Small Gods Page 21

“You've got no money at all?” he said.

“No,” said Brutha.

“Well, we've got to have a philosopher,” said the tortoise flatly. “I can't think and you don't know how to. We've got to find someone who does it all the time.”

“Of course, you could try old Didactylos,” said the barman. “He's about as cheap as they come.”

“Doesn't use expensive soap?” said Brutha.

“I think it could be said without fear of contradiction,” said the barman solemnly, “that he doesn't use any soap at all whatsoever in any way.”

“Oh. Well. Thank you,” said Brutha.

“Ask him where this man lives,” Om commanded.

“Where can I find Mr. Didactylos?” said Brutha.

“In the palace courtyard. Next door to the Library. You can't miss him. Just follow your nose.”

“We just came- Brutha said, but his inner voice prompted him not to complete the sentence. ”We'll just be going then."

“Don't forget your tortoise,” said the barman. “There's good eating on one of them.”

“May all your wine turn to water!” Om shrieked.

“Will it?” said Brutha, as they stepped out into the night.


“Tell me again. Why exactly are we looking for a philosopher?” said Brutha.

“I want to get my power back,” said Om.

“But everyone believes in you!”

“If they believed in me they could talk to me. I could talk to them. I don't know what's gone wrong. No one is worshiping any other gods in Omnia, are they?”

“They wouldn't be allowed to,” said Brutha. “The Quisition would see to that.”

“Yeah. It's hard to kneel if you have no knees.”

Brutha stopped in the empty street.

“I don't understand you!”

“You're not supposed to. The ways of gods aren't supposed to be understandable to men.”

“The Quisition keeps us on the path of truth! The Quisition works for the greater glory of the Church!”

“And you believe that, do you?” said the tortoise.

Brutha looked, and found that certainty had gone missing. He opened and shut his mouth, but there were no words to be said.

“Come on,” said Om, as kindly as he could manage. “Let's get back.”

In the middle of the night Om awoke. There were noises from Brutha's bed.

Brutha was praying again.

Om listened curiously. He could remember prayers. There had been a lot of them, once. So many that he couldn't make out an individual prayer even if he had felt inclined to, but that didn't matter, because what mattered was the huge cosmic susurration of thousands of praying, believing minds. The words weren't worth listening to, anyway.

Humans! They lived in a world where the grass continued to be green and the sun rose every day and flowers regularly turned into fruit, and what impressed them? Weeping statues. And wine made out of water! A mere quantum-mechanistic tunnel effect, that'd happen anyway if you were prepared to wait zillions of years. As if the turning of sunlight into wine, by means of vines and grapes and time and enzymes, wasn't a thousand times more impressive and happened all the time . . .

Well, he couldn't even do the most basic of god tricks now. Thunderbolts with about the same effect as the spark off a cat's fur, and you could hardly smite anyone with one of those. He had smitten good and hard in his time. Now he could just about walk through water and feed the One.

Brutha's prayer was a piccolo tune in a world of silence.

Om waited until the novice was quiet again and then unfolded his legs and walked out, rocking from side to side, into the dawn.

The Ephebians walked through the palace courtyards, surrounding the Omnians almost, but not quite, in the manner of a prisoners' escort.

Brutha could see that Vorbis was boiling with fury. A small vein on the side of the exquisitor's bald temple was throbbing.

As if feeling Brutha's eyes on him, Vorbis turned his head.

“You seem ill at ease this morning, Brutha,” he said.

“Sorry, lord.”

“You seem to be looking into every corner. What are you expecting to find?”

“Uh. Just interested, lord. Everything's new.”

“All the so-called wisdom of Ephebe is not worth one line from the least paragraph in the Septateuch,” said Vorbis.

“May we not study the works of the infidel in order to be more alert to the ways of heresy?” said Brutha, surprised at himself.

“Ah. A persuasive argument, Brutha, and one that the inquisitors have heard many times, if a little indistinctly in many cases.”

Vorbis glowered at the back of the head of Aristocrates, who was leading the party. “It is but a small step from listening to heresy to questioning established truth, Brutha. Heresy is often fascinating. Therein lies its danger.”

“Yes, lord.”

“Hah! And not only do they carve forbidden statues, but they can't even do it properly.”

Brutha was no expert, but even he had to agree that this was true. Now the novelty of them had worn off, the statues that decorated every niche in the palace did have a certain badly made look. Brutha was pretty sure he'd just passed one with two left arms. Another one had one ear larger than the other. It wasn't that someone had set out to carve ugly gods. They had clearly been meant to be quite attractive statues. But the sculptor hadn't been much good at it.

“That woman there appears to be holding a pen?guin,” said Vorbis.

“Patina, Goddess of Wisdom,” said Brutha auto?matically, and then realized he'd said it.

“I, er, heard someone mention it,” he added.

“Indeed. And what remarkably good hearing you must have,” said Vorbis.

