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The White Pavilion

by

Ruth Fox

The Pattern does not exist without Chaos.

Imre is a Dancer of the White Pavilion and a courtesan in training. When Imre falls when performing the Dance of a Thousand Steps, a dance that has been performed every year for the past 500 years, she is convinced she has disrupted the will of the Pattern and is responsible for the disasters befalling her world. Called to the Citadel by the Principe Thaniel she believes she is to be punished for her mistake.

But at the Citadel, Imre finds the prince is both more and less than he seems. And even as Imre adjusts to her new life, the Brotherhood tightens its grip over the rotting, rusting metal city from their pedestal in the sky, and Imre finds her heart and loyalties torn between the Prince and Senor Grath, his Adviser.

On a broken world that moves to the ticking of the Pendulum and the spinning of the Wheel, can Imre prevent her world from being torn apart?

Reviews

'Talk about a little of everything fantastical... The White Pavilion brought sci-fi, post-apocalyptic, and steampunk all together in this suspenseful and complex story about a young woman at the wane of a dying utopian world.'
Sophia Rose

'Ms. Fox takes the prize for world-building. Her creativity in building the world her characters inhabit excels, and while some elements are strange to our mundane world, she has managed to create an element of realism that is hard to find.'
Thrice Reads Books



THE WHITE PAVILION


Chapter One


It was the dawn of the Festival de Tiemp, and the Greatest City rose as the light of la Grulla tipped over the horizon.

My sisters and I had been awake for an hour. Some of us even longer – it was always difficult to sleep the night before. Like the children we’d once been, we stayed up late, sharing stories and sipping espiritu. It was the one night of the year Maestra Tinir permitted us to do so.

“You are all good girls,” she had told us last night, kissing each of our cheeks before bed. It was rare for a compliment to fall from her lips, and we didn’t take it for granted. “Tomorrow you will dance beautifully. It will be the greatest Dance the City has ever seen!”

This morning, we were barely contained bundles of energy and nerves. We clamoured and laughed and chatted and yelled over one another as we fought for space before the bathroom mirrors, exchanged kohl pencils, and argued over the best hairstyles to complement our costumes.

“I’ve lost my mask!” Ketra fretted, and we all rolled our eyes. Every year, she lost something.

I turned to Yui, my dark-haired sister, whose almond-shaped eyes always seemed full of tears just about to spill over. She sat next to me, leaning in close to the mirror to pat her make-up dry. “She’ll find it under her bed.”

It was Yui’s first time in the Dance of a Thousand Steps, and she was wide-eyed and breathless. I wasn’t much different, for though it was my third time in the Dance, it was the first I had ever been cast as ‘la Grulla’, the Crane. The most important role in the whole dance – and especially so, this time, for this was the Year Five Hundred. Everyone’s eyes would be on me, all the way from the steps of the White Pavilion to the gates of the Citadel.

“Imre, little sister, you look stunning!”

This was Carla, who had just come in from our shared bedroom. She was carrying my costume, and it looked – it looked beyond incredible. The white feathers fluttered from the skirt like the wings of tiny birds, and the bodice was edged with fine white piping. It was very old, having been worn by every girl who’d played the Crane for at least three decades, but it was still crisp and white and perfect.

“Here,” Carla said. “You must put it on, or we’ll be late.”

I stood up, and Rehina instantly took my place at the mirror. “I just can’t get my lips to look red enough!” she pouted, pressing her flawlessly coloured lips into an unattractive moue.

I slipped out of my shift and allowed Carla to hold the dress while I wriggled into it. She pulled it up, her fingers deftly tugging it over my bare skin.

Carla was playing ‘Viento Cósmico’, the Cosmic Wind. “You and I,” she whispered as she buttoned the back, “will render the crowd speechless.”

She knew, as I did, the importance of our roles. Though it was la Relojero, the Clockmaker, who led the Dance, and la Oráculo who followed in her wake, guiding the entire procession as if they walked again those Thousand Steps that signified the creation of our world, Tierra Mejór, everyone looked for the Cosmic Wind and the Crane. Their costumes are dazzling, their movements unique. It was said among the sisters that those roles are much harder than the two leads.

“Do you think I can do this?” I asked her as I turned, a note of panic in my voice.

