Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Weaving as Wide as the World

Adjusting the tension of the wishbone springs usually tried Tomo's patience, but this morning the tedious chore was a welcome chance to focus his thoughts on something other than the events of yesterday. Recollections of the Panthearch's unannounced visit, his many questions, disturbed his peace of mind. He had not slept well, and was awake for an early start. Sollo's light was beginning to gleam through the woven door screen, though the god's lash had not yet begun to bite.

The wishbones were three-armed levers of bright aluminum shaped like the flattened outline of their namesake, strung like counting-disks along two long horizontal brass rods that ran the width of the loom. The rods served as the wishbones' center pivot. There were three hundred sixty-six wishbones all told. That included the two idlers, one on the left end of the front rod and one on the right end of the rear one, that bore no heddles but were linked to their counterparts at the opposite ends of each rod by long steel wires, to carry the pattern between one self edge of the weaving and the other.

The two downward-reaching arms of each wishbone ended in eyelets that held the doubled-over ends of thin but resilient steel linkages. These connected the arms of the wishbones, through the holes in the wooden reverser frame, to the heddles proper. The seven hundred twenty wire heddles, running vertically, cradled each warp thread in a smooth hole like a large needle's eye. The heddles lifted or lowered the yarns in turn to write the pattern into the fabric.

Each wishbone was balanced between two springs, running from its upright arm at angles to either side, where they were captured by screws along aluminum rails. These same rails formed part of the guide tracks for the decider. The springs held each wishbone either forward or back, against one stop or the other. If they were not balanced, if the wishbone was bound too tightly or too weakly in either position, the decider would not progress smoothly, forcing Tomo to strain at the batten tree to keep it moving. Worse, a wishbone could set in the wrong position, damaging the pattern of the weave.

Wielding a wood-handled brass socket key, like a master tuning a harp, Tomo worked his way along the front rod, working mostly by feel in the dim light, testing the action of each wishbone, making his adjustments.

What had the Panthearch really wanted? Tomo had expected questions about the waking visions that had entered his life so dramatically the previous autumn. Presters of several of the temples concerned with such things had discussed them with him. Paulo, the local Prester of Tomo's own patron deity Myto, had reassured him that such visions were a recognized part of the shared patterns of humans and gods. Myto was the god of conception and weaving, a duality rooted in realization of pattern into the material, and was thus often associated with visions of the future. Myto's particular duality also (human thought often weaving simple patterns out of complex ones, as Paulo explained it) lent weavers in general a ribald reputation. Any weaver character in a popular comedy was guaranteed to be a philanderer.

Tomo's visions always came during his weaving. His sight and his attention would lose focus on the shed and turn inward even as his limbs continued to throw the shuttle and work the loom. Such visions were rare but not that rare, an accepted part of the patterns of life. Tomo's visions were often clearer and more meaningful than most, usually concerning events in the near future, a few days hence. He had foreseen storms and the arrivals of ships, visions which he had kept to himself until the traders' house had offered him rewards for revealing them. In his most recent vision, Tomo had seen a tableau of feral dogs licking at a beehive in the Market Street well house. The meaning was clear: Tristitia, the pattern associated with the dogs, and Acquisitio, suggested by the bees, together meant sickness. The acolytes of Agemo, the god of healing and tinkering, had taken warning, and closed and cleansed the well. A few cases of bowel sickness had already begun in that area, proving Tomo's warning a true vision, but thanks to the measures taken, the disease had not spread widely.

But the Panthearch had asked only a few cursory questions about that or Tomo's other visions. Instead, he seemed most interested in Tomo's work. He was eager to examine the patterns of the four completed rolls of fabric, each a few meters long and a day's work, awaiting their weekly delivery to the clothiers a few avenues up. Two were bold patterns of different colored stripes running horizontally, vertically, and diagonally, where the diagonal stripes that veered off the right edge reappeared at the left. One was a repeating pattern of staggered irregularly-shaped blocks, similar to what could be achieved easily on a treadle loom with eight or ten frames, except that the whole pattern drifted gradually to the right along the length. The fourth was the pattern Tomo's favorite clothier client called Rainwater, woven on this piece with minimal contrast, darker green on green. That pattern formed an irregular background of a rough nearly stone-like texture, coalescing here and there into darker and lighter triangles, all oriented the same but of different sizes and seemingly scattered across the cloth at random.

