Mirrorbird’s shelf

A map, with a note attached

Welcome to the land of (redacted) where MirrorBird resides, have fun visiting where the river glows amongst the farmlands, the heart of the swamp is a place hard to reach but makes up for it with its magical plant like life, just beware The Hole nearby, and never forget to walk through the mineshaft tunnel who know what one might find inside. (We also have a windmill, it’s just a ordinary windmill, I just think it’s neat.)

Holyviolet’s Shelf

Holyviolet has also been entrusted with Candlehum’s shelf.

A Constellation

The Flying Squirrel constellation, in memory of Candlehum, friend to flora and fauna everywhere, no matter how small, meek or ugly.

A Night Falls poem

Friends, warm appreciation
company inviting
idyllic and welcome
All the friends
incredulous jazzy stage
absent comfortable wine
books have
hungry? Come
The baked goods, savory and sweet any time
time me get
fresh health
and happiness
that leads
idyllic and welcome
friends, Warm Appreciation

Notes on a-mending

One would think an Uplifting wouldn’t make one feel so Obscured, tho I suppose once raised high into the clouds, the air does get pretty rarefied. So I panicked a bit at my promotion, at the extra work, but the Goose Deck showed that the best way to deal with it was to apply myself to enjoying the Harvest my hard work had brought me, and to lean in a bit to the transformative effects of relaxing into Alongame. I Recycled an old friend into a new ally, to both our advantage, and feel so much calmer, an effect of the Leveling of all my many emotions. I look forward now to a Renewal (my website gets updated beautifully soon!) with the help of old friends in new roles that synchronize with my own new purposes and responsibilities. Thank you, Goose Deck, for the clarity!

Details of a drawn thread ritual, partially inspired by Hearthgazer‘s map

There was a terrible, unusual earthquake that rent the eastern highlands between the land claimed by the City of Splendors and its neighbor to the south. A large fissure in the earth appeared nearly instantaneously, emphasizing the border between the neighbors. Perhaps ironically, this only encouraged greater cooperation between the City and the people of the Sword & Shield. While fortunately no one lived in the affected area, a chasm certainly hindered movement, particularly for the goatherds and, somewhat less importantly, pleasure seekers who had previously roamed the area freely. 

Once a name had been decided upon for this new feature of the landscape (the New Crevasse was what it was called: prosaic, if not strictly scientifically accurate,) both sides made haste first to shore up the road that now veered dangerously close to the narrowest, western end of the chasm. Concrete was poured and signs were posted, warning travelers to mind the gap. Next, in the exact middle of the crevasse, the people of the City relied upon the expertise of the people of the Sword & Shield to help build the longest, largest bridge ever constructed by either side. The southerners had more experience building bridges across their Twin Rivers than the northerners had, so took the engineering lead. A grand opening party was held once the bridge was completed; it has now become a bit of a tourist attraction all its own, tho is primarily used still by goatherds and people wanting to quickly traverse the eastern parts of both territories.

A contingent of scholars from the City’s College decided to also build an earth observatory on the northeastern point of the chasm, saving them the trouble of hiking back and forth to The College proper in order to study the properties of this new geological feature, as well as giving them a good base from which to test out seismological instruments. The scholars offered to assist in building a matching observatory on the south side of the crevasse, but the response was lukewarm. The offer still stands, however, should the southerners choose to take them up on it.

This Alongame saying

Never turn the beacon unless the upset lake is repeatedly dashing down the waterfalls.

Notes on and images of a development and dedication (using Mirrorbird‘s map)

The last time I was here, I decided to bike down the smooth paved surfaces of the Ancient Road, eschewing the hard-packed dirt of most of the City of Splendors’ paths in favor of a nice glide down from the Palace to the Quiet Valley and its river. I had heard that the city had recently struck up trade with its neighbor, and had wandered along myself on a previous trip to the remarkable spot in that area where the river glowed, but was still surprised to see a rather large crowd gathered between the river docks and the edge of the farmlands, near the shared border. It looked like land was being broken, with speeches and an air of merriment, and I could not resist pedalling closer to find out what the fuss was about.

I was just in time to hear the tail end of a speech extolling the virtues of cooperation and trade, right before the speechifying dignitary, somewhat bafflingly, used an oversized pair of scissors to cut a large ribbon spread out between two maypoles. There was applause — I joined in because it seemed the thing to do — then a young girl wearing a crown of yellow flowers and a starched white apron over her green dress held up a basket. The dignitary and another, just as lavishly if differently dressed, dipped their hands into the basket and scattered a handful of seed each over the already plowed land she’d cut the ribbon to. More applause, people on-stage shook hands then beamed at one another and the crowd, then everyone started making their way to a large festival tent set off to the side.

“What’s going on?” I asked one of the people closest to me as we also headed towards the tent. He wore a straw hat and a loose tunic over a checked sarong, and was looking pleased at what had just happened on stage.

“We’re breaking ground on the city’s first commercial planting of sunflowers,” he said, with a smile. “Tea and cakes in the tent to celebrate!”

