About a hundred Idris, male and female, in shades of person ranging from pale Caucasian to Arab dusky to Polynesian, were sitting at the long tables in the dining hall when Grynun and her bards arrived. The air rang with laughter and conversation. Crusty, steaming pies and pitchers of liquid had been placed on the tables, but not so much as a crumb had been touched by the troops. Nobody but the four seemed bothered by the smell of charred meat, bread, sweat, and mildew that pervaded the room. The tapestries in this room were vastly dirtier than those in the main hall; most were completely indistinguishable under layers of grease and grime. Unhappy servers in red boots scurried here and there with pitchers and pies.
When Grynun appeared in the doorway, the room fell silent. As one, and distressingly Nazi-like, the Idris rose and saluted their leader. The old woman tossed off a return salute, waved the four to stand off to the side of the entrance, and, hiking up her robe, proceeded to a long table on a raised dais that overlooked the rest of the tables. The Idris' respect for her was such that only a few people even glanced at the four as Grynun made her way to her seat, which was at the very center of the table: a large, gilded wooden chair with red cushions, just south of a throne.
Twelve people, obviously the highest of the high Idris (including the individuals who had held court at the Vasyn earlier), stood behind their chairs at the dais table. Ten of them had the requisite one-armed shirt, dyed right arm, and red bands around their upper arms. However, two menthe ones whose chairs flanked Grynuns chairwore sleeveless shirts and had both arms dyed. One man was tall and dusky and full of tight-lipped disapproval; the other looked something like the portrait of the dark-skinned man in Grynuns bedroom, but shorter, more muscular, and more relaxed.
Grynun circled to the back of the dais and went up a short flight of steps to get to her chair. As soon as she had plopped her butt onto the cushions, everyone else in the room sat down too.
Next, the short, dark man produced a long whistle and blew a shrill note three times. A door in the wall behind the dais opened, and out strode a very cheerful dusky man, his long black hair and beard bound up in numerous braids that jutted out in every direction. He wore a pink robe and carried a pink book under his arm. Behind him came a rhythmic squeaking, as of unoiled machinery.
"Who's that?" John muttered, barely moving his lips. "The Royal Fairy?"
George whispered in excitement, "It's gotta be one of their priests."
The source of the squeaking was revealed when a statue was wheeled out on a dolly by two straining girls, also in pink robes. The pink pillar of stone was probably supposed to represent the Vasyn, but it looked more like the Washington Monument. As the girls struggled to move the balky dolly to the right side of the table (one embraced the statue so it wouldnt fall over while the other inched it home), the pink-robed man hopped up to stand between Grynun and the tall, dusky man. He gave the assembled Idris a long, eager look, and the four now saw that all the Idris had gotten out their own personal Vasyns, either lengths of rope or actual carvings, and copies of the pink book.
The priests gaze fell on the four, and his grin grew even larger. He started to say something, but Grynun was watching him and hissed at him. The priest looked annoyed but obediently turned his attention back to the crowd of waiting Idris. He raised his hands and said in a strong, carrying voice,
And so another day of light be balanced by a night of darkness. So wakefulness be balanced by sleep, hunger by food, thirst by drink. One person died today, another was born. One left Focan, another came. One laughed, another cried. There be land, firm beneath our feet, and sea, through which we sink. All be in balance. Up and down, hot and cold, male and female, movement and rest, black and white, mountain and valley . All be defined by its opposite. All be in balance.
"All be in balance," murmured the Idris.
And in the center of the scales be the Vasyn, the lynchpin, the Shaft in the Wheel of the Gods. The Vasyn, beyond balance, connecting the gods to this world but beholden to none. The Vasyn stands alone.
The Vasyn stands alone. Each Idri touched their personal Vasyn.
"But there be a larger balance. All this world, and the world of the gods, be balanced by humans. Now the priests voice started to get louder. We be responsible for keeping the scales level. Nothing else can make choices. Can the land or sea choose to be one thing or another? No! Can the sun or the moons change their courses? No! Even the gods cannot be other than they are! Only humans have that freedom!
The priest paused dramatically. In a lower but still-commanding voice, he said, And that freedom be a powerful and dangerous gift, for as we be free to change our natures, we be also free to openly defy the balance, even to work to destroy the balance. We have the Tairce he waved the pink book, and the Idris obediently touched their books revealed to us by the gods, and it tells us how to maintain the balance and what each of our acts be worth. We help maintain the balance by good works, by kindnesses to one another, by upholding the laws of the land.
