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 Xartis Psyxis, prologue

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nordmann
Nobiles Barbariæ
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Join date : 2011-12-25

20120413
PostXartis Psyxis, prologue

As long as she felt the ground descending beneath her feet she knew she could require no surer guide. And besides, no map had ever yet been devised which could lead her to where she was going tonight, nor one which could ever even hope to describe her destination. The opposite; a map shows where one has come from with the same clarity as it does where one is headed, in fact with probably even greater clarity since one has already populated its ciphers with one’s own experience and familiarity. But where she had come from was a place she had resolved never to visit again, a resolve which any map might only therefore serve to weaken, and the ubiquity of where she was headed mocked all men’s attempts to describe it in any case. No, this way was better. Her very ignorance of the dark streets and lanes through which she passed, her all too vivid comprehension of their perils, the intense agony which accompanied her every faltering step, and the knowledge that all these things should they conspire together would kill her, was all she needed to fuel and steer her stumbling progress.

But it was no terror formed of this realisation that lent her direction and impetus, even though every sinew of her being and of that which she’d once derisorily thought of as her rational mind screamed out to her to stop. Not fear but strength; a strength drawn from the grim realisation that for once, all the sordid and evil designs of men, all the vindictiveness of a god sadistically taking pleasure from his own creation’s failure, and all the capriciousness of merciless nature itself could never now prevent her from achieving her aim. In fact in their unrelenting avarice they could only help her. For all their malevolence, and for all their delight in acting upon it, they could now only speed her in reaching her destination tonight. She had, at last, rendered her tormentors impotent, and the feeling this knowledge induced in her was akin to ecstasy, or at least in so far as she could remember that illusion from her past.

She paused many times on the way, mostly from the pain, and sometimes to avoid the owners of voices or other such noises which, in the quiet gloom ahead of her, she perceived as other than and apart from that constant commingled murmur of man and machine which is the voice of the city itself, even so late at night. Only once did she stop at a point where such involuntary interruption was welcome. That was when she clutched some wooden staves of scaffolding in Rood Lane for support as a spasm of pain had ripped through her innards. Then, as the agony subsided, she’d found herself staring through a lattice of timbers at the tumbled and fragmented gravestones in the churchyard of St Margaret Pattens. The scene was an island of light in the gloom, a watchman’s brazier by the ruined and blackened walls of the church casting a weak illumination which the night instantly and greedily consumed, and which only the stones seemed bothered to converse with on its way. A few of the gravestones still stood where ten years beforehand they had been engulfed in the Great Fire, bathing them then in a heat so intense that they had been bleached white; their colour, like their consistency, now turned to chalk. Most however had cracked or crumbled to pieces, and it was these fragments which some warden in the past had carefully laid flat near the roadside, the better for passers by to read, if they could, a name or a year which might prompt recognition of kinship. Through such small measures, repeated throughout the resurgent city, had Londoners sought to reclaim a continuity with their own past which the fire had so devastatingly sundered, to forcibly wrest their history, and in doing so their destiny, back into their own hands. But now, so many years later, everyone knew that the multitude of gravestones which still remained on view around London, these unrecognised and unclaimed mementoes of past lives so thoroughly forgotten, represented not so much a splendid aspiration but the confirmation of an unpleasant and unavoidable truth. There is no fate that we can strive to control, no destiny we can hope to influence, no posterity to which we can aspire to contribute, no eternity be it of promised reward or threatened punishment, which does not amount in reality to anything but the acknowledgement through optimistic denial of the only true destiny which awaits us all, our own oblivion. In a manner that the churchman responsible for having laid out these stones would no doubt have condemned as blasphemous, she was greatly comforted by their sight. She struggled on.

