Prequel, Dragons Eye II
On the first day, as the Guardian washed fire from my wounds, I dreamed of hills.
When I was three, an older friend and I climbed a tall haystack and spent an afternoon trying to work out what a hill would be like. Neither of us had seen one, but she was four and had been to far-off Nyngan and thought we might be able to see one from the top of the stack.
I was a little bit worried about the adventure because she had unexpectedly kissed me the day before. But I wanted to find out about hills, so I threw caution to the wind. I need not have worried. When we could not see a hill, we lay on top of the stack, hand in hand, and imagined what being on a hill would be like.
On the second day, as the Guardian rebuilt my crushed body, I dreamed of walnuts and hollyhocks and being seventeen: such beautiful dreams.
I have a childhood friend, but that would not be entirely true.
Across the ages, every decade or so, she sends me a short note in a gentle tone. We spent a year studying together, a lifetime ago: walking in each other's footsteps, exploring, surfing, running, driving fast cars.
In drama, she played Caliban and persuaded me to Prospero. But we have not met since graduation. She tells me she is married and has children and has grown old and lives in a dusty, hot small town far to the north.
But I know that she has not because I can see her sitting next to me, laughing and smiling, and still seventeen.
On the third day, as the Guardian burnt away the remainder of my skin and covered me anew, I dreamed of water.
The boat shifted on the estuary, and, in starry darkness, a voice asked me for a story, "Have you always lived in the mountains?"
No, I come from the Australian deserts: beautiful but terrifying places.
In the heat of the midday sun on the edge of the western desert, my Great Aunt, Catherine Victoria Edmonstone, would draw the heavy curtains of the central room.
Each morning she tried to cool the room and refresh the air against the killing heat. She caught moist breezes through the gardens of fern she kept watered and alive on either side of the house. When the room was finally pitch black, she would ruffle my hair and withdraw into her sanctuary.
Those caught unprepared in the blistering Australian heat die quickly. The sun can drain an outback lake in the afternoon. If you are unlucky enough to be outside, you will see the lake boil away before your eyes. The great rivers that flow on the edge of deserts are not exempt. Even the Macquarie River, the tremendous meandering river, will stop running and became still in the blinding heat.
Alone in the dark, I would take a pillow and navigate along the floor, between chair legs and serveries and petrified wood and past cabinets and umbrella holders (my grand aunt was an optimist and always prepared for the unlikely) and under the excellent dining table to the other side, until I came to my sleeping nest under a small writing table.
The table had belonged to my great-grandfather, a superb bushman in his day, but someone who also knew accounts and writing and took pride in his letters.
He bought the first Ford motor-driven sulky over the mountains and was a keen photographer, specializing in the art of taking pictures of himself designing a timer (using a bag of flour). I have his bullock rigs, the leather still padded firm in some of the rigs, reduced to bare pig-iron in others.
Under his table, I would wrap myself around the cool wooden legs and shut my eyes against the waves of heat that were to come.
I remember my Grand Aunt telling me about the table: where the wood was milled, who the carpenter was, how the French polish had been renewed in the '50s and how she had been assured the polish would last another fifty years. They cared about that sort of detail back then.
I have that desk within my study. It has grown small and aged over the years. The polish did last 50 years, but it is now 70 years since the polish was applied. I never found another to shine it.
When my eyes stray to the old desk, I remember those days, in the heat, when the land became a haze and nothing stirred under the sun. And how I snuggled next to the old leg and stayed cool.
We lay inside the boat. It gently rocked, and hands run through my hair. Above us, the stars shone brightly. I tried to think.
I framed the questions I needed to ask. But instead of conversation, we lay together. Above us, the night deepened. Fireflies joined the navigation light and confused the stars. Water softly slapped against the hull of the boat as the tide swept in.
On the fourth day, as the Guardian replaced my eyes and ears, I dreamed of the little folk.
Onesti and Teathyme are riding side by side.
"Why don't you believe in human beings?"
Onesti smiles and says, "You would like me to believe in them, wouldn't you."
A frown crosses Teathyme's face. She sings, "I am not playing…."
Onesti says, "Ok. I will be serious. I cannot prove any of your human beings are real. They are not an objective reality, like the clans, gold, rainbows, dragon-kin, or spider-kin, which can all be perceived in the physical world. They cannot be proven to exist in the same way as the, for example, spider-kin can be proven to exist. Human beings are not an objective reality."
Teathyme stops singing, "Our cats believe in humans."
Onesti sighs, "I am prepared to accept that many of us want to believe in human beings. I know the cats believe in them."
She reaches down and pats the great white cat carrying her. Waylander turns and looks at her with deep eyes.
