Posts tagged with "blog fiction" - Faerye Net 2005-10-06T13:26:58+00:00 Felicity Shoulders The Most Beautiful Girl Who Had Never Been 2005-10-06T13:26:58+00:00 2005-10-06T13:26:58+00:00 <p>In a tall tower of soft stone at the edge of one of the quieter seas lived Eishlin, who was the daughter of one of the greatest of the Dreamers. During the day, she went to endless classes, honing her Dreamcraft and cementing the history of the Dreamers in her mind until she was sick as well as bored. At night, she lay down by her window and rested her head on the sill, and watched the great pearl of the moon, and thought how much she was wronged by her elders.</p> <p>One day, after hours spent in the halls of Dream-nets tracing every fluffy frill of a single feather, she stomped back to her room in the seaward tower, too angry to be tired by the day. &#8220;A feather!&#8221; she said to the room, which started at the unexpected noise. &#8220;I could Dream a feather with my eyes closed when I was six. And six hours they&#8217;d have me spend on one! When shall I have a challenge?&#8221; And it was true, for all her bluster; Eishlin&#8217;s skills far outstripped her years. </p><p>She looked out the window, and saw no moon hanging over the ocean. If she bit her tongue and narrowed her eyes, she could see the dreams of merchantmen plying the far waters; a troupe of merry children carrying fish lanterns appeared and were gone, and a captain wandered in a garden maze whose secret he could no longer remember. She shut the window and the curtains against the scent of the sea and the sight of the dreams, and lay down in bed, but her anger still plucked at her, and she could not sleep. She lit a candle and muttered again, &#8220;I will not be treated like a child anymore. I will show them what a Dreamer is. I will Dream&#8230;&#8221; and she caught, in the soft glimmer of the candlelight, a flash of her tousled hair and frowning face in the tall mirror. &#8220;I will Dream the most beautiful girl that has ever been!&#8221;</p> <p>And so Eishlin rose from her bed, pulled back the curtains, and sat on the windowseat so the soft light of the stars would touch her Dream, and said, &#8220;Let me see. She shall have dark hair like a shade of mystery, and skin both pale and rosy, like the sky at dawn. Her eyes will hold all love&#8217;s secrets, and her lips all of them that can be spoken or felt.&#8221; And, as if merely speaking it had Dreamt the Dream for her, the girl formed from her breath in the starlight, each feature swimming out of the vague brightness of her when Eishlin spoke its praises.</p> <p>Eishlin looked at the girl, and gasped at her own powers. &#8220;You <span class="caps">ARE</span> the most beautiful girl who has ever been!&#8221; she stammered, and if anything, the face she saw was more beautiful for the words she had spoken. Eishlin tried to say something else, perhaps tell her her voice, or speak her dress into less nebulous effulgence. But she found she was so tired, she could not catch the words and make them follow each other, let alone force them from her lips. Perhaps Dreaming was work, after all. She stood, leaning on a chair, and led the girl away from the starlight. She showed her to a large soft chair in her dressing room, for she felt uneasy sleeping under the luminous gaze, and closed the dressing room door before falling into her sleep and her bed.</p> <p>But you cannot shut away a dream so easily. The lovely hand found the doorhandle in the dark, and the lovely form fled gracefully to the sweet soft light at the window. There, across the glinting darkness of the sea, there were lights and music, voices and shapes, and she lifted the latch and floated out into the night.</P> <p>It was past three when Eishlin woke, teased by the tapping of the open window against the walls. She was confused at first, but then the window and the dressing room door told their tale, and she hurried to the windowseat with less grace, if more purpose, than had her dulcet Dream. There was no sign of her. A mist of dreams was gliding through the night, the old, disused dreams of grown children and lost sailors. No matter how far she strained her tired eyes, Eishlin could not see her Dream, or even any vibrant dreamland walked by a drowsing soul.</p><p>What would the Dream do, out there in the world? Here the Dreamers kept each creation close, tethered to the nets until it was ready to fly free. Would her mother know what she had done? If the Dream were shattered, would Eishlin feel it? None of this did she know. And so, as the curling paleness of the mist passed, drawing with it the faded flotsam of years, she leapt from her window, and caught hold of a long-forgotten row-boat which flapped solemn, silver wings.</p><p> <p>She was tired, it was true, but she was young and strong, and she lent the old planks substance and strength, &#8216;til they creaked under her as she clambered in, and the blue paint on the prow once again appeared: <em>The Right Bartholomew</em>. She set her course by the distant murmur of sleepers, and the <em>Bartholomew</em> answered, and after many hours in which the stars did not move, the boat&#8217;s prow brushed softly to rest in a windrow of forgotten oddments, becalmed against the buttress of a beautiful old dream. Eishlin stepped out, and patted the boat goodbye, and it flew off, its vigor restored, towards the bright colors of a little child&#8217;s dreams in the offing.</p><p></p> <p>The stone halls of the dream were not real enough for footfalls to sound, but they held her, and she noticed a trail of shimmering glamour in the air ahead, which she followed hopefully. The corridor&#8217;s pillars abruptly changed to bamboo trees, and when she looked behind her all was green, while above and below were both bright, sun-touched tree-tops. She shook her confusion away and fixed her eyes on a few motes glimmering like dust in sunlight. She forced her way through the leaves, which clung like lint instead of rustling before her, and continued through the limbo between dreams. </P><p>This place was both shapeless and full of shape, for as she walked, dreams tried to form around her, to give and take meaning and form. But she would not look at the shadows or listen to the whispers, and would not turn her head from the trail, and so whatever beauties, whimsies, or horrors she might have beheld, we know none.</p></p> <p>The Beautiful Girl had passed through the nothing untouched and unshifted, and stepped into the dreams of a great town. She little understood what she saw, but she walked through the dreams of a mason&#8217;s son, and he forsook his trade for paint and tried to capture her glory. She passed by the dance in a young lawyer&#8217;s dream, and he awoke and looked at his wife discontentedly. She left her shimmering trail in a little girl&#8217;s dream, who went searching for mica the next day and found an orphaned kitten instead. She turned her smile on a village belle, who woke certain of her own ugliness. Her face appeared in the sleep of an elder whose eyes had seen nothing, dreaming or waking, in twenty years, and in the morning he bade the townsfolk to seek the witch who had tried to touch his slumber with her spells.</p> <p>Her light broke the gloom in the dreams of a young nobleman, who had been in a blood-stained oubliette until she wandered by. The darkness fell apart and he stood, gazing after the vision, but he did not wake. Dimly, he knew something had changed, and as one raised to expect obedience, he began to reorder his dreams that she might return, his angel.