Category Archives: Short stories

Brushwork, Chapter One: First Meetings

Originally posted June 19, 2008.

In a land far off, with mountains capped in white and waterfalls that go on forever, where men wear conical hats and women have hair like the wings of ravens, there are strange and fantastic things, my dear. There are peaches that grant immortality, and a woman and a white rabbit that live on the moon. Dragons sleep under the water, and in the boughs of trees you can find the elusive phoenix.

There are so many wonders in this fantastic land that it is little surprise that even the lowliest of creatures is amazing. Yes, I am speaking of that lowliest of creatures, that common ape, the thoughtless and ugly, that creature of gangly limbs and graceless lines. Even man is amazing.

My limbs are not long. My every movement is grace. In every particle I am superior. The orange of my fur glows like forest fire, and the black in it is the color of starless night. My eyes see farther, my ears are sharper, I can track the moon by its scent.

This human had hair as black as mine, and skin like umber, and eyes that flashed when she spoke. I knew what I was going to do with her the moment I saw her.

When I was six and playing in my father’s garden, a tiger leapt the wall and tried to attack me. He meant to eat me, I am sure. He leapt at me, but did not realize I was playing on an island in father’s pond. He made a tremendous splash, and I got quite wet. I ran inside while he was underwater, and father’s men didn’t find him when they searched.

Before the little princess came along, I belonged to her father, his most trusted advisor, but her birth changed that. He charged me with her welfare and nothing else. That was why I prevented her death at the claws of the tiger.

I had been planning the spell all day, but this was the first time I had seen the tiger, too busy after my vision of blood and gore to look at the creature who would create the catastrophe. The first thing I remember thinking after he dropped into the water was, My stars, he’s beautiful.

Even then, young and lithe with youth, he was smarter than he looked, and his gaze pierced me, leaving me frozen.

“Let me out of here, wise one,” he said to me, in his voice like a growl.

I, who was both fish and sorceress, replied, “The spell will be broken when you tell me what I want to hear.”

He paced, tail snapping, fur streaming in the water, paws slow to rise and slow to fall, as I swum slow circles around him. He snapped at me, but his ivory teeth did not touch my fins.

“Your scales… they shine like metal. Black, like varnished iron, and amber. Some are white, like….”

“I am not vain,” I replied. “That is not what I want to hear.”

“Then tell me,” he snapped, and I wanted nothing more than to do so, for he was so beautiful, and so fierce.

I had a duty.

“I cannot. You must learn it on your own.”

“May I ask questions?” My tiger asked.

“You may,” I replied, angling back and forth in front of him, languid and watchful.

“Who are you, sorceress?”

“I am koi.” Koi need no names amongst themselves. We are, and we know we are.

“Why are you here?”

“To protect.”

“…but she is human. She is nothing. She is beneath you, sorceress.”

I turned a somersault of negation. “It is my choice to make, and I made it. She is protected.”

“If I promised not to hurt her, would you let me go?” He asked.

I considered for a moment, but a tiger’s promise is a tricky thing. “No. No, I don’t think so.”

“Then what?” He asked. I had no answer for him, so we circled each other in silence for a time that stretched on.

You should understand, my dear, that time underwater has different properties. Time underwater is cool and slow, and only occasionally does speed come into it. Time stretches to accommodate the seeking mind, and that is what happened then. While we circled, time passed above, though our circling only seemed to last minutes in that blue domain of mine. With my other eyes, I watched my princess grow and strengthen, taking heart from the tiger in her dreams. Her eyes flashed with his pride and her limbs drew strength from his will, and her father was proud that she was so blessed.

In that time that lasted ten years, his thoughts were ever on her, and her thoughts ever on him, and I rode the waves between them and was their connection and their anchor. What little I understood of fate and destiny insisted, though my heart cried out, for in the moment I saw him I fell a little in love, and naught had changed that yet. For me it was an eternity and a few moments, but for him it was only a few moments.

There is a law, my dear, that anything one is for one’s sixteenth birthday, one is forever. Our princess was tall and beautiful, fierce and loyal, savage and glorious, gentle and playful. On her sixteenth birthday she wished to the stars that she might have a tiger all her own, for she would not be afraid this time.

I know not whether it was my magic or her wish that prompted him, but at that moment, so short a time and so long a time later, that he said, “If I promised to love her, would you let me go?”

And I said, “Yes.”