Taste the prose even FNG's enjoy!
Once upon a time there was an honest man. He kept a shop just outside the center of town, in a building that originally was the undertaker’s place of business.
The honest man thought it fitting, when he first moved in, to start his operation by carving gravestones. He knew that the spirits of buildings prefer their change to happen gradually. So in the beginning he concentrated mainly on grave adornments, and over time, he slowly introduced other works into his shop.
This honest man was a sculptor, a master of stone and chisel. He had learnt his art from east and west, north and south. Few were the tricks he had either not mastered or considered too problematic to learn. In a few short years, he was busy enough to chose between the commissions brought to him, and his name had achieved a fine status in the town and surrounding provinces.
One day, in the prime of his life, he was visited by a wealthy baroness. She wore a veil made of black lace, and a long satin dress, also black, which left none of her skin, from her jaw to her wrists, uncovered.
“My lady,” spoke the sculptor with gentile words, “what may I do for you?”
“You are a stone mason?” she asked. Her voice was cold, but he could detect a slight, suppressed tremble in the vowels of her words.
“I am,” he answered.
“And you are proficient?”
“Not merely passable, but proficient.”
The sculptor looked at the lady, at the long, maple-leaf tresses of her hair, at her black eyes glimmering beneath the lacework of the veil. He shook his head to indicate that no, he was not merely “passable”.
“I am looking for someone – a man,” spoke she, “with a particular level of genius.”
“I was unaware that genius had ‘levels’, as you put it.”
“I do not require that you know of these levels, but that you act above and beyond a certain tier in their hierarchy… May I see a sample of your work?’
He took her deeper into his shop, pointing here and there, at works in various states of creation.
“What is the largest work you have done?” she asked.
“The largest? Let me see… about 40 cubits square, or there abouts.”
“How large of a work do you believe you would be able to complete – consistently, without wavering from the highest ideals?”
“Given time, given materials, given enough of an advance to support me—“
“You will have enough of all of these,” she said pointedly, as if these considerations were besides the point. “But you must not work on anything else from the moment you begin this commission, until the moment you have completed it.”
The sculptor could not suppress a smile. This was the first time she had mentioned a commission, and the way she had gone about it was quite presumptive.
“And what is this commission?” he asked, guarding his voice from any trace of sarcasm.
“A crypt, for my husband.”
“Where will it be built?”
“Just outside of this town, which is where he was born.”
“Ah. And who were his parents, his family? I might know them—”
“You do not know them. His… parents were passing through this area when he – prematurely – decided to enter the world. So they came to this town and… so on and so forth. The crypt will be built directly North of this town, out of one slab of stone. Around it you will place, at the cardinal points, four turrets of equal height, carved from the same rock as that of the central crypt.”
Her straightforwardness not only amused him, it began to entice his interest. “And how do you wish these to be designed – have you a specific draft I might work off of?”
“You will design them yourself. From your dreams.”
The lady then reached one of her black-gloved hands into her satchel, and produced from it as small gold band. It was unmarked but for a single, thumbnail-width rivet that wrapped around is outer circumference. She held this in the space between them, and then handed it to the sculptor, saying
“You are to wear this every night, from the day you begin work on my commission, until the day it is completed. This ring will amplify your dreams – not give you the designs, but allow you to find and create them in the Liminal Weald. And, I must insist once more – if you agree to build this for me, you are not to work on anything else, until you are finished.”
“I have other works in progress—”
“I am not pressed for time. He has… his remains…”
The sculptor bowed his head in understanding, and examined the ring for a moment. “When would you like my answer?” he asked.
“I would have it now. I am not so much anxious for its completion, as to know that it is under way.”
The man lifted the ring once more into the sunlight. He was aware of a certain potency within it, though this potency he could not readily describe. It seemed to be alive – or, in truth, livid with a verity in some manner beyond that of ordinary gold. He did not doubt that it would affect its wearer. And, looking again on the covered face of the lady, he did not doubt she was speaking the truth.
“I will accept,” said he.
“Very well. When you are ready to begin, you need only to put on this ring, and begin securing the design. At that time, I will have you sent a reasonable amount of funds each fortnight. Already, the material is being brought to the sight. When you have completed the crypt and the turrets, you are to place the ring in a wooden box, and burry this box in the soil at the foot of the crypt. When you have done this, I will return to you, and we will discuss your final payment.”
