In the principality of ElÅriën there existed a lake, which was called Siläke in the old language. The consequences of even indirect contact with its waters could be devastating. The ripple caused by the softest touch of your finger on its satin calm surface would be a ripple that would spread unchecked through your life, growing and widening its circle of influence until it encompassed everything and swallowed you whole.
Dredgen MaĦsk, of the royal court of Kaĭsan, crouched and stared across planes of grass and silver pampah, his hair golden and flipping down his back idly in the wind. The courtiers and royal guards had left at dawn, leaving him alone to consider the fate that snaked out before him. He felt reluctant to approach Siläke, reluctant to take up the duties that the confederation divined for him; And yet he was curious, filled with the tales of mystery and power which seeped from there.
That night, after a day of contemplation, he slept under a full net of stars, warding off the biting winds with the practise of Taĭel, the ‘motion of light’, by which the body is made supple and the breath is life is coursed slowly through every fibre and marrow of the body. A beautiful thing indeed, this boy, a great cat, striplined with powerful muscle and youthful vigour, trained and nurtured by the greatest court in ElÅr. Rising up with the coming dawn he entered the realm of Siläke.
Barely had he crossed the border when the skies darkened and mist like clinging tentacles wreathed the land until all things of natural hue were dampened and grey, obscured. His own father once walked this path and his father before him. A mighty tradition indeed, the herald of the coming age, with pumping thighs and hardened feet running softly, softly against the coming night. And yet, like many before, he knew already that he had lost the way.
To approach the lake is not a simple matter. Like wisdom, it takes time and many circuitous routes and many never find it. It is no slave to intention or motivation. It is a path that does not know of glory or strength or will. It is simply do – the way – and it can be run for generations to no avail. By the coming of the second darkness, he was swallowed by the shadow world and still no closer to the discovery of his goal. He stopped and rested and considered his predicament.
The soft touch of dawn offered no solution. Hunger, like the frosty winds, assailed him. He had brought no provisions, thinking as he did, that like all else in his life the victory would be quickly given to him. Afternoon brought a tepid balm and a lifting of the illusory mists. Strange beasts scattered in the half-light and made cries that were obscured and shattered across space. In the distance he could see it – the black hut – and he hurtled toward his target, only to become lost again as the mist dropped back into the soil and spun him to the ground.
Again the yawning dawn and Dredgen woke to the tickle of a Pampah wand upon his face. Instantly he leapt to his feet and landed in a crouch, subconsciously bringing his blades to bear, though they were but a memory like scars on his arms. Before him in a lazy seat rested an old man, face creased by wrinkles, back bent over with age, only eyes of a sombre swamp green seeming to retain the vitality of youth.
‘Time to get up boy.’
‘Boy!?’ Dredgen screamed. ‘Boy?!’ He brought himself upright and closed his fist as if to strike the old man.
‘A single word can cause you to crush the bones of an old man’s face with the force of your fist and you hope one day to array an entire nation behind you as you face the diplomacy of worlds? What do you plan to do? Arm everybody and go around the cosmos clubbing people to death?’
‘I could do it easily, right now!’
‘Yes.’ The old man raised himself, turned slowly and began to walk forward into the clinging mists. ‘Here in the mists nobody would ever know. Except you, of course.’
‘I am the future leader of the empire, old man!’ Dredgen bellowed.
‘Well, I am the present leader of the lake.’
Dredgen flinched and swore under his breath. The old man had almost retreated from sight and suddenly a desperate panic tore through him as impending failure and humiliation loomed. He began to lope gently after the old man, who shuffled forward as if constantly stumbling.
‘What do they call you?’
‘They call me old man.’
‘And they call me Dredgen MaĦsk Ben Kaĭsan … the Lion.’
‘Yes boy and what do the mountains call you?’
A long silence ensued. Dredgen had been long testament to the school of politic wisdom. The teacher was beginning the training, being deliberately irreverent, while he was playing the role of the rebellious youth defending his pride. Dredgen resolved to keep silent, for if nothing else there was truly no sense in alienating the only guide to the lake. Indeed, some would call it an honour, for very few in all history had been thus guided. For most, it was enough that they got lost on their own and never came close to the secret understandings.
Hour after seamless hour through the nameless dim day. The earth at some points seemed mud or melting swamp, clinging at the soles with odd pops that echoed through the eerie silence. There was a sense of tragedy and loss, as though men had died here, fallen upon the plane of battle to sink oozing beneath the soil. It was a land of forgetfulness, yet a land that could never forget. Occasionally he saw tall, thin plants with long milky blades for leaves that drooped down toward the ground. Suddenly, darkness existed. The old man stopped and sat down.
‘What are you doing?’ Said Dredgen through tight teeth. It was the first words that he had uttered in an interminable time.
‘We must sleep eventually.’
‘But that hut is just over there!’ He pointed, ‘I saw it earlier, when the mists lifted.’
‘It’s further than you think.’
‘But we cannot sleep here! I’ve had enough of this. I’ve been to boot camp; I’ve slept in the mud! I’ve learned the lessons of silence and the wisdom of humility in the face of the universe! I don’t need this again right now. I have come here to find the secret understanding and then I shall leave. The night is the hour they say! Let’s to the lake now, gather the secrets and I can be off by morning.’
