Thursday, November 24, 2005

Chapter 24 - Alone

Jeremy went home and slept all day, got up and forced himself to pop something in the microwave and eat it. He tried to write, but the only thing he could think of to write about was a sonnet to Liliana -- Tianalamara -- and he just dissolved into tears when he tried, so he went back to bed.

The next day was a bit better, but after spending the whole day writing, with only a short break for lunch, he realized that what he'd written was garbage.

This wasn't all that unusual. His usual practice was to reread what he'd written every ten pages or so, and often he would trash most of it and start back over from six or eight pages back. It wasn't unusual for him to spend four hours working and produce two pages, having typed the equivalent of a dozen or more if he'd actually been working on a typewriter producing pages as he typed.

But usually he'd have at least something to show for a day. Today, none of it was any good. It was all garbage.

He wasn't even sure this story was a good idea.

He needed to get out. He headed for the park, hoping against hope to find her there waiting for him, but of course she wasn't. He sat down on the stone she'd been sitting on when he first saw her, and tried to sort out his feelings.

He didn't even know what to call her in his head. She had always been Liliana to him, but now he knew her real name was Tianalamara. He wondered if she'd told him her real name only because he'd seemed so dense at not understanding her hint that she was sure he was going to die. So why not?

On the other hand, although supposedly true names could give one power over otherwordly creatures, it didn't matter much if he never saw her again. If he couldn't use it to summon her, what good was it.

Or could he use it to summon her?

He stood before the doorway, looked around. No one was in sight. He reached out for the door as if waiting to grasp the hands of someone coming through it.

"Tianalamara, come to me!" he pleaded. Then he said it again, this time ordering. Then he said it once more, pleading again and almost wailing.

Nothing happened.

"Well, what did you expect," Jeremy asked himself. Whatever compulsion might come from a mortal calling your name was sure to be trumped by the King of All Faerie forbidding you to go to him.

He walked home dejectedly and made himself some supper. He really didn't feel like eating, and ended up throwing most of it out. Then he went to bed.

The next morning he did some paperwork for his new writing career. He had to write three new cover letters and print out new clean copies of the three stories on nice paper for stories that had been rejected. He took them to the post office to mail them out, and did some shopping.

He was still depressed, and still somewhat in shock. He couldn't quite get used to the idea that Liliana wasn't going to be back in a few days.

Tianalamara. Tianalamara wasn't going to be back. He'd just found out her name, and now he would never even get to call her by it.

He suddenly broke down crying in the middle of the grocery store. He abandoned his cart and went to the front of the store, where there were benches for people to sit on. He sat down and tried to collect himself.

"Are you all right?" someone asked. He looked up, and for a split second Liliana's form and face superimposed itself on the form and face of the young woman who had come up to him. But it was just a woman with dark hair. A nice woman, apparently, a look of concern on her face.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I'll be all right. I just . . . I just lost my . . . girlfriend." That was as good a word as any, he decided.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," she said, assuming, as he'd known she would, that he meant she had died. "When did she . . ."

We can't even say the word, Jeremy thought. We're all so afraid of it.

"Just yesterday."

"Oh, my goodness. Well, you certainly have every reason to feel like crying, then. Is there anything I can do?"

"No. I'll . . . I'll be all right. It actually helps, knowing there are nice people in the world like you willing to come up and ask if they can help a stranger."

"Well, I'm just doing what anyone would do."

No, you're not, thought Jeremy, but he didn't say anything.

It did touch his heart, and he even wondered who she was and if she was single and whether or not he could ever have a girlfriend like her, if he ever got over Liliana.

But he doubted if he ever would.

He told her he was fine, she could go. She stayed a moment, giving him a chance to change his mind, then left him alone. He went back and found that his cart was gone -- probably the store employees had reshelved his stuff by now, so he ended up just going home without buying anything.

He tried to write a sonnet. He wrote fourteen lines of iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme worked. The octet/sestet framework solid, but the poem didn't begin to describe how he felt. It was too analytical. It just lay there on the page, like a dead thing, emotionless and bereft of any spark of feeling.

He tried another, but gave up in frustration halfway through. He decided he was still in no condition to write after what had happened to him -- and who could blame him -- and tried to read, but nothing he picked up held his attention. He was restless. Discontent.

He went for a walk. Again, he went by the fountain park, even though he wouldn't have been likely to run into Lili--Tianalamara this soon after a visit even if nothing had happened.

Tianalamara. Tianalamara. Tianalamara. He kept repeating her name like a mantra. He thought of it as mentally calling her. He thought that maybe if he called her enough, she would somehow come to him. No, it's not that he thought that, exactly -- he wasn't being rational and reasonable enough to label what was going on inside his head "thought." He just found himself compelled to call her, usually mentally, occasionally aloud, when he was alone and he thought no one could hear him.

"Tianalamara. Please come to me. I need you."

Days turned into weeks and still he wasn't writing anything worth sending out. All the stories that he'd written sold or were rejected, all the rejected ones were sent out again, and March warmed into April, and still he had not written a single story that he felt measured up to what he'd written while he was with Tianalamara, whom he'd known as Liliana.

He'd always known she was something of a muse for him, that her presence in his life had been the spark that started him toward his new career. But he hadn't contemplated the reverse, that without her he'd be unable to write.

He started sending out the stories he was managing to finish, even though he himself thought they were inferior and unlikely to be published. He sent them to the lower tier magazines that didn't pay as much, hoping they'd be more desperate.

His money was dwindling now. He still had money in the bank, still had some time before homelessness was seriously looming on his horizon, but while his first few weeks of joblessness saw increases in his bank account, that was no longer true, and what was worse he no longer had a backlog of stories at magazines waiting for approval. He hadn't sent anything new for almost a month, just forwarding on a few rejected stories to new markets. Now he was sending again, but even if these inferior stories sold it would be weeks before he saw money from them.

And he wasn't writing anymore. Oh, sure, he was writing, in the sense that he was sitting down to his laptop or his notepad and putting words on paper. But he wasn't doing it with the feverish intensity he had once had. Aside from the fact that his writing wasn't as good, he wasn't doing nearly as much of it.

Six weeks after his brush with death, he finally accepted that he would never see Tianalamara again. He knew that his dreams of making a living as a writer were probably gone as well. He began to seriously look for a job -- any job. He found that the job market had tightened considerably since the last time he had looked. Back then, if you had a college degree, you were pretty much assured of getting a job somewhere. Maybe not as good a job as you thought you deserved, maybe not a very high paying job, but some kind of job somewhere.

No longer. Most places he applied at didn't even bother calling him back to let him know he didn't get the job. Places he asked at that hadn't advertised positions often told him that they'd recently downsized, and they saw no possibility for openings anytime in the near future. They could put his resume on file, but . . .
It was depressing, and it was worrying. Eventually, his money would run out, and then what would he do?

Spring warmed into summer. Still unemployed, still not writing anything good, Jeremy had seen his percentage of acceptance first time out drop considerably, along with the size of the checks. Buying high quality paper and paying for postage was now a serious concern. How much longer could he keep doing this?

In July, he realized he'd have to either give up his car or his apartment. Giving up his car would seriously limit his mobility, and his ability to get a job, in a city known for its crappy mass transit system. But insurance and gas were eating him alive.

On the other hand, he could sleep in his car, but he couldn't drive to work in his apartment. He looked into the costs of a storage locker and a post office box and found that he could do both of them for less than $100 a month and so, reluctantly, he gave up his apartment.

He kept going to the fountain pond every day, even though he knew that Tianamara wouldn't be there, would never be there again. He couldn't help himself. He always went there, and he always looked through the door to the fountain in the middle of the pond, and called her name. Sometimes he shouted it so loudly that people around him stared at him as if he were crazy.

He realized quickly that the worst thing about being homeless was not being able to take a shower. He did his best to wash up in public restrooms, but he knew that he must smell. People started treating him differently. He would walk into a place to apply for a job and he could tell from the reaction of the receptionist that he had no chance there.

He quit making the insurance payments on his car. He didn't drive it much anymore. He just moved it from parking place to parking place from day to day to keep it from being ticketed. He spent most of his time in the park. He slept there most nights. It was hot, but it was cooler in the park than anywhere except inside an air conditioned house.

He was distinctly aware that his life was spiraling downward out of control, that if he continued in this cycle he would soon be one of those half-crazed panhandlers he used to ignore on his way in and out of the library everyday. He didn't want to end up like that, and he knew that was the direction he was headed, but he saw no way to turn his life in another direction.

