• Published 17th Mar 2015
  • 2,593 Views, 112 Comments

Riverdream at Sunset: a Manuscript - GroaningGreyAgony

Lord Dunsany has a curious adventure in the Lands of Dream, in a realm where beasts can talk and the sun rides low in the sky.

  • ...

The Riverdream

It happened one afternoon that, following the directions of an old woman, and particularly the detailed advice of her black cat, I took a boat out upon the Thames, and rowed for a while until the outskirts of London were well behind me, and brick and beam gave way fitfully to heather and gorse. And when I had heard the song of the thrush seven times in succession, I then performed certain actions that the cat had suggested in a dry mocking tone, then closed my eyes and rowed three times widdershins, and when I looked again a fork in the river was apparent where none had been before, and I turned my boat down this course.

The tide of the Thames was on the ebb, and the exposed mud along the riverbanks displayed hints of what the river was ordinarily given to conceal, and not all of these things were pleasant to behold. Still, I rowed idly awhile under the blue sky and bright sun, until the thrush was audible no more and the reeds grew thickly about the banks, swaying and whispering in the soft breeze like gathering spectators. And then I put up my oars and lay back in the prow of the boat, resolved to drift where the river might take me, and see what new pathway to dream I might thus discover, for the journeys had proven more difficult as of late.

The gentle heat of the late afternoon lulled me, though my eyelids were suffused with flickers of red and orange light from the sinking sun. As I drifted, I mused upon the chariot of Helios, later steered by Apollo, and wondered what a world would be like where the sun was no remote force, locked to the stars, but an object palpable and near, and thereby I fell into a fancy.


There is a time that comes to all Gods, and the time for the Greek Gods had been, and passed. Olympus had been dismounted, for the Earth was no longer the fixed foundation of everything, and could support Olympus no more; nor was there any aetherial realm it might call home.

And the God of the Sun, finding his office to be supplanted by a great and distant sphere of incandescent gases, was superintending the dismantling of his fiery chariot, and his workers rapped at the gilt frame with mallets of asbestos.

And the winged horses that drew the solar chariot stood nearby, restless in their harness.

One, a grey stallion, said: “We are to be put to pasture. I for one shall be glad of a long rest, with no more onerous duties than to crop the grass, and roll about on the earth, and rut.”

Another, a white mare, replied: “I have known no other life than the daily tread amid the stars of the sky, so that the constellations are like well worn paths to me. My hide can resist a heat no furnace can produce, and mine unblinkered eyes are full of the golden light of the sky. What pasture could ever contain me?”

And when the Solar God turned his beasts loose from their harness, the white mare stayed by his side and nuzzled his hand, and said to him “I beseech thee, Master, findest thou for me another fate, or slay me, for the fires of the heavens burn within me and may not be banked nor quenched.”

And the Solar God lifted her head and stroked the stardust from her mane, and said “Thou art a noble steed indeed, and of prestigious and ancient blood, and thou wert always my favourite. But my power wanes, and few are the boons that I can grant thee. What wouldst thou have me do?”

The white mare stood firmly upon the Earth, and looked him fully in the eyes. “Master, if I cannot continue to draw the solar chariot for thee, for that the humans now follow a distant star... then would I draw it for myself.”

The Solar God smiled gently, sadly. “Wouldst thou indeed take thine own place in the heavens, like unto thy stellated ancestor? It is not a simple choice. Be warned that the same knowledge that hath undone me may come for thee as well, for ever the eyes of humans seek outward, and they cease to trust what once they knew for certain, and thus perish the Gods.”

“If thou wilt permit it, Master, I would seek that fate, and try for myself what might be wrought from what remains of wonder. And should I lack for faithful followers at first, mine own earnest certainty must suffice.”

With that, the Solar God stroked the mare’s mane for the last time, and it flared under his touch into a gentle glory that glowed with the light of the sunrise over green fields, and it flowed over her back and through her tail like the sky at dawn. And he reached to the disjointed pile that had been his chariot and took up the hub of the Wheel of the Sun, which yet burnt with a blinding flame, and set it upon the mare’s back. And stooping, he took up a clot of earth, and spat into it and pressed it into a ball, and set this as well on her back.

And then he bent and kissed her upon her forehead, leaving a curious mark between her eyes which gleamed for an instant like a star, and she snorted and pawed and flapped her wings, for the ground beneath her was already too weak to bear her.