“Imre,” Carla put her hands on either side of my head, pressing her masked forehead to my as-yet-bare one – I could feel the ticking of her metrónomo against my temple, and she could probably feel mine, “you know as well as I do that you were born to dance the Crane.”

***

The children came first, as they always did, bright-eyed with excitement and the lack of sleep. They giggled and shouted as they poured into the streets, singing their parabra in high little voices, off-key and unfinished, the words hopelessly muddled.

Their parents, grandparents, older siblings, and neighbours followed, no less enthusiastically, and already sipping from cups of strong espiritu. Others had indulged in their own vices, such as the little paper cups of white-powder the street vendors sold, which made them joyous – at least for the moment. Soon, the avenues were full.

And we danced the Dance of a Thousand Steps, for the five hundredth time. The day was alive with music, and caught in the magic of the celebration, we danced to the glory of the Pattern.

Only the heralds, the men of the Brotherhood of the Pattern, were missing; they, and their novices. They celebrated the day in their own, sombre celebration, locked inside, deep in prayer. Every other woman, man, youth, child, grandmother, and old man was on the streets, mirroring our movements in their own less formal version of the dance, shouting and laughing, toasting the health of Tierra Mejór and each other in newfound and unfortunately short-lived comradeship. From each Tier they came, from the Fourth to the First; it was the one day when the lock gates were open to all, to pass freely as they pleased.

Factories and shops closed their doors. There would be no carrier pigeons sent or received today. Of all the machines, only the shuttle-trains continued to run, bringing those who could afford the price of a ticket from the Wheel to the Spindle to witness the spectacle.

Fireworks dazzled their eyes, reflected by the sequins of our glittering costumes. “To la Relojero!” they called. “To la Grulla!”

Oh, how we danced! My feet flew across the road, as if I’d been born knowing the movements. The music seemed to guide my steps. I danced as well as Maestra Tinir, my teacher; I danced as well as Vahn, who was favourito of Senora R. I twirled and leaped, I spun and slid, unable to keep the smile from my face or the laughter from my lips. We danced through the cheering crowds; we danced along the road, the watchers throwing coloured streamers and confetti in our wake. We danced the Dance of a Thousand Steps, from the doors of the White Pavilion, around the spiralling streets, through the lock gate from the Second Tier to the First, to the front gates of the Citadel.

“Oh,” breathed Yui, who was just behind me. “Look!”

I looked. As la Grulla, I was in the front ranks, where I had a view uncompromised by the whirling forms of my sisters.

Ahead of me, before the Citadel, the throng was so thick, it seemed a sea made of human faces. The vigilar, in their black uniforms, had lined the Plaza de Lágrima to hold open a space for us. Dizzy with exhilaration, I felt no weariness, only a deep-seated longing to dance, and continue to dance forever. I drank in the Citadel spires, gold against the grey sky; the Reloj de pie, the giant clock in its enormous tower, both its slender hands positioned perfectly at twelve, and thought it had never looked so beautiful.

But though we’d reached our destination, the dance was far from over. I glided to my post, opposite Carla, who was so utterly, gloriously at home playing the part of Viento Cosmico, the Cosmic Wind. Counterpart and complement to the Crane, we would ever circle one another; one flying ahead of the other, at times supporting, at times acting as adversary; the other battling, flagging, gathering strength and flying onwards.

Carla had been right that I was meant to dance this part. In this moment, my earlier doubts were nowhere to be seen. I ducked and wove around Carla, kicking the long white skirt with my feet so that it billowed and swished. The sleeves of the costume hung long, like feathered wings, and I raised them elegantly above my head – about to take flight – then lowered them as the West Wind whirled past, halting my passage in a flurry of glittering blue. Behind her mask, Carla’s eyes twinkled.

Ahead of us, la Relojero, played by Vahn, and la Oráculo, played by Ketra, danced in unison. Their movements stately, they stepped out the time-laden story. La Relojero was visited by la Oráculo. He gave to her a key, ancient and mysterious, that had once enjoyed some other purpose; he gave to her a heart, made of glass; he gave to her a flute; and he gave to her a message, which was that the Old Earth was dying, for the people had neglected and wandered from the true path, the intrinsic Pattern of Life.

As it is written in the Sacred Text, la Relojero had gone before the people and said, ‘Listen! We are facing our last turnings here. Will you help me?’

But the people were afraid. The world burned under the merciless sun, the protective veils of the atmosphere stripped away, and they were in the middle of a war. They did not hear her.

