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Penguin Modern Classics Edition
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A Brightness Long Ago


A man no longer young in a large room at night. There are lanterns and lamps, torches in brackets, a handsome table, tall, shuttered win­dows, paintings in shadow on the walls. He is not alone. Even so, he finds his mind turning back to when he was, indeed, still young. We all do that. A scent carries us, a voice, a name, a person who reminds us of someone we knew . . .
There are events going forward in this moment, but there is also a delay, a pause in the rush of people coming and going, and the past is closer at night.
He is thinking of a story from when he was learning the world and his place in it. He cannot tell all the tale, and he won’t. We see only glimpses of history, even our own. It is not entirely ours—in memory, in writing it down, in hearing or in reading it. We can reclaim only part of the past. Sometimes it is enough . . .

The sailors say the rain misses the cloud even as it falls through light or dark into the sea. I miss her like that as I fall through my life, through time, the chaos of our time. I dream of her some nights, still, but there is nothing to give weight or value to that, it is only me, and what I want to be true. It is only longing.

I remember that autumn night very well. It would be odd if I didn’t, since it set me on a different path from the one I’d thought I was on. It changed the arc of my days, as Guarino might have put it. I could easily have died. No arc at all, if so. I had images of knives come into my mind for a long time after. The one I carried, the one that had been used before my own.
I owe my life to Morani di Rosso. I light candles to his memory. He was a good man; I think it is fair to say any friend of Guarino’s had to be. Morani was chief steward of the palace in Mylasia. He had accepted me on Guarino’s recommendation. Which is why I was in the palace on the night Uberto the count, also named the Beast, was killed by the girl.
It seems necessary to say that though I was a pupil in Guarino’s school it was not because my father had any rank at all. Guarino, the best man of our time I believe, when invited to open a school at the court in Avegna made it a condition that he be allowed to admit a number of lesser-born children—clever ones, showing signs of promise—to be educated with the sons and some of the daughters of nobility.
I was admitted that way. My father was a tailor in Seressa. I feel no shame in saying that. I know what he was, I know what I was, and am. The cleric in our neighbourhood sanctuary by the great canal was the one who noticed me. I had quickness, he declared, was a well-formed, well-mannered young man, had taken easily to my letters and numbers.
Tailors in Seressa (and elsewhere) do have a little status. They enter the homes and intimate chambers of the great, conversing with them at fittings, learning their needs (not just in clothing), sometimes guiding those needs. Ours is a time when public display matters. Most times are, I suppose.
At our cleric’s urging, my father mentioned me to one of his patrons, a member of the Council of Twelve, then the cleric wrote a letter to that same man, and . . . matters were set in motion. I have a memory of my mother the morning I left—she saved a yellow bird from the cat. She chased the cat away, then turned and hugged me goodbye. I don’t know if she cried; if she did, it was after I had gone.
I spent seven years with Guarino in Avegna. There is a bust of him now in a palace courtyard there, outside the rooms where the school used to be. The school has been closed for years. Guarino is gone, my father (Jad defend his soul) is gone, many of those who mattered in my life are. It happens if you live long enough.
In that school in Avegna I lived through and left my childhood. I learned to write with skill, not merely competence. To speak grace­fully in good company and debate with clarity. To deal with weapons and the new form of accounting. To sing (with less grace, in truth), and to ride and handle horses—which became my joy in life.
I learned to address my betters properly and my equals and infe­riors also properly, and to do so with at least an illusion of ease. I was taught something of the history of Batiara and of events in our own time—though we were spoken to carefully as to that last, because certain things were not said, even at the school. Towards the end, I was helping with the younger students. I was in no great hurry to leave that sheltered place.
Some of us learned to read texts of the Ancients. We learned of Sarantium in the east, the City of Cities, what it had been a thou­sand years ago, what it was now, and how the Asharites, the star-worshippers, threatened it in our time. We heard tales of emperors and charioteers.
Those languages and stories of the past, along with access to Avegna’s palace horses, were a good part of why I stayed with my teacher longer than most. Those things, and loving him.
I had begun to think I might become a bookseller and book­binder at home in Seressa where the trade was growing, but Guarino said I was suited to serve at a court, to use and share what he’d taught me. He regarded that as part of his task, sending men and sometimes women into the world to have an influence, guide others towards a better way to be, during a time when violent men were ruling and warring through Batiara and beyond.
Time enough to make and sell books later, he said—if you decide you want that. But first, take a position where you can give back some of what you have been given here.
He’d written a letter to an old friend, which is how Morani di Rosso and Mylasia came into my life. Morani offered me a position at the court there. The Beast’s court.
We make our own choices sometimes, sometimes they are made for us.
I’ve thought often about what my life might have been had I gone home to Seressa instead and opened or joined in running a bookshop. My cousin Alviso had just started one, alongside one of the smaller canals. But Alviso hadn’t been to the celebrated school in Avegna. He hadn’t had that gift in his life. Opportunities given are responsibilities. They taught us that.
So, I went to Mylasia. There were and there are bad men ruling some of the larger and smaller city-states of Batiara, but I don’t think many would dispute that Uberto of Mylasia was among the very worst in those days.
It was interesting, I suppose it still is, how vicious men can take power and be accepted, supported by those they govern, if they bring with them a measure of peace. If granaries are full and citi­zens fed. If war doesn’t bring starvation to the walls. Uberto was a man who had sealed an enemy in a cask to see if he might observe the soul escaping when his prisoner died.
If men and women are to be killed we want that to happen somewhere else. We are like that, even as we pray. In these years, as hired armies go up and down the hills and river valleys, fighting for a city-state that’s hired them or raiding for themselves, as High Patriarchs war with half the nobility and conspire with the other half, some have seen the conflicts of the great as sweet, seductive chances to expand their own power.
Villages and towns are destroyed by angry, hungry soldiers, then sacked again a year later. Famine comes, and disease with it. In times of hard peril, a leader strong enough—and feared enough—to keep his city safe will be permitted a great deal in terms of viciousness, what he does within his palace.
There was no secret to it. Uberto of Mylasia was well known for what happened in his chambers at night when the mood was upon him. There were stories of youthful bodies carried out through the smaller palace gates in the dark, dead and marred. And good men still served him—making their peace with our god as best they could.
Balancing acts of the soul. Acquiescence happens more than its opposite—a rising up in anger and rejection. There are wolves in the world, inside elegant palaces as well as in the dark woods and the wild.
People sent their daughters away from Mylasia and the nearby farms in those years because Uberto was what he was. When young girls sufficiently appealing were not readily found, he had boys brought to him.
It was known, as I say. We’d heard the tales in Avegna. Some of the others at school, better born than I, had even joked that having women brought to them (no one joked about the boys, it would have been a risky jest) was one of the appealing aspects of power. They didn’t talk—to be fair—about killing them, just the pleasures of a night, or more than one.
Uberto never had anyone brought for more than one night. Most of his guests survived, went home, were even rewarded with coins—given that marriage would be difficult for the girls, after, and the boys were shamed.
Not all left his palace alive, however. Not all of them did.

