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Excerpt
The following is an excerpt from the book Seeker
by William Nicholson
Published by Harcourt; May 2006;$17.00US; 0-15-205768-4
Copyright © 2006 William Nicholson

1
Sunrise

Seeker woke earlier than usual, long before dawn, and lay in the darkness thinking about the day ahead. It was high summer, with less than a week to go before the longest day of the year. In school it was the day of the monthly test.

And it was his sixteenth birthday.

Unable to sleep, he rose and dressed quietly so as not to wake his parents, and went out into the silent street. By the light of the stars, he made his way to the steps that zigzagged up the steep hillside, and began to climb. As he did so he watched the eastern sky, and saw there the first pale silver gleams on the horizon that heralded the coming dawn.

He had decided to watch the sun rise.

At the top of the steps the path flattened out and led into the stone-flagged Nom square. To his right rose the great dark mass of the Nom, the castle-monastery that dominated the island; to his left, the avenue of old stormblasted pine trees that led to the overlook. He knew these trees well; they were his friends. He came to this place often, to be alone and to look out over the boundless ocean to the very farthest edges of the world.

There was a wooden railing at the far end of the avenue, to warn those who walked here to go no further. Beyond the railing the land fell away, at first at a steep slope, and then in a sheer vertical cliff. Hundreds of feet below, past nesting falcons and the circling flight of gulls, the waves broke against dark rocks. This was the most southerly face of the island. From here there was nothing but sea and sky.

Seeker stood by the railing and watched the light trickle into the sky and shivered. The band of gold now glowing on the horizon seemed to promise change: a future in which everything would be different. With this dawn he was sixteen years old, a child no longer. His real life, the life for which he had been waiting so long, was about to begin.

The gold light was now turning red. All across the eastern sky the stars were fading into the light, and the feathery bands of cloud were rimmed with scarlet. Any moment now the sun itself would break the line of the horizon.

How can a new day begin like this, he thought, and nothing change?

Then there it was, a blazing crimson ball bursting the band of sea and sky, hurling beams of brilliance across the water. He looked away, dazzled, and saw the red light on the trunks of the pine trees and on the high stone walls of the Nom. His own hand too, held up before him, was bathed in the rays of the rising sun, familiar but transformed. Moving slowly, he raised both his arms above his head and pointed his forefingers skyward, and touched them together. This was the Nomana salute.

Those who wished to become Noble Warriors entered the Nom at the age of sixteen.

He heard a soft sound behind him. Turning, startled, he saw a figure standing in the avenue. He flushed and lowered his arms. Then he gave a respectful bow of his head, because the watcher was a Noma.

"You're up early."

A woman. Her voice sounded warm and friendly.

"I wanted to see the dawn."

Seeker was embarrassed that she had seen him making the salute to which he was not entitled; but she did not reprimand him. He bowed again, and headed down the avenue, now flooded by the brilliant light of the rising sun. As he passed the Noma, she said, "It's not necessary to be unhappy."

He stopped and turned back to look at her. Like all the Nomana, she wore a badan over her head, which shadowed her face. But he sensed that she was half smiling as she met his gaze.

"I am unhappy."

The Noma went on gazing at him with her gentle smile.

"Who are you?"

He gave his full name, the name his father had chosen for him, the name he hated. "Seeker after Truth."

"Ah, yes. The schoolteacher's son."

His father was the headmaster of the island's only school. He was raising Seeker to be a teacher like him.

"Your life is your own," said the Noma. "If it's not the life you want, only you can change it."

Seeker made his way slowly back to the steps, and down the steps home, his mind filled by the Noma's words. All his life he had done what his father had asked of him. He had always been top of his class, and was now top of the school. He knew his father was proud of him. But he did not want to live his father's life.

Seeker wanted to be a Noble Warrior.

