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Hue and Run: the birth of The King in Yellow

Chapter Text

I’ve a new story.

What’s it called?

The King in Yellow.

Tell me.

We weren’t speaking aloud. It was long after dark, long past the hour that all were consigned to repose and to silence.

She and I were speaking our own language, in our own alphabet and through our own medium.

Hands.

It was all her doing. Every few days for a month, she had moved our beds a slight bit closer to each other. I did not protest, but I did not understand, either, until, at last, one night, lying on our backs, heads turned towards the other, she extended her arm. I did the same, and our fingers touched.

Then I understood.

She taught me the language, word by word, and by the following month, we were conversing freely every night until sleep overtook me.

She slept little.

She was clever, the cleverest person I’d ever known or ever would know, and she told the most wonderful stories.

I’ve a new story.

What’s it called?

The King in Yellow.

Tell me.

I was almost feverish with anticipation.

Along the shore the cloud waves break,

the twin suns sink beneath the lake.

The shadows lengthen

in Carcosa.

My heart beat loud and fast in my ears.

Carcosa?

Yes, Carcosa.

She told the most wonderful stories, stories of mystery and clever creatures, stories of fantastic voyages, grave peril, and amazing bravery. She told stories that made my breath catch in my throat. She told stories that made me bite my lip and bury my face in my pillow, stifling forbidden laughter. Every night she would add to the tale until the end. Oh, the end! I wept. My fingers, wet with tears, would touch hers, and she would squeeze them.

Give me time, little round one, and I shall think of another.

I was pierced by two swords, my wretched ingratitude for all she had spun and my hopeless longing for another yarn.

Nights were magic. Days were drudgery.

In the mornings, we woke at the appointed hour by the appointed knock and readied ourselves in the appointed manner. Well, almost. We washed and dressed, and though strictly forbidden, she brushed my hair, and I brushed hers. She was tall and lean, all angles and sharp corners, with a curtain of raven dark hair that fell to her waist. Before we left our cell for the day, she would take my hand.

Until tonight, Camilla.

Until tonight, Cassilda.

Those were our finger-names.

I would not see her again until the end of the day. Like all, I practiced custody of the eyes and within the stone walls, I saw no one and nothing which was not strictly necessary.

I did not see her at meals or in chapel, and after breakfast and morning prayers, she went up to the scriptorium, and I went down to the pits.

The only occasion I had cause to be near her was when the ink supplies ran low, but even then I would carry the heavy flagons to the vestibule outside the scriptorium and fill the smaller flagons which would, in turn, be used to fill the scribes’ wells. I would do my allotted task without a stray glance. Often, I filled the small flagons in her presence, her fingers, more known to me than my own, would touch the coarse brown wool of her coarse brown robe. How she came by that task, to oversee my pouring, I never had the temerity to ask. With head bowed, I would perform my duty, and she would thank me. And I would nod and return to the pits.

Oh, sometimes I worked in the kitchen, and sometimes I toiled in the garden, and sometimes I went abroad and gathered wood and bark, but most of the time, I kept vigil by the pots.

Stirring, stirring, stirring.

Stoking the fire, feeding the flames.

But now I was thinking of Carcosa.

Every night, she built a little more of it with her words, and every day, as I stirred the pots, I imagined it.

In colour. In every colour.

I went out for wood, thinking of the Lake of Hali and the cloud waves that rolled and broke on its shores. I passed a bilberry bush and, acting upon sheer devilment, crushed some of the berries with a stick. The blue syrup ran over my fingers and dotted the forest floor. I used a second stick to draw upon the pale underside of a large leaf. I drew my vision of the Lake of Hali, its clouds and its shores.

Using more subterfuge than I’d ever employed, I brought the leaf back and presented it to her that night, just before we took to our beds.

Her grey eyes widened, and a smile threatened to crack her face in half.

‘Hali,’ she mouthed.

I nodded and would’ve clapped but for her hands which stopped mine just in time.

I dove into bed and pulled the covers over my head. Then I stuck my arm out.

Thank you. It’s beautiful.

Tell me more.

Would you like to hear about the purple beast of Demhe which lives in its cloudy depths?

Oh, yes!

From then on, the days that I was sent outside the stone walls, either to the woods or to the garden, I was searching for materials for inks. I was searching for colours, the colours of Carcosa, of Aldebaran, of Hastur, of Demhe, and of Yhtill.

I was never happier when I could present her with a leaf.

Tomorrow we are going to search for oak gall.

I did not know what it meant, so I pretended to fall asleep and then did fall asleep, wondering.


The following morning, they came for me in the pits and brought me to her.

I took the basket her hand proffered without a word or a glance and followed her, obediently.

“When treated, it will make an ink darker than the thorne bark,” she explained when we were passed the gates. “But I’m doubtful that our oaks will be so obliging with their insolence. Lead the way.”

