6. Kazir and Ferazhin
For many months Kazir wandered over the earth, Kazir the blind poet, Kazir the singer of gold. He was searching for a way to the Underearth, a way to Ferazhin. A spell had been laid on him, not of avarice but of compassion, and of love. But who could tell him what he must know? The name of Azhrarn was only filtered in shadows and in whispers; besides, he had so many names: Lord of Darkness, Master of Night, Bringer of Anguish, Eagle-Winged, the Beautiful, the Unspeakable. The entrance to his kingdom was the core of a mountain at the earth’s center, but who could find the place, what map showed it? And who would dare to go, dare to guide a blind man to such a spot where funnels of rock erupted flame and the sky was all vermilion smoke?
Kazir did not despair, though his heart was heavy. He earned his bread by making songs, and sometimes his songs would heal the sick or cure the mad, for such was his magic. Although he was blind, almost any house was glad to shelter him, and, although he was blind, almost any woman who saw him would have been glad to spend her days at his side. But Kazir passed by as a season passes, seeking only the way to Ferazhin.
He carried the collar hidden in his shirt, understanding the evil it would bring to men, but when he was alone, he would reach in and touch the seven jewels, and into his mind would steal the presence of Ferazhin. He did not see her, not even with an inner eye, for he had been blinded too young to remember much of images, colors or visual forms. Rather he knew her as others might know a rose by smelling its perfume in a darkened garden, or a fountain by feeling its refreshment play over their hands.
One twilight, high on an open tableland, he came upon a stone house. An old woman lived there who had once practiced the arts of sorcery, and although she had wisely put away her books at last, a scent of spells still clung around the spot.
Kazir knocked. The old woman came out. She had kept one sorcerous ring: when the wicked stood near her the ring burned, when the good were close at hand the stone turned green. Now it shone like an emerald, and the old woman bade her visitor enter. She saw that he was beautiful, and blind, and she was clever from her years of witching. She set food before her guest, and presently she said:
“You are Kazir, the foolish one who seeks the way to Underearth. I have heard you slew a terrible serpent in a desert valley, and came away with a fabled treasure.”
“Wise lady,” said Kazir, “the serpent died of age and sorrow. The treasure is steeped in the blood of men and worth nothing. I came away only with an agony in my heart for another, a damsel weeping in the Underearth for light and love.”
“A fair damsel,” said the witch woman. “A damsel made from a flower. Perhaps I know a way to her. Are you brave enough to take it, blind Kazir? Brave enough to search without eyes along the margins of death?”
“Only tell me,” said Kazir, “and I will go. I cannot rest till she has rest, that fair one underground.”
“My price is seven songs,” said the witch. “A song for each of Ferazhin’s tears.”
“I will pay you gladly,” said Kazir.
So Kazir sang, and the witch listened. His music loosened the stiffness in her joints, undid the knots in her hands, and a little of her youth stole back to her like a bird flying in at the window. When the songs were done she said:
“In the Underearth, at the borders of Azhrarn’s kingdom, winds a river with waters heavy as iron and the color of iron, and white flax grows on the banks. The river of sleep that river is, and on the shores of it sometimes stray the souls of slumbering men. There the demon princes hunt those souls with hounds. If you dare it, I can mix you a drink that will send you fast down into the pit of sleep and wash up your soul on those shores. It is a place of snares, but if you can escape its dangers and the running hounds of the Vazdru, and cross the plains, you will reach the City of the Demons and confront, if you will, Azhrarn. Then ask him for your girl created from a flower. If Azhrarn grants your request—and he may, for who can guess his mood on that day—he himself will speed you and her safely back to the world of men. But if he is merciless and cruel at the hour when you find him, then you are lost, and the gods know what torment or what pain he will send you to.”
Kazir only reached for the witch’s hand, and holding it in a steady grip he said:
“The child may fear to be born and the mother to give birth, yet neither can choose otherwise when the time is come. Neither have I a choice. This is my only path. Therefore, mix your drink, kind sorceress, and let me go down my road tonight.”
