In this my second novel, a deserter ship from a late 18th century navy lands on a mythical Polynesian Island. The ship's remaining crew consists of its captain, its chaplain, and a nineteen year old midshipman; the Island's inhabitants consist of three women, who have lived since before the millennia-ago Deluge by virtue of the Island's Fountain of Life. The story centres around the loves and conflicts between these six characters, and entangled in the plot are the pre-Deluge history of the Island and the curse that led to the "long rain," the curse's deepening by the ship's captain and its ultimate overturning, and the mysteries of the Island's Goddess, Kaia Lare.
He had no heart to continue walking. Anchored along his whole length to the ground beneath the morning glories, on through their blueness he delved, crawling. And it seemed to him now, since his thought had made the connection, that it was the eyes of Lare into which he delved, returning to the mystery which had once disturbed him and driven him away. Now he permitted it to enwind him utterly, as it had desired to do from the violent night of his baptism in her visionary fountain.
He returned into the mystery of Lare's eyes and beyond them, to a time he could hardly remember as actual. A time before his deserting of his Nation, before the venturing of his ship within the waters of the Dangerous Archipelago; before ever the kona wind had carried to him the smell of night-blooming cereus and the sound of birds screaming in the palms at dusk; ere the reckoning of quadrant and compass rose had steered him to an Island whose shores were uncorrupted by the flow of ages. There was such a time, when he had not yet learned to sleep upon a pillow woven of grass and stuffed with wild thistledown, or to awake to the scent of potent blossoms in Polynesian hair. Back along the trades, along the wash of the Honour Bound, he traced in his soul the way he could not journey again as the selfsame man, sundered from home these fourteen years.
To the place of his beginnings, Dominic, ship's captain, might return; but not to the time before the Crossing that had brought down the dark. There was now no time before he had known Her works, Her wrath, and the fearful worship of Her unseen Majesty, or ever had heard the Name of Kaia Lare.Return to Table of Contents.
Her figurehead was a gold-haired lady with weather-worn breasts and sad green eyes. The English oak of which she was built had known better years; the great barnacles that clung to her hull were sign of a sickness, not fatal, yet one she could not forget. She had seen far too many lands, felt too many times the rollers lift and plunge her prow; she could not endure to reckon the intolerable weight of the fathoms that had passed beneath her. Wooed and raped by blackguard breezes, what now remained of her once-bright flags and streamers flew in tatters. She was a warship who warred no longer, and she could not remember why they had named her the Honour Bound.
She sailed before a northeasterly wind, marking off the degrees -- fifteen south, a hundred and ten west. Twenty-one south . . . Sea-worthy still yet sea-weary, how she yearned to let out her anchor-chain to its end and sail no more. But he who manned her helm drove her on toward the Cloud of Islands, till she came to the threshold of where the hundred and twentieth meridian crosses the Tropic of Capricorn.
As she recorded that threshold within her log of wandering the wind died suddenly, and the helmsman nodded briefly to sleep beneath the afternoon glare. She was left, fearfully, to her own device. More fearfully, she discovered that she could choose.
There across the threshold she saw him, though her mariners did not, for with purpose he confounded their vision. His ferny grottoes, his canopy of green, his aisles of coconuts and deep glens where lovers delight to stray, his caves and carven pools and shining beaches of volcanic and coral sand, the glittering ribbons of his waterfalls leaping in ecstasy from palis that scrape the under-roof of heaven -- in an instant of revelation she knew him, the perfect image of her heart's eternal dream. He smelled sweetly of sandalwood and red ginger, and he was beckoning to her, to her, the Honour Bound.
"Heave to, beloved," he said. "Enter in beyond the barrier of my reef and remain. You only have I courted: the Resolution passed near me and I did not speak to her, nor did I unfold my beauty to the Adventure or to the galleons of the Spaniards who came before her. Pirates and privateers would fain have sounded the blue-green pleasures of my lagoon; mutineers would have made me their refuge from infamy. Whalers would have rested in me from their labours, merchantmen defiled me with their commerce, and the armadas of many nations made me a game-piece in their wars. But none of these have I permitted to behold me, for it is you for whom I have waited. How fair past telling are the masts and bowsprit that support your sails, how worthy beyond praise your forecastle, your quarter-deck, and the figurehead that embodies your spirit and adorns your prow. I have desired you with profound desire, and at last you are come. Now come nearer, beloved, and heave to within my arms."
So the Island spoke, and she did not at once answer. His beauty was too exalted, his majesty too terrible; she could scarcely believe it was her ravaged self for whom his words were meant. Yet fearing to hope while not daring to doubt, nearly the lonely ship forsook all thought of prudence and hearkened to his call. Then suddenly she remembered her pride, and remembered, a little, why she had been given her name.