So, she worked for a thousand turnings upon her masterwork, which was Tierra Mejór. She launched it into space, setting it between the stars.

‘Look!’ she said to the people, who had at last stopped fighting, their amazement finally overshadowing their fear and anger. ‘Will you follow me now?’

And they said that they would, but how were they to reach this great new world?

And so, la Relojero went to work again. Another fine work she created, and this was the Crane, which she fitted with the glass heart that beat with the rhythm of her great wings. And on whose back the Companions, those seven men and women who believed strongly enough to put aside their fears, would ride.

They were plucked from the disparate guilds of life. The Poet. The Architect. The Tinker. The Physician. The Smith. The Gardener. And Aurelia, the Whore.

They had climbed between her great wings, and Aurelia played the mercurial flute la Oráculo had given her, and so harnessed the Cosmic Wind, which would bear them to their new home.

It had taken one thousand days to reach Tierra Mejór, and it was a long and arduous journey full of many pitfalls, traps, hardships, and horrors. Finally, when la Grulla’s strength was flagging to her last reserve – here, I swayed, my steps slowing – the clouds had parted, and la Relojero had seen the world she had created.

She, along with her Seven Companions, and la Oráculo, had tumbled from la Grulla’s back, and looked around them in wonder. For here was a world filled with order and rhythm; a world where the Pattern could thrive. It was a stark place, and living would not be easy; but it was clean, new, untouched, unsoiled by those human hands which had so marred the beauty of the Old Earth.

Here, there would be no disharmony.

But the Viento Cósmico, the Cosmic Wind, which had borne them on her breath, was disquieted. The world was not yet alive. The waters in the wells were still. The clouds, made from the condensation gathering on the metal surface, sat static in the sky. The fronds of green moss, which grew in the ruts where water gathered, would not sway.

And so, la Relojero, tired as she was, took her leave of the company. Alone, she ventured far from their landing place, to where she had left open a long passageway. Down she went into the Core of the World. There, among the fire and fury of the great engines, was a keyhole. Here she fitted the key la Oráculo had given her, and wound it ten times. And the planet spun. The Spindle, which was made of rotating tiers. The Wheel, which circled around it, creating gravity and equilibrium. And the weighted Pendulum, attached by the Tether, which governed the subtle shifts and inner balances, regulating the weather and forming the murky clouds that made the atmosphere.

The air warmed and cooled according to the position of the Pendulum, and life-giving rain fell from the pipes on the underside of its weighted tip. Thus did the seeds of the Sacred Tree, brought by Nuru, the Gardener, begin to grow amid the moss. Among these plants, the first moths were born, small, ghostly white creatures, shedding dust from their wings as they fluttered like petals on the wind, eating and spreading the pollen of the plants. The other flowers, shrubs, and grains followed, and soon there were beautiful, lush gardens. Animals were born, rats and foxes and fish and spiders and wasps; and the world began to feel alive.

All this we danced, our metrónomos keeping perfect time.

And then, suddenly, a harsh sound. “Hold!” cried a strident voice.

I turned, shocked that such a command should be shouted at all, let alone now, as we were reaching the next phase of the performance. The cheers died away, the music missed a beat, and for a moment, the dance faltered as we peered ahead.

A man stood before the statue of la Oráculo, conspicuous with his hat tied with a green band, the symbol of the rebels.

“Hold!” he shouted again. “What do you dance for? Why do you cheer? The dark days are coming, and you have forgotten!”

“Remove him!” Someone – a tall man, wearing a grey shirt and the gold emblem of the guardia on his shoulder – strode forwards, gesturing to the nearest of the vigilar. When they did not move, he barked: “Now!”

There was a moment of confusion, a tussle, I saw through my mask, as the vigilar took the man by his arms and straightened one behind his back, twisting it mercilessly until he was doubled over in agony. His green-banded hat dropped to the ground, trampled by the swarm of black uniforms.

“Listen!” he yelled, even as they lifted him off his feet and carried him, kicking and bucking. “The Queen is not herself! I speak the truth. The Queen! Look to the Queen! La Rebelde does not lie!”

In moments, he was gone, and the music picked up as if it had never faltered. We, who had been trained to continue a dance even when our feet bled and our dinner had long gone cold, did not miss a beat. Even though, in the distance, we heard his screams.

