On Monday, 25th April, Haveit Neox and Lilias Artist took the LitFest Tour on a tour of the region they had created, and told us not only about the background story of the region, but also a beautiful story that they had created.
This is that story.
Firstly, the background story to Sapphire Mirror Lake:
Once each Spring, the people at Golden Mirror Lake attempt to assemble a centaur’s skeleton. Recorded on the bones are the secrets of their long ago advanced culture.
The ancient centaurs’ burial rites included cleaning all the bones to a smooth white surface so that their most important discoveries could be recorded onto the ‘soul paper’ of their civilization. Each bone, even the tiniest among them, was hollowed and pierced with several holes, as is done with a flute. Then, every bone of the body was carefully stored in a parchment bag, and buried under a 10 meter wide stone platform.
Reconstructing the ancient beings correctly is a fantastically improbable task. It has always been believed that if each bone is removed from the bag in perfect order, from hind left hoof to head, then the message would reveal itself, singing out the knowledge of the Universe in the sweet chorus of bone flutes. But there is only one try per year allowed: a doctrine strictly upheld per the rites the people practice.
There has not yet been a success. But every Spring for four thousand years, a new centaur grave is unearthed, and the bag opened in ceremony. Until the day a skeleton sings, the people celebrate with stories and performances over the tombs, and string the skeleton up like a marionette, in a life-like gesture. In this, they hope to appease, entertain, and even encourage the next deceased centaur to arrange itself properly in its bag so it may deem Golden Mirror Lake a worthy place to reveal the secrets.
And now, the story that Haveit and Lilias created, and led us to explore:
Only once a year, do the people at Sapphire Mirror Lake perform the centaur skeletal ritual. Unearthing the bones is a first easy step. But reconstructing the Iron Age beings ‘correctly’ is a fantastically improbable task. The rite requires that each bone is removed from the top of the heap in the exact order they were found in the burial wrappings. It is believed that one day, a fully formed centaur skeleton will emerge in perfect order from its wrappings, starting from the hind left hoof and ending with the skull. Only then would the message reveal itself, singing out the knowledge of a lost technology in the sweet chorus of bone flutes. There has not yet been a successful reconstruction of the skeleton in completely perfect order. However, the festivities are a central key to the people of this lake. Performance is so central that in the very heart of their region lies a large uplifted stage, coming alive for 11 days of continuous performance.
The village people arrived one by one at the lake. Sanaffe watched the greeters throwing flowers onto them but she couldn’t concentrate on the cheerful crowd. Her mind kept wandering off to the incident that had changed her life. It didn’t take long before she had become a widow, a matter of seconds. Sanaffe is a practical woman, though her husband was far from it. He was a scholar, very seriously researching the history of the centaurs that people believe lived here on Sapphire Mirror Lake. Like most, he felt certain centaurs had once been real, and this was their empire. Sanaffe tolerated this from him, and others like him. People greeting each other in the street with a scrape of the foot to the ground, much as a horse would do, was really comical behavior as far as Sanaffe was concerned. But her husband went quite deep into his studies, way beyond what anyone else ever had. The bookshelf was overloaded with reference material, mostly books, but also artifacts, a couple of authenticated centaur bones, a very thick glass goblet with horse motifs, and even a chunk of earth said to still have the seeds of the extinct blue wheat, said to have been the staple of the centaurs. The bookshelf always made her nervous for the overload of material the man packed into it. She worried one day it would fall on him, and the day it did, she was nevertheless surprised. Her tears did nothing to bring him back. And as might be expected, he died with his hand over the manuscript he had been writing. He never wasn’t writing.
Sanaffe had taken no interest in her husband’s work. But after she’d been alone for some time, she opened up the house to the villagers to take what they wanted. She hoped removing his possessions might relieve the sadness which refused to lessen. Being good neighbors, and wanting to help, they took everything. Everything, except the manuscript book over which the man had died in mid sentence. She was alone again, facing the book. She took it up and cradled the manuscript in her arms. The cover was unremarkable, dark thick leather softened by age and use. Its solid feel gave her comfort and she took it with her wherever she went. Now, at the festival, opening it up for the first time, she got quite a shock. There on the first page were two naked centaurs, a male and a female. In this very first chapter, she found the anatomy of these human-horse people somehow logical, yet something she’d never before considered. She turned the pages being dragged into reading the description.
“Centaurs had both a human torso and an equine torso. They were therefore endowed with two pair of lungs, kidneys, two hearts, two livers, and so continued the list of doubled organs. With such gifts from nature, these creatures had excellent longevity, and for their enemies, it was hard to kill the centaur. The opponent, at very least, would have had to strike two fatal blows. In times of war, the heavy helmets protected the vulnerable head – for they only had one of those. Accompanied by their ancestors, the defense was waged both above land, and from beneath it. But war was infrequent. No army had ever defeated the centaurs. The legend generally deterred aggression from outside the land of the horse people. The unfortunate enemy who attempted to conquer the land paid dearly; a fate not unlike a spider’s prey kept alive for feeding. But these ways were part of an ancient world, threethousand years removed from our present time.”
Sanaffe looked stupefied. Did her husband really believe all this? The whole village seemed to. The annual ritual of unearthing a centaur and reconstructing it in the sea temple would probably require a bit of communal faith, she reasoned. Frankly, the bones looked more to her like those from a cow, perhaps mixed with a bit of horse. Nevertheless, what moved her husband meant something to her now. Looking down at the book, all she had left of him, she took the first steps towards a journey for the ancient temple.
