In the forest, in a thicket, I fell to slumber, and dreams came to me. Myriad dreams: of angels, humans, beasts and flora, the planets and the weathers. I was shown the Number of all things. I was shown a thing or two I was bidden not to remember.
I saw again the Beginning, and I was given a new name. Elias, my dark angel draped over me.
But all of that left me when I awoke. I was given sight, and then was returned to blindness. I wanted to shout out, in the painful diminishment of my understanding, for the loss of that vastness that had been revealed to me. But I also knew it was right for me to remain small. I was not yet ready to carry those knowledges, to walk with them, to be bound by their law.
I rose from the thicket, and walked through the forest, listening and watching for signs of life. All was silent. The forest felt sickly in parts. It felt as though the trees were groaning, pained by something in their soil, by the resonance of some catastrophic event.
I walked on, moving through the forest without a sound until I came to its end. I cut through a field of poppies and came to a path next to a talkative stream, turning left on the path and watching the earth scroll by to my stroll.
Days of walking put space and restoration within me, taking away the weight of my past life. My thoughts were one by one replaced by a knowledge of this night-black cloak, by a history of this hovering body that like a shell at first encased me, but soon began to absorb me until I was entire the stranger that years ago introduced himself to my subterranean life.
I came to a circle of pillars. I came to the crossroads. Though fatigue had not yet come over me in all my walking, I halted my journey and sat in the circle to watch the fair Solsend drape across the lands her gloriousness.
On the pillars were carved reliefs, now faded and legible only faintly. I saw that many stories had once been kept here, many stories that now lay forgot, fading into the immeasurable static of theme and day and happening. However, many familiar elements I could make out, and these I meditated on, allowing them inside my mind to coalesce and regenerate. For hours it seemed I sat in the circle, participating in these combinations with the delirious swagger of the dreamer.
A man entered the circle, at the bridge between evenings, when all the souls of toys and birds pass down the rings of convocation, converging all a once when night is strongest to compete for weightlessness in their secret fields. The man wore a gown of hours and balanced a wheel of ages atop his wisdom-whitened crown. He took from his robe a shallow copper dish and a brush. He poured water from a leather skin into the dish, set it down, and after whetting the brush, began painting over a certain relief on the south-easternmost column.
--Pray tell, old Cronos, keeper of Time’s fixed thump, what’s this you lave with your care?
The man did not answer me for some time, but with unwavering focus and subtle hand restored the scene to life. When the relief did look to my eyes more real than the pillar on which it was carved, he set down his brush and turned to me, saying
“There may be no camp set here.”
--Not I nor any of my company expected such of this place.
“There may be no camp, but community, yes. We may smoke. Shall we? If you wish we will converse.”
He drew from his robe a long ashen reed. Crickets around the circle traced reluctant serrations in the twilit air with their dusky fiddleflutes. The heat of the day seemed to stretch out her arms and linger like a sleepy courtier over the surface of the darkened earth. Myself, I took all these things in stride and hummed a smoky harmony into my pip-podder.
When within the pillars’ circle our mutual smokes grew wide and round enough to blanket us in a pleasantly thick cloud, the white-haired man with the cycle of aeons teetering over his head looked oft at me and scratched his cheek and cleared his throat and spat.
“An age ago; an age and half a generation ago,” he spoke through smoke and vowel, “an age, a half a generation and forty times ago I was walking along, counting the beats of the Grand Consortium, coordinating in my mind the velocities and angle-arcs of God’s grand jostle of the orbs.
“Also, in my heart, I tended a pleasantry, an affection, a delightful thought about a love for a lady whose favor I had won. The lady was none other than Solsend. Eos she is called. Sunset, who ever paints away the day, who I had courted from the time of the fifth Completion of this world, when she had shown her splendor to be as unrivaled as her sister’s, the fair and merciful Dawn.
“I had courted her, the majestic Solsend, for aeon after aeon until she, one glorious hallows eve, did give her consent to cherish me, and she held forth the dusk of that night, entrusting it to me, that I may clasp to myself the hallowedness she is capable of.
“I, in my turn, arranged for the convergence of a multitude of celestial bodies on a particular evening, that she may orchestrate for her Mother an unsurpassed symphony of dusk. And even to this age there is one evening in the year that ever pays heed to that performance, when all the Lords of Judgment do grow beyond fearsome, beyond the measure of even Death, and loom in their beauty before the race of men, their eyes glinting with Eternity’s sever truth. It is then, if men become quiet, that they may receive the secret that nothing is hidden, that everything is seen and has its place before their eyes, save One.
