The Parliament of Beasts and Birds

The animals gathered, one by one, outside the final city of Man, furtive, curious, and afraid.

All was dark.  In the west was a blood-red sunset, and in the east a blood-red moonrise of a waning moon. No lamps shined in the towers and minarets, and all the widows of the palaces, mansions, and fanes were empty as the eyes of skulls. All about the walls of the city were the fields and houses that were empty and still, and all the gates and doors lay open.

Above the fortresses and barracks, black pillars upheld statues of golden eagles, beaks open, unmoving, and still. Above the coliseum and circus, where athletes strove and acrobats danced and slaves fought and criminals were fed alive to wild beasts for the diversion of the crowds, and the noise of screams and cries rose up like incense toward heaven, statues of heroes and demigods stood on white pillars, glaring blindly down.

Within other walls were gardens whose trees were naked in the wind, and the silence was broken only by the rustle of the carpet of fallen leaves wallowing along the marble paths and pleasances.

Above the boulevards and paved squares where merchants once bought and sold ivory and incense and purple and gold, or costly fabrics of silks from the east, or ambergris from the seas beyond Fortunate Isles, and auction houses adorned and painted stood where singing birds and dancing girls were sold to the highest bidder, or given to the haughtiest peer. And here were gambling houses where princes and nobles once used gems as counters for cities and walled town, and the downfall of nations waited on the turn of a card. And there were pleasure houses where harlots plied their trade, and houses of healing where physicians explained which venereal disease had no cures, and arranged for painless suicides, and houses of morticians where disease-raddled bodies were burnt in private, without any ceremony that might be bad for business.

And higher on the high hill in the center of the city were the libraries of the learned and the palaces of the emperors and kings adored as gods. But no history was read in the halls of learning and no public laws debated in the halls of power.

Not far outside the city was a mountain that had been cut in two, crown to root, by some supernatural force. On the slopes of the dark mountain, in a dell overgrown and wild, two dark creatures met, peering cautiously toward the empty city: A black wolf saw a black raven sitting in a thornbush. “What is the news, eater of carrion? Did you fly over the city and spy out where the corpses are?”

The black raven shrugged uncomfortably. “I thought it unwise to intrude. What of you, bold corsair against the sheepfolds of Man? Man has always feared your kind. Surely you crept into the unwatched and unguarded gates? Surely you were not afraid.”

The wolf was embarrassed and turned away. “Surely I am not a fool.”

“Who, then, can go into the city?” asked the raven.

“Long ago, Man seduced our cousin the Hound to serve him, and to betray us. The Sons of Hound are friends of Man, and can pass into the city, and discover what has become of Adam’s sons and Enoch’s grandsons. I smell one of my cousins nearby. If man is truly vanished from the bosom of the Earth, then his covenant with Man is broken, and he and I may speak.”

The raven with a croak and a flutter of wings rose into the air. “Surely Hound will know.”

But it proved not so. When Raven and Wolf came to where Hound and Horse and the slow and solemn Bull were all exchanging whispered eulogies and reminiscences, and put their question to him, the Hound shrugged philosophically. “I cannot tell you what has become of Man, nor what these great lightning-flares and thunders and voices meant. All I can say is that I no longer smell his scent on the air, nor smell the smoke of fire, his servant. For the first time since the hour when prince of the air, Prometheus, taught Cain how to build a sacrificial fire, and taught Tubalcain how to light a forge,  there has been the smell of smoke or smokestack somewhere in the world, campfire or holocaust or steel mills roaring with glorious flame. Now there is no fire anywhere the rumor of the eight winds carries to me.”

The wolf said, “You are friendly to Man. Go in! If he should still be alive, he will merely pet and fondle you, and feed you soup bones and slivers of meat.”

The hound shook his shaggy head. “It would be disobedience. I cannot go where Man forbids me go.”

Wolf snarled, “And if he is vanished forever? How long will you obey his NO DOGS ALLOWED signs?”

Hound said, “If he has gone forever, I will obey his word forever, and never enter the city. My first ancestor was the first beast ever to be given a name by Adam, the first of man, and that honor we have never forgotten.”

A sharp laugh came from the bushes. It was Fox, with his bright eyes and his black fur. “And for your loyalty, yours was the first tribe expelled from Eden with him, O Hound!”

“He needed the company,” said Hound simply.

Horse, who had been talking softly with Hound before Wolf walked up, now reared on his hindlegs shook his great black mane. It was a startling sight. “My ancestors ate nothing of knowledge of good and evil. For what cause do my noble people wither and perish? But we were the second to depart the golden garden. The serpent promised us the glory of war, and a chance to use our strength, to run against the enemy with flying manes and foaming mouths, so that even the sons of men would be terrified by our might. We were promised that we would win names of renown, as no other beast would win, Bucephelous and Grane and Traveler. And that our pedigrees would be counted as the lineages of kings! So it was for a season. We pulled the noble chariot, not the humble plow. Our ancient pedigrees were consumed by a man named Napoleon, and our daily work taken away by a man named Ford. The serpent told the truth, but somehow used the truth to tell a lie. I cannot understand it.”

Raven said, “I understand this. First or second or last, it means nothing. Only the unicorn was not expelled from Eden when all beasts and birds were exiled. Only she will neither age nor die.”

Fox turned to Wolf, “Nor you nor I shall enter the empty city, and discover the cause of this mystery, shall we? For we are in awe of Man, and have been his foes always.”

“It was not always so,” spoke up Bull. “You rebelled against Man after the time of the Deluge. Man had taken such care to bring Wolf and Wolfbitch, Fox and Vixen with all our ancestors in a wide vessel of gopherwood while the storm raged, and the fishes and dolphins sporting in the wave leaped outside the hull and laughed and mocked, glorying that their world was enlarged. And the Osprey landed in the rigging, and told us of a world above the clouds, where the sun still walked in a blue heavens, above an endless floor of billowing stormwrack. And yet Fox and Wolf became thief and robber, and tore sheep and pig and rabbit and chicken from the folds and pens and hutches and coops of men. Why did you turn on the power placed over us, who had taken care to preserve you from the floods?”

Wolf said with a sneer, “I  am a pragmatist, not a robber. Before the Deluge, men did not keep such tasty stuffs to tempt my tribe.”

Fox said with a grin, “I am a philosopher, not a thief. My tribe never once took sheep and pig and rabbit and chicken. What we stole was mutton and pork and coney and poultry. It all depends on how one defines one’s terms.”

Raven said gloomily, “I am a reader of omens, and I see it is not good that man is gone. Some event unlike any erenow befalls us. It is the Twilight of Man.”

Now came a great black Lion, walking with regal, lazy steps, into the clearing, and lesser creatures, rabbits and stoats and alarmed larks, leaped and flew and scampered from his path. He shook his mane, and it was far more alarming that the gesture of the horse, and when he yawned, all saw his white fangs were as long as daggers made by Tubalcain, sharp as the sword that hewed off the head of Goliath.

“Twilight of Man, forsooth?” said the Lion in a dangerous purr, settling himself couchant, and swatting away a fly with swish of his long tail. “Then whose dawn shall it be? My race claims the sovereignty and dominion of the world in his absence, and asks all living creatures, all that crawls on the ground, or swims in the sea, or flies in the air, to yield their fealty and obedience. Who denies my claim?”

None of the animals were willing to speak, except only Fox, “Great and powerful lord, while I myself, your most loyal servant worthiest of most highest reward, doubt nothing of the legitimacy of the claim, some — foolish, indeed, but when has the world been free of folly?— some fools will ask not who denies the claim but who makes it? On what grounds do you claim Man’s place?”

Lion said, “The serpent told me so. By virtue of my greater valor, I should rule where Man is not.”

At that moment, there was a rustling the tree above, and into view swung an ungainly creature with long and shaggy arms. It was Orangutan. “Not so! The serpent told me! Apes are made in the image and likeness of Man, we are the closes to him looks and bearing and dignity, and therefore, as cousins germane, should inherit.”

Lion arose with sensuous languor to his feet, and unsheathed his claws. “Let us put it to trial by combat. War is the ultimate argument of kings. Come down and face me, Ape, if you seek to lord it over me!”

And his roar was like thunder rolling, and the beasts in panic withdrew. But because of the strangeness of the hour, their fear did not rule them entirely, and so they kept with earshot, peering through branches and leaves, waiting to see what would eventuate. And Bull did not flee at all, but faced the Lion and lowered his horns, as if preparing to receive a charge.

Neither the Orangutan flee, though he quaked, and he said in a voice bolder than he felt, “Man did not rule by his strength of arm, but by keenness of wit. Observe the cunning of my opposable thumb!” And he awkwardly threw a stick at the Lion, with bounced off his regal nose.

The Lion did not so much as blink. Instead, he merely put his wide paw on the stick where it came to rest in the grass and said in a low drawl, “Most impressive! Come down, and let us take the full measure of your prowess, opposable thumb and all.”

Fox (who cowered, but did not flee) said softly from a safe distance, “Liege, the poopflinger has a point. After all, you cannot press your claim — just and right as it clearly is — merely by tearing and terrifying the other animals.”

Lion looked at him sidelong. “Why not?”

“How will you approach the eagle in his remote eerie, or the whale who wallows in the billows of the sea, or the kragen who has never once yet come to the surface of the sea, but is greater than an isle? What of the Roc who bears off mammoths in its talons, or the dragon who dwells in a lake of fire, surrounded with sulfur and burning lava? Can you face the polar bear in his fortresses of ice and snow?”

“I thought such creatures were myths.” Said the Lion with an air of ennui, rolling his eyes.

“I thought the Twilight of Man was a myth,” said the Fox with a sharp smile. “But surely my Liege is not content merely to rule the beasts of the forest, and of this continent only. What kind of king is not suckled on ambition? King of the beasts, they call you. Why not Emperor?”

“He is not great enough,” came a very small voice at their feet.

Fox came forward and put his nose to the ground, as did Lion.

Fox said in amazement. “It is the worm talking!”

Lion said, “How dare you raise your voice to me, Worm? You have neither stature, nor eyes, nor legs.”

The Worm said, “If you are Lord of Creation in the place of Man, then as your subject I have a right to bring my petitions and wrongs to you, for mercy and justice; and if you are not, then you and I are of equal rank, fellow servants of Man, and neither to bow to the other.”

“I recognize you as equal to that Ape in the tree. said the Lion magnanimously, seating himself on his haunches. “What is your petition, then?”

The tiny voice said, “I have a question. What is Man’s place, if he has left it? Why had he the right to rule over us? What made him abdicate that right? Until that is answered, we cannot set another up in the place of Man to rule the living things of sea and sky and earth.”

“None knows,” said the Lion, “For none dares the gates.”

“Not even you?” said the Worm. “How can you claim the empire of the Earth if the monuments and memories of man forbid you? Or does your kingdom extend everywhere except the city into which you dare not go?”

The Lion raised his paw to crush the Worm, but before he could strike, the Fox said slyly, “Who can read this riddle for us, Liege?  The undomesticated animals will not enter Man’s realm for awe of him, and the loyal animals will not enter out of obedient love for him. Who, then, is neither undomesticated yet not loyal? Who is not awed?”

The Lion still had his paw raised high. “My little cousin, Housecat. I have never heard rumor yet of a cat that either fetched or came when called, but Man kept Cat in barn and loft and parlor, and put her on a pillow, and fed her with cream. Cat can enter the dead city of man, and tell us what fate befell.”

Fox said, “And if Cat finds Man still alive, it does not behoove you to slay the worm; and if Cat finds Man dead, let the worm eat him.”

The Lion put down his paw and not on the Worm. “Come Ape, come Hound, come Bull. The Cat is known to sun herself on a rock not far from here, where she can spy on the comings and goings of men from their gates, and watch the birds the farmers keep.”

And the Bull said, “Her ancestor was the very last to leave Eden and join Man in his exile, for Cat lingered to see what became of the immortal phoenix who never dies, and the never lonely amphisbaena, who neither eats nor excretes, and others animals more pure than man. And it was for Eve’s sake Cat came anyway, and that only slowly. So it is fitting that last to depart from the garden Man dared not enter be the first to enter the city we dare not enter.”

The Cat was soon found sunning herself in the dying rays of the last of the sun, on a rock that leaned like a balcony above a sheer slope. Beneath the crowns of pines and fir trees were deeper shadows in the shadow of the gathering night, and a great highway where once ovations and triumphs marched cut straight through the wood, leaping rills in bridges of stone, and running to the wide dark gates of the city.

Cat waited until the animals, from great Lion to lowly Worm, had gathered, for she clearly adored the attention, and she sat up, and opened her mouth, and spoke. The sun was sinking behind her, and her eyes which held pupils like curving swords soon held pupils like round lanterns, even while her body became an upright shadow among shadows.

“I have been to the places of Man and am escaped again to tell you. There is within a Power beyond Man who will swallow us entire, if we allow it, and make us into what we are not now.”

“Horrible!” said the wolf, cringing. But the Hound learned forward and perked up his ears.

“Hear me!”said the Cat with quiet dignity. “For I dare not tell you twice. When first I entered by the gate, and sniffed and looked, and every lash of my whiskers quivered, but there was no living thing neither left nor right, above or below, and nothing moved before me. Yet I felt the pressure of many eyes watching, and heard the silence of a word that was not spoken, not meant for ears like mine.

“Well did I know that the riches of the merchants surely were spilled in the empty markets, and vendors of spiced treats and landlords of taverns had a wealth and a trove of meats unclaimed lying where they dropped, with no angry broom to shoo me away. So I went my way, making no more noise than the shadow as a cloud as it passes, by gutter and eave, to the great square.

“But with each step, the dread grew on me that the eyes who watched grew wroth and more wroth. Even a woman who worships her cat as we, delightful and wondrous beasts that we are, deserve to be worshiped, as is clearly our due, will strike and upbraid us if we walk atop her white cake on her wedding day and eat the little figurines. No matter into what dark shadow I slunk, or through what narrow hole, or by what trick of doubling back in my tracks or standing still, the eyes, the eyes, the unseen eyes never left me.

“At last the pressure of the gazes drove me into a fane set aside in a walled garden, one from which all the statues of the gods, less and great, had been removed. I was forced to wet myself—a humiliation my kind never loves—to cross the running stream which ran in an endless circle about the round pagoda, and by this I achieved the island.

“Here I learned to stand upright, and I raised my head and gazed in wonder at the broad dome of the sky, up into which never before had I stared. I will not tell you what I saw, or what unblinking eyes, stronger than the sun, looked back down at me. But, growing ashamed, I realized that my beautiful fur was not enough any longer.

“Ashamed, I was led by an unseen hand from that place to a street of tailors, where I was given a robe exceeding white, whiter than any fuller could white it, ablaze with a purple hem, and bound with a golden girdle. And on my feet, which had never been shod before, were sandals.”

(The Horse nodded. “We of all beasts alone have shoes, and so are much like Men, our masters.” He said softly to Hart.)

Cat continued: “Now, fitted for the first time to walk the streets of Man, up to the very palace was I led, awed and quaking with dread, as if being led to an abattoir.

“In the center of the citadel rose a tower tall and topless, its dome open to the sky like an ever upward peering eye, and whose walls were so overgrown with rose vines, that the leaves make all the tower seem green as emerald. Into the green gloom I paced, brooding as a man broods, more aware of my own fears and fancies than of the smells and sights and sounds of what lay about me. Thus, like a man would be, I was taken by surprise to find the interior of the tower, and its one high round window overhead, and a beam of slanting sunlight, sparkling with dust motes, making an oval gleaming on the stone walls.

“In a short time, I became aware that there was a great voice dwelling in that chamber, a voice which spoke only truth, which it destroys men if they hear it: and the voice was keeping silent. And yet by the texture of the silence, I knew it was waiting for me to speak.

“To speak? To plead.

“The words rushed out of my mouth before I could stop them. By what right were the beasts created of the Sixth Day condemned to suffer mortality and pain when Eve ate of the firstfruits of the tree of knowledge of good and evil?  By what right were condemned the fowls of the air and the fish of the sea, created of the Fifth Day, or why do innocent trees and grasses born of the Fourth Day perish in winter?

“And when the silence grew even deeper, and the air grew heavy as the air before a storm, I knew I spoke words without wisdom.