The woman walking with him, similarly dressed though with a patterned sarong over her head instead of a hat, nodded and added, “That was the Minister of Agriculture with the trade representative from the land next to ours. They sent over a crop of sunflower seeds from their fields as a gesture of goodwill. Say it’s good for oil, in addition to just the seeds.”

“Pretty, too,” remarked the man.

I vaguely remembered seeing sunflowers nodding in the fields beside the river when I’d gone off to see where it glowed in the neighboring land. I’d been so mesmerized by the greeny-gold waters that I hadn’t paid too much attention to my surroundings otherwise, tho I imagined if sunflowers could thrive as a crop there, they’d have no trouble here either.

As we entered the tent, we were given small woven wreaths of yellow flowers similar to the ones the girl on-stage had been wearing. Not quite sunflowers — we didn’t have many of those yet — but still pretty, and something I thought I might take back with me to my world. The tea and cakes were good, and I chatted with my new friends, Muda and Bulan, as we discussed crops, flowers and weaving. We were all pretty confident in the sunflowers and what it would mean for relations with our neighbors, tho we did worry that it was getting pretty hot already for planting.

The gathering wound down but before we dispersed, Muda and Bulan, who were married to one another, invited me to visit their house by the rice paddies the next time I was in town. As I biked away, I thought of how a younger version of myself might have been bored by a day discussing agriculture. I was more than content, tho, with a woven wreath of yellow flowers round my wrist and a head filled with visions of sunflowers and the continuing prosperity they heralded for the city (plus cakes and tea always help put me in a pleasant mood!)

A photo, taken at the end of a journey to where the river glows on Mirrorbird‘s map
A winged creature, which makes this noise of a memory when anyone passes:
A mushroom poem, inspired by Duskrest‘s long dozen

Notes in a heart
Nurtured by the land, water and sky, in time
Will bloom in singing color with a harmony sublime

A map, with a note attached:

Share freely and with kindness the sustenance all need

A long dozen poem:

Hail pelts down
On the roofs of the Musicians’ Quarter
Pinging, ringing, singing in a sweet cacophony

A mushroom poem based on this can be found on Woodlight‘s shelf

Notes on an acquaintance:

I ran into Socrates, you know, the long-dead Greek philosopher. Oh, you don’t know him, well, he’s very smart and quite famous for being forced to kill himself by drinking hemlock, because a bunch of powerful people got mad at him. But he was sitting outside The College, alive as I am, and drinking from a wineskin when I was passing by. He said hello, and I totally embarrassed myself by not believing at first that he was who he said he was even though he looks exactly like his statues. We got to talking, and he took me up to this viewing spot where we could see out over the whole city in fine detail (with magic! It was amazing!) and we talked about the nature of reality. He’s got this famous allegory about people in a cave and I thought I’d understood what it meant, but I think he’s had a lot of time to keep expanding on it and applying it to our circumstances. I’d already been wondering how any of this could possibly be real, and he had some really great observations about the subjectivity of perception and, like, the different kinds of reality, like different subsets of a bigger reality. I don’t know how to explain it — I’m not the famous philosopher, after all — but I felt really comforted and less crazy after our talk. Anyway, I mentioned television and he was really fascinated by that. I wish I could figure out a way to show him how TV and streaming work, but I’m pretty sure my phone won’t work down here, not without wifi anyway. The nice thing is, I think we’re friends now, insofar as he has friends instead of students. I hope I run into him again!

(This narrative minimizes my rudeness/grumpiness: it was hot and I was unsure of both myself and my surroundings. It also summarizes into one paragraph a long walk and climb, as well as Socrates’ wisdom and kindness. The full account may be found here at the base of this page, beneath the cairn stories.)

Three cairns, telling different stories:

Cairn High: Mount Trees

In the days of founding, after the builders of the Ancient Road were long gone but within generations of the Palace being new, there was a drought that affected the crops that fed the City Of Splendor. In that time lived a Lady named Tarisai, who was known as much for her Wit as her Beauty. The Ruler of the City then was a rich man named Bale, and he loved her most deeply. But she loved only her child and her music, and was a notable patron of the Musicians’ Guild. The musicians of the time were in an experimental phase, and the instruments that came out of the era were wild and wonderful. But after the death of her child, not even their music could cheer her, till one day she heard an ordinary tune, one of her child’s favorites, played on a new blown instrument.

She summoned the musician to her side and asked, “What wonder is this, that you play an ordinary tune in such an extraordinary way?”

“Lady,” she was told. “I made this flute from the wood of a tree that grows only on the Western Mount.”

Tarisai was intrigued. Stirred from her melancholy, she commissioned more instruments made from this wood, only to learn that the Palace had recently decreed that the mountain was to be clear cut and sold to merchants and artisans further along the Quiet Valley River, in order to fatten the struggling city’s coffers. Music was all well and good, the populace believed, but it did not fill bellies.

Tarisai made many pilgrimages to the mount and to its highest peaks, where the oldest trees grew untouched by humankind. Listening to the wind sighing in their boughs, she thought she could hear the laughter of her child, and so she made a plan.

She was granted an audience with Bale, who loved her dearly, and told him, “I will marry you. But as my betrothal gift, I ask for rights to the land and trees of the Western Mount. I will turn the wood into instruments that will bring this city more money than mere timber might.”

