THE MASTER OF PAXWAX
Being book one
of the two-volume work called
But I agreed. This was after all only my second book – what did I know? – and I desperately wanted it to be good… and finished. And if it worked I would have three books.At first I thought, somewhat naively, that all I would have to do was chop the text in half. But that illusion was quickly shattered. Each volume had to have its own integrity; and that meant its own climax and completeness. I found I could use quite a lot of material from the early parts and that I could quarry bits and pieces from the later parts – but substantially I was going to have to re-structure (and that meant re-write) the whole thing. The one constant that stayed with me was the plot, and this became enriched as new characters and events emerged.
Gradually. I came to see the novel in a different way. If originally it was a magic carpet, it now became a series of waves, crashing on the shore, each more violent than the one before it, until finally…. Climax!
My desk became awash with notes, scribbles and sketches. I had to devise a complex system whereby I could make sure that all the ‘waves’ of the plot were moving together and interconnected. Chapter headings became terse directions: “On Thule,” “On Bennett” “On Sanctum,” “On Sable,” “Deep in Elliott’s Pocket.”
At the time I was aware that I was into the hardest artistic work I had ever known. I was stretched to my limit, both in innovation and organization. I learned not to look at page numbers but just to keep going. I often fell asleep at the typewriter. Frequently I could not remember in the morning what I had written the night before. This experience let to my theory that writing on a deep level takes place in a state of mild trance. I discovered that all I had to do was re-read the previous day’s writing, and the novel came back vividly. It was not a problem of memory, merely of access.
This was also a period of great pleasure in my life: working in the theatre, teaching drama, writing a book, gardening, playing with the children. It all flowed together. And suddenly the writing became easy. I reached a turning point in book two: it was after Laurel had been killed and Pawl writes his last poem, before becoming mad and dangerous. I could see the whole work spread out before me – bit like a carpet. It still had to be written, of course; but the story just bounded along. I was also surprised when sudden changes in plot occurred. At one point, two of the characters more or less took over their own destiny. I can remember typing and being astonished as an unlikely couple, Haberjin and Neddelia Proctor, fell in love before my eyes and went off on an adventure of their own. If you want to see this happening, look at Fall of the Families, Chapter 45, On Central. Their conversation was their invention.
My last big creative effort was to write in full The Ballad of John Death Elliott and his Ship the Fare-Thee-Well. (I acknowledge my debt to Eskimo Nell and the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.) I was saddened when the decision was made not to include this in the first edition as the ballad epitomizes the spirit of the entire book – but Grafton did include it in the Paperback edition and all was saved. So. With the two volumes of The Gardener completed, I was free to begin my fourth book, Pioneers.
I have often been asked about names.
Paxwax. According to the OED, the paxwax it is a stout elastic tendon which helps support the head. ie It helps animals (including humans) keep their head up.
A Pawl interrupts a mechanism, as indeed he does.
Most of the other names emerged as I wrote and I am not aware of them having any special (or hidden) significance.
THE MASTER OF PAXWAX
CHAPTER ONE – ON SANCTUM
We will begin on the dead and almost invisible planet called Sanctum.
Sanctum has the face of a dead world. It glimmers a dull and muddy red in the light of its dying sun. It has no bright dawns or blazing sunsets, just a creeping redness followed, hours later, by a creeping darkness. Where once there were seas of tumbling green water, there are now only dusty cracked plateaux. The wide meanderings and bird’s-foot deltas which once marked the passage of great rivers have now almost completely disappeared, choked. High cliffs of rubble and rounded hills are all that remain to show where continents and mountains once stood.
There is no atmosphere on Sanctum. No movement. No life.
Occasionally a meteorite, hurtling in from the blackness, raises a brief incandescent storm. But this quickly subsides leaving a puddle of dull congealing lava and yet another high-rimmed crater to scar the world’s surface. There are many such craters: so many indeed that they link together, like petrified rain drops, patterning the surface of the dead planet.
And if you arrived above Sanctum and looked down on its frigid plains you would say, “How dreary. How dead and uninviting. Nothing can live here.” And you would move on in search of a green and blue world. That of course is part of the great plan, for the psychosphere of Sanctum, as well as its appearance, is tuned to repel the casual visitor.
But as with most things concerning the Inner Circle, appearances are deceptive. If you were to dig under the surface, like a child plunging its hands into the wet sand by the sea shore, you would quickly discover life.
