Rumours are the begetters of gossip. Even more are they the begetters of song. We, the Chroniclers and song-makers of our Zone, aver that before the partners in this exemplary marriage were awake to what the new directives meant for both of them, the songs were with us, and were being amplified and developed from one end of Zone Three to the other. And of course this was so in Zone Four.
Great to Small
High to Low
Four into Three
This was a children’s counting game. I was watching them at it from my windows the day after I heard the news. And one of them rushed up to me in the street with a ‘riddle’ he had heard from his parents: If you mate a swan and a gander, who will ride?
What was being said and sung in the camps and barracks of Zone Four we do not choose to record. It is not that we are mealy-mouthed. Rather that every chronicle has its appropriate tone.
I am saying that each despised the other? No, we are not permitted actively to criticize the dispensations of the Providers, but let us say that we in Zone Three did not forget — as the doggerel chanted during those days insisted:
Three comes before Four.
Our ways are peace and plenty.
Their ways — war!
It was days before anything happened.
While this famous marriage was being celebrated in the imaginations of both realms, the two most concerned remained where they were. They did not know what was wanted of them.
No one had expected the marriage. It had not reached even popular speculation. Zones Three and Four were doing very well, with Al·Ith for us, Ben Ata for them. Or so we thought.
Quite apart from the marriage, there were plenty of secondary questions. What could it mean that our Al·Ith was ordered to travel to the territory of Ben Ata, so that the wedding could be accomplished on his land? This was one of the things we asked ourselves.
What, in this context, was a wedding?
What, even, a marriage?
When Al·Ith first heard of the Order, she believed it to be a joke. She and her sister laughed. All of Zone Three heard how they laughed. Then arrived a message that could only be regarded as a rebuke, and people came together in conferences and councils all over the Zone. They sent for us — the Chroniclers and the poets and the song-makers and the Memories. For weeks nothing was talked of but weddings and marriages, and every old tale and ballad that could be dug up was examined for information.
Messengers were even sent to Zone Five, where we believed weddings of a primitive kind did take place. But there was war all along their frontiers with Zone Four and it was not possible to get in.
We wondered, if this marriage was intended to follow ancient patterns, whether Zones Three and Four should join in a festival? But the Zones could not mingle, were inimical by nature. We were not even sure where the frontier was. Our side was not guarded. The inhabitants of Zone Three, straying near the frontier, or approaching it from curiosity as children or young people sometimes did, found themselves afflicted with repugnance, or at the least by an antipathy to foreign airs and atmospheres that showed itself in a cold lethargy, like boredom. It cannot be said that Zone Four had for us the secret attractions and fascinations of the forbidden: the most accurate thing I can say is that we forgot about it.
Ought there perhaps to be two festivals, simultaneously, and each would celebrate that our two lands, so different, could nevertheless mirror something, at least in this way? But what would be the point of that? After all, festivals and celebrations were not exactly pleasures we had to do without.
Should there then be small wedding parties among us, to mark the occasion?
New clothes? Decorations in our public places? Gifts and presents? All these were sanctioned by the old songs and stories.
More time passed. We knew that Al·Ith was low in spirits, and was keeping to her quarters. She had never done this before, had always been available and open to us. The women everywhere were out of temper and despondent.
The children began to suffer.
Then came the first visible and evident manifestation of the new time. Ben Ata sent a message that his men would come to escort her to him. This curtness was exactly what we expected from his Zone. A realm at war did not need the courtesies. Here was proof of the rightness of our reluctance to be brought low by Zone Four.
Al·Ith was resentful, rebellious. She would not go, she announced.
Again there was an Order, and it said, simply, that she must go.
Al·Ith put on her dark blue mourning clothes, since this was the only expression of her inner feelings she felt she still had the latitude to use. She gave out no instructions for a Grief, but that was what was being felt by us all.
Felt confusingly and — we suspected — wrongly. Emotions of this kind are not valued by us. Have not been for so long we have no records of anything different. As individuals we do not expect — it is not expected of us — to weep, wail, suffer. What can happen to any one of us that does not happen at