The Mendicant

There hasn't been a lot of will for creativity lately.  I should certainly like to be writing, but mostly I am empty, so I've been reading.  Such times happen.  However, on a whim I was able to craft a tiny something for Rachel's Chatterbox this month.  I'm toying with a new method of work for the future, one which will include more study and less buckle-down writing, but will hopefully make room for "sketches" to keep me toned and hopefully to help exercise what I learn in my studies.  You could call the following a sketch.  I hope you enjoy!
chatterbox: superstition

The best way to understand the nature of the trinity is when one is in a dream.
I was coming down an uneven screeside, covered over now in thick grasses and clumps of broom late-blooming and alight with the red sunset.  The world was half and half around me, the hills topped with the burnished glow of the sun, the zigzag valleys between drenched in dark.  Going down into that dark was not, as often is in dreams, like going into a smothering closeness: it was like wrapping a rug round one’s head and burrowing into a pillow.  But I lingered, watching myself linger, on the shore of light and darkness, and surveyed the landscape.  The ground was soft, the air cool, both heart-breakingly coloured.  I, all parts of me, that which I was and which watched me at the same time, might sit down a moment and rest from the bite of frost, the unrepentant ring of metal, the slab of stone under a palm, which accented my life.
Without turning my head I saw behind me the approach of small, rough-coated goats, trotting through the runnels of sunlight and dusk of the scree, the foremost with its bell jingling and flashing like a star.  They bore marks of woad-blue on their flanks, and soon their herder emerged from the rocks above them, hovering on the brink of cumbrous earth and thin heaven.
I turned my body to see.
It was a woman who stood on the barren jut of rock, the crook in her hand tufted at one end to make of it a hearthside broom.  Her hair, blazing uncannily white in the yellow dusk, ran riot around her features, loose and wild in the wind.  She wore the ample folds of a gown about her tall, tragic frame, woven of coarse, country stuff, belted in a fraying length of tartan cloth which the dream muddied from recognition.
For a moment I was unmarked.  I watched, my limbs enchanted, as the wingless fey surveyed the vale as I had, her young, snapping brown eye glancing with sunsetlight out from the shifting veil of her hair.  The goats milled around her, streaming past her over the grass.  She oversaw them, vigilant and exquisitely sad, and she did not move.  I felt a movement would break her.
I watched her see me, suddenly, outside my body looking on at the interview with painful interest.  The eyes swelled with surprise—not terror, I noticed, but something like a rally against terror.  Never in my life, and perhaps never again, would I experience the power of exerting something like fear over another so adamantly endowed with native endurance.  It was a moment shortly lived.
“Thou.”  As she spoke, she lifted her arm, the free arm—she clutched her staff, half shepherd’s crook, half witch’s broom, in the other arm immobile.  Thou.  With deliberate step she came forward, down the scree, moving smoothly through the knee-high grass.  The yellow broom-flowers snapped and swirled in the air as she trod them loose.  But I watched transfixed as I stared into those eyes, come closer, closer, wild alight with what I first thought was passion: as she drew to me, but a yard off, I saw it was desperation. 
She stopped and the wind hurled her white hair from her face.  I saw she was merely a girl, high-crafted, too noble for her vocation.  She knew it, too, and though the Latin which she spoke to me was heavy with some other accent I did not know, rendering it almost inarticulate, her voice was imperative.
“Thou!  Help me!”  She stretched out her hand again, fingers shivering with the power of her request.  Now I saw her eyes were wide with genuine terror, terror of some other thing not myself.  Her hand shook in the air; the clasp on her crook trembled.  The wind was gaining strength, turning cold.  I heard the goats begin to bleat piteously and raw, unfettered fear stung my heart.  “Help me!” she cried.  “Help me!  I beseech thee!  Soldier-fey, help me!”
In total darkness the woman was swept up: burnt hillside and dark vale alike were lost.  I heard the wind: within it I heard a canine howl that struck my heart with frozen dread.  A clamour of hoofbeats rang in my skull.  Feeling as though I fell, I stumbled into the vestibule of the nightmare to see two eyes, hellish red and bodiless, staring bloodshot at me a hand-span from my face.
“Lord Duke!”
Called back by lungs infused with living blood, I swung round, within my body once again, sitting up in my cot in my own sleeping cell.  Weak dawnlight stroked the stone wall opposite my window.  In the distance, the bell rang the morning sacrifices. 
My eyes cleared and I saw Hilarion standing in the doorway, mottled wings livid with the torchlight shining from the wall beyond.  There was frost on their edges: real, cold frost that somehow anchoured me to life.
“Are you awake?” he asked.  “You sat awhile staring, and I did not think you were.”
“Yes,” I replied shortly, breathlessly.  I looked back to the wall at the end of my cot, at the striped rug which covered my knees, at the stark memory which broken dreams leave on the mind.  “Yes, I am awake.”
But in truth, I was not so sure.

