And welcome to my newsletter for August, 2013! Please feel free to forward this to anyone you think would be interested in keeping up with me! To receive these newsletters regularly, please drop me an email or subscribe online from my website (http://www.JefMurray.com ) or at:http://groups.google.com/group/Mystical_Realms . Notices of events and items of interest are at the bottom of this email.
• The first ever 2014 Jef Murray Chronicles Calendar is now available! This calendar features characters, scenes, and landscapes inspired by C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Each month features one painting image and one sketch, plus the calendar includes moon phases, equinoxes and solstices, many major holidays, and visual cues for other dates of significance. To learn details, and to order yours, see: www.JefMurray.com
• The 2014 Jef Murray – AL3P Middle-earth Calendar is also now available! With half of proceeds going to support A Long Expected Party III in Kentucky in September, 2014, this calendar features painting images from the entire spectrum of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Legendarium. To learn details, and to order yours, see: www.JefMurray.com
• “Seer: A Wizard’s Journal” is continuing to be well received, and several very kind reviews have been posted of late. “Seer” will be carried by the booksellers at DragonCon in anticipation of signings and a reading I’ll be doing there over Labor Day weekend (see below). For more about this collection of tales, poems, and illustrations, see: www.JefMurray.com
• I am honoured to have been asked to appear as a guest at this year’s DragonCon in Atlanta! Currently, my schedule is as follows:
Friday, 8/30 2:30pm: “Smaug Con: Tolkien and His Dragons” Jim Wert with Jef Murray, L401 – L403 – Marriott
Saturday, 8/31 10am: DragonCon Parade
2:30pm: Autograph Session, International Hall South – Marriott
5:30pm: Readings from “Seer: A Wizard’s Journal”, Roswell – Hyatt
Sunday, 9/1 2:30pm: “A Visual Journey Through Middle-earth”, L401 – L403 – Marriott
• I am equally honoured to have been invited as a guest to the Mythmoot II, sponsored by The Mythgard Institute (http://www.mythgard.org) This weekend of celebration and discussion will be held in December. Location to be announced soon….
• The third great gathering of Tolkien fans in Kentucky has now been announced for September, 2014! A Long Expected Party 3 (acronym “AL3P) is now open for registration, and the 170 beds available at Shaker Village for the event are already largely claimed. Nevertheless, you can still register, and offsite lodging is still available. I’m delighted to announce that I will be one of three guests at the event; the other two are Dr. Michael Drout and Dr. Amy Sturgis. For more information, see: http://www.alep-ky.us/
(The following is a serial tale that has grown in the telling. Chapters 1, 2, and 3 were published in previous months and you can read each of them online here: http://mysticalrealms.mymiddleearth.com/2013/08/07/the-prophesies-of-yeshi-chapter-1/ . The tale continues with Chapter 4, below, which follows a reprise of Chapter 3).
Chapter 3; Amsalegenet
Gabriel sat back in his chair.
Charles looked startled at the sudden silence. “You’re not going to stop there, are you? What did you do next?”
Gabriel sat back and bowed his head; he observed Charles through his thick eyebrows. “Forgive me for having interrupted the tale mid-stream,” he said, “but I needed to collect my thoughts before I continued.
“You’ve known me for a while now, Charles, and I daresay I’ve said and done and said many things that might seem, well, a bit odd. But, over the long years I’ve walked this earth, I’ve discovered much, some of which is not considered quite respectable, nor even believable, amongst modern folk. So, when I tell you what happened next, I fully expect you to be incredulous. For that reason, I should like to propose, if you request it, a demonstration.”
“A demonstration? Of what?”
“That you shall see. But, will you agree? That is, if what I tell you — and, by the way, this applies to anything in my tale that might strike you as difficult to digest — if what I tell you strains your faith in any way, do say so, and I’ll be happy to do my best either to explain further or to demonstrate what I mean. Is that agreed?”
“Good. Then, let me pour myself another cup of tea, and we’ll dispatch the lions.”
“Dispatch them? You mean you killed them?!”
“That, you shall see. Now, is your cup in need of refilling? There we are, then.
“Yes, the lions. As I mentioned, they had surrounded us. My camel had bolted once he caught sight of them, but he could not go far, and he was soon back by my side, trembling and spitting. I had my gun on the ground beside me; happily I had kept it in hand when I dismounted. But I knew that I was not capable of reliably stopping all three lions; I doubt if even an Allan Quatermain could have managed that feat, and I am no such marksman as he.
“I thought that the sound of the gun’s retort might give the beasts pause, however, so I fired several rounds into the air. This doubtless terrorized my camel further, but its immediate effect on the lions was as I’d hoped: they were startled, and they hesitated in their charge, at least for a few moments. Those moments were all I needed.
“I grabbed the reins of the camel and pulled his head down toward my own. Camels, like horses, have an intuition about their circumstances beyond what we might otherwise assume, and after I spoke a few words to the frightened creature, he became calmer and ceased his trembling. At the same time, I took from my pack a vial containing a small amount of powder, the nature of which will become apparent. With this in hand, I walked around the camel, committing a thin circle of the dust to the air around him. Then, just as the lions once more roared and continued their charge, I completed the circle and stepped within it.
“The predators were nearly upon us, but instead of lunging straight at the camel, or at me, they halted, confused, and began pacing around the spot on which we stood. The body of the mauled man was near us, but outside the circle. They sniffed the corpse, and then lifted their noses in the air, wrinkling them as they attempted to detect our scent; for, you see, for all practical purposes we had become invisible to them, and scentless as well. Provided we remained absolutely silent, they would be unable to detect our presence, even though we were literally within a very few feet of them.”
“Now, wait a minute,” said Charles, “you did this with some sort of powder?! So you’re saying that you have a way to make yourself disappear…just like that?” He snapped his fingers.
“Indeed, I do, Charles, and I’ll be happy to demonstrate, as I promised. The effect does not last long, and it is most satisfactory when the light is not too strong, as in our situation with the lions. But, as you can see, having such a tool at hand proved invaluable. Shall I demonstrate?”
“Yes indeed, if you don’t find my skepticism insulting.”
“Not at all! I quite anticipated your incredulity. So, as it happens, I have a bit of the powder in question upon me, as I expected I might need it.”
“What’s it made of? It sounds like something that could come in mighty handy at times….”
“Indeed, it is, but it is not easily come by. Another time, perhaps, I can tell you the long tale of how I came to discover it.
“But, for now, a tiny demonstration. Here is the vial.” Gabriel stood and drew from his waistcoat a small green bottle. He pulled the stopper from it and poured a pinch of the powder into the palm of his hand. Then, after pushing his chair back from the table, he sifted the powder between his fingers, circumscribing the chair. The dust, which appeared to be golden in the lamplight, drifted downward slowly, describing wild swirling patterns as it sank toward the floor. Once the circle was complete, Gabriel looked up at Charles and said simply, “Observe.”
He stepped within the settling circle of dust, and it seemed to Charles that Gabriel’s tall figure became gauzy, as if seen through a dense fog, and then it was gone. The chair, too, had vanished.
“My God!” Charles said.
“No, not God, Charles,” came Gabriel’s voice, seemingly, out of thin air. “It is just a unique combination of scent, visual confusion, and, with people anyway, the power of suggestion. The effect will not last long, perhaps a few minutes; but it persists with animals, which are often completely confused and troubled by the effect for quite a half an hour or more.”
Gabriel again stepped outside the circle, and to Charles it appeared as if he had materialized before him.
“I…I’ve never seen anything like it before….” Charles placed his teacup back upon the table, and as he did so noticed that his hand was shaking.
“There is quite a rational, if somewhat esoteric, explanation,” said Gabriel, “but I won’t belabor you with it now. Suffice it to say that, in my situation with the lions, this was a tremendous aid.” He held the vial aloft, and then tucked it back into his waistcoat pocket.
