by Gordon Saunders
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Overview of the Verduran Pentology
The adventures of Joshua, Marie, Amanda, and Steven that began in A Light through the Cave, continue a couple of earth-years later in this, the second book of the Verduran Pentology, The Lord Steward and the Servant King. This adventure starts very close to the place where their first adventure began, but it’s deeper and darker than that one. This time, they face another purely Verduran enemy, in addition to all the Verdurans he has duped.
A Light through the Cave is the first book of the Verduran Pentology. In 1836, in Barren County, Kentucky, the adventures of four teenaged kids – Joshua, Marie, Amanda, and Steven (who is a slave) – start in a wooden hotel by Mammoth Cave.
In Book 3, The Boatwright, we learn about Steven’s father, Sabal, and the events leading up to the earlier adventures.
In Book 4, The Founding of Denispri, Joshua and Marie return to a Verdura whose timeframe is millennia earlier than that of their first adventure. There they meet Verdura’s first citizens and discover how Verdura came to have the geography, flora, fauna, and ecosystem they experienced in their first adventure.
Book 5, The Kingdom of Light, brings Joshua and his young wife, child, and Chinese nanny, into a Verdura that is fighting and fading into its cataclysmic apocalypse – into a new way of being that none of the characters could ever have imagined.
Here are a couple of excerpts to give you a feel for The Lord Steward and the Servant King.
From Chapter 8: Sea Journey
The storm didn’t break until after dark, but the sea was mountainous before the water fell from above. This time there were no caves in which to hide from the drops like green mud, as big as turnips. Steven had taken off the top half of the mast and braced one of the small poles crosswise near its top, as the Verduran boats had been rigged. The sail was folded over the second small pole, which was secured by lines to the wooden pins that had been provided.
Steven decided, as much as possible, to run before the wind no matter what direction it took. He needed the sail in order to maneuver up and over the waves lest they swamp the little boat or capsize it. But he feared the sail would break apart. When the rain began, however, he felt the sail, and found that the green goo seemed to glue it together.
After the first few tentative drops, the rain began to come down in earnest, and Steven could do nothing but bail with the small crockery eating utensils. The water coming into the boat began to get ahead of Steven, but he didn’t worry because he knew the storm would not last long. At least it hadn’t before. But what if the sea were different? He hadn’t the energy to consider the thought much, though, engaged as he was.
He soon realized, however, that he had another problem. Instead of going up and over the waves, as unnerving as that had been at first, he was sliding sideways down them. The sail was not collecting the wind. As the water sloshed around his legs where he knelt in the stern, he slowly tied the tiller to make the boat go straight.
Then, taking his two bailing utensils, he struggled forward over Rhodoc and the tied gear, to check the sail. That the lines he had tied to the poles and pins were in place, he could tell by feeling as he worked his way along. But when he reached for the sail, it was gone. A thick green slime had settled along the lines at the edges, and the lines themselves were beginning to dissolve.
“No wonder they none o’ this stuff on the groun’,” Steven muttered. “When it rain, all the ol’ stuff gits et up by the rain!”
He bailed a bit more, while musing at the trick Verdura was playing on him. Nothing made from a plant here could survive the rain.
“Rhodoc!” Steven gasped.
He scrambled to the middle seat of the tossing, skittering boat, and felt the ropes around Rhodoc and the gear. They were thinner, more slippery than they had been.
Rhodoc thought back to Steven, Have a care for yourself, soft-one. The water will not harm me.
“May not,” said Steven feeling frantically around for the small coil of original rope he had left somewhere. “But you be lost over in the sea, who ever fin’ you agin?”
The water level in the boat rose, from the green, sticky, incessant, rain, and now water sloshed over the side as Steven began to lash the two mast poles around Rhodoc under the middle seat. He had finished one, when there was a sudden yaw. The old lines gave way, and everything slid to port, capsizing the boat.
Steven was under water momentarily, but somehow managed to retain his grip on the seat. When he raised his head above the surface he bumped it on something, and realized that he was underneath the boat. At least here the rain didn’t keep splattering him. But he knew he couldn’t stay there, so he let himself down, still holding the seat, and found his way up by the side.
He hadn’t thought much about being cold before, because it had been quite warm and the rain had not been particularly cold. But this water was cold. Steven knew he would have to right the boat and get in it, or slowly freeze. He let go of the seat and leaped for the centerboard. It wasn’t there. Either it had slid back into its slot or it was lost, but he couldn’t pull on that to right the boat. The wind raged and the rain pelted, the sea slapped and the cold beckoned. He knew he was being remarkably calm. Then the bottom of the boat began to become slippery with the rainy slime.
“Rhodoc,” Steven gasped, “what we gonna do?”
He swam under the boat and tried to overturn it by hanging from one side underwater. But as soon as he let go and tried to push farther, it righted itself, upside down still. After trying futilely to right the boat that way twice, he scratched and kicked his way to the top of the hull.
Then, without warning, something struck the boat violently. Steven was knocked off into the water. He scrabbled up again. He watched what seemed to be a log drift off through the faintly phosphorescent sea.
How he managed to hold on through the night, Steven didn’t know. But a gray-green morning came, though the storm did not abate. When they reached the crest of a wave, Steven looked around them and saw only the same mountains and valleys of water, in every direction merging with the clouds. The rain was no longer so slimy, though its volume did not let up. He thought he could hold on a little more easily.
But it continued through that day, and that night. Steven feared he would fall asleep from exhaustion and fall off. Once again he dove under and tried to right the boat. He had it sideways in the water when a sudden wave washed over him. Blinded and choking, he lost his grip.
