FRAGMENTS OF A HERO MYTH

 

ONE DREAM

 

Morning breaks over the jungle,
the rising sun dissolves the mists,
framing momentary worlds
for someone’s eyes – for Elephant
on a height above the trees? for Kite
riding the currents of the dawn?
Surely for us. The favoured eyes
are ours; we become the dreamer,
who sees, when the mist parts, with Dog.
Fresh light pours through foliage
bathing the forest floor, and startled
pig and peacock rush from footfalls
of an alien presence. Colours
flash out on waxen flowers and wings.
This is the time to count the creatures
resting from labours of the night
while cubs are playing at the mouth
of dens and lairs: the limping Tiger,
Panther, Python, Bear and Jackal,
Monkeys, shameless chattering gangs
and the free people of the Wolf pack.

And who are these small creatures, tumbling
in dust and sunlight near a cave,
so bare and brown and different?
We see, the freak descendants born
into the wild community
are wrestling with their brother cubs.
This is the start of their adventure,
already they have learnt some rules
and master words to save their skin:
“We be of one blood, thou and I”
spoken in all the jungle tongues
from battish squeak to feline roar.
They will inherit carelessly
their natural family’s pride and power.

Midday hangs over the jungle.
Only the lean Kite can dare
to leave the shade below and float
with tense wings in the boundless glare.
Under the trees no creature stirs.
Now we may meditate on law.
We see how all the many paths
of forest hungers and desires
follow the decrees laid down
since creatures crawled or leapt or ran,
and tusk and tooth and claw obey
strict limits on their strife and play
and right for one is right for all.
And now into this ordered world
a new and different power has come.
The twins, whose eyes can turn aside
even the panther’s angry stare,
whose curiosity to learn
is endless, show that love can move
across the races. Mother Wolf
has raised them. In the woods with them
we see and hear and touch the Earth
and praise it as we might have done
if our own law of love had won
its battle in us over fear.
We lie with them among the cool
and silky coils of the great snake,
and swing from tree to tree with them
like Monkey folk and ride the back
of sleek and sinuous big cats,
and all the time a voice in us
says this is how it might have been,
and, maybe we might still return,
and, this taste at least is given us.

Night falls over the jungle,
but jungle creatures see in darkness.
This is the hour of food and death
when flesh is ripped and sticky blood
falls to the ground from feasting lips.
In darkness the white serpent broods
who guards the hoard of fatal gold.
His eyes are red like bloody gems
and none may trust him but the dead.
The mystery of the underworld,
of time before, and life unclothed
in even simplest seemliness,
reveals itself in bloodlust, but
its other side is the true sage
whose search into the heart of things
for his untainted self achieves
a miracle of selfless love.

After night again the morning,
after searing drought the rain,
after the stale winter, Spring
making nature fresh and young.
The twins have multiplied their kind.
Look at this Dogling on the verge
of a new life, jungle beauty
offering a compassionate heart!
This is the image of a saviour.
If we can dream a dream like this
we still may find a way ahead
where oldest things will make us new.
“Jungle favour go with you!”

 

 

Rosa, drawing by Clide Eliche

 

THE MOTHER

 

Night was falling, the trail she was following was becoming faint and she was wondering where she would sleep, when she came to another river. From the top of the gully she could see white water and big rocks through the trees. She scrambled down and came to a pool, with waterfalls above and below it. Above, the river divided and fell in cascades on either side of a rock which was the dreaming head of an enormous dog, and surrounding the pool and below it downstream were smaller rocks, which were also dogs’ head, with different expressions, some sad, some happy, some showing their teeth in anger.

Although it was nearly dark and cold too, Rosa undressed and waded into the pool. It was water from the mountain heights and icy cold, and full of bubbles that frothed up round her brown body. It was so cold it was like an electric shock, between her legs, at her navel and her nipples and deep inside her brain. She looked up at the big dog’s head and it seemed to say, “This is a baptism.”

The next day Rosa explored further up the river and discovered a cave beside a waterfall with an opening in the rocks above it. The stone surfaces were slippery with spray and she was a little afraid, but she let herself down carefully into the embrace of the cave. Crouching against the rock wall, she felt time fall away from her, and she was back in the womb. The tender red roots of alder trees coming through crevices were blood vessels bringing her nourishment from deep inside the Earth, and the pounding of the waterfall was the beating heart of the immense Bitch in whose womb she was growing toward a new birth.

