Tuesday, May 08, 2007


It began with his hands in shadows, casting figures upon the walls of his father’s cottage in the woods. The boy was fascinated by the fire in the hearth and the play of goblins and animals around the walls of the room; standing in the middle of the room and watching himself grow tall as a giant beside his father’s sleeping hulk in the room’s one chair. Natural, then, to mimic the fire’s shadow play with his own shadow creations—birds of paradise, climbing monkeys, racing jungle cats and flying horses.

And then, one night, past midnight, his father long asleep in his chair, the boy followed his own mimicry up the cottage walls and watched in amazement as all manner of fantastic creatures erupted from his hands—wyverns, griffins, dragons, cockatrices, and one grand phoenix climbing higher and higher, then disappearing through the cottage roof. In the night’s darkness, an flash of light exploded in the forest outside, and with it a haunting cry from a world never seen before, yet felt deeply within the young boy’s bones.

“Father!” cried the boy, shaking the man’s shoulders. “Father!”

There was no witness to the night’s magic—the father’s spirit had passed from his body. Any tears the boy might have shed were long gone to the estuary of grief over his mother’s death three years before. He still felt the ache of her loss deep in his heart, but the feeling of his father’s passing was different. Though the body of the man was lifeless, the boy felt the man’s spirit looming large within the room, as if he were somehow connected to the blazing bird in the forest.

Eight years old and orphaned—or was he? The morning after his father’s passing, the body disappeared. The boy hunted for hours in the forest for the man, stopping by the River Loom, as a blue moon rose over him in the night sky. He slept by the rush of the river’s flooding waters.

At daybreak, he found himself lying in the grass in front of the stone cottage. How? He had slept soundly, never stirring—he’d felt no lifting in his sleep. The door to the cottage was open, and on the crude table in the center of the room was a feast of unimagined proportions. He ate his fill, and took up the search for his father’s body again. When he returned home at purple dusk, the table was empty, save for a loaf of freshly baked bread and a roughhewn stone goblet of golden mead.

The pattern of morning feast and evening mead continued for seven months; during this time, the boy felt his relationship with his father grow deeper, despite the man’s absence. Every night, after the boy lit the room’s fire, he sensed an enormous presence that felt like his father and like something else grand and powerful. The figures that flew from the boy’s hands now were all fantastic, images from paintings he might have seen, though he felt that they were from the bottom of a deep mythological ocean, far beyond the boundaries of the world outside his stone cottage.

In the eighth month after the boy’s father’s death, a dark hooded figure slipped through the forest ahead of him, on his daily walk to the clear stream where he drew his water. As he gained upon the darting figure, he saw that it was dressed in dark crimson and appeared to be, by the shape of its body, a young woman.

As the boy neared the stream, the figure slowed her pace, and as he walked up to her, she turned and faced him. Hers was an odd face—it seemed terribly familiar, as if it were a collision of his own features, his father’s, and the dim memory of his mother’s features as well. Even more odd, though, was a very light filigreed lacing of feathers upon the woman’s face. Depending upon the angle of light upon her, she either appeared fully human, or shone iridescently with what looked like a beautiful tattooing on her skin.

The woman dipped her hand in the clear stream and drank from its waters. She cupped another handful for the boy as well. He noted that the water did not slip through her fingers, as he drank.

“You are ready, Shreve,” said the woman, in tones that matched in beauty the chorus of thrushes singing through the trees.

The boy was astonished that the stranger knew the name he had been calling himself since his father’s death. His birth name had been Hod, but out of the depths of his apprenticing nights, he heard the name Shreve whispered to him. He realized now, that the name had been whispered in this same woman’s voice.

“Who are you, and why are you here?” said the boy.

The young woman smiled, and her beauty lit the forest in an incandescence that blazed from the radiance of her face.

“Ah, indeed. You would want to know that, wouldn’t you? My name is Damia. In time, if you follow me, we will come to rule a world beyond your imagination. You will go through many names, as your learning deepens.”

The boy was struck dumb.

“Open your hand,” said the woman.

The boy did as he was told. Damia drew her index finger down the life line of his palm.

“Here,” she said, “is the river.” At the heel of his thumb, she pointed to a tiny mark on his skin. “And here, is the mountain to where we journey. Now.”

In a flash, they rose in the air and vanished.

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