I have an odd urge to write. So I am going to write. I am not going to pay much attention to what I write, so, readers, if the following makes no sense… sorry?
On the balcony the cheetah-woman stood. Arms folded behind her back, she gazed out over the sea, and the clifftop fields of mock-clover where the kirin-herds grazed. The scaled backs of the beasts gleamed golden and silver and bronzen and copper, tinged with rosy hues by the waning light of day. The Lady’s home was perched upon one cliff. The kirin grazed upon its neighbor, one outcropping to the west. Thus she was able to gaze down upon from a superior height that which many have seen only from beneath, from afar – if at all. But this was the Worm-amber Coast in the Mirror Lands, and here the kirin came to graze.
The cliffs of worm-amber – a rock of unknown origin with the qualities of amber but forming whole headlands riddled with caves all along these coasts – sloped dangerously down toward the sea, but the kirin grazed right up to the edge, fearless of the great height. As the woman gazed, a drifting breath of sea-fog rose up like dragon’s breath, pushed by the salt-ridden breeze, so that the mists curled against the clifftop, almost level with it. Upon the grassy tussocks on which the mock-clover grew thickest, the kirin seemed to pay the fog no notice. But the cheetah-woman’s cat-sharp gaze noticed that one of the nursing females casually placed a foot over the edge of the cliff, onto the fog – as if there were solid land beneath its hooves, not a coil of evening mist. Soon, that first rosy-golden kirin had grazed her way from tussock to fog-top, her young gamboling about her placid, unconcerned hooves. Eventually, the entire herd wandered out onto the thickening fogbank, and soon, the woman lost sight of them as the dusk came on and the fog rose into the sky, becoming clouds.
She was unconcerned. They would be back the next day, with the morning fog. Morning and evening the sea-fogs rolled in, always on their own schedule, yet never failing to appear on any given day. It was dependable.
She had no idea where the kirin went. She assumed they slept up there on their high cloudy redoubts. But perhaps they rode the clouds to far mountain aeries, there to climb the rocks like goats and play at being true animals. Or maybe they just kept grazing, consuming cloud-stuff through the night until the time came to run down to the lowest clouds and jump onto the morning fog as it formed, to ride it in to shore and once more graze on the fragrant and ever-blooming mock-clover on its grassy tussocks. Perhaps they plucked stars from the heavens and ate them like fruits.
The Lady of Mysteries did not know. Moreover, she knew she could never find out. This is what made speculation pleasant.
Eventually, as the moon rose unnoticed behind the screen of fog, the Lady of Mysteries turned from the balcony. As she strode into her sitting-room, cool white flames danced into being within immense natural quartz crystals, the room becoming brightly but gently lit, so that useful work could be done and colors seen accurately, but the eye was never dazzled or strained. A cluster of these crystals was placed here and there throughout the room, strategically. They could be dimmed or brightened ,as well, and the flames tinted any color their mistress might imagine. Since no specific settings were given, the quartz-lamps assumed the default setting the Lady had created, one which was perfect for artistry and for admiring the room and its contents. For the Lady was, here, surrounded by beauty.
Sitting on a suede couch expertly fashioned from the pitch-black, glossy-gleaming hide of a nocturnal false-wyvern, the cheetah-lady sighs, then reclines, stretching forth her sleek, elegant limbs. Casually licking at one hand, she settles back, allowing her gaze to travel around the room in restful satisfaction. Beside her, within easy reach, was a decadent oliphant-tusk table carven from a single piece by the best ivory-smiths in all of Dream, with intricate and unusual designs all worked into its surface – images of gods and devils and monsters known not to the people of her own birth, but to peoples further East, by whom the table had been made and from whom she had received it as a gift, countless years ago – literally countless, for such was the way of the Mirror Lands, of Dream. Time was but a marker, a convenience to be set aside when it became inconvenient.
Upon that table rested an elaborate blown-glass smoking pipe and several hollowed-quartz jars or bottles containing dried flowers of cannabis. Beside this was a crystal wine-glass half-full of poppy-milk, brewed by elf-serpents under the light of the moon into a faerie-drink more sublime than simple alcohol and more transcendent than mere opium. This she took in hand, and drank, before replacing the wineglass and lifting the pipe. Soon, incense-sweet curls of smoke began to fill the room in mimicry of and tribute to the dragon-coils of fog and cloud outside, silvered by the half-revealed moon.
The walls, paneled in the midnight-hued yet opaline wood of the aramung-tree, glistened with their characteristic oilslick-sheen. The quartz-lamps’ sun-like rays teased subtle purples and blues out of the deep black of the wood. Baseboards of scented rosewood line the room, with fittings and accents of pure gold. This formed an opulent yet refined background for the many exquisite paintings and framed drawings which filled all available space on the walls while leaving a decent few inches between each piece so each could be considered on its own – yet with no piece set apart so that it was difficult to consider in context of its neighbors. Many of these were the Lady’s own creations, but most were others’ work, collected from myriad locations in the Mirror Lands.