She sat for a long time, with no thoughts, only the sensation of being sheltered and fed by the great body, and when words came back to her mind she told herself that she had touched the point where everything begins and ends and what remained of her fear of living had been washed away.

 

For several days the dogs came to meditate with her, and then one evening they said goodbye to her, each one saluting her in turn.

“I am sorry to see you go,” she told them, and they answered, “We also are sorry, but we will meet again.”

Alone, Rosa knew it was time for her to move on too. The next morning early she went to the pool to say a goodbye prayer to the stone head. As she stood there, a resounding yap-yap-howl came suddenly from up the river valley.

“The dogs,” she said aloud.

A few more yaps came, like a laugh, and she knew the voice had said, “No, not a dog.”

“Who are you?” she shouted, as loud as she could.

“Not yet,” came the answer, in her language, apparently close by.

 

 

One night Rosa was alone in her bedroom in the big house, when she heard a sound on the balcony outside the french windows. Unafraid, she got up and went to open the windows. Buk was sitting on the parapet. His likeness to the drawing she had made of him long ago was extreme. Black hair covered thinly most of his big body, he had large, fine hands and his face had delicate contours. All this Rosa took in while she overcame her shyness and raised her eyes to his. Then she had the sensation of going into the depths of a darkness in which there was more light than she had ever seen in any person’s eyes, a past which was also a more intense present than she had ever known, a power which was also compassionate and, as she began to return to herself and see him more objectively again, reassuring, even slightly self-ironic.

“Let me in, please,” he said in Rosa’s language. “I don’t want to be seen.”

Rosa made way for him to pass, shut the windows and sat down on a chair, signing to Buk to do the same. Finally face to face with him, she didn’t know what to say, but it didn’t matter. She felt gratitude, affection, trust for him. He also remained silent.

Finally Rosa asked, “Who are you?”

“An envoy from the Tribe.”

“What Tribe?”

“The Tribe in the eastern forest that worships the Moon Dog.”

“Are there many of you?” asked Rosa.

“Not many,” said Buk. “But enough, we hope, with the help of people of good will to save Earth.”

“Can I do something for you?” asked Rosa.

“There is one more thing we hope you’ll do,” said Buk, “if you agree.”

Rosa found herself suddenly short of breath and didn’t answer, and Buk got up from the chair and stood with his back to her, looking out of the window. Very softly he began to sing. As Rosa listened there came before her closed eyes a fresh sky and a forest in early summer and cubs playing on a carpet of fallen flowers; she looked beyond this scene and saw stretching away into the remote past generations of similar creatures until she came to a spring pouring out of the Earth and surrounded by green moss and ferns, and in the pool around the spring were jewels of different colours that contained the secrets of life and joy. She came back to the cubs in the forest and saw that the line stretched into the future too, and that it passed through her own body.

She opened her eyes and saw that light was streaming from the body of Buk, who was standing all erect in front of her, with his arms raised like dark wings.

“Dog’s will be done,” she said, and he lifted her and carried her to the bed.

 

 

THE SON

 

The boy felt lonely as he was growing up, because there seemed to be no other creature just like him in the world. However, he didn’t have much time to brood on his own fate, because from a very early age he was given lessons in everything from good manners to fencing to mind-reading to deep meditation. When there was no longer anyone who could teach him anything in his mother’s country, he said a sad goodbye to her and travelled half way round the world to a place where teachers were waiting to develop his talents. These new people shared physical characteristics that had seemed strange in him, and he gradually came to understand his connection with them. When the time was right, he was sent off on the mission for which he had been prepared. He was not altogether happy to go, because fighting had begun where he was and he was strong and well-trained in martial arts; but his teachers told him that his main role was not that of a warrior and assured him that all his courage would be needed in the trials he had to face.

 

 

Finally he came to the edge of a clearing and stopped amazed at what he saw. There was a long, low building of big blocks of stone, roofed with oval tiles of a metallic substance with a greenish patina. An immense yellow-flowering tree stood over the building, and the birds in its branches filled the clearing with their song. Straight in front of Dogson, in the middle of the wall of the building, was a double door of sculpted bronze, with scenes of Tribespeople worshipping the sun and moon. On either side of the door stood two girls dressed in gold and silver. Their head ornaments were made of butterfly wings, and they were wearing short, finely woven tunics of the same colours. They beckoned to him to approach, smiling invitingly, though as they swung open the heavy doors they pronounced together some words that sounded disconcertingly like a “Beware!” Then they slipped inside ahead of him.

As Dogson entered, he was overwhelmed by a compound of horror and ravishment. The hall in which he found himself was as quiet and hallowed and timeless as a tomb, and had a tinge of a tomb’s mustiness, but it was also full of an intense, mysterious beauty. There was little furniture in it. A heavy wooden table with carved chairs, some divans with cloths thrown over them, rugs on the stone-flagged floor, hangings on the walls, a stone altar with a big medallion at one end. The colours of the cloths were muted with a metallic sheen, dull gold, chestnut, maroon, tawny, ochre, dusky pink, and as Dogson’s eyes became accustomed to the dimness he saw that they were woven of a strange fibrous material, bark perhaps, each strand of which glistened softly as the faint light fell on it. The designs in rugs and hangings imitated tiger stripes and the eyes on the wings of moths and the delicate spots on beetles’ carapaces. At intervals on the floor and on the front of the altar were designs inlaid in glowing stones, deep red, amber, brown and gold.

“Who can live here?” thought Dogson, trembling. “Who can possibly live in such a house?”

On coming inside the girls had visibly assumed the attitude of servants; they signed to him to wait and vanished through a door at the other side of the hall. When they reappeared they were escorting between them a tall, closely wrapped figure, shadowy in the half darkness, who stopped a few paces inside the hall and stood scrutinizing him. He could not see her eyes – he knew it was a female – but felt them sizing him up and penetrating his exterior in a most unnerving way. He bowed his head.

“Very good,” said the figure, in a deep, vibrant voice. “Proper humility. We will meet soon.” And she turned and went away again with her waiting-women.

They soon came back and led him to a room that gave on to a wide corridor flanking the courtyard where he could see the trunk and some fallen blossoms of the flowering tree. He was left alone, except that a supper of the Tribal food he was used to was brought to him at nightfall. From the room next to his he seemed to hear from time to time rustling and stifled laughter. He wanted to think about this unexpected development in his journey, but his mind seemed to have lost its agility. In the end he decided he must be tired and lay down to sleep on the comfortable bed, and in his dreams he heard all night a strange, ancient-sounding music.

He woke late, as he saw from the bright daylight. The girls brought him a breakfast and some time later they returned and beckoned to him to follow them. They walked gracefully to the end of the corridor and knocked on the door there. The deep, husky voice of the mysterious figure of the previous day said “Come in!”

Again Dogson was awed as he crossed the threshold. The glow of rich and subtle colours from walls, ceiling, furnishings and floor was marvellous, but even more striking was the Tribeswoman who sat very straight in a high backed chair, facing him as he came in. She was very, very old, ancient, but none the less majestic for that, and she exhaled a charm as pervasive as a strong perfume. She was also highly perfumed, with a scent of night flowers. She was wearing a robe of gauzy, iridescent material the colours of fire, as fine as gossamer, and on her head was a circlet of beaten gold. She had a necklace of rubies round her scrawny neck and many rings on her bony hairless hands, which still showed traces of the beauty they must once have possessed. She had a long-nosed, aristocratic, wrinkled face.

The two girls curtseyed to her and said together, “Hail Queenbitch!”

Dogson bowed low and said “Your Majesty!”

“All right,” said Queenbitch, waving her hand at the girls. “You may go.”

The girls slipped out of the room and Dogson was left facing the scrutiny of Queenbitch’s amber eyes. He felt embarrassed and turned to look at the mass of soft rugs and cushions on the floor.

Queenbitch laughed softly.  “You can’t hold my gaze, you good-looking young fellow,” she said, in a much sweeter voice than she had used to the girls. “Are you afraid of me?”

“No, Your Majesty,” said Dogson, forcing himself to look her in the eye again.

“Call me Cleo,” she said. “I want us to be very close friends.”

“Is this the place I was supposed to come to?” asked Dogson.

“Oh no, no, no,” she said, laughing again. “But it will do you no harm to have a rest on the way.”

“I was told to go as fast as possible,” said Dogson, beginning to be aware he had been trapped, and realizing also he was not as sorry about it as he should be.

“Oh yes, they’re in a great hurry with their design. But let them wait. I intend to have some satisfaction of my own this time. Especially if this is the end.”

“I don’t understand,” said Dogson.

“I know you don’t,” said Queenbitch. “If you’re lucky you will in time. For now you have only to enjoy my company.”

Dogson was too bewildered to say anything, and she went on, “If you only knew how many males would have envied you this chance!”

