The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five, p.1Doris Lessing
CANOPUS IN ARGOS: ARCHIVES
ZONES THREE, FOUR
(As narrated by the Chroniclers of Zone Three)
The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five is the second in a series of novels with the overall title ‘Canopus in Argos: Archives’; the first is Shikasta (1979); the third The Sirian Experiments (1981); the fourth The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 (1982); and the fifth The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire (1983).
THE MARRIAGES BETWEEN ZONES THREE, FOUR AND FIVE
About the Author
By the same Author
The Grass is Singing
The Golden Notebook
The Good Terrorist
The Fifth Child
About the Publisher
CANOPUS IN ARGOS: ARCHIVES
THE MARRIAGES BETWEEN ZONES THREE, FOUR AND FIVE
Rumours are the begetters of gossip. Even more are they the begetters of song. We, the Chroniclers and song-makers of our Zone, aver that before the partners in this exemplary marriage were awake to what the new directives meant for both of them, the songs were with us, and were being amplified and developed from one end of Zone Three to the other. And of course this was so in Zone Four.
Great to Small
High to Low
Four into Three
This was a children’s counting game. I was watching them at it from my windows the day after I heard the news. And one of them rushed up to me in the street with a ‘riddle’ he had heard from his parents: If you mate a swan and a gander, who will ride?
What was being said and sung in the camps and barracks of Zone Four we do not choose to record. It is not that we are mealy-mouthed. Rather that every chronicle has its appropriate tone.
I am saying that each despised the other? No, we are not permitted actively to criticize the dispensations of the Providers, but let us say that we in Zone Three did not forget — as the doggerel chanted during those days insisted:
Three comes before Four.
Our ways are peace and plenty.
Their ways — war!
It was days before anything happened.
While this famous marriage was being celebrated in the imaginations of both realms, the two most concerned remained where they were. They did not know what was wanted of them.
No one had expected the marriage. It had not reached even popular speculation. Zones Three and Four were doing very well, with Al·Ith for us, Ben Ata for them. Or so we thought.
Quite apart from the marriage, there were plenty of secondary questions. What could it mean that our Al·Ith was ordered to travel to the territory of Ben Ata, so that the wedding could be accomplished on his land? This was one of the things we asked ourselves.
What, in this context, was a wedding?
What, even, a marriage?
When Al·Ith first heard of the Order, she believed it to be a joke. She and her sister laughed. All of Zone Three heard how they laughed. Then arrived a message that could only be regarded as a rebuke, and people came together in conferences and councils all over the Zone. They sent for us — the Chroniclers and the poets and the song-makers and the Memories. For weeks nothing was talked of but weddings and marriages, and every old tale and ballad that could be dug up was examined for information.
Messengers were even sent to Zone Five, where we believed weddings of a primitive kind did take place. But there was war all along their frontiers with Zone Four and it was not possible to get in.
We wondered, if this marriage was intended to follow ancient patterns, whether Zones Three and Four should join in a festival? But the Zones could not mingle, were inimical by nature. We were not even sure where the frontier was. Our side was not guarded. The inhabitants of Zone Three, straying near the frontier, or approaching it from curiosity as children or young people sometimes did, found themselves afflicted with repugnance, or at the least by an antipathy to foreign airs and atmospheres that showed itself in a cold lethargy, like boredom. It cannot be said that Zone Four had for us the secret attractions and fascinations of the forbidden: the most accurate thing I can say is that we forgot about it.
Ought there perhaps to be two festivals, simultaneously, and each would celebrate that our two lands, so different, could nevertheless mirror something, at least in this way? But what would be the point of that? After all, festivals and celebrations were not exactly pleasures we had to do without.
Should there then be small wedding parties among us, to mark the occasion?
New clothes? Decorations in our public places? Gifts and presents? All these were sanctioned by the old songs and stories.
More time passed. We knew that Al·Ith was low in spirits, and was keeping to her quarters. She had never done this before, had always been available and open to us. The women everywhere were out of temper and despondent.
The children began to suffer.
Then came the first visible and evident manifestation of the new time. Ben Ata sent a message that his men would come to escort her to him. This curtness was exactly what we expected from his Zone. A realm at war did not need the courtesies. Here was proof of the rightness of our reluctance to be brought low by Zone Four.
Al·Ith was resentful, rebellious. She would not go, she announced.
Again there was an Order, and it said, simply, that she must go.
Al·Ith put on her dark blue mourning clothes, since this was the only expression of her inner feelings she felt she still had the latitude to use. She gave out no instructions for a Grief, but that was what was being felt by us all.
