Delerium's Mistress: Tales of the Flat Earth Book 4 (10 page)

BOOK: Delerium's Mistress: Tales of the Flat Earth Book 4
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She captured Chuz’s
attention from the first. He had looked in at her even as she lay in Dunizel’s
womb, and he had said to Dunizel and her demon lover, “I come to stand uncle to
your unborn child.” Which suggestion, suspicious in itself, had been so hedged
about with admiring taunts and loving insults offered Azhrarn, it had as much
hope of success as ice in fire. Perverse, Chuz knew as much. He wanted, did not
want, did not know what he wanted, took care as Oloru to forget what he
wanted—and then set off to fetch it to him, through levinbolts and brimstone.

And, sorcerous thing
which unavoidably still he was, the proximity of other sorcerous things
galvanized him, even in amnesia. Thus the forest had tickled him into employing
the shape of Oloru’s own jackal, in the interest of a speedy gallop. Thus
Chuz’s own fearsome strength of persuasion came to him to allow him to drive
Lak Hezoor to the last organized folly of his life. While the quintessence of
Underearth worked on Oloru like a fine chisel, and chipped away the armoring.

By the moment he stood
over her, the mistress of his quest, he had begun to remember himself. His kiss
was vibrant with that remembrance, and how could it help but wake her, too?

The successive escape
from exquisite hell, the damson-winged flight across the sunrise, these were
the exploits of Chuz. But here in the glade, on the breast of the world again,
the inner Chuz ebbed away. Oloru was Oloru once more. Although even that not
totally. As smoke cannot be kept in a box, all Chuz could not be kept in human
skin. Something was bound to get loose. It turned out to be those worst of all
Chuzian attributes, the hands.

Therefore he lay, a Lord
of Darkness brought low by his own intrinsic terror. And who, indeed, has never
looked deep within himself but once, and been afraid?

Now he rested, in her
arms, the arms of the demon-child-woman who had been, since her conception, his
madman’s goal. She had read the whole history from his unconscious unhuman
mind. Aggrieved at desertion by others, she warmed herself now at his psychotic
constancy.

 

7

 

MIDNIGHT:
And a rain fell that was merely rain. But the forest dressed itself in the
raindrops as if in clusters of zircons.

Rain bathed the eyelids
of Sovaz. She raised them, and saw the eyes of Oloru were also open wide.

“I have, after all, been
dead a little while,” he murmured. He looked very long at her. There was a
curious luminescence abroad in the forest; the rain had washed it out from the
trunks of the trees, the grasses, and the lilies shone like tongues of shady
flame. In this gleam, Sovaz, too, seemed lit by her own soft light. Oloru
glanced at himself under the lamp of it. “I dreamed—” said Oloru. He flexed his
elegant poet’s hands. They were no other than the hands of a poet should be.
(Somehow, by her own occult methods, she had overridden his, and made them
whole for him.) “I am glad then Lord Death did not keep me as his guest. I ran
to him for sanctuary, but had no hope to stay. There are many he does keep,
blue-eyed Sovaz, down there in the Innerearth. But they have sold their souls
to him for a thousand years. Death,” said Oloru, “may not walk where nothing
has died. There are such places. He may not walk the gods’ country. Or in the
country of the demons. For even those creatures that seem to die in Azhrarn’s
lands undergo only the facsimile of death. Stories that say otherwise are told
by liars.”

“And are you not, then,
a liar?” inquired Sovaz, although as softly as the soft light that hung on
her.

“A liar? I?”

“I think you must be
something of the sort,” she said, “for you speak of the demons’ kingdom as if
neither of us had ever seen it.”

Oloru shut his eyes at
once. His fingers clenched on the grasses.

“Do not,” he said, “say
these words. They remind me of my dream of fear.” So she beheld that even her
own beginnings were now wilfully expunged from his awareness. She did not
really mind that, Sovaz. What happiness had there been in her beginnings, after
all, that she should wish them celebrated?

