The ruin of the battle was strewn as far as anyone could see. Lifeless and dying bodies lay tangled and piled, smoking, bleeding and stinking. There were carrion birds and other vermin feasting. Yendor awoke and the smell alone made him retch. As his consciousness came into focus on his surroundings, he fought back another gagging reflex. It was late in the morning, but other than that, Yendor had no idea how much time had passed since he had lost consciousness, but the last thing he remembered was facing three hulking soldiers. They marked the points of the compass in front of him, he realized, so he must have won that contest, but he could not bring his memory to show it to him. Presumably, he had passed out after that. He burned with the sting of a hundred cuts, but none seemed serious. He must have succumbed to exhaustion. He still had the Crescent Moon and all his other belongings on him. Somehow he had been spared by the robbers who swarm the dead for treasure as soon as they feel safe from the bloodlust of the soldiers. He had heard tales of warriors seeing their fallen comrades robbed of their belongings, fall upon the the human vermin with as much gusto as any enemy. There was no other warrior awake in sight. The armies had moved on. He remembered vaguely being told to reconnect with the rebels to the south afterwards, if he was separated. Yendor took a deep breath. He would not be rejoining the army.
He sat among the carnage and contemplated his place in the world. He had been raised a musician. It had been impressed upon him that artists were proudly peaceful members of society. They were honorable. They added value to people’s lives with entertainment and the history and news they disseminated. He had abandoned all that without a second thought when he met Danse. Their short time together was like a distant dream. He had searched for her, he had become a wizard for her. He had become a warrior for her. And he had failed at every turn. What an absolute failure he had turned out to be. The chosen one? Him? He was going to vanquish Incarnate? What a joke. What hubris. He was worthless. He had become a killer, no better than those he called enemy. What was left for him?
He found his way back to the camp. His tent still stood, though the rest of the army had fled. They had left in such a hurry, they hadn’t bothered to try to save or steal any of his things. Was this some kind of pattern? Was their defeat so crushing that no one dared linger? There was the usual abandoned garbage left of the camp, but it was more. They had left in a panic. His was not the only tent left. If what remained was any indication, their army had been decimated. He rolled everything into his pack, and turned decidedly north. Away from the rebels. Away from civilization. Away from his past. Away from everything. He set off towards the wastes. “Here there be Dragons” he muttered under his breath and disappeared into the growing mists.
As far as Yendor could see, he was the only witness to the parade. The sun had come out and shone upon them in that way that looks like a blessing from above, streaks of sunbeams spotlighting the park. They had staves topped with crystals, some glowing, others plain. Their holy garments were trimmed with sigils of unknown meaning which gleamed in the light. The procession came complete with choreographed gestures and chanting in archaic languages. It was glorious. One man held a brass pole atop which flowed two banners hung from a crossbeam. One banner was a deep blue with a dragon etched in gold, the other was a brilliant orange with a tiger outlined in black embroidery. One kept time on a drum while another accompanied with a flute.
When they were done, the one in red, who had winked at Yendor, turned to him and gestured for him to join them. Yendor came out and walked to them as if in a trance. His very being felt like it was covered in pins, he tingled all over. His ears were hot. The sensation was similar to when he had met Danse.
“We don’t usually have an audience.” Said the man in red. “I’m Nicholas. These are my compatriots.”
“We shall have a feast, which is only symbolic, I’m afraid. And then we shall have another procession. Will you join us?” His smile was warm and genuine, and Yendor had not seen one in a long time. Even the Solstice folk had not seemed so welcoming.
“Aren’t you late?” Yendor asked.
“Not at all. The ancients kept a different calendar. We go by the old ways.” A table had been set up and the food was being laid out. It wasn’t a lot, but it was fancy. Cheeses, expensive meats, wine.
The conversation Yendor wanted to have was dangerous but what choice did he have. He had been taught his whole life not to talk about such things. He had nervously talked with Danse about these things, but that seemed almost a lark between friends. This felt official, but he had to do it. “You’re wizards.” He said.