The first way I might have died that windy autumn night was if Morani had not sent me for wine by way of the servants’ stairs when word came that the girl had arrived.
When someone was brought to the count at night, Morani took the post outside Uberto’s chambers himself. As if he would not burden another soul with what this was. He had done so for years, apparently.
That summer and fall he liked me to stay with him before and after the arrival—but not when the girl or boy came up the stairs. This had happened three times already. That night was the fourth. I do not believe in sacred numbers, I am just telling my story as I remember it.
Outside the count’s rooms Morani and I would converse of the wisdom of the past. I’d recite poetry for him, on request, while behind the door Uberto did what he did. We would hear things sometimes. Morani’s face would be sorrowful, and I thought I saw other things in him, too. Mostly he would keep me talking—about philosophers, precepts of restraint, learned indifference to fortune’s wheel. He’d drink the wine I’d brought up, but never too much.
He couldn’t protect me from knowing what was happening, only from being part of sending someone in. He did have me stay with him after. Perhaps he found it hard to be there alone. Perhaps he thought I needed to learn some of the dark things about the world, alongside the bright ones. In certain ways, I have since thought, that is the condition of Batiara in our time: art and philosophy, and beasts.
Had I been standing beside him when the girl was led up the staircase between torches, had the guards who brought her seen me with him there, I’d have been held equally responsible, without any least doubt, for what ensued.
But they did not see me. Only Morani was there to greet her gently, usher her through the door after searching her, carefully, for any weapon she might have. The guards would have done so down­stairs already, but as the palace’s chief steward, Morani was formally responsible outside that door.
I was there, however. I did see her.
I had come back up with the wine flask already, was standing in the shadows on the back stairs, out of sight of the guards and the girl, but with a view of them. And so I saw who she was.
I didn’t believe she’d have remembered me at all, had I been vis­ible, but I knew her on sight. It hadn’t been so long. And I realized, immediately, that something was wrong.
I did nothing, I said nothing. I let it happen.
Morani di Rosso’s death is on me, you may fairly say. I owed him a great deal, I liked him a great deal. He was a kind man, and had small children, and I recognized the woman and still let things pro­ceed to where they went, which included his execution and dis­memberment in the square not long after.
I have often thought that the world the god has made—in our time, at least—is not generally kind to good men. I do not know what that says about me and my own life.
We accumulate sins and guilt, just by moving through our days, making choices, doing, not doing. His is a death for which I will be judged. There are others.

