#500 Sharalasa





Hyperion presents


THE SHARALASA CYCLE

A story of the Five Kingdoms



Part IV – "The Canticle of GoldenRose"



First Verse: The Storyteller


If Aleph's information was worth the three-hundred I dropped on it, that blind Storyteller should be around here somewhere.

I made my way carefully through the warren of sleeping bags and cots strewn seemingly at random across the cold marble floor of what used to be the world's largest and most prestigious planetarium, aided more by the intermittent Lightning flashes—appearing lime-green and unnatural through the planetarium's treated windows—than any of the dingy ocher torches spread throughout the lobby atrium, their light fitful and as close to useless as made no difference. A sad commentary on the world as it lay. The wondrous technology of the Ever-Torch, built to last literally a lifetime, but at such diminished power that a cat would stumble into furniture, while at the same time the Lightning—scourge of our Times and the reason we huddled masses yearning to breathe free put up with these miserable conditions without respite—offered the only real illumination and way to light one's path.

Curse the Lightning. Curse the day the Lightning first fell. Curse everyone and everything that brought us to this place. Brought us to this time. By the Song, I swear I will one day have answers.

I'd been here nearly ten weeks before hearing word of the Storyteller. It took me two more weeks just to track down whether the rumor was true. So many hundreds and thousands of people arrived each week, and so many left (albeit in a different manner), that getting any kind of hard information was nearly impossible. I wasn't like Aleph or that other one they called the Cadge; men who seemed to reside in Speculative Knowledge's meandering path. But I knew how to ask questions, I listened carefully to what people told me—and what they didn't—and I did not mind slipping some coin now and then. I had the cash, and someone tell me what the hell else I'm supposed to do with it in here.

Two weeks of chasing rumor like the wind. Chasing my own tail was more like it, but I can be most persistent. My friend Lee used to say I was like one of those trained fighting dogs you'd see the rich people sporting around Back When. Once they sunk their teeth into an enemy, their jaws locked and the dogs literally could not let go. That's me, all right.

Especially in here, with nothing else to do but shrivel up in a corner somewhere and wait for the end. Too much loss. Too much heartbreak. Damned if that's going to be me. So I looked for answers. I looked for the Storyteller. And tonight I'm going to find him.

Two weeks of rumor, and you cannot imagine the tales you hear. Other than being blind and playing a funky-looking guitar, no one could agree on a single detail. He was tall and thin, reedy looking. No, he was short and squat, like that Buddha fellow over in Chung-Kuo . (What they used to call India, or maybe China, or maybe somewhere else. Who can remember?)

Some said the Storyteller was really old, ancient even. That would make sense. Every old guy I ever met was forever going on about some story from way Back When. Then others said he was but a child, gifted with the Second Sight, as it were, channeling stories pulled directly out of the Cosmos.

(Sounds like Carl Jung had one too many glasses of Riesling on a cold winter's night, but hey: stranger things have happened. Be honest: ten years ago would you have predicted it would come to this? Would anyone? Not even in Nightmare. So why not a blind child telling stories?)

One thing for certain: everywhere I went, no matter that no two people standing next to each other could agree on what the Storyteller looked like, sounded like, or even talked about, everyone knew two things. He was blind. He was worth hearing. Why was the Storyteller worth hearing? That they didn't say, but like Jung's Collective Unconscious, somehow they all knew.

And that's why I kept asking questions, and that's why I never stopped looking, and that's why tonight, with a little luck I'm going to see him for myself and find out.

@@@@@



I enter the hallway to a small auditorium, and I instinctively know I have the right place. There is an atmosphere, what we used to call electricity in the air, but as that cliché has become unpalatable, think of it as a buzz. The hallway is packed tight, and everyone is silent, staring, almost vacant. You might think they were on drugs, except there are no drugs to be had in here. (I cannot even calculate what the "street" value would be. Who, after everything that has happened, would not want to take drugs in this place, if just for a few moments, to forget?)

I am hesitant to break the silence, which seems almost reverent, but quietly I ask, "The Storyteller?" A young woman inclines her head slightly to the end of the hall. Without sound she mouths, "First time?" I nod. She gives me a knowing smile, tinged with what I think is almost jealousy, as if she wishes it were her first time too. The young woman kisses her middle two fingers lightly, and touches them to her forehead, her left eye, and her heart. I have no idea what the gesture means, but it feels significant.

The auditorium has been cleared of chairs (probably scattered throughout the complex, for the sick and elderly). In its place, the floor is covered with blankets. This is not unusual; everywhere you go the floor is covered with more and more people trying to find a place to live, to survive all this madness. What is surprising is that the people in here—and there are many—are simply sitting quietly. Much like the people in the hall. There is no quiet talking. They are just sitting. In the air, there is a feeling of anticipation.

