Friday, February 4, 2011

The Lands Beyond the Lands We Know

 In which we travel by way of dreams into strange lands, are strangely attacked, and receive a strange offer of assistance.
The Riders of the Sidhe, by John Duncan 1911
Be advised, Gentle Reader, this reading which you embark upon is Part Two of a tale which began with The Coming of the Cait Sidhe.

At length the woman came back to herself, looked at the cat and said,

"Well, Sir Cat, what next?"

The great black beast, stretched out at her side, sat up politely. He placed his two front paws neatly together and, drawing his tail in an elegant arc to cover those silken hands, regarded the woman through the glowing green lanterns of his eyes. His ears pricked forward, giving her his gentlemanly attention.

She woke later, as the day was dying, sitting up from the cool comfort made by the young violets beneath the silver maple. Sir Cat was nowhere to be seen. A few of her feline neighbors, though, from the ramshackle tumbledown house next door, lounged in the garden, and on the wall which separated the gardens of the two houses, keeping watch. The woman gathered herself, bid her neighbors a goodnight, and went inside. That night she dreamed.

It was a strange and a tumultuous dream, one that she had dreamt often, though not in some time. She was young in the dream, and beautiful, beautiful in a way she had not been even in her youth; radiant as the sun she was in her dream, and cool as the moon. Copper hair tumbled in shining tresses to her knees; her lips were full and sweet, her limbs strong and lithe and graceful for dancing. Her eyes were the luminous green lanterns of the cat's eyes.

She knew this, in the weird way of dreams, in the odd perspective of dreaming that lets you sometimes look out your own eyes, and sometimes regard yourself as one regards a character, on a stage.

She walked in her dream, through a rich and darkly elegant house. Wood and velvet and ancient carpets of silk there were, and spacious open places, and room for dancing. Heavy sideboards of oak and mahogany held wondrous foods on silver platters. There were no windows, neither doors to the outside, nor  a single mirror of any kind, nor books.  The place was warm and well appointed, but it was a prison. She walked there utterly, completely alone.

The place gave her pleasure, as she strolled through its halls or lounged on its couches, eating grapes or chocolate, drinking a light wine filled with laughter, or dancing alone in bare feet on lush carpets fit for a pashah's haraam. With delight she would run her hands along polished paneling, laying a cheek on the smooth wood, breathing deeply the scent of the place. It was as if she embraced the house, like a lover, rejoicing in its beauty. Indeed, she loved it passionately.

I say there were no doors to the outside, but that is not entirely correct. There was one magnificently carved door, inlaid with ivory, carnelian, lapiz and bronze, which gave egress onto the roof. From there the woman could stand in the windy place and gaze out over vistas indescribably beautiful and vast. The light was bright with a piercing quality, filled with colour like a rainbow, or a courtesan's jewels. The light and the wind and the vast landscape all around combined to create a joy so searing as to burn her heart with ecstasy whenever she ventured upon the roof.

It was a wondrous house, and yet at times she was restless.

Some things were missing, things gone which ought to be present, and in her dream, she was troubled. She hardly knew what they were, and yet their absence was a dissonant chord in an otherwise satisfying symphony. Books, she knew, there ought to be, and mirrors here and there. A particular music box should be here, perhaps, and was not. As she gazed about, the woman's eye would fall on a sideboard, perhaps, or on a small carved table, and she would see, would know, that something was missing, something was not there that should be, though she could not think what things she sought.

Restless, the woman wandered, until she came at last to a staircase leading down and down and down and down. Came again, as she always did, when this dream came upon her. Down she went, down beyond the place where the warm wood panelling ended, to where her hand caressed the carven stone of the walls, and down she went further still. She took strength from the house, from its ancient foundations, as her palms passed along the stone, and it in its turn took strength from her, and together she and the housed gazed at last on an old iron door in the depths of the foundations. Here, gazing on the iron of that ancient thing, fear struck in her belly like a cold knife and poured over her shoulders like a bucket of ice water. She shivered, and the house shivered too.

She knew, in the weird way of knowing in dreams, that all which she sought, all which was missing from the rooms above, lay crowded and heaped in the room beyond the iron door. Almost her heart refused to beat, so heavy was the terror that lay on her as she stood in that deep place, one hand touching the foundation walls of her house.