</p> <p>Eishlin had followed the skein of her Dream through a boiling bog, through a market where the animals spoke and the humans had no tongue, through a cramped house and a store where a little old woman sold chipped marbles. Sometimes it nearly disappeared as a dream collapsed, too fragile to survive its dreamer&#8217;s waking, but she caught onto it, and pulled herself through the wreck of a village fair, clawed out of a rich tidepool, and marched resolutely through a graveyard where the dead had been buried alive. Soon, she reached a polished checkerboard floor, and saw the distant lights of a party commencing; but the path led to her left, across the burgeoning dreamscapes of two childhood rivals, now hundreds of miles apart, and through a shiver in the air that left her feeling somehow drenched.</p><p> <p>She looked around. There was no ground, no sky, and yet no walls. It was all the shade inside your eyelids, and somehow just as close, for all the lack of walls. She felt suffocated. Far off, she could hear someone crying out in pain, and nearer, the sound of a sleeper churning, his breath, body and mind flailing for a truer rest. There was a dripping, insistent and dank, and a smell she did not like. She tried to force her eyes open, but they thought they already were.</p><p>And they were. There, there was a scintilla once more&#8230;and beyond it, as if she were also a mote, was the Beautiful Girl, held close by the folds of the nightmare. Eishlin reached out with the hands and voice that made her, and called. The light rushed towards her. She turned, and together they fled, matching each other&#8217;s fleetness, until they could barely run more, and they fell through the coldness.</p></p> <p>They were on a checkerboard again, smooth&#8230;but this was not the party. It was some older dream, fixing itself to the life of the new by this tenuous thread of similarity. For it was a checkerboard in truth, a marble checkerboard, huge upon a huge desk. Bottles of ink loomed like hitching posts, and quills, pencils, fountain pens, lay in untidy piles like lumber. Eishlin, rolling on her back and catching her breath, saw the checkerboard again above her, and every pen and giant blotter mirrored there, looming near like academic stalactites. She rolled back up to her knees, and saw the Dream fading from her again, wafting towards the light of the party.</p> <p>The music started up, soft and sweet; a waltz. The young nobleman turned from the scene, from the flowers of women dancing in the arms of faceless, dark-clad men. She was coming, as he knew she would. She was drawn to him, to the gaiety and power of him, and he caught his breath as she came nearer. Her eyes could hold a man more surely than the velvet of night held sleep, her hair was finer than gossamer, and her lips inspired a thousand metaphors and adjectives each more fanciful than the last, each discarded in its turn until he formed the one word, &#8216;indescribable&#8217;. Her graceful arms reached for him, and he cried out&#8230;</p> <p>For her gracefulness ebbed with a stumble, and she fell towards him with her ineffable lips parted in a silent scream. The sharp point of a solid, well-defined fountain pen, as big as a spear, broached her luminous breast. From it, ink flowed, but there was no blood, and as he caught her, she faded and passed over his hands with the swish of falling silk.</p> <p>He looked up through his tears, and saw Eishlin, and she saw him, not as he had been, but as he was in the world, a nobleman&#8217;s son in a dark blue suit, of about her age. &#8220;Why did you do that?&#8221; he said.</p> <p>&#8220;Because she wasn&#8217;t real,&#8221; explained Eishlin. &#8220;She was a Dream. It had power, but no substance. It had no potential, no will. It would have taken all you offered to it, and you would have given yourself to no purpose, wasted something on nothing. You cannot love a thing which does not exist. Dreams should enrich the waking, not rob and shame it.&#8221; </p><p>Eishlin reached out her hand, but the young man turned away, and she walked alone through the dreams and the mist to her window, and, shutting it, climbed into her bed.</p><p>And while Eishlin rose to great honor among the Dreamers, they often remarked how queer it was that she never Dreamt a human form. And while she sometimes wondered, she never again heard of the noble boy in the blue suit.</p> April Foolishness: Faerye Net Cage Match 2004-04-01T15:01:05+00:00 2009-12-14T20:47:58+00:00 <p><em>I don&#8217;t like lying very much, and I couldn&#8217;t think of anything plausible I wouldn&#8217;t feel bad for lying about &#8212; so instead I decided to celebrate the day with abject silliness. So, without further ado, I bring you&#8230; a completely contrived fight between a character from a silly world and a character from a serious one. <b><a href="" target="links">Lihan Hawkhome</a> vs. <a href="" target="links">Captain Bessa Seford</a></b>!</em></p> <p>In Creation, there is a road. There are many roads, in fact, stretching across the expanses of that which is known and believed in. This one, however, is special &#8212; it is cut, straight and long, across a dusty, flat expanse, peppered with prairie-hog holes and the occasional patch of wildflowers. Once upon a time, Lihan Hawkhome walked along this road, scanning the horizon with a sense of comfort. He could see for miles. Nothing could approach him unseen, and his magics would allow him to flee long before they should reach him. He felt comfortable, and therefore, from the deep sleeve of his coat, he drew a battered volume and read as he walked.</p> <p>In the distance, there was a humming sound, as of hornets gathering. Lihan read in absorption about the varying widths of chisels used for different inscriptions in the First Age. A pinpoint of light appeared in the distance, fractured the air around it, and poured a churning prism of chaos into the quiet afternoon. Lihan was fascinated to discover that chisels made of the Five Magical Metals were only used in inscriptions on Manses, because of the resonance patterns that could be set up by a less-than-careful hand in a less-than-Essence-reinforced structure. The kaleidoscoping rainbow emitted a sleek, golden car with fins higher than a man, and it careened down the straight road towards Lihan as the shimmering fracture closed in its wake.</p> <p>Lihan looked up in alarm as a building roar approached, and with a look of abject terror threw himself off the road and out of the way of the gleaming juggernaut. The car also swerved at the last moment, and flipped up up into the air, coming down heavily on a prairie dog colony, on its side. A door rose like the wing of a wounded beetle, and a redhead in a scarlet jumpsuit leaped out, nostrils flared like a hunting cat. <em>Spirits and Great Gods,</em> thought Lihan, <em>why are small redheaded females always trying to kill me?</eM> <p>Rapidly gathering up his fallen books and bags, Lihan started to walk briskly away from the wreck.</p></p> <p>&#8220;You!&#8221; cried Captain Bessa, explorer of the unknown, &#8220;Are you a native of this land?&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Bessa&#8230;&#8221; Araminta sighed, &#8220;you almost ran him over&#8230;&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Nonsense,&#8221; muttered Bessa, &#8220;he tried to sabotage our vehicle. Now get out and help me in case we have to settle this the old-fashioned way.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;My seat-belt got stuck in the crash, sir. Gerald&#8217;s, too.&#8221;</p> <p>Bessa frowned, &#8220;Do not fear, Crewman Jones. As soon as I&#8217;ve dealt with this cowardly reprobate, I will return to free you.&#8221; With that, she paced towards Lihan. &#8220;Now, knave, why did you attempt to interfere in the affairs of the Paracosmonauts Expeditionary Company?&#8221;</p> <p>Lihan blinked. &#8220;I&#8217;m very sorry, ma&#8217;am &#8212;&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Sir! Address me as sir, please, my rank is Captain, the <span class="caps">PEC</span> has rules about proper forms of address.