In this my first novel, a dispossessed chieftain and an exiled sorcerer, both gifted with supernatural powers, vie for the heart of a reclusive dancer. A horribly stained sword, a twenty-nine stringed instrument, a deathly Metropolis, a mystic Tower of Dancing, and red and white roses figure prominently in the story.
In the Country of the South, in the Forest of Many Caves, where the jasmine springs up in the underwood and the coral vines cling like lovers to the rock walls, where the anise nestles between the tree roots, and the creeping fig and the firethorn thrive eternally beneath the blazing torchlight of the sun, the chieftain of the Forest tribe sat breathing himself beside the watercourse. His rough hunter's tunic was soaked through with the sweat of exertion, for it was now the fourth hour since he with his comrades had begun stalking the wild pigs and the brindled deer whose venison was the mainstay of his people. They were to be found only in the heart of the Forest, a league's trek from the tribal dwelling under a cerulean sky and heat that never but at midnight slackened. Yet Adan-erèn, like all the sable-eyed, amber-skinned men of his race, was doughty and agile and rejoiced in the challenge and hardship of the hunt.
Now as he rested on a flat rock beside the stream, he took a skin bag from his belt and with his hand slowly scooped water into it until it was filled, thus reconstituting the sun-dried mare's milk which replenished the hunters' strength. He drank deeply, then splashed his head and muscled arms with water that stained his leather wristlets dark and left his raven hair glistening with the dew of the stream around his face and upon his shoulders. Parted by many footfalls from the other hunters, he now waited in intense and unmoving silence. Sun-rays sparked like fire-flies across the coruscant surface of the stream and made his golden earring and the stones set in his sword-hilt glint like stars. Though only spears were of use in the hunt, yet for all the burden of its weight the sword was ever at his side. It was a weapon of Art and Power, and its estimation was beyond reckoning.
From above the trees came the cry of an osprey, but Adan-erèn heeded it not at all. He was deep in memory of the events of the morning, and glad of the brief solitude which permitted his meditation. Had his decision been a just one? He prayed to the Power that imbued the Art of his race that it was so; for he was a man of firm integrity, regarding his masterdom over his brothers as a duty to seek their good and never a license to afflict or to tyrannize. The banishment had been necessary for the commonweal of the tribe, yet his sensitive conscience plagued him with how that necessity might have been undone. Might the banished one have fulfilled his promise had he been treated with greater wisdom? Was the guilt of his people and prince as heavy as his in conceiving his corruption? Or had his evil animus been as surely fated as the positions of the Seven Stars? From what womb of earth or well of night had Kua-mathèn come?
Shoya-laiìn had been a woman of fragile will and harried mind, yet one who hungered above all to bring to being some thing of greatness. Her essays in wielding the Art of her people had been failures, as had been her over-eager attempts to capture the love of some young man among the tribe. Yet though her longing to excel where excellence was commonplace proved abortive, she knew beyond doubt when she felt the life stir within her womb that the man-child she carried would be a son of Power. As others named their children by strength of prophecy, so she who had not the gift of foreseeing named her own by strength of hope. His would be the blessed life which would bring to his people what most they desired: knowledge of the Power within the Art they practiced, that Power whose name and manner of being or becoming they knew not. Her son's would be a name of high glory -- Kua-mathèn, 'revealer of the Power.' She proclaimed this to the tribe before she bore him; and in awe they waited for the clothing of the radiant oracle in flesh. The child, the identity of whose sire they could not discover, was not of the line of chieftains and was bastard. Yet surely in the single destiny of his holy mission he would be exalted above all their kind.
Middle-nights in the Forest, when the air at last had shed the fevers of the infecting sun, were cool enough to warrant coverings of animal skins for sleep. But cold beyond nature was that midnight upon which Kua-mathèn was born; those who strayed from their cave-homes died, and many among the horse herds froze and rolled to earth in the moon-blanched clearings. Into the cold his mother screamed as he broke forth from her; cold was the silence of the midwives when they beheld what she had brought to birth. In aversion and fear they began his breathing; cringing they washed him, desiring to view no more plainly what was already clear behind the blood. Theirs was a dark and warm-blooded race, giving birth to dark children and knowing only the warmth and the darkness of their kind. But the baby boy was white -- white like the whites of their eyes, like the whiteness of their teeth against their gold-brown skin. And as though the killing frost had adopted this fatherless bantling for its heir, the child was cold as a blade of metal, or as a marble stone.
Yet he lived. And cold and white he remained as the channels along which that life flowed widened their beds to prepare for the torrents of manhood. What accident of birth or violent stroke at the hand of nature had unloosed this prodigy, whose only fleshly link with his race was the swart eyes like coals smouldering in a colourless face framed by silver hair, none of his dark brothers had Art to penetrate. Their belief was that at conception or in forming the Power had jarred him to a discord of aspect to match the fearful uniqueness of his mother's naming. Yet they looked upon him and were disturbed. The child despite his strangeness was not hideous but beautiful, flawless in feature as one not of earth. It was as though the Power had rained on them a celestial spirit in shape of a man to lead them to the truth they sought. They pondered so as they observed his beauty; yet the beauty stopped their easy breath more than a hundred misshapen grotesqueries, and they shrank back from touching his perfect hands like ice. Shoya-laiìn, though regaining all her bodily strength, spoke no word beyond his birthnight but remained voiceless until she died.
As an infant Kua-mathèn also was silent, making no baby noises, nor laughing, nor crying. But his people came afterwards to believe that in those years he spoke to his mother, with the telepathic gift their race exchanged among those close akin in family or in love. What thoughts of Kua-mathèn's Shoya-laiìn read cannot be known; but she aged and wasted ten hours in his every one until he arrived at his fifth year. On his fifth birthday her self-slain body was found face downward in the Forest stream. On that day Kua-mathèn began to speak in a voice as unchildlike and articulate as that of his mother that had been lost.
