Monday, July 30, 2007

Midsummers' Festival, Day of the Feast

I see Eleanor's hands shaking tonight. I cannot see why, but she seems ill. I will finish this, and let her rest.

...At midday the parade began, the royal caravan coming from the castle to the North, along the Wide Road and into town. People shouted and called, and the Machines arrived from the Museum road, rolling or stalking or creeping, waving downy tendrils and colored flags, their interiors alight with fire and gleaming metal, beads of color jumping and leaping, and every manner of lovely movement. Soon the King's caravan was surrounded by a gleaming, dancing battalion of beautiful machines. It was wonderful to see.

I stood on the roof of the Museum stables, looking over the back wall, where the Wide Street went by. My machines stood around me, waiting to be released, while I watched for the right moment. It came, finally, after all the machines had been brought forth, and the oohing and aahing had gone down a little. I knew that at any moment the great cheer might go up which signalled the start of the Festival, so that was when I set the little ones going.

Over the side they went, a gleaming blue wave of beetle-like carapaces. Quickly I climbed down the ladder and ran into the street, in time to catch the gasp of amazement as the crowd caught sight of the effect. It did look wondrous: the twelve little machines ran along the wall in a curling dance, their color shifting on cue from deep blue to green to red and yellow. They moved, spiralling, across the wall and down along the street, climbing other walls in ones and threes, spreading color around the street.

The King, speaking with my father, saw me and called me over.

"You did this?" he asked, his white beard fine and crisp against the crimson of his suit.

I bowed. "With many people helping me, I did, Sire," I said, hardly more than a whisper. The King had never spoken to me before - had never even noticed me before.

He craned his head to look at the swirling motes on the buildings around. "Then you will make a fine Curator, perhaps even a Master Machinist," he said. His sharp blue eyes held me for a moment, then moved away. I knew I was dismissed, and walked away hardly able to breathe. I wanted to jump and scream.

I walked that way for awhile, following the caravan, but seeing very little around me. Then we came to the square.

In the middle of the square, standing on a plinth, stood a glass woman, glowingly white, as if made of mist. Within her misty limbs darker things moved, as she raised her arms to the sun. The parade, tumbling into the square in a hurdy-gurdy tangle of color and shouting, stilled, all the sounds dying away save the snapping of the flags in the quiet breeze.

The woman stood, her arms to the sun, and opened her mouth and sang, with a voice like a water bird, like warm honey. It was echoing and sweet and made the hairs stand on my arms. I do not know what she sang, but as the liquid notes dropped down, the people sighed. It was wonderful.

And when she was done, out from the crowd stepped Ennis, and bowed low before the King.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Midsummers' Festival, 5

I must finish this, things are changing quickly here.

Suffice to say that Ennis did help me.

Oh, by the Gods, I must speak more elaborately than that. I see that.

I told him of my failure, and he sat with me and spoke of it for awhile. After a time, I am not certain how long, I began to feel hope, for he showed me that the thing missing in my formulae was the pressing of the folded areas of the feet into the inequalities in the walls. The ideas flew between us, and we found ourselves standing at the table, trying different things, as the torches burned lower and the stars wheeled round above, his hands working next to mine.

Finally we discovered what seemed to be a way. By altering the feet so as to incorporate a plunger-style mechanism which pushed a viscous liquid into the folds of the foot-coverings I had fashioned, the feet actually did cling to things. By working well past the double bells, we had finished one of the machines and started the mechanism up.

IT WORKED!!! With only two days to go, Ennis and I had solved the riddle of walking on walls. The thing skittered across the ground and up a stone wall, crossing around the courtyard with ease, the colors on its back changing faster as it crept. It was only as it tried to creep up onto the ceiling of the portico that disaster struck: the thing lost its footing and fell, breaking its carapace on the floor below. It seems that the hairs in the Gycko's feet serve some function, after all.

He said goodnight, kindly and as near his old self as I have seen, and I went to bed, my head whirling with ideas and with his nearness, which had a strange effect on me.

The next two days were a flurry, trying to fix the broken machine and tan enough stomach-leather for all the feet on all the machines - as well as fashioning the feet themselves. I was up til all hours both nights running, though Ennis came only once, to help me stitch feet the last night. He was silent then, and did not sit near to me, his face turned away; but he seemed only thoughtful, not angry. I wondered, then, for the first time, if he had his own machine for the Festival. I remembered the fallen bits of machine-metal on that day so many weeks ago, and wanted to ask him of them; he seemed so thoughtful, however, that I could not bring myself to interrupt his ruminations.

The day of the Festival dawned bright and warm. The flags were all up, all around the town, and many hundreds of strange people came and went from the inns and the camping-places by the river. Brightly-colored carts made their way into the square, setting up around the edges with much hustle and bustle. A whole city within the city, of carts and stands and cloth-covered booths, had bloomed in the night.