A key was in her hand; she put it in the lock and opened the door.

Beyond lay all her treasures; her dreams and  her happiness, though never in waking hours could she quite remember the exact forms they bore. What she always remembered was a room crammed full of wonderful things, books and carpets and painting; furniture and a harpsichord covered with a lace shawl,  music boxes, and clocks. And mirrors. Hundreds, perhaps, reflecting the ligh to one another; mirrors of all sizes and shapes, scattered here and there like a shining vein of quartz in the dark caverns which hollow a mountain's roots.

At the far end of the room gaped a monstrous fireplace, and upon that infernal hearth burned a horrifying and a consuming fire. The fire was alive; it knew she was coming, it had heard her on the stair. When she flung open the door it roared at her, reaching out of the great mouth of the fireplace, calling her by her name. The rage of the thing roiled over her; she nearly capsized. Tears burned her eyes; terror clawed through her veins. She wanted to flee, to hide, to cover herself with anything, anything at all, to keep from the sight of the monstrous thing in the fireplace, but she couldn't. She couldn't move at all, only stand there, helpless, while her heart hammered at the walls of her chest and her lungs wept for breath. It was reaching for her, the terrible thing from the fire; she didn't see it, but felt it rather. It reached for her, sought her, to grasp her life in a hand of flame. When it touched her, she knew she would flame to ash like a small scrap of dry paper, and be gone.

She woke in her bed, sweating, cramped, cold and terrified. She sat up, clutched the blankets to herself, burried her face in their wam comfort, rocking.  The thing on the roof hissed and spat, lashed its tail and beat its wings in the night. Its claws dug into the masonry of the woman's house; a small piece of brick came loose and  tumbled to the ground, and shattered. It drooled, the twisted thing on the roof, and where the saliva fell to the earth, it hissed and  burned like acid.

From deep within the shadows, beneath the maple tree, the black cat sat gazing with his lantern eyes at the thing on the roof. He opened his cat mouth; from deep within his cat's throat he let forth a mighty and fearsome yowl, a terrible yowl that resonated for blocks and blocks around. Every Tom who heard hunkered down and was still, still as death, even knowing the Cat Who Yowled was not hunting for him.

The thing on the roof gazed down with poisonous intent at the place where the black cat sat amidst the shadows, unseeable. For a moment the two old rivals regarded one another. Then the twisted thing folded his spindly wings, and loosened the grip of its claws upon the masonry. The tail stopped its mad lashing. It settled down to a sort of watchful, resentful dormancy.

Inside, the woman heard the magnificent yowl of the black cat, and from that cry took an odd comfort. She listened for the answering yowl of another Tom, but none came, and so she drifted off to a dreamless sleep during the hours that remained of the night.

In the morning, at first light, there came an insistent scratching at the front door.

"Now," thought the woman, still in her nightgown, not having yet had her breakfast, "I wonder who that could be so early."

Tossing on a shawl for modesty and for warmth, she opened the door a curious but a cautious crack, for it never hurts to be careful of callers, especially morning ones.

There on the steps sat the handsome black cat, the rising sun a glory at his back.

"Madame," he said in the courteous way of cats, "forgive my early intrusion, but please do invite me in, for  we have little time and much to discuss."

Concerning that conversation, Gentle Reader, you may read further in Part Three: The Cat Speaks. On Monday, however, we will have Part Three of the true tale of Carl the Cranky and Tabby Tom. Catch Part One and Part Two if you haven't already.

Thanks for reading!

stlcatlady is a poet, blogger, and freelance writer of shortstories, news articles, and other such oddments, many of which center around her favorite subjects: felines , philosophy, and folklore. You may contact her by sending email to stlcatlady1 at gmail dot com.

1 comment:

  1. "A strange and tumultuous dream" indeed. And the way you tell it makes it come alive in my mind's eye, and brings reminiscences of Beauty and the Beast, or perhaps Bluebeard. Dreams are fascinating and terrible things...and I am glad for the woman in the story that she has the aid of the cat against such formidable foes.