The tree-branch bobbed past the window, scarcely higher than the sill, its leaves shushing the recalcitrant grass that sprang upright again in its wake. It lurched as it moved onto the path, and idly she wondered if it would unyoke the ragged ridge of bone straining to thrust it up. As the ten-toed spindles upon which the whole mass was perched spun scrabbling for a firmer hold upon the dust, a rough draft of a human face emerged above the leaves. Beside its bones almost uncoated with flesh, beside its cracked skin and leaden eyes, a trick of the light cast her own double-chinned shadow onto the window-pane, and for the first time in her life, she felt upon her soul the cold grey weight of an oxygen debt.
Once upon a time there was a shepherd boy who spent his days sitting on a hillside watching the village sheep. One day, he saw a wolf, and instantly he began to yell “A Wolf! Help! A Wolf is chasing the sheep! Hellllppp!”
The villagers came running, armed with sticks and axes, and drove the wolf away. ‘Good work!’ They said to the boy. “Thanks to you, our sheep are safe!”.
The village was so was proud of him that his fame began to spread throughout the countryside, especially after the wolf came a second time, and the sheep were saved once more because the boy promptly raised the alarm. Now in the forest near the village dwelt a band of robbers, and soon the story came to their ears as well.
One day, the leader of the robbers crept up on the shepherd boy. “Cry ‘wolf’!” He ordered “Cry ‘wolf’, or I’ll slit your throat!”
The boy began to scream “Wolf! Wolf” with all his might, and of course the villagers turned out armed to the teeth. At the very last moment the robber took to his heels, leaving the terrified boy standing next to the tranquilly grazing sheep.
The villagers glared at him. “Well? Where’s the wolf?”.
“Over – there – down – man – knife!” gasped the poor boy. It took them a few minutes to calm him down, get the whole story from him and figure out the scam, so by the time they made it back to the village, the robbery was well underway.
The villagers rushed in upon the robbers and drove them off. The robbers had taken most of the valuable things in the village with them and seriously injured half a dozen people, besides smashing and upturning and destroying everything in their path.
The boy, who was still sitting upon the hillside with the sheep, knew nothing of all this. But among the villagers there was a murmur already rising that soon turned into a chorus of indignant voices: the shepherd boy was in league with the robbers!
Once they had decided upon this to their satisfaction, they dragged him down the hill, beating him up in the process, and at dawn on the third day, hanged him from the tallest tree.
King Wenestl was a short, stout, ruddy-faced man – a caricature of a middle-aged merchant. All praised his munificence and graciousness, his wisdom and strength; did everything, in short, to keep him in a gift-bestowing land-granting mood instead of a banishing and boiling-in-oil tantrum.
But eventually someone would lose his cool, and then there’d be the devil to pay. The Virlai, especially, were ever a hot-tempered, touchy sort, and Conallan, Chieftain because he was Wenestl’s oldest friend, was the worst. One day, the King, being in a funning humour, began calling him a lamppost, a beanpole, and so forth. (He was rather the long lean type) The courtiers and even the other clan-chieftains followed suit, and soon Conallan was burning with rage. He smashed his fist into the Royal Tea-Table so hard that it jumped a foot. “Shut up! With your hog’s belly and blasted egg-pate –“
A sudden hush fell upon the court. All eyes were upon the King, who was swelling as though connected to a particularly industrious air-hose. “You’re banished!” He screamed, throwing his sceptre at Conallan. “Get out of my Kingdom, insolent Knave!”
Conallan caught the sceptre and hurled it back. “Fine! I’m going!”
Now had the Virlai risen, or even threatened to rise in revolt, Conallan had not long been an exile. But Tivrin Virlai, his cousin, had long awaited such an opportunity, and he scotched the whole idea so effectively Conallan never even got to deliver the speech he had spent days writing. However, Conallan Virlai made no attempt to leave Nakushita. Instead, he set up camp in the Royal Forest and nailed rebel recruitment posters to oak-trunks. In the next two months he gathered some three-score wolf’s-heads to him, and breakfasted, dined and supped on roast venison a hundred and eighty-three times. Finally he decided it was time to strike, and pulled out his speech.
“Brothers! We have been insulted and exiled –”
“Have we? Oh – Hear, hear!”
“We have bonded together in this hour of travail –”
“Let me finish! – in this hour of travail, to rid the Land of the tyrant Wenestl!”
“And I am sick of venison!”
Shouts of ‘Yeah’, and ‘So are we’, greeted this inspired addition.
“Okay! Is’t to be aye or niggardly nay?”
“Begin! We leave at daybreak, and ‘tis short shrift the laggards will get!
They scattered with another resounding ‘aye’. One remained. A little boy.
“Art witless, lad? Get thee gone!”
“Yes sir, but it’s just–”
“No sir, but – exactly how are we going to capture the King, sir?”
“Eh? Didn’t really think –I mean, it’s a secret plan, dunderhead! Be off! Stay! Summon my Council! Go!”
The blacksmith suggested laming the King’s horse, the cook poisoning his food, the highwayman holding him up, the soldier digging a tunnel … by this time Conallan was quite apoplectic, but he couldn’t think of anything at all himself, except for barging in and throttling everybody. Then a sleepy fisherman spoke.
“I say,” He said. “Doesn’t he go wall-tramping in the morning? Why don’t we drag him down in a shrimp-net?”
Conallan denounced this as unfit for their glorious enterprise. But for once he was shouted down, and preparations began in earnest.
It was customary for the King to promenade the outer wall of the palace once a week, accompanied by a single guard, to demonstrate his trust in The Love of The People. They crept up to the wall without incident, and netted the King with one neat flick.
Wenestl the forty-seventh, known to an irreverent people as Wenestl the Stumpy, woke to find himself trussed up in a noisome tree-hollow. On the third day, Conallan visited him in person. He had thought to find a foe hysterical with fright and anger, and was rather disconcerted to find him consuming a hearty meal instead.
“Shame of the Valinaryon, thy end has come!” thundered Conallan, throwing off his cloak. “Death hovers over ye!”
Wenestl raised one weary eyebrow. “Didn’t I banish you? Or perhaps it was some other wastrel? I forget…”
The guards giggled. Conallan had turned puce. He felt like gutting the King then and there. But that was a proceeding Honour forbade.
“I would fain spit thee as a hog! But I am generous. Take this rapier, cur, and fight me like a man!”
Wenestl tossed the rapier aside. “But I just had lunch!” He protested. “One does not duel after lunch. It is unseemly.”
“Shall I then run ye through?” demanded Conallan.
“Oh, come on, Conallan, what good would that do?”
“The land would groan no more for ye, tyrant! And,” he added wistfully. “I can go home, murder my cousin, and eat something, anything, besides this blasted venison!”
“Really? I thought it was rather good… Well, you won’t go home if you kill me.”
“Eh? Why not?”
“Ensel will become king if I die, and you can bet he won’t repeal your banishment. You fool, why the deuce didn’t you just go into exile, and then write a petition or something? I would have recalled you within the month!”
Conallan digested this. “And what am I to do now?” He demanded querulously. “Let you go, I suppose?”
“Oh please don’t. I don’t want to die just yet.”
“What? Dost mock me even here? Art in my power, foul knave -”
“Conallan, stop play-acting and listen! The net your lout threw over me – I cut the strings with the first sword-slash. I cut the strings, do you understand? It was my guard who shoved me off the wall.”
“What? Why? I didn’t bribe him, I swear!”
“Not you. Ensel, my beloved son and heir. Half your men are his spies.”
“What are we going to do now?”
Wenestl shrugged and held out his plate. “Want some?”
Conallan threw the shrimp-net at his head.
Conallan Virlai was kept in the Palace dungeons for two whole months, without bedding or change of raiment. Yet all marvelled at the new King’s ways, for the prisoner was fed most sumptuously. Naught but the finest venison would do for him.
On the sixty-second day he was run through with the rapier he had given Wenestl.
(Based on a true story)
Farya’s parents were the coolest in the whole world. Her Papa had a Dumbledore-beard, and her Mama wore a long black robe just like the Hogwarts uniform. Her only regret was the pointy wizard hat. Mama had bought Farya a black one for her last birthday that became pink when she turned it inside out, and Farya wore it to school every day, but Mama went on wearing her old black hood. People craned around to look when she walked down the aisles of the supermarket with Mama and Papa, and she smiled and waved proudly back at them.
Then one day in the supermarket, she waved at a lady who was dragging a little girl with goldilocks-hair after her, and the lady didn’t smile back. She shook her fist at them, the shopping bags dangling like stirrups on a cartoon-horse. “Go back!” She hissed. “Go back where you came from, you terrorist b—–s!”
“Mama, what are terrorist b—–s? Why does that Aunty want us to go home? Did I do something wrong?”
“No, darling, you didn’t” Mama smiled and kissed her and bought her a chocolate, but Farya could see her mother’s face breaking into frowny patches when she thought Farya wasn’t looking.
She crept back after bedtime to the top of the stairs to secretly watch TV with Mama and Papa, but they hadn’t turned on the TV at all. Farya shrank into the railing, her heart hammering in her throat. She crept downstairs slowly, shielded by the shadows of the living-room light.
Mama was sobbing with her head on Papa’s shoulder, and he was whispering to her, patting her arm. “We have to stay here now. For Farya. For her future. Ignore them. They don’t know … They don’t understand, you see,” He was saying. “They don’t hate us – they don’t even see us. They see only a stranger – someone different – and they are afraid.”
“But how can they not understand? Are they blind? There are pictures, videos –”
Papa fell back onto the sofa with a sigh. “We watched videos too, remember?” He said. “We watched them for years, watched them grow worse, draw closer to us every day. What did we understand? No –” He groped absently for the TV remote on the table. “No one can ever understand, unless it happens to them. Unless they watch their country ripped to pieces, razed to the ground – unless someone digs out his own mother in three pieces from the rubble and buries her back in it because there is no time to dig –”
Now it was Mama who was holding him. “Then God forbid that they should ever know.” She said softly, and Farya ran upstairs and stuffed her head into her pillow.
The next morning, when she was making her brunch-sandwich with Mama, singing furiously to drown them out, Papa called her. “Farya, do you know where we come from?”
She could see the tear-marks on his face, and his smile had cracks in it, like Mama’s. Farya twisted her hands free and ran in blind panic. “We come from HERE!” She shouted. “I won’t come from anywhere else, I WON’T!” She ran all the way to school without even waiting for Anne.
Anne could have been a goldilocks girl too, only her hair was cropped and she hated porridge. They became friends first, then best friends when Anne snatched back Farya’s doll from Susie. She thought Anne would be angry with her for not waiting but Anne never came to school. At home-time her mother was waiting at the gate, and from the way her fingers spun the beads under her gown Farya knew she was praying hard. At home she went on praying too, and shook her head whenever Farya asked if she could go and play with Anne.
She finally nodded off and Farya fled. She would say sorry later but she had to find out why Anne hadn’t come to school. She could hear the pounding on the stairs and the scuffling voices inside Anne’s house. She knocked and knocked, until Anne came out, looking as forlorn as Farya felt.
“You are not sick, are you? I won’t go to school without you again. I promise!”
“My mother says I’m not supposed to play with you anymore.”
“She says you’re a – a terrorist.”
Anne’s face swelled out into the lady’s at the supermarket, then shrank back into Anne’s, then swelled – “What’s a – terrorist?”
“Your dad is one. Mum says terrorists like him blew up Uncle Sammy’s office and killed him.”
“My dad never killed anyone!”
Anne kicked a stone off the pavement. “My mum says he did. She says you’re all terrorists.”
Upstairs a window opened with a clang. “Anne, I said two minutes!”
“And I can’t talk to you in school either,” said Anne, kicking another stone into the road.
“But we’re best friends!”
Farya ran before Anne could turn away from her, ran all the way into her own room and stayed there with the muffly pillow over her head until her mother called her down for dinner. Papa smiled at Farya when she entered, and she knew she had to say the lines she had rehearsed before they became muddled again.
“Papa, my friend Anne’s Mum says you’re a terrorist.” She rushed on. “If you’re a terrorist I want to be one too.”
“Anne said it – I was just –” Tears began to sting her eyelids. Now everyone hated her, everyone was angry with her, even Papa. “I told her you weren’t but she said her Mum said it and the lady at the supermarket said it too, she said go back you terrorist b——s –”
“Farya,” Papa was holding her hands in his, squeezing them in his special Papa way, and his voice was gentle again. “Farya, listen to me. We are NOT terrorists. Whatever Anne’s mother says, whatever any one says, we. are. not. terrorists. Do you understand me?”
“But then why does everyone say it? Anne’s mum won’t let her talk to me, and she’s my best friend!”
Suddenly he looked old, wrinkly like the picture of Grandma that hung in the drawing-room. “Some of them – some of the terrorists – they look like us,” He said at last. “But they aren’t us, and we aren’t them. Remember that, Farya. This is our country now. We belong here, though some people can’t see that yet. But they will. One day, they will.”
“Will Anne’s Mum see it? Will she let me play with Anne?”
Instead of answering, he began to crackle his knuckles and to make the funny wriggly-eared faces that always made her shriek with laughter. Afterwards Mama let Farya wash her own plate and spin it round and round in the cloth until it was quite dry.
