pretentious cosmic picture


Seeliski's mastery of human language had improved greatly in just a few weeks. Now she could express complex thoughts well in the human language used at the College. It made Falnee humble...he thought he was a good linguist, but Seeliski learned much faster than he was learning the Elvish languages!

Seeliski and Falnee were talking, with Heosun and Braele listening. Suddenly something occurred to Falnee. "Seeliski. Have you ever seen one of the Kaanho--the Powers, we mortals sometimes call them?"

Heosun hit himself on the forehead. "I should have asked that question! Of course!"

"Well...I did see Edonarter once."

Seeliski's voice was not loud, but no one said anything. They were afraid to miss a word.

"He was's hard to describe...bright, burning, yet not with a flame. Not a withering brightness, an enriching one. He seemed to be all of yellows and greens, one with the forest, one with the animals. He seemed to make the rest of the forest seem pale and shadowy in comparison. He was smiling, laughing, and he seemed like Youth itself, and all of us felt...well, I at least an animal. Part of me wanted to run from him.

"Part of me wanted to be caught by him. Not just in an erotic sense...although I can't deny there was a component of that...but hunted, even killed. It was like it would be an honor to be killed by him, that death will sooner or later come even for me, and how better to die than by the swift arrows from his multicolored bow?

"There was a wish to give him a good chase, a good race, but with the sure knowledge he would catch me and kill me in the end. Mantichores fled from him, but as they looked over their shoulders at him there was an odd exultation on their faces, as if they were both joyous and fearful at the same time."

She paused. "I knew how they felt. There was an passion for hunting, for skill mixed with bloodlust, brighter than the sun. Even I could not look directly at him too long, for it hurt me to do so. He was beautiful, blond hair worn somewhat long, smiling, with eyes which are green with tawny yellow flakes in them. I suspect you mortals could not look at him at all, that the very sight would blast you. Animals trailed his swift feet, but he was swifter than the wind-daughters of Tjisir."

She paused again. "He did not notice me, particularly. He greeted Jequeror as an old friend, but even Jequeror looked awed, despite himself, intimidated by the raw power of the Kaan of the hunt, the messenger of the Kaan-king. Edonarter treated him as one might a child...of lesser power and skill, but one he is trying to be kind to.

"They went off to hunt. I was not allowed to go with them. And part of me yearned for him after he left, even if it was to be killed by him. Afterwards, even the elvenwoods seemed pale and a thing of small moment, next to his overwhelming presence."

There was silence for a minute. Then Braele asked, "How big did he seem?"

"He was...well...normal size...perhaps...but his presence filled all the woods. The trees, even though they might be yards away, seemed to bend as he passed.

"And his voice...his voice seemed to reverberate throughout the area, though his words seemed gentle and not especially loud. It was strong with youth and laughter,but there were hidden echoes and growls in his words. There seemed to be the growls of mantichores and sphynxes and griffins that tinged his every word, the whinnying of unicorns and hippogriffs. Lord and keeper of animal life, the death of animals, and their beloved master, all at the same time.

"Jequeror and Edonarter came back, and Edonarter tossed his bow into the sky, and it became an arching bow in the clouds, which I could barely make out through the leaves of the elvenwoods. The animals killed seemed to be ennobled even in death, and Edonarter touched them softly, as if savoring their lives and honoring their deaths. 'Death waits for us all,' he said, in a voice rich with a thousand animal sounds,'but how much better to go with a worthy opponent stalking you, and the joy of doing your best to try to live while you can live.'

"Afterwards there was feasting, of wild minotaur and mantichore, and the dryads came from the woods to feast with us, and to bask in Edonarter's presence. Animals came to watch, blinking back from the full unfettered sight of Edonarter, but drawn irresistably to his presence.

"When he left...which he did just before sunrise...the woods seemed much emptier, like an empty house. It was missing something that was so right for it, as a steed needs a rider."

Heosun was silent...for once. Then he said, "I knew a man who journeyed to see Mayalaph."

"The fairest of all? The Kaan of love, of beauty, of nature, and of fertility and childbirth?" said Seeliski.

"Yes. He was the mightiest hunter we had, and he decided to enter the jungles of desire. He took herbs to lessen his...ummm, desire, that he might get through the jungles and not be diverted by the incubi and succubi therein." Heosun grinned. "He said they were not...totally effective...but he made it, somewhat exhausted and spent, to a great structure like nothing he had ever seen. The walls were beautiful, with reliefs of loveplay, so natural and enthusiastic as to not be obscene but rather beautiful in its healthy animal sexuality."