“It is customary for payment to be bartered and set,” spoke he, “before the commission is began.”
“Barter with… barter with your dreams. You will find everything there.”
The man, lips twisted admirably, bowed in acceptance of these conditions.
“You may trust me to follow your guidelines to the letter,” he said, extending his empty hand, which the lady brusquely took in hers. “But may I ask you one further question, before you leave?”
The lady seemed to consider this with difficult. It was at though she was loath to entrust him with anything more, outside the bounds of their formal exchange.
“What is this question?’ she asked.
She pursed her lips beneath her veil, and lowered her head.
“That I may not give you,” she whispered, turning from him and leaving his shop without so much as a parting glance.
The sculptor accepted no other consignments after that day, and unhurriedly completed what projects he had on hand. When the last sculpture was finished, he spent one day in repose, and on the following night, after having cleaned out and rearranged his shop, he put the ring on the appropriate finger of his left hand, and laid himself in his bed.
The period interdwelling the Awake and the Dreaming was unusually wide that night. He could not detach himself from his waking life, could not easily submerge himself into the Weald To Dream. He felt his self float from his body, walk from his room, leaving behind his heartbeat and his breathing. He was drawn in a direction he had not before that point been aware of, although he was, in no short order, a master of spatial virtues.
He was compelled to travel in that direction. Each step he took spanned from where he stood, to the crest of the horizon before him. In any given length of time, he found himself in a wide valley, situated between two impossibly high mountain ranges.
At the bottom of this valley was a small pool, yet when he reached its bank, this pool had expanded to at least a thousand thousand times the area of the valley. To his left stood the mountains to the left, and to the right stood the mountains to his right. Before him expanded the pool – now a sea – whose colour was red. A round, blue moon rose from the horizon of this sea, and on the face of the moon was engraved the sign of the cross.
For the first time in his life, he wondered about the origin of that ever oscillating globe, and the moment this curiosity was formed in his mind, the lapping of the waves of the sea on the sands of its shore formed into words, and spoke to him thus:
Moon was given to man after man was given womb and reed. This was before the Fruit was plucked. This was before sons were conceived. Only daughters had been born to man at that time, when the Moon was given to man. Listen, the story is clear:
The Origin of Moon
And that is one version of one story from one tradition of the origin of Moon.
“Will I remember this?” asked the sculptor to himself, and simultaneously knew he would. Indeed, this ring did much to strengthen his clarity here. And, remembering ring, he remembered his commission, and set to forging its designs.
He looked at the sea, and knew he would have to wrest from her these plans. So he knelt next to her waves, scooped up a handful of her water in his cupped palms, and peered into this water, ordering the wild, colourful ripples of its surface and mass to coagulate into form. By the end of the first night at the banks of that place, he had secured the dimensions of the crypt, the height of the turrets, and their distance and relation to one another.
But when it was time for him to leave those banks, he knew that he had the strength to take either the story or the designs with him, back to the Awake, not both. Of course, honest man that he was, he took the designs, hoping that, at some later date, he would have room to fetch the story.
When he woke up that next morning, he hadn’t the energy to roll out of bed – he had worked hard all during his sleep, and had not properly rested. So he took the ring from his finger, and set it on his nightstand, and slept until early afternoon.
For the duration of six cycles of the moon, the sculptor hardly set foot from his shop. The assembling and drawing of the plans took absorbed all his energy, and he had to force himself each evening to relax, set aside his work, and take a stroll through the lanes of the town.
Every so often, before he set to delving into the sea water, and cultivating from those chaotic cupfuls the prospectus of the crypt, he would ask the larger body a question about the worlds, and, the moment he asked, she delivered to him a story.
He enjoyed her tales immensely, and wished to write them down, in a book, but he recalled the conditions the lady had put upon him, to not work on anything other than the crypt for the duration, and so these stories were inevitably covered up in forgetfulness, and lost to him.
When the plans were set, he finally had the energy to make his way to the site of construction. There he found a slab of stone precicely big enough to create the crypt and turrets, according to the specifications of the designs, with not a single cubit reserved for mistake. Quite a challenge he had before him – grand were the designs, and once was all the chance he had to institute them into stone.