From his first appearing the tribe had taken great care, despite their aversion, to treat Kua-mathèn as any other child, lest by making him a pointing-stock they should destroy the spirit that was in him. Perhaps they failed, or perhaps the boy was cureless beyond anything they might have done. Yet however it came to be, with the force of speech Kua-mathèn gained the force of evil; or else the slow incubation of the force at last produced its twisted offspring. His were a people gifted racially with a supernatural Art, and that Art they had ever used for the uplifting of their spirits and in the crafting of a few marvels of handiwork which belied the primitive culture of their origin. If its shadow had touched their hearts, yet never had the force of the Art to evil overwhelmed its banks to issue forth from their hands. The shadows found their conduit in the hands of Kua-mathèn.
Adan-erèn, then son of the tribal chieftain, was seventeen when Shoya-laiìn's body was borne back from the stream and laid upon the ground near to her dwelling in the City of Caves. Before he could be prevented, the child Kua-mathèn wandered outside to see what the commotion might be. Beholding his mother dead, he stood staring at her in a curious stillness. He spoke one word which was his first: "Mother". Then he relieved himself over her body and walked away. An evil omen, the people murmured. Nay, said others, he is but a child and knows not what he does. Speak no ill of him, warned some, for he is the promised revealer of the Power. Into the midst of this dissension there crept a voice, a woman's whisper that each woman present denied lending utterance. It chilled their argument's heat to silence, and cast a pall of trembling upon their souls. He is a devil, it said.
And so it proved. As though a white wolf's fang or a scorpion's sting had robed its pain in human form, so Kua-mathèn budded in pride, and so his poisoned bloom tore open to full. It began with small things, as the seeming-innocent desecration of his mother's body. The mutilating of flowers. The wounding of tamed animals, as in accident of play. Vile words pronounced in the midst of solemn gatherings. Haughtiness and cruelty of speech to other children, as if it were they and not himself that were deviant from the fellowship of man. And none performed in temper or passion, but coldly and calmly, as though he did but do the deeds of any proper boy. He grew older, and his interior darkness grew with him. Animals found tortured, their blood drained for drink or for concocting of foul potions. Young girls whispering together, shuddering as they told of things he had said to them in secret. As he gained his twenties it was rumoured that he took to himself women from over the Mountains -- daughters of a decadent tribe with whom his own was forbidden to mingle. There were rumours also of experiments in the Art, of demons conjured and talismans created for desire and torment. Reluctant to resign to the Power's wrath what might yet be saved, the Forest chieftain and the son who succeeded him held back their hands in watchful clemency.
"All these things we have tolerated, Kua-mathèn, though our hearts rebuked them as detestable. We ourselves are but frail flesh, and we hoped that your infirmity like our own might still be healed. We have been willing to have patience, for as yet you have not lifted your hand in violence against any man. But this which you now have done is as grievous a sacrilege as murder, and it may not go unpunished. For you have sought to desecrate and to destroy the roses which grow on the Plain around the holy Tower; beyond this, you have sought to enter the Tower itself, which is reserved for sacred use. So great a crime against our people has not been known. Yet for our part we have done nothing to earn your unfriendship, but rather have nurtured you with all the little wisdom we possess."
"You have departed from the ancient path of our Art, and have chosen instead to devise perversities and to delight within your thought in all that is cruel and terrible. Yet for this you feel no sorrow as becomes a man of conscience, but rather are the more confirmed and unrepentant in your pride. Lest therefore this your disease for which you desire no cure should spread to infect and injure my people, it is my duty, my burden, and my grief as chieftain now to banish you from among our race. You are commanded to go far from us, and never to return until you have found the grace of a better heart. Leave us, Kua-mathèn."
The voice of Adan-erèn ceased. The scent of the sandarac trees floated heavily on the air, and the ceremonial mantle he wore at council rested as heavily on him with weight of the authority it symbolized. He, and the other men and women in council with him who represented the tribe, prayed silently for this hour to be over. Adan-erèn was perhaps most conscious of the bitter burden of judgement; but all of them equally wished themselves away from the onerous presence of the man before them. They had suffered him to dwell among them for nigh on thirty years, and yet had never become inured to the deathly skin as pale as the selenite that wanes and waxes with the moon, to the eyes like those of a succubus which drink dry their victim's will. The council could not bear to look at him steadily, lest being once drawn into those tenebrious depths they should slay their mortal souls in seeking exit. The gooseflesh prickled along their arms, and their teeth were set on edge to see how he stood stonestill, a wax carving untramelled by any ardency or compassion of the love that redeems nature. Beholding him, they beheld one who had left the order of the divine harmonies which dance from each to each among all the lives, instead to embrace the naked chaos and the single note of self.
A sharp sound broke from Kua-mathèn's lips. Perhaps it was meant for laughter, though it bore more semblance to the noise of glass cracking or the bones that snap when the amorous boa hugs close its prey. His eyes shone hard and many-faceted as diamonds, and the ghost of a frigid smile lurked at the corners of his mouth. At last he spoke, words oozing as smooth as oil yet keen-edged as knives along the sickening sweetness of his breath. Like an exhalation from an opened grave, his voice coiled among his hearers, strangling and suffocating.
"I stand accused, O noble brothers and fair sisters -- and you most fair and noble, Shai Adan-erèn -- of many and diverse crimes against my people. These crimes I here admit -- yea, revel in. It only grieves me that you have made such short shift in naming them. This I will now amend."
