Copyright Katherine Dewey. All rights reserved. [last revision: August, 2008]

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Digby is a 20-chapter, 120,000-word novel in progress drawn from the myth and lore of Kerhune. The first two chapters are presented here for enjoyment and your comments.
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Chapter One

In all the world there is but a single city. The rest is hinterland and sea, places without consequence though not without people. The hinterfolk of Kerhune have no need for such settlements. But for a few stick-in-the-muds, stagnant folk who have put down roots, the hinterfolk are a transient lot. Migrants and nomads, pilgrims and seekers, they linger for a season or two in one place and then move on when the urge and itch strike. Some travel north, others south or west. A few journey east, but never beyond the great ranges, never east of all. Why travel to a place that is only rumored to exist?

Deities & Domains
Rahm's Daughter



The music in his voice was so bright and whole, she believed him. But then Malick was no simple Singer. When he spoke, words had weight. When he sang, sounds had substance. At long last the Guildkin had heard the same in Malick; his days as an impoverished apprentice were at an end. They had given him a site of his own to study. A First Age find, old beyond imagining, the Rim was a thesis beyond measure. And so he told his wife.

"The Rim?" she asked.

"World's End, luv. East of all."

World's End seemed a far distant place, and Sethe was not pleased at the thought of another season without her husband, another season spent scrimping and scratching alone. "How long will you be away this time?" she asked.

Malick grinned and then he laughed. We will be away," he said, "for a full season."

"Jehm, too? But we can't afford it."

"We can," he insisted. "Payid prodded a bit, himself and Sorhen. Fathom that, luv. I can't. The Prime Prodder and Sorhen working together. Imagine. She come down from her eerie just to sing and spin for our sake. Oh, she can be sweet and subtle when she wishes. Naturally, the Guildkin couldn't resist. It's their wherewithal we'll be spending.

"Oh, it's a shining place, Sethe. Imagine, just imagine, all of us together at the edge of the world."

She did, and in her mind's eye, saw a shimmering border and the great void beyond it.

"You'll love it. I promise you, and Jehm will love it, too. It's old, very old."

"Older than Ware?" She asked.

"Older than Kerhune Tor and with a fine prospect. There's a grand view of the River of Dust. Imagine."

Again Sethe did and saw their lives unfolding in a magnificent Rhune relic overlooking the banks of a fabled river. There was Jehm running through grand galleries and halls, all of it carved with intricate glyphs and glamors. A season in splendor -- that was Malick's promise and the foundation of her imaginings. Wondrous!

Within a nineday they set sail across the Dry Sea. Weighed down with a season's supplies, the runners of their small cog ground up the gray shale of the ancient sea bed. Plumes of gritty dust glittering with Ghostfire followed in their wake. Seated in the high shouldered bow, Sethe held her daughter tight and pointed at the broad outriggers, trim skiffs and light gigs sailing ahead of them with easy grace. "Look," she cried, "All of the Guildkin of the Wysrund off for the season. By the Nine! I've never seen so many craft running free."

Jehm gave her mother a sidelong glance. "Never?" she asked doubtfully.

"Never," Sethe admitted.

"But you're a Mouther, Mama, boat born and bred"

"True, but the Mouth of the World is no small place. It's as wide as the Wysrund and with thrice as many people, most of them stick-in-the-muds. Only the Tongue folk run free, but they're a loose lot, so said my father who ran with them in his youth. In the Throat thousands have lashed their boats together so tightly you can near walk the width of the river without getting your feet wet. Almost a city it is, though none would call it that. 'Just here for the season,' they say. 'Just waitin' for the urge and itch. Waiting, just waiting.'" Sethe shrugged and smiled and scratched absently at her brow. "Seasons come and go, luv, but with every change of season, there's newer potions for the urge, better lotions for the itch, so folk just wait."

"For what?"

"The call to Ware, of course."