* * *
Kazir passed through the house of sleep as all pass there, unknowing, and woke by the shores of the great river.
Sometimes, sleeping, the blind might see, if they had seen much in life before their blindness, and who could doubt all souls can see when once forever free of the body. But the body of Kazir still lived and had seen little before his sight was taken. Therefore his soul also, stirring on that cold bleak shore, was blind as was his earthly shape. In fact, the soul resembled exactly the flesh of Kazir, had his clear eyes, wore his garments even, and held in its hand the ghost of his blind-man’s staff.
So he stood on the banks of Sleep River where the white flax grew, and he smelled the icy smell of the water and heard the iron sound of it, and away from him stretched the black lands with their trees of ivory and gilded wire, though he did not see them.
Then Kazir kneeled and placed his hand on a pebble lying on the bank.
“Which way lies the City of the Demons?” asked Kazir. And he felt the pebble warm very slightly on one side, and so he rose and went on in that direction, striking away from the river, and feeling before him with his staff.
He walked for a long stretch, yet sometimes he would reach out and touch the metallic bark of a tree, and know from that which path he must take and how far the City was. There was no sound all this while save the wind of Underearth. But suddenly he felt a presence, swirling like smoke, and a voice murmured:
“Mortal, you have come far in your dream. I am Forgetfulness, the slave of sleep. Do you seek me? Let me wind my arms about you and drink all your memories from your brain’s cup, so that when you wake men will ask your name and you will not recall. Think what peace I offer you—no past crimes or shames to cloud your mind, free as the air of earth, casting off your old life like a garment.”
But there were no crimes or shames in Kazir’s past which he needed to forget.
“No, I do not seek you,” Kazir said, “I seek Azhrarn, the Prince.”
“Go then,” said the smoky thing. “If you are to be his, you must not be mine.”
So Kazir went on, but later there came another presence, sweeter and more persuasive than the first:
“Mortal, you have come farther than far in your dream. I am Fantasy, the child of sleep. Do you seek me? Let me wind my hair about you, and fill your brain cup with dancers and palaces, so that you beg me not to let you wake but walk forever in my many-colored halls. Think what delight I offer you, a second world more lovely than the first.”
But Kazir understood fantasy, for he wove his songs from the stuff of it.
“No, I do not seek you,” he said, “though I know you well. I seek Azhrarn, the Prince.”
“Go then,” said the sweetness. “If you are to be his, then you are mine already.”
After this, Kazir found a road. Of marble it was, and lined with pillars, and the touch of it told him that it led to the gates of Druhim Vanashta, City of Demons.
But he had not been long on the marble road before he heard behind him a noise so horrible, so fearful, so like the baying of wolves—yet worse, much worse—that he knew the hounds of the Vazdru had picked up his scent.
Instead of fleeing on or seeking cover, Kazir stopped and faced about. He heard the snarling and baying draw nearer, the hoof-beats of the demon horses, the bells of their harness, the calling of the Vazdru. Then Kazir, lifting his own voice gently above the din, began to sing. And the soul of Kazir sang with all the beauty of his mortal voice, and maybe more. He sang, but what he sang of is lost. Whatever it was, the hounds ceased running and lay down upon the road, the horses dropped their heads, even the princes sat attentively, their pale handsome faces resting on their ringed hands, listening.
When the song was done a silence came, and into the silence another voice, a voice as marvelous as the voice of Kazir, but a voice that was like snow falling over the poet’s singing flame, and in color not golden, but black as night.
“Dreamer,” said the voice, “you are far out of your way.”
At this voice, Kazir lifted his blind gaze, and his sightless eyes rested on the being who spoke, uselessly, yet with a sort of courtesy.
“No longer,” said Kazir, “since I traveled here hoping to meet with you, Lord Azhrarn, Prince of Demons.”
“What, are you blind?” asked Azhrarn. “Blind soul, you have been foolish, daring this place which even men with two wide eyes tremble at. What can you want from me?”