But we destroy the balance by cheating one another, by murder, by so many things! the priest thundered in his loudest voice yet. Why? Why do we hate balance so much that we work to destroy it? Perfect balance would mean the end to hunger, to storms, to all that endangers us. Yet still we lie, we steal, we murder! Why? Why?
Tears poured down the priests face, and his voice choked up. One of the statue girls handed him a well-worn pink handkerchief, and he dabbed at his eyes and took a few deep breaths before continuing in a more normal tone, I now invite you to receive jan for your deeds this day. Hide nothing, as the gods keep count whether you speak or not! But confession lessens the amount of bad jan you will receive.
Many of the Idris pulled out little black books and joined a line that formed in front of the priest. An Idri would go up and mumble his or her sins to the priest, who would consult his pink book and mumble back something. The Idri would scribble down the answer in the black book and return to the dinner table. The four couldnt hear what the Idris were confessing, but they noted several things: the priest didnt touch or otherwise say any kind of blessing over the Idris; no one looked particularly upset by their awards; and no one seemed to have to do penance for their misdeeds.
Grynun looked unbelievably bored and was obviously forcing herself to stay awake; though she had the requisite books and mini-Vasyn spread before her, she had done nothing with these objects during the sermon. About a quarter of the Idris in the room, which included nearly all of the ones on the dais, shared her ennui. The rest seemed to be taking the ceremony very seriously, and when they returned to their seats they sat and pored over the figures in their little books. There was a whisper of conversation as several Idris showed one another their totals, but the hall stayed quiet for the most part.
The jan-awarding session lasted nearly an hour, much to the discomfort of the four, who were getting stiff and tired from standing, as well as hungry and thirsty. George was particularly unhappy, having listened carefully to the sermon to see how well it matched with his beliefs and having found only vague parallels.
Finally the last person in the line received her points. The priest leaned over and muttered something to Grynun, who nodded. Straightening up, the priest pointed dramatically at the four and said, Behold, the Favorites of the Gods! Everything they do contributes to the balance. Life cross-Chasm be easy and safe. Pattern your lives on theirs!
Grynun added, "Those be bards. They'll play music before we eat."
Thereupon, the priest and the girls and the statue went squeaking back through the door, and the four discovered there was a big difference between the stares of the average Earth citizen and the stares of a hundred hungry stormtroopers who were not in the mood to let music delay their meal any further whether or not it came from Gods Anointed. A murmur of annoyance arose from the mass of Idris. More than one gun was drawn from its sheath and idly twiddled about; more than one belt knife found its way to the table.
Grynun seemed disappointed by her troops discontent. Very well, eat now, she called. Theyll play while you eat.
At once the Idris began digging in the pies and grabbing for the mugs. But the guns were put away, and the daggers all found employment in the pies. Now the stares at the four became, if not friendly, at least curious.
"Fuckin Hamburg dinner theatre," whispered John, moving as close as he could to Paul and George without sticking his guitar in their chests. "Trade places?" he said to Ringo, hidden behind the guitarists, but Ringo wouldn't budge.
"Don't suppose they'd care for an opening monologue," Paul murmured. "Right, I've Just Seen a Face on four."
On the first notes the conversations faded away again and the eating slowed dramatically. The sudden quiet shook the four even more, as they knew how noticeable any flubs would be; that they were able to play at all was a tribute to their years of experience. But no daggers or bullets came whistling at them; on the contrary, most of the Idris seemed fascinated, and a few were openly enraptured. Emboldened, the four improved, until they sounded better than they had at Stal's house.
As the last chord died away, the silent Idris looked expectantly at Grynun's table. The Idri-head held her dagger point-up in the air, an act instantly emulated by the short dark man and with some hesitation by the tall dusky man. Thus reassured, the massed warriors raised their gravy-covered daggers or their guns. The effect was rather like a giant uneven bed of rusty nails.
"Thumbs-up," said Paul, brave enough to grin at the soldiers and wink at Grynun, who was just visible across the room and above the weapons.
"I guess music really does soothe the savage beast, or at least the savage Idri," said Ringo. He didn't move forward to be more visible, though.