The exhalation grew more foul, enveloped them wholly, as he proceeded to rehearse every obscenity and depraved deed to enter the hearts of men, and some no man but he could ever conceive. Whether all these acts were within his commission or some only within his corrupt thought they could not be sure; for he spoke of each in simple triumph as though each were of his first inventing. Beneath the scourge of his tongue the council remained inert, gripped by a choking nausea and powerless to bid him cease. He did so finally without their command. There was a pause, too brief for respite. Then he continued:
"These, my sisters and my brothers, are the untold sins of which I am guilty -- yet, truly, my sin is but one. I, a man at the summit of his potency, stand convicted of sowing the seed of life which nature has given me as it has given to each of you. For I sojourn, alas, in a society of eunuchs, who castrate their children soon as they are born that they might never see the fullness of their procreative Power yield its fruit. I stand accused and convicted of keeping back my Power from the blade."
"Our race possesses a gift, a mighty force of magic Art. We might erect great cities of pure marble, command ten thousands of slaves, bring to exposing light all the secrets of creation to serve our bidding. This we might do, and reign undisputed in a world of inferior minds. And what do we, Adan-erèn? We dwell in caves like savages, expending our Art on sweet-sounding instruments and pretty pendants. We forge swords of steel for show and will not use them; we lay our minds' treasures bare to thievery from one another's Power and thought. We worship we know not what, but that it is the source of our Power yet commands of us impotency. We might do all. We do nothing. We are nothing, Adan-eèen."
"But no longer will I say 'we'. For I am much -- and I shall be more hereafter. 'Kua-mathèn,' my whimpering mother named me: 'revealer of the Power.' That name I reject, and I now name myself anew. The Power's blade I reject -- for I myself am that Power. Kua mis: 'I am the Power.' Kuamis."
The council listened to his pronouncement, with deeper horror than any deed named or nameless could invoke. They had heard the final blasphemy; and yet they lived, and the one who had spoken it lived also. Adan-erèn could find no words to answer. He and others had reasoned with Kua-mathèn countless times concerning the purpose in the simplicity of their way of life; how that by their poverty the tribe kept themselves free to receive every treasure the Art might bestow. They told him how they had chosen in humility to cleave to nothing and become empty, that they might by the Power's infilling encompass all. He had never understood, nor in his self-made blindness could he, as Adan-erèn now saw. When the chieftain spoke at last, it was not to persuade the unbelieving but to reaffirm in the person of their prince his people's faith.
"The Power to which all minds lie bare knows you, Kua-mathèn. From its blade of truth you will never escape."
Kua-mathèn sneered. In unchained mastery to bring to breaking all but the strong, he answered, "Kuamis, Adan-eèen. I am Kuamis. And in my blade is the only truth and the Power of life. You thought to have thwarted my achievement in the Art. You have failed. This have I achieved. This have I created."
From beneath his tunic he drew forth a dagger. Suspended on a heavy chain around his neck, its thin length gleamed nakedly black, unilluminated and unwarmed beneath the sun. Whatever metals, in his perversion of the Art, he had merged to form it, they had been seared to pitch by the hell-born fires behind his eyes. He held the dagger aloft.
"By the Art I have bled my life's Power into this dagger, and in loving turn it feeds me with Power sevenfold. No point of sword now may pierce me, no creeping senility of age come upon me; nor can any Power not my own rob me of its Power. I am -- Kuamis -- and shall ever be. But you will die, Adan-erèn, while I live on to do such injury to your every work of Art and love that in the deadlands your wraith will wail to witness it and to know how truly nothing you have become. Despair, Adan-erèn, and know how great is the Power of life to confer death without surcease."
He raised the dagger as though to strike. From the deeps of his throat broke forth a cry, a maniacal howling of pure will purged empty of reason and soul. The cry re-echoed in agony, while Kua-mathèn stood gazing at Adan-erèn one moment more. Then letting the dagger fall to his chest, he turned, and walked away into the Forest.
On the day he turned two and twenty Daryan-dèn stood on the Plain of the Tower, a desert wind from over the eastern Mountains whipping through his hair as he gazed upon the tall monolith encircled by white roses which was the sacred symbol and the sanctuary of his people. The Tower's white, diamantine stone scintillated in the hard light, unseamed and unjointed, as if in some lost mastery of the Art or the very creation-throes of earth itself it had been conceived, crafted, and set in place in one flawless stroke. To enter the Tower of Dancing was permitted to none but the tribal chieftain, and that once only in a year, on a day in late spring. There and at that time, the chieftain would pray for the Power's renewed descent upon his race and on their Art, and would strip himself wholly of will to stand naked in the will of the Power. For one hour he would remain standing at the Tower's summit in a state like sleep; without motion, without sense, while his spirit bent like a blown branch to the movement of the Dance of life and knew the harmony of all souls beneath the vault of heaven. Then with the Power's music clothing him, he would bear the renewed blessing back to his people.
On this day two and twenty years ago, Daryan-dèn's sire had sought the Tower of Dancing before the fateful council and its aftermath; and the Tower had stood inviolate by human footfalls since. Adan-erèn's sister's son, who ruled in Daryan-dèn's name when he was yet a child, had not the authority to enter the Tower while the heir of the last entrant lived. Now that that heir had reached maturity his cousin ruled still, and still the Tower of Dancing remained unsought.
Knowing that his sisters and brothers did not desire him as their prince, Daryan-dèn had done nothing to persuade them of his birthright, still less to enforce it upon them. He was a burden and a dread to them, and his unreturned love for them brought them shame. 'Shai' Daryan-dèn they called him, in the form of address his race used to one of reverence; yet secretly they prayed that he would go from them. They did not lack conscience or possess cruelty enough to banish him, and he had determined in his heart to spare them that agony. Alone as he had entered the world and dwelt among them he would depart, to find the fulfilling of those things foretold of him, to seek the truth within his mother's dying thought that had lain buried beneath his mind-hoard through childhood slowly to dawn inside his consciousness as he became a man. But before his leave-taking, he would ascend as was his right into the Tower and there receive into himself the Power's anointing.