"Of course." Jehm nodded as if she were that wise, as if she knew what it was to be a pilgrim and seeker. "It came for you, Mama," she said.

She thought it had, but in truth it was the urge and itch that drove her east, that and a little gray man who drove her farther east beyond the Rivermouth, beyond plains, beyond the mountains, far beyond Ware. Such black eyes he had. Such a wise and wizened face.

'Are you come from the One City?' She asked him. 'Are you come for me?'

'Yes', he told her, and again, 'Yes.' He raised a knotty, brown hand with twiggy fingers and pointed towards the rising eye. 'That way. You'll find what you seek that way.'

That way, indeed!

Jehm settled back in her mother's arms. "Was it hard, Mama?"

"Was what hard, luv?"

"The Pilgrim Road."

"I don't remember. One foot in front of the other, that's all."

Jehm heard her mother's voice change to a minor key. "Don't be sad, mama."

"I'm not," she said. "Hush now. Watch, just watch. Isn't the desert beautiful?"

In the brilliance of midday, the dark shale of the ancient sea bed shone like water, its surface rippling as rays of light bent in the thermal gradients. "The true sea looks like that," she told her daughter, "sometimes blue, sometimes green and with that same milky mist in the distance, just like that."

"Hold tight," Malick shouted. "Rough rock ahead." He paid off and luffed the sail, slowing to skirt Lugh's Teeth and then heeling east by northeast across the lava flows. Ahead of them lay four days of hard sailing on jagged ground.

Not that Sethe noticed roughness of the clinker strewn terrain. Buoyed by the music of Malick's voice, she focused on the future and the change it would bring to their lives. Wondrous!

The wonder wore thin the moment they arrived, the moment Sethe realized the relic was a ruin, the shimmer was dust, and all of it was haunted.

"This is the Rim?" She asked, her voice dropping a full third. "This?"

Malick shrugged and pointed east. "World's End is that way."

"But this is it. This is where we'll live, yes?"

He nodded.

"In the company of Ghosts?" Her voice dropped another third. The notes soured.

Another nod. "It's a Rhune site," Malick told her. "But so many," she said warily. "So hard by."

Again, "It's a Rhune site."

Indeed, the creatures were everywhere. Iridescent, immaterial beings, they soared over head and danced through the ruins. Compressing wave forms, creating particles, gathering dust, one took a form somewhat human and danced toward them. With fiery fingers, it reached out. With a voice like the rustling of dry leaves, it called Jehm's name. Sethe trembled and pulled her daughter close. She hissed and the ghost danced away, leaving a trail of Ghostfire in its wake. There and then, she determined the Rim was no place for a child, her child.

"It's too wild, too remote, and our daughter's altogether too curious. You don't know," she told her husband. "You're always gone. You're never there to empty her pockets at night. She's forever finding things and losing herself."

He smiled. "Like you?"

Sethe frowned. "Like both of us."

Looking down at his daughter, he said, "You will always stay hard by, Jehm. Always and ever."

There it was again -- that perfect pitch, that remarkable range. Sethe marveled at its purity and color, unwavering from register to register. His voice was oh, so compelling when he prodded Jehm. Still, she knew it was not that simple, not with Jehm. A sweet song for their sweet daughter did not settle the matter in this unsettling place. "You don't understand. She's extraordinary. One prod is never enough."

"Never?"

"Never."

As her parents discussed her extraordinary nature, Jehm began exploring. Mindful of her father's prod, she scrambled over low shrubs, whirled within the stone circles, and poked about the streams of dust, but she was never out of sight and always hard by. Within minutes she had trimmed her coppery hair with pink cockle burrs, blue prickly buds and gray sage. Her pockets bulged with brightly banded pebbles, emerald eyed beetles, a gray feather and the tiny, white skull of a dune herring. In one hand she held a horned leper and in the other a spotted whiptail. When her pale eyes caught sight of something pearly half buried in the dust, Jehm squealed with delight. She dropped the leaper and the lizard, and then tugged hard at the pearly thing. Another squeal, another tug, and she held in her hands a reptile skin as large as herself.

