It was a glorious night for his passing on. As the twin moons rose and darkness fell, she reflected how perfect it all was, how he would have loved the beauty of this night, would have appreciated the rightness of the traditional ritual, taken comfort from it. Except. He wasn’t here. And it was left to her alone to take comfort where she could.
So many had gathered to send him on his way, many faces she knew, many unfamiliar. It did not surprise her. Her grandsire had been well known for the generosity of his heart and the wisdom of his words, dispensing one as freely as the other.
Taking a deep breath, she adjusted her cloak and stepped lightly onto the path. It must be begun. She must be the one to begin it. At her approach, the singing, which had been low, muted and harmonious, rose in unison, gloried and soared, as the singers skilfully twisted the strands of what had been his life, offered it to all as benediction.
Slowly, she paced until she reached the apex of the rise, saw the group of elders who awaited her, flaming torch in hand, their lifesong flowing from them in wise, measured notes, their faces dignified with the sagacity of their age.
She reached them, and bowed in acknowledgement of their status. Taking the torch from them, she felt its heat on her face, its sparks dazzling her eyes until the darkness beyond glittered in reflection. Leaving them, she crested the hill, saw the pyre waiting, her grandsire’s body wrapped in its ceremonial robes.
Two council members stopped her, staffs crossed to bar her path, demanding to know her business. In accordance with custom she sang of her grandsire, of his life, his death, of her duty, as his much beloved grandchild, to send his lifesong on its final journey into the heavens to join the universal great song.
They bent their heads in recognition of her right, lowered their staffs until the points crossed on the ground before her. Carefully, holding the torch aloft, she stepped over them and walked to the pyre.
She waited, head bowed in acknowledgement of the solemnity of the moment, the perfection of the rites, until the funeral song had reached its pinnacle and it was time to play her part. Softly at first, then gaining in ascendancy, she wove her notes into the whole. Joyfully offering her thanks for his presence in her life, singing of the many kindnesses her grandsire had shown her, his talent for songsculpting, which he had passed on to her.
Briefly, she touched on superficial sorrow he was no longer there to guide her, then let her throat open in sublime knowledge of the new song he was now part of. That great, all-encompassing song, which weaved and twisted throughout existence, sweeping up all before it into one immense, perfect, never ending, constantly harmonious stream of sound.
Finally, moments or hours later, the singers stopped, the funeral song ended. The final flawless note echoed into ringing silence, and all joined for a moment in still contemplation.
Then, she stepped forward and thrust the burning brand deep into the heart of the pyre.
Much later, long after the ceremony had finally ended and all had departed, she was alone in their dwelling place. The liquid perfection of the dawn lulled her, and she sat on the step, the doors to the dwelling and her heart open to absorb the last drops of sunrise. She sang, softly and without purpose, a gently lilting melody. It touched on awareness her own lifesong must now be adjusted, that the hole created by her grandsire’s passing needed to be smoothed over.
She understood that he was not really gone, that he had merely passed on to a new place, a better place, where life eternal flowed through the stars and planets. Yet… he had gone. He was not here with her. She was alone.
Crossly, she told herself this was not so. How could she be alone with so many others for companionship? When every day, if she chose, she could spend time with friends and neighbours. When her workshop always hummed with the busyness of those come to barter their goods for her much sought after sculptures. No, she was not alone. Yet … she was lonely.
There was a disturbance in the undergrowth, a tiny squeak. With her heightened senses, she felt the demise of a small creature, the abrupt cessation of its lifesong. An instant later, Lani, her cat, stepped forward, a tiny creature dangling from her jaws.
Trotting past, Lani angled her head to look up, ears flattening, as if warning her to try and deny her this prize. She smiled at the cat’s antics, feeling sorry for the rodent’s demise, yet amused by the smugness of the cat’s lifesong which settled into a happy, rumbling purr, as Lani crouched down and crunched on tiny bones.