"Why should I heave to in the arms of you, a stranger, and not rather return to the landfalls of lovers I know well? What bridal gift have you to offer that they have not already bestowed? I have heard the music of their ripe fruits bursting with liquid joy as they drop to the ground; I have worshipped the moon where it hangs low over their basalt pinnacles, and praised the delicacy of tree skeletons encased in the hardened overflow of their volcano gods' passion. I have blessed the colours of a thousand shells and gloried in the impossible forms of ten thousands of fishes, and I have seen the spider, moth and tiger orchids blooming beside the hibiscus and the golden shower tree on many shores. What have you to offer me more than these? I will not come to you, I will not heave to, for I am bound to Honour until I sink with rotted planks beneath the tide."
Thus haughtily the ship replied, though within her hollow hold she was trembling. "I am bound to Honour," she repeated in a voice as hollow.
"You have strayed far from Him," said the Island. His voice was brimming with pity she could not bear.
The ship began to weep. Ocean-spray dashed itself upon her figurehead's cheeks and gifted the sad-eyed lady with tears. A blue shark broke through the mirror-smooth surface at her starboard side, but she did not heed it.
"I have strayed far, farther than the Deluge was deep, and there is no way back," she wailed.
Straining his sinews mightily, the Island opened the coral-rampart of his arms. Where had been an unbroken reef there was now a breach.
"The way lies forward and through me," he whispered, and waited.
"I have strayed far, farther than the Deluge was deep, and there is no way back," wailed the ship, swaying tipsily in her distress to port and starboard. Her figurehead, portrait of a love forsaken, showered the waves with salt-wetness which had not sprung from them.
The Island opened the coral-rampart of his arms, making a breach in his reef only wide enough for her to pass. "The way lies forward and through me," he whispered, waiting to enfold her or watch her recede from him forevermore.
"I cannot," she moaned in agony, her planks shaking and bowing outward. "If you shut your arms too soon I will be driftwood on your sand. I cannot go forward, for there is no wind; I cannot go back, for I would burst my heart in leaving you. I cannot, I cannot, so I shall capsize, rock my mariners to a seven hundred fathom grave and an everlasting sleep."
Then so might the Honour Bound have done, but that she felt a thing of power, a thing of holiest beauty and loveliest good brush against her. She could not see it for her tears, but at its touch its deep blueness entered her, lading her with celestial cargo, and she heard its voice murmuring softly and low, "The way lies forward. Take the way." And the blue that was in her answered, "Yes"; and there, where the hundred and twentieth meridian crosses the Tropic of Capricorn, she began with windless sails to ghost forward.
Then the trade wind rose again and took the way with her, for trade is an ancient word for path. Her mariners roused themselves too late to stay the Island's arms from completing their circle, and she sailed on into the bethel of his lagoon and there hove to. And the sun prepared to sink, to hide from dishonouring eyes the honourable end of courtship in consummation.Return to Table of Contents.
She walked home through the rain forest, tiny ferns making a carpet for her bare feet. Flowering vines with gnarled tree trunks as their trellises formed her walls; creeping shrubs extended their fingers, weaving nets to catch her in if she should fall. Giant ginger rose tall and red, impatiens peered up from the underwood shyly, and the gold-hued fruit of the artu gleamed faintly overhead in the dying light of day. In hundreds, the rainbow-feathered birds among the branches proclaimed night's approach, with a noise between a song and a scream.
She had bidden farewell to her companions among the animals -- the woolly-haired wild pigs, the tamed eels who fed from her hand, the amphibious dogs and the flying foxes who glided from tree-top to tree-top among the palms. She had relit the lamp before the Memorial of the Others, and had inspected the Banyan to make certain that no purple petals strayed near its roots and that its multiple trunks and myriad branches had not spread to further shadow the sky, where the grouping of holy stars which was named the Steed of Kaia Lare had now begun to appear.
She had bathed in the rock-bound pool, anointed her unblemished golden skin and her long black hair with coconut oil, and had gathered up her waist cloth and her shoulder scarf, died with the juice of mati berries, tou leaves, and the inner bark of the nono root to form red and yellow patterns of ferns and flowers. She had twined a coronal of gardenia blossoms and placed them in her hair, and she had plucked one large, rose-coloured orchid which she carried in her hand. But for these and her ear pendants, carved in delicate filigree from the tooth of a stranded sperm whale, she walked naked.
She had performed in near completeness her retiring ritual, but she had not, as was her custom, paused to listen at the Rocks of Hearing. On the last three evenings, they had communicated to her things she did not understand, and she felt that she must allow those mysteries to grow to meaning in her before she listened again.
Seldom over the centuries had she striven for understanding, for it was understanding to which she was born. She was an oracle, divinely chosen, and her name, Lare, was one of the Names of the Goddess. When her people had found themselves hindered by riddles from fulfilling their course of life, they had come to her for guidance and she had found it without effort to give. Always the Spirit had flowed through her unimpeded -- always but during the trouble of the last generation. Of that trouble, millennia ago, she seldom thought. Her present worry over what the Rocks repeated to her recalled it to her mind, but the recollection was as of a dream that is half-forgotten before one wakes.Return to Table of Contents.