The Parliament thought her mad, but since Bale had recently won the Public Mandate and was secure in his Rulership, he accepted her proposal. Love, and perhaps over-confidence, spurred him to sign over the rights from public holdings, to the outrage of no few people — tho the musicians overall supported the move. “Thank you, my betrothed,” she said to him sweetly, accepting the deeds in public with a kiss. “Now give me time to prepare a new home for us on the mount, and we may wed and live in bliss.”

The musicians and their families and friends helped her build a tower on the mount as she read her books of magic and weaved her plots and spells. But no contracts were put into place for felling the trees, beyond the occasional harvest for instruments, and as that took more time than felling and selling mere timber, the hungry people began to grumble more loudly than their stomachs did. In an effort to placate them, the musicians not only put more effort into playing free concerts for their brethren, but also took their music abroad, to promote the name of the city, its players and its instruments.

Hunger, alas, works faster than fame, and soon the people were in an uproar (stirred up, in at least a small way, by merchants jealous of losing profits.) The people demanded Bale go to his betrothed and get the land and trees back. More cunning politicians suggested he hurry up and marry her, that he might reclaim his interest in the land. Bale, having been patient for so long, reluctantly agreed to ride to the tower Tarisai had built on the mount and present the people’s appeal to his intended.

So he was shocked when she would not open the tower’s doors to him, instead asking him for patience while she worked. Graciously enough, he accepted her request, but in a week was pressured to return. Once more she bid him wait. The people grew even less content, and politicians and merchants began to whisper and maneuver. Rumors of vague figures flitting through the trees of the mount only added to the unrest. In five days, Bale was forced to return to the tower. He sat astride his horse outside her door and relayed the people’s concerns.

Tarisai would not relent and begged for more time. But famine was beginning to take its toll on the populace, and in three days, Bale was back, this time with an ultimatum for his love. If she would not give the people the trees for timber, he would come back with soldiers who would arrest her and bring her back to the Palace. If she would not marry and give him access to the trees, then Parliament would invoke a decree rescinding his gift, due to breach of trust.

Tarisai’s voice was cold as she told him to do what he would. Bane’s heart broke to hear so little love for him, so he hardened it and returned the next day with soldiers. First, he called for her. She did not respond. He nodded for a soldier to knock on the heavy wood door, but barely had a blow been struck when the tower began to tremble. Bale and his soldiers backed away in haste as the tower shook violently then collapsed in a grating roar and a choking cloud of dust. The tumult could be seen from the city center, but no one was brave enough to investigate till several hours had passed and none had ridden back down from the mountain.

A detachment of Palace guards and other interested parties rode to the collapsed tower to find Bale and his soldiers unconscious but unhurt. No one was found in the rubble. One of the more keen-eyed of their group noticed that the trees of the mount were all beginning to bear fruit, something that had never happened in all the generations of the City. The fruit was found to be edible and so was harvested, and sustained the populace till the work of the musicians finally brought back food, trade goods and the money of tourists.

Since only a fool cuts down a tree that bears fruit, the woods of the Western Mount were spared the axe. Eventually the rains returned and the farmlands flourished once more, and measures were put into place to ensure that famine’s grip would not claim the City so easily the next time the weather went bad. The trees of the mount stopped bearing fruit — which the populace agreed wasn’t that much of a loss, as the fruit, though sustaining, hadn’t been that delicious to begin with.

But soon enough the legal issue of who owned the trees seized the public discourse. Tarisai had disappeared without wedding or heir, and till she could be proven dead was sole owner of the land. Public opinion outside of the musician’s quarters had never favored her in this endeavour, and there was much malicious gossip, not helped when the first woodcutter who boldly trespassed to cut down a tree for purposes other than instrumental found his axe turned against him. “The forest is bewitched!” he cried to anyone who would hear, a claim the musicians were quick to encourage and spread. Soon enough, no one would venture into the haunted wood, save the musicians who knew which trees bore usable wood, which bore fruit during times of need and which bore only malice.

Bale lost the next election for ruler but lived some decades more and stayed an important figure in the leadership of the City. Quietly, he carried on Tarisai’s mission of preservation, even tho public opinion was firmly against the Witch Woman of the Western Mount. But with his efforts, and the efforts of the musicians and their children, the wisdom of her plan was eventually accepted, if little celebrated. A contentious session of Parliament designated the area as a preserve, with any fruit born the property of the city, while the now-powerful Musicians’ Guild was granted custodial rights to tend the rest, with the living wood its exclusive purview, in a renewable hundred-year contract that has yet been allowed to lapse or been revoked.

The grey rubble of Tarisai’s tower became her cairn, undisturbed once rumors of haunting took firm hold, and the mount eventually came to be known as Mount Trees, in half-fearful deference to both her and to her legacy. Nowadays, with the City of Splendors as famed for its music as its beauty or the intellectual advances of its College, the Mount Trees Preserve is acknowledged as a vital resource that’s also a lovely place to visit in the daytime, as music sighs through the wood, often courtesy of practicing musicians. But no one stays too long by the cairn, perhaps out of respect, perhaps out of a lingering sense of shame, and only the bravest or most foolhardy will stay in the preserve past nightfall.