Sethe glared at her husband and swore. The Rim was daimon country.

"The ghosts," Malick said firmly, "will watch over us."

"Myth! Stuff and nonsense! You don't really believe that."

"Ah, luv," he said gently, "all these years and you still don't understand."

"Understand what?"

"It's the Wysrund."

As if she understood everything that meant, every different thing. A decade in the desert, and she was still lost, still a stranger to Wysrundi ways. A headstrong, headlands girl from the Mouth of the World, Sethe had set out on the Pilgrim Road and lost her way. Seeking the City of God she discovered the legendary Country of the Dead, instead. That it existed was a revelation. That its people lived without sacraments, without grace was another. That they kept company with ghosts had stunned her most of all.

"The Wysrund," Malick said, "where myth is the truth that has survived. Because of them," he added. "Because of the ghosts."

She almost believed him, but for this place, this hard and haunted, daimon riddled place.

With his boot he nudged the pool of shimmering plasma left by the ghost. It glowed brightly for a moment, flashing with color. "At least," he noted, "we won't be powerless. That's enough to drive the stove and the still for a nineday."

Enough, thought Sethe, to recharge the runners on the cog, enough for a journey home.

"All the comforts," Malick said. "That's what we'll have."

"Comforts? What comforts? There's no roof, no floor, and one wall. Only the Nine know what there is or isn't this daimon riddled place." Pleased with herself, she folded her arms and smiled grimly.

"What did you expect, Sethe?"

"I thought--." She sighed and shook her head. "I thought it would be grand," she said.

"Ah."

"And beautiful."

"Ah."

There was nothing grand nor beautiful about the Rim. The singular wall bore no glyphs, no glamors, none of the elaborate stonework so characteristic of the Rhune. Too, it was crumbling. That was the first oddity. She counted nine crude circles of partially dressed stone, the stone blackened by a thick crust of desert varnish. She counted as many arches of curiously twisted metal spanning a broad and broken road of Dry Sea shale. All of it had the look of a work unfinished or a work destroyed. That was the second oddity. Covering all, most curious of all, was the fine sand that flowed like water through the site. Wind blown runnels formed pools or small dunes that crested like waves and then broke into a rippling film of glittering, white powder.

"There's nothing here," Sethe said softly. She looked to the east, her black eyes following the broken road up the gentle rise. Beyond it, she nothing but Ghostlight. "Nothing but oddities and dust and them." She jerked a thumb at the sky, at the ghosts dancing there. "I can't shift in their presence. You know I don't have the control. It's too much for me, and I won't live out of Phase and out of touch for a whole season. A shiftless life--."

Malick touched a finger to her lips. "Shiftless moments, shiftless lives," he said, "have their advantages."

But she did not have his advantages. Malick was Wysrundi born and Mindsinger bred. The motes and mites were in his blood, in his marrow. Fimbria, fine as antlers, crowned his brow. External axons studded with receptors, the array of neuron rich tissue gleamed like rubies. Synaptic links formed readily. Phase Shift came easily, even the rigors and rewards of Anaphase. He was that strong.

By comparison, Sethe's fimbria were dull and delicate. Little more than lacy tendrils, her array fluttered with like so many feathers in the gentlest of breezes. A simple Singer of limited skills, she shifted into and out of Phase erratically, only through the grace of the Singermind and rarely in the presence of ghosts. In such close company, the white noise of Ghostsong overpowered her. She heard too many voices, all the wrong voices. She was that weak.

"You will learn, luv," he assured her. "You will change."

Her dark, deeply faceted eyes brimmed with tears. Her fimbria quivered for a moment and then laid to rest. How they had itched of late! She scratched her brow and laughed. Harsh and humorless, the joyless string of notes had no music in them. "When?" she asked hoarsely. "It's been ten years. When?"

