For Joe…but a small tributary, hardly a capillary, late, but seemingly necessary. At least to me.
This was before the Play. This was before everything.
Cassilda and Cassandra and Caterina and Calliope and Cassiopeia were seated on their pedestals, which spiraled ever-so-slightly upward so that Cassilda was uppermost (done by the strong urgings of her mother, to be sure), having a rather nice chat about their lessons that day, when courtier Jenkin burst into the room all a’titter over something or other that he imagined, a slight so small that it had passed beneath the notice of everyone else at the Ball.
Jenkin carried on tittering and gnashing his teeth and gibbering complete nonsense for quite some time.
Cassilda admired the draperies, which were quite a nice shade of eggshell, and a very fine weave, and Cassandra and Caterina made the motions they had practiced earlier. First up with the right hand, palm up, then the left, then turn them over palm-down simultaneously while stamping both feet.Calliope stamped also, and Cassiopeia said the words.
The girls were all precious and precocious, and they conspired to turn poor Jenkin into a thing. And he just released from the shore-prison, where he had been a rock for just eons.
Now he’d hands and feet, and a smaller and more wizened version of his usual visage, but he was also equipped with a prodigious and very scaly tail, which twitched in annoyance, and a short-furred body about the size of a medium-sized dog’s, though bearing a distinct resemblance to rattus rattus.
How he howled!
His footman Mazuriewicz came then, and fetched Jenkin back before the King, to see if something could be done.
“By the very hoary and hallowed Gods of defile!” Declaimed Mazuriewicz. “These young ladies have gone too far this time. First animating the garden of stones, and now this. And with visitors coming too!”
He huffed off seeking his audience with the regent, not hesitating to take his fill of any provender, victual, or canape that he encountered along the way.
His footsteps and his grumbling echoed in the great groined halls and reached the King long before his personal aroma did. The King was not in fact overtaken with ardor for either Jenkin or Mazuriewicz, and undertook to be elsewhere when they arrived.
His relatives, their relatives and friends, and several persons as yet uninvited but present nonetheless, addressed themselves to the buffet, which was groaning with joints of beast and whole dressed hams, yams, clams, spam, and jam, with a great many varieties of bread and rolls and buns and cakes and pies and tarts and pastries and cookies such as remained uneaten thus far.
Mazuriewicz and Jenkin joined them before continuing on, seeing that the King was not in residence at that moment.
Jenkin also availed himself of several pieces of flatware and a small candelabra.
He resigned himself to his fate.
“I’m resigned to this fate,” he squeaked to Mazuriewicz. “There’s nothing anyone can do.”
“Nonsense,” came the reply. “You simply lack persistence.” Mazuriewicz shrugged elaborately, dislodging his powdered hairpiece somewhat. He patted it back into place absently. “The King will set things to rights.”
“I am not a particular favorite of the King’s,” Jenkin squeaked. “He will make it worse. The last time he was displeased, he turned me into a living rock for a few thousand years.”
“Well, there is that,” Mazuriewicz admitted, shaking his head and making his hairpiece jiggle dangerously. “But time isn’t the same here, so it didn’t seem that long.”
“To you,” Jenkin snarled.
“Well, of course, to me,” Mazuriewicz replied testily. “Who else would I be talking about?”
“I was talking about me,” squealed Jenkin.
“Aren’t you always?” Mazuriewicz raised his left eyebrow and glowered at Jenkin from beneath it. “You’re your own favorite subject.”
Jenkin rushed him, jumped upon his back, began gnawing on his skull. “I will have you for lunch. This very day,” he snarled, taking the wig in his mouth and hurling it. A cloud of powder followed. Jenkin reapplied himself to his task with vigor.
Mazuriewicz covered his head with his arms and tried to move Jenkin by pulling his cloak over his head and making a bag out of the inside-out thing.
Jenkin ate through it.
By then Mazuriewicz was two hundred yards away and widening the gap.
