Friday, April 29, 2016

The Last Morning -- In Honour of Smokey

As many of our readers are aware, Smokey, our beloved cat, passed away on Sunday. We are inconsolable, but there is some relief in knowing that wherever he may be, his Haanta counterpart Khaasta will always be at Leraa's side.

In the hours of early morning, before the sun’s peak began skimming the horizon, Khaasta awakened from her gentle doze and went to prowl the perimeter of their family home. She stalked the neighbouring grassland and planted steppes, searching for anything that might interest and serve as an early morning meal. It was her usual time for being alone; the early hours provided her with the voer she required for hunting, and the want of any other predators in the immediate region left her as an unchallenged predator. There was no one else about: the whole of Mhavaledhran was still lying under the governance of its nightly sloom. The famers, though possibly awake, still kept to their beds and homes before sunrise, the other hunters who could have ruined her sport were still dormant in their tents, all the Mivaari and Themari who were usually the first to obey the summons of morning hymns were still in their temples. A few gentle cries emanated from the nurseries, where cradles trembled at the sounds of their masters calling their caretakers toward them, Ankhimari began managing about their infirmaries, the traders sat in their homes waiting for the first of the morning frigates to come in, and while the skies were still dark and the stars still glimmerous under the early hour’s obfuscation, Khaasta crept down the principle walk and surveyed her surroundings.
                Though large cats of the islands often hunted together at night, Khaasta had learned at a young age to hunt alone the morning; her attachment to Leraa and the desire to always be with him kept her away from the forests in the evenings. Abandoned by her family when only a cub and left to the mercy of the Endari, she had long since learned to relinquish those instincts which her species cherished, and ever since Rautu first removed her from the hunter’s trap, and ever since she had been given over to Leraa’s care, she delighted more in spending the chief of the day at Leraa’s side than she did skulking about the forests alone. She followed him as he made his rounds, walked with him everywhere, ate with him at communal meals, played with him and the Mivaari on his visits to the temples, and when they ended their day and spent time at home, she sat at his feet or lay at his side, her head resting on his lap, her tail coiled around his arm. She slept when Leraa slept and remained at his side throughout the night, until intuition roused her and called her to inspect the front step or sit in the path, to glory in the soft glow of the moon and relish the coruscating stars hovering overhead. She knew what they were—any light hanging pendulously was enough to interest her—but she still observed them with marked curiosity, wondering if they should ever come down and allow themselves to be caught. All her happiness was in and around their home, and with Leraa safe within and the purlieu without quiet and unreserved, Khaasta padded toward the forest, pleased at any rate to have the wilderness all to herself.
 The seclusion and uncertainty of the dense vegetation under the power of crowded canopies and limited light was everything to tempt Khaasta out of her learned timidity and into her predatory aspect. She melded into the underbrush and stalked her quarries, crouching under broad succulent leaves, watching her murine prey, and loping after those that were sensible enough to avoid her path. She caught a few mallomys, and when she was satisfied, she left the forest for the neighbouring steppes, settling the high grass and perching over a ledge, preparing to attack her prey below. Field mice and ground squirrels swarmed the steppes, and after a few minutes spent stalking through the blades, she sprang down, smashing a few heads as she descended. She batted her kills between her paws, giving in to that playful sense of cruelty that often accompanies the animal realm, and once she was satisfied with herself, she ate what she caught and turned back toward the house. She returned to the front path when a sound suddenly caught her ear: someone was moving about the house. Her limbs straightened, her head turned, and her ears flicked back and forth, following familiar footfalls. Leraa was awake, he was walking about the front room, gathering the basin and some water for a short bath, preparing for his daily walk round the islands. They always patrolled the animal sanctuaries together before moving on with the more pressing duties of the day; governing his people was all very well, but animals were very much part of Leraa’s his life and part of the islands, and the peaceable agreement between the two species inhabiting a restricted space must be kept: the Haanta must remain confined to certain areas, and the animals must be given their due consideration and rights as first inhabitants, and Leraa as Hasaan Omaa must set them the example. The protected animals of the islands were forever in his heart, and when everyone saw him walking through the capital with Khaasta at his side, no one could question where his allegiances lay.
                The skies soon relinquished their evening habits, giving way to the studied luminescence of morning, the empyreal expanse improving with the first intimations of sunlight, and all the noctivagant inhabitants of the islands began returning to their homes: young grass serpents divigated toward their warrens, colonies of bats glided to their caves, sedges of night bitterns hastened back to their nests, husks of grassland hares hopped toward their burrows, eels wambled into the algae beds, and as the morning rays penetrated the eastern skies, Khaasta went down to the water, to wait for her companion and watch the continual recession of the tide. She sat at the shoreline, resting her haunches on the wet sand, looking out at a varying scene: the schools of small loaches swimming against the pull of the waves, the clouds of nearby gnats dissipating as the warmth of morning arrived, the vibrant blur of caribs fluttering down from high boughs, the brilliant blooms unfurling their petals and bowing to the dawn. The clouds retreated from view as the sun invaded, the brume of a humid clime grazed the horizon, and the ebb of the seas drew the barm ashore, pooling between Khaasta’s toes. Aurora arrived at last, bringing with it clear skies and aurulent hues, the celestial gradient that the islands were used to see every morning this time of the year. Khaasta bellowed and yawned and shook her head, her ears clapping against her in a series of quick flaps, and her tongue hung languidly out the side of her mouth as she watched a flock of swallow-tailed mews kite after one another overhead. She purred happily to herself, spying the red crabs scuttling across the sand with sanguine interest, patting at the clam holes beneath her, and lapping up the algae that washed ashore. It was a lovely prospect everywhere she looked, and Leraa coming to join her, the presence of her doting companion, was all that was wanting to make the morning perfect. Presently she heard a sound from the house, but while her ears detected the thump of familiar steps approaching, she did not look round; she was staring at the sea, her eyes wide with fervent curiosity, her attention claimed by the gentle rote of the waves, the broad hem of the sea, the vacancy and infinity of the horizon.   

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Death of Khaasta: Rest in Peace, Ted, our Smokey

I have really done with the horror of 2016. My mind has tried to reason away the dejection and despondence of this abominable year so many times, but in vain. I convince myself to hope and happiness, my failures of the heart flying over personal bereavement with the ambition of reaching higher ground, but in vain. I do my utmost as an upstanding human forced cramble about in this world of monstrous inanity, but in vain. For all our cares, for all our great endeavours, for all our efforts and surmises, we are continually disappointed, for no matter how much we fight against the evils of life, raging tranquility can never reconcile us to the most unspeakable tragedies. I no longer pretend to defer grief; at last, something in the world that makes sense: an escape from the maddening prospect of ceaseless insensibility.

Early this morning, Ted, our Smokey, our Khaasta, decided he had done with the trials of life and left us, to join his ancestors in the great expanse, to live on in verdant fields of high grass and rubber bands. Two months ago, he suffered from a stroke, and though it was determined to have been a severe one, still he persevered. Six weeks ago, we discovered that he had been living with cancer, and still he persevered. He had a drooping eye, a projecting tooth, and a long and confused face, and still he persevered. Throughout the course of his long life, he had various illnesses and infections which never seemed to distress him, a heart murmur which he duly ignored, and enjoyed making us panic by finding out all the plastic and rubber bits in the house and eating them against his better judgement and survival instincts, and still he persevered. He was like an old man wrapped in a feline package, doing what he liked when he wanted, hating change, hating doctors, hating medicine, and hating anything that was not bashing his head into the bathtub at two in the morning and smashing insects repeatedly until flat. He was being treated for a rare form of cancer that had claimed the better part of his neck, and while he was doing amazingly with treatment and seemed to be on the path to a longer and healthier life, a second and more virulent stroke carried him off in the early hours. Though he was always obdurate and demanded cuddling at the most awkward times, the evening of life is sentimental for all beings, and in the last month, he had traded in his usually stubbornness and absent-mindedness for unbidden affection. He was a constant companion, a great lingerer and a nudge in every respect. His passing was done in private, while neither of us was watching, and I suppose it is better done that way; humans are selfish creatures, always wanting to prolong the inevitable because we want one more day, one more hour, one more moment. He went when he chose to do, and he is now somewhere in the universe, at the command of his own destiny, dancing in a whirl of plastic bags and twist ties, frolicking in a ball bin of milk tops.   

