Must-have short story collection by Garth Nix
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July 31, 2006
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Excerpt from Across the Wall by Garth Nix
FROM THE LIGHTHOUSE
everyone gathered at the wharf when the gold-hulled ice cruiser docked. Not because they'd been told to, though some people thought there had been some sort of instruction, or invitation. It was simply curiosity.
The Kranu hunters had met the yacht some five relgues offshore and, finding the Kranu refusing to rise through the hot holes and the day dull, had formed up around it as an escort. The villagers, seeing the hunters skating in two lines on either side of a great vessel with sun-colored sails, had naturally come to see the hunters' prize.
Marcus Kilman saw it quite differently. From the poop of the Mercurial Gadfly he waved left-handed, in the manner of a ruler to newfound vassals. His right hand crept finger by finger between the buttons of his crisp white suit. In his gold-heeled boots he was five foot one, and thanks to a nightly exercise with lead sinkers his earlobes were almost pendulous enough to be handsome.
When the Mercurial Gadfly finished tying up at the wharf that poked out of the island's Summer Field into the ice, the crew paraded on the foredeck, the ex-Senatorial Navy bosun plying his whistle in what Kilman believed to be a salute, but was actually the opening bars of the theme from the comic opera The Great Kranu from the Deep. As always, the crew smirked solemnly, laughter submerged in hacking coughs. Kilman frequently had his Bonesman check them for lung rot or throat curse. He was afraid of any kind of infection, physical or intellectual. The Bonesman never found either sort aboard Kilman's ship.
Kilman descended from the poop, reappearing at the gang-way. The waiting crowd of islanders, silent out of politeness rather than awe, pleased him immensely. Respect! At last he had found somewhere untainted by egalitarian ideals. He would be king, and they would be his peasantry.
"People of Lisden!" he declaimed, his voice breaking pitch like a badly blown trumpet. "I am Marcus Kilman, and I have purchased this island. I am your new owner."
The islanders greeted this disclosure with equanimity. Kilman had allocated ten seconds for rapturous applause but resumed speaking after only six seconds of embarrassing silence.
"People of Lisden! I will bring you a new era of peace and prosperity, lower taxes, and good government."
This provoked a reaction of sorts. A murmur ran through the audience like a water spider skidding from lily to lily or, in this case, from each mainland speaker in the crowd. Lisden already had peace; as much prosperity as they could handle without having greed; taxes were nonexistent, as the Kranu cooperative provided all services from its profits (if any); and the only government was the board of the cooperative, which included every adult islander. Theoretically, there was a main-land government department that looked after their affairs, and the Humble and Obedient Senate of the People beyond that, but both had lost the Lisden file years ago, and consequently denied the island's existence.
Kilman saw this reaction as suppressed joy at the good news, and was about to launch into further grandiose announcements when a woman stepped out of the crowd and onto the gangplank. She was much younger than Kilman -but the sort of woman who could be anywhere between sixteen and thirty and very striking in looks and stature. She was at least six foot two, and looked taller in her plain black dress, with a long silver scarf draped over one shoulder like an arrow, emphasizing her height.