Once upon a time, there was a comely child, whose waking dreams were filled with thoughts of roses made of seabirds, silver songs about a little boy who made dolls fighting another little boy, a handsome soldier who both hated and loved him, and of course, what to do in a rainstorm if one were to be caught outside in such dissident, magnificent weather. She herself had never seen a rainstorm, her little home being the sandy place among the big stone trees that it had always been, however much she wished to see the world. She was not ungrateful to her uncle for raising her in the sand; such was simply the way of things. It made her glad, however, to see the dark skinned sand demons arching in their flip, their never ending swim amongst the rocks that tipped up over the waves of golden sand like shark fins in the sea.
She had never experienced the sea, save for the photos in her uncle’s books. They were gray, the photos too, both sources of knowledge too old to play much with, and too young for the wood pile. As if she would ever, could ever, burn a picture like that. Or a book. They were treasures. The petrified trees outside, those were treasures too. Sometimes men and women would come to take shards of them, for the mineral content. They said the desert had been underwater once. Under water… what could that have been like?
Underwater. Once when she was five, her uncle glimpsed the gleam she’d held inside her deep, deep eyes as she considered that word, underwater. How much water? How big? How wide? How deep? How long until it died? He’d known then that that gleam would take root.
“Oceans don’t die,” he’d said, with his big, slender hands and long dark hair and slightly pointed ears. He looked like one of the Gholamites from the books in his study.
Gholamites lived great long lives, and looked beautiful for most of them.
“… they only grow upwards, and become the rain. But there is no rain here, not anymore, my niece.”
Yes, she thought, her uncle was beautiful, with his fair skin and his laughter at the little odd things accomplished by Other People. He taught her his ways, at least one side of them, and beside him she learned by and by, to dig for relics in the sandy soil when the shade was coolest, and the carrion horses with their bony bodies and their sleek mouths full of thin sharp teeth would surface and dine in the dark. How could she be afraid of those things, when her uncle walked amongst them with less care to their sharpness than a cat among the flies?
One day, as she lingered at the foot of Ar Colohi, the biggest of the stone trees what dotted their desert dwellings, she became consumed by the odd, sweeping desire to stuff her darkish fingers in the hot sand. Deeper and deeper she pulled through the sunny crystal bits of ancient silt, dragging herself down, eaten and feeling each grain as it touched its brother, its sister, its father and mother, and finally her fingers, rough, hard, easy to crunch between fore and thumb, or teeth, if one preferred. Soon a glint of blue erupted in the sun, a brilliant azure something inside a crystal box. She dusted it, pulled it from its tomb of golden sand, and then just… sat before it, staring like a fetishist at the altar of the personal.
Her thick red curls reflected in its surface, the crystal box seemed to shine of its own accord, though it bore no incumbent glow to her bright blue-greenish eyes. She laughed; anyone who’d never seen her before would think she’d a tan, but no. It was all her in the reflection on the surface of the box; she’d a natural darkness to her epidermis, unlike Uncle Marten, who in general terms and quite good humour maintained a permanently blanched complexion, one which threatened all on its own to disturb and confound the people who visited.
But visitors were, as always, few and far between. Still, they were always busy with work, excavating, cleansing the years from old things… her uncle knew so much, only a very small bit of which he shared. She found it amusing, and he knew it. Perhaps he was a Gholamite after all.
The box was still cold when she held it up for him to gaze upon; he didn’t laugh, something rare for him, the kind of rare that bore a faint tinge of ‘don’t ask uncle about this one, dearie.’
It surprised her heartily when he did.
“Come here, my Free Spirit of sullen sixteen! Let us see what you think of this new antiquity.”
He held the box with the blue object inside up to the light of their small tent, having already trained half the little lights pinned in the tent-cloth toward its iciness. In so much light un-wasted by the glare of summer sun, she could clearly see that the object held within the box was actually a pair of somewhat identical shapes, tied by a ribbon in the back and crossed at the end and again at said back. The things were blue, so shiny, and… so blue. A pair indeed.
“Uncle, what are they?” she asked him as he watched her, her deep sea eyes roping her into the confines of the big cube of crystal that had intrigued her so.
Her tall, half-rakish dandy of an uncle smiled, and then he sighed, the motion barely a flutter of his thin red lips.
“Well, my sweet,” he began, tracing the line of her middle height cheekbone with a chaste finger that suddenly seemed made of paste, “about a thousand years ago, a mere fortnight before this ocean died, they used to be yours.”
She allowed herself a small inward flinch.
“What does one do with them?”
Marten, who was her Uncle, smiled again, showing sharpened fangs where most would have two normal canines.
“One dances, my child.”
A stirring, just beneath her breastbone.
She asked him, “This box. It reminds me of your crèche. Are they of the same material?”
Not even his usual smirk resurfaced as he memorized her face without trace of eye movement again for the thousandth time and parted the spindle thin line of sensual red he would occasionally, gently, press to the neck of a handsome, willing young thing. Never to hers though. -She- was on another pedestal entirely.
“They are blue ballerina’s shoes, my niece. Would you like me to open the box for you, so you may see them? Bring along touch… and taste, perhaps?”
This time the sigh was her decision. Her uncle saw everything as art, and this conversation was no exception. She watched as he took a book from his pocket, showed it to her.
It was an old book called ‘Who Loves the Sun, Lord Meredith?’ with pictures of the sea in it. Her favorite as a child.
Then he watched her watching him, and as their eyes met, he held up the book, the favorite of her youth with a little picture of a boy with dark hair on the front, filched a tiny tinderbox from his other pocket, and struck it to the worn, thick binding.
They both smiled at the sacrifice.
They both smiled, their faces lit by the good, healthy flames her childhood dreams had made.
Absently, as they held each other she wondered how many of the Dankrose bushes in the Underground Forest those ashes would nourish.
“You said the oceans don’t die, Uncle. Do you still believe that now?”
Abruptly the dark haired man before her threw back his head and cackled wildly, like a white banded corbie at the corn. Then he held out his hand to her.
“Come, my niece,” he said, leading her to her ‘partment door, “…the bells ring steadily at the eastern excavation site. We have a guest! For now, you must learn to let sleeping oceans lie.”