The Lay of Celoni More
as told by Aileena More-Atansi
recorded by Aldoni Tuve on the Sixth Ascension of the Twins, Renewed Era, 2134
also present: Aileena More-Atansi's sisters, Kella and Beruse, and her grand-niece, Lansa
translated from Middle Raetan, and rendered as prose by Aldoni Tuve
Note: As it has lost its inflections, Post-Renewal Raetan is not amenable to the complex rhyme scheme and rhythmic structure of the original Bognat Stanza. I hope, however, that this prose translation retains some of the music of the original, as Aileena recalls it in her Telling.
The Lay of Celoni More
[Aileena is a small woman, almost child-sized in her chair. As she talks, her feet swing, back and forth, two-span at least above the floor. She still wears her hair plaited-in-six after the fashion of the Outlying Settlements, although her clothes are modern and tasteful. Around her neck is a silver pendant of the Twins, Younger inside Elder, and she fingers this constantly with one hand while she makes expansive illustrating gestures with the other. Behind her, one of the Twins is already horning his way into the day-sky, and the sun hasn't even left yet. Aileena turns awkwardly to look at it and laughs, turns back and winks at me. Her voice is surprisingly deep, almost like a Man's, or like she's bigger on the inside than she is on the outside, which, in the way of Tellers, is the case. She points a gnarled finger over her shoulder at the moon and says, "Precocious! Foot-forward!" Her sisters laugh, too, Kella with a booming like Aileena's, Beruse silently and with a ruefully shaking head, like the Elder Twin, lagging behind prudently.
All three sisters look very much the same, differences in personality notwithstanding: wiry grey hair plaited-in-six, skin bronzed and well-worn, creased with hand-work, faces crinkled with thought-work, eyes ice-shard-sharp and pale, mouths broad and used to smiling. Beruse does not wear the Twins on a chain, but keeps her devotion hidden: the tip of one horn shows in indigo ink on the wrinkled skin of her neck above the collar of her blouse. Conversely, Kella not only has the pendant, but a barrette nestled in her braids and medallions on the toes of her sandals.
In the corner, Lansa seems to eschew the faith of her mother-aunts and sits with her back to the shrine, even goes so far as to bat the smoke of the incense away with a thin hand and a fine, pointed cough. She works the whole time at her tablet, the main screen dimmed for privacy, so that the whole of Aileena's rendition of the Lay is textured by the tapping of Lansa's fingers on the keys. Unlike Kella and Beruse, Lansa doesn't intone the responses to Aileena's tale, but, looking surreptitiously at her, I find that her lips move around the words, silently.
Aileena is seventeen-mother descendant of Celoni More herself, or so she claims. She will point at the statue in Renewal Square for proof of the family resemblance. Celoni More stands with her plaits-in-six hanging to her heels, holding her axe, Twins gleaming at her throat, one foot on a fallen Eater Bird. Her bared stomach is heavy and alive with Fourfold laughing. At each of the four winds, looking out over its corresponding Outlying Settlement, is one of the Fourfold: the slip of fire with her wide eyes (if you put your own eye close to them, you can see the glass Eater inside); the wolf, tall and keen-eyed under a shaggy mane; mind, that one with the slanted mouth, his hand outstretched, death capering in his palm; that winged one, pinions arcing upward to touch just at the level of Celoni's sandaled feet.
There is indeed a family resemblance, but it is well-known that Aileena herself posed for the sculptor in her youth, so the proof she offers turns back on itself. She grins wickedly when I point this out.
The sun is low when we begin, and slants through the shutters acutely so that the sisters and the niece are banded in light and dark, as though they are slivered into presence and absence, past and present. And, I suppose, so they are.
When Aileena speaks the Lay, her voice takes on the cadence of Twin-song, breaks and rasps sometimes, sea-waves coursing over gravel. Her pale eyes never close.]
That one, Celoni More, she was thin, a Mother for the thin days.