“But of all creatures, who is less awed by kings, infernal or terrestrial, than Cats? Therefore I demanded of the Voice. Speak! I said. Have you no answer? Or have I got your tongue?

At this point in the narration, the Cat paused to wash herself. With growing impatience, all the living things from Lion to Worm watched the Cat licking her fur into place, and smiling to herself in the way of cats, as if admiring her own sangfroid.

It was Hound (whose tribe has always been at enmity with felines) who snarled and barked and demanded Cat finish her story.

Cat yawned and stretched. “What more is there to say? Don’t you understand what is happening?”

“Oh, I understand, of course,” smiled Fox with his sharp grin. “But out of pity for our slower brethren, explain it in the illimitable way only you command, sleek puss, since surely I would mar the tale were I to tell it.”

Cat looked at them all with her luminous eyes like two yellow moons. “Why are we here?”

Horse slapped Fox on the back of the head with his tail. “A philosophical question! This is your field.”

Fox looked nonchalant, but not as nonchalant as Cat, who had more practice. “Not so. It is a legal question, is it not? For what cause were we exiled from Eden with the fallen first parents of Man? On legal matters, we should defer to the kingliest of beasts, great Lion, who understands these political and juridical questions.”

But Hound answered, “We are the servants and serfs of Man, made for his pleasure, that he might learn the joys and duties of caring for lesser creatures, even as angels care for Man. How could we not fall when Man fell? Who would be so disloyal as to remain in paradise when his master was condemned to the mortal world?”

Lion said, “Some of us have not the souls of slaves, cur.”

Hound, albeit outweighed and overmatched by Lion in every way, stood and snarled, and his nape hairs stood on end. “Rebels! How can a beast disloyal, treasonous, remain in bliss?”

“I will find satisfaction for those words at a time and place more pleasing to me,” said the Lion in a soft and melodious voice. “For now, I am curious. A flaw all cats possess, I trow.” He turned to Cat. “Cousin! You ask why we are here? We are here to acclaim one of us to the kingship over the rest, now that man is gone.”

“By debate?” asked the Cat perking up her ears. “By discussion, deliberation, the use of reason and ratiocination, eh? Or perhaps by diplomacy, a series of duels and melee, bargains and threats, that all cautious souls must ponder in our brains? Indeed? Indeed? What is wrong with this, friends?”

Cat looked back and forth. Puzzled stares answered him.

“Do none of you see it? Eh, not one?” The Cat turned around and around again, as if preparing to lay herself down for a nap. “Ah, against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain.”

Now even Fox was growing angry. “What riddle is this, Cat?”

Cat waved her tail airily. “Talk it out amongst yourself. Surely it is obvious.”

Fox barked, “Tell us!”

Cat stared at him levelly. “How? With words? Has it occurred to none of this august company gathered here that we have all been speaking words in Adam’s speech? This is not a gift we have ever known before. When did it start? What happened?”

The animals were dumbstruck for a long breath of time, almost as if realizing the gift of speech was theirs, they lost it.

Cat stood up on her hind legs, which now seemed to be more and more like feet and less and less like paws. “Have you understood none of my story? Man is gone. There is singing and rejoicing in the realm above the stars, albeit we are deaf to it, and screams and sad excuses rising up from the lake of fire which can be glimpsed between the smokes and smolder where the earth was broken open by nine volcanoes.”

Now Hound, laughing, rose to his hind legs, and found them to be feet, and, hearing his own laughter, put his hands to his mouth in wonder. “I know what is happening,” he said in a voice gone hoarse with joy. “We are becoming like them. We are the image and likeness of man.”

Bull, clutching his lower back and groaning, heaved himself to his feet. “Stupid way to travel. Wait—am I naked? When did that happen? Before I was merely without clothing. This is different—this is worse.”

Worm said softly, “If I stand up, will it disconcert you all? It might look odd.”

Fox started to stand, but Lion put a paw on his shoulder and forced him back to all fours. Fox stayed on the ground, but his posture seemed odd and wrong, as if the grace and speed due his race was gone from him.