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Saving Tiberius

Beth Poole smirked as she looked across the table at the man who had just issued one of the most absurd statements she'd ever heard. "Really! You're really asking me to believe just disappeared?" Morgan Watson smiled and nodded to her. He didn't know why he had brought it up. Supper had been excellent, he loved pub grub, plus the conversation had been flowing very easily between them. It had been quite awhile since he had been on a first date and had always followed one rule when on one: never to bring up the subject of his cat, Tiberius. He knew many women enjoyed hearing people talk about their cats but whenever he spoke of his, he ended up telling the entire story. Although true, it sounded so far fetched and unbelievable he felt he came off as just another bullshitter trying to impress a woman. In the past whenever he had brought the subject up on a first date, there never was a second. "Really?" Beth repeated. "It just disappeared and you expect me to believe that ... that your cat cured itself ... completely ... of diabetes!" Why did he have to go and break his rule? He knew he should've never mentioned he had a cat which seemed to have entirely beaten the disease until after maybe a few dates, probably more than a few and certainly not on a first date. Perhaps it was because he had already known her for awhile. He had met Beth in a yoga class he took every Wednesday. Although his buddies kidded him about his weekly classes, he felt he really needed them. Morgan was a fencer and the footwork involved really tightened up his body, especially his hips. Yoga helped open them back up and he felt stretched and loose when class was over. It seemed no matter how many people had shown up for class, Beth always managed to be on the mat beside, in front or behind him. He found her so easy to talk with, so after five weeks of chatting before and after class he finally decided to ask her out. Dinner and drinks for a first date was a natural. She had said yes and they decided to hook up at a downtown craft beer pub after work the next night. She was thirty-two, just a couple of years younger than Morgan, dark blonde hair touched with champagne highlights, exuberant in nature, and her skin-tight yoga outfit did not hide what Morgan considered to be a very nice figure. Morgan had stood up and smiled when he saw her entering the pub. It was the first time he had seen Beth in street clothes. She looked stunning in her dark dress pants and blue top. Now instead of enjoying the evening with her, he found himself on the defensive. "Well, it sure seems that way," Morgan said knowing he had to do his best to explain and make it sound like the truth and not some pile of horseshit. He picked up his beer, took a sip and looked around as if seeking help. "You see, Tiberius has, no sorry, I mean once had diabetes. Again, it's really hard to explain. "I adopted Tiberius from a cat rescue when he was just a little kitten and a year later he developed diabetes. I had to test his blood sugar twice a day and give him a shot every two to three days to keep his glucose levels below ten. Then after about two and a half years his levels seemed to stabilize on their own. It's been three years now since I've given him a shot." "And you're sure he had diabetes to begin with?" "That's what Dr. Everingham, his vet, said. For two and a half years I had to give him insulin and it's not cheap. If I went away for a three day weekend, his glucose levels would shoot through the roof and I would have to give him a shot the moment I got back, the next day and sometimes three days in a row to get it back down to where it should be." "Interesting," Beth said while giving him a look which said she really wasn't sure whether she should buy into his story or not. She changed the subject slightly, "So, why the name 'Tiberius'?" "I'm a bit of a Star Trek fan. If you know the franchise James T. Kirk was the captain. The 'T' in the name was short for Tiberius." Damn! This could be strike two, thought Morgan right after answering. First she hears what she considers a bullshit story and now thinks I'm a full out Trekky. Next she'll be asking me if I live in my parents' basement! Beth looked down at her watch and then back at Morgan. "It's almost eight-thirty. I've got to get going. Remember I told you I had plans at later on tonight?""Yes you did," he answered and managed to stop their server on the way to request the bill. "I'll pay so you can get going. Your get-together is at nine-thirty if I remember right and I don't want to hold you up." "No, we're splitting the bill. Maybe I'll let you pick up the tab next time. Let's talk about it next Wednesday after yoga."Bingo! She wants to go out again. She doesn't think I'm a dick.Morgan walked Beth out to the sidewalk and hailed a cab for her. They said their goodbyes with a hug outside and she gave him a kiss on the cheek before she climbed into the rear seat and sped off into the night. The next day, Friday, when Morgan walked into his third floor Toronto condo after work, Tiberius was there as usual, waiting to greet him. Morgan was always amazed by an animal's internal clock. Every morning, Tiberius seemed to know minutes before the alarm went off it was just about to. He stationed himself in front of Morgan's face accordingly so he would be the first thing Morgan saw when he opened his eyes. When Morgan arrived home from work, he was always sitting in the same spot, staring at the door "Hey Tiberius! How's my boy?" he said bending over to give him a pat. Tiberius never acknowledged the question as he was too busy purring away. After a few pats, Tiberius always flipped over onto his back to get his belly rubbed. Morgan would then scoop him up and walk over to the window so they both could look out. Same routine, every single night after work.

