Friday, August 11, 2006

extract from The Secret of the Blue Lotus (a novel in progress)

The sun arcs above us and sinks quickly to the west. Now there is only sea. Where Amrihiza was there is but a haze and the last crimson remains of day. In the ship the men are quiet, each preparing for himself a bed of a woven blanket and a light straw mattress.

I too have such a blanket and mattress. It lies rolled in the stern of the boat. Yet I am not ready to sleep.
Perhaps it is the peculiar exhilaration of the journey. Or maybe it is a hidden anxiety. For I do not know what lies ahead. I have only the words of a stranger by a well on a spring morning to guide me. Only the dream of an autumn night to assure me. It is my heart that speaks to me of the emptiness I must fill. Here, on the sea, crossing the Cirpassian on this the first approach of night, am I not still the tree whose leaves have fallen. Is there not yet the pathway behind that is as a stone sinking beneath the waves? I can still drown in the confusion and pride of my past.

The captain comes to me. He wears a maroon hat. Wrapped about him is a heavy woollen robe. His face is lined with a hard-won wisdom. It is learning fired in the creak of the timbers of a trading-ship, the flap of a sail, the shift in the wind, the cooling of the breeze. In his eyes are a great many sea-going days and nights. He has eyes that are burdened with the sadness of numerous sunrises and sunsets. His hands are rough and calloused, worn into tenacity by the surge of waves, by the loyalty his mistress, the sea demands.
He speaks.
‘It is well to sleep now. For the night comes and soon it will cool.’
‘Yet,’ I answer, ‘I watch the stars appear. They are like the foam of a sea greater than this the Cirpassian. The wave of some distant shore breaking upon the edge of our world.’
‘Indeed,’ he replies. They are like dust sprinkled over the sleeping faces of those who travel.’
‘They are fire-flies of the sun, sparks of the light that floods our mornings and afternoons.’
‘I will fetch your mattress,’ he says, rising.
He returns, his rough hands shyly offering me the mattress and a heavy woollen robe.
‘It is wise to treat night upon the sea with respect,’ he says. ‘Here there is no shelter from its mood. If it should choose it will become cold as a winter morning. The heat of the day is no guide to the dress night wears.
‘Though,’ I say, ‘its beauty is to be admired. I am held in its two great hands. Above me a sea of dream, a coat laced with the finest of jewels, a profusion of diamond light. Below me she weaves her magic in the swell of the waves, in the unending rise and fall of her flowing. Who knows what shores these very waves we ride, break upon. What child runs in the sand they wash over. Driftwood worn smooth by their action. Here, their darkness and depth, there, their flow, foam crested and turquoise.’
He presses on me the mattress and robe. Then smiles.
“The poet of Sin-Alnar.” he says softly.
“Captain,” I say, I am no longer poet of Sin-Alnar. For that is an honour I have relinquished. With our great Vizier’s acknowledgment, I journey now to Pushnahar in search of wisdom.”
“Poet,” he rejoins, “your words cannot be so easily taken from the position they have wrought in hearts. There are many who still bow before their fineness.”
“Captain,” I answer, “your compliment is noted. Yet a man must follow the promptings of his heart, must listen to that inner voice that urges on him the furthering of his pathway. The search for a wisdom deeper than the wisdom one knows should not be shunned.”
“That is in itself great wisdom,” the captain sighs. “That I should so understand.”
“Captain,” I reply. “I place myself in the hands of your wisdom. For if my wisdom is to be furthered then is not your wisdom a means to that end. Here, upon the sea, it is you who are the poet. It is you to whose heart-strings the sea plays. You are the one who knows her secret language.”

Copyright (C) Peter Millington 2007