“He’ll be back,” said Jenkin, taking his place at the endless buffet again, among the rest of the misfits, malingerers, malformed, malignant, and misunderstood.
When he was quite round enough to feel comfortable, Jenkin moved on to his chambers and began to collect the things he’d need, for he didn’t feel that he could stay, under the current circumstances.
“I don’t think I could stay,” he said, “or that I should stay. If I stay there will be trouble. If I go there will be trouble. But if I go the nature of the trouble is unknown. I don’t want to be a rock again. This body works, after a fashion.”
Cassilda and Cassandra and Caterina and Calliope and Cassiopeia were all watching of course, because everyone watched everybody else constantly, because how else to know what you should be doing except by comparing one’s plans to others’ plots?
Anything else would nonsensical. So said Demhe, and Demhe knew all.
Demhe was from the universe before this one, and knew what was going to happen before it happened.
Some even said Demhe caused things to happen, but that’s simply not possible. Demhe doesn’t move, have arms, legs, fingers, toes. Demhe is just a stone.
In those days, except to things like Jenkin, it was a happy time. Good days on Carcosa, not long after the universe was born, and the city Carcosa on the planet Carcosa, near the western shore of the great frozen lake Hali, was young and whole, and its marbled avenues and metallic hues rivaled the very five suns for splendor.
For there were five suns then, not just two, and a great many moons, moonlets, satellites, asteroids, comets, planetoids, and personal craft plied the spaceways.
He who is not to be named had not yet arrived. It is unknown if he had yet been quickened.
For, as you recall, it was a very very long time ago.
Cassilda and Cassandra and Caterina and Calliope and Cassiopeia finished their chat about their lessons and practicing their signs, warnings, weavings, castings, and wards, and took leave of one another, making for their respective dwellings.
“I’ll see you later,” called Cassilda. “I’m for tea and a hot bath.”
“Marvelous,” trilled Cassandra. “Oh, a bath. With lots of bubbles!”
Caterina and Calliope thought the bath capital also.
“Be a stick in the mud,” the others jeered.
Cassiopeia’s eyes widened. Cassilda was beginning a weaving. The stars were darkening.
“NO, Cass,” she said.
Cassilda smiled thinly, showing the tips of her teeth, and tied the weaving off.
The stars came back out.
“I wouldn’t do that, to you,” Cassilda said. “But I could.” And she and the others sashayed off to the baths. Cassilda in white, Cassandra in green, Caterina in yellow, Calliope in red.
Cassiopeia, blue, stayed behind.
She had business with the stone.
Her bath done, her precious self fragrant and enveloped in a robe of the palest persimmon, her pert lips parted parsimoniously, Cassilda addressed herself to her instruments, first directing the engine to imitate the sounds of the crimson dawn, utilizing screams and squeaks of her own devising as ambient underpinning for the music of the spears.
Using the visions she had gleaned from the stone, of beasts of all descriptions throwing themselves onto the long blades in the Forest of Knives, of terror that resonated even into the Outlands, Cassilda poured her soul into the music.
Her familiar began to howl along with the melody, to become the melody. He bayed half-formed thoughts, parts of words learned parrot-fashion, his twin throats in counterpoint.
“I can’t stand when he talks like that,” giggled Cassilda, holding her nose. “And the way he sings. But his music flows, and I want some of that.”
She bent over her megatar, tightened a drone string to get it in tune with the others, strummed a chord.
The chord sounded, and hung in the air. As it began to crumble, she sent another one after it. Soon, three was a crowd.
She reached out, made a gesture with her fingers somewhere between a wave and a slap, and the chords reappeared and repeated. She added bass notes, and patiently continued to assemble her song. Her familiar howled and bayed and gibbered and glubbered along, and the engine relayed it all into the stone, into Demhe, and out into the universe.
The King caught the performance. He enjoyed Cassilda’s rage, her desire for destruction. He thought he might like to express some of the feelings her music generated, in words.
He took up his pen. He wrote, and Demhe assimilated those words.
Cassilda 2015 by Duane Pesice