“To give you back, Lord of Darkness, something which your people made,” said Kazir. And he took out the silver work of Vayi which he had carried with him to the Underearth, since the collar, being made of shadowy items and in shadowy lands, could return through the river of sleep as a mortal thing—flesh or metal—could not. Kazir extended the collar, then he let it fall on the road before the Vazdru. “Oh, Prince,” said Kazir, “take back this, your toy, for it has drunk enough blood that even you must be content.”
“Be wary,” said Azhrarn, soft as velvet, soft as a cat’s paw with all the claws ready in it, “be wary, singer of songs, what you say to me.”
“Lord Prince,” said Kazir, “if you wished, you might read me like a book. Knowing I cannot hide my thoughts from you, I speak plainly. The virtues of demon-kind are different from the virtues of men. I only tell the truth of the matter: the collar has made much trouble and butchery in the world, which is only as you would wish. Therefore rejoice, illimitable prince, though I, being mortal, must grieve.”
At this, Azhrarn smiled, and, though Kazir did not see it, he sensed the smile.
“You are brave, blind soul, and truthful as you say. Do you also dare to enter my slender-towered city and sing there for me?”
“Gladly will I sing for you. But I shall ask a fee,” said Kazir.
Azhrarn laughed. Was ever such a laughter heard by a man’s soul in sleep?
“Bold, blind hero,” said the Prince, “your fee may be too high. Ask it now, and I shall see.”
“A woman weeps in your city. Her tears are in this collar of blood. She is a flower and craves the sun. My fee is her freedom to roam in the lands of men.”
Azhrarn did not answer for a long while. Only the harness of the demon horses sounded. The blind poet stood still, leaning on his staff.
“I will make a bargain with you,” said Azhrarn then, suddenly. “Come to my halls, and I will ask you one question, and you shall sing me your answer in one song, and if the song is true and the answer the right one, you shall have Ferazhin, and Ferazhin shall have the sun. But if you fail, I will chain your soul in the blackest deep of the Underearth and there my hounds shall tear you until your body is dust on the earth above, and longer than that. Now, either accept my bargain, or go. And I will let you go without pursuit, for you have entertained me.”
“There is no road back for me alone, Dark Lord,” Kazir returned. “Lead me into your city and ask me your question, and I will sing my answer as best I can.”
So Kazir entered Druhim Vanashta, where mortals did not generally come.
Everywhere strange music played and strange incenses perfumed the air. They led him, the Vazdru, till he stood in the wide hall of Azhrarn.
Azhrarn was very courteous. He had laid before his visitor delicious foods and mysterious wines, and he pointed out to him how this goblet was made of malachite with rubies, how this plate was finest glass, how many candles in silver sconces burned around him, and the color of every drape and the subject of all the mosaics on the floor. He spoke too of the princely Vazdru, the worshipping Eshva, the handsome demon men, how they were beautiful and how they were subtle; he described the princesses and the hand maidens, the lovely shapes of their breasts, the fragrance of their hair and limbs.
Then he conducted Kazir through his palace, and, standing on high places, instructed him what towers glittered north or south, and what parks unrolled their carpets east and west. He told him, too, the numberless subjects of his city, the countless horses in his yards, the impossible extent of his power and his mage-craft and his knowledge. This took a great while, and when he was finished, Azhrarn said gently:
“All this I have, poet’s soul. And more of the same I might have, if I wished it. Now I will ask my question and you shall answer with your song.”
“I am ready,” said Kazir, and he heard the rustling all about of the Vazdru and the Eshva as they waited.
“Do you suppose,” said Azhrarn, “there is anything, which, having all this about me, still I cannot do without?”
The Vazdru applauded, the Eshva sighed. They saw no possible answer to the Prince’s question. But Kazir bowed his head a moment, and then, lifting it, began to sing his answer as Azhrarn had said he must.