8 ripostes:

  1. Wonderful ending and very evocative. It feels like there was a reference there to Sutcliff's Sword at Sunset but I like how you neatly turned that on its head. As a devoted hillwalker - enough to have been high up a mountain during a sunset you have got the light and shadow contrast of hill and valley just right. My only quibble is your use of scree (which is horrid stuff - extremely unstable walking down and a frustration to walk up) . Usually high grass and anything with as developed a root system as broom tend to stabilise a hillside such that there wouldn't be much if any scree around.

    A minor quibble though - I enjoyed this very much!

  2. There is something about this that recalls Bunyan and Pilgrim's Progress to me: be it the dreams, the narration, or the straightforward telling of things that are not at all straightforward. And I have missed reading your writing - you captured well the feeling of a dream, which is not something anyone can hold in palm. Very nice. I love it. <3

  3. You're back! That's exciting...and this piece is beautiful. I like the delightful uncertainties presented here: Is it a vision? A dream? Is it all imagined or somewhat real?

  4. Katy - I'm glad you enjoyed it! I have to confess I haven't read Sword at Sunset, (I've read most other of Sutcliff's works), so any allusion was uncanny coincidence. (I also have to say that I only just finished Jane Eyre, and I am astonished by how many similarities there are between it and my novel Plenilune, so I don't know what to make of these accidental allusions when they occur.) As for the scree, you're right. I had meant it to be one which had since evolved to be covered in dirt and turf - very little exertion on my part would have clarified that better. My apologies! Thank you for pointing that out.

    Carmel - It's difficult, writing a dream sequence and communicating the nature of a dream while still making it sensible to the reader awake! I'm glad you enjoyed this attempt. After having written my share of hackneyed, trite dream scenes, common sense and practice seems to have paid off. XD

    Janie - I know it seems like I've been gone! I've been working, there just hasn't been anything of note to post on The Penslayer for you. So sorry! This sketch (I hope) will be part of the planning for another novel of mine. This sketch will (I don't expect) make it in, but I've been giving myself free rein to develop the plot through extraneous sketches like this one. I'm glad you enjoyed it, whether it comes to anything or not!

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  6. New novels? I have twelve at least in the running. I'll be busy for years. XD

  7. "The world was half and half around me, the hills topped with the burnished glow of the sun, the zigzag valleys between drenched in dark. Going down into that dark was not, as often is in dreams, like going into a smothering closeness: it was like wrapping a rug round one’s head and burrowing into a pillow."

    Description on point, especially in that first paragraph after the opening line. The lines in that paragraph flow free and easy, elegantly, and build carefully-considered pictures in the reader's mind. You also capture, extremely well, the sensation of three bound into one: the figure in the dream, the figure watching the dream-figure, and the even more external narrator. And the closing statement leaves us with an uncanny and uncertain feeling that I relished.

    Hats off to you: this is grand.