The next time he came near her she did not see him, but only felt his presence. It was the third evening after their encounter on the Pali; having completed her wonted round of Banyan, Rocks of Hearing, and pool, Lare slipped into the secret door and serenely but swiftly made her way to the Sanctuary, through the spirit-gateways of the sacred peninsula -- tunnel of earth, blue of flower, formations of weird shape and colour haunted by mystic horses whose allegiance to the boundaries of the world was not as man's. She felt though she did not hear Kela slip in behind her, and, divining why he followed, she sensed it as he shadowed her along a circuitous route of visions he was not meant to see. She continued on in all ways as though she felt him not, and it was only after she had come to the chamber of the Sanctuary where she should have wed with him and there fallen on her knees to worship that he made himself known.
"Turn to me, Lare."
His voice was close at her back. Lare remained as she was, facing toward the cavern of the Fountain and away from him. "I will not turn to you, Kela. My eyes look toward the Goddess and yours away from Her, and never will they meet again."
She heard how his implacable purpose was briefly tempered by a dying note of the love that might have been. "Turn, Lare. I would not strike you down from behind."
Lare felt him draw intimately nearer; she thrilled to the resonance of the thing he held in his hand. "Though I am oracle and you are not, yet might you have run far before me. Of the tragedies of your crippled spirit that is the greatest; the next is that, what you would not do, you will do nonetheless." She lifted her head high, baring fully the golden line of her neck. "Do what you have come for, Kela, before time itself overtake you."
There was a motion behind her, and for a lingering instant she was aware of his legs bracing her back and his right hand resting almost tenderly upon the curve of her shoulder. Then she closed her eyes, so not to see his left hand as it drew his knife across her throat.Return to Table of Contents.
. . . Never, not in these thousands of years, have I shed tears. Make a tale for me, Clement, one that is my own. And I will listen and weep, and I will be joyful then and always."
Clement dug deep, through crust of hardness down to what was most tender in himself, to mold for Nika a tale. It was this.
"Long ago, or perhaps it was but yesterday or will not be until tomorrow, in a village on the coast of that land we call Ireland, there lived a girl of sixteen years. She was rosy-cheeked and fair, but she caught the fancy of no young man among the village, nor had any taken her fancy. For there was a tamelessness and a mysterious distance in her eyes, as though the blood of the fays ran its course in her with that of womankind; and yet she was as human as heartbreak."
"While other lasses of her age were kissing with the lads that courted them, wedding and giving birth and bouncing babes upon their knees, she passed the hours when she was not at labour gazing out to sea, or haunting the docks where the fishing boats were moored, talking with the old fisherman who was her only friend. His skin was tough and tanned, his white hair and beard waist-long, and his smile nearly toothless; yet his sinews were still strong and his mind clear at nigh on a century old. His name was Patrick Peter John Jeffery, and he told her tales of all that he had seen and all that he had imagined. And though he told them and swore to the truth of every one of them with a wink, a chuckle, and a click of his tongue, yet in his eyes there was a melancholy and a wild exulting she recognized from her own looking-glass. And she loved him in her way more than the lasses their lads and the mothers their babes."
"While others found their fulfilling in the simplicity of commonplace things, the girl whetted her strange longings with the fisherman's stories of phantom ships and castles of cloud, of how ancient strifes were kindled and quenched and true loves won by the performance of impossible tasks, of how no mortal man can lie next the queen of fairies and live and no woman hold a man whose mistress is the sea. And though he chided her for spending her youth at his side rather than consorting with those of her own years, he did not send her away. For he saw that her spirit was akin to his -- too high-reaching to grow in cottage gardens yet too tender to be cast out among the stinging nettles."
"Each day she came to the docks and listened to his tales, and each evening she walked by the sea, pondering what she had heard, dreaming dreams that were more real to her than the waking visions of most. And of all he told her, what she thought most upon and what moved her to dream most deeply was this."
"'Lass,' he had said, 'some there are that never may find their own heart's love, and this all men know. But it has been known by only a few, scattered through many lands and times, how that these solitary ones, if their yearning be deep enough, may meet with the spirits of their beloveds in visions or in sleep, though the miles or the years between them be never so great and ever unbreachable by human means.'"
