Storytime: Writing on the Wall.

February 10th, 2015

Everything has a book in it.
That is what youngest Tim-Creek was told by its mother, when it was old enough to understand words and syntax and books and the world (in order of hardest to easiest).
Everything has a book in it, she told it, as she carried the brood upon her back down the battered household path, the older Tim-Creeks already asleep from a long day testing growing muscles. Just she and it, ear to ear, murmuring in the long cool dusk.
Your task is to learn to read that book, she said.
That sounded strange to it. Where were the words?
Finding them, she said, is part of that task. You must find them in your own head.
It felt its skull most thoroughly at this for the next three days.

Four days after that, Broodmater Tim-Creek was selfecuted for Medium-High Grammarfailure in the service of the Grand. A shocking crime for any creature, let alone the High Wordmater, the Broodmater entrusted with the words of the Grand. There was no appeal and no trial – how could there be, with so august a target, and such damning evidence? Her assistant bore with trembling hands the very proof to the Grand’s doorstep herself, willingly suffering the toll paid by the lowly who petitioned the Grand unannounced: the roots of both her whiskers. Left a half-sensed shuffler for life, still that noble creature did not falter, and so the proof of the misdeeds of Broodmater Tim-Creek were brought to the ears and horror of all.
After the shock of the revelation and the strike of justice, cool and calm hands took hold and pulled hard, steered the world towards the normal again, towards routine again. As per protocol, her body was denied to her clutch and her name was deemed contaminated, with only the comparative youthful innocence of the offspring staying the court’s hand from nomcapitation. Instead, nomectomy was performed. Following public proclamation the brood were taken one by one, in private and in kindness, and excised of their mother’s taint. Tim-Creek was gone, the sullied name hacked at the hyphen and left with a stub: Tim.
This, all agreed, was wise and just and merciful and also – most important and most rarely – sensible in the extreme.
They were children, after all. What harm should be dealt by or to them?

Eldest Tim was a good brood, a strong brood. It renounced its Broodmater with due protocol, speaking the words the rest of its clutch could not yet mouth correctly. It studied hard, labored with a will, and at the eve of its class’s inaugural appendixing it placed its claws in its mouth and pulled until its head was an undifferentiated mass and all movement ceased. It was disposed of in the nameless place without ceremony or speech.

Seconder Tim was a wiry, weedy thing with a fierce attention that pounced on whatever moved near it. It questioned ceaselessly and spoke eagerly, and it drove its educators to near-fury more times a week than many did in a year. It was marked poorly as a result, and jeered by its peers, and it had become so small and slight from neglect that when it perished in the Halfmark Chorus, crushed between the singing crowds, even its neighbors did not notice. It was disposed of in the nameless place without remark or memory.

Nextleast Tim was frail and would not stop weeping. It spoke of its Broodmater to any who would hear, and would break into shakes and shrieks at being addressed at its proper, cut-safe name. This was improper and it was disciplined and chastised until it used the proper words. Shortly thereafter, it expired where it was left.

Youngest Tim was not worthy of notice and soon vanished. To what end it came, who could care to say?

