When the announcement goes up that the Argentine government will be recalling its contingent of the occupation force from the capital she is twenty-one years and eleven months old, and looks the same as she did at sixteen and nine. She was too busy, too wrapped up in the world of the dead and living light, too eternally there (as opposed to anywhere, and not elsewhere, as she had once thought), to have done much to prevent it; it had happened before and by Tempus Spatium it would happen again.
Some measure of respect afforded to her as titular Chief of State of that which was now a Plumbish military frontier, which had before filled that role for Argentum also, did not give her the mercies and peace that they might have expected. Even Rodoreamon could understand only imperfectly how it was. At the least, that respect might be helpful in trying to convince them not to once again defile the holy chariots. Efforts at reverse-engineering them had met with decidedly mixed success, mixed in a way that had shaken even the Spring with the horrors of the richoceting revelations.
And so there was an announcement from the Spring that the Simouns were to be used only for defensive formations and against unmanned portions of supply lines. In swift response, they were used for the first time against the bridges connecting Yurcace and Messeraine, annexed to the Archipelago outright, to the rest of Simulacrum, in the hopes that peace might yet reign again north of the River Bentrasan. That was not how the seventeen thousand Argentine troops already on the ground in the remnant Simulacrum perceived it, and the outer waters ran red in the ensuing ground battles, while the sacred waters remained pure.
When the Argentines accept the offered peace, in response to parades of chors above their capital island indicating the firmness of the Plumbish occupation of the surrounding reefs and banks, she is twenty-four years and five months old, and looks the same as she did at sixteen and nine. She was too busy here, again, in the wandering fluttering of that existence, that existence in the saved space shepherding the dead through the upper sunlit door and the living through the lower caverns to be truly together when their fates are bound and entwined—the choice that they had to make, to justify the position and the power of she who had not, would not, could not.
She was pleased that the Consul of Plumbum had accepted her desire and the Plumbish priestesses’ request that the Simouns not be used to kill, with one exception, when twenty-eight hundred ‘Argies’, as they called them, had died screaming at the Forks of Belial, which had quickly been made right by a mutiny of intransigence on the part of sacred girls. It reminded her of those days, of course, and the beautiful world that only the dead could now really carry inside them. So living and dead both she tried to bear that to them out of the water and light. If they couldn’t hear it then that was only because their logic was constrained, by their sensibilities of opposition and exchange.
She was asked to make a speech. Consul Aamesí was indulgent enough to treat her as an equal for this purpose. She made a speech, with Rodoreamon the Home Secretary standing beside her ranged with the Ecclesiastical Minister and the new Defence Minister and the rest of the wartime cabinet, but it was a day for Military Governor Belcquí, really. It had been he who, knowing full well what he was doing righteous and what he was doing sinful, had used the Holy Land as so helpful and successful an airstrip.
When the news comes from the Highland Capital of the governance decisions that had just been taken there she is twenty-four years and ten months old, and looks the same as she did at sixteen and nine, excepting those parts of her flesh which are beginning at last to very faintly glow. She was too busy with one particular spirit, this time, a spirit around whom and by whom new and exciting ways of doing and being belief could occur if need be, a new martyr for a new age, whom she would not be thinking of this way had this spirit not been her first genuine encounter with the holy that before that time she had believed in without perceiving and trusted without apprehending.
The People’s Church of Plumbum had for the first time in almost a century come to the decision that a wartime Consul’s position did not suit itself to peacetime, and Aamesí was gracious in accepting this despite the procedure’s antiquity. And then it had become clear that they intended the new Consul to be Belcquí, and things had become a bit more complicated. Since the Highlands were now occupying the capitals of two other countries and since Belcquí’s most recent (and current) experience was as Military Governor in one of these capitals, it had to be decided what to do with Simulacrum. Rodoreamon, Interim Vice-Chairman and Head of Government, was able to convince him on this point, and if all went absolutely perfectly, always something of a fool’s proposition (but what was this faith of theirs, what was this world of theirs, if not foolish proposition?), little girls of Simulacrum may be able to soar through the skies once again, training in the Highlands, as allies.
Newly free of all foreign occupation and strong to dispute the position of Yurcace and Messeraine, yet their religion was still changing, having been stripped from them roughly and roughly and only partially restored. Rodoreamon might be able to help with that, with her fierce but unpractised and unexercised spiritual brilliance; theological brilliance might be there also. Yet that wouldn’t change the fact of the blood that stained, now more than ever, the groves where the children of Tempus Spatium had walked in the beforetime, any more than would the fact that they were developing partial helical motors. These things, built in the Highlands, spinning but not sacred, by the simple fact that they were possible to reverse-engineer without the madness attendant to opening the Simouns, had a clear shape and form in the world’s hands. They could power with neither filth nor desecration.
When the proclamations and promises of free alliance go out to two peoples in two nations she is twenty-five years and five months old, and looks still mostly the same as she did at sixteen and nine, with more patches glowing now or becoming transparent in that profoundest unused axis mundi. She was too busy with sweet and soulful thoughts, finally bringing herself back to those, trusting in Rodoreamon, trusting in the dead to whom she was now so close because she had distanced herself, just as in the past she had been far away from them because she tried to seize them with that violent cognition that had made her so baleful a chooser of the slain.
Even Belcquí, ensconced in the Highland Capital, was worthy of some measure of trust in these times. Rodoreamon certainly thought so; she was close now, too, close to the love that had blossomed in the pathless skies, not letting it go even as it drifted further away in time and memory. Yun was still baleful, even now, even though it was now a good and sweet and seemly balefulness of peace and glory and perhaps even of hope, because their world was still warped, and Rodoreamon was clear evidence of that. It was not that there was anything wrong with her; quite otherwise, it was that this was where she was, and that was where Rodoreamon was, even though, putting it simply, Rodoreamon was simply, in every way that mattered any more, more blessed and holier than she was, holy in that kindness and in that absolution and in that love.
After next week she would not hold any formal rank but Lady Kyabyu-Mofas, as Rodoreamon IV, and Member of the House of Counsel, as the Honourable Lady from Belial East. She heard tell that Rodoreamon had taken to spending all night up listening to music on the radio, and that made sense, since she would be trying to relax her spirit, diffident as ever, even as in that former time. To leave the work of government to Altif now—no relation, Rodoreamon assured her—was surely not as onerous as it could have been. It had been the work up until now that was onerous. And now the night was surely starting but it was surely starting without them, because they would become busier, the three of them, three of whom only two were formally with presence. They would be busy with ferocious purpose and joy and togetherness and love in moving forward to where something called real life could be waiting for them, perhaps, and that real life would also be real death in the real world. Rodoreamon, relative to her, already had one foot in the grave, after all, as did Paraietta, and Alti, and Kaimu, and Morinas, and Wapourif, and Floef, and Vyuraf, and everybody except those who had both feet in the grave and no feet, absolutely and forever.
When the news comes in of the coup d’état in the Plumbish capital in which the irredentist army battalions are taking the capital from the hands of Consul and Senate and Church she is twenty-six years old and not yet reached a month, and still has the aspect that she had at sixteen and nine. She was too busy in spanning the worlds in this space that was two spaces and all spaces and no spaces and spanning centuries and hearts between the living in the world of the dead and the dead in the world of the living, and she is ashamed that it does not surprise her in retrospect that it took so short a time.
