catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 21 :: 2008.11.21 — 2008.12.05


To be two

There was a smith once, named Linden, who could do rare and wonderful things with metal-make iron watchdogs that actually barked (and told the time) and gates that would open only to friends, but not to tax collectors or door-to-door salesmen, and many other things that were both beautiful and useful. It was for that reason that he was called a fairy-smith, though in other respects he was quite a normal sort of man. Of course, even in metalworking there were some things that were still impossible for the smith. But he did some of those things, too, and that was the beginning of his problems.

Now fairy-smiths are very uncommon, as everyone knows, for it is very unusual to find anyone with magic who can even come near to worked metal, let alone touch it and shape it. Nevertheless, at this particular time, there was this one-and also one more, though that one lived a long way off. But perhaps it was this strange condition of having two of something of which there was usually not even one that was the real beginning of the trouble. When there are two of a thing instead of one, all sorts of other things often come in as well-pride, jealousy, greed, and-just possibly-other things, too.

In any case, the trouble-in its concrete form-began with the arrival of the stranger. The fairy-smith was at his forge, hammering the last few details into a new watchdog. Blue sparks leapt up in rhythm with the blows of his hammer, which rang not harsh and sharp, but melodic as a songbird. He did not notice the stranger at first, for he was too busy listening to the music of his hammer, and each note told him where next to strike, and he sang the spell of making to its rhythm. The stranger, for his part, stayed quiet, but watched the smith with sharp careful eyes. When the smith finished, the stranger spoke.

“A fine piece of work there.”

“It will do. It barks and tells time, as a watchdog should.” The smith, who disliked being watched, was not inclined to be conversational.

“I daresay,” said the stranger, settling back more comfortably against the doorpost, “but is that all it can do?”

“No,” the smith said with a grim smile, “it also watches. Look.”

And it was true: the new-made iron dog, large as a Great Dane and its body still reddish hot in places, was watching. Indeed, its sapphire eyes had fixed the stranger with an intense blue stare. It growled the beginnings of a growl, deep in its chest.

“Yes, yes, I know,” the stranger waved the comment aside, but the effort it took to tear his eyes from the dog belied his gesture. “But doesn’t it get old to simply make watchdogs, one after another, all more or less the same? This one now-wouldn’t it be, well, an advance for your craft if it could walk? Why then, it could not only be a watchdog, but a guard dog.”

“Nonsense,” the smith said. “Out of the question. I made this dog to be what I made it to be-making it something else would, well, I don’t know how to put it-but it would be, well, wrong.”

“Oh come-it’s just a small detail. No doubt you know best, but what would be the harm of making a watchdog that walked?”

The smith scowled down at the dog a moment, then two, and then said, “I don’t know, exactly. It would-well, twist it up inside. It’s wrong, clear as uprooting a tree to make it walk would be wrong. And there’s no point in asking impossible questions. The watchdog is a watchdog-not a walking dog. You might say it needs its own sort of roots in order to watch-a place to watch from. It’d be like asking some lady’s lap dog to be a hound. It isn’t possible. You’d know that if you knew anything about the making of things-it’s not really a question of right or wrong, it simply isn’t done. Now I’ve got work to do. Good day.”

“I am not finished,” said the stranger. The smith, who had begun to turn away, stopped and turned back. “What would you say if I said that such an act might be impossible, but still I could do it?” He paused a long moment, and then said, “Friend smith, perhaps you should know I am also a smith. And a fairy, like yourself. And I say it can be done.

The smith hesitated, then looked up at the stranger with new interest. His natural curiosity got the better of him and the question slipped out-“How?”

The stranger took a small mirror out of his pocket (which began to grow the instant it was out) and said, “With this.”

The smith’s face altered in an instant into a snarl of fury. “I’ve listened too long; get you gone! Close him out!”

He spat out the last words to the door of the smithy which, at the words of the smith, swung suddenly on its hinges and crashed to, spilling the stranger out of the threshold and into the street. But nothing dismayed, the stranger laughed quietly to himself as he picked himself up and dusted himself off and then, quite suddenly, disappeared.

Inside, the smith turned back to his work, still seething, for if there was one thing he hated, it was mirrors. As a child he had hated them because they had told him he was ugly, and later because they had told him he was unlikely ever to marry, and as an adult he had disliked them on principle, for they tempted him into a self-consciousness which made it impossible to focus rightly on his work. He had smashed his last mirror six years ago, and now kept no more mirrors in his house.

He muttered something about interfering busybodies to the dog, who replied, “I know what you mean,” and growled.

The smith stopped and looked at it curiously. For reasons he did not understand, this happened sometimes-a watchdog, in addition to fulfilling his capacities of watching, barking and telling the time, would somehow turn out to be capable of conversation. The smith always enjoyed it when this happened.

“So, seeing as you can make yourself understood, perhaps I’ll ask your advice.”

“Well, I don’t know,” replied the dog, “I’ve never walked before. I don’t trust the stranger, but I should like to be improved.”

Linden thought about that as he went on with his work. Afterward, he carried the watchdog home with him (for the unmarried smith was often lonely) and had his tea. The dog, he discovered, had a taste for tea, too-especially tea and brandy-and they had a quite companionable evening.

But the next day, it happened again-just as the smith finished a wrought iron gate, the watchdog (which he’d taken back to the smithy for companionship) began to bark. Linden looked up to see the stranger there again, and was so furious he simply told his door to shut him out without even saying anything. And that, he thought, was surely that.

But it happened again the next day, and when the smith called on his door to shut the stranger out, the stranger spoke a quiet word to the door and the door stopped, hesitated, and swung back open.

“Friend smith,” said the stranger, “Will you not hear me? You’re fond of the dog-anyone can see that. Give it a chance.”

“An improvement, yes,” said the smith, but then thinking of it, he asked, “but what did you do to my door? Even if you are a smith and a fairy, there is no way to order about another fairy’s door.”

“For you perhaps,” said the stranger with a smile, “but I could do seven impossible things before breakfast if I felt like it.”

“But that’s nonsense. Surely you know that in order to change the spell, you’d at once have to act as myself with my intent to gain access to the spell but also as you with your intent in order to change it.”

“But if I were two?” the stranger asked, and a second stranger-identical to the first in all respects-stepped out behind the first. “It’s quite simple, really-I could show you how. It simply requires a little-distance, shall we say?-from one’s self.”

“I don’t understand.”

“As I said, it is quite simple, but I can tell you are unaccustomed to thinking about such things, so I shall make it simpler. For you, every use of power implies an exchange, correct? For every action there is a reaction, for every correct use of power there is a positive reaction, for every misguided use there is a backlash. A backlash that is inescapable for the very simple reason that you can get no distance from yourself.”

“Well I know it,” said the smith, grinning ruefully, “the perfect circle-what one sends out must come back. It’s all a balancing act. But it keeps me honest.”

“And likewise,” the stranger continued, “the creation of an impossible thing would render one’s continuing existence impossible. But there is a way around that,” said the stranger, bending closer, “listen: suppose I tell you I am lying. If you believe me to be telling the truth and so believe me when I say I’m lying, why then I must not be telling the truth-and that makes the statement impossible; it makes no sense. But if you believe I am not telling the truth, why then as I said I was lying, I must be telling the truth, which also makes the statement impossible. Do you see?”

“I think so,” said the smith, rubbing a hand bemusedly through his hair.

“And yet-it does seem to mean something. It is, even if it is not possible, isn’t it?”

The smith’s eyes widened suddenly

“I think you begin to see-you’re quicker than I thought. And this is how it is possible: if I say that I am lying, I can make this impossible statement true if I am not one, but two-one me is the one who speaks, the other the one I am speaking about. You see the application to magic.”

“If it were possible to separate the speech from the speaker . . .”

“Or word from act . . .”

“Or form from function . . .

“You see how much you could do.”

“Yes-I think so-but how?”

“Why, with this,” the stranger held up the mirror. The smith flinched, but did not back away. “You realize that it is impossible to see yourself as you are in a mirror, correct?”

“Yes-” a spasm of dislike crossed Linden’s face, but that was all. “Right and left are always reversed-unless you have a lot of mirrors at the right angles.”

“Yes. But it’s never possible with just one, is it?”


“Well, just look in this one.”

The smith looked and recoiled, for it was true: when he moved his right hand, the arm in the mirror opposite his left moved – just as it would have been if he had been meeting himself in real life, and not in a mirror. He swallowed and said, “I’ll do it. Just tell me the words of the spell.”


* * *


A man and a dog were climbing slowly up a mountain shoulder. The last rays of the sun slanted down red through old trees. It shone off the dog’s smooth metal skin, for the dog was a watchdog, and the man was named Linden. The man glanced upward and saw, not far above him and standing on a small jut of rock, a small hut.

“Not far now,” he said to the dog.

The dog glanced up at him and briefly wagged its tail, but did not reply.

They reached the cabin with the last of the light. As the man raised his hand to knock, the door opened.

“Come in and have supper!” It was an old woman’s voice, cracked as old wood but warm as fire, and it was also not an old woman’s voice: what it was he could not place.

“They say you are a wise woman-is that so? There’s trouble behind me,” he said, “I’ve come to you because I don’t know what else to do.”

“Come in.”

The man stepped inside the threshold, and gasped. A dragon stood before him, eyes alight, fire shining on its long teeth. Its head alone, hardly a yard from the smith’s, should have been too large to fit inside the cabin, but somehow did, along with the rest of the dragon.

The dragon shook its head, but when it spoke it spoke with the old woman’s voice, “Then you’d have been wiser to come long before now, just like everyone else. But no matter to that. Come in and tell me over supper.”

One does not lightly disobey a dragon and so over supper the man told the wise woman about the stranger, and the dragon told him more about this stranger he had met.

“I too have met this stranger of yours,” she said, “here-touch this talon of mine.”

She extended one of the great dragon claws toward him and, tentatively, he reached out to touch it and found, to his surprise, that his fingers slipped straight through. There was nothing there.

“I am not truly here,” she told him gravely, “you see only an image without an object. This too is your stranger’s doing. I have become like a breath or a nightmare, no more than the product of a bad imagination.”

She told him then that the stranger was a wizard who lived all alone in a castle hundreds of miles from anyone else, with hundreds of images of himself he had made in doing many impossible things. In this way also, he kept himself quite amply supplied with servants who were, of course, also himself. And, as if his castle wall were not enough protection, he kept himself safe by burying his first self in a keep fathoms below the castle. It was said that no one could overcome him who did not first find and destroy this first self. Linden in return told her of the wizard’s conversations with him, and how he had told the smith how to make his watchdog into a walking dog as well-“a guard dog now, if you like!” he said with a bitter laugh.

“And it didn’t work?” the dragon asked.

“No no, that’s not it at all-you can see the dog there, plain as day. And he still watches, tells time, and barks-and walks too, now. But he doesn’t talk anymore.”

“So that is the problem, then?”

“No-yes no. I mean, it is a problem, but not the one. I’ve done an impossible thing-that’s the problem-I made that walk. And I knew I’d regret it as soon as I’d done so. My dog’s losing his voice is the least of it. No-the worst of it is-now there are two of me.”

The dragon nodded, as if it had been expecting this all along, yet it said, “I only see one of you.”

“Yes, I left the other-I mean myself-back at the forge to keep things going.”

“Of course. Now you must tell me exactly how this happened.”

“I don’t exactly remember. I remember him saying I must speak with two voices-to be able to say yes and no at the same time. And something about a mirror.”

“Like this one?”

He started horribly, but then caught himself. “No-that’s not me. For a moment, I thought it was. But my right and left is reversed in it, just as usual. Do you know how disturbing it is to regularly see the back of one’s own head? And to see one’s face-but not as it is in a mirror, but as it really is? I remember now how it went. I made a mirror like his mirror-he showed me how. And then when I said the spell, the image in the mirror spoke too-the very reverse of what I said-and it wasn’t an image any more. And that, perhaps, is the worst of all-it spoke with me then, but it hasn’t spoken since. You’ve no idea how unnerving it is to live with someone always silent-especially when that silent person is yourself-and you always talking to yourself at that, and never getting an answer.” He drew a shaky breath and stared fixedly at the woman, “I need help. I broke that awful mirror of course (I daren’t think what would have happened if I’d looked in it again) but I was still there. I’ve never been so distant to someone so close: when I look in my other’s eyes, I think it hates me. What can I do?”

The dragon settled back on its haunches, and stared at him without saying anything. This seemed to push Linden back into speech, as if he couldn’t stop.

“You’ve got no idea how awful it is. At first I didn’t think it was a problem either. But I’ve been split, you see-the other (that’s what I’ve gotten into the habit of calling my other self) never talks, but I’ve found that I cannot do. So I make the designs, give the orders, and so on, and my other does it. I thought it an easy life at first. I do none of the work (and being a smith is a lot of hot, dirty, uncomfortable work), and I get time enough to dream up designs far more advanced than anything I’ve ever done before. But the spells no longer work the way they used to: it seems impossible to keep in time with the hammer blows when I’m not holding the hammer-though I suppose I sort of am. Everything works but-but-it comes out looking ugly, somehow, and nothing talks. And I’ve found, well, that I miss working with metal, even if it is hot, dirty and uncomfortable sometimes.”

“There,” said the old woman’s voice with satisfaction, “you’ve talked yourself into an answer. I thought you would. So you dislike being only a voice? Then you must be silent. Silent as your other self.”

It was worse than the smith had expected. “But that is impossible-how can anyone possibly keep so silent?! Is there nothing else I can do?”

“Your ‘other,’ as you call it, can.” said the old woman’s voice, sounding amused, “But I shall send with you a comforter. If you are silent you will see it, and you will see it when you recognize it. And about your other question: you could wake that of which I am the image, the dragon that sleeps under your enemy the wizard’s castle instead, if you like.”

He sighed, “Very well-I shall try to be silent, but how long do you expect me to keep it up?”

“Until that which you call your other speaks to you. Starting now. No-” The dragon’s eyes flickered and it raised a claw, “No need to thank me-I shall take your silence as your gratitude. And you’ve no idea how much of a relief that should be to you-kings have given me speeches sheathed in gold, and (between the two of us) that did not begin to be worthy thanks for the gifts I’d given them. You should be thankful I spared you the trouble of having to think one out. There now-I see you’ve finished. Come-I’ll show you where you can sleep, and then tomorrow you can be on your way. But remember-not a word, before your other self speaks to you. Goodnight.”

His first month of silence was a nightmare-more than once he silently thanked whoever might be listening that he had few friends-few people who would expect him to talk, to laugh, to act like a human being and not, he thought bitterly to himself, like a walking corpse. Or like a second walking corpse. And without his voice, he could do no spells at all now, but had merely to try to muddle along, to force his hands to learn again the things they had once done so easily-and still did so easily, for the other.

People came in with work for him and soon became uneasy and then awkward in his silent presence, and left quickly. But, he thought to himself, not nearly as uneasy and awkward as it makes me feel. And I cannot leave at all.

But perhaps the worst of all was that life seemed to have lost its savor. He couldn’t make a joke. And he couldn’t have laughed if someone had made one in his presence-not that anyone would have felt enough at ease in his presence to make one!

And though he looked as hard as he might to see whatever it might be that was to be his comfort, he caught no sight of it.

At last, in bed one night with the other asleep next to him, the solution came to him. He could leave. Get away. He would never have to set his eyes on himself again. And yet-was it wise? If he never heard the other speak, he must never speak again. Was it worth that? With stealthy quiet he got out of bed, and leaned against the window to consider. And there, outside the window, looking straight back at him from around the corner of his neighbor’s house, was the wizard. And not just one of him-several. He changed clothes in a flash, and stuffed a little food and a few of his tools into a sack. Then he slipped out the door and into the night. He looked cautiously back: no one following, not yet. Perhaps they-he-had not seen him. The stars shone brightly overhead, and the dark woods beckoned. He ran swiftly meet them.


* * *


Perhaps the change began when one day he came across an ant. It was late in the day, he had walked long, and his sack seemed intent on separating his shoulder from the rest of his body-or at least that’s what it felt like. He was staring down at his feet, watching them walk-right, left, right, left-and that is how he saw the ant. It was struggling across his path, carrying a leaf ten times its own size. It seemed, to him, curiously significant, and so he watched it for some time-watched how painstakingly it clambered over a tiny twig in its way, how patiently it wrestled its leaf-bit back into place each time it slipped. Would it be so diligent if it had any perspective that would allow it to see how small it was? A month or two ago, the absurdity of its efforts would have pricked him into bitter laughter. But-no-not now. Looking up and about him for a moment, he caught sight of a hawk, seeming to hang motionless far up in a deep sky-far beyond hurry, out of reach of any noise. The wideness of that sky struck him, and he realized that within it he also was insignificant. Perhaps a joke, even. With a smile he picked up the leaf (the ant still clinging to its underside) and deposited it gently on the far side of the path. He watched the ant busily rearranging the leaf. Was it annoyed? he wondered, or was it grateful? Or did it, too, have a sense of humor-was it silently laughing as it rearranged its perspective after an unexpected lift?

But that afternoon he saw shapes moving in the bushes some distance off and knew from their movements that he was being hunted. He turned and ran north, and saw no more shadows for the rest of the day, or for many days following, and hoped he had thrown his pursuer off. It was helpful to be goal-less and be able to travel in any direction he liked. But he tried not to think who it was who might be pursuing him. There were two options he knew of, and he liked neither.

Or then again perhaps the change came at a farmer’s hearth one night a few nights later. He had learned to act like a mute and mime what he wanted so as usual he had knocked on the farmer’s door and mimed food and blacksmith work. By this time he was beginning to grow used to the pitying glances and awkward silences and bits of conversation broken off short when people remembered he could not speak.

But he could listen, and found that many people, when they realized he could not speak, found their own tongues strangely loosened, and told him things he suspected they had never told anyone else. The stories varied-some bitter, some pointless, some chilling, some strange, shot through with flashes of-glory. He could not think of any other word that fit better.

Tonight, after repairing a horseshoe and nailing it into place, he sat before a fire with an old farmer whose wife had been dead some years. They sat in silence-a companionable silence, the smith realized: it did not gnaw like a rasp against his skin, or hammer with the beating of one’s heart. It sometimes also welled up from the soil under one’s feet, welling up not to drown, but to bear up. He looked up suddenly, and saw a quick flurry of wings as some bird, which must have been perched on the windowsill just outside, took off. Hardly thinking what he was doing, he crossed to the door, opened it, and stared into the night, waiting.

He did not have long to wait. Another moment, and with a soundless glide, in came the hawk. It flew there, and cocked an eye at the smith.

“Well, I never,” said the farmer, “but it seems to know you.” In the sudden quiet that had come in with the bird, the farmer’s words fell like jewels. He sat down again, and the farmer began to speak of his wife. There was a strange lack of longing in the farmer’s voice as he spoke of her, and he must have seen the smith’s questioning glance, for he said, “You seem surprised to hear all this? Don’t mistake me-I still ache for her. But I still meet her, many times, many places. No, I don’t mean her ghost. There’s no word for it, maybe. But I still meet her.”

Quiet, like wings outstretched, covered them then, and he thought about the farmer’s words. If it was possible to meet another without seeing her, he wondered, was it possible also to communicate without words?

A few nights afterwards, looking back from a hill over his trail, he saw them again-several of them, coming toward him from the east, this time. He did not wait to see if they were merely travelers, or were coming for him. He did not wait to see who they were. He turned west, and ran.

Or still again, some days farther down the road he met the mountains, and began to climb along their narrow passes. Silence he found native to them, and it was again a different silence. Not simply a supporting silence, but a silence that terrified even as it assured. He knew that if he spoke, or even screamed, he would not be able to break it. It filled up the vast abysses between one cliff face and another. And when the wind stirred the pines it seemed to the smith that he nearly understood what they said. He looked up often now, and often saw, still far above him, a hawk skating back and forth on the wind. Hello, he said to it silently, I too greet you.

He thought the hawk’s flight stooped down a little, came closer. It had heard him, he felt sure, and had understood. Come to me, he cried to it, and its shadow flicked across his path in answer.


* * *


He began to avoid cities and even towns, if he could, for the hawk was farthest away then. He took lonely paths instead of the well-traveled high roads, and stayed nights at lonely farmhouses in which the hawk might be persuaded to roost near-never again quite inside, but sometimes near. And day by day, the hawk’s great circles in the sky were a little nearer to earth, and a little nearer the blacksmith.

There came a day of days when the hawk he had watched so long against the sky came down to perch beside him. He did not see it at first, but could feel its presence all around him-in the trees, in the stone behind his back, in the soil under his feet, in the fire before him, even as it snapped and crackled. Life had savor again. He had never imagined how absurd rabbits were, with their small noses quivering and ears up straight like exclamation points-but it was the dignity their silence gave them that made them a joke. Or deer-so graceful, with such thin legs. The joy he found once in listening to the ring of a hammer he found now suddenly trebled, no, expanded tenfold. He leaned into it, and sighed in release, and then saw, perched next to him on a crook of branch, the hawk. Slowly, cautiously, he put out his wrist to it, and tried to hold steady under the sudden scrutiny of its eyes.

It shifted, as if to accept, and then abruptly flew away, for just then another person stepped into the circle of firelight. Instinctively, he tensed-it was a single person, not many, not those he fled from. But he knew what even the most innocuous person meant: words, awkwardness, growing disgust in the face of the other, whichever the other might be…  His friend silence fled away-he felt it was nowhere now to support him. Perhaps later, he thought, it might come back, when I am alone again, but not for awhile. Not now. He looked up as steadily as he could-and saw that the other’s face was his own. Found out, at last! He had feared this, nearly as much as he had feared meeting the wizard again. But now that it had happened, he felt no fear, no revulsion at all. Quite the contrary-here, coming to meet him was the one person he wouldn’t have to worry about talking to. He managed a smile at himself and motioned him to a seat next to the fire. But he wished the hawk would come back.

Stars and moon watched as the two of them sat there, staring companionably into the fire till late into the night.

When the sun woke him the next morning and he opened his eyes to see himself lying a few feet away, he was surprised to find he still felt no dread. When the other woke, he nodded to him in greeting, and made breakfast. As they ate, he was surprised to see his friend the hawk come gliding in, and alight not a stone’s throw away. It must, he thought to himself, be acquainted with the other too, after all.

They watched the hawk together, that day. Sometimes it flew high above them, and sometimes it flew just above their heads, wings still motionless, soundless. While in the shadow of its wings, it seemed to him that everything became more distinct, brighter: each flower, each blade of grass or tree limb, even his other’s (his own) way of walking became curiously eloquent. He met his other’s eyes often now, in shared delight.


* * *


And then one day there was suddenly discordance. Coming over a ridge, he came face to face with another shadow-the wizard’s. But not just one-many of him.

“But aren’t you glad to see me? I have much still to teach you,” came the wizard’s voice, from many mouths, lightly amused, or mocking. But when they saw that he did not reply, the mouths frowned. “Oh come-you should know better than that. Silence is chains.”

And, suddenly as that, there were chains on their wrists, and they were led swiftly up a winding path that ended, abruptly, at the gate of a huge castle.

“I will show you about,” said the wizard, “perhaps that will loosen your tongue. Perhaps you do not yet understand the full value of the separation we created.”

He took them up a high wall and showed them a vast desert plain, in which crops grew in profusion.

“Quite simple,” he said, “once you learn to distinguish between the growth of a plant and what it grows in, you can grow anything anywhere you like.”

And the smith was inclined to agree, until he saw the shadow of a hawk sweeping back and forth over the fields. And where the shadow fell, the plants seemed to blacken and shrivel, and the ground turned red as blood.

And he took them into a small room, in which a large, squat black box stood. The wizard spoke a word of command, and music filled the room-the most achingly sweet he had ever heard. But there too came the shadow of the hawk, and the music seemed suddenly tinny, rootless as a cut flower in a vase.

And the wizard took them into a carriage which rode straight into the sky itself, but the hawk was there too, easily keeping pace with it and, in the smith’s eyes, shaming the carriage’s rattle and clatter with its own soundless flight. Or perhaps, he wondered to himself, was it in truth upholding it?

“Surely you understand better now my position-and what you might become?” the wizard said, but the smith only smiled and shrugged for the hawk was hovering just over him, and its wings were shade between himself and the desert sun. Seeing that the wizard was still only looking at him, he understood that the wizard could not see the bird at all, and his smile became very nearly an audible laugh. Incensed, the wizard threw them into the dungeon, which the smith had been expecting for some time, and so was quite relieved when it finally happened.


* * *


He stared at the wall-or rather, as it was completely dark, where the wall would have been if he could see it-and wondered at the sudden change. One moment, walking with his other in happiness, under the shadow of the hawk, under sunshine and through woods, and now this. Caught. Silence. Darkness. It was as if he had found his way into the darkest, deepest part of the shadow of the hawk’s wings.

At least his other was here. If, he thought to himself with grim humor, it made any difference to be with a person you could neither see nor talk to. He felt the hawk’s wings brush light against his ear as it left his shoulder. He sighed.

“That,” said a voice beside him, “is exactly how I feel.”

He jumped. His heart hammered. It had been his own voice, but he had not spoken. Could it be? But did he dare speak-what if it was a trap-some one else trying to sound like him, and not his other? It had been so long since he had spoken, perhaps he was forgetting what he sounded like. And did a person ever know what he really sounded like?

The silence stretched. Tense. No-not tense. It would have been a year ago, but not now.

He cleared his throat and said, “Is that you-I mean, is that you myself? How is one to talk to oneself? I mean, really talk, and not just give orders?”

“I don’t know,” said his voice, “but I do know that I’m not you.”

“Yes-I knew it-trapped again!”

“No, no-I don’t quite mean that. I am yourself-but only sort of. I’m enchanted.”

“Yes, I know. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have-”

“No-that’s not what I mean,” said his voice, “I’m not you. I am not a smith. I am not a man. My name is Marigold and-until recently-I lived with my parents in your village.”

“You are-what?!”

“I told you, I was enchanted.”

He meant to ask her how in the world this had all happened, but this long habit of silence stopped him, and he mulled it over inside instead. After a long time he began slowly, “I think I begin to see. The enchantment was not at all what I thought. I thought I was being split in two. But after what you’ve said, it seems I was not split after all, but that you-perhaps you were nearby when I was talking to this wizard?—and on the spot were taken in by this wizard and enchanted into looking like me.”

“Oh-you were divided all right,” said his voice from the darkness, “I was you quite as much as you were. My hands became your hands, and knew your skill. Even my thoughts would only think your thoughts. It was a-a very cramped experience. And I hated to be silent. There was so much I would have told you if only I could have even thought about it!”

The smith chuckled grimly, “Yes-and perhaps I’m lucky you didn’t. But-you aren’t silent any more.”

“No. This hawk-it just landed on my shoulder. And my mind is clearer now than it has been for-oh, ages. But I’m afraid I still look like you.”

“And sound like me, too.”

“Yes. I haven’t gotten used to that yet.” His voice laughed, “Who knows? Now that I can talk, I can almost imagine that I didn’t speak all those long months just because I didn’t want to use your voice! But it’s better than nothing.”

He too laughed and then they lapsed again into a silence in which they heard, in the faintest whisper, the brush of wings about them. It was strange, he thought, that even now that they could speak, the hawk was still there. And it came to him then, whispering through the air to land on his shoulder. It was softness and rest-he leaned his head against its plumage, and the darkness was no longer quite so dark.


* * *


“Perhaps we should escape.”

“Yes-a fine idea,” said the smith, and it carried a trace of amusement.

“Oh come-it should not be so difficult.”

“If we had a hammer-or a forge!”

You might need a hammer and a forge.” she said with a laugh, “Fortunately for both of us, I am not you. There are things of my own I’ve learned. Here-let me show you.”

He (or rather, she-he was still trying hard to think of her as she and not he and certainly not his other) went to the bars of their cell and said, “Tell me, bars, what allegiance do you owe to the magician?”

“None,” they replied, “we too are his prisoners. His spell-words shaped us, but his hands never touched us. We would be as we were, if there were anyone who could make us so.”

“I can,” she said, and laying her hands on them she said, “return to yourselves.”

At once a great clatter filled the room, and the smith dimly saw the bars suddenly waver, break and fall to the floor, but not in shards of metal, but in chunks of rock.

“Iron ore,” said the smith, picking up one.

“You were given power to create; I was given power to restore,” she said.

“We should get along well together then,” said the smith with a laugh, and they stepped out of their prison.

They wandered up and down many staircases and hallways, seeking the way out of the wizard’s castle. The hawk flew before them, and after a time they gave up trying to seek their own way out, and began to follow the bird. It led them in the most unpromising direction-down. Away from the sunlight, and deeper into the heart of the earth.

“But,” as Marigold said, “earth, too, is my friend, and no friend of the magician’s.”

“My friend too?” queried the smith.

“As long as you stay with me,” she said, laughing again.

And she was right-alone, the deep silence and uncertainty of those places would have driven anyone into either insanity or a paralysis of fear. But it was unlikely to happen with another there-and impossible with the hawk’s wings filling up all emptiness with the slightest of whispers.

They stopped at last. The hallway had narrowed, and now simply stopped in a blank wall.

“Dead end?”

“Appearance and reality,” the smith said thoughtfully to himself, “was another of the wizard’s divisions.”

“Yes,” she said, and then spoke to the wall, “blank wall, what allegiance do you owe the wizard?”

“Nothing,” it replied, “I too am his prisoner, and am made into what I am not. I would this were not so, if anyone could do this.”

“I can,” she replied, “become as you are.”

There was a sharp crack, a rain of dust and pebbles, and then there in front of them was not a blank wall, but a door. Linden turned the handle, and it opened onto a small room. Inside, his back against the archway to another passage, was the wizard. His eyes were closed, as if in deep thought, and his hands were bound.

It was the original, Linden knew, the one which, if killed, would be the end of all the others. He wondered if his hands had been tied to prevent his escape, or to further his control over the actions of his others. He saw that Marigold was thinking the same thing.

He started forward, but not quickly enough: the hawk darted in before him, and gave the wizard a sharp peck on the forehead. The man’s eyes flew open, startled, his mouth gave a faint shriek, and then he turned and ran down the steps behind him.

“When you get the right one he’s not a very impressive wizard, is he?” Marigold asked Linden with a grin.

The hawk was already gliding down the staircase before them, it wings outstretched, steady, and nearly touching the walls on either side. As the smith ran in its wake, it suddenly stopped, and came to rest on his shoulder. He stopped too for a minute, and then continued, spiraling down and down the long staircase, and felt as if now he too were flying.

After a long, steep, and seemingly endless climb down, they at last stood at the entrance not to a room, but to a vast cavern. It was filled with a gentle radiance, the source of which they did not immediately see.

Stepping forward, they saw they stood on the shore of a lake. But what brought them up short and made them gasp was not the lake itself, but what was reflected in it. Instead of showing-dimly-the low stony roof overhead, stars seemed to burn in the depths of its waters and, on the far side, they saw half of a large harvest moon rising over the shoulder of some low hill. And on the near side of the lake, they saw a tree. It was a small but ancient and wizened oak. And though the air in the cavern was perfectly still, its branches moved and rustled as if in a steady wind, and lights like fireflies moved in its branches.

It was only once they had noticed the lake that they saw a small figure crouching at the edge of the lake. It was the wizard, and he looked even more woebegone than before. It stared at the pool with a sort of fearful fascination, and seemed incapable of any further movement.

But now Linden and Marigold’s eyes were drawn to the hawk. It had gone before them all: after flying once more close about Linden’s shoulders, now it swung out over the lake, making circles that stretched nearly wide as its shores. Linden could see the stars flicker out and flicker back into life as its reflection passed over it. And then it dove, swifter than the eye could follow, into the center of the pool.

All the stars in the lake swung crazily, and the moon shivered, then shattered into a thousand fragments, as a dragon’s head broke out of the center of the lake. Water like pearls dripped from its scales and horns; its eyes shone like stars unbearably close. And then it saw them; its eyes burned into them.

“Come,” it said, though it made no sound and spoke no words, “come, if you dare and break the wizard’s magic. Come and break my chains.”

“How comes this?” the smith asked, unable to keep the shivers running up his spine out of his voice.

“Surely you understand?” said the dragon, “How is it possible to have a reflection of stars and moon with no moon but by the magic of the wizard? And how, save for that, is it possible to have the image of a dragon without a dragon, or a dragon without its image?”

“How is it possible to make two of one, but by the magic of this wizard?” said Marigold.

“How is it possible for that which is one thing to be something else?” murmured Linden, thinking of his watchdog.

And they both looked and saw that the dragon had no reflection in the water.

“I recognize you,” said the smith.

“No-you recognize only my image. Me you do not know. Yet. Come break my chains,” said the dragon, “end the wizard’s magic. Throw in the wizard-and yourselves too, if you dare. For if you enter into this pool you will see the real moon again, and true stars. You will be two again.”

For a moment they stood considering. Then, each taking one of the wizard’s limp hands, they jumped in.

The water broke before them with a thunderous crash-as if not three people, but the wizard’s entire castle had jumped in with them. And maybe it had, Linden thought for an instant. And then-down, down into water cold as ice-vaguely he could see the shape of the dragon around them, twisting its tail about them, and bringing them up-and farther up. Lights shimmered above them, and he barely had time to name them stars before his head broke surface, and there they were. The stars were above him-far above him, and below him too, shining out from the depths of the lake, but there was no castle at all to be seen. He stood waist deep in the shallows, between stars and stars, and next him stood not himself, but a woman. Marigold. She was smiling at him; he reached out a hand, and she took it. Together, they waded toward the shore.

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