Arthur was in a tree, above the many roofs of the Green Dragon, whose secrets beckoned to him all Gormenghast to the stars. Further off were budding street lights, traffic burring; nearer by were the private lighted rooms of private houses, none expecting an invasion from the air. Television without laughter, newsless war. Evening had begun. Customers approached and passed underneath him, two dusky shadows swelling and merging under the lamps: safe for now, while all he did was watch and calculate and plan.

In another tree, across the roofscape, sat an owl. From time to time Arthur and the owl looked at each other. The owl would blink. Arthur held a jelly rat in his mouth, dissolving the accessible parts. Dinner was an hour off.

A door opened in a different part of the building: behind the kitchen, out towards the garden past the barrels. It was Marina, who had shown him the real green dragon's head on the wall and told him its name was Horace: a fact confirmed by the dog-tags around its neck. After shifting his position along the branch so he could turn to intercept the sudden access of human sound, he recognized her at once by the darkness of her hair, and did not attempt to get a better look. If she moved away into the garden he would see her in full soon enough.

Marina was out for the air, and the garden, and the owl, and saw him and looked away from him, owl, roof, her senses trained on the sounds behind her. She went instead through the arbour of wisteria and sat down heavily, tired, taking a break, passing a hand over her eyes. Resting her eyes. As she had thought, the size of the figure concealed in the upper branches made it Arthur: there were no neighbourhood boys so bold or skilled. She looked down. The owl wondered whether to go and greet her.

Five or ten minutes. Wind blowing on her face. A milk ring moon in a corner waiting for sunset to draw off her cloak. Wind roughening arms.

Another clatter of the kitchen door, another member of staff taking a quick break before the evening rush. Marina crosses over to Helen, touches her bare arm as they sip from their friendship, and passes in. Helen stays by the barrels and smokes a warm cigarette, seeing neither owl nor boy.

We are indoors. Helen's boyfriend, who accompanied her in sometimes at the beginning of the shift and weaved an unsteady escort out at the end, had the look of being caught in something slightly naughty and not sure whether he would be forgiven, but willing to risk it: decided Jenny. She liked Edward from the first, and only grew to like him more as they played erratic chess on the bar; his initial unskill failing him ever worse as one bottle of Yarra Valley shiraz between them gave way to the next.

At the end of that first meeting she kissed Edward as crown of a lingeringly uncertain smooch, drawing in the discoveries of his solidity and warmth; and hugged Helen, who was pretty and sparkly and had terrible taste in clothes. Jenny waved as they went away, waved vaguely in her intoxication, smiled without focus in her new friendship, and returned to the emptying bar.

Her father was still manacled in conversation with the ag├Ęd regulars; her mother was clearing glasses from tables; and Susan was off in bed or studying. Vivacity was draining from the Green Dragon, the bright gold of tavernry giving way to the dull brass-glinted oak of the clean and vacant. The bar being polished by Marina lost its stains of use and got stacked-up beer-mats waiting for another day. With a moth sigh, a tingly silver breath knowing it had no reason for discontent, Jenny left the scene, half a glance back, a general wave, a blindness to perhaps one look, brief look. Ascended to the sound of a house at night.

Colour washed not off but onto her when it rained. Painterly rivulets of rose madder, Delft blue, and silver flowed on her skin. Ink of distant ultramarine and vivid grass green welled up over her shoulders, washes of straw yellow softened her belly, burnishes of ruddy gold under the smoothness of her arms, tints like grape juice darkened her arching back and hips. Her hair flamed snowy white and her goosebumps were celeste. Even as the rain fell the colours dried and stained her, new wetness falling over them unblurring. She watched in wonder, no control or prescience.

But when it snowed she chose the blooms. Peacock blue all over, right up to her throat, where it faded gently into the natural flesh of her face. She directed it like a musician, one breast of quivering crimson edged with feathery violet, the opposite thigh a jungle of frond greens starred with flowers of orange and vermilion.

When the butterflies swarmed she was among them. She was coloured and powdered with their scales, she floated and fluttered as high and swooped as easily, and she hid in folds of the air.

That's in her days, when the elements and their folk came to her, drawn to a daystar of strange blood. In nights she goes beyond the fields we know. In a night she visits the cave where stars are dyed in great vats, and the trees where they are hung to dry (birch and beech). In another night she wades the heather and climbs the mountain where nymphs weave the snow on their angelbone loom.

Doors open to her. Corridors of the night exist where walls sleep in the day. Whispers ahead, footprinted beaches, paths with bent boughs and faint lights, memories hung up to echo, lanterns in still water. Those who laugh in dreams hold out keys to her, bowing a little, their garments rustling.

So Jenny wanders her ancestral Green Dragon. In the hours of tranquillity the elder daughter learns her inheritance: learns the by-ways, the words, the scenes. One night she finds a book from another world.

Ya ekessa zaini laanda Manaka.

And Jenny Tyler gets a taste upon her tongue for the speech of this land beyond, through, within her England; this other land shaped by time, stone, and tale, born of old fire and dreamlight; this green shadow where the paths go. When she opens a door that isn't there during the day, Jenny breathes air her ancestors walked in. And do. And that the Keeper knows.

This is why the Green Dragon was built upon this hill and howe. The languages echo where they were sung, where they are carved.

In the darkness Susan stirs and wakes as her sister returns to their room. The Keeper sleeps unaware. Jenny lays down cloak and jewel, cobweb and leaf, folds her jumper and skirt, and moves naked from one journey to another.

< Earlier | Tales of the Green Dragon

For bexxta and jessicapierce

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