The Trireme

Friday August 22, 2003 @ 03:54 PM (UTC)

← The Tower

Brogg stood at the door, and Isabella walked into his tower. “I wouldn’t say no to a cup of tea,” she said, and Brogg was sure her twinkling eyes had spied his biscuit crumbs.

“I have only one mug,” said Brogg cautiously. She did not look like a Tower Builder. But if she was a Tower Builder, then she must have tea.

“Don’t worry, I’ll wash it out.” 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.

“You can’t do that!” burst out Brogg, near tears at the sheer impertinence. “Brogg tends the small flame, that the large flame may not be quenched!”

Isabella peered at the lively little fire atop its stone column, “It doesn’t appear to be in any danger of going out.”

Brogg groaned, and the stones shook, “That is not the point! It is my sacred trust!”

“Why?” Isabella said, cocking her withered-apple face inquisitively.

Brogg was on safer ground. “I guard the flame so that it may give warning.”

“Of what?” Isabella wanted to know.

Brogg glowered, a glower that would freeze the storming sea and set the anemones to fleeing. “Of something happening!”

“I see…” 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. “Would the flame go out if something were to happen?”

Brogg was sullen.

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’s forbidding walls, she glanced out the one narrow window and saw the moon glinting off an ocean murmuring in quiet exhaustion. “Perhaps,” she grinned, “it was a tempest in a teapot.”

She rinsed out the pot and the mug in the stream of water from the Builders’ wonderful faucet, and dusted her hands. “Now that I am dry,” she said, “And so is the weather, I shall go see this great flame of yours.”

Brogg considered. Now she would know the greatness of the Builders. “You may,” 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.

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. “If the smaller one controls this one,” said Isabella, “is it really a fire?”

Brogg looked virtuously incurious.

“Come now,” said Isabella.

“I have to clean it,” admitted Brogg reluctantly, “or it goes green. It is warm, but does not burn.”

Isabella immediately thrust her hand into the diaphanous flames, to the pious Brogg’s disgust. She smiled widely. “Now,” she said, “What’s this?” She eyed a large iron lever, unrusted but decorated by passing gulls.

Brogg looked truly frightened. “It is…never mind!”

“Well, then you certainly won’t mind if I…”

“No!” yelped Brogg, and the rocks below shivered in their sleep and disturbed the lapping water. “Brogg’s sacred trust! Nothing has happened!”

Isabella looked between the lever and the large metal circles set into the tower’s top. “Yes, it has,” she remarked, “I have arrived.”

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. “Quite pretty.” Brogg shook his head in disbelief.

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.

Isabella unplaited her grey-black hair, which was still a bit damp, and remarked, “It is time, I think, to turn in.”

“I do not sleep,” Brogg lied.

“Well, then, you won’t mind if I take this lovely armchair.”

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. “I hope you slept well,” she said cheerily to Brogg, who was looking a trifle green under the eyes.

Brogg mumbled something about not sleeping. Isabella surveyed the little slit of ocean. “Ah, look, we have visitors!”

Brogg leapt to his feet heavily, and looked over the exasperating little woman’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.

“Let us go out to meet them,” 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.

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.

Isabella drew near, and drew Brogg with her. Brogg tried not to look at the Builders.

“Why have you called us here?” said the middle chessman in a hollow, sepulchral voice.

Isabella smiled. “I go where I like, and I do as I please, and you can’t say better than that.”

The City →


Even when you give us more, you tease us! I like how this is shaping up.

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