Sunday, January 5, 2014
Beyond The Red Door
There was a faint depression on the surface where its handle should have been. She knew then, as she knew now, that it was meant to be left alone.
The great room of glass jars, sealed boxes, chests with rusty locks, cabinets full of spices, roots, herbs, leaves in soft leather bags, the entire room was a mystery. But on this day, it was speaking to her, touching her curiosity, pulling on her body with gossamer coils.
When she passed the threshold, she felt as though she could breath, perhaps for the first time in her life. Then she found the red door about fifty steps across the stone floor. Out of all the things she wanted to open, the leather bags to sniff, the cedar boxes to explore, this door was the most inviting of all at the edge of the sun-lit room. She ran her hand over the cherry wood, felled from a great tree on the edge of the village, and knew it must be meant for her. What other purpose would there be for an unlocked room, a deliciously inviting door with no handle in the most alluring and eye-catching of colors? It was as if all arrows were pointing her in this direction, and here she stood, high noon in front of this place, this door, now open, as the other door to the great room had been. Was she not supposed to enter?
She pushed on the thick slab of wood, looking down the steps aglow with the candlelight of hallway tapers. It was dark and full of flickering shadows. The stairs descended, seemingly into an abyss which might be without end. The bright sunlight of the other chamber was gone, there were only a few narrow slits in the stone revealing the blue sky and then the stairs descended deep into the earth.
She took one step down cautiously, then another. The great wooden door closed gently behind her. She wound down the staircase until she reached the bottom, where Master Lacledi sat on a wooden chair, a leather wrapped book in his hand. He looked up, not exactly surprised to see her there, though a hint of excitement crossed his face.
“You’ve found me,” he said. “On this day, you have decided to come.”
“What is it you do down here?” she asked, though he did not answer. She looked into his black eyes and saw what could not be said. Between them grew the flame that language does not bear to understand. He smiled.
“Would you like to learn my ways?”
She was unsure exactly what he meant, but she nodded, knowing it felt right.
He opened a dark wood cabinet embedded in the stone wall. The hinge had a slight high pitched squeak which echoed in the small chamber and gave her a quick set of chills. She could see several rows and varieties of glass bottles: blue, dark brown, an opaque white and a rusty orange color.
He reached for a bottle slightly hidden behind a large dark blue jar, he grabbed it with his forefinger and thumb and brought it close to his face, then put it back where it had been.
“If you are ready to step through the door with me, go back to your quarters and bathe and relax your body as much as possible. Later tonight, long after the moon has risen, I will send one of the ravens to fetch you, listen for his tap on your window. Then, bring yourself back here, and we will open the door together.” She nodded and smiled slightly, a nervous sensation in her chest. But she looked into his dark eyes and saw only kindness. Whatever he was offering, she was willing to take, she wanted to learn what made him as he was.
“I will see you tonight when the stars are high.”
She turned away from him and went back up the stairs, through the laboratory and down the long series of hallways that eventually led to the eastern quarters of the manor. She took the long, winding stairs to her room and asked the handmaiden to draw a bath. She looked out the narrow window and saw the river not too far in the distance. It was bright blue and she knew that the current would be more cleansing than any wooden tub of tepid water. The breeze outside would calm her and prepare her for whatever lay ahead.
“Never mind Griselda, I’ll go to the river instead.’
Just a little while later she was in her favorite spot where a bend in the river was surrounded by several large boulders. It was well off the path and she came there with some frequency, especially in the summer. Her mother had brought her there when she was young and they used to play together for hours when the summer breeze would rattle the treetops like cathedral bells. It was fall now and the waters were quite a bit cooler than those fond memories, though she was still more than happy to disrobe.
The first pleasure was the wind, a cooling kiss on her stomach and legs. The sun was weak, though with a bit of attention she felt its warmth. She tested the water for a moment with her toe, then went in smoothly and quickly, not giving her mind enough time to register the icy bite of the river’s touch. In a second she was up to her neck, moving her arms and fingers through the silky water.
* * *
Go ahead, tell him all of it… she thought to herself.