Waiting.

The only other thing of note in the auditorium is over in one corner. Several blankets fall away from the wall diagonally, as you might make a lean-to. Next to that make-shift tent is a chair, one of those big comfortable behemoths you could sit in all day. How did one get in here? Next to the chair is a simple stand, the kind you might have had next to your bed. Back When.

I move closer to get a better look. On that stand appears to be a dark leather-bound book. It looks old, but from here I cannot tell more. I inch closer, trying to appear casual. Next to the book is an unopened bottle of water. (When things cost the earth you tend to notice small details like a cap's broken perforation.) Next to the bottle of water is a small cutting board with a loaf of bread and a wedge of cheese. Even more than the water, this makes my eyes almost pop. Food is like diamonds in this place, and it is almost inconceivable that bread and cheese could sit out like that and remain safe.
My awe is short-lived, though, when I see what is next to the food.

It is a cake stand, complete with glass case. However, under the top is not a cake (surely that would be as impossible as drugs), but rather, a figurine. I am at this point still 30 feet away, but it looks to be two people, maybe just under a foot tall. I cannot imagine what kind of figurine would be protected under glass while the food sits out. I have to know more.

One thing is for sure. Without a doubt, I have found the Storyteller.

I wait for almost five hours before he emerges. Waiting is not something I am good at—I like to be moving, prowling, on the hunt—but for some reason it is not uncomfortable. I risk the peace of the room and ask a few hushed questions. No one glares or stares or even cares. They gave me that same strange salute with fingers to head, eye and heart, and they all smile indulgently, with at most a quiet, "Just wait." It is as if they know and I do not.

When I first lay eyes on the Storyteller I can see why there are so many different descriptions. Pale skin, but without the sun any more we all look more and more alike. (The long wished-for colorblind society has arrived, if not as we hoped.) A simple grey robe hides his physical features, including a cowl that swallows up his face.

The Storyteller is a small man, made smaller by a hunched over shuffle to his gait. He moves slowly, maybe from blindness–I cannot see his face to tell, but it seems as if from something else. Pain, perhaps. The Storyteller certainly seems beaten down. However—and I cannot tell you why I feel this way—he seems to be moving slowly for another reason. Something I cannot see.

The Irony.

The auditorium was enormously quiet before the Storyteller emerged (I'm guessing to let him rest), but the quiet goes to dead silence when he first appears. It is as if the crowd is holding their collective breath. After a few moments, there is a small scuffle of rearranging limbs. People who have sat almost motionless for hours stretch muscles as if expecting to not use them again for a long time. People from the hallway file in with less sound than you can possibly imagine, and places are made for them without complaint. More people than when I transversed. Word, or perhaps lack of Word, has spread.

Whatever sounds the Storyteller hears, he acknowledges none of it, as he moves to the chair and cuts a piece of bread and cheese with a knife from his belt. He sits very still in that large chair that threatens to overwhelm him, head slightly bowed and hidden by the cowl, hands motionless in his lap except when bringing food to mouth. I watch him intently, as if reading all sorts of hidden meaning into every fraction of movement. I know it sounds crazy, but it feels like all the secrets of the universe, the answers to why the world has cracked like an egg, are centered in one small man. Maybe I listened to too many anecdotes trying to find him. Maybe I pushed myself too hard to get to this point. Maybe I just need to know. But I don't think so.

After finishing his bread and cheese, the Storyteller takes a few sips from his water bottle. (The small crack of perforation is audible. I knew it!) An old woman nearby goes to the table as if on cue and removes the glass lid. She hands the figurine to the Storyteller, who holds it in his hands carefully, as you would hold a new baby, or plutonium.

The Storyteller turns the figurine in his hands back and forth, and from where I am, I can see his gnarled fingers tracing each line and groove in the carving. It is definitely two people, intertwined. The colors are simple, brown and cream, although I would have to be closer to be sure. I cannot make out much, but it looks like a male and female, and if I had to guess, I would say they are dancing.

When the Storyteller's hands have covered every square inch of the figurine, they once again go still. He seems to be withdrawing into himself, although I cannot point to a physical action that indicates it. A minute passes, then another. Finally, the cowl moves up and down slightly.

A nod.

The woman takes the carving and puts it back under the glass. She hands the Storyteller the leather-bound book. He opens it, feeling carefully with his fingers. He finds the place he wants, and he nods again.

A young man walks up next to the table, still a few feet away. In his hands is a lute, which is like an old-style guitar you might have seen at one of those Renaissance Fairs that were popular Back When. Softly, the man begins strumming. The tune is simple, a few chords, then repeated, and on again, and again. It is music designed to fade into the background.