This was the substance of Kazir’s reply: For all Azhrarn’s supernatural riches, for all his eternal kingdom under the earth, one thing he needed. That thing was humankind. “We are your plaything, your amusement,” Kazir told him. “Always you return to us, to throw down our glories, to laugh your dark laughter when you have tricked us. Without man on the earth, the time of demons and the time of the Demon Lord would hang heavy indeed.”
When they heard this, the Vazdru cried out scornfully though Azhrarn kept silent. But Kazir’s song was not ended.
He sang a cold dream to the demons.
He sang of how a plague came from the edges of the world and erased from it all mortal life. Not a man or a woman remained, not a child, not a baby. No crones creaked over their potions, no princes rode on heroic quests, no armies made war, no fair maidens looked out from their towers, and no infants cried in their cradles. Only the desolate wind moaned over the earth, only the grasses stirred. The sun rose and set on emptiness. And he sang of how the Prince of Demons flew by in the form of a night eagle, over the noiseless cities and the deserted lands. Not a light burned in a single window, not a single sail moved on the seas. And the Prince looked for men. But not one high heart was left to corrupt, not one rapacious jeweler to make mischief with. And on all the wide earth, not one tongue remained to whisper in reverence and terror the name of Azhrarn.
The demons had fallen very still. As the last of the poet’s words drifted down among them, they seemed frozen in ice.
Kazir stood in the hall of the Prince through that long quiet. Then Azhrarn said: “I am answered.” No more, no less, and maybe only the poet, with his sensitive ear, heard in that acknowledgment how the voice of Azhrarn was chilled and changed—as if with pain, or even fear.
But the bargain had been made, and shortly out from the palace sped one of the Eshva, and found Ferazhin walking in some shadowy garden.
She entered Azhrarn’s hall meekly, dolefully, in her cloudy veil, her face hidden.
Azhrarn beckoned her near, and said:
“A mortal has bought your freedom with a tomb-cold song. His soul must go back through sleep river, but some bird of night shall carry you to the soil of earth from which you came.”
Ferazhin looked up.
“And shall I see the sun?” she asked.
“Till you are sick of it,” answered Azhrarn. “And he also, your rescuer, you shall see, for you are to be his.”
But although he spoke low, Kazir heard him, and he called out:
“No, Lord Prince. She has been too long the property of others. I do not claim her. I bargained with you only to set her free.”
“Yet you love her,” said Azhrarn, “or else you would not have come.”
“Since I encountered her tears set in the collar of silver, I have loved Ferazhin,” said Kazir calmly, “and now, sensing her near me, I love her more deeply. But she knows nothing of me.”
However, Ferazhin had turned to look at him, for his voice had the color of the sun. She gazed at his face, his form, his hair, his eyes, and going up to him, she saw that he was blind. He had risked flesh and spirit for her, and asked nothing in return. She loved him at once; how could she not?
“I will come to you gladly,” she said, “and love you for as long as you will wish it.” Then she went back to Azhrarn, and she said softly:
“Yon grew me from a flower, and I was immortal while I lived in your dark kingdom. When Kazir grows old, as all men do, let me also grow old beside him, for I do not want to be other than he is, and when he dies as all men do, let me also die, for I do not want to be parted from him.”
“When you leave my land and go to walk the earth, you will be subject to earth’s laws,” said Azhrarn. “You will grow old and you will die, and I wish you joy in so doing.”
“And after death, shall I be with Kazir?” asked Ferazhin.
“Ask the gods,” said Azhrarn. “All things of earth have souls, even the flowers that grow there, but you may lose each other in the mists at the threshold of death.”
“Then let me die in the moment that Kazir dies, so we may go hand in hand.”
Azhrarn’s coals of eyes grew blackly bright, but Ferazhin, her own eyes dazzled by her dreams, did not see it.
“Then let that be my gift to you,” said Azhrarn. “In the instant you know Kazir is dead, you shall die also.”