Cairn Low: The Crossroads

Back when the most vicious criminals were still hung at the crossroads furthest from town, their bodies left to rot on the gibbet and their souls staked till their bones were picked clean by carrion eaters, a veteran soldier was convicted of murder after a tavern brawl. His elderly father was distraught, claiming that war had changed his gentle son, made his moods unpredictable and his actions violent. The soldier, whose moroseness throughout his trial had led a jury of his peers to deem him unrepentant, seemed bewildered and almost child-like when led to hang.

His father had begged the magistrate, who had once been the soldier’s commanding officer, for some respite from the grim fate that faced his boy. While the magistrate too well understood the horrific effects of war, she could not gainsay the entire justice system. But she knew Tomas, and her heart grieved that his last moments, and the beginning of his afterlife, might be surrounded by jeers and hostility. So she conspired with Tomas’ father to plant several shrubs beloved of butterflies within the higher sightline of the gallows, so the condemned man might find solace and a sort of company in the freedom of the winged creatures they both knew he loved.

Tomas was hanged and his corpse left for the prescribed amount of time, but the magistrate and his father both felt that they’d done what little they could to help his poor, suffering soul. Unfortunately, word got out about the little butterfly garden, and the magistrate was deemed soft on crime and stricken from the rolls of lawmakers. Shamed, she chose exile through the portal over living with dishonor.

In an act of protest, Tomas’ father built a cairn of red stones at the crossroads to commemorate her kindness and courage. Efforts were made to destroy both the cairn and the garden, but soon enough veterans and sympathizers heard of the affair and came to preserve and expand both. Tomas’ father lived several decades yet, lecturing on the valor of the unnamed magistrate and against the horrors of war and the death penalty. After he passed on, he was buried with his son’s bones in a section of The Necropolis overlooking the Butterfly Gardens, with the Magistrate’s Cairn flanking the road leading to The College. Death by hanging was soon abolished, and nothing remains of the gallows but a small plaque next to the cairn, telling this story.

Cairn Smooth: The Abandoned Homestead

Several years after Tarisai’s disappearance, a group of people who were not traditionally male quarreled with the leadership of the Musician’s Guild, and decided to leave the Musician’s Quarter in search of a home of their own. They petitioned to Bale, who was still very rich tho now less powerful, and he granted them the use of an uninhabited hermitage in a flat piece of wilderness on the outskirts of the City. Using their wits and magic, the breakaways built a commune there that was deeply connected to its natural surroundings. They lived in peace, making music both wild and sweet for two generations, before abruptly abandoning the homestead, allowing nature to overgrow the structures they had lovingly constructed. Some went back to the Musician’s Quarter, others dispersed to the rest of the city and beyond. A cairn of whitewashed stones, once a gate pillar, marks the entrance to their former compound. The land still belongs to Bane’s descendents, who have left it untouched for reasons known only to themselves. The homestead itself is in ruins, but the sensitive can feel the magic that thrums through the former commune even more strongly than by the cairn on Mount Trees, and still hear snatches of music in the wind.

A Meeting

I’d taken my trusty bicycle to tour the City Of Splendors. It was a hot and sticky day, and I was feeling pretty grumpy. Tilleryard had been charming and cryptic but I was still at a loss as to what I was doing here, and even more so as to the physics of how I’d gotten here in the first place.

I looked at the map I’d been given and thought perhaps The College might have answers, or at least a library I could consult. Libraries made me feel more confident anyway, but I didn’t even get as far as the sprawling campus, surrounded by its Scholars’ Quarter, when I saw a man sitting beneath a tree, spilling wine onto himself and idly swinging a leg.

Now I’m not in the habit of greeting strange drunk men, but I’ll be darned if he didn’t look exactly like that old, famous bust of Socrates. So I stopped my pedaling to stare (rudely, I’ll admit, but it was hot and I was grumpy,) and he looked up and made eye contact. His gaze held a friendly twinkle, so to make up for how rude I’d been, I said, “Hello!”

“Hello!” he replied. “I see you are new to these parts. I am Socrates.”

“Get out,” I blurted out before I could stop myself, then face palmed in chagrin.

He only laughed. “Ah, you are not the first outworlder to have that sort of reaction to me,” he said, cheerily raising his wineskin. “Hey, get out of that heat, come sit under this tree with me.”

I wheeled over to the shade of the tree, which was indeed far more comfortable than the heat of the open road had been, and plopped gracelessly down on the grass next to his bench. “How are you here?” I asked him. “Tho I guess for that matter, how am I here?”

“Tilleryard,” he said sagely.

I cut my eyes at him and he laughed again. 

“That is the practical answer, the known quotient,” he conceded. “Our correspondent and guide through the portal to this City of Splendors, tho do you know: I still have not met them personally! As for how we pierced that veil, perhaps we have finally escaped our shackles in the cave, and–”

I flung myself back on the grass. “No offense, sir, but I already know that allegory.”

He mumbled something that I caught as “that darn Plato”. “So,” he said. “Since you know of me and of at least some of my thinking, you have me at a disadvantage. Who are you?”

“Holyviolet,” I answered. “At least, that’s what Tilleryard calls me, and tells me to call myself. How come you don’t have a codename?”