Soon Billingsgate Dock lay straight ahead of her. But Billingsgate, she knew from the rhyme, never slept and she was too near her goal now to be cheated of it by human agency, be it one motivated by the mundanity of evil, or worse, one well-intentioned. There is, after all, only so much irony one can tolerate before the divine cruelty behind its purpose is stripped bare, and she had long since passed the point where the contemplation of such brutality engendered in her less tedium than contempt. She veered left instead, following no instinct except a desire to obscure herself from unwelcome attention and to resume her descent at the first opportunity. Avoiding the few pools of light spluttering from tallow lanterns in Cross Lane, a welcome slope and darkness at its end guided her past the ruins of St Dunstan’s and into Idle Lane, along which she groped her way painfully, thankful that its gradient helped propel her towards Thames Street.

At its corner she stopped again, not for respite from her pain this time but to assess on this well-lit thoroughfare where next she could turn. Salvation of a sort presented itself right across the road from her, her grateful attention drawn to the swaying sign of the Dice tavern, its doors and windows shuttered and bolted at this late hour. To the building’s side lay a flight of steps leading down into a pitch darkness that concealed within its maw, she surmised, the warren of alleys and arcades that together comprised the two Dice Quays, Little and Great. And now the determination which had brought her thus far mercifully uninterrupted became, she realised both to her relief and to her dismay, a resolute certitude that her night’s journey would soon be complete.

The quays’ wooden wharves, each bedecked day and night with scores of ships competing for their services much like two great sows suckling ten times more piglets than were teats to feed them, held sandwiched between them a stone-clad mooring reserved for the launches of gentry and rich merchants. No commercial vessel had leave to moor there, an island of serenity therefore between two centres of mayhem. Despite her ignorance of the area she knew this well; her father had sometimes used it when contracted to a wealthy patron and had lost no opportunity to boast to everyone of the fact that he had landed on the “middle” Dice. Once in her childhood she had even been allowed accompany him on a trip to Greenwich and they had returned by wherry to this point, an innocent memory of something so wonderfully rare and happy that it had been vividly etched in her young mind. She loathed being in possession of that memory now, much as a prisoner must loath each glittering stolen trinket he would gladly return in penitence to its murdered owner and now never can. But she was grateful for its clarity nevertheless; just as she thanked the muse who had seemingly arbitrarily guided her across the entire city to this very spot, but who she now suspected was the goddess Tamesis herself and had done so with compassionate intent. In her mind’s eye she could still see the imposingly high Portland stone pier as it hove into view, the rusted rings which the men on board had captured with their boat hooks amid much swearing and, that which was most relevant to her mission tonight, the long diagonal slash of steps from its summit down to the soupy Thames below. At this hour - and she begged Tamesis grant that it be true - she wished those steps deserted and God’s spite directed elsewhere. Dignity, in the end, was all she had left to be stolen.

She negotiated the winding lanes of the Dice as quickly as her pain-racked body and the thick gloom allowed, but it still seemed an eternity before the confines of high-walled warehouses, stockyards and merchants’ offices gave way at last to a broad expanse of cobbles and a void opened before her. There she stopped, in need of some moments to recover her breath and strength, and even more to allow those senses which darkness cannot dull to probe the shadows and ensure that she was alone. As her laboured breathing quietened and the pain gradually lessened she concentrated therefore on what those senses relayed to her, and she was glad she did so. The voices of the forgotten dead in St Margaret Pattens had earlier whispered to her of man’s supreme and utter vanity in his abject craving for eternal life, and had mocked this infantile obtuseness in the face of such ample evidence to the contrary. She had drawn comfort from their wisdom and had, with them, mocked even herself for having once shared in such stupidity. But here, on the deserted riverbank in the dead of night, if one listened as attentively as she did now, one could hear whispers of another sort; whispers so ancient and so wise that they did not need to mock or even care about human aspiration. And, if one listened even closer to them, one might even hear such petty aspirations, indeed eternity itself, explained. Human and mechanical murmur were London’s incessant chorus, but what she heard and felt around her now on this dark quayside was that which the chorus often drowned; the oratorio’s underlying and original melody, most certainly its most ancient orchestra, and probably in truth its very composer; an eternal, unstoppable and unrelenting cacophony born of the river and older than the city it serenaded, most likely older even than mankind itself. The fetid stench, the dank and cloying air, the creaks, clatters and groans of mast and rigging on captive vessels struggling against primeval current and swell, the unremitting scratch and splatter of impatient waves clawing and gnawing at man’s intrusions into its domain; London’s very breath, and one day its death rattle. This putrid, turgid and dissonant fluvial symphony had underscored her life to an extent she knew she could never fully understand; as much a part of her, she now realised, as she had been part of it. It had always and ever been there, in all its dark mystery, all its uncompromisingly hard wisdom and all its eternally patient, unfathomably subtle intrusiveness, had she only bothered to heed it. Never had it been unavailable, at least not to anyone with the ears and eyes to comprehend it; and Londoners, born with the river within their very being, do not even need them. Had she but respected that mystery, heeded that wisdom, and learnt from that patience, might the lesson so cruelly and all so late learnt have been learnt so much the sooner. Perhaps even soon and well enough to pry back from the cruel grasp of divine spite and human capriciousness her own life and that of…

