I stood in front of the temple entrance. It was unlike any building I’d ever seen. Instead of straight lines, the facade was a cascade of spirals carved out of the face of the mountain, in pale rose stone. The entrance was a dark and open mouth, cool and inviting.
“This is ancient Cas-hal-Min,” said Jemplim. “Quite deserted for thousands of years.”
“It’s so very beautiful,” I replied. The temple was decorated with the statues of women. In Europe we called them the stone mothers, women with fertile-ripe bodies, breasts and stomachs and thighs. Instead of faces, these desert statues had ropes of carved vines, or, perhaps, featureless snakes. I pointed to the statues flanking the temple’s entrance. “You call them the Mi-Zar, the ancient mothers, don’t you?”
Jemplim frowned at my in-elegant use of his dialect, and I smiled. After all these months, he had not gotten used to the sound of accent. Jemplim spoke beautifully cultured English. It pained him to hear me mangle his native tongue. But out of politeness he allowed me to practice the language. English seemed out of place here, it felt too modern. It was better to speak the old language of the desert.
I heard music, dream-like, evocative and familiar.
“Elizabeth, do you hear that?” asked Jemplim. “The wind brings music.”
I heard the music in the far distance, carried on the desert wind, a mirage of sound reflected over the sand.
“We should be going now,” said Jemplim. He touched my arm, gently and gestured to the jeep.
Jemplim was native to this land. I’d hired him six months ago to be my guide. Over the course of our search, we’d become close. Close enough, almost, to forget why I’d come here. I regretted what I had to do. Jemplim was a good man. I was going to hurt him. “No, Jemplim,” I said quietly. “I’m going inside the temple.”
“You can’t,” he said. A look of panic flooded his face. “You gave me your word.”
“I’m sorry, but did you really think I’d come this far and no further?”
“No,” he said. “I won’t allow it, Elizabeth.”
I’d promised that once we set foot in the courtyard, I wouldn’t attempt to enter the temple. Taboo, he told me; sealed over with curses; it would be disrespectful to the dead to set foot in such a place; the temple was old and decayed and it would be dangerous to step inside. He’d given me many reasons why I shouldn’t enter the temple–but not the true one.
I took a couple of steps towards the temple entrance. When he grabbed my arm, it surprised me. He was such a gentle man. I’d never seen him raise his hand against any creature.
“I’m begging you, Elizabeth. You don’t know what you’re doing.”
“Jemplim, I do know, and if you try and stop me, you know what will happen.” Already the heat shimmered in front of the stone Mi-Zar guardians. They trembled.
“This temple is the resting place of something old, something that should remain alone.”
The wind floated through the courtyard, bright-scented with the smell of desert musk.
“I know that, Jemplim.”
“You know? You lied to me?”
I nodded. “I know what’s in the temple. She waits for me.”
“Do you think that the old one will give you your children back, and that you will be happy again? Elizabeth, she is not what you think.”
“I didn’t know that you knew about my children,” I said. I thought that I’d been so clever, so discreet.
“It seems that we have both been withholding the truth. Elizabeth,” said Jemplim. “When a woman seeks this city, it is the first thing that we think of. We made enquiries. I know that you lost your children. But I’d hoped that your story was true. I convinced myself that you were looking only for knowledge, not for the gifts of the mother.”
“Why did you bring me here, Jemplim?”
“You would have found the way. When she calls to a woman, they find the way.” He stared into my face. “And I did not want you to be alone at this time.” He stroked my throat. “The stone mother will not give you back your children, Elizabeth.”
“She will.” She had made the promise in my dreams. That’s why I’d travelled across the world to find her.
“She will not. She will give you something that looks like them, sounds and thinks like them, but underneath there will be something other, something old and strange, born in the distant skies. The things that are waiting to be born, Elizabeth. The women of my family know this. The times of bitterness have taught them. That is why she’s reaching out to others.”
“You have no choice, Jemplim.” I kissed him gently, lightly as a mother would kiss a child. “Go back to your tribe. We’ll make our own way, or perhaps we will stay. This temple has been deserted for too long.”
“If I go, I’ll bring the men of my tribe to kill the creatures that come out of the temple. They will not be your children, and we will not endure such things to live.”
“You will try, Jemplim, I never expected anything less of you.”
He stared at me, trying to read the language in my face. But he had never truly understood me; we came together a little ways. But no further.
I tried to take another step, but Jemplim held me tightly. The guardian turned her head towards us, the stone tentacles beginning to unwind.
I did not think that a man could make such a desolate cry.
Jemplim left me.
I continued my journey, to tread the path so many other mothers had trod before. My children. Nothing would keep me from them.
The stone mother knew that; she understood the language of my heart, and old and alien as she was, I would speak to her. And if my children helped the old mother bring her own children to life, then what of it? I understood her. We spoke the same language.
Kelda Crich is a new-born entity. She’s been lurking in her host’s mind for some time, but now, she wants her own credits. Find her in the intestines of London, laughing at the status quo, or on her blog: http://keldacrichblog.blogspot.com/
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Illustration by Steve Santiago.