Long ago, as all now count it, even the Dolvers who were in the mountains long before mankind had first come to this valley, before discord and healing, there were no dancing lights in the northern sky. The daystar and the moon did walk their ritual ways, and the distant stars circled and inclined their haloes to the music of the spheres, and there were the falling stars that dove to land – always over there – bringing still new metals and elements to the world, as they always had, although it takes ages for those to participate in the life of this world. But there was no dance to time’s music about the poles.
There was an intrepid Dolver, of one of the tribes that migrated eastward, who did not fit in with the strictures of his tribe: Ikah. Not that he was disruptive, not a trouble-maker or one who gainsaid for the pleasure of it; but he did not quite fit in. There were always some in any generation, and society was more strict then, as is often the way, for all the Dolvers were an ancient and sophisticated people. Born of light, although dwellers now under stone, mostly content in their caverns, yet always there were some who loved to travel and spend more time under the daystar, or the moon and the distant stars, than was the norm. There was space for such as these, for the five tribes, although mostly far sundered, kept in contact – even if the journey took many seasons.
Ikah was one of these messengers, and as such he travelled even to the highest mountains of the west. But he tired of this, for – although he loved the light of daystar and moon – he did not enjoy the heat of the way across the world via the watercourse that runs south of the immense forest of the world’s lungs that he was instructed to follow.
He asked why he could not go by the northern route, but was warned of the warring broods who dwelt there and the antagonism between their parents. And Ikah listened then.
But his unrest grew, mounting within him as snows pile up against the unyielding mountains. He still travelled amongst the mountains, and across the wide watercourse to his nearest kin, doing his duty as best he was able, but he increasingly became waylaid by the majesty he saw amongst the heights of snow and ice, the glory of the force hung as frozen cascades in the slow dance that one with patience can enjoy, appreciated so much more by him than by those who cannot see into the depths; and he became enraptured by the lights that he increasingly believed came from some essence deep within the ice, rather than from the sky. Not wholly perhaps, and almost certainly originating out in the majesty of the space between the worlds, but having – in some way – taken on a life of their own amongst the glory of the heights. A transmutation of beings born from the elemental deities of the moon and daystar – the Usair: those of this world being Sandhya and Pran – as told in Of Days and Nights: Colours and Light. For that tale tells of how the Usair became separated two brethren from the other two at the same time as this world from its twin, but then goes on to tell of the creation and substance of their offspring. And Ikah also remembered the stories of his kinds’ journey from where they had spun and shone about another centre, as told in the Song of Star-Running. A less heavy existence. And his imagination was caught and he dreamed of how it would be to be a being of light, or to sleep long in the vastness of space.
But he could of course only imagine what it must have been like to spin as a being of light, for he could not even fly in the airs of this world. Not that he hated this world; not that there was nothing of wonder here.
He wandered away amongst the deep valleys and towering peaks of the mountains that rose above the trees. Trees did not interest him, too dull and too dark, even when hung with icicles of tears, but he revelled in the huge vistas and immense sky of the heights, the glorious caverns and even the deep valleys. He had always loved the vast bowl of the sky and clouds and stars that rolled above him, calling out to him to rise and join in their journeying; and the caves under stone were not the straightened and furnished caverns of the homecaves of his kind, but were resplendent with crystals and stalactites and stalagmites all aglow, with veins of quartz, rivers of moonlight and starlight penetrating into those shallow-deep worlds; and the valleys were fabulous in their contrasts to the shapes and colours of the rest of the landscape he traversed, even seeming to trap pools of light and colours in sheltered spots for his delight.
He could lose his thoughts in the fissures and chasms of the high mountains, wandering amongst the peaks where no other being seemed to tread, amongst raindrops now scintillated, some more subtle, less iridescent, but so much more beautiful. But nothing else could compare to the beauty of the depths of the ice that lay in many places. Colours there were there that sparkled, modes of energy, echoes of the lights that twinkled far away in the depths of space: hardly a fall, but a euphoric rise. For colours, true colours, are innate, their characteristics remaining even in utter darkness, whether eyes fall on them or not; colours of lesser worth are only reflections of light. They are everywhere: colours of worth less common. He firmly believed this, whatever the elders said.
And that night, a moonless one, he saw lights flying through the sky, a shower of shooting stars streaming far above, dripping lights as the cascading souls of angels, travelling towards the north. Their colours were then yellow-white and tinged-orange, although he knew that they could blaze from red to blue and even to one-dimensional white. They were held to herald many things, the suggesting of which differed even amongst the Dolver tribes, although they generally held that it was a bad set that had brought the curse of gold to the world.