When we took his body to be cremated, my heart had not yet caught up with what my mind knew must be: it played a violent trick on me, and when the lid was lifted from his carrier and his body was laying in the gentle light of the guess room at the hospital, the movement of the shadows, the ripple of the light cascading down his fur made me believe that he was still breathing, but his eyes, usually wide and rife with the terrified curiosity which he always looked at everything, were dim and soulless. It was a cruel deception; it made me hope again, but I have learned now not to trust surmises. His coat, still professing that resplendent sheen, was perfectly matted, but his spirit, probably mantling over us and wondering why we were upset instead of preparing his dinner, had fled. Since we have come home, the echoes of his life have been everywhere: there is an emptiness that he left behind which can never be replenished.

The absence of life is not the same as material privation: we will never again see the same soul occupying the same space. The world refers to them as pets, but that is what we do, not really what they are. Affection pays for itself in proportion to the love we offer, and if the love we lavished on him was any indication, we are inconsolable. The suffering is more on our side now, for he led an enormously happy and productive life, and we are left to remember and agonize. It is all wretchedness now. Grief is the currency for death, leaving us in emotional debt perhaps forever, but love is the tax we happily pay toward the investment of another's company, and we would all rather pay it and be happy and poor than be rich in a friendless life. He is gone, and we are now beholden to him, but we are so much happier for his having been here than we deserve to be.      

Many of my stories are based on the absurd things that happened to me in real life, but while Smokey made up the chief of what was absurd in the house, his counterpart Khaasta made up everything that
was unabsurd in the keep and on the islands. Ever a the wordless voice of reason, Khaasta was Leraa's companion for the better part of his life and accompanied him on his many visits to the south. She was the subject of many stories in Tales from Frewyn, acted as a playmate to the children, and as a general antagonist to Rautu, who reluctantly grew to appreciate her company. I will write a story about her passing, but not now. I have cried so much today, and am still crying now, that I will have to harden myself a little before writing anymore about death. It is the most unfair mistress in the world, disproportionately dividing up the sorrow that complements her, giving the living more than is our share. The Haanta do not see death as an evil; they view it as a completion, and the spirit goes on to dwell in the realm of enlightenment. That is certainly so in Khaasta's case, and I hope it is so in Smokey's, even if his enlightenment was to realize his dream of killing the centipede that evaded him just before he passed.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Story for the Day: The Marridon Wizard

Marridon is in general not a magical society. When they came to the west from the Olde Kyngdom of Adieth, Marridonians threw off their magical inheritance and their Gods in favour of a more scientific approach to life. While they do acknowledge that magic does still exist, Marridonians now are little disposed to care for it, but there are a select few who still like to keep to the old ways:

