Friday, January 27, 2012

Tracks in the Heavenly Spheres

Khorzow, Winter Festival YT330

'Helena stood by impatiently, trying to maintain her composure, while Tolarr exchanged words of greeting and comradely inconsequentialities with the two eol. Seen up close they were both very beautiful, though it was a beauty couched in gesture and movement – in elegance and grace as much as in mere prettiness. In looks they were as alien as the dwarfs, graceful and willowy to stolid sturdiness. Helena felt a little gauche in their presence but was too thrilled to consider whether her own physical beauty might in any way be compromised by their appearance.

Eventually, after what seemed like an age, Tolarr gestured toward her. “My Lady”, he said. “Since you left us this girl [Helena fumed inwardly – must everyone speak of her as a child !] has joined our company. Though surely no compensation for your own presence among us she has demonstrated some ability as a healer, and with the magics of your own College. She has begged that I present her to you.” But before Tolarr could effect her introduction (no doubt using the alias she was travelling under) Helena interrupted, in Greek, for Basil had told her the lady was fluent. ‘Ektor would undoubtedly overhear but she was now sure he could be trusted, at least with her name. “My Lady. I am Helena Basileiou. I have travelled all the way from Byzantion to find you upon a commission from my late patron Basil Tzipoureles. Upon his very death bed he commanded that I deliver a certain artefact into your hands. I beg that you will permit me to retrieve this item from my rooms and bring it to you.” “Hush child”, the lady replied, glancing around lest someone be listening. “It grieves me that Basil has passed into God’s embrace but such talk is not for the street”. Amethäriel ’s voice was liquid, her Greek excellent though subtly accented (Helena was secretly gratified that she, in fact, spoke the better). “Later”, the Lady said. “You must all join me at my hostel, Gorran and Nikolai also if their duties will permit. Leradhir will give you its direction and we shall make a party of old acquaintance.” Then in an undertone directly to Helena, “Child, bring your artefact to me this evening and I will talk further with you then”.

Once back at the Drum and Trumpet Helena went straight to her room. She could tell that ‘Ektor wanted to speak with her, perhaps about her right name, but she didn’t have time for him now. She simply had to escape to somewhere she could express her delight and excitement more privately. Door closed behind her she pirouetted and danced around the room burning off some pent up energy. Then she paced for another hour or two fretting about what she should wear, how she should dress her hear and what cosmetics to apply. She took a light meal, in her room, but barely picked at the food then settled, rather fruitlessly, to try and practice her rotes until it was time to prepare. Damn the cold and the grotty streets, she decided. Tonight it would be the sandals in spite of the conditions. She coiffured her hair as elegantly as possible without the help of a maid and re-applied her cosmetics, artfully modest in the same manner as for Gorran’s ordination. Then she dressed to her very finest for an evening engagement rather than church, and with all her best jewellery – to impress rather than attract.

By the hour of departure Helena had worked herself into quite a state clutching Basil’s mace to her bosom and almost having to quell fraught tears. The meeting to follow could well decide her future. Stay quiet she reminded herself – modest, honest and respectful. Do nothing that might seem rude, that might ‘queer the pitch’. Should she gain the support or patronage of the Lady Amethäriel it could be the making of her. Falter and she could be left with nothing. As they walked she gave her arm to ‘Ektor, but gripped him so tightly that he looked at her in surprise. Sensing her brittle nervousness he wisely elected not to quiz her about her earlier conversation with Amethäriel .

Upon their arrival a welcome moment, at least for Helena, was allocated to their refreshment. Amethäriel ’s inn was of the very best quality, truth be told as good as anything Helena had seen in Byzantion. The food was exquisite, delicate and of a portion size suited to a petite woman rather than a muscle-bound warrior. Much as she was tempted Helena took only a single glass of well watered wine, and nursed it for the rest of the night. She sat quietly in the corner cradling the mace in both arms, as though it were an infant, and waited as patiently as possible for her opportunity while the hostess mingled with her guests.