It was in the thin days that they came--both of them, Eaters and the Fourfold--in the thin days of the Sixth Ascension of the Twins, when the frost prickles and bites on Mana's skin and the grain stubbles in her furrows, awaiting gleaning. In the thin days, silence is wolf-taut, curled with its tail across its nose, eyes-wide and heart-slow with waiting, and the cellars store only moonlight, thin-beamed for thin nights, shafting through the cracks, and the last of the apples are moon-silvered and gone mealy under the teeth. In the thin days, the sun is sliver-eyed, peering over Mana's shoulder and sinking again sulkily, dusk gone to night gone to pale-skinned morning, and no day in between. In these the thinnest of the thin days, Mana herself grew thin and the People wrote their hunger with their breath upon the air.
The Sisters: Eyes-wide, heart-slow, and heavy.
Aileena: It was the season of the Great Awakening, when Hunger walked, ravenous and clutching. We understood the Eaters, didn't we? Hunger cast his shadow on us, too, in the thin days.
The Sisters: Hunger's shadow, kills like citron.
["Kills like citron": an ancient saying that derives from the period of the Lay's events and which persists in the linguistically isolated Outlying Settlements. To my knowledge, no-one has ever seen a "citron." However, idiomatically, the phrase means to consume that which consumes you. I.e. I have a yearning for my sister's hearth-mate, and, having taken her, am devoured by shame. In a more general sense, a riddle of complicity: food that eats the eater.]
Aileena: And this, then, was the season of the Great Awakening, when the Eaters came, raw-boned with Hunger, touched us, took us, ate us. There were more of them than in Mother-times, more even than in Ten-Mother-times. In no-one's memory was Hunger's shadow so dark and vast. The People prayed, Twin-ward, but the Stonemouth yawned and the Eater Birds came, needle-beaked and wailing. They flocked forth from the blue pool of Stonemouth, two and two.
Two went toward the sun.
Two went toward the moons.
The People ran first here, then there, then no-where.
The Eater Birds sliced the sky with shrieking, gored the clouds. They stabbed Mana with their dark-moon light, the beams that swept the gleaning fields, tore the People from Mana's breast. Again, again, again, each time the sun hid, they came again.
The Sisters: Again, again, again, and all the People heart-hollow.
Aileena: All the People heart-hollow. They stood as the sun sank, eyes-low soul-shrunk, and waited for the Eaters. They stood unmoving as their shadows yearned away, away, but they were soul-shrunk and hollow and their shadows could not run.
The Sisters: All the People soul-shrunk and hollow. They closed their eyes.
[Here, the sisters put their hands over their eyes. Even Lansa in her corner pauses and passes her hand across her brow, perhaps only to brush away an errant hair.]
Aileena: The People were hollow and heart-still. Celoni More stood on her shadow and her shadow tugged and yearned, away, away, away, pulling at her heels. Celoni More turned her back on the shrinking sun and followed her shadow moonward. She followed her shadow moonward, up the flank of hill, between the orchard trees, over beaten bridge until she came to Stonemouth.
Stonemouth was open and empty like a howl of shame. At her feet, her shadow thinned and faded. She stood at the lip of Stonemouth and listened to its weeping. Celoni More closed her eyes.
[Again, the sisters cover their eyes with their hands. Lansa looks away, out the window between the slats of the shutters, where the Elder Twin has arrived and is chasing his brother. She keeps her hands folded in her lap for a moment before she begins tapping her tablet again.]
Aileena: When at long last Celoni More opened her eyes, wolf-silence leaned heavily against her legs, tail twitching, and the Twins had come, slipped from the throat of wolf-silence, along his tongue, and rode his white breath into the sky. Younger Twin was blood red in the centre of Stonemouth. Celoni More ran her fingers along the soft, furred neck of silence, feeling the texture of waiting. Soon, Elder Twin overtook his brother, clasped him by the shoulder, leaned against his back, and finally enclosed him in his great embrace, so that there was One-Twin-of-Two there in the centre of Stonemouth, one jewel, one hornless disc of light, the One Twin watching eye-wide and steady. And Celoni More's shadow leaped against her heels again, drew her awe-weakened down the stairs, back-wending step by step from stone to grass. Her mouth was an open O, her eyes wide, circled pupils within circled irises within the circle of the One Twin, within the circle of Stonemouth. She fell to her knees, enclosed in all.
