Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Rosemary, Chapter 10

“Well, child,” said the swan in his deep voice, “you must climb on.”

He sank down onto the snow, elegantly arching his wings away from his body, and bending forward so his back was level.
The golden feathers were light and slippery and once Letha was on his back, she could not figure out how to hold on with her hands. Her knees rested just behind where his wings joined his body. He rose and swiftly began to run, spreading his wings out to either side.
Letha went light headed with terror, crouching down instinctively. With a liquid motion, the swan left the earth, flying through the trees, his massive wings taking them higher and higher until they rode into the sky. Behind them came the others.
It was a long time before Letha could open her eyes. She felt the slight, continual shifting of the swan's flight as he kept her balanced. Above her Letha could see the stars, very close, burning with a white light. The journey seemed unending in the dark, but after a long time, a light began to grow in the direction they were headed.
The light spread, revealing wide green pastures, and upon it what seemed to be living flames. The flames took the shape of great horses, racing over the hills, their manes and tails streaming white and gold, and then they were flame again, turning and wheeling as though dancing in a draft.
There was a lake set in the green pasture and a white house beside it. The house appeared to be the source of all the light, sending shadows streaming out across the smooth green grass from every side.
The light grew so bright that Letha's pupils constricted and then it seemed she was breathing in the light. The ground was rushing up toward her. When she closed her eyes, she still saw light.
The swan touched the earth and came to a graceful stop. Letha stumbled as she dismounted and landed, with shaking knees, in grass so sweet that she lay there a moment longer, just to breath it in.
“Thank you so much,” she said.
"I was a pleasure to meet you," he replied, kindly. "Good luck to you, on your journey."
He lifted back into the air, his wings trailing gold like shafts of sunlight. The swans rose over the house and then lit upon the waters of the white lake beyond it, sending rippled light out toward the shore.
The house before Letha seemed to have no walls, only wide, white pillars that held up the roof, both along the edges of the house’s foundation and within the house, where the pillars formed walls of sorts. Billowing, sheer cloth hung from the ceiling between some of the interior pillars. The cloth was lit up brilliantly, as though the whole house within was on fire.
Everything was so drenched in light that the edges of anything Letha saw blurred when she moved her eyes. It was difficult for her to focus on anything and the colors were so bright she almost couldn't recognize them.
As she watched the house, the cloth within it lit brighter and yet brighter, blew aside as if shriveled by fire, to reveal a figure of mortal height, and who was, Letha realized, the source of all the light around her. As soon as the figure appeared she covered her face in awe.
“Letha!” cried voice, the voice thundered like the sea and was the glad cry of a young man both at once.
The light around her grew stronger; she felt as hot as if she had been slaving in the fields all afternoon, in high heat of summer.
“Letha, you don‘t have to sit on the ground like that. I won’t hurt you."
She dared to look up. She saw at first only a great dazzling light and was dizzy with it. Then her eyes took in the shape of a smiling young man with ageless eyes. He had a powerful chest and heavily muscled shoulders and arms from holding back the horses of his chariot. All around his face the light flared and burned, so that she could see nothing else around him. He held his hand out to her.
“Stand up,” he said.
Tentatively, she reached up her hand, it was grasped in his strong, callused one, and heat flared down her arm. He pulled her effortless to her feet as though picking a flower.
“That’s better,” he said with a grin that was so dazzling Letha threw her hands up, the light streamed through them, causing her hands to turn ruby red.
“Dear Letha,” said Sol Invictus. “You are a quiet one, aren’t you? Did Alona send me no word with her weaving?”
“She says…she says that she thinks of you,” stammered Letha.
The god laughed and it shook the ground, heat flaring up all around them. Letha's trembling legs would have dropped her to the ground, but Sol took her by the shoulders and planted a kiss on her cheek like a fiery brand.
“Thank you for bringing me that message, and give her that for me in return, when you meet her again. Tell her I’ll be bring them myself, soon enough,” he said. “Now as for your business, I'm sorry to say it, but I haven't seen your husband since his tower fell.”
Letha felt her shame all through her at his words, she cringed.
“Don’t,” he said.“You aren’t the first human to have made a mistake and believe me,” he assured her with a grin that flared up around them, “you won’t be the last. Though I am very sorry I cannot help you myself, my sister rode in the sky with me that evening. Perhaps she saw where he went.”
“Thank you,” whispered Letha.
“Do you see the shore there?” asked Sol. He pointed and a shaft of light fell, illuminating the waves of a dark sea upon a white shore.
“Go to the shore and call for Delphinus. He will carry you to my sister’s shore. Take this, you may need it.”

