ONE THIRTY SEVEN
If you google ‘fainting’ you’ll get a lot of stuff about blood pressure and dehydration and low blood sugar. Nobody seems interested in whether your visual-pathway neurons are still firing or not, or, if they are, what your brain thinks it’s seeing, even if your eyes have rolled up in your head and your body is doing an excellent wet-cardboard imitation. I haven’t fainted often, but the few times have been memorable. My cerebral cortex apparently says, Hey! We’re free of stupid reality! Let’s party!
There was a scrubby grey wilderness and a little hissing wind. This wasn’t the uncanny desert of the black thing and its behemothic sword; there were trees, and a path through the trees, but the trees were grey and tired and the path looked like it was kept open only because it was being regularly used; it was rough and crooked as if whoever had first knocked a hole in the undergrowth had been stumbling in the dark and nobody following had had the time or the concentration to make better choices. It wasn’t a path or a landscape that anyone would be on or in if they didn’t have to be.
Your POV when you’ve fainted and your parietal lobe is doing the hokey pokey with your cerebellum and your Brodmann areas is kind of peculiar. Or mine is anyway. It’s not wholly unlike the mind frame I get in when I’m deep in a story, and I’m wherever the story wants me to be, which may be several places at once: Character A is avoiding getting hacked to death on the battlefield (very funny my mind producing that image just now ha ha ha), Character B is frantically trying to come up with a bribe that will make the evil magician release his sweetheart, the evil magician isn’t terribly interested in any bribes Character B is likely to have on offer because he’s preoccupied with how the battle is going and the sweetheart is gnawing through her manacles having first sung the guard dragon to sleep, because the poor helpless fragile little virgin thing is all an act, and Character B may have a shock coming. This is rather more than the standard 360-degree view, trust me. And if the story drops you in it and you’re not absolutely on form, writing your way out of all the flap and fluster may get a little ragtag. This is why rewrites were invented.
I could see the trees and the path, and I could feel that they were out in the middle of nowhere although I had a sense of farms and towns over . . . there, somewhere. And as the farms and towns drew closer together, and the towns grew larger and larger till a few enterprising businesspersons discovered it was worth their while to start haulage companies, there was a castle. And in a room high in a tower at one end of the castle there was a gorgeously-dressed woman sitting at a desk, writing. At her feet was a silky golden sighthound. She was writing as if her life depended on it. I hoped she was on form.
I was not sorry not to be writing whatever story was causing her such anxiety and apprehension, but if it had meant I could sit at a desk instead of being passed out in the arms of a middle-aged mercenary of dubious reliability while some torturer repeatedly sank a dagger-sized needle in my leg, I’d have a go. Although the goose quill and inkwell were outside my skill set.
Her castle looked like it might have been designed by the same architect who had designed the tower in the middle of the tired grey forest, although if it was the same architect, he or she hadn’t been getting enough sleep and had been hitting the illegal substances a little too hard while the tower had been on the drafting table. There was something ever so slightly wrong about its proportions, although that might have been the oppressive effect of the dull sooty-black stone it was made of, a dullness so determinedly nonreflective that the tower gave the impression that it was sucking up the light around it; as if it was the tower’s fault that the landscape was grey, that the trees were grey rather than green and brown, that where the crooked path had worn deep into the ground the exposed tree-roots and shoulders of stone and bare earth were grey.
The black tower was huge. Why had it been built out here in a wilderness? The narrow bumpy path that led to it now would never have taken carts big enough to carry the stones it was made out of, so unless there was some grisly yoked slave transport involved, or a four-lane highway on the far side that I’d missed, the tower was old enough for some pretty serious trees to have grown up to crowd in on the path.
I did something that if I’d been in my body would have counted as squinting. There was a bird flying—no, soaring—no, hovering—over the black tower. It had that raptor look to it.
And if it was hovering it might be a kestrel.
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