Cover image for Muse of art
Muse of art
Anthony, Piers.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : TOR, 1999.
Physical Description:
445 pages : maps ; 25 cm.
General Note:
"A Tom Doherty Associates book."
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



One of the worlds bestselling authors of fantasy and science fiction with such popular series as Xanth and Blue Adept, Piers Anthony won over tens of thousands of new readers with his Geodyssey, a stirring, passionate epic of prehistory in the bestselling tradition of Jean Auel and Michael and Kathleen Gear. The history of the human race on Earth is the longest and best story we can know, but it is so enormous that it is almost impossible to tell. Piers Anthony has chosen to begin to tell it through the eyes and experiences of a single family, as they are reincarnated through history. Anthony draws his readers through the evolutionary history of the human species, from a womans dawning awareness of time and place to a time in the future when humanity is no longer bound to a single world. We experience their confusion, their joy of discovery, their losses and pains, and their final glowing realization that they have known one another throughout time. Piers Anthonys millions of readers are waiting for a new installment of this greatest of all tales. Anthonys most ambitious project to date. Well conceived and written from the heart. ~ Library Journal, on Isle of Woman

Author Notes

Piers Anthony Dillingham Jacob was born in August, 1934, in Oxford, England. He graduated from Goddard College in Vermont in 1956. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen while serving in the United States Army in 1958. He served in the U.S. Army from 1957-1959. In 1977, he received a British Fantasy Award for A Spell for a Chameleon. Anthony's family emigrated to the United States from Britain when he was six.

Highly popular because of his science fiction and fantasy works, Anthony is also known for the Jason Striker series and martial arts novels co-written with Roberto Fuentes. A highly prolific author, Anthony's other works include Bio of a Space Tyrant, Cluster, and the Omnivore series.

Anthony makes his home in Tampa, Florida. He also writes under the pseudonym Robert Piers.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

SF/Fantasy??? Again, Anthony uses the device of reincarnation, so that the characters in this novel remain consistent in temperaments, relationships, and even appearances, despite living in different periods and on different continents. This permits Anthony to tell the story he is really interested in, that of the development of humanity over time, without continually introducing new characters. This fourth volume of the Geodyssey series examines the role of art in society, with art defined broadly to include storytelling and ritual as well as the plastic arts. It features the bright, difficult, and so aptly named Melee, the inarticulate but still eloquent Dillon, the crippled Od, and the wise Bata struggling with the various motivations for making art: love, spirituality, even greed. While the book ranges from prehistory to Olmec Mexico and Augustan England to posthistory after an awesomely destructive Third World War, Anthony's message remains hopeful. Through imagination and art, it maintains, humans have become and will continue to become a better species. --Patricia Monaghan

Publisher's Weekly Review

The fourth volume of the Geodyssey series explores the evolution and history of our species from the distant past (500,000 years ago) to the near future by examining the use of such diverse (and dubious) arts as curiosity, healing, story, expression, drama, seduction, arrogance, ploy and justice. Anthony creates a family of archetypes (Pul the Warrior, Heath the Healer, Od the Scientist, Dillon the Hunter, Bata the Wise Woman, Melee the Seductress, etc.) and sets them in different historical situations to show how each of these arts was used. The author is at his best explaining how science flourished: Ods curiosity about volcanoes helps save not only his life but those of other homo erectus smart enough to listen to a physically weak but intellectually superior man. Other scenarios, such as Melees interminable seduction of Dillon in the Olmec culture (around 900 B.C.), seem more like an excuse for peeking up a beautiful womans skirt. Anthony fails to impart a proper period flavor to the chapters, so both the writing and the history remain flat. Even after half a million years of civilizing arts, moreover, at the end of the novel, as at its beginning, men tell women what to do, women influence men through sex, and warlike stupidity still fractures mankind into small tribes bent on their own survival. In his introduction, Anthony refers to this as a message novel; the (likely unintended) message seems to be that the more things change, the more they remain the same. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