That was where he wished to be, so far above the reek and slabs of this spinning world, up where the air was thin, where the sylphs and sky-children swirled away the aeons in the sweet vapours of high remembrances. There was melody amongst the ground-dwelling people of his tribe, very true, but neither that nor that of the other tribes he had visited could compare to what he imagined must be amongst the upper airs.
But he could not perceive ascending to those upper airs could be anything other than an unreachable dream.
Yet he did return to his homecave, perhaps feeling the need to consider his troubled mind away from the playing of colours – perhaps even wishing to speak through them with someone else, or at least to have the opportunity to do so. But he remained ill-at-ease, restless, and this did not go unnoticed.
There was a kindly elder of his tribe whom Ikah had known well when he was younger, Zama, and who had been responsible for channelling Ikah’s love of the lights in the sky into a role where he could have purpose and point within the tribe. And he sensed that Ikah was now more troubled than ever before, and he made sure that he was as frequently near or near enough to Ikah for him to be approached, such as his other duties allowed, and taking into account that he did not wish to seem intrusive. It took time, but his patience paid off, for Ikah started to reply to his greetings – then (briefly) pass the time of day – and finally ask if he might come by the elder’s cave for a chat sometime.
That ‘sometime’ was the next day.
There talk was longer and more meandering than needs to be recorded here, not least because Ikah was unable to form his sentences clearly, and because Zama made no attempt to direct him or pin him down, but the outcome was probably never really in doubt: Ikah wanted to leave his duties as a messenger and travel further in the lands under the sky. And Zama said:
“We are not authoritarian, you had only to tell us, which we appreciate, before departing. We would not hold you here if it’s your wish to travel more, on new ways: but there’ll always be a home here for you.”
So Ikah took the sanction for him having time away, his farewells brief, departing as soon as spring came to the valleys outwith his tribe’s homecave, and pondered there exactly where to go.
There was the south, of course, but it would only get hotter if he travelled further than the southernmost part of the watercourse he had followed when crossing the world; he had been to the west, and what of interest could there be beyond the highest mountains where the land fell away? Across the sea to little lands? But all flat and uninspired. That cut out the east, leaving the north. Where else, really? And the warring broods and their arguing parents must have stopped by now.
He did not remain in the troughs and peaks around the entrance to his tribe’s homecave, nor climb to the pearlescent heights, but rather clambered down to the flatter lands that bordered the great watercourse that flowed southwards, for he was eager to explore the new lands he had set his face to. He was invigorated, energy flowing out from his inner coil – who knew what he would discover?
The lands through which Ikah passed remained flat, although there were initially many groups of those waving sticks he knew others prised highly. There were huge sprouts of birds sorrow-singing and sterling-feather climbing, silver flashed its value in the waters and – increasingly – vast herds of slow-lowing and mean-moaning shaggy monstrosities of munching animals.
And it was there that he first encountered other people.
They were not of his kind, being taller, and were tribes of some of the first of mankind to have reached that part of the world, now following the vast herds. He spent his summer and autumn there, hearing their stories and offering many of his own – shadows of which remain still – and he learnt the secrets of their shamans with their ritual interpretation of a parallel world.
But he did not heed their warnings when the brief autumn came, although he had enjoyed their company; he elected to stay as winter advanced, still enamoured of the beauty of frost and ice, even on that vast northern plane where the only heights were the towering cliffs of the permanent ice around the pole. And as the winter continued to bear down Ikah in his turn advanced towards its heart until he came up to the immense walls of the ice sheet and the stately grinding of the glaciers that flowed at their own pace, feeling deep in their pearl hearts that they would once again expand until all the world was theirs, when circumstances where again right.
He gazed at the wall of ice for a long time, far into the depths of the dark winter’s long night, entranced by the playing of light he saw deep in their immensity. Even more subtly and playful than the colours that danced on the heights. Seeing shadow foxes, shadow fawns, burning birds and calling horns – paths suggested – believed in with passion – that pass behind the daystar, across the worlds, where hung spirits that can be summoned and controlled by one initiated. Ikah believed in it all, but could not quite see how it fitted in with his vague plans.
Yet even as those thoughts came to him, there followed the perception that he could see specific creatures held in the ice, tall and slowly fluid, white without compromise, seemingly reaching out, yearning to move from that realm of slow-paced grind into the world outwith the machinations of the ice. And then it came to him that those shapes were indeed creatures, actually captured within the ice, seemingly shut behind strange bars of hollowness in the immense density of that other world within the ice sheet, grinding away, day by day, slipping slowly, but inexhaustibly – so incredibly slowly – towards the expectant Dolver.
And it came to Ikah that he would like to join them, to live amongst the intense colours there that were not fully beholden to the lights in the sky.
He remembered all the songs he had ever heard of that spoke of making and changing, that touched on the flow of time and space. And he was well versed in them, learning them being almost the only activity he could concentrate on when in the Dolvers’ caves, and he recalled the Song of Flux that he had learnt from his grandfather. So he spread his arms and regaled the ice sheet with his voice, calling unto the white hypocrisy of the icy sepulchre.
But he did not achieve what he was seeking, whether because his remembering was imperfect, or because of flaws in the ice, or because there were other songs that were being sung with aims contrary to his, for all he managed was to cause a great fissure in the ice cliff, out of which came tumbling one of the factions of the elder brood of their warring parents who had been trapped there when they would no longer play their part in their mother’s plans, flowing out in an instability of apparent uniformity, but whose external stasis hid an inner decay, the children now no more than undead.
And they were angry.
And they took their anger out on the nearest available being.
Shut the mind, become as blind to my pain as I can, slush for nerve ends, calm deep inside where I hide, passion on my outside, within there is a semblance of pain, writhing torment – he showed enough, more than enough, for his tormentors to deem their sport worthwhile. He could have tried to disappoint them, show a calm exterior that would make the brood give up in disgust – they would still kill him, of course, but perhaps more quickly … or maybe not … as if they could get more angry at their desires being thwarted. But, anyway, Ikah had not the power of stillness in his care to manage that. So he squirmed, and cried, and screamed as if he could no longer contemplate a world that held anything but torment.
He dreamed of descent down to a pit of fire that but devours, where his tormentors deserved to go. And did he deserve to go the other way – up towards the celestial flames, that flashed with heaven-studied startling brilliance?
For down into perdition must be the lot of those who not only torment, but also laugh uproariously as they play, taking out on this unfortunate all their frustrations at their father’s sacrifice halting any hope of pursuing their younger brethren to their death, at the battle that had taken away their mother’s favourite but not moved her favouritism on to any others, and then – of course – their long imprisonment after the internecine warring of their brood. If there was any justice in the world.
Now the first step – release, taking out their immediate frustration, and then moving on to exact precise revenge and then to re-establish their rightful place.
Of no matter to Ikah, for his body was disintegrating … his spirit seeking release … until it had become his entirety. A place of his lost own, raw of shape and sound and lingering memories. Adrift.
When he became aware of himself again he knew, beyond any certain knowledge that he had ever comprehended before, that things had changed. At a profound level.
Adrift still, a bit, but slowly lessening – in a chamber, many doors, ribbons of traceries of lost thought raining down still … still in drifting form – calling – falling – but the concept of up and down were becoming increasingly blurred – the smell of time, the taste of colours, the hewn ways beyond light … crystallised now … flavour of forms started and stretched wings … spreading eyes rising fluttering, flowing, flowing beyond …
Now I am this.
Now I’m in the high sky, dancing with the other sky-children, them corporeal, me now waves amongst the night in the regions of the polar stars. I hang there, flair flame, dance to the tunes that run through my head. Some I have heard before – many new, climbing celestial as I flair-dance in the shifting atmosphere.
I could not wish for more. Not now.
And so it was that he rose to become as fluxing ribbons of rainbows – enhanced, splintered, then built again and again to the music at the heart of the pole – the Song of the Keening Father as he wailed his farewell to his children, the echo of the Song of Star-Running, and Ikah’s own Song of His Soul – all to the greater glory, overarching the high latitudes. Whispers of colours as lights born and sprouting from loins still majestic, but somehow much more: more than containing sunlight and moonlight and starlight; the inherent light of the oversoul brought forth in a new form to enhance the world.
I become as of crystal, though not as that I had seen in the caverns – wild or tamed. I am of the shifting particles of light and matter that flash, flame, and flair – in, through, and between the celestial and the worldly. I carry with me part of the occasional – spirt … matter … soul – transcending each to be a part of all. Maybe my torment was worthwhile … if not to me …
That dance to time’s music was beyond the wit of mankind to predict, and even the Dolvers struggled to foresee how and when the colours of song would show themselves: gold for prosperity, perhaps; red for warning; green for life’s foundations; silver for sureness; purple for opulence; blue for serenity; and yellow for a blinding glare – or any other particularity attributed to them in the Song of the Sun and Moon.
And so it became the case that mankind are wont to see those chaotic flaring of flames as heralds of disasters; or – more accurately – they are perceived as such when an excuse is needed, or ‘we should have known’, or ‘see the gods are angry with us’ as harvests fail or drought or excessive downpours or colossal heat or unreasonable cold hold the lands; or when knowledge of such events are considered and weighed afterwards.
It was long ago that this transmutation of one who was a descendant of beings of light occurred, so that for most everyone the lights in the northern sky are accepted as part of this world since time immemorial, but the above tells us that that is an error, however understandable.