"Soon, luv. Very soon."

Gods! The power of his voice. Again, she believed him. She found faith in his music and was astonished by it. She threw her arms around him and wept for joy that this man loved her. He had chosen her above all those darkly beautiful Wysrundi women. How handsome they were, and so full of grace! She envied their ebony skin and their sharply defined features. Lithesome and lean, they moved with such startling elegance, like willows in the wind. Every step, every gesture was fluidic and refined She was nothing compared to them, nothing.

A typical Mouther, that's all she was. Short, plump and perennially sun burnt, she was a little mouse of a girl with a round face and soft features. There was nothing remarkable about Sethe save for her waistlength, brown hair and the scrollwork of tattoos that covered her body. Did he delight in her difference? Was it that simple?

She drew in a deep breath and then another and released him. "Why so many ghosts?" she asked.

He smiled and set Jehm on his shoulders. "Why don't we find out." He held out a hand to his wife. "Come, luv. Come see the great wonder of the Wysrund and the world."

Such music he had in him! "Are you prodding me?"

"I promised you a season in splendor."

"Are you prodding me?"

"Never."

And so she followed him. Reluctantly, cautiously she made her way up the gentle rise toward the bright, blue-white light at World's End. Malick gave the curious arches a wide berth, telling her they still held a charge and prodding Jehm that she must always do the same. Long before they reached the Rim, Sethe heard and felt a low, rumbling hum that grew to a deafening roar. She closed her leafy ears so tightly they resembled small buds. "What's that sound?"

"The falls," he shouted.

As they drew closer, Sethe realized the light was a low cloud of spray thrown up by the churning falls, yet the air was impossibly dry. He led her onto a broad shelf of rock, a high railed balcony cut into the cliff face. Here, at last, Sethe saw the complex carving she had expected and imagined, proof of the forerunner Rhune. She bent down and ran her fingers over the delicately rendered filigree of spirals interlaced with zoomorphic forms. "It's marvelous."

Malick tapped her shoulder. "Just a little farther," he said, drawing her up and toward the railing. He pointed. "There."

Tens of miles wide and hundreds of miles long, the River of Dust left her breathless and speechless. Far below her the river coursed through canyons and deep gorges cut into age old sediments thousands of feet thick. Each of the rock layers within the canyons wore away in its own fashion. Shales eroded to slopes; softer sandstones and limestones formed cliffs; resistant basalts produced steep-walled palisades. Within the inner gorges, vertical fractures forged tall pillars and island remnants that seemed float in the brilliant wind swept currents of chalk white dust.

Deposits of iron, traces of magnesium and copper had stained the surface of the rock walls creating stunning bands of color. Each band represented an interval of time during which a particular environment of deposition prevailed, but many of the layers were separated by gaps of unrecorded time. Underlying all, were the oldest igneous and metamorphic rocks, each very different from the sedimentary layers above them. The ancient schists and gneisses, billions of years old, formed the very basement rock of the plateau, if not the world.

Tens of thousands of ghosts danced along the canyon walls and drifted in the currents. On wings of white fire they soared over head and then dipped low, skimming over the river. Bolts of energy leapt from their shimmering bodies into the dust, charging it.

Finding her voice, Sethe cried out that it was, "Beautiful!" And again, "Beautiful!"

"It flows," shouted Malick, "with currents and eddies, cataracts and pools. No one's ever been able to trace its route, no one. Like Ware, it is obscured by its own existence." Malick grinned suddenly and spread his arms wide. "This is my work, this river."

A puzzled Sethe shook her head. "No. The 'Riddle of Ourselves', that's your work. That's always been your work, not this."

Malick set Jehm down and with a gesture prodded her not to move. He gathered a handful of dust and poured it into Sethe's hand. "Like water," he said, "and as needful. This is the 'Riddle of Ourselves'."

Still puzzled, "I don't understand."

