Litany of the Long Sun

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Authors: Gene Wolfe
Tags: Science-Fiction
drove roofing nails. Finding it, he tested its edge (so painstakingly sharpened that very morning) before slipping its handle into his waistband.
    That, he decided after walking up and down and twice pretending to sit, would not do. There was a rusty saw in the palaestra's supply closet; it would be simple to shorten the handle, but the hatchet would be a less useful tool, and a much less serviceable weapon, afterward.
    Stooping again, he found the rope that had prevented his bundle of shingles from sliding off the roof, a thin braided cord of black horsehair, old and pliant but still strong. Laying aside robe and tunic, he wound it about his waist, tied the ends, and slid the handle of the hatchet through several of the coils.
    Dressed again, he emerged once more into the garden, where a vagrant breeze sported with the delectable odor of cooking from the cenoby, reminding him that he ought to be preparing his own supper at this very moment. He shrugged, promising himself a celebratory one when he returned. The tomatoes that had dropped green from his vines were still not ripe, but he would slice them and fry them in a little oil. There was bread, too, he reminded himself, and the hot oil might be poured over it afterward to flavor and soften it. His mouth watered. He would scrape out the grounds he had reused so long, scrub the pot, and brew fresh coffee. Finish with an apple and the last of the cheese. A feast! He wiped his lips on his sleeve, ashamed of his greed.
    After closing and carefully locking the side door of the manteion, he made a wary study of the cenoby windows. It would probably not matter if Maytera Marble or Maytera Mint saw him leave, but Maytera Rose would not hesitate to subject him to a searching cross-examination.
    The rain had ended, there could be no doubt of that; there had been an hour of rain at most, when the farmers needed whole days of it. As he hurried along Sun Street once more, east this time and thus away from the market, Silk studied the sky.
    The thinnest possible threads of gold still shone here and there among scudding clouds, threads snapped already by the rising margin of the ink-black shade. While he watched, the threads winked out; and the skylands, which had hovered behind the long sun like so many ghosts, shone forth in all then- beauty and wonder flashing pools and rolling forests, checkered fields and gleaming cities. Lamp Street brought him to the Orilla, where the lake waters had begun when Viron was young. This crumbling wall half buried in hovels had been a busy quay, these dark and hulking old buildings, warehouses. No doubt there had been salting sheds, too, and rope walks, and many other things; but all such lightly built structures had disappeared before the last Caldé, rotted, tumbled, and at last cannibalized for firewood. The very weeds that had sprouted from their sites had withered, and the cellar of every shiprock ruin left standing was occupied by a tavern. Listening to the angry voices that issued from the one he approached, Silk wondered why anyone went there. What sorts of lives could they be to which fifty or a hundred men and women preferred this? It was a terrifying thought He paused at the head of the stair to puzzle out the drawing chalked on the grimy wall beside it, a fierce bird with outstretched wings. An eagle? Not with those spurs. A gamecock, surely; and the Cock had been one of the places suggested by Maytera Mint, a tavern (so Maytera Marble had said) she recalled Auk's mentioning.
    The steep and broken stairs stank of urine; Silk held his breath as he groped down them, not much helped by the faint yellow radiance from the open door. Stepping to one side just beyond the doorway, he stood with his back to the wall and surveyed the low room. No one appeared to pay the least attention to him.
    It was larger than he had expected, and less furnished. Mismatched deal tables stood here and there, isolated, but surrounded by chairs, stools, and benches

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