Size / / /

In the first cycle find a companion,
in the second cycle seek dominion,
in the third cycle learn humility,
in the fourth cycle become yourself.
(a mnemonic to recompose the Wanderings of Daie)

The Wind Hoarder speaks of his yearning for Keddar

That young man with skin honeyed gold, that boy

with hair like heavy flax ropes, eyes of amber,

fingers like caged nightingales, mind like a thrown knife—that young man

who poured sherbet for me when I was thirsty,

who saw me when I came, wind-wrapped, carried through the air

by my power, the power that obscures

and reins the whole world in storm's harness—that youth

who whispered to me gently, who knelt

to ask after my comfort, that boy

he belongs to my sister—

twirling shadow, long limbed, dancing death-dance, Journeymaker,

adviser to dust kings, diviner of roads stretched under the ground, pointing

to where power aligns with the earth, sprouting

cities above ground.

          Sister mine,

you had never been greedy,

never sought consolation from strangers, or an army; alone

you traveled, following the desperate prayers

choked in mid-word: the weeping of men,

mothers' stunned silence—

sister mine,

I should not begrudge you

the young man who brought me sherbet on a hot day, who knelt

to ask after my comfort.

Keddar reminds the Journeymaker of the First Cycle

You say we've always been together

since you first walked among us, at the dawn of time;

you taught us to spin wool, and to fight

with two swords; how to forge iron

and raven feathers into nightsteel. You pulled

fire from the burning sun, tricking the gods,

and gave that fire to us. You stitched

a land that is good to wander, and taught us

to braid hair. In return,

you asked for nothing. We asked

to appease you. You asked

for me.

I lived first then,

a boy among others, a youth

with skin nut-brown from wandering

the unrelenting steppe, a youth who had smiled

readily, in that first cycle. I do not remember much—

how the grass whispered, caressing your calves when you walked

wise as the dawn and as quiet, away

from the camp, away

from my people

with me.

The Journeymaker tells Keddar about his betrayal

I wear obsidian leathers

and a belt made of spun sun.

I sang for myself

a sword, blue as the whistling thrush.

I stitch for myself

journeys

to where I am most needed.

From war to war I walk, my blade hissing skin

off my enemies, for those who pray to me

trapped desperate in silence, when the heartblood leaks

grief begotten by mothers, and is soaked

into the fabric of the earth. There, at the dawn of time,

I stitched these lands together.

No, I can't wash the war off. I only can

quilt over bewildered grief. When I journey, the land

whispers of violations,

new wars over old unhealed hurt.

Nobody hears but me.

Nobody hears. You think it's too much

to ask for your obedience? Come then, I will show you

where in the Second Cycle

your greed disgorged crows,

when, born the second time,

you turned the bloodswords I had sung for you

out of my blundering heart

against these enameled cities

their walls anointed in myrrh—the three

cities where I found respite. Now look,

these are not ruins, desolation

restful under my brother's breath—no, they stand—

the once-radiant cities crawl with vermin,

their enamel peeled, children bathe in filth,

artisans are uncaring in their craft, poets

scream raw under the burden of crippled enormous words.

Two hundred years, Keddar, two hundred years,

How am I ever to quilt this right?

You do not remember, you say? How you tore from my path

joyfully—you do not remember. Only how the blood

sang in your mouth

how the blood

sang—

Why, how convenient.

Keddar to the Journeymaker: first song of the Third Cycle

If I hold very still

folded in the bedclothes of the night,

I can hear the world breathing. Trees inhale

darkness through serrated bark. In my father's house

stones groan against the freezing air. Maids snore, and noblewomen

warm under goat-wool, snore. The whole kingdom

closed in by the Wind Hoarder's prison guard, draws

breath after pacified breath—except yours,

yours,

yours is missing.

You had lived here

stalwart by my side, guiding my steps as I grew.

I thought you couldn't speak, but now I wonder

if you refused to speak to me. We called you Raven Woman.

Harsh and shining, you would caw no fate

at my birth. You frowned

at my mistakes; but when I looked

quiet through slitted eyes, feigning sleep, I saw you

look down at me, and a smile

folded your face into softness.

Please, I can no longer sleep

under my father's roof. The herons

ruffle their chests against each other; outside, the primrose

confides in the juniper. Stone with stone,

page by illuminated page, and sword against sword,

lover to lover, the world clings together. Only your

breath is missing.

The Wind Hoarder to Keddar, of when they first met

In your kingdom, women embroider

blue eyes upon red ribbons

a ward against my thievery. They came,

giggling behind plump fingers, to watch you dance

the two-sword with your Raven Woman

and you intent only upon her; sweet beads of sweat

on your arms reflected her. When, arrayed

in screeching feathers, she left you, you lay sick

day after spurious day in the stone fortress. Hurt

seeped through your pores with the sweat.

You took to the knife one morning, slashed

dozens of ribbons from the women's garments,

summoning me to harm you. And I, a fool,

laughed, for you didn't seem to know

your name, or how you betrayed her,

or that she was my sister. I lifted you

by your hair, thick and braided into ropes; brought you

home with me to the wandering steppe of the air

to my wind-yurt, to my fur-bed of flurries.

I should have made you stay

forever in the bondage of my arms

above the cloudburst. Instead, I gave you

words to know yourself: your three rebirths,

your name, and hers. I gifted you a wind

to guide you skydown to her. When your lips pressed

warm upon my palm, I should have known. Alone

of all men and women under Skyroad, you called me

kind, you thanked me

with bashful words. A fool,

why did I let you leave? I should have known

how dear you are to me.

The Journeymaker to Keddar

There was a wood once,

a copse blue with pines,

berry-rich under the benign dawn. A small people

passed through the forest every summer. They took respite

from the scorched steppe

and drained the sweetness of the birch,

and wrote their hearts on bark. When I came among them

raven-clad,

belted in the sun's brightness,

they sang.

No, not in desperation—they sang to me

simply because I existed.

I riddled to them secrets—how to spike milk,

how to stitch hides, and to make shelter

against the onslaught of my brother's regard—but still they slept

braided to each other

beneath the benevolence of the sky.

They changed. The world changes. Why did you have to change?

What joy is there in conquest? Your people did not need it

back in the dawn of time, when the leaping trout spelled

the syllabary of the stream, when the steppe

feathered in pink blossom. Remember to me

how you made your life into that song

just because I exist—

Keddar,

and I will no longer

go without. Who else but you, how else

to darn these deeds of yours, quilt a new journey

out of our ravaged truths? My heart

a patchwork.

I should have kept it safe

inside the strongbox of my loneliness; I let it change

just like the world, when you

returned to me.




R.B. Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant and the Nebula and Crawford-nominated author of Birdverse stories and other works. Their fiction debut, The Four Profound Weaves, is available now from Tachyon Press (2020). You can find R.B. on Twitter at @rb_lemberg, on Patreon at patreon.com/rblemberg, and at rblemberg.net
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19 Oct 2020

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Fiction submissions will close for November-December 2020. This means that the last window for general fiction submissions in 2020 will be October 26-27. Get your stories ready or hold them until January 2021. Fiction submissions for the Palestinian Special issue will open in November 2020!
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