A primitive mans curiosity, an old womans healing knowledge, and a clever girls ability to use stories to change the minds of her people begin the discovery of the arts of survival that carry the human race from prehistory to the near-future. This latest addition to Anthonys epic story cycle, which includes Hope of Earth (LJ 4/15/97), examines the progress of humanity through the vehicle of short stories and vignettes that feature recurring characters and common themes. Ambitious in scope, highly personal in execution, this stand-alone tale of epic events and common people belongs in most fantasy collections. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter 1 Curiosity Two million years ago, Homo erectus (henceforth simply Erectus) emerged from Africa and conquered the world. As he settled in different regions and climates, he adapted to local conditions, starting the familiar process of speciation. One might suppose that changes would be most extreme in the farthest reaches of the world, but that may not have been the case. The continent of Africa is as varied as any, ranging from the vast Sahara Desert to tropical jungles to snow-covered mountains. One of the most striking features is the Great Rift Valley, which may have been responsible for the distinctive evolution of Australopithecus, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, and finally modern mankind. Most of the fossils of early hominids have been found there. This does not necessarily mean that this was the source; it could be that the species were resident elsewhere, but the conditions were not suitable to preserve their bones. So, only those who happened to die in the Rift made fossils. But for the purpose of this novel, it is assumed that the Rift was the source, and this chapter suggests why. The locale is the mountain range bounding the northeast shore of Lake Tanganyika, not far south of the equator. Lake Victoria is across the plains to the northeast. Erectus lives both on the plain and in the mountains, and has a common culture, but the two habitats are so different that already the transition between them is not easy. This is bound to lead to relative genetic isolation of the population residing in the geographically isolated Rift. The time is half a million years before the present era: 500,000 b.p.e . Curiosity might seem like (no pun) a curious art. But just about anything can become an art if pursued appropriately. In the Introduction the ratio of mutations is mentioned, wherein more than 99 percent are harmful, but the 1 percent account for progress necessary to long-range survival. It may be similar, if less extreme, for character traits. The curious cat may have died, but the curious human being may have set foot on a path to ultimate satisfaction. For in the dangerous exploration of the unknown lies the key to rare knowledge . The fire mountain struck so suddenly that it caught Od off-guard. He had watched it warily for days as it rumbled and shook and belched roiling clouds of smoke. He knew it was dangerous, but his insatiable curiosity had drawn him in anyway. Just what kind of wood did it burn, to make such smoke? What was going on, down inside the mountain? Could he find a way inside, to see the source of the mystery? But then it blew out such fierce smoke, and drooled flowing fire, and suddenly Od could not go back the way he had come. He hastily secured his precious bit of fire. He had made a fire-bed in a large animal skullcap, closing it in with another section of skull so that the ember would burn very slowly. Right now there was more fire all around than he could handle, but he had worked so hard to capture some of it that he was determined to hold on to it. He tucked the closed shell into his waistband and looked around for the best retreat from this mountain. A woman screamed. Od looked, and saw her standing still while a monstrous snake of fire twined toward her. He ran to help--and saw another man running in from the opposite direction. They arrived almost together. The other man was large and brutish-looking, so Od gave way; he wasn't keen on fights with bigger men. The man stopped beside the woman and looked down at her feet. She had gotten one foot tangled in a mass of vines and couldn't pull it free. Instead of using her hands to part the vines, she was just standing helplessly and screaming, girl-fashion. No, that wasn't a fair assessment. She had simply panicked, because she was caught just as the fire threatened, as anyone might. The other man reached down to free her foot, then cursed and pulled back his hand. Now Od saw that the hand was injured; only the fistful of green leaves the man grasped. stopped the blood from flowing. He couldn't use that hand until it healed. So Od stepped in and addressed the captive foot. The woman's leg was nicely formed, and so was her body; she was a beauty. The kind who wouldn't smile at Od, ordinarily, because of his slight stature and lack of heavy muscle. But she was too busy screaming to notice his liabilities right now. He tried to work the vines loose, but she kept yanking her leg, trying to free it, and the vines responded by tightening up. There was no time to waste, because the fire snake was coursing closer; he smelled the burning brush and leaves. So he