Tunnels lined with blue fluorescent tiles burrow through this world. They dip and loop and join all of Sanctum like a vast vascular system. There are giant echoing chambers which enclose tepid subterranean seas. Pale artificial suns dangle over faded green plains and scraggly forests. Great funnels, quarried from the bedrock of the planet, crawl with life. There are many habitats on Sanctum, for Sanctum is one of the last holds of alien life.
Deep inside the planet, and the focus of many tunnels, is a cavern which stretches from the deepest level of rivers up to the topmost layer of rock. Living here is a silver tree. It juts up from the soft loam around its base and soars upwards while its trunk narrows until it spreads in a wide white canopy. Silver and grey branches support the canopy, which has the greasy appearance of polished ivory or an exposed brain. This tree is the guiding intelligence of Sanctum.
The Tree is an alien among aliens. Its thought radiates out through the planet. It is the organizer, the source of hope and the final arbiter of all the life on Sanctum. The Tree controls the psychosphere.
Just now the Tree is suffused with an inner light. It throbs like an active muscle and sends pulses of light from its base right up to the outer reaches of its canopy. The Tree is transmitting and all the tunnels of Sanctum are alive with its thought. It is inviting the minds of the creatures that live on Sanctum to join with it.
A humble Gerbes, clamped firmly to its rock and enjoying the buffet of a cold salt wind, hears the call and rears and stretches its shiny trunk. A wave slaps the rock and sluices over it while the Gerbes (hereafter called Odin) begins to edge towards the land. He eases himself down and flops on to the wet shingle and toils up the shallow beach. The single basal sucker which anchors Odin to the land thrusts its lip forwards and then drags the domed body along. With a steady peristalsis Odin works his way over the wet rocks and up into a narrow tunnel which leads to one of the main passages. Before entering the bright blue passage, Odin pauses and worms his upper trunk into a black, bell-shaped robe which settles round him. This robe will preserve Odin’s vital moisture. It seems that within the robe Odin has short stunted arms. Fine red tendrils emerge from the sides and take up a pale mask, like a travesty of a human face, and fit it up under the hood of the robe. Thus equipped, Odin glides out into the main thoroughfare and joins the other creatures who are hurrying to obey the Tree’s call.
Far away, many strata above Odin, a Giant Hammer, belly deep in sand and dozing, rears suddenly. Its scaled legs lift it like pistons. It arches its sting over its hammer head and then begins to run, throwing up a cloud of dust and torn clods of earth. As it runs it drums, beating out a tattoo to all its fellows.
In a chamber filled with moss, where long ropes of dripping fibres reach from floor to ceiling, Spiderets tumble and crawl over one another. The senior Spiderets hear the call and stretch their legs and hump their bodies and shinny down to the cave floor. They scurry on hairy legs, jostling for a place.
Strangest of all, a Lyre Beast extracts its tendrils from the fissures of a rock wall and begins to descend. It is like a walking spider’s web, like torn lace at a window. It spreads and dilates as it picks its way through lofty chambers and crawls down into one of the passageways. It is careful not to touch other creatures as its touch is lethal. As it moves it is accompanied by its own thrilling music, like the calling of many flutes.
And there are more. Many, many more.
The focus of all movement is the beehive chamber where the Tree lives. This chamber has been designed and adapted for the specific needs of the aliens. There are cells of clear silica in which a private atmosphere can be maintained, and tier upon tier of seats and platforms.
The creatures that are gathering are the leaders of their species. And all the species gathered on Sanctum have one thing in common: they all have achieved self-awareness, the first requisite of civilization.
The tree emanates an aura of confidence and trust, and most important, of hope.
It is towards this ‘hope’ that Odin toils. He does not want to be late, yet he cannot move quickly. He is scarcely three feet tall, and the Gerbes are slow in everything except their intelligence. The tiles are too smooth for him and offer no easy purchase for the delicate flukes which surround his sucker. He slips and then rears and works patiently on.
Other creatures pass him. A group of humans, head down and wearing a similar black gown, hurry past. These are servants of the Inner Circle.
Odin envies them their speed. A Giant Hammer jumps over him and is gone like an express train. A Hooded Parasol with its petals extended flaps gently by.
Odin knows he will be late. But so be it.
Suddenly there is a shift in the intensity of the Tree’s thought. The meeting is beginning. To Odin, who cannot see but who is sensitive to every slight fluctuation of thought, it is as though a furnace door has been edged open. He protects himself. There is no pain, just an awareness of raw power as the Tree takes charge of the psychosphere and brings all minds to singularity.
An image forms in Odin’s mind. It is the face of a human, yellow eyed and imperious. Odin has seen it before.
With the image come words. The Tree is speaking to their minds..