He approached the shaft of stone, his father's sword against his hip, his Art strong in him, his boots thorn-scraped by the rose ring which guarded the Centre of being. The roses also were sacred, and might not be plucked but for the single purpose of sealing the holy and mystic union between woman and man. Excluded as any leper from that union, yet the beauty and force of its reciprocal rhythms pulsed in Daryan-dèn's stride as he entered the Tower of Dancing to be united to One unnamed.
He climbed the Tower steps, and attained the summit. What befell him there in his still hour cannot by another be known; yet at last he descended. And with the sole possessions of his sword and the instrument he had made, he sought out the small boats used by his tribe in harvesting the fragments of rewel-bone which the tides cast up as plentiful as driftwood upon their offshore islands. These fragments they carved into the ornaments worn by all their women who had embraced wedlock. The rose circle signified the woman herself, and in her the impoverished people; the unseen Tower at the pendant's centre signified the man and the imparting Power.
So launching his skiff upon the girdle of ocean, Daryan-dèn turned his prow from the City of Caves and the Country of the South, as the man with whom his fate was interlocked had turned before him. Besieged by many a ravaging wind his oars cut the dark deep; and he saw the sea-snakes intertwine in their cold bed of love, and saw the moonpath upon the water, and was admitted to the brotherhood of terror and mystery as he wandered for a year of days and strange-starred nights. At last, where the boreal sun softly stroked his heat-born skin and its light smote sweetly pale into his glare-hardened eyes, he beheld the combers caressing the seabeach and heard the cries of the land birds returning, and knelt to kiss with thankful lips the northern shore.Return to Table of Contents.
Daryan-dèn climbed the seven flights of steps to the garret room, reflecting on how imperfect had been his peace these three months past. Through the trials of his rejection and his ocean-wayfaring he had been graced with a rare tranquillity. Yet since landing on the northern shore, a welter of conflicting voices had called to him, bidding him venture in many directions not knowing the end of any. To his conviction of his purpose he held steadily, but of the manner of its fulfilling he was now in doubt. Perhaps it was that he had been denied specific action for longer than he once expected; whatever the cause, there was graven in him an instinct he could not be rid of, that the sorcerer was aware of him and of his nearness, and taunted him, daring him to present his challenge in fury and in haste. Now as with the pendant yet in his hand he waited Chamaina's coming, hearing at whiles the distant surge of voices below, impatience was on him once more. Almost he wished that he had gone out, though not this time to the forest. Yet it was towards the woods that the compressed springs of his limbs strained to release him, towards the elms' shadows and their mothering breast of darkness.
A deep, musical voice calling from closer at hand and a rhythmic clamour of footfalls interrupted his thoughts. He grew still and listened, enclosing the charm and its cording more tightly within his fingers. Lightly clad feet caused the stairway between third floor and garret to groan with undoctored age. Taking up his position at the gap of the doorway, Daryan-dèn looked out towards the landing.
In a moment, Chamaina appeared at the head of the stairs. She stepped onto the landing and paused to survey the garret, as though determining where best to look for what her grandfather had requested. She was garbed in a dress of deep purple; the gold-brown of her hair enshrined her face and streamed away behind her like an aureole of firelight. The candle she held in hand cast mystic illumination upon the ivory skin of her forehead and her bare arms. Daryan-dèn had not fully become accustomed to the pale beauty of the northerners, for white skin had ever been associated in his mind with Kuamis. But as Chamaina turned so that the light was mirrored from her eyes towards him, he saw that they were the eyes of his own people.
She crossed the garret, and after some little searching uncovered the parchments for which Raynor had sent her. She returned halfway to the stairs; then, suddenly, in the midst of the garret she stopped. She drew a deep breath, and shivered slightly. Bending down, she placed the parchments and candle on the elmwood floor. Around them, as though a command which she delighted to obey had been given her, she began to dance.
Daryan-dèn watched as her body dipped and swayed, her arms reaching above her head then whirling round her, her feet beating the floor in time. Her hands with their delicate fingers seemed to perform a dance all their own, and her eyes were lost in a visionary world beyond sight. She danced for perhaps one minute, yet to Daryan-dèn the time seemed longer. Her exhibition moved him deeply, not to passion or even to admiration, but to a quieting of his unquiet. Now that he saw her, she reminded him not of the girls of the Forest tribe, but, mysteriously, of the mother he had never known as she might at this age have been. She was young -- fully eight years younger than himself -- and observing her he felt no yearning of the flesh for her. But there was something in her and her dance that stirred him, a purity of Art not merely incidental to her youth, clarity that might be mistaken for confusion by those whose own motives were perplexed. Raynor had portrayed her rightly. She was indeed like a white flower, like the rose sea about the Tower's foot, in its colourlessness absorbing the whole spectrum of hue and remaining unstained. In his closest times with Raynor, he had felt a stillness akin to that of standing in prayer upon the Plain. In Chamaina's dance, he was lifted as once only before to the Tower's summit, and for a brief moment beyond time knew again the Dance that is all.
Her legs and arms slowed gradually, then ceased. Chamaina breathed deep once more, and her lips moved silently. She stooped to take up the parchments and candle; then, straightening herself to her full height, on feet that seemed to dance yet she glided to the stairs. Her descent hid her from his sight as a planet sinks below the night horizon.
Daryan-dèn went to his bed. The stars beckoned to him from beyond the skylight, but he did not rest in wakeful contemplation of them as so often he had. Draping the pendant over one finger, he set it swinging like a pendulum, and watched the rose circle until again it hung motionless. Then he let it fall to lie heaped upon his breast. Sleep came like the desert whirlwind across the Tower's Plain, suddenly.
The sixth night after. Thrashing on sweat-damp sheets, emergent from dreams. The scorching, the slow venom unresisted in the blood since the midsummer eve of the amber-haired dancer. Not infused at her hand, this infecting philtre. Not she. Dark her counterpart, skilled the hand of the half-sister.
Tonight she comes to the forest. Steel the will against her.