“Thus I release thee, my celestial steed,” he said. “Shouldst thou persevere, thou shalt have thy desire, until the humans seek thee out and pin thee down with their iron reason, or thy subjects grow like them in their learning of the ways of material things, and thou meetest the doom that is appointed to all Gods.”

And the white mare bade her former master farewell in deepest grief, and spread her great white wings and flew off into the sky, and beyond until day became perpetual night, and as she wandered the cold dark void her frozen tears left a sparkling trail behind her. And she turned aside from the beaten paths of the constellations, and sought long for a corner of the heavens that might be safe from the prying sight and inquisitiveness of mankind.

And having found a dark nook behind a secluded nebula, there she placed her clot of earth, and set the fiery hub to circle it, and nurtured them in the course of starwheels with nothing save her own piercing faith and the water of her tears. And the clot waxed and grew, swelled into a globe and became a world, and on it came forth life of all sorts as she remembered it, and particularly that which was in kind to her own appearance...


A shadow fell across my eyelids once, then twice, and my reverie was broken. I felt a breeze blowing down on my face, and heard a soft clatter upon the wooden stern of the boat, which rocked gently, and I opened my eyes to see a great set of orange pinions, streaked with yellow, and borne by no bird but by a small winged horse, though its face was rather more childlike than equine, for its snout was snub and its eyes faced forwards. Its hooves settled upon the stern boards as it seated itself, folded its wings, and gazed at me with great deep rosy eyes, full of blazing curiosity.

Without thinking on my part, I sat up and reached forth, for I desired something more than the faith of the eye, and my visitor felt the same, for it leaned forward as I arose, and my hand met its hoof midway between us. The hoof was smooth and striated with translucence, warm from the afternoon sun, and of a colour with its dusky orange fur. The creature laughed as my hand touched it, and bent its neck to peer closely at my fingers, and sniff them.

It then raised its eyes to mine, and to my surprise directed towards me the sounds of speech. My first attempt at a reply confused it, but its answer I at length perceived to be a corrupted sort of Greek, and our discourse followed in that tongue. I learned that her name was Eocharis, and she had been tending the clouds along the river, as if their fleece were actual rather than metaphoric, when she spotted a loose boat bearing such a curious monster that she could not resist a closer look. And she asked whither I was borne, and I replied that I had no design to go any further than her company at present, for she seemed as curious to me as I to her. At this she laughed, and invited me to tarry and to see more of her country, and I readily assented. She bent her neck to take up the painter in her teeth, and spread her wings to take flight, and thus swiftly towed me to shore, where over some low hills could be seen a small number of timber-framed houses and thatched roofs.

As she tied the painter to a dock, I gazed about me at the wider landscape. The verdant countryside was neat and well-cultivated, and beyond this, vast grey mountains and green hills rose improbably tall and round, as if they had grown bulging from a burgeoning globe, like lumps in batter or frozen waves of a rolling ocean. I was most interested to see the sun of this land, but it had already passed behind the hills, and the sky beyond was taking on itself the colours of sunset like a golden shawl.

As we walked along a winding path towards the town, Eocharis seemed fascinated by my cufflink, a silver chesspiece studded with sapphire. I undid my cuff to show it to her more closely, but she instead focused on my right arm, sniffed at the bare skin at my wrist with some interest, then contritely muttered “I understand. Thank you for showing me.” I refastened my cufflink.

But as we proceeded, I noticed that Eocharis occasionally paused, began to lay her ears back, and showed other signs of nervousness, from which I took it that the novelty of escorting a fabulous monster was perhaps being strained a trifle by her bestial instincts. I pondered how best to put her at her ease, then I altered my walking gait, kicking my heels against the ground with each step so that each of my footsteps were doubled, matching her four-footed rhythm. Within a minute, she had visibly relaxed, and within another, she had glanced down at my feet, blinked twice, then looked up at me with a laughing smile. She then, with aid of her wings, altered her own gait so that her own footsteps seemed to strike only twice, and we laughed together, camaraderie restored.

As we reached the town, which Eocharis called Ippoli, I was startled, for from afar I had assumed the buildings to be built to human size, and instead they were scaled to the frame of my diminutive companion. I saw two ponies wielding saws and hammers as they mended a fence nearby, and was thereby convinced that they themselves had created and did continue to build this town.

Eocharis asked me to abide, then flew up over the rooftops, approached some compatriots of hers who were standing at ease upon a low-hanging cloud, and spoke to them, tossing her head occasionally towards me. They stared at me, then flew off in several directions, and Eocharis flew back down to tell me that she had asked them to inform the mayor and the townsfolk, who would all be interested to see me. And in due course the folk of Ippoli came forth to see the strange monster, and crowded around me, flaring their lips and baring their teeth at me, and I was amused to see their various expressions, though in truth they were not so awed as I had anticipated. For in their world of creatures like to those that dwell in myth, there are many things that walk on two legs and speak, and for another such thing to appear were no great occurrence, whereas even one instance of a talking horse in London would be a subject of unending excitement and discussion.

Though all were small ponies in general form, they were coloured in every sort of hue like a field of wildflowers in spring. I later learned that there were three tribes or kinds of them, which long ago had waxed in strife until frigid winter nearly claimed them all, and they were forced to sue amongst each other for peace. These tribes were the Pterippi (of which Eocharis was a member), the Monokeri, whose singular horns permitted them to command great and silent magics, and the Khthonoi, who were adorned with neither horns nor wings, but whose dominion lay over the soil and the fruits thereof.

One young Khthonos, a Miss Hephaesta of light green coat, was called to perform a ceremony of welcome. This she did by advancing to me, curtseying by bending her forelegs, then placing her forehooves squarely against the ground. She trembled and I felt a tension run through the earth, and green things grew up from the ground around her hooves, and twined into a circle around them, and once interwoven burst into a garland of pink roses. She then stepped out of the circle, and another unspoken command of hers separated the garland from the earth, and she took it up in her mouth and offered it to me. I accepted it gravely and placed it over my head, at which the crowd applauded by stamping their forehooves gently. Eocharis told me afterwards that, in strict politeness, I should have eaten one of the flowers then and there instead of saving them all for later.

The mayor, a sedate grey stallion of advancing years, approached me carefully. He reared onto his hind legs, putting his eyes at a level with my chin, and gazed at me so intently that I burst into laughter, and so did he and the rest of the crowd, and I sensed their relief. I did not care to go to all fours, but I squatted to put my eyes at his natural level, and thus we conversed. He asked me whence I had come, and I told him that I had ventured from a land where fires were started in small wooden bowls which one held between one’s lips, and frameworks of oiled cloth were used to confound the rain and the sun, and such other conceits as seemed likely to amuse him. And soon, I was judged to be relatively harmless and it was agreed that Eocharis would be excused from her other duties to serve as my guide during my visit.

And the ponies decided to hold a small celebration, for since the town of Ippoli was small and but recently founded, it was considered a mark of good fortune for a stranger to arrive. Thus they soon assembled a small tented pavilion in the rudimentary town square, and food and drinks were brought forth on wooden trays that the ponies held in their teeth or carried on their backs, while I sat cross-legged on the ground at one of their tables, as I did not find their long low cushions to be suitable. And though much of the food was not palatable to me, I did find that such of their pastries that did not contain hay were of acceptable quality, and the fruits they served positively glowed with a natural vivacity and were correspondingly delightful. And certain of these fruits, together with an earthy sort of red grape, were the basis for a variety of sweet or even salty wines and ales which the ponies served right from their casks, and which made the time pass agreeably.

I showed the ponies my pocket watch, which fascinated them, and which they made me wind again and again to sound the chime. And I asked them about a certain symbol that appeared on the tent, a stylised sun radiating golden flames, and they told me that this was the symbol, or destiny-sigil, for their ruler, a white mare who governed all the tribes, and who held power over the land and over the very sun itself, which it was her duty to raise each morning. I was determined to see this, and Eocharis told me that she knew of an excellent spot from which to view the event, and would guide me there in due time.

And as the afternoon deepened into evening and the first stars appeared in the sky, the celebration likewise began to dissolve, but I noted to Eocharis that the Khthonoi had been by far the earliest to take their leave. She told me that sometimes the Khthonoi betook themselves of a night to perform a peculiar ceremony which they thought to be secret, and that tonight was certainly one such night, and she asked if I would like to see it from the air.

I ventured to doubt that such a small steed as she could bear me any distance on land, much less aloft. She laughed and said that while she could indeed find the strength to bear me for short distances, she had something else in mind for our journey, but that the preparation would require aid from a friend of hers. We took our leave of the pavilion, and Eocharis went swiftly aloft and circled over the town until with a cry of delight she espied her friend, then she flew back to me and guided me the right way, flying over my head.

Together we went to an empty field at the outskirts of Ippoli, where a Monokeros of deep blue coat stood utterly still, though his horn was lit with a rippling burgundy glow. The same sort of glow also surrounded a shovel, which was striking deep into the earth and had already made a deep hole in which a child might readily curl up.

Eocharis introduced me to the Monokeros, Hespericles, who said that he would be glad to help us, but that he must first complete his present task. He cast the shovel aside, then the glow of his mageía illuminated the interior of a wooden bucket. A large and ancient book, swollen and dripping with water, rose from the bucket, floated over the hole, and was laid gently within it, and the shovel was taken up again to cover it snugly with earth. No regretful author or sadly smiling critic had ever consigned a volume to eternal rest in such a tender manner.

I remarked upon the strange sight, and Hespericles said idly that knowledge was as fruitful a seed as any in nature, but would say no more on the subject.

Eocharis explained her intent to Hespericles and asked for his assistance and company. He sniffed cautiously at my clothes and then my shoes, then said, “The honoured creature wears an extra skin, made of distressing substances, which shall affect the subluxions of my spell.”

Eocharis said, in a low voice not intended for me to overhear, “Please do not press him to remove his garments. His body is going bald, though it does not smell contagious.”

“It is no great matter. I shall work around it.” Hespericles spoke not any words of a spell, but reared his horn, which again formed a curious glow like a transparent cloud. This glow spread over me like a clinging smoke, and I felt a querulous prickle in my skin, which grew warm. My hairs stood up and I tasted sharp sour air about me, and I felt that my spirit yearned to cast off the flesh, at which the flesh trembled but understood.

And then the fit passed, and I stood with ringing ears and pounding heart, and I could feel the air around me resisting my motion slightly, though there was no wind, and I moved about for a time as a child might, each breath of humid air a tingling wonder. And Eocharis flew out over the river and its fog and dashed about swiftly until she had gathered up a cloud, and pushed it over to me as a child might push a balloon, and made signs that I should touch it. And when I tried to walk into it, I bumped my shins and fell onto it, and it shook like a great jelly, and where I touched it felt soft, but gently prickling, like ice-needles, and the laughter of the ponies rang like raindrops in spring water.

And Eocharis leapt up and landed squarely within the middle of the cloud and punched a depression into it, making it like a bowl, then flew around it striking at it with her hooves, until the cloud was shaped like a sleigh, and she motioned for us to enter. Trembling, hesitant, I took a seat, and Hespericles, having enchanted himself with a similar cloud-repelling charm, leapt into the sleigh and calmly sat beside me. Eocharis shouldered her way into several long thin wisps of vapour that served her as a harness, then spread her wings wide and thrust herself into the air, and we were pulled aloft in utter silence save for the rushing of the wind and the thudding of my heart.

And I had an urge to pray, but was reluctant to supplicate the goddess of this world, and so I chose to give a prayer for good fortune to Ha-Kalijo, a little god of ebony inlaid with a round chalcedony belly. He fit comfortably into my vest pocket, and he had sometimes given me good results when attending horse races.

And as we flew along the river, away from the town and over the darkened fields, I heard below a thunderous thrumming, and soon I could see ahead a great herd of Khthonoi racing across the land, multicoloured as with the other ponies, but muted in their tones like the leaves of autumn. Eocharis informed me that it was their way to sometimes join together of a night into a great herd, and run through the fields and hills, and that together their hooves often made a thunder in the ground that matched any produced by the Pterippi in their raging skystorms. And as we passed over the surging herd, it seemed that the very land about them shifted in hue and shape as they passed by, as if they were like a great fish passing just under the surface of the ocean, or as if their collective power impressed the land with a weight it could not bear without bending. Hespericles mentioned that the Khthonoi would not readily speak of this rite of theirs, but certain authorities of the Monokeri held that the Khthonoi thought themselves to be making the world to turn properly, which was primitive nonsense, for any right-thinking pony could perceive that the heavens circled neatly about the world as a natural course, which could not happen unless the world were a fixed and unchanging foundation for all. For my part, I made no objection to his reasoning.

And the river soon bent its course from that of the steadfast herd, and passed through a vast forest, which was much darker than seemed warranted by a wood in evening, and Eocharis kept good speed in flying over it. I was told that the forest was seldom travelled, for sometimes ponies would simply disappear in it, or emerge twisted into mocking shapes of themselves, and the very darkest of the trees of that wood were not content to merely overgrow paths and mislead travellers, but had the power to send forth forms made of their own substance, in the shapes of fell creatures, to more certainly wreak their evil will. Hespericles said that according to one legend, the trees of the forest had once been bright and healthy, but a terrible battle of magic had once happened there, between the creatures of the daylight world and flying dark things that emerged from hidden caves, and though the darkness had been cast back, the land was forever scarred.

Eocharis objected that none of the Pterippi would ever have taken part in such evil doings, and Hespericles stated that the records spoke not of Pterippi, but of other creatures with heads like horses, but wings like bats, and of monstrous size. He could personally attest that the forest held things of foreign nature to the rest of the world, for he himself had ventured into the woods on occasion and discovered a stone circle, tended by small brown creatures that chittered at him in fluttering tones in a language he could not understand, but which somehow conveyed to him that he should take his leave and not return.

At the far side of the dark forest, we passed by the sad ruin of a town, whose round houses with conical thatched roofs were rotting into the soil. Hespericles told us that the village had been named Punda-Miliamji, and that it had been founded by a tribe of Zebras from far over the ocean—a race proud and haughty, whose magic power lay not in horns, but in the sculpting of words of terrible import, and the crafting of odiferous concoctions. And one amongst the Zebras, a powerful alchemist named Oumbasti, had taken offence because a young colt of Ippoli had not folded his ears back and smacked his own snout with a forehoof when offering an apology for coughing too loudly, and Oumbasti had spent seven days and nights crafting a potion of vengeance which escaped his control. It slew him and overwhelmed the village of Punda-Miliamji and would have covered the world in a foul wine-coloured ooze if it had not been stopped by means of fell magics borne by a mysterious race named the Tarassoi, who had never been seen afterwards. And since that time, the village of Punda-Miliamji lies abandoned and the few Zebras that remain occupy squalid huts in the forest, and the folk of Ippoli will have nothing to do with them.

Soon the forest receded, and as we flew again over the winding and turning river, I marked something from the corner of my eye. It was an oxbow lake, of the sort that a river makes when its changing course abandons a loop of itself, and I asked Eocharis to fly over it. And as she did, I saw that this was too symmetrical and neat a lake to have been formed by a wildly wriggling river, and in fact it greatly resembled the imprint of a colossal horse’s hoof. I recalled my earlier dream of the celestial mare shaping the world from a clot of earth, and I shivered and turned my eyes away to pleasanter things.

And along the riverbanks appeared a number of farms, and nestled between fruited orchards and fields of grain were several notable acres where nothing grew save grey granite monoliths, and Eocharis mentioned that this was one of the arts of the Khthonoi, that in addition to the living things of the world they commanded the bones of the world itself and such fruits provided by the same, and that many a stalwart castle or stately residence had been built from stones they had shaped in the growing. She said that the Khthonoi were once also well known for producing gems from these rock-farms of theirs, gems of particular lustre and puissance, but that such production was now done in secret lest the gems draw the attention of hungry dragons. As she spoke thus, Hespericles’s expression grew darker, but I could not draw him out as to why.

The conversation turned thence to tales of wondrous cities, and Eocharis told of Derecho, the cloud-mountain of the Pterippi, empty and brittle with the years, that sometimes appears on the horizon like a black diamond in the sky and darkens the land below it like a thunderstorm, and I told of the great city of Perdóndaris which met its terrible doom from the nature of its carven gateway, and repeated a short version of the tale of the Fortress Unvanquishable, Save For Sacnoth.

And Hespericles then stirred from his dark mood and reached into his own lore to tell us of the city of Orcheion, whose inhabitants disappeared one night in puffs of green flame and were never more seen, and that some suspected that dragons had spirited them away for reasons not pleasant to relate, and some asserted that no one had ever lived in Orcheion at all, save for the spiders.