‘Go to the lake? Ha!’ A short, sharp retort of laughter. The old seemed about the stop and then, as if seeing the sheer absurdity of the situation for the first time, began to laugh and giggle uncontrollably, his breath gasping for the right words. ‘We’re going to that hut in the dead of night, son, secret as we can, without even glancing accidentally toward the lake. Believe me, that hut is there to protect you! We’ll hide out there until we can figure out what to do.’
The old man laughed again, fell over on his side and was asleep. Dredgen sat with clenched fists and finally lay down, but he could not sleep for many hours.
Dawn came again, sullenly, as if trying not to be noticed. Dredgen woke to a pampah wand tickling over his face and he jumped to his feet, instantly alert.
‘There a young lady there, you know.’
‘Where?’ Dredgen scowled.
‘At the lake, somewhere among the secrets.’
‘I am not interested in girls right now! I have an entire court of girls waiting for me in Kaĭsan.’
‘Believe me, this girl is more important than your left hand.’
The old man stood up and stretched with bright popping sounds. Dredgen looked at his left hand and then also stood up to follow him. They continued to walk. The morning was slightly graced with a fresh breeze and the suggestion of flowers from far off lands that hinted at how close the sunlight really was if only the mists could be lifted. Dredgen was determined however to be stony and resolute. This was a serious task and he would approach it seriousness. And yet, he felt like an animal that was transported in a vehicle across vast distances and never for a moment knew when the journey would end. It built in him, like a simmering torrent, like a thin finger of lava that speared through a glacier.
‘How far is the hut?’
‘Let me ask you a question.’ Said the old man.
‘If the lake is the holder of secret understandings and I am the guide, what is the hut beside the lake? Tell me that and we will come there.’
A thousand brief flashes of thought and response flooded his mind, but he stayed his tongue. As if in defiance, he began to walk forward, for the first time taking the lead. If the old man were circling, then he would do the leading. If he strayed too far, the old man would be forced to stray him back, or risk his own starvation. And while he walked, he would consider an answer of such simplicity and beauty that even the old man would be moddled into some maturity and consideration. Bound thus they moved until darkness again descended but Dredgen, in defiance, continued forward.
After a time he considered that those first thousand brief reactions were the thousand brief reactions of his life entire, equally meaningless answers to equally meaningless questions. The hut is the place where you eat and sleep. The hut is the place where you begin and end the journey. It is the place where you hide from the lake and its secrets. …words. A light tinkled softly in the dim light. Suddenly he stopped, his feet coming to rest on a hardened surface, and revelation came upon him, albeit absurd.
‘The hut is the mouth.’ Dredgen said.
‘And how big is the hut?’ Said the old man behind him.
‘Bigger than these obscuring mists.’
‘That’s true.’ Said the old man.
The mist lifted away from them and he came to see that they were in a large, black house and that the mist was disappearing through a wide opening nearby, through which he had recently walked. The old man walked to the little light and blew on it so that it flared into brilliance and illuminated their surroundings. Looking around him, Dredgen saw a hall of the barest decoration, containing but two plain bunks and a large table set with large chairs, as though it had made been for a giant.
‘I must have understanding.’ Dredgen motioned with both hands toward his stomach.
‘Yes, I can see you are hungry, hungry like the dead of winter and yet you have none. Fortunately, I have extra and I will share some with you.’
‘Well then,’ replied Dredgen, ‘let’s eat.’
He walked slowly toward the table and climbed up upon a chair. Dredgen followed him and took a chair of his own. He was distantly aware that the door had shut and with the vanishing mist sealed them in. He turned and for the first time saw them. Two beautiful silver fish upon a platter, their sides now still but sheened with the memory of rainbow flanks that caught the light and bent it about them as if to create a halo and aura of sacred presence. He knew instantly what they were. Like no other fish in the world, sleek and flayed with spider web fins.
‘You eat them!’ Dredgen backed away from the table, horror crossing his features as though arrayed before was a thin salad of angels wings; ‘That is the most revolting thing I have ever heard!’
The old man seemed about to reply but amusement crumpled him and he hissed convulsingly through paper thin hands, his mirth bubbling out from between his fingers and falling wantonly onto the tables surface.
‘You are a beggar!’ Shouted Dredgen; ‘Honoured by tradition to live beyond morality and holiness upon the edge of this forgotten lake devouring the very secrets that make up the soul of this land!’
‘Don’t worry;’ laughed he, ‘these are the most common understandings. Nobody will miss them. I fish for them with a net, at the last hour before dawn as they rise up to taste the new day.’
‘With a net? You catch them with a net?’ Shock ravished his golden features.
‘With a special net, mind you, and only at certain times and at certain places. Only I could catch them. For most it is enough to simply glance at them. You must eat and gain your strength. Taste them. You must get a feel for the lake before you can approach it.’
‘Approach it knowing that I have eaten its children?’
‘Approach it knowing that as you eat its children, so too will it eat yours. Approach it knowing that even as you glance into its waters, so too will it glance into you. Anyway, let me say this. You must eat, now.’