“But, to continue the tale. The lions were confused, and they were none too happy to have been deprived of an easy — and quite substantial I might add — meal. But, the dead man was still near them, and after some mewling on their part, the three great beasts gathered around the corpse and one of them, the largest, began dragging it away. Presumably they had had quite enough of my tricks, and wanted to find a quiet corner within their lair in which to dine.
“I was troubled by their taking of the dead man’s remains, but knew there was little I could do in the situation other than to allow them their feast; I could not retrieve the corpse nor bury him without once again endangering my life. So, I stood silently and waited. The lions dragged the man into the thorn brake, and once more they were lost from view.
I replaced my rifle in its holster and remounted my camel. I tugged at the reins to guide the beast around the thorns and toward the east once again, and we left the magic circle behind us. But just then I heard a high-pitched call, like that of a bird. I was startled; the arid wilds, excluding the roaring of the lions, had been deathly quiet thus far. But, looking around, I saw a small figure, appearing to be that of a young girl, calling out to me in the distance. But what was truly astonishing was this: she was standing at the opening to the thorn thicket, the very one through which the lions had just passed!
“You were clearly startled, Charles, by the effect of my little demonstration, and rightly so. But I have never been more dumbfounded than by the sight of this girl emerging, apparently unharmed, from the den of those fearsome predators!”
“Had she been there all along?” Charles asked.
“No, certainly not, else I’d have seen her when the lions departed. But, I had no time to ponder the issue. I beckoned for the girl to come to me, and I dismounted so that I could help her onto the camel. She came, and I put her in front of me on the beast. She was quite small, but I could not make out much else about her in the dim light.
“I urged the camel eastward, and he needed little convincing, I can assure you! For safety’s sake, we travelled in silence for many miles before I ventured to speak. Then I asked the girl who she was.
“‘I am named Amsalegenet,’ she replied, ‘and the Mistress of the Mountains bids me tell thee to heed the manner in which thou foundest me; for, many years hence, thou shalt find me so again, though changed.’
“I asked her who her mistress was, and Amsale, for so she was called, said ‘she whom thou seekest: Yeshi of the Brethren.’
“And so it was that I came to know the one who was to be my guide to Yeshi. And, truth to tell, Amsale was not mistaken in the words with which she greeted me. Many, many years passed before I came to understand them fully, but it is true that I met her once more, and in nearly identical circumstances. But, that you shall come to hear.
“The rest of my travels with Amsale were, with one exception, without major incident. Yeshi lived, as it happened, much farther east than any of my sources knew. Amsale guided us around Asmera and northeastward, up, up into the high range of the mountains that separate Samhar, along the coast, from the Hamasen and Senhit wilds. There, between the peaks of Zagher and mighty Fagena, a fair valley stretches; one that is easily missed. The passage into that realm is nearly impossible to discover without a guide, as I came to discover in later years. But there Yeshi made her home.
“And of Yeshi I shall speak, but first I must acquaint you further with Amsale. It took us two days more to reach the valley of which I spoke, and in that time I learned much of how Amsale came to be in the lion’s den.
“It seems that Yeshi knew of my coming and had sent the girl to guide me. Amsale was – how shall I say this? – a messenger of sorts. She was no servant of Yeshi’s by any means, but simply a willing herald and helper.
“Amsale appeared, to all who beheld her then, to be a maiden of perhaps 12 or 13 years of age. She was breathtakingly beautiful, beyond even the normal comeliness of the Ethiopian women that I had known, with delicate, ethereal features and a figure that just hinted at approaching womanhood. I must confess that, even after all these years, I still recall the astonishment I felt when first I saw her clearly in the morning light. It made her subsequent story all the easier to appreciate.
