Dareon was teasing me with a flower which he brushed repeatedly over my ear. Oh do go away, I sent to him sleepily, let me rest.
Wake up Isca, he tickled me some more. It’s a new day. We’ve got to get going.
But I snuggled down deeper and drifted away and dreamed of the travellers child, now a man full grown and still he had the starfields around his head, invisible to most yet everyone could feel their presence and they wanted to be close to him.
The old Serein woman I had pushed into the wall came over the hill with Marani in tow. In her hands she held a little sphere and enclosed in it was my baby brother, Sef. He was sleeping and dreaming little blue bubbles that popped when they touched the inside of the sphere.
She held it out to me but I turned around and lay down to sleep. I slept and I dreamed about the singing stone, fresh and bright and blue and its gentle pulsating was so restful that I just had to sit down, then lay down and go to sleep.
I dreamed about Lucian. He was sitting alone in his darkness, and so lonely. I went to him and took him in my arms, lay his head against my chest and stroked his silver hair and strong bent neck. I rocked him and as I rocked him, he fell still and went to sleep, and I lay down with him and, listening to his breathing, I went to sleep as well and I dreamed of a mountain, entirely made of glass, sparkling in the sunlight against a bright cornflower blue sky. It was so beautiful it made my eyes water, and I could not keep them open and had to close them, and sink to the ground and in the shadows, go to sleep, drifting into a deep and restful sleep that might last a night or it might last forever.
I am a sword.
I was forged in fire, and tempered in ice.
I am clear blue and I cut sharp and true.
I am the sword.
May the highest damn you all!
Lord Lucian’s pure black rage smashed against the light at the threshold to shadow where he stood alone.
This evil was done at your command! She is dying – I cannot heal her. It is your responsibility to save her now!
The silent semi-circle of the many stood motionless in the light and did not respond.
Lord Lucian raised both his fists and a last desperate cry:
Is there not one amongst you who will help me right this evil that was done in all your names?
Silence stood white and gold and reverberated and ricochet his plea until it was spent and there was only silence.
Silence stood until a single white light detached itself and flowed towards the shadow border whilst a whispering and murmuring rose as pressure from the multitude that it was leaving fast behind, and cresting higher and stronger and gathering momentous force.
The small light did not falter or hesitate but continued on and touched the border between light and shadow, slipped across and as Dareon stepped angelic and deathly pale to take his place by Lord Lucian’s side, small and fragile white against the older man’s swirling darkness, the light force roared as one but could not reach beyond and into the shadows, no more than Lucian’s rage could touch the light.
The angel child and the Lord of Darkness turned to each other and communicated whilst the shadow side was all that now remained and for them both, the golden light no longer shared a joining space.
Lucian: So young. So young. What can you do?
Dareon: I don’t know if I can do anything at all. But try I must for though you may be forsaken, your words and meanings were in truth. I know of Isca and a wrong has been accomplished here. What ever I can do, I shall.
Lucian: So be it.
I had known the master for more years than I care to remember. Always, always he had been wicked and beyond the cruel of men, but what he did to that poor girl. For shame. It was more than I could bear to watch and see. Should’ve taken a knife to her and cut her limb from limb, that would be kinder. Or burned her, tore her up, killed her, run her through with a sword.
I’d seen it all and it was nothing new to me. But this one, it was different. It was my fancy that he meant to slash and stomp her very soul.
A funny brave young thing, she was, and by the Creator! never will I know how she stood it out and kept on going.
She was so afraid of him and his wicked heart, he knew fair well and he used it like another kinder man would have used a whip on a dog.
But do you know the worst of it by far?
I shall tell you, for I figured it out. The worst of it was that she cared what he thought, cared what he did, now me, I never cared in the least – how can you care if the devil tells you how you’re doing wrong? It was all the same to me but she, she would cry as like her heart was breaking, and more for his speeches than for his punishment.
I’m not one to meddle and I keep myself to myself best you can, but somehow I had a fancy for the poor young thing from ever since he made me cut off her hair – beautiful it was, and beautiful she was, and that’s not what the devil wants, he must destroy all that’s fine and pleasant and make it bitter and twisted like himself.
I tried to help her best I could but he found me out. He always knows everything, black souled evil wizard that he is with his unnatural tricks, and he made me right fearful for me and mine and that was the end of it and he had her right where he wanted to, with nothing in the world but his own brutal ways and nowhere to turn and nowhere to run.
So I watched as he stripped flesh from bone, and heart from soul and the poor thing never had a chance, nor even thought to fight him, let him do it all, what other could she? But in the nights, I would whisper a prayer for her and all the ones like her who can’t run and suffer best they can, and I am glad for once my bones are old and all he ever wanted me for is bring him food.