“Tomorrow,” said Farya, as Mama tucked her in “I’ll tell Anne’s mum it was all a stupid mistake, and then Anne can be best friends with me again.”
That night they did not turn on the TV either. Instead they sat there in the darkness all night wondering what they could do stop their little girl’s world from coming undone.
“Only one thing can heal me,” She said. “I must change what I did.”
“Ask me for another gift,” I said. “I can give you a new life far from here, with no memory of the demon that haunts you.”
“That would be another lie!”
“Pray then for a repentant heart, and peace will come –”
“Do you think I feel no remorse?”
In the ringing of her laughter I saw again the demon savaging her sister as she watched and did nothing. He saw her as he cast aside the dying child and went on his way, leaving a shard of her soul impaled upon the memory of his sneer. She watched unmoving the last of the light fade from the pain-crazed eyes, the last rattling breath grow still in her sister’s torn throat, and thus began her long despair.
“Give me one more chance,” She said. “And I will not walk the coward’s way.”
We debated, we Wise Ones of the mountains. We could not turn back time. But – were it only an illusion, it would nonetheless be no lie to her … Her redemption could be as real as the anguish now festering in her heart.
As she stepped forth now the knowledge was already within her – but she stood petrified as before, and I could do nothing. With the chasm opening before her, she shrank from her salvation and watched.
Afterwards, as she donned the robe of the exile and crushed the smouldering ashes of roses deep into her forehead, the tongues that should have uttered the traditional farewell were silent, for all her people had seen her disgrace and their own with it. They too had watched – and done nothing. Again.
“One day I will go home,” She always said. “Tomorrow, I will rise with a smile on my face…”
But her people shunned her, until the demon came again. Then they hunted her out and bound her to a stake as an offering.
“Now,” Gloated the demon. “You are mine forever.”
She smiled at the demon as only she could smile whose one crime was to have survived him before. “You broke me that day,” She said. “Or perhaps I was broken already, and you forced me to see it. But if I was born a wretched coward, daughter of a people more craven still, you at least shall not have any more of us to consume. Avaunt!”
She waited out the last thunderings of the demon’s rage, laughing, still laughing, as he vanished. Now all of a sudden she was a heroine, and they would have fain have borne her home in high honour, but she shook her head.
“Go with them,” I said to her. “Go home. Tomorrow is here.”
“Aye,” She said softly. “And so I rise with a smile on my face.”
Every year, they put wreaths of laurels upon the elegant marble tombstone. But when I go there, I scatter an urn full of ashes of roses at her feet.
“The King signed it!” He was beaming at me with the fierce tenderness that always set me alight, like the morning sea glowing in the warmth of the sun. “Look!”
Gingerly I took the scroll from him, and traced the beautifully inked markings with my finger. I could not yet read whole words, only the letters Daedalus had taught me that were scattered inside them, and my own name.
“This paper makes you a free woman, Naucrate. Do you understand?” I did not, but I knew he would not wait for my answer, so I nodded nonetheless. “It means that my son will be born to a free woman of Greece – my wedded wife, not a bedslave from the household of Minos!”
In celebration he gave a great feast, and all in Crete flocked eagerly to it, gentle and common alike. Some for love and friendship of my lord; most because they knew Daedalus was in high favour with the king. They brought gifts for me too as I sat beside him, fourteen years old and visibly near motherhood, a free woman of Greece, for all that I had the red-gold hair and green eyes of my slave mother. I knew they sniggered, but I did not care.
I have always wondered if it was in truth the happiest moment of my life, or merely the last one without the taint of dread upon it … Afterwards they told me it was that very night that Pasiphae was to lie with Poseidon’s snow-white bull … but you must have known this then, Daedalus, though you gave no sign of it.
And how the fates laughed to watch us! No – they did not laugh; they were angered. Else they would not have sent us Alcisthene. For twenty years I have thought of her only with loathing – but now – now that I should hate and revile her more than ever, I think I understand: it was never she who doomed us, Daedalus. It was you.
I felt the iron steal into Daedalus as she walked up to us and bowed, the slave boy behind her holding up her gift, felt his hand stiffen on mine. “I felicitate you, Uncle,” She said. “I pray that your child may he be born a boy, strong and healthy, and that he may grow up to be a credit to his father.”
Daedalus said nothing; it was I, finally, who stammered out the ritual thanks, but it was at him that she looked. “May your firstborn child be a boy, dear Uncle Daedalus, and may he grow up to be like his cousin Talus.”
“Out! Get out!” He hissed, and I flinched for her as he raised his hand to strike. But she stared him back down, smiling all the while.
“Ah look, I have frightened your little slave concubine. Did you never hear the name of Talus, little pigeon? Talus, my baby brother who worshipped the ground his uncle walked on, like our poor mother – and yet was so brilliant he invented the saw at the age of ten just by looking at the spine of a fish. No? Never?”
“But it was Daedalus who invented the saw!” And until that moment I had believed it – I would fain have gone on believing it all my life, but that I could not unread the truth of her words in his eyes.
“Is that what he told you? No, my poor deluded child, all he did was throw the boy out of a tower, for fear that he would become a greater man than himself. Look how she clings to him, the little fool! … He loved you, Daedalus. Loved you and trusted you like his mother, like this child here. You remember her, don’t you? Perdrix, your sister who still refuses to believe you murdered her son…” She spoke softly enough, but the guests were beginning to gather around us, listening avidly to this story they all knew but would never have dared to repeat in the presence of Daedalus.
“You know, when they told her Daedalus had killed his nephew, she refused to believe them. They showed her Talus’s brains spattered on the rocks next to his broken body, and she would only say ‘My brother could never have done this’. And do you know what he did, little pigeon, when she went to see him in prison? He held her and kissed her cheek and told her ‘He fell. There was nothing I could do.’ When they imprisoned him for his crime, she knelt before his dungeon and prayed for his freedom. When they cast him out as a kinslayer, she clung to him and wept. Wept …”
She took the box from the slave’s hands. “She sent you her love, Daedalus, and bade me tell you she burns an offering every day to pray for your return. Look – here is her gift for your lady – an armlet blessed by the priestess of Pallas Athene herself. Look, is it not beautiful?”
Daedalus tore it from her hand and flung it to the floor, scattering the beads to the sound of her harsh barking laughter. “Get you hence, Alcisthene,” he said, caring nothing for the whispering Cretans all around us, “or I swear I will kill you too.”
“Oh I am going, dear Uncle, don’t fret … Goodbye, fledgling.” I shrank closer to Daedalus as her hand rested fleetingly on my cheek. “I am going, Daedalus, but this curse I now pronounce upon you will linger in every broken fragment of that wretched trinket my mother made for you: may your son die at your hands as Talus died – may his mother suffer as the mother of Talus suffers!”
I asked him nothing, I spoke no word, not even when they were all gone and I stood trembling in our bedchamber looking blankly out upon the starry night. “Alcisthene is gone,” he said and wrapped me close to him in the Persian shawl he had given me that morning. “She will never hurt our baby. I made sure of it.”
And in his strong, strong arms I was sure of it too. Icarus, how was I to know that he had already sealed your cousin’s curse upon you with her blood? It was not fear for you that made me tremble that night … though if I had known then what I know now I would have jumped from the window ledge and let the sea swallow us both then and there.
“Did you really lie to your sister?” The horror growing inside me spilled past my lips, though I had bitten them to the quick to stifle it. “That wasn’t true, was it, Daedalus? Daedalus?”
He flung me from him then, and the repulsion, the wrath in his face made me crumple to his feet. “Aye. It was a lie – a little white lie, to save the stupid woman’s life. Do you think she would have survived the knowledge that her precious brother had murdered her son? Do you think I should have told her the truth? Do you?”
I called after him, clutched at his cloak, sobbing, incoherently begging forgiveness – but he knocked me aside and went away. Sometime during the night I must have fallen asleep on the floor, because I woke up screaming to a boy with his brains smashed on the rocks and Alcisthene making a mountain of armlets around him. But he was there to hold me and soothe my terror away, and in the months that followed our happiness returned to us, piece by piece at first, and then all of it at once when Icarus was born.
He had his father’s handsomeness and his fierce courage, but none of his skill, for which I offered up a prayer of gratitude every single day. Because I knew instinctively that Daedalus could never have loved him so unreservedly otherwise … Icarus had no love of his father’s craft, and so I thought him safe from him, from Alcisthene’s curse. And then five years later came my baby Iapyx, a gift from the heavens, with the green eyes and the sweet calm goodness of my own mother, a serenity that spread around him like a breath of divine love. Icarus dreamt of wars and gallant deeds, but Iapyx yearned always to heal: from babyhood he could soothe a withering blossom back to life. He was devoted from the first to Daedalus, like Talus, like his sister Perdrix, with that total and unshakeable devotion which the guilelessly good always give to those who deserve it the least.
We were happy all those years, while my boys were growing up. Now I know it was only a fleeting, borrowed happiness, doomed from the first – how could it not be, with kinsblood upon my husband’s hands and a Minotaur ranging the labyrinth of my husband’s making, gorging upon the tribute of innocent lives offered unto it every day? I wish I could say now that it weighed upon Daedalus, or at least that it cast a shadow upon my own blissful contentment: but the truth is, I was completely, thoughtlessly happy.
And then Princess Ariadne fell in love with an Athenian Prince, and gave him the ball of unbreakable endlessly stretchable golden thread Daedalus had gifted her, so that he could find his way out of the labyrinth after slaying the vile beast. It was Iapyx who brought me the news – the bringing of ill news always did fall to him, for there was no sorrow his very presence could not lighten. Minos had locked Daedalus in a tower-cell, and Icarus with him … Almost I was glad of it, for I knew there was no prison in the world that could hold my Daedalus. He would find a way to break free, to come home to us or to take us wherever he went, and Icarus, who might otherwise have done something reckless upon learning the King’s decree, would be safer with him meanwhile than he would be anywhere else.
I knew Daedalus loved him as dearly as I did; I thought he would die before he let any harm come to our son … Icarus, Icarus, my first-born, my darling boy, did you call for your mother as you fell from the sun on the wings of your father’s making? Did you think of me as the waves swallowed you and he flew on, weeping? … Iapyx brought me Daedalus’s letter when he told me, but it did not speak of you. It was a scrip of parchment, soiled and torn, that said only “The boy fell. I told him not to fly so high, but he did not listen. There was nothing I could do.”
“He fell. There was nothing I could do.” And there she was, Alcisthene watching her mother’s armlet shatter on the wooden flooring, laughing, laughing, building mountains of armlets around Icarus lying smashed upon the cliffs, building mountains of armlets soaked in the blood dripping from her own slashed throat.
They tell me I lay in a fever for weeks, screaming “it was a lie! A little white lie” … but it is not a lie this time, is it, Daedalus? You could lie to all the world and to yourself too, but you never could lie to me.
I can see you now in the tower cell, your magnificent brain already at work as you watch the gulls soaring past, measuring, calculating, planning, not with glazed and dreaming eyes like Icarus standing beside you. I can see how you set yourself to copy their wings, so intent upon your craft you are free already from the prison Minos thinks will hold you for life.
I can see Icarus standing beside you, his eyes wide with wonder and admiration, all without understanding a word of your numbers and squiggles and triangles chalked up on the wall. He is nodding as you fit the harness around his shoulders and warn him not to fly too high; but already his heart is yearning to brush the wings of Apollo’s chariot with his own, and he hears nothing …
Iapyx tells me you have promised to send for me as soon as you have found us a secure refuge, and I smile and agree. But I know you, Daedalus. I know you as nobody else in the whole world does, and I know you will never send for me. I will never see you again, Daedalus, because to me you cannot tell the half-truths you tell yourself. I know that the only refuge you need now is from me, lest I hold you up to the mirror of your own soul as I should have done all these years. You cannot look into the eyes of your son’s mother knowing that you watched him drown and did not plunge into the waves after him as he would have after you without an instant’s hesitation.
But you would not have to, Daedalus. It is not the truth I want from you: I know it already, and unless you are here to hold me I cannot shut it out of my heart as I always have done. Daedalus, Daedalus, for once in your life, please tell me a lie too. A white lie – a little white lie … that is all I am asking of you now, all I will ask of you forevermore.
Tell me how you watched over our Icarus, flying into the sun to pull him downward, hauling him up again and again when he swooped too low. Tell me how, when his wings gave way and he fell, you cast away your own and threw yourself in after him, offering your life to Poseidon instead of his, offering your knowledge, your art, everything that you are and could be …
Hold me now and tell me how you wept and prayed that the tears of Perdrix and the blood of her children would be repaid by your life and not his, how the power of your love and the wonder of your craft won my child’s life from the ocean itself. Tell me over and over that Alcisthene’s curse had no power in it, until I can pretend to unknow the truth about you as I always have done, Daedalus.
Tell me how you left our son to rest upon a rocky little islet you named for him, living and waiting for us, and that one day, we will all go there to live with him, flying out over the ocean on wings stronger than the sun, stronger than the wind and the waves, and live happily ever after, away from towers and minotaurs and the palaces of Kings.
Come back to me, Daedalus. Don’t be afraid of me. It’s not the truth I want from you. I know it already. All I am asking for now is one little white lie …
“The Science agenda for the month states,” Mrs Hassan frowned at the circular. “That you have to teach Plants, Magnets and Electricity. You barely finished Plants.”
