What is it to draw something that is not meant to exist?
PLEASE DO NOT PUBLISH OR REPRODUCE WITHOUT MY PERMISSION
Chapter 4 PART 2
An Uncommon request
The sun achieved its apex and swung beyond unheeded by the would-be fabulist and his astounding unmoving model. Rabbits began to gather bout his feet and upon the rubble about him, all facing him as if engrossed by his process, but he scarce noticed them as he drew and drew and drew. It was movement in shadows of his vision’s corners that finally distracted him, perhaps more a shifting of threwd – if such a thing were possible – than of bodies finally arresting his attention. Looking quickly beyond the olive trunk into gloom of the deeper cellar, Economous was abruptly brought out of his creative stupor. For there he saw several bogles lurking there – small monsters mostly, many about the size of a child, each in its own bafflingly distinct form. One covered in a segmented grey shell Economous could only be likened to an over-large cousin to the pillboys that infested the danker corners of his garret. Another had the form of a swollen and distorted frog; a third maybe in shape like a pile from a nightman’s cart suddenly sprung to life. Barely discernible in the deepest cellar gloom behind these – as if aloof from such lesser creatures – lurked a taller being whose only fathomable detail was its ill-proportioned head like that of an over-sized magpie or daw. This it appeared to turn oh so bird-like one way then the next as if to get the best view of the frail, foolish vistor.
Economous entire sense of the state of the cosmos lurched and faltered.
It was one shock to find a lord of monsters allowing a city to be built up about it; yet how were such forbidden creatures able to come and go with such unhindered facility? What of the famed might of the city’s guarding war engines? What of her many rings of impassable walls perforated by bastion gates that in a moment could each become a fortress unto itself? What of the white waters of her harbours prowling with countless iron-skinned rams crewed by hundreds of hardened and vigilant vinegaroons?
Economous was so perplexed his stylus quivered in the usually steady pinch of thumb and forefinger. So terribly aware now of these watching bogles, he thought he could make out hushed but urgent conversation from the smaller kind.
“Eat the wombson, I say, and be done with its intrusion! We have talking to be done that cannot wait…”
“Aye, aye, a scrawny pink morsel for evening grubbings…”
“He’ll never let us, oh no…”
In terrified dismay, the would-be fabulist ceased his drafting completely.
“TO HUSH WITH YOU!” the Lapinduce hissed with sudden vehemence over its silk coated shoulder. “I did not ask for you to follow me hence. Be still or I shall send each of you unanswered back to your masters and mistresses…”
There was a frightened tittering, a shuffling of feet – or whatever mode of appendage each beastling might have moved upon – as the squat shadows shoved and poked at each other, then quiet.
“Do not mind my other guests, Master Pen,” the lord of monsters said in tones of pointed – and strangely mundane – impatience. “They have been sent to rupture my peace and pester me to join one cause or the other of my lorded equals to the north who wrestle over some everyman fortress long known as Winstresslewe.”
The would-be fabulist suddenly felt very little and very foolish in a world brim-filled with towering behemoths older and wiser than the stones themselves, who passed so easily through the most staunch of everyman defences like these were mere cheesecloth.
“I beseech you, everyman,” the Lapinduce lifted a velvet-downed paw in supplication and smiled – a weird sight to behold in so impossible a face with a mouthful of over-sized teeth. “Continue…”
Blinking rapidly to focus himself back upon his drawing, Economous pressed on. The day’s shadows grew long indeed when finally he felt that perhaps he might have drawn as much as he could of the marvels of his dread subject. The would-be fabulist held out his numrelogue to stare at it for one long confirming squint, flicking his eyes between the final image to its likeness and back again, over and over, making an adjustment. Despite the great weight of expectation that had knotted and turned in his innards, he had produced as fine a portrait as he had ever made. Indeed in the glow of evening and in the presence of this mighty and prohibited king of beasts he was suddenly awakened to a deep sense of fittingness he had not known in a very long time. Never-the-less, in fear of the crushing of his fragile soul should his monstrous patron prove to be disappointed with the work, Economous hesitated to reveal the finished drawing.
“The day waxes long, son of brevity,” the Lapinduce spoke, his rasping-rich words thrusting in on the would-be fabulist’s prevarications. “By your winkings and starings and the lack of scrawling me thinks you are complete. Come, present to me what I look like to you. Let me see how the count of centuries has tolled upon my face.”
Only now realising with a shocked blink the lateness of the hour, Economous passed his vaunted recording book to the Duke of Rabbits and held his breath half in hope, half in dread. His stomach gave a hungry lurch.
Stroking its chin with one hand while it held out its stylus-drawn portrait with the other, the Lapinduce tilted its bestial head to the left, then titled it to the right, its grey cat’s eyes squinting just as Economous’ had.
Fretting all the errors that suddenly seemed so obvious to him, Economous held his entire being in thrumming, expectant stasis.