Onesti says, "Here. I am prepared to accept that they are a social reality. They are as real as the weight of smiles and songs. It is something enough of us believe in to change the way we behave. We tell stories, we weave dreams, and we dance songs about these supposed creatures. We make up stories of their exploits, and then we strive to invent their imaginary technologies and strategies for ourselves, but, in reality, they are just a reflection of ourselves."
Seeing Teathyme's face crease, she smiles a concession, "But, they have played a role in what we have become."
Teathyme starts to protest, "There is more to humans than mere storm magic; I can feel it. They can help us protect the clans."
Onesti continues, "You are too close to your feelings. You are letting a social reality become an objective reality."
Teathyme sings, "Spirit dust and star wraiths. That means nothing at all. Show me footprints and smelltrace."
More urgently, "Come with me. I know where there are humans."
Now it was Onesti's turn to hesitate.
Onesti says, "But, why would you be so quick to believe in humans? You tell stories of them being as prolific as spider-kin and as cruel as dragon-kin. Why would we add to our problems?"
On the fifth day, as the Guardian replaced my sense of wonder, I dreamed of my life path.
In the beginning, there was just me. Quietly being me. Satisfied that I had left childhood behind and that I had survived the unexpected pitfalls of early adulthood. Confident that the world was out of control in its predictable way. Happy to let rogues and thieves beat up the rest of the world as long as my heart was not crossed.
Then I became aware of Kathy. Loudly being Kathy. Discordant and troublesome. Carrying the scars of childhood in her ears, lips, and cheeks. Angry with the world that failed to live up to her slightest expectations. Uncompromising with principle, at the front of every protest and barricade. A moth on fire.
We had nothing in common. It was an error that we met. It was to spite others that we danced. Our lovemaking was to prove earnest warnings wrong. Only in an argument could we agree.
When finally we quit the mistake we had become, we had both become different people. Now I held the flag of revolution against everything while she sought the company of wealth and power.
In that end, a new beginning. For a time, there was just me. Loudly being me. Angry with the world, determined to reshape it first one way and then another. Learning the lexicon of the rhetorician, believing in every new cause and none. Warning first of the approaching ice age and then irreparable global warming and then just catastrophic change. Winning every argument by the strength of voice and claims that my opponent was simply an adherent of reductionist reasoning. Ignoring the quiet critique that behind the case for change, there was no real agenda, no economic plan, no concluded curricula of education, no road map of infrastructure building, no understanding of how to get things done differently. Just a misplaced hope that when we got there, someone would be able to point to the chapter in those unrelenting political manifestos entitled "What happens next." But, the reality was, the writers never got there. "What happens next" has never been written, just dreamed.
A couple of years later, we met again. This time with a smile in each other's eyes. I told her that I blamed her for the sun rising. She blamed me for the rain in spring. I blamed her for the touch of the wind. She blamed me for world poverty and the erosion of political liberties, and to stop that awkward truth from being told, I kissed her. We spent a winter locked in captivity together, loving and arguing. But, when spring arrived, left in different directions, agreed that blame was placed correctly and that however much we might try, we could not be life mates.
So I began again. I left the revolution behind in the hands of another angry young woman who told me, as I left, that she had finally removed the last hurdle to the movement. I did not ask the young woman what came next because she looked like she knew.
I moved from job to job. After a decade, I ran far out into the countryside, into a farmhouse old and battered. Somewhere to retreat from view.
During this time, I got a job working for the state that I had tried so hard to overthrow years before. They put me in charge of working out what came next. Not the easy slurred futures dreamed in a bar after a couple of beers or a glass of vodka, but the continuous hard slog of finding scarce resources and shaping each into solid cold reality.
As responsibility grew, I became more stressed until I finally crashed. In the half haze of anti-depression drugs, I kept trying but starting to fail more often than succeed.
On the sixth day, as the Guardian replaced my sense of joy, I dreamed of Anthem.
I place my cheek on yours, feeling a tear fall.
I whispered in your ear, "Do not cry. I am here."
You snuffled even more at that, and I heard you again try not to blame me for everything.
I interrupted that thought, "Why do the little ones call you the Weaver?"
You bite my shoulder gently, "Painter and Weaver. Those are the names they gave us. Maybe they think of me like a spider, and I have caught you in my web. Or maybe not. Why do you need to have answers for everything?"
I said, "Because if I do not know stuff, I will make it up to help complete the picture."
I pull back from you a little, watching your eyes smiling at me. Bright eyes, without a hint of shadows. I said, "You have already made a plan."
You pause and whisper, "I have half an idea. If things start going desperately wrong, I think I can make the world right."
I tried, "Tell me."
You shake your head, "I cannot. If I told you, you would try to stop me."
On the seventh day, the Guardian restored my sense of fear.
