The Naming of Dobson's Crag
By Dolores J. Nurss
A LEGEND OF THE TILI�N, THE TALE OF ERIC WILLEM DOBSON.
told the boy that he had talent. They
shoved a violin under his chin and commanded him to play them something
sweet. So he spun them a confection, each note a sugar snowflake to dance
in the air as pure and bright and cold as the child's eyes. Eric piled up the music in drifts around
them, crystal-perfect in every note, uncompromising whiteness of sound that
chilled the very color from their hearts, till they shivered as they listened
and they couldn't stop.
again," they told him. "That
was too cold. Play us something sweet."
Eric submitted. He offered up a song
like incense; it rose in curls of bittersweet perfume, as lush and harsh in the
throat as sacrifice, as rites compelled by unforgiving gods. He made each note a fragrance to swirl upon
the air, to cloud the senses, he burned himself up to rise in a murk behind
their minds like the threat in his obedience.
they said, "that's too harsh. That
is not how a violin should sound. Try
tried to be airy. He tried to catch the
sweetness of a summer breeze. He coiled
the tune around him in a caress of atmospheric hands, but it sped on without
restraint, it searched out every crack in the listener's defenses, strengthened
on the power of the bow upon the strings, till the music whipped the room like
a gale that bent and swayed them, stripped away their preconceptions like
leaves to hurl them in the wind, broke the connective twigs, wrenched whole
branches of thought from them in a splintering of notes that bruised them, beat
them, stormed their shelter till the whirlwind music left their spirits naked
couldn't tell him to try again because he fled.
He slipped out a window like a tune that escapes the memory. He sought out the wild places where the hawk
never bound herself to the songbird's warble, where the tree's bark grew as
rough as its leaves grew smooth, where the pouchcat killed with grace and the
slain coney never asked for anything sweet and the rocks told him nothing at
first some need would waft Eric Dobson down among them now and then; he'd trade
the furs of the beasts he'd eaten for an axe or supply of seed. But no music came down with him save the
rhythm of his movements and a tremor of his grace-note silences. Some few would ask if he could play,
commanding the young man no more. But
then he'd only stare at them; they saw nothing in his eyes but sky. They wondered if he'd lost his music in the brambles,
buried it in the mould. He let them
they left him to the rocks and hawks and the alterlli vines, and they thought
of other things. Poems needed writing,
art called out for painting, new songs filled the breeze between the theaters
and threaded the sculpture-gardens with pleasantry. Music enough remained in the art-colony that
they didn't need the hermit on the hill.
And when he had all that he needed he came down no more.
sometimes they wondered if he sat upon the crag above them and played his
violin, rosin'd on the wild sap, to an audience of stars. They wondered what the animals might do, who
caught the savage notes like a scent upon the air. When people drank from the stream that poured
down from the hills, they thought about a melody so thick it could crush you,
filtering the water, to leave ungovernable influences that suffused the taster
and his work.
passed. Whole generations knew him only
as a proverb of talent wasted. So they
strove all the more to share what they created, with Dobson for example. And so it went, until the fire...
had always lain, beneath the skin, this tension between art and nature. Now Sister Earth had lost the battle to her
gardeners-gone-amok, but this new world, Novatierre, more ancient without
sentience, felt a strength within her core--felt because the invaders
brought the concept of feelings with them like an accidental passenger. Where thoughts had never been, thoughts
came. Magentine pervasive in the soil
discovered in itself a property to store what it previously had not known. Unforeseeable potentials awoke where awaking
had seemed impossible, unthinkable, this alien stirring.
then Novatierre discovered memories in humanity of a world destroyed. From them she learned suspicion and hostility
to newcomers. Where only nature had
shaped new shapers came, building elaborations upon instinctive concepts like
competition and defense, and introducing new ones–jealousy, punishment, and
hate. The planet soaked up thoughts,
emotions, rivalry, deep into the soil like an acid rain.
upset the psychic ecology. It called
forth a heat. It kindled a leaf in a
shimmer of light not yet true flame, then the leaf curled blackening around a
twig, then the resins bubbled and spat while the fire climbed a tangle of
fallen bark that scaled a sacrificial tree.
the artists slept. While the artists in their dreams loved wood as
something to carve and clay as something to sculpt, their sleeping fingers
still stained with the stones that they'd crushed for pigments, while they
dreamed of animals as hides to stretch across their drums, guts to tighten on a
soundbox, bones to hollow out and pierce with holes for melodies.
woke to the incense of a burning wood, the rumble of the fire's song. They ran out naked, left their art abandoned,
turned to watch their visions burn to smoke.