John thought of a joke about the Idris making a point, but he wasn't in the mood to say it. He exchanged a glance with Ringo and George and knew that they all had roughly the same prayer in mind. Please, God, let us vanish out of here when we finish. Paul can brag about how he was right every day for the rest of his life, and I'll gladly listen... please!
They launched into another song, and the Idris, apparently satisfied that the four were of acceptable quality, began to eat and chat amongst themselves. But never loudly, never drowning out the music.
John, George, and Ringo sat at the far end of the leftmost long table, picking at the crust that was the only vaguely edible part of the cooled meat pie that had been presented to them. (The meat inside was both highly spiced and partially bad; only John had been courageous enough to try a piece, and he drained a pitcher of water getting the taste out of his mouth.) They drank copious amounts of the warm, mineral-tinged water in the pitchers, wishing desperately for something stronger. Every so often one of the three would glance at Grynun's table, where Paul sat, chatting up the Idri-head and being regarded curiously by the two Arms (the rank, they had learned, of the two bare-armed men). A good number of the lesser Idris had finished eating and left, but there were still enough around to discourage conversation between the three. But they weren't much in the mood to talk anyway.
John was sick, just sick, that they were still in that horrible place. Why the fuck couldn't Paul have been right, he moaned silently, cradling his head. We're trapped here forever, I'll never see Yoko or Sean again. Oh, Yoko, why couldn't you've been sent along?
George was the only one who said anything much, and that was to ask the others, "Are you sure you don't remember what the priest said?" at five-minute intervals. ("No!" the others would snap.) How badly he wanted a pencil and a piece of paper to help organize his thoughts! Vasyn sounds a bit like Vishnu, I wonder how they spell it? Jan sounds like karma, but it doesnt act like karmaI wonder whats worth what? Whats the worst crime they have here? Who gave them that book? I have to get a copy of it.
Ringo was scared about being stranded, no question. But he also felt a bit glad that they hadn't disappeared yet, because he wanted to find out about the magic that Grynun had given them permission to do. Is it real magic or the Houdini sort? It must be real. Our being here proves it. God, this insanity would all be worth it if we got to see real magic. Grynun said that exiles are supposed to know magic. I wonder if that Lyndess person knows magic.
As if summoned by his thoughts, the woman walked into the dining hall.
Of course, Ringo didn't know it was her right away. What he saw, however, made him sit up and take notice.
Taller than the average Idri womantaller than the average Idri, periodand in her mid- to late thirties, she was a different race than everyone else in the room, with heavy eyebrows and high cheekbones, thin lips, and a large beaky nose. Her skin was a bit more brown than copper-colored; her hair, short and blackand clean! She wore a silky blue shirt, somewhat faded but clean, and a pair of loose, silky black pants. A yellow gem winked from the hilt of the dagger at her belt. She was slightly overweight but moved with practiced grace. She seemed supremely self-confident and contemptuous of everything around her, and generally had the air of a visiting goddess.
Ringo watched her as she strode along, noting with interest how the Idris who saw her became uncomfortable and looked away from her; then her piercing gaze fell on him. Instantly she halted, astonished; she swung her head to look at Grynun, noticed Paul occupying the Idri-head's attention, and nearly hit the floor with her jaw. Mouth snapping shut, she started running toward Ringo and the others, but caught herself and walked very rapidly the rest of the way over.
"Eh, lads, company," said Ringo, but the other two paid no attentionuntil the woman sat down on the bench next to him.
She beamed at them as if they were long-lost relatives. "Nama," she said breathlessly. "What are you selling?"
In the catalog of things they might have expected her to say, that wasn't one of them.
"Selling?" echoed the nonplussed Ringo. John shrugged; George mumbled "Just music."
The woman rubbed a corner of Ringo's shirt between her fingers. She ran her forefinger down his thigh, digging her nail into the seams on his pants. He sat still, afraid to move or offend her, for in some indefinable way she seemed far more deadly than any of the Idris.
When she had satisfied her tactile curiosity, she leaned forward, motioning for the three to do the same. When they were all in a knot, she whispered "I'm Lyndess Groundburner. I know you're olyrr-sars, and I won't kill you. Come to my house after this meal; we can talk privately there. My house is in the back, against the wall." Her accent was almost American, a bit more liquid than that.
With that she got up and left three very nervous Earthmen.
