Thursday, 3 January 2013

A Midsummer Night's Imaginings

The slender acacia would not shake
One long milk-bloom on the tree;
The white lake-blossom fell into the lake,
As the pimpernel dozed on the lea;
But the rose was awake all night for your sake,
Knowing your promise to me;
The lilies and roses were all awake,
They sighed for the dawn, and thee.
- Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Come into the Garden, Maud

Magical Garden by ermzam on deviantart

I thought I'd share with you today a short story I imagined last night, when at first I lay awake with a head buzzing with worries. To calm myself, I did what I love best, which is to imagine myself into another place; to craft a scene of such peace and beauty that I would forget my cares and fall blissfully asleep. It would have worked - except I thought suddenly that I did not want to lose this waking dream, but to write it down instead. So I kept myself awake writing down the visions that I saw, and until I fell asleep at last with the pen still in my hand and my writing book in my bed...

When I woke I told myself to write the story properly, with all the detail I had left untold in my midnight scribblings, but which I could see clearly, gleaming in my mind. So I wrote, and as I described those things I "saw" - I saw many other things and the simple scene grew...

I hope that you enjoy.

Night Garden by Arwen's Grace on deviantart

The Visitor in the Night-Garden

One night in deep midsummer I left my close stone chamber  with the tapestries and furs, and tiny window, and descended spiral stairways to the garden. The ancient stones which formed the steps leading from my room halfway down the tower were grooved with the tread of countless years. These I negotiated carefully, tiptoeing with wavering gait, for they were treacherous in the dark. For support, I kept one hand on the inner wall, the tower's spine, which was intermittently scored by the sword-cuts of an attack on the keep, repelled in the time of my grandfather.

Midway down the stairs, the old steps were replaced with sandstone, softer than the ancient granite, but as yet unmarked by time. When I was but an infant, a great deal of the old stone had been severely damaged by the acid slime of the Terrible Worm and her foul hatchlings when they invaded during the Red Years, and after they were destroyed the pitted rock was quickly replaced. The new stone left tiny grains on the sweat-sticky soles of my feet, as I flitted from the tower through the great hall - deserted save for a boarhound sprawled below the dais with a bone - out into the pleasure-garden.

The pleasure garden was lush and sweet-smelling; tangled and delightful. In the bleak winter it was enclosed within a protective palace of glass, but tonight it was open to the night breezes, which loitered in the pathways, creating rising, swirling eddies of cool air that raised the hairs on my skin and tingled my body with exultant, heart-jumping pleasure. For a time I wandered the labyrinthine paths, white stone laid between thick-planted, exotic beds of maraya, jasmine and summer-roses - lost in waking dreams - and the twining vines reached lovely tendrils over me. 

At every junction of the path there stood a moonwashed fountain of white marble, each a different and fantastic sculpture. The first that I encountered was an ancient hero of my family - my great-grandmother Temara who held the keep against attackers after her son was slain. To me it seemed her petrified image yet retained some of her legendary vitality and courage. 

The next fountain flowed from the snarling maw of a strange and rare beast - a fire leopard, whose coat in life was black as coal and spotted with crimson embers - and the next was of a hooded, faceless god of elder days who stood with palms outstretched and pouring with water. This last image particularly was conducive to strange thoughts, and yet I lingered there awhile, listening to the musical falling of the water, which to me sounded like the gentle notes of a wooden xylophone.

At last I wearied, and followed a moon-bright trail to the secret centre of the garden - a round, hedged enclosure formed by close-planted bushes, with a hidden entrance under branches. Here was the castle's shrine to Hypnos, god of sleep - a stone wall carved with prayers and covered in ivy. Within its gentle curve sheltered a white bed of smooth, painted metal, whose bedposts rose to form an arched canopy, meeting at a graceful point at the top. At the head and at the foot of the bed grew a tree of white wisteria, whose flowers hung in clusters like dripping, sweet-smelling stalactites over the sleeper, while on either side of the trees, the dark green foliage of blossom-starred maraya filled any gaps.

White wisteria

To that leafy bower I hastened, and on that bed I laid myself, under soft white sheets of fine cotton and the furry weave of poplar-felt. I lay awhile listening to the shrill, quiet scritterings of nocturnal insects in the bushes, and the occasional call of a night-bird. Beyond the secret garden I could hear the gentle soothing music of the fountains, and thus gradually, I sank into a state of deep calm.

And then it seemed to me that another entered the secret garden, on quiet feet - a tall man with a face fair and pale as moonlight, and hair as dark as shadows. He was black-clad, and he wore a cloak of dark gauze which flowed behind him, as though constantly stirred by night winds.   

The hedges parted before him without a rustle, and soft-shod he strode the white path through the secret garden. Some distance from my bed he stopped, and turned his face up to the moon. Wild then he looked, and beautiful, but though he was so strange I felt no fear. He began to sing, and his song was the ebbing of the sun and the spreading of shadow, the cool relief of night and the mystery of darkness. And it seemed to me that the sounds of the insects and the birds; the winds, the waters and the rustlings in the leaves - blended in his song and added to it. The song swelled deeply like a pool of sweet water - and all at once I heard a high and cold refrain, as though the stars themselves had joined in chorus to the melody. 

After a time, the man stopped singing, but it seemed his voice continued in all things and everywhere. Now he walked closer, until he stood between me and the moon, and his shadow fell across my bed. But the calmness in me was deep, and instead of fear I felt only peace and a great wonder.

Now he spoke in a low tone - and it seemed he spoke to me, and only me - but his words were strange, though I thought I understood the tone. At first he spoke rapidly and with passion, but then his words slowed and it seemed he mused aloud. Drifting, I listened, for it seemed he spoke of a mystery I desired much to know, but could not understand.

At last he knelt beside my head and gazed with darkening eyes upon my face. Fain I would I have met his gaze - but with the stirring of his breath against my cheek my eyes closed of themselves. I thought he sighed... then knew no more till morning.

And in the morning - what happened? Ah - that is a story for another night... 

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