He took a plate before him and tore off a piece of the fish, which he placed into his mouth. Dredgen decided in that instant to cast all reverence aside and took a fish for himself. He tore into its flesh and then ate at it. It was a pleasure which exploded through him. Every moment of his life and journey flashed through his mind and he knew his father had eaten here before him. He swallowed the fish just as the hut had swallowed him. Hardly was it down that a great lethargy overtook him and he raised and turned and walked toward his bed. He fell into slumber like the gloved hand of night.
Dredgen woke to a pampah wand stirring over his face. He did not move for long moments, but absorbed himself in the long luxury that was the bed of this journey. Eventually, he opened his eyes and smiled at the old man. It was good to smile. He felt suddenly relieved, not like one who had been cast by fate to take this role, but as one given a holiday from fate, living single moments not taken up in time.
‘There is something I must tell you.’ Said the old man.
‘Can this wait until I wake up?’
‘Of course,’ said the old man,’ but I thought you were hungry.’
‘Where does your energy come from?’
‘I eat energy for breakfast.’
Dredgen laughed aloud. It felt like had not laughed in a generation.
‘You must understand,’ said the old man, ‘ that I live next to the great lake full of understanding and can fish anytime I like. The understandings full me, every minute of every day. More than I can handle. Sometimes I row around catching them and just throw them back!’
‘Surely you are joking?’ Dredgen jumped to his feet with mock disgust.
The old man leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially; ‘you should never take understandings too seriously, or if you do, keep it to heart and in silence. When you speak of them aloud, speak of them as though they were of no consequence, or they will hear you and lure you and trap you to their guiles. You cannot catch what has already caught you.’
Dredgen stared in dumbfounded amazement and the old man burst again into laughter, which continued for several long moments.
‘What else do I need to know?’ Dredgen interrupted him.
‘The most important things you must learn, before venturing onto that lake, are the laws of the Origins of Things and the laws of Connectivity. I will teach you some of these things while we craft your net and when the net is complete, we will go to find your own understandings and we will catch them and you will have them. Up until that point, you must be content to share mine.’
With that they gathered again at the breakfast table where two flayed creatures awaited their consumption. Dredgen ate and was filled with a quiet understanding that could never be expressed, for words – indeed – were the house that kept us from the truth. In speaking, the attempt to describe the indescribable reduces and transforms it until it is no longer an understanding but a thin tangle of words and impressions peculiar to the speaker.
Towards the middle of that same day, when outside the brilliant light of the sun struggled vainly against the simpering, simmering mist, the old man sat upon the floor and began instruction in the building of the net. The crafting was a procedure that had been past down from time immemorial and quickly created in Dredgen a despair, for it was an arduous and time consuming procedure that might easily wear his hands through an entire winter.
In order to lure and hold the understandings, Dredgen learned, one had to apply the first principle of Connectivity, which is called similarity. In effect, one had to use a component of the living creatures, which was in the form of a long silver thread in the belly of the fish. Like would attract like. It was from these tiny, transparent threads that the net was crafted and the old man revealed a cache of these threads that could only have been collected over a lifetime.
This was a treasure beyond price and the progeny of many, many breakfasts. It was within these threads that the understandings were embedded, as essences. Whence removed, they lost their peculiar flavour and became empty vessels, each containing the potential for some future knowing. Thus came the second task, which was to apply the first principle of Origins, which the old man called naming. With a clear head and heart, one had to take each and every thread, focus the power of the attention upon it and name it by the first word that came to mind.
So the words of thoughtless identification came to his lips, one upon the next, as each thread was taken up and these words were not so much said as sung with as much reverberation as the invoker was capable. Rock; Plant; Tree; Cloud; Smile; Walk; Play; Birth; Death; Life; Dawn; Sunset; Blade; Courage; Joy. Each was taken up and set down and it was necessary that he remember each one and know their place even as they littered the floor about like a gossamer blanket.
This process took all of that day and when night came he had but begun this task. The old man did not speak once during the procedure and would not be spoken too, for every spoken word could only be spoken in the sense of an attachment to one particular thread and none could be named idly or without thought and attention. He woke to a meal of quiet understanding and then continued the task as the day before and again worked into the night.
For seven days they continued thus and in that entire time not a word spoken but for the purpose of naming. For every thread, he was creating a new origin. The silence penetrated him and after a while washed all thoughts away until he had lost track of time and became a subjective expression of his task and no more, like this house a mouth through which words were spoken that his net might be fortified against the holding of the great secrets.
Finally the task was complete and he woke to a dawn before the tickle of the pampah wand and was at peace and without thought.
‘Now begins the third task, which is the second principle of Connectivity and is called binding.’ The old man spoke like he had never stopped doing so and his voice was akin the blossoming of flowers in the spring and a very great relief to Dredgen. The old sat in the centre of the room after breakfast and instructed Dredgen to assemble before him. Then he began to recant the naming and called each and every single one of the words that Dredgen had spoken in an act of recall that was astonishing beyond description.
As each name was called, Dredgen was told to locate the appropriate thread and hold it in his left hand. This was no easy task. The fibres lay in their thousands, a tangled constellation of exact likeness. Dredgen tried to locate the first and it was a hopeless task that dragged the day away. The word stone had been spoken and eventually he resorted to working out from memory which day that word had been spoken on. He knew it was the first day.
