October 6, 440 Y.A.
Grief is both unforgettable and unspeakable; words cannot purge its wounds of weight. And grief is wound, for both are loss, pieces of flesh torn from the body. Since Ryn Batyst died, my flesh has gone from me entirely. I sit here and write and know that my hands cannot be my own. I cannot be here, sitting at my table; I cannot feel myself doing the sitting. These must be someone else’s thighs, legs, arms and head, someone else’s chest and stomach.
It is someone else who accomplishes these things, who rises each morning to stare at himself in a cracked mirror – who broke it? when? – and scrape a blade across his face, wondering what would happen if he cut just a little lower. It must be someone else who does these things, who prepares himself one meal each day and hides, crouching in a corner, when the boys that Gurloes sends come to threaten to sell the booth right out from under him, the card of my damned Guild be damned.
It must be someone else who does those things, because I dwell in another place entirely. I dwell in a place where Ryn is not already dead, where I reenact my last few conversations with him without variance or success. They steer always toward the currents of the same arguments, grind to pieces against the rocks of my own obstinacy or of his. We always fight about the Blood of History. We always part and he always dies. Sometimes, I tie the noose around his neck myself.
It is too much, I know, that I would have such overdone fantasies, the stuff of which the Actor’s Guild would turn down with a sniff. Life may well be a play, but it must surely be a poorly written one. Its themes are far too obvious, its speeches far too subtle, to be conveyed by intentional humanity. For it is the unintentional that carries us, and the inhuman that conveys us home. It was inhumanity that carried me to Ryn or Ryn to me, and it is accident that sends me, like a man being ferried by someone whose oars he does not quite trust, back into the last days of Ryn Batyst again.
It is not that we were very close. It is, rather, that we were going the opposite direction, that I had long crossed paths with the man who would have been my father, if only I had allowed it. But I did not, and now that man is dead. Except that if I had allowed him, if I had said things quite differently, I would not have forsaken the Blood and he would not have listened so much to eager Adlasola and he would not then have moved before his time, and then he would not then have died. But I of course did allow it, so that we were like those Profusionist ships the rumors tell about, the ones who shipped out of their respective ports at the behest of no one anyone could see, toward ends no free human could fathom. And so now he is dead, though he would not be dead had I but allowed it...
It must surely be strange if the Profusion does come back to us from the void, because it is certainly to the void that we go, and the places between the stars must certainly be empty. What, then, will come back, when the universe refurls, when the far stars come near again, when all our dead come home? I’ll tell you about your mother, says Ryn Batyst. I believe she may have been extraordinary.
It was the last thing he said to me. At night, I curl around myself and cannot begin to weep.
At least she comes. In the evenings Adlasola brings me produce purchased from her small earnings, or, I suspect, pilfered by her even smaller hands. She once confessed to me that she simply cannot understand property as a concept. People must surely own themselves, she says, and spend their whole lives paying for it.
Everything else, she believes, is metaphor, and once carved a wooden fish to help me understand. “This fish,” she said, “doesn’t know that it was once a tree. But it will remember when it swims upstream.” I shook my head and laughed, but sometimes now wonder if I, perhaps, am wooden. I certainly feel as though I drown.
What she brings with her is not joy exactly. She is not pleased herself, though she did not know Ryn well enough to truly grieve. The Blood of History has not called her back, she says. She has never shared the memories of the ancient dead. I tell her that she brings to me her blankness, her bright and unassuming neutrality, and I cherish it later as relief. She tells me I remind her of the stevedores who work upon the docks, who carry such heavy bundles upon their backs that they look around surprised when they are gone. She promises me that mine someday will be. She still has not learned to knock.
Tonight she came and brought with her a bracing autumn chill, even after the warmth of afternoon. The little wind of her entrance caught up the finer tendrils of her red hair and shone them in the sunlight. Her plain clothes, brown shirt and shift, tumbled loosely around her as though astonished to find themselves there.
I believe she actually catches beauty by surprise. She’s no less fatalistic than I am, but her destiny is a series of happy and inevitable accidents, and though she wears mourning black, it is only because she has not yet understood Ryn’s death’s full import. When we finally see the whole, she says, I think we understand the parts for what they’ve been. The mistakes of a painting may be perhaps overshadowed or incorporated.
I want to kiss her when she talks like that, but I never know it until later.
She set a bottle of wine upon my table, as cheap as might be purchased, and still perhaps most of what she would have earned on any given day. When she moved, the rough open collar of her shirt showed more of her should and her neck, which then promptly disappeared as she sat back properly. She wore, just then, everything I did not know. Discovery is uncovering, Ryn Batyst had said, and revelation lays bare all that’s ever been. Mystery’s a shawl.
Sometimes I miss her when she’s in the very room. Adlasola, for her part, claims that she cannot describe herself. She lacks words for inner thoughts and feelings, and so must use her pictures. I often thought that I write and speak so much because I lack sufficient imagery – perhaps that is the remedy that my visions bring. Or perhaps we merely complement each other.
She poured out wine for both of us, when I’d set out the glasses. “How are you?” she asked.
I got up and closed the door she had left quite open. “The same,” I replied. “It’s never any better, and I don’t want it to be. But I am glad you came.”
She shook her head. “But you do not, I think, want it to get very much worse.” She started pouring, my glass and hers.
“It always gets worse. Don’t you know we live at dusk?”
She looked up at me. “I know the rituals. I think perhaps they are incorrect. This dusk, at least, must be very long.” I took her glass and mine, setting aside the fruit she’d also brought. I was not hungry, and thought she should at least be comfortable, rather than sitting in my scrapwood chair, she who cannot become accustomed to any furniture at all. In a stride, I was beside my fire, the open fireplace with which I also cook. There must have been a hundred thousand poor flames just like it, just then, all across the miserable city, but in that moment I thought it might be luxury.
She did not, in all her good graces, begin to disagree. Instead, she silently followed me, and sat down very close beside – mostly, I suspect, because there was very little other room.
I stared at the floor, shaking my head. “Gods, I miss him. Right or wrong, he always knew what to do. And I have no idea what to do at all. I’ll be out of the Guild by the end of the month, I’ll lose my stall next week. I don’t know how long I can keep the room. I depended on him, and so I of course didn’t realize everything he actually did.”
Adlasola folded her legs across each other. “You should not I think accuse yourself because Ryn Batyst abandoned you by dying. He chose you to succeed him.” I shook my head, raising my glass to drink, but she waved a hand that I should wait.
“Lead the Blooded,” she said. “He never wanted anything more perhaps than that.”
I sighed, because she suggests this every night. “It’s not my fight, Adlasola. I renounced the Blood of History for a reason. They’re insane – there’s no going back to that.”
She exhaled, making that sound that means either exasperation or disgust. “Why are you afraid, you men? Are you all afraid of becoming what you must be? Ryn understood this, and so he became that person even though it killed him. But that perhaps was the most that they could do. He was not humiliated, he was not shamed or shunned, he was not ground down. Are you so afraid to be like him, Del? I have always hoped that you would not be a coward.”