There are so many messages in the world; murmurations and susurrations, humming, whirring and buzzing: intimating suggestions, declarations, demands, wishes, hopes, entreaties…
In the repository of goods and people that was the city market place the volume of activity overwhelmed the child. Chris could see all the stories of the human world in their multitudes; the cooking smells, sudden impressions of the decorations on clothing, the metre of steps, groupings of stalls, unexpected convergences of people, obscure cries and calls. At some points these suffused per so completely that there seemed to be no boundary between per and the abundance, yet at others felt so unreal, so remote that each detail was preserved as an endless series of detatched, precise instants.
Anything could be bought in the market place, for the makers were skilled at crafting objects to enable complete delight. Anything could be sold or acquired – if you could pay the right price. Marvellous blooms that could summon lost children home, sumptuous fur coats that would protect against the deepest cold, shoes that never rubbed blisters however far you walked, brooches that changed colour if a lover lied to you, compasses that led to an adventure- all sorts of inventions of ingenuity and vision. In the human marketplace however, one person’s satiation is another’s painful confusion. Slaves could be bought too, for whatever use their master saw fit for them, servants struggled under innumerable burdens, dancing bears heaved and laboured. People who could not afford the produce mingled with those who could have everything they wanted.
For those who knew how to look these hidden things could easily be brought into view. You needed to have been born with one specific powerful capacity: a little known type of magic. The inability to lie. This child did, unexpectedly, did not know how to avoid seeing. Being unable to avoid seeing is a terrible deformity.
Chris was confused at how many things the multitudes in the market place did not see. They saw the brooches, but not the people making them; they saw the cloaks but not the skinned animal carcasses discarded and ignored; they saw the people-sellers gaudy and ornamented, but not the people they sold… When the child brought per attention to the people nearby, per saw the hot smoke resting on the adults’ faces, thick vapours cloaking their veiled eyes, trailing around the soft contours of their faces, leaving damp traces of condensation congealing on their lips; per saw delicate webs of slick tendrils weaving between eyelashes ready to trap unwelcome images; per saw scales of skin creeping through the people’s eyes, scabbing over the eye socket and eyelid; per saw splinters of silver flecks crowding the iris until they spilled over, relentlessly filling up the pupil with a reflective gloss, like the mirrored surface of a dark pool. The filtered, unprocessed images that could not reach the adults’ eyes floated about the square, still disengaged from their origins, occluding what was going on. The lost images, unseen, filled up the marketplace, creating a procession of insubstantial chimera. A scattering of small children’s teeth formed a necklace that attached iself around a woman’s neck, although she remained oblivious. Animal bones formed an intricate framework which was picked up and carried as an umbrella by a well-dressed banker, as, looking up at the heavy clouds above, he darted up from drinking a coffee from a cup. Spectres of the invisible people who had made the shoes or served people’s needs drifted around, following the buyers who had the things they made, scratching at the chains that bound them to people who had stolen or bought them, pulling uselessly at the scales or cobwebs or smoke in front of the buyers’ eyes, struggling to get them to see. Barely audible above the everyday noise was a dry soughing as the unreal brushed up against the real.
The wean also saw other things, terrible things that were undeniably parts of the real people; revealing secret lives of pain and hope, their bodies spoke loudly in an uncertain language of their inner worlds. In the man with a cavity for a chest per glimpsed the dull, throbbing redness of his beating heart where the weapon of his self-criticism had pierced the sterum, crushing the bone. His whole torso shook with carrying the enormity of the injury, even as he exchanged gossip with housewives, bagged up groceries or chatted up eligible daughters. Although in secret he continued to tinker with a private invention which he hoped would bring him fame, respect and riches, he knew that he could not get it to work, but nevertheless kept trying to breathe life into it during lulls in the crowd. At times, the child stood watching the birds with the wicked razor beaks that were still slashing at the man who’s suicidal feelings had led to the sellers in the marketplace finally chaining him to the wall of the hut behind the bar to stop him killing himself, the furthest away place they could find. Were the birds the cause of the wish the man had to die, or the consequence of the brutality of the isolated hut? Chris did not know. Certainly, the birds were not telling as they occupied themselves single mindedly on gorging themselves on their still-living feast. At other times, per crouched in the crease between two stalls, carefully, silently, avoiding the river that accompanied a man whose daughter had drowned years before. Per did not want to get drawn into the sucking weir that followed him as so many people did. The child had seen the lost, surprised expressions on people faces as they re-emerged when the threat had passed over them. It seemed that some remained drowned, never to resurface. Chris, alone and cold, stared at the unclear blue figure hovering over the back of the recently married women, its hands on her shoulders. The girl’s protective grandmother, gently checking her cherished granddaughter. On good days, per cautiously drew close to the slight girl who was at the same time a light, whose flame was always accompanied by a fear that cut through pers numbness, because it seemed so bright against such a dark sky.