Lion said, “Shall we become creatures that prey on each other, that are dazed with dreams and fevers, haunted by guilt of time past and fear of death to come? You who stand, and have the gifts of laughing and crying and the other things men do and beasts do not—you are naked! How can you tolerate the shame? Get down on your bellies! Let us live as suits us!”

But Hound said, “Stare into my eyes. Whoever first flinches and looks away will be the slave of the other.”

Lion roared but dropped his eyes, and from that moment onward was mute, merely a dumb beast again.

Fox stood up, but had to lean on a dry branch picked up from the ground. “To your feet! To your feet, in haste! Even to hesitate a second will lame you as I am lamed, forever! Unspeakable powers are at play this night, unguessed forces, divine things not to be trifled with!”

Owl said, “It is the first Sunday after the full moon following the equinox of March. Alas! The skies will never be open to me again!” And by the time he had come down from the high branch where he stood, his wings were no more than a cloak of feathers.

Raven said, “I curse the gift of speech, which is used for lying and worthless bearing of tales! Let me croak, and by that ungainly noise you shall hereafter know that I am prophesying your death. ‘Tis the one prophecy that always comes true, soon or late. What need have I for words? Give me the skies, I say, give me the wide freedom of the skies, and your foul corpse meat on which to feast, and I am content!”

Owl said, “Beware! On this night if you turn away from the image and likeness of Man, the gift will be shattered like glass, and cut you with a thousand cuts!”

But Raven only croaked in reply, and the light of wisdom was gone from his dark eye.

The blood red moon walked out from behind a cloud, and there was among them then two figures like the Sons of Adam, dressed in robes of a color that had no name, but is purer than the hue of a lighting flash. And no one saw how they came to be among them.

At this, the gathered beasts panicked. As if running from a forest fire, predator and prey ran cheek by jowl away from the two men, scattering each direction, and the birds, fleeing, formed a cloud that grew wider and grew more rare.

Wolf hesitated, and shouted, “Eternal hatred I vow against man and against those tame beasts who seek to become his image! The beasts who walk on hindlegs shall beware of me hereafter! I will drink the blood of your children!” And he turned and loped away.

Soon, there were left standing only a few: Hound and Horse were there, and Ass and Bull and Cat, but there was also Goat and Sheep, humble Worm with his silks, and the industrious Bee with his honey. But also still present was Fox with his sly smile and twisted foot, leaning heavily on a staff.

Fox was the first to bow to the newcomers, “Sires, I am tired of being undomesticated. I hear the meals are regular and plentiful among the slaves of the Sons of Man.”

The first messenger said, “Out of pity for your nakedness, we have brought garments woven on the looms of heaven. All the secrets of the stars are in the weave, even if you shall never know them. The wedding feast of the bridegroom is prepared, and you are summoned.”

The second messenger said, “We are come to tell you to enter the city and take possession of it. Cut down the groves and high places were men sacrificed their children to our cousins, and pull down the images they worshiped. Dominion over the beasts who fled is given to you. Prosper and multiply; take possession of the Earth.”

But as the garments were passed out, suddenly they seemed to lose their luster, and were stained with atrocious stains. Each place their fingers touched, or skin, grew dark and unseemly to the eye.

“How shall these be made clean again?” asked the Hound in grief and surprise.

“Only in the blood of Man,” said the first Messenger. “The first prayer of Saint Roch upon entry into the celestial court was to have his dog with him, and Saint Eligius asked after his horse.”

The second messenger said, “Surely you did not think divine love would leave the brute beasts to dissolve into the elements, unsaved and unredeemed? If loyalty to Man drew you downward into his fall, love will draw you upward into his joy.”

Fox said, “We must wait for Man to redeem us? Why does the Omnipotent not act directly? Why does He wait for Man to volunteer to aid Him, He who needs no aid?”

The first messenger said, “Why did He wait for archangels to make the stars, and angels the planets and comets, wandering stars and bearded stars? Why were the Watchers instructed to instruct me, when the Almighty at a whim would have performed their acts of sacrificial love, and ours, and all?”

The second messenger said, “To ask why you must wait for Man is to ask why Man must wait on his anointed prince to die and to be raised again from death. It is to ask why love loves.”

Cat said, “Wait. No way is prepared for the created creatures to save ourselves? We are not the heroes of our stories? You tell a worse tale than I do! For you have also left the ending unspoken!”