brought out his chipped stone blade and sawed at the vines. In a moment they parted, and the foot pulled free. The woman, off-balanced by the sudden release, stepped back, and would have fallen to the ground. But the other man caught her with his uninjured hand and held her upright. His forearm crossed her breast, and his eyes were widening as he realized. But the fire snake was almost upon them. "Up!" Od cried. "Flee up!" For he had seen that the fire snake flowed downward, in the manner of water. The way to avoid it was to go in the direction it did not. But the two seemed distracted. The woman didn't seem to realize that she was now free to run, and the man was still appreciating her breast. Both were too concerned with details to appreciate the larger situation. "Up!" Od repeated. "Fire come!" Now they looked where he pointed, and realized the immediacy of the danger. They separated and bolted for the slope Od indicated. He ran there too, as the foliage around them burst into flame. They reached the top of a hillock and could not go farther, because it descended on the far side. Already the fire snake was licking at it, curling around and swelling as it burned everything it touched. Then it divided and coursed along on both sides of the hillock, trying to make it an island. "Flee here!" Od cried, appreciating the danger. But already there was fire to either side, and its heat was intense. The stream on one side was thin, but fire was bursting out wherever it touched. They might jump over the fire snake, but how could they avoid the brush burning around it? But he saw that the streams had not yet flowed far beyond the hillock. The fire snake tended to slow and thicken at the lead edge, and then more liquid fire would flow across it and course on beyond. It was interesting to see, but too deadly to study at the moment. "Down! Around!" Od cried. They just stared at the fire, not understanding him. "Follow!" Od cried, and ran the way he knew it had to be. Then, as they still hesitated, he repeated "Follow!" At last they acted, following him. He led them down the slope until they were beyond one of the fire snakes, then cut across ahead of it to reach some more rising ground. This time he made sure it led on up into the mountain, so they could not get trapped again. The way got steep, and they had to slow. But they had left the fire snake behind, and it was not following. It was safe to slow down, for now. That was just as well, for the woman was panting. Her large breasts rose and fell rapidly, attracting the eye. "Safe," Od said, slowing to a walk. Then he tapped his chest. "Od." The man tapped his own chest. "Pul." The woman did not tap her chest. She cupped a breast. "Avalanche," she said, giving the word for a terrible slide of rocks down a mountain. "Od--morning sun man," he said, introducing himself further. He meant that he came from the direction of the rising sun. "Pul--evening sun man." He pointed toward a region be-yond the fire mountain. "Avalanche-plains woman." She pointed toward a region to the south. So they were from three different tribes. The man must have been hunting, and the woman must have been foraging, and they had gotten caught by the anger of the fire mountain. Just as Od had been caught because he had been too curious about it. Of course that wasn't the whole story, by any means. Then a large animal charged toward them. It was a beest, huge and shaggy and powerful, with dangerous horns, galloping blindly, crazed by the fires. They were in its way, because this was a region clear of brush. Avalanche screamed again, and started running directly away from the bull. That was sheer folly. "Run across!" Od cried. He knew that none of them could hope to match the speed of the giant creature. But she wasn't hearing him. He caught at Pul's good arm. "Across!" he repeated, pointing. Pul nodded. He surely had had experience dodging such creatures. He sprinted after the woman, caught her around the small waist, and hurled her and himself out of the way as the beest charged through. "Rescue!" Avalanche exclaimed as they untangled, and managed a smile. Od caught up to them. "Bad, here," he said. "Animals." Pul nodded. There could be other crazed creatures fleeing the fires. Ordinarily even large animals avoided people, but this was different. The mountain rumbled, making the ground shake. Avalanche looked wildly around, plainly terrified, and Pul seemed little better off. Od realized that it was up to him to discover an escape from this dangerous region, because it was clear that they were likely to die if they remained here. The problem was that the fire rivers kept coming, and the fires they started in the vegetation were spreading. Smoke was clouding upward in several places, marking the carnage. Even if the three people survived the heat, there would be nothing left for them to forage. Survival was more than merely escaping danger; they had to be where they could find food. He peered up the slope--and saw that it was one of the roots of the fire mountain. There was nothing up there but destruction. But if they went down, they would be joining