I led the way to the oaks.

And when we were well into the woods, far from any ear or censure, she stopped and sang:

Along the shore the cloud waves break

the twin suns sink beneath the lake

The shadows lengthen

in Carcosa.

Strange is the night where black stars rise,

and strange moons circle through the skies,

but stranger still is

lost Carcosa.

I had never heard the words said aloud, and I trembled before her, my eyes filling with tears.

Immediately, I dropped my chin and fixed my eyes to the ground and felt the heat of shame creep up into my face.

Then three fingers were under my jaw, lifting my face.

The tears washed free of my vision, and I could see her shake her head.

We found no gall and returned by mid-day.

I collected a portion of soot and that night, before retiring, drew with my finger on my arm.

‘Shadows. Black stars. Strange moons,’ I mouthed.

She beamed.


I was hungry for colours, and found them in blackberries, madder roots, weld blossoms, and cabbage leaves, which I smuggled down into the pits where I prepared them and painted with them upon leaves, always careful to destroy the fruits of my labours before anyone noticed.

But one colour which eluded me.

Yellow.

Oh, there were onion skins. And unripe buckthorn berries. But nothing was good enough, nothing was yellow enough, for the King in Yellow.

I’d given the search up in despair when I found it.

I made a point every visit to the woods of checking the oaks for gall, and one day in late summer, I found the dark ball in the curve of a trunk.

And beneath that oak was a bed of flowers wholly unknown to me. The flowers resembled the saffron crocus but the yellow of their stamens was more brilliant than the sun.

My heart almost burst. Here was a yellow worthy of the King of Carcosa!

I collected all the blossoms and hid them at the bottom of my cart and ran back to the stone walls.

Thank you for the gall. I will save some for the black stars that fall and the strange moons that circle.

I have yellow, too.

Yes?

Yes!

The following morning, she came down to the pits herself.

I was so astonished that I stood still, wooden, fixed, until a sharp reprimand reminded me of the pots.

Stirring, stirring, stirring.

I told myself not to listen. But I listened.

She was preparing the gall herself because she did not entrust the task to any other scribe.

I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked over and into my field of vision was slipped a small piece of parchment. The hand fell from my shoulder to my own hand.

Yours.

I knew it should be yellow.

Now. When no one is watching. I will stir the pots.

That night, before retiring, I showed the parchment to her.

The King in Yellow?

Yes.

And this?

She pointed to below the figure of the King.

My heart broke like a child’s. I turned away.

Her hand rested heavily on my shoulder like a command.

I looked back.

I am simple.

The world is simple. You are not. Tell me.

The Yellow Sign.

What is the Yellow Sign?

Hands. Ours.

I put her hand in mine and looked up into her eyes.

She nodded.

Perfect.

Suddenly, the world was brown and her.

And I did not realise until she’d released me that I had been in her embrace.

I have more yellow ink. I saved it in the spare flagon.

I’ll bring you another piece of parchment.

The King at the masquerade?

And the Yellow Sign.


It began with a tiny mistake, a drip of yellow where I did not want one, and I was using the blade to scrape away the spot so that the King and the Sign would be perfect, and I was holding the small square of parchment with the other hand, and pushing the blade, and my hand slipped, and the blade sliced across my fingers and knocked the uncorked flagon of ink.

The flagon toppled.

I righted the flagon but not before a yellow spray had crossed swords with the red of my blood.

I watched, curiosity mingled with horror as the yellow ink ran into the red. It did not run across my fingers. It did not run off my fingers and onto my cloak or the ground.

It ran, or so it seemed, into the gashes, the way rushing rainwater fills crevices in the stone path.

The yellow ink ran into me.

The yellow ink ran into me and disappeared.


Eyes looked wildly into mine. Two hands clasped fierce in prayer around my own hand. A head bowed in divine supplication, and we spoke without speaking.

Everything is yellow. You are yellow.

The ink was poison. I am searching for a remedy. Do not succumb. Fight! I will find the antidote.

Tell me the mysteries of the Hyades.

Drink this, and I will.


Tell me about the clouds rolling and breaking on the shores of Lake Hali.

Try this, and I will. It's bitter, but it may work.


Tell me about Yhtill.

Suffer this and I will.


Tell me about Hastur.

Rest and I will.


Tell me about the cloudy depths of Demhe.

Don’t go! Don’t leave me!

As if I could ever leave you. Tell me of the masquerade where Cassilda wore a dress of—what colour was it?

Raven violet.

…ah, yes, blackberry…

…and Camilla, the little round one with the gilded hair, wore a dress of deepest blue…

…bilberry…

…and they danced.

Danced?

They held each other and swayed as the dark stars fell about them. In the boughs, all the birds of lost Carcosa sang sweetly.

Until tonight, Cassilda.

Until tonight, Camilla.