All truths have been enumerated
—and, thus, all lies!
To live well and justly
Forsake the balance of counted things
And seek astonishment, instead.
The Eighth Epistle of Örs to the Indridēs: Stanza 197
The half-season of rainpromise was over, but autumn had not yet arrived; there were dragons to the east. A few. This was an imprecise omen.
There would be rain.
Clearing-men worked in the west: pruning, raking, and brewing the first kegs of next year’s mulch. They promised—as always—a rich and expensive vintage; they promised—as always—to conjure trade-ships from Dev, and prodigious money from the buyers who came with those ships. Tarnoy was rich for its mulch, and famous for its gardens.
Industrious aeromancers moved among the clearing-men, reading the squiggled calligraphies of bark-boring worms: looking, as always, for the latent signs of heavy weather.
Lesh worked among the aeromancers: indentured, as he was, to the Eléól: a master among aeromancer, and a councilman too. The clearing-men favored Lesh with as much respect as they lavished upon his instructor-master. Today was the start of Efiát, however, and so Lesh was excused from the study of worm-writing and long stretches of boredom in Eléól’s prodigious library. He cared little for the rigors of faith; it was an expense he could scarcely afford. A decadence: but things had gone out of hand in recent weeks. He’d had fights with Riggh: two fights and both with fists. A third loomed on their shared horizon, and Lesh saw the course of things. Lesh saw, in terrifying clarity, a fight with knives. He saw the pattern of Riggh’s bravado, pitted against his own skill with a blade, and he was afraid of what would happen.
And beyond any doubt, Riggh would die.
Late-season night-things chirped and chortled just outside of Eléól’s house. Lesh sat, tense and pensive, with Eléól, before the senior aeromancer’s hearth. He’d lived with Eléól for a perfect hand-span of years. Five. Others had come and gone: would-be apprentices, students. A few stayed and learned what Eléól had to teach. And then they left. Lesh—alone—remained, and on occasion, took his own students.
Lesh knew the house as well as any: better—in point of truth—than the home of his birth in the highlands of Pora. It would be a few hours before Lesh climbed into the sleeping loft and into bed. Now, he simply sat at evening tea: contemplating insect noise beyond the open windows, the glow of embers in the hearth, and the play of light on the buffed wood surfaces of floor, shelf, or fragile, lacquer tables. The bold assertion of change crept through the house—room by room—and most of Eléól’s belongings had been packed into crates. (Lesh owned little, and could pack in less than a day.) The tea settings remained, as did the most necessary of the man’s woven tapestries. There were echoes, now, where once there had been the muffle of rugs. The library itself was bare and spooky. He felt a chill at the thought of the books packed away: not because of the books themselves, but because of what their packing meant.
“This is no good,” Eléól said, meaning—perhaps—something else: a whiff of ozone, or a subtle barometric differential…something gone askew in the clouds above.
“It’s all about Tishrianna,” Lesh said, meaning exactly that.
“Riggh’s sister,” Eléól said, as if tasting the words and the concept buried in them.
Lesh nodded. “Yes.”
“And,” Eléól said, “by your veiled expression, I see that you carry some thought on the matter, and that controversy attends it.”
Lesh nodded. He shrugged.
Eléól waited in silence, his head cocked to one side in a strangely feline manner; he kept his gaze fixed on the hearth.
“My indenture to you will end at the start of autumn-rain,” Lesh said. “You’re packed and ready to leave for Wá, and your appointment among the Castle Lords and Ladies there. This is an honor, and with your indulgence, a way to end the challenge that Riggh offers me…but this involves a thing I dare not ask.”
“Ah,” Eléól said, nodding with closed eyes.
They sat in wavering firelight before Eléól’s hearth, each on a settle of woven camelhair and down. They sat, as household custom dictated, in near-silence. They sat listening for the first signs of rain. There was weather to the west, a faint whiff of cloud, and by the last flare of sunset, the whiff had grown tall. It billowed.
—And even before it took the shape of a storm’s anvil, Eléól had read the prospect of rain.
Now, they sat in halting conversation, watching steam rise from the kettle on the heating arm swung over the fire. The steam breathing from the kettle made shapes. The steam told stories. It was their custom to sit—every night—and read a story in the steam and to recite it to the other if asked. The stories were a habit he’d learned from Eléól, and an intimacy he shared with no one else.
