The Door in the Wall
"It ate the Moon?"
Meyr was puzzled, half-asleep. Yet the young woman smiled, and the old one looked on with kindness.
The child came up to her and took her hand, saying prettily, "But you will sit with us," and led her with a small soft clasp of fingers to the couch. She sat, and the child, young, sweet, still dark-haired, sat beside her, almost in her lap.
The old woman was working a machine. She was rendering something—threads of tissue, or no, it was hair—plaiting and twisting them into a single cord. The white hairs fused together into the single shining line with what seemed impossible smoothness and skill. Her fingers never paused, and the central elliptical locus of the machine span back and forth, back and forth, with a calming rhythm.
She looked up and smiled at Meyr again.
"What is that, respected Mother?"
Yet it was the young woman who answered, standing now to one side. "It is the cord, Meyr, the cord: the very cord that breaks when they pluck forth the Capsule."
"So this is the pneumatechne? I have never seen such things, but I know of them...and does it have to be so precious, your fine machine?" The machine, she saw, was of wood, rare and costly wood: though the three were humbly and plainly dressed, it alone was worth as much as half a great House. "Will only wood do for this, respected Mother? Is that why the pneumatechne is so expensive?"
"In a way, Meyr. But never mind it. We must talk to you."
"What was the Moon, then?"
"In the days of Light, Meyr," said the old woman, "there were two Lamps. You have seen the Lamps, in the halls and passageways? There were two great Lamps, Outside, that illumined the whole Land. A Lamp of Silver, and a Lamp of Gold."
"Go on," said Meyr. She loved such stories. The little girl snuggled up to her gleefully.
"And a host of other Lamps, smaller and further away. Our Folk went Out to fly among them...."
"Yes." said Meyr. "And they found the Eaters, and..."
"We'll go again!" said the little girl suddenly, her eyes shining and thrilling. "And we'll play the Game again! Oh, Meyr, there is nothing like it! Out! Up and Out!"
"Oh, child!" said the young woman, leaning over, ruffling her hair fondly.
"It is not a story, Meyr." said the old woman. And something in her voice stilled all light laughter in the room. "Yes, we found the Eaters. And they returned with us. They broke the Moon, the Lamp of Silver, so it fell like rain, in fragments. And they wounded the Sun, the Lamp of Gold, eating out its heart, so that it died at last, though it was an hundred times greater. And they split the Land open and made a crack wherein we crept to hide. And here we are. Now everything is dark, forever, and even the smaller, further, lamps are being Eaten by them as they fly away from this place where they first learnt to suck the heart of stars, fly as fast as thought."
"What can I do?" said Meyr. She felt no fear, but beside her the child began to tremble.
"You must go to the Giants," said the young woman.
"The giants? But they are savages, in the Land. No one can talk to them."
"Not the svartálfar" said the other. "Not the troll-kin. But the great ones. The ones you call Watchers. In them is our salvation."
"I cannot" said Meyr, and she began to tremble. Beside her, the child cuddled close.
"I was not afraid among the Ice, Meyr," said the old woman, with the same authority that had stilled them earlier. The threads danced between her hands, fusing into one line of light. "I was not frightened when the skraelings came, nor when the Rats followed us back to Manhome. I did not tremble when He ate the moon,or when the sun began to fail, or when the Earth split. Never be afraid, daughter, always fight."
"You must not be afraid," said the young woman. "We must always fight. If we fight, we may live." She looked cleary and boldly into Meyr's eyes.
"I will not be afraid of what I must do," said the little child. "I know what will happen: but it does not frighten me." Now she clutched Meyr close, her face working and wet with tears, and her whole tiny body trembling. "I will not be afraid," and she held Meyr so hard, so terribly hard, that it seemed they must fuse, must become one being.