“For, as I said, she had been sent to guide me. But Yeshi did not know my exact route, only where I was to be found when she dispatched Amsale, along with the path I was most likely to tread. So, Amsale came first through Asmera. There, she could not help but be noticed by a headman of a powerful clan, a yagosa mari, and he desired her for himself. So, after she passed through the western gates and out into the lawless reaches, this yagosa mari sent a band of men to capture her, knowing that she was alone and unlikely to be able to prevent her abduction. There he was wrong.
“The mari’s men caught up with Amsale not far from the lion’s den. But just as they were closing in, the lions erupted from the thorn brake and surrounded her, protecting her as if she were one of their cubs. The men halted, and the lions, after a protracted stand-off, retreated into their lair with Amsale in their midst. The men followed at a distance, and were just in the process of storming the thicket when I arrived. How they hoped to overcome three full-grown lions without firearms, I cannot fathom, but I believe fear of the consequences of their returning to Asmera without Amsale must have played a large part.
“‘They, and the yagosa mari they serve, are evil men, and they bear the mark of evil,’ Amsale told me, pointing to her forehead. Then I remembered the curious glyph I had seen on the dead man’s corpse. ‘But, when next we meet,’ Amsale continued, ‘they shall seem to thee as saints.’”
Gabriel sighed and shook his head. “Truer words were never spoken.”
Chapter 4; Yeshi
Charles looked past Gabriel and noticed that his studio was dark. Evening was falling, and, as if wakened from a deep sleep, both men leaned back in their chairs, blinked, and yawned.
“It appears that my tale has eaten away our daylight,” Gabriel said, chuckling.
“Yes, but we can’t stop now. Surely there’s time to tell me about Yeshi?”
“Yes, certainly, but first, we need sustenance. Shall I treat you to supper at the Bell? It’s the least I can do for so monopolizing your day.”
“Yes, that would be great,” said Charles. “But, can we pick up the tale again afterwards? Perhaps over dessert?”
The two men donned cloaks against the chill spring air, strolled to the Bell Inn, and there feasted on mini roast haggis, neeps, and tatties, followed by large plates of langoustines. Rather than stay at the Bell for dessert, they returned to Charles’ studio for cheese, fruit, and biscuits, and to sip on Amaretto di Saronno.
“Ah, what a fine way to spend an evening!” said Charles.
“I agree. And if you don’t mind, I believe I’ll have a pipe before I resume my disgracefully long-winded tale.”
“By all means!”
“There we are, then. Now, where was I?”
“You were with the girl, Amsale, and on the way to meet Yeshi.”
“Yes, yes. And I believe I mentioned that we had one additional adventure before we made it safely into Yeshi’s valley. It was a small one, but important, as you’ll see.
“We were into the mountains now, and these are desolate places. Even today, along the major roadways, it is always best to keep on one’s toes, as wild creatures ever haunt the heights. This was even more so then, as the ruggedness of the terrain kept all but the occasional hunter from residing in the craggy highlands.
“Amsale directed us forward along a perilous path that, I confess, I could hardly follow, though to her it appeared as plain as day. We had just ascended a particularly steep grade, one at which we both dismounted so as not to overly tax our camel, when I saw movement near the tops of the adjacent cliffs. Even as we halted so that I could get a better look, we heard the barking of baboons echoing from the peaks, and I could see scores of the creatures above us. Their chatter and barking increased, and we soon saw that a veritable tide of the creatures was descending upon us, with those at the front screaming and baring their enormous fangs.
“I told Amsale to stand near the camel, as I proposed to once more make use of the invisibility powder I possessed, but she smiled and shook her head. She seemed genuinely amused at my concern for our safety! But, there was no time to argue; the army of baboons was now nearly upon us. The surging mass of creatures leapt to the very brink of the rocks above the path, still screaming and barking. Then, Amsale lifted her hand and spoke a single word, softly.
“The effect was instantaneous. Within seconds, all of the baboons halted, and a silence so complete that it was palpable descended upon the pass. At the forefront of the troupe of baboons was an enormous male, whose fangs had, just moments before, been bared in preparation for a leap upon our camel’s back. This great ape now bowed before Amsale and covered his head with his forepaws. In waves, all the rest of the creatures did likewise, and I was reminded of nothing so much as an ocean of worshippers making obeisance at the appearance of some pagan goddess.
