The Lion (V/VII)

It is May 13 in the year of our Lord 1981 and there is a Dominion that bends itself down upon the Earth. And where the Dominion goes there is a singing, and the world itself is moved to join the chorus, and there is a trembling in the houses of the unjust. And where it moves the eyes and faces and wings that are within it turn to see. Shimmering auroras move around its surface, like a cloak, like halos, like a glorious night sky.

Let us not imagine that it is a thing of safety or of sanity. It is a creature out of legend. It kills birds where it passes, for it does not share the skies. It withers trees as it passes them, leaches the world’s life from the soil, it makes good earth to fallow ground. These things it does not from malice but by its nature: it understands no life that is not its own.

I will nevertheless call it good.

If it is a blind and foolish god, if it is harmful, then still, I will say it is well-intentioned. If it has done harm, then still it is high-minded.

It is not its fault, at any rate, what happened at Elm Hill.

[The Frog and the Thorn – CHAPTER ONE]


May 13, 1981

Listen, and I will tell you the truth of the monster’s wings.

They are brilliant and they are reflective. When you look upon them you will see the inside of your own eyes. You will see the process by which you form yourself laid bare.

When he has spread his wings through the construction of the world, when he has become a parasite on creation and made the truth a captive to his will, the monster will not give you the luxury of seeing that it is so. Instead you will see yourself. And in that moment he will describe you. He will tell you who you are.

Reason will not help you. This is because the monster is aware of reason. He exists outside it, like the classical God outside of time and space. The tools of your mind are limited. They rely on receiving truthful feedback from the world — all save pure math, perhaps, and even that depends on truth for its relevance. In a position where the monster can reward error, frustrate correctness, and demonstrate as folly whatever might otherwise be wise, you cannot expect to win over him with reason. To imagine that you can do so is unreasonable. It is an idealistic attachment to the happy ending at the end of a fairy tale, where one reasonable person, refusing to give in, triumphs magically at the last.

If you had infinite time, of course, that would be so. Give yourself forever to fight the monster in and his lies, as they are lies, would fray one day and come apart. But we are mortal creatures, bound by time; to us the monster is simply truth.

Reason will not help you. Strength will not help you. Strength is as useless in the monster’s presence as is reason. Where you build walls of your strength he will dig out the ground. Where you hold a position he will encircle it, undermine it, turn the purpose of your holding it to sand. The more you fight him, the more you will lose. To expect any differently is to hew unto a fairy tale; and the fairies, well, they’re isn’ts yet.

Strength will not help you. Reason will not help you. Nor will it help you in the least to know that, theoretically, there is some real truth, somewhere, somewhere outside the monster’s steading.

Depending on what you imagine truth to be, that might not even be the case.

In his unfurled wings the monster is an absolute creature. He is not deniable. He is no longer a person. He is no longer a man, or a god, or whatever the hell monsters are, in a lab coat, with a name tag, with a tie. He is I AM THAT I AM, as much as any burning bush has ever been.

It is as if, to gain his power, he had slaughtered God, had ripped out the bones and organs of Him, and made from Him a coat. He usurps God as he does reason; to seek God in his presence is therefore to seek the monster out.

Look for love, if you’d rather. Look for hate. Look for hope. Look for anything you like.

You’ll be caught up in the maze of him. You’ll find it only where he wills.

The reason I’m explaining this is that I can’t really tell you what happened in places where the monster’s wings spread wide. It’s like I’ve said. He becomes truth. He becomes the authoritative source on the matter, and what he is saying is always — it’s never, “On thus and such time, at thus and such a date, this happened, and then this.”

It’s always just him.

All I can tell you is what someone told me later happened at Elm Hill. All I can tell you is a story. It’s pretty much made up, because if it were true, it would be the monster, just as the monster, at that time, was truth.

The Dominion bent down to meet him. He was standing on the roof.

You probably think you wouldn’t give in to him. Of course you wouldn’t. Of course you’d stand up to him. The man’s a filthy bit of work, isn’t he? Worse’n the Devil, some would say. There’s no way you’d look at those wings and think that what the monster does to children could be right.

Please do believe that. You should. It costs him something, every time he spreads those wings. There’s no point in giving in to him for free.

But I tell you that the Dominion bent down to meet him, and he was standing on the roof, and the monster spread his wings. And from that point forward, he was Axiom. He was Correctness. He was as righteous as the stars.