Felt confusingly and — we suspected — wrongly. Emotions of this kind are not valued by us. Have not been for so long we have no records of anything different. As individuals we do not expect — it is not expected of us — to weep, wail, suffer. What can happen to any one of us that does not happen at some time to everyone? Sorrow at bereavement, at personal loss, has become formalized, ritualized, in public occasions seen by us all as channels and vehicles for our little personal feelings. It is not that we don’t feel! — but that feelings are meant always to be directed outwards and used to strengthen a general conception of ourselves and our realm. But with this new dispensation of Al·Ith the opposite seemed to be happening.
Never had our Zone known so many tears, accusations, irrational ill-feelings.
Al·Ith had all her children brought to her and when they wept she did not check them.
She insisted that this much must be allowed her without it being considered active rebellion.
There were those — many of us — who were perturbed; many who began to be critical of her.
We could not remember anything like this; and soon we were talking of how long it had been since there had been any kind of Order from the Providers. Of how previous changes of the Need — always referred to by us simply, and without further definition, in this one word — had been received by us. Of why, now, there should be such a reversal. We asked ourselves if we had grown into the habit of seeing ourselves falsely. But how could it be wrong to approve our own harmonies, the wealths and pleasantness of our land? We believed our Zone to be the equal at least of any other for prosperity and absence of discord. Had it then been a fault to be proud of it?
And we saw how long it had been since we had thought at all of what lay beyond our borders. That Zone Three was only one of the realms ad
Al·Ith sat in her rooms and waited.
And then they appeared, a troop of twenty horsemen, in light armour. They carried shields that protected them against our higher finer air which would otherwise have made them ill, and these they had to have. But why head protection, and the famous reflecting singlets of Zone Four that could repel any weapon? Those of us who were near the route chosen by our unwelcome guests stood sullen and critical. We were determined not to give any indications of pleasure. Nor did the horsemen greet us. In silence the troops made their way to the palace, and came to a standstill outside Al·Ith’s windows. They had with them a saddled and bridled horse without a rider. Al·Ith saw them from her windows. There was a long wait. Then she emerged on the long flight of white steps, a sombre figure in her dark robes. She stood silent, observing the soldiers whose appearance in this manner, in her country, could only have the effect of a capture. She allowed plenty of time for them to observe her, her beauty, her strength, the self-sufficiency of her bearing. She then descended the steps slowly, and alone. She went straight to the horse that had been brought for her, looked into his eyes, and put her hand on his cheek. This horse was Yori, who became celebrated from this moment. He was a black horse, and a fine one, but perhaps no more remarkable than the others the soldiers were riding. Having greeted him, she lifted off the heavy saddle. She stood with this in her arms, looking into the faces of the men one after another until at last a soldier saw what it was she wanted. She threw the saddle to him, and his horse shifted its legs to adjust the weight as he caught it. He gave a comical little grimace, glancing at his fellows, while she stood, arms folded, watching them. It was the grimace one offers to a clever child trying something beyond its powers, yet succeeding. This was of course not lost on Al·Ith, and she now showed they had missed her real point, by the slow deliberation with which she removed the bridle and tossed that, too, to a soldier.
Then she shook back her head, so that the black hair that was bound lightly around it cascaded down her back. Our women wear their hair in many ways, but if it is up, in braids or in another fashion, and a woman shakes her hair loose, in a particular manner, then this means grief. But the soldiers had not understood, and were admiring her foolishly; perhaps the gesture had been meant for the onlookers who were by now crowding the little square. Al·Ith’s lips were curling in contempt of the soldiers, and with impatience. I must record here that this kind of arrogance — yes, I have to call it that — was not something we expected from her. When we talked over the incident, it was agreed that Al·Ith’s bitterness over the marriage was perhaps doing her harm.
Standing with loosened hair and burning eyes, she slowly wound a fine black veil around her head and shoulders. Mourning — again. Through the transparent black glowed her eyes. A soldier was fumbling to get down off his horse to lift her on to hers, but she had leapt up before he could reach the ground. She then wheeled and galloped off through the gardens in an easterly direction, towards the borders with Zone Four. The soldiers followed. To those of us watching, it looked as if they were in pursuit.
Outside our city she pulled in her horse and walked it. They followed. The people along the roads greeted her, and stared at the soldiers, and it did not look like a pursuit now, because the soldiers were embarrassed and smiling foolishly, and she was the Al·Ith they had always known.
There is a descent off the high plateau of our central land through passes and gorges, and it was not possible to ride fast, apart from the fact that Al·Ith stopped whenever someone wanted to talk to her. For when she observed this was so, she always pulled up her horse and waited for them to approach her.
Now the grimaces among the soldiers were of a different kind, and they were grumbling, for they had expected to be across their own frontier by nightfall. At last, as another group of her people waved and called to her, and she heard the voices of the soldiers rising behind her, she turned her horse and rode back to them, stopping a few paces before the front line of horsemen, so that they had to rein in quickly.