The Sisters: Within, within, within, the One Twin, eye-wide and steady. Celoni More, enclosed in all.
Aileena: She was kneeling when Stonemouth yawned, belched above her bowed back, drew inward and vomited forth the Eater Birds coming again to feed. Celoni More fell low, turned on her back and, wide-armed, twined her fingers into grass, and her tears crept down her temples and sank into Mana's soil. She was soul-shrunk and so close to hollow, she could feel the breath of wolf-silence inside her chest. She was so close to hollow, silence echoed in her head. She was so close to hollow except that One Twin still watched her eye-wide and waiting. Her shadow still tugged at her heels.
The Sisters: Rise Celoni More. Rise in the One-Twin light.
Aileena: Thus it was that Celoni More was upright and standing in her shadow when the Eater came, striding black and ghost-breath white against the trees. Thus it was that when he leaned his face, dawn-pale and wanting, toward her, she saw the One Twin glowing in his eye. Thus it was that when he touched her, laid his hungry hand upon her heart, she pulled her axe from her belt and struck his shoulder with its innocent blade. Thus it was that Celoni More, of all the People, grappled with the Eater. Struck it now, and now, and now. Thus it was that she was flung away, rolled to the steps of Stonemouth, uneaten, angry, as the Eater came to her once more. And when Stonemouth opened again and the Fourfold came, silent and cloaked in nothing, when they made the Eater dance and jitter with the pain of invisible blows, it was Celoni More who clambered on the Eater's chest and drove the axehead home, drove it heart-deep and bloody now and now and now until the Eater died.
[Lansa looks up from her tablet, grinning. "Killed like citron," she says and goes back to her work. Lansa's eyes are very dark. Like her Aunt Beruse, she has a glass Eater inside her head.]
Aileena: Killed like citron. Yes. This was the first Eater to lie down on Mana's breast, unfed and dead. Celoni More crouched on his chest and prised the axe from his heart. The Stonemouth sighed and in its circle, the Elder Twin loosed his embrace and the Younger drifted free. Her shadow twinned, too, across the Eater's face. Celoni More laughed in the Twin-light. Twice-blessed, Twice-born, alive on the body of the dead Eater, her axe black with his blood.
The Sisters: Twice-blessed in Twin-light, Celoni More, Mother for thin days.
[At this point Aileena pauses, licks dry lips, and, as though she's coming back from a far off place, she blinks at me and smiles. "Tea," she says, and jumps down from her chair to help her sisters, who are already moving, shadowy, in the tiny kitchen. Beyond the shutters, the sky is the colour of the curled lip of a shell, pinked above, fading to deeper blue above the sea. The Twins are fractured on the surface there, dancing in the eye.
In the kitchen, the sisters laugh and chide. Lansa closes her tablet with a click and unfolds from her cushions to stand at the window, her fingers laced between the slats of the shutters. On the back of her left hand is a swirl of colour: red and indigo. It is a slip of fire winding around an open eye. She has been chosen for the Fourfold blending. This is why they are here, in the Capital, each having traveled from her Outlying Settlement by air. If I lean out over the railing of the small balcony, I can see their skiffs moored half-way up the building a dozen stories below us, thin-winged and angled into the wind with a dozen others, a flock of birds frozen together on the verge of turning.
"Are you excited?" I ask her.
She nods slowly and her cropped red hair falls across her cheek so that I can't see her face. After a moment, she tucks it behind her ear and smiles up at me when I come to stand next to her. We can see the statue in Renewal Square, lit up in rainbow lights as the Sisters prepare for the festival. Celoni More's face is turned up toward the Twins who are running their race across the sky. In two days the Elder will catch his brother, lean on his shoulder, enclose him in his embrace.
