash over him.
Samantha suddenly glanced over to a nearby clock and frowned. “It’s getting late,” she said. “I must go, or I shall fall behind in my work.”
“Well you’ve already delayed my breakfast,” Jake teased.
Samantha scowled at him but could not suppress a giggle. “The usual then, sir?” she said with an exaggerated bow.
“Certainly, miss,” Jake said, “and don’t be all day about it.”
“No promises,” she said, and she stuck her tongue out at him before disappearing into the kitchen.
The table of miners nearby erupted in taunts and snickers, and Jake flashed them a fierce look—or as fierce as he could muster. He was much too happy to be cross, and his most threatening face was surely far from intimidating.
Breakfast came—scrambled eggs, sausages, fried potatoes, beans, and toast. Jake ate slowly as he watched Samantha go about her morning routine serving the hungry crowds. Most were miners coming off work, and soon the room was filled with noisy talk. Jake stayed until he could no longer bear the noise and crowding. He paid for the meal, bade Samantha a good morning, and left. Compared to the growing chaos inside, the courtyard was peaceful and quiet.
As Jake walked up the lane towards the main road, he heard a voice calling out his name. He turned and found to his dismay that Lawrence Appleton, the town magistrate, was walking towards him. Appleton was only a few years older than Jake—rather young for a magistrate, for he had inherited the position from his late father. His eyes and hair were dark, and the corner of his mouth seemed always upturned in a menacing smirk. He wore a bright-red suit, as was the custom for magistrates in Eratzira.
“Mr Connolly,” Appleton said. “I’ve been looking for you, but you weren’t at home.”
“Well, what’s the matter?”
“There’s a new Regulator in town,” Appleton said with an air both of pride and contempt.
Jake rolled his eyes. “Yes, I’ve heard,” he said and kept walking. “Something about the mines, I guess.”
“About the mines?” Appleton said with a chuckle. “You don’t understand. He’s going all over town asking about you.”
“About me?” said Jake. “Whatever for?”
“He wouldn’t say,” Appleton replied. “He just wanted to know where you lived and worked.”
“And what did you tell him?”
“Well, what could I tell him? I had to tell him the truth. I suspect he may be up later to talk with you. I can’t imagine what you’ve done to deserve such special attention.”
Jake smiled a fake smile. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” he said. “It won’t be the first time a Regulator has darkened my door.”
“Then I’m sure you have nothing to worry about,” Appleton said smugly. “Good day, Mr Connolly. I hope everything goes well for you.”
Jake bade Appleton farewell and walked back through town towards his home, muttering under his breath as he walked. Appleton had spoiled an otherwise good mood.
Jake quickened his pace when he reached the bottom of the hill upon which his tower stood. The sun was climbing in the sky, and it was time for him to open up shop.
Jake had an old print-out machine that was wired into the relay system that ran throughout the valley. Throughout the day the office of the High Magistrate in hCathad would send requests for the delivery of legal documents. For these dispatches, Jake would encode a key onto a metal band that he would attach to the foot of a vèralam. This key would identify the bird to the magistrate’s office when picking up the document, and a further key (given by the magistrate) would identify the bird to the recipient—usually another magistrate’s office on another world. This system worked flawlessly, for vèralamen are difficult to capture, and the keys prevented forgery.
This was the majority of Jake’s work.
Requests of a more personal nature would be brought to the tower in person. Messages of this kind were most often reserved for special occasions—births and weddings in far off places, the milestone birthday of a great-great-grandparent, a letter to a lover far away—anything that needed something more significant than a weak transmission beamed between the stars.
Jake sometimes found himself feeling guilty in his labours, for there was little for him to do except send the birds on their way. He took care of them for his part, but the vèralamen ably cared for themselves, finding food and shelter of their own accord. But he enjoyed his work, and as he made a good living, he did not complain.
As Jake walked up the lane to his own front door, Faluin swooped down from an unseen height and perched on the fence that lined the road. In a single motion, he shook himself from head to foot, ruffling his brown and white feathers. Then he turned and addressed Jake in Nanyan. “Successful exploits, sir?” he asked. “Was she pleased with your outing yesterday?”
“She seemed to be,” Jake said, smiling. “Anything to report here?”
“All is quiet,” Faluin said. “Faldan and I flew around the planet this morning. All is at peace.”
“You didn’t happen to see a strange Nanyan man in Brown Hill, did you?” Jake asked. “An Overseerperhaps?”
“I did not, sir,” Faluin said. “Shall I go looking for him now?”
“No, that’s not necessary.”
“Is it not important?”
“Very well,” Faluin said. “Shall we go up, then?”
Jake nodded and raised his arm, and Faluin perched upon it. Jake brought him into the house and set him on a perch near the open window. The first floor of the tower was mostly given to a garage whose outer door faced the hill behind. Inside Jake kept a flyerthat had belonged to his father. Jake used it occasionally, taking it out to be sure it was kept in good working order. Faluin would often fly alongside and guide Jake over the mountains and back home again.