The irredentists were unable to hold any of the countryside, where the Church commanded its most immense influence and the Army its most paltry, but the Highland Capital remained in their hands for long enough that Belcquí and the People’s Church realised the necessity of a more densely populated base of support. The train carrying the Consul came across the border six weeks after the Highland Capital had fallen, followed two days later by an airship carrying Church leaders and prominent Senators, and the day after that by the two dozen Simouns currently in existence, pending further excavation. Altif was there to greet Belcquí in the Great Temple and to tell her that she might want to give some consideration to appearing from the Spring, which she did in due course for the first time in a span that she did not remember but which she was told was eighteen months. Even her predecessor of her memories and her love and her painful history and salvation had moved about more than this; but then, her predecessor had not been quite such a quietist or a mystic, which after all had been her tragedy.
The name of the face of the junta was General Aaeruí, a cruel fate, somewhat, she thought. Rodoreamon thought so too, and also thought this of her new and former role as Home Secretary when it became clear that Simulacrum ran the risk of being home at least to border skirmishes again. The Sibylla Academies were to be reopened in the Holy Land under the Ecclesiastical Minister’s jurisdiction, and the Ecclesiastical Minister was once again she whom it had been ten years ago, although she was not this time Home Secretary as well. She and Belcquí would seem to have resolved such disputes as had that to that madness a decade ago, and that arrest; of course she the Keeper was one of the privileged few who knew how little it had been madness. It was in any case in Rodoreamon’s hands. This was going to be terrible but hopefully should not take too long.
When the Holy Capital formally becomes host to the Consul of the Highlands as he bombs the Highland Capital from exile she is twenty-six years and four months old, and still has the aspect that she did at sixteen and nine. She deliberately busied herself too much to see, listening to the words of the now at last beatified dead ironic as always, making sure the riots of the world could not reach the hallow that she was trying to construct as best she could though not allowed by some of these assaults of the world and its shaking disasters.
This was not expected to take too long and the use of the Simouns for any aspect of this war had been completely banned. After a short demonstration above the Argentine capital island so that it did not become too restive before it became clear which side the Military Governor of the Archipelago would side with, they were given over to the Ecclesiastical Ministry and the People’s Church of Plumbum for joint flights above international waters, thankfully not a part of this war as they had been of certain other wars one could mention, to pray together for peace. Therefore the objective of the side which she was expected to be supporting by virtue of her unenviable station was to bombard the Highland Capital until the junta leaders surrendered, while the objective of the so-called enemy was to march its forces from the capital through the hostile countryside to the border and conduct raids into Simulacrum until she, she the Keeper, gave up. She would no more give up than she would give more than token to support to her own side, and Rodoreamon seemed likelier and likelier to join her sometime soon.
She wondered, as did the spirit of the dead, what that joining might mean. There would not be two Keepers or Eternal Maidens at the Spring; but Rodoreamon was a sibylla even now, as was that spirit. And there were others out there, too, weren’t there, who had been with them, who had sworn themselves sibyllae still? Rodoreamon was not a conservative political figure, she had been told, yet of course she was, of course she was; they were all extremely so, because they were trying to keep together something precious that if left to the hot winds of history would rapidly cease to be. That was their new ordination.
When it is made obvious to everybody that the air war is going to win out over the ground war and Belcquí will sooner or later, probably within some six months or so, be able to return home, she is twenty-seven years and ten months old, and still has most of the aspect that she did at sixteen and nine. She had become able to keep herself busy even in horrid times like this; even though Simulacrum was not getting bombed the horrid cries of the Plumbish children, who were having the most horrible reprisals done against them, and those maidens who wanted to go to their Oracle for their sex but could not because of the fighting around that place, had reached her and saddened and chastened her prayers.
Belcquí had been as respectful to Simulacrum and its people since the end of that first few days after the end of the war that started the whole dirty business as he had been disrespectful during those few days. He was treated as an allied leader being given a temporary home in Simulacrum because his own home was currently unavailable to him, nothing more, nothing less, and had no complaints or requests for any other kind of treatment. The People’s Church of Plumbum had sent priestesses to her here a few times to talk about Tempus Spatium—Animus—God, the singular and double and in a few vague whispers perhaps even triple God, and she wanted desperately to continue the conversations, but she did not know how. Rodoreamon thought she might have an idea.
