Barrett looked down at his toes, just below the surface of the crystalline stream. His back was up against an aggressive willow, crowding the bank and leaving just enough room for someone to sit between the trunk of the massive tree and the grassy lip of the streambed.
For the briefest of moments, Barrett considered looking around, to see if he was being observed. But this notion passed quickly - a remnant of the days before he had learned to cloak his actions in acceptable, if deceptive meaning.
His mind played over his ostensible justification for lounging by the stream. No, he was not idling. He was observing the refraction of the water, and considering the wave pattern made by the flow of the stream past his submerged ankle. In no case was he simply contemplating the slivers of pure white light that glanced painfully from the surface of the water. In no case was he lost in reverie.
But he would not need these excuses. He was left to himself in the crook of land through which the stream played. He could hear occasional voices, calling across the fields, and an intermittent pulsing from the mill, just downstream, but apart from these welcome but disassociated sounds, Barrett was on his own.
And he preferred this feeling of isolation, given his circumstances. He had thought through his adolescence enough to know that there was no kindred spirit for him to share his musings, at least in this village. There were others he could debate with, talk with, or learn with, but it was an effort for Barrett to filter the ideas that wanted expression. He was still struggling to maintain the mask of detachment that had served him so well for many years. He had once thought that molding his mind would be a simple thing, like setting an arc into a piece of lumber; simply stretch your mind around some structure, infuse it with desire, and wait until the mind takes on the cast of the structure. Slowly the stress should release.
But he found that his mind did not work like this. Every time he released himself from the bonds of his detachment, he would spring back to the unnatural condition in which he was born.
After his first attempts at releasing the mental constriction, he knew enough to keep this testing to himself. The last few years of farm-school had been difficult, as he was well marked from the years before he learned to control himself. But he was so successful in adopting his proscribed behavior, that now most of the village of Grangier had forgotten his earlier defects.
Except for four people, and they were the worst possible choices if Barrett was to have selected his own tormentors. The first two were his parents, who had been first to recognize the strange sentimentality in Barrett, and were still suspicious that this trait might resurface, ruining what might have been an excellent eldest son. But Barrett was strong enough to fully conceal his malady in front of his parents. Only their constant presence caused him strain.
The other two were worse than his parents were. Both of them had known Barrett all his life, and neither had accepted his “conversion” as real. The first, the most insightful and devious child of the village, was Barrett’s true nemesis. When Barrett stole off to gaze at his toes in the stream, it was the image of Calvin’s face that prompted him to recite the defenses in his mind. Cal was always peering at him, seeking some crack in his armor, urging distrust in his companions, and recalling Barrett’s strange behavior. Cal was a year younger than Barrett, but already well regarded in the village. It was agreed by all that he would someday join the Court of Nature as an eminent member.
For all the Cal’s overt threats, the last of Barrett’s torturers was more insidious. While Cal sought for cracks in Barrett’s armor, Lydia was already inside, pulling the strings of Barrett’s heart with a tormenting indifference. Barrett had longed for this girl since adolescence awakened such desires, but he could not have chosen anyone more devastating to his self. Where Cal suspected that Barrett was concealing his true nature, Lydia knew that he was. She did not prod him publicly, nor reveal his secret to the village, but her eyes told him that she knew; that she knew he was not worthy of her, that she understood deeply how lost he was, and that she would never award the treasure of herself to an individual so deeply flawed.
Still, Barrett could not avoid her glance, and could not suppress his belief that he loved her. He recited to himself the many reasons that she was a poor choice for his affections, but in fact, he was betrayed by the reality that she was, in fact, a logical match. Her family was well established, as was Barrett’s. She was the eldest daughter, and he was the first son. Their families were on good terms, both holding large farms with plenty of land to parcel off a corner for the couple. Neither had expressed a desire to leave their village, and of unions such as this were often born natural leaders and responsible citizens. Their heights were proportionate to the averages, and they were both attractive, intelligent youths.
At seventeen years, Barrett was approaching six feet in height, and had light brown hair, deeply tanned skin, and blue-gray eyes that were unusual, but typical of his family, and thus, respected. His forehead was relatively high, and he was square-jawed with an even nose that slightly offset his brooding gaze. His body was muscular, and this, in combination with the telltale signs of an intelligent forehead and detached bearing, added to the perception of him as a “well-rounded man,” being both physically and mentally sound.