We will consider Pawl Paxwax who will, we believe, be the saviour of us all.
CHAPTER 2 –
ON LOTUS-AND-ARCADIA: THE PLEASURE WORLDS
All unaware of the interest being taken in him at that very moment on the distant world of Sanctum, Paw! Paxwax stood humped and angry in the palace of his mistress, Laurel Beltane. They were on Lotus-and-Arcadia, the pleasure worlds. She faced him squarely.
They had been arguing for hours in the friendly, serious way of lovers who know that they are broaching new territory and are therefore cautious. But the argument was real nevertheless. Finally Pawl threw his hands in the air.
“For the last time. Will you come with me?”
“No. The Families
“To hell with the Families.”
“Ha.” She stood facing him with her hands on her hips and her bright cheerful face staring up at him. Behind her the lights of Lotus-and-Arcadia were coming alive as the day faded into evening. “The Families would close on us before we could even reach Bennet Homeworld. Don’t be a fool, Pawl. For my sake, for yours, for many sakes we must remain secret until you have talked to your father and won him over.” Pawl laughed at that.
“You don’t win my father over to anything. You get the biggest hammer you can and hit him.”
“Well, whatever. You must speak to him first. Wear him down like water on a rock. We have plenty of time. Why rush? Let him grow to the idea. Let him believe he thought of it.”
“Your family and mine will be the happier for it.”
Pawl knew that in this, as in most things concerning their relationship, Laurel was right. Still he cast about for arguments. “I’m sick of the pretence. I’m sick of creeping round here like a thief …
“So am I.”
“I love you. I want the worlds to know it … and anyway, what if I can’t win my father over? Suppose he says ‘NO’ flatly and forever? What then?”
“We will face that difficulty when we come to it. Just remember, I am of the Beltane Fifty-Sixth. You are of the Fifth Family. My family can be squeezed and pressured in any number of ways. We are very vulnerable. The safety of myself, my father and my brother depends on you. Don’t treat that lightly. Be a realist, Paw!. What do you think the Xerxes sisters would do if they thought you intended to break the Code? Eh? What would they do?”
Pawl spread his hands.
“Well, I’ll tell you. They’d call a special council meeting of the Eleven. They’d try to get sanctions against us.” She paused and drew breath. “And the Wong, Old Man Wong, can you see him saying, ‘Good, good. Go ahead, break the Code. You’re only young once. You’re in love, tra Ia Ia.’ Hell no. He’d spit blood. He’d close the trade routes through his Way Gates just like that.” She snapped her fingers. “Do you remember what he did when that fourteenth daughter of the twenty-seventh brother or whatever she was, tried to run away?”
“No, I don’t re —“
“He sent out one of his pretty little death squads and they cut off her hands and feet.”
“True, True, Pawl. Those are the people we are dealing with. They don’t love you. They don’t like you. They fear the Paxwax. Expect no kindness from them. Don’t even give them an inch. And there’s the Proctors
“No, hear me out. The Proctors are silly, we all know that, but they are the First Family and they control more territory than your family and mine put together. They like nothing more than to wave the rule book. You haven’t a chance against them, Pawl. Alone you are nothing. But with your family behind you, you have a chance. Thank God you are not the first son. Thank God you are not Lapis.” Lapis was Pawl’s eldest brother and next in line in the Paxwax family. “If you were the direct heir … whoosh, we’d have no chance.”
“I’d still love you just as …
“I know. I know. Can’t you see what I’m saying?”
“Are you trying to tell me you don’t love me?”
“Away, silly man. I love you more than I can say.” She spread her dark webbed hands and smiled. “It is because I love you that I am so careful. Our only chance lies in remaining secret. And then. . . well, if your father won’t understand . . . we’ll see what can be done. My family has friends. We know the Shell-Bogdanovich Conspiracy. We could probably arrange something. But I think you would have to renounce the Paxwax.”
“I’ll do it. I’ll do it now.”
“Pawl” She pushed him. Though she was only small Laurel had a strong athletic body, the result of years spent swimming, and Pawl stumbled back, caught his clumsy heels in the carpet and fell down on to a low cushioned couch. Laurel Beltane rocked back on her heels and laughed. “You wait until we are married, Pawl my boy, you’ll get worse than that.”
Pawl scrambled to his feet. His hair had come unpinned and tumbled down over his shoulders. He was red-faced, but his eyes were not angry.
“By all the false gods that live on this god-forsaken shithouse of a planet, I’ve never met anyone as stupidly stubborn as you.”