The sands dripped through the hourglass
And the hour of the wolf closed in at last
And life is sweet and the sun is high
But the flesh and the fire are born to die

The monster said, “This world is no place for you. If you stay here you will die.”

That’s what I’ve heard. That’s what I’ve heard he said.

“If you stay here,” the monster said, “you’ll die.”

And the creature, its words were the fluttering of ten thousand wings. The creature, its words were ten thousand hands and eyes and wings opening and closing, all modulated into voice.

It said: I will exalt you. I will lift you up. I will make you as God, and no more to depend upon the suffering of your prey.

The monster spat onto the roof, and in that spittle seethed ten thousand tiny living things.

“I will make you death and suffering,” he said. “I will make you anguish and violation. You will be hideous, horrible, and despised. Or you may go.”

The creature rotated in its form. It turned, and the pieces of its turning came into alignment, and you who looked upon it would see: ah, here is its face. Then it would turn further, the previous face dissolving, a new one forming, and you would realize: no, that was not so: its face is this.

The creature said: Can you really say that you are happy with your life?

The monster laughed.

You will die, it told him. And before that death, you will sorrow. You will know the damnation of your line.

There’s a girl in the sun
And there’s girls in the sea
And in Elm Hill’s cages
There’s a girl like me

It’s May 13, 1981, and we can see again, and the monster is giving the Dominion this beautiful grin.

It’s like the sun.

It’s been telling him he’s damned, only —

For a moment, you might almost think: wait. That’s not bravado. He is actually having fun.

It’s pure and clear as the monster isn’t pure and clear. It’s bright and beautiful as the monster isn’t bright and beautiful. It’s the best thing in the world, that laugh, that grin, that enemy of damnation. Then, however, the monster is moving, and there is a thorn in his hand, and it pierces the Dominion, and it is suddenly clear that everything in the world is wrong.

The Dominion staggers. Its form becomes imprecise. Where there was glory there is now a great disruptive seething, as of slime.

It is shattered. It is raining down, upon Elm Hill.

It is twisted. There is within it a great and horrible soullessness of life.

It is wounded. It gapes at him, this thing that has never before been wounded, and which cannot really understand what its hurting means.

“I will kill you,” it cries, and its voice is a great storm. But it does not.

Children, sure, it kills, those that don’t get evacuated in time. There is a price to be paid for the defiling of Elm Hill. Children it kills, and workers, and the place itself: Elm Hill’s no good place for the monster’s work any longer.

But the monster it doesn’t kill.

The monster he just serves it as any other fiend is served, until it limps and staggers howling away beyond the boundaries of the world, a broken lion, and in its paw a thorn.

11 thoughts on “The Lion (V/VII)

  1. Fascinating. So the Unforgivable Dominion was something quite different in nature from the one that destroyed Spattle…until it encountered the monster. The destruction of Spattle was some years later, in 1989.

    I notice that we don’t get an indication of why the Dominion came to Elm Hill.

    Hmm…when was Meredith born? I’ve noticed that several of the legends have Meredith as the child of a king, perhaps she has some connection to this Dominion and its king? If she was born on May 13, 1981 — but no, she was born in 1978. Still, I suspect there may be something going on here.

    This narrator is very interesting to me. Her voice doesn’t feel to me like that of any character we’ve seen before. (I’m assuming that the phrase “a girl like me” refers to this narrator.) She says “Year of Our Lord” instead of “common era” and she analyzes morality in what feels to me like a Christian way, and she refers to the Devil.

    Oh. I just read it again. “It’s not a thing of safety or sanity.” “…he just serves it as any other fiend is served…” This Dominion really is a fiend, answering someone’s hurt with madness — most likely the narrator’s. I wonder if she’s Cheryl the Creepy Handwriting Girl? Cheryl made a Bible reference in her one appearance to date.

  2. > but no, she was born in 1978. Still, I suspect there may
    > be something going on here.

    Well, she was born a little later in Greenwich Mean Time.

    Best wishes,

    Jenna

  3. I think this is the most explicit description of the monster’s power over reality that we’ve seen yet.

    I wonder if this is enough to figure out the way in which Amiel’s line twisted her promise and why they became monsters. We know that promises in Hitherby (at least some promises) are strong enough that other things give way — “when you make a promise that humans can’t fulfill, you can’t be human any more.” Amiel’s promise seems to have been one of those: “I will guard your line, and our families will be intertwined forever.” And it’s shown in A Study in Entanglement (VII/VII) that this promise does have the power to make someone of Amiel’s line into a god.

