Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Two Tigers

Once upon a time and an age ago, there lived two great friends, Owaku-sabe and Otara-sabu. They ate together, they sang together and they trained together. They were, you see, members of the Emperor’s Guard and had the special duty of guarding his son, Akime.
Now, most of the people in the land had dark hair, almond eyes and skin the colour of old partchment. They were a handsome folk, but Akime stood out among them because his hair was blond, his eyes blue, and his skin was the colour of fresh cream. Some thought his appearance was strange, but the two men found him to be of great character and spirit.
In those days, a man was expected to be skill at the arts, at sport and at letters and Akime was already skilled in all three. In addition, he had a curious mind and a gentle heart and so all those at court wished him well and even the peasants looked forward to his reign as Emperor. All, that is, except foul Kusato. She was a witch of the Black Jade who made her home in a cave high in the mountains. She hated joy and hissed and spat on kindness.
So fierce was her jealousy of Akime that she used her witchcraft to go into his dreams where she gave him strange nightmares and visions that made him cry in the night. This left him dull and disinterested by day and he grew worse with each passing night. It was dark magic, but no one could find its cause.
Owaku-sabe and Otara-sabu were greatly vexed by this and very worried, but what could they do? Their finest lullabies could not soothe him and how could they use their swords against an enemy that had no form?
After months full of long nights and great anguish, finally they found a way they might help their young charge from suffering so. An elderly witch of the White Jade came to court. She said her name was White Fox and she had been sent by the yama themselves to break the curse that had fallen on Akime. She had a powerful magic, but needed sturdy warrior to complete it.
When they were at last able to find an empty council room in which they could speak with no fear of being overheard, she explained the spell.
I can send you into the World of Dreams. When you arrive there, you will be void and without form, but you are strong of will and, with my power added to yours, should be able to take a shape that will serve you there. Then, you must find your heart-line. You both love the prince, and love him more than all things, so it should lead you straight to him. Once there, you will need to defeat the witch that haunts him.”
The two men bowed in assent to White Fox’s wisdom and two days later, on the night of the new moon, the three gathered in a nearby orchard. The two men drank a special tea White Fox brewed while she chanted and sang prayers to many spirits to open the doors to the World of Dreams and ease the two men into its embrace. They soon disappeared and awoke in the World of Dreams.
The air reeked of rot. The sky was a gaudy orange, the trees were so yellow that they hurt to look at, and the stars sang strange songs as they darted through the sky like comets. Otaku-sabe and Otara-sabu realized they were without form yet and concentrated mightily. It worked, though not as expected. Otaku-sabe was now a great orange tiger while Otara-sabu was a regal white tiger.
Now that they had forms – unexpected though they were – the World of Dreams made more sense to them. It was still not like the waking world, but the colour no longer offended the eye and the song of the stars had become musical. Their wits now about them, the two warriors set out to find the heart-line. It was obvious, a great, lavender-coloured path lead out of the dream they were in, with only the smallest of branches leading off in other directions.
They followed it, using their new-found sense of smell and their acute hearing to keep alert for danger, and soon they found themselves in Akime’s mind. It was a forest, and the men knew that each tree was a dream. Almost all of the trees had been pierced by the fangs of some beast and the trees shook and shuddered even though there was no wind. They hunted for the beast through the forest for hours and finally found it.
It was shaped like a man and yet like a beast, a spider or perhaps a scorpion or serpent, a creature of shadow that flowed and oozed through Akime’s dreamspace.
"I am Kotaku," the thing said through a mouth full of jet black fangs. "I am the Ruiner of Hope and the Destroyer of Faith. I am the Eater of Souls and the Ravener of Courage. Your prince has made a fine meal but tonight he dies."
The two men leapt as one and struck the creature mightily, but it flowed around them, taking new and stranger forms with each attack, such the two soon found that their strength was fading.
When the two were nearly exhausted, the shadow thing struck Otaku-sabe a powerful blow and the orange tiger fell as though dead. Before Otara-sabu could even react to his friend’s terrible injury, the forest began to glow with a brilliant purple flame that surrounded his friend who was already rising to his feet. Otara-sabu realized what had happened – that heart-line meant that not only did they love the prince, but the prince loved them in return. Singing of his love for his master, Otara-sabu rallied and leapt once again at the shadow thing. Otaku-sabe rose and fought as well, and this time the shadow thing could not flow around them. Every time it tried, the purple flame rose up and burned away another piece of shadow. Soon, the last scraps of shadow vanished.
Almost immediately, the trees began to heal of their wounds and the two tigers were glad, romping and playing in the dream forest.
The prince awoke to find White Fox sitting by his bedside. He was startled because his two bodyguards never allowed anyone into his bedchamber at night, for fear it would make the terrors even worse, but her manner was gentle and kind and he soon calmed.
Why are you here, old woman?” he asked.
Did you dream?” she asked.
Akime frowned. As a prince, he was not accustomed to a peasant not answering his questions, but reasoned that if his bodyguards trusted her, he should trust her as well.
I did. I dreamed of tigers that fought a monster made of shadow. It was a good dream.”
“Prince, those tigers were your bodyguards. I had hoped that their love for you would be enough, but it was not. They needed some of your spirit as well. The help you gave them has bound their spirits to you. They will never again leave the World of Dreams.”
The prince tried not to cry.
Will . . . will I see them again?”
White Fox smiled.
Yes, every night, in your dreams. And when you fade into the next life, they will survive in dreams. Maybe someday they will find another prince to protect.
I would like that,” the prince said. He yawned.
You need sleep, young prince,” White Fox said, helping him lie back down and bringing a blanket up under his chin.
I do,” he said, closing his eyes. He opened an eye. “Will you watch me? Until dawn? I have bad dreams, every night.”
I will watch, young prince,” she said, gently stroking his back. The prince closed his eyes and fell asleep almost immediately. She thought of Kotaku's body, which would now lie abandoned in her cave in the mountains. It would take some time, but eventually her spirit would return. The prince would be long gone, but Kotaku would just turn her destructive hatred on someone else. She should leave now - there were rituals that could keep Kotaku from returning for some time, but she would have to start them soon.
Just then, the prince sighed and yawned in his sleep, content at last. White Fox smiled and leaned back in her chair.
“I will watch,” she said quietly. “I will watch.”

