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They walked on, descending the thickly grassed slope. At first Atrus thought they would come upon the islanders unobserved, but then, a hundred yards or so from the edge of the village, a shout went up. Someone had spotted them. At once there was a buzz of voices down below and signs of sudden, frantic activity.

Atrus climbed up onto the rock, hurrying to catch up. He had seen quite a few of his father's Ages these past three years-he hasn't begun to try making ages yet-but it had never ceased to astonish him that mere words could create such vivid and tangible realities.

"Master" the acolyte answered, glancing at Atrus, his dark eyes curious.

"You are welcome, Great Master. Your dwelling is prepared."

"People of the Thirty-seventh Age," he began, speaking loudly, the circle of hills making his words echo back to him across the lake. "This is my son, Atrus. I have decided that we shall stay with you for a time. While he is here you will treat him with the same respect you accord me."

"Good," Gehn said, lowering his head so that the man could place the garland over it. Then, straightening up, he gestured to the man, "Gather the villagers. I shall speak to them at once."

They went down, through a narrow lane flanked by low but spacious huts with steeply sloping roofs of thatch, their wooden walls rising out of a bed of large, shaped boulders. Suspended, slatted wooden walkways swayed gently overhead as they walked through, and as they came out beside the lake, Atrus saw how the earth there had been covered with boards; how steps had been cut into the face of the rock, leading down. Below was a kind of harbor, one wall of which had been created by sinking hundreds of long poles into the bottom of the lake to form a sunken barrier. In the harbor were a dozen or so small but sturdy-looking fishing boats, their masts laid flat, their cloth sails furled.

"Good," Gehn said, lowering his head so that the man could place the garland over it. Then, straightening up, he gestured to the man, "Gather the villagers. I shall speak to them at once."

Coming to the front of the building, Gehn turned, facing the crowd, whose number had grown to several hundred.

In the flickering light of the torches, Atrus saw what he was wearing. It was a crude, handwoven copy of a Guild cloak]

Behind them, the people of the village gathered, following silently, their torches burning brightly in the moonlit darkness.

Atrus stared at his father, surprised. This was the first he had heard of any of this. But Gehn spoke on, his voice booming now.

They went down, through a narrow lane flanked by low but spacious huts with steeply sloping roofs of thatch, their wooden walls rising out of a bed of large, shaped boulders. Suspended, slatted wooden walkways swayed gently overhead as they walked through, and as they came out beside the lake, Atrus saw how the earth there had been covered with boards; how steps had been cut into the face of the rock, leading down. Below was a kind of harbor, one wall of which had been created by sinking hundreds of long poles into the bottom of the lake to form a sunken barrier. In the harbor were a dozen or so small but sturdy-looking fishing boats, their masts laid flat, their cloth sails furled.

On the other side, the land began to climb again, and on the top of a narrow ridge, behind which was the more massive slope of the hill, was what looked like a meeting hut of some kind, much larger than the huts that faced the harbor. As they crossed the bridge and began to climb the slope, Atrus saw lights being hastily lit up ahead, garlands hung between the wooden posts at the front of the building.

Atrus stared at his father, surprised. This was the first he had heard of any of this. But Gehn spoke on, his voice booming now.

Atrus climbed up onto the rock, hurrying to catch up. He had seen quite a few of his father's Ages these past three years-he hasn't begun to try making ages yet-but it had never ceased to astonish him that mere words could create such vivid and tangible realities.

"I have done much better work than this," he answered, climbing up onto one of the rocks, then stepping down the other side. "In some ways this is my least successful experiment, I tried to keep it simple. Too simple, possibly."

Atrus climbed up onto the rock, hurrying to catch up. He had seen quite a few of his father's Ages these past three years-he hasn't begun to try making ages yet-but it had never ceased to astonish him that mere words could create such vivid and tangible realities.

"You are welcome, Great Master. Your dwelling is prepared."

"Now lead on" Gehn said, his voice stern, commanding.

On the other side, the land began to climb again, and on the top of a narrow ridge, behind which was the more massive slope of the hill, was what looked like a meeting hut of some kind, much larger than the huts that faced the harbor. As they crossed the bridge and began to climb the slope, Atrus saw lights being hastily lit up ahead, garlands hung between the wooden posts at the front of the building.

On the other side, the land began to climb again, and on the top of a narrow ridge, behind which was the more massive slope of the hill, was what looked like a meeting hut of some kind, much larger than the huts that faced the harbor. As they crossed the bridge and began to climb the slope, Atrus saw lights being hastily lit up ahead, garlands hung between the wooden posts at the front of the building.

Coming to the front of the building, Gehn turned, facing the crowd, whose number had grown to several hundred.

"It's very beautiful," he said finally, looking to his father, but Gehn merely grunted, surveying his work with what seemed a haughty disregard.

Behind them, the people of the village gathered, following silently, their torches burning brightly in the moonlit darkness.

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