"These designs," the Panthearch had said, "are impossible. For a conventional loom, I mean. They are quite striking."

Did the Panthearch wish to buy? Tomo had answered cautiously, "Those pieces are spoken for, Your Grace, but I can make another by tomorrow. Or I could ask if any of my clients are willing to wait…"

But the Panthearch had wanted only to know how Tomo had made them. Though the loom was only half threaded at the time, Tomo had showed him the principle of its working by making passes of the decider without throwing the shuttle, showing how the shed changed as the wishbones toggled, and how different settings of the decider caused different patterns of change. It was during these demonstrations that the decider had run roughly, needing extra coaxing during some passes to travel the whole span. Though the Panthearch didn't seem to notice that, it embarrassed Tomo to show the ingenious automaton to such a distinguished visitor at less than its best. Hence, the thorough tuning he was giving the device now.

An hour later, the task was finished and Sollo's lash was out, raising sweat from Tomo's bare back. It was a good time to break his fast and rest; in another hour Sollo would have passed farther south, giving the low stone shops of the Weaver's Square a few hour's respite of shade before the full lash of the afternoon arrived. But Tomo's anxiety of the early morning was returning, and he did not wish to leave the loom. The loom was threaded and ready, dark ruby red and a light tan in the warp, uniform across the width except for a narrow band at each edge that was red-on-red. Two colors of weft were ready in two shuttles, one the same tan yarn, and the other white.The red was rich and vibrant, and the white shone. With his work in demand, Tomo could afford to work in the best the fullers and dyers had to offer.

His commission was for cloth for three matched wedding bibs, alternating the symbolic Patterns of Four named Conjunctio and Caput Draconis, in colors that evoked Certia, the goddess of marriage and gravitation. The last steps of preparation were to set the wishbones to their starting configuration, each individual wishbone either forward or back; and finally, to set the four selection levers of the decider to establish the rules by which the pattern begun in the wishbones would change during the weaving.

Something was wrong. Tomo's unease was greater than ever. Had he had unsettling dreams?

Tomo couldn't tell why, but though his body felt eager to weave, he couldn't begin the commissioned pattern. He couldn't settle his thoughts. He couldn't work the loom.

He imagined Prester Paulo reminding him: when troubled, tell your troubles to the Many Gods. He could go speak to Myto at his temple, or…

Otaya weiraun.

So be it, Tomo decided. With a long-handled rod he stabbed erratically at the rows of wishbones, setting some forward and some back, some lifting red and some lifting tan, without order or thought, until about half of them were in each position. He reached up to the decider and pushed at its four levers blindly, again without plan. The settings of those four levers would establish the rules for how the decider would alter the positions of the levers with each pass. That would determine what the fabric would look like.

His mind was already more at ease. He began to weave.

With an untested setting on the decider, the loom was as likely as not to weave floats, warp threads that stayed on the same sides of the fabric for many picks in succession. In such cases, he stilled the decider and used the reverser bar instead on every fourth pick. That device forced down all the heddles that were currently raised, inverting the weave without changing the wishbones' positions. For those inverted picks he used the white shuttle, and for all others he used the tan.

Other than that, he let the decider do its work, as he did his.

At first, the pattern emerging in the weave resembled the chaotic background of Rainwater. Had he selected that pattern, out of all the possibilities, by chance? No; as the weaving went on, it began to change. A repeated background emerged, broken by diagonal bands of different widths and textures, some standing out against the mixed background in red, and others in tan. Most of those shifting patterns flowed from right to left; there was a clear bias in that direction, but some ran against it. Where the diagonal bands met, they changed, sometimes combining and growing, sometimes coming to a mutual end, sometimes splitting again into different diagonals.

For hours Tomo wove, without stopping for food or drink, as pick by pick the pattern developed. Unlike the Rainwater weave, which though it never repeated looked roughly the same from the beginning of a span to the end, this weave changed gradually as the diagonal bands tended to coalesce into fewer and larger ones.

The fabric strove toward meaning. The Patterns of Four, Conjunctio and Amissio and Carcer and all the others, appeared in the smallest groups of stitches, as they always did. But here they ran and repeated and overlapped in every possible direction, forming a web of narrative possibility that was far too dense to follow. There were also larger trends, clearer flows. The evolution of the pattern along the length of a cloth resembled the nature of time. Within that woven span of time, most influences ran right to left; that would be the cause and effect of the material world. Subtler influences, the spiritual powers, were also there in the weave, making their influence felt, left to right. It all interwove and seemed to lead outward to endless possibility until thump! the shuttle was thrown and the shed locked and battened into its place in history as the decider began yet another pass.

Tomo's limbs worked on as the weaving drew in and ensnared his sight, his thoughts, his very self. At its finest scale the background texture spelled Carcer, captivity, over and over. Captured, Tomo saw.


The Presters filed out of the room. They wore the dark blue trousers unique to the clerical class, and jackets of green or yellow, depending on whether their respective gods were currently in their human-pattern aspect or their world-pattern aspect. The men among them were bearded while the women wore fine dangling lip chains in symbolic imitation. 

The five Panthearchs, clean of any beards real or symbolic, remained seated. The room was cool, with thick stone between them and Sollo's lash. The Panthearchs wore jackets of white, which shone under the pale electric lights, to represent their devotion to the Principles of Unity above all individual gods.

When they were alone with one another, one of the Panthearchs, a woman, asked another, a man, "I trust you have good reason for calling a closed meeting, Jono-sul."

"I do, Jana-miin," said the one she spoke to. "I have made further inquiries among the archivists about my visit to Weaver Tomo's workshop, and what I've learned requires immediate action."

"What have you learned?" asked the eldest Panthearch present, from the leftmost seat.  She was gray and stooped, but her voice was clear. "Is this weaver using power?"

"Nothing so foolish, Maria-miin," replied Jono-sul. "The lesson of Potter Summa's wheel six years ago is still fresh. This is something different, and it will require some explanation."

"Proceed, then. Since only I know anything about this, perhaps you should start from the beginning of the matter."

The Panthearch stood to address the others face to face. "Even before the foundries and workshops became as skilled in the mechanical arts as they are now, we have enforced Principles that protect us from bad patterns, from social decay and destructive gods. 'There is material, and there is pattern. The material sustains the pattern, and the pattern reveals the gods.' Otaya weiraun."

"Otaya weiraun," the others intoned.

The Panthearch continued, "I have seen, in the past few years, striking new designs on fabrics coming from the weavers' house. I'm sure you've all noticed the same. Some of that was expected, because a few years ago we permitted certain innovations in loom technology, such as the dobby-head, that allow a weaver to weave more complex patterns at the same speed as simpler ones. 

"But some of the patterns I saw were different. Most weaving patterns, even from a dobby-head loom, repeat themselves, unless the weaver adds continuous variations by hand. Some weavers do that, but such work takes much more time and skill and so is very expensive and rare. Yet I've been seeing many patterns that do not repeat. They are strikingly varied in detail, some with a naturalistic quality like textures of tree bark or waves on the sea. They're currently fashionable among the better-off, especially for window covers, wedding shirts, and temple aprons.

"Some of the patterns looked familiar to me, from research I've done with the archivists which I'll explain shortly. That attracted my curiosity, and also gave me concern.

"It was not difficult to trace the anomalous designs back to the weavers' house they came from. They are all the work of Weaver Tomo, and his unique automaton-like, I could say 'automatic,' loom.

"I visited Weaver Tomo in his shop in the weavers' house several days ago. He is a man in his early thirties, in generally good health. Not surprisingly, because his work is more strenuous than one might imagine, he's lean and strong-limbed. The clothiers and shopkeepers pay a premium for his work, but he's acquired no ostentatious habits. He doesn't wear or display his own work, and except for the loom itself and the high quality of the yarns he stocks, his work room is just like any others in the house. He is dutiful to Myto and makes observances to a few of the more popular gods, including Sollo and Venia.