Nicholas said nothing, but his smile did not falter.
“I am also. That is I want to be.” Yendor felt very hot. He voice trembled and he shook a bit.
“Are you now?” said the man in purple. Like Nicholas, he had a beard. They appeared to be of an age.
Suddenly Yendor felt like a child being questioned by an elder.
“Yendor, this is Konstantine.” said Nicholas. Konstantine did not have Nicholas’s smile.
Yendor remembered his actions at the detention camp. He looked around and came to his senses. He could probably take these old men if they gave him trouble.
“I am.” He said with confidence.
“You’re a wizard if I say you are.” said Konstantine sternly. Nicholas seemed to demure to him.
“When I was born, I was delivered by Gwenchlan. Who told my parents I was to be a wizard. Do you gainsay him?” Yendor said. He hadn’t meant to speak like that. He wasn’t sure where that came from. Had he ever even said the name aloud before?
“He has a tongue, this one.” said a woman wearing blue and silver. She didn’t sound critical, but amused.
A man wearing a claret color stepped in. “Where did you hear that name, whelp?” This one was hostile. Yendor knew how to respond to that.
“My master told me, as I was given up to him upon the news.” Yendor stood a little taller.
“Speak to us with respect, or not at all!” demanded the wine colored wizard, imperiously.
Yendor was ready with a retort, when Konstantine intervened. “That’s enough.” he said. “I’ve not heard the name Gwenchlan in an age. It is not well known. How did you find us, then young Yendor?”
Yendor calmed himself. He had had little interaction that wasn’t violent in some time. “I sought you out. I came from Elphendor here to dawn to the library to find clues. The song of the Goddess, told of the parade of the solstice. I reasoned that since these traditions were popular in ancient times but no more, that they were wizard traditions. It was coincidence that it took me so long to find the right clues that it was time for the solstice.”
“There’s no such thing as coincidence, boy.” said the woman in blue.
“He is a spy!” said the claret colored one. “We are found out! This foolish adherence to tradition has been our doom!”
“I’m not a spy. I am a wizard. I need training. My power is unmanageable.”
Nicholas laughed at that. “What power is that, young wizard?”
“He has no power.” Claret said.
“Be quiet, Ambrosius.” Said the woman in blue. “I am Sapphosia.” She said. She produced a red crystal from within her garments. The coven took a step back, seemingly anxious at seeing it. “would you hold this crystal? It is the root, the muladhara. It is the beginning.
“Fool! You act impetuously. We must fly before his sorcerers arrive to destroy us forever!”
Sapphosia rose to her full height, stretched out her arms and held her scepter topped with a matching blue crystal which was now glowing furiously. “I said quiet!” So brilliant was the glow that beyond it all seemed dark. All the coven bowed before her. After a moment all returned to normal. Yendor’s heart beat within his chest. What have I gotten into? he thought.
She turned to him, smiling, to calm him. “Will you take the stone?” she asked.
He took it from her.
“Can you light it?” She asked.
The crystal was the size of a pebble. Yendor closed his fist around it, unsure how to proceed. He opened his hand and held the crystal aloft. Nothing happened.
“You see, he is a fraud!” hissed Ambrosius. Everyone glared at him.
Yendor strained, but still nothing happened.
Ambrosius could hardly contain himself. He shook his head. Yendor could hear the winter birds chirp in the nearby trees as the seconds passed. Some of the wizards shifted the weight from one leg to another.
Finally, Ambrosius could take it no longer. “He is a nothing! He dooms us. Let us forget our task and tarry here no longer.” Ambrosius moved to snatch away the stone and as he did, Yendor’s temper flared. A bolt of lightning came down from the sky and lit the stone a blinding white. Ambrosius leapt back in the nick of time. “Sorcerer!” he said, pointing.