Ferazhin thanked him. The hall filled with a beating of wings. One starry bird carried Ferazhin away, up through the bewitched gates, out of the mountain, to the hills and valleys of the world, while another bore Kazir back to the river of sleep through which he must return in order to regain his body.
Azhrarn meanwhile stood on a high tower, the collar of Vayi in his fingers. The Prince of Demons looked to north and east, to west and south, turning over in his mind the treasures of his realm, but the voice of Kazir came to haunt him even there, singing of the empty earth and its desolation, singing of how the Prince of Princes, without humankind, would be only a nameless mole beneath the ground. And presently Azhrarn crushed the collar in his hands to a shapeless molten thing, and hurled it down into the streets of Druhim Vanashta like a curse.
* * *
Kazir woke in the witch’s house near dawn.
“You have slept many days and many nights,” said she, “though, no doubt it seemed but an hour or so you were in the Underearth.”
All this while she had kept him safe and preserved his body in its sleep by means of her spells. Now, as he rose and shook off that prolonged slumber, the woman stood watching at the open door.
Up sailed the sun, the sky ignited like a lamp, and along the plateau a slender figure came walking with blowing hair the color of that sky.
“I see a girl with wheat-yellow hair,” said the witch, “and a flower face.”
Kazir went out at once and waited before the house, and Ferazhin came running toward him with her arms outstretched, laughing with happiness.
For a year then, Kazir and Ferazhin were together, and their days make no story, for they were good and joyful and without event. They had no wealth, it is true, and wandered together from land to land as the poet had always done, earning their food, he by his singing, she by dancing, for she found she could dance, like a flower in a field in the gentle summer wind. They had no palace of crystal and gold, yet their hall was wide enough, with its blue roof, its floors of grass embroidered with asphodel and its great pillars of trees. Both loved the world, each loved the other. She would tell him all she saw, he would tell her all the history of things which he could divine by touch, in a stone or a ruined wall. They coupled thirstily, as do the young to whom love is an uncharted river. They knew the perfection of content.
Then, one dusk at the year’s end, a boy met them on the road.
He was very young, this boy, and handsome, with large dark piercing eyes. He came up slowly, as if uncertain. Then he said:
“Can it be that you are Kazir, the blind poet, whose voice cures sickness?”
“I am Kazir,” Kazir answered. “For the rest, it is not my boast.”
But the boy kneeled down on the roadway, and caught at the hem of Ferazhin’s dress.
“Lady, I beg you to help me. My father is lying ill in our house and will let no one come near him—only Kazir he calls for night and day. He says there was a prophecy in his childhood that he should fall ill and die unless blind Kazir should make him well with a song. Therefore, persuade the poet to come to him and save him.”
Kazir frowned. The boy’s words troubled him. But he said: “I will come with you if you wish.”
The boy leaped up and darted on ahead, leading them. Presently the road ran by a fine house with open gates of iron. In the outer court a fountain played, and by the fountain sat a slim black dog.
“Now, if you will, you must come in alone.” the boy said to Kazir, “and the lady must wait in the court. My father will let no one in the house but myself, and even I am not permitted to enter the room where he lies.
“Very well,” said Kazir, though somehow he liked this notion very little. Ferazhin, however, sat by the fountain serenely, and stretched out her hand to pet the black dog, but it was apparently shy, and ran into the house with the boy.
Inside, there were many steps, and a door.
“Father,” the boy called out, “I have found Kazir.” When no one answered, the boy muttered: “He is very weak. Go in and sing to him, and make him whole if you can, and we will bless you forever.”
So Kazir stepped into the room. Yet he did not sing. It seemed to him that the place was empty, he sensed no invalid lying near, and suddenly the air was full of a dark strange incense. It reminded him of other scents that he had known only once before—when his soul walked through the streets of Druhim Vanashta.
At once Kazir turned about to leave the room, but something ran against his legs—it had the form of a dog but, touching it, Kazir knew it for what it was—demon flesh. Next moment a ringing nothingness came rushing into Kazir’s brain as the shadowy drug filled his lungs. In vain he tried to beat it off, to reach the door, to cry to Ferazhin and warn her. Eagles of night smothered him. He sank down and lay as if he were dead.