“Amsale stepped toward the great male baboon, who reached out his right hand toward her, palm upward. She stroked his palm and spoke in his ear. At that, the spell was broken. The male lifted himself from the rock, turned, and barked a command at the thousands of other baboons. Each of these, in turn, rose up and departed, leaping from rock to rock and sailing effortlessly over the fissures and crags stacked on high above us. Soon there was no sign of that great army of watchers, and all was once again silent.
“’How is it, Amsale, that these fierce creatures yield so readily to your will? Have you some special magic, that you can tame even these thousands with but a word?’ I asked her.
“’My father,’ she answered, ‘does not the child recognize the mother and do all that she would ask, with no need of spells? So do these recognize who I am and what I am, and so they do all for the sake of the one I serve.’
“Amsale would say no more, so I was forced to be content with this explanation; nor would Yeshi satisfy my curiosity on the matter when later I queried her. Rather, she simply smiled and said that Amsale had spoken, and there was an end to it.
“But, this was nearly the last of the strange events that transpired on my travels to Yeshi, and as we continued on our way, we soon cleared the pass and started down the far side of the mountain range. But, at an outcropping along the trail, Amsale suddenly halted us. Nestled into a rift in the cliff face was an oddly-shaped juniper tree that was blackened on one side; doubtless from a lightning strike from the previous stormy summer season. Behind this tree was a fissure in the rock that would just admit us, although it was a tight squeeze for the camel. Nevertheless, we led him past the tree and into the fissure, picking our way among many fallen stones.
“The path, now close and dark, wound through the living rock, and at each turn I expected to find our way barred by debris. But, the way remained open, and far above our heads, all that I could see of the sky was the thinnest strip of ultramarine. This was untouched by clouds, and was of such a hue, due to our elevation, that it struck me why this region is called the “Roof of Africa”.
“The passage continued for perhaps a mile, although it wound in such a serpentine fashion that it might well have been much more. But at length, after one last doubling back on itself, I perceived that the way forward was now, indeed, blocked, but not by debris. There stood before us a heavy pair of metal gates. They appeared to be made of solid iron, and were quite old, though I could detect no signs of rust or wear. The surface of each gate was inscribed, but in the dim light I could not decipher what was written upon them, and they stood nearly twenty feet tall. Sharpened spikes crowned them, and clearly, even with grappling hooks, it would have been quite impossible to climb over them. I examined each surface as carefully as I was able but could discover no lock or other means of opening them. I turned to ask Amsale whether she knew what was to be done, but to my dismay, she had vanished.
“As you’ve heard, I had already been in far worse straits, and it occurred to me for an instant that perhaps Amsale also had a way of tricking my eyes. But, I could think of no reason why she would wish to deceive me. So, I hobbled the camel at the gate and partially retraced our steps, trying to recollect when I’d last been certain that Amsale had been with us. I had led us through the rift, but I believed she had been with us through most of the journey.
“Nevertheless, I could find no trace of her, nor any alternate passage that I might have missed. So, I started back toward the gate to ponder what was to be done. As I did so, I heard a distant sound of voices echoing through the fissure. The sound was confused, and this was doubtless heightened by the rock passage itself, which stretched and distorted every sound made within it. I had noticed this when first we entered, as the echoes of our footsteps often continued eerily whenever we paused.
“But now I heard the voices of men, and the tramp of many feet, and I suddenly feared that we had been followed into the rift. By whom, I did not know, but my heart told me that I should flee.
“I ran back to the massive iron gates, and just as I arrived there, a crack of light appeared in them. They began slowly to swing outward, away from me, and the brilliant light beyond them was so blinding that I could not see clearly for some time. But I turned away from the light and untied the camel, noting that the sounds from the rift behind me were now growing much louder.
