They speak of an island, in the middle of the ocean, perpetually in mist, which the ancient ones claim was once part of their shoreline. Its deep holes, they say, coincide exactly with the great peaks of the Clara Lux, the deepest of these the womb out of which God fashioned His queen, Wilhelmina, leaving behind a gorge nineteen thousand feet into the earth, whose sides show the imprint of every crag, every cave, every hump of Mount Wilhelmina; the other holes, they say, correspond to the shapes of God's other brides. When God lifted His bride from her womb of clay to set her upright in the center of the great Clara Lux range, surrounded by her sister peaks, the mistresses of God, upon whom He deposits snows and ices more rarified than that with which He covers His chosen queen and bride - when He removed her from the pit, He is said to have unwittingly uncovered a tiny sliver of Jessamyn's sex, the last remaining bit of the devil's flesh. Just as God bestowed the sacred name of William upon Himself, so too did He bestow the accursed name Jessamyn upon His nemesis, His arch rival, Satan, whom He tricked into coming upon this jetty of land, now an island. Once there, ostensibly for a great truce, Jessamyn found himself the dupe of the Almighty. The moment he called out to William - "Where art thou?" he cried - a network of chains descended from among the trees and, simultaneously, a host of chains sprang from the ground, enchanted chains which God had stolen from the great magicians who lived on a huge, forbidding island in the middle of the ocean, all these chains wrapping about the limbs of Satan, crushing the very bones upon which his body stood. Once the victim was secure, William made His appearance; in each hand was a magic saber, also stolen from the magicians. Without a word, God began slicing the beautiful, smooth flesh of Satan from his bones; He kept on until nothing remained of His enemy but a mass of slivers, where once had been the most beautiful and sensuous being who ever lived. One single sliver, and God did not care which, they were all identical to Him - one sliver was buried deep in the earth; by magic spells it was cast nineteen thousand feet down, and the place marked with a special tree All the rest of Jessamyn's flesh was taken up and cast into the sea. Even should all the other parts come together in time, without this one final part the body could not reconstruct itself properly, could not regain its full powers. God would never again be troubled with evil. He cast the jetty adrift to become an island. In time though He grew homesick for this piece of ground which, because of what had happened here, had become so special to Him. When He realized that He was lonely for a new bride, one greater and lovelier than all the rest, and when, upon examining the land on both sides of the Clara Lux for ground suitable to making such a bride, He could find none which pleased Him, He thought of His precious jetty, now an island in the middle of the ocean. He knew what He must do. Without a word, He gathered up all the magic spells he had stolen little by little over the eons; and, praying for nineteen days and nights, taking neither food nor drink, and expelling no seed, He conjured a great mountain peak from the middle of the island, made it rise, directed its flight a thousand miles to the west and, finally, made it to stand in an area He cleared for it at the very center of the Clara Lux. He had been careful not to disturb the land beneath the great tree He had planted to mark Jessamyn's pit; His bride had not come from there, but from another part of the island. The tree left standing, the gnarled leafless tree of death marking Satan's grave, proved the mound undisturbed. So He thought.
The slivers of Jessamyn's body, like hungry sharks, surrounded the island, caught forever in a maelstrom of their own creation as they attempted to get at the remaining sliver, to free their fellow flesh, to become once more a whole body. They churned great winds and made great floods upon the land, but nothing could move the earth. For eons the great tree of death stood its ground, till at last it was coaxed into moving. The great floods in time loosened the topsoil as far down as its roots went; the winds took hold of the gnarled limbs and, lifting it, moved it to another place, where it was deposited. The water and winds together tamped the soil until its roots took hold. Then all was quiet for another eon, as if nothing had ever happened, till one day a great mountain sprang from the very soil where the tree had once stood vigil, the very place where God had slain Satan and buried a single sliver of his flesh: from that very spot. And there, unknown to God, nineteen thousand feet below the ground, the last severed piece of Jessamyn lay panting beneath the golden sun, while all around the island a great joyous cry, as of a giant reptile, arose from the sea. Unknown, however, to the slivers of Satan's flesh coming at last, like a trail of slime and seaweed slowly solidifying into a hideous shape, to rejoin their brother, and unknown to the lone sliver anxiously awaiting, at the bottom of the great pit, to be rejoined - unknown to those indistinct pieces which, like molecules readying to form a new substance, were seeking each other out: unknown to Satan, a single smear of fluid had become dislodged from the piece of his sex buried nineteen thousand feet in the ground. It had been scraped by the invisible forces lifting God's queen from her womb, scraped loose and left clinging to the very summit of Mount Wilhelmina, nineteen thousand feet above the level of the sea and a thousand miles to the west of Jessamyn's island. His body, because of the missing fluid, could not be properly joined; its integrity violated, it could not piece itself together as it wished to be - as it was before its dismemberment. No longer beautiful and smooth, no longer the beloved of every tree and rock on earth, no longer the one being which nothing could turn away from once it was beheld, Satan was now a hideous beast, half reptile, half human in appearance, with scales over its trunk, its legs and its upper arms, but smooth on its hands and forearms and its face, neck and belly, and with strings that looked like seaweed for its hair, and, most devastating of all, to this once glorious object of love and longing, with a sex organ, half human, half reptile, which, for want of a single drop of fluid, could not be made to attach where it belonged.
