K was originally going to be for the Kingdom Between the Worlds, which is one of the names for Fairyland. But once I’d said that, I stalled. What I have to say about Fairyland is difficult to put into words. I can describe Fairyland, or at least describe things that happen in it, tell stories set in it (or at least, that brush up against the edges of it; Avon-under-the-Hill, the sequel to Inkebarrow, is still percolating; so too is The White Stag), tell stories about it. But I am not yet ready to write an essay championing Faërie. For that you must go to Tolkien or C.S. Lewis or Chesterton or Lord Dunsany.
I am also somewhat adrift from my letter-a-day challenge, but, well, life sometimes gets in the way, and finishing the current novel won out this week. (I’ll let you know soon when Stargazy Pie will be coming out.) But then I got a nice comment from a friend and reader asking about whether K could not be for Kasian, and, well, I thought–why not?
Kasian is the twin brother of Raphael, and is the second major character in Till Human Voices Wake Us. Kasian is the King of the Tantey, and, moreover a king of a fairy-tale sort: he won his kingdom by slaying a dragon menacing it, lives in a white and many-towered sort of palace in a city built on the islets of a lake in a valley in the mountains. (It was intended as a summer residence; there is some geothermal activity to make the winter bearable.) It is something of a Shangri-La, and Kasian, who became king when he slayed the aforementioned dragon at the age of sixteen, is now, some eleven or twelve years on, rather bored.
He could be an Alexander the Great … or a tyrant … but, having no army, and no money (the arbitration of disputes arising from bartering is his major activity as king, and they are nearly a closed society), he tries to channel his energies into useful activities, like hunting or attempting to develop trade with neighbouring countries. Just before the events of Till Human Voices Wake Us his people, in the form of the council of elders, decides he needs a holiday, and send him off to visit his parents, who live in the equivalent of Australia relative to his Europe.
On his way down to Ixsaa, Kasian rescues a man lost in the wilderness. The man, a ship’s captain, had been shipwrecked, fell into Fairyland, and, eventually, escaped Faërie only to end up on Ysthar, where he was rescued by the Lord of Ysthar. Long story short, the Lord of Ysthar gave the man a phoenix feather as a kind of talisman, which he then shows Kasian.
And Kasian knows the phoenix of Ysthar is related to his twin brother*, whom he thought had died years before in the Fall of Astandalas. He also knows from his grandmother that there is an old magic whereby if you sleep with a phoenix feather under your head, you will dream truly, and if you hold a certain question in your mind, you might receive the answer.
He dreams of how to meet the Lord of Ysthar. Here’s that encounter–with the caveat that when the scene actually happens (from the Lord of Ysthar’s perspective) in the book, I changed the location from Avebury to London, though the wording of the conversation is nearly the same.
* This is a slightly complicated matter. If you’ve read Phillip Pulman’s His Dark Materials you’re familiar with the idea of the daemons, the animal-shaped exterior souls. The Tanteyr (and only them) have a similar sort of thing, but with birds. There is some debate in Tanteyr theology about what the birds actually signify and whether they actually do have something to do with souls and what this means for the relationship of the Tanteyr people to other peoples, and so forth. Regardless, Ishaa the white phoenix is Raphael’s, and Kasian recognizes the feather.
From the cutting room floor: Kasian meets the Lord of Ysthar
Kasian got off the coach in the village of Avebury. It was his second bus of the morning, indeed his second ever, but all the personnel had been pleasant and helpful and not at all surprised by either his foreignness or his desire to go to a small town in the middle of the countryside. It was very foggy when he disembarked, combined with a softly falling rain. He asked for directions several times before finding his way out of the village and into the stone circle.
It was very much as his dream. The fog lifted slightly as he approached the inner ring, where he’d been told to wait. Not enough to see far, but enough that he was able to pick out the largest of the remaining stones and stand by it.
The stone was roughly diamond in shape, massive, almost twice his height and wider as well. He stood looking at it curiously for a few minutes, going over his speech again. It was so rare he had to make requests of someone more important than him he didn’t want to get it wrong.
My lord, he would say, bowing deeply as befit an outworld king to the lord of a world. I beg you to grant me a brief audience. Then, though he was a little concerned about this — for the Lord of Ysthar might be as racist as some of the other lords, despise the Tantey as the Empire of Astandalas of which Ysthar once was part had; but he had no other way to make his point: I am Kasian, King of the Tantey. As you know, the phoenix of Ysthar is a sacred symbol to my people as it is to you. He hoped that would win the Lord of Ysthar’s curiosity, at least, though in all the stories Kasian had heard, he was at least polite. Dangerous, reclusive, private, powerful: but courteous and usually kind, the stories were clear on that.
My lord, I know there is but one phoenix at a time. I knew the phoenix of Ysthar before the Fall of Astandalas, she was white and gold and shaped somewhat like an eagle with a bird-of-paradise’s long tail and a pointed beak. I had assumed that when Ysthar was destroyed — no, he couldn’t say that, could he? but everyone knew that this Ysthar, the one he was standing on now, was totally different than the old one — My lord, I had presumed that when the Empire of Astandalas was destroyed and the worlds rearranged, and it came to be known that Thalassior Barred had perished and you had become seventh Lord after him — not that anyone knew who the Lord of Ysthar actually was — I had presumed that the white phoenix had perished as well.
And the Lord of Ysthar, he thought glumly, would no doubt say something along the lines of: And why should you travel so far to ask me differently, King of the Tantey? What do you seek? Why should I care what you say?
Perhaps he should go with the other thing he had been thinking, the bald truth.
My lord, I am Kasian, King of the Tantey. You may know that the Tantey each have a sacred bird, their satall, each a different kind, which we believe carries the immortal part of our soul. (He wasn’t quite sure he did believe this, but that was a different matter.) The satall of my twin brother who perished in the Fall of Astandalas — I believed he perished in the Fall — was the white phoenix. I mourned him as dead for twelve years of the phoenix, as we measure such things on the other worlds, my lord, by rumours and magic. Then six months ago I sheltered a stranger at my camp fire, and he gave me in repayment a night sleeping with a phoenix feather under my pillow, which in the old stories gives true dreams.
My lord, I dreamed I would meet you here, if I came this day, this hour, waited before this stone. The stranger’s feather was a gift from you, he said, a gift beyond the reckoning of mere kings such as I to give. My lord . . . I know that feather as well as I know those of my own satall. It was of my brother’s phoenix, and I have come to ask you if you know of him, if he be alive, oh, please, tell me —
A foot squelched in the mud behind him. Kasian jumped, stomach leaping into his throat, not ready to bow, not ready to do anything but whirl to look on this man who was, so the stories said, the greatest magus in this age of the nine worlds.
For a sheer disbelieving moment Kasian thought his father had somehow got there before him, and simply stared. The man stared back. His gaze was dark, nearly black, and held a strangely wary lack of edge, a slight unfocus. He dropped his gaze first, looked down to the ground, and said, “Kasian.”
That was all he said. Kasian looked at him: the blond hair, pale clean-shaven face, thin build muffled slightly by a long black coat and a grey scarf. The eyes that were surprisingly dark blue. My lord, he thought, and nearly laughed aloud, I need ask you no questions as to how you got a feather of my brother’s phoenix.
He smiled and held out his hands. “Well now, Raphael, this is unexpected.”
And of course, to find out what happens next, the book’s available!