“Both she and I glowed in the gifts we gave one another, and rarely were my feelings not directed towards her and her comeliness. I walked about this earth in my Measuring Step, holding both her and the Celestial Calculation inside me.
“And then—“ He paused and sipped his smoke intensely for a moment. When he resumed his tale, his tone had abruptly sharpened. “And then I came across a little girl, who was perhaps a bit more mischievous than a girl her age should be. She spent all her days going about, drawing yellow circles on the roads, ensnaring unsuspecting persons who could not move on until they satisfied her curiosity.
“By just such a trap she caught me, and I at once became flustered, for already was I strained enough between my tallies and affections. She smiled up a me, insidious creature! Hiding her mischievousness in order to upset me further. And then she asked me: ‘Where do the winds come from?’
“I stammered, and tried to move on, but found that I could not. I replied to her ‘Dear little girl, the winds are the motion from one thing to another. They give breadth to all thought and space to every conversation.’
“She smiled again, and I was allowed to continue on my way. But being young, and quick, and insatiable, she ran ahead of me and drew another circle, thereby ensnaring me once more.
“’Where do numbers come from?’ she asked of me, and I sneered and nearly cursed. I counted out another degree in the revolutions of the spheres and then answered: ‘That, little girl, I am not at liberty to discuss. You must ask something else. Now be speedy!’
“She frowned, and produced a pout, and stuck out her tongue and then asked ‘Then why do you count all the time?’
“I sighed and quickly told her that the Creator (may His Name be Blessed) had ordained to calculate all things so as to give to them context, and I happened to be the one vested with the counting of the calculations. Then I moved on as quickly as I could.
“Once more she attempted her interference, but I had grown privy to her pattern and prepared myself to leap over her third yellowish trap, momentarily forgetting that I had a sunset affixed to my toe.
“Round she drew her circle, up I lurched my legs, reaching my arms high in triumph and bellowing a self-possessed Ah-ha!
“And then the moment when Ur and Thum pronounce their plastic decree arrived, when the lots are sparse arranged across the ground and Chance has again hid her face behind Choice. I found myself lying, a bit broken, in the road, watching with bewildered annoyance a grey sack cloth fan up and down over my eyes.
“’Sir!’ began the little girl
“’Leave me be!’ I exclaimed. ‘I am no longer in your jurisdiction!’
“’Oh but you are!’ she protested, and in fact she was not lying. I craned my muddled sight down to see that my foot, though crooked at an awful angle, was more than a measure inside her torturous ring. Dejectedly, I grumbled ‘What? This is the last curiosity of yours I am going to sate, now ask! And be quick with it!’
“’Why does this tingle so?’
“It was then that I forced myself to a full awareness, forcing my vision to look at the little miss that had caused me nearly too much annoyance. Amazing, I remarked to myself, that it does not melt her completely! Then, in shock and rage, I leapt up and snatched the sunset from her skull, wrapping it in my robe and smiling to advert her attention.
“’Why does my head tingle so?’ she repeated. ‘My dear,’ I answered, ‘these things just do.’ I patted her absentmindedly on her hairless cap. When I removed my hand it was stained a most violent hue of orange. The next thing I knew, she was screaming and imploring up at me with wide, surprised eyes.
“’Um, yes?’ I asked. ‘Is that the colour of my head?’ ‘Well… yes. Yes it is.’ ‘Do I have any hair left?’ I made a quick hobble forward and mumbled ‘That is enough of the questions.’ But she was obdurate, and highly pitched, and congested the air with her hysterical cannonade, sending my mind reeling in a nervous confusion. I felt sensationally ungrounded. I was missing something. I touched repeatedly the sunset in my robe to make sure I had retrieved it.
“’Listen here, little girl,’ said I, trying to calm her down. ‘Take it from me. You are young and there is no reason to be so upset about something this trivial. You really do look much more – um -- novel now. Who knows, the people of these parts are very reverent towards any sort of oddity; you may even make out the better for it, becoming a priestess or an oracle or such… But listen. Listen to me! You still have plenty of ti—‘
“It was then—oh then! – I was choked in mid sentence by the stranglehold of memory. TIME. I had forgotten about TIME.”
Old Cronos put his weathered lips to the reed balanced in his fingers, puffing intensely without a word. Streams of silvery smoke billowed up from his mouth, making tight dances in the air that rivaled those issuing from my pip-podder. Our mutual storms, after having time to acclimate themselves, began playing against each other, weaving a canopy above us that sought to imitate his tale as best shades of grey may when sunsets are the subject matter.