In silence, Lesh stole a sip of his tea, careful to keep his hands steady, careful with the expense of imported porcelain.
“This isn’t really about ending a conflict with Riggh. It pretends to be about sidestepping the slight that Tishrianna perceives; but it’s not that…it’s something else, and we’ve both been thinking it for a very long time. Your bravery is greater than mine, because I’ve kept my silence…and even now I hold it, but you’ve just spoken, and plainly so.”
Lesh closed his eyes. “I have no choice,” he said.
There was only one way through the night and through the labyrinth that Lesh had talked himself into, and so Lesh spoke as openly and as honestly as he could. He spilled a muddle of observation, inquiry, and confession into the heart-warmed air. He spoke as calmly and as steadily as the knot in his throat allowed. His hands shook, forcing him to place his teacup on the low, black-lacquer table between himself and Eléól.
When he’d said everything, Eléól simply nodded. “Ah,” he said, quietly, and laughed: as if in response to a silent and personal joke.
Lesh kept his gaze on the low table…on the teacups placed there: his, mostly empty, and Eléól’s half-full.
“You flatter me,” Eléól said softly and with something complex and wistful in his voice.
Lesh allowed himself a smile. Faint. Shy.
“What you ask requires rain, if it is to be done in the way that Riggh and his sister might recognize, understand, and respect. It will rain, in a short span of time. In three days, maybe. Or four. No later…and before you commit to this, please know that it requires a different commitment as well…one easily arranged and accommodated, but difficult in the long term if it’s something you cannot truly desire. In three days, it will rain, and before the rain, certain preparations must be made. I am prepared, if you are.”
Lesh nodded. “I understand,” he said with no small measure of relief decompressing in his chest. He’d known a number of things; he’d heard what the clearing-men said and heard—as well—hints and whispers like the complex braid of riddles in the tales spoken and sung by the wordsmiths and poets, and even minstrels from as far as the swamp-lands of Tlet. What he knew, what he felt, and what he heard were a triple force, brewing tension in the hollow of his ribs.
(…after he’d spoken…)
—the tension broke, and he exhaled it in the silence of a single breath.
“Think on it, Lesh…very carefully,” Eléól said. “Your proposal is a profound flattery and a complicated risk. It speaks of wisdom and so many other things that would serve a senior aeromancer in all of his life. In time, you’ll exceed even me, and that is a flattery as well.”
“I’ll think on it,” Lesh said. “I’ll sleep on it. Tonight.” There was some hurry with significant rain in the forecast, with thunderheads sprouting like weather-weeds.
“Good,” Eléól said, picking up his teacup and contemplating his reflection—or something—in the rich, dark brew. “What story did the steam tell you, tonight?” he asked.
And that was acknowledgement enough for everything Lesh had just said.
“Less than a day,” the old yagga said. “And already I’ve seen two of you! Aeromancers. Men of learning. A precedent to be sure.”
“A precedent?” Lesh asked.
“Learned men; more than your usual weather-smiths and cloud-tinkers: real masters of the atmospheric arts. I’ll bet you can even make snow. Or chase a desert. Can you do that? I hear talk of the aeromancers of Verto, chasing the desert. Oh how exciting that must be.”
Lesh smiled at the old woman’s exuberance. “Anyone can make snow,” he said. “But not everyone can make it fall and there’s no telling where without a windsmith.” He shrugged. “And chasing deserts takes hundreds of years. Deserts are stubborn; they don’t like to run, and the work in Verto will go on for longer than either of us will live. It’s boring to see,” Lesh said.
“And it’s all science,” the old yagga said, fingering the primitive extravagance of her bear-claw necklace. Versed as she was in the older ways, science was a strange and dubious kind of magic as she likely judged it. There was a need for atavistic things: magic and astrology, soothsaying and potion brewing, and Lesh cringed at today’s particular need; even as an aeromancer, a scientist capable of breeding voracious and destructive little snow germs on gelatin plates, and wind-sculpting, he needed to sit on folded legs, barefoot in the ramshackle clutter of an old yagga’s hut.
Chickens strutted and pecked in the old woman’s surrounding yard, and the air was heavy with the smell of herbs and various, complex tinctures. Potion-stuff, if the acrid tinge of menthol and peppercorn was any indication.