“You see, I have trouble controlling it.” said Yendor.
Another woman, wearing brilliant white with white shiny sigils trimming her garments came forward. “May I?” she asked. Yendor nodded. She took the stone, which shone still. “It is not hot.” she said. “Yendor, I am Hildegard. We are the Coven of the Sacred Deer. Perhaps we are all that is left of the wizards.” She gestured to the others. “You have met Nicholas, Ambrosius, the priestess, Sapphosia, and our leader Konstantine. In the orange is Brigitte, wearing yellow is Tertullian. That fellow clad in green is Isidore. In the black is Aphrahat. He looks gloomy, but his harp and his cooking will bring you warmth. In the indigo is Taliesin. Wearing forest green is Ygraine.”
“That is eleven.” Said Yendor. “I thought there was supposed to be twelve. Plus the devil of course for thirteen.”
“The Goddess is thirteen. It is the evil one who calls her the devil.” said Sapphosia.
“Perhaps you will be our twelfth.” Said Hildegard.
Hours later, Yendor was still deep in thought, puzzling over the mysterious poetry from the library. It had taken weeks to get to the city, days to find the library through the labyrinthine and decaying old city, and days upon days longer still, sifting through endless, seemingly meaningless clues, to finally find something that felt like a clue. The wizards had set the winter solstice up a high holy holiday. They had worshiped a goddess, now only recognizable in an archaic greeting and the questionable etymology of one of the days of the week. But when wizards ruled the land, she had been the main diety.
Yendor knew as a musician, that many things we take for granted have ancient meanings, often laying just below the surface, not even hidden, just disregarded as myths, or tails for children. When searching for clues, sometimes even the apocryphal stories could lead somewhere; the old solstice was celebrated on an astronomical mistake: the sun was thought to reach its lowest azimuth of the year, and reach a standstill. The ancients calculated the day they could observe for certain that a change had occured: three days later than the actual solstice which could be calculated with more advanced equipment for Celestial observation. The correct solstice date had been referred to as “New Solstice” to differentiate from the “old solstice” the ancients used. Most people nowadays assumed “New Solsice” referred to the “renewal” of the year, when the days begin to get longer again. Yendor was unsure how any of this could help him find a coven of wizards. There were always rumors about them, but there were rumors and superstitions about so many things. Who knew what was real?
It had long since grown dark, and Yendor had simply been wandering the streets lost in thought. He realized he was hungry and decided it was time to eat and find his way back to the inn. It had started to rain around sunset and he had put up his cloak’s hood and buried himself deep within. It was a chill drizzle that had slowly insinuated itself into all the openings unprotected by the cloak. Yendor pulled back the hood to get his bearings and though the city was decaying everywhere, it became clear that this was not a good neighborhood. There was garbage in doorways and people huddled next to it.
Yendor was not sure what he was looking for. He had come to the city, decaying, decrepit, ancient, crowded and yet thriving, looking for some scrap that had been missed over time by the sorcerers. There was a history that was forbidden, but it hadn’t always been so. Before Incarnate there were archives and records and deeds and an insurmountable amount of information that had to give some clue about what it was like before. When there were wizards, when there was more to magic than sorcery.
Chamakata Shahar had been a long journey. The ancient decaying city had once been the jewel of Faun, the archipelago civilization nestled in the Ta Sea. Yendor had traveled extensively as a musician in Watter’s troop. They had played festivals in the fields outside the city. When Danse had been taken prisoner, she and Yendor had been in the western island of Padu. Yendor had tracked her to the prison camp there, though she was gone by the time he had arrived. eventually he had to give up his search, and he had resolved to learn to control his wizardry by seeking out hidden coves of them. So far that too was proving fruitless. Then he remembered the old city on the Isle of Faun itself, in the center of everything. Unable to afford a ship straight to Faun, Yendor had traveled by foot across Island after island, working his way west. Sometimes he was able to earn some money in a tavern, saving it to pay passage on the next boat, sleeping in his tent rather than spending coin to stay at an inn. He hunted and gathered wild nuts and berries, fruit and whatever he could find. Sometimes passage was earned as a deckhand, though Yendor wasn’t much of a sailor.