He shrugged. “Everyone already seems to know who I am. Besides, Hemlockgrail is a moniker that tends to end conversations rather than encourage them, and you know how I like conversations.”

An awkward silence underscored the truth of his words.

He harrumphed and gathered his robes around himself, that certainly looked even more suited to the heat than the sundress I had on. “Tho if you already know my story, let me show you something I would bet you have never seen,” he declared, standing up and securing the wineskin to his sash. “Hey, do you need a drink?”

“Oh, no thanks,” I said. I wasn’t in the mood for any midday drunkenness of my own yet.

“Come along then!” He began to march determinedly across the road and through the fields of the Scholar’s Quarter, then uphill towards the high plateau where the portal and its attendant temple overlooked the city. I sighed dramatically as I picked myself up off the grass and onto my bike, then slowly pedaled next to him. “Your velocipede is unusual in these parts,” he commented, trudging along. We fell into a discussion of bicycles and other two-wheeled vehicles and before I knew it, we’d reached the thoroughfare to the portal. He ignored the road, however, only scanning briefly to make sure we wouldn’t be run over as we crossed it. “Might have to leave your vel– bicycle at the base here, we have got a bit of climbing to do,” he said as we approached a rocky cliffside.

I worried momentarily that someone might steal it — tho I suppose that person would be easy to catch, as bicycles are hardly common in the City — and compromised by laying my bike flat behind some scrub brushes at the base of the rocky slope. Socrates was already picking his way up a narrow path in the cliffside. “It will be worth it,” he promised me, without looking up from his feet.

It was another ten minutes of hiking to get to the spot he wanted me to see, and I desperately wished I’d brought a Gatorade through from my world in addition to my bicycle. The little overlook itself was nothing to write home about: a flat, dusty ledge beneath an overhang with small boulders one could sit on. Socrates settled himself comfortably on one of these and took a big swig from his wineskin. “Hey, sit,” he said, motioning me to another boulder. After I complied, he continued, “Now, my original allegory was a fantastic take on perception and complacency. But here, well, let us look back at The College.”

I’d been admiring this gorgeous panorama of the city — not the tightly packed urban sort of place I was used to in my everyday life, but still a bustling, walkable town with clusters of buildings and people surrounded by fields and gardens. But when he bid me look at the place we’d just left, I focused my gaze on the distinctive red roofs of the sprawling academic complex. “Alright,” I began, then gasped.

It was a bit like looking into one of those panoramic lens contraptions you put your coins into on the top of really tall buildings. The College just zoomed into focus for me. I could see people walking between structures, deep in conversation or laughing with delight. Several scholars worked in the fields, while others took measurements of the produce. A group of people were even having a picnic near the tree Socrates and I had recently abandoned. I could make out the sandwiches and fruit they were feasting on, and the droplets of condensation on the cold jugs they were passing around.

“How is this possible?” I breathed, before switching my gaze around to see what else I could see. The Butterfly Gardens at the foot of the road leading to The College came into view, and I delighted at the sight of the winged insects fluttering from shrub to shrub. Even the Wayside Monastery which was usually only a smudge in the distance became visible enough to see clearly.

“Magic,” Socrates shrugged. “The magic of this place.”

“But how,” I asked stubbornly, “is this real? Is this real?”

“Going back to my allegory,” he responded sagely. “One could argue that anything you can perceive is real. Or real enough to be meaningful, which, I feel, is the point of life.”

“Do you feel that that’s the point of life?” I knew I was being rather obnoxious, but it’s not everyday you get to sit with a philosopher so renowned people still study and argue over him millenia after his death.

“Life should have meaning, else what is the point?”

“I don’t think that answers my question.”

“Hey, in my allegory, the prisoners think that shadow puppets are reality because it is all they know. But knowing that there is a natural world outside that reality does not negate the fact that the shadows are still real. They are just not all of reality.”

“I thought that the point of your allegory was that the shadows are a lie?”

He laughed, and pointed out to the college. “You look at those picnickers. You cannot change what they are doing or affect them in any way. They probably do not even know they are being observed. But does that change the fact that they are real? Merely because you cannot immediately influence them does not negate their reality. Perhaps their existence is less meaningful to you than your experience of sitting here observing them. That is fair. We all make our own realities, our own worlds, even from objective things, merely because of the way we see and feel them. Even our own bodies can perceive the same things and experiences differently. You touch warm water with your hand and it seems pleasant, but you touch it with your elbow and it is too hot. The objective reality of the water has not changed but your experiences with it create a meaning and reality unique to you.”

This was a lot to think about. But watching the picnickers laugh at a joke, I mused, “This is a bit like watching TV.”

“TV?” he asked, intrigued.

“Well, where I’m from, people act out stories or… or make documentaries of varying veracity — heaven knows, objectivity can be entirely subjective, like you just said. But they record them and you can watch and listen to what they did through a screen, either later or live, sort of like we’re doing now.”

Unsurprisingly, he had lots of questions that I did my best to answer. It was thirsty work tho, so when he offered me the wineskin once more, I accepted, and was pleasantly surprised. 

“Oh, this is just grape juice!” I exclaimed, at which he winked at me.

