‘Saeka and the Pillars’

21:02 Sun 15 Jul 2007. Updated: 23:23 22 Nov 2010
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When Saeka was but a girl-sorceress, she learned the art of walking between worlds. She would go wherever her fancy took her, driving her teachers to distraction. Only the most powerful among them could follow, and tracking her was a major undertaking. So she wandered the uncounted worlds, indulging her curiosity and avoiding tedious classes.

One day she arrived in a small town on a world whose name she did not know. The people there stared, which she was used to. She said hello, but they turned away from her—even the children, which was rare. She was unable to find any playmates in that town.

Bored, she wandered to its outskirts and looked out over the desert. It was mostly featureless, but in the distance she could see four orange columns. She wanted to ask what they were, but knew the townfolk would not answer. So she flew towards them alone.

As she grew closer, she could see that they were strange pillars indeed. They appeared to be on fire. Closer still, she wondered if rather than being on fire they simply were fire. They loomed, gigantic, at least a hundred men high, ten men a side in length and width. Landing near to one, she sensed they were not inanimate.

Walking near the first one, she said, “Hello. What do you do here, out in the desert?”

There was no response. She went to the second, and said, “Hello, won’t you speak to me?” This time, there was a rushing sound, and the pillar burned more brightly.

She went to the third, and said, “Hello, aren’t you bored?”

With a great roar, the third pillar said, “Begone, child, we have no time for your games!”

She stepped back from its roar and went to the fourth pillar, saying, “Hello, what makes you too busy to play, and your brothers rude besides?”

An even louder roar came from the fourth, which said, “Heed my brother’s words, mortal stripling, and leave us! We rule this desert, and the lands beyond it. Those who live here pay us fealty, and we brook no disturbance!”

“What do you do for them in return?”

“Do? We allow them to be, without covering them and all their works in flame everlasting!”

“Is that all? That doesn’t sound very nice. I don’t like any of you.” So saying, she stuck out her tongue at the pillars. She would have been on her way, but with a terrible red surge all four pillars cried out, “You dare?” The first pillar flicked out a whip of fire to punish her effrontery. Saeka would not suffer this, and with a gesture stopped the stroke. The second pillar shouted, “Witch!”

At that, all four sent giant lashes of flame at her.

Saeka was able to hold off those lashes, but was beaten back. She tried to snuff out some of the tendrils, and then realized that this fire was unlike any she had ever encountered. It was thicker, rougher, hotter. The spells she knew for the control of fire could not take hold of it.

Moments later, she was at the center of a firestorm, flames battering her from all sides. Her wards shone sickly under the onslaught, and she felt the heat closing in, hotter than anything she had experienced before. She knew she had to leave.

She tried to step off the world and found that the four pillars were actively working against that effort. It took her a few moments more to elude their traps, and then she was between worlds.

Saeka arrived in the middle of Amethyst Temple Square uninjured, barely. She was entirely naked and hairless. Even the necklace her grandmother had given her was gone. But as well as being talented, clever, and fearless, Saeka was also level-headed: in her cupped hands, kept alive by her magick, was a piece of the pillars’ flame.

(650 words)

4 Responses to “‘Saeka and the Pillars’”

  1. Frank Says:

    Tadhg, I like this story a lot. In a short space, it leaves me wanting to read more, and to know what happens next. It would be cool to see a sequel, or even a longer story about Saeka and her world (s?). Nice work.

  2. kevintel Says:

    It’s very well written, and I believe Doris Lessing took a shine to it, apart from the pillars, because it comes across like the heroine was sent packing by a male-dominated neo-fascist patriarchy. After the insemination of her hand she gives birth to pillar-children, with lust-laden loins. They go on to rule in an alliance with the obstreperous magician-women in another dimension, and defeat the Icicle-ball Hamster people of Zone 12b, room h.

  3. Tadhg Says:

    Frank: Thanks—maybe I’ll get around to writing the 12-volume Lives of Saeka at some point! Seriously, though, this is one I’m going to consider for longer work in the future.

    Kev: WTF? Did you just randomly stick a critique/parody of a fictional Doris Lessing novel into your comment on this story?

  4. kevintel Says:

    If it looks like a critique/parody of a fictional Doris Lessing novel, and it sounds like a critique/parody of a fictional Doris Lessing novel, then it’s probably a critique/parody of a fictional Doris Lessing novel.

    This is what the woman-mothers of Zone 12b, Room h have taught me. It’s still a well-written short story.

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