2

The Harvest Time Approaches

The morning sun had just climbed over the mountains, and its bright rays, slanting down the western slopes, washed the plains with golden light. The goats quietly grazing on the high pastureland cast elongated shadows on the dew-damp grass. The lanky goatboy felt the warmth of the sun on his back, and raised his stick high above his head, and his shadow reached all the way down to the glittering bends of the river far below. A road ran alongside the river, and on it he could make out a convoy of bullock carts, tiny as a child's toys but perfectly clear. There were three carts, each drawn by a pair of bullocks, crawling slowly westward. He could hear the clop of the hooves and the creak of the wheels in the clear air. Then a barge came into view alongside them, gliding down the river in the lazy breeze, its sails drooping, and he could hear the voices of the bargees calling out morning greetings to the carters. The goatboy moved his stick to make its distant shadow tickle the barge's sail. It was a game he played each morning, for these few minutes in which the angle of the light was just right. Soon the sun would be too high in the sky, and it would be too hot for games. Then he would find the shade of an umbrella pine, and like as not the goats would join him there.

"Come along, old lady. Shuffle along."

One of his goats was lame in a hind leg and lagged behind the others. She always looked round at him when he spoke, and seemed to understand his words. He passed the long summer days alone, and liked to hear a voice from time to time, even if it was only his own.

Then came another voice, which the goats could not hear.

Goatboy!

He dropped his stick at once and sank to his knees. He touched his forehead to the ground.

"Here I am, mistress."

We have need of your eyes.

"Command me, mistress."

He trembled as he knelt, hearing the beloved voice within his head, and already anticipating his reward.

Stand, and look steadily on the land below you.

The goatboy stood, still trembling, and gazed out over the plains. He felt the soft buzzing in his head that always came at such times. The first time it had frightened him: the voice, and the buzzing, and the sensation that something had entered him that he could not control. But he had learned there was nothing to fear. And when it was over, there would come the sweetness.

They are watching.

Through the goatboy's eyes, they see the sunlight shimmering on the land. They see the bright river, with the barge disappearing round the slow bend. They see the bullock carts creeping down the dusty road. Deep underground the silent walls tremble with pictures from far away.

They are old, all of them. So old that when they speak, their lips do not move, and the sound of their words barely shivers the damp air.

"There, there. The city by the lake."

They gaze intently, greedily, on the distant glitter of golden roofs that hug the shore of the great lake. The city of Radiance.

"The people are ruled by priests. They will believe what they are told to believe."

"There are many? We need many."

"There are many. They will give us what we need."

The voices follow each other after long silences. Time has no value here, in the darkness and quiet of the deep caves.

"Better for a few to live forever young than for all to die."

"Forever young!"

The words are repeated by ancient throats, passing softly from mouth to mouth like a prayer.

"Forever young!" 

It is their dream, their passion, the only hope that keeps them alive. It has been their life's work and the life's work of those who went before them. Preserved here, deep underground, barely moving, safe from extremes of heat and cold, they live on, their mighty brains working more slowly now, but getting nearer, nearer. They can smell it now, these withered creatures whose nostrils have known no fresh sensation for decades; they can smell the coming of new life.

They call it the harvest.

Now their old eyes track slowly over the shimmering scene before them, following the broad river as it runs down to the sea. There, where the river meets the sea, is an island: little more than a rock in the river's mouth. This is Anacrea, the home of the Nomana, who are also called the Noble Warriors.

"And what of the Nomana?"

Only the Nomana stand in their way. Only the Noble Warriors have the power to resist their will.

"The Nomana will be destroyed."

"Ah!" The soft exhalations breathe out approval.

"A weapon will be built at our command. This weapon will destroy the island of Anacrea. And when Anacrea is gone, the power of the Nomana will be at an end."

"Ah!"

"Then the harvest will begin."

"Soon, came the answering murmurs. "Soon, soon. Let it come soon."

"It will be soon. The harvest time approaches."

On the mountain pasture, the goatboy felt the buzzing cease inside his head and knew it was over.

"Am I deserving, mistress?" he asked.

You are deserving.

Then the sweetness came upon him. He slipped down to the ground and lay there, sprawling and abandoned, giving himself up to the hot soak of ecstasy.

Copyright © 2006 William Nicholson