“For a hot meal, I’d sell each of you,” Riga said. “But my tongue is cheaper. Kwi we kewe, ena toru we kewe. It is dark tonight.”
`And what most bothered him was, not the cold, not the grit that coated the old brick, not even “the mystery of it all,” as you yourself might say, Brian, but the fact that he had not ever seen the place before. Months he had walked past this very spot, beaten the dirt to clay with his very boots, hummed a tune or brooded angrily with himself–never had he known this quiet place existed, not two steps from him. Every day. It didn’t bother him; it angered him.’
Riga latched the wooden gate and turned around. The sea wind had burned too many cracks into his face. The animals bayed and bleated. “Stupid creatures,” he said. “I’ll take care of you.”
He looked up at the newcomer. “They are all of the oyekeni, `the old forgetting.’ Such a translation is not exact, though. How much do you remember?”
The younger man shifted uneasily, as if lost. It was too bad, Riga thought. “Can you speak?” he said aloud.
“I can speak.”
“Then come,” Riga demanded. “I have cleared a place for you as well.” He shook his head and walked down to the shelter.
`Ah, Brian, who can say what compels a man to ignore the workings of his soul for all his waking life, and then to suddenly turn about and confront them? I tell you, even then, these thoughts did not plague him. No, he cannot see what he does as well as you or I may, but he knows them anyway. He does not think them, but he knows them. He knows that he now stalks apparitions dangerous and cunning, and it is this knowledge–that he has hidden them from himself and so far wasted what he is–that perhaps angers him most. I say to you, Brian, that anger at what one has missed is more dangerous than anything that might lie before him.
`But you see that clearly, I know. You are not a man of regrets, Brian, nor one that grows angry at himself easily.
`But for this lad, it was quite different. Let me tell you about this place so that you will know it if you ever see it. It is quiet, for that I have already told you, but the quiet is deceiving, much like Kolass at Temple; if you close your eyes it seems you are alone, yet you are surrounded not merely by the throngs who breathe your air, but by the skin of a thousand Kolass stretched through lifetimes. It wraps about you and so you must breathe it as well, decaying rituals and death rot. Bah, I do not go to Kolass for this reason. I breathe freely, and I know the shades that I meet. I do not let them accumulate in a cold, clay well.
`And so our lad approached his well, daring its breath. He gripped its edges and peered deep. What he saw was the shadow of water (“shadows numberless”–I recall one man, his name escapes me now, describe it so), and in the shadows hints at what it reflected.
`Know what I tell you now, Brian. The lad grew sick on it. One cannot suffer his life all in a breath.’
“I am Riga,” he said. “I am a speaker, a maker of images. You are welcome here.” Riga waved for the new man to sit down at the open bench. Several other men looked up from their meals.
The new man nodded.
“You know what I do, then?”
“I believe so.”
Riga grunted. “You make it difficult. I am Imagemaker here, but I don’t know you and so cannot tell what is yours and what is no longer yours.”
“Nothing is mine,” the man said. “I remember nothing.”
“That cannot be so,” Riga said. “You own your name, at the least. Tell me that.”
The younger man hesitated and then said, “Eyan.”
Riga smiled. “Well, Eyan, I tell you now that you have found good company. Is that not right, Brian? I am here to help you. It is the First Shade that says `Wehokewire lesu o-ledosusoth yekenugan.‘ I am to Re-create the Past for Those Who Have Forgotten, Eyan. This place is mine alone. I will help you put it aright again.”
Riga placed a strong hand on the new man’s shoulder and guided him to the bench.
`The lad had secured a rope for the purpose. It had been used for the tying of boats. It was wet and slippery. I will not say that it was slippery as a serpent is, for they are not, Brian. Serpents are dry–smooth perhaps, but dry as wood. And it was about wood that the lad had tied the rope, a small tree that grew nearby.
`And so he lowered himself down. What more can I tell you at this point? Do you wonder what he touched there? Do you wish me to describe the bottom of his well? Do you anger that I have kept you waiting so long to know? As you and I well know, Brian, seekers of ends are fools. No, you do not wish me to tell you what was there. Perhaps it is time that I returned to my work. The hour grows late.
`Why Brian, must I tell you after all? But very well, I will tell the story for you. And I hope that I can do it the justice that old Weigal has when he gave it to me.