the fire rivers. Even if they got around one, there would be others. How could they escape them all? He would have to arrange to see the larger pattern. That meant going up, even if it was the wrong mountain. He started up. "Where?" Pul asked nervously. Could he explain? "Up--see down." Sure enough, both the man and woman were confused. So Od simply moved on, because he feared that there was not much time. The two followed him, though he did not want it. He expected to return this way when he knew better where to go, so there was no need for them to stay close. But how could he explain that? So he continued moving, letting them follow. He found an outcropping of rock and mounted that. From here there was a fair view of the valley below. There were two rivers of fire, one on either side of this region, and their paths were converging. They would meet near the water river that wound between this mountain and the next one. The next mountain was quiet; its foliage was untouched, and no smoke issued from its summit. It looked safe. Now he knew his best course. Straight down to the river, across it, and straight up the other mountain. Avoiding the fires along the way. There should be time to do it, if they hurried. He started down. "Where?" Pul demanded. "River," Od explained. "Fast." "Smoke!" Avalanche protested. "Fire!" Again, how could he explain? But he tried. "Bad," he said, pointing up the slope to the fuming top of the mountain they were on. Then he pointed across to the other mountain. "Good." They seemed to want to argue, but then the mountain rumbled again, more violently. That convinced them. They started down the slope, as he did. As they got lower, the smoke spread out to cut them off. Od didn't want to go through it, but didn't want to wait for it to clear, either. The smoke was thinner near the ground. So he bent low, carrying his head below waist level, and ran on down. The others hesitated, then followed similarly. It was awkward, but possible to breathe, and he could see ahead far enough to avoid any open blazes. Because he knew where he was going, he soon reached the water river. But the fire rivers were closing on them, and the smoke from the burning vegetation was worse. So he plunged in. Avalanche screamed. Startled, Od looked back--and saw a large shape nearby. Then he realized that it was merely a piece of a tree, not a water predator. He swam on across the river. After a moment the other two followed. As they reached the farther bank, one of the fire rivers struck the water river, and there was a huge hissing and cloud of steam. It was uncertain which would win the battle between fire and water, but this was no good place for people, regardless. They had made it in time, but not by much. Now they moved on up the new slope, leaving the raging fires behind. But the continued hissing of the river indicated that the issue had not been settled; more fire was flowing. They needed to get as far away from it as possible. "Up," Od decided. Because the fire rivers would not follow them there, and maybe not the big galloping animals. The others did not question it. They followed him as he picked his way up the slope. Wafts of smoke and steam pursued them, so that they didn't pause, though the steep climb was tiring. They knew it could be death to let the fires catch them. Pul was the strongest, and soon he was forging ahead. When Avalanche tired, he helped her keep the stiff pace, while Od followed. He saw her clinging close, her body rubbing against the man's body from shoulder to thigh. It was usually thus, with larger, stronger men getting the women. Od wished that he could impress a woman similarly, but of course he could not. They plunged on until the fire mountain shrank in the distance. The smoke faded, and the air became fresh, with only a tinge of the smell of burning remaining. As evening approached, the day cooled, but they were sweating. Still, how would it be when they stopped for the night? They converged on a tiny driblet of a stream. Suddenly Od realized how thirsty he had become. The others were the same; they staggered toward the water. But there was nothing there to drink; it was hardly more than a moistening in the soil. "Water!" Pul cried. "Drink!" Od considered. Normally streams grew larger as they descended. But it would not be good to follow this one back down the mountain. Maybe there was a pool somewhere above. It seemed the best chance, all things considered. "Up," he said. They stared at him. "Water down," Pul said. "Fire down," Od reminded him. The man grimaced and nodded. They followed the stream up. As darkness closed, they found the origin of the stream. It issued from a deep small cave. At the mouth of the cave the water pooled. Pul threw himself down on his belly and plunged his face into the water, sucking it up noisily. When he was sated, Avalanche took her turn, more delicately drawing in the liquid. Finally Od had his chance--and the pool had been depleted. They had not left any for him. But he knew that it would in time refill; he would just have to endure until it did. Now Avalanche began digging in the moist dirt of