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True Patriots



Claire gave the order. She could feel the gaze of her crew. Would she deliberately kill? She’d been captain for barely two months. Too junior. Not tested. And a woman.

Only minutes earlier, she had watched endless waves pound a small fishing boat, the spray and incessant snow rendering it invisible at times, despite the blazing cone of light from the helicopter above. Off the coast of Nova Scotia, the winter nor’easter that had paralyzed New England with two feet of powder retained enough of its fury to imperil any ocean vessel.

A kilometre away, the CH-149 Cormorant, shaking violently a few wave heights above the turbulent ocean, was trying to keep its searchlight fixed on the ship that bucked between mountains of water.

“It’s the MV Atlantic Mariner. Out of Boston,” the pilot said over the radio.

Claire squeezed the microphone dangling from the ceiling. “Captain O’Brien, do you see anyone on board?”

A moment of white noise and then, “There must be. Will advise.”

The sailor manning the radio on the bridge of the coastal patrol vessel HMCS Kingston, Petty Officer Second Class Sullivan, turned to Claire. “Maritime Command said that the vessel never acknowledged radio contact, ma’am.”
“They never asked for any help.” Lieutenant Wiseman, executive officer and second-in-command, brushed past in the tight space, as Claire sat in the captain’s chair.

“Doesn’t matter, XO.” Something’s not right, Claire thought.

“There’s no transponder signal,” Sullivan said.

“We’re not going anywhere.” My first rescue.

“It must have drifted.”

Wiseman nodded. “And it looks like a lobster boat anyway.”

“Isn’t lobster season here in the spring?” Sullivan kept his gaze on the radio’s lights and buttons.

“Agreed.” Claire leaned forward in thought. “There’s something weird about this. We keep trying.”

“They shouldn’t be out in this storm, ma’am,” said Sullivan. “How could they not have seen it coming?”

O’Brien’s voice crackled on the radio: “No one sighted. Do you want us to continue?”

Claire framed the distressed vessel in her binoculars for a moment, lowered them, then pointed to Wiseman. “Distance to target?”

“Weather’s interfering with radar accuracy.”

“Best guess.”

“Three thousand metres and closing, ma’am.” She noticed a new spike of stress in Wiseman’s voice.

Claire raised her binoculars, flicked some loose strands of hair out of the way, and continued looking at the tiny shaft of light blinking between shifting mounds of black water. My first chance to do something good. She’d wait it out. She grabbed the microphone again and squeezed the button. “O’Brien, this is the Kingston. Hold position. Continue the search. Advise when low on fuel.”

“Acknowledged.” A moment later, the pilot’s voice returned with a new edge. “There’s someone down there.”

Claire saw it, too. A single dark figure emerged from the bridge of the helpless vessel. The helo narrowed the spotlight until the person stood like an actor alone on a stage. The man — he walked like a man even at this distance — took a few steps and held what appeared to be a short pole.

Wiseman turned to her. “Vessel at two degrees starboard, ma’am. Range, one kilometre.” A change in the familiar background rustle told her that the six-person bridge crew had moved into a higher state of readiness.

She saw the fishing boat suddenly spring to life, with running lights bright. The boat swung toward the Kingston, appearing as a small supernova against the black of the frothing sea.

This was not a normal reaction. “XO, report,” she said. Wiseman watched the radar display for a moment. “Target approaching. Ten knots and accelerating.”

Don’t they want to be rescued? “Collision course?”

Wiseman turned to face her. “Roger, ma’am.”

Was the boat deliberately trying to collide with the Kingston? They were supposed to be on a rescue mission. None of the threat simulations during her training at CFB Esquimalt had ever foreseen this situation. She remembered what her instructor had said: When in doubt …

“Sound action stations,” she ordered.

A perceptible pause told her they were wondering if she was serious. Then the XO acknowledged her command. “Roger, ma’am. Sounding action stations.” Most of the crew was older than her thirty-one years, and she wasn’t sure how they would react to a new and untested officer in what might become a crisis.

The looping klaxon blared on the bridge and throughout the ship.

“Ship-to-ship.” She pointed to Sullivan.