Jessamyn was doomed to wander this earth carrying his sex in his hand; or, if he wished to mate, placing it in his anus to steady it while, humiliatingly for the once adored lover of all creation, he thrust forward to backward, unable to see where he expelled his seed. He searched the island; he ripped it to shreds until every grain of soil had been searched. He rent the tree of death down the middle, then into smaller pieces, but found nothing. He sat down and, shaking his fists up at the sky, screamed and wailed and cursed; and he swore he would not rest until his body was once again whole. When his rage had quieted, he cast a spell over his sex so that it would lead him - point to where its adhesive was, and lead him to it. For eons he searched; for eons he was shunned by all creation. Nothing would consent to mate with him. His needs grew more and more inward; he grew to despise everything but his own hideous self. Till finally his search ended. Standing on the shoreline, in the shadow of Mount Wilhelmina, his pointer swelled with the excitement of discovery and grew enormous with knowledge, so much so that he could no longer hold it in his hand. It became his tail, which he would remove to defecate, then return to its place. But how was he to ascend to heaven to retrieve his fluid, without which he would never be whole again? This was Satan's dilemma.
The Ancient Ones are black skinned and are kept in cages by both the dark eyed coastal dwellers and the fair haired people of the valley. They are fed once a day; their cages are never cleaned. That they continue to live under such conditions, and to breed, proves to the people on both sides of the great Clara Lux mountain range that they are animals, not humans, despite their gift of eloquent speech, their ability to manipulate straws toward weaving some measure of covering for their bodies, and despite their awareness of their own nakedness. Their name - Ancient Ones - was given them by their captors; it is not known what, if anything, they call themselves. Groups of seven males, which are called stags, and three females, called cows, are caged together; the males fight one another for the privilege of mating, but are wise enough not to kill each other because they know that God has instructed His people that there must always be seven male animals to every three females; so nothing would be gained in fighting to the death: others would be moved from other cages to reestablish the full complement ordained by God, in His infinite wisdom; and any excess males or females would be dragged in chains across the Clara Lux to be bartered Excess babies are likewise bartered, with any not salable being left on the mountain trails to starve or be eaten by the wolves; it is considered beneath the dignity of both the people of the coast and the valley and an ill omen to kill the Ancient Ones. They are said to be favored by the devil, Jessamyn, and while he does not care if they are caged, he can be moved to take vengeance on anyone who kills them outright. The Ancient Ones tell of a time when Jessamyn dwelt among their ancestors, who were then called the Hill People.
They lived in the Clara Lux mountains, hence their name; and they ruled all the lands on both sides of the great range. They built great towering cities of sun baked clay; they forged the most massive army ever known; they were a vibrant, passionate people obsessed with two things only: with the most vivid colors the eye could stand or the mind imagine, and with military might. Yet with all their love of color, they were not addicted to the letting of blood. A violent people, they relished taking the lives of their captives; but as God, who dwelt above them on the peaks of the Clara Lux, had forbidden their spilling blood on the trunks of His mistresses, the mountain peaks, they devised other means of putting their captives to death. Great orchards grew on the cool northern slopes; half of every harvest was used to make the oils in which their victims were boiled. God had created for them a special device for heating huge vats of oil to boiling; into the vats the victims were placed, either lowered slowly or else hurled all at once. And when they had boiled for a period of time specified by divine instruction, their bleached skins were removed and tinted with every conceivable shade of color, particularly the most vibrant - the reds, the purples, the yellows - and hung on the walls of magnificent buildings. The hair from the bodies was taken and, once it was established that the vermin had all been killed, woven into warm textiles for the cold winter months. Every man, woman and child had three complete changes of winter clothing plus countless blankets and shawls, all of human hair, some blonde and straight and fine, some dark and wavy and coarse. Once each year, on the feast of the Soldier, the great holy day established for the Hill People in honor of their military prowess, God descended from the bosoms of His brides to bless the skins and textiles. Every victim was consecrated to the Almighty before being boiled; the eyes, the tongue, the ears and the fingers of each were always offered to God before the body was ceremoniously skinned and the hair pulled out. They were a blessed race of beings, these Hill People, beloved of God, His Chosen Ones, His Children.
The deformed and the diseased were of no use, neither their skin nor their hair could be salvaged; there was no reason to boil them. They were left alive, and for a very special purpose - even beyond their lack of material worth. In the raids, when the black skinned warriors of the Hill People would, in their brilliant yellow and green uniforms, sweep down the mountain paths, curved scimitars encrusted with jewels dazzling their enemies, who had no place to hide no matter how much warning, and even bouncing, the blaze of these jewels, onto iron pigments like veins in the more jagged abutments, and being reflected as stars among their very shadows as they passed these rocks on their way down - in these lightening raids, sometimes on the coast, sometimes in the lush valley, their victims rounded up, enchained and dragged off before the sun had set: in these raids, as many as were taken prisoner to provide clothing and blankets for the harsh winter, a fixed number proportionate to the total were taken to provide freaks for the sideshows, the carnivals, which in summer traveled the hills to every part of the kingdom, for the amusement of the Hill People. These carnivals were the most prized of all events.
