SEVEN STARS FOR SEVEN SUNS
(A True Story)
"How horrible!" said Julianna. "This seer, whoever he may be, sounds so spiteful to say such terrible things. Worse, perhaps he be mad. Perhaps there is no perhaps? He must be. For to prophesy the purported downfall of one so strong, so great - and, by my hearing, to hold you, yourself, responsible, is madness, indeed! Seer? Sere more like - dry and withered within his mind."
"Do you think so?" asked the voice of the Gerent, sadly, pathetically.
"Could it be anything other?"
Suddenly, the whispers of the Gerent became suspicious. "Why should I believe you?"
"Because we did not come here with intent to destroy you," replied the girl, simply, honestly, quietly.
Who, Gilbraith thought, could not hear the truth within her words and tone of that instance? They truly had not, by any interpretation.
"Will you not now reveal yourself to me?" she asked.
Her answer was a stillness; nothing within the chamber altered. Not light, not shade.
"Will you tell me what became of this ridiculous oracle? Does he, even now, live within your walls?" she asked, cajoling, sweetly.
"No," replied the Gerent, "he does not?"
"For why? What did become of him?"
"He did not step fully within my keep. How, then, could I detain him?"
"Then how do you know of that which you believe to be prophecy of your destruction?"
"Did he open the very door by which you and the boy did enter. Yet enter he did not. He merely opened the door and called forth his words into the courtyard. The Vice-Gerent did report his coming and his prediction to me."
"I wonder why the Vice-Gerent would pass on something so obviously trivial and unworthy of your attention..." mused the girl, aloud. "Perhaps he is jealous of your greatness, your power... Perhaps he does share the madness of the hot air-apparent..."
"Do you think so?" repeated the whispers of the Gerent.
"Oh, I really could not say," she replied. "I know not the ways and workings of your magnitude and magnificence. But do I know that, of man, the ways and workings of his heart and mind can be cunning and sly and well concealed, indeed..."
A seed was planted. Did Gilbraith perceive and acknowledge this - but he was unprepared for that which next transpired.
"Gerent?" called Julianna softly, "will you please not now reveal the truth of yourself?"
Again, there was no response. Yet the girl did not, this time, speak. Instead, did she take action which spoke more loudly than any word could. The youth stood behind her, transfixed, immobilized, as slowly, so very slowly, she shook her hair seductively once more. Then did he watch as did she kick her moccasins from her feet and, sensuously, slid her bow and quiver from her shoulders. Each movement was deliberate, provocative, till she tossed them, seemingly carelessly behind her at the feet of the youth.
Already had the airs of the chamber become charged with an atmosphere Gilbraith, as observant, could only describe as one of breathless anticipation. He watched, dumbfounded, as deliberately and without haste, Julianna began to unbutton her shirt and let it fall, casually, upon the floor. He watched, as if in a daze, as the false lighting of the salon grew to an ever gradual dimness as she did so. Then, as purposefully, as unhurriedly, she began to divest herself of the breeches she wore.
It was only as she let these, too, fall to the cold granite of the flooring, that Gilbraith became aware of the volume of noise which had built up within the room. For the simple reason that, as she stood, almost naked in the gloom, did all fall into a deep and frightening silence.
One more piece of clothing remained. That of the skimpy, flimsy undergarment she wore.
Quite casually, most calmly, did it appear that she removed even these from her; and then did she, indeed, stand fully unclothed.
There was an oppression about the youth. It began to seep within the murky light from the walls, from the ceiling, from the floor.
"Gerent," she whispered, her voice so sweet, so innocent, "I stand naked before you. Do I have nothing to hide nor be ashamed of. Is this not how it should be? 'Tis that which I am. Will you, then, not offer same gift to me...?"
Not even this, action extreme and provocative, indeed, appeared to move that which they had come to recognise as the Gerent. Then, suddenly, did all light cease to glow within the chamber and it became instantly more black, more dense than night. And within the darkness, did the moans, the groans, the cries, the sighs, begin. A thousand, nay many, many more, voiceless whispers filled the space with a pulsating, malevolent sound, which rose and fell as in a singular lustful breathing.