Ferazhin started up in the court. There had been no sound to alarm her, yet abruptly she was afraid. Just then, out of the house came the young boy, the dog at his heels.
“Ferazhin,” said the youth, “Kazir is dead.”
And the black dog barked.
Immediately she knew them—one of the Vazdru in the form of a boy: while the inky dog—she stared into its coals of eyes and glimpsed Azhrarn. And the house was wavering all about her, like smoke. Now everything was gone, house, court, fountain and the two figures with it. She stood on a hill slope by a little stream, cold under the stars, and before her lay Kazir.
She ran to him. She did not stop to reason. She took up his icy hands, brushed with her fingers his closed lids. She felt no heartbeat, heard no breathing. “Now I know you are dead,” Ferazhin whispered, and as Azhrarn had promised her, she felt her own hands grow stony, her own heart stop and her breath; her lids fell shut and she too lay dead beside Kazir.
But Kazir was not dead. He still lived, as the Demon Lord intended. Gradually the drug of Underearth left him, he stirred and woke. Then he felt the open hillside, the starlight. Remembering what had gone before, he called Ferazhin’s name. She did not answer him. The blind man sat up and stretched out his hand, and so he found her. He held her in his arms and discovered at once how all the life was gone out of her.
He had known perfect happiness for a year, now he knew perfect sorrow. He understood the trick, no doubt; perhaps he thought again of the river of sleep and a journey to Azhrarn’s palace, but then he rejected it, for Azhrarn would demonstrate no leniency now, since this was his revenge on them. Kazir imagined the soul of Ferazhin, her flower soul, lost on the foggy threshold of death, wandering alone, searching and calling out in vain for his. Full of pain as he was, he shuddered at what her pain and fear and loss must be.
There was a village over the hill, and presently men came along the slope, going home that way. When they saw the fair blind stranger holding the fair dead girl in his arms, they were touched with pity and distress. Before the moon rose, they had dug, by the little stream, a grave for Ferazhin and laid her gently in it and covered her up, and over her body their priest had spoken such words of consolation and prayer as he knew. Then they entreated Kazir to go back with them; any one of them would have been glad to house him and take care of him, but he would not leave the place of earth where she lay. When they begged him, he began to sing of his love for her and her love for him, of the perfect year and the despair that followed it. The notes overflowed his throat like tears, yet he did not weep, his sorrow was too cruel for weeping. Only the villagers wept and, understanding, left him to mourn alone in silence.
All night he sat by her grave. A nightingale perched in a tree and made music, but he did not hear.
Near dawn, he drifted into sleep.
He dreamed of the sorceress he had met, who had sent him down into the Underearth to claim Ferazhin, the old woman with the ring.
“Well, so Azhrarn has outwitted you,” said she, “and your wheat-haired woman lies in the earth. Come, where else shall a flower lie when its season is done? The Prince of Demons has his magic, so have you, the magic of your songs. You spent a year with Ferazhin, now wait by her grave a year, if you have the patience. Bring water from the stream and sprinkle it over the spot, clear away the weeds that grow there. Best of all, each day sing to her death-mound how you valued her. Be faithful in this, and who knows how your garden will grow.”
Kazir woke again as the sun was coloring the sky; he felt it on his face, like the touch of a kind warm hand.
The villagers, concerned for him, had left a little bread and some milk in a crock. Kazir emptied out the milk—perhaps he drank it, perhaps only poured it on the ground. He made his way, guiding himself as always with his staff, to the lip of the stream. There he filled the crock and, carrying it to the grave, he spilled it, as one would water a flower. Then, sitting down beside the place, he began to sing again, the first of many songs to Ferazhin beneath the earth.
“He is sick, the blind one,” the people in the village said.