Ketra, as la Relojero, raised her hands.

Around her, the flowers bloomed – dancers who shed their dull grey cloaks to reveal brightly coloured costumes underneath – and the crops flourished – sisters dressed in gold and green who swayed from side to side as wheat and corn under the breath of the wind.

Thus Tierra Mejór was born.

La Grulla should soar, here, as the world came to life, her glass heart beating as the planet turned, and Time began as we would know it for the next five hundred years. La Grulla, by whom we measured our days and months and years, as she waxed and waned, shining in the day and fading in the night. La Grulla, who would always watch over us, her people, as surely as she had carried us on her back across the vast regions of the Unknown.

La Reloj de pie struck once. Twice, thrice. Around me, the sisters dipped and swayed, then raised their hands to la Grulla. We were an image of perfection, our timing impeccable, our movements precisely measured by our ticking metrónomos. The crowd looked on as we told the story for the five hundredth time in this, our ancient city. Tens of thousands rejoiced as we celebrated our place on Tierra Mejór.

La Reloj de pie struck the fourth time, the fifth.

A great cheer went up. I turned my eyes to the Clocktower. Below the large face of its clock – it must have been as wide across as the room I shared with my sisters – was a balcony with a railing of iron lacework. There a door opened, and here she was, the beautiful Queen, la Reina. In a gown of green velvet, with her silver-blond hair curling around her perfect cheeks, she raised a hand, and more cheers resounded. It was too far to see her features, but I imagined she smiled.

La Reloj chimed the sixth.

I stepped forward, to the base of the statue of la Oráculo. I would pirouette seven times around it, standing, each time I leaped, on one of the symbols etched at precise intervals; one, two three – I twirled, my white skirts flying – four, five – again, faster – six, – and now I stopped before the outstretched hand of la Oráculo. La Reloj de pie struck the final time. Seven. I landed on the final cobblestone, marked with Aurelia’s symbol, the crescent moon, and only just big enough for the toe of my slipper. I plucked a feather from my skirt, and skipped ahead, raising my arms – my arms, which were wings – ready to place the feather in the statue’s stone palm.

In the distance, beyond the music and the cheers of the crowd, a pistol went off.

And before these countless watching eyes, I fell.



Chapter Two


To recognise moments in which history is made is a skill I have never mastered. To me, they have always slipped past amid my own personal anguishes.

I wish I had the skill of the poets. To spot these moments that should be recorded, and to capture them as Ante, the Poet, captured the sight of the first dawn on Tierra Mejór:

‘In those bright shades of red and gold as la Grulla rose, we saw the Pattern as we had not before, unshrouded, clear. And distance was no longer that which could not be crossed, but that which proved a child, starving, orphaned, and alone, would be denied nourishment never, so long as he could take one final step.”

But how had Companion Ante known, as he penned those words, that they would survive until this turning, recorded in the Texto Sagrado, where I would read them with such awe, under the guidance of my grandmother? How had he known how important that one sight would be for all the people who would live after him on Tierra Mejór? For surely, the rising of la Grulla was often something I reviled, wishing only to turn over and return to sleep for another hour, or two. I would never think to write of it, even if I had the skill. But what if that single moment was one which would change the course of my life? What if, in rolling over in my bed and ignoring the first breaking rays, in wishing I was somewhere else, in another time, I missed something vital?

This time was no exception. Something had changed, but I wanted nothing more than this moment to pass, for things to settle back into their normal equilibrium. But that is not the way of the Pattern, as I have come to learn. And so, I will do my best, now, to put it into words; I will seek to tell it as truthfully as I can.

***

Pain. It woke me, a tight knot in my stomach. Strange. It was my foot I had injured, after all, not my abdomen; yet that was where the pain was, like a rock lodged in my belly.

A blurred face appeared before me.

“Oh, Imre,” it gasped. “Oh, dearest!”

Ketra. Her features twisted in sympathy that did not quite reach her eyes. I tried to speak, but couldn’t manage an intelligent sound.

“She’s awake! Imre, don’t try to speak. The healer gave you herbs for the pain... they said they will make you drowsy and confused.”