Poor lamb. I could see that it was coming, and I feared the worst when I did not see a glimpse of her for three visits in a row. And also all the food I put in place was left untouched, no-one was eating, or in my fancies, perhaps he had been feasting on her and had no need for bread and cheese.
And then, on the fourth threeday, he comes roaring for me, scared me half to death, and bless me, has the girl in his arms, naked all over, not a stitch on her, and I didn’t want to think of what he’d done to her this time but he puts her in his own bed, and tells me to fetch hot drink and take care of her right so as if he had the guilt come over him at last!
The poor young thing! I looked her over real close like, but no marks on her or blood, just so thin she was and paler than the sheets and hardly took a breath at all, cold as a corpse. I wrapped her up in his bedding and his blankets and rubbed her hands but she stayed cold, and as when I sat and watched her I did start like every minute or two cause I was sure she’d gone already.
Then, the master comes back and with him a Serein, not much more than a child, as pale as the poor lamb in the bed herself and just as skin and bones beneath that robe, I can tell you, they really give me the creeps but this one was at least walking and you could see he had a face, big eyes, a real living person like. Still its best to be the safest you can be around those so I quickly hid myself away, in the corner, and they gave me no heed, never noticed me. I wasn’t important.
Dareon took the lead and Lord Lucian followed in his wake as the boy slipped into the holy space exclusively reserved for healing.
Both were uncomfortable strangers to this realm and uncomfortable strangers to each other.
Suspended before them in a blueness of nothing floated the girl Isca, see-through white and little strands of white were fleeing from her like morning mist across the ridges of a mountain.
Without volition, Lucian emanated a fear and was reflexively admonished by Dareon
Be calm and help or be still - where is her centre, her heart? She is not holding together like she should, where is her centre, where is her heart?
The answer came in black – Can I have destroyed her centre, broken her heart?
Be still! Where is the singing stone?
I destroyed her connection as was my command.
Can you restore it?
Even if she lives, she will never, never forgive me for what I have done.
CAN YOU RESTORE what you have undone?
I don’t know how. I only know destruction, never genesis. You know that is my curse.
Bring the stone. I will do what I can for now.
Dareon tuned away from Lord Lucian and began to weave a cocoon around the girl’s shape, attempting to contain the fragile strands that were drifting from it and dissipating in the blue void. But no matter how fine a mesh he wove, the essence continued to flood through the gaps it left until in desperation it occurred to him to weave a second web that flowed in the opposite direction and then a third and fourth, and finally, the essence was contained and all enclosed, the girl was floating clear and cleanly now within a silver bright cocoon that shaped itself around her like a shroud.
The Serein boy knelt before the bed and the master stood behind him. There was a strangeness to the room, I can’t quite tell you what or why but I can tell you that it made me shiver right through and through. It was as like the day had changed or if the sun was shining differently, that’s all I can describe it like. I was scared to take a breath and wished I’d gone when I had the chance, but then the master jumped out of position and ran out of the room, I could hear his boots on the stairs.
The light got thicker and bluer and bluer, and all of a sudden there was a flash of white and the Serein fell to the floor. I couldn’t move and just crawled further into my corner, then the master came back rushing into the room, and he had a big wooden box with metal hinges and many strange and likely evil shapes carved out in it.
He put the box on the bed and near stepped on the Serein to check on the girl – touched her face and put a hand on her heart as like he really cared. I got to thinking that he didn’t like her getting away, not even like that, cause you can’t torture the dead now, can you? And her going would have well robbed him of his sport with her.
She must have been alright, or at least alive, and he picked up the Serein off the floor and checked his pulse on the neck and then set to slapping him in the face. I swear I never saw such a sight! And it’s true, as true as I sit here, and I swear its true – the master slapped a Serein in the face, not once, not twice, but a good half a dozen times, hard, too, making his head fly this way and that, and the hood falling off so you could see his hair, long and very pale it was, and at last the boy came to and that was a good thing too, his face well red and swollen as it was by then.
He was none too pleased with being slapped around and they stared at each other for a time, never said a word though and then the master got the box, and this is true, I swear on my own mother’s grave, reached inside and there was fire and a stench to high heaven, what was in the box was a hot coal or something and it was burning his hands, yet when he dropped it on the bed near the girl, it wasn’t a coal but just a kind of a stone or an egg or something, and it didn’t burn the bed cloth, but the masters hands were black and cracked and bleeding. I figure that the egg stone thing must have been good and burned the evil that touched it and that it had something to do with her rising in the end, which she did, not long after that. But I don’t know if she had died for real or what witchery the master and that Serein boy called into the house to make it happen, because what came back was not what was there before.
How dare you strike me! demanded Dareon, furious and unused to both emotion and the physical sensation of pain across his head and cheeks.
