The Tatterdemalion walked towards me across the tesseracted sands of the sun-abandoned shore, saying, “Curtail not your yearnings for unprincipled morality.”
I fixed his blank face with an anxious stare and asked him to explain his presence there, upon the shore.
“Cease your babblement,” he told me and proceeded to repeat his words of greeting, saying, “Curtail not your yearnings for unprincipled morality lest you surrender to the inevitable fabulosity of life.”
I turned away, confused and weary, and walked away along the beach, walking the very line where the frothy waves kissed the land, neither hesitating nor deviating from my path as I advanced towards my destiny.
I recalled Her words, the words that had led me hence, the words She had uttered in that time before time when last we met.
“Do not yield to the many-faceted lies of love, my darling,” She had said, weeping sweetly bitter tears. “That lie nostalgia provides no answers.”
“If nostalgia is a lie,” I had retorted, “then how great is the lie in yearning to return to a moment that never existed?”
“That would be the greatest lie of all,” She had replied. “Do not yield to it, but go forth and seek your True Love wherever She may be.”
“But, you are my True Love,” I had told her, attempting to seize her in an ardent embrace, but she had pushed me away, saying, “I am but an echo of a memory of an unrealised desire. Do not yield to my lie.”
“I would rather lie with you than lie alone, even if that meant denying Truth in all her splendour.”
“Do not deny Her, for She is a jealous lover and quick to anger. Only with Her guidance shall you find me. The me that is real, not the me that is a lie.”
Thus, I had turned away from her and walked towards the beach, my salt tears falling swift like rain to run into the sea, polluting and corrupting its pure waters with my pain.
I had walked alone for a time along those tesseracted sands following the line where the sea kissed the land in momentary delight with only my pain to comfort and accompany me. Then, I had seen the Tatterdemalion walking towards me, come from the distant city of light across the cloud-filled sea that existed beyond the undeliminated boundaries of the world. Fully two ells tall, he stood fully head and shoulders above me, distant and regal in his rags.
“Curtail not your yearnings for unprincipled morality,” he told me, before I turned and walked away, eager to complete my quest.
The sea grew more eager in its attempts to embrace the land and, seeing a pathway across the grass-dappled dunes, I abandoned them to their lovemaking to continue my quest amongst the hills where I had spent my childhood as a girl, before adulthood and masculinity had claimed me for their own.
I left no footprints in the sand as I encroached upon the dunes, my presence too meagre to trouble the grains that had been laid down by the inexorable passage of time. Finally, I reached the dunes and amongst them the pathway that led inland away from the rolling waves engaged in their amorous frisk.
I followed the pathway until it became a trackway, which, in its turn, graduated into a roadway carrying me ever on towards my destiny. As if the road were a river, I flowed towards my fate, never pausing, never resting, forever walking on and on.
The roadway took me to the hills and through the hills, to that which lay beyond. Beyond the hills was a town, a place that I recalled from my youth, yet which held but an atom of familiarity within my mind. To that town I went, seeking not what I knew.
“Greetings, stranger,” called a man with a vituline face that repulsed me with its eager expression.
“Greetings,” I retorted in mock politeness, thinking him a bluntwitted blunderhead, but proving too polite to state it. “Greetings and good day.”
“Greetings and welcome, welcome to our town.”
“What is this place?” I asked, feeling a fool to ask it. “The name and nature of this place escape me.”
“Then, allow me to welcome you to Robardin.”
“Robardin?” I echoed. The name tugged at my memory, yet not for a town. I knew not why.
“And, what is the nature of this place?” I asked again, seeking to understand why I knew it not.
“We are a place to refresh the weary traveller, to waken tired bodies and sate carnal desires.”
“I am a weary traveller,” I told the man with the vituline face, “and my body is tired and sluggish and, I might confess, my urges have long gone unsated.”
“Then, dear sir,” he said, turning me from my quest, “you have come to just the right place. Here is our tavern where you may eat and drink until you develop a gorbelly of prodigious proportions and have drowned all your cares and concerns.”
“Good. I am in need of food and drink.”
I gorged upon dainties and absinthiated cakes and drank glass after glass of imbittered spirit that numbed my pain and longing, until finally I fell back sated in my seat.
I called out for the man with the vituline face, whose name I did not know, and he appeared by my side, beaming, saying, “Good, good, you have eaten well!”
“I have sated my hunger and my thirst,” I said, “now can I sate the urgings of my flesh?”
“Indeed! Indeed!” he cried and his smile grew wider. “Go thence to Pornodorus the Fleshmonger and he will set you right whatever your desire.”
But, as I staggered forth in search of pleasure, a memory stirred within my mind. A memory of my Beloved. Why was I here gorging myself and seeking the pleasures of the flesh when my True Love was out there, lost, and the true source of all my joy? With a sudden realisation, I understood that it was I who was the fool, the blunderhead. Running to a window bedecked with food, I gazed upon my reflection and saw a vituline face staring back!