Great sprawling caravans would set out at dawn on the day of the summer solstice from the capital city; by the end of the season, at the first sign of winter, they would have covered the entire route; everyone would have enjoyed the entertainments, the highlight of which was the freak show, where everyone could come and poke sticks at this season's freaks. On the last day, when the troupe had returned to its winter quarters just inside the southern wall of the capital city and had given its final performance of the season, the freaks were set in a huge pit which the people had dug and were buried alive. Small children clapped, and old men and women laughed, and young couples, excited by each other's scent and by the heat their bodies gave off, threw off their clothes and danced themselves into a swoon as the horrible screams of the freaks were slowly drowned out, spadeful by spadeful of dirt. It was especially a favorite of the crowd when some highly skilled shoveler hurled a spadeful of dirt into the open mouth of one of the big headed, slant eyed, sad faced children who, not knowing to spit it out, gagged to death trying to rid himself of it by swallowing all of it. By nightfall the cries had all been silenced. The young couples, left alone now by the retreat of the old and the children, lay down together and began mating, the males occasionally getting up once they had mated to fight for the chance to mate with another's woman. It was said that it greatly pleased God to watch men fighting for the right to expel seed onto fertile soil.
All the passion, all the vibrance, all the color the Hill People were capable of went into the carnival; it was as if a grand metaphor for their very existence, an exquisite, stylized form given to their vision and their way of life, a repository of their entire culture. And at the same time a sacred ritual of renewal, of rebirth: of resurrection. Each year from the pit would arise one lone freak, always the same one, always the only one who, at the great ceremonial burial the year before, neither cried nor screamed but simply bowed his head in infinite patience to be covered in dirt, almost as if he relished it, almost as if it were nothing but this burial itself, nothing magical, nothing immortal, but the very act of being buried alive which caused his resurrection - as if he were renewed by being in the deep pit carved out for the mass grave of freaks. It was said that he existed on the carcasses of the other freaks during his burial.
Jessamyn had joined the carnival. He had heard of the great legend - of the fabulous prophecy made long ago to these people's ancestors by some wandering magician from the Isle of Magic in the middle of the ocean; and of how close it was to being fulfilled. He would bide his time among these people, living half the year in a common grave, the other half in the great carnival tents which, like caterpillars half become butterflies, round and fat inside but covered in brilliantly colored tissue, inched their way across the Clara Lux, bringing the assorted wonders gathered, the acrobats trained, the freaks captured during the long winter. Always there was bright yellow, which rivaled - some said surpassed - the very brilliance of the sun; and green, fresh and lush like new fern leaves. And mixed in were the reds and purples and the various shades between. All day the workmen labored to put up the great tents - there were seven in all, each cylindrical in form, of varying diameters. Some soared like new hills on the landscape: these held the tumblers and the wire climbers and the rope hurlers; while others were low, and had to be entered crouching: these were called wormholes, and held the freaks at the far end, separated by a thin membrane-like window from the spectators; and still others were the size of houses: the people came here to watch wild animals perform. Seven in all, the number prescribed by the deity, in whose honor the yearly carnivals were held. No fee was asked of the spectators; they simply came and entered and watched. The only injunction upon them was not to try and pet the beasts or kill the freaks; otherwise they could do as they pleased. At the close of each performance one male among the freaks was separated from the others, taken to the great tent and, in the very center, with all the spectators cheering, was castrated and then, his wound cauterized, sent back to rejoin the others. The residue of each castration was saved in brine in a special container; when the carnival had inched its way back to the capital city, these bits of preserved flesh were taken and treated with special chemicals, and upon their spherical surfaces beautiful carvings and drawings were made. They were given as a present to the leader of the Hill People to be dispensed, as he might choose, to his loyal subjects in token of his esteem. The start of each season's carnival was always presided over by him; he led the prayers and he gave in sacrifice three female freaks chosen at random. He was called by the second greatest title there was - second only to that of God. He was called Soldier, a name no one else could be called.
The Soldier was always hand picked by the Almighty, upon the death of his predecessor, from among the five most skilled young warriors in the land. Always the year of the selection was a great year, surpassing all others in color, in spectacle, in amusements for the Hill People. The carnivals those rare years - exceedingly rare, these years, for the Soldiers were invariably long lived - were beyond anything imaginable, and crowned by a most stunning spectacle, at which the skills of the five contestants for the honor of becoming their people's new leader were put to the test. There were mock combats, the five striking varying combinations of pairs, who them wrestled, fenced, boxed, lifted great weights and ran races until a champion had emerged. Then came physical endurance: tests by fire, by ice, by remaining under water, by being squeezed into tiny cages, by being stretched until their tendons started to rip; from these a victor emerged. Finally came the true test, of skill, of courage, and of strength of purpose: it was this which would decide the outcome. God Himself descended to judge this final event. A gilt chair with a red velvet seat and back was raised onto a platform; when God gave the signal, the contest began.
All five contestants came out and knelt before God and prayed; all five were robed. They arise after praying to stand before their people's inspection; their robes were removed. They stood, naked, before their people and flexed and manipulated their various parts that their physical prowess might be judged. A signal was then given and the huge golden yellow curtains behind them were drawn open; the freaks were led out, the same ones who had been used all summer long at the carnivals. Each had his or her hands tied; there were one hundred in all. A beautiful chime sounded: the signal to begin. The contestants turned to face the freaks, slowly then to descend upon them. The five, upon reaching the place where the freaks were, began seizing hold of them, one by one; and, amidst the wildest squeals and shrieks and screams, began tearing them apart, limb by limb, one by one, until, five hours later, all one hundred were torn to pieces and left, masses of bloodied pulp, to be cleared away. Great quantities of sawdust were spread out to keep the blood from spilling onto the ground - onto the trunks of God's brides. Special judges kept tally; the contestant with the greatest number of victims was declared the winner. While the count was made, five young girls were brought out to perform fellatio upon the contestants, while five small boys were sent with dampened cloths to wipe their bodies clean of sweat and dust and gore. At last the winner was announced. He was congratulated. God departed.