Reaching the vicinity of the temple she was stopped by a dense crowd of dancers and musicians celebrating the festival. An ocean of colours unfolded before her eyes, the waves moving along the tunes. The whole area seemed to vibrate pure joy but the rhythm was not able to catch her and wrap her up into its warm arms. Instead, she backed away, into another direction. Remarking on the prevalent architecture of stairs in the region she now faced, she turned more pages in the manuscript and read this passage:
“The ancient centaurs’ burial rites began by finely sanding all the bones of the deceased to a smooth white surface, then the four-legged priests wrote on them, so that the culture’s vital knowledge could be preserved onto the ‘soul paper’ of their highly advanced civilization. Each bone, even the tiniest among them, was hollowed and pierced with several holes, as is done with a flute. The centaurs believed the body to be composed of music, and that the pulsing beats from the breast were caused by blood coursing past bone in the tidal pool of the ribcage.
suddenly a voice can be heard, faint as the echo of someone’s dream
You never saw me
You never saw me
placing my toes into the footprint of a mammoth
You never saw me
grinding the grain between two stones
You never saw me
cheering the gladiator
You never saw me
dying in the first big worldwide war.
All you got are my scattered bones
Splinters of a history never revealed
And all your science can never tell you
The fragrant colours of my dreams
the faint voice subsides back into nowhere
“All the bones of the body were carefully wrapped in multiple layers of thick parchment, and buried under the stone stairways of the temples. It was believed that the spirits of the deceased continue to live, but upside down in relation to the living. When temple goers ascended the long stone stairways, they must certainly have felt the soles of their hooves being supported by the soles of their ancestors’ hooves – one dimension of existence pressed against the other. It was called mirror trotting: a meditative and dignified prance. Two worlds were thus joined in the extended echo of hooves reverberating throughout the temple.”
Sanaffe shivered, suddenly remembering the steps of her husband coming into the kitchen where she prepared their meals at the hearth. It always had made her smile, the way he had leaned over her shoulder inhaling the rich, spicy steam rising up from the copper pot. The memory let her eyes fill with tears. Sudden sobs she could not suppress made her run off, away from the cheerful crowd. She headed towards the tall arch of the sea temple looming in the distance.
Sanaffe’s heart paused a beat, her breathing stopped at the very first step toward the temple, for she was almost certain to have felt a gentle pulse levitate her a hair’s width above the stone stair. Loud music and voices from the worshipers crowding the temple’s entry, was nearly mute to her ears. She felt so distant from her fellow villagers at this moment. Only the book, her husband’s book, and this overwhelmingly strange sensation seemed to exist. She stopped, and took another breath to compose herself. The stair seemed to keep a soft pressure against the soles of her shoes. Looking down at the book in her arms, she gained courage to continue up another step. It was as if the staircase were climbing upon her shoes the same as she climbed upon the stairs. She kept walking, right through the colorful activity of the people, as if they didn’t exist. She followed a carpeted path. Her husband must have followed it many times before. Where did it take him?
As Sanaffe entered the high archway, she could no longer stop herself, even though she wanted to. Sweat dripped profusely down her face, and wet her arms and the manuscript so dear to her. Down she went along the winding staircase, to a wet floor of mirror. She saw herself holding the book in the horizontal reflection. She did not recognize her expression, yet it felt more truly to her than she’d ever seen before. It was contorted like a frown, but washed with amazement and destiny. Please hold me back she pleaded to vacant ears, but her husband, resting in her arms as moist pages, beckoned her on. She took a step onto the mirror, and her foot sank into it… and another and another… until her head was all that remained above the reflection. All her life she’d walked upon the Sapphire Mirror Lake, it was only inches deep everywhere… how now was she lowering her body into it? Another step and her head submerged. And she saw.
The sapphire dissolved into such soft water, misty blue, and thick with a fruity aroma. Before her lied the long and curving hall, palace-like in its size. Adjusting her eyes to the underwater murk, the walls on one side of the hall were lined with painting after painting, and on the other wall, entirely made of transparent glass, was a view onto the deep lake below her village. It appeared so quickly to her, that at first, she felt it had flooded into view and would drown her. But Sanaffe stared into it, seeing it was more stable than her beating heart, and she just looked into it.
Involuntarily, she approached the glass and peered into the sight unfolding before her. The murky blues parted enough for her to see the life teaming in this world… some sea creatures… but not mostly. What she saw were centaurs, living centaurs. She quickly swam down the curves of the hallway, seeing centaur after centaur, and some which were enormous as a two story house. Suddenly it occurred to her that she was the only human down here. She stopped swimming, and came to a standing position on the jewel encrusted floor. Watching the centaurs, and they watching back to her, the chilling thought arrived if she had come to forbidden territory.
She looked onto the face of the horse-man closest to her behind the aquarium-like wall. His eyes were gentle, tender, familiar. With a smile, he lowered his glance to the manuscript she was still clinging onto. He took a step toward her, and from beneath the bejeweled floor, she felt his reflected stance. It could be no other than her husband’s.
Written and performed by Lilia Artis & Haveit Neox
Sapphire Mirror Lake, Fantasy Fair 2016