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Er, quite. Quite right, sir. As I was saying, I wasn&#8217;t aware that any&#8230; expedition was taking place on this road today, and was merely attempting to reach&#8230;&#8221;</p> <p>Bessa scoffed. &#8220;I don&#8217;t believe it for a moment! Why are you so shifty, varlet?&#8221;</P> <p>&#8220;Er, shifty, ma&#8212; er, sir?&#8221;</p><p>&#8220;Yes, shifty!&#8221; her eyes narrowed, then widened. &#8220;You&#8217;re a pirate! You belong to the Crossdimensional Elite Pirates! I can tell by your hair!&#8221;</p><p>Lihan stared in consternation at his hair, which was long, red-brown, and contained a few braids. &#8220;I&#8217;m sorry?&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Defend yourself, foul minion of the <span class="caps">CEP</span>!&#8221; cried Bessa, and began to circle ominously, weaving a pattern of menace in the air with her hands. </p> <p>&#8220;Halp!&#8221; cried Lihan, assuming a clumsy defensive stance.</p> <p>&#8220;Why did you let her drive?&#8221; said Minta, more sorrowful than angry, hanging sideways like a forlorn fruit bat.</p><p>&#8220;Something about me being a pilot, and cars needing a driver, I think,&#8221; Gerald said. &#8220;Sorry, Minta, won&#8217;t happen again.&#8221;</p> <p>Bessa dodged, feinted, and struck! &#8220;Ow!&#8221; cried Lihan, &#8220;I really don&#8217;t know, &#8216;sir&#8217;, why we have to &#8211; OW! &#8211; resort to these &#8211; <span class="caps">ACK</span>! &#8211; barbaric measures over a &#8211; My hair! &#8211; misunderstanding!&#8221;</p> <p>Bessa drew back and narrowed her green eyes to feral slits. &#8220;We understand each other perfectly, <em>fiend</em>!&#8221; she growled, and sprang, hands together, to fall like a hammer of doom upon Hawkhome&#8217;s back!</p> <p>Lihan fell to the ground &#8211; as all men do when struck in the back by the fists of a captain-explorer &#8211; and with a groan, wheezed, &#8220;That&#8217;s enough!&#8221;</p> <p>Bessa, arms raised and rictus securely in place for another blow, looked crestfallen. &#8220;Are you giving up?&#8221; she said wistfully, &#8220;Wastrel?&#8221;</p> <p>But Lihan Hawkhome, the Copper Spider, the Chosen of the Unconquered Sun, Seer of Truths and Knower of Hidden Ways, rose dusty and dishevelled from the prairie dirt, light boiling from his brow and his green-woven anima curdling from the air of Creation behind him. He spoke low words that Bessa did not understand, and she stepped back involuntarily.</p> <p>&#8220;Dear&#8230;God&#8230;&#8221; she managed to say, before the winds gathered around the man and whisked him muttering from her sight.</p> <p>Captain Bessa looked after the retreating cyclone for a moment in consternation, then smiled. &#8220;Another victory for the invincible Paracosmonauts!&#8221;</p> The Galleon 2004-03-30T16:26:56+00:00 2009-12-15T23:12:06+00:00 <p><a href=""><em>&larr; The Boy</em></a></p> <p>Isabella and His Jubilant Might the Emperor Adelmar strolled down to the docks, with several chessmen following gravely. Halfway there, the Seneschal retreated in defeat, bearing the crown that Adelmar had pronounced too heavy for outside use. Only a few feet short of the water, Guano fluttered down to perch on a crate and address Isabella.</p> <p>&#8220;Doll! Pal! Have I ever missed you! You&#8217;re such a&#8230;&#8221; the seagull&#8217;s eyes darted to Isabella&#8217;s coat pockets, &#8220;<em>sensible</em> person. D&#8217;ya have something to eat?&#8221;</p> <p>Isabella shook her head sadly, passing an apple to Adelmar behind their backs. Adelmar was staring in frank amazement at the bird.</p> <p>&#8220;What is that?&#8221; whispered the Emperor to the frank-faced lady beside him.</p> <p>&#8220;A seagull, your Majesty.&#8221;</p><p>&#8220;Is it a sort of bird?&#8221; asked Adelmar in some doubt.</p><p>&#8220;Indeed, sire. A rather common sort of bird,&#8221; she said, pointing to the wheeling clouds of gulls above the dock.</p><p>&#8220;That explains it then. Do they all talk?&#8221; asked the boy, still shy of Guano.</p><p>&#8220;Not as a matter of course, no,&#8221; smiled Isabella.</p><p>Guano had watched this exchange with some interest, and, now that the boy-king&#8217;s eyes were on him again, became ingratiating. &#8220;Your&#8230;uh, Majesty, she said? You look like a very <em>sensible</em> person. And generous.&#8221;</p><p>Isabella nudged the Imperial Personage. The chessmen tensed as for an attack at the affront, but Adelmar did not seem to mind, and thrust the apple towards Guano.</p><p>&#8220;Sensible, did I say? Genius!&#8221; said Guano, and buried his beak in the fruit.</p><p>&#8220;I will see you later,&#8221; Isabella took her leave of the blissful bird gravely, and he murmured his goodbyes and thanks &#8212; it seemed &#8212; through a mouthful of apple that made them less intelligible than the squawks of the most stupid of his kin.</p><p>Isabella and the Many-Storied All-King made their way towards the docks, where row on row and rank on rank of black triremes sat passive and ready, swaying slightly on the breath of the waves. Isabella frowned into the distance, where the tidy order of the harbor was broken.</p><p>&#8220;What is that?&#8221; said Isabella, pointing to a ship right against the harborwall.</p><p>Adelmar squinted in the sun, but nodded, &#8220;That&#8217;s probably <em>Eckbert&#8217;s Palace</em>.&#8221;</p><p>&#8220;It&#8217;s a palace?&#8221; Isabella asked.</p><p>&#8220;Oh, yes. Eckbert is the only Emperor ever to have rebelled and built his palace outside the Avenue of the Emperor.&#8221;</p><p>&#8220;And it&#8217;s a ship?&#8221;</p><p>Adelmar nodded. &#8220;Everyone disapproves.&#8221;</p><p>&#8220;I think I like Eckbert,&#8221; said Isabella, &#8220;sounds sensible.&#8221;</p><p>And so they passed by a score of dour triremes, and stood in the shadow of <em>Eckbert&#8217;s Palace</em>. She was larger than any ship Isabella had ever seen, and Isabella was a child of the waves. She was a brilliant, joyous scarlet, with ribbons of egregious gilt tracing every shapely curve. She had three great masts, with strangely glistening sails furled at the ready. She exulted in her very garishness like a long-haired tortoise-shell cat, and her tier of shining windows gleamed like the smuggest smile.</p><p>&#8220;I think,&#8221; said Isabella to the small Emperor, &#8220;that we have found our ship.&#8221;</p><p>They climbed aboard by means of a gangway chessmanned into place at a thought, and surveyed the gleaming decks, the extravagant carvings, and the fine dark wood of the ship&#8217;s wheel. Adelmar smiled as the deck swayed gently under his feet, stared off at the sunlight glinting off the water, and turned his freckled face towards Isabella with a shy smile.</p> <p>&#8220;I don&#8217;t think I <em>want</em> to be Emperor anymore,&#8221; he mused, and felt his heart grow light at the thought. He looked very thoughtful, and then said, unexpectedly, &#8220;Are elephants real?&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;I do believe they are, Your Majesty.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Then we&#8217;ll go where there are elephants.&#8221; </p><p>At this one of the chessmen, the harbormaster, apparently, from the shining anchor pinned to his robes, exclaimed, &#8220;But, your, uh, Extravagant Munificence! You are the Emperor! You cannot just <em>leave</em>!&#8221;</p> <p>With the sunlight glowing through his wind-mussed hair, the little boy grinned a surprisingly gap-toothed grin and yelled in joy and excitement, &#8220;I go where I like, and I do as I please, and you can&#8217;t say better than that!