"Weaver Tomo's loom, like all looms, creates patterns or texture in the cloth by lifting some threads and dropping others for each pass of the weaver's shuttle, so that the vertical or 'warp' threads pass over and under the back-and-forth 'weft' threads. To do that, each warp thread passes through an eye in a vertical cord or bar, called a heddle. Different kinds of looms have different ways of lifting and dropping different combinations of the heddles, also called different 'sheds.' The weaver uses the shuttle to pass the weft thread through each shed in a planned sequence, to accomplish the interweaving."

"You seem to know a lot about the weavers' trade," said Matthio-sul, the youngest and most recently called of the Panthearchs.

"True," Jono-sul answered. "The archivists have always advised me to keep an eye on that trade, because its tools are relatively complex. In past ages, innovations in weaving technology have caused social upheavals. Furthermore, there appears to be a historical connection between weaving and advanced automata, dating back to before the Fell Age, over fifteen centuries ago.

"Now, if I may continue. In Weaver Tomo's loom, the warp threads are in pairs, typically of two different colors. The heddles for each pair are tied to the opposite ends of a lever, with its fulcrum in between them, so that when one is raised the other is lowered.

"Suppose for example those pairs of warp threads are yellow and green. If the green thread is raised, the yellow is lowered behind the weft thread and a spot of green will appear on the fabric. If the yellow thread is the one that's raised, it will be a yellow spot instead. On this loom, a great number of these levers running horizontally at the top of the loom determine the shed. That is, which warp thread pairs will show green and which will show yellow, depending on how they are thrown.

"What moves those levers is a device Tomo calls the 'decider.' After each pass of the weft thread in the fabric, it moves from end to end along all the levers. This happens at the same time he's tightening the previous thread into place, from the pull of the same heavy hinged structure called the batten tree. As the decider moves, it determines how each lever will be thrown for the next row, and then throws them accordingly as it passes by. How the decider resets each lever depends upon the positions of the two closest levers next to it, one on either side.

"There are four different possibilities for the conditions of the two adjacent levers: both forward, both back, the left one forward and the right one back, or the opposite of that. Which of those four conditions apply determines which one of four separate mechanisms the decider engages to act on that particular lever.

"There are also four different ways the mechanism that's engaged can be set to act: either throw the lever forward, throw the lever back, throw the lever to the opposite of how it was before, or leave it unchanged.

"Four possible settings, then, for each of the four mechanisms, means that overall the decider can be set in four times four times four times four, or two hundred fifty-six, different ways. Not all of those settings are useful, but nonetheless the loom allows the weaver a wide variety of patterns. In some settings, the loom will simply repeat the starting pattern, but shifted to the left or right. In others, it will reverse the pattern with each pass, like the simplest of draw-looms. But some of the patterns it produces are very unusual and strangely complex. This has made the weaver's work very popular, among those who can afford it, in recent years.

"Besides those settings, the weaver can also thread the warp with varying colors, use more than one shuttle with different color yarns, and change the decider settings or the levers directly during the weaving. But those creative embellishments don't matter for the fundamental issue here."

"Which is?" Panthearch Maria-miin asked, a bit of impatience in her tone.

"Though it might not seem it, though it's not made very differently from automata used for calculations in commerce and the present government, Weaver Tomo's loom is a universal machine."

The others looked at one another doubtfully. The man to the right of Maria-miin, of middle age and with a shaved head, spoke up: "You mean, the decider has an electric pattern-stone hidden in it?"

"No. The decider's mechanism, while complex, does only what I've described. It's that action, when the decider is set in certain ways, that makes it a universal machine."

"In what way? How do you know this?"

"The proof is very ancient. Such a mechanism can, in theory, be set up in a way that mimics the action of another hypothetical mechanism, which in turn can be set up to mimic yet another, which is established as universal by definition and known to be equal to all other universal machines. It takes long study even to understand the proof."

"It seems," said the eldest, "that you and the archivists have spent a lot of time digging deeply into dangerous matters. 'Dark practices beget dark gods.' Otaya weiraun."