The will is relaxed, lies sleeping. Not sleep of the summit, not the Tower's. The garden's sleep, the juice of poppies, loosening what inhibits. Strength does not suffice, is left weaponless.
Lust suffices, for knowledge untasted, the flesh's fever, rage of the spirit to dominate. Rage, at so being held prisoned. Aching between temples, fingers crawling, nails clawing wisely, wisely unresisted. Patience is stale, faith is sour, pleasure is salt and sweet. The will is left sleeping.
Pray then. Remember the rest. Rest silent, rest silent and the Power will dance within, remember the Dance, remember the stillness in the unsounded music of the amber-haired dancer, the simplicity.
Falsely imagined. The colourless fluid that has no flavour.
Seek the blood-dark wine. Seek its music, the drunken drumming, slipping from tone to tone, kaleidoscopic, from shape to shape behind the eyes, mounting to the waist, submerging, impelled from bed of heat along pitted path.
Go from the garret. Down the seven stair-flights into the dark.
The amber-haired dancer is down the stairs, stands between.
Use the Art then. Concentrate the Power into the dark. Be unleashed from body's bounds. Be no more in the garret. Be in the wood. Be in readiness before the clearing in the wood.
She waits, in the clearing. Penetrate the elms, be unmasked. She waits in purple, like the amber-haired dancer.
Within the pillars of the trees, Daryan-dèn re-entered the state of being that all men know. Through garret walls, through the restraining distances between House and forest, he had been transported by the skill of his Art. Never before had he so employed it, to bend nature, to hasten his desire's end. Raynor's kin were again visiting him, and Daryan-den could not escape the House else, to go to the wood.
His desire waited for him in the wood. The pride of his Art's mastery was strong in him, conquering dishonour. He was ready for whom he had come to meet.
He stepped into the clearing, breathing hard.
The sorceress turned. She saw, by his expression, a man prepared to commit rape; yet she smiled. For she knew his fury, understood that it was not a master's; but that of a bondslave who has craved his bonds, who chafes beneath his slavery yet will not renounce it. He was stronger than many men, strong enough, with aid, to challenge the necromancer as he desired. But she, who had made both strength and desire her study, had perceived from the beginning where lay his weakness -- the lack that beat upon his sufficiency, the negative image of his Power. She had great hopes for him, and for herself through him, and so must exploit that weakness to win him. When all was done, she would own perhaps his heart's true allegiance as well. But he stood before her now, come at her bidding; and for now it was enough.
Daryan-dèn's eyes ran over her. Knowing he thing she was, he did not love her. Yet he would have her; conquer her dusky strength, and take away with him the knowledge of evil to stand in force beside the good. Swathed so, in Chamaina's colour, she mirrored Chamaina's image darkly to him as Chamaina had not reminded him of Silvene. Gazing deep into the mirror, he cast the image from him.
Around Silvene's breasts was wound a band of purple cloth not of one piece with her dress. She released it and let it fall away.
The conqueror went to his knees on the earth before her. His fingers felt inside his tunic, and clasped the pendant. He held it up; for an instant the white roses dangled from his hand in their virginity. Then he dropped them into the nest of leaves at Silvene's feet.
Her joy, manifest in tears, was a mother's when her child first re-echoes to her her speech. This was more, far more than she had hoped for, so soon. Truly he was hers now -- he would not be sorry. For her Art was not to rule, but to increase men's potency; like the dagger of her first idol, to be the sustainer of another's Power.
Silvene took up the pendant and bound it upon her; not to her neck but around her waist, so that the circlet crowned her seat of desire as she stood above him.
Daryan-dèn fell back. His body formed itself to the floor of the wood, which churned under him like the coils of a serpent heaving in birth.
As the moon the heavens, the sorceress rode his sight, distorted like a thing seen in fever, and flaming red. "I first knew man's love when I was ten," she whispered, her voice hissing within his hearing like pent steam that bursts from underground. "I have sipped the strength of many men since. But none were virgin in that strength, and none so great in Power as you have wielded me, my sharp-sworded lover. I will teach you the ways of love, and the secrets of your Art you will lay bare to me. And when you have bled into me your Power, you will rejoice with me to behold the sevenfold might of its return."
Silvene caught her dress's purple sheath between her fingers, and raised it slowly till her naked hips overwhelmed the star's light in their whiteness. Then she descended on him.
Let the eyes of the Power not look on what here lies tangled upon the ground, in the boiling hollow of the Dragon's breast. Still music of the Dance, grow pale. Awake moanings deep, come unchained laughter. I have sought the blood-dark wine, and all that is true is tangled.Return to Table of Contents.
Black on silver, silver on black, Kuamis sat staring upon his Throne. He stared into nothing, for his eyes would not focus. Chamaina was in the Temple and the Shadow was around him, the benighting haze of the Dragon's breath. The reins of his body's movements seemed in alien hands; his leather-sheathed fingers were numb. The dagger beneath their caress felt like an organ exposed. The luminance of his godhead no longer lightened the Metropolis; torches burned at every pillar to dispel the Throne-room's gloom, darkening its stones and making the air of it to reek foully with sluggish smoke. The city's thousand fires did not drive out the Shadow.
Servants entered into his presence to learn his will; the pronouncements with which they were met were dim and unhelpful. Soon they ceased except in urgent matters to trouble him. Yet one, a man of his guard, now dared the necromancer's strangeness and stood long before the steps to his Throne unheeded. The man coughed loudly, shuffled his iron-shod boots, and failing still to obtain his Master's acknowledgement, ascended the steps. He touched, without permission, Kuamis's arm.
Beneath the touch Kuamis trembled. The haze parted a little; he saw that the man before him was not as he had feared an assassin. The wake of his unease lent anger to his voice, though the sight of a face not his was almost welcome.
"What slave -- what? How dare you to sully my garments with your unwashed hands? And why have you disturbed my peace unbidden? I demand, I demand an answer."
