Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Let There Be Song! A short story

Let There Be Song!

In the beginning of it all, the Maester opened his mouth and sang. The note was long and pure and deep and rich. Inside that single note were triads and trills, arpeggios and cadenzas, though if one had been present, one could only have sensed them and not heard them. That single note contained all the promise of every song yet unsung, unwritten, unrehearsed, but it was unexpressed. Solitary and yet somehow perfect in that solitude. The note rang out for ages and epochs of time that had never been created. It went backwards and forwards, ringing the Maester with his own magnificence. But the Maester was not willing to let his song be heard only by his own ears, so he sang a chorus out of which he created beings of superior magnificence. They reflected back the Maesters note and were pleased to have it ring in their ears. These beings were huge and flew with wings covered in ears, but for them the song, even just that single note, became more than they could bear, so they covered their ears that were on their heads with one set of wings. On their wings, they closed their ears up tightly, trying to drown out the song. Seeing that his creatures could not stand all of his magnificent song at once, the Maester split his single note, that one perfect all-encompassing note into three, and then twelve and then hundreds and hundreds of notes—thousands even. Some of them he sang so low that the Winged Ones could not hear them. Some notes he sang so high that their ears could not comprehend it, and of the ones in their hearing, he chose to hold back a part of his magnificence so that they could bear to hear the rest.

He sang a trill and space formed about them and time began. How this happened has never really been clear. I have seen it in visions and dreams, but when I awake, the dreams cannot be uttered in words. They fail me.

The Winged Ones flew about, with their great wings carrying them this way and that, listening to parts of the song wherever they went, so that they could hear much more of the Maesters song as they listened to the song in smaller parts. Their thoughts wove the song into one huge orchestration, yet when they tried to sing back, they had not been given music in their voices. They could chant out how glorious the Maester was and how splendid his song, and they did so for ages and eons and epochs.

But the Maester was interested in hearing his song reflected back and in sharing more that was in his heart than even his song could contain, so he thought. It was a flash, or was it a million years...either was one and the same to the Maester for he stepped in and out of time at his pleasure. In his pleasure he created a universe and it was broad and long, too broad and long for anyone to measure, for it took a near infinite measuring tape, which he created with a single solitary note, somewhere in the mid-range, for I could hear it in my visions and dreams. He rolled out the measuring tape with a flick of his wrist and the near infinite space fit within the span. He wrapped the entire universe with the tape and with a smile, sang out his pleasure. He flicked his wrist and the measuring tape unwrapped from around the majestic space to fit within his palm, then he sang a song whose music became light, and throughout the universe stars suddenly appeared and took on the note with which they were created. Black holes, red giants, white and brown dwarfs, nebulae, galaxies, and stars beyond description. The size of the universe and the stars within it were beyond my comprehension, and he sang them into place. Within the galaxies he placed planets beyond measure, spinning them in their courses with a trill of his voice. They began their merry pathways and their joy was heard in song. The entire universe was both filled with and yet somehow devoid of song. It was quiet and it was filled.

How do I describe it? Perhaps it was that the music wasn't heard by my ears, but was heard in my spirit. I'm not certain how to say it. It was the finest orchestration I had ever heard. Even the silences where somehow musical. The light revealed the darkness, or the darkness ran from the light, I don't know, but the universe was filled with the beauty of the lights the Maester had created. Yet I did not exist. It was beautiful and it was very good, but the Maester was not finished. Each planet was different. In a flash, he showed me them all, though I do not know how. And he showed me the planet which has always been my home, and it was beautiful and perfect and very, very small. I had seen planets one-hundred times the size of mine, and stars that were a hundred-thousand times the size, and yet it was small and large and beautiful beyond what my heart could stand.

“Don't show me any more!” I cried. “I cannot take in any more of your splendor. My ears cannot listen to any more of your song.” And yet, while I could take no more, I knew that I wanted no less than what he would show me, and what my ears could hear. I was both filled and wanting more, greedy in a way I had never been before.

For a moment, the song died away, and for a moment my vision went dark. Then slowly and gently the sound and the vision were restored and I was filled with peace.

The Maester then went planet by planet and told them what to do. Their courses were determined by his song. Some were cold and lonely, and some blazed with fiery heat. Some were gaseous and some were earth and water. On some he sent the water underground to live for all days, and on some he pulled the water to create great clouds around them, each ruled by and singing their own song.