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Day 30 of Why I Love My Wife

For those who aren't on Facebook, ever day for the last 29 days, I've given a reason for why I love my wife. This is actually for 7/17/14.

When I first met Christy, I knew she was way out of my league. I was right, but not for the reasons I thought at the time.

Through an odd set of circumstances, I ended up going to Houghton College in Western New York. Christy and I were in the same freshman introduction group and at the start of the year, before classes started, we were gathered together on the large green lawn at the center of campus and asked to introduce ourselves. I was looking for a few friends with geeky interests similar to my own. This was just a random gathering of people, though, so I wasn’t expecting much.

I forget what she was wearing – my memory says a dress – but regardless she was dressed up more than most in the group, and way more than me. Not that this was hard. Then, as now, I basically had two modes of dress: casual, and what I wear in the shower. At any rate, she was put together. At my school, if a girl showed up at a fairly informal social event with a dress on, wearing makeup, that was a statement, and usually meant that this was a Serious Person.

We all sat down together and gave our names and an interesting fact about ourselves. Mine was, I’m sure, passionately dorky, but Christy said that she was a cheerleader from a private school in New Hampshire, and lived in a log cabin. That was, as far as I could tell, the end of what I needed to know about this girl.

Cheerleader? I’d been on the high school quiz and debates teams, played in jazz band and senior high band, been president of the student council and the D&D club. I lettered in athletics, though – by managing two girls’ sports teams, scorekeeping for basketball and volunteering at fundraisers and banquets. I was a geek, a nerd and a dork. A cheerleader would want nothing to do with me. This I knew.

A private school in New Hampshire? New Hampshire was where Hollywood types had cabins and stuff, it wasn’t where actual people came from. And private schools? I know of two private schools in New Hampshire, and their annual tuition was more than my parents’ mortgage.

And the log cabin thing? I was a city kid – that was just weird.

Once classes started, I didn’t see Christy much. My high school credits from Canada took care of most of my freshman courseload, and we were in very different majors. Still, it was a small campus and we have a friend or two in common, which is why we were at the same table in the dining hall when one of our tablemates had a seizure.

Christy and a friend chased the ambulance while we all waited back on campus. They came back, but said our friend would need to be monitored for 24 hours straight. We went back to his apartment and each took a four hour shift. In the morning, I bumped into Christy in the hall as I made for the  bathroom. She’d just woken up, and hadn’t had the chance to take off her make-up the night before. Her contacts were out and she wore glasses that made her eyes look like pinpricks.

But I thought of what she’d done for our friend, without a thought for her own benefit, and how her face showed no flush of pride as I’m sure mine did. She was just tired. She’d done it because it needed to be done, and she could do it. I said what I was thinking: “Hello, beautiful.”

Now, it must be understood that we were kinda-sorta in relationships with other people at this point, as I recall it. I was dating an on-and-off high school flame, she was dating a Hispanic guitar player named Manuel who would frequently serenade her with music.

As is the way of such things, though, these relationships imploded within a week of each other. Despite the time we’d spent together, we were really just acquaintances, though. I still mispronounced her last name, and she still sometimes said, “Hey,” when she saw me and occasionally called me “Tim.”

Several friends said that we should spend more time together, but the two of laughed it off – we certainly weren’t going to be someone’s “rebound relationship.” We laughed it off pretty much every lunch and dinner where we sat next to each other more and more often, and all the times we hung out in the campus center or down at the snack shop. We made fun of the very notion of dating again as we sat elbow to elbow, making friends change seats if we had to.

I think she knew first. When I got to the dining hall, I’d see her craning her neck to look for me, and I understand I did the same although I don’t recall doing so. One night when we ended up setting across from each other in a snack shop booth rather than next to each other, she said it was all right because, “Now people will think we’re dating,” and winked.

I went back home for a weekend and realized on Saturday that the reason I felt miserable was that I didn’t have her around. I vowed that when I got back on campus, I’d make a move.

Opportunity knocked shortly – there was a movie showing on campus, Casper, and thought I’d ask her out. I confessed my nerves to my roommate, Erich, who admitted with some confusion that he was reasonably certain we were already dating.

The movie was pretty awful. The walk afterward was not.

I don’t know how we ended up holding hands. I’m iffy on how my arm ended up around her waist. I’m foggy on how we ended up facing each other in the moonlight, looking into each other’s eyes. I don’t even remember what I said, exactly, except that it was something to do with deciding that we were actually now dating, officially a “couple.”

This is the part where I’m supposed to say, “and I’ve never regretted it,” but it’s been eighteen years together and there’s no point in being that deluded. There have been moments. Doctor’s appointments, phone calls from the bank, letter from “friends,” moments that make me ask, “Is it worth it?” But every time that happens, every single time, I look at her and see those same eyes I looked into eighteen years ago and realize that it is worth it. Always. Because of her.

The best years of my life are the ones that’ve been twined with hers. I have a hard time remembering a life before her, and I don’t want to think of one without her. Happy anniversary, dear.