He came to realise that his placing of the fibres had assumed a pattern, starting closest to him and radiating outward in a broad spiral, as he had required more space. The location in space was specifically the location in time. And then it was suddenly clear to him the exact moment that he had uttered that word and honed in on a small stretch of threads. One by one he picked them up but at each one the old man would nod in the negative and he would continue.
By some lucky chance he finally happened on the thread and the old man smiled in assent and encouragement. Through back breaking days they continued and Dredgen felt that no challenge in the military had been this difficult and tiring. After a certain number of threads had been gathered the binding began as he wove and platted the threads into thin strands and without speaking Dredgen understood that there was a peculiar order to the calling of the names and that those names which he had uttered had been the only names existing in this time and place.
The third principles of Connectivity was called weaving. The threads were taken one by one and Dredgen was instructed to bring into the world a prayer for each one. This was again a difficult task for he very soon ran out of prayer. The prayers ultimately did not concern him, but began to take into account the objects and phenomena of the world. He prayed for great peace and tranquillity for his nation and he prayed for the patience and wisdom to be able to lead it. Finally, as the task drew to a close he began to prayer for simple things, like the continuing presence of the sun and the sky and the song of the bird and the ground beneath his feet.
Eventually they were done and he began to weave the strands together, in the order of each of the prayers that the old man recanted back to him. Thus were all the elements of the world woven together into a net of his projected desires that was vast and transparent and like silk to the touch and reflected pearlescent rainbows of light. At that time it was once again dark and the old man lowered the lights and summoned Dredgen to the table in order to him share with him a great understanding.
It was an angel like sunlight in flight given flesh, lying sacred upon the table, its pale flesh cut with arcs of the deepest violet. The creature had no eyes and its fins were thin and splayed with a complex filigree. In silence, the old man took a piece of its flesh, which peeled away from its body with utmost ease and handed it Dredgen. The boy king placed it in his mouth and was instantly transfixed, as if visited by the living power of God.
‘Tell me what you understand?’ Said the old man quietly.
‘I see a seed that blossoms into a shoot and grows to become a mighty tree. Within that seed is the tree stored. This lake is the seed of the world. It is the essence from which sprung all things that have names. As such it is connected the world and is the origin of the world.’
‘How is it connected?’
‘It is connected in the way that it is ever present with the course of time in the outer world. To change it is to instantly transform the world of names, the world of forms. I am to be the leader of a people and the understandings here wrought will magnify across time and space to affect my fate and the fate of all who are my subjects.’
‘And the lake?’
‘It may be my deadliest enemy!’ Dredgen laughed. ‘Had I waded in there I might have been the ruin of all beautiful things in the world. Thank you!’
‘What is the mist?’
‘It is that which obscures us … from the original name. The original name.’ He whispered again softly; ‘Have you seen it?’
The old man laughed. ‘She lives deep in the lake, a great beast with long and sanguine limbs, bigger by far than this entire hut and ancient as the word itself that brought light into the world.’
‘Is she beautiful?’
‘More beautiful than the mind can comprehend. I live here for all my life that I might experience the love of that single greatest understanding.’
‘When did you come here?’ Dredgen was suddenly overwhelmed by a wave and love and trust for this old man, even as he spoke those words. He was defeated before him, and glad for the knowing.
‘I came here as a young man, such as you, of the same age and in some ways of the same station.’
‘Who was here before you?’
‘That is a secret which you will come to learn in time and space.’
They slept that night in peace and calm and the faint mist of love permeated the room with a comforting essence.
When they were awake, arising at precisely the same time and sitting down without words to a breakfast of superfluous understanding, the old man spoke some very powerful words.
‘Tonight we will go fishing.’
‘Are you sure I am ready?’ Said Dredgen.
‘This from Dredgen MaĦsk the Lion Heart, pride of Elär, who did not have time to stray here for even a single day?’
‘Since then I have devoured uncommon understanding.’ Dredgen smiled ruefully.
‘And yet you have also built your net of prayers bound with all the words of your life. We must test it. Tonight I shall work my lantern on the surface of the origin of the world and you shall be my guide. You may cast your net at any time you see fit, but only once, so make certain of your actions.’
At that Dredgen closed his eyes and fell into a deep meditation that lasted for all the length of the day and into the early part of evening. When he opened them again he felt the darkness which had settled upon the land and arose free of thought to a dinner without words. Having eaten, he gathered his net and followed the old man out of the door of the hut and into the world at large. Leaving the mouth and the beginning of knowing, he resolved to keep silence unto dawn.
The night was a cold, continuing secret and hustled around them as they marched into its depths. The lake was not far, no more than thirty paces away. There at the edge of the water was a large boat, which they dragged down toward the water. At its edge, the old man stayed him, before the boat hits its surface. There he bent his aged body and touched the waters gently with his fingers, his motion so smooth as to create not a ripple of movement. He turned and came toward Dredgen, that he might reach out his hand and place it upon the young mans lips.
