Porett had decided to do some sightseeing. The first two days
after his arrival in Taltu were spent at East/Trad's imposing offices, in
meetings with senior management and middle-ranking people from Sales.
The next day was occupied entirely by a trade delegation representing
Estavian components-manufacturers, and the two days after that were taken
up visiting his newly-acquired warehouses and distribution centres. Both of
the evenings on the visit days had been set aside for one-on-one talks with
the most talented few of the individuals he'd encountered on days one and
Today, though, the executives he'd brought along from Cala could handle things. He needed some time off from boring business, and when you're in one of the great cultural centres of the world you may as well concede something to its tourist attractions.
Taltu did not have a major river, only a sad trickle that merited no bridges boasting more than a single arch. The Taltuers made up for this oversight on the part of their city's founders by constructing a long, tree- lined boulevard that furrowed from the former bear-ring in the north down to the High Cathedral in the centre of the old town.
They called the street the Heavenly Course. Since he was staying near the bear-ring, now a covered theatre for staging epic musical dramas, Porett had decided to walk its length into the heart of the city, where ruins and reminders of Estavia's glorious imperial past were everywhere. As he strolled, however, he found himself increasingly impressed by the later-period buildings lining his route. They were tall, well-kept, and elegant. The upper floors were expensive apartments; ground-level was a gallery, a coffee house, perhaps a small shop selling sweetmeats or exquisite porcelain dolls from Berean. In one section, set slightly back, wood-panelled antique emporia lent a gentlemanly, almost bygone character to the roadside, yet they didn't seem out of place. Further down, a row of classy restaurants was opening ready for late breakfast, their names written large at the base of their grand facades. Such signs of wealth were so pervading, so different from his native Cala, that Porett could barely believe Taltu was a conquered city.
And everywhere, there were trees, huge elms and limes, cherry trellises, their leafy bowers turning burning red with the onset of Autumn. Well-tended flowerbeds lined the broad, sheltered pavement. Here and there were tame birds, wood pigeons, even peacocks; Porett watched a weathered old man making up small packets of seed, a cluster of children bubbling around him. Strange statuary lurked in the shade, earnest artists sketched arboreal scenes, the whole avenue was full of the true-life minutiae that make first-time experience of a great city such a joy.
Although few people would have supposed it, Porett's interest in Taltu for itself was honest and genuine. He wanted to see the statue of King Piatr not simply because it was the foremost surviving work by Tol Savna, "the greatest sculptor who ever lived," but because it was so magnificently detailed, life-like and composed. Even the representations of it he'd seen had caused him to feel it could speak, silently, yet with a stunning eloquence imbued by the immense skill of its creator; it said that Piatr was an honourable and just man, but one who, when he found it necessary, was capable of being absolutely without mercy of any kind. Close up, the effect would be awesome. Frightening even after twenty centuries.
These days, people could make illuso-copies of the figure, of course, but their own attempts at original works were invariably lacking. What if Tol Savna were alive today, with magic at his disposal? What masterpieces could he create in a fraction of the time it took to work the marble King Piatr? Porett admired craftsmanship, yes, but what really impressed him was the way that some works of art could drive an emotion straight into the heart, without having any apparent means to do so. He hastened his pace, eager with anticipation.
In a pouch hanging from his belt was the com-3. He'd taken it with him, rather than risk leaving it untended. As his stride quickened, it swung out wildly, thudding into his thigh every step. He slowed down. His other self was negotiating with the Crown Office, arranging an audience with Justan when he came to Taltu next week; they'd originally been due to meet today, but The King's post-battle analysis schedule had taken precedence. Porett rested his hand on the bag to steady it, and noticed a slight green reflection. He peeked inside; the comsphere was glowing.
21st January 1999: isif31.htm