Tianalamara was gone. He couldn't live without her.

"I need you," he told her every night as he fell asleep under the pitiful handful of stars visible in the city sky. "Please. Tianalamara. Come to me."

Chapter 23 - Trouble

He landed hard on the earth. It was dark, too dark to see. He was lying on the ground somewhere. One hand was on bare earth the other in grass, so where he was, it wasn't the other side of the stone doorway by the pond. Even if he hand't made it to the pond, he would have landed on the concrete walkway that went around it and filled the space between the steps on the other side of the door and the edge of the pond.

A voice came out of the darkness. It was Liliana, and she sounded very sad. "Oh, Jeremy. What have you done? I don't know if I can help you now."

"Liliana?" He still couldn't see anything, really, but he was beginning to make out the grass in front of his face. His eyes were adjusting, and he could see that he was not in total darkness. He rolled over onto his back, and was stunned by the vast expanse of stars above him.

He had thought there were lots of stars before, but that had been a full moon night. Tonight the moon was new, there was no moon, nothing but darkness and stars. And so many stars! Even growing up in the country, he had never seen stars like this. He was dazzled, and it was only with some difficulty he could pull his attention away from the wondrous lights in the sky to realize that Liliana was talking to him urgently.

"Get up! Get up! You must go back!"

"What? I just got here!" Jeremy protested, nonetheless rising to his feet, but slowly, reluctantly. He was reluctant, precisely because he knew she was right, and that she would, rightly, insist, and that he would soon be back in his own world, and he wanted this moment -- this moment that was, as she had said, all we ever have -- to last as long as possible.

"Jeremy, you must go, now! Before--"

Suddenly there was a tremendous rush of wind, a flash of light accompanied immediately by the loudest burst of thunder Jeremy had ever heard and suddenly a whole crowd of faerie folks stood around them, including Liliana's family, King Oberon and Queen Titania. Suddenly it wasn't dark anymore, and Jeremy realized that all of the faerie folks, including Liliana, glowed slightly, with an uneartly pale gleam like phosphorescent rocks. Most of them had only slight glows, Liliana's was barely noticeable. But Oberon and Titania lit up the trees and hillside around them.
King Oberon spoke. "Mortal, you are no longer a guest here. You are a trespasser, an interloper. Do you know what happens to trespassers in my domain?"

Jeremy shook his head, too terrified to speak.

"They become my sport. Don't think because of my headware that I am one of the prey. I am a hunter, and tomorrow my hounds and I will hunt you, chasing you through these woods until you fall, exhausted, and my hounds tear you to pieces and I carve out your heart to take as my special prize."

Jeremy's blood froze in his veins. "But. But." He couldn't do more than stutter those words.

"Take him away."

Four dwarfs came over and each grabbed one of Jeremy's arms or legs and lifted him off the ground. They took him away, as he yelled "Wait! Wait! I didn't mean . . . I didn't know! It's not fair! You can't just . . . Wait!"

"Where are they taking him?" asked Liliana.

"To the dungeon in the hillside," answered Oberon. "Where he will lie awake tonight contemplating his fate until the dawn comes and the hunt begins."

"My lord," said Liliana, "I ask leave to stay beside him this night."


This surprised everyone. Even Queen Titania, who said, "But Lord Oberon, it is customary among our people that a condemned man be allowed a final night with his paramour. Is this not the Kingdom of Romance?"

"Yes, my Queen, but I suspect trickery here. He is mortal, and has no glamour or magic of his own, but if she is allowed into his cell, she will seek to aid him in some way."

"No, my lord. I wish only to spend one last night with him, to give him such comfort and solace as I can before he departs from the lands of the living and journeys to the night shore. I give my word that I will give him no glamour or magic, nor any other device or take any action to aid him in his plight. I only ask that he be allowed my presence and my words to comfort him. Truly."

Oberon appeared to mull this over. He seemed to sense a trap of some kind, because he took a long time deciding, but finally said, "I cannot see any way your words could be twisted to allow you to help him, so I can only warn you that if you do not keep your vow your punishment will be to share his. If you do ought to aid him, you will be stripped of your glamour, turned into a mortal, and hunted alongside him on the morrow. Do you understand?"

She bowed low. "I understand, King Oberon. You are wise and just. I will not forswear what I have spoken."

* * *

The dungeon in the hillside was a hole dug into the side of the hill and fitted with a door. It had no windows except a small one in the door, which was barred with heavy iron bars. On a night this dark, there was almost no light at all coming in the window, and the place seemed like a cave deep in the earth, save Jeremy could, just barely, see his surroundings a bit. He was chained by an iron band around his left wrist to a ring set into a part of the wall that was solid rock. The chain was long enough to allow him considerable freedom of movement. He could walk around a bit, sit with his back against the wall, or lie down, but he couldn't reach the door. There was neither bed nor any other furniture.

He had only been there a short while when he heard the noise of keys jingling and the door opened. Liliana rushed to him, and they held each other tightly as the door clanged shut behind her.

"Liliana! What are you doing here? Are you . . . " he couldn't even voice the awful thought of her sharing his fate.

"No. Among our people a condemned man has the chance to spend one last night with his lover, if he has one. So I am here for you."

"I don't suppose you can get me out of this."

She shook her head. "Even if I was willing to break our own laws and take a chance on sharing your fate, the fact is that what magic I have probably couldn't help you. You are held by cold iron, over which I have no power and can't even touch without pain."

"Then how can your people be holding me like this?"

"Your jailers are dwarves. They alone among the fey have power over iron. They can mine it and smelt it, make useful things of it. That is why of old they had the most traffic with men. Because we can't use such things, we can't abide it. But they could trade with men for things of value." She shook her head. "But none of that is important. What's important is that I wish I had never . . ." she broke into tears. "This is all my fault."

He held her close and stroked her hair. "There, there. It's not your fault. I brought it on myself. All of my problems are always my own doing. You didn't make me come. You even tried to stop me."

She nodded through her tears, "Yes, but I lured you in the first place. I watched you and wanted you and came into your world hoping to catch your eye. If I hadn't set my sights on you you wouldn't be here now."

He was startled. "You set your sights on me? You chose me deliberately, came to my world just to meet me?"

She nodded, miserable. "I'm sorry."

He laughed. "Wow. I never . . . I would never have thought someone would have . . . gone out of her way just for me like that. I . . . I'm flattered. I really . . . I don't know what to say."

She looked up at him, confused. "Wait. You're happy that I did this to you?"

He shook his head and waved his hand. "You didn't do this to me. You chose me and you came to me and you've given me a wonderful life these last few months, more wonderful than any previous time in my life. Well, sure, there have been some bad times too, and I've been frustrated by your absences and wished we could be together more, but on the whole I've been happier than I've ever been. And this," he waved his hand again. "This isn't your doing. Sure, if I hadn't met you, it wouldn't have happened. But it's not your fault."

He held her again, gave her a big bear hug and she shouted in sudden pain and jumped back.

"What is it?"

"The manacle. The band on your wrist. It hurts me to touch it."

"Oh. Sorry. I don't think I can get them to take it off."

"No, she agreed. We'll have to be careful."

She urged him to lie down on the floor, and lay down next to him.

She spoke very quietly, so that only he could hear her.

"I had to swear not to help you to be allowed to come to you, but I want you to remember our time here together, the last time we were in this land."

"You mean Midwinter Night?"

She nodded. "I cannot tell you more than that you should remember that night. It will give you comfort."

He understood from the intensity of her tone that she was talking about something more than comfort in remembering happier times together. But what?
Jeremy tried to remember what happened that night. He couldn't remember anything that could help him now. He shook his head and shrugged. "I don't understand."

"Keep thinking. Mayhap it will come to you. Meantime, the guards will be expecting us to lie together, so we shouldn't disappoint them. Is there anything that we have never done that you would like to do? For if you do not remember what I hope you remember, you will never have another chance."

"I . . . what?"

"I am here to make love to you one last time," she explained patiently. "That is our custom. That is why I've been allowed to come. If we don't make love, they'll be suspicious. So make love to me, Jeremy."

It was awkward and clumsy and physically not very satisfying, but knowing that he would very probably die in just a few hours lent it an urgency that heightened both the tension and awkwardness but also the pleasure and release at the end. He cried out as he came, and she cried out as well, and collapsed on top of him, not even caring that her arm was burnt where it landed on his manacle.

"My true name is Tianalamara," she whispered in his ear. "I don't want you to die without knowing it."

After they made love, they sat quietly together. Jeremy tried and tried to remember what anyone did or said that would give him a clue to how he might escape this prison. Did someone say something about cold iron? Did someone say something about hunting? Did someone say something about locks and how to pick them?

Nothing. There wasn't anything that happened that night that shed any light on his current predicament, as far as he could see.

"Can you give me a hint?" he asked.

"I already have."

"I mean another one."

She shrugged. "I can offer you only words of comfort, according to my vow. I can only say again: remember Midwinter Night."

He thought a bit. "I have a question," he said finally.


"Why did you tell me your last name was Dougal?"

"It means 'dark stranger.' Which is what I was. Am."

"Dark? Your skin is as pale as the moon."

"My hair. Dark hair. Also my . . . I bring darkness into men's lives. As I would have done yours eventually, I'm sure. And as I have for certain now, albeit not in any way that could have been forseen."

Jeremy didn't like to think about the fact that he wasn't Liliana's first lover, but of course she was probably hundreds of years old and had probably had many men like him over the years.

"That's why I had you call yourself 'Hugh' when you were here. 'Hugh' means guest, and I wanted to remind everyone that you were a guest, and could not be harmed."

"Ah." Something about that last phrase, "could not be harmed," teased at Jeremy's brain, but he couldn't quite make it turn into something meaningful.

They held each other and didn't talk. Just her presence did, indeed, give some comfort to Jeremy, miserable though he was.

Dawn came and the cell grew light. The jingling of keys came again and the door opened, and a dwarf came in and released Jeremy from the manacle, then motioned for him to follow and left the cell. Jeremy and Liliana came out together, holding each other so closely they resembled a four-legged body with two heads and no arms.

"Hugh-that-is-not-a-guest come forward," said Oberon.

Jeremy stepped away from Liliana. No, Tianalamara, he thought to himself.

"You will be given twenty minutes head start before I release the dogs. Do you have anything to say before I send you into the forest?"

Jeremy's brain raced.

"King Oberon?" it was Liliana.

Oberon frowned. "Yes?"

"I wanted to thank you again for allowing me to spend the night with my lover before he becomes prey for your hunt. You were as gracious as you were the night of the Midwinter party at my father's house."

Jeremy knew she wasn't making idle chatter. She was telling him that Oberon's presence at her father's house was what she had been trying to remind him of.

". . . could not be harmed." Of course! Oberon was already committed not to harm him when he'd bumped into him, which meant --

"Wait!" shouted Jeremy. "I claim King Oberon's pardon! He granted it on Midwinter Night! I claim it now!"

There was a complete and utter silence throughout the realm of faerie. Not a bird chirped. Not an insect hummed.

Finally, Oberon sighed and shook his head, and the surrounding onlookers let out the collective breath they had been holding.

"Yes, I did grant you my pardon, mortal. So I suppose I won't be hunting this morn after all. But even so, my pardon has a price, and there must be consequences for your rash act."

Jeremy stood waiting, wondering how bad it was going to be.

"First, you will not come back to this land. I do not mean you are forbidden. I mean it will become impossible. Even if someone conjures you a gate, it will not work for you. You will go through it yet remain in your own world. You will no longer dream, or if you dream, it will be only of mundane things, a day at work, a trip to the store, nothing fanciful, for fanciful dreams come from visits here by the mind when the body is sleeping.

"You will never come here, and no one here will be allowed to come to you. You will never see your lover again. Not just as a punishment that for her sake you violated our laws, but because you are banished from any contact with faerie whatsoever.

"You will live, but your life will be much less satisfying and interesting than it has been. Just as my day will now be less satisfying and interesting because I do not have you to hunt. Now begone!"
Oberon waved his hand, and before Jeremy could do more than reach out to Liliana, before he could even remember that her name wasn't Liliana, but Tianalamara, the whole crowd around him and the hillside and everything vanished, and he was standing by himself, reaching out to someone who wasn't there, in the middle of Tower Grove Park, a few hundred yards from the fountain park.

Liliana. Tianalamara. She had saved his life.

He would never see her again?