All the colors of the rainbow were given to the planets and each one bore the color he assigned it. Each one absorbed the light of its nearest star or stars, filling themselves with the music of the star and singing its own song back. Each planetary system had it's own chord that it played and each galaxy contained a concerto. I had never heard this music, and with my waking ears I never have heard such a song, but I, even I, was given the honor of this vision.

It was a moment, or was it an epoch, when the Maester finishes his work. On my planet he had sung a special song and there was all kinds of life there. The oceans were parted and the earth was formed, mountains and valleys, rivers and seas ran in their courses. Trees sprang forth, grasses and grains, vines and bushes of all description, flowers in such colors and wondrous patterns they put the galaxies to shame. As I watched, animals appeared, all kinds. I saw animals that have long been extinct and ones that I have heard about but never seen, and some as yet undiscovered by mankind. He sang and the birds flew through the skies and the seas were filled with fish and all manner of creatures, frolicking and swimming about in a fury of joyous activity.

I saw the Winged One he had called the Choir Director whose work was directing the Winged Ones as they called out their chants, “How glorious is the Maester and how splendid is his song!” They shouted in chorus. Part of the chorus would call out, “Glorious!” and the rest would call out, “How glorious is the Maester and how splendid is his song!” They chanted to each other as they flew through the heavens and through the expanse above and inside the universe. And the Choir Director's heart grew dark, and after ages leading the choir to call out the praises of the Maester, the Choir Director looked at my planet, my tiny insignificant planet, saw all the effort and pleasure the Maester poured out upon it and determined to have it for himself. He looked at himself and saw splendor and majesty, saw the wings with which he flew and the ears with which he heard. He saw his beauty and began to praise himself in his heart.

On my planet, the Maester created my ancestors. He took a tiny piece of the ground and mixed it with his song and made the first singer. And he gave him the ability to sing and I saw the Choir Director grow angry and his face darkened and the ears on his wings shriveled and fell off. The Maester created a woman from part of the first singer and brought her to him to help him finish his song. And together they sang a new song, and there was joyous music. The Choir Director left his post in the heavens and called out his discontent to the choir, and many of the Winged Ones were caught by his darkness and followed him. And as they did, I saw the ears on their wings shrivel and fall off as well.

“We are even more beautiful and majestic than before,” he said to them, and they preened about, shaking out their earless wings and finding themselves beautiful, they determined that they were more beautiful now than when they had been formed and thus despised the Maester who had created them with notes from his own mouth.

But the song was not finished.

I looked and the first singers walked about the planet. They found themselves surrounded by beauty. The roses had no thorns, the berry bushes had no thorns. Trees were covered in fine fruit that was good to eat, and vegetables of all description grew in meadows. Gentle streams flowed through the gardens and beside the meadows. When they were tired, they lay down on the soft ground without fear of attack, for the animals were all gentle and ate of the fruits of the trees and of the ground. They had no need of shelter because there were no storms.

The Maester took on an appearance like theirs and came and walked with them and sang in the gardens and meadows beside quiet streams and sat with them next to the water. Their songs were gentle and sweet and reflected back the portion of himself he had shown them. Their voices were so beautiful that I wept. I weep each time I remember.

I looked and the Choir Director hovered in the trees above them, clothing himself in the garb of a strange green-skinned creature that looked like a dragon and a snake and a crocodile, but it stood upright and ate of the leaves closer to the ground and was a beautiful thing.

In all of the universe, the Maester taught them song after song, before he showed them two songs they were not to sing. The reasons were unclear to me. Then he made for them instruments of wind and string and wood. Violins, harps, keyboards and lyre. Then he himself took gold and silver and bronze from the ground and with fire that he began with a note that shivered from the tip of his finger, he heated the metal and formed instruments of wind. He made trumpets and flutes. He formed drums from wood and strips of a strong leaf which I did not know. He dried it over the fire and formed the head. Then he gave them permission to make instruments of every description, every type they could think of and to find joy in music and in the creation of it.

And they did.

And the Maester was pleased by the singers he had made and the world he had made for them. He was pleased with the seas and the land, with the plants and the animals, with the fish that swim in the seas, with the birds of the air and with every creature.

And the Winged Ones shouted for joy at the Maester's delight, all but the ones who had joined the Choir Director. For a long time the first Singer and his wife enjoyed peace and delight in the world the Maester had given them. And he walked with them, sat with them, talked with them and sang with them each day. Each day they told him of one of the creatures he had made and what a delightful discovery they had made. And they were very happy and sang songs of delight throughout the day.

And I saw as the Choir Director took for himself a new name. He called himself Discord and all his followers were happy and took for themselves all matter of new names. By the time I was born, those names he and his followers took for themselves had become familiar to all as descriptions of bad and terrible things, Wrecked became our description for something that had been ruined, crushed or destroyed. Discord became the word we used for people who were at odds with each other, and we had forgotten even the existence of Discord and his followers.

Oh what a deluded people we have become! And I felt foolish and saddened. After that I slept a sleep without any more dreams or visions. When I awoke I was thrilled and troubled by what I had seen. What did it mean? What could it mean? Dawn broke through the clouds and for a moment I imagined I heard the splendor of the sun in song, but it was not to be.

I went on about my normal day, much as I would any other, except I was silent. By noon others were commenting and asking after my health, but I was unable to respond. I was too filled with what I had seen to let it go. My wife, bless her, would have known to leave me alone to my contemplations, but I had buried her more than ten years previous. She was the best wife a man could have, spunky, independent, helpful, and quick-witted. She had an instinctive way with people, knowing when to push and when to back off, when to listen and when to give advice, and she never put up with anyone messing with me. Not that I needed her protection, but we looked out for each other. I was a buffer between her and her lunatic mother when she came to live with us at the end of her life. I protected her from prying questions when we had all those miscarriages and stillbirths. I answered for her, the rude and insensitive comments of others when we suffered those and other losses. Oh today, I miss her again so much. She, of all people, would not have required an explanation to give me the peace and solitude I crave. And I would have taken her into my confidence and told her what I had seen. She would have believed me even if other's would think me mad.

I no longer have to attend to my occupation, as younger hands hold the tools and follow my designs to provide the goods I always crafted with my own hands. These hands can do little these days besides hold a pen and draw the plans, sign bank writs for the worker's pay, and write letters. Some days I even have trouble fastening my buttons. Such is the indignity of old age.

I always enjoyed my work, but since I no longer have to put in the long hours shaping the wood to my design, I have taken to solitary walks through the hills that surround my town, stopping to chat with the baker, the cobbler, the mercantile manager, the butcher and the grocer when I came upon them. I have known them and their fathers before them in their time. Today, I eschewed conversation, with a smile and a polite wave that engendered their concern and them calling after my health. Since the death of my Camille, the entire town seems to have taken it upon themselves to look after my well-being.

Ah, well, I suppose it is a strange thing to them that I have lived so long. Many of my friends and neighbors seem old when they are half my age. For on the morrow, I shall be 100. It is a fine old age that I certainly never thought I would see. Our son, Frederich, didn't live to be 40, but such is the mystery of life. I grow ancient while other's die so very young.

The hills called to me, so with a purpose I climbed high above the town, seeking not just solitude, but a place where I could rightly examine my visions and dreams. I was panting from the effort when I found just the spot I was looking for. A large flat boulder sat in a clearing with a single oak tree at its edge. The tree provided shade from the blazing sun, and the grass was cool and inviting. Leaning up against the boulder, I opened my pack and pulled out my usual mid-day repast of an apple, some fine aged cheese from the dairyman, the heel of a loaf of some crusty bread and a flagon of red wine. Upon taking the last bite of my meal, I proceeded to pull pen and paper from my pack and to put my visions and dreams on paper. Words came in a torrent and I wrote until my hand would no longer grasp the pen. The sun was low and the shadows cast grew long. Temperatures cooled and I shivered a bit in the breeze. The earth itself released a rich odor of life and time and growth and decay. The grass seemed greener, the sky bluer, the rock against which I rested my back seemed sturdier and more...well, rock-like than before. I saw the grass before me, not as a mass of green, but I seemed to see each blade as if independent of the others. The ground beside me separated into separate grains of earth and the sky above hurt my eyes with it's intensity. I closed my eyes and my ears heard the waving of the grass in the breeze, a small but discernible sound, as each blade rubbed against another.

It was intense and over-powering and I was suddenly exhausted and I lay down for a moment, to rest before making my way back down the hill. I clasped my cloak around me and using my arm as a pillow, I fell into a deep sleep.

Discord walked through the valley, clothed in animal flesh, his green and blue scales glistening in the afternoon sun. He heard the first singers laughter as they walked among the trees and bushes. He reached up and plucked a peach from the tree and fed her a juicy bite. They ate and walked in companionship, talking and singing to each other. He reveled in her beauty and she in the strength of his body and of hers. They had names, given to them by the Maester, he was called Capo, for he was the first singer, and hers was Encore, because she was the special completion of his work, the grandeur that would leave one wanting more of her. Discord grew angry and his scales changed color. As they burst into song, his anger reached its peak and he determined in his heart that they would be his and not the Maester's. He would destroy the thing that brought the Maester so much pleasure, and take for himself the music that he should have been given.

He watched as the singers went to seek out different things in the valley. Capa climbed the hills, while Encore sat beside the stream, dangling her hand in the water. She sang a sweet song, that mimicked the sound of the water's rippling sound.

Discord approached. Encore felt no fear or apprehension, for there had never been a need in the world
she inhabited. All the beasts she had encountered were without harm, all the plants were beneficial and pleasing to the eye, and the only danger they had encountered had been as they climbed the rocky cliffs looking over the valley that was their home. But their feet were nimble and swift and their balance superb, so they had not known danger nor fear.

Encore looked at Discord with wonder as he approached. His beauty was beyond compare. The green and blue scales were glistening and his form was pleasing to her. “What are you called?” she asked, though she was merely thinking aloud. Animals in that day, as in this, had no speech. She was amazed when he answered, “I come to bring you great news.”

Her eyes grew wide with wonder, “You speak! How is this?” He smiled a reptilian smile that managed to be reassuring and kindly, “Do not worry about that. I have come to bring you truth.”

“Please tell me.” she begged.

She had never seen sly nor evil in her existence, and did not recognize the gleam that came to Discord's eye. “I have come to tell you about the music you sing...and that which you do NOT sing.”

“There is no music we may not sing, save but two songs. Those the Maester has forbidden to us.” She pulled a small lyre from beside her and began to strum as she hummed. He reached for the instrument and without hesitation she gave it to him. He strummed the notes to the first song the Maester had said they may not sing. It sounded so sweet and pure and lovely that her heart broke with sorrow that she would never sing it.

“You like this song,” the reptile said to Encore.

“Oh I do, but I am not to sing it. He has said so.”

“But do you not know why he has forbidden this song?”

“I do not know, only that I may not sing it. I should not even be listening to it lest I die.”

“This song will not kill you, it will enrich your life beyond measure. This song will open to you the music of the stars and of the planets, of the trees and the grasses, of field and forest. You will understand how to make the music that creates the stars.”

Encore's eyes grew wide as she listened to Discord's words. “But the Maester is the only one who can create the stars!”

“Is that what he told you?”

“He told me this, yes. I should not even be listening to this song. I may die even from hearing it!” At that pronouncement, she stared at her hands, as if to see if they were dying in front of her. Seeing that they were not, she listened to the song he strummed on the lyre. With a tear in her eye for the beauty of the song, and with a desire to create even one of the stars she saw in the heaven's at night and to know what the Maester knew about song and music, she began to sing. Her sweet song rose to the heights above the valley, where Capo heard and in horror rushed back down the mountain to her side.

“What are you doing?” he cried. He saw on her face that she had changed with the song, and he determined to keep her, so he joined her in song.

Hearing them singing the song that would put a tear in music forever, the Maester wept.

Capo and Encore ceased their song, looked at Discord and saw the evil in what they had done. They could no longer hear the music of the river, nor could they sing. The music in their heads and in their hearts was somehow flattened and filled with sour notes that brought them pain. They were utterly miserable and curled up together under a nearby bush. Discord, still wrapped in the creature's body, sauntered over to a nearby tree and climbed in to the uppermost branches, and in his glee, he waited to see what the Maester would do with his ruined creation.

He did not wait long. Capo and Encore lay huddled together beneath a raspberry bush when the Maester arrived for a song. “Where are you?” he called out, though he knew.

From beneath the bush they called to him, “We cannot come out, for we cannot hear the song.”

“Did you sing the forbidden music?” he called.

“I didn't want to sing it, for I knew what you said, but I could not let her sing alone!” Capo called.

“I was tricked by the lizard,” Encore called out. They crawled out and knelt before the Maester, shamed and miserable.

The Maester looked at their miserable tear-stained faces and his heart broke even more. “What you have done is worse than you realize. You have broken the music, and have brought death into this world which knew none. And now, to save you from yourselves, and from the remaining song that would keep you trapped here in your misery forever, you are banished from this valley. You will spend your days seeking music always, but as you do so, you will have to plant and harvest so that you may eat. Your days of leisure are at an end. You will experience pain, and fear, sorrow and disappointment. For you have sung that song and once it is sung, it cannot be unsung.”