Part 3 Chapter 1

28 Jul

Rocumbol lay in a deep fold between soaring overhead peaks. Its evolution into a city was gradual, almost unperceived by the oldest inhabitants. Tools, implements, and utensils for the lowland population of the nearby and distant valleys were the objects of its crafts and industries. Trade and exchange, though, were the lifeblood of Rocumbol. Without commerce, there would be little to draw country people to its cobbled streets of stone and brick.

Coal gas lanterns lit the streets both at night and through dim daylight. Work went on in its shops and factories from darkness to darkess, through the three or so hours of twilight illumination from the sky. There seemed to be a permanent cloud of mental depression to accompany the short, shadowy period labeled day. Rocumbol had an atmosphere of murk and shade that no one could overcome and defeated everyone. There was nothing of a happy nature in the daily life of the urban residents. Darkness characterized both the material and psychological levels of existence here.

The baaser found an inn where he and his companions could stay. He paid for two rooms, one for Joa and the second for himself and Yie. The decision was to keep the several silver platinum plates concealed behind a large dresser in the latter. After a full supper of roast carnero, greens, and carnotes, the three took a walk through the narrow oil-lit streets of central Rocumbol. No one said anything as the baaser led the other two onward. He had said nothing when they were eating. Had he some specific destination in mind tonight? wondered both Yie and Joa.

All at once, the leader stopped. They stood before an overhead sign that read “Popular Theater”.

“This is where I aim to look up an acquaintance of mine,” he explained with a grin. “His name is Frelo, and he is director of the drama establishment that you see. Come, I will buy us tickets and we will go in to see his current production. It is certain to take our minds off our current troubles and worries.”

The presentation for that evening, an historical play about pioneering migrants on the planet, had already begun. The first act was about to finish as the three sat down in the back of the darkened auditorium. Only a dozen or so people made up the diminutive audience for the stage production then in progress. They were a noiseless, soundless group that never made any comment.

It was easy for the newcomers to pick up the thread of the thin plotline of the drama in progress.

Hardy agriculturists were being compelled to turn to mouflon herding because of the poor growing conditions of the valleys. Conflict with highlanders occurred over mountain law claims and boundaries. The hero and the heroine were strangers, kept apart by narrow, frugal parents on both sides. But love triumphed when the protagonist succeeds in amassing the largest herd of animals in his dorp. The lovers united in formal wedlock performed by a friendly blamus, yet the valley was still left wallowing in miserable poverty. The perpetual hardness of life was only temporarily forgotten in the bliss of mating. A sad, bittersweet ending came at last, in the last act of the performance. The drama ended on a note of despair.

As soon as the play was over, the public in the theater seemed to flee outside. No applause greeted the actors on stage. They disappeared in the flash of an eye, as did the viewers of the presentation. The end seemed total and swift.

The baaser rose and turned to his two companions.

“Follow me,” he whispered. “We are going backstage.”

Not knowing what to expect, Yie and Joa did as he told them to.

He seemed well acquainted with the lay-out of the theater, taking them along a side aisle to a rear corridor with a series of closed dressing rooms.

A tall man in charge of scenery and props came up to the baaser. The pair exchanged a few words. “Frelo is in the office at the end,” said the theatrical producer, pointing down the hallway at a dark, recessed door.

The baaser proceeded onward, the two others in tow.

A single knock on the indicated door was followed by “Come in.”

Into the office entered the threesome as a unit.

A short man with tiny arms and feet sat at a small desk. His gray hair was outshone by argent eyes. The sharpness of the latter indicated a lively, comprehending mind behind them.

Frelo recognized at once the man at the head of the grouping. He rose from his chair with gusto. Without a word of greeting, he embraced the baaser as best he could. But the silver eyes then took in the two standing behind his friend.

“These are close associates of mine who escaped Caldaria with me. You have heard of the shameless assault that we suffered?”

“Only the general outline,” answered Frelo, rising to his feet. He shook the hand of first Joa, then Yie.