Lesh had spoken to Eléól, as he’d promised the night before: after saying everything, and revealing the confession he’d hidden even from himself. He’d relayed the night’s careful thoughts to the man, and for his part, Eléól simply nodded.
“Ah…” he’d said, as Lesh expected, and that single utterance drew a smile across Lesh’s lips.
They’d had an early, early breakfast of fruit and curds and astringent, morning tea, and afterward, Eléól made some haste in getting dressed and crossing through town and into the ramshackle house of the local yagga.
Lesh followed, an hour later, after a tour of the empty house and his impertinent (and secret) visit to Eléól’s room. He’d told himself that the visit was for pragmatic reasons. He’d only gone to see the room, to make the bed, if necessary, and to bid good-bye to the only home he’d ever known since leaving the backwoods isolation of Pora, and the mother…the father…and two sisters who lived in comfort there. They’d all scoffed at his desire to learn the weathermaking arts, but kept quiet when Eléól accepted him as a student. Eléól’s house had been the only place for him in Tornay. Home. Refuge: because, it had been no small thing to leave Pora, with little more than clothing and his best pair of softskin boots, no little thing to step into Tornay with his pale skin and hazy green eyes. Eyes here were brown. Skin was darker here: not as dark as Eléól, himself the shade of a pecan tinged with a dusting of chocolate, but darker than the alpine pallor Lesh wore. He was something of a joke in the summer months, when sunlight and heat made his skin red, even more of a joke with friends at the river, swimming. Everyone called him lura. Ghost.
With such memories in mind, he’d justified his presence in Eléól’s room by thinking of the endings at hand. Eléól was going to Wá, into an appointment to the Council. He was offered a chair, and some say in the founding of an aeromancer’s school. The man had needed no more students and he’d refused those who’d come most recently. Lesh was—therefore—the last of his students, the last of his indentured apprentices, and soon, he’d have his own rank. Soon, indenture would end and he’d be free and alone in a world he could scarcely imagine in his childhood years. He’d walked into Eléól’s room, lying to himself in saying that it was only fitting to look around, to creep in barefoot silence, inspecting this, or that. And his lie revealed itself in gestures: in the way he brushed his cheek across the soft and heavy weave of Eléól’s formal cape…in the way he knelt at Eléól’s bedside and sniffed the pillow cushions, stroking the stuffed mattress in order to feel the outline of his Instructor-master’s body. Something fluttered in his throat and it felt like the urge to cry, and he’d stepped to his feet, catching his weight on outstretched toes. He’d left the room as quietly as he’d entered, but aroused in brooding, amatory lust at the scent of Eléól, lodged in his nostrils. He’ thought o the name the clearing-men and the poets had given him: Habiid-álé. The flower blooming in darkness. Their whispered nickname for Eléól was Alé ya Habiid. Darkness with Flowers.
So much—even unrevealed—was obvious to the poets and coarse men, stinking of compost.
And now, seated on a reed mat on the dirt floor of a yagga’s house, he picked a fleck of grain from between his toes: chicken feed tracked into the house on his barefoot steps.
“It’s your master who was today’s first visitor,” the yagga said.
“I know,” Lesh said, head bowed.
“You’re here for the same reason?”
“The same.” And he reached into the pouch suspended from his belt and fingered the coinage there. He felt for the right piece, pulled it into the open and placed it on the floor, between himself and the old woman.
“There’s some more to this than meets the eye, eh?” She regarded him through a slitted, appraising gaze. “Openings. That’s what a faithful man might ask a yagga lady for, which is what you’re doing…I knew you were coming, and I read your dice…did the same for your aeromancer master too. I knew you were coming, to pay the other half, and I’ve left ink with Master Eléól. You’re playing a complex game, young master, and I admire it…and you’ve come because of what it means to ask a yagga for what you already have.” She laughed and waved dismissively. “A scientist making ritual moves for pragmatic reasons…there’s a kind of romance in that, and what kind of yagga might I be if I didn’t love a good romance?” She laughed, trusting—perhaps—that Lesh followed her words, their meanings, and the rakish, lopsided approval she’d just granted.
“Word will follow you, young master,” she said. “I’ll speak to those who must hear important news…or gossip, if you prefer. But you must hurry, if you’re to be on time for the other thing you need to do. You have your opening, you’ve had it since the beginning…and hurry now…so that you won’t miss your closing.”