The guard would have shivered at how the motion of his Lord's mouth did not exactly match its words, had he not been in the throes of a stronger spellbinding than that of horror. His reply came haltingly, as that of one confused, or one whose mind is over-rapt to form reasoning thought. "I crave your sufferance, my Lord -- but there is . . . a man, a wandering minstrel come to the city who seeks an audience with you. He would entertain you with the plying of his craft."
Once, the straying of a stranger into the Metropolis had provided Kuamis with blood sacrifice above his tithe to be offered in the Temple. Now, but for its present priceless victim, the Flame beneath the Tower could not claim his concern. The effort of sending it food had become wearisome. What needed the Dark Spirit with his placatings, when his own spirit was sustained by the dagger as darkest of All?
"Fool," he said, "think you that I have no more worthy pursuit than to play host to gangrels trespassing in my domain?" Kuamis waved his hand impatiently, as though so to banish into unbeing all whose existence was not pleasing to himself. "Turn the minstrel away, with a bludgeoning for his farewell."
The guard hung his head sheepishly. "May your Power increase, Lord, and never end . . . but the warders of the Gate and of the Palace have already admitted him. He awaits your permission to be heard at the Throne-room door."
Incredulity brought the half-attending sorcerer fully awake. "He waits at the door . . . have you misplaced your wits, all of you? Admitting to my antechamber without leave one who well might mean me ill . . . what creatures are these that serve me -- imbecilic, worthless . . . . A minstrel, do you say?" His tone changed suddenly to one of curiosity. "What manner of a man is he?"
"He is . . . he . . . I do not know how to frame him in words, Lord. He seems a man most forceful, which is perhaps why he was permitted to enter." An uncanny brightness shone in the eyes of the guard.
"Forceful, is he? He will exert no force over me that am the Power. And yet . . . in my present mood some diversion would not be amiss. Show this vagrant in."
"As always I am obedient, my Master." The guard murmured vaguely, dreamily, and with a bow left the Throne-room.
Outside the bronze doors, he looked deep within the eyes of the minstrel. He saw the way that his fellows had gone and yearned in his heart to follow. He smiled, and an amber-skinned hand passed before his face, dazzling him with a ring whose sky-blue stone was turned in toward the palm. His eyelids peacefully closed; his legs buckled beneath him.
The minstrel caught him as he fell, and laid him gently upon the floor. "Shatu -- rest silent," he whispered. "May you wake to a better mind." He made a sign of blessing on the guard's forehead. Then he stood to his feet and swung the doors wide.
Kuamis looked toward the doors' parting. Through it walked a man of goodly height, cloaked and hooded in black, bearing before him an instrument of ebony, triangular, and many-stringed. As the man drew unwaveringly nearer to him, he had the unsettling sense that it was his very mirror-image which approached. Yet the black cloak of Kuamis claimed no hood that shaded his features from recognition, and no tunic of silver nor anything of human form showed beneath the cloaking of the minstrel. The sorcerer squinted to see the man clearly; but either the city's plague of darkness, the mist of his eyes, or some obscuring aura rising from the minstrel's own person defeated him.
Not too near the Throne yet not too far from it the minstrel slowed to stillness, and bowed his head in acknowledgement of the enthroned one. Then he seated himself upon the floor of stone and laid his instrument before him. From beneath the hood his black eyes peered out glittering, and though his fingers were in position on the strings, he did not pluck them.
But for those eyes, to Kuamis's seeing he was draped still in shadow. The necromancer shifted his frustrated scrutiny to the waiting instrument. Though it had not sounded it struck some chord in him -- he had seen its kind before, he could not recall in what place or time. There were few instruments within the Metropolis, for he did not love music except as it served him to snare others in desire. A music of the mind, at once enticing and repelling, seemed now to radiate in anticipation from the minstrel's poised fingertips; that harmony unheard but in thought made Kuamis queasy almost to the point of vomiting. He exorcised its sickening strain with speech.
"You have my welcome, minstrel," he said with cordiality unnatural to him. His voice whined in his own ears thinly after the music. "You have welcome, that is, till you give cause to retract it. But come in -- nay, in further and closer to me that I might study your skill more perfectly."
The minstrel came closer -- it seemed to Kuamis, without moving his limbs as though he had glided still sitting along the ground -- to the very foot of the three steps to the Throne. The man's face was yet only eyes, but the cloak had fallen back further off his hands upon the strings. There was something wrong about the hands -- what was it? The Throne's Power could not think.
The minstrel spoke. His voice held within it the same disturbance, and yet the same compelling to abandon all defenses, as the imagined music. "Myself and my Art are ready, Master of the Metropolis."
He speaks of the Art, Kuamis, my soul -- yet surely he speaks only of his adeptness in plucking the strings. Yet he speaks of the Art. "There is an air about you, minstrel, that is not wholly unfamiliar to me. . . . What do you name yourself, man, and from where do you hail?" What uncouth secret was in the hands?
"I name myself nothing, but make the truth of the name once given me appear now in your presence to speak the highest Name of all. You may call me priest, if it is your pleasure, for so I have been called by another great one among men. I hail from where you also have been; I go to where you may not follow. Yet you may follow, if you will."
The words set Kuamis's teeth on edge, stretched his nerves tight as the catgut strings. Yet surely they were meant as amusement and no challenge. He need not be wroth. . . . "You are a composer of riddles as well as a songsmith, I see. Well, priest of what god I do not know but that before the Power he is petty -- what music, sweet or sour, have you locked up in those subtle fingers of yours, in that cunning mind? What tales will it tell me? Unlock them now."
"There is but one true Music, and this I play -- the Music that marries with Silence and is not destroyed. All other is cacophony.
"And what tales," Kuamis prompted with peculiar eagerness, "what tales?"
"Heart's joy and hands' weeping, thought's shade and spirit's light, stories told depend on hearer's ear. You must tell your own tale, Lord."