Some long times later, the years spun and the seasons turned and at last the High Chorale came, the culmination of some three centuries of laborious and carefully-chosen Choruses, Psalms, and Hymnals. The Grand was most pleased with this, and the rate of construction of the great stage from which she would name the affair.
“From here,” she was told by her High Wordmater, “you can but whisper, and they will hear it across the river and beyond the walls and unto the end of the meaningful places themselves. That is what you will do.”
And the Grand nodded in approval that this was so, and was thankful that her High Wordmater had shown her such loyalty all those years, and helped her so greatly.
Help so fine deserved a gift. A small one, but tasteful.
That evening she permitted the High Wordmater to dine under her feet. And as they broke bread together, a thing approached the front gates of the palace of the Grand, shabby and grey and gnarled, and it stood before the guardian Broodmaters in a most insolent fashion altogether.
It was a neuter-sage, such as was seen every now and again. Neither brood nor Broodmater, strange things, and made over all turned and shrunken from their insides outward, as if their bodies did not know what to do with themselves. This one’s spine held it low, but its frame stood tall – held high on the length of a long, long cane, taller than it was. Its fingers stroked the wood just beneath the sharp, shear head – oh, it was so careful not to cut its fingers on that terrible point! – and it set it firmly as it stood there before the guards, bolder than brass and bronze.
“I wish to petition the Grand,” it said.
The guards drew to the side as their captain stepped forward, wordlessly wielding her ceremonial pliers. But what! What! Her metal priers found no whiskers to pinch!
“You cannot pay the toll,” she told it. “You cannot enter.”
“I paid it long ago,” the neuter-sage chastened her. “Witness the pits upon my face? My whiskers are gone, my feet stumble – see this staff and know that now. I am here not to petition unannounced, captain, but to redeem an old, old debt and an old, old favour. I bring words and I bring wisdom. Allow me passage and I promise that the Grand will be grateful.”
The captain considered this. It was true that the word of a neuter-sage would be well-received this close to the Chorale, and it was true that the Grand herself did look with approval upon those who brought her clever words. She could scarcely misstep with this one.
And besides, it was not as if it were any common creature off the streets. This one stood sure, without as much as a cringe. It must be important.
So she stood aside, and let the neuter-sage pass into the palatial hall of the Grand, through the nineteen noticeable gates and the third rope and under the net of the stars, and all the way up to the seat, which was plain wood to bespoke the humbleness of the figure atop it, whose mass was most unhumble.
The neuter-sage bowed itself most low as was appropriate and then some. “The Grand,” it said. “I come and bring words.”
The Grand bestirred herself, all seventeen tons, and with the smallest finger of her smallest hand she waved the great sceptre of her office – gold enough to bend a Broodmater double with the weight, and studied with leaden gems and uranium filigree.
She breathed deep of the figure before her, and approved. “Speak,” she told it. “Give me your words. The High Chorale is upon us, and the time for new things is here and dwindling. Give me your words and they will be used as fuel for the verses.”
“As I might, if I would, if I could,” said the neuter-sage. “But these words are too fresh and sharp and new to bring out in strange places – they will shatter in the air when spoken. They will be effective but once, and that once must be perfect. When the time is right these words will be spoken, and not a moment sooner. I promise you this, they will be worthy; more than worthy, they must be spoken if the Chorale is to be a thing done as it should.”
And the Grand smiled deeply at this, for she did indeed approve of the spells and sentences of neuter-sages, having often witnessed such holy things in her youth. The broodpolicies of her and her Grandmater had put a dent in the numbers of the wanderers, but she was a sentimentalist enough to not feel disappointed when they arrived at her door, warning and weedling and begging. “You are Presumptuous before us in the thirty-sixth degree,” she said happily. “This would be punishable by selfsanguination were you a Broodmater, and that you are not amuses and pleases me.” A bestirring at the Grand’s feet drew her attention upon those words, and she thumped down with one heel. “Go on then.”
The Grand’s legs parted, and from underneath them staggered a strange thing: a Broodmater that lurched like a neuter-sage though still smooth of self and soul, leaned upon a gilded cane. She had finished her meal and listened sharp and oh her eyes said that she had words for those words.
“It speaks almost more than Presumption,” she said, acid-sharp. “It speaks nearly close cousinship to Lowest Grammarfailure. It claims the Chorale requires its words – what worth they? What proof? It is a beggar at your door that demands you grant it your seat! Selfsanguination may be too light for such a thing – why, if it had a name, it ought be cut clean down to the first initial!”
The neuter-sage was nodding as it listened, head bobbing like an old piece of fishbait. “Yes, yes, yes,” it murmured in time, “of course as it is so. But really, High Wordmater, you verge Presumption yourself. Ought you to speak so stridently afore the Grand? She who is my fate and your fate and the fate of all the meaningful places? Your tongue stretches long indeed!”
This did not improve the High Wordmater’s disposition, and by the clutch of her fingers on her cane she was maybe about to say something harsher when the world was overwritten by the great booming laughter of the Grand.
“Words from such a gullet are words worth considering!” she chuckled. “Maybe. Words with such boldness are words worth wondering over. Possibly! I hold you this: there are three days to come before the High Chorale. On each day I wish you to stand before each other and I wish you to speak a word for me. And on the end of it, we will know whose words will stand and whose words must be still. Let it be done!”
And what could the High Wordmater do but bow? Especially when the wicked, wicked neuter-sage had already begun to bow itself, and she had to scramble to catch up, cane clinking with unpleasant tininess on the smooth clean floor.
“Tomorrow morning,” said the Grand, amusement still rounding through her voice. “Think as you will.”
So they went their separate ways, High Wordmater and neuter-sage, to their separate beds. And yet though one slept out of doors on the cold stone of the palace’s timeworn household path, and the other in a bedchamber that a house could’ve been lost in, each rested as poorly as the other.