Eventually, he made his way to Faun and then to the city. There were other cities, usually a trade center for each of the islands, some at the sea lanes, some inland, centralizing multiple harbors. No city was as big or ancient as Chamakata The people here were unfriendly and solitary as city folk tended to be. Yendor had not much experience within the city itself. It was labyrinthine and confusing. The library had been difucult to find. Once there, the books, scrolls and maps were kept in a warren of rooms on several floors, including multiple basements. The library was a city in itself. Some rooms hadn’t been set foot in in years. One his first day, Yendor got lost and could not find his way out, so complicated was the meandering construction. Eventually, he found another patron who directed him back to the main area.
The library had seemed the obvious place to start. Of course that would be where the purge had started. Surely anything revealing what wizards were, where they lived, what they believed had been eliminated from such a public and obvious source. But Yendor had to start somewhere.
As a musician, he knew about subversive lyrics. Code words to fool those who didn’t know how to listen. Often they were so ubiquitous that you never noticed them. they hid in plain sight. Why did the children’s song start out about flowers and end up talking about ashes and falling down? Because that children’s rhyme was about the plague, that’s why. That was really more of a forgotten knowledge than a forbidden one, but the idea was the same. Learn to look at things from a fresh viewpoint. Nobody knew it was about the plague because everyone grew up singing it. Children’s stories were full of incongruous, frightening scenes; were they all allusions to hidden meanings or was there something in the way storytellers crafted children’s stories that made them put in these dark passages? Did children need them to develop their minds? Musicians were storytellers but Yendor had never heard a solid answer to the question which hardly ever came up.
Deep in one of the basements, on his third day, lit by an odd Smelling candle, in a nook in a room long forgotten, he found an ancient poem about the winter solstice. The poem caught his eye, because the solstice was approaching, and it would be his first away from friends and family. The hand that had scribed the poem was lyrical, but the letters were an ancient form that seemed stilted to Yendor. It was an odd combination that distracted him so he had to read the first stanza several times before he could make sense of it:
“Wrapped in an azure raiment, She whirled, colourring every cheak. Warming each heartt with Her Light, singing to all individually. Mary, she is.”
The archaic spelling aside, the story was well known, but the poem was not. It told of Winter herself, merry in her blue sky, her cold wind howling in everyone’s ears, making their cheeks rosy with cold swirling wind. But this poem described Winter personified, which was not unusual, but the idea of being warmed by her was different. Nowadays it was the celebration of her that warmed people’s hearts. She brought cold, but also the promise of light to come; as the longest night of the year, the worst was over, the next night would be shorter; the coming days longer, ostensibly warmer. This poem said she was the light, and the howling wind was singing… It was odd enough for Yendor to copy down.
As he dug deeper, he found another poem in that same unique hand. This time it was signed “Sumessence.”
I’ve been working on this story since I was fifteen. Recently, I’ve taken it up again in earnest. I have some new ideas and I just have to make time for it. This character’s name is Yendor. I don’t want to give too much away but the story is called “The Song of Yendor,” so he may have a prominent role. You can read some of the story here
“Rolled in the midst of never-ceasing currents flowing without rest forever onward.” Rig Veda1,32,10.
Halloween is coming, and with it, Samhain, the ancient, pagan holiday from which it is derived. Samhain is the Celtics holiday which marks the coming of winter and the death of the deciduous plant life for the year. By extention, it also memorializes all the life that has past that year. This passing from the life of Spring and Summer to the death of Fall and Winter is where the idea of Ghosts and Otherworld creatures roaming our world comes from.