I have brought the stone.
Put it here, on the bed.
With disconcerted admiration, Dareon partook in the pain that set Lord Lucian’s entire being on fire from the burning in his hands and how Lord Lucian’s will like a pure lance straight and true delivered what was needed without so much as a heartbeat’s hesitation or regret.
Dareon focussed and began the synchronising to move towards the blue healing layer and with disconcerted admiration, Lord Lucian partook in the exhaustion that encompassed Dareon’s entire being and made it heavy and sluggish, and how Dareon’s will like a pure arrow straight and true called on reserves of strength that lay deep and profound within him, and without so much as a heartbeat’s hesitation or regret.
It was hard for both of them to focus and to keep the blue steady this time, and harder still because of the presence of the stone. Here, it was an egg but its shell was fossilised, hard and black baked, encased with veins of metal ore to make it impenetrable from the inside or the outside too.
Your work, I presume, send Dareon faintly and Lucian felt his utter exhaustion as though it was his own now.
Lord Lucian reached a blackened hand with brilliant red flesh showing through the cracks towards the stone which pulsed black and red in return. Dareon felt his intense pain become excruciating, then unbearable and finally Lucian had to retreat.
I don’t know how. I don’t know what to do.
She would know what to do, send Dareon all of a sudden. She would know what to do. We must try and reach her, ask her.
How can we reach her?
Follow me. Lend me your strength.
Dareon began to focus in on the white cocoon he had exhausted himself in weaving. He felt Lucian’s presence, black and red, behind him, shoring him up and moving him along.
Not so fast, wait.
He began to pick up the pattern of the first layer and synchronised into it.
Lucian provided the momentum to take them into the space between the first and second layer, and Dareon once more began the task of trying to find the currents in the minute pattern – this time it was much harder with the fallout from the pattern they had crossed so close behind. There were small flares of intermittent essence, white and whirling between the layers, which made it harder still. Dareon began to lose the pattern and to fall away.
A charge of red and black steadied him and brought him back into focus, and after what seemed an eternity and at the edge of unconsciousness, Dareon whispered, Now.
Lucian pushed them both through into the second layer and his concern for Dareon began to ripple through the link between them.
Merge closer. It was just a hush but Lord Lucian heard and began to move in tighter, reel in the link between them, golden white to red and black, painful and alien to them both, and yet the only way out for all three of them.
Lucian could perceive the beginnings of the pattern and an understanding edged towards him yet it was still too much for him to comprehend, and never mind negotiate.
This could kill us both.
We will die here anyway unless we find a way in or out.
How many layers are there left?
Three more in, and two to get out.
We have a better chance if we leave it be. I cannot ask of you to go any further.
A memory rippled through the shared link. Isca, crying, under a tree. Sunshine. Birdsong. Light reflecting off her dark red hair and catching the tears running down her cheeks from under her long lashes.
Another memory joined the first.
Isca, sitting wet, framed against the fireplace in a white undergarment, her long legs to one side, huge brown eyes with golden flecks.
There was no more communication in consciousness after this one, and red/black to white/gold, old/young, light/shadow, me/you ceased to exist as a separate knowing and an entity began to navigate across the minute strands of silver with ease and with power of volition, straight and true towards the centre where a girl it loved lay sleeping.
I was dreaming.
I was dreaming that I was floating away amidst a deep blue sky, and all was silent, so peaceful and wonderful. With every pulse of the universe, I could feel myself becoming less and less, yet more and more as I widened and spread myself, a wonderful sensation.
Until the bindings appeared.
They wrapped around me, tighter and tighter, and what was I tried to escape them, outrun them, slide through them somehow but the bindings grew evermore numerous and tighter and tighter still until I was entirely enclosed in a web so dense it seemed a solid silver white and I was alone.
No stars. It was even hard to still perceive the rhythm of the universe itself.
I dreamed that I waited.
I waited and waited and then perceived a movement in the outer layers of the white web.
Perhaps I was to be rescued. Perhaps I was to be set free so I could go and spread myself amongst the waiting stars. The movement failed and faltered yet it persevered, and through the barriers of the bindings there came another to share my solitude and silence.
The other felt familiar yet I had never met them before.
I asked, “Who are you?” but the other did not know.
I asked, “What do you want of me?” but the other did not know.
I asked, “How did you come to be here?” but the other did not know.
Still, it was nice somehow to have the other there and we aligned in harmony and restfulness.
I fell asleep and began to dream.
I was sitting quietly in an empty space with blue above and blue below, very familiar.
I had been here before.
In the distance, I could feel someone approaching, and a man came towards me. He was fully grown yet had the face of a child; his hands were that of a monster, claws, blackened and charred as though they once had been like human hands burned in a vicious fire.
He was crying and holding out his hands to me.
I healed them without a second thought.
The black crust fell away and revealed a normal pair of hands which once again seemed so familiar that I touched them, and in touching them they changed before my eyes into a pair of hands more familiar still, and so I kissed them. As I kissed his hands, they changed into the hands of Lucian.
I looked up into Lucian’s pale eyes. They grew wider, and wider, larger and deeper until I stepped inside them, an entrance channel swirling grey blue green in hues all around me and I rushed and spiralled down into a space so vast it scared me – if I was to enter here, I would never return.
I dropped down onto a narrow ledge not far from the swirling core of the eye and clung to the wall. A way beyond, a shape drew my attention and I knew immediately that it was Dareon in his blue Serein robe with his white hair scattered like the beams of sun on the first rising of the day.
His eyes were closed and as I edged towards him, I could see that his hair was binding with the rock that framed the giant cavern in which we both existed at that moment, and he seemed to be melting. I knelt down beside him and touched him but with shock withdrew my hand for he was liquid.
I was afraid and did not know what I could do, and in the end my fear and love for Dareon overcame my horror of his condition and I tried in vain to hold him together – like water he slipped through my hands and soaked into the rock, and there was nothing I could do and soon, there was his empty robe and a feeling of tremendous loss and failure fell about me like an avalanche.
Not one instant longer could I stay in this place. I turned my back on the forsaken robe and edged my way along, back to the swirling exit, threw myself at it and was swept through, falling backwards into the blue clearing where my body still sat and faced Lucian standing leaning towards me, his hand in mine.
He was him entirely now, his body, his face, it was him and yet there was a difference about him, something new.
He spoke my name and I smiled up at him and said his name to him in return and in acknowledgement.
He dropped on one knee before me, his face stern and full of concentration.
Do you know where we are, he asked softly yet urgently and I considered the question.
In a dream perhaps?
He nodded very minutely and grasped my hand more firmly.
Can you withhold your retribution of me for long enough to guide us back?
I was amazed at the meanings beyond meanings of his words and did not quite know at which of the many layers to aim my first response.
He must have mistaken my silence.
He let go of my hand, his shoulders dropped and he sat down heavily across from me, dropped his head into his hands, his fingers digging into his skull just beyond the hair line, as though they were trying to claw their way into his brain and through his skull.
I moved towards him and laid my hands on his, and he looked up at me in surprise.
I told him this:
I don’t understand about retribution, and how you think I could guide you, not even in a dream.
This is your dream, Isca, we are inside the very core of your dreaming, he spoke hesitantly and his pale eyes seemed to darken.
I didn’t understand him any more than before and so he reached for me and touched me and I saw:
The web, and Dareon dying in trying to navigate them to its core, and Lucian’s helpless struggle to support him, to save him and to surround him but Dareon only held together until the last layer had been breached and then he simply slipped away.
Dareon was gone, and our connection ended and we sat in silence, each with our own reasons to grieve him and admire what had been a unique individual on this plane or any other. And each of us sat also with the guilt and pain of what we both had done to bring Dareon to the end like this. As one, we sighed, It is my fault.
It should have been me if there was any justice, Lucian said bitterly, too late by far and never soon enough.
I wondered at his reasoning but came to no conclusion.
He sighed and said, But you. You must live. You must live so that at least the one of us can speak that boy’s name so it be heard under the morning sun in the world. So that the wind can catch and carry it and all may know about his honour and sacrifice.
I tried to imagine for an instant returning to a world that may have winds that whispered Dareon’s name but without the lightning sparking deep for Lucian, and I could not.
We go together or we stay together here and die, side by side, I told him and my resolve was firm and deeply rooted in conviction.
He gazed at me for what seemed a very long time, then he said, Can you get us through? And I followed his pointing finger to the sky where there was the white writhing above, vast and churning, seemingly ever-changing, seemingly incomprehensible and complex beyond unravelling.
I stood up and held out both my hands to him. He took them and together, we rose up towards the mesh, our bodies losing definition as we lifted higher and our boundaries becoming more and more confused, more and more unknowing of the difference between the you and the I, weaving into one another tighter and tighter still, and rising higher towards the white until he/we/I /were/was so high that I could touch the web.
Close up like this, it was not difficult at all to see the patterns of the layer and guided by an instinctive knowing, I sailed us through the strands and bindings with the greatest ease, buoyant and empowered by a great strength that was at my disposal, at my own command yet did not originate with me at all.
We broke through into an assault of the bluest blue and as we did, behind us the web imploded, vortexed briefly and then disappeared. With tremendous regret we began to detach then and regain our own respective shapes and the distances between us and when the final connection had been painfully severed I was alone within the blue and fell, and fell.