Jessamyn had watched from the shadows beneath the divine platform, crouching so as not to be seen, breathing very softly, not stirring; his muscles grew stiff, especially his tail, which first ached then grew numb as the contest drew to a close. He always crouched beneath God's chair of gilt and red to watch the contest; it was a vantage point which of any possible gave him the greatest pleasure; and if God, sitting not ten feet above his head, grew agitated with an unease He could not identify, and could be heard scratching His skin, which had begun to itch, and almost on occasion became nauseous, then it only added to Jessamyn's pleasure, even though it was not to plague his divine nemesis that he had come to watch but to seize upon an opportunity to fulfill his obsession: to find a way onto Mount Wilhelmina in order to reclaim the precious fluid which alone could rejoin his sex to his body. When his tail grew so numb that he could no longer feel it beneath him, he very quietly lowered his head to where it jutted out beneath him and began licking his tail until sensation returned. The Almighty seemed particularly restless while this was happening. Every time a new leader was chosen, just as surely as God, William, would come to watch the slaughter of freaks, so too would Jessamyn come, but not to see his fellow freaks being torn apart; Satan came for one thing only: to watch the contestants. He was looking for a sign. Not for one moment of his existence among the Hill People, and he had been among them for centuries already, did he forget the legend or the great prophecy. He watched as diligently for a sign of superior, superhuman - almost supernatural - strength as God watched for the things He had come among these people to witness. Countless times Jessamyn had witnessed the contest; countless times he had returned to his pit, full of despair, yet full of hope for the next time. Till finally his great patient vigil was rewarded. A Soldier of extraordinary strength and brutality - a virtual beast - had at long last made his appearance; Jessamyn sighed a heavy sigh and returned, a weary but supremely elated being, to his pit to await the proper moment.
This newly chosen leader, the personal elect of God - this, the Soldier of the Hill People - stood seven feet tall and weighed almost four hundred pounds. His skin was coarse, and his hair exceedingly sparse; his mouth was huge, it made people think of a great saber toothed cat; his jaw and chin jutted, the one almost touching his shoulder, the other almost touching his huge pointed voice box; but it was his brow to which all the eyes of all his people were drawn, as if hypnotized. At first glance he seemed to be eyeless himself, with nothing but sunken hollows where his eyes should have been. Only upon approaching were his eyes revealed, tiny like rounded black pebbles fastened to balls of sandstone, his pupils but a pinpoint. They were hooded, those fierce eyes, his brow protruding like a balcony over their setting, making them appear even more deeply set into his skull then they were; and in between his eyes, it thrust forward over the bridge of his nose as if something were inside his skull trying to push its way out. No more cruel sight existed anyplace in his kingdom than his own visage; and, as if to fashion reality after it, no greater cruelty existed than his own acts against his captives, against the freaks, and against any among his own people who did not obey him absolutely and immediately, even if that meant they must eat their own flesh as proof of their loyalty and devotion to him. He was watched all the while, his actions were watched, by Satan, who reveled in his abominable acts of barbarism and who knew that at last the tribe of Hill People had produced a Soldier worthy of divine intervention. This man, this dark fiend, would one day be the instrument through which Jessamyn would retrieve his precious drop of fluid from the summit of Mount Wilhelmina, God's bride.
There was a problem though with making reality coincide with the prophecy; a dilemma inherent in the legend itself prevented its fulfillment. No matter how cruel the Soldier became, it was never enough: the point of fulfillment always extended to just beyond where he was and what he had already achieved in the name and for the glory of the Almighty. A solemn prayer was said before every act, no matter how gruesome the carnage, offering it as tribute to God. The greatest Soldier who had ever lived, the tyrant of all tyrants, the cruelest of all butchers, according to this ancient legend, would be plucked from this earth, from the very ground upon which he stood, by the hand of God, and by that very same hand would be lifted softly up into the sky to be deposited, living, upon the most sacred place in the universe, the holiest spot of ground, the very summit of Mount Wilhelmina. This great Soldier would be taken up by God Himself to spend eternity alongside the Almighty and His Queen in heaven. He would be made immortal. This was the legend - and the dilemma, for this great Soldier was so pleasing to God, his works the most revered of any ever known, that under no circumstance would God remove him from his kingdom: for who else could lavish so much glory on the Almighty? Who else could devote so much energy, who else had so much strength and energy to devote, to the Almighty? Who else's heart was so full of simple purity and goodness that his every act would be offered to God as a sacrifice? The dilemma was God's: fulfill the prophecy and lose the most wonderful homage ever paid Him; but the anguish was Satan's: fulfill the prophecy or lose the most wonderful chance to be whole again. Jessamyn knew that God would never willingly give up so much adulation - would never take this Soldier to heaven as He must if the prophecy were to be fulfilled - unless forced by extraordinary circumstances. It was of course a simple enough matter for Jessamyn to turn the Soldier's heart against God - but just as fruitless as it was easy: the prophecy could never be fulfilled by, nor God ever take to heaven, someone who had turned away from the Almighty. So only one way was open, though even this had risks: an occasion must arise to make the Soldier so overwhelmingly pleasing to God that it would shame Him not to carry out the prophecy. Except, as Jessamyn well knew, God was almost incapable of experiencing shame; so it required a very special circumstance, one which actually threatened the Soldier's very survival, in order to make God carry out His part of the prophecy. A twofold scheme was conceived by Jessamyn: a seed planted here, producing an occasion for great carnage, and a seed there, which would result in a dire threat to the Soldier's existence. Rebellion, to be put down unmercifully; and magic, a spell cast upon the Soldier: the twin horns helping the devil escape his dilemma.
Jessamyn went among the people, under cover of darkness, to plant the seeds of rebellion in as many hearts as he could find responsive. At the same time, he began conjuring a potent spell. In his pit he labored daily over his spell; at dusk he climbed out, clawing his way through the layers of dirt to the surface. He listened for signs of discontent, in order to encourage them with soft whispers into sleepy ears; and where he could find none to encourage, he whispered rebellion anyway, hoping it might take root. The evenings were cool no matter how warm the days might have been, and on at least every few nights a light frost formed on the grasses which, become almost crystalline beneath the soft ice, gathered up from the moon and from any lights inside people's windows, for there were no curtains, magnificent colors, just as if the entire earth had for this magical period been transformed into a prism into which all light deposited as many rainbows as it had within it until the ground was saturated and nothing further could be strained from the moon and from the people's windows. The tiniest green buds seemed to be swaying on every tree limb that they might be warmed by the bigger leaves; and on occasion a shrill bird call soared, like an axe cutting ice, through the dark, all the light being soaked up beneath the birds' domain. Inside the houses, people huddled for warmth beneath their blankets of skin and hair, children together, old people usually alone, and the young couples in wild embraces which threatened undoing the stitching from their blankets. Many young men, however, slept alone, unable to win a mate, or if won, quickly taken away by someone bigger.
A boy who watched horses, who stood guard while they grazed so that the wolves would not chase them off into the treacherous mountain passes where they would plunge to their deaths or freeze or be attached from above while they wandered - in any event eventually eaten by the wolves: a boy who tended the warriors' stock, who saw to it that the horses which would carry the warriors into the valley or along the coast were fed and protected, slept alone these cold nights, his body burning with passions he could not release, all his muscles drawn as if by a terrible flame into hard knots almost like sores, his fevered brain making him cry out in desperate moans. He was smaller than the other young men, and his lifelong preoccupation with caring for stock animals had lightened the dreadful load of his natural aggressiveness to such a point that he could not bring himself to attack others, even those smaller than himself who might have somehow secured a mate for the night, and take away what they had gained. He was shunned by others for his weakness. It was said that he mated, or tried to mate, with the smaller stockyard animals, such as goats and dogs, and that he would go off by himself into the mountains when he could and deposit his seed into the deep crags and onto mounds of bare earth. His abominations were whispered to have been witnessed once by God Himself, who, it was said, nearly vomited at the sight, and who was now only biding His time until another boy could be found to care for the warriors' horses, at which time He would have the boy's sex torn from his body and fed to him.
Jessamyn too had witnessed the boy's vile actions, but unlike God he was not nauseated by them - he was fascinated. Once he even made his presence known to the boy; the boy seemed frightened, but the devil reassured him, then had the boy take hold of his tail and stroke it. They became good friends, the boy and Satan; and all the while, the boy was being primed as the leader of the rebellion which would help fulfill the ancient prophecy. He could not know the fate which was secretly being planned for him by this generous freak whose tail reacted so violently to being stroked and who even on occasion let the boy rub his own sex against the smooth flesh of his bare belly until his passion was satisfied.
"You have been treated very badly I'm afraid, my friend, have you not?" Jessamyn asked softly as he watched the boy stroking his horses' manes. They were in the pasture, it was evening, and Jessamyn had wrapped his presence in a cocoon of mist so that only the boy could see him; his tail alone protruded, as if it were a cactus, but without the stickers.
"I do not understand," the boy admitted. He looked up from his horses to peer deep into the mist, where his friend was hiding. It was to keep the boy from being thought a malingerer, Jessamyn had said, that he made himself invisible: no one should see the boy talking to a stranger or be able to accuse him of shirking his responsibility. The boy could not know this was a lie or that, being a freak, the devil did not wish to be perceived away from his pit; otherwise, he might be forced to reveal his real identity.
"They mistreat you in every way," Jessamyn explained. "They beat you, they malign you, they do not let you mate, they refuse you their friendship - is it not so?"
"They are bigger," the boy said simply, "it is their right."
"And who gave them such a right?" Jessamyn asked in an agitated voice. He was thinking of his own mistreatment at the hands of God, and was growing angry at the thought of the weak being the rightful prey of the strong.
"It is my people's way," the boy told Satan.
"Then your people are evil!" Jessamyn exclaimed in a voice so full of passion that it dissipated almost all his mist; he had to hasten behind a boulder to remain unseen.
"Evil?" the boy asked. "How can this be?" But Jessamyn heard something and hurried off, raising a trail of dust behind him.
"Who was that?" a loud, deep and menacing voice demanded. The boy said it was no one. The big warrior, whose horse he had been petting, grabbed him by the back of the neck and threw him to the ground; then, taking the boy's hands, he dragged him to where he had seen the dust arise. "Get up!" the warrior ordered. When the boy was up, the warrior took a handful of horse dung and forced the boy to eat it. "If it was no one," the warrior growled, "then it was a wolf, and if not for me coming along to save my horse, he would have been eaten, for no doubt you would have run off, little coward, and let him be taken!" After these words, and just as the boy had swallowed the last of the dung, the warrior began slapping him hard across his head, then he kicked the boy as hard as he could in the groin. The boy screamed and fell to the ground. The warrior then began kicking him hard everywhere, each time the boy grabbing feebly wherever he imagined the next blow would fall, so that he hands might take the brunt of it; but he was so inaccurate in anticipating the next blow that the warrior began laughing so hard he could no longer continue kicking, so he left.