She had once been a little girl watching him walk through the graveled and moss covered grounds, he in his earthen brown robe stained with powders of every color. He had no woman to wash his garments, and she noticed he asked none of the servant women to do it either. It had always baffled her, she knew no man who would ever hesitate on such things, but she felt like it somehow seemed to fit.
She imagined him going to the river for his bathing and washing, perhaps entering the pale blue waters fully clothed, letting the swift cold current do the work of a dozen hands.
She looked deep into the deep black pools of his piercing eyes, two portals which contained staircases and hidden rooms and knowledge acquired from a thousand lifetimes, maybe more. There was so much more to him than the body, the stained clothes. She knew it then and she knew it now. Radiating from him was kindness, pure in motivation, desiring nothing from her but her attention and effort.
She thought to tell him everything, the experience of her birth, the days before the Iron Wars, the struggles of the Orange Sun, the first impressions she had had of him when he came through the woods and found their small enclave. She thought to tell him all of it, but then wandered down the forking paths of her thoughts, several scenes moving in parallel.
She wondered what he saw in her small white form. If he could read the thoughts in her eyes, if she was an easy book to read with her brow and cheeks and lips telling the story that somehow remained sealed in her mind.
She attempted to open her mouth so the words could spill, to let them tumble into his arms without restraint or hesitation, but then he would smile or she would see a sparkle in his kind eyes and she would feel like it was known, that all she could say was already understood. And not just that, but completely accepted, taken in with curiosity and interest, like he could hear a complex symphony in the thoughts that remained inside.
When she awoke he was beside her. She looked down at her skin and looked for the colors which had been there the night before. She looked and there he was, only more real, more alive than she had ever noticed. She was changed, no longer the same girl which had found him in the morning. She was reborn into the body she remembered, only her eyes were different. It was the same stones all around her, all the same fixtures and books, yet each one seemed slightly different.
She reached down and touched his robe. The fibers were soft and worn on her fingertips, somewhat silky and smelling of sunshine and smoke. The light was bright, coming in through a few very narrow slits by the top of the stairs. They revealed blue skies. She saw that he was watching her.
“How are your new eyes?” he asked.
A slightly bashful smile spread over her face. She was warm and surprised by her sudden embarrassment. “It feels strange, I must admit. I am not sure of my place anymore.”
“Perfect. If you feel different, it is because you are different. You have seen what exists beyond language, the conflict you feel is your body trying to re-adjust to language. Let your eyes wander, let them take in what they thought they knew.”
* * *
“Indulge an old man’s whim,” he whispered to her as he gently nudged her towards the path lined with blackberry hedges. She smiled and held onto his arm, occasionally needing to give an abrupt tug on her long skirt when a long stemmed thorn held onto her hem.
He reached out often, plucking juicy purple berries from their thrones in the sun. His forefinger and thumb were soon stained purple and he added spots of dark pigment to his already stained frock as he wiped his hand.
She plucked the harder blackberries and dropped them into her apron pocket, intending later to make mead, or perhaps give them to Griselda as a gift. The sun was low in the sky and she could smell the fires of the bread bakers.
“What we shared the other night, I hope you know, is something I have been able to do very rarely with other people. In my life there have only been a handful of people able to meet with me at the exact right time, in the exact right place…there have been just a few rare moments of convergence. I have spent most of my life exploring alone.”
She gripped him a little tighter and thought back to the day she felt almost fell into his workroom. There were no words to describe the feeling, but the rightness of her actions was now manifest. She looked back with a sense of mystery at the day’s events, which had begun almost like every other morning but for that cord which now seemed attached to her chest, a sort of freedom and relaxation of her movements.
She had never entered his space before, and of course had never walked through the red door. She had never even noticed the depression where a handle should have been.
“You did a fine job following your inner guides, I was surprised to see you that afternoon. I had been prepared for a journey myself, and then there you arrived, at the exact right time, willing to follow me though the door. I am glad you came.”
She looked up at him, the beard going at all angles, then looked past him at the woods in the distance, a palette of colors from white to black and a dozen shades of green. He plucked another berry and handed it to her. Gingerly, she took it from him and felt an explosion of sweet tartness fill her mouth.