Above its domes the gulfs accumulate.
Far up, the sea-gales blare their bitter screed:
But here the buried waters take no heed—
Deaf, and with welded lips pressed down by weight
Of the upper ocean. Dim, interminate,
In cities over-webbed with somber weed,
Where galleons crumble and the krakens breed,
The slow tide coils through sunken court and gate.
From out the ocean’s phosphor-starry dome,
A ghostly light is dubitably shed
On altars of a goddess garlanded
With blossoms of some weird and hueless vine;
And, wingéd, fleet, through skies beneath the foam,
Like silent birds the sea-things dart and shine.
Atlantis (1912) – Clark Ashton Smith
Novar 21, 123 ( Year of Tosh) – We of The Star Feather’s Challenge arrived at the village of Celephaïs in the last quarter of our annual voyage along the north eastern shore of the Kashteshmyre Sea. We had passed the Kasshtez Archipelago and were looking forward to picking up fresh water and making some trade and merriment with the hard working fisher folk of that growing village – if trade kept up, it would soon grow to a sizable town.
It quickly became obvious that something was wrong. No fishing boats were there to greet us. The village with its Tezshmyre Tin & Copper mosaic roofs and polished gravlyne stone walls stood silent; the seabirds were quiet – only the mourning cry of white crows could be heard. We debated whether to go to shore, but the need of fresh water and the curiosity and wonder at what had happened to the villagers outweighed our rising dread.
In the City of Grand Tahrk the crowds had gathered for Masque Day revels. Tahrkmania’s flag, with a black ribbon on it, was waved from the window between the Celadon Glyph and the Kashteshmyre Turtle Line. Pharmaceutical Houses were jubilant; their health care shares rose above expected levels, as that day saw the foundation of the Clock Romance – The Dancing Crimson Victor was there in the midday trading! The music rose and the Masque had begun.
Sex, drinks, gender, music and medicine were a large part of The Masque of Money; it was an ancient tradition referring to the historical founding of the organization of trading states. It was a lively memorial, marking prosperity. This country, as every other of the Tribune Guild, held The Masque of Money and its players in high esteem. It mattered not what things they held in high regard, for that was the last day any celebration would grace the wide streets of the capital city. The next day the white crows would weep for the forgotten.
Stones of slow grey grief,
skipping across thunder-clouds –
dew weeps on war fields.
Novar 21, 123 ( Year of Tosh) – Crew and passengers had agreed to wait one night before sending forth a search party to gather needed provisions and determine the strange condition of the village. In the distance antic blue and green lights danced like fireflies upon the village roofs. The brightest seemed to arise from the roof of the village’s largest building, the Hall of Voices.
Across the calm water, above the sound of gentle waves, could be heard a peculiar mixture of unfamiliar music, the distant barking of dogs, and loud calls of the many house cats. Amongst the crew grew great fear, for they were convinced that the strange lights were spirits of the villagers and the cat cries were their tortured voices.
On a bleak, death-damp afternoon in late Sangtar, when the air was moist with tears and a sad mist thin with grief, The Poet and his twin brother, The Tinsmith, had paused in their journey homeward. In spite of a profitable time trading with communities to the north, their surroundings draped them in foreboding. There in the distance, they could see amid the vague details of that piteous wisp of a landscape, an advancing troop of Matrix Men wearing black and tan vests, decorated on the side with the Silver Rose of Mahrtesh. Along the fog fouled stony trail those armed men wearily marched on. Leading them, in stripe hose & velvet cap, was the Wrapped Bombardier himself.
Before the brave troop rose the distant Circadian Hills, a grey shadow against the twisted hoary sky. They did not tarry. They did not stumble. They kept going, as they must do, till the Great Dreamer wakes. They wept not , for having lost the Battle of Mnemosyne, they knew not what was lost to them. Only the lonely white crows cry for the fallen Tahrkmania; that ancient land fell, like all the rest, to the Grey Eaters of Memory. Neither the Matrix Men nor the Singing Bishop of The Celadon Glyph could stop the advancing miasma that washed away all of those ancient people.
Faded flag ribbon –
frayed fretful moments sleep –
tattered dreams march,
as barking dogs Fate’s footfalls –
restless cares sail on Mauve ferns.