“You thought I was intoxicated, which is a fair conclusion, when I was merely happy to have another blessed day in the warm sun, even if it is not the world I am used to. The difference between me and the prisoners in the cave is that I understand there is more than just this reality. Even so, I can accept that my existence in that greater world does not preclude the happiness I feel here, so long as I am doing more to help the totality than harm it.”

We chatted pleasantly for a while longer, but once the sun began to drag down towards the western range, he announced, “It is best that we are heading back!” Carefully, we picked our way down the cliffside to the ground, where I was glad to see my bike untouched (and don’t think I hadn’t peeked at it several times while still up in the magical overlook!)

“Will you be going to the supper at the temple tonight?” I asked as I picked up my bike. Tilleryard had mentioned it to me, with the strong suggestion that I attend. Not that I was disinclined: I wanted to see more of this place and meet more of its people.

He shook his head. “Oh no no. I would rather Tilleryard come to find me than the other way around.” 

I thought that a bit silly, but considering how kind and generous he’d just been with his time and knowledge, I had the sense not to rudely share my opinion (for once!) “If you change your mind, I’m off to bake a dish of toltott paprika that I’ll be bringing, that I just learned how to make in the world I come from,” I told him as I settled into the seat of my bike.

He patted his belly. “You will have to tell me what that is the next time we meet,” he said with a smile, as we headed toward the road again. He made to cross it to head back to The College, while I turned my bike right, so I could ride up and past the portal temple, then down past The Palace before arriving at the cozy cottage Tilleryard had said I could use as my own. “Farewell, Holyviolet! May our paths coincide soon!” Socrates bade me.

I rang my bell cheerily and waved at him as we parted ways, glad to have made this unexpected friend who made me feel a little smarter and a lot better about moving through realities.

SilentHanger’s shelf

This Alongame saying

Always kiss the rival, unless a wet goose is strangely counted by song. Turns out, certain wise’uns count in song, and if you peck them on the cheek, soggy geese’ll peck you in turn.

A butterfly, bound to an empty space now-tilled, which makes this sound whenever anyone is near:
A photo of a journey they took to the Silent Woods on Bookfold‘s map (where they left their silence)
A map, with this note attached

The butterflies are friends, but they are not people, and should be honourably treated as such.

Notes on a development in Alongame and related dedication (partially inspired by Lichencross‘ map)

I did not see the iris-field’s first bloom – high on the Wing’s Ragged Edge, too fearful of the Tunnel to Below and its rumoured cave-geese, I only saw its colours.

Where, I am told, two persons spoke, known only as the Messenger and the Recipient. On high, the Messenger danced among clouds of moths and butterflies for the Recipient, a mere speck below, returning each day. But they were no Wing-Keeper, and the Place Below blew too cold for such small creatures.

Yet they wished to meet, and speak. And so from the banks of the ponds they gathered bright irises, as vibrant as the leaping lepidoptera, and formed a small cluster near the cliff. And there they made a channel to the hot springs, which kept the summer flowers in bloom all year. Each day, they planted one new bloom. In time, the flourishing flowers matched the wings high above.

And, though roots grow slow, and moths burrow slowly as eternity’s wren mines, in time both bored a tunnel that they could meet face to face.

And in time, it shall be where I too pass to below, fear in my heart.

A mushroom poem (inspired by Applecap‘s long dozen)

Louring cave-geese
Seem, even in sleep, to embody our fears;
I heard one sing that this was but dying’s solemnity.

A long dozen poem:

Falling snow,
Buffeted by the Wing’s Ragged Edge-winds,
Falls to the unknown Place Below; do they know of us?

Some notes on an acquaintance:

It is difficult to describe Raghred the Wing-Keeper. They’re a taciturn bugger. In that very-much-there way of people who know who they are, and have been that for some time.

They seem to be able to speak a little bit to moths. Or, at least, when I told them that anecdote about the time a bee sat in my ear – I’d meant it as a humorous story of childhood dread to try and make them laugh – they clicked their tongue at a blue(ish) moth they’d passed me and it sat in my ear until long after they’d gone.

With hindsight, I think it might have been their way of returning the joke. Like I said, they’re a strange bugger.

A cairn, which tells the following story:

The crowded home of Those Who See, briefly gathered in an open field near the Wing’s Ragged Edge, lying among the sprawling moths and butterflies. Some lay long enough that the caterpillars crawled through their hair and formed chrysalises in their clothes. They came to care for those puir creatures, so wind-battered as they were, and rested for long enough to see their transformation into wind-soarers, the strange shift eased by constant crooning songs. There was something strange about those songs, not that I especially understand such things. Anyhow, when the need was done Those Who See moved on, as they do, and the little hollows their bodies left in the ground where they’d lain are now pools of water for any to drink from. Making the cairn was a wet job, but a worthwhile one.

Woodlight’s shelf

A Night Falls poem

They came to the village
Heard “Help!”
Thought there was hope, again
It was only her
Then it was day
There is

Notes on a-mending

Going forward doesn’t always mean drastic change. Sometimes the same emotions come back round. My Change is linked to the mountains and so is the process of repair.