    Maybe someone of Amiel’s line becomes a monster by betraying the promise so fundamentally, by doing something so terrible to one of Lia’s line, that there’s no way in which the promise hasn’t been broken — not if there’s such a thing as truth, or reason, or right and wrong. But keeping the promise is part of the monster’s dharma. The monster has to be able to keep the promise. The promise won’t give way, the things the monster did won’t give way. So what gives way instead are truth, and reason, and right and wrong.

  4. Seems as though ultimately you become a monster when you use your power of guardianship in the way described here- when you keep everything away from your charge that would give them the power to be independent, so that they can’t even construct a narrative that will let them declare that what you do is unjust.

  5. Okay, I get it. I get how Amiel’s abilities turned into the monster’s wings. This was probable obvious to others before now, but I figure some folks might not have gotten it yet, like I hadn’t, so here goes.

    “It had been different in their youth, I think. Then Amiel had been the weak one. She had the power to speak truth but not the power to speak lies — I think. And so every word she said tore and wriggled in her throat, scraped it raw and made her bleed from it. She was all but mute and she was eternally beautiful. So in their childhood I think it was Lia who was strong.

    “But Lia was mortal, and mortal things grow old, and finally she couldn’t even remember her own name. She had to make Amiel tell her. She had to waste her sister’s power, just to find out little things like ‘you are Lia’ or ‘I am Amiel.’ ‘I love you.’ Or ‘You are my treasure. You are my precious jewel. Your children have gone away to distant lands, but I will protect them, I will guard them, I will guard your line and our families be entwined forever.’

    “These things she said to reassure her sister, and the cost of them was blood.”

    During the end of Lia’s life, one of the main things Amiel did was to tell Lia who she was. And I think… that I’ve been misinterpreting what it means that Amiel could only speak truth. I think it may have been more in the sense that we’re seeing here. It wasn’t just an inability to lie, although that was there too. It seems that there was an element of defining truth, at least for the listener.

    And so the monster’s wings are basically a weaponized version of what Amiel did for Lia. Like Amiel’s voice, they have a cost to the user. And like it, they let you say what’s true, tell someone who they are, who you are, and how you relate to them.

    It’s not even really a weird offshoot. I suspect that Amiel could have done the same thing, if she had wanted to. She just wasn’t that kind of person.

    -Eric

  6. I don’t think this power started with Amiel. I think it’s something to do with the throne of the world. This is mostly a feeling, and I can’t point to much that supports it directly. But I feel there’s something very similar between what the Monster did to Micah back in Part /vii, and what Cronos did to Zeus in The Lord of Misrule.

    Also, the last sentence of Boedromion 21-22 is this:

    They’re just in the grip of Semantics, that bleak god, cousin to Ananke, from whom alone of all the gods and men great Zeus is free.

    And the description we get here sounds a lot like “freedom from semantics”.

    Also, I’d point out that the monster’s line, the house of Atreus, is descended from Tantalus, favoured son of Zeus, son of Cronos. There’s more hereditary wierdness going on than just Amiel’s promise.

  7. Could be. I just think that the throne of the world is currently held by Martin, not by the Monster.

  8. One thing I notice on reading again is that the Dominion apparently left Elm Hill with The Thorn That Does Not Kill still stuck in it. This may perhaps connect with Liril having the Thorn in “Saturday (1 of 2)”, something I’ve wondered about for a long time.

    (I also notice that there are quite a lot of legends tagged “The Thorn That Does Not Kill” that have no obvious connection to said Thorn.)

  9. So, either my previous supposition that Unforgivable Dominion = Chancel is at least 33.3% wrong, or else Something Strange is going on. My bet’s on “both,” except that as per the next story, that might not be a legal bet.

  10. Also — the throne of which world?

    If Martin holds the throne of The Stage, part of the way he keeps it is by not letting on to the monster, when the monster is watching.

  11. The links to here in the latest letter column remind me of a comment I forgot to post when this went up:

    The phrase “righteous as the stars” rings very oddly to me. From my point of view, you might as well say “as philosophically deep as sunlight” or “as nutritious as the alphabet”. “Righteous” is a human concept, and the stars are removed from human things; they are what they are, neither righteous nor unrighteous. The concept is irrelevant to them.

    (And now that I post that, I recall that we have at least one example in Hitherby of a star falling to earth as a sapient entity, plus a tag for “removing stars” which I’ve never quite grasped…so in Hitherby what I just said may well be utterly false.)

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