"'These visitations may be. But lest you yearn too quickly to be so visited, consider whether it is more painful to forsake all thought of the love between man and woman and offer your heart to another cause; or to know that somewhere beyond seas or mountains there dwells, or has dwelt or will, your soul's perfect mate, who through the tragedy of fortune may never be seen by you but in the fragile guise of spirits, may never be embraced but in the arms of your dreams which wake too soon to find themselves empty, may never share the gladness of the hearth or bless the cradle with sons and daughters that bear the stamp of both your features upon their faces and the heritage of your cherishing in their hearts. Consider and consider well which is the harder choice, lest you pray for the vouchsafing of that which wounds you more deeply than you can bear when your prayer is granted. For myself, I believe with St. Paul that the solitary are happier if they abide with their hearts fixed on God. But there are those who cannot abide, who cannot help but that their hearts should go wandering. . . . '"
"And the girl knew, by the quavering in the fisherman's voice and the light in his eyes as he looked out to sea, that his had been the latter choice."
"She thought on this, when with the falling of the dark she stood upon the shore. And on one evening in early spring, the eve of the ides of March, as she gazed out upon the waves she saw far off a glimmering. A flush and a chill of piercing joy passed through and through her, and she stood perfectly still and watched as the glimmering drew nearer. At last she perceived that it was a ship, eerily illumined as is no earthly craft, the very northern lights all hung about her sable sails. The ship was of terebinth, decked garishly with bespangled pennons that fluttered in the breeze; the spume-flecked waves flared ultramarine where her prow cleft through them. Like some proud corsair fey and fresh from the plundering, as though she wielded Neptune's own trident, the ship drave on for shore, her cannons thundering. Forward straight and sure, as if drawn by an irresistible lodestone she drave on; and the girl understood, in the wisdom of her soul, that it was herself for which the ship and the ship's master sought. The ship drave on for shore until presently it faded away into the darkness and the girl beheld it no more. And she walked home to the house of her father with shivering skin and a heart full of pain."
"She said nothing of her vision to the fisherman, yet she knew that he sensed what she did not speak. The days passed ever more quickly between her labour, her sea-walks, and the fisherman's tales. And then on an evening she was visited a second time."
"Due westward from the lonely beach where she roamed was an offshore island, on which never a man had set foot; and this island rose to a lofty peak at each end and sank to a deep-delved vale in between. As she stood on an evening beneath the summer moon looking toward it, there appeared between the peaks a third mountain, glowing with the same light beyond nature as had glistered the ship. Upon its crest stood a splendid castle, ornamented with fluted spires, fantastical traceries, and arabesque; wrought it was in beryl and porphyry, and lanthorns shone out at its every window. And as she beheld it, the same quivering of joy as at her first visitation running through her, from its turrets she heard a host of trumpets braying, and amid their noise a voice cried, 'Hither come. Hither come.' And so it was repeated again and again till trumpets and voice died to a whisper, and castle and mountain dissolved in the night."
"And the days passed, and the weeks, and again one night she was vouchsafed a vision; yet it may be called a vision only for want of other word, for it was a thing not seen but felt. As she gazed out to sea where the ship had cleaved the waters, then turned toward the island where the mountain had appeared with the home of her heart's desire on its crest, the voice that had bid her come hither pitied her helplessness to heed its behest and came rather to her. It was as a melding of spirit and wind, invisible, but more palpable than the arms of any lover and like those arms in its intent. It wound itself around her, bound her fast within its ghostly manacles and dashed her to the sand, regaling her with caressings; and though her tears wet the beach at the touch of it, she wanted never again to rise from its prison of love. And yet at last, as she knew it must, the voice passed from her, as a highwayman ravishes a passing maiden for an hour, and leaves her with only his memory and perhaps the seed of his strange child."
"And the weeks passed, and the years. And ever and anon, the girl beheld the growing glimmer of the ship, was bidden come to the third mountain, and was ravished by the voice of a sleeping, dreaming lover from what land or time she could not know; and at last her visitations were her only holiday from solitude, for the breath of the old fisherman went out finally with the ebbing of the tide and did not return. And she remembered his admonition to consider her choice; and she considered, and lo! she could not remember having chosen. And she understood that, after all, the choice had not been hers to make, but was made for her by another."
Clement's voice died away, and Nika wept upon his naked breast, and he comforted her. And at last she said, "It was he that came to her in visions, is it not so, Clement?"
"Who, Nika? Who came to her?"
"It was the fisherman. He knew that his flesh must soon wed with death, so the spirit of him when he was young came to court her instead."
Clement did not contradict her, for though he had not intended it so, the tale was Nika's, and if she so read its meaning then so it was.Return to Table of Contents.
So he wandered through the forest whose existence he could not confirm until middle night, until what would on shipboard have been the beginning of the second night watch, when all exclamations of sailors are oaths. The wages of magic he had never feared, nor did the earned effects, still unknown, of his latest working of it frighten him now; but he was beginning to be afraid for the very emptiness, for the isolation though he had always willed to act alone. He would have been glad for another life of flesh, if not to guide him at least to grope alongside -- but where? Wherefore was he bound? For the Secret, for the Fountain? -- but that path was barred. In feeding the Banyan he may have bent the bars, may have unleashed those who would break them. For the moment, alone and blind, he did not care.