"Think you that it will please me?"
"Of that you alone may be judge."
"Then let me hear this music, minstrel. Play for me."
The minstrel's hand sped over the strings, struck one chord only. The chord charged the air with quivering; the twice twenty-nine pillars of the Throne-room quivered. Kuamis was paralyzed; streams of sweat burst from his forehead, poured down his face. He opened his mouth to cry that it was enough; but whatever force controlled his implements of speech would not allow him their use in this moment.
The minstrel struck a second chord. His gauntlets frozen to the arms of his Throne as though in fetters, Kuamis felt a movement at his breast. The dagger moved, not perceptibly to the eye; but his flesh endured its pressure against him as it shrank from the instrument's sending. The minstrel struck a chord numbering three, and thence continued into music unbroken.
Flowed forth then in the Throne-room of the Metropolis the wedding anthem of the minstrel with his bride. Along its stream rippled a garret's fireflame, shot a skylight's starrays, rode the crimson of dress and smock, was borne a rose. Brass bedstead surged from it like sudden fountain; carried on its surface like marigolds of the water was the sweetness of the bride's breasts, and floated there her shuddering in joy of the minstrel's love. In current above and tide beneath, in flooding foam, swam Hands to which the wielding of love was as the Art of the instrument to the hands of the minstrel-bridegroom. Stream swelled to shoreless sea, a meteor of Power diving deep within; ascending from subterranean shaft a shard of flowering life rose to quicken in the womb of the ocean, the bride's womb. Ivory blooms cascaded with the waves, fell silent and still at the feet of a Tower which from its summit bent down to gather them.
To the Lord of the Metropolis the music told another tale. Its notes of Fire licked bones of cannibalized martyrs; rays of the stars recoiled, their midnight thrones usurped by a livid, evil moon. Crimson were his mother's lips, distorted in agony at his thought and screaming without sound; the clan of the red rose bowed to the earth in death as the white were known by his dagger in sacrilege. Red ran the stream in which Adan-erèn bled to meet his god. The music moaned, obscene and hollow, of the bed of Kuamis, rack of his pleasure on which bodies had been split never in wholeness to mend; he experienced beneath him the submissions of his lovers like necks to strangling rope. And the Spirit which in act he had honoured but scorned in worship turned back over its shoulder to gaze into his eyes with malevolence. The dagger, child of his Art and mate of his Power, leaned in yearning against his heart; his tunic wore thin from its amorous friction to show pallid skin rubbed raw. From loins to hands rose the tyrant's seed; wetness was under his gauntlets. And at the music's ending and as the silence fell, by the mind of the minstrel in his was burned the image of a Tower, not shaped by him, hated, never to be removed.
The silence fell, and from paralysis Kuamis was set free. The sound of his scream echoed backward to the council he had cursed, transmuting his primal howl of then-triumph to defeat in death. Death crawled festering along his fingers; he felt his hands weep. In frenzy he stripped his gauntlets from off him. The hands, Art-wielding, were not white; blood splashed from them to drown the white stone, life-torrents drunk by the dagger being disgorged. The artery of his Power was laid open and it was running out from him. Where was the tourniquet to make it stop?
He flailed his hands as though to shake them from his wrists; he would have severed them with the dagger, could he have endured to bring their gory wellspring to his throat. The minstrel lifted his eyes from the instrument; Kuamis's met them black for black. Release me, minstrel, for pity. Make it stop.
The hands went dry; blood ceased to run, but a river of it wound down the steps to form a pool on the floor before the instrument. The minstrel looked upon the pool and said nothing. Kuamis's windpipe was constricted; his breath came heaving, wheezing. His voice came harrowed and in a whisper, its beauty ravaged. "What are you . . . what deed have you done . . . on what illusion does your Art depend. . . ."
Calm was the voice of the minstrel. "On no illusion, Kuamis; but I bear on my person that which cuts to the veins of truth through the hardest armour. It is not my music that has wrought this bleeding, but the fact of your heart unclothed. Winter sleeps, and the widening door of spring lets in the blade which pierces marrow. Another instrument is mine which has no strings -- do you not know me yet?"
"What . . . instrument . . . what other. . . ."
The minstrel stood, and cast off his cloak. His raven hair was laid bare in its brightness, his amber skin, and his thigh-bound sword. His right hand sought the sword's hilt; he unsheathed it. "Where is the earring, Kua-mathèn, which once yoked you to the tribe of virtue? There is blood more holy than your own upon your hands; there is a stain upon your Throne-room floor. Do you not know its avenger?"
Kuamis heard himself named with a name more deeply hated than death, and knew that the flaw of the minstrel's hands had been in their colour. He knew then his chieftain, his one adversary, the loved one of her whom he loved. For a moment he was confounded utterly; then the strength of his long evil rallied for its mightiest warfare.
"Even he, Kuamis." Daryan-dèn looked on the naked hands that had been instruments of his fate, upon the visage he had at once dreaded and desired to confront. He saw Kuamis, the man; and the demon in human form, the figure of myth his people's betrayer had become to them, was supplanted in his imagining forever. Though forces of darkness might envelope him, in the affection of their kind wrench the motions of his mouth, yet the sorcerer was flesh, vulnerable in the dagger's despite. An object of pity he now seemed to his enemy, as he staggered beneath the blow of belated recognition. Daryan-dèn thought, within the hope of one moment's fleeting, that Kuamis might cast himself with the dagger on his mercy. Then he beheld in the sorcerer's eyes the mustering of arms. Now in earnest it begins; there will be battle.
The first stroke was delivered in vain. Kuamis called for his guards; none answered.
"Your men are far off in the vales of slumber and cannot hear you," Daryan-dèn said. "You are unused to crossing blades in your own person; you have preferred to expend the hands of others in war. Yet if you would deal with the interceding one, you must deal alone. Does this cause you fear?"