A champion for the ancient wonders of Adieth and a devout fondling of Myrellenos, Captain Danaco Divelima made himself a friend to the wizards of Marridon, and when there was an injustice
to be corrected or a crime against them to be answered for, he would listen and respond accordingly. He had a longstanding affection for the old and extraordinary, and Marridon’s magical practitioners, if not the former, were certainly the latter in many respects. Their wizened aspects rapt in eternal concentration, their noses planted firmly in their ancient tomes, their companions perching on their shoulders or lounging in laps, their apprentices running busily about spoke to that sincere part of the captain, that discerning and considerate part, eager to eliviate any vexation caused by missing artifacts, and just as eager to punish those who would treat an ancient relic as a selling piece. It was impudence run mad, to treat the remnants of a grand and ancient society as mere commonplace trumpery! “How could such a wretch even consider selling such an exquisite piece? The man must be a dizzard who can dare suggest it.”
                Danaco marveled at the staff on the table, its bark stripped and wood prettily worked, its nacrous with characters written in Oldespeake carved along its body, crowned by a pommel of Adiethian gold.
                “Is not she beautiful?” he exclaimed, and then, whispering to the staff, “Yes, you are. You are absolutely precious, and woe betide the man who cannot understand your splendour.” He admired his reflection in the pommel and browsed the curve of the shaft with is fingertips. “Such craftsmanship as we shall never see again. By My Lady, only look how she shimmers in the light! The wood is nearly opaleascent, and the gold—what a remarable colour!—I have never seen such an amber.”
                The old wizard sitting across from the captain smiled, and all the furrows and wrines about his mouth and eyes smiled with him. “The beauties of the Olde Kyngdom do astonish even now,” said he, in a sanguine hue. “What an Age it must have been, Captain. Magic a part of everday life, as common to them as science is to us—but I am pining for what I never had at the first. I suppose we all do to a certain extent. You must allow for an old man’s musings, Captain. I am only repentant over not being able to witness the glories of Adieth.”
                “As any man in your line must,” said Danaco with a slight bow. “It must have been an wonderous time, with magic practitioners running rampant, spells everywhere being cast, wizards being lauded and revered as the paramount citizens in the kingdom.”
                Here was a small sigh. “Indeed, Captain. A place I should have liked to visit.”
                “You must include me in your visit, if the place can produce artifacts such as this,” said Danaco, eyeing the staff. “Were she mine, I should never allow her out of my sight for a moment. I should keep her at my side at all times, hold her under my arm, and press myself against her at night. You would like that, would not you, my precious pet?” tracing the arch of the pommel with his forefinger. “Yes, I’m sure you should. How wonderfully your crown shines!”
                “This staff is one of the great treasures of Pelenopia’s time,” said the wizard, taking it up. “There is no evidence to support the claim, but it is said that the great enchanter Midian once was its keeper.”
                Danaco fleered and turned aside. “Oh, come now, master wizard. I do not mean to refute you, but I cannot believe that. I had always been used to think Master Midian a fable, something conjured up by romantic scholars desperate for the old ways. No man in the world half so accomplished as Midian could possibly have existed.”
                “You have many of his qualities, Captain, and yet here you are.”
                Danaco smiled and shook his head. “How you will flatter me, sir, but I am not so wholly vain as I might pretend. You speak of Master Midian as though you knew him, but the great Midian, if he did indeed live during Penelopia’s time, would be nearly two thousands years old now. It would be impossible that you should know him, of course.”
                The glint in the wizard’s eye simmered. “Of course, Captain.”
                A pause succeeded, and a sly smile wreathed the captain’s lips.
                “How you will try to lure me into surmises,” said Danaco archly, “but I forestall you, sir. You know my partiality for the Empire Era, and here you are teasing me over it.”
                “There is no help for it, Captain,” said the wizard, shrugging and looking demure. “I am old, and I take my amusements where I can. Wizards my age must do something to entertain ourselves when we have outlived all our companions.”  
“You cannot be that old surely. It is all an act with your people. Wizards cultivate a sagely appearance without performing the usual methods of achieving it. Your beard is spun from the cobwebs you accumulate while looming over your many ancient volumes, your hair grows thin and grey at will, and your complexion is a mere extension of your brain, wrinkling in silent and trembling agony over all the spells you have learned and knowledge you have obtained over the years. The want of sun will take care of your pallid looks, but everything else might be reversed.”   
“We cannot all age like Lucentians, Captain,” the wizard laughed. “Would that I had your abilities at looking a hale and hardy thirty.”
Here was a wry smile. “I shall not sympathize with you, sir. I know well that wizards can make themselves out to be as old as they like. You, all of you, appear old to deter visitors, and I think you might shave or wash if you really wanted company. You age out of convenience, just as Lucentians refuse to age out of the same. Growing older is such a tiresome business. I really cannot be harassed to worry about wrinkles and grey hair. I do have a line just here,” touching the side of his mouth, “but it is nothing I care for. It visits me when I smile, and like a tiresome relative, I can ignore it at every other time of the year.”
