Art by Norman E. Masters
Kaior was limping when he came to the Lake of Dream whose waters were as blue as crystal chalcedony, but whose depths were deep as loneliest nightmare. In fact, the fierce and restless tribe living now in dusky Tyrea called it Skuld, Lake of Nightmare and Sterile Death. Only the Old Ones had called it Nisea, Lake of Dream.
Superficially, at least, Kaior was fully the child of the North his fierce father had rapaciously sired. His flowing yellow hair, his sharply chiseled nose and straightlined lips, his muscle-stretched frame were all those of Bansefor and Bold, Third Elder of Tribe Fafnoor.
But Kaior's eyes were not those of his father. And Bansefor's eyes, accustomed as they were to piercing the storm-lashed snow and the ferine dark of the Northern Lands, refused to see that Kaior's eyes did not penetrate his bitter surroundings with the sharpness of flint shards, but turned in upon themselves, upon some inner musings, much as had the tired eyes of the Old Ones.
Others saw it, saw what Bansefor the Bold did not see. Others of Tribe Fafnoor knew Kaior for a dreamer, and one not to their liking. His dreamings were not of rich plunder, fiery mead and gustous blood-letting. These dreams they could understand, but not the ones he had once spoken of in such strange excitement. They had turned away.
Yes, others saw, but they dare not tell fierce Bansefor, Bansefor whose brutal blade had slain nearly as many of the Old Ones as had that of Tush the First when the Tribe had driven the drugged degenerates from jewelled Tyrea, five years past. But someday he would find out himself.
And now Kaior limped, and his broken spirit limped inside him. No longer had he a father or a tribe; and Nisea, still, he feared a bit for the Fafnoor had told tales of those waters and how was he to be sure the books had spoken the truth?
But at least they would not come here for him; and if they did, they would come reluctantly, for they feared this spot even more than he did, they who had looked into these waters five years ago...
When the conquest-driven Normen had invaded brooding Tyrea for its priceless gems and dusky slave girls, they had wisely decreed that all books of learning of the Old Ones be destroyed. The Old Ones had dabbled in forbidden magic and had records of all manner of nameless arcane lore; there were even rumors that they had contacted the death-hued wizards of sunken Ris-pay, conversing with them by some means so abominable that even most of the Old Ones had dared not speak of it.
Fear-fraught as were the powers of the dread Old Ones, still they were a placid people and moved slowly, as if their minds worked on a slower time scale than those of the cold-driven Normen. Their magic had been for nought against the fear-crazed blades which carved their throats in criss-crossed homage to the sere gods of the North Lands.
They fell, which is the perpetual outcome of abandoning the uncivilization of savagery, and the Normen destroyed all traces of them, throwing their dead or still-living remains into Nisea, wot Skuld, Lake of Nightmare, and with them their stone idols graven in shapes of abomination and madness. The gold and jewelled idols they dismembered and melted, all except that of the Faceless God, which even Tuch the First dared not desecrate. Their libraries they burned, for the children of the North wanted nothing to do with the blasphemous secrets the Old Ones had probed.
The women they kept, for they were from hidden Kaemar, trained by the temptive priestesses of the Black Goddess in the supple arts of love. The women cared not who their masters were, only that they would practice with them those lively arts of pleasure.
Kaior had secreted some of the forbidden books of the Old Ones, and had demanded of Lucili, his courtesan, that she teach him to read the forbidden lore of the ancients during their moments alone together, and that she keep secret any mention of their delvings.
The temptresses of hidden Kaemar were habituated to please, so she could do nought else but obey her lord's command. So Kaior learned to read and his eyes turned inward upon himself and the secrets of the universe hidden therein.
With wonder he saw the flaunting spiralings and patternings of all existence, awakened to the ultimate significance ever hidden from blind-eyed entities by the shadows of the Lords of Iamme. The veils of time and distance and dimension lucidized before his penetrating vision and he perceived the infinitude of other worlds and universes lying beyond, beside, and within this world he dwelt upon and was. To this and more did Kaior respond, and his marvelment was beyond all bounds. Then he learned the secrets of the Lake of Dream and felt the beginnings of yearning to peer into its blue-shadowed depths.
Bansefor the Bold was pleased at his son's virility with the dark Lucili, for the long hours spent with her alone could betoken but one thing. But when he suggested that Kaior sample other courtesans for variety and to learn new things, Kaior declined.
It was then that Bansefor the Bold looked upon Lucili with desire not only in his eyes, and longed to feel the delights this woman whose novelty had kept his son preoccupied for more than a year had to offer.
Slyly Bansefor approached Lucili when Kaior was out wandering alone in the hills; and she gave of herself in famished hunger, for Kaior had distained her womanness and used only her learning.
Bansefor was pleased and met her again and again, finally speaking slyly and insinuatingly of his son tho, nevertheless, with a proud note in his voice too. Then in the throes of pleasure when all barriers and promises fall to forgetfulness Lucili told of Kaior's searchings.
Bansefor rose in wrath, located his son in wilds of willow and smote him with blows both terrible and enraged. Doubtless he would have killed him, only he was his only son. However, he called him son no longer.
And that was when and why Kaior limped to the Lake of Dream, for in Tyrea there was no place for him. His treasured books, he knew also, had been burned to speckled ash.