At first, it lingered in the air as little more than the promise of a rumor. Lesh felt the shifting potentials: the weave of complex variables shaped by the air itself, the plains to the east and the sea beyond. He felt the westward ridge of mountains as a strange, insubstantial barometric compression.
It was coming.
And the first drops fell, as a single drip here, another drip there, and a third/fourth/fifth, way over there. A while after that, rain fell as little more than a drizzle of sneeze-drops.
He’d made it home before getting wet.
Eléól had been busy during Lesh’s visit to the old yagga, and as Lesh stepped through the house door, Eléól met him—for the first time ever—with an embrace and a kiss (thick and heavy with years of latent passions in a struggle to overcome the master aeromancer’s tight, precise control. Even now, even while kissing Lesh, at Lesh’s begging invitation, he expressed scrupulous restraint.)
They were not alone in the house.
Pulling away, with a faint, shy smile, Eléól nodded in the direction of the guest: a master calligrapher. He was an old man, as brown as the husk of a walnut, and with hair short-cropped hair streaked with silver strands. He might have been the yagga’s brother, for the impish gleam in his eye, for his round, blunt features.
The man smiled and made a little, formal bow. “It will take a day,” he said, without preamble.
(…two days later…)
—Lesh stood on the shore of the Grand Easterly Sea, snatched from pleasant memories of the calligrapher and the gentle tickle of his brush, by Riggh, standing before him. Scowling. He was ready for a fight. He didn’t carry a knife, despite his inclinations. Riggh was—likewise—unarmed, if custom played as much a role in his life as Lesh assumed. He spread his feet and shifted his center of gravity. Sand grated between his toes. A pebble nudged his sole, but he remained motionless. It wouldn’t do to flinch. Not now. Not here.
Tishrianna stood at some distance, facing Lesh, her arms crossed over her chest. It was clear, from her presence, and from Riggh, scowling and confused, that the yagga had been quite busy, spreading word, spreading gossip, and probably telling the clearing-men and the poets that The Flower Blooming in Darkness and the Darkness with Flowers were admitting things to one another, and to those who already saw the picture.
It drizzled now; but thunder rolled—on schedule—in the distance. Soon, it would be time for Lesh to remove his cloak, to reveal the delicate declarations written on his flesh, and to stand motionless, as the rain washed him of the words written on his flesh, and gave them to the ocean.
Soon, it would be too late—by local custom—for Riggh to say (or do) anything, and for that reason alone, Riggh stood before him, fists clenched at his sides, and a scowl wrinkling the center of his brow. Local custom forbade a lot in this moment, and Riggh was as more traditional than most. He could do nothing more than spit his displeasure. He spat.
Eléól stood at some distance behind Lesh: out of sight, but present. Comforting.
“My sister offered you the riches of our house,” Riggh said, dark eyes seething. “A dozen men vie for her hand, and it’s no small affront to deflect her affections.”
And that was Riggh’s reasoning for the fights with fists and the promise of a knife. It was all there. Right there: frustrated and defeated, and growing soggy in the drizzle.
“I rejected nothing,” Lesh said. “I spoke to you and your sister, telling you—plaininly—of what direction my affections run. I offered friendship, as I still do…and that’s all there is to it. That’s all that could ever be.”
“Your affections are a folly. An excuse. Man is for woman…even among weathersmiths. Any half-wit might tell you that.”
“My affections are real,” Lesh said. “And blessed by your own yagga. I wear her ink, applied by a master of this town. If my affections were folly, a yagga’s ink would not grace my skin.” And with those words, the drizzle grew heavy.
It was a cold rain and it held a doodle of winter in each drop.
“You’ve offended my sister,” Riggh said, darkness seething in his eyes. He might have been handsome, were it not for his anger.
“And,” Lesh said. “You offend my aspirant husband.” The words, in all of their honesty, were a shock. He swallowed what he could of the nervous quaver fluttering in his throat and keeping time with the beat of his heart. “He will be my husband, when he dries the rain from me. Would you care to incur his anger and to risk the irritation of every aeromancer in the region? Do you want snow? Do you want dry, parched winds on your sister’s wedding day? Do you want inauspicious sunlight? I need not raise a finger to do any of these things, and were it not for my marriage, I’d meet you as you challenge. I can also say that you would not have survived that…not fully. I never wanted that. I don’t want it now. So go in peace, Riggh. Comfort your sister and tell her that I bless the day of her marriage to a suitable husband.”