“Thank you, kind sir,” said Laurel Beltane, lifting her skirts in a provocative mock curtsy.
“Do you realize that if I went outside this minute and hiccoughed, I could have any woman I wanted?”
“Go ahead. See how you like the kind of woman who’ll lie down when a great man hiccoughs. I won’t be there.”
“Huh.” Pawl sat down, and as an afterthought blew her a raspberry. “So, where shall we eat?”
“We’ve already eaten. An hour ago.”
“I’d forgotten. Where shall we go? What shall we do on my last night. Shall we stay at home like a happily married couple?”
“What would you like to do?”
Pawl thought. “What I would like to do,” he said, “is kick a few heads in. I saw one of the Sith brood a while ago. You remember, at that party where we pretended we were only distant friends. Yes, well, he was looking at you and rubbing his hands up and down his horns and then he said something to one of his friends and they both started laughing. I almost picked a fight then.”
“I’m glad you didn’t.”
“No, it would have been silly, wouldn’t it?” He stood up and crossed to one of the windows and looked out at the kaleidoscopic night sky. From the distance came the sounds of laughter and loud music. Small lights danced in the air as private chairs, lifted by anti-gravity cells, darted about. The night was frantic with activity. “If I never see this place again it will be too soon. I only stay here because of you.”
“Of course. It gives us cover … and freedom.”
“So what shall we do?”
“Let’s go to bed.”
And being sensible and very much in love, that was just what they did. They tried to forget their troubles in passion and for a while succeeded.
But then in the early hours Pawl found himself awake. He listened to Laurel snoring softly and eased his arm out from under her without waking her. He brought the lights up to dimness so that he could look at her.
She slept like a child, with her lips moving, as in her dreams she mended the day. Magnificent sleeping woman. She was so beautiful that it made him hurt inside.
He was about to wake her, but didn’t. Instead he reached across to the table near the bed and took hold of a scuffed old notebook and a stub of pencil that was attached to it by a string. With his knees up in bed he began to write.
This had become a habit with him.
Pawl Paxwax was different from the other children of the Great Families in many ways, but his writing was the strangest deviation of all. Literacy was not greatly admired and there were some among the Great Families who could do little more than scrawl their names: scribes were always available for more complex recording. But Pawl wrote for pleasure.
He did not understand it. He had discovered, almost by accident, that he could write bitter little satires which he directed against his real or imagined enemies. He gained more enemies than friends. But then he met Laurel and his bitterness drained away. Now, if he wrote at all, it was to try and find ways of expressing his love. It was all very simple to him, but he never managed to say what he meant.
Dissatisfied, he pushed the book aside and stretched out. His mind wandered over the day and into the future. Tomorrow he would visit Mako, some dreary little planet at the arse end of the Paxwax Empire, and thence back to Homeworld to visit his father. Whichever way he looked at it, the future was not attractive. What was wrong with life? Why did good things never get anywhere?
He became aware that Laurel was quiet and lying very still. He reached out a hand and touched her and she responded immediately. “Can’t you sleep either?” she said.
“I suppose so.” He lay quiet feeling her breathe beside him. “I mean, why is everything so hard? I keep asking myself I keep wondering what has happened to us? I mean us of the Great Families. Why do we have a Code ?
“To keep your power together.”
“Yes, but isn’t it silly now?”
“It is what is. It is what will be for long after you and I are dust in the bottom of the sea.”
“I doubt that. I have a sick feeling inside me. I think that we who are the children of the Families are as strange in spirit as we are in body.”
Laurel had heard Pawl talk this way before in the quiet hours of the morning.
“Hush,” she said and reached up and placed one of her fingers on his lips. But Pawl was not to be stopped.
“No, let me talk. Don’t you wonder sometimes when you see the Proctors . . . I mean, I saw one the other day. He’d set his mane in curlers and I swear that if his lower teeth grow any more they’ll pierce his skull.” Laurel giggled. “And the Shell-Bogdanovich can’t leave the water for more than a few minutes at a stretch. And look at me …”
“We weren’t always like this you know. There was a time when we were sturdy as beggars.”
“Beggars aren’t sturdy.”
“But you know what I mean. I think we are rotting inside. Reverting. But still we live and breathe and breed.”
Laurel did understand, for though she had a fine animal energy, outwardly she was piebald with delicate webbing between her fingers and toes. She tried not to think about it.
She wanted to quiet Pawl for she could see where this line of thought was leading him. Pawl had violence trapped inside him. He possessed a brooding anger with few outlets for it. When once set on a mood…
“Well, some things we can’t change,” she said. “We must accept the reality that’s given to us and hope for happiness.”