This Alongame saying

Never light the mountain unless red willow is carefully picked up by the witch.

Notes on an acquaintance

Hi Tilleryard,

Seems words go around fast between the worlds – I used to be amazed by how small my world is when I met people who knew people I knew, but now I know it’s also true if I say worlds, plural.

Can you guess who I met? Or maybe she told you already?

I was sitting on a bench when I saw a goat. It was chewing on the purple scarf of a girl with black hair and purple horns (I guess that’s a big hint, unless many people fit the description this in Alongame?). Taken aback, I got up and went to help her save her scarf, but it was too late, it was all drooly and messy and torn. So then I helped her bring the goat to the meadow.

She presented herself as the Herding Witch. She asked what I was doing here, so I explained to her that I was a new Shelfkeeper – Woodlight – and still getting the hang of how to connect our worlds together. She smiled then: “You wouldn’t know Tilleryard by any chance?”

According to her, you were so excited about meeting new shelfkeepers that you’d already blabbered a whole evening about me. I’m guessing you have a good relationship, since you exchange her goat milk for your veggies and I heard a great complicity in her voice as she mentioned you. She said you were going to be very jealous she got to meet me. Well, if you’re jealous, I’m jealous too – I thought she was amazing, and you get to see her everyday if you want to. She started flirting a bit, but I felt shy and I don’t know if she understood I liked her too or if she thought I was straight or not interested or what. Anyway, she said she wanted to know more about my world, and then she got an idea and ran back to the bench I was sitting on earlier.

Well it wasn’t really a bench, I hadn’t paid that much attention. It had a weird shape, more like two chairs next to each other, one facing one way, the other one facing the opposite way, but with a common armrest. The Herding Witch explained to me that it was a magical place: if I sat one way and she sat the other way next to me, I would see her world and she would see mine. She asked if I would agree to sit there for her. I was a little scared of what would happen, but I said yes.

And it was magical. I mean, I should have been seeing the meadow and the goat, but instead, when I sat and opened my eyes after blinking once, there was a small cottage with a thatch roof in the distance. The goat was lying down in the sun by the door, then got up and lied down again by the shadow of a willow tree. The Herding Witch’s home was in the middle of nowhere. It was very beautiful: not just the house but the garden too, it was the perfect dose of wildness. Like there were lots of tall grasses and wild flowers and bushes, but also a stone path free of herbs up to the door. It felt like she was taking very good care of the place, and it filled me with a longing to know her better. Not everyone cares so much and so perceptibly about their place of living.

I was a little scared of what she would think of my own space, nowhere as beautiful from outside, just a window in a narrow street; but all she really noticed were the two baby birds on my windowsill. I love that.
I wasn’t brave enough to take her hand; and when I turned around to see her, I was sitting at home. It was way too short, and I wanted to talk more with her, learn more about her, find better answers to her flirty jokes.

Instead, I’m writing to you so you’ll know about this meeting, and sending it your way through the shelf.

Notes on a development on Mirrorbird‘s map

I wasn’t there when the boatbuilders came downriver from the west with the wood we needed to build our own; I wasn’t there either when the villagers started working on the boat. I was there, though, on the evening it was pushed into the water for the first time. There were a lot of people and the nightsky was clear. We could see the stars, but most of all, we could see all the little candles on the little paper boats that we all put down on the water, keeping our eyes on them to know which ones would burn, which ones would drown, and which ones would sail across the pond. Then the real boat – the wooden one – was pushed too and everyone cheered. It was beautiful to see it there on the water among all its smaller, luminous counterparts. Someone rowed with it a while, then it was attached to the new pier so it wouldn’t be swept away. From now on, everyone would be able to borrow the boat to cross or navigate on the largest of the seven ponds.

Notes and photos of a journey taken to a point on Bookfold‘s map

I looked for a bridge to the Old Queen’s Woods on Bookfold’s map. When I came out, I saw a place called “The geese’s meadow”, so maybe I walked passed Tilleryard’s place also!

A mushroom poem (inspired by Holyviolet‘s long dozen):

Under the hail
Silence flourishes, gentle and unhindered
As we nurture the little flames to warm us through it all

A long dozen poem:

Seven ponds
Glitter far away down in the valley
Seven drops of dew shine on the grass blades by my shoe

A cairn, that tells this story:

There is a place at the summit of the mountains that is the quietest of all. No one ever goes there; no one even remembers how to climb that much up. There the birds do not sing and only the wind blows. There is one who knew how to climb up there though. A girl, small and often ill, that no one expected anything from. She spent a lot of time outside, learning about and gathering plants for healing, but also watching all the animals living around her, so much so that she learned to communicate with them. The girl had a brother. One day, she heard him whispering to his friends: he had caught a thundereagle. No one had been able to do that for generations now. The next day, he would show it to the village and be recognized as a great hunter. The girl couldn’t let that happen. When night fell, she silently opened the cage and let the legendary bird fly away. Her brother never found out it was her who betrayed him. It was years later when a weird plague came over the village: everyone slowly became more and more tired, so much so that soon no one could get up anymore. The girl as well as the other healers only knew one plant tonic enough to wake everyone up once more. Unfortunately, it only grew on the highest mountain top. The ones who were still strong enough tried to climb up; all failed. As the girl was losing hope, she thought of the eagle once again. Maybe they could help. No one expected her to return as she left for the nest. It was doomed, they all thought. Yet the thundereagle remembered her. And she remembered how to speak their language. They let her climb up their back and flew high in the sky, inspiring and amazing all who saw the giand bird and the tiny girl. She picked the needed flowerrs and was celebrated as she came back to the village. Since then, everyone has forgotten about her. We don’t even remember her name. Only the cairn, close to the mountain top where it all happened, marks her great achievement.