I stood on a

Monday, July 16, 2007

Midsummers' Festival, 4

Ah, my Eleanor, my Hands, how I have itched to finish this story of the Festival! Things are happening now that I would tell you of.

So: let me speak quickly.

My father's idea about the cow's stomach did indeed seem valuable. I looked at one through the Vial, and found that he was right about its deep structures. I experimented feverishly with the tanner's caustic, and found that the stomach must be half-dried for the caustic to work; fully-dried and it lost its pliability. Then it was a matter of how to apply the caustic, as it seemed to shrink with the direction of the brush-strokes. But these details are of little interest.

Ennis came and watched me work, but went away without saying anything. I longed, now my eyes were opened to the clarity and learning of his mind, to speak with him of all the things I wondered about; but his face, though gentler, was still closed to me, and I dared not. So I worked on with little sleep, and at length, but four days before the festival, I had something that I deemed might work. It lacked the infinitesimal hairs of the Gycko's feet, so I could only hope that this would not hinder it.

After some experimentation, I was able to attach some of the material to one of the machine's feet, but the experiment was a complete failure! I was devastated, unable even to come down to dinner. My father came upstairs to comfort me in my room, but could not; all he could do was love me and insist that I not give up. I still had more than three days.

So I sat, the dutiful daughter, in the courtyard and stared at nothing in the evening light. Nothing came into my head, no further plans or ideas. It grew dark, and the women lit the lamps, and still I sat. Most people went to bed; my father came and looked at me and went away again, leaving me alone. I sat and let the tears trickle down my cheeks, until a rough, long-fingered hand touched my arm, making me start.

It was Ennis, his tea-colored hair falling over his eyes, looking down at me with surprising tenderness, which of course made me cry all the harder. I threw my sleeve over my face and bawled, and he put his strong hand on my back, of which I know not what I felt.

At the end, I was reduced to hiccups and trying to recover my dignity, which was likely ruined anyway. I looked up to find him sitting next to me, looking at the mess of my labors. We sat in silence for awhile.

Oh, I can feel -

Monday, July 9, 2007

Midsummers' Festival, 3

Ah, me, all the interruptions. This telling takes so long to tell, while the rest of my life slips away untold...luckily these weeks are dull ones, for me. This year the summer is hot, and we stay inside during the heat of the day, coming out like forest animals in the early hours and the late ones. So there is plenty of time to think, and dream, but not much happens; it is a drowsy time, with long, full days of harvesting, eating the harvest, fixing buildings, cleaning, and so on. There is always much to be done, when the days are long; it is a time of creation and repair.

In any case, my trip to the tanners was quite enlightening. Ennis showed me how the drum-makers paint their hides with caustic to shrink them. The drum-makers kindly showed us how, if the hide is not stretched, the caustic will make it ruck up as it shrinks, into folds very like the ones on the Gycko's feet. Examining the crumples in the hide, I asked Ennis if he thought it would do.

"Probably not," he said, in that stiff way he has. "Look at it under the Lense Vial first, and see. It may only be a start."

A start! When there were only five days left until the festival? My anxiety knew no bounds.

But I thanked the drum-makers and walked back with a silent Ennis, who bid goodbye as soon as he could. Then I unlocked the case with my father's Lense Vial in it and set to work.

Ennis was right. The folds were of the right type, but the surface of the hide was much too pitted and full of pores to be of use. What good did it do? I threw away the bit of hide in despair, and went to help my father in the Museum.

My father was busy directing the white-washing of the Museum rooms, showing the men what to do, directing ladders and getting out cloths to cover the machines with. I helped to spread the cloths, fetching water for the white-washing and trying to note to how my father conducted his business. He took time to explain things to me, as he always does, since I will be the Curator when he is passed; but eventually he looked at me, and took me by the shoulders into another room.

"My dear," he said, "You have been looking strained recently. Is it your machines for the Festival? I do worry you have looked large in that department. When I was your age, I simply created a sort of cart with a fan that opened and closed. It's not necessary, you know, to create the universe again."

I smiled at him, for I love my father. He is a kind and generous man, as well as being brilliant with machines. I am not supposed to ask the Curator for help in my first Festival presentation, but I am allowed to ask my father for advice.

"Perhaps you might suggest something for me then, Father, as I am struggling so to re-create Nature's wonders! I am working with smoothed hide, but even that is too rough for what I need. I need a skin of some sort that is absolutely smooth, even under your own Lense Vial."

He looked at me strangely, but I could see his thoughts at work, behind his dark brows. "What is it that you are trying to accomplish?"

I explained to him about the pleats, and his eyebrows went up. "That is indeed ambitious for a first project. Are you certain you wouldn't prefer to simplify it?"

"I will, Father, if that is what is required. But I wish to try." I tried to keep the stubbornness off my face, but he still saw it and laughed.