In the swirl of dreams, a heartbeat out of synch and a moment of sharp blood-sugar clarity like a valid path suddenly blinked open.
We were sitting on the deck of an airship, watching the clouds pass far below us.
The moment of certainty passed, and I felt lost.
You were telling me something. Something important.
You were telling me about an old lady you knew. Old but dangerous. You went to her farm in a valley of the South Island of New Zealand to be healed and... and something else.
She warned you:
Walking among us are powerful creatures.
From a distance, they look ordinary.
They have friends, lovers, and children.
But when you look, you can feel the air shimmer around them.
Near them, reality starts to liquefy.
Close up, reality changes to match their whim.
The more powerful, the larger the area they influence.
To them, they draw the entire wealth of the world.
These are the dragons, the princes of industry, and the queens of the state that impoverish the worldmind with empty imaginings and who are the cause of most suffering.
You cannot kill a dragon.
You cannot resist the touch of a dragon's smile, eyes, or words.
And you should resist it with every ounce of your being.
But in the end, all you can do is not become one.
And in that, we have both failed.
Day Seven, later
After the seventh day, the Guardian left me lying on my bed, in my house. The sun was trying to rise. Indistinct sounds played all around.
Far off, a group of shadows rose and fell in heavy sea mist. The smell of chamomile mixed with lavender and the soft clink of bone china.
The shadows spoke to each other.
"He was badly hurt."
"Time will heal."
"We do not have time."
"I have been watching the Painter. He had been running, his taint evident."
"He is unpredictable and dangerous. We are responsible for giving him the taint."
"So I have heard, blood sister."
She paused for a moment. The cold touch of uncertainty descended overall.
Then she continued, "I stole ice cream from him while we stood for him to sketch. The ice cream was made with the juice of lemons and limes, with crushed mint. He drew quickly, following the curves of our bodies and the swirl of my hair. I could see he felt the warmth of our bodies and how perfectly we matched. After he had finished, I held him gently and soaked away some of the taint. He looked at us and tried to understand. Why so casual with your affection? I explained what it is to be a life partner. To commit to one alone and build a nest, a family, a life history. To learn to sing together and take chances against the dark: to slowly build wealth, power, and influence among the clans. But to not let that poison delight, but to accept the warmth of another's embrace and their songs without regret or condition. To dance with many, lose myself for a moment in the shoes of another, and look into new eyes with hunger and joy. But, just as I would never challenge another life partner, I would not place my life partnership at risk. The Painter shook his head and said he did not understand. So I asked him to tell me about his life partner. He hesitated. He told a confusing story about relationships that burnt bright and then cooled into unsustainable forms. Of how at the end of one partnership, another emerged. His life was defined by fractures rather than slow continuity. He told how he had bought the 'White Album' seven times, only to see it stolen away, snapped in half, burnt, or shredded in the cold rage of another failure."
"What is a 'White Album'?"
"I made the same inquiry. Not only do humans have personal relationships, but they have created forms of imaginary relationships to pursue enterprise. The Painter called on the 'White Album' image to represent the defining moment of one of those intellectual endeavors. But, just as personal relationships fail, these imaginary relationships also fail, creating chaos and lost opportunity. Instead of building on a rock, humans persevere in building their houses on sand."
Another interrupted, "Why bring him here?"
"Many creatures hunt him. Even as we spoke, dark eyes were searching for him. But then, the Painter and the Weaver took things into their own hands and created chaos. I had to place him in safety to recover, within the care of a guardian."
"He is unpredictable and dangerous, but not as dangerous as the Weaver. Here, take this ice cream, rich in whole milk, honey, and crushed macadamia nuts. Listen to his dreams."
On Earth, Solstice again pressed those who remain.
"Where is the Weaver?"
"She returned here but disappeared. We gave chase without success. She stole a car, took passage on a trawler, and there her trace goes cold. She has disappeared into the confusion of war."
Solstice posed a half-question, "She is returning to the old lady in New Zealand."
"Perhaps. We have thrown up barriers. She has not triggered any of our wards yet."
"If not the old lady, where?"
"The barriers between the worlds grow thin. Portals have appeared in many places. We are stretched watching those that are active. We have no one to spare to pursue our second rescue attempt. They should have contacted us by now."
"For the moment, confusion and uncertainty have placed all in stasis. We have accomplished the most important of our goals. Other problems demand our attention. For now, I have arranged for the Guardian to release the Painter. Observe him. The Weaver may seek him in due course."
"And what of those who are missing?"
"Our blood sisters have proved themselves capable of getting us into difficult situations. This time, let us trust them to find their way out."
The voices rose and fell and gradually disappeared.
And then I woke.
back to the Index to Dragons Eye II