Sol took her and and turned it palm up. Upon her hand he placed a small, gold chestnut.
“Now, good luck to you and good journey.” He gave suddenly another blinding grin. “And when you find Cederic, tell your damned husband the next time he won’t find it so easy to best me.”
Letha could not think how to answer this at all and was surrounded all over again by the sun’s laughter. Momentarily blinded, she had to throw her arms out for balance. She felt him catch her by the shoulder, heat flaring up there.
“Go on now, sweet Letha,” he said fondly.
Though the shore seemed a long ways away, only a few steps brought her there. Her feet sank into sand for the first time in her life. Amazed, she knelt and sifted it through her fingers. The light here was much less bright and her eyes did not ache.
Looking back, Letha saw the house of the sun standing white against the green, and beyond that, a black, starred sky rising above it. Standing  outside the house, she saw the blazing figure of Sol Invictus. He raised a hand in parting and then bounded up the stairs into his house, lighting it up like a lamp.
Letha stepped gingerly across the sand to the edge of the ocean, stopping when the waves lapped her toes, still wrapped in cloth. The only difference between the sea beyond her and the sky above her was that the sea moved and the phosphoresce on the waves was a living light, unlike the stars that burned above it. The waves fell onto the shore with a great rush and murmuring.
“Delphinus…?” she called, and her voice seemed very small in that space.
She heard a splash. A smooth body rose up out of the waves, the water falling from the crescent of its dorsal fin.
“Oh my,” whispered Letha.
The dolphin came in close as he could without beaching himself and waited, with a wide, friendly smile. He wriggled encouragingly.
“I…just a moment, please."
Letha felt the cord of her bundle, to be sure it was still securely tied to her back. Taking a deep breath, she stepped awkwardly into the ocean. The water was warm and it moved like a living thing around her calves. It seemed to grab hold of her legs, to pull her in deeper. It caught hold of her hem and dragged it down.
The black sea stretched out away from her endlessly, the depths of it unknown. Terror filled her. She stopped, unable to go further.
“I can’t do it, Cederic,” she whispered in desperation. “I can’t, I‘m just a peasant girl, that’s all. That’s all I am.”

There was no answer but the waves as they pushed against her legs. Just out of reach lay the dolphin with his friendly expression, his curved snout gleaming in the star light.
“Hello, Delphinus,” she said to him.

He bobbed his head at her, smiled. He was almost as large as good Ellen and almost the same color. Letha wondered what had happened to her mare when the tower disappeared. Had the mare been real? Had Coll the groom?
“Chin up,” she whispered to herself, remembering. “Back straight.”
She waded deeper, the water caught up to her knees, crept higher. The water was above her waist by the time she could touch the dolphin. She was surprised to feel the side of him rise and fall as though he breathed.
“I don’t know how to get on you and I can’t let this bundle go. It belongs to Cederic.”
The dolphin nodded gravely, as though he understood.
“But I suppose it doesn’t matter if it got wet...” She reached up and grasped his fin. “I don’t want to hurt you,” she said then, hesitating.

The dolphin winked, his dark eye very close to her.