“Well, you see, they were interested in photosynthesis, so –”
“The English agenda,” continued Mrs Hassan. “Required you to complete Chapters Five, Six and Seven. You failed to do this. Moreover, the subject coordinator tells me you have not been following her lesson plans.”
“Because they are impossible! Look at today’s plan –” Zoya held it up. “Reading and understanding a page-long comprehension, copying down ten questions from the whiteboard and answering them – within sixty minutes. The children can’t do it, Ma’am. They’re only seven years old.”
“The children in the other sections are also seven years old, and their teachers don’t appear to find it impossible. No –” The uplifted finger cut her off. “You must realise that we have standards to maintain at this school. Parent Complaints have started coming in, and if your work is not up to the mark …”
-Your work is not up to the mark- … The lipstick-rounded mouth moved on in slow motion, the sound emerging from it fading into a hazy background for the demon that had fallen silent for the first time in her life when she had walked into Class III Rust two months ago.
— Hah! Loser! So you thought you were good at this, did you? — … The spell was broken, not at the chimes of midnight but in this sunlit office with spaceship-cloud shadows on the wall and the taste of a familiar bitterness on her dry tongue.
— You suck at teaching, as you suck everything else, you loser —
She stumbled back to the staffroom, where her new friend Maya was sitting on the sofa eating samosas. “Zoya! How did the meeting – hey, are you okay?”
— Look at her, she’s knows you’re pathetic —
Zoya picked up a samosa and bit into it so fiercely her teeth clanged shut right through the potatoes. “I won’t fail.” She hissed. “This is my dream. I am going to be GOOD at it!”
“What –” The bell rang and Maya fled, cramming in the last of her samosa. “’alk ‘oo – home-time!”
Zoya walked her way grimly down the corridor to her class. The students jumped up to greet her. “Gooood Morning, Miss!”
“Good morning. Sit down, take out your copies and write down the day and date. Then open your books to page 84. Quickly! We’ve wasted five minutes of the class already.” The marker screeched as she printed ‘ENGLISH’ on the board. “Ahmad, start reading the first paragraph.”
Ahmad’s head emerged briefly from his bag “Miss, I can’t find my book.”
“Hurry up and take it out! Ali, you read.”
“Yes Miss. What’s the page number?”
— Nine minutes gone. You’ll fail again, like you always do —
“Eighty-Four!” The snarl shocked the class into silence. “Listen to me! If you don’t want to spend next year in Class III as well, we have to work much harder than this. Do you understand?”
Silence. Then – Bilal said – it could only be him – “Miss, may I go to drink water?”
Zoya quelled the spurt of giggles with a glare. “You just got in from recess, Bilal. Start reading, Ali!”
Too baffled to protest, they fidgeted, but they worked. In the fifteen minutes spent reading the passage – she had chosen only the best readers – Zoya had written out the questions. And for the first time she wrote down the answers as well, without first asking the class to attempt them.
“Miss, what is demonstate?” asked Asad.
“Demonstrate. Copy it all down, then I will explain.”
“But Miss you always say we should understand what we are –”
“Copy it down first!”
By the fifty-sixth minute all the copies were piled on her desk, filling her with a savage triumph. She had done it! She glanced down at the first copy open, and felt irritation sweeping across her again.
“Whose copy is this? Raise your hand –” Bilal again, the goggle-eyed little – “Just look at this! The day and date are on the wrong sides, and the handwriting – ugh! And you’ve spelt dog b-o-g again!” She drew a large red circle around it. “I’m really very disappointed.”
“HAHA!” Ahmad leapt out of his chair. “Told you! You know, Miss, he was so sure he was going to get a star today he made me put his copy on top! What a loser!”
Reflexively she had started up to intervene – Bilal generally responded to all taunts with a punch – but he was sitting quietly in his seat and did not even look up when Ahmad snapped his fingers in his face.
“Idiot, duffer! Loser!”
“Ahmad, sit down!”
— Loser —
Afterwards she always claimed it was the word that had made her realise … it would be all of thirty years before she told another young teacher how the echo of her own desolation in the eyes of a child she had always seen laughing had truly begun a new life for her, had begun her own exorcism in the very act of perpetuating the age-old circle of wretchedness that was gnawing its way into her soul.
“Everyone, please listen,” Their palpable relief at seeing her smile made tears start to her eyes. “Please clap for yourselves – you all worked really hard today. And please clap especially loudly for Bilal – for trying the hardest and showing the most improvement!”
“Well, we have three minutes left. Let’s play a round of Hangman with our new words before the bell rings. We need to work harder,” She went on, trying not to laugh at their expressions. “That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun. Okay?”
“Okay!” They chorused.
“I’ll go first,” Said Bilal. “And tomorrow, I AM going to get a star. A GOLDEN star!”
Outside, the spaceship clouds had faded to a crooked wisp rather like the lopsided grin once again flashing on his face.
“You know me as a hunter,” began Mr Fox “a warrior, a leader among fox-kind … But – alas! It was not always so. There was a time when –” Who shall blame him if his voice faltered to confess it? “I became a Subject of Mockery – at the hands of Poultry!”
Poultry! It took Mrs Fox a moment to overcome her agitation, but her smile did not falter. “Tell me all, and then we will put it behind us.”
“It was a Human who was the cause of my downfall,” continued Mr Fox, who had scarcely managed to wait long enough for her permission to avail himself of it.
“Until I came upon the town of Caledorne I was a good old fashioned cave-fox who ate rabbits for breakfast, cheerfully savaged any creature he did not like, and cared not a fig for any animal’s opinion. On that calamitous winter afternoon, however, all this was destined to change.
“The forests were already covered with snow, and I had caught nothing for a week but one hapless sparrow, though I had prowled and lurked through every bush and tree hollow from here to the Valuné. I had never before eaten humans – yes, my dear, I was forced to contemplate even that extremity.
“As I stood on the edge of the Forest shivering and scratching my fur, the first coach of the day drew up at The Tinklin’ Bell. I took it as a Sign, and after some basic lurking and prowling, selected as my prey a diminutive female in a black and yellow skin. Alack! Had I but known then that I was slinking fast to my Doom!
“Murderers had been known to become sheepishly contrite in That Presence; nay, even her own parents trembled inwardly as they addressed her. In my deplorable ignorance, I contemplated the ultimate sacrilege – laying violent paws upon this formidable personage!
“‘Reveal yourself at once!’ Hands on her bow-knot-belted waist, a frown gathering over disapprovingly pursed lips, Miss Guinace Dunthair sternly contemplated this poor malefactor, who was trying now to steal away unnoticed.
“‘Stop!’ I stopped – ‘Turn around and come here!’ I turned around and went there. I can see that you think it rather poor-spirited conduct, but I really couldn’t help it.
“I was surveyed over a short straight nose wrinkled with disgust. ‘And just who may you be, my good sir? You are quite the most Peculiar Person I have ever come across!’
‘I – I’m a fox.’
“‘A fox? Hmm. Go and put on a respectable black frock-coat instead of this absurd brown. Moreover, please attend immediately to these horridly long nails. Does your mother not order them to be clipped regularly?
My mother! At my age! I ask you! ‘I – don’t have – a mother!’ That took more courage than a whole pride of snake-fanged lions would have called for.
“In a moment her censorious manner vanished.
“‘Oh you poor dear thing!’ She patted my head sympathetically. ‘How very dreadful! I do not wonder that you have no notion of Proper Conduct. However, this cannot be permitted to continue. I will undertake your instruction personally.’
“And thus I found myself washed and brushed, permed and polished, by a horde of attendants most provocatively aquiver with terror, so that I longed to growl a little just for fun. My nails were cut so short they ached constantly, and these hind paws were encased in buckled boots. On my frame, trimmed to the last stray hair, were smothering linen swathings, fawn-skin breeches, and as decreed by Mademoiselle, a black frock-coat. The ensemble was rounded off by a bowler-hat and a strangulation device called a cravat.
“A horribly cold and cramped ‘house’ had been constructed, since my cosy cave was now taboo. Within, furnishings and accessories were tastefully and meticulously arranged. She left also an hour-long list of orders, which I shall spare you, though I shall retain of that discourse for the rest of my life an ineffaceable impression.
“At length I recovered enough to feel a bit peckish. I tried valiantly to content myself with the rations approved by my benefactress, but tea and seed-cake quite unequivocally made me sick. So I went out to hunt again. Unfortunately, mincing through the forest on one’s hind-legs, body held stiff and head resolutely erect, is perhaps not the best way of hunting that a Fox can adopt. Yet I could not take the hat off – it would not have been Proper to step out of doors without a hat.
“And then! Woeful hour! I chanced upon a roosting hen. Noiselessly I crept up, and scooped her into my butterfly net. Once upon a time I would just have pounced upon her and ripped out her throat, but that was conduct grossly unworthy of a Gentle-fox. Wherefore, I clicked my heels and raised my hat to the hen as I tipped her into a sack, and walked home just in time to drag it into the larder and tuck myself in for an afternoon nap. I woke precisely at the time Proper etiquette dictated, and sat down to wait for Supper. I dared not commit the heinous crime of Eating Between Meals.
The hen soon pecked her way out of the flimsy sacking. She filled it up with pebbles – it took her a good half hour, as she later informed me, but she felt it was wholly worth it – and knotted it up again. Then she ran off cackling to tell all her friends.
“When my watch finally struck seven, I lit a fire in the newly established stone hearth, and emptied the sack onto it. Imagine my shock when only pebbles came out! I watched them helplessly, uncertain as to the Proper Conduct in such a case. The fire hissed and crackled as they dried, and having drunk its fill, began to spit them out.
“The first hit me on the nose, making me leap upwards with a decidedly Improper oath, and the relentless bursts of stony splinters that followed caused me to perform twists and contortions which would have won a serpent’s admiration.
“The thrashed and battered hat made Mrs Thrush and Company an excellent nest for the winter. The cravat and garments provided magpies for miles around with heirlooms generations would preen themselves upon. The boots were colonised by an old mouse woman with a dozen rascally children. The house went down in human history, as indeed it should have done. An old half-blind historian declared it the work of a new indigenous people, and pioneered the movement that led to their discovery five years later.
“But here I lurked, my reputation in shreds –”
“But you redeemed yourself,” said Mrs Fox quickly.
“Ah yes, yes, my dear, but I am afraid I had acquired a – a taste – that I have never since managed to shake off, for what the humans call Reading. They take the flesh of trees and scratch marks upon them, and these marks become pictures in the brain … I – I hope you do not mind very much if I read sometimes?”
But Mrs Fox’s pungently expressed rejoinder we must consign to decent and – er – Proper oblivion.
A guest post by ‘Soul Less Fanwarrior’ (Savez Shabkhez)
In time I’ll be immune to the pain,
In time I’ll learn to ignore the need to say or do something.
In time, I’ll learn the art of ignoring someone as they talk (or text)
In time, I will harden my heart to the world.
In time, I will grow up.
In time I’ll be the mature ‘man’.
In time I will stop caring about people and feelings,
In time I’ll be as cold as the wind,
And people will be means of achieving an end.
In time, I will grow up.
Perhaps then, you’ll like me better.
Perhaps that is what people want.
Perhaps that what I need to be.
Perhaps I need to grow up.
In time, I’ll kill that little boy who dared to love.
In time I’ll kill the boy who dared to look at the world with an uncoloured gaze.
In time, I’ll kill the boy who loved to laugh and cry at all the little things.
In time I’ll kill the little boy that worshipped Goodness and Kindness.
In time, I’ll learn to be cruel and mock and laugh as I strip soul after soul of innocence.
In time, perhaps, I will grow up.
Success is not about having enough but about being enough – enough of a human being, enough of a parent, enough of a friend – to be happy yourself and to make those you love happy.
Love is total acceptance, be it of a person, of a thing, or of an idea. Whether you love or fall in love, you agree to put up not only with the flaws and faults and vices, but also – and this is much more difficult – with the beauties and perfections of the one you love.
Turning the last page of a well-loved book, with one’s thoughts already upon the next, or upon the cake rising in the oven, or the clothes that need washing – that is the essence of a goodbye, whether it is a hug or a wave or just one yearning look. You usher one epoch out the door and the other in; and for that one fleeting moment you belong half to each.
That one smile only you can bring to someone’s eyes – that is the essence of happiness. That knowledge: for this person, for this moment, I am special, I am irreplaceable, because this smile could have blossomed only for me. That is happiness.
Slowly, lock by tumbling lock, she let her hair glide down her shoulders. Rich, black, mane-like, it snuck its snarly bristles into her bare chest and into the raw shin of her back.
Inside the locked, shuttered, mirrorless store-room, with shrouded caskets on every side of her, she shrank still, shrank instinctively within herself as she stepped out of the black frock with its one white frill on the collar.
She knelt upon the faded black cotton, the razor blade a silver glimmer in her pudgy fingers. There ought to have been some pathos to this moment, she thought desperately, some thrill, some deep overwhelming emotion …
When Slumber took the first few strands of hair and yanked them until her head throbbed right down to her left temple and she could feel the pores of her skin ready to pop. She laid the razor against the root of the pain and struck it away. And the cool hardness of the metal was a balm to her keening new-shorn flesh.
She watched the first few strands slide off her thighs and coil up on the black cotton frock with one end swathing the white frill … And then her shingled hair began to fall around her thick and fast, like a cloud reminded of its destiny by the first plopping drop of rain.