Conebird’s shelf

A mushroom poem (inspired by Duskrest‘s long dozen):

Open reach within
Land to hold us up, sky to cover us, vulnerable 
Clouds drifting with time, to remind us there still is some left

A long dozen poem:

The stone spire,
still visible through wisps of stinging snow:
A peak never traversed, never claimed, never beaten.

A map, with a note attached:

Avoid Cold Lake and its prodigious marshes to the west after sundown. But those heading south on the Cliff Road will know they are coming close to Hedda’s Farm when they smell the fragrant embers of the Ever-Smoking Cave.

A cairn, telling the following story:

I think I found out a few more clues regarding the origin of the tower ruins, just along the western edge of Poplar Isle. Heading north of the ruins, there’s a winding path that zig-zags its way northward, along the coast. Perhaps a quarter-mile along this path, a raised clearing with a few of the sloping northwestern coastline sports a crumbling limestone cairn: a marker for storytelling, though it seems the latter part of the tale is missing.

Apparently, some time long in the past, there was a chieftain of a tiny island village. All around him were small, unremarkable islets, each with their own settlements of discrete clans, perhaps a dozen in number. These were spread throughout what I assume was most of what makes up Polar Isle now.

I was led to this conclusion because the story told in the stones is that there was a long period of rains, lasting weeks or even months without and respite. The water rushed down the mountains, forming what we now know of as Trout River. As the rains fell, many of the islets were swallowed up by the rising waters, and this chieftain was taking in refugees into his village, already crowded with wearied loyals.

The chieftain knew this could not be a permanent solution, and there was no sign the rain would be stopping soon. He grew desperate, and the consulted the village medicine man. The medicine man promised to seek council with Others at the foot of the Indomitable Mountains to the west.

After consultation with the servants of Nature, across the river at the base of the mountains, the medicine man returned with news that he had struck a deal with the Bramble Children. All the chieftain needed to do was plant a bramble sprout at the foot of his tower, and the next day they would see the results. Fearful of his desperate bargain with the servants of Nature, the chieftain did as he was told, and the village was ensorceled by Nature magic and the villagers fell to sleep where they stood.

The next day, the chieftain awoke, somehow back in his tower chamber, a warm fire crackling with embers next to him. He rushed outside, and was shocked to find a forest of unnaturally-large thorn-bushes roiled and twisting through the rains. The medicine man knelt next to where the sprout was planted the day before, but instead of a small, fuzzy twig, it was now a broad, woody taproot easily too big for four men to reach their arms around. The rest of the villagers, and the refugees, were nowhere to be seen.

Yet, the Bramble Children fulfilled their end of the bargain. The winding brambles thirstily drank all the falling water, and their clinging branches dragged the islets together until they were all massed into a single broad island. The single river branched into two further to the north, only to rejoin once again to the south, beyond the influence of the Bramble Children.

The rest of the cairn’s tale is lost to oblivion, and we can only speculate as to the fate of the chieftain – and the medicine man. This must have happened some time ago however, since the island itself is now covered with broad-leafed trees and not brambles. Within the understory however, one just might happen upon the crumbling foundations of cobblestone houses and – oddly enough – what can only be fishing piers. Now who would have ever expected to see those in the middle of a forest?

Where Alongame started

A blog from Chloe

Alongame can be hard to describe, as a project – the vast majority of things I’m involved in often are – and sometimes the best job I’ve done is just sharing where the initial seed for the idea came from. So, a very brief story about my favourite place to walk during Winter lockdown…

In Battersea Park, there’s a small wooden bridge, near the centre of the park, where the edges of the lake come incredibly close to each other. The bridge is almost perfectly positioned to let you think, briefly, that you’re not in London. That you’re in the middle of some rural spot, far away from people.

If you go to the bridge at dusk, then – across the lake and past a variety of trees and hedges and so on – you can see yellow lights from a row of streets. Like some village or suchlike that’s far enough away that it’s not crowding you, but close enough to rest at if you needed. Of course, the moment you move, the illusion’s gone – the street’s hidden or you’re too close and you can see it’s London again.

But, standing there at the right time, it really can feel like you’re somewhere else. Somewhere quieter, oddly welcoming, and a little wild. And in lockdown I *really* needed that.

So, from discovering that spot in January, I kept wondering about some other world, that could be seen out of the corner of the eye. Which became wondering about building that world, which became wondering about lots of people independently but collectively building it, and so on. Which has ended up here.

A lot of things I’ve done have involved having faith in the creativity, ideas and generosity people bring to stories and spaces when you give them the opportunity to be involved. And I’m so excited to see where that leads with Alongame.