&#8221;</p> Seford, Spiggot, and Jones: Voyage the First 2004-02-05T15:01:33+00:00 2009-12-14T20:42:17+00:00 <p>&#8220;Will you hurry UP?&#8221; said Bessa, her hands on her hips, and Gerald stepped briskly aboard, snapping a salute as he went. She <em>was</em> the captain, after all. Minta looked uneasily at the solid ground under her feet, but jumped when Bessa bellowed, &#8220;Crewman Jones! Are you a sailor or a sea anchor?&#8221; and fingered a coil of robe expressively. Seaman Jones made haste, and the three crawled down into the cramped hull to man their controls.</p><p>&#8220;Where are we going?&#8221; breathed Minta, when the hatch was closed and further discussion of sea anchors in vain.</p><p> <p>&#8220;There is only one way,&#8221; said Bessa firmly, &#8220;to find out.&#8221;</p> <p></p><p><br /> &#8220;I hope it will be dry,&#8221; said Minta, stroking the blue-cast gunmetal with a nervous hand.</p><br /> <p>Bessa gave a corrosive stare. &#8220;Minta, you idiot! It&#8217;s a <em>submarine</em>! What did you go and say <span class="caps">THAT</span> for?&#8221;</p></p> <p>Minta started to bubble forth an excuse, but Gerald cut them both off. &#8220;Captain Seford, we&#8217;re going under now!&#8221; The gauges danced in whirligig uncertainty, and the porthole showed a kaleidoscope of nothings.</p> <p>Bessa spared one last glare at Minta, and turned her attention to the controls. &quot;<em>Wet</em>, she said through clenched teeth, &#8220;<em>wet</em>!&#8221; But the rushing roar of their journey was already fading, and with a barely audible <b><strong>plink</strong></b> the three-man sub emerged inside a mosaic sea.</p> <p>The light streamed in through the porthole, tinting Bessa&#8217;s green, Gerald&#8217;s hazel, and Minta&#8217;s brown eyes an identical, vibrant blue.</p> <p>&#8220;Look!&#8221; cried Minta, and they all saw a violet eel making his labored way through the seascape. &#8220;but&#8230;&#8221; she faltered, &#8220;doesn&#8217;t he look&#8230;peculiar?&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Of course he does,&#8221; Bessa barked, &#8220;we&#8217;re in another world!&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Not <em>himself</em>,&#8221; Minta pressed on quietly, &#8220;but how we see him.&#8221;</p> <p>They all looked out the portal, and saw how the light travelled mazedly through the blue, and peered at the outer surface of the porthole, where irregular crystals pushed and shoved with a faint grating they could hear through the glass.</p></p> <p>&#8220;It&#8217;s a dry ocean,&#8221; Bessa said flatly.</p> <p>&#8220;A tremendous discovery!&#8221; urged Gerald, as the crystal shapes outside shifted and blurred the slowly-moving fauna.</p> <p>&#8220;All Minta&#8217;s fault!&#8221; Bessa countered with a jut of her chin. &#8220;We might as well look about, though. Engines forward.&#8221;</p> <p>Gerald twisted at the controls, and the cabin shook slightly as the engine woke behind it. They shuddered forward with a sound of grinding teeth, and Bessa grabbed wildly at a nearby strap to avoid pitching over Gerald and into the porthole.</p> <p>&#8220;What&#8217;s the matter, man!&#8221; she hollered, as Gerald&#8217;s pianist fingers played over the flashing, squawking console.</p> <p>&#8220;It&#8217;s the solid water!&#8221; he yelled back, &#8220;the screws aren&#8217;t working!&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Then turn them off before something blows!&#8221; said Bessa, her face frightened in the strobing red light of warnings and alarms. </p><p> Gerald twisted, switched, and pressed, and the engine subsided gratefully into silence. He looked up at his captain with concern in his face. &#8220;How will we get anywhere?&#8221; Bessa pressed her curly head against the cool skin of the boat and closed her eyes.</p> <p>&#8220;We can use the claws,&#8221; Minta offered into the silence. The others looked at her. &#8220;Remember, I added manipulator arms? I thought we might need to dig, so I made them stronger&#8230;&#8221; she wormed between Gerald and Bessa and depressed an unassuming button. With a stentorian klang, the sub thrust viciously pointed spades into the teeming beads of the dry ocean, and with a sound like a vast godfather clock preparing to strike, it tunneled forward through the shimmering deeps.</p> <p>&#8220;Bless you, Minta!&#8221; said Captain Seford, &#8220;I thought we&#8217;d die in this crazy place!&#8221; From Bessa&#8217;s fierce bear hug, Minta exchanged droll looks with Helmsman Spiggot.</p> <p>&#8220;Onward, then!&#8221; cried Captain Seford, releasing Minta and leaning forward to examine the shifting world without with a keen eye. &#8220;Let us see what awaits us in this pelagic paradox!&#8221;</p> <hr /> <p>Onward they pressed, until the shifting view the crystals yielded through the glass was no more curious than a summer&#8217;s haze. The captain raised the periscope, and reported the sky was brightest azure, and marked by flocks of drifting yellow birds. &#8220;Land ahoy!&#8221; she cried at last, &#8220;claw speed to half, there may be rocks!&#8221;</p> <p>It was not a rock that loomed ahead, however, but a shifting burgundy shape that proved to be a small child, swimming through the blue with wiry arms. In surprise, he stopped and stared at the slowing submarine, his face obscured by a clam-shell mask.</p> <p>&#8220;That child will drown!&#8221; cried Captain Seford, &#8220;Gerald, man the manipulator arms! Minta, find a life vest!&#8221;</P> <p>Minta blinked. &#8220;But he&#8217;s perfectly fine, Bessa sir. He can breathe the air between the water.&#8221;</p> <p>Bessa looked at Minta, then at the child waving at them happily through the glass.</p> <p>She looked again. &#8220;<span class="caps">AHA</span>!&#8221; she shouted, &#8220;but will he be fine in a moment?&#8221; She pointed, and Gerald gaped at the nightmare vision forcing its way up from the depths below the unseeing child. Minta shrieked, and Bessa sprang into action with a zeal that was almost smug.</p><p> <p>Minta pointed, &#8220;Look! It has scoops instead of fins!&#8221;</p></p> <p>&#8220;Indeed,&#8221; said Bessa without looking away from the controls, &#8220;and more teeth than a voracious darkwyrm.&#8221; The sub&#8217;s digging spades klanged into position like a rapier and main gauche. &#8220;Soon we will discover how many colors of blood it has!&#8221;</p><p>Gerald turned on the engine, heedless of the alarms now adding noise and color to the fight, and the sub darted and swirled in a deadly sigil beneath the shifting crystal waves. First a feint, then a thrust &#8211; the digging claws drove at the nameless thing, and its staring chartreuse eyes grew wide with pain and fear. At last in defeat it labored slowly away, trailing its brown ichor in a spiral on the grains of water. The frightened child clung to the outside of the submarine, and pointed it towards his home harbor.</p> <p>The people of the world were as strange as its waters, burgundy, maroon, magenta people with freckles in canary yellow making curious patterns on their dark skin. They were grateful to the heroic crew of the little sub, and especially to Captain Seford. They had never seen hair before, let alone red curly hair, and they insisted that all three of the visitors from a land beyond their sea stay to a lavish feast thrown in their honor. &#8220;Of course,&#8221; Bessa accepted with a twinkling smile. &#8220;If it&#8217;s not too much trouble, though, could we have some water while we are waiting for dinner? It is thirsty work, exploring.&#8221;</p><p>&#8220;Of course!&#8221; smiled the matriarch, and the villagers soon brought ornate fluted glasses full to the brim of the rough cubes of water. Bessa looked at Gerald, and Gerald looked at Minta. &#8220;Maybe,&#8221; said Crewman Jones softly, &#8220;we <em>could</em> go somewhere where water is wet.&#8221;</p> The Boy 2003-10-21T15:53:25+00:00 2009-12-15T23:09:54+00:00 <p><a href=""><em>&larr; The Emperor</em></a></p> <p>At this, his August Splendour the Emperor Adelmar sat up slightly in his gaudy throne, pushed his crown back so that his hair could be brushed out of his eyes, and studied his guest with some interest. She did not look somber like the servants of the Empire, nor was she flushed with bustle like the people of the City that he sometimes saw. She was different, and, as anyone who has ever been a ten-year-old Emperor holding audiences in a half-built fish-bowl will tell you, different is fascinating.</p> <p>&#8220;Where are you from?&#8221; the Ruler of the Perfect Empire asked Isabella.</p><p>&#8220;Over -&#8221;</p><p>&#8220;She improperly utilized a Phare, my liege,&#8221; Wallace the Seneschal said, eyeing Isabella haughtily.</p><p>&#8220;How&#8217;d you do that?&#8221; the Marvelous Magnate of All asked Isabella, transfixed.</p><p>&#8220;It was quite-&#8221;</p><p>&#8220;The mechanisms are designed to be very simple, Sire, in light of the limited capacity of the Phare Keepers.&#8221;</p><p>Isabella frowned at Wallace, and Adelmar the Mighty looked inclined to agree with her sentiments.</p><p>His Imperial lower lip began to bulge, as it were to balance the ominous protrusion of his brow. Returning his majestic gaze to Isabella, he said, &#8220;Did you come on a boat?&#8221; He immediately swung his head (imperiling the diadem perched thereupon) towards Wallace with a look of Imperial ire, and Wallace immediately found the question quite innocent and below his notice.</p><p>&#8220;Indeed, Your Majesty,&#8221; smiled Isabella, &#8220;your chessmen were kind enough to send a ship to transport me.&#8221;</p><p>&#8220;<em>Chessmen?</em> Impertinence!&#8221; muttered Wallace like an operatic baritone about to launch into a recitative, &#8220;Imperial servants sent to <em>investigate&#8230;</em>&#8221; They ignored him.</p><p>&#8220;You see, I&#8217;ve never been on a boat,&#8221; said His Diminutive Excellency, with a touch of wistfulness.</p></p> <p>Isabella blinked. &#8220;But, Your Regality, you have four or five score in your harbor.&#8221;</p><p>Wallace, bursting out in stentorian tones, said, &#8220;His Exalted Wisdom is quite busy with matters of State, and cannot be bothered to take care of boats that take quite good care of themselves!&#8221;</p><p>Isabella studied Wallace, who looked like a very unhappy man, and His Superlative Formidability, who looked like a very unhappy boy, and said, &#8220;Surely there is nothing more fitting for a potentate to do than to tour the ships of the line?&#8221;</p><p>&#8220;There is nothing for an Emperor to do but direct the construction of his Palace,&#8221; sighed the Seneschal as if Isabella were a child pulling his coattails.</p><p>Isabella raised an eyebrow, crowding a dozen wrinkles dreadfully, and said, &#8220;I see no hammer about his person.&#8221;</p><p>&#8220;Of course not!&#8221; declaimed the Seneschal.</p><p>Tilting her ear to catch the far-off shouts of men, she added, &#8220;I do not see him giving orders.&#8221;</p><p>&#8220;Of course not! The day-to-day matters are the province of far lesser&#8230;uh, personages.&#8221;</p><p>&#8220;In that case, he has delegated the real work, and shall now have a pleasure cruise, and I can think of nothing more Imperial.&#8221;</p><p>The lad sprung from his throne, which gave his golden robes to billow loosely, and grinned at Isabella and at Wallace. &#8220;Indeed!&#8221; said Adelmar.</p><p>&#8220;But&#8230; Your Supreme and Eternal Incandescence!&#8221; Wallace began in tragic tones.</p><p>&#8220;Now, now, Wallie!&#8221; said Adelmar, with a real incandescence in his dusty hazel eyes, &#8220;I go where I like, and I do as I please, and you can&#8217;t say better than that.&#8221;</p> <p><em><a href="">The Galleon &rarr;</a></em></p> The Emperor 2003-09-02T16:59:30+00:00 2009-12-15T23:06:33+00:00 <p><em><a href="">&larr; The Palace</a></em></p> <p>Isabella&#8217;s black eyes bloomed in a field of wrinkles, and saw that it was morning. The blue of the mosaic sea was bright and twinkling, and the pointed window now opened her gaze onto the real sea, basking in the sun.</p> <p>Isabella replaited her hair. She put on her faded blue breeches, her white linen blouse, and her leather vest. She laced up her boots and secured her wool cape at a jaunty angle across her chest. She peered into a small, pointed mirror and laughed. &#8220;Now,&#8221; she informed her reflection, &#8220;there really ought to be breakfast.&#8221; And there was, in the hands of a small chessman who wasn&#8217;t a chessman at all, dressed as it was in blue. It was a good breakfast, and soon there were only crumbs, which Isabella, perhaps remembering Guano, sprinkled on the broad window sill. Then she poked her head out of the room. Immediately, a blue-robed figure appeared on the spiral staircase above her door.</p> <p>&#8220;Trying to keep me out of trouble?&#8221; Isabella asked, and followed the servant down the spiral staircase, out of the vast carved doors, and into the sunlit day. Immediately, Isabella looked around, and discovered that to her right, the long, tree-lined avenue not only continued, but continued to sweep up to the stairs of palaces. The first one she saw was a rather pretentious marble affair with five stumpy towers, rather like an elephant lying on his back. The second was a vast red globe with two spindly minarets on either side. Beyond that, a glass confection warred with a overblown chalet, and pyramids, cubes, domes, loggias, battlements and buttresses blurred into the distance. She blinked. Almost frightened, she looked to her left, and saw an indistinct building swathed in fabric. From it, the sound of hammers and the shouts of workers emerged muffled.</p> <p>Isabella looked at the servant, but the servant seemed very absorbed in his or her hands, which were clasped in front of the blue habit. Isabella had not seen the hands of any of the chessmen or their blue friends before, and so she joined him in the study until he looked up with a start, and she caught a look down his hood at his face. He was about sixteen, with a freckled snub nose and very untidy brown hair. &#8220;I suppose wearing a hood saves brushing your hair in the morning?&#8221;</p><p>The boy nodded and blushed. &#8220;You&#8217;re not supposed to see,&#8221; he whispered, &#8220;so would you keep it quiet?&#8221;</p> <p>Isabella considered. &#8220;I suppose you aren&#8217;t supposed to talk to me, either,&#8221; she hazarded.</p> <p>The boy shook his head miserably.</p> <p>&#8220;Well, dare the rules by telling me one thing, and I shan&#8217;t breathe a word of your mistake.&#8221; The boy nodded gratefully. &#8220;What are all those follies?&#8221; she pointed down the row of buildings, majestic in proportions and ludicrous in form.</p> <p>&#8220;Oh, those are the Elder Palaces,&#8221; he said with a look of relief.</p> <p>&#8220;Why are they so dreadful?&#8221; she asked, with furrowed brow.</p> <p>&#8220;You said I was to tell you <em>one</em> thing,&#8221; the boy asseverated, lifting his chin back to his solemn posture.</p> <p>Isabella laughed. &#8220;So I did! More fool me! Lead on, now, boy, and your freckles are safe with me.&#8221;</p> <p>They mounted the crude board steps up to the mysterious New Palace, and Isabella was struck at once by the dim but omnipresent light, as if no wall had yet been installed, and the tinny echo of the men&#8217;s voices within. Her small guide brought her as far as a vast green curtain, before which the Seneschal stood.</p> <p>Isabella strode up to him, fuming. &#8220;I don&#8217;t know where your servants were trained, Mr. Seneschal, but they&#8217;ve a curious idea of courtesy! They won&#8217;t talk, they won&#8217;t even meet your eye! It made me almost miss your sonorous orations.&#8221;</p> <p>The Seneschal waved languorously to the serving boy, who nearly forgot himself and scampered in his relief. &#8220;Perhaps things are different where you come from, but in the Radiant and Scintillating Metropolis, a servant is but a cypher with hands, and to be more would be unseemly. We all,&#8221; he added, in a martyred tone that would have done credit to a death aria, &#8220;are but the tools of his Glorious and Eternal Majesty, and move but as he wills.&#8221;</p> <p>Isabella smirked, &#8220;That&#8217;s lovely, I&#8217;m sure he&#8217;s very grateful. Is he through here?&#8221; she thrust her little brown hands into a cleft in the curtain, and emerged into a round chamber whose walls were little more than shelves, filled with bowl after bowl of clear glass. After a moment, she saw that each bowl contained a fish, cavorting in the lost rays of sunlight, and that at the end of the room, on a throne made of gold-lacquered wood and carved to resemble a great many goldfish inexplicably interested in holding someone up, there was a little boy of about 10 years of age. His eyes were grey and bored, his hand was beneath his chin, and his white blond hair was pushed into his eyes by the weight of a shining diadem.</p> <p>&#8220;Your Majesty,&#8221; Isabella smiled, and dropped a very small curtsy, mostly to show off her cape&#8217;s flutter.</p> <p>The boy frowned, and the heavy crown nearly toppled forward. Catching it, he saw the Seneschal leap into the room. &#8220;I&#8217;m so sorry, Your Exquisite Person! She&#8230;&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;It&#8217;s all right, Wallace.&#8221; the boy sighed. &#8220;What&#8217;s your business with the August Seat?&#8221; he asked Isabella, and she answered, as you might suppose,</p> <p>&#8220;I go where I like, and I do as I please, and you can&#8217;t say better than that.&#8221;</p><p><a href=""><em>The Boy &rarr;</em></a></p> The Palace 2003-08-27T17:21:13+00:00 2009-12-15T23:04:02+00:00 <p><em><a href="">&larr; The City</a></em></p> <p>Isabella followed the Seneschal through the darkened streets of town. Many of the houses were brick, and some were a cheerful yellow stone, but none of them showed much promise in the scintillating radiance department.</p> <p>&#8220;No doubt,&#8221; said the rich-voiced Seneschal, &#8220;you are struck dumb with wonder.&#8221;</p> <p>Isabella thought it more politic not to say. &#8220;I am wondering one thing, actually,&#8221; she offered, &#8220;why are you a Seneschal, and not a singer?&#8221;</p><p>The man faltered in his smooth pace, and then kept on, &#8220;The office of Seneschal is an ancient and revered one,&#8221; he said at last, and Isabella made no further attempts at conversation.</p> <p>At last the Seneschal paused &#8211; he was a tall man, and Isabella had to take three steps to his two &#8211; and gestured across a substantial footbridge. &#8220;The Old Palace!&#8221; he proclaimed. Isabella crept closer, and the building crept out of the night to meet her eyes.</p> <p>The Old Palace was a great phantasmagoric beast, a bundle of towers roped together like asparagus or stalks of wheat; all were topped with ridiculous turban-like protuberances, which grew in such variety and profusion that Isabella was put in mind of a bad arrangement of tulips. In the center, a great teardrop-shaped door beckoned, lit by unobtrusive torches on either side.</p> <p>Isabella&#8217;s head swivelled, and she peered back down the unremarkable streets. She turned to look at the palace again. It was still there, and if anything, more grotesque. She frowned at the Seneschal, who made no sign of understanding her behavior. &#8220;What, may I ask, does the <em>New</em> Palace look like?&#8221; said she.</p> <p>&#8220;It&#8217;s under construction,&#8221; he boomed, and led the way rather quickly across the stone bridge, over a wide cobbled avenue, and up the wartily mosaiced steps of the Old Palace. Several stairways later, Isabella felt closer to seasick than she had ever been on a ship, and the Seneschal produced an immense key-ring, ringing with well-polished keys, and introduced her into a dark guest room.</p> <p>&#8220;I trust it will be sufficient to your needs,&#8221; he said, without making the sentence a question, and was gone.</p> <p>Isabella paused for a moment before lighting the lamp near the bed. Perhaps she did not want to know what it looked like. But curiosity prevailed, and Isabella lit the lamp and saw.</p> <p>It was an aging room, but sumptuous. The hangings of the bed were indigo velvet and brocade. The walls were mosaic, not in gaudy gold, but in shades of blue and grey that she saw gradually were the sea and a fleet of grand triremes sailing majestically in all directions. She took off her boots and her cloak and laid them on a venerable and dusty rocker. She brought forth a set of rather over-large pyjamas from somewhere, and donned them. She sat on the foot of the grand bed as she unbraided her hair. From this vantage, the ships on the walls seemed to be sailing directly away from the bed, as if scattered by Isabella&#8217;s commands. She grinned. &#8220;To the ends of the earth!&#8221; she cried, &#8220;and back before teatime!&#8221;</p> <p>Isabella tucked herself into the great four-poster bed, told herself a bedtime story, and blew out the light. She stared up at the canopy, adorned with compass roses. She smiled like a cat full of cream.</p> <p> <p>&#8220;I go where I like, and I do as I please, and you can&#8217;t say better than that.&#8221;</p><p><em><a href=""> The Emperor &rarr;</a></em></p></p> The City 2003-08-25T17:07:00+00:00 2009-12-15T23:01:22+00:00 <p><em><a href="">&larr; The Trireme</a></em></p> <p>The chessmen tilted their hoods in what might have been a quizzical gesture, but was certainly not an ominous one. Isabella shrugged, and said, &#8220;How about, take me to your leader?&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;A most daring request,&#8221; the middle chessman intoned.</p> <p>&#8220;We must confer,&#8221; the right-hand chessman added.</p> <p>&#8220;In private,&#8221; the left-hand warned.</p> <p>Isabella did not budge, and so with a faint &#8216;tsk&#8217; the chessmen floundered over the boulders until she and Brogg could not hear their conference. In a moment, they returned. </p><p>&#8220;You may travel with us and be awed by the Majesty that is the Empire and its Golden Visage.&#8221;</p><p>&#8220;Excellent,&#8221; said Isabella. The chessmen turned and streamed awkwardly towards the water. The little woman cocked her head at Brogg, who was looking dumbfounded. &#8220;If the tower&#8217;s comfy,&#8221; said she, &#8220;Go ahead and stay. But I&#8217;m not sure this lot is worth eternal devotion. They&#8217;re a bit pompous, it seems to me.&#8221; With an impertinence that almost broke her fingers, Isabella leapt up and pinched Brogg&#8217;s cheek before turning to go.</p><p> She traipsed over the boulders behind the chessmen and smiled to see that they did indeed have a boat, concealed at the foot of the promontory. It was grey, and flat, but it held the chessmen and Isabella perfectly well, and floated silently towards the trireme moored in the bay. Isabella jumped up and down, just to see, and the raft bobbed but continued unperturbed on its way. The chessmen turned to face Isabella, who said, &#8220;You know, scowls are more effective when one can see them.&#8221; The figures turned slowly away with an aura of affronted dignity. Isabella waved to Brogg, who was standing, confused and ponderous, on the rocky shore.