Malick shifted into Phase. He released a strand of volatile molecules bound within a golden breath, neurotransmitters coded to interact with the biota of Kerhune. Those infinitesimal motes and mites that lived in its crust, swam in its rivers and seas, rode on its winds and flourished within the Wysrundi Singers. Feeding on Phase gases, attracted to ion flow, the nanosymbiotes replicated the strand, creating a synaptic link joining Malick to Sethe. This is who we are.

"How are you doing this?" she cried. "In presence of so many ghosts, how? Why can I hear, feel, you and only you?"

Another handful of dust. It formed a ring of ripples in her palm. Again: This is who we are, the source. These are motes and mites, Sethe, not dust. And then: Forgive me, luv. It's time. Past time, and you are ready.

Another breath, another strand, particles aligned within a plane of itemized atoms, the motes gathered them together and spun a thread of thought that drew Sethe into Entry Phase and then into Deep Phase. In that heavy state, the world swallowed her whole. Acuity increased five fold. A wealth of sights, sounds and scents embraced her more thoroughly, more intimately than the Singermind. Enveloped in the fullness of now she was aware of an intensity of colors, hues saturated with light. Fully cognizant of the electric desert air, she heard the faint crackle it made, smelled the aroma of ozone, and saw the remnants of oxidation coloring the world blue. That was the least of sensations and the most remarkable.

Acquisition begins in the Rush , the deepest level of Phase. Armed with Null Input, we collate data, explore possibilities and generate probabilities. Your life is your input.  It has a shape, but no purpose. Give it purpose. Shift again. Shift deeper. What do you hear?

"The Voice of the World, the Mindsong. It's dissonant, unstable. Why?"

This is a boundary between Phase and Rush. Boundaries are unresolved zones, in flux.

"I want consonance," she said, "stability and harmony."

Create it.

"How?"

Shift again, into Data Rush. What do you see?

"Light." Brilliant, searing light. Deadly light. "Gods!" she cried, "I never. . .I never. . ."

It was the Nexus, the shining, pulsing knot of power at the center of the Singermind. Infinitesimal threads of energy and thought intertwined to form a fluted whorl, all of Kerhune perceived in a shape sacred to the Singer psyche, all of Kerhune bound together. Seething tentacles of light and power thrust outward. Feelers, sticky with purpose, snatched up the delicate threads of the newly born, weaving them into the fold. Others worked furiously to rid the Nexus of recently dead, unraveling and then cutting the fading cords. Orbiting the Singermind, satellites darted among the feelers. Each was a life with a singular will. Each was a Mindsinger. Free of constraint, they wove their own fibrous network, a loosely knit structure in constant flux. Bolder and brighter, the satellites danced rings around the Singermind.

Find yourself, Sethe, Malick told her. Set yourself free.

Attuned to its vibrations, bound by the same fundamental frequency, Sethe knew immediately the slender strand that was her life. Sentient feelers stung as she worked to loosen it from the Nexus. Her wounded psyche cried out and she screamed in turn.

Strike back.

She did. Burning with a finer fury, she lashed out. The feelers withdrew. At last the strand was free. She was free. The undifferentiated consciousness that was the Singermind curled in on itself, its song a forlorn keening difficult to ignore.

Listen to me, Malick urged. Only to me.

You are free for the moment, only for the moment. The Nexus is gathering strength, It will strike again, sing again and then it will be irresistible. Step through Lugh's Gate into Anaphase. When you are ready, shift into Null. You must control Null.

"How will I know?"

You will.

"How?"

You will. Shift now, Sethe. Step through the gate, now.

She looked through the gateway into the shadowy realm of Anaphase and was terrified. "No!" She struggled to pull away, but Malick held her firmly in his arms. "No!"

If you don't, you will always and ever be a sod, bound to the Singermind, subject to the whims of others.

"I won't. I can't!"

