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Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard
Chapter One: A Death Detoured
A Novel by Lawrence M. Schoen
(Published by Tor Books, December 29, 2015)
RÜSUL traveled to meet his death. The current had carried him away from his
home island as if it understood his purpose. He lost sight of the archipelago
before dusk, as much a function of the falling rain as the southerly wind that
pushed him onward. In the days since, the sun had risen and set unseen, a
slightly brighter spot that eased itself across the overcast sky. Nor had it
cleared at night to permit a glimpse of the heavens. The clouds changed color
as the rain ebbed and flowed, and the wind drove him across the water of its
own accord toward an unvisited destination. Rüsul didn't care. He had no need
to hurry. He could feel the increasing proximity in his bones and that was
enough. More than enough. An aged Fant on a raft alone and at sea, the wind
filling his makeshift sail and carrying him toward the last bit of land he
would ever stand upon. His father and mother had each left in the same manner,
and their parents before them. That's how it had been, going back generation
upon generation to the very founding of Barsk.
He'd felt it coming on all season. His every perception called out to him,
less clairaudience than common sense. It was part of the way of things. One
felt the change in pressure that signaled the nearness of a lull in a storm.
One smelled the sweetness of tevketl long before the berries actually ripened
so as not to miss their brief span for picking. And one knew when it was time
to die. Rüsul could no more fail to recognize his coming death than he could
be surprised by a pause in the rain or sour berries.
The certainty came to him one morning. He'd never been the type to awaken
easily, always struggling to cross that daily border between slumber and the
responsibilities of the wide awake world. But that day he had opened his eyes
and known. Death had announced itself, named a time and place, and left him
instantly alert. Rüsul had risen and gone about his day with a wistful smile,
a bit sad that his time was ending but also relieved to know for sure. That
knowledge signaled the start of the final rite of passage for every Fant.
His assistant had seen the change in him at the workshop that day,
acknowledging it with a simple question. "You know?"
Rüsul had smiled. "I do. The last lesson I need to learn. No sadness from
you, Yeft. It's long overdue. Besides, I know you've wanted my tools since
the day you ended your apprenticeship."