"Let me think about this. I do not know of a hide that is so smooth as to be able to fit against the imperfections of glass! What you need is something already pleated, something complex and soft..." here a faraway look came into his eyes, as always happens when he is imagining the workings of things. Then his brow cleared, and he said to me, "What of the inside of stomachs? Have you looked to see? They are much like the surface of tongues, with flower upon flower, down too small to see. You could even, if you wished, use the tanner's caustic to shrink it further. Try these things, and see if they will help you."

Did I not say my father is brilliant?

Monday, July 2, 2007

Midsummers' Festival, 2

So many things to describe! It is difficult, during my limited time with Eleanor-of-the-Hands, to put down all that happens. I try, and then just at an important moment I find myself receding, falling away from her and her small screen, and I know the last part of what I say is lost.

I believe I was writing of Ennis' willingness to help me, of how I called out to him to ask his help.

When I told him what it was I needed to discover, and of the discoveries I had made about the Gycko's feet, he scratched his head, frowning. I watched him, thinking how his frown was so much less fierce these days.

"The problem is," I told him, "I understand how the Gycko's feet look, but not what they mean. I don't see how they allow the creature to stick to the walls. It is not simple suction, for my father says they can run across coarse surfaces as well as smooth."

Ennis was silent for awhile, while I tried hard not to fidget. "I believe it is an effect I heard spoken of once," he said finally, "discovered by a man from the Low Country. He said that all things are attracted to each other, but that various other forces intervene, so that we do not always see the effect of this force."

I stared at Ennis, astonished, for he had never said such a thing to me. Our conversation had always been joking and friendly, or sad and brief; never one of deep philosophy, or the arts and sciences. Listening to him speak, I saw suddenly that I had been thinking solely about what he was able to do, not how he thought. I felt, as he said these few sentences, that my sense of myself was shaken, for if I could be so little understanding what was in Ennis' mind, then what else had I got wrong in my world?

But Ennis was unaware of my shock, and went on. "The reason that you and I are not able to walk up walls is mostly because the surface of the wall is rough, and therefore little of our foot or hand can really touch it. Instead, the points and lumps that are in even the smoothest surface - even glass - offer us only minor contact. It seems to me that these Gyckos, with those pleats upon pleats on the soles of their feet, must be able to settle the surface of their feet so well into the roughness of the surface that they can use the Lowlander's force - the attraction of their feet to the wall - to keep them aloft."

At this point he stopped, as if suddenly aware of how much he had spoken, and how much I gaped at him. I watched his face shut up like a shutter, and the grim line came back to his mouth, which had before been curving beautifully.

Finding my own mouth open, I closed it. "Many thanks," I stuttered, completely undone. "I - I do not know that I would have thought of that."

In the face of my consternation, he relented a bit. "You would not know," he said, "unless you had read every book in your father's library."

And with that, he turned on his heel and walked away. I watched him go, and wondered that I had never seen this man, so young and so harsh, in the light of his mind before. I felt I had opened a door through which a wind had come, and blown away all I knew.

It was a late hour of the day, so I went back to my mother to help with the evening meal as if my eyes, indeed all my senses, were flayed. The whole world seemed to come rushing in at me with a new sharpness, a painful awareness. I saw that my mother's eyesight was worsening; I saw the worry lines in my father's face; I saw how the scrubbed table in our dining-place was much larger than we needed; and I wondered how many other things that spoke of secrets, of unknowable changes or unspoken realities, there were in my life. It seemed that I was surrounded by doors that opened to places I had never imagined. Every person I knew had a head full of unknown knowledge, unspoken longings, unwritten histories. It made me want to weep.

In the night, as I lay awake in my bed, I wondered at his remark about my father's library. Had he read all the books therein? It was all of two hundred books, full of knowledge I had never thought to learn. Had he? If so, it must be one of the best-kept secrets in the kingdom. And once again, I felt that wind whistle through the newly-opened doors of my mind.

But by the next morning I was somewhat righted, as if I had learned to walk in this new and unexplored world, and I went through my chores and learning-sessions with my eyes open and the Gycko's foot in the back of my mind. There were but a few days left until the Festival, and I was worried. I even began plans for what I would do if I could not make the color-machines walk up the walls, though it made me feel terrible.

I did not see Ennis that day or the next, for he had tasks of his own to accomplish for the Midsummers' Festival. I struggled with the problem of the gycko's feet all alone, never questioning that it was the answer to my need. On the third morning, Ennis was waiting for me in the courtyard, standing like a prisoner next to my work-table, staring apparently at nothing.

I approached cautiously, wondering at the set of his shoulders, and the look he had of wishing to be elsewhere.

"Come with me, " he said brusquely, so I followed him. We walked out of the Museum compound and past the stables, down the river-path toward the foundries and the dyers' house. He did not stop here, but continued onward toward the tannery, where he turned into the gate.

Several apprentices looked up in surprise, bending quickly back to work at Ennis' glance. Bewildered, I followed him toward the side-yard where the drum-makers work.

"There," he said, and pointed. "That's what you need, I reckon."

I couldn't see what he was speaking of at first, but then as li jfos ns