But self-admonishment, just like self-mockery and self-loathing, had no purpose now, she understood. Just as with everyone else in London, for whom the river’s symphony of truth plays silent while the raucous anthem to human greed prevails, had she also neglected to pay it heed and had thus paid dearly instead for such arrogant inattentiveness. Now she was simply grateful that it in turn had not abandoned her as she had it, and she felt contritely honoured therefore that it should play for her, right at the end, one last valedictory performance. She savoured every note, every subtle change in cadence and tone, every exquisite silence, with all the rapt attention and indescribable joy of the concert-goer for whom a composition’s true beauty and meaning has suddenly become wondrously, instantaneously and perfectly clear. Even more pleasing to her was to hear it performed without human accompaniment, for that meant only one thing. Her journey was at last over.

Or about to begin.

The river welcomed her in an enveloping embrace. It closed her ears to the sound of anguish, closed her eyes to the sight of despair. It caressed her body, each gentle stroke numbing the pain within it and lending her the strength to take one more step. It supported her as she walked and laid her gently on an eiderdown bed when she chose to rest. It hummed to her an ancient lullaby as she drifted into sleep and whispered soothingly to her of dreams she had long forgotten but, it assured her, could now dare to dream again. It wrapped her in the warmth no fire can mimic and only the youngest infant can truly remember.

And that was the last image her conscious mind acknowledged – the sleeping infant at her breast who nestled into the crook of her arm, stretching out a hand in his slumber to touch her cheek. The child smiled, and so did she as love, gratitude, the river, and death engulfed them both.
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Xartis Psyxis, prologue :: Comments

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Re: Xartis Psyxis, prologue
Post on Fri 13 Apr 2012, 16:36 by Islanddawn
Xartis Psyxis, means Map Of The Soul?

It is good, I like the mysterious atmosphere you've created too Nordmann.

I get impatient with authors who are too waffley and wordy with descriptions but you've managed to avoid that trap, kept it moving and interesting.

And I want to keep reading, so well done.
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Re: Xartis Psyxis, prologue
Post on Sat 14 Apr 2012, 14:41 by MadNan
I definitely want to keep reading - it's great.
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Re: Xartis Psyxis, prologue
Post on Wed 05 Sep 2012, 11:55 by shivfan
Nordmann, you should post your story, when completed, on Amazon....

I'm currently writing a historical novel, and I will be doing so shortly.
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Re: Xartis Psyxis, prologue
Post on Mon 10 Sep 2012, 17:14 by Temperance
You, Nordmann and Priscilla are wasting your time with all this historical fiction malarky, shivfan. You should all start writing recipes:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/money/celebritymoney/article-2200999/Jamie-Oliver-JK-Rowling-50-biggest-selling-authors-time.html

Jamie: £126.4m

Delia: £64.4m

Nigella: £48.5m

Gordon: £28.5m

Our very own heroine, Philippa, does get a mention though (number 50). Will post her worth (or rather the value of her books) on her thread.
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Re: Xartis Psyxis, prologue
Post on Mon 10 Sep 2012, 20:14 by Temperance
I had better add (again fearful lest I am misunderstood in Bolivia) that I was being ironic.
 

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