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The Gardener, the Counselor, and the Sylph

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They will tell you that there was nothing before the world, but that isn't so. The Laughing Gods needed something to play with, and so they made a world in patchwork, and patterned it all over with the diamonds that were their sigil. It had a slapdash sort of people in it, too, for the Nooseweaver wanted a challenge, and her brother wanted company.

Now Nooseweaver loved one of the half-made girls in the world very well, though not half so well as the girl loved her. When Nooseweaver's death drew near, she sought solace with the half-made girl and found that the girl had died, killed in a little dispute over an egg. Nooseweaver was vexed then, and sore afraid, and she poured all her light into the half-made girl's skin, and bound it at her waist with her murderer's cloak. Then went she to her own death, and that is a story you already know.

The Five Gods rose, one by one, and set about making the world, and the noise woke up the half-made girl, who found she was alive. She was no longer half-made either, but all-made, a sylph of the new world bedecked in light.

She took herself to the councils of the gods and found them bickering like children over the making of the world, whether to put the waters here or the winds there, whether the beasts would have six legs or eight, whether the continents ought to swim over the surface of the world or ought to hold still, and the worst of it was with the Counselor and the Gardener. They had been trying to make the stars, but there was nothing to make them with.

But there came the sylph climbing the stairs and she shone with all the stolen light of the world.

The Gardener clapped her hands in delight and went running to her. "You're just the girl I've looked for!" she exclaimed. "And so fair! Come on, the world's been waiting!"

The sylph shied away. "What for?" she asked, looking to the Counselor, who stood grave and thoughtful at the top of the scaffolding around the sky. "Are you so hard up for help, that you need look to a half-made girl with diamond skin?"

"Not diamond skin but the Diamonds' skin," the Counselor said. She stepped down then, too. "And not a half-made girl, but a whole girl. You really must let us use your light, you know. It ought to have been mine to start with."

"It very well ought not to be," the Gardener said, wrinkling her brow, "unless you are going to tell me that when you crawled out of the leaves you came clutching my birthright in your hand."

"But who are you?" the sylph begged to know, "besides new gods? My patron has died, but where have you all come from?"

"Why, I am the Gardener, of course," said the Gardener. "My dominion is the great wide world, and the spaces between things, and the very mighty, and the very small. I am she who sets the night, and I am telling you, my heart," she said to the Counselor, "there must be a kind of light in it. It is how I designed it. It is a very delicate model."

"I am sure you have designed it to perfection, but I am the Counselor," the Counselor said, sounding more wry than self-important. "I have seen the way the world ought to grow to make you and I both the happiest, and I have seen how the light ought to fall. I am she who arranges the day, you know," she said to the sylph, "but I do not have dominion over the paths and courses of chance. Those have quite enough to do having dominion over themselves. I only see them. And I cannot alter them to make your 'stars' shine the brighter. The day must have a great light in it, so great that I am afraid there will be none left over for your stars."

"Your majesties," said the sylph, "there is something you have not yet contemplated."

"What is that?" said the goddesses, peering down at her.

"That I will not give up my light for a purpose I do not know," the sylph said. "For I am sworn to the service of a dead god and I do not feel inclined to enter another. You may find some other thing to illuminate the sky. I will keep the light that Nooseweaver stole."

The Gardener and the Counselor were much agape as the sylph left them, for since they were born this was the first time any person had dared argue with them. But none of the Five are ever agape for long.

The sylph had not been away from the councils for an hour together when she passed a white hound by the side of a road. "Where are you going, sister?" the hound asked her, loping to catch her up.

"I do not know," the sylph said. "I wanted to see the wide world, but it is all so strange to me."

"I was made in it, and I can show you it," the hound offered. "Climb on my back and I will show you all its breadth."

"Why, certainly," said the sylph, and she climbed on the back of the hound.

The hound was a galloper, and the pace she set made the teeth rattle in the sylph's jaw. She stopped when she liked, flopping herself down next to a great tree or a vast swamp, a scattering of insects, an upwelling of water. Sometimes she stopped only to chase her tail before setting off again, running faster and faster for the joy of it, and the sylph found she did not mind her rumpled clothes or her disheveled hair if they were troubled in such a service. With the hound she saw great leaves the size of a girl's face, and meadows rich with dew, and the dappled colors of all the fruits of the orchards. She saw too the moths which darted around the trees, their great green wings beating, and the small animals of night who come out to hunt and be hunted, and the land beasts with their sharp teeth and their powerful feet.

"It is beautiful," the sylph said. "I am glad I saw it."

"You are the only one to see it," said the hound, licking her hand. "The rest of us must shift by smell."

The sylph scratched the hound behind the ears. "You have given me much to think about, Gardener," she said. "But yet I will not serve you."