“Yes,” he sighed. “Yes.” She felt him relax under her hands. “Even so…”
A bell rang softly in their chamber, reminding them that there were only a few hours before Pawl was due to depart.
“I hope you’ll write something for me when you are gone.”
“Try and stop me. Hey, I scribbled this for you.” Pawl reached down and sat up again, holding the battered notebook. He peeled through the pages and then found the page he wanted and tore it out.
Laurel was used to this. She had often woken up in the night to find him hunched over his book, chewing his pencil and grimacing as he tried out words. It gave him release, she knew. Sometimes he never even made it to bed and she found him in the morning, snoring at the table. Sometimes he wrote with desperation, and once he had told her that the only thing with substance was words. She had not understood that. But in her mind she likened Pawl to a man who runs along a deserted beach until he drops, exhausted, on his knees in the waves, purged. She loved him for that.
Here are the words she read as the daylight brightened outside the windows.
I do not fear the darkness,
Or the shadow of a bat’s wing
Across a full moon.
I do not fear the stranger,
Or the creature that dogs me and will
Beckon me soon.
I do not fear the journey,
Or the sad time that stretches from noon
To flickering noon.
But that veil behind the eyes,
The pause before the smile,
The emptiness that once was
Drum full of loving,
When just to be near
That I fear.
She read. And when she had finished reading she kissed him. “Is the journey the visit to see your father?”
“Well, don’t worry about the rest of it, Pawl. You’ll never lose me. To get rid of me you’ll have to kick me out.”
She smiled. More than Pawl she had sounded the depth of their love. She knew her own feelings, but she also knew that the heart of man is unfaithful. Laurel was above all a realist.
Over breakfast they discussed their plans. For at least the fifth time Laurel made Pawl check that the vivante cube they had made was safe. This was the cube which they hoped would help persuade Pawl’s father that marriage with the Beltane family was not such a foolish idea.
“It is safe. Now don’t worry. I’ll talk to him straight. I won’t lose my temper and I’ll show him the cube. And when he has listened to me I’ll get him to contact Lapis. I’m sure Lapis will help us.”
“You don’t think so.”
“I don’t know. I wish we’d heard from him.”
“Ha. Don’t worry about Lapis. The day he starts to act like anyone else is the day the worlds end.”
“Lapis won’t let us down.”
“What about Pental?”
Pental was Pawl’s second eldest brother.
“I’ve told you before. Pental is with the Inner Circle. We haven’t heard from him in years.”
“Even so. Blood is thicker…”
“Not where the Inner Circle is concerned. Forget Pental. We’ll manage without him. We’ll probably find that the Inner Circle are our greatest enemies. The less they know the better. They uphold the Code even more than the Proctors.”
They faced one another silently over their breakfast. Neither had eaten much.
“I don’t know what to say,” said Laurel finally.
“Say nothing. Keep calm. Hold fast.”
The bell which had rung in the night and which had rung at regular intervals since then, now began to sound loudly and urgently. Pawl was already late.
If he wanted to reach Mako in time for the festivities he would have to leave now.
“Away Pawl. Good luck. Take care. Contact me as soon as you have any news.”
One kiss and he was gone.
Lotus-and-Arcadia, tawdry and drab in the morning light and as friendly as a drunk with a hangover, was just waking up as Pawl flew out to the shuttle port.
He checked in and the Way Guardian took his prints and enquired in its polite formal way, “Going away, Pawl Paxwax?”
“Family business on Mako.”
“Will you be returning to Lotus-and-Arcadia
“Soon, I hope,” said Pawl.
CHAPTER 3 – ON SANCTUM
On Sanctum the creatures that led the Inner Circle studied the proud features of Pawl Paxwax. They did not know him and could scarcely understand the passions that drove him, though love is a universal engine.
What they did understand was that he was a rebel.
They encouraged rebellion wherever they found it, but in subtle and indirect ways.
There was more than that, however.
From the moment of his birth, sensitives on Sanctum, groping their way to understand the future, had predicted that when the man with yellow eyes woke up then all the Families would fall. Like many predictions, this one sounded grand and apocalyptic. The seasoned minds of Sanctum treated it with caution. They had had their hopes raised before. They kept their eyes on the ground.
But the Tree seemed to take a special interest in Pawl, and that gave some room for hope.
The Inner Circle watched Pawl. They knew about Laurel. They knew about his verses and his fights. He was certainly an interesting man, a different man. Whether he would be their saviour was a different matter.