Now she was panting a little with the pain, and her eyes glittered cruelly, feverishly. With every strand of hair she hacked off, the desperate triumph in her eyes was stoked to a blaze again.
Until there was nothing left to cut. The hair down her neck was not hers any longer: merely an irritant to be jerked off. The rush of about her weightless head, bobbing on her neck like a child’s balloon at the end of a thread made her look down suddenly at the sliver of steel in her bloodless fingers; and as the pain in her sore skin subsided, she began for the first time to survey the dark maelstrom about and upon her with the beginnings of panic.
The rich, ripe corn spilled out of its austere sheaves, the bright yellow cobs brushing gently along the shoulders of all who trod the narrow cart-road. They stretched away to the Eyrlyndyne in a myriad waving, whispering rows, simmering green and glorious gold. Scare-crows leered in vain. Upon their straw-heads, their stick-arms, their stump-legs – nay, even in the malignant eye-sockets and the crooked mouth the indomitable chirpers fluttered, pecking complacently at the spoils of their latest foray. At every thud and rustle they rose cackling and squawking and shrilling their outrage …It was lilting and swaying and rippling in the sun, like harps and bird-song and river-music, wrapt in one long sea of love and light.
Slowly, reluctantly, the crimson sun sank behind the snow clad peaks, darkening the world. Night stripped its fire, layer after layer, from the snow-hardened peaks of the mountains, from the mellower slopes coaxed into terraces, from the roaring river. Ripple by ripple, they faded, leaving their voices behind to haunt the new world beneath the velvet-mantled sky. The rhythmic whisper of the trees persisted, and the clamour of the water as it dashed itself again and again on stubborn rock. Diamonds scattered upon the black cloak of the night, the stars began to sparkle boldly, lighting the last of the flocking birds home.
High, beyond the ken of the Kani, the skies of the Ves ni Talori began to fret and rumble. Too long had they smiled upon the eager mountains straining every nerve to mingle with them, the lush valleys sparkling and radiant, the raucous river – they were astir now, and wrathful. Virgin snow effaced rock and tree, cave and shelter, erased brown and green and grey, leaving behind an unsmudged mantle of white. The Valuné found its pettish plaints choked under the onslaught, found its leaping and bounding waters stunned to still hard ice. The skies thundered and roared, launching their fury upon the cowering world.
To Caledorne, safe upon its broad-bosomed, chuckling Eyrlyndyne, the few gusts that seeped past its twice-curtained fortress of hills brought the veriest chill, the first hint of sky-sheathing cloud. Moonlight danced in and out of the wind-ruffled trees, beckoning and alluring, turning the placid gardens and fluttering cornfields into a forest of mystery where shadows and half-shadows chased each other in a sinuous, serpentine dance.
Once upon a time there was a girl. She went one day to the sea, as she had gone since babyhood, wriggling her bare toes in the sand, revelling in the wind and spray that whirled her tangled curls into a frothing, frenzied cloak.
Then she saw the shells. She saw them as she had never before seen them, and of their sudden, overwhelming beauty mingling with the sea was born in her tremulous gaze a vision. She threw herself onto the sand, and began almost absently, shell by shell, to strive to give it form. And ever it eluded her; it slid chuckling from her fingers, yet it burned furiously in her eyes. Torment and ecstasy … hope and despair, longing and loathing… locked by the very irrevocability, the very starkness of their opposition, in unceasing battle, each following upon the other’s hem, wisp-like, insidiously all the while, until it strangled the other.
Wretchedness such as she had never before known ripped at her, making each ragged breath a struggle against her heaving, aching chest. Her fingers faltered and her head drooped, her sobs stormy despite the resolutely bitten lips. Never, never could she make it; however she laboured she could never give substance the essence, the sweet richness of fleeting shadow.
The warmth of fingers on her shoulder made her start. Through a tearful mist she saw a smile emerging from a sheet of wrinkles spread taut over sunken bones, and wizened brown hands moving delicately among the shells.
She returned the smile with a small, lopsided one of her own, and began gingerly to finger one edge of a spiralling shell …
She was working feverishly, oblivious to the wonder in the old, wise eyes, the curiosity of children and the disdain of their elders. It was no longer her mind or heart that willed the form, but the murmur of the sea seeping into the trembling of her fingers. The shells were moulded to its least tug, the design altered to suit every pettish plaint, each discontented mutter.
At long last it was done. She felt no sense of fulfilment or happiness, but only a great weariness, and an ardent desire for sleep cheered with dreams of anything and everything but the sea … She slept, but it was tranquil, dreamless sleep, deep and refreshing.
And when she woke again, she looked stunned upon her handiwork, and then at her sandy fingers, scarcely daring to believe. But still the sea called to her, demanded something of her – she fidgeted and fretted, trying to shut it out, but it only grew more clamorous, more insistent…
“No!” She snarled through clenched teeth. She would not throw it to the ravenous waves. Sooner would she stamp it back into the earth – No! Not that either!
It was hers. She would keep it forever. It would be her treasure, her precious … never, ever could she fling it to the ruthless battering of the waves…it was hers, and hers alone. The sea had provided the inspiration, yes, but that did not mean it owned her masterpiece…
She would keep it, and show it only to those who loved her and whom she loved. She gathered the weed-rotted plank on which it rested, and began to run, away, away, away from the sea.
They all gathered around her, exclaiming, praising, making suggestions. Her parents, her brothers and sisters … those she loved and those who loved her. She grinned proudly, her eyes shining, and bleak despair crept into her heart, choking her… The secret of the shells was nothing to them. They cared for the neatness of the design, the symmetry and variety of pattern, seeing in them the same cosy, reassuring prettiness as an ornamental vase or a chintz cushion. They did not hear the song of the sea in every curve, did not recognise the inexorable, unappeasable savagery in the soft, soothing ripples. The storms of wrath lurking within dulcet lullabies the menacing discord of long-decayed bones, the thirst and the wild hunger of the blue depths – they did not see these things. It was just a stack of shells to them, albeit a charmingly arranged one. And it would always be thus. The sun and sand would deafen them and deaden them to the call of the Sea, the imperious, alluring, fascinating cry that would brook no denial.
She was being ridiculous. With a toss of her curls she dismissed her errant thoughts. The thing was hers; she would take it back with her, and show it to all her friends as well, and everyone else. She spoke her intention aloud, and it was instantly acclaimed. The plank was declared too weak and exposed a base; instead a box was procured, and they all began to help her transfer it.
They laughed and talked as they worked. Many times she missed a subtle twist or nuance, and only corrected the error when the others reminded her of it. The waves wept chagrined reproaches in her ears, but she was dead to them. She would acknowledge no will then but her own.
But they too had wills, and voices, and fingers which moved rapidly, dislodging what they would and replacing it as they pleased. Mutilating it.
The grin became a scowl; the flush in her cheeks was now one of rage. She wanted to cry out her indignation, to guard it and cherish it as a lioness does her hapless cubs. She stood sulky and silent, battling her own headstrong self that bucked at the merest suspicion of another hand on the reins.
They made it stronger, better, added, undeniably, to the beauty and variety of its patterns. It was, under their thoughtful pruning, acquiring polish, sophistication, and – And she hated it. It was no longer the absurd, wilful outpouring of the fire running amok within her; instead of the rangy, dishevelled grace of the vagabond it had the smirking sleekness of a Siamese cat, cleaning its whiskers with insufferable complacence.
She turned and ran. The others were enjoying themselves so much they scarcely even stopped to shrug. She would come back in a while, as she always did. Only the old woman stared after her … In a way, she did understand. But what she understood she did not say. Not even to herself.
The girl threw herself into the sand, letting its hard grains grate against her scalding tears. She lay quite still. And the tears filled her eyes, one by one, and dripped onto her sand-coated cheekbones, streaking them with wavering rivulets. She tried to stay them, but they would not be denied. Neither would they expend themselves in a single stormy rush as they had always done before. One by one they rolled out, and with them, imperceptibly, all her fury. Numb, exhausted again as she had been when she had first fashioned it, she tried to summon sleep.
It would not come. Instead, thought stamped its way in, trampling over her lacerated, wincing mind, hectoring and chivvying it, its many shrill tongues lashing out with a ruthlessness that would have deadened the steel of a gladiator.
‘Call of the Sea’ – hah! Stuff and nonsense, childish imaginings worthy of a toddler with her first ‘Teddy’ … What were the shells but a child’s playthings? It was she and not they who had been doltish. They had indulged her fancy, consenting to join in her folly; for which, instead of being grateful, she wanted to throttle them!
She got up, wiping her face carefully to remove as much as she could of the tell-tale traces of tears, and went back. They had already finished with it and had drifted back to the sea, laughing and splashing and enjoying themselves tremendously.
“Come on!” They urged her. “Join in! It’s so much fun!”
She grinned. “Sure!”
She got up, and in doing so knocked the box slightly askew. Idly almost her fingers strayed back, pushed aside the lid…
She shut it abruptly, clenching her quivering fists, her teeth digging so hard into her under lip they tormented its translucent pinkness deep crimson. Still the wave surged through her pulse; her sobbing breath rose and fell to the rhythm of the sea. She was losing herself again…she would not. She would dam it. Dam and damn and be rid of it forever. Dam the tempest within her heart, her soul… She clutched at the sand, the shells, the sea itself…
But it crushed all her barriers, crumpled and crushed and trampled them and bore her away on its cruel, buffeting waves. Yet it was not mere assault from without that had availed against the citadel; the traitor who had thrown wide the doors of her fortress was within her – within her very marrow…
She flung her glorious mane loose of its messy bun, and bounded forward with an exultant cry, arms outstretched, eyes blazing in a blistering agony that was wreathed around frenzied joy. They laughed negligently, pityingly at her heartache over the pathetic little heap she had amassed. The sea could have it. The whole world could have it if it wanted it. Who cared?
The sea was within her, just as she was within it. It would call to her always whether she would or no…and each time it would sink its ravening tentacles deeper into her yielding flesh, siphon out her very life-blood and pour them into the shells to lend them lustre.
The others… she heard their jovial shouts, and felt a pang of envy. They did not understand because they could not. They could sing and dance and hoot in the very waves if they pleased. The call of the sea was hers and hers alone. Her joy and her torment. Exquisite madness; ecstatic misery… It was her destiny, her doom, her dungeon – her life itself.
“Come on!” They beckoned again. “Honestly, you’ll love it! At least check it out!”
She nodded and smiled reassuringly at them. “In a minute. You guys go on, don’t worry about me.” And then she knelt upon the sand and began to pile shells anew.
Ash-grey shafts shot out of the cliff rock, racing into the embrace of the clouds. Stone sewn seamlessly to stone, the jagged steely glitter spiralled thrice, curtaining a little piece of the earth from the hungry sea. The chain of craggy cliffs slung out along the wavering shoreline, their hoary heads held high in defiance of wind and water, splotched with egg-yolk-gold and weed-green, had once been kin to the sheer, gigantic shelf of rock that had borne the castle aloft. Fettered to the earth, they could but moan and fidget now, as they watched their gouged and blackened cousin wrestle the urge to sag wearily into the sea.
The Castle, yearning heavenwards, knew naught of the battle waged below. Ever she stood in peril of being shorn off and sent plummeting down; but the blue-white sky entwined about her tall, perforce sloping towers, and the sun that set them aglow, conspired to restrain her, to check her fall. Morn after morn, eventide after eventide they had done this, ever since the castle had first bowed her ravaged head over the sea.
Once – and the hour was well within living memory, if the living only cared to remember – once the four mighty stone towers had leapt impetuously above the silver-stone curtain, higher than the sharpest gaze could pierce. Radiant with life and laughter, the Castle sent forth a welcome her stern visage could not belie. The gallant pennants and the gay draperies, the ring of merry jests, the vigorous echoes of feet quick with joyous life had ridden out upon the sea-spray, coaxing home canoe and warship with the same ardour. But the harbour once hailed with resounding cheers lay scorched and crumpled at her feet, desolate. And in the fickle memories of men it had been consigned already to the realm of legend.
And yet the thrice-curtained castle held her secrets still, behind the latticeshadows no sun could now leaven. Within the shrouded stone chamber the eerie green of a flickering taper flung coiling, dancing echoes of light, warring with the blue-flamed fire of Rvalenlore, shadowless and dauntless, born of cool stone and thin air. Within the sanctuary glided dark-robed wraiths, shrouded, latticed themselves, scarce breathing as they stooped over the flames and the figure cloaked within – another shadow, another wraith, spun lifeless into the flaming cocoon. Anguish lay stilled upon its marble-pallor, stilled almost to tranquillity. Black hair bounced off indifferently off the gaunt face, wormed their way into the cocoon’s staring eyes. It never stirred.
An age crept by. The flame-cocoon pranced and spun, pranced and spun, swallowing the taper-echoes. The green-glowing taper, snatched up into the rising whirl, struck into its very core, suffusing it with its emerald blood.
“Llanlach Trébori!” It grated through the castle walls, a sound deeper than thunder rolling off the high sea winds; it trembled through the very heart of that blighted earth, that cry of the shadows. A gorgon, a veritable gorgon, shattered the shell, casting the limp green-doused form at her feet. The Summoner alone met her stare for stare; and for all her hideous savagery, he was the more sinister. Now they chaunted, the wraiths, a strangely soft lilting tongue that cracked and hoarsened as they vied for ascendancy. And then with one wild laugh the gorgon yielded.