Paul appeared at the end of the table a few moments later. "Grynun said that was Lyndess. Is she from Earth?"
"Don't think so," muttered John. "We've got a date, Paul."
They briefly considered running away, but with nowhere to go that idea didn't last. So they rallied around Lyndess's professed nonhostility, and, after leaving their instruments with Grynun and getting the Idri-Heads permission to leave the castle (Just dont leave the castle grounds), they went in search of the exile's house. The sun was setting, but they easily found Lyndesss dwelling: a one-story white cottage nestled against the castle wall, bounded on the other three sides by a low picket fence. Through the open gate a carefully tended flower garden blazed with blues and yellows, and a greenish paving-stone walk led up to the front door. There was also a small door in the castle wall right next to the house: the womans private entrance to the Idri grounds.
Lyndess was on her knees in the garden, fiddling with the flowers. When she heard the four at the gate and stood up to greet them, she revealed a sign in the garden: STEP ON THE FLOWERS AND I WILL KILL YOU. "Some Ketafans can't read, despite their rusty Tairce book," she told them, nudging the sign a little straighter with her foot. "I should have a corpse with a crushed flower on its sole suspended over the garden, but it would block the sun, and I don't have any way of preserving the body."
"Uh, that's a problem," agreed Paul.
Lyndess smiled and wiped her hands on her pants. "Come in, come in! We have much to discuss."
The interior of the cottage was as tidy as the exterior and very Earthlike. Lyndess escorted the four into a well-lit sitting-room with several cushioned wooden chairs, a small folding table with a roast chicken and a napkin on it, and another folding table that held a brown pottery pitcher and five cups. On the wall hung a piece of dark wood inlaid with silver in abstract patterns. The air was scented with chicken and roses. And oh joy, everything was clean.
Lyndess sat down to the food, tore off a chicken leg, and gnawed. "Sit anywhere, drink wine, you can have some of my food, I can't eat the dung the Idris serve."
They politely declined the chicken but fell upon the pitcher, which held a weak but tasty white wine. Ringo was just pouring a cup for Lyndess when his eyes fell on the oil lanterns that illuminated the room. He suddenly realized that firelight should have been dancing off the liquid, but the lanterns didn't flicker; they shone with the steady glare of electricity, or - "Are those lanterns magic?" Ringo asked, awed.
"Certainly," the woman replied, and the four promptly crowded round a lantern and stared at the little ball of cool, yellow light floating within it.
"You've never seen magical light?" Lyndess asked, amusement coloring her voice through a mouthful of chicken. "It's just finger-magic. Surely you've much more powerful spells on your world?"
"Sort of," Paul began. Then:
"Our world?" exclaimed the four. "You know?" stammered John.
"Certainly! I'm Baravadan; I know olyrr-sars when I see them, unlike the deadbrained Ketafans."
"Allah-sars," George said, "that means, uh - "
"Sars not of C'hou. Ahleer-sars."
"And sars means people?"
The woman nodded. "And Baravada is that which the Ketafans so stupidly call cross-Chasm."
"Cowthat's what this planet is called?" Paul asked.
"C'hou. Cuh-How. Even the Ketafans know to call it that." The amusement in Lyndess's voice was a touch malicious.
The four tasted the word and found it strange. It was nice to have a name for the soil under their feetnot that knowing it helped matters much.
"Er-h'o," said Lyndess, dropping her chicken bone in a small trash can near her chair. "Don't tell the Ketafans you're olyrr-sars. They'll kill you for being something that their fake gods dont talk about. I hate Ketafans," she added thoughtfully. "I hate Ketafa."
"Oh," said the four. They could relate.
The woman crossed her legs and tore off the other chicken leg. "Sit. I didn't invite you here to talk of me. Munch, munch, munch, swallow. I'll teach you the light spell if you have anything I want."
"What d'ye want, then?" asked John as they sat, Ringo still watching the lantern.
"Spells or kvarsaels of motion, especially flying, swimming, or water-walking. Cursebreakers, as many as you have. Other spells, perhaps. What have you got?"
The four exchanged glances. "I'm sorry if we gave you the wrong impression," said Paul, "but we haven't anything to sell."
Lyndesss face fell. "Nothing?"
"Rust," growled Lyndess, slumping in her chair, the leg bone dangling between her fingers. She sighed deeply. "Sars, if you're not selling anything, why did you come here? To torment me with hope?"