“I concede,” she said.
“We will discuss only how we found each other, wandering in this forest. Myself
an orphan. You mysteriously bereft of your patron, the magician-prince.”

“Yes,” said Oloru. And
just then his eyes caught fire from an inner glare and were for a moment like
the eyes of some cruel rare beast of prey. See, said these wicked molten eyes,
how entertaining it will be to play this game together.

At which her eyes grew
darker than the forest’s shimmering dark, so starry space itself might be
glimpsed in them. I wonder, said these other eyes, if it will.

And then she lay down
upon him, clasping him under the arms with her slender hands, and clasping the
strong calves of his legs with her slender bare feet, and his mouth with her
mouth.

As unlike their first
kiss, this second kiss, as earth to air. Not less potent for all that, nor less
of a summoning.

“Most beautiful of mortal
women,” lied Oloru.

“Most beautiful of
mortal
men,” lied Sovaz.

And they laughed,
shedding their garments like snakes, and brought their bodies together like two
clasping hands.

But it was she who lay
still above him, and soon the black fleece of her tresses seemed to become one
with the black foliage of the forest, so he was stretched out under a maiden
whose hair itself was all the night-time earth and the midnight sky. And her
touches and her skin and her moving upon him, these were like the ambience of
the world, as if the world lay on him and caressed and found him out, and drew
him into itself. Virgin, yet lacking any need to be broken, knowing everything
yet innocent of all. And as he pierced to the core of her, her hair and the
night and the trees and the sky, her caresses, the air and the world, the very
ground under his back, seemed to begin making love to him.

“No,” Oloru whispered
then.

“No?” she whispered in
return, inside his very mouth, her tongue a flame, one of the lily flames that
burned in the grass.

“No, Sovaz, Sovaz, for
surely then I will be there before you, and our journey ended.”

But her eyes held all
the oceans and the seas and the rivers, her hands or the hands of the earth
stole beneath him and found a fire there, a serpent that dwelled there under
the spine, a dragon waking.

“When you reach the
gate,” she said, or her eyes or her rushing body said it, “cry out. And I will
come to you at once.”

At this the dragon woke.
The whole forest burst up in a swarm of lights and he with it so that in the
strength and vehemence of that arching bow she too was lifted as if on a wave’s
high crest. And he did indeed cry out aloud to her, and hearing him she came to
him at once as she had told him, her head thrown back, her throat curved like
the crescent moon. And her cries, wild as those of a bird that flies a
whirlwind, and three in number, split the ceiling of rain and leaves, and
struck maybe the floor of very heaven above, the denizens of which abode did
not comprehend such crying and were incapable of it.

But presently, in the
stillness, she said to him, “There, too, is death. And there is my omen. One
day I shall die. I know it now.”

“Our kind does not die,”
said Oloru, forgetting an instant to forget.

But she did not answer
him.

 

PART
TWO: Lovers

 

1

 

AZHRARN—
Azhrarn
—sang
various voices which had no sound, but were so beautiful they made the air seem
filled by perfume, melody.
Azhrarn!

It might have been the
voiceless all-speaking Eshva, or some spiritual cry of his kingdom, the roots and
rocks of it, the scintillant stones of his city, the jewel windows of his
house. Or yet some cry from within himself, some part of him he did not
recognize, for even with human men, several persons may live together under one
name and inside one skin.

Whatever it was, it had
haunted his palace all the dayless days and unnight nights of a mortal year. It
was plain to any who had, for a moment, glimpsed him, that this sound offended
him. He paced the long rooms up and down, and the tall roofs. He stood and
looked away into nothing and everything, and the flying things of the
Underearth, sorcerous or mechanical, meeting his sightless gaze, fell down on
the black grass of the lawns.

Azhrarn

“I hear you,” he said.
“But be still.”

There was a silence. It
was so profound, the whole land seemed to have gone deaf and dumb at once.