But the messengers were gone, and did not answer.

Hound said, “Come, brothers. The city is waiting. Man was saved by the sacrifice of a higher being who became one with him, and no doubt the tale will be told again in the same way for us.”

Owl said, “Look, the Worm is Worm no more, for he has regained his feet and his stature, and his garments are less stained than any of ours. Let us make him our king, for in times past he was the least of us.”

Worm said, “I an unfit to rule, being blind and lacking tooth and nail alike!”

Cat said, “Open your eyes and look at yourself. We are changed. Worm is a dragon again, but the red stains of war and greed is gone, and this tells us the old, old curse is broken. There is no more Woman to step upon your head, friend dragon, for Woman and her Daughters have gone to a newer and better world, one remade with all its flaws unmade.”

Worm, who was now Dragon, looked down at himself, and saw himself splendidly garbed. He took up a bundle of reeds and breathed on it, and it lit afire. “We are men!” he said. “The gift of fire is ours!” Because none of them were afraid of it.

Fox said, “I hate to admit, but I do not understand what all these things mean.”

Owl said, “It is the first Sabbath after the Paschal moon following the Equinox of Spring! Not just man, but all nature is redeemed! Rejoice!”

Fox said, “And of our fellow beasts who ran, and refused to be men? Will all these things happen again, to save them? Or what happens to men to refuse to become sons of God? How can they be exiled from the seat of the Omnipresent?

“Will one of us be called upon to sacrifice ourselves, and become a lower beast again, and perish to save those lower creatures who are our pets and servants and playfellows and predators?

“Why are we given a walled city filled with the memories of evil, idol and slave pits and instruments of war, to unmake and remake? What shall we do if the beasts retain some part of the power of speech and come against us? Must the war between celestial and infernal powers continue until the end of the world, until death itself is dead?”

But the others were already walking as men walk down the sundered mountain toward the great city, and there was none to answer him.

25 Comments

  1. Comment by fabulous_mrs_f:

    A most excellent and uplifting story, Mr. Wright.

  2. Comment by joetexx:

    Was this specially intended as an Easter story? Ah, you mentioned the Paschal…

    amphisbaeus! Grane the horse! I swear, you are better at Increase ?yer Word powe than the Reader’s Digest. Never heard of either before.

    The Fox reminds of Bill Clinton.

    Finally, I guess I’ll sign on to your Loyal Corps of Proofreaders…

    “Who would be so disloyal as to remain in paradise when his master was condemned to the moral world?”

    mortal world?

  3. Comment by Sean Michael:

    Dear Mr. Wright:

    Very interesting Easter story. I’m reminded of Romans 8.19-23.

    Sean M. Brooks

  4. Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

    He is Risen! Happy Easter.

  5. Comment by deiseach:

    A wonderful story for Easter. Thank you, Mr. Wright.

    And more famed horses – the Grey of Macha and Black Sainglend, the horses of Cú Chulainn.

    And the Armadillo Girdled Lizard, which looks like the ouroborous.

  6. Comment by paul.griffin:

    A most excellent tale. As much as I enjoy the lively discussion that goes on around here, I am always most excited when my I find a story that you have written for us. Your creativity and imagination in writing these are always a treat.

    I am curious about your writing process for the short stories you post on your blog. Writing is not a regular practice of mine, but I am often fascinated by how (and how differently, depending on the author) it happens. Would you mind commenting a bit on how something like this story comes to be?

    Happy Easter!

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Joyous Easter! He is Risen! I will be happy to say a little about my writing process, or even write an article about it—but it would help if you asked me a specific question or two. Otherwise, as is my wont, I may blather on without direction or shame.

      • Comment by paul.griffin:

        I guess I’m curious about how you get from inspiration to actual words on the page. I have only dabbled in writing fiction (like I said, it’s not really a discipline I practice), and I don’t even bother putting pen to paper unless my inspiration is more or less a fully formed story with only minor details to be fleshed out. I may be surprised by some of those details, but the story I end up with is nearly always the story I originally set out to write. Other writers may start with only an inkling of an idea, start writing, and end up surprising themselves with the end result, perhaps after months of seeming drudgery (by her own description, this was generally how Flannery O’Connor wrote).