When they were half-drunk and the wind mourned against their tight-closed doors the Normen told tales of what was to be seen in Skuld of Nightmare. They warned of the bloated atrocities crawling through those eddying abysses, and whispered that the foul cadavers of the drowned Old Ones brooded with malignant patience, waiting for anyone to near what was still their domain, held even beyond death. For though they had been killed, some were not dead, those who had spoken with the wizards of Ris-pay.
Hinal, Second Elder, had -- upon a dare -- bravely, but foolishly, dipped his foot into the haunted waters of Skuld and a rubbery hand reeking of putrefication had slid about his ankle and pulled him into the unclean depths of the Lake of Nightmare, never to be seen again except in recurrent nightmares drifting over Tyrea and infusing the Fafnoor's dreams while they slept.
And they spoke of other horrors, even more frightening; and their words must have been truth for when they spoke, fear quavered their voices.
However, Kaior's books had not spoken so, had said one sees oneself in the reflective magic of the Lake of Dream. Legend claimed that Nisea had been touched by the Faceless God himself in measureless eons past, touched to reflect what lay behind one's face, reflect one's very soul itself, for only thus could men see behind the god's facelessness and worship him aright.
Kaior gazed and the liquiscence of the Lake of Dreams became a shimmering mirror, its dim depths shallowing till Kaior, with a start, saw the Old Ones were not dead. But neither had they been transmuted into something pustulous and horrid.
Their dreams lived yet, manifesting form and existence of their own in the lidded depths that reflected only the realities behind pretense and facade.
He saw gardens more magnificent than those of legended King Selurrus. In shadowed bowers, discretely located fountains foamed burbling bubbles, bursting to enchantment, enspelling fair youth and touching love on benches of moon-soaked jasper. Solitary palms sighed in the language of the wind and the breeze carried their lonely murmurings to the dim litten groves, to turbid pools which licked them into their somnolent stillness and lulled the sound to a gentle shush.
Nowhere were the Old Ones to be seen, though these were their dreams. Then Kaior realized that the Old Ones were old only to the time-conscious senses of foolish men. Only men had called them Old whilst they had called themselves simply The Ones. For what is age in eternity? Here in the Lake of Dream dwelt eternity, and Kaior knew that never had they been Old Ones, for youth was in their dreams.
Within the pacific depths that did not drown, but enskied a place where dream was reality, he saw a youth of godlike fairness playing a flute of ebony, his soul in the strains of music making lilting reflection in the eyes of the mute goddess beside him. Time had not stained them and could not, for they had never known time.
A short distance away played another who was very young, carrying water in cupped hands from the marble fountain to a heaped mound of glistening sand. Fashioned in the whimsey of the very young, the sand castle's spires and turrents and balustraded ramparts reared formidably against the invasion of encroaching jewelled insects. At the same time the boy's playmate brought shining pebbles gathered with taste and discretion to decorate the king's throne and chamber in replicated imitation of crysolite, beryl, amethyst and jade.
Kaior watched their creation grow beneath skillful fingers, marvelling at their discriminating imagination. For timeless moments he watched entranced, for never in the North villages did children play like this.
Finally their work was done and they left it without regret to the wind and insects. Left, already forgetting, to begin some new creation. And still Kaior watched as the wind lifted the drying sands to lofty vagrancies, loosening its hold and spattering vitreous rain on the swaying leaves. Only the pebbles remained and Kaior knew at last that this was true artistry, creating for the sake of creation, then leaving it, forgotten, for the creative mind must go upon other pursuits.
Such artistic moments also, Kaior realized, were the dreams of The Ones, creations lightly left, for the greatest of art is but a momentary passing. The Ones knew that eternity lies in passing, not in remaining; in staying lies only death...
Kaior rose from his stooped position by the Lake of Dream and momentarily his eyes grew cloudy as they turned and gazed in the direction of Tyrea. No longer could he lament the drifting ashes of irrecoverable manuscripts and books of ancient lore, for the ancients still lived and they cared not. Why should Kaior? Then he looked again upon the waters of Nisea, his eyes growing clear as the water's own reflecting depths and he knew that his spirit was one with the Old Ones and his dreamings were their dreamings and maybe he was a dream of them or they a dream of him... or maybe only the lake dreamed... Whichever or however, it did not matter.
There was no need to look any longer in the direction of Tyrea. Leave it to the dead. The sighing winds and pale vapors danced with him and before him he saw the dreams of poets; lofty domes tinted in translucent jet and topaz; sonorous waterfalls reflecting arched rainbows; poppied pavilions where immortals sought love and its fulfillment.
And the sighing winds, the pale vapors led him, led him deep into the visioned waters, beyond the petals of sunset, beyond night's black orchid, beyond... to the unfolding of morning...
Even today mothers of Fafnoor youth warn their children to stay far from the evil ensnarement of Nightmare Skuld, then tell them the tale of witless Kaior who read from evil books and was drawn into Skuld's torpid folds where his tortured spirit still writhes in soul-chilling anguish.
Their fathers too, when half-drunk, tell of Kaior and the bloated Old Ones who feed eternally on that strange-eyed son of Bansefor the Bold; then they tell again the fate of Hinal, Second Elder, who was fully as foolish as Kaior, though a brave man nonetheless.
And no more does anyone venture near Skuld nor do they remember it was once called Nisea, Lake of Dream.