the stream bed, looking for clams to eat. But there were none; this was too high, without enough steady moisture. So she foraged for tubers instead, and soon found some. She was a plains woman, Od remembered, not conversant with this kind of terrain; but maybe she knew where to find food. But the roots she produced were inedible. "Fire," she said. Fire--to cook them with. Od remembered his shells. Had his ember survived his swim across the river? He brought it out, opened it, and blew on it. The outside material was soggy, but a faint glow remained in the center. "Fire," he said, satisfied. Avalanche quickly fetched dry moss and leaves. Od added moss to his ember as he blew on it, and after a moment the bright spot enlarged. Then the moss caught, and he had a small open flame. After that it was routine. They got a fire going, collecting fallen branches to sustain it, and roasted the tubers. In that period Od checked the cave pool, and found that enough water had seeped in to give him a drink. At last he was able to slake his thirst. But now the air was becoming cold, and they were inadequately prepared. Pul especially; he was shivering. Od realized that the man's injury was weakening him. He looked cold, but his body was hot. Sometimes wounded men got that way, and they had to rest and be kept warm, or they could become very ill and even die. How could the man be warmed? The fire wasn't enough, and would be less as it died out. Od considered, and concluded that they needed a way to hold the heat in. "Shelter," he said. Avalanche nodded. She helped him forage for longer branches, and for leaves. By the light of the fire they made a lean-to and chinked it with small branches, leaves, and dirt. Then Od made a fire inside it, astonishing both Avalanche and Pul. "Burn shelter," the man protested. "Small," Od said reassuringly. "Warm." Soon they saw that it was so. His small fire heated the shelter, and when they crawled into it, they were warm. There was barely enough room for the three of them, however; they were jammed in together behind the fire. There was another problem: the moment Pul was in contact with Avalanche, he desired her. "Avalanche," he said. "Sex." "Pul," she agreed. "Sex." She had obviously expected this. It was a natural consequence of proximity. A young woman next to a man could not be ignored. The two had made their contract: they wished to copulate. That meant that Od needed to give them privacy, for as a rule it was not done publicly. Not until a couple was formally established, so that everyone knew; then they could indulge in any sex-play they wished, at any time. It was the first experimental liaisons that were normally hidden. So he crawled out of the shelter and went to forage in the dark for more wood for the fire. It would probably be needed by morning. He paused a moment to orient on the surroundings, pulling his hide shawl close about him. The air was surprisingly cold, and he thought it must be because the mountain was cold, just as the other mountain was hot. He saw the distant glow of the fires in the valley, and smelled the faint echo of their smoke, which differed from that of his own tame fire. Now he heard the sounds of the union of Pul and Avalanche. He was a big strong man; she was a beautiful woman, so it made sense. But how Od wished that he could have been someone or done something to deserve the woman! It was always thus. He simply was not the kind of man who impressed women. Not the good ones. His liaisons had been brief and not wholly satisfactory. The top man always took the prettiest woman, and the second man took the second prettiest, and so on down. Od, at the bottom, got the ugliest woman, or the infirm one. Some of them were willing enough, but were simply not as appealing as the pretty ones. Still, it had seemed that his luck was turning, recently. But then-- He shook off the thought. What use to dwell on his misfortune? He found his way by memory and feel, and soon had a good armful of wood. He brought it back and dumped it down just outside the shelter, knowing that the sound would signal his return, if Pul and Avalanche hadn't completed their liaison. He paused a moment, then got down to crawl into the warmth with them. They were indeed done; it must have been quick. Avalanche, perhaps not quite satisfied, wanted to talk. "Avalanche--leave tribe," she said. So she wasn't just coincidentally isolated by the sudden action of the fire mountain. She had chosen to leave it, or had been exiled. But why would such a beautiful woman leave on her own--or be sent away? "Baby no," she explained. And there it was: a girl was not considered to be a woman until she bore her first baby. Then she was suitable for regular association with a man. So girls began having sex as soon as they were able, even before their breasts formed, hoping for an early passage to the estate of maturity. It was all right for any man to indulge himself with such girls, even if he already had a woman, for a girl was not a woman. Indeed, it was an expected diversion for those men whose women were large with child. Only with her passage to maturity did