Iron Winter (Northland 3)

Iron Winter (Northland 3) by Stephen Baxter

Book: Iron Winter (Northland 3) by Stephen Baxter Read Free Book Online
Authors: Stephen Baxter
did a good turn back there. Of course if that sister of yours – Alxa? – ever fancies doing a Carthaginian a good turn—’
    ‘Shut up.’
    ‘All right, all right.’ Mago, trying not to shiver despite the cold that probed at his bare arms and scalp, inspected the paintings. They were just a jumble to him, figures and
shapes of all sizes and positions. He squinted at the nearest canvas. ‘Ouch.’
    ‘You’re the artist, are you?’
    ‘Of some of them,’ said Nelo, withdrawn, defensive.
    ‘Let me guess which. This one, with the great big pig and the little tiny horse?’
    ‘You’ve no idea what you’re looking at, have you? What do you know about art?’
    Mago shrugged. ‘I like a nice drinking cup. Do you do drinking cups? With a few warriors going at it, and maidens fiddling with each other’s titties. That’s real art. Chuck in
a few swords and lutes and laurels and so forth—’
    Nelo snorted. ‘ This is art, you Carthaginian ox. A new kind of art, neither the abstraction of our own tradition nor the simple representation of you easterners. Look again.
That’s not a “little horse”. It’s further away – further from you, the viewer, than the animals in the foreground. And see the lines of the barn – the edges of
the road, the way they converge . . . It’s a new technique called look-deep. Pioneered by Pythagorean scholars here.’
    Mago tried to see what he meant, and for a heartbeat he thought he got it – it wasn’t so much a painting as a window into another world, with depth beyond the surface – yes, he
saw it. But then the illusion faded, as quickly as it came. ‘Well, it’s not for me. But I dare say there will be people who’ll buy this stuff.’
    ‘Not enough of them. But I’m hopeful about the future. This is what I want to do with my life.’
    ‘Paint horses?’
    ‘Not just horses . . . But if Uncle Pyxeas is right it’s not a paintbrush I’ll be wielding in the future, but a snow shovel.’
    ‘Hmm. Mind you, all I was ever good at was fighting and screwing, and the world will always need those skills.’ The awning creaked again. ‘Speaking of the snow . . .’
    He went to the front of the stall and tried to pull the curtain back. It was heavy, stiff with frost, and weighed down by the depth of snow outside. He dragged it aside, using his strength.
Outside the snow lay deep, already halfway up his shins. He kicked his way out into it. Once more the flakes fell heavily on his bare head, his neck. It was soft, light stuff, oddly not too cold,
but it was hard work wading through the settled snow. The world had been transformed, the sudden layer of white softening every shape, from the great earthworks of Old Etxelur to the detailed
texture of the ground. Through it people struggled, slim dark shadows, dimly seen. And the snow still fell heavily from a silver-grey sky.
    He turned and looked back at the stall. The snow heaped up on top of the awning was just as deep as on the ground, and the heavy cloth sagged, pregnant. He called, ‘Hey, artist. I’m
from Africa. What does snow weigh?’
    Nelo came to the front of the stall and reluctantly stuck his head out. ‘How much?’
    ‘That much, say.’ Mago pointed up at the loaded awning.
    At that moment a support beam gave way, a tree trunk snapping like a twig. Mago grabbed Nelo’s jacket and pulled him out into the open. The awning collapsed, the snow falling with a rush.
It was sudden, shocking, normality gone in an instant.
    ‘My paintings!’
    ‘Never mind that,’ Mago growled in Greek, ‘what about the people?’
    They strode forward together and began to drag at the fallen awning. It was frozen and heavy with ice, and the snow slid awkwardly around their legs as they tried to work. But people started
pushing their way out from under it, the vendors and the sheltering nestspills, struggling and sprawling in the cascading snow. There were injuries, and blood splashed the snow, brilliant red

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