"Oh, no," said Paul. "At least, I hope not. We don't know why we're here, actually."
"We just sorta woke up here," added Ringo.
And George said, "God sent us here, but I don't know why."
Lyndess snorted. She sat up, dropped the bone in the trash, tilted her head back, and closed her eyes as if enduring pain. "Some of the fog lifts, olyrr-sars. I should have guessed; no sar comes willingly to Ketafa, except Rust Coast traders. But you don't know what you did to anger your god? Godsar must be very secretive."
George paled. "We angered God? Is that why we're here?"
"That's why I'm here. The gods use Ketafa as a cage for those who anger them. But I didn't know that olyrr-gods used it as well."
"We don't know that God sent us," Paul said hastily, ignoring a glance full of daggers from George. "That's just one possibility. We don't even know if He really exists."
The woman raised her head and regarded him curiously. "How can you not know if your god exists?"
"We do!" snapped George.
"You have to have faith that He does," Ringo clarified.
"I don't understand." Lyndess drank some wine. "Doesn't godsar appear in temples, grant magic to the sansars - "
Suddenly all four were talking at once:
Paul: "Do you get lots of, uh, olyrr-sars here? Where do they usually come from? Have you ever heard of Earth?"
John: "You mean the gods here show up in the flesh or ectoplasm or whatever? Who are they? I thought they abandoned Ketafa."
George: "What did we do to get put here? How do we get home? Can we be forgiven? Do we have to get purified or something?"
Ringo: "What kind of magic? Is that where you get yours? What can you do?"
Lyndess clapped her hands over her ears, splashing herself with wine from the cup in her hands. "Sheath it, sheath it! I can't answer questions when they're all shot at me at once!"
The four fell silent, bubbling with impatience and more questions.
Silent, visibly irked, Lyndess dried off the wine in her hair with the napkin, then regarded the four warily. "Are you going to be silent?" Nods. "Sharp. Er-h'o, I have nothing more interesting to do now than to answer your questions, and you will answer mine in exchange. It wasn't a question, but she paused as if expecting an answer, and after a few moments they made noises of assent. Sharp. You." She pointed at George. "Ask me one question."
"What did we do to get put here?" he demanded.
Her eyebrows went up, and she gave a sardonic snort. "Ha! How would I know the motives of olyrr-gods? If you don't know what angers your god, you shouldn't work for godsar."
"But - "
"Sheath it! Your question is answered. My question: Which world do you come from?
Earth, they all said.
Uth, she said thoughtfully. Not known to me. Ask one," she said to John.
"Right, said John. That's good wine, by the way. He poured himself more. How do you know your gods are real, then?"
Lyndesss mouth curled up in a half-smile. How do I know youre real? Because youre sitting before me. As would the gods, if they could come here. My question: What sorts of magic exist on your world?
The four glanced among themselves. Finally, Paul said, We don't seem to have any. We have technology. It sort of looks like magic, but it's not.
TechnologyI don't know that word. But that will be my next question. Her finger jabbed at Ringo. "Ask."
She caught him while he was pouring himself some more wine. Er... could we learn magic?
For a price. Now I will ask what 'technology' is.
Everythin' that isn't magic, John said blandly.
The look on Lyndess's face was slightly scary, so Paul added hastily, You know, mechanical things, levers, guns, that fancy-cart thingy we rode in, the typewriter in Grynun's room....
Her face softened, but her tone was distasteful as she said, Ah. Tinkerings. Only Ketafa has such things. Your 'Uth' must be like Ketafa.
Lyndess nodded at Paul, but rather than ask a question he said, with a small measure of wounded national pride, No, Earth is not like Ketafa. We're much more modern, cleaner, less brutal
At least, our part is, Ringo added. There are some pretty primitive brutal parts.
Unimportant, Lyndess said. She poured herself more wine. I understand enough, though several more of your words are unfamiliar to me. To Paul: Have you no question?
Oh! Sorry. Yes, I do, thanks. How can we get home?
Another question that your gods should have answered before they sent you here. You should reconsider working for them after your exile is over. My question: What rewards did your gods promise you if you served them? They must have been considerable if you assented to such silence on their part.
The others looked to George to answer that one, but his face was a study in misery; he just shook his head.
