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2 February 2014 ~ Hyacinth Noir’s Imbolc Literary Issue
Post V ~ The Memory Collector, by Lore Lippincott

In place of the Nutcracker’s Clara (or, in some versions, Marie), there’s Marin Krespel, a solitary minstrel who peregrinates south-eastern England.  His music, and his will to play the music, contain a unique magic.  With the changing of the seasons, winter to spring, he is called back to his home village at the edge of the Devon moor, to his old and frail Aunt Dross.  Her shop of toys and clockworks holds the secret entrance to a broken underworld kingdom, to Marin’s lover, Haldis, a prisoner of the evil, arrogant Ogstin Marv.  During the transient time, Marin senses that now the power of his and Haldis’ music is enough to crack the shackles of enslavement, and fully return them to freedom and each other.

Between the play of light and dark, underground and above-ground, rests the imagery of the world’s slow return to spring, a planet whose tilt towards the sun is unhurried but constant.  The heroes represent the triumph of light.  Ogstin Marv and his court of vermin show the discomforting sense of isolation that can come with a long and bleak winter.  Woven throughout are little odes to Imbolc, including St. Brighid’s reed crosses, little dolls made of earthen pieces, children with delicious names, snow that turns to milk—and knowing that your weaknesses can be overcome when you believe in yourself.

The Memory Collector

I.

It was said that no one could stretch time.

No one could stretch time, souls, seasons with a power equal to Marin Krespel.  At a young age, he fashioned life out of shards of glass, peeled clouds from the sky, saturated the moor in a million colours if he passed by.

He passed by once a year, when the smell changed in the air.  Where he came from, he couldn’t be sure.  The cascade of views ranged from the wilds of Cornwall’s shores to the sombreness of Somerset, to Devon’s dales and edges.  Where he moved was as incalculable to him as where he stepped.  A foot in front of the other, a path forged of discontent.  Every place away from him had a value like that of home.  He migrated along the coasts, playing the music he caught in the sea-born winds—until a moment came when the earth sighed and the trees released their frozen coats.

Upon a tumble of rock, spume and froth below, Marin cast his vision into the depths, remembered dark places and an ache in his chest.  Into the case he set the violin, scarred and worthless but for the music only his fingers could draw from it.  He set the clasps into place, the violin safe, and tried to find his way from the top of the world to the bottom of it.

After days of ambling, he met the rim of the Devon moor.  The odours of it had altered, opening doors to set free the bleakness.  The ponies he ignored, unable to regard them, their misshapen songs, forlorn eyes—empty mirages of the ponies he’d known before.  The day the man with the scarred violin came, they ate well in a sultry draught unceasing.

Rough labourers along the road signalled hello to him.  Marin, they whispered with their dirty faces drawn close, grubby hands wrapped at scythes.  Marin, the man with the fish violin, but they knew nothing of him beyond that.  He passed, they whispered; he left, they remembered songs they’d once forgotten.

He reached the edge of town, its white buildings, dark roofs, smoking chimneys.  The clatter of industry and everlasting drudgery changed the din, tightened his muscles and set his mouth into a moue of uncertainty.  He catalogued an odd inventory of figures around him, of eyeballs from unwatched windows falling upon him.  A flash of opening doorways, boots by the dozens, and a twirl and flash of colours, voices, small radicals defying the interference of a hundred adults.

“Marin! Marin!” they cried and cried, happy faces ignited in the appearance of him, his straggly coat, untrimmed beard, wild hair with more white in it than they remembered.  They tugged at the tails of his coat, dug around in his pockets, bombarded him with laughter, excitement, and bruised him slightly by their unabashed need to see him.

“You’ll get a song, you’ll get a song,” he repeated, hoping one would hear, and if one heard it spread like the fall of rock, like fire in their ears.  The sea of children calmed, and parents came nearer, testing the influence of the wayfarer.  He knelt to be at height with the children, never caring if he was equal their parents.  “What have I got in my pockets?” An invitation for tiny hands to find the gifts in his pockets, but their failure to reach him as he stood and spun brought them into giggles again.  Marin drudged to freedom the handmade gifts: dolls of fresh reeds and raggedy dresses, and square shields of rushes and string, knotted to perfection.

“Have you got anymore dollies, Mr.  Fish Player?” applied one girl to him.  “I’ve got a tiny sister at home.”

In his oversized hands, the diminutive shoulders of a redheaded girl, capped and aproned, and a nose made of a soft button that he pressed with a forefinger.  “You’re Sage, aren’t you?”

“I am Sage.”

He knew their names, recalling them from when they were babies, when their parents, less frightened of him when help was needed, called him in to sing away sickness.  The souls he aided, even those that he’d stolen from the king, latched to his music, stored, somehow, in the scars of his violin.

“She’s Sage,” said one girl, “and I’m Anise.”

“I’m Brandy,” said another.

“I’m Clove.”

Five other names inundated him.  He heard a thrum from the case with the violin inside.  It remembered; yet everything taught to him by life was lost if he failed to store it in a song.