Letha pulled herself up onto her belly, kicked her legs, got one over despite her soaked and dragging skirts and then she was sitting on the great beast. The dolphin began to move through the water. Letha grabbed his fin with one hand and gripped his smooth body tight with her knees. The waves washed up and over her lap as the dolphin swam.
After the first few moments of terror, Letha began to relax. The ocean was as warm as bath water and the movements of the dolphin were much smoother than that of good Ellen. Her grip on the fin loosened as she realized she could hold on perfectly well with just her legs.
Tipping her head up, she watched the stars flow by. Beside them rode other dolphins, their backs breaking silver through the water.
It came as a surprised to her when the dolphin slowed and then stopped, his body rolling just a little in the water. Looking down, she saw the line of a dim shore stretching out. The light was soft and gentle and the shadows were everywhere, soft living shadows that seemed to sleep in the hollows of the land.
Letha slipped off the dolphin. Her feet touched bottom; she was nearly submerged in moving water. But the water buoyed her up, dragged her soaking braid and billowing smock back and forth lazily in the current.
“Thank you so much, good Delphinus. If I had carrot, and if I knew that you liked them, I would give you one,” she said, patting him. He smiled.
“If you gave me a carrot from your hands, sweet Letha,” he said, “I’d eat it!”
Then he rolled over and with a great splash of his tail was gone under the waves. Letha was left, her mouth wide open, soaked completely now, wet strands of hair falling in her eyes. All of a sudden, she laughed and shook her head, sending a spray of water in all directions. Still smiling, she began wading to the shore.
The land stretched away into dim and silvery, but Letha saw a light shining out from upon a hill in the distance. She wrung out her clothes the best she could and then set off for the hill.
The ground under her feet was soft and springy and she began to think what a comfortable place it would be to sleep on. The air was filled with the scent of lavender and the soothing sound of the sea. From somewhere in the soft line of woods came the sleepy call of a bird. Letha began to long for sleep, her bundle getting heavier and heavier.
“Welcome, Letha,” said a soft voice.
Letha lifted her head in surprise. She realized she must have been walking for some time half asleep.
Before Letha stood a woman with great dark eyes. Her hair was piled on her head, great dark, silken masses of it that seemed to blend in with the night. Long strands fell out softly around her beautiful, round face. Her skin glowed white as moth wing’s, she had a full, quiet mouth.
“My name is Selene," she said in her gentle voice. "I am the sister of Sol Invictus.”

Letha wore still her worn, woolen smock, colorless in the dim light, the hem unraveled. She was bare foot, the cloth having slipped off somewhere in the ocean. Her shoulders were bent with exhaustion.
“Lay your burden down and sleep,” said the woman. “You’ve come a long way for anyone. I know whom you seek, though I am sad to say I do not know where he is. But soon we will have another visitor and he may know. Lie down and sleep until he comes.”
Without hesitation, Letha lay down and put her head upon the bundle. The moment her eyes closed, she slept and she dreamed. In her dream, she was home in the tower, sitting in the library. Her desk was bathed in homey yellow candle light, a book open before her.
Next to her sat Cederic, absorbed in his own book, his feet propped up on the rungs of her chair. There was the familiar sound of the wind outside the glazed windows and Letha felt just enough chill from the stone walls to make the warmth of the fire on her back a pleasant, welcome thing.
“What is this word, Cederic?” she asked.
“Which word?” he asked, absently, his eyes still on his page.
“…timo…ni,” she sounded out.
“Testimony,” he corrected. “To speak aloud, to say with assurance.”
He lifted his head and looked at her. The sight of his gray eyes, alive, intent, struck her. She opened her mouth to call out to him.
Letha woke. She sat up in wonder at the sky above her, at the silvery land that stretched out around her with low, wooded hills and the line of the sea. She took a great, deep breath of the lavender air, and her lungs seemed deeper than before, her thoughts clearer.
She stood and saw that the hill was very close to her now, she could see that at the top of it was a great oak tree and from all its branches were hung hundreds of lanterns of white paper. It seemed as though the oak were in blossom with soft light. At foot of the tree was a simple stone bench. Selene waited there for her.
“Sit,” she said, patting the bench beside her. “Aeolus comes.”
Letha joined her as the wind picked up. She felt her hair stir, lift from her forehead, gently at first and then stronger. The branches of the tree above them moved, the light bobbed and leaped, casting a great chaos of light and shadow all around them.
Letha was afraid she would be blown away. She clamped tight to the bench with whitened knuckles, her eyes screwed shut.
The wind stopped and she gasped at the sudden stillness.
“Please excuse me,” came a voice, chagrined. “I didn’t realize you had a mortal visitor.”