That morn, each moved from their resting place.
The neuter-smith broke a crumbled crust. The High Wordmater dined upon the shaved wattles of that year’s appendixed classes.
Then they stifled their belches and snarls and took themselves to stroll upon the long slow loop of the household path, one crookwise, the other countered, listening to the two sets of footsteps grow closer and closer until for a single two-piece moment they set foot to ground as one.
“Nonsenser,” said the High Wordmater, clear as a bell.
“Assistant,” said the neuter-sage.
And as the two sets of footsteps spiralled away again the captain of the Grand observed that one was much shakier than the other, and she went to bow low before her mistress and report that the neuter-sage’s words had struck true.
That evening, the neuter-sage dined under the Grand’s feet, on the crumbs and crusts there, and she spoke loud approval of its prowess.
“But still again,” she went on, shrugging her shoulders as if brushing off fleas, “you are indeed a wily old thing, to live as you do. And I have faith in my High Wordmater, who has spent her life in my service and given up her own whiskers in the pursuit of my wellbeing and that of my peoples. She may yet surprise you.”
“I promise you, the Grand,” said the neuter-sage through a mouthful of skins and scraps, “that this has already happened.”
The Grand waved a hand, already moving on to new words, new things. “Tomorrow at noon,” she said. “Do as I bid.”

The neuter-sage spent the midnight hours perched upon a single discarded pillow, a gift of the Grand. The High Wordmater spent them sleepless, bent over her tomes and books and records and combing them for facts and things.
Their breakfasts were simple. A lunk for the neuter-sage. A cut of the lakemaker’s flank for the High Wordmater.
Their lunches were hurried. Food was eaten and turned into nerves. And then before the mind knew what had happened it was already seized and taken by the body’s will, dragged behind it, shackled and screaming, all the way all the way all the way to the base of the wall of the wonderful stage from which the Grand would conduct the High Chorale.
Side by side they stood, neither budging.
“Grammarfailure,” hissed the High Wordmater.
They stood. Side to side.
When one turned away first, the captain of the Grand was there to see it, and she went to bow low before her mistress and report that the neuter-sage’s words had proved sharper.
That evening the neuter-sage slept under a little canopy in a musty room in an old hall that had once belonged to a disgraced former member of the palace, whose name was now unspeakable for crimes. And the neuter-sage slept well.
That evening the High Wordmater paced the household path of the palace until her feet bled. And farther.

A note affixed to each door, when their hands came to find it.

The day took forever. The day was over in a blink. And there they came, drawn by time, to the seat of the Grand, smiling and sceptred, guarded by the captain and the rules of the world and its words.
“Begin,” she said. And she smiled as they turned and filled their lungs, held the air, waited and waited and strained to see what as there.
And as they stood there, face to face, snout to snout, the High Wordmater suddenly knew what was happening, and she opened her mouth to explain –
-but the neuter-sage’s mouth was pressed close to her ear now, and into her words it injected a single whisper that drained the blood from every inch of the High Wordmater’s body before the eyes of the palace. Her face was a drained sheet, her mouth was a half-scream, and the word that came out of her was not an explanation but a name, a whole-name “TIM-CREE-”
The captain of the Grand was swift and ungentle, and that turned what might have been a properly-charged-and-cited selfsecution into a rather brutal affair. But still the damage was prevented: the toxic name of the Grammarfailure had not left the Broodmater’s lips.
Moreover, there was rejoicing to be had: the Grand had a new set of words for the Chorale at midnight. Guaranteed.
“You must at least exchange that awful stick,” said the Grand, pouting. “It is ungentle! Oh, and you may change your robes, if you wish.”
“I thank your concern, the Grand,” said the neuter-sage, “but this is not the first or last stain to touch these hems. And worry not: I will not stand before the High Chorale with my staff in hand.”
Which was good to hear, as they were borne up in the great palanquin of the Grand, the moving fortress of soft surfaces and cold glory, because there was not more than an hour to the coming of the High Chorale’s opening.