Rodoreamon, who thought that perhaps if she became the most brilliant theologian ever to live, she would somehow, even if not in this world, deserve to see Mamiina again.
Rodoreamon, who had deserved it ever and anon.
The war was over quickly enough after that. Yet the fact remained that even quickly enough was not actually ‘quick enough’ for a war to be over. It never had been, nor had there been any war before which things were not, in some sense, even vague or general, better than things after. She would be surprised if there ever was.
When Yun was thirteen years old, she decided to become a sibylla to love and serve and honour Tempus Spatium in the skies, because that was how one loved and served and honoured Tempus Spatium as a member of such rural middle classes as there were. She was very talented, though not quite so much so as Mamiina, and a cadet for a little under two years during the period of sporadic raids. Shortly after her fifteenth birthday upon becoming a sibylla she was assigned to Chor Caput and made a lot of new friends, serious and devoted people, fine comrades all of them. That had gone as was obvious, more or less, and then all of the business had happened with Chor Tempest and the defeat. Since the defeat, there had been two victories, at least victories of sorts. Yurcace and Messeraine were probably gone for good at this point, once Argentum had a transitional government properly in place. The faith was being restored, but the trauma remained. It was not the same faith. Water did not pass twice under the same bridge.
Except her water. She was here, always, and never. Alive and dead, having saved through sacrifice that which it had not been possible to save, because it had been separated from her by her own false and supercilious sense of closeness. She was of that spiritual line of Dominura and Limone the First Maidens, and of Onashia who had tried so very hard to be the Last Maiden. Who and what she was set her apart, but because she had no illusions it drew her back again. And all were drawn together in her, all who had been with her in the beauty and romance and passion of the Eternal Blue Sky in those days. What wonders they had been able to make.
Eternal Blue Sky. That was what they were calling it. The First Ecumenical Meeting and Prayer of the Keeper of the Blue Spring and the Oracle of Hieron Mountain was at hand, at they were talking about the work coming out of the seminaries and the actual experiences of the churches. Yun’s personal story would have to be somehow relevant but she was really more interested in Rodoreamon’s right now. Rodoreamon’s personal story was: That they had to love one another, otherwise who else could? There was nobody who could, because that one Divinity, only one, was also countless. Only one and yet countless. As she had received so much love and so much desire and yet it all bent around only one figure and only one heart. As the withered heaths of autumn by her many had grown so many flowers but they had been simply one expanse of purple as she gazed at them pensively from her cool study. As she had turned so much into and out of and through her love but it had remained.
The spirit, one of the countless spirits and with and of the one perfect intellect of the Eternal Blue Sky, was laughing.
If she ended this in a role of a church of two nations, who then should be Chairman? Altif, perhaps? It seemed Anubituf had taken a seat in the Renlas Terrain and had some support in this House as it now was. She should like to see him again, if she could.
The world turned on. The Oracle laughed to greet her at this spot along the mountain paths of the borders, where an old stone ampitheatre had been. The trees speared upwards the pine branches like thousands of cathedrals. The blood of the children of Daikuuriku called out from the bottom of Hell, the place, to the summits of the sky, the placeless place to which the gateless gate might lead. That was their logic because it was their aesthetic, that sacrifice. No matter what happened to the country or the countries or the church or the churches in this ambiguous and shattered and twisted perverted victory there would be, for them, always some hope for warmth, some hope for transfiguration, which even a fading church, as theirs both might after all be destined to be, should carry forward. If it did not, cast off that church and take up a new burden. Let it be a burden of the same love. Let all burdens be of that love. The world was an expanse of gorgeous roses until suddenly from beneath that garden came up again the stench of blood. There was no beauty there, and if it was beautiful was all that mattered. So their songs of prayer drew that line between loved and hated things, drew it and transgressed it; transgressed it and drew it. And on and on and on.
World without end. And a Dandelion Ri Maajon to seal it true.