a girl achieve the rights of adulthood. Avalanche, it turned out, had had sex with every man in her tribe, and many times with some, but after a hand full of years she had not borne a baby. So the mature women had ruled that she must go, because barrenness was not acceptable. Every tribe needed babies, for there were never enough children. That was the official reason. It was also clear that a number of the men were enjoying their diversions with Avalanche too much, for she had a fuller body than some women who had borne babies. Women were not supposed to be jealous of girls, but in this case it seemed they were. They wanted Avalanche committed to one man, or gone. Without a baby, she could not be committed, so she was exiled. "Baby," she concluded. "Must." Od nodded in the dark. She had to have a baby, or she would be unable to remain in any tribe. Most girls were small of breast, thin of hip, and inexperienced in the ways of passion, so were no competition to mature women. By the time they filled out fully, and learned how best to please men, becoming fully attractive, they had their first baby. But Avalanche was large of breast, broad of hip, fair of face, and well experienced in passion. Naturally the mature women were not eager to have her associating with their men. So her beauty was her curse, and had cost her her place in the tribe. She was a pariah, an outcast. Avalanche nudged Pul. She had spoken her part and made her confession; now it was his turn. Reluctantly he spoke. "Pul. Leader. Beat." Oh. Pul had been a tribe leader, finally challenged and beaten by another man. Hence his damaged hand. An ordinary man of a tribe could be beaten and remain; he merely lost his place to the one who had beaten him. But when the leader lost, there was no place for him in the tribe, because the new leader would not want the constant threat of rechallenge. So if he survived, he was exiled. He would then have to find another tribe to join, either challenging its leader, or accepting the lowly status of the bottom man. Some lost leaders preferred to die. Pul evidently preferred to live. But he couldn't fight again until his hand healed, and that could be a long time. A man could live alone, but it wasn't necessarily easy, especially if he was incapacitated. He would not be able to hunt effectively, and he wouldn't know how to forage effectively, assuming he beat down his pride enough to try it. So Pul was in trouble--unless he stayed with Od and Avalanche. No wonder he had not been eager to speak of his situation. But there was a certain honor among people; if they spoke of things among friends, they had to speak truly. Pul needed friends, so was obliged. Avalanche nudged Od. It was his turn. He was really no more eager than Pul, or perhaps than Avalanche herself, but he too was obliged. So he started speaking, trying to find the words to convey the nuances, for strangers would not know them automatically. "Od. Bottom. Ugly women." He felt the other two nodding in the darkness; they knew how it was. "Band. Hand years. Change women." Again he felt their nods. They knew how a band of young men normally associated with a band of young women, each man taking the best of the women left after the higher men had chosen. Actually this was a sometimes thing, beginning as children formed social bands of their own without yet leaving their parents' bands. Boys associated with boys, and girls with girls. But as they developed their roles, the boys became increasingly proficient as hunters and fighters, and the girls as foragers, so they tended to associate increasingly, trading their wares. As they grew older, the boys became interested in sex, and the girls found it a convenient tool to encourage male attention and assistance. So a boy band would associate with a girl band for several months, trying things out, then move on to a new band. Gradually the individual associations became more serious, and when the girls started getting pregnant, commitments became semi-permanent. New couples could join established adult bands, but some of the youth bands remained, slowly losing members as couples dropped out, and becoming more adult themselves. Such maturing male-female band associations typically lasted three, four, or five years--the number of fingers on one hand--so that the women had time to bear their babies, nurse them, and wean them. By then the passion of love had subsided, and both men and women were ready for new associations. So the male band would move on, leaving the children with the women. When they found a new female band that was also looking, they would start the process over, the top men taking the most desirable women. But women with children tended to lose interest in moving on to new men. Eventually there would be too few willing to move on, and the male and female bands might merge and become permanent, or the men might join the bands of their women's parents. The men were more willing than the women to move on, but there were constraints, such as not wishing to leave their children behind. So the old ways passed. But Od's male band had remained viable, though it