The stage was dizzying. The day before, it had stretched almost as high as the neuter-sage could imagine. Now it was twice as tall. The stair to bring the palanquin of the Grand had claimed more than half the bearers’ lives, the timber to build it had consumed three forests, but it was done, and it was right, and it was proper, and it stood over the city and as the Grand seated herself in the centre of its peak she gripped her sceptre tightly and imagined the moment in just minutes that would begin everything that mattered.
“When the Chorale begins,” she told the neuter-sage, “all that matters will come with it. That is when you must speak. Watch for the swing of my sceptre, and it will be then. Be ready for that.”
“But before the Chorale,” said the neuter-sage, “there is something that must happen. There are words that must be spoken.”
The Grand’s brow furrowed, near-deep enough to swallow the neuter-sage whole. “The Chorale is all the words that will ever matter,” she said. “The Chorale is the culmination of all that has been said. The Chorale comes, and before and after will be immaterial. What words could possibly make a difference to this?”
“Ones from a book,” said the neuter-sage. “A book I have studied for a very long time.”
And the neuter-sage took up its long, long cane with the sharp, shear head – oh, so careful not to cut itself! – and it set it firmly.
Down below, across the city, was the crowd. And though only moments ago it had been a-roar with excitement, as the curtain that masked its peak slid away, all was awed silence.
Then puzzled silence.
There was the stage, yes, there was the place of the High Chorale – but where was the gesture from the Grand? See how she slouches in her seat, her head lolling and ears limp. Where is her sceptre?
And then a little thing happened to a little person, all so small that it would never have been heard were it not for where and when it stood. The light and small figure of the neuter-sage stepped from beside the seat of the Grand, leaning upon its walking cane, stooped so low that it seemed ancient before its time. And as it stepped, it called high over the murmur of the astonished, in a voice that carried out over the river and the walls and to the edges of the meaningful places themselves, and it called out this:
“Peoples present! I bring words to you! I bring tidings to you! I bring them accurately and completely and I promise that you have never heard these words before!”
New words? There were no new words. There was no such – but wait, it speaks on!
“My first words were for the High Wordmater of the Grand; she who limped on a gilded cane; she who spoke in True Grammarfailure. I reworded this new crime for her, now here I do this for you: lies. Her lies benefited herself and harmed those who merited none. She has been punished for them.”
Lies. Such a strange-tasting word – it rolled against the tongue in the most unseemly manner! The crowd jostled and bustled as each murmured it while trying to hush their neighbor – quiet, quiet, it speaks again, it speaks again!
“My next words were for the Grand; she who spited good service and vented her spleen upon poor servants; she whose kindness was nothing and whose wrath was everything. I reword this new crime for you: tyranny. Her tyranny caused only benefit by proxy, the benefit of those who relished seeing others brought low. She has been punished for this.”
Punished? Punished. Did it say punished? Impossible, nonsense, meaningfullessness! Punish the Grand? As like to say ‘dice the colours.’ Quiet, quiet, the madthing speaks more words! Listen! Listen!
“My final words are here, in these speakings to you, the peoples present; you who nodded and bowed and scraped and did not blink at what you did to those around you; you who took names so readily and gave them so reluctantly; you who did harm without ever stopping to think that it could be harm at all, so preoccupied were you with the proper and so little with the righteous. For this great and awful crime that you have perpetuated for ages, I gift you a name: blind. And I say you now, peoples present: you will never leave this name behind.”
And as the whole city stood there, rustling and shouting and demanding answers, the neuter-sage stood up to its full height and they saw that it was not a walking-cane at all in its hands, but the sceptre of the Grand herself, and it smashed that lordly length against the stage with such force that it burst not into flinders, but into dust that filled the wind and streamed into the eyes of the peoples present and brought howls to their lungs and heads. Where is it? they roared, tearing it free from their faces. Where is it? Where has it gone? They shook each other, demanding answers. Where is it? Who was it? Who are you? Where is it? What happened? What has happened?
Where am I?

When the world had grown older and stranger, peoples from far away came to the city, with brushes and chisels and minds like sharp knives. There were secrets to be had, in the story of how one place that had stood for so long crumbled so sharply – from titan to crushed anthill seemingly overnight.
But the stones were old and the walls were rubble and even the strange swooping paths that lined each building had begun to melt into the dirt, sinking back out of the light and into shame.
So they shrugged and left it there, those strange people. Left it alone to moulder under the sun and over the rubble.
And all the books stayed where youngest Tim-Creek had left them: closed.

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