It was an effort to speak slowly and calmly, prodigious effort to keep his voice low and calm. Even in the dark, heavy fabric of his cloak, he felt pale…weak…ghostly, but he focused on the grit of sand between his toes and along the flanks of his feet. He focused on the embryos of winter locked in each raindrop.
Riggh stood in silence, fists clenched at his sides. He wore a bear-claw necklace beneath the half-laced closure of his leather vest.
“Go,” Lesh said.
There were others on the beach: recipients of the old yagga’s word of an unexpected union, and—perhaps—the scandal of a marriage brawl. Most of the observers stood at a distance, far from the shore, far from Tishrianna, alone and flimsy in a sudden gust of wind.
The sky opened up and it fell in earnest, as if in punctuation to Lesh’s command to go. Cold rain. Auspicious rain. It stirred the blood, according to local wisdom, and in according to custom (ritual rather than science) Lesh opened his cloak and let it fall to the sand at his feet. He stepped out of it, baring his calligraphy-inked skin to the overcast sky, the distant observers, and to Riggh, locked in his scowl.
“Go,” Lesh said.
—And watched as Riggh shook his head and spat—just once—between his feet. The glob hit sand and soaked in; the faintest splatter of it, moistened the edge of Lesh’s left big toe. That was all there was to Riggh’s challenge, however, and Riggh stepped away, gathering his sister quickly.
They made their way along the beach: slowly at first and at a scamper, and as the rain fell in chilled, pounding earnest, they vanished into a haze of raindrops.
For a long time afterward, Lesh stood motionless, watching as the poetry and declarations and poetic, pagan prayers dissolved in chilly rainwater and drooled into the sand at his feet. The soluble inks, in green and in black, smeared and diffused, pooling in the pits where hairs stood on his arms and at the center of his chest. His amber loincloth stole ink-color as well, at the waist, and he stood motionless and cold, but he did not shiver.
Eléól moved close, a dry cloak bundled in a protective sack. He waited until the rain washed all but Lesh’s pallor into the sand, and eventually, into the sea. He waited in silence, a confession in his poise, and for a moment Lesh thought of that last day in Eléól’s room. He’d seen the looks Eléól always gave him, and he returned such scrutiny. Always unvoiced. Always terrified. And now Eléól stood beside him, as rain rinsed poetry, prayers, and declaration from his skin—slowly at first, and with a blur, but as the rain increased, the gray coat of dead poetry washed away, staining the sand at Lesh’s feet. He felt it, he imagined, seeping into the sand. He knew that in time, it would wash out to sea. According to tradition, that was where poetry lived, where prayers lived, where words lived when no longer written, no longer said. Only the sea and the rain ever knew those words, and the mystics of one tradition or another, always listened to the rain or the sea, always sought forgotten knowledge in forgotten words.
“It’s over,” Eléól said, after a long, long time.
Lesh grinned and felt himself laugh. “I’m all wet,” he said.
Eléól smiled, gently. He touched Lesh’s shoulder. “Come home,” he said. “Let me dry you off.”
This story began as a response to the challenge to write something about rain. I'm glad to have taken on the assignment to think about rain enough to actually write something!
As always, thank you for reading, viewing, and commenting, and I hope that you're all having a great week.
Aug 26, 2012 8:50:25 pmby PREECHER Homepage »
a good subject to write on with this being the worst drought ever...so interesting...i love the mythological feel and the mixing of 'modernism' into it. i can definitely relate to the ghost thing...my skin is reddish and does not like the sun. this was a very interesting and imaginative story about weathermakers...sorta like witchcraft...and throwing in the marriage thing was really strange but he did the right thing which in real life so many people in my generation did not have the courage to accept their fates...they swept them under the rug and married the bitch and had kids and then how messed up is that for everyone...excellent story with excellent analogies and excellently written...happy day/nite to you dear friend...
***chills and thrills***
Aug 27, 2012 11:02:05 amby MOOOW Homepage »
Great artwork you are talented artist, it give us feeling of when you are alone in rain and having great feeling of life ,some part of life is sad some part is enjoyable ,each drop of rain effect on you JUST YOU LOVE TO BE IN RAIN,any way I am not a writer I just love art !!