“No! No! This shall not be! That is not me! I shall be free!”
I screamed and cursed until my body shook with rage and vomit surged forth in a flood as my gorbelly deflated and my senses returned.
“No worry! No worry!” my former friend cried, running to my side. “We can feed you up again! Oh, yes, oh, yes, we can!”
“No!” I cried. “No! And thrice times no! I shall eat no more till my True Love is found!” and I turned away, calling back, “You are a prisoner, sir. A prisoner and a fool!”
But, he did not respond, just stared, smiling benignly after me until the town was lost amongst the hills through which the wide road ran.
“I shall find you yet!” I called to the air.
The air did not answer back, but was still.
Onward and onward I trudged, until I met a woman walking the other way. I greeted her and she greeted me and we exchanged greetings in wary communication.
“Where do you go?” she asked me as I asked her the same.
“I seek my True Love,” I told her. “Have you seen her?”
“No, but your quest is admirable and I wish you well as you seek her through the world.”
She then proceeded to tell me of her sorry plight. “I go to Robardin to embrothel myself,” she said. “Only then might I be reunited with the one I love. My fool of a husband was cursed with an incorrigible urge to ascertain the anatomic intimacies of every painted harlot he happened upon. He could no more resist the charms of a woman of marketable virtue than the buttered bread can resist union with a blemished floor. Perhaps by ransoming my worth to him, I can rediscover the love that once we shared.”
And, saying that, she went sadly on her way and I went on my way, wondering as I went why Fate could be so cruel.
A little further on, I saw a crossroads at which stood an old man in a confused and agitated state.
“What are you?” he called as he watched my approach. “A wolf in cheap clothing?”
“That is a question at which I take exception,” I retorted, “for I do not think I am poorly dressed.”
He ignored my words and spat and swore and would heed not my enquiries as to who he was. His speech was punctuated with profanities, punctuated to the extent that it was nought but punctuation and I could get no sense from him.
Shaking my head, I went to walk onward, but he stepped to block my way. Shrugging, I turned to the left, but he stepped to block my way. Sighing, I turned to the right, but he stepped to block my way.
“Three times you have stood in my way, sir. Cease this bluntwitted behaviour or as I labially make this vow, I shall go and fetch a bilboblade and skewer you through the liver! Or, else, a razor to debarb you!”
Continuing to curse, he crept aside and allowed me to pass on my way, hurling deprecations after me as I went on my way, unenlightened as to the source of his confusion or his bile.
Further on still, I saw a figure neither male nor female, being concealed beneath the testudinous bulk of an enormous pack that hung down about them so that only their trudging legs and the straining red fingers of their hands, which gripped the pack, could be seen. It was such a burden as I had never beheld in my life and I marvelled that it could be borne.
As I drew near to the ungainly figure, I called out boldly to ask what the burden was they bore.
“You would not believe me if I told you,” the mostly-unseen figure replied in a weak and gaspy voice.
“Perhaps not,” I admitted, “although I do endeavour to believe three impossible things before breakfast, as I was once advised; but sometimes it is believing in those things commonly deemed possible that I find most difficult of all to achieve. Indeed, upon occasion, I find it difficult to believe even in myself.”
There was a wheezing chuckle in reply. “Indeed, what I bear would be harder for you to believe in than your own existence, as unlikely as that might seem given the myriad impossibilities inherent in the fleeting existence of a human life.”
“I seek my True Love,” I told the largely-concealed figure, wearying of such discussion and desiring to continue with my quest and complete it before the despair in me grew bigger.
“A True Love is a terrible thing,” came the reply, “for they leave one vulnerable and seldom stay true…”
I could no more stomach such sentiment than I had proven able to stomach the rich fare of Robardin, and, shaking my head, I walked away, saying, “I pity you less for the burden you bear upon your back than the burden you bear within your heart. Dark and drear are the dreams of those who live without hope and my True Love is the hope that drives me ever on.”
The hills grew steep and transformed to mountains and I came upon a monastic establishment within a cleft between two peaks. The building rose tall and majestic with scalloped fascia and onion domes that would have shone brightly had not the sun abandoned the land. Behind the abbey structure an icon of immense proportions had been graven in the living rock of the mountains, the image of a mask-like face and outstretched hands.
I approached the building up a winding path that wound back upon itself in a curious and twisting pattern. At the top of the slope, before the monastic building, sat a blind monk grasping an empty begging bowl. I had no funds to provide him with.
“Hello,” said the monk, sensing my approach, and I replied, “Hello.”
We remained in silence for a time and I felt as if he were examining me with his milk-white unseeing eyes. Then, I spoke: “What is this place, this monastic retreat?”
“Cherished here within the bosom of the blank-faced Bodhisattva of Desire is the mountain monastery of Salem. Here we are in the shadow of the Moon.”