"And this shows why it's necessary!" said Jono-sul sharply, not even pausing to echo the Phrase of Unity with the others. "This is what we guard against! We allow the calculating automata because the Prince wants his share from the merchants, and the houses want their allotments, and neither want long delays that impede trade. We allow the musical word-clock outside the Palaestra to impress trade ambassadors with the ingenuity of our foundries and artificers. We even allow weavers to use dobby-head looms, because people want pretty patterns on their aprons and there's too much need for labor to employ draw-boys for the purpose. But we've been lax, and allowed a line to be crossed, even if by accident."

The youngest of the Panthearchs, whose name was Matthio-sul, spoke up: "I don't understand how this loom is different from those other mechanisms. What is the line that was crossed? Can it be seen without dusty records from the dark?"

"What it comes down to is feedback. All those other things, the word-clock and the tax and allotment calculators and the dobby-head on a loom, like a book being read or a piece of music being played, simply repeats the pattern put into it, or transforms it in one specific way."

"The allotment calculators perform several calculations in progression," said Mattio-sul.

"And there's a separate mechanism for each of those calculations," said Jono-sul. "Weaver Tomo's loom is different. It starts out with a pattern set to it, but every pass thereafter, it changes the pattern based on its own previous changes. The Yenish used several different terms for that in their 'records from the dark.' They called it iteration, looping, and recursion, among other names. What that usually amounts to is simple repetition, as is the case for most of the possible settings of Tomo's loom and indeed for dobby-head looms and many others. But in some decider settings, with some starting positions, Tomo's loom becomes a true computer."

"I thought…" Matthio-sul struggled to utter the heretical word. "I thought computers could do arithmetic like the calculating automata," he said. "Could you really use Weaver Tomo's loom to multiply numbers or figure out, I don't know, sines of angles?"

"Probably not," said Jono-sul. "It would take a mechanism with more elements, many thousands of levers instead of a mere few hundred. To create the configuration invented for the ancient proof of universality would take a loom nearly as wide as the circumference of the earth. But in principle it could be done, and all using the same 'decider' that's in the weaver's work room and very likely doing its deciding at this very moment."

"'Could, might, maybe, in principle," said Mattio-sul, somewhat less respectfully than decorum really permitted. "If it's not capable even of adding numbers, what does it matter?"

"An ideal universal machine has an unbounded number of elements, which no physical machine can have. Nonetheless, we consider a machine universal whenever adding a sufficient number of identical elements is all that is required for it to be capable of any possible computation."

"I can barely follow what you're talking about. It's still just a loom. Really, can you all not see that?"

"It's a computer. It's a threat."

"It's not a computer, no matter what your ancient horror books say. This is Potter Summa's wheel all over again! Remember that fiasco?"

Panthearch Jana-miin started to say, "I don't think we need…" but Mattio-sul was determined to have his say.

"Summa's wheel was not powered! She merely enhanced it so it stored a small share of the power she put into the wheel with her own legs. That let it keep its speed for a minute or two when she needed to concentrate on fine-shaping the piece. Everyone knows it wasn't really powered! The potter did no wrong and none of the Presters or the public thought she deserved such a punishment. The only reason the people didn't rise up against us is…" He took a deep breath and stared defiantly at his senior Panthearchs. "Because they think it was the gods who punished her, instead of us. Instead of you. I wasn't called yet."

"We do the gods' bidding," said Jono-Sul.

"Otaya weiraun," the others responded. Except for one.

"Orta othar wei iraund!" Matthio-sul exclaimed, using, for emphasis, the clipped syllables of proper schoolroom Yenish instead of the common slurring. "Orta othar wei iraund! The gods also do our bidding! 'Our decisions write our patterns.' Can we unwrite evil patterns by writing evil ones ourselves?"

It was Maria-miin who broke the silence that followed.