His heart nearly failed him when he felt something move against his bare leg, which longed amid the cold for its seafaring boots and breeches. Recovering, he recognized the moist muzzle of Napi. He stooped to touch the dog, straightened suddenly and swore. The dog had bitten him in the calf, not lightly.
Does he somehow know the harm with which I threatened him to his mistress, Dominic thought? Then he swore more vehemently, for the dog had bitten him again; but this time it seemed to him that Napi was prodding him to motion. He moved a few paces, and paused. The dog bit.
Dominic cried out in rage, and clutched at the dog with the single purpose of throttling it, but it was of no use. To be bitten, harder each time, or to walk in the direction the dog urged him -- these were his choices. He allowed himself to be herded, wondering which vile one among the varua ino had possessed the animal.
Soon Napi was joined by other shepherds, two or three more dogs, several wild pigs, a flying fox; and Dominic even felt, incredibly for that it ought not to have survived out of water, the slithering of a stranded eel between his feet. The motley crowd of captors nudged him, nipped at him ceaselessly; he felt himself bleeding from many small wounds. And ever they compelled him one way, and ever he grew more afraid that they might force him over a precipice or into the sea.
Yet finally the animals began to fall away from him, and he heard the windings of a song, one whose icy intricacy seemed familiar to him. The song wound nearer as one by one the animals departed, until there was none left but Napi, and at last not even he. Dominic stood alone upon rock, warm wetness at his feet and warm vapour around him. He knew where he was, on the topmost step of the rock-bound pool.
And he knew where he had heard the song before. It was the same, but now intoned in chorus by many voices, that seduced his ear when he pressed it to the demon-inhabited shell. Now he tasted no seduction in the song but rather an obscenity wholly repelling, and he gathered the rags of his black arts about him, for defense or attack if there was need. But he felt the gaping rents in that armour admitting too much.
The song stopped; the singers clustered to him like grapes to a stem, exploring him with hands that were insubstantial yet made to feel as though their flesh were peeling away in strips. Then one of them spoke.
"Too thin a cocoon," it said, its voice universes distant from humanity yet close as the beast within. "Too brittle a carapace, too dry a husk. Scrape it away."
And Dominic felt against his shoulders forward and backward the pressure of things serrated and sharp.
His mind recalled to it the legend of the newly-dead being thrice-scraped and so rendered imperishable. Thrice-scraped -- but three strokes only, or three times the whole body flayed? The shells wielded by the spirits of night dug into him to the point almost of penetration but had not yet torn him. By the last remnants of his power to command, he would make certain that they did not.
"Beware, ye gods of darkness. Dare not to rend my flesh. Dare not, for I am no wraith, but a living man."
The pressure of the shells relaxed, and he heard the spirits clamour around him disputatiously, like jurors hung between two contradictory points of law. At last a voice, whether the same that had spoken before or another he could not tell, concluded, "He speaks truth. He is not dead. He is not dead yet."
Dominic felt the shells withdraw from him; but warned by the last words, he searched his catalogue of spells for the mightiest in turning aside weapons of demons or angels. There rose an uproar of all the voices gibbering at once, and a bubbling as of water being greatly troubled. He had not heard the pool, in its perpetual foaming, make so loud a sound before.
Then silence fell of water and voice, and he sensed that all the spirit-band save one backed away from him; but he felt what would have been their emotion had they not been passionless swell to frenzy as it were the cheering of a numberless crowd, such cheers as long ago he remembered hearing when a malefactor was brought to the gallows before the eyes of the Nation's bloodthirsty people. He knew beyond doubt that one of the po-dwellers approached him, bearing a thing of dread; he unsheathed his spell against it, not waiting to know it more nearly before he thrust. "He cannot be scraped until he is dead," came the final verdict. "The man must die."
From the lips of Dominic there shot forth like a rapier a peculiar blending of Latin with Aramaic. Though his oddly-fragile voice quivered with intensity, he had spoken the spell without flaw.
The adversary laughed, or rather gargled hollowly, for there was no humour in it. "Spirit-blades may clash each with each to divide night's kingdom. But it is with no such thing we will slay you, but with a thing that you have made, you yourself, no wraith, but a living man."
Dominic knew his own handicraft in the fitting of it around his neck. Ship's line, woven of hemp, and a knot that a seaman might form sleeping, quick as thought. The loop the knot defined growing smaller, he knew that the po-dweller spoke truth. Indeed he had made it -- the rope-swing, within which he had hugged Rani close to him for fear of its shadow, which he had thrown in the pool's bottomless centre-well thinking to sink it beyond retrieval.