Distracted, her own song ended, she tilted her head to survey the flaming sky, awed and humbled by its eternal majesty. Her grandsire had enjoyed contemplating the heavens, theorising on the life that possibly existed on those far away worlds. Often, discussion had led to gentle debate, as he placed before her new and alarming ideas. That the lifesong of their occupants might be very different to their own. Maybe, he’d even suggested, and she had shuddered with horror at the very thought, there was no lifesong on those glimmering distant specks of light.
Here, agreement had parted. She could not conceive of a world without lifesong, a world whose occupants existed in silence, bereft of the music which shaped reality. How could such beings survive without becoming insane? Even the simplest of animals recognised the natural harmony of life.
An ant, carrying a leaf back to his colony, danced to the music of his race, his lifesong busy and ordered. Birds, glorying in the freedom of the skies, their lifesong erupting in wildly spontaneous notes of purest sound, embodied the very essence of the great song which embraced and surrounded all.
From the humblest single celled being, she’d argued, to the more complex and emotive animals such as themselves, all paced their allotted lifespan to their own individual lifesong. To not sing, to not even be aware of the great song … such a thing was impossible.
Her grandsire had laughed at her discomfort, softly singing words of ease and reconciliation, until she had smiled again, dismissing his wild ideas as the stuff of childish nightmares. Impossible and inconceivable, and yet, she shifted uncomfortably on the hard, wooden step, remembering occasions when she had not been allowed to know his thoughts. Those times when the elders came, and they were closeted for long sessions within her grandsire’s private chamber.
During these visits, she’d attempted to keep busy, to create, yet her song had been distracted, disjointed with bizarre impressions of what was occurring behind the firmly closed door. Knowing these frequent meetings with the elders to be a great honour for her grandsire, but still, resentful she was not included.
Afterwards, when the elders had taken their leave with words and music of dignified thanks, he would look at her work. Brow creasing, tutting with displeasure at the awkward jaggedness of their outline, his eyes would rest thoughtfully on her, and she would know he was aware of her unease, perhaps even understood the source of those dark and unconnected thoughts which so distorted her sculptures.
And now he was gone. She was alone in the gathering bloom of the day, gazing at the heavens which had engendered such lively debate. Her loss at his passing swelled in her breast, and she gave words to her grief, gaining comfort at their shape and form, her song culminating in a long perfect note that soared ever upwards, reaching, straining, until suddenly she was amongst the stars looking down on the spinning beauty of her own planet.
Startled, frightened, heart pounding within her chest, she snapped back to reality, thrilling with the excited realisation she’d just travelled further than ever before, perhaps further than anyone had ever travelled before.
Eventually, words dwindled to a low, background hum, perfect pitch to the beating of her heart and the rushing of the blood in her veins. Drowsily, lids fell over eyes wearied from the ceremony of the night, the singing of her grandsire’s lifesong, the acknowledgement of his existence, the flames of his funeral pyre still leapt in her memory, twisting and rising, a column of fire stretching to the sky, carrying his lifesong ever upwards.
Her thoughts slipped free from their mooring within her mind, roaming, seeking, questioning …
A place … other …
Heat … intense and melting …
Terror … stark and immobilising …
Its taste sickened in her mouth. The blaze roared like a wild beast, consuming what looked to be some sort of dwelling in front of her. It seemed, impossible as it was, she was actually inside another’s thoughts and emotions. That she viewed through the eyes of another, eyes raw from smoke and the angry, frustrated tears of horrified shock.
She heard strange words issuing from her host’s throat, words wrenched from a throat sand dry and hoarse from screaming. She felt the restraint of others. Knew the body she looked from to be held fast in the tight grip of two beings. Felt also the angry twisting as it fought to free itself; struggling to break away.
Further knew, should the being succeed, its aim was to plunge headlong into the inferno…
Her eyes opened. Once more brilliant sunlight dazzled overhead, her senses pulsed to the sounds of the morning, and she felt the steady pacing of her lifesong, her heart beating in tune to its rhythm.
Where had she been?
What had she been?
Still, behind her eyelids, she could see the bright hunger of the fire, feel the voraciousness of its appetite as it gobbled and consumed. Deep within, she could still emote to the wildly throbbing sting of bitter despair, experiencing again the overwhelming loss and pain of the strange being, whose mind and thoughts she had so briefly inhabited…