He got his head above the water and got breath and sight back only to see the boat rising end over end some distance away, while everything that had been tied down including Rhodoc, broke loose from under the seat.
“Rhodoc,” he gasped, and choked on a mouthful of water, head under again. He couldn’t find the surface. He kicked and flailed, burning inside, thrashing wildly, searching.
Then air, sudden and sweet. Water again, bitter, stinging inside. Air. Air. Air. And the struggle to stay afloat. He closed his eyes and moved his arms and legs. Moving, moving, keeping him up. After a time or all time, the sea was calmer, though he must still fight to stay above it.
Steven opened soggy eyes. The sea was empty of everything but himself. The sea, the cold sea, it beckoned. Everything but his burning lungs was numb. Come to me. Just relax and slide under. Close your eyes, open your mouth, come to me.
“No!” shouted Steven. “No! A thousan’ time, No!”
He raised his fist and shook it at the sea. But the sea did not care. It could wait.
From Chapter 13: Aerial Deliverance
Those first planted berries had been exhausted and Steven had taken over the task of growing them, planting them farther from the spring after soaking handfuls of the green muck. He held Ispri’s Victory (“Vic” for short), as he had named the little animal, on his lap and stroked his smooth fur while the animal crooned and purred and chirruped and groomed itself.
Together they watched the birds flying overhead, and those which had settled to rest on nearby sand-bars. The birds marched, waded, and swam to his sand-bar, apparently coming to the water or pop-berry bushes, but lumbered squawking away when they saw Steven and Vic. Then they stood along the shore, on one of their extraordinarily thick, two-feet high legs, glaring suspiciously with the one eye they always left open.
These birds seemed to be a significantly larger version of the marsavaals, the harvester birds Steven had seen on his previous trip to Verdura.
Wings spanned at least twenty feet on the smallest of them, and the length from their heads down their long necks to their tail-feathers, was eight or nine feet. Their necks seemed much sturdier than those on comparably-shaped birds on earth.
Even closed, the beaks were massive compared with the rest of their heads. But due to what appeared to be an amazing number of folds, when open, the beaks spread downward to almost unbelievable proportions. And their wings were set so far back that Steven wondered how they could keep their balance.
Indeed, when they stalked and stomped about on their log-like legs and thick feet, it often seemed that they would not keep their balance. Steven tried to approach and talk to them, but while they kept their distance from him, for the most part they ignored him. Then he remembered the conversation he and Rhodoc had had about birds when they had first reached the sea, and decided to try to think to them instead.
What had Rhodoc called them? Vague pulses of life, or something like that. Squinting his eyes shut in concentration, with no real expectation of success, Steven began trying to think as if he could put his thoughts into their little minds and receive theirs back. Suddenly his eyes popped open.
Yes! He did feel something! Perhaps it was a vague anger or a question or the need to make a decision whether something was dangerous. This must be what was going on inside their heads. No words, no coherent images, only vague feelings and reactions. But there were too many of them, there was too much going on. He decided he would have to concentrate on just one of them.
He felt a little chirrup, and looked down to the silver-brown bundle of gladness he was petting absently. It was amazing to him how they seemed to understand one another. He guessed that his wordless communication with the Mwlahnni must have prepared him for communication with Vic and for whatever he had been able to do with the birds. He knew he could not reach those birds, however. They were too unlike him, their thoughts worked too differently. But now he sensed that Vic wanted him to let him reach the birds. Steven lifted Vic gently from his lap and set him on the sand.
“Yessuh, then, Vic,” he said. “You go talk to ’em.”
He watched several of the birds, some distance away, do the long, prancing run from the surface of the water that was needed to get them airborne. He shook his head. “Well,” he thought, “even if we does talk to ’em, they never goin’ to git off the groun’ with me on their back.” But they seemed large enough for a man to sit just where the neck joined the torso. And if the man could accomplish the task of getting on, and if they could lift him once he got on, well then…. Steven shook his head.
“I’se jest a-wishin’,” he whispered to no one.
He then saw that Vic had chosen the largest among the birds that had settled on the sandbars, and was weaving in and out between its legs, stopping, occasionally, only long enough to nip a toe lightly. The bird was prancing awkwardly, and if it could have maneuvered its bill down to its feet, one little snap would have made an end of Vic. But it seemed not to be able to maneuver that way.
Then Vic ran away from the bird in Steven’s direction, turned around and stood on its hind legs. It made a series of chitters as if taunting the bird. When the bird, with surprising speed, came after it, it ran behind the seated Steven. Steven quickly arose, wondering what that beak would make of him if the bird cared to open it, and was suddenly eyeball to breast-feathers with the bird. The bird stopped abruptly, but did not back a way. With a peculiar twist of its neck, it glared down at Steven with a baleful eye.
Then Steven, also holding his ground, began softly to speak to the bird, thinking peaceful thoughts to it at the same time. Shortly the bird seemed to forget why it had been aroused. It gave Steven a look of disdain, straightened its neck, and waddled to a berry bush. It leaned down, opening its beak just a fraction, engulfed the bush and pulled it up from the ground. It stood to its full height and, with the roots dangling from its beak, fixed a stare first on Steven and then on Vic. Steven did not quite know how, but he got the strong impression that the bird was saying something like, This could have been You!
Then it went back to where it had been before, beak seeming to move independently of the rest of it, and consumed its prize. After that, the birds ignored Steven and Vic. But Steven did not ignore them. He planted, that evening, more pop-berry bushes than ever before.