"Let me tell you about the evil we fight," she said quietly. "Imagine that the artificers contrive to build calculating automata with a mechanism like the decider in them. Presently those devices are not, by our own mutually beneficial agreement with the artificers, made to be easily modified, or their parts easily reused or rearranged. If the Prince decides to rewrite the tax schedules today, the cost would be high and the change would take years to effect. His automata would have to be replaced. He would need a good reason and careful planning. But suppose he could 'program' his automata, by arranging some levers just like the ones on Weaver Tomo's loom. He can decide to tax farmers more one year, fishers the next. The fishers and farmers have to change their prices to afford the tax, and their customers find out that their money doesn't buy as much any more. In the way of things, that means a few of them starve, or turn to banditry. That might make the Prince unpopular, but no matter: he can re-program the allotments to buy the favor of this house and that house against the others, or the Presters against the houses, or the army against the Presters. Instead of Unity there'd be suspicion, scheming, and strife.

"That's only one possibility and it might sound unlikely. But let's suppose the Prince knows, even hears a vague rumor, that programmable calculating automata could be built. Would he still be satisfied with the constraints he's currently under? Or would he and his ministers try to acquire them, by hook or by crook? And if so, would we be able to stop them?

Matthio-sul looked subdued, but he still asked, "How does that explain Potter Summa?"

Maria-miin nodded at the question, acknowledging its importance, and went on. "Summa's wheel was not powered. But the way she had it constructed, by forcing air a little at a time into a pressure vessel and letting its escape turn the wheel, could easily have been altered to make it so. It would have required only to put some water in the vessel and light a fire underneath it.

"When the artificers become proficient at making such thingslevers that push air, cranks that are pushed by air, valves, pressure vessels—do you think they will be satisfied not to add the boiling water? Or will they badger the populace, the Prince, and the Presters with promises of doing away with tedious strenuous work? Powered pottery wheels change little, but imagine powered looms, powered programmable looms, powered programmable calculating automata, powered river boats, powered rail-carts, powered plows, powered electrics, powered hammers. And what do all of the weavers and tax grinders and river boatmen and rail-cart drovers and plow teamsters and generators and all the people who make a living hammering with hammers, do then, when they are no longer needed? History gives us two answers: live in idle misery, or march onto battlefields to slaughter one another with powered programmable weapons!

"Our archives warn of us such evils, yet our tools to prevent them are limited. We have the prosperity we've achieved; we have healthy trade and the leverage that brings if carefully used; we have relative peace; we have the Principles of Unity. We have shortages of certain key materials, some by our design and some as a consequence of the distant past. We have the Presters and the temples and the gods.

"And we also have fear. We have the gods' wrath, the pattern-poison that's effective from far away, that only we can brew from the cell-patterns of those who threaten those Principles.

"Yes, we must compromise sometimes. The world is large, and our reach is not as long as we might wish. I hear that in Rockridge across the Northern Sea, aristocrats openly wear unearthed electric pattern stones as stylish jewelry. Ours, I trust, Panthearch Jono-sul…" She shot a warning glance at the man. "…never see the light of day. 

"People are weak, greedy, lazy, and curious. And no matter how grim the past was, it acquires a romantic sheen with the passage of time. Unless we use all the tools we possess, the tides of the very prosperity we enable will drown us."

Matthio-sul remained silent, sitting with his head bowed in thought.

Jono-sul, still standing, spoke up. "Or, instead of all that, we can just acknowledge what the Principles tell us. There are two kinds of patterns in the world that reflect the gods we serve: The patterns made by people, like music and writing and governments and economies. And the patterns made by the world, like ecosystems and weather, the cell-patterns in our bodies, and the pathways of our minds. With care, all these patterns can harmonize with one another, which is why every god has two Aspects. But there is another kind of god. A kind that arises when the patterns made by people write patterns of their own. That kind is what the Yenish in the Fell Age might have called demons, if they'd been able to recognize such when they saw them. That kind leads to suffering. As our senior honorable colleague just reminded us, 'Dark practices beget dark gods.' Otaya weiraun."

The others all echoed: "Otaya weiraun."

"What actions, then?" said Jaina-miin. "Weaver Tomo cannot have built his loom himself, and might not even have been the one to conceive and design it."

"That is true. He told me that he and an artificer named Luko, who had been a customer of his, designed it together, and Luko crafted it. The artificer should have known the dangers, and he definitely knew he was pushing the boundaries of what's permitted. He bears the greater blame.

"I investigated, and found that Luko works alone, though his workshop is in the Fourth Artificers House on the South Banks. He spent two years building the loom, and their agreement gives him a share of Tomo's earnings for it.

"Jana-miin, I believe it falls to your office as head of the lifesyes to meet him and obtain a scraping of his skin. When the gods' wrath strikes him, it should warn any associates of his who might have assisted with the construction."

Jana-miin nodded acceptance. "And what of the weaver?"

"He cannot continue weaving. But I'm thinking," he said with an acknowledging glance at Mattio-sul, "that he might live. 

"He will need a new career. He has certain aptitudes that might make him an excellent archivist. And let us not forget his visions, that suggest the gods have a use for him as well. The loom, of course, must be destroyed."

"Very well," said Maria-miin. "I so order. We are dismissed. Go with the favor of the gods."


Weaver Tomo gripped the ship's rail and watched as the rock-bound bay opened before him. It had been a slow voyage, most of which he had passed mending sails after a heat-storm had nearly dismasted them a week out. No visions had come to trouble him aboard ship. Nor to enlighten him.

A story sailed with him, as if swept along in the ship's wake, about a Panthearch who had died of the god's wrath. There were more rumors of what dark deeds she had done in secret to deserve it than there were sailors and passengers aboard.

Artificer Luko stood beside Tomo. He was Tomo's age but somewhat stockier, with a lighter complexion and unusual gray-green eyes. They both wore plain sailor's aprons, now salt- and sweat-stained. Sollo's lash on their bare limbs and backs was beginning to yield to mercy as the day waned.

"They'll still come looking for us," Luko said.

"We won't be easy to find," Tomo said. "Unless I start selling fabric from our loom."

The decider, along with three hundred sixty-six wishbones still held on their brass rods, waited below in the hold. Inside wooden crates, they were wrapped in meters of a strangely patterned red and tan fabric.

"You know, it should be possible to make an automaton for finding and counting people," said Luko. "Keeping a census, knowing who you're dealing with in trade, things like that. Instead of a name, everyone could have a different combination of wishbone levers."

Tomo glared at him in queasy distaste, until Luko laughed. "Heh, that certainly wouldn't do us any good, would it? Never mind. Just daydreaming."

Luko stood at the rail for a while longer, pensive. "I haven't thanked you for the warning," he said finally. "Our escape. You've saved my life. I owe you. Again."

"You did the hard part, Luko. I'm still amazed how you turned the tables of the 'gods' wrath' on the Panthearch. Even with my warning of what she planned to do."

"I'm good with my hands." Luko looked down. "Tomo, I know I haven't begun to atone for my part in what happened to Summa. To you, I mean, not to the gods."

"Summa wasn't mine to lose," said Tomo. "You know she always loved you more."

Luko said nothing, and soon went below, as though their destination no longer held any particular interest.

The sailors wove their designs at the rigging as the spires of Rockridge glowed in the sunset. Droplets of splashing wake made ever-changing Patterns of Four in the water. Amissio, Cauda Draconis, Via, Populus, and on without end.

Tomo watched.

Behind his eyes, a restless god stirred.


  1. Oh wow! Punch and double-punch. Love the word-spells and the weaving of "weaving" throughout. But I feel like I came in at the middle--going to have to look for the beginning. Can't wait for more.

  2. Thanks for reading and for your kind comment, gwnfydd!

    My wife had a similar reaction: "You're going to keep going, right? Will it be a novel?" That's kind of frightening, because it's not what I originally planned for this story. (There's a kind of old-school SF short story, the technology cautionary tale, where the story reveals how some new futuristic technology development gives rise to a nasty new social problem, but then leaves it hanging there without showing how that problem eventually gets resolved or at what cost. I was basically doing that here, except with old technology in an alternate future culture.)

    But I'm starting to get some ideas of how this weaving could be continued after all, without lapsing into routine tropes. The original idea was to reverse the cliché of a bright young inventor/discoverer being oppressed by a conservative superstitious clergy. I didn't quite manage that, because both sides ended up sympathetic instead. So the continued tale would not be about which view "should" prevail, but what it will cost either way.

  3. Very nice story! I found your blog through the 2014 Space Bat contest and am reading the stories one by one. I thought Tomo would be on the "wrong" side, too...