The wean moved around the market place, never touched or touching the images or the people, immune to both the real and the unreal. Sometimes it seemed one or another might have seen per. They reacted by yelling, raising a fist or turning away, yet they did this with a sense of futility and confusion, as though, once they had started to ferociously respond they couldn’t, quite, completely realise what it was that had set them to such an energetic attempt to repel a threat. Once it seemed a dog ran to the length of chain to bark at per, before yelping and hiding in its kennel. Later a cat, arch as well as impertinent, slowly, deliberately looked per up and down. Then all its fur stood on end. It hissed and slipped off.
Suddenly next to per, in the middle of the market place Chris felt a flurry of corvie’s, sensed a involution of feathers, arms, wings, hands, talons, nails, a staff and bright eyes which resolved itself into a strange figure. One taller than it actually seemed at first, moving fast, yet limping and uneven in it’s gait. The wean had seen her before, travelling purposefully in whatever direction she chose on her self-imposed tasks.
“You and your Dragon companion could sit with me”. The figure’s bird eyes are intense and coruscating.
Inexplicably, Chris recoiled from the touch of the eyes which could see so acutely, as the gaze itself felt like it drew into form some insubtantial part of her. Wait! As a metamorphosis always carries itself to its conclusion once the conditions for it are right; like a spindle, once started draws the fleece into yarn, like the magnesium once lit explodes in a flash, like the ice forms on the surface of winter lake, the transformation had happened. Raw, newborn per stood firm on the ground of the marketplace, feeling suddenly solid and permanent, muscles anchored to bone through tendon and sinews. Yet, less tangibly, there was also another manifestation. At first a light pressure, like the brushing of a moth aginst a window, which increased relentlessly. Implacably it gained mass and substance until it became a distinct impression on the mind. Each sense compelled to register the immense presence as though its very existance produced a weight that could not be endured. Chris froze, the ancient response of a prey animal aware of a predator. However, there was no hiding – this entity was one that was already acutely aware of per, although it was so alien that perhaps any hunger it felt could only be satiated by the fiery death of distant suns. The membrane that formed the line of separation between two different types of being that had somehow become bound together was now delineated. Here there was a great talon around per heart cradling it tenderly and there, another, resting its point finely against the thread that held per soul to per body. The sinuous lines of the fury’s body followed the convolutions of per gut, the collossal limbs unbelievably intertwined with pers, the lungs taking corrosive breaths along with per. Subtley, per experienced per mind terribly fused with the Dragon mind. Zie’s eyes looking through per eyes created a perception that blended the things of this world with the visions seen from the other one. The dry, hot, empty land where Dragon lived.
Steady, steady the child lowered per breathing. Chris looked back at the Maimed Pilgrim, staying steady by locking onto her face while immersed in surviving the embodied sensation of being both a child and a myth. The child developing a comprehension of how to be a chimera. Calmly, the Maimed Pilgrim looked back, adjusting her weight on the staff as the burn on her face and one side of her body made her stiff . She settled herself, the twisted arm held into her shoulder, the two smallest fingers tight and spasmed into her palm, calmly ready to stay and wait as the child located perself in relation to the Dragon.
The child grasped onto the Maimed Pilgrim, a sailor embarking on a thousand mile journey looking out over the stern of a boat, seeking connection to land even after travelling on and on and out of sight. The staff was a setting point, the marker that connected the real and the unreal. As the child eased into the pause, per felt the intricacy of the way that per and the Dragon grew together. It was certain that Dragon was too much part of per to be fought, too much part of per to be removed. Disconnecting from the Dragon could only take per mind, take the oxygen from per lungs, the nourishment from per stomach, the strength from per limbs. Indeed, it was questionable whether such a separation could even be done. Yet the Dragon was a powerful God, so much stronger than per, giving visions to per eyes, wrapping per in its embrace and taking per away from the real world. Remaining peaceable and not struggling was effort. Holding perself to perself and not being erased was effort.
“Good, Good”, approved the Maimed Pilgrim.
But this was a child who could see for perself. Chris looked closer and longer at the Dragon. Dragon relaxed its hold. Involuntarily, per muscles relaxed too, per intestines stopped gripping, per heart beat more freely. Then, without warning, the wean’s mind was assaulted by the impact of all the images per had seen and all the events per had experienced. All the emotions that went with them, which had been attenuated, assaulted per at full force. Pain billowed up Chris’ spine and impacts of long forgotten attacks rocked per body; assaults from buyers, rejection from stallholders, the deep scoring of the finger marks of the forgotten people. Per insides were conflagration. Per bones combusted. Per thoughts were embers. The heat devoured air.
“Zie is a terrible God”. Per gasped out through charred lips.
“A Small God, maybe.” The Maimed Pilgrim was stabilised on her staff, counterbalancing the weakness of her burnt side against its strength, unperturbed.
Then the daunting moment left, the terror was gone, leaving an image of a vast desert whipped into a frenzy by a strange wind, accompanied by a fading sensation of the resuming of tension in lithe limbs.
“I am either lost in the numbness or lost to the Dragon.” In trembling and dread Chris looked to the only person who might have the wisdom to untie that impossible knot.
“Companions need balance. One way or another.” Then the Maimed Pilgrim was off on her interminable progress, leaving the child with the inadequate clue.
“I’ll meet you there, I’ll meet you here.”