The Poet and his brother returned to their village that clung to the shore of the Kashteshmyre Sea . Few see the March of the Matrix Men, fewer still remember it for more than a day. The Poet sought to put into words what he saw and felt. The Tinsmith attempted to create an intricate piece that captured the endless moment of weary feet stepping on fog soaked stones. They both worked in a feverish dream that was wet with worrisome shadows and the wings of crows. For three days their work boiled up visions and sounds that clung to them like the chill sea froth.
Family and friends watched on in an anxious despair, for the two brothers were now helplessly caught up in the Circadian Curse. Nothing could be done, for those two were tangled deep in the Weave of the Great Dreamer. Few returned from there, except by way of a frozen madness or on Death’s Boat – some said even Death’s Boat would mislay the shore in the Dreamer’s Weave. Others said it made no difference, since all is part of the Weave.
Novar 22, 123 ( Year of Tosh) – All who managed to have slept woke with the ache of fading dreams. The rest were afraid they were falling into the Weave and even Tosh’s Merciful Tears would not save them. All the same, we lowered two boats and made for that still shore. The village stood much as it had since our last call. Only the emptiness of the curving lane-ways and silence of buildings showed a different face.
Each building held the same welcome. Fires were out. All was set , primed & prepared to make ready for a mid-day meal that never came. Neither living nor dead could be found in that forlorn village.
My eyes were sad streams as I thought of the smiling familiar faces now faded into mystery. My heart ached in the silence that shrouded the lost laughter of playful children and their pets. Their pets ? Where were the dogs and cats that we heard the night before ?The cats of Celephais were said to be as plentiful as those of ancient lost Ulthar. Where had they gone ? Were the superstitious sailors right in naming spirits as the cause of the night calls we had heard ?
Now frantic for the direful truth, we moved on to seek what answers awaited us in the Hall of Voices.
When the brothers had done their work, a stillness gathered up the village of Celephaïs . The village men pulled up their boats and oars. The fishing nets hung listlessly catching the sea spray that seeped over the delicate patterned roofs of the fearful community. The spirit talkers threw their precious nahgnay sticks into the blue moss fires, trying to read the Smoke’s dance and hear the voices of Shadow Elders. The Smoke was eaten by the wet spray and the voices were wordless murmurs. There was nothing to do, but await the brothers.
That day came with a sickly pale sun that barely held on to the seams of the sky. All in the village stirred from an uneasy reverie like a soaring bird slowly descending on a gasping battlefield; the community came together in the Hall of Voices to face whatever fate had reached out to them in the form of The Poet and The Tinsmith.
In the inner chamber arose the chanting voice of The Poet as a distant unfamiliar music played. So began his tale guiding them ever inward, ………
The Clock Romance turns –
Crimson Victor’s dance begins,
Masque’s music calls you
Step away, step away all
Circadian kisses cling, ………..
Ride clouds of knowing –
hear petals sing – tears’ shadows
seed lost battlefields,
Step away, step away all
Masque-tide carries lost sails.
Hastur’s Halls, where pools fill –
leaves stare out in sad gladness,
sea sisters chorus –
Mist eyed Tezshtahr Falls
tumbles down stones of slow grey grief –
rose petals flying.
Children sing of Zehr –
tall Yig-tesh spreads topaz wings,
laughter on cat paws.
See overcast rainbows
stalk battlements of Tyre and Tesh –
gloom-hearts shed tallow.
Cat paws play with strings –
wicks ready for flame dance smoke –
laughter on cat paws
chase flickering lights – glass halls,
home resides on mountain waves –
salt water roses.
Drawn further, the children and cats most easily step nimbly through threads. The loyal dogs, more nervous, follow to guard their families. Shadows stir in in flickering copper and tin. The music grows louder as the now barking dogs chase winged creatures in the waves of violet ferns that swim up the sloping hills.
Novar 37, 123 ( Year of Tosh) – Even now, 15 days after escaping from the Hall of Voices, as our ship and remnants of the crew make our way back the port of Telph-Danahr, I know not if we shall arrive. We, who had entered and survived the cursed Hall , fled that unlucky village, returning to the ship. Not all who made it back to those welcoming sails lasted more than a day. Three threw themselves to the waves within an hour of setting sail. Two more did the same the next. Of those that remained, we fell into a feverish state. We were almost thrown to the sea on the seventh day. Only the Captain and the ship’s doctor prevented it. Perhaps it would have been for the best. Perhaps it would have made little difference to the rest of the voyage to our home port.