Lydia was fair-skinned, with light blond hair and soft features that belied the power of her blue eyes. She was just on the edge of being a caricature of the “good-breeding stock” woman, with large breasts and exaggerated hips, but her height (just a half-hand less than Barrett) cast these features in proportion and made her the pride of her family. As a couple, she and Barrett represented the best extension of their families, which were among the best of the village.
In fact, both of their families encouraged a friendship between Barrett and Lydia, so they were often forced together. He taking a bitter pleasure in their company, and Lydia remaining expressionless except for those penetrating eyes that seemed to say: “If it happens, Barrett, I will tell them, because I cannot marry one such as you.”
Barrett’s confused longing was thus coupled with his own eventual destruction, for not only would Lydia’s confession of Barrett’s secret terminate any chance of a union, it would end any respect the village might have for him personally, and damage the respect for his family. There would be only one course of action left to his parents and brothers: expel him from the farm.
Barrett cast a last, long look at his tanned feet, submerged in the stream, but the consideration of his possible fate was motivating him out of his complacency. He pushed up against the grass below him and rose with his back to the willow. Bending down to pick up his walking stick and pack, he turned and made his way back through the brush, toward the road.
The hill overlooking Grangier had always delighted him. Detouring from the deeply-rutted dirt road to climb the hill could be seen as something of a folly, but Barrett had told his parents that it was for the climbing, which surpassed the aerobic benefits of running or walking. Thus armored, Barrett could enjoy the panorama.
The village of Grangier sat in a protected dale, with verdant hills rolling up into the mountains. Behind him, the land leveled out into the tracts of rich farmland that gave the village its prosperity, but before him, beyond the whitewashed walls of the village, the hills piled upon each other until they became the vast range of mountains that continued, unbroken, from the frigid north to the frozen south. The contrast between the village and the mountains always amazed Barrett. This cluster of orderly homes and shops, centered around the village common with its solid rotunda, pasted into the sweeping grandeur of the colossal peaks.
It seemed unlikely that Grangier would have ever been born in such a place, stacked against the side of mountains that bred wicked thunderstorms in summer and deep snow in winter. But the village was ideally situated. The dale kept out most of the winds, which couldn’t be said of the exposed farmlands, and the hills that surrounded the village imposed an additional sense of isolation from the prison camp nearby, which had the misfortune of being mounted higher in the foothills, bringing an additional punishment to the convicts therein.
Indeed, Grangier wanted to push away the reality of the camp, while benefiting greatly from the largesse of its existence. The rich output of the farms found a ready market in the camp, and the tools and goods that flowed through Grangier on their way to the camp enriched the local wagoneers, merchants, hostels, and traders. Grangier had added a third mill only twenty years before, as the prison camp had demanded yet further flour.
The convicts themselves were rarely seen, which was a blessing. When they were seen, it was a boon yet again, for as part of their labors, the prisoners carted the broken rock from the Tunnel across the hills and into the fields, where they assembled the fractured mass into long, elaborate fences. Grangier was, in this, unlike any other village, for the cheap labor provided endless acres of impervious stone divisions, surmounted at regular intervals by well-built stiles.
All of this pleased Barrett’s eyes: the interminable fences, topographically defining the slight curves of the rich farmland (just now at the peak of its growth), the neat, ordered village sitting arrogantly in the dale, and the forested foothills rising tumultuously up into the snow-capped peaks. With a well-guarded sigh, Barrett began his descent from the hill, back toward the road. He needed to be at his family’s townhouse before the summer sun dropped below the hill he stood upon.
As he trudged back toward the road, he reflected further on Grangier’s unlikely prosperity. Barrett had always been an excellent student of history, that being his one great passion in world-school, but try as he might, he couldn’t make sense of the prison camp and the Tunnel.
Barrett’s defect did not usually manifest itself in his understanding of the reasons behind actions or policies. He was adept at mathematics, mechanically apt, and well-schooled in agriculture, horticulture, animal breeding, and militia strategy. But something about the historical arguments for the Tunnel didn’t sit right, though it seemed to bother no-one else.