The boy, a mass of bruises and puffy knots and split skin and dusty blood, was moaning and still rolling from side to side when Jessamyn returned, though just barely moving. This was a godsend to Jessamyn's plan; now perhaps the boy was ready for rebellion. The danger was - and a very real danger - that he might succumb to his beating this time, and die outright before he could be put to use. Jessamyn stretched out his hands over the boy and, shutting his eyes, summoned a great spell, something like the mist he had hidden himself within, only sturdier, and webbed; around the boy's battered body it slowly wound, not so tightly as to make the wounds worse, but neither so loosely that the boy could slip from it. Once the boy was secure inside this protective web, Jessamyn lifted him gently into his arms and carried him off to a secret place among the hills just above the pasture to nurse him back to health. As he left the pasture, he summoned a great pack of wolves, which silently stole upon the horses and drove them off to a blind canyon where, one by one, they were killed and eaten, leaving no horses for the warriors. Jessamyn was well pleased with his work; he had come to master almost all the spells he had learned on the Isle of Magic which, under cover of darkness, he had once visited - stolen spells, none of which the race of magicians had agreed to let him take with him.
This time Jessamyn had little trouble convincing the boy to rebel against his people. This time he was able to make the boy see their actions as unjust and as deserving of neither loyalty nor pity. This time he persuaded the boy to vow an end to these cruel ways of his people, and to initiate a new way, one based on kindness and on fairness and on respect for one another. Jessamyn dazzled the boy with his vision of a society in which no one harmed anyone else, in which everyone was treated as if he were important, in which the well being of even the weakest among them was protected. In his soul Jessamyn derided the boy's gullibility in believing such a world could ever be, just as in his heart he was repulsed by such a world; his mind alone wove these fabulous visions, and the boy was hopelessly deceived by Jessamyn's superior intellect, which worked always in tandem with the gentle touch of velvet soft hands upon the slowly mending sores of the boy's body. If this - this tenderness with which this ugly, deformed freak cares for me - if this is the product of this strange world he describes, the boy thought to himself, then I will do everything in my power to make it real; I dedicate myself completely to it. It is good. But I must swear my allegiance; I must swear it on something. There must be a token: on that will I swear my allegiance.
Once there was a genus of tree, a cold weather fir, which grew nowhere but at the higher plateaus just below the point where the Clara Lux broke into steep, jagged peaks upon which nothing could take root. Later a curse was put upon these trees, and the Almighty sabotaged their saplings, confusing their sense of direction until they in time began growing back upon themselves; the larger trees could not warn them of the error. In time, their trunks bent nearly double, their growing bark ripped, and mites bored into the soft fiber. The trees died out. Their treachery was avenged: it was one of this genus upon which the boy took his solemn oath; therefore in God's sight the trees were odious, were full of treachery to let themselves be turned against their creator, and were unworthy of existence. The snows flooded the great mountain passes in spring when they melted, for there was no longer foliage to absorb the water; thousands upon thousands of Hill People perished in floods, city after city was destroyed, until in time only a handful of cities remained, inhabited by only a handful of people; and even though this happened centuries after the boy's rebellion was crushed and he was butchered horribly, still the people called it after him, this great massacre of the Hill People at the hands of unbridled nature: the Boy's Rebellion they called it; the ancient ones still call it this when they speak of it. His oath, upon his tree; his tree's extinction by divine intercession; and the great flood then came. The boy had won.
He swore upon this golden green fir tree, deep in whose arms was a bluish green needlework. The devil nodded his approval of the boy's plan. The tree, at Satan's suggestion, became a rallying point, the secret meeting ground of the rebels, ten thousand strong in time, enticed away from the cities by the boy's impassioned pleas for a just society and by Jessamyn's guile.
"You'll be rich," the devil sneaked around at night to whisper into the ears of anyone who in daylight had seemed attentive to the boy's pleas. Or, "You'll be powerful." Or, "You'll have the most luscious women, with the most smooth thighs and breasts and the tightest of tight places to be wrenched open." The boy gave them hope for a just world, and they listened but were unconvinced; Jessamyn gave them hope of riches, of glory, of rape, and they were receptive. They gave up their souls to rebellion; they swore allegiance to the boy's ideals, but all the while their minds were feasting upon the wonders Jessamyn had baited them with until, when it came time to speak their assent, they were almost speechless for the drooling of their mouths. The rebellion began; the ancient ones say it was on a Saturday, in late August, just before the sun set behind Mount Wilhelmina. No one knew they were never meant to succeed; Jessamyn's sweet words to each of the rebels, just as his solemn words to their young leader, blinded them to the absolute impossibility of defeating an entire nation. They made their way toward the capital. On a steamy day, under blinding sunlight, God by chance looked down, and He saw what was going on. He first screamed in rage, then He gathered up every rock He could find and prepared to hurl them down onto the rebels, but He realized in time that He could not: the same igneous rain which would crush the rebels would also crush the Hill People, His worshippers, as well. He again screamed in rage, going at once to a secure vantage point in the hills just above the capital city to watch, helplessly, as His people fought to beat back the rebellion.
