[Flag] Issue 4: May 2000
Rising Sun
"For the next Age of Magnamund..."

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I Could Have a General Be /
In the Bright King's Arr-umm-

by John Grant.

Every time I hear them sing the song, wondering am I if it could be for me, about me, my sorry tale; and then I say no, for my tale is littletold, save by me -- and who would listen to me? (Though it is true: I could have been a General in the Bright King's arr-umm-ee. And that is the tale.)

Ten cold seasons gone now, those times I do not forget (and in one case cannot forget), when the old king, Durblediabolo, was athronèd still, and the people loth under his sway. O the rumours swept like ladies' eyelashes: Did he eat small children for his tiffin? Was there a wench unassaulted in all the land left by his dark and horny body? Blood he drank in banquet cups -- the old idlemen, in cups of their own, assured it truth was, told me so themselves, they who had it from a grandchild's friend. The Queen, fair Galinea of the springbreeze smile: she was burnt, or rackt, or walled away, or long decades back all three -- another matter the idlemen knew. Her daughter -- Durblediabolo's daughter -- was the villainess who sucked her mother's blood, dried fair Galinea. Dark-eyed, dark-haired, dark-skinned, dark-garbed, dark-souled, dark-everythinged Palanthacura: we saw her, all the palace guards and I (Qinmeartha), leader of them, as she paraded daily -- here to the bath, there to the sewing-room, and somewhere to the chamber which no man upon pain of death must think the thought of. We saw her evilness, albeit evil disguised into invisibility.

So we said, so all knew. All knew that, worse than her father even, Palanthacura was a blooddrinker, a semensucker, a throatbiter: vargr, lamia or succubus, the words all combined in her unregal form. All knew it, but what they knew (what Qinmeartha knew) was that her father's taxes made them sweat, the sternness of his royalty them tremble (as well they might, for gibbets strained e'en more then than now, when we are ajoyed under the benevolence of the Bright King our saviour, bless his belch). All knew, too -- and here they were rightly thinking (this also Qinmeartha knew) -- that the days of the Aranthons, the House whose blood did truly flow within Durblediabolo and Palanthacura the both, were fastly twilighting, and that the Bright King beyond the borders with his armies would soon be regnant over us his loving loyal subjects, idlemen and damselfines alike.

Qinmeartha knew, I say. Qinmeartha had no love for Durblediabolo or Palanthacura, although no loathing either. I had great love, say this too, for myself (Qinmeartha, fine Captain of the Royal Guard, crimson-costumed with gold stringing here and here and here, just so) and for the safety of my skin, and more than either these (I believe this is honesty) for the wife (comely) and children of mine (there were three, and still maybe are) who devoured what Durblediabolo's saltmoney bought them.

But, were Durblediabolo dead and rotting on a thousand poles, where then the saltmoney?

The Bright King: he knew Durblediabolo had the strength of ten, the art of killer beasts that dwell in darkness. Friendless our monarch might be (save his daughter, Palanthacura: I have mentioned her), but his House's reign was thousands-year-long, and we folk of the tiny Skysown Lands are better at talking change than being it: the Bright King saw swords and axes rise and fall on soaked battlefields a decade wide, and at the end of all no victory. (In this he saw less true than the idlemen and the damselfines drinking in our streetways, for his eyes were clouded by his own sagacity.) Most of all, Durblediabolo's daughter: I mention her name again, for it tastes well: she was Palanthacura -- and she aquaked the Bright King far as much as did her father, for she could command men nigh well as he. The legerdemain of false souls was called for, deemèd he, our deliverer (as now we know him, later), the Bright King; and his paws who crept the Palace saw Qinmeartha, and Qinmeartha's safeguarded skin, and the wife (comely) and children (there were three, and still maybe are) whose souls Qinmeartha's own false soul was shackled to, and they whispered to Qinmeartha behind hands and doors, telling me of glory dawning and the subtleties of true valour.

I listened, listened Qinmeartha. Qinmeartha the future saw as clear as any man can see, save soothsayers, and even they have muddied eyes, mosttimes. I saw Durblediabolo's fall, and mine with it. Yet (so those furry whisperers whispered), there was no need for me to ungain as the Bright King triumphed: for he sought my sort, who would serve as secret soldiers for his good, and afterwards step out in open sunshine to receive the benisons he fed us.