According to the histories, the Tunnel was begun at the end of the Age of Restlessness, that long period when the men of the land abandoned reason and sought to breech either the endless sea or the pathless mountains. The conclusion of this long, futile struggle marked the beginning of the Age of Reason, and the Tunnel was often cited as the defining event in the final decimation of irrational culture. The Court of Nature had finally reached the conclusion that criminal behavior would never be eliminated. The great scientists argued that crime is inherently an irrational activity, as it benefits neither the criminal nor society. Given that crime is irrational, the criminal must be irrational as well. In the past, crime had been treated by punishment: public hanging, imprisonment, labor contracts, or other justified social responses. But, the scientists argued, was this not applying a rational measure to an irrational man? What use was seeking to teach a criminal the error of their ways, when that error was committed because the criminal was unteachable? Would they not have learned rational behavior were they capable? So what was the point of applying such measures to punish those incapable of understanding their punishment?
With great and noble restraint, the Court of Nature concluded that the punishment of the past must be done away with. Instead, they decided, the criminals must be separated from society for the safety of society, and yet must be given some purpose that would suit their irrationality. Some great thinker, his mind cast back on the recent activity of the vain (and clearly irrational) explorers, hit upon the idea of the Tunnel.
If (they argued), the irrational want to behave in an irrational activity, this was manifested best by the recent attempt to breach the mountains. As had been conclusively shown in recent geological studies, the mountains were truly endless, extending from their edge in the east of the land, all the way to the opposing shore of the endless sea. Thus, attempting to breach what was unbreachable was the most irrational of activities. Yet, this might very well be the cure for the criminal. Thus, it was decided, all criminals of the land would be gathered in one camp, in the foothills of the east, and set to work constructing a tunnel under the mountains.
This decision was greeted with admiration by the country and the King. The camp was constructed only months after the Court of Nature made its proclamation, and work was begun immediately. The villages, cities, and towns of the land reveled in this ultimate expression of criminal behavior, and the Tunnel became a great object lesson for children to be taught: first comes idle thought, then comes envy, hatred, love and jealousy, and finally, at the peak of it all, comes the Tunnel.
But for Grangier, the Tunnel brought not only The Great Lesson, but prosperity as well. Over the centuries, the supply of criminals never seemed to lessen, and feeding the convicts took more and more effort. Thus, Grangier grew and grew, and became richer and richer. As the convicts continued their pointless boring into the earth, Grangier grew softer and stronger simultaneously, exchanging its sweat for coin, and its coin for education. Grangier was represented to a disproportionate degree in the Council of Nature, with a full twenty Councilmen from a village of only three thousand individuals.
The initial promise of the Tunnel had been buoyed up further by a discovery of a lode of iron shortly into the Tunnel’s construction. Iron was precious, and almost entirely hoarded by the King and his Councils, and the discovery of the deposits seemed to proclaim the wisdom of the Tunnel. But the deposits played out within a month of mining, and further boring into the mountain yielded nothing but hard stone. The mountains were once more unyielding and taunting, yielding only little of the treasure of the earth. In the end, the land had to take solace in The Great Lesson, and forget the glimmering hope of metal.
Barrett was divided on his respect for The Great Lesson, and the strange concept of a rational society appointing an irrational behavior as a reasoned approach to teaching rationality to the irrational. He put his musing away as he approached the first houses of the village.
Grangier was evenly divided along two central, intersecting streets. The first road (the road Barrett now walked) ran west to east, through the town. The Northroad ran north/south, intersecting the Westroad in the center of town, where the roads widened out to form the village common, punctuated by a fieldstone rotunda at the center of the cobbled square. The square was dominated on the southern side by the King’s House, which contained the administrator’s offices where the mayor, the militia leaders, and the communication functionaries did their daily work. The eastern side of the square was the row of schools: farm-school, village-school, and world-school. The opposing, western side of the square was a row of shops, and the final, northern side of the square was a mix of inns and taverns. Originally, many of the shops, inns, and taverns had been residences. But as Grangier grew, its citizens left the square and moved further out into the town. There was a rough division by wealth into three quarters of the city, while the fourth quarter (the northwest) was dominated by craftsmen and the farmer’s markets.
All of the buildings were roughly uniform, with plastered walls, whitewashed, and roofs of gray slate. Most every house had a small yard or court, wherein fruit trees were grown, although this was mostly for the education of the young, as orchards made up the bulk of the fruit supply.
