For those of you not up to speed with this particular feast, here is the post that declares International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day, along with the reasons and causes for it. Yay!
To mark this first auspicious celebration, then, here is a link to various of my works available on the web; some are only excerpts, but most of the stories are the whole stories.
And here, because I think one must, is something new. Well, not new, written last year at fjm's request and first published in the Eastercon programme; but it's not been on the internets before, so far as I'm aware. It's not long, but I'll put it behind a cut anyway, because that's the kind of thing we do, we of the technopeasantry.
If I made a geeky joke, would that be a technopleasantry?
WHITE TEA FOR THE TILLERMAN
BY CHAZ BRENCHLEY
Terrible as an army with banners undoubtedly is, a single man can be worse. A quiet man, a sober man, a man with drab clothes and delicate manners. He has passed the gates; he is within the walls; he is within the palace, at the throne's foot, where she must serve him tea and listen to his embassy.
The army is at his back, at his beck if he should call for it. Its banners are in his eyes. He is the blade at her throat, unless he is in her heart.
The tea is served in simple celadon. She hopes he will despise it, but his tastes are as fine as his comportment. He praises its lines, its colour, its age and fragility; all his words are honed, double-edged, speaking to her land as much as her porcelain. She wonders if he will crush the cup between his fingers, to show her its beauty broken.
Instead he sips, and the sophisticate in him overrules the diplomat for a startled moment.
"Exquisite!" he declares. "May I ask...?"
"It is white tea," she says, thinking the tea was a mistake; he wants us now, where before he was only obedient to orders. "My people harvest the leaves too soon, still in the bud, and dry them hastily. The result is delicious, but that is happy accident, no more. It is hard to be patient, to cultivate the plants to a proper age, when there is a dragon on the mountain."
"A dragon?" He does not - quite - splutter in his tea. "My lady, that is ridiculous."
"Of course. We know, you and I, that dragons only fly at night; but it is the peasants who must do the work, and they are a timid and credulous people."
Briefly, she thinks he is uncertain, whether to challenge her own credulity. Instead he says, "I cannot direct my lord's decisions," which is a blatant lie, for he is most clearly the tillerman for that ship of state, "but his soldiers could certainly stand between you and any dragon, if you only accept his protection."
He means his army and its banners over her lands, her heart in his possession. She says, "Do you think so?" and sends for the dragon's tooth.
"Like a baby," she says, "it is shedding teeth as it grows," as she shows him the great curve of the tusk, half the height that he is, more. There is blood on the root of it, still sticky.
He says, "My lady, I have seen an elephant's tusk before."
She says, "Ah, I have not been so lucky. I have never left these lands; and how would we keep an elephant here, on these slopes, where there is no forage? We cannot keep a cow."
He bows to her, disbelieving; but she knows that he has seen no cattle on his journey, for there are none.
In the night, the palace resounds to the beat of slow leathern wings. Perhaps he is suspicious, perhaps he thinks that servants are flapping hides in the darkness; but later there are screams from distance, and great swathes of fire score the mountain like tracks of lava.
In the morning, the air is full of smoke and he can see black devastation where there were tea-bushes in ordered ranks before. This is not the time to ask how many harvests will be lost; she is busy in the courtyard, where they have brought the night's survivors, a dozen peasants dreadfully burned.
He finds her kneeling by a boy whose face is molten, who cannot catch the breath to scream his pain. At her nod, a knife makes wet work of his ending. Her face is bleak, her voice savage; she says, "I cannot use a dragon, as I do these my people; but when it has destroyed us utterly, do you not think it will turn its gaze downriver, to where it might find many men marching with bright banners...?"
Terrible as an army with banners undoubtedly is, a dragon is most definitely worse. He makes a swift way homeward, to forestall his lord's advance. The swiftest way down is the river; the only boat to hand is an old rough sampan, with an oar for a tiller and a hard, withered scowl for a tillerman.
Great men must sometimes stoop to humble commons; they share a bowl of tea. "White tea," the tillerman says, sneering at his startlement. The man was bitter, but his brew was not. It was hot but nothing more, insipid, without savour. "Leaves cost coin; what man of us has that to spare, for tea? White tea, we drink." And then, to make it clear, "We boil water, that's all. Theres nothing in it."