had to search ever-farther for suitable female bands, and to be ready to consider some rather young girls. Pre-nubile girls were often eager to gain experience, but Od's interest was in mature women. It was a mixed situation, and time to find a permanent adult band. If he could. He had not dared leave what he had, until some better opportunity offered. Then Od's luck had turned, because something unusual happened. "Woman top man no," Od said. Now there was surprise in his limited audience. The most desirable woman had turned down the top man? It was her right; a man was not supposed to take a woman without her acquiescence. But normally any woman wanted the top man, for that conferred privileges on her. Women knew that they would not remain desirable long, for much of beauty was in youth. Mating with the top man guaranteed top status for several years. But if the top man were especially ugly, or brutal, a woman who was very sure of herself could decline. Then he would pick the next most desirable, who would thereafter rank the one who had declined. It happened rarely, but it happened. "Woman next man no," Od continued. "Woman all men no. Woman Od yes." There was a sigh of romantic appreciation from Avalanche, and a grunt of disapproval from Pul. The most desirable woman of the band had chosen to mate with the least desirable man. This was almost unheard of. "Od love woman," he said. Avalanche reached out in the darkness to touch him, briefly. Of course he had loved her! What else could he do? She was desirable. A man hardly had a choice, once she fixed on him. Her flesh compelled him. Pul made a sound of disgust. He still didn't like the idea of a desirable woman turning down the top men. "Od happy," Od continued. What an understatement! It had been sheer delight to sleep in her arms. For the first time he was possessing a truly lovely woman. Now came the difficult part. "Od make fire." They knew that already, but he had a special point. "People know. Woman like." Avalanche touched him again, understanding. A woman liked a competent man, and few men could make a new fire. This woman had liked smartness rather than physical power. Some women were like that. It was a woman thing. "Fire burn shelter," he said. "Hurt people. Od blamed. Od banished." And there it was: the reason for his exile from the band. He had been blamed for starting the fire that had hurt the band. He hadn't done it, but everyone knew that he was the fire person, so the blame had fallen naturally to him. He had had no way to refute it. "Od burn?" Pul asked, verifying. "No." "High man take woman," Avalanche said. Od shrugged. He didn't know what happened to the woman after he left. She had had to stay with her band, and would have had to take one of the other men. "High man make fire," Pul said. "Take woman," Avalanche repeated. Suddenly it connected. They had understood what he had not: one of the bypassed men had set the fire to frame Od, so as to get his woman. So obvious, yet he had never suspected. How neatly he had been displaced! Then Pul dropped off to sleep. His loud snoring filled the shelter. Avalanche crawled out, probably needing to urinate. Od remained, hoping to become acclimatized to the snoring so that he could sleep. Then the woman returned, crawling in on his side. He thought she had gotten confused, but then she whispered "Od: sex?" But she had just had sex with Pul. Why should she want it again? "Why?" "Find man. Baby," she explained. Oh. She was trying all men, until she found the one who could give her a baby, so that she could achieve woman status. If that man happened to be one of these two, she could be sure only by having sex with both. It was a practical matter. "Quiet," she said. That, too, made sense, since it wouldn't be politic to wake Pul. She had no commitment to the man; they were just people thrown together by chance, doing what they could to get along with each other. That was why their actual act of sex had been private. Still, it seemed somewhat like cheating. But she was extremely desirable. She wasn't the woman he had had, or necessarily one he would want to associate with regularly, but she was good enough for this night. "Avalanche. Sex," he agreed. But as he put his arms around her, she stiffened. "Avalanche. Band," she said. So there was after all a price on it. She wanted help in gaining admission to another band. He understood her desire; her life would be far better within a mature band. Even if she bore a baby, she might be required to assume girl status, until she bore a baby for the woman's band, fathered by one of the men of its associated band. But she would not be admitted at all, if it were known that she was barren. So how could she get in? Od pondered the matter, as Avalanche rubbed the length of her body against him while retaining her token resistance. She was demonstrating what she offered, without yet acquiescing. His body responded eagerly; he did desire her, and she knew it. In fact the places she was rubbing him were excruciatingly well chosen. She had obviously learned a lot during her extended girlhood. He needed to discover an