“I’m Pommeray,” said a husky male voice that caused Marin to snap up his gaze.  In the flesh, Pommeray, an old friend, a neighbour, still holding the kindnesses that’d passed between them.  A hand came out, taking Marin’s, face shining with the pleasure of the greeting.  Pommeray spread fingers over the caramel crown of a boy beside him.  “This one’s mine, for lack of a better word; my grandson.”

Pommeray scattered the children when he crooked Marin’s elbow around his, walked them on through the valley of buildings.

“It is good to see you,” Pommeray said.

“You, too.” He winced deep-set eyes, a haven of blue, against the stark paleness of paint and contrasting roofs.  “How long have I been gone this time? It’s paler here than it once was.  The sun is different.”

“We lost a few trees in a storm last month.  We had to cut them down, whitewash the houses to save them from the soot that showed.  The light changed without us asking it to.  We can see our breath when we breathe now.” Pommeray demonstrated, bursting a cloud through a half-open mouth with the hotness out of his lungs.  “See? Remember when it always felt like night here.  A thousand uncharitable days of gloom! But the roofs are blacker than ever.  When the snowflakes fall, if they ever does, we watch them against the roofs and they look like falling stars.  How long have you been gone?” He’d neglected to answer, but Marin’s tension wrung it from him.  “Five years, thereabouts.  What’s five years to you, h’mm? Everything continues, like you were never gone from it.  The toy shop is still there, still minding the entry into your underworld.”

“It isn’t mine,” Marin recited positively.  Pommeray had heard the story once, though, like music unheard for years, only remembered it precisely when the story unfolded in front of him.

They turned at a gentle curve, and Marin found Pommeray was right: Nothing had changed.  There ahead, a carved wooden sign suspended on its post above a blue door: Dross Toys & Clockworks.  He wondered how Aunt Dross could be within, for it seemed a scene painted from the backlogs of time.  He might’ve come and gone from that blue door, under that sign, a handful of double-moons ago.  Before he reached the crevice of his destiny, Pommeray stopped him, stared at him hard.

“He must be calling to you if you’ve come back again.  He wants something.  Perhaps you’ve saved too many souls to appease him,” he suggested, glancing furtively into the window of tiny mechanical toys on display, seeing only emptiness and blackness beyond, a metaphor of the rumoured world beneath gears and faces of time.

“I can never save too many souls,” said Marin, the base of his throat thickening, “and he has one that he will never let go.”

“No,” Pommeray disagreed vehemently, then laughed quietly at himself.  “No, Marin.  Not one.  He has two.  One is more a prisoner, and one is more a slave.”

A wordless bard stood motionless against this protrusion of blame.

“It has been fifty years, old friend,” Pommeray said, “since this began.  All the clocks in Aunt Dross’s shop will keep ticking away the years, but only you have a power to make time silent.  This must come to an end.  All you know is winter,” he concluded, “and what happens when one of your songs forces you to remember spring?”

The announcement bell above the door sprang to life, and a girl in navy appeared under the apparatus.  She was herself campanulate, narrow at the top and wide where her frock widened and left a ring upon the doorstep.  Unafraid before strangers, she gave a slight curtsey, having heard about him and his magic all her life.

“You don’t know me.”

“You’re not my aunt in a young guise, I suppose.” He looked around.  Pommeray had vanished around the corner ahead.  The girl was at his elbow now instead.  He offered it to her.

“I’m your cousin,” she said.

Marin held still.  There was only a faint memory of her, a thread of twilight blue flung into his quilt of songs.  “Saffron Marie.  I used to sing about you to turtles and fireflies in Cornish ponds.  Saffron Marie.  Yes,” he said in a breath he could see, “I remember.  My cousin.”

“I came to look after Aunt Dross, mind the shop a bit.” Her small features suddenly carried a caress of despair.  “She’ll not want you to waste your time talking to her.  No,” she stopped herself, then went ahead with his arm in her hand, under the sign, over the threshold, beyond the blue door, “better talk of it in here.”

II.

Marin caught the melancholic tinkling of timepieces shelved around the oval room.  For a shop of toys, his aunt’s and uncle’s and grandparents’ work of generations, the atmosphere echoed with more anguish than joy.

In the beat of seconds, Marin spoke.  “What did you want to say? And where is Aunt Dross?”

“Upstairs.  She’s up there much these days.  I wish she would want to see you, but, you see, I know about the tale.  I know about Haldis and Naria and Nefen, about Reda Ostara and Ogstin Marv.”

She recited easily the names that often ricocheted in the back of his mind, or bled from his soul into his heart, into his music.  The world below that he tried to forget, but that punctured every song he sang, every note he urged from the violin.

For all this, he was unsurprised to hear Saffron Marie saying guarded things.

“I’m taking over for Aunt Dross.  The shop.  The guardianship.  Everything.”

He conceded, tipping his head towards her.  “Then it is your right to know.”

“I don’t want it to steal my soul like it has hers.”

Now he rose from the tip to shake his head.  “You don’t know what a stolen soul is really like.  She has hers.  But it is latched to every article, gear, plate, whimsical design in this store.  You have more to learn.”

Saffron Marie raced across the room to squeeze the truth from him.  Anxiety and repression trembled her, sending her frock back and forth like the door’s bell.  Her eyes flashed, bringing shine to the twilight thread woven into his life.  He knew what she would ask before she dared question him.

“You love him, don’t you, Marin? Haldis, the one the king has trapped.  Then it is time it ended.  End your love or end the king’s reign.”

Marin remained unmoved, and in his stillness Saffron Marie trembled again.

“Marin, do something! You have the power,” she checked the rise of her voice, aware of the poised faces of time ogling her, keeping track of her, “the power to save him or destroy the king.”

“I can do neither if neither is willing to happen.”

Inside what shadow he’d plucked such a riddle, Saffron Marie couldn’t conclude.  He’d walked too far to find his riddles, as far as he walked to find a conclusion to the cycle of destruction that moved him.  The king of Nefen had captured the bard at the time when his music was still dust, and made of bone now the catenations held.  She gripped his wrists, barring his dismissal, pleading for his life.

“This time,” she pressed the enormity of the thing into his eyes using the tunes of her soul, “this time, Marin—it is different.  Aunt Dross has had her guardianship weakened, and the clocks have not transferred all their minutes to me yet, nor will they—not until the full moon is gone.  You know the power of this moon, bringing with it the grand light of the returning sun.  We measure all our time and all our being on those celestial things.  I’ve heard it said that you can stretch out a season.  Stop playing for winter.  Play for spring.”

Marin scanned her, avidly, reproachfully.  Pommeray had said much the same thing.  How was he to give up his winter and face a spring without Haldis? “I cannot waltz into Nefen and Nuria and simply ask Ogstin Marv if he would now, after all these winters, give my love back to me.  Haldis would not want me to.”

“He wouldn’t want either of you to be a slave.  He wouldn’t want you to squander the time that’s been created.  But you can’t.  I have time in my hands, and I am giving it to you while I still can.  Take it, Marin.”

He thought, seeing a tear in his plans, the end of his winter when snowdrops came, when wind and light shifted.  He touched the edges of Saffron Marie’s face, seeing the shimmer of skill and influence in the space where their skin met.  Time was already in her, weak beneath her command.  She had until the full moon waned, and then the immortality of time would be upon her for unknown decades.  It would leave her when the shift was necessary, when the sun rotated its energy and when—when he needed time to be stationary.

“Don’t waste it,” Saffron Marie said.  From a corner cupboard, disturbing a sleeping cat, she brought out a familiar brown canvas sack.  She heaved it into him.  His arms wrapped around it, catching the aroma of dirt, cave, bleak and uninterrupted wilderness.  Her eyes were full of aqua pearls and promises.  “You simply must go, now, before the transfer is complete.”

He had no argument; he was unprepared for battle.  “I’m unable to fight a war.”

“There is no war, merely an uprising.  You can handle an uprising, can’t you? It’s for you and Haldis.  How long do you want to be at the mercy of his call? You’ve been stretched by your own music, made immortal by false immortality, by forgetting that there is such a structure as time.  Your music protects you, but even music, the moment it’s neglected, must die.”

She pushed him from her path, edged to the grandfather clock on the inside wall, between staircase, kitchen, workshop.  The owl carved at the top unfurled its massive wings, blinked scaled metal plates over painted wooden eyes of green.  Saffron Marie yanked at the double-door handles to the pendulum inside, the weights and chains and mastery of displayed time.  The owl’s wings stopped, its eyes shut.  A fading whirr of gears let out a tumble of wind like a sigh of reprieve.  The hands fell limp, minute at six, hour at six, collected at six.  Two black, misshapen claws appeared from each the left and right side, one grabbing the pendulum and pulling it back, the other grabbing the chains and weights, pulling them aside.  Another faint draught rose from the dimness, smelling like the canvas sack, like his violin on damp Devon days, like wet rock and chalk and the unremembered spice of ancient rain.

He had to go.  Haldis was closer than ever: Marin could feel him pressing dreams into his mind.  The king would know immediately when the bard stepped into his domain.  He would have little time.

Again, he turned to Saffron Marie, held her chin.  “Time,” he said, as if calling her by name.

He stepped in, twisting and turning among the gears, slipping into the wood.  Behind him, in Time, he heard the bell, angled to look.  But it was too late.  The doors closed with an unprecedented bang.  He winced, forefinger hovering over a break in a panel of glass.  His skin got caught, snagged, broke until it bled.  The picture behind the glass distorted, snapped, crystallised into an unreal mosaic.

He heard nothing, not the forward motion of time or the breath of Time.

Was there another way out if one was lost to him? Now he had no choice but to reach Haldis.  Only Haldis understood his own creation.

…  to be continued

Lore Lippincott

lives in Ohio, USA, dreams of better things, so writes stories to plunge into other worlds and other lives.  Find her tales at www.breezydaystories.com, and grab her secular (and free) holiday novella, The Carols of Holly House, released in December 2013.

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