It occurred to Dogson to ask, “Where are they now?”, but he knew it would be rude. And perhaps it was better not to know.

Instead he asked, “You know who I am?”

“Oh yes,” she said, “they can’t keep any secrets from me. I’ve been waiting for you.”

Dogson found nothing more to say.

“Come closer to me,” she said, and he took a few small steps closer and stood looking at her. This time he could not take his eyes away from hers. And as he went on staring a strange thing happened. The wrinkles round her eyes faded, and he saw only their almond shape and the depths of passion in them. When she held out a hand he took it, and felt its senile smoothness as if it was a young girls’s soft skin. She was drawing him slowly toward her when he suddenly saw her again as she really was and pulled away.

“Don’t worry,” said Queenbitch. “I’m not obliging you to anything. And we have time, all the time you need.”

“But time is what I don’t have,” said Dogson, but even to himself his voice sounded unconvinced, and from the flash of amusement in Queenbitch’s eyes he knew he had failed some kind of test.

“Come and sit with me over here,” she said, and led him to a rug piled with cream and fuchsia cushions. She sank down among them and signed to him to lie beside her. He obeyed, but remained stiffly propped on one elbow.

“So you like my furnishings?” she asked, as he gazed round the room again.

“Oh yes,” said Dogson, relieved to find a safe subject to talk about. “They’re beautiful. What is this cloth made of?”

“Specially treated spider’s silk.”

“But that must take years to weave.”

“It does. But that’s not important. I have to have the best. The best of everything,” she went on, holding out her hand to him again.

Dogson pretended not to notice. “Of course everything you have is natural,” he insisted. “So it has to be beautiful.”

“I don’t know what comparisons you are making,” she said, “but nature never made the things I possess. And you surely don’t believe you can trust nature’s taste! Some of the flowers she makes are dreadfully vulgar, those big pink orchids for instance. They’re like the fat, fleshy bodies of young girls. Now real pleasure is to be found in a woman who is subtly aged, like me.” And she reached over and took Dogson’s hand forcibly.

The perfume she was wearing was making Dogson’s head spin, and the thought was in his mind that he was going to have to go through with this before he could continue his mission. He turned to Queenbitch and let her draw him down on top of her. She began to moan and he was suddenly very excited himself. He was aware only of the flurry of her flame-tinted robe as she tore it off, and the room with all its colours and reflections wheeling round him as he struggled with his shorts, and then he was inside her. He came almost immediately.

He pulled away feeling a little ashamed of his lack of control, but she was lying in a pose of relaxed contentment.

“Oh no,” she said, as he reached for his shorts. “That was the beginning.”

He was hardly allowed out of her chamber. She had a bathroom with a big tub of gold mosaic and a polished stone mirror and drains to the outside, so toilet needs were no excuse to go out. Late in the mornings he was sent out into the clearing for a little restorative exercise, under the supervision of the gold and silver girls and two others, equally finely dressed in blues and greens. They did not answer his questions – presumably they were not allowed to – but he suspected they were all that was left of Queenbitch’s court. Seen from close up, they were not so very young either, though certainly fresher than their mistress, and in the purely sensual state to which she had reduced him he lusted after all of them. However, he could tell it was useless to pursue them; they were faithful servants. He also knew they were quite strong enough between them to stop him if he tried to run away.

The rest of the day he spent lying or sitting with Queenbitch, enmeshed in her spiders’ webs. From time to time her magic worked, and he saw and touched only her lost youth and beauty, and then he experienced pleasure such as he had never imagined existed. Odd memories of the earnest and panting women he had made love to at his school passed through his head and confirmed his idea of the poverty of their natures. But mostly he was aware of Queenbitch’s stale smell, decrepit frame, straggling grey hairs and sagging flesh, especially the long, flaccid dugs scarcely concealed under the iridescent robe, and he embraced them with horror and pity. And still with pleasure. Once or twice, dozing with his head on her breast, he dreamt he was in his mother’s arms, and woke appalled.

He called her Cleo to her face, although he always thought of her as Queenbitch. At first he tried to talk to her, to ask her about the past life of the Tribe, but she didn’t seem to be interested in serious conversation. Occasionally she woke in the morning glum and self-absorbed. Then, she stepped down from the canopied bed without speaking to Dogson. Later in the morning she would take from a wooden chest in the furthest corner of her room a large old book with grainy paper covered in strange characters, and sit down with it in the high-backed chair. She would pore over the book for hours, and once Dogson saw her making an addition in the final pages with a quill pen. While she had the book in front of her it was as if he did not exist. The first time it happened Dogson was disconcerted, but then he found that while she was thus occupied he was free at least to explore the house, and he took full advantage of the time.

He explored the palace, the kitchen with its larders and sculleries, the great hall through which he had first entered, the workshops for weaving and other activities, arranged around the courtyard where the great tree grew that rained its yellow flowers on the roof. The birds in the tree never stopped singing during the daylight hours, and in the dark too he sometimes caught the sweet notes of a night bird. Once he sat down under the tree and listened to the song, and it penetrated his confusion, or rather seemed to be the precious core of it, the promise of a sphere of perfect safety and joy, but he did not know where this promise might be fulfilled. He tried to pray at the altar in the hall, but was distracted not only by his light-headedness but also by the fact that the figure on it was not the Moon Dog he knew but apparently a Bitch, in a powerful, hieratical pose.

In the kitchen Dogson discovered he had been wrong in thinking the four girls were the last of Queenbitch’s retainers. There was another shrivelled, grey creature, grey-skinned as well as grimy from the smoke, who lived in the cave-like room among the metal and earthenware vessels and huge fireplaces and produced the delicious food they ate every day. She watched Dogson as he poked his nose into her store cupboards and larders, without resentment but without interest either. And there was yet one more, who sat by the hearth and was so incredibly ancient there was nothing soft left anywhere on her body and the only sign of life in her was a faint, bluish glow. The girls told him she was older than anyone could count and had always been Queenbitch’s maid and companion.

On a few occasions Queenbitch herself, in a happier mood, came out of her chamber with him, and they had their dinner served at the table in the hall, and reclined afterwards with glasses of wine in their hands on the magnificent couches. At these time she made him wear a bronze gossamer tunic, and he felt very regal. Once she got the silver Tribeswoman to play for them on a kind of lute and taught Dogson the steps of a courtly dance. And once, when Queenbitch was slightly drunk and more expansive than usual, he got her to talk a little.

“I have been thinking about the age of Tribespeople,” he said.

“You mean you’ve been thinking how old I am,” said Queenbitch. It didn’t seem to be a propitious beginning, but luckily, for once, the subject made her laugh.

“What I was wondering,” said Dogson, “since you all seem to get much older than human beings, is do you all get very, very old? Will I get very old too?”

“Only if you pass the trial,” said Queenbitch. “Otherwise when the time comes you’ll decay as quickly as you grew.”

“What kind of trial?” asked Dogson.

“The embrace of death,” said Queenbitch, in a grave voice he had never heard before. “You must allow death to possess you and to live with you from then on.”

Dogson was quiet for a moment, trying to understand, and then he said, “No one told me about that.”

“I expect there are lots of things they didn’t tell you,” said Queenbitch, still calm and serious. “They didn’t tell you about me, did they?”

“No,” said Dogson. “Why have you been living here almost alone?”

“To them I am an outcast,” she said. “For me it is they who have transgressed. We will see, or rather you may see, because I know now that I will not, which kind of royalty will be valued in the future.”

“What are your differences?” asked Dogson, only half following her but hoping to keep her talking; but Queenbitch was looking at the colour of the wine in her glass against the candlelight, and ignored his question. And that was the end of the conversation.

On other occasions she amused Dogson, while they sat together on the cushions in her room, by bringing out all the tiny vials of her perfumes and the boxes full of her jewelry, exquisite metalwork with deep-glowing stones of all colours, and the heaps of robes of all shades and textures she had put away in the wooden chests around the walls, and dressing herself in different ways to show them to him. At those times Dogson was a hairsbreadth away from being really in love with her, because the marvellous scents and sensations combined with her magic to make her seem young and infinitely fascinating. But the episodes ended in depression. Queenbitch would catch a glimpse of herself in some reflecting surface and start to pester Dogson to assure her that she was beautiful and desirable. And Dogson, as he praised and petted her, would see her more and more clearly as she really was, and feel panic at the trap he was caught in.

A long time passed. How long it actually was Dogson could not calculate till later, but he knew it was several moons. He became frantic. He thought dimly that there must be a way to escape if only he could reflect clearly on his situation, but that was just what he was unable to do. It had several times occurred to him that he could make use of the power in his eyes and burn his way out, but apart from doubting whether in his present state he had the strength to do that, a deeper awareness told him that he could not use violence toward this woman, however she tormented him. Sometimes his father’s words echoed in his ears, “We are trusting you to find the way,” but they seemed to refer to someone else. Finally two ideas penetrated the haze in which he lived.

The first was that Queenbitch was drugging him. He refused to drink any more wine, with the excuse that it was affecting his potency – which did seem to be diminishing – and after that he noticed an odd taste in his food. He ate less, and found that he could concentrate his mind a little better. The second idea was that he might escape in disguise. Queenbitch sometimes went for a walk toward evening. Dogson had watched her from the barred windows go alone into the forest and return with some leaves in her hand, perhaps the same plants she was using to keep him enslaved. A plan formed in his mind.

One night he seemed to hear voices coming from the great hall, and was sure Queenbitch had got up to meet a visitor, though in the morning the idea was so impossible he decided it had been a vivid dream and he had better take action before he really went mad. That whole day he ate nothing, saying his stomach was upset and spending long intervals in the bathroom to make it plausible. By evening he felt more lucid. At breakfast next day he switched their plates without Queenbitch noticing, and at lunchtime he did the same thing openly, pretending it was a love game. Queenbitch was looking tired and found no excuse not to eat, and by evening she was languid and drowsy. Dogson made love to her for the last time, and she fell asleep. He opened, quietly, one of her clothes chests and found the long robe she put on for her walks, a green-and-yellow-shot one of a slightly thicker material than her house robes, with a shawl to wind round her head and neck. It tingled as he put it on, and he knew there must be spells woven into it, but he felt the beginning of returning strength and decided not to fear it. He crept out into the corridor, shutting the door again on Queenbitch’s gentle snores.

The door to one of the girls’ rooms opened as he approached, but he averted his head, and the girl who was coming out said, “Oh dear, it’s so late Your Majesty, we didn’t know you were going out,” and ran to open the outside door. It was nearly dark in the hall, and he passed the girl looking the other way and with his hands hidden in the shawl. She did not follow him out. He forced himself to walk slowly round the palace and enter the forest by the path he had seen Queenbitch take, but after he had gone a few steps among the trees he started to run.

The path soon ended, at a small plot of strongly smelling bushes. The smell was the same as the taste Dogson had found in his food, and made him giddy. He felt himself being drawn toward the bushes, unable to resist, but with sudden inspiration he pulled off the robe he was wearing, and the attraction lessened. He threw the robe over a bush and quickly crossed the plot. Then he stopped and bowed in the direction of the palace a hasty goodbye to Queenbitch and slipped into the dusk of the forest beyond.

He walked through the darkness, exulting in his freedom and the return of his energies. His inner compass led him to the foot of a hill and up the slope, which became steeper as he climbed, until he found himself on the flat top. Under trees, on a paved court surrounded by rough columns, was a huge black stone. It appeared to be carved in the shape of a head, and its brooding presence was so strong that Dogson expected to hear it speak. It remained silent, but Dogson hated to pass it by without being able to see it properly, and wondered if he could stay there till daylight. He consulted the inner voice, which assured him it was safe to do so. He lay down at the foot of the stone, breathing gratefully the fresh night air of the hilltop, and slept.

He woke when the rising sun touched him, and his first thought was relief at being free. Then he looked at the huge stone above him, and saw that it was fashioned in the shape of a triple Doghead. He got up and walked round it. It was immensely ancient and weatherworn in places, but the facial expressions imprinted in the harsh material were still vivid and the patterns in the crowns on the heads, of heavenly bodies interwoven with flowers and creepers, were taut with life. The head that faced the way Dogson had come was severe, with a slight frown and curl of lips above the pointed fangs. Looking up at it, Dogson wondered if it threatened to punish him for straying from his course, but as its expression worked on him he realized it was unconcerned with his sins; it would deal destruction impartially. The face looking north, toward invisible high mountains, was gentle, of perfect proportions, either a female or a very young male, full of the hope of beginnings and of growth. And the third head, facing south-east, was that of a mature creature with long ears and eyes closed in meditation. The strength and serenity that emanated from this face were so powerful that Dogson, who had sat down on the ground in front of it, lost consciousness of his limited existence. As he breathed the great dog also was breathing, drawing creation back into himself with the air he took in and sending all its shapes and shadows dancing out into space as he exhaled, all the time without being moved from his intent and solitary awareness. Dogson returned to himself feeling purged of his recent madness.