As the heat beat them back they watched their lofts crash down to the
coals of their parlors, then both into cellars where their winebottles burst in
the celebration of the fire. Around the
artists blades of flame leaped high in a circle-dance, trampling the village to
the tune of their own cackling till they tread it down to ash, then whipped the
ash up again in a blizzard of heat upon the gale of fire-voices. The artists circled but saw no escape in the
blur of heat and their smoke-stung tears.
a melody came, the barest counterpart to the ripples in the heat. At first it foundered in inferno, then found
new strength, a bittersweetness that denied no harm, yet sang a hymn of mercy,
compromise, accommodation. It took the
bitter and the sweet to make its harmony, it locked into a single chord both
nature and the art that praised her. In
the throat of the music swelled up all the power of loneliness, of a whole
flood of loss endured for a purpose, enough to shame a planet, for even a
planet can lose no more than everything.
harmony compelled. It coaxed the flame
to dance its measures, to rise and fall with the song. A wave of notes parted the flames to admit
the old man, violin tucked under his jowls, his music louder now than the
firestorm which whipped his hair up like wisps of a snow-white smoke, loud as
the shock which smote all hearts at the sight of those eyes glazed from seeing
nothing but years and years of wilderness, the lips that could no longer speak,
could only let howl from the strings beneath his fingers the song that he gave
his life to play.
glanced neither to the right nor to the left.
He fiddled like a lunatic in firelight, oblivious to the people that he
walked between. They saw, close enough
to touch, the weather-cracked face that nature had carved as an artwork of her
own. People stepped aside, for he walked
with the surety of sacrifice straight into the opposing wall of flame.
the fire also made room for him. The
fire shivered like the music melted it; it bowed to him--The Sculpture of
Novatierre--he who had no more asked to be made nature's art than any carven
bough. The coals beneath his feet cooled
for shame; in a hiss they confessed that Humankind had done nothing here that
nature hadn't done as well. The fire let
him crowded artists who had scorned him, men and women with their talented
children who played sweetly when commanded; he led the long dance between
shuddering walls of death and death, but they came to no harm within the
a beach, at last, they found themselves with nothing left to burn. The music sank beneath a whisper of the
sea. Sand stretched all around them,
white in the moonlight like ash or snow or the empty canvas that yearns for
human paint, paper for words. When they
awakened from the music-trance they wrote across the sand with running feet,
spouse finding spouse in swift embrace, parents catching up their children with
sobs of relief that sank into the sand clear to the heart of Novatierre.
had lost their poems, but retained the souls that wrote. Their paintings had scorched to ash and
melted color, but the hands and eyes that painted remained to them. Their instruments, their theaters, all these
the fire had consumed, but they could dance, they could sing. They could rebuild wiser creations than
artists sought out Eric Dobson, the old man with the violin, but he had faded
with the melody--they couldn't find him among them. They wouldn't
wait. They scaled the crag while the sod
still smoked beneath their feet, the air still choked, they crossed a landscape
of absolutes in black and white. They
found the cinders of his shack, the old man's blackened bones an ink-sketch on
the whitened ground--Novatierre's signature to the art that she'd
compelled. Beneath some knucklebones the
metal violin-strings curled, twisted from the heat. The fire had swept the crag long before it
had ever reached the village.
THUS THE NAME, THE ORIGIN OF DOBSON'S CRAG, ABOVE THE ART-COLONY NAMED
DiMEDICI, IN TIL TERRITORIES, ALTRAUS, NOVATIERRE.
on a dream of watching a fiery-eyed old man walk through a wall of
flame while playing violin, and on other dreams set in the art colony
of DiMedici, usually with me playing tourist. I sensed that the
old man belonged to this community, and yet also didn't. I wanted
to discover his story. Then I saw, on the map that I had drawn
(based on many, many dreams of Fireheart Friendclan's youthful
excursions) Dobson's Crag, just above DiMedici, and I suddenly
realized, "That's him! He's Dobson!" After that this tale
just sort of unfurled in my head to answer me.
that I dreamed of being Deirdre as a weary, aging veteran of agency,
sitting in the Blarney room of the Silverfoam Inn, as an earnest young
man stood up to recite, declaring in a loud voice the opening line of
this legend. I woke up right after, feeling confirmed in the
telling of this tale, and also now aware that some parts of Til
Territories had developed the custom of beginning and ending
recitations of legends with a loud, proclamatory voice, dropping in
between to a more conversational tone, yet in a lyrical style.]