Yet, from where he stood, it seemed that, as the darkness did deepen, did a faint light begin to shimmer about the brow of the girl. And by its lights, did the very walls of the room appear to be moving. Looking more intently, Gilbraith felt disgust and horror fill the pit of his stomach. For it was not the walls nor, indeed, by gazing upwards and beneath him, the ceiling or flooring themselves which moved. It was the vast host of writhing wraiths trapped behind the smooth polished surface of the great-stones. Hands reaching, clutching; loins exposed, gyrating, grinding; eyes heavy-lidded and glinting; mouths slack and opened, tongues running across lips.
The hoard of sickening spectres were pressing themselves against the surface of the stones which caught and bound them. Climbing on each other, wrestling with each other, reaching out from behind to pull one from place of sighting to replace self in position of other. They came, a hoard of wraiths, to look and leer at the naked girl, who stood, still as a statue. Their movements, locked within the stones, was to create an evil, ugly sea.
Could they break free from the stones which limited them? Could a single hand penetrate the barrier and reach beyond to touch the flesh? Gilbraith could not, would not, take that chance - for had the Vice-Gerent of the courtyard not delivered powerful blow unseen? What that force was, how it could be summoned and used, he could not begin to imagine. But that it was real, licking at the split in his lip, he could be of no doubt. What had Julianna's actions of these moments passed unleashed. His stomach lurched. Thought galvanized instant measures and lent speed to his limbs. In one swift movement, he reached down and scooped up Julianna's bow and quiver where she had dropped them, seemingly so casually and carelessly behind her and within his arms length. Then did he catch hold of her arm and pull her from where she stood, roughly ushering her from the chamber.
The corridors appeared silent after the cacophony they had left. Yet they were not, the whispering continued to reverberate around them. It was, simply, that the volume had dropped considerably.
Harshly, the youth pushed Julianna against a wall then, with his most recent thoughts returning, he pulled her away again.
"What thoughtless, reckless, irresponsible, sheer stupidity was that?" he demanded angrily as he thrust her bow and quiver at her, then rapidly began to remove his own shirt. "Here, put this on!" he ordered as this, too, he thrust upon her.
She complied, silently handing back her tools, that he may hold them as she did so. Once the soft materials of the shirt had fallen about and covered her nakedness, she took back her bow and quiver and calmly shouldered them.
"Have you nothing to say?"
She merely looked at him and blinked. For a moment, he wondered if she was still in the trance-like state by which she had entered the chamber. But, closely observing her eyes, he saw they were alert and very much present. Yet something seemed to have happened to her face. It spoke of a pure and sweet - and absolute - innocence. With her eyes wide, features soft and devoid of expression, her hair falling about her shoulders and still radiating the faint glow of within the chamber, she had the appearance of a kinder of six summers.
"Why are you angry, Gilbraith?" she asked quietly in the thought-speech of the Revelare.
He stared at her. For the life of him, he could find neither rhyme nor reason to explain or express the depth and confusion of emotions which ran through him. Because he had been afraid. But for whom? Himself - or her?
"Did I not ask you to trust me, Gilbraith? We were quite safe."
"Quite safe? Quite safe!" he exploded. He thought of the gross, seething mass of figures he had witnessed and their debauched and salacious expressions of face and speech. He thought of the invisible fist in the courtyard. And he knew that she was touching and following his thoughts.
"I cannot explain the blow, Gilbraith. But do you not now understand that of which I spoke earlier and which you reacted to as 'crazy'? The Gerent and his Vice-Gerent are the very great-castle itself. They are the grim-stones; the grim-stones, themselves, manufactured from the dark sadnesses of the men who have passed into this place, but have not passed beyond."
"How is it done? How could you know?" he urged impatiently.
"To the former, I cannot know. To the latter, 'twas the Vice-Gerent, himself, who did not just give clue - but clear answer. In the courtyard, I nearly missed hearing reply to my last challenge: but did he say that he was obvious for any to see above, beneath and about. Then, as we did leave, he spoke that he did have eyes and ears to see and hear, that one could be laid by him, but that he no feet by which to follow. You have heard of the expression 'walls have ears' - does this great castle give truth to that; and have we now seen why. They are the ears of the myriad souls trapped within its granites. Have you not heard also of the expression 'wall-eyed' applied to one with a defect to vision? Would not the torment of those entrapped within the castle's stones distort their perceptions? Perhaps, even, it was their very way of looking that caused them to become so trapped. Laid by the wall? Have you not heard of this? 'Tis that which is said of one dead but not buried."