There was a path leading down the hill opposite this last head, but before taking it Dogson went to the edge of the hilltop in the hope of getting an overall view of the forest, and found that he could in fact see down beyond the trees. He saw the immense expanse of jungle through which he had made his way and identified the wall of vegetation through which he had emerged into the wide circle of airier forest which must be the Tribe’s domain. With sudden fright he noticed, not far south of this limit, a thin plume of smoke rising. This could only mean the enemy was getting near, and he blamed himself again for wasting time. He hurried on down.

The first dwellings he came to were caves with carved entrances in the rock at the bottom of the hillside, and then houses appeared among the trees, built of stone or wood or a mixture of both. It was plain that a large community had lived in this place. Dogson followed a lane that led into the middle of the settlement, and crossed the open space of a square to the building in the middle. He could see it was immensely ancient, and for a moment he wondered if it was just a heap of stone, because he couldn’t see any opening in it. He went on round the building and came to the front. There was a semicircular paved area, from which steps led up to a porch. As Dogson turned up the steps, he realized with a start that someone was sitting very still against a pillar at the top.

“Dogson, I presume,” said the Tribesman, without moving.

“Yes sir,” said Dogson. He went up to the step below the Tribesman and saluted him respectfully. The Tribesman was extremely imposing, with a large round head and shaggy black mane. He was wearing a white tunic, and the dark hands on his gnarled knees were big and powerful.

“I am Sirion,” he said. “Have you heard that name before?”

“Yes sir,” said Dogson. “You are the Doge of the Tribe.”

“Did you expect to find me here?”

“Yes. I was told I would meet you here. I am honoured.”

 

The creature in the picture his master was showing him was perched on a mountain top with cloud masses surrounding it, its mouth was open and its sinewy throat was straining to produce a shout that Dogson could all but hear. It was exulting in its own strength and its joy was contagious.

“By the sound of his voice he brought shapes out of chaos,” intoned Sirion, “and his breath gave them life.”

Now that the sunlight was fully illuminating the scene, Dogson could see that pieces of cloud were turning into forms of animals and plants and the whole sky was writhing with movement.

“What can you see?” asked Sirion.

“The creation of the world,” said Dogson. “Now!”

“I am glad,” said Sirion, and telling him to meditate on the creation he left him alone.

Each day they came to another screen at the hour when the sun was striking it and Dogson, after Sirion had told him briefly what it depicted, was left to study and absorb it according to his capacity.

The second panel showed the three orders of being in the form of a great Dog’s Body. Its claws and hair were inert matter, stone and metal and water; its legs and genitals and heart were movement and desire; and its tongue and eyes the places of the intelligence.

On the third panel was a mysterious image of a Dog or Bitch with rays, that could also have been streams of water, or even wings, radiating from it in all directions. Above the canine figure stood a meteor from which golden drops fell like darts into its head and body.

The fourth and middle screen showed the moon with one face light and the other dark. In the foreground a crowd of kneeling Tribespeople worshipped with equal fervour the deities of both faces. On the light side was a figure similar to the Moon Dog that Dogson knew, riding on a raincloud with thunderbolts in his hand, and Sirion said he was the great guardian and one of his meanings was fertility. On the dark side a hooded figure whose face could not be seen raised its hand in blessing, and this was the Dog of death whose knowledge brings peace.

The fifth panel was divided into different scenes, some of which showed magicians making contact with departed souls, others artists practising their crafts, carving, painting or engraving strange signs. In the centre a young Tribesman received the gift of fire from a ghostly tree.

The sixth screen showed the dissolution of the Tribe.  Figures of males and females were seen scattering in all directions from the altar in the centre where two figures, one old and one young, stood with their arms raised. In the sky above them hung a long-tailed comet.

“These are you and me,” said Sirion, pointing to the figures, “though for most of my life I was unaware of it. Tradition has always told us that the young Tribesman in this scene, he who will carry the power out into the world, is one who is of us but not of us at the same time. You were conceived for this task.”

Dogson’s heart turned over when he heard this and he could not speak.

“I know you still doubt,” said Sirion, in gentler tones. “But you will achieve the strength.”

The seventh and last panel, the one on which the sunlight never fell directly, was at first sight blank. Only if he half closed his eyes and concentrated very hard could Dogson make out on the dull gold surface lines and shapes which seemed to dissolve as soon as he identified them.

“That is the future,” said Sirion. “No one can see it clearly, though it may hint at possibilities. You will draw some of those lines.”