“Ready, ma’am.”

She gripped the microphone: “Atlantic Mariner. This is the captain of the HMCS Kingston. We are here to assist you. Acknowledge.”

Only static crackled on the speaker.

“Repeat message every thirty seconds.”

“Aye aye, ma’am.” Sullivan scribbled the message on a small pad.

She didn’t have much discretion as the captain of a coastal patrol vessel. She needed permission from her superiors back in Halifax to use the Bofors 40-mm cannon that could annihilate the boat in one shot. With a long chain of command that went up to the minister of defence, she was unlikely to get it within a day. Until then, she could use the M2 0.50-calibre machine gun mounted to the starboard side of the bridge.

She had a single machine gun to defend the ship.

But was the fishing boat a threat? Its action was strange and unexpected, but she wasn’t sure if it posed a danger or if there was some other, more innocent explanation. Maybe the boat’s crew was merely trying to get closer to aid in their rescue.

Any threat situation had to meet three criteria. First, there was intent. The boat hadn’t threatened anyone. It seemed to ignore the helicopter with the blazing light.
“Let’s see if that ship is deliberately trying to ram us. Steer one three five.”

The helmsman repeated her command and swung the wheel.

She grabbed on to the overhead handle as the ship veered dramatically to the right, still pitched by wave after wave. She watched the fishing boat’s reaction.

“Midships,” she said. The light from the Atlantic Mariner dimmed for a moment, then quickly brightened again.
“Target is following our move, ma’am,” said the petty officer on the bridge, scanning the fishing boat from the bow.
So that’s intent, Claire thought. Or do they just want to get rescued? Why didn’t they acknowledge our hail or the helicopter hovering above them? Her indecision felt familiar: Should she pursue a law degree and satisfy her parents’ ambitions, or join the navy?

Simple. Keep it simple. Stick with the three criteria, she told herself.

The second criterion was proximity.

“Distance?” she called.

“Six hundred metres. Closing at thirty knots,” said the navigator. A quick mental calculation and she estimated that the boat would penetrate the ship’s three-hundredmetre safety perimeter in less than twenty seconds. Then she would consider it a mortal threat.

Seconds to decide.

O’Brien returned on the radio. “There’s something else, Kingston …

She watched the man and saw the pole shift until it pointed directly at the helicopter.

“RPG! RPG!” O’Brien’s voice sounded more angry than scared.
A flash from the ship ahead.

The rocket-propelled grenade ripped past the chopper as it banked sharply to the right, dipped, and accelerated away.
“Confirm RPG,” Claire said into the microphone, suddenly oblivious to the klaxon blaring in the bridge.

Captain O’Brien answered in short bursts over the radio. “RPG. Confirmed. Taking evasive action.” She could see the helicopter veer away from the boat at an extreme angle.

“Did they just fire at the helo?” said Claire to no one in particular, standing in disbelief.

Wiseman looked at the tactical screen in front of him. “They missed, ma’am. The helo is leaving at high speed. Recommend we do the same.”

She hopped back into the captain’s chair and glowered at the XO. The MV Atlantic Mariner now satisfied the third criterion: capability. They had a weapon that was a threat to the ship and her crew. One RPG could do serious damage to the bridge or the engines, or blast a hole below the waterline, potentially sinking the ship.

“Close up, M2,” she ordered. It was the only weapon she could command in the time that she had. You couldn’t stop the boat with the gun, but you could stop her crew. “Target their bridge. Now.”

She stared into the XO’s eyes until he repeated the command.

The sailor hesitated for a second before answering “Aye aye, ma’am” over the commlink. She could feel the gaze of the other crew on the bridge. Their unease about her qualifications as captain weighed on her like a physical force. Too young. Too inexperienced. Too female. She fought her drifting doubts. “Ship-to-ship,” she said to Sullivan.

He flicked a switch on the radio console. “Ready, ma’am.”

She yanked the microphone: “Atlantic Mariner, this is the Canadian warship HMCS Kingston. We are trying to assist you. You have fired on our helicopter without known reason. Do not approach this ship. Stop your engines, cease fire, and acknowledge, or we will fire upon you.”

She stood up again. “Range and speed,” she said with a distinctly more serious tone: one she knew the crew would notice.

“Four hundred metres. Thirty knots.”

She squeezed the mike in her hand. “I say again. Stop your engines and acknowledge or we will fire upon you.”

Only a few seconds before it got too close.

“Three hundred metres.”

The boat had just entered her exclusion zone.

“Any change?”

Wiseman said, “No, ma’am. Collision course. Recommend —”

“M2.” She heard herself gulp over the noise of the bridge. “Open fire.”

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