The remainder of the first floor was taken up by a small kitchen and a round table shoved in a corner with a few chairs. Opposite these stood an iron stove and a sink with a pump that drew water from an ancient well deep underground. Jake had asked the city leaders of hCathad to let him connect to the waterline in Brown Hill, but his request was never met with any sense of urgency. So he pumped water day after day, heating it on the stove for bathing and cooking, but he seldom drank it, preferring to go down to Brown Hill, where the water was cleaner.
From the window above the sink, Jake could look over the pasturelands that spread out as far as he could see. Beyond the fields, almost at the edge of sight, marched a line of trees, and behind them stood the distant towers of hCathad that rose in spires of grey and blue. Now and then Jake would observe a starship descending over the city to the far side of the valley, where there were many moorings for starships. Jake had visited the docks only once a long time ago, for his business rarely brought him there.
Turning from the window, Jake crossed the kitchen to the stairway that curved behind a stone wall up into the tower. Slowly he climbed the narrow stair, taking a torchwith him so he could find his footing. On the second storey, he passed a large wooden door on thick metal hinges. Cobwebs and dust filled the cracks between the door and the stones in which it was set. It had not been opened for many years, for the room beyond had belonged to his parents. After they had died, he had not had the heart to enter it, and he had never thought of moving into it himself though it was an enormous room, as he remembered it. He suspected that in the ancient days, it had belonged to whoever had commanded the tower.
Floor after floor he climbed, passing many other rooms long shut up or sealed. On the floor just below the uppermost, he stopped at a small wooden door not quite tall enough for him to walk through standing upright. He ducked inside, and as he entered, a few roaches scattered away from the light. The room was dark, for though there was a window in the far wall, it faced away from the rising sun. Beneath it lay a bed covered in rumpled sheets and blankets, and it was here that he slept. Besides the bed, the room also held a small table, an old trunk, and a wardrobe with creaky hinges. Jake had always wanted to replace it, but he could not think of how to remove it. It was much too large to fit through the door, and he sometimes wondered how it had been brought upstairs in the first place.
Jake took a black leather book from the table beside the bed and left the room again. He continued up the stairs until on the topmost floor he came to a landing that opened into a large room of plain stone. A few pillars of stone and metal held up the ceiling, and at the far end of the room stood a wooden door that opened upon a small storage space. Four windows opened in the walls of the room, evenly spaced to match the four directions of the compass. Upon the floor and along the walls were many tree branches and stone columns where two dozen birds of all kinds and colours sat—some sleeping, some preening, and some talking to one another.
A harrier sitting on a wooden perch near the stairs turned as Jake entered. “Good morning, sir,” he said. “Did you sleep well?”
“Fairly,” Jake said. “Has Dinarin returned yet?”
“No, sir,” the harrier said. “But Thesanumon is far away indeed. I don’t think even Faluin could have made the trip in so little time.”
At that moment Faluin swooped through the window and landed on a wooden beam that had fallen and now lay at an angle near one of the windows.
“Where could I not have gone?” he asked.
“Your pardon,” the harrier said, bowing low. “I meant no disrespect.”
“Are you speaking of Dinarin’s journey to Thesanumon?”
“We are,” said the harrier.
“Then I concur with you,” said Faluin. “It is a long journey. We must await him a while longer.”
“That’s not very good news,” Jake said. “The woman who sent the message did not pay enough for him to be gone this long. I must remember to raise prices in future.”
Suddenly one of the eagles let out a cry, and a murmur arose from the other birds. Jake turned to the window and started, for there on the window-ledge sat a large bird unlike any Jake had ever seen. At first sight he appeared owl-like, but as Jake looked at him more closely, he appeared like a large falcon, keen and fierce, with a look of malice that unnerved Jake so that he backed away at once. Faluin jumped to a stone pillar near the window, placing himself between Jake and the newcomer.
“Hello,” Jake said as cordially as he could manage.
The bird gave no answer.
“My name is Jake Connolly.”
The bird remained silent and as still as a statue.
“Who is your master?” Jake said. “Do you have a message for someone?”
The bird paused a moment longer and then took in his beak a scrap of paper that had been attached to his foot. Slowly Jake reached out his hand to receive it. Faluin watched closely, ready to intervene if something went amiss. The bird dropped his message into Jake’s palm, and before Jake had even begun to unroll it, the bird turned and leapt through the open window, soaring away at great speed. Jake ran to the window, but the bird had already vanished from sight.
Confused, Jake opened the paper scroll, and upon it he read these words handwritten in plain English:
Jake Connolly, you are in danger.
Excerpted from "Postdiluvian: The Ancient Chronicle (Postdiluvian: The Tale of the Atsari) (Volume 1)" by J D Wise. Copyright © 2017 by J D Wise. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.