“Aye!” she shrieked “A soul for a soul!”
“Behold thy hunter!”
She vanished in a whirl as dazzling as her coming, and the purple vapour streaked out, cloaking, enveloping the corpse-like form, lancing it upright. Green eyes locked with vacant black, bored into and past them with implacable ferocity.
A dove flew out of its nest in the turret above, its heart fluttering with a fear it had never before known. The kite, who had watched it hungrily since daybreak, swooped. The dove died ere its strangled scream had faded from the salt sea breeze.
And then there was silence, save for the unceasing plaint of the sea.
“Glory! Great honour shall be mine!
Wenestl shall be last of his dastard line!
Sword unsheathed and bow taut-strung,
We rest not while a Norvajael stays unhung!”
Over glen and trail the quaver spread;
The Ilken sought sheaths of hapless dead!
Seething, as one our spirited gunari rose
To take upon glittering steel their vows
War served but to strengthen the faltering heart!
Massacre could not mar the flame within!
Day after day they were torn apart
Yet unswerving was their resolve to win!
Burning, pillaging, the shendful Ilken horde
Into scarred and blasted Estayn poured
The few who ’scaped the relentless fury flew
Unto Eyr Mu’in through paths strewn red with dew
Inch by fell inch the battle raged
‘Til the Ilken began to wish the war unwaged
Within the castle fretted Ynvartim
The craven deserted the trust placed in him!
The wails of Thousands for succour cried
But for her they would doubtless have died
Gisela, the gallant Gunari we joyously hail
Refused in that perilous hour to turn tail!
He called her Kháyin; heaped upon her curses
Left her naught but those he named sick-nurses
Left the Castle to be stormed and battered
Her brother slain and so many lives shattered!
The rafters rang with the attackers’ scorn
The guard tower was empty, the curtain wall torn
They charged, they bombarded – but all to no avail
For how shall such noble resolve be suffered to fail?
Against our Gunari Woden no dastard foe may prevail
E’en the machinations of the Ilken-Knilde must fail
Dull are enemy swords with blood, yet there she will stand
Bright as gold and as bold, to guard her cherished land!
Chafing at its narrow levees, smashing upon and barging through stone, the Valuné leapt into the Cundrie Hills, easing out as the land softened. Lithe despite its bulk, humming, it inundated the dips and basins cradled between eternally verdant hills, crooning to them of beauty and splendour beyond the wildest swish of their most wilful grasses. Lavishing its abundance upon lake and affluent and ox-bow, it glided out of the land of plenty, and trickled to the crock-shaped hollows where began the Pyetivant Mista. Screened from the mountains by hillocks and mounds increasingly dour sprawled stretches of eroding, crumbling rock, sucked up grain by grain into the insidious sands lapping about them. Only the gnarled stubs and stubble that slashed across, nursed by the Valuné’s clogged trickle, circumvented their gluttony.
Chugging its crippled way to the sea, the Valuné gave still with reckless abandon to every channel gouged out of the searing semi-desert, each bubbling rivulet tapering hopefully off. Guarded sedulously by the unquenchable cacti and the occasional stately date-palm some made it to the perpetually wilting fields; others, outstripping their escort, darted rashly desert ward, and were pounced on and strangled.
Comme je suis la sœur aînée d’une famille nombreuse, mon dix-huitième anniversaire a été un événement assez important pour tous. Lorsque la fête s’est terminée, on m’a dit:
«Tu es maintenant une femme. Alors, dis, que veux-tu faire dans la vie?»
«Mais elle a de la chance!» pensez-vous sans doute. «Voila une famille vraiment aimable et compréhensive!»
Très bien, vous n’avez pas forcément tort, mais … c’est-à-dire …
J’étais en train de manger le dernier morceau de gâteau. J’avalais rapidement, sous les regards furieux des tantes, oncles, grands-parents, et tous les autres parents qu’on avait convoqué.
«Euh – moi? Pourquoi? Je ferai – ben… je ferai ce que je fais maintenant!»
Les enfants ont commencé à rigoler. En tant qu’ ‘adulte’, je fronçais les sourcils dans une façon assez menaçante. En vain.
Qu’est-ce qui les a fait rire? Je ne le comprends pas, franchement. C’était une réponse bien sage, n’est-ce pas? Je faisais déjà les trois choses dont je ressentais quelque envie: je mangeais, je lisais, et je dormais.
Mais, malheureusement, on pensait autrement. Les adultes, vous savez…Eh ? Que dites-vous? Je suis une adulte aussi? Ben… bien… mais il y toujours des personnes exceptionnelles, et j’en suis une. En plus, je ne suis pas ni vielle ni méchante. Je suis toujours une adolescente, jeune et belle…
«On en a assez de tes blagues, » me grondait-on. « Arrête, ou tu vas le sentir passer!»
Ben … contre une telle menace, que pouvais-je dire ? Enfin, j’ai renoncé à dire la vérité. Si ce à quoi on songe ne va pas, il faut donc les mensonges.
La pensée d’une savante en herbe, non?
« J’ai sérieusement médité, » ai-je commencé. « Mais … euh… »
Le mensonge m’avait servi mieux que monsieur maitre Jacques, au moins. On ne parlait pas de me pendre. Bien au contraire, on attendrissait.
« On sait que c’est naturel d’hésiter un peu. As-tu un penchant prononcé pour quelque chose ? Quel travail t’intéresse?»
Comme vous l’avez bien sur compris, le travail n’est point une chose qui me fait tomber dans des transports d’enthousiasme. Ça ne m’extasie point, à vrai dire. Mais … comment confier une affaire aussi choquante aux gens qui croient que le soleil ne se lèvera jamais si l’homme ne travaille pas? Voyez vous-même, ce n’est pas facile, ça! On s’arracherait les cheveux, on enragerait, on pourrait même tomber dans les pommes! Et surtout si on s’inclinait vers la violence … enfin, ce serait une histoire assez affreuse.
Non, non, ce n’est pas que je sois une lâche, moi. Je n’ai pas du tout froid aux yeux, je vous le jure. C’est que … moi, je suis d’un caractère très agréable, très gentil, très amène. Alors je ne peux jamais faire de mal à personne.
Donc je pensais furieusement. Sauvée! Je me rappelle une citation qui convient – Aha ! On serait bien impressionné d’entendre les mots d’un philosophe si connu! Sauf que je ne mentionnerai point l’auteur. Et on se rendra compte que j’ai une âme vraiment sensible, que je suis un être qui réfléchit avec profondeur.
« La vie, » disais-je, « N’est qu’un rêve … »
« Es-tu devenue folle?»
Je sursautais. Mais – courage! «La meilleure méthode de se défendre, c’est d’attaquer!» Allons-y !
Je continuais bien hardiment, «Oui, c’est une illusion, un rêve! Et dans la vie, nous doivent rien faire, sauf – »
« Apprendre les réponses aux questions les plus graves de la vie! Qu’est-ce qu’un être? Un âme – euh – une âme – »
L’affolement m’avait fait oublier la suite … et, quelle horreur! Je m’étais entremêlée dans les articles! Un fait qui est sans doute pire que les sept péchés capitaux pour un linguiste aussi distingué.
«Une, une âme!» bégayais-je, en rougissant.
«Qu’est-ce que tu bafouille des âmes? La-voila!»
Et on m’a donné une mangue.
Bien entendu, vous savez que chez nous, on appelle la mangue «âme» – mais je n’ai pas besoin de le dire. Vous le savez déjà.
«Tu gagneras ta vie en mangeant des fruits?»
Enfin, que voulez-vous que je dise? Les adultes, ils cherchent toujours midi à quatorze heures. Ça a duré une belle éternité. Cependant, je ne dirais pas que ce temps fut perdu. Car, mes amis, j’appris ce jour le secret d’une vie heureuse. Faites attention! Écoutez-bien, et rappelez-vous en toujours, messieurs, dames. C’est la chose la plus importante que vous apprendrez.
La vie est une énigme. Et donc, pour réussir dans la vie, il faut être énigmatique. C’est inutile, et d’ailleurs un peu périlleux, de s’expliquer.
Quant à moi, Je l’ai mis en œuvre sans tarder.
J’ai souri mystérieusement, j’ai mis mes lunettes au saut du nez, et m’ayant éclairci la gorge, je disais à pleins poumons: «je ferai ce que je fais maintenant!»
Je les saluais en inclinant la tête, arrachais le paquet de bonbons qui reposait sur la table, et marchais au pas de parade vers la porte.
Silence. Silence complet. Silence terrifiant…
Et puis, la voix ahurie d’une tante: « C’est une lumière, cette fille!»
Oui, vous aviez entièrement raison. J’ai une famille merveilleuse. Ils sont les découvreurs par excellence de nouveaux talents.
“‘Civilisation shall stand in the dock
And answer for her ways!
My poesie binds her
The Guardian of my new age!’
‘How say ye now, Sir?'”
“I say, Call up the Person from Porlock
And offer him a raise.”
Once upon a time there was a monkey who got cross very easily. One day it got so very very cross it went poppity-bang in a puff of smoke and flew right out of the chimney. Up in the sky a cloud caught up the puff and tied it around itself as a silver lining. And the monkey lived up there unhappily ever after.
Wrapt in the otiose aumbry of pride
A glede hythe a quiff will gust aside
Her folly selcouth
Binds her fast to her wanweird
To speak ever sooth
She is thrawn, my sister, my coëval
Into fell Truth’s ghyll she will smiling fall
Morrow’s dawnsun, rise!
Drown in the throes of today!
Sky dragons, melt away!
Morrow’s dawnsun, drown!
Rise in grief’s eternal day!
Sky dragons, melt away!
Once upon a time there was a lonely little cottage on the bleakest mountaintop in the whole world. Inside this cottage lived a lonely little wolf. She always set the table for two and kept a freshly trimmed lamp in the window after sunset. But no one ever came to see her. This made her very sad.
“I wish I had other wolves to talk to,” she often sighed to herself. “There’s old Mrs. Tabletop and Grandpa Oakendoor and dear little Juniper over there, but it’s just not the same thing, is it?”
“There, there, dearie,” said Mrs Tabletop soothingly. “You’ll find friends someday, don’t you worry.”
Little Wolfie dozed off, comforted. Mrs Tabletop gave Grandpa Oakendoor a shove.
“Wake up! We have to do something!”
“We – ah yes, yes, quite right, so we must, so we must. Something, what? That’s the spirit, eh? Let’s do something!”
“Quite, but what shall we do?”
“Something. Don’t fret, old girl. Something always does turn up!”
Juniper snorted. “Of all the tosh! Things don’t just ‘turn up’!” But neither of the old people paid her any heed at all, so she gave one more hoity-toity sniff and went back to sleep.
Now, as it happened, Something was passing by the window just as Grandpa Oakendoor mentioned him. He saw Wolfie’s wan face and made up his mind at once: here was one very special turning up to do before he turned in for the night.
So he knocked merrily on the door and stepped inside with a right cheery ‘what ho’ as Grandpa swung out of the way. Wolfie leapt up, all awake all at once.
“Oh hi!” She said brightly. “Do come in out of the storm … Dear, dear! You’re my very first visitor and I don’t even know what – er – who you are!”
“If it isn’t too awfully rude – what?”
“Something. I turn up, every now and again.”
“Oh,” said Wolfie doubtfully.
“I’ve come to take you on a little adventure,” said Something. “To see the other little wolves in the forest.”
“Oh have you really? How splendid!” Cried Wolfie. “Let me just get my coat. And my hair – oh dear! I’ll be just a moment. Please don’t go away, Something!”
She rushed away to get her things. Something stared Mrs Tabletop, then at Juniper, then at Grandpa – “Good grief.” He said finally. “Has she always been like this?”
“Yes indeed, the little darling!” said Mrs Tabletop. “I found her sleeping near my front left leg one day, poor little mite. All alone she was, but such a dear little thing even then. Why, you never would believe …”
“So – she’s never seen another wolf?” said Something slowly.
“Not that I ken of,” said Grandpa Oakendoor.
“Well, she’s in for something of a shock, that’s all,” muttered Something grimly to himself, and he wondered if he should just vanish off the map. But that was the catch to being Something; one didn’t just disappear once one had turned up.
So off they went into the forest, searching for wolves. Something knew where they were, of course, but he was dawdling his very hardest to avoid them, and Wolfie kept on stopping to exclaim at stuff.
Suddenly a fierce growl emerged from the bushes, followed by a pair of dripping fangs bared from a ferocious snarl, and then a huge pulsating mass of hair, matted with blood and stinking to the tip of its crouched tail. Wolfie shrank away.
“Goodness gracious!” she cried. “What in the world is that terrible creature?”
“That,” said Something. “Is a wolf.”
“Right ho!” said the grinning creature hoarsely. “A wolf. Welcome to the club, little lady!”
“A – wolf? No. No. No!” cried Wolfie. “You’re lying! You can’t be a wolf! You just can’t! Ugh! Go away, you dirty thing!”
“Well, I – ” began the indignant wolf, but Something broke in hastily. “Look, a rabbit! A rabbit in the bush!”
The wolf bounded away. Wolfie had soaked her hanky clean through by now.
“It c-can’t be true. It just can’t!” she wailed. “They’re not all like that, are they?”
Something sighed. “Yes, they are, but –”
Wolfie wouldn’t listen. She cried all the way back to the cottage and ran inside and shut the door in Something’s face.
“Go away,” She said firmly. “I’m sorry, but I think it would be best if you never turned up again.”
“But – but I – ” began Something.
“Shoo! Shoo!” Said Mrs Tabletop, and drew the curtain firmly across the window, shutting out the sputtering Something for good. “Tell me, dearie, what’s the matter? Oh no, of course all wolves aren’t horrid! You’ll see, you’ll meet a fine handsome young wolf just like you …”
But Wolfie never set the table for two again.
(A guest post by Maiza Shabkhez)
There was a little yellow cottage on a hill, inside which lived a little brown monkey. He loved to go and tease people here and there, so they got annoyed.
One day he threw a stone at a very large and grumpy bear. The bear got angry and ran wildly after the monkey, and the monkey said “Oops!” He climbed up a tree and hid himself in the branches, shuddering and shivering. The bear was tearing down trees but he couldn’t find the monkey, it was as if he had vanished. After some time the bear got tired and went away.
A naughty little parrot on the same tree had seen the monkey. The parrot came closer and closer – suddenly, the monkey vanished! “This monkey knows magic!” cried the parrot in amazement. The parrot quickly flew into the sky looking for him. He saw a long tail coming out of the bushes so he went to find the bear so that the bear could eat the monkey.
The parrot went to find the bear to tell him that his lunch awaited him but the bear could not understand the parrot and attacked it. It crunched the parrot’s bones and flesh. But that was not enough for him so he set out to find some sort of big fat meal that would fill his stomach forever. Suddenly he saw the long brown tail and leapt towards it. He caught it, but it was a small cat. Meanwhile, the monkey was out of the forest and had abandoned his house.
“I’m the vanishing monkey and you’ll never catch me!” came a voice from the depths of the forest. The bear gave a big roar and followed the voice.
A hunter saw the monkey and shot it. The monkey tried to escape, but he couldn’t and he died in torment slowly and slowly fell to the ground.
The ridge curves sharply, imperiously into a beak, belying the simmering tranquility of the two pale lakes on either side of it, of the smooth snowy plains below, matching only the starkly jutting plateau of chin that completes my impression of a nature eternally at war with itself. Short, scuttling, plump, with long brown hair too resolutely straight to be natural and a scent of vigorously-soaped cleanness scattered all around her, she walks past me every morning, sparing me two jerky backward glimpses out of the avid curiosity of emerging adulthood that hungrily bores into everything in its path.
I wonder what goes on under that primly-pleated hair… Threading the sewing-machine again, Maria stitched the dreams of her lost childhood and the youth she had never had into the fabric of the schoolgirl’s life. And she, chewing her lower lip as she dragged her feet along, was consumed by a fierce unsuspected envy of this old aunty who could sit out here in the gentle winter sunshine instead of having to face a demon of a teacher with her homework half incomplete.
A guest post by ‘The Frostbitten’ (Ibreez Shabkhez)
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
Bequick, names of, foxes’ names: Parren, lumbardil. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
The five boxing lizards jumped quickly into the water. The five boxing lizards jump quick into the water water.
The five boxing lizards jumped quickly into the water. The quick brown fox jumps quickly into the water which has bad things in it: the lazy dog and the five boxing lizards.
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
I looked up expecting to see a blue sunny sky, and saw thunderclouds. Naturally, I was vexed and had to take it out on something. A juice box graciously presented itself. I crumpled it, but before doing so cut out the tiger on the front. I have never seen a tiger on a juice box before or since.
To be or not to be, that is the question. A damned stupid question, if you ask me. a b c d e f g. Overt reading is painful. What the deuce do you mean by overt reading? I don’t know. I really do not know at all!
The the the the quickly quickly quickly quickly five five five five The five boxing lizards jump The five boxing lizards jump quickly into the water quickly into the water.
The five boxing lizards jump into the water. The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog.
Why do people smoke? Because I don’t they do it for me.
The five boxing lizards jump quickly
The five boxing lizards
There was a naughty boy
There was a naughty boy
Why does the scarecrow cry?
Because he is misunderstood.
There was a naughty boy
There was a naughty
There was a naught
There was a naugh
There was a naught
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
It is estimated that by the year 2012 all the vixen in America will have graduated while all the wolves will still be in their primary schooling. This will lead to an imbalance where the wolves will resort to brute force in order to get what they want. Intellect will be lost forever – Mankind will become extinct: the city of Atlantis will be lost forever.
The story has power.
Always the story has power, if it is told with enough faith.
The story runs thus.
Once upon a time, there was a wretch perched upon a tree that cringed lower into the ground with every passing second, quaking as she watched the ravening wolf below grow ever more fearsome and menacing. Upon the very crescendo of her terror she leapt down and struck the head from the shoulders of her suddenly diminished foe. She met many more wolves, and she slew them all. Never again did she sit trembling upon a shrinking tree.
The story runs thus.
Always the story has power, if it is told with enough faith.
The story has power.
‘I never would have written to you, if they had not begged me so very hard not to.” Well, praise the Lord for perversity, then! It’s been what? Ten years? I guess I ought to have written too, but, you see, no one begged me so very hard not to…
I’ve not laughed so heartily in all of these last – what is it now? Ten years? Ten years of a casual drifting apart so commonplace it is not even ludicrous. But deucedly awkward all the same. An odd constraint, feeding on silence and distance – spun as slow and sure and deadly as a spider’s web – and brushed aside in half a minute, by one hastily scrawled email. Merci! 😛
Life, you say, has been treating you twice as well as you deserve, yet not half as well as you desire. An apt summary of the human condition, i’ faith, but it tells me nothing to the purpose! Answer your own delightfully frank question, and tell me what you’ve been up to, in the plain, trenchant words that best beseem you.
And what have I been up to? Not much, alack. The ardent dreams of splendour and glory that burnt so bright in our youth are rueful embers now, naught more. 😦
‘Je suis Sarusai Hiryu, écrivaine ratée, étudiante au chômage’… A paraphrase, and a fairly horrible one. But there you have my life in a nutshell. Oresama, the ‘writer’, the ‘linguist’, the acolyte of literature, is at a loss for an original word to say!
And so, farewell. Write back, whether ‘they’ urge you not to or not. 🙂
– Bestir thee, O broken one, for there is work to be done.
– Aye. So I am gathering up all of my selves to do it.
– All of thy selves.
– All of my selves. All that is left of my mind and my body and my heart – and my soul also. I shall gather them up now, and hurl them against the rocks of the world. I shall watch the yolk of my selves splatter, trickle down in nauseating yellow sluices.
– And then thy work is done.
– These slow-trickling sluices I shall gather up again, in old ice-cream cups, again and again and again after each hurling, until all of my selves have trickled away past all gathering. And still my work shall not be done.
See that little girl in white
With the golden locket?
She is what you could be
She is what you would be
If I had a penny in my pocket
L’artiste a son atelier
Le fleuriste a son bouquet
Écrivaine sans histoire
Qu’est-ce que donc j’ai ?
Here we lay etched upon the grass
The sun rained down in broken rays
Seared to smudges,fried-onion brass
The colour that will haunt our days
Here we stood carved into a tree
Wobbly letters at the ends of a spear
Driven through a heart doomed to be
The lodestone of every shattered tear
Here we sailed forth in a cockel-shell
Round the world, round and back again
Here the ocean sounded its old knell
Whirled us back into the old pain
Commençons donc par dire une chose nettement : Elle n’est pas belle, cette histoire que je raconte.
Si c’est la beauté qu’il vous faut, cherchez d’ailleurs.
Je m’appelle Sarusai Hiryu et je vais vous raconter mon histoire à moi.
Celle-ci, ce n’est que mon histoire. Mon histoire à moi.
Rappelez-vous que l’amour et la haine, en tant que contraires, sont liés étroitement. On trouve l’un ou on enterre l’autre. C’est l’indifférence qui s’oppose à tous les deux, qui les tue.
Pour la beauté et la laideur c’est pareil. Elles sont jumelles.
S’il n’agit pas d’un, il n’ya point question de l’autre.
Mon histoire n’est ni belle ni laide. Elle est ridicule, parce qu’elle ne vaut que l’indifférence.
Vous en rirez. Vous en rirez le rire qui me tuera.
Mr. Chaucer, Geoff is a medieval literary scamp of the finest order, with a wit as ready as it is irreverent. He would fit ‘write’ into a group of Lahori club cricketers. This ‘verray parfit, gentil knight’ is a troll personality whose Canterbury Tales are a thoroughly ‘improper and indelicate’ mixture of ‘heyer’ things with traits d’esprit and cruel mockery done in all seriousness. The most appallingly modern writer could not dream this up without blenching; for this is more than modern – or shall we say timeless? – in its general spirit. This is vintage escroquerie, done with finesse and with a degree of class.
John Milton is the kind of poet one admires most dutifully but falls asleep reading. He’s good – very good – but he is a pedant withall, most insufferably sure of himself sometimes, at others even more unbearably pathetic in his attempts to seem in control when he’s not. And surely his he-man-wonan-haters’ club agenda must outrage all women and all but the thickest-pated of men; or else arouse a wincing pity that pulls up only a little short of disgust. Paradise Lost is a classic example of a J.M. production which will send you nodding off, or else singing Sister Suffragette with Winifred Banks. But then, some lines leap off the page and begin to thrum within you, and you wonder why you would ever not consider this stuff absolutely beyond awesome. They are few and far between, but if you know you’ll find a nugget at the bottom of the pail, the sand is well worth the sifting, right? Even when the sifting must be done with gritted teeth.
Donne reading? You’re undone … lol … well, sometimes. Every now and then there is an image, a word, a line, that you wish you’d written yourself. His ‘Love and Divine Poems’ often exhibit a fervour that can be inspiring, embarrassing, or just seem like a league-level topi-drama (depending on how snarky a mood you’re in). And then there’s all the PG500 stuff –
Alexander Pope writes anagrams in ‘heroic’ couplets, nifty little Pierian Spring thingies we can all rattle off when we desperately need to feel literate. Duh he wrote other stuff, but nobody cares. He likes a chuckle, old Alex, but his jests are usually of the ‘leaf me alone. I’m bushed’ variety, and his ho ho ho misogyny can sometimes be rather annoying. As for his chef d’oeuvre – concerning which non-eng-lit people tend to form the most disturbing assumptions – everyone knows the context and the story but almost no one has actually read it. Boy clips lock, girl flips, the fams start playing Capulets v Montagues II, M. le Pope decides to troll everyone a little. Voila, the ‘supernatural machinery’ is brought forth, and we have The Rape of the Lock, often referred to as ‘TROTL’ by lit students with paranoid parents.
Wyatt and Surrey … Kheros and Nevarone … Henry Howard apparently got ‘a head off the rest’, old Thomas went out with a Queen, and put them all in a Towering rage. In general these two buds seem to have burnt the candle at both ends and in the middle to boot. When they weren’t ‘breaking the windows of sleeping people’ or writing imprudent acrostics, they contrived to have half-a-dozen rotten kids apiece, introduce the Sonnet into English Literature, and leave behind an ample body of work. Hats off, mes enfants, to the Founding Fathers of Multitasking!
Sophocles reads like Jeffery Archer dyed in the Ancient Greek mode. His Oedipus Rex is blockbuster thriller material, the kind which would have a really high rating on imdb, but which you wouldn’t actually watch because of the alarming parent advisory. Back in his own day the pop-corn people must have done good business when one of his plays was on: after all, it isn’t every day that The Return of the King includes The Lost Prince killing his Dad and jumping the broomstick with his Mum.
Christopher Marlowe has a style most curiously akin to Bro William’s … he has, perhaps, less of a taste for bad jokes and more of a penchant for high-flights. All the conspiracy theories aside, this is a playwright you ought to want to read. Dr. Faustus has the J.M. problem of Too Much Adoe, and the Pope problem of ‘supernatural machinery’, which is just as grating here; but it is, enfin, a chef d’oeuvre.
William Shakespeare – awesome writer, gigantic jerk. You either want to write rave reviews or brain the blithering man with a baguette, depending on the play you’re reading. As for the jests, which are in jolly bad taste and would undoubtedly earn someone a sock or two if he went about cracking them (like House, for instance), the language mercifully acts as an automatic censor. Most kids today (especially the ones who have never actually read the guy’s work) have trouble adjusting to the fact that such a ‘great’ writer won public acclaim by cracking street-circus jokes. Will & co. offer you the complete catharsis package in every play: pick your own flavour of Shan masala according to the dish you want to eat. But there is a genuine poesy to the plays too, a peculiar magic that you usually feel not while you are reading Shakespeare but while you’re reading someone who isn’t Shakespeare. Let’s pick two plays to work with – say, Othello and A Winter’s Tale. Black guy kills white girl because he’s duped by scheming white guy: this has to be the most ‘politically incorrect’ play in literary history, and today someone would undoubtedly have lynched the author for having the nerve to write it. With A Winter’s Tale we have two mega-quibbles. The narration of half the ending by rascals and shepherds is exasperating: give it to us from the life! And a little boy DIES. A prince. Does nobody even care?
Wilde, Oscar would have been a wildly popular nominee for an Oscar. He is another brilliant and colossal jerk with the ability to turn a phrase gloriously well. This emo is one of the few writers who can make one laugh and cry and swear all at once: he can shock you, delight you, inspire you, make you want to yell at him to shut up already – but he’ll never bore you for a second. In The Importance of Being Ernest, he’s posing as usual, but with less of a pretense at believing his own concoctions. This is a twisted grin that twitches off into a grimace only as the curtain begins to fall.
Anthony Trollope has a lazily acute way of cantering through a story in a morning-coat, with a didactic mission he can pull out of his pocket as a passport through raised eyebrows. Barchester Towers is a long slow ride across a thousand miles of desert-country. You hail every cactus with a fresh appreciation which you would certainly not in another work accord to what is basically a grotesque green stump.
Jane Austen: my heroine. ‘Dear Aunt Jane’ is a lady of few illusions, who holds her rapier sheathed in a cloak, ever ready for the drawing. Her calm acceptance of life’s ironies – acceptance of, not submission to – is a noble example to us all. She did not work herself into hysterics, she laughed and wrote novels. Pride and Prejudice is her most readily likeable novel, because the sting of the unpalatable is coated with sparkling wit. Some people have objected very strongly to her, of course, including Mark Twain, who actually does much the same thing himself, only in a far more savage fashion.
George Eliot – or rather, Marian Evans – has the ‘messed-up kid’ touch of the truly great writer. She has an anguished sincerity which surpasses the Bronte sisters, even Emily, but the amertume which spurs her to brilliance can actually mar it in the execution. And she’s maybe the most intelligent female writer you’ll ever run into who’s also a thorough-going misogynist. As for Adam Bede, it is not The Mill on the Floss. That’s almost the only thing wrong with it.
Charles Dickens, the chap who wrote the first bestseller. One kid on an Eng-Lit forum called him ‘that senti Victorian guy who wrote about starving kids and stuff’ (spelling and syntax radically modified). An accurate description, if not exactly comprehensive. The thing that ensures Dickens’ eternal popularity isn’t his ability to caricature, the accuracy of his depictions of people and places, or the universality of his themes. (Thackeray, for example, can do all three better when he’s in the zone). It’s his ability to plumb an emotion to its depths without flinching, without so much as a trace of embarrassment, and without losing his own head for a second while he’s got you whirling around on that coaster. A Tale of Two Cities is his fastest, coolest novel, because of the storyline, because of Sydney Carton, and because of the beauty of the words themselves. The only issue you’ll have with it (especially if you’re a woman) is the positively dumbed-down characterisation of Lucie Manette. No one can faint that often or that easily, not even a susceptible young girl laced into a crinoline, without having a medical condition that needs to be checked out. And we have no clue what goes on inside that golden head – her son dies: nothing. Her husband is locked up by people who want to kill him: nothing. Her father loses his wits: nothing. A man dies for her sake: nothing. She remains sweet and constant, faints and trembles and cries but bears up nobly. End of story.
Thomas Hardy – the top tragedy-man. A newer writer than most on this list, which has been described by one young critic as being composed of ‘Two men, two women, and Thomas Hardy’. Interesting, non? We must base our erratum on his depictions of women. Full marks for actually trying (unlike most guys), but as you read his books, you have serious ‘here you miss, or there exceed the mark’ reservations, because he never quite grasps the core of his women characters. According to several young literary critics from the other side of the fence, Charlotte Bronte has the same problem; never been able to see it myself, though. As for The Return of the Native, it equals the old man wrestling with Egdon Heath. That image says it all.
Mr Francis Bacon – another one of Queen Eliza’s Merry Men. An essayist of both wit and kind-wit, i’faith. He’s good at what he does, but he leaves one in little doubt that he means not the half of it. Wherein lies his fascination. ‘Tell the truth’ is – boring. ‘Tell the truth’ (Hah! Who ya kiddin’?) – that now, that’s interesting. His essays? Of this, Of that, and Of the other. Of sunglasses, Of iphones …
M. Jonathan le très Swift. This charming gentleman’s style is the mainstay of all those who hold that people do not generally imbibe the characteristics denoted by their names. It figures, one might be tempted to suppose, that Gulliver’s Travels is listed among the essays and philosophical discourses, not among the novels. This is one of the few books of which I’d actually recommend that you read an abridged version, for the sake of your sanity. Unless, of course, you are a die-hard Jonny Swift fanwarrior.
Bertrand Russell is generally the first philosopher whose essays lead one to suspect that philosophy might not after all be arrant humbug cooked up by geeks hunting for jobs. His work is also the perfect example of how the most clearly traced logic can be utterly misguided. As for the Unpopular Essays, suffice it to say that they are unpopular for the same reason that assures their popularity.
Edward Said – the iconic exile of the Arab world. He can write good sense with lucidity, and his book on Palestine is the most trenchant explanation of the issue I’ve come across, written with clarity and a positively heroic attempt at impartiality. If we consider Culture and Imperialism, however, or most of his other work, one tends to know more about this guy’s books than of them.
Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath, Richard Wilbur, John Ashbery: one cross aunty, one dead girl and two old men. One may grudgingly acknowledge that they often say things that need to be said and that they are not without their flashes of genuine poesy; but they are almost too new to be considered canonical ‘literature’ at all. Indeed, I suspect one or two of them may still be alive! Alack, the horror! If they would only end-stop and trimly rhyme their poems one might bring oneself to forgive them, but as it is – least said, soonest mended.
As for Seamus Heaney’s Redress, it is very nicely written as essays go, but it does not serve to redeem his own Poetry, and so is of scant benefit to this goof troop. He cannot possibly succour the kind of ‘poetry’ that needs redress; the kind that does not has no need of lectures to bolster it.
Eugene O’Neill is quite frankly fustian. Mourning becomes Electra is composed of three plays centered on the loopiest family of pseudo-post-Civil-War want-wits available for comment, all of them cutting capers too crazy even to be accounted amusing – here Drury Lane meets Sigmund Freud with a vengeance.
Arthur Miller, on the other hand, compensates for being new by being excellent. The Crucible is quite simply unforgettable. It’s immense, frenzied, with an ‘Iku Ze 3,2,1 Make Some Noise’ tempo; and like A View from the Bridge and All My Sons, there’s an inch of depth chucked in unobtrusively somewhere in the mix.
Papa Hemingway’s style has its fans – often quite incomprehensibly. The Old Man and the Sea is the one Hemmingway which seems to have been written in earnest, but this – one would like, enfin, to recite the epigraph with an axe poised over the author’s head: “Ask not For Whom The Bell Tolls, it tolls for thee.”
Toni Morrison – modern and American. The first time one reads Jazz one must bite back the desire to send the book spinning across the room and leave it there, until winter comes and the gas gives out. But it does grow on you, little by little, rather like the genre of music after which it is named.
There you go. Now echo, quote, or otherwise endorse these statements as you please, but do so at your own risk: this author disclaims all responsibility for the cracked pate you will thereby acquire.
Une jeune fille pakistanaise vient à la réception pour demander des cours privés de français.
La réceptionniste : Est-ce que vous avez déjà étudié le français ?
La fille : Je regarde beaucoup de films français, donc j’y connais déjà quelque chose, n’est-ce pas ?
La réceptionniste : Bien, d’accord …
La fille : Qui est votre meilleur professeur ? Je veux absolument apprendre le français avec lui, même s’il faut payer plus.
La réceptionniste : Permettez-moi donc de vous recommander Mme. U.V. Elle enseigne depuis plus d’une décennie, et elle a un Master FLE d’une université française très renommée.
La fille : Elle est française ?
La réceptionniste : Non, elle est pakistanaise.
La fille : Alors que non. Mon professeur doit être francophone natif.
La réceptionniste : Puisque Mme. U.V. a passé plusieurs années en France …
La fille : Non. Il me faut un professeur natif. Tout le monde sait que les profs natifs sont toujours meilleurs !
La réceptionniste : Ah … d’accord … vous aurez un professeur français … à propos, pour quoi est-ce que vous voulez apprendre le français ?
La fille : Pour devenir professeur de français. On dit qu’il y a des possibilités d’emplois forts lucratifs …
… Oui, moi aussi, j’ai bien rigolé, la première fois. Nous allons tous en rire, puisque le rire est notre seule arme efficace contre l’absurdité qui règne sur nos vies.
My soul is lost. I can’t find it there anymore…
There is a shard of something stuck in my soul. A small piece of petrified, broken-off soul, like a splinter of a shell stuck in a war-wound that will not let it heal.
But then, what would you? A soul cannot be probed. It cannot be hacked away.
An it were, what would be left?
The liver can heal itself even if you take out a whole lobe.
But this – is a soul. Can a soul do that?
A guest post by ‘The Frostbitten’ (Ibreez Shabkhez)
I don’t care what it looks like to anybody, but I am working. If all you want to do is remind me of the obvious dangers involved, then it would, perhaps, be more appropriate to scream at a mirror- we all have problems… mine ends in a day and a half. I am not going to respond to rhetorical sweeping statements (even if they are presented convincingly), and emotional blackmail does not work on me because I can disperse its magnitude in so many different directions, both positive and negative, that the tiny forces align themselves- very responsibly- with the various angles contesting in a particular scenario. Dynamic equilibrium!
It is, possibly, the fact that I do not argue with the choice that the baby emotion makes that makes me agreeable to it; and it agreeable to me. You do not see at all… I am, forever, in love.
This time, however, I believe that it would be better to mix to get her a few of the mega emotions that I keep for ‘hard times’ and let them take over for as long as they can retain the remotest vestige of conviction. A mere wisp of resolve may move mountains if contaminated by neither doubt nor ambition.
Heal me slowly, O death, heal me slowly
Leave me the day’s dying light
Come for me gently in the night
Heal me slowly, O death, heal me slowly
Leave me a little while my pain
Let me watch a sun set again
Heal me slowly, O death, heal me slowly
The scent of new-born summer lingers
Mingles with winter’s cold fish fingers
Heal me slowly, O death, heal me slowly
Let me taste one more mango
Leave me to dance another tango
Heal me slowly, O death, heal me slowly
Come for me gently in the night
Leave me the day’s dying light
Heal me slowly, O death, heal me slowly
The cloud-enshrined sun
The waves leaching away the sand
A whole world undone
Rose rayonnante de perle
Soleil soudé aux nuages
Un sourire de mère
Mussed baby petals
A rose-stem cut ere the thorn
A life rudely shorn
Once upon that old green hill
I waited alone in the rain
Then, I cursed that bleak grey hill;
Now, I would buy it back with pain
One yellow mango
A slice of the sun for me
One fistful of glee
Ausania didn’t know if it was a wonderful sign or a sign of disaster, but Ausania knew a purple moon when she saw one. And this moon was as cheerfully and blatantly purple as – well, as everything! The walls were purple, the bedspread around her a deep magenta, the bars on the window slicing up the cookie-shaped moon with delicate fuchsia cream… She looked intently into the smiling lilac crescents of her fingernails, and whispered softly, “Well, it’s official now. I’m insane.”
Then she stood up and smoothed her purple blanket wrinkle by wrinkle over the purple mattress, put on her purple slippers and began uncertainly to stumble around the purple-floored room on purple legs, touching the purple walls and the purple things within them with trembling purple fingers. She took the purple phone off the hook and pressed the purple redial button.
“Everything is purple,” She said. “Yes, er, hi to you too. No, I’m fine. Yes, I know what time it is … Am I crazy? Yes, I’m afraid so, Lyrderi. You see, the world’s gone purple.”
“The world’s gone WHAT?”
“It’s beautiful, actually. I never knew being crazy could be so beautiful! The moon is purple and the stars are purple, and my hands are purple and the toes at the ends of my feet … no, I’m not stoned, ‘deri, I’m bonkers … oh, it’s a purple, purple, world out here …”
“Is that your new poem or something, then? You can’t just – Even if you really did go mad the moon wouldn’t turn purple just for you!”
“A new poem? No… but perhaps it could be! Not – not a real poem, maybe, but a crazy jingle … ‘My word is purple’ … hang on, purple doesn’t rhyme … Got it!
How do you feel
When the world turns a wheel
And everything goes purple around you?
How do you feel
When you wake up to a reel
And the crazy in your world has found you?
How do you feel …”
Lyrderi laid down the receiver soundlessly beside the cradle, wrestled her sockless feet into the half-dry boots next to the door, and ran out of the house with her shawl and purse and horn-clip all caught up under her arm on the way out. Several times on her way across the road and around the corner she glanced up at the sky, at the pearl-cream moon in a decidedly black sky threaded through with pearl-cream stars hanging serenely white.
Each time she looked she jerked herself back, rated herself furiously for being a heartless idiot, but at the threshold of Ausania’s house she turned back vehemently for one last hungry look, expectant and hopeful and self-scorning, like a child lifting the magic pillow as she prays for the coin she needs to appear under it … The moon was still white and shining and most emphatically not purple.
“Turn purple for me too,” She whispered softly up to the moon with her finger on the doorbell, blushing in the mercifully black darkness for her words even as she spoke them. “Turn purple for me. Just once, please. Just once for a little while, turn purple for me too!