We don't know if it was God, Paul reminded Lyndess. George is the only one who really believes that it might be. There might be other reasons we're here. We just don't have any idea why or who or how, y'know. As far as we know it's never happened to anyone on Earth before.
Never happened to us, anyway, John muttered. He poured himself some more wine, then looked into the pitcher with a sour grin. Eh, this is magic, ain't it? We should've emptied this a long time ago.
Certainly, Lyndess said carelessly. It was one of the few items I was allowed to bring here when I was
A bell tinkled.
Lyndess froze; her gaze traveled to the door. Then she whipped a chicken bone at it. "Geld it! Tarnish! Rust! Rot the Idris!" Her face was dark with rage as she stood up and bawled "Enter!"
The door slammed open, and in came a scowling male Idri with two red armsthe tall, dusky Arm who had sat next to Grynun. Up close, he appeared to be in his early fifties but was still slender and muscular, as well as the tallest Ketafan they'd yet seen, about six feet. His clean-shaven face was scarred around the chin and upper lip, as if he was a klutz with a razor, but otherwise he was handsome, rather similar in appearance to a gray-blond Ricardo Montalban with raggedly cropped hair and a flatter nose. He wore a gun at each hip and a knife in his boot, and he would not have looked out of place in full cowboy gear.
"Why are you here, Terdan?" Lyndess asked coolly.
"Talk no more to me than you must, wizard." Authoritative, deep, scornfulthe voice fit the man perfectly. "Grynun wants the bards. And some lust dust. Magic." He spat on the floor.
Sucking in her cheeks, the woman said, "Wait here, Armif Arm you still be. Or does Remlar also fetch and carry like a Foot?"
Terdan glowered, but before he could say anything, Lyndess left the room. The Arm affected indifference and studied the nearest dark wood wall hanging. Meanwhile, the four stayed still, hoping he wouldn't speak to them.
Suddenly Terdan snapped his head around and barked at them, "Why be you here with this wizard? To learn herMAGIC?"
Startled, they mumbled replies, but the Arm cut them off with "Or thought you to cheat Grynun, Castle Virgins? Knew you that the outbuildings be part of the castle, and early sex here carries the same penalty as behind the walls?"
Not that any of the four had been particularly horny before, but now they were ready to run screaming from any woman who came near.
"Ah! Your faces tell me all!" the Idri cried, deliberately interpreting their dismay as guilt. He drew his boot knife. "It seems I have a few steers to make."
Things might have gotten panicky if Lyndess hadn't reentered the room just then, snapping "They haven't sexed here, Foot-Arm. Sheath your knife or Ill - " Her arms rose threateningly.
The knife returned to its home, and the four got a good look at Terdan being scared for a moment.
"I have no more lust dust," Lyndess said dryly, lowering her arms. "Grynun will have to sex without it."
"Know you she can't. Make more," the Arm huffed.
"I can't. I burned up all my fa'elapfa."
"Stupid wizard! Get more!"
"Now? I'd have to go to Ganawir to get some. I don't want to kill four days on a horse."
"Your wants be nothing!" Terdan was practically frothing at the mouth now. Spittle flew everywhere as he thrust his face into hers and screamed, "You be walking on a string to stay here, wizard! Have you the power to fight all the Idris when they burn down your house for disobedience?"
The woman didn't seem at all intimidated by the maniac just inches away, but his words had an effect. She slowly nodded. "Yes. I'll go." To the four, in an apologetic-annoyed voice: "We'll have to continue when I return."
They had finally found someone they could talk to, and she was leaving fifteen minutes into their conversation? "Do you have to? Can't you send someone to get it for you?" Paul asked plaintively.
"No. Fa'elapfa must be picked so that no roots are lost. Lust dust made with imperfect fa'elapfa has unpleasant side effects."
"Come, bards!" Terdan ordered, a look of triumph in his brown eyes. "Grynun's fingering!"
Ringo gulped the rest of his wine and asked Lyndess, Can we use your pitcher till you come back?
No. I won't risk its being broken or stolen. I can't get another one.
So, with forlorn glances at the wizard, and not a little trepidation at being around the vile-tempered Arm, the four followed the man into the Ketafan night and a sky full of unfamiliar and unfriendly constellations. The two-belled tolling of Gib Neb in the distance provided a suitably alien, if entirely hateful, soundtrack to their downhearted trudge....