answer. Actually he needed an answer for himself, too, because he hated being alone. That was why he had tolerated bad treatment in his band for so long. He wanted other men to hunt with, and a woman to sleep with, and only in a band were those things feasible. He could probably join one, but he would start at the bottom again, and have the worst choice of women. But that was the price of his need for continual company. Pul, too, would have to seek another band. At least when his hand healed, he should be able to join one, because he was a large, strong man, an asset, if he didn't challenge the chief. That would be Od's advice to Pul: accept low status, then work his way up later. But that didn't solve the woman's problem. Women were more closely linked than men, because their daughters remained in the band with them when they became women. The girls formed their girl bands, getting experience with foraging and male relations, but when they got serious, they preferred to bring their men into their parents' bands. Only sons went off to join or form new bands on a permanent basis. So men were often going to new bands, while women seldom did. Their girl bands were more like play, and a majority of girls left them when they became women. The sisterhood of a female band could be extremely intolerant of female intrusions, unless it was too small and needed more members. So Pul could surely find a male band, but Avalanche, lovely as she was, might not readily find a female band. Unless she cared to settle for membership in a girl-child band, and she was plainly getting beyond that. Then he had it. "Go with man. Sister." For at times brothers were responsible for sisters, and sought to place them in good female bands. The brother would join a male band and his sister would join the associated female band, both taking other partners. "Baby no," she reminded him. A barren sister would be as unwelcome as any other barren woman. "Avalanche. Baby. Die." She should say that she had borne a baby, but it had died. That would qualify her as a woman. How could they know otherwise? Women did lose babies. Because such a loss was considered a sign of evil, such women could be exiled from their bands, so that the malady would not spread to others. It would explain her situation perfectly. She liked it. She relaxed, and gave him immediate entry to her body. He clasped her and finished almost instantly, after the balked arousal. Whether he liked her he wasn't sure, but this was an enormous relief. Then she withdrew and returned to her side of the shelter. Soon she was sleeping. Od, satisfied with the conclusion of the day if not with the rest of it, pondered, longer before sleeping. He had figured out the way for them to solve their problems, but the three of them could not do it together. So he would go his own way, when he could, and let the two of them join other bands. He believed that there were mature bands in the mountains, because he had heard of them. It would be best if the three fugitives found bands in the mountains, because those bands did not seem to associate much with the bands on the plains. Maybe things would be better there. He had gotten to sleep late, and slept late. When he woke, he was alone in the shelter. Pul and Avalanche had moved on without him. That was to be expected, yet he was disappointed; he had hoped for an association of at least a few days, and maybe some more secret sex with her. His luck had not changed. Well, at least he would get to do more individual exploring, satisfying his curiosity about the fire mountain. That was a partial consolation. The three were, inadvertently, entering a new type of life. The temporary youth bands were no longer feasible The mountains of the Rift were so different from the plains as to represent a distinct habitat where the old modes of hunting, foraging, and sleeping did not fare well Instead of going in their separate bands by day, and coupling by nights people had to crowd together for warmth. The days were warm enough, but the nights in the heights were chill It became necessary to make larger shelters where entire bands or tribes could sleep together, and to bring fire inside them to supplement the warmth of the massed bodies. So men and women had to be together in close company with other couples. This was awkward in a number of respects. A woman lying between two men could spark a quarrel between those men, because each desired her exclusively. Some people adapted better than others, and special mental and physical talents developed. Evolution was driven by the habitat of the Rift and though the adjustments seemed subtle or inconsequential at first, they became significant in time. Curiosity, learning well from unusual experience, the ability to tolerate crowding, to wait one's turn, to practice deception, and to adapt to a changing situation: small but important human traits. Indeed, those bands of Erectus that moved into the Rift were to become a new species: humankind . Copyright © 1999 by Piers Anthony Jacob Excerpted from Muse of Art by Piers Anthony All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.