Those Who Could Not Keep Faith

for Jen Dolan

Nuncio handed Hoopla a pruner’s knife, a long blade on a longer stick. “What’s this for then?” growled Hoopla, who was out of temper with the messenger’s humor, and weary with the clamor of crows and the weeping of the trees.

Nuncio grinned, all molars. “Go on, then, and take it, for it’s certain I can’t stand here forever holding it while you’re after arguing with me. Take it and dig into the flesh of one or another of these dolorous shrubs that darken a dark night. Lop a limb or two, if it’s energetic you’re feeling. A little honest toil might soothe that crabbed soldier’s soul you’re sporting.”

Hoopla swung with a will, and a shadowed branch came plunging out of the canopy to land at their feet, its end red as carnelion. “Damn you, and damn you further,” cried the tree, “what am I to you or you to me? An age and again an age has passed since my pennies bought me passage to this shore, and even here I am hounded and harassed! Has the world learned nothing? Is it not enough that these murderous birds dig and gouge for their supper? Must I be again the sport of fools?”

“Peace, brother tree,” urged Nuncio, “as it’s the shears that bring the growing.”

“Ravens take your eyes, Linnaeus; you know nothing of our horticulture! We grow no taller, bring forth no flowers, drop no seeds. Pass on, you fulminating–”

“What happened?” asked Hoopla, after a moment.

“It’s the blood, y’see,” Nuncio said. “While it runs wet and fresh, so do they.” He thumped the trunk with his stick and an aggrieved moan bruised forth. “As it dries, so do they. It’s a fine, fitting fate, for they made their best, wildest speeches in just such a way when they were nimbler creatures. Think on it, I pray; there’s meat there for the chewing.”

“Doubtless,” said Hoopla, and dropped the knife among the roots.

Becalmed

Two weeks north-northeast of the Agdistis islands and becalmed.

Time weighed heavily on Skiff, and sea travel. Hot the sun on his fur, uneasy his stomach. His legs ached from pacing the deck, from seaswell, from confinement. Nights he dreamed of running on the wide pampas of his youth, of clean crisp cold air and not this muggy stillness. Days he watched the horizon for windsign, weatherchange, or sported unhappily in the water.

Palinurus set the men to fishing, barnacle shaving, sail mending, and was content enough. Wind would come, and supplies and spirits were high. He studied his charts, his stars, his orreries and anemometers. Shu waters: he sharpened his blade and kept his powder dry.

Hoopla was patient with the patience of millenia. Whose eyes had spent a century contemplating the slow growth of forests would not be outlasted by a windless season. In the high nest Hoopla sat and smoked and looked ever east toward the lost city of heart’s desire.

Beginnings

While they sit by the fire in the middle of the Great Salt Desert, Hoopla tells this story:

In the beginning was Llyr and Llyr was movement. By moving, Llyr defined Llyr and not-Llyr; here and not-here; now and not-now. Ages passed and not-here, not-now, not-Llyr grew. Thus was the shape of a world born from the pathways of Llyr, in the eternal circle of her infinite roamings.

On a distant dune, a bloody-faced woman wails for her demon lover. The moonlight strips her of all color, all past, all names.

The past piled up and clung to Llyr the ever-moving, dragged at her peaceful memory, and she beat strange and unknowable wings against the touch of it. The past was strong, but Llyr was stronger. Strength was effort and effort was sweat and from the dew of Llyr’s flight was an atmosphere born, thick, fertile and miasmous. And still Llyr moved, flying now, through a world of air and light, up and not-up, flying in the eternal path of her traveling.

They are far from the Tangled Western Woods, and have farther yet to go before they come to Albion on the edge of the winedark sea. Skiff nods his great head, half-dreaming of the great rabbits who move like men through the shadowed trees.

Movement in air was wind, and so the air slowly turned with Llyr, paced to her pacing, moved with her moving, and the waters settled to the bottom and turned more slowly still, and so there was water and not-water, air and not-air, and all moving with restless Llyr, all stirred gently by the never-ceasing wind of her flight, Llyr, the first, the moving.

Beginnings

Over the cups, the mate speaks, and Palinurus pounds on the board until the table grows quiet:

In the beginning was Llyr, and the earth was quiet, and water.

Llyr, Sky-Maiden Llyr, in Her endless circling of the world, imparted movement to her path. You have seen, perhaps, if you have drunk deeply from the clear well with an eye at the bottom, the currents you can induce in a tub with your water. Just so the air that Llyr shaped with Her passage. She had no design, nor grand plans, but simply a joy in flight, and so came the wind, the high winds that trailed behind her, and gave direction to the unruffled surface of the water. Windward, anti-windward. Alee, aweather.

Winds moved the water, and the water gave birth to currents. Sun’s heat and Llyr above gave birth to the currents. Glorious birth; out of this came life, as geese from barnacles. And first, from the deepest mud, came Briny Maw.

Through the portholes noise of the sea comes into the mess; the creaking of timbers and the soft song of the watch are the only sounds from the ship.

Briny Maw. Thirty miles long Briny Maw. Deepest king, and mildest. First to thrash the mud of sea-bottom, first to break surface of the winedark sea. Deathless Briny Maw, who was king before Rhodomantades brought death and age into the world; who lives yet. First to live, last to die, Briny Maw.

The table stamps. “Briny Maw!”

Deathless, thirty miles long, Briny Maw.

“Briny Maw!”