It was on the sixth day that three members of the crew, who had not gone ashore, fell into the same state as those who had set foot on the stone pathways of Celephais . On the seventh day, three of those first struck by the malady awoke, while another three simply vanished from their cots, as if they had never been there. A similar sequence followed on the eighth and ninth days, this time it numbered a total of six members of this fateful voyage.
I awoke yesterday, along with the last seven who had also gone ashore. None have thrown themselves to the sea, yet. Only three more have vanished like the others. There are nine days left before we reach our homes and families.
Dekkar 7, 123 ( Year of Tosh) – There are two days left before we are finally home. No more have fallen to the malady and no others have vanished into the Weave. Only one has flung themselves into the embrace of Kashteshmyre waves. In hopes of preserving my life, I will now give an account of what I can re-call of our experiences when we foolishly sought the fate of the missing villagers.
Entering the Hall, we heard once again the strange music and the echoes of dogs barking in the far off distance. But added to this and much louder were the sounds of the cats , but mixed with it it was the laughter of the lost children of Celephaïs.
Though fearful, we pressed on into the dimly lit building. The sounds grew louder as we made are way into the large inner chamber. Sitting on a presentation table in the circular room was the source of the slippery esthesis. It was an ornate piece of metal, intricate and finely wrought . There was a faint glow and flickering of light within it that was not unlike the display of lights we saw the previous night.
We moved closer, moths enticed to a brazen lantern, blinded to the danger. We could now tell that the piece resembled in great detail, both the village and the nearby shoreline. But there was something more to the twists and turns of the piece. No doubt, this was the Tinsmith’s work – finely crafted as his other pieces, yet this one spoke of far off horizons that melted into sky, stars, sea, and mountains. Monoliths, temples, tombs and cacophonous bazaars coiled together in an outrageous phantasmagoria – a animated sculpture and living tapestry combined.
It moved like the famous Vermilion Carousel of Kruzsh. Then as we watched ,it seemed to twist inward and outward simultaneously. We could feel ourselves being pulled with it. The music and sounds grew louder. Louder still came the familiar voice of the Poet. He chanted out – building visions of places and times that can only exist deep in the Weave. As he spoke the Tinsmith’s now looming art entwined with those words and we felt ourselves slipping further into realms both wondrous and fearsome.
There were flying creatures and crawling plants that spied us from above and below. Swimming beasts of the depths hung above us like floating islands and on their backs could be discerned the lost half forgotten realms of which the Shadow Elders whisper in awe and dread.
Living clouds devoured mountain tops and their voices were of cats and children laughing with a joy that made the heart weep. It was then that I saw that some of my companions were struggling with their own shadows that sought to lift them, or was was it to pull them down ? Some laughed embracing the twisted darkness while others wept in despair. Only then did I manage to call out – pleading with them to turn away from The Tinsmith’s terrible treasure. Shut their ears to the The Poet’s maddening verse.
Many, but not all , joined me in the struggle to bend our wills to escape this artful trap. How painful it was to turn our backs from such strange fearsome beauty. Our souls and minds were gashed and bleeding, yet somehow we escaped. Though now I wonder if we were released for some other purpose.
Has the great Weave turned on itself ? Are we but threads that now are being unraveled and reformed into weird tapestry which only the Great Dreamer can comprehend ? I know not what awaits us when we reach port. Are we bringing the cursed work of The Poet and The Tinsmith to our beloved home or are we still standing in the Hall of Voices being drawn deeper into an unfamiliar dream ?
Whose shadow rests here ?
old men see phantoms in corners
dreaming of sea voyages…….
Wave-riders’ salt thrall –
seaweeds’ strain moves mergaunts’ hearts –
tall sails cascades sky.
Note: To listen to the music that the characters in this tale found so strange and unfamiliar –
This What if Wednesday celebrates the coming Halloween. As mentioned a few posts back, our home is full of intriguing theatre pieces as Elizabeth makes and prepares material for her group, the Elliot Lake Roundabout Exceptional Puppeteers. This post’s image was an attempt to emulate the spirit of Ashley’s amazing creative self portraits.
Skull creeps past the eye –
shadow ghost grows on fence –
just paws in garden ……..
rustling spirits rest,
walk in quiet stealth – waltzing,
whiskers touch whispers
See post – In The Gardens of Ulthar for more spooky chills.
Step this way –
All will be revealed
In the corners –
Between the shadows.
Just step this way,
Watch your step.
Enter through this glass door.
Hold very still –
While we adjust the Cabinet door.
The show will commence shortly.
Enjoy your stay.