Barrett’s family’s townhouse was located on the first cross street behind the King’s House, a district of moderate wealth. Barrett approached the great door of the house with a mixture of relief and regret, and pushed the tab on the ceramic handle to swing the door open.
The foyer was silent, but he could hear the sounds of the house muted beyond the foyer doors. To the left, he saw the dining room with dishes set and prepared. He noted twelve places at the table, which indicated that there would be guests for dinner. The inside of the house was as uniform as the outside. The interior walls were plastered to a smooth finish, and punctuated only by the single paned windows and the regularly spaced oil lamps.
To Barrett’s left, the winter room sat quiet, its high-backed chairs empty, and its library full and undisturbed. This was where he would normally find his father and whatever brothers were home at the time. Knowing that they were probably busy in the kitchen propelled Barrett through the foyer doors and into the remainder of the ground floor of the house.
The sound of a full kitchen greeted him as he passed the stairs and made his way toward the back of the house. He placed his walking stick and satchel on the hooks under the stairs, and entered the greatroom.
Barrett’s father, mother, brothers and sisters were in full attendance, which implied that only the overseers were at the farm. Barrett tried to jog his memory for the reason for this evening’s feast, but he was mortified to find that he had forgotten there was a feast at all.
“Barrett!” his mother said, as he came through the swinging doors, “you’re late. Set to the sauce, quickly! You’re far behind!” Barrett’s mother Leda was a thin, graying woman whose slight frame belied her labors in producing seven children.
“You must learn to be more punctual.” Barrett’s father, Bartle Greenfield stated calmly from the corner of the kitchen, where he carefully sliced mottled green pears into paper-thin wafers. Bartle Greenfield’s voice resonated out of his massive frame. Well over six feet tall and barrel-chested, Bartle Greenfield shared Barrett’s complexion and eyes, but Barrett would never equal his impressive build.
With a will Barrett nodded and set to the row of saucepans with speed and efficiency. Keeping his mind fixed entirely on his duties, he mixed crushed berries with flour and sugar, pinched salt and pepper and lard into various pans, hurried each to the stove top and stirred in proper order. When he had finally arranged the various sauces, and he was busy only thickening them, he turned around to investigate more fully the scope of this dinner.
It was a rare occasion for his entire family to be together. His older sisters, Rose, Iris, and Clara, were married, each with children. They had left their children with their husbands for the evening, and now joined Barrett, Archer, Dell, and Dale so that the complete family was present, with the exception of Barrett’s grandparents, cousins, nieces and nephews.
Rose and Iris were working together stuffing a chicken. The two oldest sisters were constant companions, even now that they were each married. Rose had wed a village man named Dane Cooper, who was actually a cooper by trade, a rare thing in this town where ancient surnames seldom applied anymore to one’s trade. Iris had likewise married a townsman. Her husband, Tyre Breeder kept one of the inns on the village common, which had always been known as “Breeder’s Quarters,” arousing general amusement among the farm-school boys on the opposite side of the square. The two sisters lived in townhouses next door to one another, and their children played and learned together in their adjoining yards.
Clara was near her older sisters, mashing potatoes with a mallet. She smiled over at Barrett when she saw his gaze fall upon her. Of all of his family, Clara was most like Barrett. There had been something of a scandal when she had married her husband not in the village commons, as was customary, but at the prison camp under the officiation of the prison warden. Leda and Bartle Greenfield had objected to Clara’s choice in husbands: a small farm owner named Glen Tailor. For a while, Leda had refused to speak to Clara, citing her wild and frivolous behavior. When Clara had named her daughter after Leda, however, tensions eased. Leda declared that Clara had shown proper and expected behavior in seeking to perpetuate the Greenfield influence on her future family, and that whatever her past mistakes might have been, this gesture was evidence that there was no symptomatic problem with Clara. Still, her husband was rarely seen at the Greenfield townhouse.
Clara’s departure to marriage had been something of a loss for Barrett, for while he never discussed his strange malady with his sister, he always felt that she understood the pressures he was under.
Barrett finished the sauces, leaving them to cool and set in their lading bowls. He glanced up upon finishing and saw his father standing in the doorway.
“Barrett, we’ve just time to finish Dell and Dale’s lessons. Come along.” With that, Bartle pushed his huge frame through the kitchen door. Barrett followed him to the winter room.