So listening, I befriended Palanthacura.

Qinmeartha was not the sole one whispered to. Others were among the throngs, telling tales of her vile doings: the mother's death was a creation of those times (for all those years before, fair Galinea of the springbreeze smile had died of a fever took her through foul water), as were the true histories, tracted on all corners, of babies spitted and consumed, of baths in virgins' splashing blood, of demons' nipples clustering beneath the royal braid, of hornèd portraits (hung in dusty places) whose faces moved and spoke profanely. Palanthacura played the harpsichord poorly and sewed a neat exemplar, when she was not horsed and armoured; but Qinmeartha too told these tales of her in both earnestness and taverns, even as I othertimes turned the fairest of my faces towards her, beguiling her with oil-honed friendship, making her lips curve as I soldiered and guarded.

She was dark: that the ballads have right -- her eyes were night-black and her hair yet darker, and her skin shone from its lack of light -- yet still they do not describe her. Qinmeartha saw her -- these now-scalded eyes of mine -- and his clothy ears heard the reflected sun-glitters of her laughing as I promenaded her, me so stately (Qinmeartha I was then and am now still, but there was more dignity in my name then) and seeming-solemn about her, while she became a girl again, walking in the grounds, making chains of murdered flowers, brushing boughs away, casting stones in pools made quiet by their hiddenness.

Kissing me on the lips, one time, and then another. Qinmeartha was a valorous soldier in the secret glory.

I was a valorous soldier in the secret glory, I say, and behind veiled eyes Qinmeartha thought pictures of Qinmeartha's wife (comely) and children (there were three, and still maybe are) as Palanthacura's lips enlivened mine. Qinmeartha enwebbed her, for the Bright King, for his army, for my glory, for those who loved me.

Enwebbed her? Proud I was not to be spidercaught myself by her gossamer-spinning eyes; conversewise they made me steel the participles (especial fine I made those in Qinmeartha's pride of life) as Qinmeartha did nightly tell the gawpeyed of the cruelties she wrought behind the Palace's gilden gates -- she and Durblediabolo both, for I spared her father nothing of my wordscourge. Now the Skysown Lands could glutton the truth of how Palanthacura slept in sheets made of women's skins and played croquet on the fine-hewn Palace lawns with infant skulls for balls and gnawed femurs for clubs. Her father, in the mean, was presenting himself by day for buggery with the flintgod of thunderclouds whose strike of wrath can make a man baked meat; and by night the sins of Durblediabolo were too unhearted for even a sturdy such as Qinmeartha to recount without a further drink of ale.

The idlemen became less so, for thanks to me and others like me; the tongues of the damselfines flicked them into talk of usurp, and then into the hefting of old weaponry from older lofts, and they lost their idleness for wrath of all these accusèd wrongs. And yet, as the sun shone where my pretty princess and I intricately danced for the enjoyment of the day's view, I told her that she should have no fears, that there was hard metal and leather between her and the growling mobs: even my stout muscles were a shield of her.

The whisperers -- the Bright King's corporals -- came to me again. We must, they said, us as loyalty owe to the fairheart monarch from outside the Skysown Lands, prepare for the royal twain to be sundered. Even with the people uprose, even with Durblediabolo's army half betraying, even with all this and the will of the fairer gods as strength to us, Durblediabolo with Palanthacura (that was the daughter's name) has many times the might of normal men: not ten, but scatteredsun diamondfalls of rainstorms' worth. The vampiress must be persuaded to leave her hungry-mawed father for ample long that the Bright King may slay this monster, and so bedeck the Palace with his colours.

She loves you, the soothers soothed. It is carolled in the way she is sometimes shy to touch you, but cannot bear her hand to drift too far from yours. She is a manlike warrioress when the demon moves her among others, but she bends to the words you softly wield. She will believe you: she is no soulreader, to know you are the Bright King's hero.

So Qinmeartha sent his wife (comely) and children (there were three, and still maybe are) away from Durblediabolo's over-live city, to a place where none raged except the puffchested smaller birds; and Qinmeartha cloaked my face in grey concern as that day I strode (for Qinmeartha then strode well, among his many attributes) into first the Palace and then the princess's (she was called Palanthacura) chambers where I found her, fathom-deep eyes wet from concern -- for she was not unknowing of the way the idlemen's grumblings had become a share-throated bellow -- and also, for the whisperers' senses were no falsesayers, with a welcome for me, truest friend she bore.