Here was a placid lake at dawn. Seductive, the art-waters laid themselves out like an enticing lover, splayed across the canvas beneath a gloriously ascendant sunburst of vivid hue-warmth which made the rippling waters of the painted lake look pregnant with colors like delicate seashells and citrus-blossoms and – if you can imagine that – orange-flavored cotton candy. All this was languidly rendered in watercolor, on a pure white background and a frame made of fine sirocco-wood, which has the feel and strength of a good carving wood but almost the exact color and sheen of the best freshwater pearl. Only the faint, cloudy grain of the frame shows it is not somehow made of actual pearl – in truth, the sirocco-wood was lovelier than true pearl would have been, for it caught the colors of the painting and reflected them faintly. This was a souvenir of the Lady’s travels to the western coast of the Continent of Sundown, given to her by he who painted it, a native of that land who lived high in the branches of a residential sequoiah and created art only while smoking hashish.
There was a drawing, a fresh megascorpion-ink sketch on a peeled sheet of mborrobos-bark with a frame of that same tree – the best possible choice to match the work, with its black and gray marbled heartwood. The drawing itself depicted a woman from the Great Southern Reaches, one of the flat-footed, flat-faced, bare-skinned ape-folk who called themselves humans. This woman, rendered in quick, lengthy, almost abstract strokes of rich brown-black, looks to be nude and carrying a spear raised above her head, as if to throw or perhaps in celebration. Dancing, gestural strokes behind and around the woman-figure depict the abstracted but clearly recognizable semi-silhouette forms of low, wind-sculpted savannah trees, leopards resting in their branches, a few zebras running, great birds in flight. This was one of the Lady’s own works, illustrating one of the many peoples of her own home continent.
And here was an enormous oil painting of a crown-of-thorns drake in full display posture, rendered with a tricky sort of semi-realism which made the subject even more dramatic, with magical accents for extra impact. The fiery eyes burned like real embers set into the canvas. The scales, with their filigree of peacock-greens and blues with glossy black and traceries of metallic gold, bronze, and copper, shone with a veracity which made the viewer want to touch them, to be reminded that they are indeed painted scales, not real. The impressive span of its black-backed wings seemed to cast the viewer in their shadow. The beast stood with permanently unfurled vanes, as if it were about to take flight. Actually, this pose was meant to reveal the jet-black-surfaced wings’ vivid underside with its eye-searing vivid rainbow gradient.Starting bright crimson at the leading edge of the membranous kitelike structures, the color flowing down through the whole spectrum to a rich amethyst at the trailing edges of the wing-sail, the dragonlike creature looks like it flew through a real rainbow but grazed it on the downsweep of its flight, becoming marked from then on the underside of its formerly all-black wings. The Lady simply smiles when asked where this life-sized piece came from…
Exhaling a silken swirl of smoke, the Lady resettled herself on her couch. Her golden cobra-headed pshent gleamed in the pure glow of the quartz-lamps as she moved, its supporting circlet settling more gracefully into her night-black mane of thick, kinky, black woman’s hair. The white-tipped cheetah’s tail twitched, twitched. She lit the pipe again by using a fragrant stick from the potted ilar-bush at the foot of her couch, igniting the stick from the magic flame in the nearest quartz-lamp. She drew again, enjoying the sensual flow of ice-cooled cannabis smoke into her lungs. As she did so her gaze wandered from the business of working with the pipe to skate around the room again. She often moved things into and out of this room, to keep it always fresh and exciting, yet some elements remained constant, so it would always be familiar. It was called ‘the sitting-room’, but it was really a sanctum. All the rooms in the Amber Mansion were sanctuaries for the Lady of the house, each in their own way.
Catching the light and refracting it back to the cheetah-woman’s eyes, the largest hollow quartz crystal in the center of the room seemed at first to be another lamp, but the movement of the living jewels within quickly reveals that it is, in fact, someone’s ultimate dream-aquarium. It is hers, in fact, and she revels in the sight of her painted pets while enjoying her pipe. Every color of the rainbow is represented in this tank, plus many which are not, and the sandy bottom is festooned with lacy crinoids, patient sea-stars, and myriad corals and sea-weeds. So many corals and sea-weeds! Tall, branching staghorns in vivid scarlet; smaller, dendritic specimens gleaming a satiny golden; purplish brain-corals and royal blue fans! Glossy olive-ochre kelp with its air-filled floats and its flaglike, veiny faux leaves and its endless vining stems and its rock-clinging holdfasts; stringy bottom-clinging stuff which puffs out like an imitation sea urchin; peridot-hued sand-grasses whose long, skinny blades hid equally long, skinny fishes; odd wrinkled sheets the color of red wine or eggplants!
Even the rocks and stones placed within were exceptionally pleasant to behold, with their random holes and weathering, like sculptures made by Nature. White, gray, pale blue, dim lavender, faint yellow-cream, mottled and marbled, the stones provide support and context for all the rest. Lovely shells and pearls and other natural decorations lie scattered all across, and there are small ‘caves’ formed by strategically stacked stones and shells. The shyer fishes hide there, lurking and watching. A black, knife-like fish hovers within one such cave, ghostly in presence, yet wondrous not fearful. Skeletal and gorgeous, a school of glass catfish passes by, adding to the Halloween atmosphere in this section of the tank – or they would, except for the iridescent glittering which enlivens their delightful translucent bodies as they pass through errant beams of light. Further up, a larger school of smaller fish, silvery minnow-like licks of brilliance, dart with leaderless coordination through the leafy labyrinth of seaweeds, as if forever rushing to some unknown destination.
What, no, I didn’t read any Dunsany recently… nope, not me…