It is not a misrepresentation of this man to say that he was equal to this task. He strove through this labor for twenty-two months, at the end of which, he fixed the ring to his finger one last time, and traveled to the banks of that red sea.
There, he bent over the waters, and took a handful of her waters, and peered into them, seeking the configuration of the box in which this ring was to be sealed. And when the delineations had been secured, he remained kneeling over the waters in his hands. He could not help himself. He put the waters in his mouth, and returned to his body in his bed.
When he woke up, straight away, he spat what was in his mouth into a cup, and spent the day carving from a block of ash the box. When he was finished, he poured the red water into the box, and set within it the ring. Then he walked to the site, and buried ring, box and water at the foot of the crypt, as the lady had instructed him to do.
The very next day, the baroness came to him.
“You have finished,” said she.
“I have finished,” he affirmed.
“I have inspected your work, and it is good. It is very good. I knew you were the right man for the job. Now, name your final payment, so we may be done with it.”
The man took no time in telling her what he wanted, in exchange for what he had built for her.
“While I was drafting the designs for the commission,” spoke the sculptor, “every so often, I was told a story.”
“Yes. By… by the sea.”
“The sea spoke to you.”
“That she did.”
“And you listened to her. You were able to hear her.”
“Yes. I listened, I heard.”
“And what did you do with these stories?”
“In truth,” he answered, “I did nothing with them, for you had told me to involve myself only with the work at hand. Those stories, they are now lost to me.”
The lady nodded her head, perhaps in approval.
“And so,” continued the sculptor, “my price is to have those stories, to be able to hear them or read them again. That is what I ask for the work I have done.”
The lady was silent. After a few minutes had unwound in the space between them, she spoke:
“She has… many stories, you know. And every story that she has has many sides, many versions… I chose you for the work you took precicely because I saw that you, more than any other builder I visited, were able to organize chaos with skill and with honesty. She – she, the sea, is chaos through and through, she is a most fertile chaos. But there, in the Liminal Realm, where man is most receptive, and she is most conductive, only there were you, even you, able to organize her to the extent that you have. And you were able to be there, in your complete awareness, only by the influence of the ring. But now, the ring is buried. It may not be exhumed. It must remain where it is, or… but that is beside the point. With the ring, you were able to experience her stories directly, but if you wish to have them again, to read them while you are conscious of your awareness, you must find an anchor for them. You must build for them a vessel.”
“Yes. A container, a structure to stabilize them by. I can, and I will, send you the content of those stories, but, for you to really, fully receive them, first you must construct something to hold them in.”
“And what sort of vessel should I make?”
The lady – still veiled, her veil still black, but her satin dress not quite so stark, a midnight blue, a shadow partially a substance now, standing in his shop – the lady allowed a smile to surface on her thin, rosepetal lips.
“You are the sculptor,” spoke she, “I suggest that you sculpt.”
And once again she turned from him, and left his life without a single fare-thee-well.
Years passed, and these years were not much more eventful in the passing than in the telling. The sculptor resumed his smaller commissions, and turned a decent, steadily increasing profit. And every night, when he decreed he had worked for others long enough, he worked for himself, removing himself below his shop, into the basement.
And there, where once, so long ago, lifeless bodies had been prepared for the grave, he prepared a new body for the life that was to come to him.
He imagined for those stories not a form to capture and contain them within, but a place, a venue, in which they could act themselves out. He designed a grand concert hall, a place where every dreamer soever would have a seat from which to watch these dreams above dreams unfold. He designed this place to be easily accessible by every wandering soul, as they loosened from their corporeal forms and jettisoned towards those ruby-ripe waves, for he imagined – no, no, he was certain that when this content he had been promised at last came, every dreamer would have no choice but to be drawn to it, to its telling.
This structure defied all description. The sculptor ached to speak of it to someone, but alas, he was so taken up in its composition that he hadn’t the time to draw close to enough to another where his sharing would sound like anything other than confused and quite possibly insane babble.
One day, a strange young boy of middle years came to the sculptor, and asked him if he didn’t need a servant boy or, by chance, maybe and apprentice? The sculptor looked on the youth and saw in him some measure of promise. He was a little ragged and weak, but nothing a few weeks of food and work could not take care of. The only possession this boy carried, aside from his torn clothes and frayed sandals, was a single, pitiably withered book.