Crickets began to call to each other; frogs took up their gurgling song too. The firmament cleared and span now with a billion stars and still the Lapinduce beheld the fresh-scrawled image. Yet as the light failed so the ruined, tree-grown cellar began to glow with bluish moss-light gleaming from the crevices between the ancient foundation stones.
Finally the Duke of Rabbits spoke.
“Such admirable labour deserves rewarding,” the creature pronounced, then clacked its wicked sharp teeth together.
At this summons two over-large rabbits appeared from the darkness beyond, together drawing a long oiled bag along by cords in their mouth. One was the very same which had served that morning as so inconstant a guide, and its aid could have been its twin.
The Lapinduce stood, stooped took up the bag. Stepping to Economous to tower once more over the everyman, it bent an elegant bow and presented the bag to the would-be fabulist. “A wage for honest labour,” it proclaimed.
Taking the yard long bag gratefully, Economous drew out the satin draws and rolled the unfastened mouth of the bag down to show its contents. Here in the wan, fungal light, he found a what was obviously a calibrator. Yet it was like none he had beheld before, fashioned from a dark wood rather than the light oak as his current one was, its graduations – of inlaid silver – not marking the usual quicks, inches or feet but some other span of measure in base five and base ten. By the smell alone Economous knew that this antique item was made from the wood of a nigh-mythic black elder. Did this Lord of monsters realise what a kingly gift he was giving for so simple a thing as the spedigraph just performed?
“I am of the understanding that you call such things wentry,” the Lapinduce observed mildly.
Wentry! Blithely items said to possess qualities beyond any mundane object of similar form. Provoked by such marvels, Economous’ athenaeum-found book-learning come back to him from libraries in his mind he did not previously believe he possessed.
“This –” his voice caught for a moment as he gripped the hallowed wood and felt a prickling sensation in his palm. “This is too much, my lord! I – I shall return again with proper pigments and a full-stretched canvas to make a truly worthy image of you!”
“You have honoured me, womb-born, so why do you refuse my own honouring of you?”
Economous suddenly felt ashamed of himself but was shocked from his chagrin by the abrupt sound tearing of untearable velum from its binding as the Lapinduce carefully but easily parted his portrait from the other pages of the would-be fabulist’s numrelogue. Come with no other equipment, he had – as was his custom – drawn it in his numrelogue, and now the folly of this dawned upon him: for in diligent service of continuity and completeness it was forbidden for any concometrist to tear even one page from their numrelogue, unless driven by direst need.
I am already under reprimand from the athy here for drawing in my log, what will they do to me now it is incomplete?
Stunned by the impossibility of the circumstance, Economous surrendered helplessly to the mutilation of his sacred tome. Perhaps being cast out from the league of metricians for such further defacement might turn to his benefit? There was nought he could do about this current crime that made such ejection likely: the truth would not be a helpful defence.
“The night’s signals pivot above us,” the Lapinduce spoke into the humming night. “It is good for you to return to your usual path of life so long to you, so short to me.”
“But –” Economous began to counter, cricking his neck to look the monster-lord in the face, if not in the terrible eye. He was not ready now to be parted from the melancholy wonder of this mighty creature. He wanted yet to be consumed once more in bliss of that sad, vital and all too brief music, to dwell for a little longer in the strangely discomforting clarity that seemed to radiate from every follicle of the monster-lord’s fur, every fibre of his silken frock-coat, every bole and craggy load of rubble. “But –”
The Duke of Rabbits raised a paw to silenced him. “Each time in its place and each place for its time, womb-born,” it said with an almost fatherly tone. “My servant Ogh will lead you out again,” it continued, the same paw now gesturing to one of the pair of rabbits who had brought the princely prize and now waited amongst the roots of the old olive. “I hope he proves a better guide to lead you out than his brother, Urgh, proved to be on leading you in,” their master added as if talking as much to the dumb beasts themselves as to Ecomomous.
One of the rabbits dropped its ears for a beat as if chastened and its fellow – the one named as Ogh – loped forward, pausing before the would-be fabulist to wink and twitch its nose at him.
Half-standing, Economous tried to formulate some cause, some excuse, some reason to remain.
Ogh seized the strap of Economous’ satchel lying at the would-be fabulist’s feet, and with a startling show of strength, leapt away into the darkening wood, dragging the bag behind.
With a stifled yelp, the would-be fabulist was properly on his feet, yet still unwilling to go his head quickly swivelled as he looked from Lapinduce, calm, silent, waiting, to his hastily departing property and back.
Catching up his hat and numrelogue, his old calibrator and the velvet bag holding the new, the would-be fabulist made a sketch of a bow. With a hurried, incoherently apologetic farewell, Economous chased after the rapidly retreating rabbit and vowed to return to paint a more fitting image of the Lapinduce, Duke of Rabbits, lord of monsters.