He walked out, in this
silence, disdainful of it, into the gardens beyond his palace. In the midnight
trees the golden furnaces of burning-colored fish, clustered all together,
their wings closed fast. By a pool, a princess of the Vazdru had been plucking
green irises. She had become still as a statue; the water drops did not run off
her fingers’ ends or from the flowers or from the gems of her bracelets—the
water drops did not dare, for in doing it, they might make a noise. No one else
had, for a great while, risked venturing so close to Azhrarn’s halls. The
Vazdru woman stood and stared at her lord. She was superlatively beautiful,
but there was nothing in that; all her caste were so. Azhrarn looked at her.
She bowed.

“Why are you here,” he
said, “stealing plants from this garden?”

“Green iris, the flower
of pain,” said she. “A large number grow in your park now, illimitable prince.
The blooms I shall weave into a garland, and wear until they fade. The stems I
shall plait finely and string a lyre with them. They will make a miserable,
lovely music.”

Azhrarn seemed about to
leave her.

“You have cast down your
kingdom,” said the Vazdru. “Pain is your lover, my lord. We must share your agony.
The Eshva lament in the living death of ceaseless mourning. But the Vazdru are
different. The Vazdru must have artifacts. And all this for a mortal woman, a
child of that thing, the sun.”

“Remind me,” said
Azhrarn, “of your name.”

“Vasht,” said the demoness.
And she shook the water drops from her hands and from the flowers. Each drop
fell into the pool with a loud crack.

“Do you hope to be
punished, Vasht,” said Azhrarn, “that you dare to chide me, with whom I have
loved, and with how I have loved?”

“You kill us with your
grief,” she said. “And since we cannot die, it is a murder and a death that
never end. What is one more punishment beside that?”

“You will anger me,”
said Azhrarn. “Do not do it.”

“Is it possible to anger
you? You who vowed war on Chuz Mischief-Maker, and hunted him twice, and
returned twice, while he roams the world of men by night and day, laughing at
you. And when he wishes other amusement, he lies down with your daughter, that
child you made in the womb of your moon-sun girl, your
Dunizel.
I was your chosen love, once, eons ago by
the reckoning of those little crawling worms called
men.
You caught for me a piece of the starlit earth sky, and gave it me in a ring.
You were my beloved, Azhrarn, three hundred mortal years. But then mankind grew
precious to you, and you adored their foul flesh, liked it better for its very
uncleanness. Now, you unremember even my name. You, who gave me the sky.” And
she flung the green flowers at his feet. They fell with a crash like swords.

But Azhrarn only said,
“So Chuz and she travel together.”

“Did you not know it?
Has not every reed and blade of grass in the world whispered the story to you?
Every cloud scribbled the message over the moon? How he came here by a trick
and rescued her from your care. Even the tides sang the song. I have heard it
baldly enough.”

“I knew then. But, as
with your name, you have reminded me.”

He walked on. The
demoness followed, her long and lustrous black hair trailing over the black
lawns, where it struck sudden sparks.

“Then,” she said, “what
will you do, Azhrarn, Prince of Princes—go back in your dark tower and weep
tearless tears of blood?”

Azhrarn stopped; he
turned and beckoned her. She came up to him, apparently without any fear.

“What do you want from
me, Vasht?”

“To make you again what
you were. Though,
she
has changed you.”

“Beautiful Vasht,” he
said. “I remember you. You were the pleasure of dawn and first light. But the
day has advanced.”

“These terms in your
mouth—you hate the sun, the dawn, the day. She taught you such words. And what
pleasure then was
she,
your Dunizel?”

“I will show you,” he
said, “since you are fool enough to ask me.”

And he kissed Vasht on
the lips, and stepped away. Only a moment did she stand before him, the
beautiful lover of the forgotten long-ago. In a moment more, she melted into
flame paler and less substantial than a mist. The flame itself crumbled, and
went out. The dark lawn was burned blond. But out of the ashes, a tiny thing
emerged. A butterfly, with wings like green iris. It fluttered for a little
space over the burned lawn, then darted into the shade of the great trees,
where it vanished. But Azhrarn looked across the architecture of his city,
thinking.

BOOK: Delerium's Mistress: Tales of the Flat Earth Book 4
5.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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