Aristocrates paused outside an impressive doorway and nodded at the party.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “the Tyrant will see you now.”

“You will recall everything that is said,” whispered Vorbis.

Brutha nodded.

The doors swung open.

All over the world there were rulers with titles like the Exalted, the Supreme, and Lord High Something or Other. Only in one small country was the ruler elected by the people, who could remove him when?ever they wanted-and they called him the Tyrant.

The Ephebians believed that every man should have the vote.[6] Every five years someone was elected to be Tyrant, provided he could prove that he was honest, intelligent, sensible, and trustworthy. Immediately af?ter he was elected, of course, it was obvious to every?one that he was a criminal madman and totally out of touch with the view of the ordinary philosopher in the street looking for a towel. And then five years later they elected another one just like him, and really it was amazing how intelligent people kept on making the same mistakes.

Candidates for the Tyrantship were elected by the placing of black or white balls in various urns, thus giving rise to a well-known comment about politics.

The Tyrant was a fat little man with skinny legs, giving people the impression of an egg that was hatch?ing upside down. He was sitting alone in the middle of the marble floor, in a chair surrounded by scrolls and scraps of paper. His feet didn't touch the marble, and his face was pink.

Aristocrates whispered something in his ear. The Tyrant looked up from his paperwork.

“Ah, the Omnian delegation,” he said, and a smile flashed across his face like something small darting across a stone. “Do be seated, all of you.”

He looked down again.

“I am Deacon Vorbis of the Citadel Quisition,” said Vorbis coldly.

The Tyrant looked up and gave him another lizard smile.

“Yes, I know,” he said. “You torture people for a living. Please be seated, Deacon Vorbis. And your plump young friend who seems to be looking for something. And the rest of you. Some young women will be along in a moment with grapes and things. This generally happens. It's very hard to stop it, in fact.”

There were benches in front of the Tyrant's chair. The Omnians sat down. Vorbis remained standing.

The Tyrant nodded. “As you wish,” he said.

“This is intolerable!” snapped Vorbis. "We have been treated-

“Much better than you would have treated us,” said the Tyrant mildly. “You sit or you stand, my lord, because this is Ephebe and indeed you may stand on your head for all I care, but don't expect me to believe that if it was I, seeking peace in your Citadel, I would be encouraged to do anything but grovel on what was left of my stomach. Be seated or be upstanding, my lord, but be quiet. I have nearly finished.”

“Finished what?” said Vorbis.

“The peace treaty,” said the Tyrant.

“But that is what we are here to discuss,” said Vorbis.

“No,” said the Tyrant. The lizard scuttled again: “That is what you are here to sign.”

Om took a deep breath and then pushed himself forward.

It was quite a steep flight of steps. He felt every one as he bumped down, but at least he was upright at the bottom.

He was lost, but being lost in Ephebe was preferable to being lost in the Citadel. At least there were no obvious cellars.

Library, library, library . . .

There was a library in the Citadel, Brutha had said. He'd described it, so Om had some idea of what he was looking for.

There would be a book in it.

Peace negotiations were not going well.

“You attacked us!” said Vorbis.

“I would call it preemptive defense,” said the Tyrant. “We saw what happened to Istanzia and Betrek and Ushistan.”

“They saw the truth of Om!”

“Yes,” said the Tyrant. “We believe they did, eventually.”

“And they are now proud members of the Empire.”

“Yes,” said the Tyrant. “We believe they are. But we like to remember them as they were. Before you sent them your letters, that put the minds of men in chains.”

“That set the feet of men on the right road,” said Vorbis.

“Chain letters,” said the Tyrant. “The Chain Letter to the Ephebians. Forget Your Gods. Be Subjugated. Learn to Fear. Do not break the chain-the last people who did woke up one morning to find fifty thousand armed men on their lawn.”

Vorbis sat back.

“What is it you fear?” he said. “Here in your desert, with your . . . gods? Is it not that, deep in your souls, you know that your gods are as shifting as your sand?”

“Oh, yes,” said the Tyrant. “We know that. That's always been a point in their favor. We know about sand. And your God is a rock-and we know about rock.”

Om stumped along a cobbled alley, keeping to the shade as much as possible.

There seemed to be a lot of courtyards. He paused at the point where the alley opened into yet another of them.

There were voices. Mainly there was one voice, petulant and reedy.

This was the philosopher Didactylos.

Although one of the most quoted and popular philosophers of all time, Didactylos the Ephebian never achieved the respect of his fellow philosophers. They felt he wasn't philosopher material. He didn't bathe often enough or, to put it another way, at all. And he philosophized about the wrong sorts of things. And he was interested in the wrong sorts of things. Dangerous things. Other philosophers asked questions like: Is Truth Beauty, and is Beauty Truth? and: is Reality Created by the Observer? But Didactylos posed the famous philosophical conundrum: “Yes, But What's It Really All About, Then, When You Get Right Down To It, I Mean Really!”

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