My plan was fickly made. The Bright King was making noise and racket on our southern borders, it was true, but spies had come from distant north to say that there was, too, an army bided there, halting for the while until her fine father (Durblediabolo, the one of whom the mobs told gaudy tales) struck in his impatience south: then they would savage down through the northern scantlands and seize the Palace and the city and his daughter Palanthacura (which was the vargr's name, as you know). But I and others loyal to her father had, in knowingness of this, covertly detailed a legion two days' journey beyond the city's loom that none among the citizens cognized (for the Bright King had his listeners everywhere, I truthfully reminded, and we wished all to be kept ashroud). This small host I had been charged to lead, but my glamour (Qinmeartha bore glamour) was not the kind that stirs to the mud and dust of bravery.

Had any other told her this Palanthacura would have picked apart the web and seen its strands' melting weakness, but it was Qinmeartha, the stalwart in whose shadow she was gay to caper in the sunlit days, and so her flesh married with my words and found them entire.

She alone, I said, could lead, in the clear-singing gold of her shone armour, the men assembled; could spring the warriors of our troupe to glory, so that the Bright King's (I do not, did not, speak the name his father gave him: he is our splendid defender, and needs no given naming, having conquered one for his own) northern armies would be laid in shards. The flutter of her flag was more powerful than the call of my voice might ever be.

Qinmeartha was a fine weaver of webs, for she told all to her father (Durblediabolo) who, like she of me, would have believed this confection from no other. By the following nightfall she and I and bare a dozen others (all like myself bedizened in the invisible raiment of the secret valour) were crept from the city and on the northbound road; our quest, though my cobwebs hid Palanthacura from this knowing, being for a chimera's sake.

(I thought of my wife [comely] and children [there were three, and still maybe are] as our hooves filled the twilight. I swear to few truths now that my hand is never still, but this is one of them. The vampiress, her glitter hidden by wool as she rode alongside me, smile grim, could fill my vision with her darkness but she was not upon the stage that bright lights lit for my loved ones.)

Two moons vied for the topmost sky before we pitched camp, sparked a sallow fire, posted guards, found sleep. In the morning only the souldrinker and I remained, one each side of the cooling ashes. This (Qinmeartha later learned) according to the plan twined far south by the Bright King's councillors and brought like a silk coil to our once companions for unspinning.

She would have fled furiously back to her father (called Durblediabolo); she should have done so: she did not do this for I, seeing her eyes' intention, made frantic light of the desertion, telling her that there was no abandonment at all, rather that I had not before dared tell her that she and I should journey solitary together, for discretion's sake, else those ears of which I had told her would hear our doings. It was a palsied lie (although in part unknowing true), and its frailty might not have secured her had my own (Qinmeartha's) greatwise stronger arm not, for the first time, gone about her shoulders and drawn her to me.

I enjoyed nothing, not of that kiss. Her softhard body was in my arms like a sheep struggling to avoid shearing: that is what I can remember. Yet I would, in duty to my wife (comely) and children (there were three, and still maybe are), have divested her of wool and polished gold both, myself likewise, had she not laid her finger gently down my nose and lips and told me that northwards we must hie with more speed than love permitted.

Reprieved, I rode beside her through the day. We took the road that cuts not far below where the trees, for fear of skybeings, dare not ascend. We saw curved-bill birds floating maps of the fertile hills beneath skeined clouds that seemed more distant than the sky. We startled a rabbit once, but she (Palanthacura) would not let me slay it for our dining, saying that we bore with us enough tack in our bags to take us to the waiting secret band. We sang sometimes as our horses picked their own ways over scree-littered carvings in the hills' sides: the dark lady's skin shone to the sound of our unioned voices. Our hands touched as they willed: I can feel her knuckles brush Qinmeartha's.

And far past the day's end we paused and my wife (comely) and children (there were three, and still maybe are) declined to be beside us in the campfire's blanket. As two moons above us once more competed, the spiritstealer (Palanthacura) and I made these listed things: much sweat; much toiling; much entanglement; many little cries; much laughter; much and many.