"And your Three? How are they?"
"They're beautiful," Lansa says.
"And your hearth-mate?"
Now, her smile has genuine light in it before it becomes shy and she turns back to the window again. "She's beautiful," she says, her voice low, an almost reverential whisper.
"Which one is she? Wolf? Wing?"
"Mind," she answers with a laugh.
I think of that one, down in the square with his Three, death dancing in his hand. Dangerous. The smile on Lansa's face is as wicked as her aunt's can be. A good match, then.
I want to ask her more, but the sisters return with a tray and the spice of tea fills their temporary quarters like a secret you whisper to a hearth-mate. It's delicious.
By the time Aileena is ready to resume the Lay, the sky is black and the Twins have moved on beyond the window. Lansa is back at her tablet. Beruse lies on the couch with her sandals beside her on the floor, where Kella toys with them. She's sitting on the mat with her ankles crossed. The light from the lamp makes the medallions on her own sandals wink at me. Beruse runs an idle finger along her sister's plaits, not as long as her own, which tumble down to the floor.]
Aileena: These are the Fourfold who came on the night of the Sixth Ascension of the Twins in the thin days in the year of the Great Awakening.
The slip of fire, she is smaller than Celoni More, moves like silk on wind. She carries the Eaters in her mind, an echo in a shell. Her smile is wicked-sweet and tastes like rain.
The wolfish, tall and wary-hunching, he smells the Eaters coming. He is sibling to silence, almost wordless, but speaking violence with his hands.
Mind, slant-mouthed, eyes-wide with knowing, sees the way the stars see, plays with atomies and makes fire from stone.
The wing, weaves a silent path through the air and tweaks the needle beaks of the Eater Birds. His touch awakens the future.
[Here, Aileena points as she speaks: to Lansa and Beruse (Fire), to Kella (Wolf) and to herself (Wing). Only Mind is unrepresented in their house, now. Their Fourth, Lansa's Mother, followed the Twins earthward years ago, when Lansa was a child. Lansa's hearth-mate will complete the Fourfold, even as Lansa completes another. This is the interweaving of the Mothers since the days of Celoni More.]
Aileena: Sometimes, in the night, Mothers can feel the brush of feathers on their lips.
The Sisters: Feathers and knowing and silence and fire, the Fourfold in us.
Aileena: The Fourfold lifted Celoni More, blood-smeared and new-born, from the chest of the Eater, carried her shaking into silence and cloaked her in nothing. They rose up, blinked over stream and orchard and hill, over the People standing heart-hollowed under the sweeping of dark-moon light, the Eater Birds clawing them from Mana's grasp. And the Twins looked on and waited, their avatars sent, Fourfold. Revenge was a silent wing passing without a shadow, a Fourfold gift. But the People, unknowing, stood and were taken, taken, one and one and two and on until there were few.
The Sisters: The few are not none.
Aileena: Celoni More looked down on them and wept. She passed on, riding the Twin-sent wing.
The Sisters: The few are not none.
Aileena: The few are not none. In a breath they came to the stern-faced mountain, eyes-closed, and grey. The mountain gaped to let them in.
[Now, Lansa stops her tapping and sits in the shadowed corner, listening. Beruse leaves her stroking of Kella's braids and instead folds her hands on her breast. Aileena's voice takes on a deeper tone, the rhythms heavier, swinging like a weight on a string, divining water.]
Aileena: It was deep-ground. It was Mana-heart. The wing passed through stone and found air in the mountain. Outside in the valley, the Eater Birds shrieked and tore the World asunder. Inside there was silence. Only silence, watchful and breathless, eyes-bright in darkness. Celoni More felt wolf-silence brush against her face, gamy and thin and tired of waiting, pacing, foot-forward, older than time. Then the Fourfold spread his wings, pinions inward-lit like glass, and awoke the future.
This was the day of Renewal.