Both sides fought valiantly, both sides suffered terrible losses. For a time it looked as if the rebels might actually win, till the Soldier at last took personal charge of his army. By nightfall on a day in September filled with fog - a day the ancient ones still call Blind Thursday because of the dense mists - it became clear the rebellion had failed. Some of the rebels scattered into the hills: these, the Almighty sent the wolves and a great army of ants to devour; some were taken prisoner; most chose to kill themselves rather than be taken or run away. Their leader, the boy, was taken captive. When God saw this, He descended the rest of the way, to instruct His people on how best to avenge themselves on this monster who dared challenge the very order of creation. While God busied Himself in this enterprise, and even long before, during the whole of the rebellion, which was why the Soldier hesitated so long in taking charge of his army, Jessamyn was putting into motion the spell he had created to cast upon the Soldier as the final link in the chain which would unbind him from his reptilian prison. While God decided the boy's fate, Jessamyn finished sealing the fate of the boy's enemy and intended executioner, the Soldier.
Jessamyn had taken up the colors so vividly displayed everywhere among the Hill People - the red, the yellow, the green, the purple; he had studied their composition, to the remotest point along their spectrum; he had discerned their great powers over the people's senses. These - these powers specifically - he synthesized through magical gradations of certain exotic chemicals known to him to be in the region into a condensed solid, his aim to extract from this melding of their separate influences a single essence having a universal manifestation, so that an irresistible, hypnotic spell might be woven, cast over the Hill People and ultimately over their great leader. To deceive the Soldier into thinking himself fallen ill and dying, and to deceive his people into perceiving him weakened and nearly lifeless: these were the twin goals of Jessamyn's many months of hard labor in the laboratory he had fashioned for himself deep in his pit. And in realizing these goals, his greater aim was closer to realization: to deceive God Himself into believing His beloved, benighted Soldier no longer able to carry out the many sacrifices demanded of him; for, so long as he was able to wrench flesh from bones, God would never take him, as the prophecy said, up to heaven. Yet here too was a dilemma, for if he were no longer able to please God, he stood the risk of being, instead of taken to the summit of Wilhelmina, cast from his people altogether, driven out in disgrace to be eaten by the wolves. God, as Satan of all beings knew, had no concern for what did Him no glory, and would turn from it in the twinkling of an eye. The moment was everything: the timing. The Soldier must be perceived as dying, as no longer able to serve the Almighty; yet at that crucial moment when God's blessing would become His curse, something must occur to so enthrall the Almighty that instead of being cast away, the Soldier would in a moment of orgiastic excitement be ascended to heaven. The means of achieving this was at hand; everything was put into place; Jessamyn had overlooked nothing.
While God planned the deaths of the rebels, Satan, who little by little had been casting his spell, began the final assault. God, serenely aloof, consorting with His bride Wilhelmina, laid His plan. Step by step He plotted, as a graph, the torture His Soldier would soon inflict. Below, a panic began to grip the Hill People. Everywhere he went, the Soldier grew faint, his limbs became numb, his mind went blank. He eyes ceased highlighting his world, until he could no longer tell one place from another or recognize even his closed advisers. His hands could not grasp a sword or even a knife, nor could his fingers distinguish the one from the other. He gagged whenever he tried swallowing his meals, and he failed utterly at stool; and only with the greatest difficulty could be make water. His sex, once so highly esteemed among his people for the great prowess it permitted him to exhibit - once he had clubbed a dwarf freak to death with it: now his sex hung flaccid from his loin; and his great organs of seed wasted to no more than pits inside shriveled skins. No one told him in what fashion his manhood had become a caricature of itself; and, unable to feel their true state when he handled them, he still paraded about ceremoniously in the leather pants which were open at his loins and which, once exposing his glory, now exposed his disgrace.
The day of retribution had come fast upon the Hill People. God descended Mount Wilhelmina with His great plan. The people were summoned; they came in trembling. "What is it?" God demanded to know.
"It is our leader," they said.
"What of him?" God asked.
"He is surely dying," they said.
"Then you will all surely die," God said. "Bring him to me." The Soldier was summoned, wearing his leather ceremonial pants. Behind, a very huge growth protruded from a tear in his pants; in front, three folds of skin hung from his loins. "Clothe that man!" God demanded. "His nakedness if an offense to my sight." The Soldier was wrapped in some nearby garments and returned to where God held audience. "I have a plan," God told the assembled multitude. "But I have no one to carry it out. I have devised a death fitting to a rebellious host. But no one to carry it out. So I say unto you: I will free the rebels and enchain the lot of you that they may carry out my plan upon your bodies since you cannot carry it out upon them. Bring the prisoners!" The prisoners, in chains, were brought in. "Release them!" God cried.
But before this command could be carried out, the Soldier dragged himself one slow step at a time forward. "Oh Master," he cried in a strained voice, "do not so quickly abandon your loyal, devoted, loving people, I beg of you. For though nearly dead, as I surely am, I will carry out your plan, by myself, alone, without help. I will do it in your honor, I will do it for the glory of your exalted name - the sacred, holy, divine name of William, which I fall down on my knees and worship." The weary Soldier went down before William and worshipped Him with what little strength he had remaining.
"Arise," said God.