Instantly, Dredgen was filled with an understanding that told of the power of this ancient guide. He had learned to walk and act in the world in a way that did not disturb anything, for he was at the origin of the world and in a place which connected to the whole fabric and net of time present. Every movement he made was of critical danger to the continuing present of reality at large. Thus he had learned to move without influence, or intention, or motivation. A life time of work, an endless season of work that dwarfed Dredgen’s own recent tasks and practises.
By vantage of these now realised powers the old man took the boat in hand and pulled it into the lake and not a ripple was created by his movement. He invited Dredgen into the boat, who took great care not to rock it. Whence seated the old man took from his cape, by some trick of sorcery, a tiny glowing coal from the fire in the house and placed it in a lantern which he drew from the bowels of the boat. He raised it high and blew it and the flame burst into brilliance.
Dredgen knew that understanding burned there within, and the flame was an expression of that understanding, which burned through time and space in a channelled cone that revealed a spot of light no larger the width of a mans shoulders upon the water. He held the lantern high and instructed the boy by motions to take up the pole and hand it to him. With his left hand he held the lantern and with his right he poled slowly away from shore.
Through the night they moved and as the lantern swept across the water, Dredgen took the occasion to glance at its revealing arc and saw some fish swimming silver through the water. They were beautiful and living and captured his heart and soul and attention with subtle understandings about all the things of the world. They spoke about the mysteries of spring and the formation of stone and the migration of birds in the winter. They spoke of the touch of a woman’s hand and the meaning of the feelings that thread families together. They spoke of stories and language and the threads that bind nations. They spoke of every common understanding beneath the sun.
Through all that night, Dredgen did not cast the net and by and by came to remove his attention from the beam and consider the water itself and the night about, the medium through which these understandings flowed and by which they were given existence. Within him was growing a love, not just for the old man and all the new compassion that he felt for his people and their fate, but for this very place, at the origin of things, and this life beside the lake. Towards dawn he knew that his net would not be cast and the old man threw his own – in order to effect breakfast – and they rowed back to shore and entered again the hut.
They slept for some hours into the night and then rose to a dinner of most excellent and rewarding understanding, caught fresh that very night by the wishful net of the old man. Upon completion the old man spoke;
‘What do you understand?’
‘I understand that the lake is the unattended mind and that the spot of your lantern is the attended mind, that which is revealed and brought into the present. Those aspects of every mind that are unattended represent a vast province within us, parts of which are so remote that they have never been explored and parts of which have been touched, once or twice, by the beam of attention and then left and forgotten in the coming light of dawn. Yet they all exist out there, every aspect of the mind, that as it reaches toward its own origin becomes the mind of all men and all the secrets divined by man since the dawn of the world of names.’
‘And what is the darkness?’
‘The darkness is the time to visit the hidden aspects of our minds. It is the time of inward reflection, existing between all actions and notions, where there are no thoughts of conscious origin, such as in the time of dreaming. It is the other side of our lives, the time given to us to capture the truths.’
‘And the light of day?’
‘By the light of day all notions blend into the seamless fabric of reality and the secrets are concealed, for if revealed would sunder the waking living mind and damage the fabric of reality. During the day we must simply act upon our understandings and steer away from all ideas of origins and the connectivity of the world. This is the essential manner in which we must deal with the practical aspects of life, without which wisdom would become like swamp and be enshrouded with mists that obscured all.’
‘You have understood much.’ Smiled the old man kindly. ‘Do you feel ready to go back to the world? You must speak now your truth.’
Dredgen stared at him for several long moments before responding. ‘I feel no desire to go into the world. I have come to enjoy this life with all of my being.’
‘And yet you must go eventually.’
‘Eventually, yes.’ Dredgen responded quietly.
Two more days passed and they did not move from the hut but simply remained therein, for the most part sitting quietly. At rare moments, Dredgen asked simple questions and then sat to absorb the meaning of the answers. Toward the third night he came before the old man and asked;
‘What does it mean to be the spiritual leader of our people?’
By response the old man took his hand and led him to the door. He opened it softly and for the first time in many, many days, Dredgen came out into daylight. He looked not at the lake but by the old mans intimation glanced toward the sky. The sun, though invisible, contrived with a scatter of its beams to penetrate the mists about them. He stood thus, transfixed by the profundity of this experience, his head raised toward the heavens. After a while, he was led gently back into the hut.
‘What is the sun that exists within daylight?’ The old man asked when they were settled.
‘The sun is the source of all energy in the world. As such, it is so powerful and so crucially placed that any tiny deviation from its intended purpose would ravage all that is. Were it to dim itself, or move, or exit this system of life, everything would be lost. Therefore it must by absolute necessity be free of all thought of will and motivation. It is must be free from all intention and attention other than that given to it as its primary operating principle. It must be always and eternally sacrificed to the needs of its subjects, to which it offers eternal life and energy and growth.’
‘That is what it means to be the spiritual leader of your people.’ The old man responded simply.
‘Are you saying that I am must become devoid of all personal motivation, that I must forsake all of my own destiny.’
‘You yourself said that it was your destiny to rule.’
‘Not at that cost. I am not ready for that.’
‘It is well that you realise that.’