Then, as the dawn, met sleepless, showed us lines and puffinesses bought together (and now explored together in smiles), she took a smooth-rubbed stone from around her neck (Qinmeartha had it not discovered there in the nightlong twinings, but it must have been) and gave it to him. This, she said, would make the day-night eternal, never unremembered: it was all the magic the Aranthons had ever known. It was a Stone of Loving, a piece of memory; its hidden crystals breeze-kisses.

He, Qinmeartha -- I -- took it and put it about my neck, and it still hung there as afternoon came and I delivered her up to my fellowmen of the Bright King.

She too hung, days later, beside the already crow-picked body of her father (Durblediabolo, slain in brawlery as the Bright King first struck into the Palace with his northbound hordes); they were not cruel to her before she died, save that they tore out her night-far eyes that had with mine watched curved-bill birds sail. I was glad of this, for I was gloried near where her dark-skinned emptiness swung, and, though she was a blooddrinker and seeddrainer, had no wish that she might be tormented by seeing me be made a full Commander for her pains.

That night, bunked before departure to retrieve my wife (comely) and children (there were three, and still maybe are), I took the lamia's Stone of Loving from its thong about my neck -- a memento, fine as all my medals -- and as I made to beside my bunkside lay it, my fingers, unbehested, wrapped themselves about it.

She (Palanthacura) and I ride daylong beneath a sky with thin-skeined cool clouds that touch us over all their distance, drawing song from us. The curved-bill birds are nearer companions, but no less close. With the embrace of night we too embrace, joying in our defencelessness, discovering that our two bodies have been always one. And in the dawnlight she gives me the Aranthon Stone of Loving for my own.

Eye-gritting daylight came into that soldierly barracks to awake me; the walls had once been whitewashed, but bore old stains, and the male smell was spiky in the air. The Stone was on its thong about my neck.

Wonderlostly, I touched it with my fingertip.

Qinmeartha is by Palanthacura's side this day as their horses tease a way through scree and insecurity. Beyond the trees is heather, its white and blue perfumes mingling to make the sky. The birds, gliding on the trivial winds, mock the shapes of the breathing hills. Night comes, and trees rustle fondly, and she and I find warmth amid coarse warrior blankets that cools the fire, her laughter hot as it flows in curl-evading runnels down my chest. And in the dawnlight she gives me the Aranthon Stone of Loving for my own.

It was evening in the lodgeplace, and many watched me wake. They fed me, arms pinioned so that struggle I might not. They forced water upon me, and called me madman: the Bright King's commander, for all his medals, was childish weak, vacant-minded, lackly. This food and water, though I spat most out, they were generous to give; my next meal would be begged, and all thereafter.

In the street, bruised, as the dogs howled for nothing I touched the Stone that hung by its thong about my neck.

I (Qinmeartha) travel through a bluegold day with her (Palanthacura) until the night weaves us. And in the dawnlight she gives me the Aranthon Stone of Loving for my own.

I woke to find a rat whiskering my fingers. I struck it away. I peed into the rags from which all medals had been torn, and touched the Stone.

The breeze washes our faces as we come over the crest of a hill to see a quilted valley spread out in a dance before us. There are lights hither and thither, for dusk has soaked across much of the world. We camp after the dark has truly come; the touch of her tonguetip to my tonguetip is lettuce-crisp. And in the dawnlight she gives me the Aranthon Stone of Loving for my own.

A priesthouse took me in that night, and I was fed and washed before being given over to the pleasure of the priests. I gripped the Stone before the first spread me, and am travelling through an eternal day, in which Palanthacura is ever by my side, both of us wanting the hours to be both brief and long until the campfire glows dimly on our sheen. And in the dawnlight she gives me the Aranthon Stone of Loving for my own.

I passed another day.

And in the dawnlight she gives me the Aranthon Stone of Loving for my own.

I have seen her often since -- I think she in the Palace dwells still, perhaps as the Bright King's bride. She cannot return my gaze, of course, for they ripped her eyes away before she dangled; but I have sensed her sensing my nearness. I was the first that loved her closely: she told me this, and never lied. For that reason she will always feel the touch of my glance, as I feel her blindness.

And in the dawnlight, always in the dawnlight, she gives me the Aranthon Stone of Loving for my own.

They made her body cavort on the rope for the idlemen's and damselfines' merriness, yet she lives still.

And my life dwindles. 

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