Sleek and lithe, she bounded forward, the slanting feline eyes glowing like emeralds against the silken darkness of her glossy black fur. Her razor-sharp teeth glinted in the moonlight, but the cruelly curved claws were sheathed, and the padded paws fell steadily and harmoniously on the murmuring grasses. She ran on into the silence, the thrill of the hunt quivering in every muscular curve of her splendid form.
And I was she, and she was I…we were one…
One like predators driven fey by the luscious scent of prey.
Then the Sylvan night of which she was Queen transformed into a world of chuckling streams and rustling roses and choirs of birds twittering as they flitted from tree to tree. And into this beautiful world came one with delicate wings spread elegantly out behind her, clad in silver-threaded green gilded by the sun, warm and welcoming. She smiled sweetly upon the whole world, from the birds chirping audaciously about her head to the bunnies peeping timidly from their burrows.
And I was she, and she was I…we were one.
One like those with hearts full of contentment and sweet joy.
Over snow-tipped mountains and lush valleys she soared, mistress of the sky, leader of the beautiful white sisterhood, unrivaled in grace among these lovingly-crafted miracles of nature. The wind itself was her servant and accomplice; she sailed on it whither she wished.
And I was she, and she was I…we were one.
One as only the truly free can be.
The ocean, rippling serenely under the bright blue sky, held naught lovelier than her cascading raven locks, her trim figure, her flashing, interlocking fins…She dove in and out of the water, splashing the staid old turtle who crawled ponderously on the sea bed. She rode the surf fearlessly, floating effortlessly on the crests of the waves, shaking out her tangled curls, her eyes laughing, laughing…
And I was she, and she was I…we were one.
One like the sea and sky mingling at the horizon.
She leant out of the high, forbidding tower, her hair fluttering behind her, a rich russet cloak for her lace-draped shoulders. Her hands were clenched on the guardrail, her eyes wide and dreamy, thirsting, longing… but it was not at the feast spread out in the lawn below that they stared, the feast that heralded the dawn of her sixteenth year. They passed indifferently over the lords and ladies promenading, the ambitious scions of poorer houses buzzing around them, using the fete to build up their own connections. They were fixed on the dark, mysterious forest beyond the distant Palace gates… from which her Prince would ride to her one day…
And I was she and she was I…we were one.
One like two hearts that await the same tread.
The flames ate into the last of the pine-cones, burning the dreams in it to cold, impotent ash, as it had all the cones that had come before and all that would come after.
But they would not die. The panther. The fairy. The swan. The mermaid. The woman-child who waited dewy-eyed for her Prince. They would live on.
In me. In the innermost chambers of my fancy they would dwell, verdant for ever and ever and evermore.
Here we shall write the adventures of the Chunaché Family, being composed at this date of Kyunké, Halanké and Goyaké Chunaché. They descended into the Faevelt by night, in a hired ox-cart, and settled in the little tile-roofed cottage at the end of the winding path that leads upward from Zéloc Vale.
Who were they, these hawk-nosed sisters and their lazily smiling brother, strangers whose grandfathers we did not know? We the people of Zéloc were a laughing race, known throughout the Faevelt for our valour and our beauty, for the richness of our soil and for the sweetness of our songs.
Into our midst came these wheat-skinned strangers, tall and silent and aloof, responding to our eager questions with cool monosyllabic replies, smiling always, yet so coldly that their smiles drove us away faster than any ill-humour could ever have done. Hastiness of temper is doubtless a grievous fault, but an endearing one nonetheless; these sad proud smiles with a hint always of unpalatable irony within them – these we did not understand. They chilled us and drove us entirely away.
And yet, today when we of the Faevelt write these chronicles of the Chunaché, we write of them in some sort as our people, our kin, our own kind, despite their dark skin and their alien ways. For fifty years they dwelt among us, and we did not know them. Now that they are dead, we begin to know of them.
Thus, O my best beloved, have the sages spoken of the Writer’s life: Revelling, glorying in the power bestowed upon him by the Most Gracious; despairing ever of unchaining it from the puerile censure of an uncomprehending world, the Writer is shaken like a leaf in the winds of December, clinging withered and frosted to the branch of life. ‘Never victorious yet never defeated’, the Writer is the ultimate paradox, the greatest hypocrite alive and the last truthful soul left on earth.
Ere thou canst thus to the soul vow thyself, thou must needs provide for the body, lest in thy hoary days thy love of thy art turn all to bitterness. Then shalt thou cry imprecations and rend thy manuscripts, and weep for thy ill-forsaken youth. Yet take thou heed and hold fast to hope, for with a trifling torment to thy soul thou mayst yet win ample sustenance for thy body.
This is thine Half-Plate of woe, O author. Expound, argue, declaim, in weighty and rolling periods, upon anything and everything under the sun, taking care always to bolster thy rantings with lengthy citations from works duly obscure and ponderous. Thus shalt thou become that feted parasite upon the public weal: a Researcher, an Academic, and a Scholar.
The essay, be it critical or literary, is a nobler pursuit, worthy of the dexterity of thy best faculties of reasoning and of imagination. Set forth naught but the leal and true in an essay. Write for the sake of the idea, not for the Chair it may perchance bring thee, as thou dost in thy Academics; do thou write simply and clearly, or else not at all.
In the writing of poesies, do thou give thy fancy free reign to alight upon and affix unto rhyme all vagrant ideas, expressions, humours and tempers in all of the languages thou dost know or would fain master. Yet neglect not the tradition of the language, nor yet the noble forms that grace it; yea, make these even the objects of thy study, that thou mayst with grace acquit thyself therein.
Into each story, be it vignette or conte or novel, pour a little of thy heart’s blood, a few silvery strands from the pensieve of thine own life; then plant them deep in the clay of language, and draw from it by the nurture of sun and wind and water the tender sapling-shoot that will grow in the garden of the reader’s imagination into a stout thrice-canopied tree. Let it be thine own voice that fashions it, thine own voice that lies hid in the seed that might once upon a time be.
The play treads between art and life so delicate a skein of spider-silk, that do thou be well-assured of erring neither upwards nor down ere thou dost undertake to tread it, lest the shendful fate of Icarus befall thee also! Write, then, with due regard to the moulded pageantry of the stage; but into this enchaunted life pour no wine but the water of life, drawn quick and throbbing from its very source.
To write, to create, thou shalt relinquish hope and despair, sense and madness alike; thou shalt walk forth into the beyond, barefoot upon the splinter-spined bridge. Thou shalt write. In sorrow and in joy, in sickness and in health, in peace and in war, thou shalt write.
Wheresoever life blooms still in the Lhann’shoay, the ghosts of unsung sagas hold it close.
On the edge of all edges, in the sleet-white scythe that splits the green of the earth from the blueyellow of the sky they dwell, groping for a place beside younger sisters whom Time the Inexorable Sculptor has not yet finished chiseling. They struggle on, fettered to this earth yet hovering wraith-like above it.
Petty and powerful, merry and bitterly vengeful, drifting solitary or entwined so utterly that the keenest can scarcely detect the alloy, they are petrified into cold, indifferent, moulding oblivion.
The same doom is laid upon them all: to perish and be forgotten. Or so Men deem.
Truly, in the fickle memories of men, writ in fleeting words that fade ere they form, they leave only a wistful shadow … but words have power. Words have meaning. Words can save stories.
In the gnarled old hands of the Time that tended them they all return to nestle, guarded there for all eternity beyond the ken of Men, while the vessels from which they were once fashioned are poured soulless into the earth by the ravages of the selfsame Tyrant, sunk into decay and loathsomeness and finally to Nothing.
The souls and stories of the dead endure. Some of them are lived anew, by Time’s sculptures of flesh and blood. Some become the sagas of the Inkshadow people, of that curious limbo-race that is born of dreams and wilts under Reality’s gouging gaze.
All words tell stories, but we cannot read them all.
All stories need words, but we cannot feed them all.
Before it can be written as a seamless whole, every snippet of its shadow that can be caught must be pinned to paper. Nakushita. The Land of the Lost…You’re wrong there. Lose yourself it, and you’ll find your way through. But can you do it? Can you trust, you who lie hourly to yourself and all the world besides? Can you, do have faith enough to let go? To not be in control?
Set a trap for the phoenix, the Simurgh, the Soulbird, who dwell higher than the arc of mortal bows… String the net of words, warp and weft… and watch over the trap, hour after hour. Watch it wear out and decay, ever empty.
For many years they came, uncalled and ever welcome. The Eyrie was your home then, and the dovecote too. For you loved beauty and did not covet it…
God loved birds. He made trees. Man loved birds. He made cages…
All lands were yours, because you did not own any of them.
It had to end. Time would not stay at the behest of joy, any more than it will fly faster for sorrow… Thus the mad, eternally doomed chase, with the many-stringed net of words.
Now wuthering, now silent, the phoenix hovers… ever, ever, will it elude thee, poor hunter. When your despair is at its darkest, your anguish nigh beyond bearing, it will gently let fall one feather. One splendid, glorious feather that you have leave to carry into your own world, to call your own.
A feather from a phoenix from a secret world.
Aye. You can see it. Feel it. Bury it. Burn it.
The feather. You can buy it, sell it, use it to mop spilt ink. Or you can dream the dream every silken leaf ,quivers with… and yearn anew for the phoenix never to be yours.
You cannot catch him, or sway his will
You cannot reach him
You can only hunt and pray and wait. Wait for the pan to extinguish and the feather to light the candle-flame of hope in your heart again… Search, little bird. Search, for what art thou but the search?
All the long merry days of thy life, child
Shalt evermore do as thou art bid;
Lay aside now these fancies wild,
Else shalt cringe when thou art chid!
For the yoke upon thy fluttering heart,
Comes not from the censure of the world;
Were this cool defiance thy natural part,
Wouldst tremble so as it unfurled?
Free, free as yon great bird am I
To soar towards that blue, blue sky
Do eaglets not come to their wings atrembling?
My heart too has courage; behold it assembling!
I am the purple thread ‘pon the world’s white robe
An the pale-dyeing traitor lives within me,
Does it not then more earnestly behove
Me to cast it forth and my true self be?
Thy true self? Faugh! Blasphemy! Arrant knavery!
Wast born to crawl humbly upon the earth
Clip thy false wings! Return! Now be
As beseems one who knows her meagre worth.
Child, all I now in seeming cruelty say
I say for the good of thee and thine;
Wouldst from the creed of all our kind stray,
Lay ‘pon us the pall of ruin, shame me and mine?
No! Mother, no! Rather my right hand would I give
To spare thee a moment’s pain while I yet live!
Yet whither shall the tempest within me turn?
An I yield not, ye hurt; an I yield, I burn!
The salt and the scum of the earth am I
Oh Mother! Hast other daughters, a dozen sons
Set me free to soar wild and high
My fate was not written in thy buttered buns!
Hold! Set thee free! Never! Oh, God forfend!
Set thee free to err in thy wilful way!
Stay! With all my power do I thee defend
To transgress my law for a single day!
Go then! Follow thy brazen will an ye list
I cast thee forth from my heart and my home –
Else return my darling daughter; but then, desist!
Forbid thy vagrant fancy evermore to roam!
Thou hast reason, Mother, the fault is mine
If I cannot be as other maidens are;
I doubt not, Mother, the true course is thine –
Let thy gentle love not suffer me to wander far!
All thy days of my life I yoke to thy law,
Yes-person of a long race of yes-persons am I,
I will obey thee evermore with trembling awe!
Yes, I will. Yes, I will. Yes, I will. Yes, I will. Yes, I –
My name is Hibah Shabkhez. I am a writer.
Of the young & aspiring type. Bursting with talent and ambition, with stories to tell which will be simply awesome when I’ve finished writing them, but pretty scarce on time to write in, and fairly clueless as to what I’m supposed to do anyway.
So I just push on, writing down everything that I can: stories, poems, plays, essays, ramblings about stuff. And I read everything I can find, from Chaucer to blog posts. I’m also working on my first novel, but that might take a merry while yet…
Comments, advice, links, etc. would be very welcome indeed. If you’re a writer too, and want me to read some of your work, or to help in any reasonable way, please do let me know. I’ll do it if I can. You can comment on the post or send me an email. (email@example.com)
This blog is based on one simple idea: if you are a writer, you write. Voilà tout.
Good rest to all who keep the Jungle Law…
Hibah Shabkhez/ Sarusai Hiryu
I’m an unknown new writer, but then
I’ve written stories since I turned ten
Here’s the ripping tale of a grey-winged hen
Will you publish it for me, please?
Back! Scum of the earth, I bid ye cease!
Begone! O ye scum of the earth, avaunt!
I’ve a DELF a DALF, a TOEFL to match
A sample of my translation I hereby attach
But a native I’m not – there’s the catch
Will you publish it for me, please?
Back! Scum of the earth, I bid ye cease!
Begone! O ye scum of the earth, avaunt!
I have no diploma, no job, no PhD
But I’ve got ‘geek’ written all over me
I’ve written an article, a beauty,
Will you publish it for me, please?
Back! Scum of the earth, I bid ye cease!
Begone! O ye scum of the earth, avaunt!
I’m here to study, to learn how to be
Tagged and labelled so they’ll listen to me
I’ve written a thesis, I’d like a degree,
Will you publish it for me, please
Back! Scum of the earth, I bid ye cease!
Begone! O ye scum of the earth, avaunt!