‘What is your trouble?’ she enquired. ‘Would it not be better if you told me openly, instead of complaining to each other like small children?’
They did not like this, and a small storm of anger rose, which their commander quelled.
‘We have our orders,’ he said.
‘While I am in our country,’ said she, ‘I will behave according to custom.’
She saw they did not understand, and she had to explain. ‘I am in the position I hold because of the will of the people. It is not for me to ride past arrogantly, if they indicate they want to say something.’
Again they looked at each other. The commander’s face showed open impatience.
‘You cannot expect me to overturn our customs for yours in this way,’ she said.
‘We have emergency rations for one light meal,’ he said.
She gave a little incredulous shake of her head, as if she could not believe what she was hearing.
She had not meant it as contempt, but this was what transmitted itself to them. The commander of the horsemen reddened, and blurted out: ‘Any one of us is capable of fasting on a campaign for days at a time if necessary.’
‘I hadn’t asked as much,’ she said gravely, and this time, what they heard was humour. They gratefully laughed, and she was able to give a brief smile, then sighed, and said, ‘I know that you are not here by your own will, but because of the Providers.’
But this, inexplicably to her, they felt as insult and challenge, and their horses shifted and sidled as the emotions of their riders came into them.
She gave a little shrug, and turned and went to the group of young men who stood waiting for her at the road’s edge. Below them now lay a wide plain, behind them were the mountains. The plains still lay yellowed by the evening sun, and the high peaks of the mountains sun-glittered, but where they were it was cold and in dusk. The young men crowded around her horse as they talked, showing no fear or awe, and the watching horsemen’s faces showed a crude disbelief. When a youth put up his hand to pat the horse’s cheek briefly, the men let out, all together, a long breath of condemnation. But they were in doubt, and in conflict. It was not possible for them to despise this great kingdom or the rulers of it: they knew better. Yet what they saw at every moment contradicted their own ideas of what was right.
She held up her hand in farewell to the young men, and the men behind her put their horses forward at this signal which had not been to them. She rode on, before them, until they were all on the level of the plain, and then turned again.
‘I suggest that you make a camp here, with the mountains at your back.’
‘In the first place,’ said the commander, very curt — because he had been annoyed his soldiers had instinctively answered her gesture by starting again, instead of waiting for him — ‘in the first place, I had not thought of stopping at all till we reached the frontier. And in the second …’ But his anger silenced him.
‘I am only making the suggestion,’ she said. ‘It will take nine or ten hours to reach the frontier.’
‘At this pace it will.’
‘At any pace. Most nights a strong wind blows over the plain from the east.’
‘Madam! What do you take these men for? What do you take us for?’
‘I see that you are soldiers,’ said she. ‘But I was thinking of the beasts. They are tired.’
‘They will do as they are ordered. As we do.’
Our Chroniclers and artists have made a great thing of this exchange between Al·Ith and the soldiers. Some of the tales begin at this point. She is erect before them, on her horse, who hangs his head, because of the long difficult ride. She is soothing it with her white hand, which glitters with jewels … but Al·Ith was known for her simple dress, her abse
All kinds of little animals have crept into this picture. Birds hover around her head. A small deer, a great favourite with our children, has stepped on to the dust of the road, and is holding up its nose to the drooping nose of Al·Ith’s horse, to comfort it, or to give it messages from other animals. Often these pictures are titled ‘Al·Ith’s Animals.’ Some tales tell how the soldiers try to catch the birds and the deer, and are rebuked by Al·Ith.
I take the liberty of doubting whether the actual occasion impressed itself so dramatically on the soldiers, or even on Al·Ith. The soldiers wanted to ride on, and get away from this land they did not understand, and which continually discomfited them. The commander did not want to be put into the position of taking her advice, but nor did he want to ride for hours into a cold wind.
Which in fact was already making itself felt.
Al·Ith was more herself now than she had been for many weeks. She was seeing that while she mourned in her rooms, there had been other things she should have done! Duties had been neglected. She remembered that messages had come in to her from all over the country, which she had been too absorbed in her fierce thoughts to respond to.
She was seeing in herself disobedience, and the results of it. This made her, now, more gentle with this troop of barbarians, and its small-boy commander.
‘You did not tell me your name,’ she asked.
He hesitated. Then: ‘It is Jarnti.’
‘You command the king’s horses?’
‘I am commander of all his forces. Under the king.’
‘My apologies.’ She sighed, and they all heard it. They thought it weakness. Throughout these experiences with her, they could not help feeling in themselves the triumph that barbarian natures show when faced with weakness; and the need to cringe and crowd together when facing strength.
The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five by Doris Lessing / Science Fiction / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes