Dearest Maru of house unknown,
I have purchased, these five days ago, a small piece of your glasswork. It fits snugly in my hand, a drop–shaped vial of flame. Desert glass, said the traders, shaped from the desert sand by your fiery magic. It speaks to me. No, more than speaks—it sings—of dawns in saturated orange and lapis lazuli; the notes of it, resonant and flaring, unveil from the palm of my hand outwards when I hold the vial to bounce off the heavy log ceiling of my house. I think the sky must look much different for you. But enough from me now, a stranger out of your never–seen north. I have not written such a letter before in my life, but I am asking our mutual friends, Khana traders of the Bil’ha oreg, to carry it to you, and a small gift of my own shaping. Though it will take this letter six months at least to reach you, I hope it will nevertheless find you well.
In deep appreciation,
Vadrai, house Berevyar,
In deep appreciation—oh, you humor me. That was but a trifle, a shaping out of many that fall, indifferent and callous, from my hand as I stride through the desert—fit to trade for cloth and honey crystal, but no better. I have no idea which one of them you bought. I bid you to let it go into hands lesser than yours, lest my own lack of artistry shame me.
What you sent me is no such trifle. A jewel of deepest blue, a sapphire. Small though it is, it is precious beyond breath, for when I brought it closer to my face I saw shapes, golden and severe, arise from the depths of the stone and travel towards my eye—trees that grew out of deep ground, out of those cold and clear wells of your home I had never before had reason to imagine—luminous trees of light that grow from sapling to youth to a hundred–year majesty; and then they fade again into the nightfall inside the crystal. I will never tire of looking at it.
Oh, I am curious, Vadrai, I am so full of questions. Do you truly live among those trees, surrounded by all this water? Does it ever get cold? Do the trees speak to you, like the sacred tumbleweed that rolls across the desert would speak sometimes to our guardians? What do they say if they speak? I will confess that since our Khana friends arrived with your letter and gift I’ve been staying up late, sometimes forgoing sleep altogether, to watch the tree–shapes from their birth to folding—and I have many more questions—impertinent questions, I’m afraid, if you would entertain them; and if not, I hope they have at least entertained you. I am sending you some jewels I found in my wanderings across the sands: a tourmaline as pink as dawn, and an emerald; do with them as you please.
No longer a stranger, I beseech you.
Maru of the Maiva’at
in the Great Burri Desert
Oh, I am most thoroughly entertained by your questions, even though it took a full year for the Khana traders to return them to me. Yes, the trees speak; it is a tongue of bark and in the winter, frost, with all its intricate and ever–changing patterns. In the autumn, the sun touches the leaves and grooves them with a flame’s exuberance. In any season, the trees speak slowly. I will confess that I go out sometimes and stand beneath the oaks; I stand on one foot, spread my arms to the sky and sway like they do as the stars move slowly between the darkening branches. My sister Gaura often accompanies me on such outings, for she is fierce enough to outglare every would–be jester; but even when I go alone, nobody laughs.
My words become clumsy and I stumble, and so I will write no more, but send the emerald back to you instead. I have never seen a precious stone this large, and am afeared that my imagination is not fit for it. Yet I will let you be the judge.
From too far away,
It was so good to see your home, revealed to me in the emerald. I was amused by the strange square shape of it, the pitched triangular roof upon which snow—I believe it is snow—perches so precariously; the intricate carved logs of it, such immense riches of trees. I loved the small, snow–hopping birds and the children running outside, running even though clothed in such enormous garments. It was good, too, to see your shape, however briefly. I assume it is you. I wish to know more, I wish—
I keep turning the emerald in my fingers and the scenes continue to emerge. I have not yet discovered an end to them. Oh, to possess such artistry as yours, to work with shapings so small and so precise! I do not know how you do it. I wish to know the shape of your mind; I will not lie to you, I wish to know. I wish to understand, I wish to possess such art, I wish to be as sure of it as I am sure of my own fingers.
And bones—listen, after your gift reached me, I walked for weeks among the sands as the Bil’ha traders spread their wares to trade with my kin. I walked, and in the rawness of my yearning, the desert revealed itself to me as it hadn’t before. I saw striated bones of forgotten beasts that the wind reveals to those who seek and are true; and ivory combs and great jewels that had been buried by warriors and weavers of millennia past—and sand, always sand, more ancient than people and beasts and their bones. I have shaped for you this offering, a firedrop of desert glass encasing razu ivory—if you turn it just so, you will see the great beast in flight.
With a curious and grateful heart,
My friend (if I may be so bold), Maru,
The shape of my mind is no secret. I wield the Maker’s Triangle—one, one, and three syllables—which is considered rare in the north. Three–deepname configurations are rare, indeed. Still, Stromha is a land of artisans, small but famous for its arts, and we are trained from birth to take the Making configurations—a three–syllable, or for those who can hold more, the Maker’s Angle (one and three), and finally, the Maker’s Triangle, more prized among us than the more powerful configurations.
Artistry takes many shapes. Deepnames are not necessary for the arts. My sister, a master carpenter, shapes with her hands alone, and carves pinwheels and stars into walnut and blue basine hardwoods—you have admired her work, I believe, in the logs of my house; her art is not poorer for the lack of magic. My neighbor, a pen–maker, shapes their pens and adorns them with abalone using but a single three–syllable. In comparison to many craftsmen and artists here, I am nothing.
And I have nothing to hide. I will reveal to you my work. It is simple. Inside the smallest precious stones there are the deepnames of the stones. One cannot see them with the naked eye, but Stromha artisans have wrought embiggening glasses to aid the eye in its perception. Between these tiny deepnames in the stones are lines of light—the foundational grid that lends the stones their shapes—yes, just like the land, or a mind, which have grids as well. To introduce my shapings, I interweave the existing grid of the stone with my own structure and its own tiny deepnames, so that my shapings exist independently of the stone, yet are bound to it.
It is nothing to speak of, with the exception of the embiggening glass, which I send to you now.
It is winter here again, and I warm my house with fallen logs in the fireplace, even though I could use deepnames—but I crave real fire, dreaming of you and your desert wanderings. It’s hard to believe that a full year has passed since I sent you my letter. Oh, if only I could shorten the distance, for I would trade more words with you. And gifts—oh, gifts. As I write this, the razu beast of air and glass is draped over my chair. It talks to me in a language I do not comprehend. I am not ready yet to reveal this sight to my peers, even those well–versed in translation; but perhaps, come Winterway, I will grow bold enough to show it to my sister.
The razu transforms its glass at will, then shapes it back into itself; I’m awestruck and astounded by this achievement. If you’d reveal the secret of your artistry to me, I’d be most grateful. If not, it is of no concern.
A full year shall pass before I can expect a reply, and yet please know that I hold you in profoundest regard.
The Bil’ha traders came back without a word from you. It is clear that I have offended. I offer you my apologies, and will not disturb you further.
Vadrai, my friend,
Your words surprised me. Are you ashamed of your power? Of your craft? Or else do you fear, perhaps, that my gifts are lesser than yours, and worry how I might feel? It is no worry. Even if a power mismatch would matter to me (it does not), know that I, too, wield the one, one, and three, that you call the Maker’s Triangle. We call it the Weaver’s Gift. I like your words for it better, for it is not just for weavers—truly, I am not a weaver and have never taken interest in either thread or loom.
I’ve taken the embiggening glass with me to my walks in the desert. You are right—it is truly a revelation. I perceived—I did not perceive, as I had hoped, a structure of deepnames within each grain of sand. Instead, the sand revealed its dreams to me, of other times and other places. Some sand–grains up close are beehive castles of old desert royals, mud–shaped and intricate, ringing with thousands of tiny bells; others carry shapes of animals—of lizards and snakes and scarabs and scorpions, and other beasts indescribable yet no less real for that; yet other grains of sand are scrolls and tablets full of scripts I cannot parse; yet other grains of sand are creatures of the sea, blue and translucent shells in myriads of shapes. There’d never been a sea here that I know. Maybe the wind had brought it from a time ago, a space away, as the wind is wont to do. I have for months disdained my art for the splendor of these endless discoveries, missed even the Bil’ha traders’ departure, and so my letter will reach you only next year. Please, do not blame yourself for distracting me.
I will, of course, keep no secrets from you. My art is different from yours. When I work with the desert, I use my deepnames to amplify what was given to me by the sands—so, for the razu, I have built a home, a nourishment of glass that it may thrive and live as it likes. The razu have long been extinct here, known only from story and woven vision. It is good for it to live again in this shape, and I am heartened that it chooses you.
I wish to look closer. I wish to know more—your preference, if you have one, and pray my asking of it is not too brash. Perhaps it is; I am brash. But I do not expect an answer, much less a favorable one, and—
My friend, the Bil’ha traders came back even as I was writing this letter. You fear you have offended me? No, my friend, you have not, it is I who was tardy for so many months, wandering the desert with the embiggening glass like a five–year–old with her new mechanical scarab. Forgive me. I have no shaping to send you, because I have not worked at all because—well. It’s luck that I was back on time, not lost for many more months or even years.
I will send this now without a gift, but please trust that a gift will follow.
Oh, Maru. You ask me for my art yet reveal so little of yours. You promise a gift, and yet it never arrives. You ask for my preference and declare your brashness, yet speak nothing of your preference, and send me nothing of your likeness.
What are you afraid of? Me? I am nobody. My craft is popular and I make a living from it, enough to have a home and not to hunger. I send my jewels to be sold at market, and wait for the winter with its gifts of snow and solitude and—come Winterway—the sparkle and songs and laughing children.
My world is small. And though I love the arts of people near and far from me, I’ve never yet reached out to a person unknown to me. Except to you. Truly, Maru, I am shy.
Are you shy? You, who shapes the living glass from the ever–changing, dreamful grains of sand, you, who compels the razu to take shape from its long slumber? I would rather believe you are brash. I would rather believe you are lost in the reverie of the sands, charmed into wandering with your glass; I just hope my gift won’t cause you to hunger as you abandon your craft and send nothing to market.
I have no preference, my friend. I have not cared this deeply for a person. I love my winter pines, and the fireplace logs, and the birches by the frozen river, and the birds; I love my jewels, my deepnames. I love my work, which takes me so deep into the smallest structures, away from gatherings and crowds into a blessed silence. To lo—to feel—this deeply for a person one has never seen, has never spoken to, it is folly—especially for one such as me, who finds people so hard to gauge. Send me this crystal back with your voice, at least.
Vadrai, my precious Vadrai, you who have shaped a ruby to carry your voice to me. You are not a nobody. Most definitely you are not. You are most amazing, incredible—you are—
It takes six months for the Khana traders to travel from me to you. It is too long. Too long.
Listen, I have not shaped my casual glassdrops for these four years I have known you. It feels untrue to make lesser work now. Do not worry. The desert sustains me. I find edible plants in the folds of the dunes, impossibly succulent and flush with moisture. Birds bring me grain. After many months of wanderings I am returning to my craft. There’s not much to say of it. You wish to know more of how it is done, but listen, I don’t know what to say. I open my arms and call to the desert as I engage my deepnames, then I shape—whatever I am moved to shape, as fire moves through me and transforms sand into glass. I wish I could explain more—I wish you could observe—oh, how I wish, and so—and so—
Listen, I too, have no preference. I asked because I know that people have them and that it matters. Not to me. I do not understand people. I speak brashly, they say, strangely—all but the boldest turn away, and I am not attracted to either the mystics or the pitying kind. I lack the artistry to send you my likeness. I’m told that it is ordinary. As for a gift, I made a hundred. None scorched and bared my bones in ways that were needed, and so they weren’t good enough to send.
I do not know what can happen, what will happen. I know that your voice has made every grain of sand bloom when I walk, turning the ruby this way and that in my fingers. The desert blooms, it blooms not with your northern color, but with indigo and weld and madder, the colors of dyed thread, weaving colors; the undulating dunes are covered with these yarns. I wish to show you these treasures, I wish to know what lies beyond these pieces of parchment we send each other, beyond this jewel of voice—if something lies beyond, for us, a shaping never before seen, a twinned heart which is precious and brash and shy of its power.
And so I lift my hands to shape once more, to shape as I have never shaped; I weave of these threads of your voice, and of sand; I shape a great bird of glass, with bones of birds long ago forgotten inside the shaping’s hollow core. It isn’t art. It is simply a messenger.
The glass bird will spread its wings across the far horizon—and then it will rise, it will fly. It will carry your jewel of voice back to you with my message.
Did I say enough now? Please. Tell me, did I say enough?
The bird will carry you back to me, if you wish.
from Vadrai, in the great Burri desert,
to Gaura, house Berevyar
Sister, I send you this topaz with my voice; you need but to turn it in your hand to activate its power, should you wish to send it back to me. I also send you a letter, should the jewel’s activation prove cumbersome. I send both the stone and the letter to you with this bird, a sparrowhawk of desert glass and engraved jewels, to travel fast, faster than the trade routes allow, to bring this word to you, for I know that you are worried.
I saw you, below, running and shouting as the great glass bird spread its wings, but I could not stop. It was now or never, it was touch and go, and I am so easily terrified. Terrified of strangers, of travel, of places unknown to me. Terrified of my own failure, of my limits. Terrified—and here I was, traveling south on a glass bird with nothing more with me but my tools and a big piece of spicecake.
Oh, Gaura, how marvelous it is to blend my heart with another’s, to know at once the sweep of glass wings and the fire that births it, and the small and scrupulous jeweler’s craft that imbues the glass with shapes both intricate and golden! Oh, how little did I know that the work would course through our veins, stronger than rivers, course with a passion that defies sleep and births new shapes from sand and buried bone! Oh, I’m afraid such passion will not last, that dreams birthed in such fire will fade like the vision of flowers in the heat.
It hasn’t faded yet. It hasn’t. I’m afraid it will.
But if it won’t, I’ll steer the glass bird home next Winterway, to bring both shapers north with it. Oh, the work we will do, the marvelous shapings of ice, the scripts and the dreams we will carve into tree–bark… The stillness of rivers, the rustling of pines in the wind…
Oh, Gaura. I miss home so much. I miss my place, the silence of it, and I know I will miss, while there, the heat and curve of the dunes. So keep me in your thoughts—keep both of us in your thoughts.
from Vadrai, in the glass–Mai’vaat encampment,
to Gaura, house Berevyar
We are coming, dear Gaura. We are coming.
© 2016 by Rose Lemberg