“Turning back toward the light, I saw a figure in silhouette beckoning me forward. I led the camel through the gates, still blinking, and turned around once we were past them. Beside the gates I saw what appeared to be a woman swathed in white robes and a veil. She stepped before the iron doors and raised her hands to each side. Then, she slowly brought her palms together. As she did so, the massive barriers swung slowly and silently upon their hinges, finally clanging into place as they touched. No man could have moved those massive doors, as they were easily half a foot thick and must have weighed many tons.
“The woman turned to me, and I could see, despite her veil, that she was not Amsale, for she stood much taller. Regal, she appeared, but she did not speak. She bowed to me, and then swept past the camel, beckoning us to follow. As we did so, I heard, from behind us, the sound of many men. Their voices came angrily from the gap above the barrier, and soon I heard a pounding on the iron doors. But I had no fear that the gates would yield. Even explosives, it seemed to me, would be insufficient to dislodge them; and to use explosives would have meant certain death for those in the rift, as the sheer rock walls above them would almost certainly have collapsed, burying alive all that stood near the gates.
“But I quickly found that my attention was diverted, for now I saw stretched before us a beautiful green valley, with lush stands of trees, and dotted with flowers and gardens. At the center of this idyll stood a cluster of small round buildings, arranged like one of the native kraals found in southern Africa and enclosing a croft; but these structures were built of hewn stone, and their fashioning reminded me not so much of southern Africa as of Egypt. The largest of them had a parapet along the top, and its roof was flat, with unimpeded views of the heavens. I later learned that this was where Yeshi came to gaze at the stars.
“We proceeded to this kraal, and I loosed the camel inside the croft. Hay was already piled next to one of the outbuildings, and this, added to the lush grass and water from a spring the splashed through the croft, gave the camel all it could wish for.
“I followed our guide into the largest of the round structures. Within, the woman motioned me to a chair near one wall and disappeared behind a curtained doorway. I glanced at the interior of this space and was immediately struck by the number and quality of the icons with which it was adorned. These were brilliantly coloured, and coupled with the light that entered through high windows, they gave the space a most holy and solemn air. My immediate sense was that I had stepped into a chapel rather than a dwelling place. And, as I came to learn, I was not wrong in thinking this.
“After a few minutes, the curtain once again lifted, and a tall woman entered. Like Amsale, she was somewhat light skinned, after the manner of Ethiopians. But, she was tall, and far older than the young girl with whom I had travelled.
“’I am Yeshi,’ the woman said. ‘I bid you welcome, Brother. Amsale did well to find you and hasten you here in time.’”
“I stood and bowed. ‘Long have I sought you, Sister, and I am happy now to have finally found you. But, I fear yet for Amsale; she guided me until just before the iron gates were opened, but I know not what became of her, and I fear, for her sake, those that followed us through the mountain rift.’”
“’There is no need for concern. Amsale is safe. She comes not into Mekdes, and would not, even bidden.’”
“’So, is Mekdes the name of this valley?’”
“’It is. You tread upon sacred ground, Gabriel; this is where I live and study. Mekdes is my mother and my father: my sanctuary, my library, my desert hermitage. It is everything to me, saving only God Himself.’”
“’And, do you abide here alone, Sister?’”
“’Yes. You are the first in many decades to enter through the great gates, and you shall be the last; that is, until you return, decades hence, when all comes to pass that I shall show you.’”
“’How can you know when I will return?’”
“’The prophesies shall have been fulfilled; then you will come, with one other, and he shall tarry here as I have tarried, though not alone. And after him others will also come seeking refuge. For the day is approaching when those who would flee from evil will seek asylum in secluded places; and as I have said, this is sacred ground.’”
“But will you welcome all of these into Mekdes?’”
“’You do not understand, Gabriel. When that time comes, you shall find me here no more. You shall be the one who must welcome them.’”
“’But, Sister, where will you have gone that I must do this thing?’”
“’I? I shall be with my Father. Understand, Gabriel, that when next you return here, my work shall be done; I shall be dead.’”
[To be continued]