The Last Star Rising - The Opening

An excerpt from 'Survival'.

Cold menaced. It brooded like a sluggish viscous plague laying siege in every nook and cranny. Even the centrally heated buildings never really held it at bay. It seeped in everywhere and, in the face of the encroaching ice, all life seemed fragile. It penetrated the nose, the lungs, the fingers, the voice. Its doom-laden persistence crushed the natural good humour of the people and lay heavy on every aspect of existence. Above the ironbound earth the frozen fog, marinated with industrial filth, lay motionless in great impenetrable patches.

Detty had felt cold in Ireland and England but even in her wet and often cold Kildare, a winter morning could still suddenly sparkle with frost giving a beauty to the land. If the cold driving rain chilled, it was always somehow incidental, something to be viewed from a warm room or a heated car. Here it invaded the whole body and threatened to destroy the tough but vulnerable men and women who had to lead their lives in it. Here the cold penetrated the soul until it seemed that finding warmth was the only thing that mattered in the whole world.

The previous day, she had decided to take a trip to have a look at the capital, Königshof. It only took an hour by bus in spite of the bad state of the roads. She went down to the stop and hesitantly caught a bus into the city. She wasn’t quite sure what she was going to do but was sure it would be different and interesting. Capital cities were places where you saw sights, shopped and had fun, weren’t they? She had always gone to Dublin or London to have a good time, to see the bright lights, the stores, the markets, the shows, the pubs, the concerts, street musicians and many other things. Somehow, here though she wasn’t sure, the ominous gloom that had penetrated even the Convent made the prospect of bright lights and pleasure seem less likely. She got off the bus near the centre of the city. It wasn’t what she expected and she wandered aimlessly. On her left were high walls. She asked a passer-by in Russian what the building was. A haunted look came into the old woman’s eyes and she looked at Detty incredulously and then fixed her eyes on the ground and walked away. There seemed to be nothing in the centre of the city except high slab-sided blocks with a ghastly uniformity. One building only, opposite the high walled fortress that she had asked about, seemed dignified and different. It was old and elegant but neglected and ruined. Over what once had been the main gate was a single shield with three fish on it. They reminded Detty of the herrings in the market at Howth, but surely nobody put herrings on a coat of arms? Somehow, however there seemed a mystery and a history in that building that fascinated her. After the singular lack of success which had attended her first attempt to ask the locals about the city, she hesitated to ask again. Finally she felt too depressed to stay in the centre and walked aimlessly back along her bus route into the suburbs. Eventually she would catch the bus back to the Convent but in the meanwhile she wondered if she could find out more about Königshof away from the dreary, featureless and seemingly fearful, centre.

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