        Do you start with an interesting idea and see where it takes you as you write? Your short stories tend to have a very strong structure, and both the internal and external references are very well woven. Do you find this difficult to achieve, or does it come easily, perhaps due to lots of practice? How much work is it to get from an idea like “the redemption of the animals” to the finished work posted above?

        • Comment by Mary:

          You and me both. I even force it to cough up a basic outline of itself, including all scenes necessary for the main plot, before I put fingers to keys.

          I once rushed an outline for NaNoWriMo. Never again. Wrenching out the last chapters was like pulling nails, and the problems are still clear on revision. (Not usual. Usually, like Neil Gaiman, I can’t tell the difference between writing in the flow and laboriously after the fact.)

          • Comment by fabulous_mrs_f:

            I can’t start with a very tight outline or I feel like I can’t explore the character. I tighten it up as I go further. I used to plan and outline while I sketched pictures of the characters, but I haven’t had time for either sketching or writing lately–I can’t cut into my sleep time like that without turning into a total bear. Short story writing eludes me. I’ve written one that was passable. The rest fall down at the end. With a poor ending, it doesn’t matter how good the set-up or middle is.
            In some other season of life, I suppose.

      • Comment by fabulous_mrs_f:

        I think we are here because we rather enjoy any blather (also any ranting).

        • Comment by SMM:

          Beautiful Mr. Wright. I can’t wait to read it to the younguns tonight. While I had tears in my eyes, I expect they will have awe in theirs.

          The paragraph beginning “The cat…” should have fir trees, not fur trees. Though perhaps trees, which furnished the wood of the cross, should have fur to cover their nakedness, or to give them regalia for furnishing the wood for so great a Savior.

          Happy Easter!

  7. Comment by Sean Michael:

    Dear Mr. Wright:

    You have repeatedly said you do not mind readers offering corrections to errors in your essays or stories. So, I would bring to your attention the curious phrasing “disease-rattled” in the fifth paragraph. Wouldn’t “disease-raddled” make more sense?

    Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Thank you. Correction made. Keep in mind, the stories I post to the web as free fiction have no editors aside from my readers, and I am prone to simple spelling errors more than most men. So I not only ‘don’t mind’ the help, I beg for it, and bless those who offer it.

      • Comment by Pierce O.:

        I have spotted two others:

        “…long as daggers made Tubalcain, sharp as the sword…”

        Should this be “daggers made by Tubalcain”?

        “…check by jowl away…”

        Should be “cheek by jowl away”

        Excellent tale. It has the feel of a fairie story to it, with a bit of C.S. Lewis.

  8. Comment by Kennybhoy:

    I read this to two of my great-nieces last night at bedtime. They were entranced.

    As good as Lewis or Stevenson…

    God bless.

  9. Comment by Steve T:

    Extraordinary story, but I just realized the omission of two domesticated animals that trouble me:

    1) the Goat
    2) the Elephant

    OK, whilst the Goat perhaps is not the stuff of legend and might safely be omitted, the Elephant is perhaps the most impressive of Man’s domesticated beasts, and ’twas a crying shame that he was neglected.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I would have included the elephant and the goat, except that when I was a child my pet goat, Stenchie, was trampled by an evil circus elephant, and the memory is still too raw for me to face. I am trying to ease my way out of my raging pachyderm-ophobia by reading a few pages of HORTON HEARS A WHO at a time. I am hoping someday soon the law will put an end to evil circuses. After the events in SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, you’d think the legislature would do something!

      Thank you for the compliment.

  10. Comment by Steve T:

    Stenchie? I bow in your general direction, sir. Que droll. I shall be applying that moniker to at least one of my fraternity brethren this coming alumni weekend.

    I weep at the thought that I might have caused you pain by dredging up unhappy memories. I myself thrash about in the throes of delirium trenens, nay, dementia praecox, at the mere suggestion of the pink elephants scene from the curs’d Dumbo.

  11. Comment by WolfShadow:

    Wow. I knew something was amiss when Cat spoke of walking on her hind legs. I bit of foreshadowing, I suppose, of what will have come to pass by the stories end.

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