‘I prayer to pursue understanding for the sake of understanding and for no other reason besides. I have barely begun my life here. Before I leave, I prayer to be able to swim through the waters.’
‘Well, that would take a long, long time. Let me say, for the parting speech of this evening that tomorrow you shall meet one who does.’
‘One who does what?’
‘Swim through the waters of course.’
Dredgen slept that night with great excitement, though he knew not what for. Throughout the next day he practised the motions of Taĭel to calm himself and the old man looked on smiling. At that time there was much joy and feverish energy in the hut as there was a joy and alertness to all existence. By the coming of sun setting he was eager to set out and gathered his net. The old man gathered his own, opened the door and moved forward again into the gathering darkness.
They steered for many hours through the darkness and the old mans golden beam cut across the surface of the water in its ceaseless search. Many understandings swam beside and beneath them but the lantern did not stray and Dredgen did not dwell upon them, as if to secure his endless wandering rather than commit to a certain knowing. Toward the darkest hour of night there came a glow and a sound like movement within the water from the east.
They came forward and the beam revealed a maiden who swam through the water, her shoulders and head rising above it to blink in the light upon her cast. She was as beautiful to Dredgen as life’s prayer for beauty, flawless and perfect, her face serene and filled with eyes filmed with the water of understanding. His heart froze in its course through life and he felt his entire being pulled toward an understanding that threatened to engulf him.
‘Is that the lady of deepest and original understanding?’ Dredgen shattered the endless silence of the lake and he felt his net come alive.
‘You are perilously close to casting your net.’ The old man warned. ‘No, this is not she. That greater lady you are not ready for but mayhap one day you will be ready for this one. She is the Siĺdarĭen.’
Silence enclosed them again and Dredgen gazed into her beautiful eyes like wells to the centre of the world. She smiled and for Dredgen the sun rose and he was interpenetrated by the way of the world, love in its every moment mostly concealed but now universally evident. A love as big as the land for the sea and the sea for the fish and the mountain for the plain and the sky for the earth. He was filled utterly with her presence and knew she was the mother of his nation.
And then she raised her left hand above the waters surface and Dredgen was compelled to raise his right hand. Like opposites they floated across the waters and came to touch, for a single moment, fingers interlocking and fast in the presence of the misty night. A deal struck. A never ending security throughout all the time of his life. A base upon which to build. A love that would subsume its own personality to spread through the mind of a nation with peace. Two hands, like the interlocking vow of marriage with the two aspects of self, bound into the duties of the future.
They rowed back slowly, the time yawning wide open and drawing upon the resources of Dredgen and draining his every energy of attention. Understandings flocked to the beam of the old guides lantern, boiling the water with their common knowledge. Occasionally, truths of sheer beauty flashed through the clouds of lesser fish and triumphed their flanks and fins to the night, sheer mercurial expressions of that which is understanding, the time and place of things which exist and the words necessary to invoke them.
He fell broken from the boat onto thankful shore and staggered toward the hut. Therein coming the old man closing the door fast against the dawn and Dredgen collapsed upon the floor and wept a considerable time for the beauty that he had witnessed. The old man took to walking around his crouched form and all the sights and signals and thoughts of the world circled too, bewildering him and washing him away, peeling back the layers of his soul one by precious one. At length he slept and had a long dream.
In the telling of his dream he saw a land and he knew that land to be Siļsariën, which means the ‘highest of confederations’. From that land came the Siĺdarĭen, the ‘highest royal person of the people’. She is the shining light of the nation, just as he would be its leader in spirit. By her, every heart is tapped and love grown within the people. She is, according to the custom of ElÅr, second only to him in rank in all the land, in every respect his counterpart of the female flesh.
In the dream it was as though he were flying through her lands in a time not long ago. There he saw her, within her castle, surrounded by courtiers and the most royal of persons and maids and teachers, all counselling her in the way of love. She was being counselled for her future upon the arm and in the lock of eternal tryst to the leader of the nation. Indeed, the previous Siĺdarĭen had been wife to his own father and mother to his body. Siļdar, not the child of the mother, but chosen for her virtues from the entire nation of Siļsariën.
He awoke knowing that she was here, just like him, receiving the instruction of the lake.
‘How long has she been here, this lady of the lake?’
‘Longer than you, she is older.’
‘How does she come to swim in it?’
‘She is women. It is different for them. Men are islands upon the lake of the mind while are women are submerged within it. Their training is different.’
‘Will I come to be with her?’
‘Perhaps, in time.’
‘I would enjoy that. How long will she stay here?’
‘Perhaps a very long time, perhaps not.’
‘I would stay here as long as she remains also.’
‘And so it shall be.’ The old man raised and took him to breakfast and the energy of fresh understanding.
For days after that Dredgen enjoyed such simple pleasures as he had never known and found value within every space of life. He felt joy, unhindered, flowing through his bones. He desired not just one understanding but all understanding, and he desired again to see the lady of the lake and touch her fingers against his. He combed and worked his net and allowed the stream of notions to flow through his mind even as the silken web flowed through his fingers.