Securely as though the rope were about his wrists, his hands were bound. True to the laws of magic, no spell might avail against a weapon self-formed. The noose tightened, rubbing his neck raw; he began to struggle for his breath, seeing the image, irrelevantly it seemed to him, of the breach in Lare's throat. He remembered the visions of ropes saturate in blood he had seen first in her eyes.
"Strangled, with the cord of his sins," chanted the assembly of spirits as the knot worked inward. But one notch more, and, last of all his wisdom's acquisition, he knew that he would know no more. And yet, and yet death was not all, though his creed postulated no saints' Heaven or sinners' hell; there was a secret life beyond the grave. Dying in such defeat would he rule there, or would the spirits of night victorious have their way with him, indivorcable consummation of pain?
"We have a daughter, Dominic. I have named her Scarlet. I who will curse you am Kaia Lare." The works of the Goddess, commanding the legions of shadows, were coming home to him. Her works, and Her blood-letting wrath, for had he not defied Her oracle unto blood? I did not reckon Her power, he pleaded to what judge heard, I did not account Her Majesty. . . .
"Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow."
The rope went slack; the spirits evaporated from around him, into the steam and out into their own netherworld. Clawing at his throat, Dominic loosed the knot, leaving the halter to dangle there while he coughed and choked. His breath returned, to be suspended again in the next moment. Not the voice of Clement from whom he had heard the words ever before, but a woman's voice had spoken that counterspell, expunged with care from his heretic's unholy Writ. A voice whose depth of music had not grown less for the droughts of fourteen years. . . .
"Maria Anabelle," his awe whispered. "Marielle -- Marielle."
He felt her hands, calloused by labour but still the hands he remembered, unwind the golden tress from around his neck. The rope had become a braid of her hair; as it uncoiled and fell free from him, he wished for her to fetter him with it once more. He reached forth his fingers and let them run over her, divining the inroads of age, the wearing-down of girl's ripeness to the gauntness of a woman whose life is hard. And still his fingers knew her as they had known her so utterly once and perhaps more well, as the figurehead that was her portrait remained the same wood however the storms beat her. He was overwhelmed with memory, of a troth he had chosen to make memory merely. And yet she stood before him now in the very fabric of flesh, by virtue of what enchantment he did not know, but she had not the illusory weave of the spirits of night. She had the tapestried sublimity that had wooed him to love her, once before he had branded love a hindrance, in a life other than this.Return to Table of Contents.
Bryan stood before the Rocks of Hearing, thinking about the end of the world. He did not seek such thoughts out, for there was no morbidity in him. But when time's scythe-shaped hands both pointed upright -- at eight bells, tui ra po, the witching hour -- his imagination strayed toward final things of its own accord. He pictured the sun turning into darkness and the moon into blood, the elements melting with fervent heat and the sea giving up its dead; he imagined judgement, a great white throne and the One who sat on it, from whose Face the earth and the heaven would flee away. "The day of doom," he whispered to himself as he looked up at stars whose light of mercy seemed too distant to hold back the tide of wrath; or perhaps the night of doom, for who could tell when the clock would strike, doom, doom, doom, and so on towards twelve, and who could reckon why the word conveyed its meaning so eerily in its sound -- d-o-o-o-m, like the hooting of an owl, the crying of a ghost condemned to relive earth's heartbreaks, again and again, and again. Tonight as he gazed at the Steed of Kaia Lare, it was the pale horse of the apocalypse with Death astride it; and the Southern Cross was not gloriously naked with resurrection, but stained in the blood of the five wounds of a Christ that hung there yet.Return to Table of Contents.
It was as though dragons were indeed. More near than that myth to the experience of humanity it was, yet how far amid its nearness. The shape he recognized, but the size -- it was twice the length and the breadth of a man. And its colour -- if the Shark's blue were that of heaven, then this gold was the sun making heaven seen.
The Salamander turned, and gazed at him with its auriferous eyes. As long as I am able, Bryan answered, I will follow you; yea, even unto the ends of the earth.
Follow he did, though out of reverence not too nearly, down the north face, then past wind-stooped trees and chest-high thistles which the Salamander's passing luminance caused to cast eerie shadows. And every several paces, the Fire's Messenger would flood Bryan with the daybreak of its stare.
Four-faced cherubim with six wings, wheels within wheels full of eyes -- this too is an angel. But I'll not fall on my face to worship it like them with no understanding, but let it lead me to the last Mystery of my life, to the Holy of Holies where the Fountain is glory's heart in place of the Ark of the Covenant. Yet as he continued on his pilgrimage, it seemed to Bryan that he was not alone with the Messenger of the Fire. Each time the Salamander turned back from the look with which it had impaled him, Bryan would feel compelled to look back also, if perchance he might catch a glimpse of the possessor of the ghost-feet that crept slowly down his spine, that echoed along the less-frequented avenues of his mind. But when he looked he saw nothing but the southern wind returning to its perpetual play among the grasses.