</p> <p>The raft met the trireme, and was raised to the deck with four lines. Isabella stepped off, sniffed the salt air, and smiled around. No one took any notice of her, moving as they did like self-important ghosts to their silent tasks. The ship slowly lurched into movement, the sails now tightly furled as if to impress upon the visitor still further that their ways were dark and mysterious. Isabella walked around the deck of the ship, peered at the unmanned wheel, and followed the hooded sailors on their pacing crossings of the forecastle. At last, she turned her face to the great gray mast in the calm blue sky, and climbed into the crows nest. There she produced a pear from her cloak, and wiled away an hour in snacking and attempting interrogation of the local gulls.</p> <p>Finally, a stark white gull from the stern caught sight of the game of cat-and-mouse, or rather, gull-and-pear, that was transpiring, and rose to investigate.</p> <p>&#8220;Refreshments can only be provided to intelligible sources,&#8221; Isabella was warning the squawking birds with a stern expression.</p> <p>&#8220;Howzat now?&#8221; said the white gull, &#8220;I&#8217;m a seagull, not an intelligible source.&#8221;</p> <p>Isabella smiled, &#8220;We shall see, and perhaps you shall eat.&#8221; The gulls who couldn&#8217;t, or wouldn&#8217;t, talk, settled onto the rigging with bad grace and much ruffling.</p><p>&#8220;You&#8217;re not a cat, are you?&#8221; the gull asked.</p> <p>&#8220;No, why do you ask?&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;You climb up high and you&#8217;ve got a tail,&#8221; the gull eyed her braid.</p> <p>&#8220;No, I&#8217;m a human being.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;And that,&#8221; the gull pecked in the direction of her pear, &#8220;is something to eat.&#8221;</p><p>Isabella raised an eyebrow and held the pear even more protectively. &#8220;Do you travel with this ship much?&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Off and on, last few months.&#8221; his beady eyes watched the remaining pear eagerly.</p> <p>&#8220;Why?&#8221;</p><p>&#8220;Makes a change.&#8221;</p> <p>Isabella nodded. &#8220;An excellent answer.&#8221; The seagull looked hopeful. &#8220;How does it move?&#8221;</p> <p>The seagull looked exasperated. &#8220;I think something under the water pushes it.&#8221;</p><p>&#8220;What might that be, do you suppose?&#8221;</p><p>&#8220;I&#8217;m a seagull, not a scientist!&#8221;</p><p>&#8220;Indeed. What is your name, seagull?&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Guano.&#8221;</p> <p>Isabella blinked. &#8220;May I ask why?&#8221;</p><p>&#8220;Simple. Guano&#8217;s white, so am I,&#8221; he cocked his head, &#8220;What? It&#8217;s not like they named me after something to eat or something insulting like that.&#8221;</p><p>&#8220;All right, Guano,&#8221; Isabella smirked, &#8220;Have a pear.&#8221; She produced a fresh pear from her cloak, and Guano retreated to the stern, dropping under his heavy burden and attempting to guard it from the swarm of argumentative seagulls. A chessman looked at the raucous birds, and up at Isabella. &#8220;Lovely day, isn&#8217;t it?&#8221; she called.</p> <p>The hours passed in the rocking, breezy way hours do on a calm sea in a smooth and silent boat. Guano returned to the crows nest to offer information of dubious import in hopes of further payment, but the other gulls saw he would get naught and returned to their usual business. The sun put her toes into the ocean and dyed it with her radiance, spreading the red and violet behind her into the leaping waves. She sank into her damp slumber in a slow exhalation of color, and Isabella heard a chessman below ring a chime. On her left, as she watched the sunset a dark mass of land had crept up, and now stood quiet and dignified in the fading light. It was, of course, too dark to see it properly, but the frail pinpricks of human light and the regular, dark shapes scaling the skies told Isabella that she had come to a city. The ship entered the harbor under the watchful eye of a flame-tower, and the chessmen tied up to a rather obnoxiously clean pier. A particularly short chessman with a particularly self-important gait approached the mast and looked expectant, so Isabella shimmied down and smiled at him.</p> <p>&#8220;The most Radiant and Scintillating Metropolis of his August Serenity Adelmar the Fourteenth, Emperor of the Perfect Lands of Hereabouts.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;For a scintillating and radiant metropolis,&#8221; remarked Isabella as she gazed on the sleeping city, &#8220;it&#8217;s rather dark.&#8221;</p><p> <p>A sniff caught her attention, and she turned to see a new, lean chessman walking up the gangplank, his black costume brightened with a steel pin in the shape of a coronet.</p><br /> <p>&#8220;His most Cogitative Excellency, the Seneschal,&#8221; offered the short one in a rather smug manner.</p></p> <p>&#8220;How dare you mock the multifarious beauties of the resplendent Imperial Seat?&#8221; he said, in a rich, deep voice at odds with the slight width of his habit and full to the brim with indignation and repugnance.</p> <p>&#8220;I go where I like, and I do as I please, and you can&#8217;t say better than that.&#8221;</p> <p><em><a href=""> The Palace &rarr;</a></em></p> The Trireme 2003-08-22T15:54:48+00:00 2009-12-15T22:56:55+00:00 <p><em><a href="">&larr; The Tower</a></em></p> <p>Brogg stood at the door, and Isabella walked into his tower. &#8220;I wouldn&#8217;t say no to a cup of tea,&#8221; she said, and Brogg was sure her twinkling eyes had spied his biscuit crumbs.</p> <p>&#8220;I have only one mug,&#8221; said Brogg cautiously. She did not look like a Tower Builder. But if she was a Tower Builder, then she must have tea.</p> <p>&#8220;Don&#8217;t worry, I&#8217;ll wash it out.&#8221; She hung her woolen cape on a hook Brogg had not known was there, and its drips pooled in a mossy crack in the flagstones. She picked up the dented tin mug and the little three-legged kettle. She drew water from the brass faucet as if it were not an unprecedented wonder of the Builders, and set it to boil on the eternal flame enshrined in the center of the tower.</p> <p>&#8220;You can&#8217;t do that!&#8221; burst out Brogg, near tears at the sheer impertinence. &#8220;Brogg tends the small flame, that the large flame may not be quenched!&#8221;</p> <p>Isabella peered at the lively little fire atop its stone column, &#8220;It doesn&#8217;t appear to be in any danger of going out.&#8221;</p> <p>Brogg groaned, and the stones shook, &#8220;That is not the point! It is my sacred trust!&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Why?&#8221; Isabella said, cocking her withered-apple face inquisitively.</p> <p>Brogg was on safer ground. &#8220;I guard the flame so that it may give warning.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Of what?&#8221; Isabella wanted to know.</p> <p>Brogg glowered, a glower that would freeze the storming sea and set the anemones to fleeing. &#8220;Of something happening!&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;I see&#8230;&#8221; Isabella said, and lifted the piping pot off the eternal flame of the dark tower. Brogg averted his eyes. She produced some tea leaves from somewhere about her person, and set them to brewing. &#8220;Would the flame go out if something were to happen?&#8221;</p> <p>Brogg was sullen.</p> <p>Isabella poured her tea, straining it through an old, but clean, hanky. She drank it slowly, and when the last drop had steamed into the air to rise up the tower&#8217;s forbidding walls, she glanced out the one narrow window and saw the moon glinting off an ocean murmuring in quiet exhaustion. &#8220;Perhaps,&#8221; she grinned, &#8220;it was a tempest in a teapot.