And when the eyes of the sculptor landed on the book, immediately, something in his heart bounded with expectation. Could this be…?
The sculptor invited the boy into his life, set him up with a cot in an alcove of the shop, and gave him a few simple duties, to begin with. The boy vigorously attacked whatever assignment he was given. He was a quick learner, and graduated from the position of apprentice to the position of assistant not long after the first darkened hairs sprung from his chin.
Meanwhile, the sculptor forced himself to place the youth’s book from his mind, for the structure was not yet complete. If this was indeed the content he had been promised, then he did not want to be cheated his prize by receiving it too soon.
Without warning, on a day like any other, the sculptor, pouring over the prospectus, saw that not a single line could be added or removed from the drawings. Still, he spent the duration of an entire year reviewing the designs over and again – a year which saw the fading of his sight, the loss of his steady hand, the blunting of his memory. He finally declared that enough was enough, and approached his assistant, who more rightly should be called the sculptor’s partner, who was now reaching the first plateau in his artistry that precedes the climb to absolute mastery.
Taking the young man aside, the sculptor told him that all this – his shop, his clients, all of it – would now be his, free and clear.
“And the only thing I ask of you, is that book, that book you have clung to all these years.”
The young man looked at the sculptor incredulously. “I—I don’t think I can give you that, my book,” he said.
“What would I do with it?” asked the old sculptor. “I can hardly see, hardly tell my hand what to do anymore! You misunderstand my request. All I wish is for you to read it to me.”
Still, the young man was reticent. He thought of that book as something more that paper and print. No, it meant his life to him. The old sculptor could still see at least that well.
“Here,” he said to his understudy, “follow me. I will show you something, something I have been working on at least as long as you have been alive. It is to be – or was to be – my final work, but now I am certain I will not be able to put it into effect. Perhaps, some day, you will take it up… But come, come.”
And the Master Sculptor took his assistant into the basement of the shop. There, he lit the candles and, from the table in the center of the room he took out the sheets and sheets and sheets of carefully drawn and redrawn specifications.
Almost at once, the younger’s features lit up with something akin to recognition. The sculptor’s suspicions were immediately confirmed. The book and the structure – they were meant (if that is at all the correct word) for each other. The boy ran to retrieve his book, and alone, so close to his payment, his life’s work’s fulfillment, the old man began to laugh.
Such was his gaiety that he could hardly constrain it. Spasms of glee racked his chest until his arms went numb, until his heart – his heart. He must stop. Control this. He couldn’t afford to leave just yet. Not now. Not so close. You fool, quiet yourself before you snap this tired body of yours.
The young man found his master leaning heavily against the wall. He assisted him carefully into the bed that had been set down there, some time ago, it the humid, musty darkness.
Lying out, so weak, so near to that which he sought, so near, also, to that which cannot be recrossed, the old man again asked the younger to give him a reading.
The young man protested: “But – but if I begin now – on the bringing of these two – I could have it finished.”
“Do not think about finishing. Remember what I have taught you. You must be patient, and careful, and not rush the work. Life is like stone, things are not so easily undone. Control yourself. All will be lost if we do not remain ever in control of ourselves.”
The youth trembled where he stood. The elder sympathized. Indeed, he would be shaking just as much were it not such a fatal activity for him at the moment. He stilled his voice, and summoned his remaining store of confidence, gentleness and clarity – the aspects which had brought him from the level of the honest man, into the boundaries of the great (if it can be said that there are levels of man) – and thus the sculptor spoke:
“My friend. All that remains is for you to put this into effect. Victory is already ours. But you must not compromise this with your impatience. Trust me. Please, give as you have given to. Allow me to leave this life, rest assured that what I have done has not been all empty shells, but has had some purpose, some purpose that fits it. Read to me. I ask of you nothing but a few hours shared over words and whatever images those words evoke.”
The old man relaxed, there was nothing he could do but feel amused that so much of his effort lay in the hands of a stranger – the closest he had ever had to a son, but a stranger through and through, as all men are strangers to one another. He watched a thousand moods pass over the face of the boy, like a wheel of chance. Where would it land? How would this fate fall out?
The changes slowed, drew to a halt. The young man bent over the table, and set the sheets of the prospectus in order. His face was placid. A great sea at last at peace. He sat his strong body at the foot of his masters bed, opened the book, and began to read.