“His grief has made him crazy. He will not stir from the grave. He fetches water to it each morning, twice when it is hot, He has worn a track to the stream from all his passing to and fro. He has built himself a little hut of clay and leaves. He sings once every dawn, and once every midnight, to the dead.”
Yet they had not forgotten the power of his music, which had made them weep for him. A man had an infant daughter who fell ill and would not eat, and he approached Kazir in the cool of the day, and pleaded that he come and cheer her with a story or a song. Kazir went. Kazir sang: the child laughed and became well inside the hour. After that, they often asked Kazir to help them. Mad he might be, but poet and healer he was, too. They grew very fond of him, and at times of plenty would have heaped him with gifts, but he would accept nothing, only a small amount of food, and the right to tend the grave of Ferazhin.
Months passed. At noon, a shepherd going by the hut with his woolly school all about him, called to Kazir: “Something is growing where your lady lies.”
Kazir reached out and touched the shoot softly.
“Ah, Ferazhin, my blind world’s sun. . . .”
Soon the villagers began to talk afresh.
“There is a young tree pushing up on her grave. A tree all silvery leaves. It looks a tree for flowers, but there are none.”
Months added themselves to months. Winds came and went, warm winds or cold, shaking the leaves of the flowerless tree, stirring the pale hair of the poet who sang beneath it. The year was woven on the loom, finished and folded away upon the pile of other years in the tall chests of Time.
That night the poet did not bring water to the tree. He wept there and the tears fell down to nourish its roots as his songs had fallen to nourish them.
At midnight there came an alteration. Hard to define that change—he felt it like the turning of a tide. Kazir touched the tree and found a dream struggling and swaying inside its bark.
“One flower,” Kazir murmured to the tree, “only one.”
He did not see it, but he knew, the swelling of the silver thing upon its stem, the splitting of that silver, the violet cup within that folded back, petal upon petal, until the heart lay open.
* * *
She had come to a dim pallid place. It was a place of ghosts, the threshold of death and life. Why mysteries teemed there she could hardly tell. Souls, half-formed, clamoring to be born, souls, wild with fright or anger, bursting up like gray fires to their freedom from existence.
Ferazhin stood quite still in the floating mists, and called for Kazir. He did not answer her. No hand grasped hers, no voice of sunlight lit up the shadows. Only the shades fluttered about her like bats.
“Kazir, Kazir,” Ferazhin cried, but only the bat-wing voices sounded:
“On, on,” they whistled, “follow us on this great and terrible journey!”
And others, dark souls still cramped by diseased bodies or cruel lives, hissed:
“Come, you cannot linger here. Here is No Place. Here you will forget everything, all you were and all you might be. Here your thoughts will die as your earthly brain has done already. Forget, forget, no one remembers you, and come.”
But Ferazhin only wandered through the mists, entreating Kazir to find her.
No time passed in such a spot, yet a sort of time passed. Ferazhin did not fly upwards with the other travelers who rushed through that gate. She searched until she was all search, she called a name until she was all one calling cry, like a bird in the desert. She despaired and became despair. She did indeed forget everything. Forgot herself, forgot the way from the threshold, forgot, at last, even Kazir.
Then, into limbo, pierced an invisible thread like silken wire, which wound about her heart so that she recollected she had one. Slowly, yet inexorably, the thread began to tug at her, to pull her back toward that monstrous shifting door by which she had entered. Little by little, fragment by fragment, the thread drew her. It seemed she heard music and saw light, and she loved them, though she did not remember what they were.
Then came a great agony, and fear and joy. They overwhelmed her, drowned her, bore her away with them. She tumbled through seas of fire and flames of pain, she put on flesh like a scalding garment, and knives tore wide her eyes to a sky of black radiance.
She stood in the cup of a vast flower, as once before. She saw a man, as once before. Seeing him, finding him, she recalled everything.
Kazir put his arms about her, and lifted her down to him. They clung together as the stem of the tree clung to the earth. What they said and what they promised in that moment who needs to be told?
But somewhere perhaps some dark door slammed like thunder in a city underground.
* * *