`The lad’s foot touched upon the water that reflected him. It scraped at the lecherous forms that grew atop his image. Angry, the lad spat into the pool, and that was when they came for him. They knew who and what he was, and they swallowed him whole. Ah, Brian, what more can I say? They swallowed him whole.’
`Sit, sit. Let me tell you a story all should know. It was told to me by an Imagemaker at Kelett called Darin, and he learned it from an old man named Jess, and he from Nyle himself. A story so far from its blood is dry and brittle, and it is best in its own language, but perhaps I can breathe some life into it for this one evening. Sit, drink, and I will talk.’
Riga emptied the sack onto the table. He wiped a hand across his thick mouth and grunted. He dropped the sack and began to arrange the wooden objects before him. “Tell me a story,” he said.
The new one named Eyan hesitated. He was distracted by the pieces. Riga was patient.
Riga set the column upright and placed the star and box next to it. Eyan watched closely, he saw. Riga hesitated then adjusted the position of the star slightly. He tied the twine into a quick slipknot and looped one piece around the column. Then his head jerked quickly up to glare at Eyan.
The man backed away a step in surprise and then met Riga’s gaze. “There was this boy,” he faltered. “His name was–his name was Huck Finn, and he grew up on the Mississippi and he had all these adventures. I don’t think I remember them all, but I might remember a couple.”
“No,” Riga said. “Your story does not interest me.”
“But I haven’t told it yet.”
“Nor will you.”
Riga inclined his head slightly, wrinkled his forehead, and the man stopped. “Brian, bring the lantern,” he said.
Riga set the lantern at the far end of the table and lowered the hood until only a crack of light remained, cutting across rough wood. The pieces cast shadows across the surface. He looked at Eyan again. “What do you see here?” he asked.
The new man looked. “They’re different. They all look like toys, maybe, toys a child would play with.”
“Toys,” Riga echoed. The men behind him were impassive. “How many?”
“Seven, if you count the string,” the man said.
Riga nodded and considered the answer. “I am not counting.”
“There are eight.”
Eyan paused and Riga saw him count with his lips. “I count seven,” he said. And then, “What, are you counting the lantern?”
Riga said nothing.
“You’re not counting the lantern.”
One of the men drained his cup.
“The sack on the floor?”
Riga scratched a fleck of dried blood behind his ear. He could hear the waves tonight.
“There are seven.”
Riga grabbed Eyan’s shirt with a weathered hand. “What are you counting? What are you looking at? How many gods are there? How many trees on the hilltop at Calan? Tell me what you see!” He let go.
The new man was visibly shaken. He began to stammer, “You–you asked me how many–how many toys–“
“Nonsense, boy,” Riga spat. “I asked `how many?’ and you chose to count toys. Now, how many?”
The new man began to protest, but stopped. Riga saw his eyes widen and then focus in surprise. As they focused, the man looked bewildered, then frustrated. “The shadows,” he said. “There were eight shadows here! But how–“
Riga would not let him finish. “They are Shades,” he said quietly. “And there are seven `toys’ here. Tell me the story of the missing toy.”
“It spins,” he said.
Eyan found himself in a classroom without walls.
“`”Curriculum,”‘” he read, “`”a specially constructed . . . system whose purpose is to. . . train . . . the mind and character.” –N. Postman.'”
He found himself wondering what had been removed from the text as the walls closed in and the gate closed.
`In oldest glen of frosted morn
Lay two men–one lithe, one worn
Of each must be a story borne.’
“What is this?” Riga said, the paper crackling between his calloused thumbs.
“Part of last night’s story,” the man named Eyan answered. “I wrote it as you spoke last night. I want to learn all of it.”
The man hadn’t expected the blow, of that much Riga was certain. The page slammed into Eyan’s face, Riga’s stone palm behind it. The Imagemaker took the page, now wet with spit and blood, and began to tear it into pieces. He cast the tiny fragments over the fallen man, words spinning and scattering across the earthen floor like the leaves at Calan. “The first of the Primary Teachings of the Outer Shade, Eyan. Kwi we kewe, ena toru we kewe. `What We Create, We Create in Darkness.’ My story is more valuable to you this way. Read it now. Read what is there.”