He saw no more, until on the heels of the Salamander he had come to where the wild land gave way to the rain forest. There, just before the forest's eaves, the Messenger stopped, and peered at Bryan so penetratingly that he knew that it must see his thought as easily as it were the sweat upon his brow. Then the creature went on into the forest leaving a track like that of a snail behind it, but this track was of golden light lying along the ground.
Bryan hesitated, wondering why the Messenger had left no trail till now. Did it intend to increase its speed so that he could not keep pace with it, or did it fear that he might begin to drag his feet? Once again and more oppressively than before, the sense of something shadowing him caused Bryan to look behind.
This time there was no spectral caress, no haunting whisper that could be mistaken for wind. There was a scuttling and a clicking, and a hideously musical sway.
It paused within a man-sized step of him, its pincers opening and shutting in rhythm like hypnotic castanets, reaching forward and withdrawing as though they would touch the Salamander's trail but were afraid. Bryan frowned at it, and he felt no doubt that it was smiling back. He understood that for the sake of some devilish chivalry it waited for him to go first.
He put one foot upon the golden trail, straddling light and light's negative. The scorpion danced closer, grasping and recoiling, attracted and repulsed. . . .Return to Table of Contents.
In his dream he was captain; perhaps he was Dominic, or perhaps still Clement but exalted unwisely; he could not see himself to know. He was captain, and he was helmsman, and he was mate, and there was none but he upon the ship. Like the Flying Dutchman he sailed with a curse yoking him, had sailed it seemed since before the seas were known to be seven.
In his curse's bondage he was not alone, for he had carried another with him. He had loved a lady, where or when he could not remember, but he had not loved her well enough, and he had parted her allegiance from another to whom she had been bound. In anguish at his leaving her she had hurled herself at the bow of his embarking ship, and the breaking of her body and her heart upon it had fixed her fast, wood into wood.
With her as his figurehead, he navigated the sea-streams that cross the circle of ocean, beholding many wondrous lands but revelling in none for the thorn of her that pierced his side, taking many women but forgetting the beauty of all when he recalled her tragedy. And at last she whom he had set sail to escape became the reason of his sailing, that he might redeem her from her painted prison of oak and make her flesh again.
Tracking the movements of the stars in his ephemeris, following the points of compass roses, he strayed into waters where no ship else had cast its shade, sheltering under the lee of islands unreachable by less headstrong men, remote as the Hesperides, foundered like Atlantis. And everywhere he searched for the arcanum that would effect her cure; he offered sacrifice to every passing god, but each passed without heeding his prayer. And in the nights when the ship drifted unruled, when he had exhausted his strength, he would cleave to the figurehead and beg her forgiveness, and vow that he would find the means to undo what he had done. The figurehead would not answer him, but there would be a wetness upon her cheeks, whether tears or only the spray he could not tell. And if it grieved him not to tell, he thought how much more it must pain her lonely heart, in weathered wood deep buried but beating still.
And it came about in time that he had proven fruitless every path. He had been sail-ripped by every typhoon and mast-split by every thunderbolt; he had let his vessel drive along the length of every jagged coast and sought a berth of peace for her in every enchanted water. Every sea bird had been inquired of by him, every fish besought; he had attempted the way of every hermetic art and made his ablutions at a myriad of nameless temples. But the stars in their very courses fought against him, and the curse was irremeable.
And finally there rose the sad dawn when he knew this. He went to the figurehead and laid his leathered cheek against her weathered one. And he said, "You are my sole love, though you be wood. To love you is more to me than the loves of those who can kiss me back." And he thought to die there, not unhappily, in her hard embrace; but he heard her whisper, "If you love me, take me home."
"Take me home," she said, and against his cheek he felt an abundance of wet, and he knew that it was not spray, and she knew that he knew. He caught the tears in his hands, and anointed himself with them as he turned back toward the helm for his last voyage, feeling the cursed years and the very curse wash away.Return to Table of Contents.
Her first memory was of a Word, illuminated in scarlet and gold. It rang, rent, raged through her; it was all her senses, her only consciousness of being. The Word arose from a book of many words, and on the cover were more words yet, among which one was "MAGICKE." The Word was breathed from the lips and wielded by the hand of a man of power and place, a man with dark waving hair and darker eyes. As the Word had parted from the man and become a separate thing, as he had returned the book to the chest in which it lived, her green eyes had lightened to the sight of waves slapping the prow beneath her and her lips had tasted the biting wine of the spray.
The man should not have done it. Perhaps he did not understand how it was to feel thoughts well within that could make no sound, to feel the reasons of tears and have no tears to shed. Perhaps he did not know the bittersweet wish to love and be loved again, though yoked helplessly to a ship, only half a shape, legless and with hands that could not move to touch. Sailors had caressed her wooden breasts and uttered bawdy oaths; they had mocked her aging as her colours peeled and she began slowly to rot. Only one, the youngest of them, had spoken to her tenderly as though he knew she could hear, and his secrets had been heavy bearing for her whose burden was to be first into battle, last to have her wounds bound.Return to Table of Contents.