Eventually the party quieted into small settled groups. Amethäriel made her way across the room to join Helena in the corner. Quietly she invited Helena to tell her something of herself, and of Basil’s passing. After so long silent Helena babbled – about Basil, Byzantion and many other things. Amethäriel listened to her patiently and attentively saying little and offering only the occasional prompt or mild redirection, content just to hear about the life of her old friend. Some considerable time later Helena was become a little hoarse and she slowly ground to a halt. They sat together in quiet remembrance for a few minutes until Amethäriel spoke. “The Basil you tell me of is like and yet unlike the man I knew. In his youth he was a progressive thinker, provocative, impetuous, sometimes brash, thinking little of arguing his position before the elders of the College. He may have been conservative in his social and political opinions, though we rarely touched on matters of domestic policy, but he certainly upset his colleagues and was at the forefront of magical studies. Know you of the thirteen constellations and that it is the advent of Ophiucus the snake carrier ?” Helena shook her head, not so much in negation but in slight confusion. Amethäriel had painted a discomfiting image of her conservative and traditionalist patron and she was trying to internalise this new information. His disdain for, and his frequently intemperate comments about, his colleagues in the College certainly made more sense in that context. It occurred to her that the list of mages Basil had offered her could as easily reflect a shared theoretical perspective rather than friendship. She very much hoped Basil’s relationship with Amethäriel had been warmer – and that she might win the lady’s support.

Amethäriel spoke again and Helena recognised a serious didactic tone to her voice. “There are thirteen 'Houses' in a sidereal zodiac of which Ophiucus is the 12th. There are forty eight constellations in the 'known' heavens and there are more than a thousand fixed stars on the conventional charts. Basil’s theory was that the fixed stars revolve seasonally about an axis which is inclined with respect to Gaia. He was working to devise a method of laying out the constellations on a single chart with the celestial equator drawn as a sinusoid curve (and also without distorting proportion too greatly). The conventional charts show only one or two constellations with the stars laid against the depiction of their eponymous character.” Though she grasped the gist of Amethäriel ’s quick explanation much remained confusing. The Lady continued, “There was a great deal of opposition to his line of argument within the College, much of it political but some of a scholarly type. Basil loathed the former but despised the latter, almost with a passion. On scholarly matters at least he could never understand why, when presented with an evidenced truth, a man might bend his entire intellect against it. To test the credibility of an argument ? A laudable use of one’s talents. To use one’s talent to craft sophistic argument to take down a proven truth ? The despicable act of a craven fool.” She added, probably superfluously, “Many did not thank him for his opinion, or for his characterisation of their motivation. In some ways he was a very great thinker but I fear he never quite understood the psychology of his species.”

Basil worked tirelessly to illustrate his theory in terms his detractors could not deny”. She smiled. “A theory that would stand College thinking on its head if it were to be so demonstrated, perhaps even provoke schism if not handled carefully.” Amethäriel didn’t seem too concerned by that prospect but it alarmed Helena. She did not want to be the agent of such a challenge to College authority. Growing up on the streets had left her with a healthy respect for maintaining a pragmatic relationship with ‘truth’.

But then a more drastic possibility occurred to her and for a moment she felt a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. She had burnt Basil’s papers. What if she had in fact incinerated his life’s work, destroyed all record of his findings ! Why hadn’t Basil taught her, or even told her, about his astronomical theories ? Had he not trusted her, feared for her safety should she become party to such knowledge, was his conviction in his findings faltering toward the end of his life ? He had told her she was surpassing clever. Did he fear her intellect, that she might disapprove of or attempt to discredit his research ? But then she remembered the diagram. With fumbling fingers she clicked open the mace head and produced the now slightly crumpled paper. “Here”, she said. “Basil said to give it to you. Please. You must decide what must be done with it. But I have already shown it to Ingusz Vàrrbäth-Matha. He was not on Basil’s list but he seemed nice enough, and he is teaching me to extend my spirit beyond my body. He reacted strongly but not defensively, or so I judge. Was I wrong to show it to him ?” Then she added, impulsively “Lady. Basil trusted you. He told me to come to you. Please, my lady. Tell me what I must do.”
Amethäriel took the diagram from Helena and looked at it gravely. She sighed then folded it carefully. “It is indeed a very radical diagram but I see nothing remiss in it. It is the culmination of Basil’s work and you have brought it to me safely out of much peril”, she said. “First, we must ensure that a good copy is made of this. I will look to that.” Then, looking closely at Helena she added “Child, you are shivering.” Helena was indeed exhausted, drained by the expulsion of so much pent up emotion and not far off tears. “Return to your inn. Ingusz is a complex man and his reactions are not always easily predicted. What will be will be but you need not worry for your part. Carry on as normal for the moment and I will speak with you again in due course.” '
From the Journal of Helena Basileiou

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