The Storyteller turns his hooded face slightly toward the sound of the lute, as if taking it in. After a few moments, he sits up slightly and makes that same gesture with his fingers to head, eye and heart. Everyone in the audience returns the gesture in unison, as if he could see it. His fingers start to trace the pages of the leather-bound book. The Storyteller begins to speak. His voice is soft, but from the position where he sits, and the absolute silence he receives, we can hear the Storyteller's every word.

@@@@@


Far away from here but nearby still, there was and there is a Land. It was and is a Borderland, between one place and the next. The Land had a name once, but that name was lost long ago, and there are few alive who remember it. They simply call it the Land.


The Storyteller pauses for a moment, as if warming to his own words. The chords of the lute change ever so slightly. The Storyteller again speaks.


The Land was abundant.

The Land was pure.

The Land was perfect.

The Land was Peace.

In this Land, there was no Hunger. There was no Thirst.

In this Land, there was no Sickness. There was no War.

In this Land, there was no Death.

In this Land, there was no Fear. There was no Need. All was as it should be, with everything and everyone flowing perfectly in harmony, like the crystal waters of the Quintara River. This was the Land, and the Land was Peace.


The Storyteller pauses again, and his head inclines to the lute player. The music takes on a slight chiding tone, as if warning people something they should know, but refuse to acknowledge. (I don’t know how I know this. I just do.)


There are many stories of this Land. This one today is but one of them. Listen, they who would Hear, and Look, they who would See.


And with that, the music changes one more time, a royal posture, flecked with grandeur and splendor. If music could be a color, it would be glittering gold. The Storyteller’s voice changes, melding as one with the music, changing in tone, timbre and tenor. It is at this point my own running thoughts and ideas fly out of my head. I am in the Story. And the Story is in me.


In the Land there were men and women, boys and girls. Each lived in harmony with one another, each according to his place, each according to her purpose.

This was the Land, and the Land was Peace.

A man might be called Father, Son, or Husband. He might be Master or Apprentice. He might be a Farmer, a Baker, or even a King. The things were in him, and they were him.

This was the Land, and the Land was Peace.

A woman might be called Mother, Daughter, or Wife. She might be Teacher or Student. She might be a Weaver, an Innkeeper, or even a Queen. The things were in her, and they were her.

This was the Land, and the Land was Peace.

There was, in this Land, a young woman. She was a Student. She was a Harpist. She was a Rider. She was a Dancer. She was a Poetess. She was Perfect. She was a Princess.

She was the Daughter of the King.

The family that ruled this Land was loved by the people. The King’s rule was fair and just, and everyone had as much as they could possibly want. The Queen was admired; poems were written about her. The King was held in awe by the people; they dared not even try put into words the magnificence of his Presence.

The Princess was also loved by the people. They had watched her grow up into a Perfect young Woman. She had all the female graces, and her manner at court was the envy of all, for her deportment and decorum. Her beauty was unmatched and unmarred. In all the Land, no one knew of anyone more lovely than the Princess. That there were no poems about her was only because she was unmarried, and as such they would be unseemly, improper.

Soon she would be married, though, and every one with paper and quill would outdo themselves to rhapsodize her brilliance. This was only right and fitting, as she was the Princess, and the Princess was Perfect.

This was the Land, and the Land was Peace.

There was in this Land a young Man. He was a Son, and a Brother. He was a sometime Student, a part-time Cobbler, an often-time Messenger, an occasional Landscaper and a full-time Groomsman. He was a Worker at the Castle.

He was totally and completely in love with the Princess.

This did not make him unique.

Other than a polite nod and maybe a murmured “Groomsman,” when mounting or dismounting her horse, the Princess paid him no mind whatsoever.

This also did not make him unique.

The Princess was not an unkindly Girl, but she was raised and taught to be a Princess in all things, just as he was raised and taught to be a Groomsman. It was only Right and Proper. A Groomsman may yearn for the Stars, but he does not walk among them. He understands this naturally, and would be as unprepared for change as a Princess. Such is the manner of all things, in all places, and nowhere was it more Right and Proper than in the Land.

This was the Land, and the Land was Peace.

However, this particular Groomsman was different in one respect. This particular Groomsman, whose heart burned with unrequited Love for the Princess, as is fitting a Man of his station, this particular Groomsman had a secret.

This secret made the Groomsman yearn for more.

This secret made the Groomsman burn for more.

This secret made the Groomsman act.



TO BE CONTINUED.......





2 comments:

Dragon said...

I can't wait for the next chapter.

Bogart said...

FIVE HUNDRED columns!!! Let us party!...after we finish this story ;)