&#8221;</p> <p>She rinsed out the pot and the mug in the stream of water from the Builders&#8217; wonderful faucet, and dusted her hands. &#8220;Now that I am dry,&#8221; she said, &#8220;And so is the weather, I shall go see this great flame of yours.&#8221;</p> <p>Brogg considered. Now she would know the greatness of the Builders. &#8220;You may,&#8221; he said at last, and found that she had already found and opened the door to the stairway, and was several steps up. He followed, casting a scornful glance at the profaned tea-kettle as he mounted the stairs.</p> <p>The stairway wound its way to the top, where a fire large enough to burn any number of Isabellas, or even several Broggs, was enjoying the newly calm weather. &#8220;If the smaller one controls this one,&#8221; said Isabella, &#8220;is it really a fire?&#8221;</p> <p>Brogg looked virtuously incurious.</p> <p>&#8220;Come now,&#8221; said Isabella.</p> <p>&#8220;I have to clean it,&#8221; admitted Brogg reluctantly, &#8220;or it goes green. It is warm, but does not burn.&#8221;</p> <p>Isabella immediately thrust her hand into the diaphanous flames, to the pious Brogg&#8217;s disgust. She smiled widely. &#8220;Now,&#8221; she said, &#8220;What&#8217;s this?&#8221; She eyed a large iron lever, unrusted but decorated by passing gulls.</p> <p>Brogg looked truly frightened. &#8220;It is&#8230;never mind!&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Well, then you certainly won&#8217;t mind if I&#8230;&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;No!&#8221; yelped Brogg, and the rocks below shivered in their sleep and disturbed the lapping water. &#8220;Brogg&#8217;s sacred trust! Nothing has <em>happened</em>!&#8221;</p> <p>Isabella looked between the lever and the large metal circles set into the tower&#8217;s top. &#8220;Yes, it has,&#8221; she remarked, &#8220;I have arrived.&#8221;</p> <p>And Isabella pulled the lever, which was as tall as she, and Brogg covered his eyes with his vast bronze hands. The circles popped out of the ground like trap doors. Brogg jumped as one rose up beneath his bare feet. The circles were, of course, mirrors, and the curious fire was thrown about between them until it beamed away into the distance in a soft golden line. Isabella smiled up at Brogg. &#8220;Quite pretty.&#8221; Brogg shook his head in disbelief.</p> <p>Brogg tried to move the lever back, but only managed to break it, the miraculous and beautiful lever the Builders had made him. He stomped back down the stairs, crumbling a bit more masonry in the process, and leaned heavily against a more solid wall.</p> <p>Isabella unplaited her grey-black hair, which was still a bit damp, and remarked, &#8220;It is time, I think, to turn in.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;I do not sleep,&#8221; Brogg lied.</p> <p>&#8220;Well, then, you won&#8217;t mind if I take this lovely armchair.&#8221;</p> <p>The morning greased along the top of the waves, crept into the narrow window, and found Brogg sitting morosely on the floor of the tower. Isabella was curled up comfortably in his large armchair. Brogg glared at the morning, and when he returned to glaring at Isabella, he found she had awakened and was replaiting her long hair. &#8220;I hope you slept well,&#8221; she said cheerily to Brogg, who was looking a trifle green under the eyes.</p> <p>Brogg mumbled something about not sleeping. Isabella surveyed the little slit of ocean. &#8220;Ah, look, we have visitors!&#8221;</p><p>Brogg leapt to his feet heavily, and looked over the exasperating little woman&#8217;s head. Surely, there was a dark grey ship coming, wind pushing half-heartedly at its white sails. It was a trireme with no oars.</p> <p>&#8220;Let us go out to meet them,&#8221; said Isabella, and Brogg started to weep. But she took his large bronze hand in her small brown one, and coaxed him to step, for the first time in several centuries, out of the tower.</p> <p>The grey trireme had anchored in the little bay, and while no boat was to be seen, three hooded figures waited atop the hill of rocks. They wore stiff black cloaks with wide, bell sleeves that swallowed their hands, and deep, pointed hoods that hid all but the stern set of their chins. Isabella thought they looked like chessmen.</p> <p> <p>Isabella drew near, and drew Brogg with her. Brogg tried not to look at the Builders.</p></p> <p>&#8220;Why have you called us here?&#8221; said the middle chessman in a hollow, sepulchral voice.</p> <p>Isabella smiled. &#8220;I go where I like, and I do as I please, and you can&#8217;t say better than that.&#8221;</p> <p><em><a href=""> The City &rarr;</a></em></p> The Tower 2003-08-21T13:02:28+00:00 2009-12-15T22:57:07+00:00 <p>The sky was feigning black, but could only manage a blustery grey, as if somewhere far along the paths of the sea, light fell and shone back along the miles onto this storm sky. The clouds milled slowly in shades of charcoal and slate, inking the stars out. The sea was fretting below, a sullen grey-blue, and rose swiftly and briefly under the little boat as if it was trying to slough her off.</p> <p>In the boat a small figure sat, swaying imperturbably with the waves. The silhouette was accented with a venerable, stained canvas parasol, and between the glints of water running off its rim an occasional twinkle of black eyes emerged. The sea was shoving the dinghy towards an outcropping of rock, a black tumble topped with a more ordered tumble that was a tower, its top swathed in hissing steam from a wind-teased and much abused flame.</p> <p>The boat neared the crouching rocks, and the little figure within stirred and stepped onto the bucking bench, waiting until doom was well and truly nigh before hopping into the air and drifting a few feet landward with the maelstrom under the parasol before falling awkwardly but safely on a particularly large and uncouth-looking rock.</p> <p>The tower was tended by Brogg. Brogg had always tended the tower, and whether his bronze skin had once been bronze, and had weathered to the pores and wrinkles of skin, or had once been skin, and had weathered to the sheen and toughness of bronze, you may guess yourself, as I abstain. Brogg knew his job was frightfully important, and himself frightfully imposing, and for those reasons, in some order, no one ever bothered him, and he was glad they did not.</p> <p>So when a rat-a-tat came from the door, Brogg did not rise from his chair. Rat-a-tat. He looked around. Rat-a-tat. Perhaps the sea was throwing pebbles at his tower. Rat-a-tat. Perhaps the stones were finally falling from the crumbling parapets up above. Rat-a-tat. Brogg looked at the door. Rat-a-tat. The sturdy oak did not shake, but Brogg was certain that someone was ratting and tatting his door. Perhaps it was the tower-builders. Brogg hastily shoved his very domestic reading material under a suitably nasty-looking stone. Rat-a-tat. Brogg brushed a biscuit crumb from his shining bronze muscles. Rat-a-tat. Brogg opened the door.</p> <p>Brogg&#8217;s employers, or makers, had had two legs, two arms, and two eyes. In this much, the figure at the door was like the tower builders. The legs wore faded blue trousers and ended in very battered brown boots, the arms held a drenched wool cape out like bat-wings and brandished a waxed canvas parasol, and the eyes were black and gleaming.</p> <p>Brogg forgot that he was important and imposing. &#8220;Who are you?&#8221;</p> <p>The woman smiled, and the web of lines on her face deepened like creek beds in flood. &#8220;I am Isabella.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Why are you here?&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;I go where I like, and I do as I please, and you can&#8217;t say better than that.&#8221;</p> <p><em><a href=""> The Trireme &rarr;</a></em></p>