My first few days at the monastery were very strange. There were men and women in equal proportions, all dressed in identical blue robes and here at home wore no disguises. They were stern and neutral and silent, and they treated me with the kind of respect as you would feed a wild thing that could not defend itself but would bite you, given half a chance.
No-one spoke with me at all and I was glad because I needed time to heal and re-arrange myself and come to some clarity in order to ask the right questions. Body was glad because it could rest, and the healing they did was most welcome indeed.
I began to think after a while that they were practicing on me.
Younger ones would come in and silently raise their hands and move them across my body, creating ripples of strange sensations. An older one or two would watch and say nothing at all, and they would leave as silently as they had come.
There were no servants. My food was brought by one of them and placed without comment on the small white table of stone next to my great bed and I was left to figure out how I could get close enough to eat.
At first, it was too much of an effort and then the thirst became great enough to motivate me to try harder to reach the glass of liquid - I had never held a glass before, at home we drank from wooden bowls. It was a revelation to hold it, to touch it, to feel its water smoothness in my hands and to drink from it.
I lay drifting in the huge white room with the huge windows, overlooking the mountains, sometimes swirled in clouds we were that high, other times so bright and golden that you had to turn away, and the night came and the colours were such that I cannot describe them, nor how they made me feel inside.
One night, I fell asleep and dreamed a strange dream.
I was walking along a long, narrow road and it was dark all around. In the distance, I could see a light, and when I wished it was not so far away, it rushed towards me or so I thought until I realised I was rushing towards it instead at great speed.
It was a big campfire, and around it, men and women were dancing, playing music and making merry. When I approached more closely, the music stopped and everyone stared at me with amazement.
A tall dark man stepped forward (dressed in black trousers, white shirt, red vest sparkling with golden buttons, shiny riding boots and hair dishevelled damp from the dancing) and he said, “What are you doing here? Who invited you to the festival?”
I felt bad about being somewhere I wasn’t wanted and was about to say so, take my leave, when I was awoken by a young Serein who had touched my arm.
It took a moment to focus on him properly, and when I did, he said, “It is time. Get dressed. I will wait outside for you to come.”
Still confused, out of place and in a state of unrealness, I just nodded and he left silently through the big white doors.
On the foot of my bed, I saw a simple blue robe, the kind they all wore, and some underthings of creamy white. I touched them and they were soft and kind of slithery, and for a moment I was far away in a place where you would wear such things like princesses do and think nothing of it. I had never felt anything like that before. I could not imagine what it would feel like to wear such a thing against your skin. I held the undergarment up to my face and my skin snagged it, so rough that I thought it would break the fabric then a bell sounded and I startled aware.
Hastily and clumsily, I struggled into the unfamiliar attire. Many parts hurt and it was hard and I was tired already before I ever stood up straight. I wished for a still body of water to check my hair, my appearance.
I combed by hair down as best I could with my fingers and gingerly half walked, half limped to the door. Opened it.
The young Serein who had awoken me stood outside and looked at me without interest or judgement of any kind (bright blue eyes, hawk nose, thin throat with enormous gullet, long spidery fingers white and motionless hanging from the sleeves of his blue tunic).
Without a word he turned and slid ahead, up the corridor. It was the first time I saw the outsides of the room in consciousness. The white stone (marbled grey and pink in places) from which the whole building had been constructed was cool underfoot and soothing as the silence in the halls itself. There were doors and at the end of the wide corridor, a window from the ceiling right down to the ground, like a doorway straight into the mountain world.
I wondered, as we passed by the window and began descending a sloping flat spiral gently turning downwards, if I would ever learn to glide like the Serein did; I had a sudden impulse to lift his tunic and to see for myself if it was just a way of walking cleverly on your tip toes or if indeed, he was flying just above the ground.
I made the picture in my mind and a small snort escaped me as I tried to stifle a laughter that had bubbled up from nowhere. Even the small snort sounded very loud in the silence that was everywhere and I quite fancied that the Serein leading me along twitched his shoulders in disgust.
Standing at the edge of a small mill pond.
It is highest summer.
On my back, the sun is not just hot but heavy even, flexing its claws to tear my back to strips and little shreds of curling skin. In the middle distance, the hills waver like you were under water, and things are flying everywhere, wings, big black buzzy things, tiny silver things, their sounds and bodies filling the thick air.
The desire rises and rises and I know I cannot swim. Yet it becomes more and more painful to stand here, hot and sweaty and sticky and sick of my own smell, and knowing there is soothing cool right there, before me, and eventually something tears and I plunge into the water.
I think I got beaten after I got over nearly drowning but I’m not sure.
Either way, it had been worth it.
One day, I might do it again.
The downward spiral sweeps out into a circular vast space. There are some doors. On the ground a pattern is marked out in gold and blue, intricate, rich, fat.
The Serein hover-slides towards a door and opens it and I follow.
Inside, another huge room but without windows, lit by oval spheres that shed a bright white light in merging circles, passing light along from one unto the other.
Empty room but for the far end, where a long table occupies the centre and I count eleven Serein hooded and their distortions in place sitting still and upright, hands invisible behind the empty table.
On the ground, blue and gold veined marble marks the path to the table in front, and shows a clear boundary where you might step.
The young Serein has stopped on this blue fairway and will go no further. I guess it’s me they want to see and so I do the best I can to walk upright and with rhythm and I stop where the blue on the floor tells me I should go no further.
It is colder here or perhaps it is these stern Serein that cause a shiver.
Nothing is said and I stand uncomfortably for what seems a very, very long time.
Nothing is said and no-one moves and I get bored and turn my attention on the one right in front of me. Once before, I had caused a distortion to fall and reveal the man behind and I am sure that I can do so again. It got me here so perhaps it’ll get me further still.
I will through the distortion, desiring to see the man behind the mask, my will aligning itself to my desires and my heart beating strong and hot and as before, the distortion wavers and then it falls.
This is not a man, but an old woman, white hair, wrinkles but her black eyes like shadow wells are nothing like I ever saw before. I am afraid of her yet I cannot back down and so I challenge her to know me and to see me, woman to woman, mind to mind.
The woman looks back at me, and then she blinks. She raises a hand briefly (dark glove, big ring?) and silently and as one, all the others rise and glide around the table, five this way and five that like a dancing troupe and they leave through two doors concealed right in the corners of the room.
There is a tiny wooshing sound as both doors close again as one. Then she speaks to me.
“Where did you learn to do this, child?" Her voice is dark and carries no emotion I can find or recognise and I feel relief because perhaps I did not anger her too much, yet part of me is not relieved and would have liked it more if she had shown her consternation.
I concentrate on my voice to make sure that it is steady. And it is, even though it has not spoken for a tenday or longer, and it has a strange rough quality to it in spite of being embarrassingly child-like and high pitched.
“I did not learn, I just did it,” I said, and my thought behind went on, And I am not your child, nor will I ever be anyone’s child, ever again.
The woman shifted ever so slightly back in her seat and I knew that she had heard the thought as clearly or more clearly still than she had heard my voice; and right, her voice exploded in my head as though a funnel had been pushed into my ears, through my eardrums and straight into my brain,
“Be silent, angry one! For you are here at extreme sufferance.”
I waited until the resonance had faded and took a deep breath through my flared nostrils. Focussed my mind and then yelled back at her with everything I had, “I have not come here to exchange one form of beating with another! Teach me if you will, and if you won’t, be damned, for I have had about enough of all of you!”
And from my rising emotions I took a measure of the whirlpool of beatings and of cuffings, of injustice and of hypocrisy, of the evil lies and narrow minded stupidities that lay just below the surface of my calm, and formed a red ball of fire and threw it at her – here, take that!
The old woman literally exploded backward in her chair as though a physical power had pushed her into the wall behind. Her hood fell and lay askance to one side, revealing her grey hair, cropped short, big ears, and a deeply lined scrawny neck. Her eyes too where no longer all black but a washed out hazel colour and she looked simply terrified.
I just stood and brought my breathing back to normal, balanced a little better on my feet now cold on the marble floor and moved my head around until I found that position where it was quite weightless and you no longer had to make an effort to hold it up.
I viewed the old woman without a trace of pity or fear and for what seemed a very long time, neither of us moved nor send thought nor spoke.
Finally, the old woman replaced her hood with shaking hands, her eyes returned to black and shortly after, the distortion began to spin grey in front of her face once more.
She rose silently and glided without a backward glance to the door on the right, which opened and closed behind her as if by magic, and I stood all alone in the great hall, shivering slightly at the cold from all around and at what I had done.
For a moment, there was a flash of regret, of reprimand, of fear – I had blown it well and truly (again!) and what was to become of me? Yet it did not last, and the thought occurred to me that I could just hang around on darkened roads and slay the passing Serein with my hatred and my anger, and sell their robes and rings to a merchant at the fair for food.
Until then, I had not known that the last beating of my father, the victory over the three Serein on the road and the trail to the monastery had created a newness in me that was bright and blue, sharp as the most cutting sword and brilliantly clear – I could do what I want to do and never need to be afraid of consequences, ever again. It was over. The old me was dead, and the new me was deadly.
As I retell this story to you, many years along the silent road of time which crosses my oceans of tears, chasms of despair as deep as hell itself and travels through the fertile lands of love and glory too, without a second thought or second glance, I still recall the moment when I awoke to my power to be and to do as I so chose.
After that, nothing was anything. And anything was everything and I was all there was. Much later on, kindly suggestions were made of reconciliation and of unconditional love and it was always all I could do to not burst out laughing at the preposterousness of it all.
What is that but an understanding deep in your guts of why, and how, and what it is to be that creature there in front of you, writhing in a trap or even soaring in the highest clouds – but you go tell a monk, a master or a Serein for that matter that sharing in another entities delights can be compassion too, and they would not know nor understand you, for to them, the world is as dour and as twisted as we all are and they look for the bad even whilst they’re professing to be good, and whilst they do that, they strengthen the evil that is so interwoven with the very fabric of our beings and give it soil to flourish and to bring forth more and more of their bitter smelling rotten abominations they would say to see as flowers.
Only, by luck or good fortune, I was allowed a glimpse beyond, and I knew better.
Sometimes I thought I really was the angel of vengeance, chosen by the universal mind to kick and hit and hurt and smash through the shabby deceptions just like those stupid distortions they wore in front of their faces to frighten the villagers into thinking them special and give them good food in return for not a lot.
Sometimes I thought I really was the daughter of darkness herself, a blacker black so black that black would shudder and shine white in comparison.
Sometimes I thought I was going insane.