Ashes

  • Elli’s Song

    “Most shows,” said Rukh after a time, “would end here, for what could they possibly present after a genuine unicorn? But Mommy Fortuna’s Midnight Carnival holds one more mystery yet – a demon more destructive than the dragon, more monstrous than the manticore, more hideous than the harpy, and certainly more universal than the unicorn.” He waved his hand toward the last wagon and the black hangings began to wriggle open, though there was no one pulling them. “Behold her!” Rukh cried. “Behold the last, the Very End! Behold Elli!” 

    Inside the cage, it was darker than the evening, and cold stirred behind the bars like a live thing. Something moved in the cold, and the unicorn saw Elli – an old, bony, ragged woman who crouched in the cage rocking and warming herself before a fire that was not there. She looked so frail that the weight of the darkness should have crushed her, and so helpless and alone that the watchers should have rushed forward in pity to free her. Instead, they began to back silently away, for all the world as though Elli were stalking them. But she was not even looking at them. She sat in the dark and creaked a song to herself in a voice that sounded like a saw going through a tree, and like a tree getting ready to fall.

    'What is plucked will grow again,
    What is slain lives on,
    What is stolen will remain –
    What is gone is gone.'

    “She doesn’t look like much, does she?” Rukh asked. “But no hero can stand before her, no god can wrestle her down, no magic can keep her out – or in, for she’s no prisoner of ours. Even while we exhibit her here, she is walking among you, touching and taking. For Elli is Old Age.”

    The cold of the cage reached out to the unicorn, and wherever it touched her she grew lame and feeble. She felt herself withering, loosening, felt her beauty leaving her with her breath. Ugliness swung from her mane, dragged down her head, stripped her tail, gaunted her body, ate up her coat, and ravaged her mind with remembrance of what she had once been. Somewhere nearby, the harpy made her low, eager sound, but the unicorn would gladly have huddled in the shadow of her bronze wings to hide from this last demon. Elli’s song sawed away at her heart.

    'What is sea-born dies on land,
    Soft is trod upon.
    What is given burns the hand –
    What is gone is gone.'

    The horrors of entropy, death, and decay: desiccated black mosses, vetiver, olibanum, patchouli, and ashes.

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  • Ezekiel 16:49

    Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.

    Blood musk and ashes.

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  • King Haggard

    His eyes were the same color as the horns of the Red Bull. He was taller than Schmendrick, and though his face was bitterly lined there was nothing fond or foolish in it. It was a pike’s face: the jaws long and cold, the cheeks hard, the lean neck alive with power.

    Dry cedar, bitter balsam, and ashes.

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  • Plutonian

    Once the world’s greatest, most beloved superhero, he has now become its greatest villain — a capricious and vengeful god who haunts the skies and toys daily with six billion lives.

    Soapy cleanliness sullied by blood and ashes.

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  • Roses, Pearls and Diamonds

    The youngest, who was the very picture of her father for courtesy and sweetness of temper, was withal one of the most beautiful girls ever seen. As people naturally love their own likeness, this mother even doted on her eldest daughter and at the same time had a horrible aversion for the youngest–she made her eat in the kitchen and work continually.

    Among other things, this poor child was forced twice a day to draw water above a mile and a-half off the house, and bring home a pitcher full of it. One day, as she was at this fountain, there came to her a poor woman, who begged of her to let her drink. 

    “Oh! ay, with all my heart, Goody,” said this pretty little girl; and rinsing immediately the pitcher, she took up some water from the clearest place of the fountain, and gave it to her, holding up the pitcher all the while, that she might drink the easier. 

    The good woman, having drunk, said to her: 

    You are so very pretty, my dear, so good and so mannerly, that I cannot help giving you a gift.” For this was a fairy, who had taken the form of a poor country woman, to see how far the civility and good manners of this pretty girl would go. “I will give you for a gift,” continued the Fairy, “that, at every word you speak, there shall come out of your mouth either a flower or a jewel.” 

    When this pretty girl came home her mother scolded her for staying so long at the fountain. 

    “I beg your pardon, mamma,” said the poor girl, “for not making more haste.” 

    And in speaking these words there came out of her mouth two roses, two pearls, and two diamonds.

    Red roses, dazzling crystalline musks, and pearlescent coconut-tinged orris.

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  • The Norns’ Farmhouse

    The farmhouse was dark and shut up. The meadows were overgrown and seemed abandoned. The farm roof was crumbling at the back; it was covered in black plastic sheeting. They jolted over a ridge and Shadow saw it there.

    It was silver-gray and it was higher than the farm-house. It was the most beautiful tree Shadow had ever seen: spectral and yet utterly real and almost perfectly symmetrical. It also looked instantly familiar: he wondered if he had dreamed it, then he realized that no, he had seen it before, or a representation of it man, many times. It was Wednesday’s silver tie pin.

    The VW bus jolted and bumped across the meadow, and it came to a stop about twenty feet from the trunk of the tree.

    There were three women standing by the tree. At first glance Shadow thought they were the Zorya, but no, they were three women he did not know. They looked tired and bored, as if they had been standing there a long time. Each of them held a wooden ladder. The biggest also carried a brown sack. They looked like a set of Russian dolls: a tall one – she was Shadow’s height, or even taller – a middle-sized one, and a woman so short and hunched that at first glance Shadow wrongly supposed her to be a child. They looked so much alike that Shadow was certain the women must be sisters.

    The smallest of the women dropped to a curtsey when the bus drew up. The other two just stared. They were sharing a cigarette, and they smoked it down to the filter before one of them stubbed it out against a root.

    Dusty, ancient wood, horehound, and sage, with viper’s bugloss, mugwort, chamomile, nettle, apple blossom, chervil, and ashes.

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