He turned his head northward to the sea. There, blue eye to blue eye with him, was the Shark.
"Soon we will take the way together, Bryan David," it said. "Soon, but not yet." And it retreated from his vision beneath the waves.
"Not yet," sighed Bryan hazily, "but soon. Wait for me, Tera, for I'd love to go hand in your hand." He raised his head from the cairn, and summoning a strength that was not his, dragged himself on.
Sometime later he woke, not having known that he was sleeping. At first he thought that he had only dreamt going on, that his headrest was yet of stone. But as his eyes struggled into focus, he found himself in a state to which no dream could have brought him.
His hinder parts were among the morning glories and late afternoon light, but a mystery running through his middle had cut him clean in half. Bisecting him, stretching long and wide before him was evening twilight, but twilight such as the planet's own sun has never made in withdrawing. Dreadful yet eerily beautiful, it beckoned him on to entire absorption in itself, the conflict between it and the part of him still claimed by day nearly tearing him in two. Believing that he hallucinated in death's extremity, Bryan wormed his way across the border.
The twilight now that he was in it was not twilight at all, but brilliant sunbeams filtering through quivering leaves of a garden. The heart of the garden into which he faced was almost that of the Island's rain forest, yet these vines were more lush, these fruits more ripe, these perfumes more exotic to the breath. It was the Island and yet it was not, and a banyan stood guarding the way to the garden's depths, but the tree cast no shadow.
Then out from around its trunks walked three persons he knew, Nika, Rani, and Tera, and the latter was no babe but a woman, though there was a newness in her eyes as of one but lately created. They walked to where Bryan lay and bent over him, and Rani kissed him once upon the lips, but there was nothing of a lover's kiss in it and it burned. "Not yet, Bryan David," she said. "There is a thing yet to do."
Pressing her hands against his shoulder and cheek she rolled him over, and as he faced the other way, he found himself looking into another world, or not another but a second heart of the same. It also was the opening of a garden, but this was a garden with a wooden gate such as might belong to any cottage of his own Nation, and the trees and flowers he glimpsed within were native to that land, though here grown to a perfection never achieved there by the most careful training hand. For all his long romance with Polynesia, Bryan knew that it was the heart of this garden to which his own heart was wed.
From out of its gate walked another three he recognized, from long, long ago. The first was a man he had served often in the tavern in which he was brought up, a man who had been cruel to him and slandered the goodness of the Saviour when he was drunk, but there was nothing of cruelty or blasphemy in the man's face now. The second was an ill-tempered sailor from his first ship, the very one who had tripped him and brought down upon him his captain's wrath. The man raised a hand in greeting, his eyes lit by a smile.
And the third -- Bryan could not be sure, for his sight was deserting him, as it with his powers of hearing and speech were wont to do in dreams when they were most needed. It seemed to him that the third was his father; he prayed that it was so, but he was not now to know. For the man's form melted into mist even as he approached, baring a fist that held no anger but necessary love. "Not yet, Bryan David," he said. "You must go back." And the man struck him on the cheekbone as Bryan had struck Dominic, even with the same blow.
Pain shocking him to life again, Bryan opened his eyes, and nearly fainted with a second shock. He lay upon his back amid the twilight, and around him, breathing aromatic breath upon him from huge nostrils that hovered too near, were horses, the largest he had seen, russet alternating with black in their ring. Stopping his own breath with fear, they leaned yet nearer and began to nuzzle him; and he remembered then the sacred steeds of the Goddess of which Lare had told him, only half the world's and half Heaven's. Only half the twilight's and half the Garden's -- but then, he did not know how, he was on the back of one of them, gripping with weak knees, clinging to its mane with senseless fingers.
His head resting against the steed's neck, he was borne at a canter through the never-ending dusk, and even in his vertigo and the fragility of his consciousness that lapsed at whiles, Bryan witnessed to the awe of that region through which they went. Up from the sand, swathed in the light of a sun eternally dying, rose gargantuan flutings of stone; like stalagmites in an invisible cave, pillars upholding a hall whose ceiling was too far skyward to be seen. The stones, the sand, the tides that strangely shifted in obedience to no moon were all dyed in purple and red, and ever and anon the steed passed through archways standing half in and half out of the ocean, leading into nothing but more of the same. There was a pungent taste upon the air and upon his tongue, myrrh mingled with wine. Then he lost awareness for a time, and when he regained it he was in the natural twilight of the sun he knew.
He was standing upon his own feet, leaning for support against the trunk of a tree, the first of a line of trees all tuned like harp-strings, and all of them sang. All of them sang, for it was his twentieth birthday today.Return to Table of Contents.