You can. You will. We'll take you. "Take her hand, Jehm. Hold her tight and don't let go."

The shift into Anaphase came swiftly. The pain of Phase withdrawal hit hard. In that sensory deprived state the heart did not beat and the lungs did not breath. In the gap between synapses, the realm between realities, Sethe was aware of nothing save profound loss. Wracked with grief for her dispossessed self, she cried out. The need, the urge, to shift back into Phase and embrace its richness, all but consumed her. She fought the urge and won, not that it mattered. In the silent, gray world such a victory had no meaning, no dimension. She craved depth, or the illusion of it. She closed her eyes, and realized that it made no difference. She opened them again, looked up and saw Malick's face. Colorless and lifeless, his features were flattened like an old relief, eroded and devoid of detail. Beside him she saw a bright and gaseous glow. "Jehm," she cried, "is that you? I want. I want." Oh! to touch that light, to feel that warmth, to feel something, but Jehm was far away.

Too far.

Gone. . ..

The shift into Null was as difficult as the shift into Anaphase. A heartbeat, a breath, another heartbeat, and she sustained that Null, astonished by the subtleties and undercurrents. In this state of subdued sensory perceptions, Sethe realized Null defined Phase. She rejoiced in her first clear, strong vision of the world -- the river and the canyons it had carved, beautiful and powerful beyond imagining. She reveled in the sensation of Malick's hand gripping her own. Warm and moist, it pulsed with life. She kissed it, savoring the salty, sweet taste that was her husband. And there was Jehm saying, "We never let go, Mama, never." Ah, the sweetness of that sound, like music! "They held onto me," Jehm said, "and I held onto you."

"They?"

"The ghosts, Mama."

She knew that. Yes, she knew that! Without Jehm, without the ghosts, she could not have shifted into Anaphase so readily; that was Jehm's doing. Jehm, her null daughter. Jehm, who would never shift for herself. The ghosts were the driving force, but Jehm was the conduit, the connection between one state and another. Joined together they could send Phase bound Singers into Anaphase and draw them out again. The ghosts, she realized, offered a different kind of grace than the Singermind. Acquisition was different sacrament. She was Wysrundi, now. With each shift into Phase and Anaphase, each exchange of motes and mites, it would soon be in her marrow. Wysrundi down to the bones. Looking into Malick's black eyes, she said. "Your people keep too many secrets."

"Are you angry, luv?"

"Oh, yes," she said, only that, but she was grinning when she said it.

It took all of her strength to turn away from the river and ghosts. Reluctantly, she took Jehm's hand and headed back to their cog anchored in the cool shadow of the Rim wall. Malick followed her.

Together, they set to work unpacking, but Sethe's thoughts were focused on the River of Dust. She had thought it was a metaphor and said as much. "You people," she told her husband, "are so fond of them." Gleaners harvested words, not crops. Spinners twisted meanings, not yarn. Weavers crafted tales, not cloth. "Still, I should have known," she said brightly. "I should have realized. If the Dry Sea is exactly that, why should the River of Dust be any different?"

"It's the Wysrund," he said.

Sethe laughed. How she laughed!

* * *

Carved from a mountain of columnar basalt, Kerhune Tor dominated the Wysrund Plateau. When the mountains were craggy peaks, the high desert green country and the Dry Sea a sheltered lagoon, it had been a city unto itself and home to thousands. Now, it was home to one -- the Mindsinger Sorhen Sloe. From her vantage point, a wind whipped chamber high up in the tower, she could see and hear all of the comings and goings of Toth Camp. It was winter home of those Guildkin whose work did not take them into the field and it was a quiet place most days. Very few came and went. Very little was sung or said. But, on this day the old Mindsinger heard whoops of delight and saw many a Wysrundi dancing. So, she thought, the little mouse of a Mouther had done it. Well and good. Well and good. She turned to the ghost who had shared her chamber of late and asked, "What are you grinning at, Ghost?"

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