“Both of you have my sincerest sympathy,” muttered the director of the Popular Theater. “All my heart goes with your sufferings.”

“Let me give you the specifics of what occurred,” said the baaser. “It is an extremely tragic story.”

Frelo bit his thin lower lip. “This building will soon be closed. All of you must come with me to my apartment. There we will have an opportunity to go into all these matters at some length.”

In a short while, the four of them departed from the theater.

Frelo lived alone in a flat over a furniture and furnishings store.

He seated himself beside the baaser on a plain chair, facing a love seat where Joa and Yie situated themselves.

After offering his guests gateaux and crackers, the little impresario got down to the subject that most interested him.

“Shall we let our mortal enemies enjoy victory after victory? Can we never put a halt to their attacks and predations upon our people? How much longer must we suffer before we gain some relief? My mind and my heart have been torn to pieces by the news about what the Red Hats did in recent days.”

The baaser answered him. “We must never forget the record of their crimes. Let me relate the recent history that our mountain went through.”

For the next several minutes, Frelo listened with patience and attention to the specific details presented to him. With enormous effort, he held in check his mounting indignation. Only when the baaser finished, did the director give expression to the anger he had been stifling inside himself.

“This is outrageous. Intolerable. Why must the suffering, the inhuman pain continue on and on? When will delivery and liberation arrive for us? The pain suffered by our belowers never reaches any kind of end.”

He gazed first at Yie, then Joa. It was the latter who gave a reply.

“The advantage that the highlands have is simply their abundance of light and galactic energy. And that is the great deficiency down here below. Is that to be the permanent fate of the oppressed population of the lowlands?”

Frelo suddenly seemed to become distant and abstracted.

“I have always tried to utilize theatrical drama to remind our inhabitants of the yoke they dwell under. Traditional comedy makes fun of the conventicles, poking at their vanities and foibles. Romantic tragedy shows how even individual, private lives are affected by their interference and exploitation of us. Again and again, I have attempted to bring to the audience a conscious realization of our ancient plight. We are the low ones and our enemies live up on high, far above. That is the continuing truth. That is the foundation of all our personal misery and unhappiness.

“I have tried to keep burning the flame of just resistance. It has been difficult. Popular taste often seeks diversion and excitement. In other words, idle escape. But that has never been my purpose in presenting these dramatic shows.”

A thoughtful silence came over all four of them.

All at once, Yie found himself making a proposal to the director, one that surprised even himself as he listened to it.

“We need an active enterprise of some sort. Of any kind, to be accurate. I do not believe any of us have knowledge or experience with drama or the theater. But that may turn out to have advantage in what I think we should try to put and say on the stage.

“Why not present an enactment of what happened on Caldaria? Why not reveal how the oppressors keep us from constructing means of enjoying the light and energy of the heliac? Wouldn’t such a project help mobilize the citizens of this city? Give them a spirit and direction you have just told us is lacking today? The effects could be a revival and magnification of public feeling.

“I do not know how practical such a program might be. But at heart it involves positive thought and purposeful activity. It could prove to be the key that opens the door to new, previously unimagined possibilities.”

Frelo held his hand under his chin, considering the unusual plan. His mind moved with lightening speed. In an instant, he knew that he had to accept this provocative project, regardless of risks and difficulties.

“I think there are useful benefits involved, though it will not at all be easy to mount. The presentation of such a play could be fruitful in many ways. With the aid of all three of you, I believe that I can compose a tentative draft in a few days. But I shall need help from all of you. Will I have it?”

“Certainly,” nodded the baaser.

“Yes, of course,” said Yie.

“We will do all we can,” chimed in Joa.

“Let’s get to work on it immediately tonight,” decided Frelo, his eyes shining with new enthusiasm.

He went to a corner desk, opened a drawer, and took out a file of blank sheets and several stylographs. Returning to the others, the director distributed the paper and pens.

“Each of you can write down your primary memories of what occurred in the battle over Caldaria. That will be the raw material for the play we construct to reanimate the wrath of our public.”

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