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Tainaron by Leena Krohn, 1998

Mail from another city

© Leena Krohn

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Tainaron - Mail from another city





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Passing bells - the twenty-ninth letter


What a rumbling! Over all of Tainaron it spread, echoing from wall to wall, shaking the window-panes and resonating in my own chest. When I pressed my fingers against the table, I could even feel the sound of the ore bells in my fingertips. And my toes, the soles of my feet, my elbows heard it, for the floor, all the soil of Tainaron quivered and resounded.


The prince had died, and now in all the churches, cathedrals and temples of the city, the many of them that there were, passing bells were being rung. They roared from morning to night as if to restore to the deceased the respect which no one had accorded to him before his death.


'What happened to the prince?' I asked the Rhinoceros Beetle. For the cause of his death had not been divulged on the news.


'Him? He just died,' the Rhinoceros Beetle answered, turning his slow gaze upon me. 'It was high time. He was an old man.'


'But was it not almost too fitting a time?'


I had seen, in the heart tower, what I had seen: the thin, expectant form of the prince, huddled on a simple chair which had been set in the middle of the floor without the company of adjutants or even the most lowly guardsman. His cloak was surrounded, like another cloak, by the aura of his fast approaching end. And it was not a natural end.


'Did it not happen very suddenly?'


'No more suddenly than anything else,' the Rhinoceros Beetle growled, even more dully than usual.


Slow-blooded, simple-minded creature! How could Longhorn ever have imagined that the Rhinoceros Beetle could have replaced him as my guide to Tainaron?


'I should like to know what will happen next,' I said.


'Now power will change hands,' the Rhinoceros Beetle said.


'Yes, of course,' I said impatiently. I knew that, of course, but I wanted to find out what it would mean in practice and what kind of leadership Tainaron would now receive. But as I looked at the Rhinoceros Beetle I realised that it was not worth pursuing the subject. I could already see that nothing could have interested him less.


At that moment he glanced at me askance, and behind the membrane that covered his black eyes there flashed something - like amusement. Was the Rhinoceros Beetle really capable of being amused by something? For a moment I felt I might have been mistaken in regard to him, as if his dullness might veil completely different characteristics which he hid for who knew what reason. I tried to find the light again, but his gaze extinguished, as normal. Perhaps the fleeting impression was caused merely by the lighting or by my own state of mind.


'Will you go to a memorial service in one of the temples? What religion do you belong to?' I found myself asking, for I wished to change the subject, which had proved fruitless.


'Each in turn,' he said. 'Naturally.'


'Each in turn? Surely that is not possible,' I said, stunned. And 'naturally' - surely that was too much.


'Why not?' he said, chewing something in his massive jaws. 'One must be impartial. At the moment I belong to the temple of the highest knowledge. Next month I shall move to - oh, I do not think I can remember the name of the parish.'


'But if where you are now has the highest knowledge, why is it worth moving to another parish?'


He did not answer, but chewed and swallowed some tough and gluey substance which from time to time stuck his jaws together. I could still hear the ringing of the passing bells, from both far and high, both low and from quite close by.


'Do you recognise the bells of your own temple?' I asked.


'I think they are the ones that clattering quite close by,' he said. 'Or else those where you can hear a double ring between the low strokes. No, listen, I think after all that they are those slower ones from farther east, that always ring three and one, three and one,' he said.


I listened in vain. I could not distinguish the bells from each other; all I could hear was a roaring in which they were all mixed up. These Tainaronians! I do not suppose I shall ever learn to understand them. I am beginning to be weary of my long visit; yes, now I am weary.


The Rhinoceros Beetle has gone, but the prince's passing bells are still booming. And why should I not admit that today I am plagued by home-sickness. I am sick with home-sickness. But Oceanos is freezing for the winter, and not a single ship will leave the harbour before spring.


The tall trees of my home courtyard are now tossing in the grip of a storm. The slanting brightness of autumn falls into my room. I see the room's books and pictures and carefully chosen things; I remember its calm and its secret joy. It was at just this time of year, before winter, long ago, that you came into my room.


You came into my room as the morning dawned, and I did not know whether I slept or woke. I did not stir, but you, you squeezed your hard, salt-weathered lips silently to my throat, where the pulse beats, and then they pressed my temples and moved, hot, over my eyelids, until finally you felt for my mouth and opened it with your own lips. Then I tasted your taste, the taste of your thirst, and I answered, and answered, and moaned.



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