One day he decided that it was time again for him to visit the lake and he informed the old man of his plans. With unspoken consent they gathered their gear and emerged with the darkness into the somnolent last stretch of noon, fishermen of light trailing their nets of well conceived notions like trails of stars across the swamp of the beginnings discontent. That night it was Dredgen who gathered the boat and pulled it toward the water, so far in the trance was he.
He rowed through the night and upon the hour of midnight, took the lantern into his own hands, all the while the old man smiling with a fierce, quiet pride as though he himself were taking possession of the light as a young boy again. Dredgen took it and rose it high and the stroke of its beam scythed its path across the surface of the mind and illuminated whirls and deeps where understanding swam its blind, flashing silver path through the unknowable.
By the coming of dawn and by the faint tugging of his net he was alerted to the position in which he sat, upon the prow, net in hand, gazing softly into the night, gazing and gazing about, drawn to every whirl and the promise of every ripple. And then he was compelled and signalled the old man and they turned toward the shore, lest the rising sun shear across the land and turn that great unknowable surface into a force which damned the soul.
That day began the boy his own training. He came into the hut and remained in silence for the duress of the day. Toward evening he came to bed and rested there several hours. Then again he arose and devoured fresh understanding by the old man brought. Strengthened thus he left for the lake. The old man accompanied him and uttered not a word. Throughout that night they rode and Dredgen swung his orbit about and about.
Days passed and they continued just so. Dredgen became enmeshed with perfect bliss in the process of absorbing the understanding that abounded here like all the thoughts and objects of the world. He knew that he had barely begun and it pained him for he also knew that the time allotted him to continuance in this place was limited. All too soon he would have to return and begin his duties. It seemed insufferable to him to stop this process of understanding.
It seemed even more preposterous suddenly to take on the task of leading a nation and the full onus of his task settled on him. Most recently he could not even lead himself and his nation would have wandered endlessly lost in the mist for he was the energy that would provide them with direction. He needed not one understanding but the understanding of every thing, each to be brought into him and consumed so that he could advise his every subject just as his mind advised the coursing of blood through his veins and the whisper of electricity through his cells.
On the evening of the fortieth day upon the lake a great understanding suddenly leapt high into the air with the stroke of midnight and he was compelled to rise up and cast his net and throw it snare his prey, which was with olive green and blackness sheened. The fish struggled and boiled in the net and thrashed the water so that all through the world the oceans of fate must be crashing and shifting the common purpose of all life. At length he brought it into the boat and there it instantly became stiff and arched in the cold, night air.
The journey back to the hut was one of incomparable sorrow and whence arriving Dredgen felt like he held his own heart and his own soul in the net which hung limply from his belt. Coming within, the dawn light slammed out, he set the fish upon the table and quietly took his seat. The old man sat opposite him and was also silent and without a smile on his lips. He motioned toward Dredgen and watched the boy tear into the black flesh and place a piece into his mouth.
‘What do you understand?’
‘I understand that I cannot leave this place. I must remain here and I must, like you, travel far and wide across the surface of the lake until I know every whirl and pool and every fish and great understanding that lies within. Within the darkness, I must row and row until every place of exact likeness becomes individual and known to me and I must continue thus until all of it is travelled and known. Only then may I come out into the light of day and row to meet the blinding understanding of she who is the world secret and the holder of the true understanding.’
‘Why do you grieve?’
‘I grieve because I must put aside my fate and leave my entire nation without a spiritual heart. My subjects, in all their millions, must be without eyes, for the understanding is too great and will take my entire life to master. Unlike my father and his father before him I have failed to instantly seize this reward and so the entire generation of my time will be a nation lost and without direction. Also too, my desire is to be with this girl and my desire compels me to selfishly remain, for I would have her within me, and me within her, as the first and most important thing in the world.’
‘What else have you come to know?’
‘I know where she lives. I will go one week from now to find her.’
‘That is as it is.’ Said the old man.
‘What about you?’ Asked Dredgen.
‘Where will you go? Can I remain here or must I live like a ghost in the mist?’
‘We will see.’ He smiled kindly. ‘There are one or two great understandings left for you to catch. Perhaps then you can tell me where to go.’
And so for the next seven days Dredgen sat in silence and mourned for the loss of his nation. He took the net in his hand and one by one worked over each name and prayer and knot of prayers and soothed them and asked for their forgiveness and prayed that they nevertheless be fulfilled without his presence. He came to care deeply then for every thing in the world and saw how it was that the things of the world were all ultimately connected.
On the seventh night he went alone from the hut and pushed the boat off into the floating inverted night of the lake. Immediately his sorrow was washed away and it was as if a light erupted within him and propelled him swiftly across the waters. He rowed in mighty circles of clockwise direction that slowly spiralled inward. Each rotation about the lake took an age to complete and it was only near the very dead of night that he neared the centre and there saw an island.
In the centre of the island there was a small, silver shrine and in front of the shrine sat the lady and it seemed as if her own limbs were the splayed fins of the secret understandings and enshrouded her like the petals of some mighty white flower from which only her shoulders and head emerged. There she spoke to him and drew him near and her voice was of the same mastery as the motion of the old man and did not ripple through the air but seemed to be instantly transported into his mind.
‘Greetings Dredgen MaĦsk Kaĭdarĭen.’ She used the formal title which described his title as it related to her own and thus inscribed their equality.