The hound laughed, a very undoglike peal of a laugh, and licked the sylph's face as well before she stepped through space and went back to her work on the sky.

The sylph did not know the place where she had been set, but she continued down it for some time, on a surmise, and sure enough she soon came upon a black cat, curled in the grass by the side of the road. As she passed, the cat yawned and said, "Where are you going, sister?"

"Why, I wanted to see the bright world, but it is all so strange to me," the sylph said, offering a wrist to smell. "Would you like to tell me that you were made with it, and will show me its wonders?"

"I don't tell people what they already know," said the cat, "but I will offer you a ride."

The cat's pace was gentle and her feet were sure, and yet when they walked it seemed that they passed not from place to place but from wonder to wonder. They stepped through the sand and the sylph looked on the rushing of the ocean for the first time; they sojourned in the mountains and saw the slow formation of stone. The cat showed her the seams at the edges of the world, and they watched together as the gods took the patchwork sky to pieces and used it to make a new one. Sometimes the sylph would think the cat had fallen asleep next to her, but always when she looked over the cat was looking back.

"It is fascinating," the sylph said. "I am glad I saw it."

"You are the only one to see it," said the cat, grooming the space between her claws. "The rest of us must shift by hearing."

The sylph rolled her eyes. "You have given me much to think on, Counselor," she said. "But still I will not serve you."

The cat smiled a toothy smile, and curled up in the high grass and went again to sleep.

So the sylph was left alone, and she walked alone, now, until she heard a great screeching and a flapping of wings and she chased after it in the hopes of finding a beast to converse with who was not a god, if such beasts there were in the world. And perhaps the Counselor's scent was still on her, for that is what she found: a girl swooping and diving in the sky, seeking again and again some small prey on the ground, her eyes bound with a green cloth.

"Hello," said the sylph. "Who are you?"

The girl flew down. "My name is Terezi Fire-Eyes," she said, with a wide smile. "And you're another dweller in the world before this one! Come dine with me."

The sylph accepted gratefully, for the gods she had traveled with knew nothing yet of mortal needs and had not given her aught to eat. Terezi had a great panoply of meat to spread before the sylph, and they broke bread together. The sylph told Terezi that she was god-pestered, and Terezi was most sympathetic. "I too am the twice-beloved of the gods, and it brings nothing but trouble," she said, but she would say no more. Instead she asked, "What is it they desire of you?"

"They want Nooseweaver's light," the sylph sighed. "They want me to choose between them who should set it in the sky, the Counselor as a great light by day or the Gardener as a thousand points by night. It would be a great service to give the light."

"And you do not wish to do them service?" Terezi asked.

The sylph was on the point of denial when she thought again of the great world that the gods had made. Instead she said, "It is a heavy thing to choose a god. Yet they say that the world cannot do without the light."

Terezi laughed, and unraveled the cloth she kept around her eyes, and the sylph saw there that Terezi had no eyes at all, only two pits of flame. "Oh, one can do without light pretty well, I think," she said. "But if they woo you so thoroughly and so well, I do not think the gods can do without you."

The sylph was much struck by this, and finished the rest of the meal in silence.

She slept in Terezi's nest, and awoke refreshed, and set out back to the councils of the gods. It was only a short walk after all, and she came to the scaffolding at the top of the world so early that the Counselor and the Gardener had not even risen to argument yet but were curled around each other, a white dog and a black cat with their tails keeping the other warm.

"Excuse me," said the sylph, politely.

The Counselor and the Gardener sat up in a hurry. "Have you come to make your decision?" said the Counselor, as regally as she could. "Well, it is certainly betimes."

"No," said the sylph. "I have not come to make a decision. I have come to commission a ship."

"A ship?" the Gardener said, wrinkling her nose. "Why a ship?"

"It will get me through the sky," the sylph explained. "A golden one, I think; the color of your sigil, my lady--" this to the Counselor. "From morning till evening, its windows may be open to the world, so that the world can see me, and its doors may be open to she who has dominion over the day. And by night, I will come to your harbor," she said to the Gardener, "and you may sow me piecemeal as you like, so long as you put me together again afterwards."

The Counselor stood, in her proper form once more, and put out a hand. "And while the day changes to night?"

"Why, then we may all meet in the harbor," the sylph said, daringly, and took it, and felt an instant later the strong sure grasp of the Gardener on her other hand. "And see what may be. But I still will not enter your service, my ladies."

"Nor would we wish it," said the Counselor. "But if it pleases you, you may enter our household instead."

The ship was a long time building, but it is good workmanship, and it will stand. The sylph takes good care of it. The Counselor sails and spars with her over the earth each day, and each night the Gardener takes the stars out of the sylph one by one and sets them in the firmament to grow. And in the mornings and in the evenings, don't look too close at the sky; it's rude to disturb the passion of the pilot and the gods her wives.