I plied my concentration to the smoke, following the image of the little girl as she wept and beat her breast, marveling at the passionate display of panic she produced. Her head was indeed a queerly shiny thing bobbing this way and that as she perhaps sought remedy from the old man. As for him, he appeared absolutely stoic in his fright, as still as the pillar he rested against, as she beat against him. It was obvious he was elsewhere, focusing the whole of his attention on regaining the coordination of Time’s march before any major collisions or rifts could hap.
At last the girl tugged on his robe hard enough that it almost ripped clean off him. He looked down at her and made a quick gesture with all twelve of his fingers*. At once, the girl’s figure became distorted. She became more than one girl, a blur of a girl, really, moving wildly about, but not in coincidence with herself. That is, several of her overlapped, but were not unified. Seeing this happen by the representations of smoke made an awe wash over me. I was riveted by the sheer intricacies that displayed this tendriling picture show. My mind spun wild with exhilaration at the multitude of frequencies and overlapping components that made up this single entity. The sight was enough to make me laugh, only the knowledge of the little girl’s panic restrained me.
--And you might illustrate this…?
“Young logos,” answered Cronos curtly, “I am not fond of questions, as this fable explicitly shows. Do not assume to be able to call me into inquiry.”
--Yes yes yes. Did you separate her away from you?
“I temporarily intended to remove her from my influence,” he explained, “that I might have a moment to concentrate, for mighty would be the consequences to the universe at large had I misstepped but one beat in the Ordained Percussion. I needed complete focus. Unfortunately, when I shuffled her from my presence, I could not find her again. Not with my sight nor my hearing nor even my memory. She was out of Time. She was the girl that Time forgot.”
The man squinted his eyes. I could not tell if he was expressing pain, or shame over this sordid event. When he continued, his voice was heavy with an emotion not far from guilt.
“To this day I believe that a miniscule piece of her still follows me about, wailing on about her hair or not knowing what’s going on with herself (selves?) – I’ve in a way contracted a personal poltergeist – there has always since that incident been an impulsion in me to be hyperactive and impatient. Although, surely, I have existed long enough as myself to be able to suppress such flitty tendencies.”
--Pray tell me of your remittances.
“Is not impatience enough, for Time? My friend! And excitability? Does that not sound torturous to one who winds the very watchclock of God? Get with me and sympathize! These things are bad enough!”
He munched a bit on his reed, spat again, and sighed.
“Yes. Drear was my punishment, as you have supposed. My Beloved turned her favors from me, and withdrew the warm sunset from my side. As for penalty for transgressing my duty, I was called into a severe audit of my capabilities. Also, I was incarcerated for breaching the Meddling With Innocent Sentients Act… But negligible was the loss to my freedom, for if there is one thing I know how to manipulate seamlessly, it is measurements and balances, which of course my prosecutors knew. So, in addition to each of these retributions, I was ordered to pay service to Certain Beings, and carry out periodic Chores for them, which is what brings me to this place.”
He paused, and tapped his reed against the pillar next to him. As he rose, I asked
--And the girl?
He smiled. “What can I say? Fate is a wise Fool – either that, or a Gifted dunce. She did become an oracle, after her predicament had been resolved – and just as I predicted! Hmph. But not just another incense-burning, jewel encrusted, overly made-up quack. No. She became a most odd visionary… When the persons who flocked to her entered her circle, instead of chanting and moaning and biting out a whole bunch of clairvoyant gibberish, she told each supplicant their own question. She voiced the question that lay within their foundation, so to speak.
“Odd, don’t you think? Consider it. What is worth more to a man-- his true question, or the answers he builds? I am no philosopher, or prophet for that matter, but believe me, knowledge of the future is not half so fun as a living belief in the quest of now… Hmph. Enough, or too much.”
Cronos dusted off his robe, and arighted his stooped back. He ran his hand over the marble templates of the column nearest him, perhaps retracing its journey from star to lava to stone, and then back again, by way of dust.
Without so much as a glance in my darkening direction, he covered the copper dish with a few kicks of dust and left me, weaving, in the remnants of his ashy cloud.
*Cronos is said to have a total of twenty four digits – twelve fingers and twelve toes, one for every hour. Or, depending on how you look at it, the clock has one hour for every one of his digits. Which came first, the counting or the counter?
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