Eyan raised himself to his hands and knees and shook his head. He numbly scratched his fingers at one of the scraps. Riga could read it: `must be.’ The man began to flip pieces over and move them into position.
Riga frowned, yet not without some satisfaction. “No,” he said quietly. He planted his boot against Eyan’s back and pushed hard. Eyan slammed into the floor again and Riga could hear the snapping of teeth. “Your head spins now,” he said. “Perhaps it needs to. It’s not the fragments you should watch, you know, but what is between them. There lies substance, lies image. Wiraz fer, Belott funyega ol. But we are here now, and Belott is gone. We must work with what we have, Eyan, shadows in the dark. You must never try to capture them this way.” He looked down at the bleeding man. “Brian, bring me some bread.”
Eyan sat quietly, Brian and the others beside him. They sat close to one another.
“Out over there,” Riga said. He raised a finger towards the sea. “That’s where you’ll find her, lads. She lives there in a cave, a rat hole more like.”
Riga watched the new man carefully. “To make Images is to come out into the air, to breathe the words so that they may breathe. But the breath is still yours.”
Hot salt wind rose from the cliff face beyond. There were times when Riga almost wished for it.
“What is between the words?”
“The Imagemaker, Meigos.” It was Brian who answered.
“And who is the Imagemaker?” He held a restraining hand and looked toward Eyan.
“He uses the Shades; he Creates.”
“If that is so, then what is the difference between the mere furenthe like yourselves and the Meigos, Eyan?”
“The Meigos is the Shades, he is the Mist, he is the Words.”
Brian glared at Eyan. “If all Imagemaking uses the Shades, then the furenthe control the Meigos.” He turned to Riga. “The Imagemaker controls the words; the furenthe Imagemaker aspires to be Meigos, but the transformation is a mystery for him. I sometimes think it ever will be, Meigos.”
“Good, Brian, but do not despair. There is hope for those who learn as quickly as you.” There were times when Riga bored of the duty. But it all continued as it was. So it would ever be while he remained here.
“Cara is a different matter,” he said. “She is there, in the cave. That is her corner. And in it she keeps the words in small jars until they rot. She places them in pots and boils them. She eats their corpses, and her breath is horrid with rage and venom. When she breathes words, when she makes Images, the past is made ruined and the present is diseased. I will tell you a story of a man who visited her without knowing the Shades.”
Riga smiled openly now at them all. “Eyan, even you would know this place if you saw it, even though it lies not two steps from you. Yet from it issues translucent skin and fume.”
“I have never been with a woman,” Eyan said quietly.
“I know that, lad, and if you are ever so unfortunate, you must Learn the Past, wedeli we-lesu, if you are to emerge from her lair unscathed. Listen. Learn.”
`Chasms open beneath the best of men, Brian. Who can predict what will finally engulf each of us? What we can do, all of us I mean, is listen closely to the signs and prepare. The first sign, as Nyle might tell us, comes in sensing that which is imbalance, that which appears precarious. There is no reward in tempting peril nor its brethren. If you are Meigos, you may challenge peril with some confidence. You have the power to redefine its danger. Such is Imagemaking. But until you see it, you are only a victim. Let me alert you to it: the first sign of imbalance is in observance. He who merely observes looks from without and distances himself from the Past. Recognize, furenthe Imagemakers. Do not attempt life from its edges; join its tradition to make yourself aware of the creatures who live in margins and wilderness niches. Dragons live there, and alone you cannot challenge them.’
Tracks and furrows. In the Indo-European tradition, Eyan found, the phonosthetic roots of `learning’ match those of `footprints,’ like following a trail. We beat the dirt to clay, he thought, and if we don’t learn the course, we die. The measure of our lives is found even here, in the origins of language. It was the Germanic use of liznon that suggested the `course of study,’ and the Latin used the root for `delirium.’ Lore is survival. Such a lesson reassured Eyan while in some way terrifying him. He needed–he wanted someone to help him make sense of this.
They signaled their pleasure and scrapped among the troughs and piles. He scratched the dry scales along his cheek and neck. “You are restless tonight. There is a storm ahead, that is all, but you will survive it. So long as you don’t wander far where the wolves run, you will survive. I will see to it.” He emptied the rest of the wooden bucket into the pen and returned to his dinner with the oyekeni.