The wing stroked the mountain and the mountain stirred. The mind whispered and fleetly traced the lights that danced under his fingers, and he whispered and hissed insistent while the Eater Birds made the People fewer and fewer, and finally, Mana answered. The slip of fire turned her eyes from the dancing lights toward the dark-door of stone. She raised her hand in warning. The Eaters were coming. The slip of fire could see them, glassy alive, in the hollows of her head. The wolf stood at the door, the fire at his side, Celoni More beside them both, and mind spoke to Mana and the wing swooped wide and the Eaters came, one, two, three, met fire and axe, fell and rose again, and mind said to Mana, "Live or these will die, and all the People will die."
The Sisters: "Hive ship," he said. Mana groaned and seeped light.
Aileena: "Hive ship." Mana seeped light, and the wing drank it, burned inward while the Eaters at the door fell under the axe of Celoni More, the slip of fire, the hand of wolf, and the wing howled and the light burst forth from the mountain and Mana sang.
The Sisters: Mana sang, light-voice and eye-wide, Mana sang.
Aileena: Mana sang and flung fire sky-ward, Twin-ward heaving, and then a blooming just there between the Elder and the Younger. And the Eaters came no more.
Lansa: The Eaters came no more.
[There is a long silence here as Aileena watches the past, eyes-wide, and the sisters and Lansa listen to the silence padding between them, and me, and the statue now dark in the Square. Wolf-silence circles once, twice, again, settles down in the space between the People and the sky, and rests his toothy muzzle on his paws. The Stonemouth yawns deep-sown in stone under the sculpture of Celoni More, its mouth closed with dust. In the mountain, Mana waits, and in the Outlying Settlements, the slips of fire Listen, as Lansa will learn to Listen. But the Eaters never come. It is the Sixth Ascension of the Twins in the Age of Renewal. Aileena does not close her eyes.]
Aileena: Thus said mind:
[She recites the words with the mechanical lilting of someone speaking by rote in a language she does not understand. And of course, she doesn't. No-one understands the Fourfold words anymore, although their consequences are clear, and written now on the back of Lansa's hand in red and indigo. The sisters, including Lansa, recite the words with her.]
Aileena: Thus said mind: "There isn't enough power to run the system continually. You need to activate it when you know the Wraith are coming."
Celoni More looked to the slip of fire, saw the glass Eater behind her eyes. "Give me this," she said, and drank deep of her, mouth on mouth, teased the seed from steady hands and tucked it under her own tongue.
Thus said wing: "They won't be able to initialize it without the gene."
Celoni More parted feathers, found flesh, felt the light under skin. "Give me this," she said, and drank deep of him, mouth on mouth, teased the seed from his blood and tucked it under her tongue.
Thus said fire: "But how will they maintain it if they bury the gate and we cannot come to their aid?"
Celoni More stepped close to mind, and saw him, eyes-wide and sparkling with knowing, and in his broad palm death was nimble-tame. "Give me this," she said, and drank deep of him, mouth on mouth, teased the seed from between his thin lips and tucked it under her tongue.
Thus said wolf: "Who's going to protect them while they're here? They aren't fighters."
Celoni More laid her hand on his neck and traced the sinews there, taut with readiness. "Give me this," she said, and drank deep of him, mouth on mouth, teased the seed from behind his teeth and tucked it under her tongue.
The Sisters: Feathers and knowing and silence and fire, the Fourfold in us.
Aileena: In the way of Mothers, Celoni More sowed the seeds within her in the growing time, waxed fat with Fourfold laughing. And in the way of Daughters, the seeds brought themselves forth and slipped from her dancing, one for each of the four winds: Wolf, Fire, Mind, Wing.
We are the daughters of Celoni More. Fourfold are the People.
It was in the thinnest of the thin days when they came--the Eaters and the Fourfold--the thin days of the Sixth Ascension of the Twins, when the shadow tugged at our heels, the axe fell, the Stonemouth howled and Mana sang. These are the days of Renewal.
All of them: The Fourfold within us, Fourfold are the Daughters of Celoni More, enclosed in all.