“I can speak,” I replied indignantly, but the words came out wrong. I reached for my mask, but of course, it was no longer there. Instead, my fingers grazed the slightly raised metal of my metrónomo, from the corner of my left eye, up to my left temple. It throbbed steadily, pulsing with the beat of life, but there was a faintness to the beat, I was almost sure. Ketra pushed my hand back and ran delicate fingers over my golden hair. I tried to shake away her touch, but in my current state could do nothing but endure it.

“What have you got there?” a soft voice murmured, prodding at my hand. My fingers were clenched tightly around something small and soft. A feather, a white feather, the feather I was to carry to the end of the dance. Every year for four hundred and ninety-nine years, a feather had been placed in the hand of the statue of la Oráculo, to be left where it would vanish minutes, or hours, or days later as the wind bore it away.

Every year but this one, thanks to me.

“Give it to me, Imre. You don’t need it anymore.”

I clenched my fist, and they did not press me.

“Daughter.”

Maestra Tinir, crouching by my side. Her touch was gentle, but firm. I tried not to. I couldn’t help it. I started to cry.

“Do not.” There was no sympathy in her voice. It was a command, a statement of the futility of such an action. Her next words were warmer. “You never did do things by halves.”

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

She waved a hand dismissively. “There’s nothing to be done now.”

“But the Festival de Tiempo... I’ve ruined everything...”

She pinched her lips. “You danced well, Imre. No one can dispute that. You felt the spirit of the Crane herself, my little one, did you not?”

“Yes.” I nodded earnestly. I had felt it, for those glorious moments of the Dance.

“That is a gift of the Pattern, an eternal gift.”

“I will do better next time,” I promised her. “I will do better!”

She smiled, and it cut my heart to pieces. It was the wrong kind of smile. The smile of regret, of untold truths. I felt so numb and cold. I didn’t dare ask her. I turned my head away into the pillow, and they left me alone. I tucked the feather under my pillow. I slept.

***

When I was a very small child, my grandmother gave me a present. It was the only thing I kept from my childhood when I came to the Pavilion. I could still remember my abuela, her old, frail hands pressing this gift into mine, and how carefully I had unwrapped it.

It was a small porcelain statue of a woman wearing a blue robe and hood. She was kneeling, her lovely face bowed. She looked a little like the statue of la Relojero in the Templo.

“Mary,” Abuela explained. “Her name was Mary, and she was worshipped by many people on Old Earth for being the mother of a very important man.”

I tried to imagine a world where a woman could be worshipped for carrying only one son, but my six-year-old mind could not fathom it. I loved that figurine, however, with its chipped, worn paint. It fit perfectly into my fist as I’d grown, and I’d carried it everywhere for many years, imagining that she accompanied me on all my adventures, this small, blue-cloaked woman; until at last, I came to the Pavilion, where she found a home beneath my pillow.

I felt, now, as if I was the size of that statue, frozen, unable to move, while some great hand had tipped my world on its head.

***

I had never been allowed such luxury as I have in the turning that followed. In the wake of my accident, every previously held law was suspended; even the dawn regimen took place without me. And for once, I would have given anything at all to drag myself from sleep and the comfort of bed to walk with the others to the courtyard, to feel the chill of morning and the burn of waking stretches, to listen to Reloj de pie ring seven times through the streets and remind us of our numbered turnings, to speak my parabra under my breath and hope the Pattern would hear it.

I could hardly taste the food I ate: when I was finished, the meal sat in my stomach like a stone and I wished I could vomit. Later on, I did.

I heard noises beyond the curtained door, footsteps, voices, the daily sounds of life in the White Pavilion. It was a taunt, a reminder that everything went on without me. That I was so unimportant, this changed nothing.

It changed everything.



About The Author

Ruth Fox is the author of many books, including the award-winning Monster-boy: Lair of the Grelgoroth.

She has a Bachelor of Arts/Diploma of Arts in Professional Writing and Editing, and loves to read science fiction, fantasy, romance, adventure, young adult, adult, literature, old books, new books, and everything in between.

She lives with her husband, two cats and three very adventurous sons (who also love books) in Victoria, Australia.

You can find more information about her other books on her website at:
https://rfoxclair.wixsite.com
or on Facebook at:
https://www.facebook.com/RuthFoxAuthor

THE WHITE PAVILION

The moral rights of Ruth Fox to be identified as the author of this work have been asserted.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the publisher.

Copyright 2022 Hague Publishing

Cover: The White Pavilion by Jade Zivanovic http://www.steampowerstudio.com.au/

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