And as we told tales of cities remote in dream, another worthy of attention lay ahead, a great hill of white buildings floating in the air, with grand arches and colonnades sculpted entirely of the same clouds that formed the sleigh in which we rode, though it seemed so solid and massive that I looked in vain for a mountain beneath it that could support it at this height. And everything glowed blue and silver in the moonlight, save where rivers of rainbow, bent to flow like water, coursed along aqueducts and over falls and into reservoirs that shimmered and shone with bright colours like an aurora, but one borne of the tropics and not the frigid north. And Eocharis announced that this was Nephelia, the great cloud city of the Pterippi and source for the weather of the land.

I remarked upon the splendid coliseum, which was a darker shade than the other buildings, and Eocharis said that the structure was used nowadays for races and athletic feats, but in times of old it had been an arena for gladiatorial combat, which the Pterippi undertook by strapping blades to their wings, and that while such times were long past, the blood of these ancient heroes persisted in the very vapour of the coliseum and the Pterippi neither could remove it, nor would they in honour of their heritage.

Eocharis flew once around the city, then below it, and swerved amid cascades of rainbow streams that fell from the grey-blue undersides until she reached a small cave, the source of one of the streams, illuminated with shifting glowing colour inside, and landed the sleigh there. And as we looked out from the mouth of this cave, we saw amid the low round hills before us a vast mountain that stood straight and impossibly tall, and to its side clung an equally impossible castle of slender towers and ethereal mien, golden in hue. Eocharis pronounced this to be Acrokastra, the palace celestial, from where the goddess of this land was wont to raise the sun each morning, and that this cave afforded an excellent view of the event, and that we needed but wait.

I hesitated to emerge from the sleigh, though it was really no more substantial than the floor of the cave, until Hespericles gave me what I suppose might be called his Hippocratic oath that his powers would support me on the vapourous terrain of Nephelia. And so I gingerly stepped forth and took a comfortable seat on a ridge near the rushing stream.

As we passed the time, I permitted the ponies to eat up my garland of pink roses, and Eocharis produced a bag of wine she had brought from the celebration at Ippoli, and I also brought forth a hip flask of honeyed whiskey, for which Eocharis crafted little cups of cloudstuff, and both ponies pronounced my offering to be an excellent tipple. I questioned Eocharis further about this city of Nephelia being the source for all weather of the land, for I was doubtful that one small city could truly spread its influence so far. And she laughed as though she found me silly, and told me that in making the winds and the rain, even the smallest of butterflies and birds play a part. For even the whisper of a butterfly makes an echo, and like unto a single word of kindness spoken in sincerity, its influence may spread and multiply in ways unseen.

And once the ponies were fully in their cups, I steered Hespericles towards earlier topics he had not seen fit to discuss, and at last he mentioned that gems found in the ground were in reality crystallised mageía that would form over many years around any object meant to channel the same, such as the horn of a Monokeros, and that often the finding of rich clusters of gems in the earth meant that one had discovered an ancient graveyard of the Monokeri. I could coax him to say nothing more on the topic, so I called his attention to the splendid moon of this world, which was not like that of Earth, for the dark seas on its face formed the design of a unicorn’s head, and Hespericles told me of a legend that a dangerous nightmare had been sealed within it long ago, at a time when the moon refused to descend at its appointed hour.

At this point Eocharis yawned, excused herself from the conversation and curled up on a small hillock of cloud to nap. But I plied Hespericles further with the contents of my flask, which was rather stronger than their fruited wine, and he at last told me that legends held that the nightmare was in reality the sister of the celestial mare, for the moon lay as close to the world as the sun, and that she had attempted a revolt through alliance with a sort of winged horse serpent who had laid waste to the land. I recalled my fancy from earlier that day, and wondered if one of the gloom-shrouded steeds of the moon goddess had likewise sought her freedom along with the white mare, perhaps bringing with her a small white pocked pebble, and I reflected to myself that, even within a gift given by a god, there might still lie a worm.

Hespericles, with wavering hoof, then pointed out to me four stars in the night sky, and marked a point where they would converge, and claimed that within a hundred years the moon would likewise cross that point, and that the legends disagreed on what would happen thence, and that some said the the moon would split into four pieces like an orange, and some said that the moon would give birth to a moonlet, violet in hue, but that some asserted instead that the moon would wax with a terrible power, and the sun would flicker out, and that the moon would thenceforth shine over a blue world limned with cold silver light forevermore. He grew gloomy, and little more would he speak on that topic, and so in silence we waited out the time amid the snores of Eocharis, while the stars turned gently in the great wheel of the sky.

From time to time I consulted my watch, and as the hour came for dawn to approach, I gently wakened my little relative of Pegasus, and she yawned, belched and stretched in an artless manner. Then the three of us gazed out of the cave at the starlit landscape and the great palace of Acrokastra, and peering with keen eyes at a balcony on the highest tower I saw the Celestial Mare emerge, regal and white, wings folded at her side and a great horn on her forehead. And she reared rampant and spread her wings, and rose from the balcony, and the moon descended over the horizon and the stars dimmed, and her power grew within her until she shone like the very object she meant to summon.

And I saw a thing that was like a sunbeam but in reverse, in that the solar ray emanated from her horn, and reached out to the horizon, and only after it touched the distant mountains did the orb of the sun arise. It was an eye-dazing sphere of glowing bronze, and great flames curled lazily from its side. And she raised her head gently, and the orb rose over the mountains and spread its light over the hills and dales and countryside, and its light sparkled in the vapour around my feet as the mists of morning rose from the fields. The light fed the earth even as a mother’s milk feeds a baby. We are glad of a fire, but we do not love it. This light, though borne of an unshakeable resolution, also spoke to the heart. My pulse raced and my face shone with joy and my feet yearned to dance with Pan and the pagan gods, amongst the distant hills.

I turned and hugged Eocharis in a grip of tremendous euphoria, and she returned my embrace politely, and I tried in fumbling earnestness to communicate the full strength of my emotion. But the ponies, though respectful to me, were not strongly moved, for to them it was only the everyday miracle.

Even so, something disturbed me about the landscape before me, and I studied it in increasing dread, as when you are told that something that lies hidden in your room is going to kill you. And then I realised that the Celestial Mare had not left her balcony, and was quite still, and I could just mark by the shape of her head and glints that I took to be her piercing eyes that she was staring in my direction.

And as I knew anything, as I knew the smell of an approaching storm, I knew it was time to take my leave, and that swiftly. And I beseeched Eocharis to bear me quickly back to my boat. As she prepared the sleigh, I shifted nearby in a feverish heat, almost dancing in agitation, and turned to Hespericles for comfort, but he only winked slyly at me; then his horn blazed asudden with light and he vanished. The air about me shuddered and my spirits sank to their lowest depth, and I leapt into the sleigh and begged Eocharis to make all haste.

As she flew, splitting the air as straight and swift as an arrow, I stared behind us at the dwindling castle, desperately gripping the vapourous rail of the sleigh, for I could foresee in my mind the great spreading of those terrible white wings and the streaming of the flowing mane of dawn leaving a bright streak across the sky, and I could still feel the fever of those relentlessly perceiving eyes that had pierced the deepest darkness of space and wept the infant oceans of this world and struck such burning fear into my heart, and I knew that at any moment we could be overtaken.

Eocharis, flying with such speed that I fancied I saw streaks of light left behind in her wake, soon arrived at the dock at Ippoli. Banking with a stomach-twisting turn, she brought us directly over the little boat on which I had come, and told me to prepare myself, then kicked back and struck the cloud sleigh with such force that it burst into insubstantial mist, and I fell a foot into the boat with a rocking splash. Eocharis then cast off the painter and called up a sleight with her wings such that the breeze strengthened around us, and the boat swung swiftly out into the main current of the river.

We floated together for a while in silence, then Eocharis told me that she must be returning to her own affairs. I then asked for her assistance in the writing of this tale, and at first she was puzzled as to how she could help me, but at length she understood my meaning and with some hesitance gave me what I required. And we parted as do those who know that it will be the last time, she flying off to chase her clouds through azure pastures, and I taking up my oars as the river, its tide turning, carried me back to the Thames and to London and the world of groaning, shrieking machines, and sky-darkening smokestacks, and other marks of human endeavour.

The river turned and changed even as I drifted, and I knew that even should I dare to return this way, the journey could never be repeated. For a river wriggles over the land as the years pass, even as the Fates scribe the curves of a brief human life. But it effaces with its newer script the traces of the old, and shall never, never write thus again.