‘Greetings sweet Siĺdarĭen.’ His boat was stopped gently against the shore and he climbed without sound out of it.
‘What brings you to my shore?’
‘I would have my other half.’ He smiled in delicious terror.
‘You think to have me instantly also?’
‘I think to wait as long as it takes.’
‘That may be a while.’
‘I’m not going anywhere soon.’
She smiled broadly and he knew that he could wait forever.
‘What do you want from me?’ She said shyly.
‘I want to understand you.’
‘You want to devour me?’ She assumed shock.
‘I want …’ He stopped.
‘Do you know what it means to be at the origin of our connection?’ She interrupted.
‘Well then, come and eat. When you understand, you may decide whether or not you truly want to have me.’ She smiled wickedly and then collapsed in upon herself until there remained only a filigreed husk of fibrous fins that acted as a cradle which contained the most beautiful silver fish that Dredgen had ever seen.
He took it and climbed into his boat and rowed toward dawn with a smile on his lips and a listless wandering gaze in his eyes.
Dredgen entered the hut again just after the stroke of day. Inside he saw the old man seated at the table and the old man was glowing with a fierce energy which seemed to flame out invisibly from his form and fill the room. He looked there like a Lion and when he turned, his swamp green eyes were flashing yellow and had silver streaks running through them. Dredgen walked slow to take his seat and saw as he put the understanding on the table that the old man was fast transformed with power.
‘Would you care to share my understanding?’ Asked Dredgen.
‘I think this one is for you alone, my boy. I am filled to the brim.’
Dredgen sampled the fish and sat transfixed for long moments, rapture seeming to seep from his skin and illuminate the air about his head. He did not say anything but into his eyes suddenly came understanding … and humour.
‘My left hand!’ Dredgen laughed. ‘She is my female self, the left component of my mind and body. Here at the origin of things we are the same being as one, expressed into two, dancing toward each other across the mind, to meet hand in hand like prayer.’
‘And what of the nation?’
‘They will lose their Siĺdarĭen even as they lose their Kaĭdarĭen. They will lose the spirit and the heart of the nation!’ He sounded strangled with inner conflict.
‘Is that a worse fate than having these two immortal components bound without the wisdom of time that gathers between those who truly come to know each other, any more than the nation would have been devastated had you attempted to see the lake that first day?’
‘Yes, I must spend a life time coming to her even as I must spend a lifetime exploring the fullness of this lake. One day we will truly become one. What then old man?’
‘Then you will be complete and you will go in the full light of day to meet she who is the maker and origin of all forms. Only then will you be ready to lead your nation.’
‘And the Siĺdarĭen?’
‘You are at the origin of things now and you will come to be one, for only a moment, impossibly connected. Therein lies the seed of your futures love and from that moment you will schism and become two and she will go to Siļsariën and you will go to Kaisän and then you will come together in the holy matrimony of ElÅr, that by your relation your people are bound.’
‘And you, old man, why do you glow so?’
‘I glow because I am ready and it is dawn.’
‘You are ready? Where will you go?’
‘Devour this last meal in my presence and then you may tell me.’
Dredgen took the fish and ate it in all parts and savoured the flavour and the moment in time and space.
‘There are two of you.’ Said Dredgen suddenly. ‘You are brothers.’
‘Tell me more.’
‘You are going to return to…’ Suddenly Dredgen jumped up and shouted with joy and revelation. ‘You are to assume the mantle of MaĦsk Kaĭdarĭen in my stead?’
‘You don’t think we would leave an entire nation without eyes and a heart do you?’
‘You have grown like me with a lady of the lake?’
‘For all my life I have reached toward her and now soon I will meet her and experience the ultimate understanding. She is the teacher of the girl who is counterpart to you and she also aches like me to finish this last lesson and return to our families.’
‘The girl is now having this conversation with her teacher?’
‘Yes, on the far side of the lake, in the white hut. She knows no more than you. You will discover much together in time and finally enter the shrine that centres all mind.’
‘And you will leave here together to rule in ElÅrĭen?’
‘Her spirit will be transported instantly to the spirit of that most appropriate woman in Siļsariën. When I come there with my court we will meet formally and be wed and we both will be complete in the center of the nation.’
‘But you are old, they will know!’
‘Old! To one has mastered the essence of formlessness?’
The old man stood up with a smile and was suddenly a young boy, no older than Dredgen.
‘I will have to borrow your name of course. My own son will be born and he will come to you and you will then have a name and that name will be the old man!’ he laughed uproariously. ‘Your father will know, yes, but consider that he has already spent a life time here and the man you thought your father is in fact a lateral relation!’
‘I cannot grasp it all, you sisters and brothers stretched across time and binding the ebb and flow of an entire world!’
‘Yes …’ The old man paused; ‘We are a strange family indeed. You will understand everything in time, son.’
With that, the newly young man, who would return home as MaĦsk Kaĭdarĭen the Lion King, stood up from his seat and walked without hesitation toward the door and opened it and entered into the full light of day and walked toward the blinding lake to discover the greatest secret of all. Within the hut, the young man lay upon his pallet to wait the coming night and its promised dinner.