The Goddess of the ancient Celts is called Danu. You will be told that this Goddess is specific to the Irish Celts, but the river Danube which runs through Germany is named for her as well. There is another water Goddess even farther from Ireland named Danu. In India. While researching Danu, for a painting this Halloween I found mention of her, and the belief by some that they are the same Goddess. I found that the Indian version of Danu, which is in the Rig Veda, has been demonized just as the European one has. In India she is the mother of Vitra the dragon, who is defeated by indra. Finding out she’s a dragon only makes me like her even more. Here is an abstract painting of her, rendered in ink in honor of Inktober.
Here is a large scale sumi painting of Azul the Blue Dragon. Azul is the enlightened master who teaches Yendor to be a wizard in “The Song of Yendor.” I’m really happy with the way it came out. There is so much energy in this painting.
Here is my 1st attempt at a traditional sumi Dragon. I’ve done sumi Dragons before, but those were done in a kind of one stroke method that I thought best utilized the energy channeling zen technique of Hitsuzendō. When I first started translating Hitsuzendō from calligraphy to painting, I hadn’t realized the breadth of the sumi style. I was trying to do calligraphy in picture form. I still really like the way that kind of image comes out, but I’m trying to to be more true to the sumi heritage while also learning to apply it to my more traditionally Western style of painting. That is a total contradiction I know, but luckily Taoism and tàijítú allow for, and indeed rely on contradictions.
This image is really tiny; and I realized I’d like to do this kind of thing on a large scale, so I have to figure out how to make that happen. The problem with that is, this kind of technique doesn’t lend itself to corrections, and materials can be expensive on a large scale, so I’m going to need some practice.
The air had chilled all night so that the dawn was crisp, brisk and broke with a clear crack of light, which had been looming just under the horizon. At the pier stood a figure, protected from the chill by his woolen cloak, kept in good repair, despite its age. The man had come to pier to fulfill his life’s purpose. He looked out onto the Tao as the tide ebbed an flowed like the breath of the world. There was a calm on the surface that belied the turmoil beneath.
That calm was broken by the frantic cries of a desperate man. Panicked and shaking, the man careened through the village searching for a solution to his problem. The midwife was delivering in the neighboring village and the man’s wife was in labor. The babe was breach and both the child and its mother were like to die without help. The cloaked man took up his staff and went to the father-to-be’s aid. This was what he had foreseen.
In the hut of wattle and daub, the wife writhed upon the bed, sweating the sheets. Leaving his staff at the door and pulling back his hood, the stranger showed his face to be lined with age, the creased shadows pulling away from the candlelight. He ripped the mother’s skirts to expose her to her swollen belly. Who have I invited into my home, thought the father. The ancient stranger placed his withered hands on her abdomen and she calmed. The glow seemed to come from inside the womb, lighting the old man’s hands orange around the edges. He moved his hands in a circular motion as if turning a wheel. The woman arched her back and the babe was born quick and simple.
As the old man took up his staff and replaced his hood, he smiled. “He will be the One.” he said, without need of further explanation. “What will you call him?”
“Yendor.” was the reply.
I am the Blue Dragon. I serve the Blue Light; whose physical manifestation is the Universe: the One Voice, the Eternal Word, the Infinite Sound. All things are revealed by the Light. All shadows are created by the Light. Love is the Way of the Light. Either one serves Love or one opposes Love. One cannot claim to serve Love through hate. Anger and fear are the absence of Love. Love is omnipresent. There is nowhere it is not. It does not shirk; it does not hide. To be unable to feel its presence is delusion. It is we who turn away from the Light. It is constant and never abandons us. It is The Energy; The Force; The Power. The Source of all. Love is indiscriminate. Love is not concerned with what name it is called, or what rituals it is worshiped by. Love does not favor one over another. Love does not punish. Love wants you to be happy and healthy. For this to happen you must conform to Love. Love cannot be ruled by you. You are a manifestation of Love. There is no intermediary.