“I have lost my True Love,” I said, repeating the refrain of my overlong journey, almost as a mantra, “and seek her throughout the world. Can you help guide me to where my True Love waits?”
The monk was silent for a moment, then he spoke: “It is perhaps a possibility that the Animate Sagacity of the Virtuous that dwells within the walls of our retreat may be capable of aiding you upon your quest. I stress possibility and that that possibility is a mere perhaps. But, perhaps…”
“Perhaps is enough for me, for I wander aimlessly.”
“Then, go within. Pass through the golden gates and cross the courtyard, if you dare, then enter the Temple and seek an answer, if you dare. But, and I warn you, do not exchange words with the Yellow Abbot, for he lies.”
“Thank you,” I said and went within. I passed through the golden gates that stood within an obsidian arch and found myself in a courtyard paved in black and yellow. As I took a step, I found myself slipping and with every further step I slid about in confusion.
“The courtyard is inconstant,” came a voice from above, a deep and melodious voice rich in compassion. “The courtyard is inconstant and paved with hopes that never were redeemed. I can guide you across.”
Looking up, I saw a man robed in yellow with a mask as pale and expressionless as the visage of the Bodhisattva carved upon the mountainside behind him. The Yellow Abbot, I took him to be, but dared not ask him if that were he, for I recalled the words of the blind monk and knew he could not be of help to me.
Careening inelegantly across the inconstant courtyard of unredeemed hopes, I paid no heed to the Yellow Abbot’s offers, observations, threats. I paid no heed to all he had to say as I slowly, difficultly made my weary way across.
At last, I stood upon the steps that led to the Temple door. Stood upon them, climbed them, ascended them to the Temple door. Finally, I stood before it, and pushed open the Temple door.
Within, the Temple was dark and filled with an admurmuration of distant voices. Warily, I stepped within.
Slowly, carefully, I crossed the darkened chamber of the Temple interior, ignoring the voices that ever whispered within my ears, vouchsafing in pectore truths I would never need know amidst a babbling of nonsense that seemed to drive me half insane.
“The Devil loves the hollows of the Earth,” a whisper informed me, portentously, as another revealed, irrelevantly, that “Jack is an eyeservant, ever seeking excuses not to work.”
“I made myself a snow leopard,” yet another voice told me amongst the mumbled words, “but the sun came out and I was left with but a fluid ounce…”
Steadfast in my duty, I ignored all the babbled whispers and pressed on through the darkness in hope of some crumb of enlightenment to guide me on my way.
Finally, I halted before a subtle shifting in the darkness and the voices ceased their prattling, plunging me into silence.
I waited a moment, then spoke. “Are you there? I was told there was a possibility that the Animate Sagacity of the Virtuous could help me on my way. Are you he or she or it? Are you there? Will you, can you, help me on my way?”
“I am here.” The voice came from the darkness, from where it subtly shifted. “I am here.”
“Can you help me? Will you help me? I seek my True Love. Please, help me find her.”
The voice laughed – a pleasant laugh, not a cruel or threatening one.
“Will you help me?” I asked again.
“Yes. I can and I will. I will help you on your way.”
“Thank you. Thank you.” I sighed. Sighed and cried.
“Enfolded within the rugose fronds of time,” the Animate Sagacity informed me, “you and your True Love seek one another coeternally.”
The voice in the darkness laughed again. “Yes. As you have searched for her, so she has searched for you. As you have searched through the world, so did she wander through the world searching for you. You have danced about one another in an ornate pattern of unspecific symbology.”
“Then, how do I find her?”
“You must seek first and find Truth if you are to find your True Love, for only She can guide you to Her.”
“But, where shall I find Truth?” I knew not where to begin my search.
The voice laughed for a third time. “Oh, ye of little faith! You have always known Truth, for She has always walked beside you. Had you but called upon Her, Truth could have guided you straight to your True Love.”
“Do you mean to say that my entire quest has been a fool’s errand of wasted time? That I am a blunderhead and doltard too blind to see that Truth walked beside me?”
“Oh, no,” said a sweet, feminine voice and I turned to see Truth stood beside me. “Your journey has been no waste. You needed to make this journey so that you could recognise me and come to understand me.”
I had thought I understood Truth, but it transpired that it was Truth who understood me. I had been a fool to myself and blind to Truth.
“Can you help me find my True Love?” I barely dared to hope.
Truth laughed a sweet and tinkling laugh and told me in a voice I recognised well, “You already have…”
And, she was right, for my True Love stood before me gowned in the garb of Truth…
BIO: DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as Winter’s Grasp (Fantasia Divinity), Tales of the Black Arts (Hazardous Press), Pagan (Zimbell House), Misunderstood (Wolfsinger), and Sorcery & Sanctity: A Homage to Arthur Machen (Hieroglyphics Press), and issues of Fantasia Divinity, Broadswords and Blasters, and BFS Horizons, and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor).