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YELLOW EYES

 
You are going to have the fever,
Yellow eyes!
In about ten days from now
Iron bands will clamp your brow;
Your tongue resemble curdled cream,
A rusty streak the centre seam;
Your mouth will taste of untold things
With claws and horns and fins and wings;
Your head will weigh a ton or more,
And forty gales within it roar!
 
In about ten days from now
You will feebly wonder how
All your bones can break in twain
And so quickly knit again!
You will feel a score of Jaels
In your temples driving nails!
You will wonder if you're shot
Through the liver-case, or what!
You will wonder if such heat
Isn't Hades—and repeat!
Then you'll sweat until, at length,
You—won't—have—a—kitten's—strength!
 
In about ten days from now
Make to health a parting bow;
For you're going to have the fever,
Yellow eyes!
 


—James Stanley Gilbert,
"Panama Patchwork," 1909


Prologue

From where he stood in the back of the crowded assembly hall, Guanamarioch saw the gold-strapped Rememberer ascend the rostrum. The chattering of the massed Kessentai ceased as the cleric—the Rememberers were as near to a clergy as the Posleen had—rapped his skilled claw, twice, on the stone podium. Except for age and scarring, the Remember was—like Guanamarioch—an average looking Posleen, a crocodilian centauroid with yellow skin and eyes, standing about fifteen hands high, with rows of sharp ivory teeth and having a feathered crest (not dissimilar to a Sioux Indian war bonnet) that it could erect when it wished.


"Let us remember," the cleric called, laying its crest low in respect for the ceremony.


All the hundreds of Kessentai crossed their arms over their massive chests, looked upward, toward the apex of the pyramid, itself clad inside and out with a heavy layer of pure gold, and chanted together, "We remember. We remember."


The Rememberer held out one claw into which an underling placed a loosely rolled scroll. This was unrolled onto the stone podium, the underling placing "keeper stones," elaborately carved paperweights, on the corners to hold the scroll in place.


"From the Scroll of Flight and Settlement," the Rememberer announced.


"We remember," echoed the Kessentai, once again.


The pyramidal assembly hall shook with the nearby impact of a rival clan's hypervelocity missile, or HVM. Guanamarioch, young as he was, could barely restrain himself from leaving the hall and going forth with his underlings to do battle. The eager, enraged trembling and murmuring of the others told him they all felt much as he did.


The Rememberer calmed the hall with a sweeping glance. He was one of the eldest among them, a Kessentai turned Kenstain who, in his younger days, had been among the foremost warriors of the clan. None of the youngsters present wanted to find shame in the eyes of this old hero. They settled and quieted down.


"Verse Five: the new home," the Rememberer continued.


Once again, the group chorused, "We remember."


"And the People, fleeing their destroyed home on the new ships, came upon a new world, rich and teeming with life. And the ships were tired, and nearly out of fuel. And the leader of the People, called Rongasintas the Philosopher, led the people to a barren part of the land, that was uninhabited. And there they tried to settle and grow food.


"But the People had little food, and the inhabitants would not share, demanding, 'Go forth from us. This is our world, not yours. Return once again to the darkness whence you came.' And the heart of Rongasintas was heavy.


"Yet the People cried out, saying, 'Lord, feed us, for we hunger.' And Rongasintas answered, 'Eat of the pre-sentient young.'


"And, weeping, the People ate of their children, but it was not enough. Once again they cried out, 'Lord, feed us, for we hunger.' "


"We hunger," repeated the assembly.


Nodding his great crocodilian head with infinite dignity, the Rememberer continued, "And the Lord Rongasintas the Philosopher answered, 'Choose one in twenty from among the normals, and eat of these.' Weeping still, the People chose from among their number one in twenty, that the host might live and not perish. And for a little time the People did not hunger. Yet, still, did they weep, for it was not yet the way of the People to eat of their own.


"At length, the Lord of the People went to the inhabitants of the place and begged, 'We have done what we can. We have eaten of our own. Give us sustenance, that our people not perish.' And the inhabitants of the place heaped scorn upon Rongasintas, saying, 'Leave this place or eat of yourselves until there are none of you left. It is all the same to us.'


"And the Lord and Philosopher went to a high place to meditate and upon his return he announced, 'The Aldenat' made us as we are; we had no choice in the matter. They raised us from the lowly animals and gave us sentience. They left us with the need to reproduce. They gave us of medicine and knowledge, that we did not die young. Under their rule, the People prospered and grew. All praise was to the Aldenat'. ' "


"And we gave praise to the Aldenat', " chanted the assembly, in response.


The Rememberer continued, "And Rongasintas told the People, 'We must live. To live we must eat. Go forth then, and eat of the inhabitants of this place. As was all praise, upon the Aldenat' be all the blame.' "


As one, the massed Kessentai echoed, and their echo made the stone walls of the great Hall of Remembrance shudder, "Upon them be the blame."


 


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