Braele grinned. "You sure you're not going to turn this into a dirty joke?"

"Nope. For the doors opened, and there was a light within. Nymphs attended, in various stages of undress, but he barely even looked at them. At the far end of the corridor, was a...Being...covered with many veils and guazes. Yet something seemed to shine through the veils, and it blazed with desire and passion, of the body's pleasures. The herbs he took were suddenly totally uneffective, and he was aflame with his desires... but also afraid.

"Then came a voice...a breathless whisper, yet every syllable carried both innuendo and climax, of gentle attraction and desperate fulfillment at the same time. 'A mortal man,' it said. 'Brave are you...or reckless. Welcome to my home. What do you seek, that you cannot get in the jungles leading here in plenty?'

"'I seek the fairest of all females, the mother of Edonarter and the sister to the sea and the moon. If I die for seeing her, I die. But I will die happy,' he answered.

"There was a laugh from within the shrouds and cloths. 'Don't be so quick to die. Zaer will find you soon enough...and there are things that the living can enjoy. came just to see me? To see Mayalaph?'

"'Yes, Lady. For there is a longing in my heart for I do not know what, and no woman has ever satisfied me for long, or ever caused my desire not to die sooner or later. I want desire without end, a final ending of my longing with something worthy of it.'

"'As you know, it is the privilege of we Kaanho to assume lesser forms. I could become a mortal woman in semblence, and you would think me still fairer than any woman alive, and would eat your heart out in desire for me. We could lie together, and enjoy the sweet sport. Would that do you? Your desire is indeed strong to bring you all this way, and those herbs you have taken will not save you. But will such a lesser semblence...glorious as it will seem to you...suffice?'

"The hunter did not answer at first.

"The beautiful voice of Mayalaph, filled with a thousand melodies, continued. 'Or will it eat at you that you never saw my true glory, even if it killed you and reduced you to ashes, never saw the beauty the way I am seen by the other Kaanho, or by C'Don himself? Which would you choose, mortal? I offer you...for such is my province, and such is my gift...a night of love with Love herself, but in a lesser semblence. Never will you think any woman so fair, even though it is a pale shadow of my reality. Never will you have enjoyed yourself so much, even though it is but the merest tingle compared to the ecstacy I can bestow. Or will you instead...choose the true beauty, though it blind or kill you, have a glimpse of what and who I truly see me truly uncovered, gloriously unshadowed and undimmed?'

"The hunter finally said, 'Lady, I have not come here for half-measures, though you honor me far beyond my desserts. I choose the true rather than the shadow, though it kill me.'

"The figure swathed in veils got up off her throne, and walked, slowly taking off veil upon veil, with a walk indescribably graceful. The nymphs caught the veils as they dropped, and slowly the hunter saw, even though still covered with many layers of guaze, a beautiful woman, with dark curly hair, with a face far beyond his dreams of beauty. Her form could also be seen through the veils that remained, and never had he seen anything remotely so beautiful, nor so desirable. She looked like his first love, the love he had given his heart to as a shy young boy, amplified and glorified, beyond his farthest fantasy. Closer and closer she came, and veil after veil she doffed, and when they was only one veil between her and himself, she smiled at him...

"He said the smile flashed, and it was like a thunderbolt, blinding and shocking, and it laid him flat and senseless. When he came to, he was far in the jungles, but he was blind. Hearing men's voices, he came towards them, and they told him his hair had turned white.

"Months later, his sight slowly returned to him. Yet never did he lie with another woman ever again. He would sometimes look at a pretty woman, as if seeing an echo of Mayalaph in her, but would reach for her...and then his fingers would curl and fall to his side, as he saw some small imperfection, or realized the futility of a substitute. It was as if every beautiful woman in the world were like the most loathsome hag, compared to the beauty he had been allowed to glimpse.

"Two years later, he blinded himself. 'Better the memory of the beauty I saw stay forever fresh, lest the memory fade by seeing others.' He lived for five more years, and then headed west, towards the jungles of desire again. What happened there...none know."

There was a silence for a minute. Then Braele said, "Are you sure you want to meet one of the Kaanho, Falnee?"

"Well, if I do...I'll take the night of love with Mayalaph's 'lesser form'."

Everybody laughed, save for Seeliski, and even she smiled.

For the previous story, check out Everyday Things.

Those interested with comments, suggestions, things I have forgotten, things I messed up, contact me at...

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Copyright © 1997 Al Schroeder