It was evening when they stood in front of this screen, and Dogson spent that night praying in the temple for the grace to draw lines of life.

During the next few days Sirion questioned Dogson on his understanding of the mysteries, and to Dogson’s relief said he was satisfied.

“There is another matter I must speak to you about,” he said, and for the first time he seemed hesitant.

Dogson waited for him to continue.

“It concerns,” he went on, “what has traditionally been considered the deepest secret of all. To put it plainly, and there is no other way, Dog is female.”

Dogson stared at him. “But doesn’t that change everything?” he asked.

“I’m not sure whether it does. To be honest with you, I’m not sure whether Dog has any sex at all. But that may be an old man’s obtuseness. Think about it yourself.”

 

When the noise of the invaders came close, Sirion blessed him and Dogson turned and ran into the forest, with tears streaming down his face.

He had not gone far among the trees before he stopped. His heart revolted at running away from the final scene. There had to be a witness to Sirion’ end. As he crept back to find a hiding place at the edge of the clearing, he realized that Sirion himself must know he would stay close by.

He looked up into the sky and saw that it was streaked by the rising sun with black rays. “Even the sky knows it’s a day of doom,” he thought and shuddered. He could hear faintly in the distance rough shouts answering each other. As he listened to them, he heard the first of other sounds that became more frequent as the morning wore on, muted sounds like roaring very far away or heavily muffled, with undertones of slipping, crumbling and cracking.

For what seemed like a long time he stopped hearing the enemy approach. The tension was almost unbearable to him but Sirion, whom he could see from his hiding-place, looked unperturbed. He was sitting quietly against the pillar at the top of the steps, as usual.

Then Dogson heard shouting again, this time from the top of the hill, and he knew the end had come. Looking up at the sky once more, he saw there was a huge black ring around the sun, with sundogs at many points on its circumference. The sky outside the ring was matt, whitish, but inside it was a depth of swirling, dark, smoky space which made Dogson think of the primordial chaos, before the shout of Thog.

The men, five or six of them, came running round the temple and Sirion neither moved nor spoke but went on sitting as though he was really turned to stone. The men approached him fearfully, with their hands on their guns, and stood in a half circle round him. He still did not stir. At last one of them got up the courage to come close enough to touch his foot. He shouted “It’s alive!” And all of them at once raised their guns and fired into him.

His body keeled over and the men shoved it out of the way and ran up the steps into the porch and the temple hall. But before they could defile the sanctum the Earth began to shake and it shook and rumbled and boomed as though a great monster of the depths was rising up right underneath the temple, and the walls of the hall caved in and the men were crushed. The roof of the sanctum fell and only the ring of its walls, with the statue of Dog untouched and shining in the middle of it, was left staring up at the great ring round the sun.

Then a dark wind rose, like the breath of the monster in the depths, and whirled around the temple and the clearing gathering force and a dense dark dust and at the fifth turn it picked up the body of Sirion from the steps and the Moon Dog from the altar and carried them up into the sky spinning and spinning until they disappeared among the cloudy shapes inside the ring. And the sundogs at the edges of the circle barked in welcome and the ring was sealed and the wind dropped and some of the dust fell back on the heap of stones and uprooted trees that were all that were left of the home of the oldest mysteries on earth.

Dogson felt stunned; all the bones in his body had been shaken. The sun was blacked out and the forest was dark. But the wonder of what he had seen was far greater than the horror, and when he stopped trembling he resolutely turned away from the wreckage and headed toward the world where he was to play out his role.

 

 

DOGSON’S END ACCORDING TO LEGEND

 

Long after the passage of the golden comet, and after Dogson has passed on the whistle to his daughter, who has inherited much of the Tribe’s magic, he is resting in the mountains. He walks, shuffles, very slowly, feeling the heat of the sun’s rays on his old skin. Everything speaks to him, the markings in stones, the whorls of flowers, the veins in his own hand, the puffs of cloud in the sky; everything has become intelligible language and everything is in order and he himself has become so transparent that he no longer knows what is inside him and what outside him.

Feeling tired, he sits on a stone and looks up. Clouds are building up in the sky, big, soft piles of white down. He smiles to himself – and suddenly he is flying, up above the hillside and the steep roofs of the village, up into the bed of clouds, leaping at will now from one heap to another, until the clouds and he dissolve into wisps, and then into thin air, and then the joyful void…

 

 

 

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