The Holden Stone

Reflections of a Fantasy Writer

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Home Library of Sorenzia THE PLANET AND STARS excerpt Singer of Norgondy, constellations

Excerpt from Singer of Norgondy, Duke Rayid and  the five constellations


the spider constellation

Summer solstice on a moonless clear night, and all five of the major constellations were visible. The five that controlled his destiny, Barzolf always told him, or that controlled his dreams, the shaman fathers of the Eller Island would say, or that gave him the illusions that could shape his understanding of reality, as Ailil the Capsen tellerwoman had explained to him in their youth. Whatever god in the time before time that had played marbles and scattered the stars at random across the sky, men saw patterns in their clusterings, men saw meaning, saw stories meant for them.

Rayid had heard the stargazer’s stories before. How Mora the Spider boiled her children and fed their stew to her husband. When he choked on their bones as she told him what he ate, she laughed and licked her fingers. On her first taste of guilt, she could never stop swallowing, until she swallowed her fingers, her tongue, her lips, her neck, until she swallowed herself inside out and all that was left of her was the black speck of guilt no larger than a widow spider. And that god of antiquity cast her into the northern sky where the three brightest stars formed the triangle of her head, and the eight stars encircling them, her legs. Or by joining the eight stars from leg to leg, the pattern drawn of her constellation by the Eller Islands shaman was called her web of guilt.

Opposing the Spider to the south were the nine bright stars that formed the Arrowhead, the path of right. Among the Capsens, that constellation was called the Bear’s Head instead, and just in recalling that name, Rayid added the five stars to it that completed the bear’s body and tail, and the two patterns shifted back and forth in his mind, both present, both as real. Curious, he always thought. He may not believe the stars held meaning, that each star alone or in clusters had been placed in the sky for his benefit, but once a constellation was pointed out to him and named, he could not deny he saw its pattern. He could even see two constellations at once, as here, the Path of Right, and Alred’s Bear, their patterns shifting in his mind as fast as he could think of their names, but he could never see the stars singly again, unjoined, insignificant, no matter what he believed.

Perhaps that was the contradiction, the curiosity, the denial and the acceptance, that kept pulling him back here year after year onthe solstice to hear Barzolf speak. Rayid sat up, uncorked the jug of hot mulled wine, and took a swig, then passed the jug to Barzolf.

"And there, to the rising moon," Barzolf said, "Zaire’s Sword. The seven, its silver shining blade of vengeance, and those four just above the horizon--the red, two blues, the brightest diamond--its jeweled hilt. And, as in all, two meanings in its thrust. The blade that cuts down enemies, for justice and power; or the edge of sorrow that kills you, the slaying words or deeds that destroy those you love most."

Rayid stared at the Sword pointing towards him, seeing again the meteor that came straight through it three years ago before his wife and sons died. In his youth, his father had taken the Sword constellation as his sign on his standard, had paraded it each Harvest Festival, had called it the sword of peace.

"And countering it to the west, to the setting moon, Lorn’s Harp, that plays the song of gifts, of all music, all arts, all crafts, of the magic that flows in and out of the hands of all makers. There is a pride in giving. The danger for Lorn," Rayid felt Barzolf’s eyes on him, piercing through him, as he passed him back the jug of wine and repeated, "the danger for Lorn was in the giving for the taking, in wanting to feel the satisfaction and pride again, wanting the acclamation. To see a star fall through Lorn’s Harp can mean you’ll give all that you are for love, or that you’ll be blessed by others loving you, or the converse, that for money, or fame, or greed, or hunger, you’ll sell yourself."

Rayid chuckled, saluted the jug to the stargazer before taking a sip. "That’s what I like about your prophecies. You can make them match everyone. Every situation." He corked the jug, passed it back.

"Those people full of contradictions especially," Barzolf said, still watching him. Rayid lay back down, scratched the dog’s back.

"People full of contradictions are those I find most interesting," he answered finally.

"Your sons were born under those stars. You were blessed in their love. And in the love of your people..."

"But...?" Rayid asked him.

"But, my friend, you would ask me or anyone you love to step off that cliff if you saw it to your advantage. And there’s such in you, we’d do it trustingly."

Rayid’s fist curled around thick strands of the dog’s hair.

"An asset for any leader. Me, if I had what I wanted most, I’d live alone here in the highlands. Unencumbered. I do what I have to do for the welfare of my people. I ask of them what I must, for their benefit."

"Or for yours, my friend. Or for yours."

Rayid gazed in silence at the harp in the sky. His wife had said the same thing to him once, that he used her. And so he had, in marrying her, as much as she had ever used him.

Barzolf went on quietly after a moment, "And the fifth house of stars, above us. Always there, and never seen. The spiral of forgetfulness. Only in forgetting yourself, can you find your center, your soul. The center of the universe, written in the space between the stars."

Rayid looked up at the constellation hardest for him to see, but inescapable to tear his imagination away from when he did. Two spirals of stars meeting in the faint blue star Solon. He had seen their pattern on Barzolf’s robe, the fifth symbol of power he had never seen formed by the fall of lights through stained glass windows on the fifth circle of the bear’s claw in his father’s court room floor. He had had the constellation pointed out to him many times, he could see the first two circles of stars making a figure eight easily when he looked for them. The other circles spiraled outwards farther and farther as his imagination imposed the pattern upon them, joining star after star into the circling and the circling. All the stars joined in, that one there, and that one there, each part of a wider or smaller circle he had not seen before, stretching outwards east and west to the horizons, the myriad of countless stars, the whole universe patterned from the parts. The two halves of the cosmos spiraling away from each other yet touching in the center, in the one faint blue star overhead. As he stared up, scenes of his life, recent and old, disconnected, no story to them, no decision made from them, flashed in star after star to him, spiraled away from each other in his mind in two swirling circles, the good, the bad, the loved, the hated, his beliefs and denials present and forgotten, joined in random order to one faint star inside him.