The Soldier arose. "May it please our almighty master," he said, extending his hand, "let me now see your divine plan." God gave it to him. It showed the multitude of torments he was to inflict upon the boy who had given up watching horses to rebel against his people. The Soldier bowed, turned, approached the boy and, in trembling, began the torture which, according to divine account, should endure for seven full days and seven full nights, without stop, each progressive step calculated to inflict greater agony than the last until, with the final excruciation, the boy's body would implode inward upon itself. The first, however, despite all God's calculations, was infinitely the greatest agony, each successive torment proportionately less excruciating until, on the seventh night of the seventh day, the boy felt absolutely nothing when his mangled body imploded. The tender first touch of exquisitely soft hands upon the boy's flesh rendered him oblivious to all sensation; he felt almost nothing from then on. The hideous shrieks which unceasingly for seven days and nights filled the great tent and which grew in crescendo until the final shriek nearly burst the people's eardrums, and even caused God to cover His ears: Jessamyn's, all these cries, their screams, these shrieks; not the boy's. Jessamyn's. The boy had gone all but dead when he realized his hideous betrayal; so that while his body felt every torment, his mind registered nothing. While his flesh squirmed like the bodies of a thousand thousand fishes cast upon the land, he knew nothing of it; no torment God could ever devise could reach him any longer. The cries were Jessamyn's, a mimicking of the boy's voice, not the boy's own.
Just as Jessamyn had mimicked God two hours earlier before the Soldier, who, unable to see any distinction between the two, acceded blindly to whatever was asked of him. He had been separated from the others; Jessamyn had cast a trance over his bodyguards. Now he was led away by this strange, familiar, reassuring voice.
"Follow me," said the devil.
"Yes my lord," answered the Soldier, who stumbled almost every step and had to grope his way back onto his feet, while every other step he bumped into some obstacle and had to find his way around it. "Yes my lord," he kept mumbling. "Yes my lord, I am following."
"In here," said the devil, helping the Soldier into a vast steamy room filled with heat and choking vapors.
"Yes my lord."
"Here, you are safe."
"Yes my lord."
"Here, I will cure you."
"Yes my lord."
"Here, you will be made a whole man again."
"Yes my lord."
In the center of the room was a huge open pit, out of which great billows of steam arose, careened everywhere, made for the open door until with a swift flick of his wrist the devil slammed it shut. The steam began settling, as if being sucked back into the pit.
"What place is this my lord?" the Soldier asked.
"It is the sanctuary of my temple, where the priests come to pray. This is what accounts for the heat."
"Oh," said the Soldier in a dazed state.
"You must follow the sound of my steps and my voice," said the devil.
"Yes my lord."
With soothing words, something like a prayer or a chant, indistinct, and with soft steps upon the stone floor, the devil led the blind Soldier to the very edge of the pit.
"It is very hot my lord."
"Just so. There has been much praying here. One more step please."
This alarmed the Soldier, for in all his experience he had never known God to use the word "please." Nor had any such thing ever been recorded among the legends of the Hill People. He backed off a step.
"Is something wrong?" asked the devil.
"I'm afraid," said the Soldier.
"Then have something to be afraid of," the devil replied in a stern God-like voice. "I will strike dead any soldier who lacks bravery and I will bury him among the freaks!" This seemed to reassure the Soldier. He retook his step; he was once more on the edge of the pit. This room was no sanctuary; rather, it was the room used to boil captives that their hair and skin might be more easily removed. Satan, unknown to the Soldier, stretched out his arm; and, in so doing, cooled the water to just below boiling.
"One further step and you are cured," the devil enticed his victim on.
"Yes my lord," said the Soldier. He took one more step, and in doing so he plunged headlong into the pool of steaming hot water. Bubbles ascended where he screamed although, his head fully submerged, no sound was heard. After a moment, before he had time to drown, the Soldier was fished out and revived. This was the key to the whole thing: in order to be properly skinned, he must remain alive for the entire operation. Otherwise, the skin would lose too much of its suppleness. For this reason Jessamyn had lowered the temperature of the pool to just below boiling. The Soldier was fastened to a table, so he would not, in moving about, splatter blood on the skin. No one could hear his cries. Slowly, to get it just right, Jessamyn flayed the skin from the Soldier's body. When it had all, from the skull to the heels, been flayed, and the pink meated body was left to live out its remaining time in the most hideous agony, Jessamyn hurriedly fashioned himself after the Soldier, the contours of his body adjusting magically to the size and shape of the skin, which he slipped into as if it were a pliable suit of rubber. All but one feature slithered into the Soldier's outward form: Jessamyn's tail along could not fit as it should, for it was far too big for the fold of skin which had covered the Soldier's sex. It had to be left bulging from behind. Within an hour, feigning trembling and sickness, Jessamyn appeared before the Almighty, pleading to be allowed to carry out the divine plan of retribution.
God, at the end of the allotted seven days and seven nights, was ecstatic. He swore, right there, in front of the assembled multitude, to grant any wish the Soldier might care to make - even if it were half His kingdom or one of His mistresses. Jessamyn, in the feeblest of voices, refused God's offer.
"I am dying," he said. "I dare not ask for what my heart craves."
"Name it!" God ordered.
"I dare not. I am unworthy."
"Thou art the worthiest of the worthy. Name it, it shall be yours!"
"If - oh my heavenly lord and master! - if I could but once, just once, before I die, see heaven. If I could just spend one day in your kingdom, unworthy as I am."
"Thy will be done!" exclaimed God. "With mine own hand, thy will be done!" With those words, the Soldier was lifted by God Himself up into heaven, where he fell on his hands and knees in grateful prayer, all the while sniffing until he had located this final bit of his flesh, this precious sliver, this fluid which could restore him to perfection.
"God is great," he mumbled, "and God is good." God smiled down upon the groveling supplicant.