The wizard face flizzened, and he reveled in a quiet mirth, his vast network of gullies shifting as he laughed.
 “It is not that we Lucentians do not age,” Danaco continued. “It is that we find the process incommodious. I am tired to death of watching others fuss over pockmarks and sunspots.”
“That is easy to say when you haven’t any, Captain.”
“I should not mind if I collect a few as I go, however. You know how fond I am of collections, and I should wear my marks as livery, an emblazon for a life of activity and spirit that would never be without the sea and the sun. Your dwizzened aspect, sir, bespeaks how little you like your neighbours and how many prunes you have aet for breakfast.”
The wizard anchored the staff and leaned on the pommel, supporting himself with it as he bent over to laugh. “I am sorry I do not have things stolen from me oftener, Captain,” said the wizard, rallying himself and wiping away a tear. “You should come to visit more if I had.”
“You have no tea here, sir, which will keep me tolerably away from any place, but your artifacts are all my envy, and I as a devoted curator should always visit to admire.” Danaco’s eye followed the line of the lintel to the adjascent shelves. “I have never seen a collection of Adiethian items equal to it,” said he, in a rage of reverent approbation.
The bookshelves and cases cramping the front room, though not properly filled or well fitted up, and with some relics strewn about unguarded, afforded an air of grandeval intrinsication: a small desk colonized with ink stands and taffled over with parchment paper clung to the back wall, a fusty divan in the style of a hundred years back, stationed by the inlet in the bow window, was piled over with old emboidered pillows; the wooden floor, though tolerably clean, lay dormant under an icing of permanent dust; a few wanton robes, hanging one corner of the room, wilted against an old mounted rack; a few cups and saucers, idle and forlorn, lay about in abject renunciation; an empty bird cage occupied a small space near the kitchen, where presumably a companion now long passed away once slept; the hearth, once roaring with a noble flame, was snuffed by a cascade of primordial ashes; the mantelpiece, decorated with a few bits and bobs, was caked over with a crisp coating of soot; and everything in the kitchen that was not the single skillet on the range was left to wallow in the misery of futility and disrepair. The only two items that achieved the rank of decoration-- the hideous and peeling wallpaper besides-- was a besom leaning in one corner, looking somber and abused, and small wooden stool hiding behind it, displaying the footprints on its seat with an air of pride and of being very lately used. It was a mausoleum, a sepulchering assembly where all material want went to die, and where the immortal pursuits of knowledge and understanding lived out their existence in standing lecterns and open books, the dust settling over their pages in a delicate sheen. The remainder of the wizard’s residence was nothing short of a museum, an exhibition for ancient treasures of a time long past: veterascent volumes lay with inviting gestures, beckoning all those who walked past to come and read their contents; grimoires and spellbooks littered the walls, their vellum pages and creaking spines crying out in wordless supplication to be lifted from confinement and fondly caressed; wands notched with precious gems lay in supine immortality, forever ignored as not to disgrace their previous owners, nestled in beds of glass beads in hopes of preserving their power; Adiethian lace from the old Upper Quarter lined the shelves, and small tapestries depicting scenes of the Golden Age hung in the gaps between the shelves; a guild of blown glass trinkets garlanded the shelves, headed by a large glass globe, the Adiethian palace, forever locked in suspended animation slumbering within;  an assortment of music boxes that no longer played sat in soundless mortification on a nearby shelf, their ancient tunes silenced by stationary handles; a swatch of silk with a rose print garnished a forlorn dresser, believed to have once belonged to the last Adiethian Empress and lost during the Great War of the East; and many closed boxes fraught with ancient treasures lay in unsolved anticipation, their contents possible never to be seen by anyone again. It was a trove of wonders, a temple to the Olde Kyngdom and the Empire Era of Adieth, the once-magnificent civilization which dominated the Eastern Continents, and though such an array of artifacts might be considered as a mere curiosity to the scientifically inclined, such a formidable display was an absolute galaday an antiquarian like the captain.          

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Haanta Series venerates Prince #RIPPrince

A demigod who reaches his apotheosis never mourns for himself.

It is the business of his many adulators to mourn for him. He cannot feel sadness to be so great, leaving all the rest of us to champion in trembling misery.

I, surprisingly, have very few words to offer, only because this year has taken so many sensational performers from us. There comes a time when the agony of loss is too great, when we feel it too much-- there is nothing left but painful astonishment. My grievances lie more with the Gods for taking him away from us than they do with his parting. I suppose I shall reach the stage of unconscionable sorrow at some point; now I am half confusion and half indignation. It should be impossible for people to be so deeply affected by someone whom we have never formally met, but this is existence: it is a bold measure we take, this stake in sufferance; we must all go through everything together, another proof of the mask of division. We all feel the same things, and Prince's passing is felt no less by anybody. Between him and Bowie, there is now a musical chasm in the world, a place where Gods once dwelt that is now abandoned, and in the Age of Pseudolotry, where what is nonsensical reigns over what is intelligent, we are likely never to see one of his kind again.

Goodnight, sweet Prince. We shall go on trundling through this 'thing called life' with hearts defrauded of our greatest love.