Kuamis hesitated for a mere instant; then he laughed aloud. "I to be frightened by the slave of an outworn deity, a thing of naught?" He spat in contempt. "Are you answered, Adan-erèn's son? Yet how greatly I wonder that you have dared after so long to challenge me; your tardy boldness has brought to one you cherish much pain. I wonder that you dare when no weapon, nay, not your sire's lofty sword, can do me harm. Or has memory of your history failed you?"
"And have you also forgotten, son of an unhappy mother, that your dagger holds no threat until it leaves your hands? Which of your servants will now obey you to wreak its wrath upon me? Or will you yourself tempt the Power by sending me after my father, and in your second wielding hurl what remains of the dagger's Art to ruin? Nay, but we are fairly matched, sorcerer. Who shall judge between us?"
"I who am the Power, as that which you speak of is not, bow to no man's judgement -- priest."
"Then let a woman be our judge. Where is my wife, Kuamis? Where is my son, that should soon in swaddling clothes have lain in her arms?"
Kuamis flushed. He saw Chamaina in the clasp of the man before him, saw her maidenhead as sheathe to his manhood. His jealousy was a pit of serpents, venom-toothed. "Damn you," he hissed, "to the Dragon's death-hall. Damn you to black and reeking hell." For a moment he panted and growled within his throat like an animal enraged at another's toying with its mate, and could say nothing more. Then, "Your wife, if she is yet anything -- if she is not yet gone mad or been made sweet plaything for the Fire -- your rose-bearing bride is in the Temple."
Daryan-dèn went pale. Chamaina in the Temple -- may the Power grant strength to save her yet. His voice shook. "Your sins' tally in the sight of the All-Wielder increases still. What flaw of nature will you plead at the last reckoning, what marring at the hands of any but yourself? I will not stay to reckon with you, but will go to her whom you have made so unmercifully to suffer." He turned toward the Throne-room doors, then back. "Pray to be forgiven, Kuamis. Who can tell but that you may yet learn the way?"
Walking backwards with his eyes upon the sorcerer, Daryan-dèn skirted the edge of vengeance; interceding for his adversary, he saved himself from hatred. He was nearly at the doors when he heard them open behind him. Before he could act in his defense the wrists of both sword-bearing arm and free were bound.
The bonds were the hands of Kuza, returned from the Temple. The idiot had come home to the Metropolis with no clear thought of what he should do there; for his world had changed, and he could not resume his same service to the persecutor of one he loved as Chamaina. Yet old loyalty, though abased by new, was not wholly overthrown, and the habit of Kuza's strength was to protect his Master. Thus when he had seen a weaponed stranger in company with the sorcerer unguarded, he had done that thing for which his father's Art and long custom had trained him. Chamaina's welfare he would choose above that of Kuamis; but the stranger he did not know. What deed was he to do here; what was his mother's wish? He could not tell; he acted on instinct, and held tight to Daryan-dèn's wrists.
A smile spread over Kuamis's face. "I should pray to your god, did you say? Nay, but I think that I shall not trouble myself, for he is most unreliable. Or perhaps he does but mete out payment to you for your own transgressions, murderer of an unborn child, burner of beauty -- yes, Silvene also is among my servants. Again your Power has deceived you in hope, for do you see, priest -- one has heard me, even the most faithful of my men, and who shall deliver you from the reckoning to come? Kuza, you have done well. Your reward will be to watch as the prince of my loathing dies."
"Take sword . . . Master . . . and kill him?" Kuza spoke the question unsurely; his eyes fell to the sword and were fascinated.
"No, Kuza," Kuamis answered. "Should you bereave him of his sword you would only injure yourself; there is great Art in it. Yet hold him fast. For this deed -- this deed of the death of him whose life's end I desire most -- I will do myself. And this I may do with the dagger not holding it in my hand, and so cheat your Power, priest. For, look you," he said, removing the dagger from its chain, "I have in my hours of leisure trained myself to be a cunning marksman. My aim at casting knives has been refined to consummate accuracy, even for such a purpose as this. It would be shameful, quite, if I permitted that sublime facet of my Art to languish untried."
Kuamis rose from his Throne, and crossed the Throne-room to stand before Daryan-dèn. He wiped the residue of blood from his hands onto Daryan-dèn's tunic, then ripped the garment from neck to waist so that the chieftain's chest lay bare. He touched the point of the dagger to Daryan-dèn's heart. "Does your sword render your heart impiercable, or will it bleed scalding crimson, rose-red?" He laughed, and began to back away, sighting along the blade of the dagger to find his mark. In the centre of the Throne-room he stopped. "Never will your crimson mingle with her white again. I shall have Chamaina, Daryan-dèn; she shall be my own whether she wills it or whether she does not; the pendant shall not keep her from me. She shall not dance from my reach nor run, for she is crippled, Daryan-dèn -- I have crippled her. And she shall know my Power between her legs while your ghost stands by to see it. It gives me joy that in hope of such a heaven you will breathe your last."
Daryan-dèn permitted himself only to weigh the pain of Chamaina, lest, if he took the measure of his own, his heart should bow and relinquish its fight before the end. "Kill me, Kuamis. But my death will not make possible communion between the dark in you and the Light in her, nor prevent her from standing together with me in the only heaven of the Name."
"Words, priest. Shall words save you? What do they effect but to sully the air? What are they but a wind of vanity and a semblance of dust?"
The Lord of the Metropolis pushed back his sleeve and prepared to throw the dagger. Yet before he let its black blade fly it seemed to him that Daryan-dèn replied, though the priest's lips did not move. Then Kuamis knew that his mind had been invaded, and in cold malice he set his edge of thought to contest the other's Art. I am the Power, Shai Daryan-dèn. Shatu, lai va tedale na Kua, Lord Kuamis. I am the Power, interceding one. Rest silent, and the Power will dance within, Kua-mathèn. And the dagger hung poised.Return to Table of Contents.