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Magical bears in the con.., p.14
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       Magical Bears in the Context of Contemporary Political Theory, p.14

           Jenna Katerin Moran
 
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  - 1 -

  Deep under the world is Hans, who first made sense of things. Hans, who built the world from chaos. Hans the smith; Hans the farmer; Hans the dwarf.

  Sometimes people do bad things.

  Hans loves the world. He doesn’t live in it. He keeps his farm in the cavernous darkness, under the surfaces of things, instead.

  His farm is beneath the centipede that writhes inside the world. It is past, and under, the Great Gate. It is past and beyond the bridge where march the soldiers of the dead. It is not all that far from Hell.

  If you were to go to visit him you would have to find your way past all those things, and past the Weave-wid too, and many other dangers; but when those trials were behind you, you would find yourself in a realm of gentle rolling hills and growing things—among the houses of the svart-alfar, where certain fairy-tale things survived. You would walk then their roads and taste possibly of their grapes and marvel at their wonders and the triumphs; and there you would find Hans’ farm, too, with its stone in many colors, its caves and its grottos, its fields and its artificial sky.

  Each morning there, a sun-bird rises. It bursts from Hans’ sun-bird eggs. It tears free of its enclosure. It plummets upwards, strikes its head against the stalactites of the caverns, cracks its head open, bursts into flames, and gives over the roof to glow.

  This fades eventually into night.

  The night has only shining echoes and memories of that morning frenzy. Crystal veins throb with subtle luminescence. Butterflies flutter, flicker, glow. The slime of the moon-beast’s fur has taken in the sunlight; it reflects it, slowly; it doles out that reflection, in gleams and glitters and pale shimmers, through all the hours of the dark.

  It is a beautiful farm, but it is a doleful farm, for the things Hans does are bad.

  It is bad to write blank checks to a wallaby.

  Oh, Hans, it is bad.

  It distracts the wallaby from the things of life. It makes the wallaby perplexed. The beast has no place in its mind to hold the checks, and one too many options in its flesh. It is not ready to be rich, that wallaby; Hans has ruined it. If one day it should fill out and cash those checks, a terrible accounting is sure to come.

  It is bad to tape two emus to the wall. It is bad to sharpen a goat. It is all right to sharpen the cheese of a goat. I cannot say why you should, or why you would, but if you do or if you’ve done then I am sure that it shall be all right. If you’ve wanted a particularly sharp wheel, for instance, or a tangier flavor—that’s fine.

  But do not sharpen the goat itself.

  It is down there now, below there now, Hans’ goat. It is sawing, sawing, sawing on the bars that are its pen. It is tossing its head now, cutting the wooden boards of its enclosure’s ceiling with its great sharp head. Then it is back to its principal work. Its eyes gleam with goat-wroth—with that fey, hircine obsession with their own sharpness that is given to certain goats. It is sawing, sawing, sawing on the steel bars that are its cage. It is growing sharper, ever sharper against the whetstone of that cage.

  Is that really Hans’ fault? It is.

  If he hadn’t caught it, if he had not kept it, then it would have killed its way across the continents. It would have been the pike-goat, the sene-goat, it would have slaughtered thousands and left its tracks across the earth, but then some dull bear would have gotten it, some hero, some champion. It would have ravaged but it would have died, before it had grown so sharp as this.

  It’s not a good goat. It wouldn’t have been a good goat. It’s probably unfair to blame Hans for that. So let’s blame Hans for something else.

  Hans!

  It is bad to glue soldier ants to a thread. Oh, Hans. It is bad.

  It is good to spin thread, I think. It is good to have glue. It is bad to make glue out of the forbidden horses, but to have glue? That is good as a general thing.

  That far—that far you may go, and be OK.

  But to lure a mega-colony of soldier ants out onto your thread, only to gum them up there, uncomfortable and wobbling, when the glue finally takes hold—

  That isn’t good, Hans! That’s just mean!

  They wiggle there. They struggle and they jiggle there. They jiggle on the net that Hans has woven; of thread and glue and soldier ants has woven; at the boundary line between Hans’ farm and Hell, that is deep beneath the earth.

  It is bad to—

  Listen. Listen. I know that a lot of people think that this is hip, but it is not hip. I know that Hans was doing it centuries before any of you modern hipsters were alive, but that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even matter that people will do it so freely and unashamedly in the modern circuses. It is bad to whisk a duck.

  Oh, Hans! It is bad.

  Look at it. Look at it hanging there. That duck! It was quacking vigorously and it was fluttering and it was a very angry whisking duck indeed and maybe it seemed while it was quacking that all things would be well; but now he has whisked it too furiously and it is dead and now its spirit can never rest.

  It glowers there.

  Hans seizes up its spirit. He weaves it to other things. It becomes part of a chain to bind the nithrid: that binds it down, that lids it, that seals it in its nithrid-hole, somewhere deep beneath the earth.

  For that! For that, he would whisk a duck!

  The duck-ghost hungers. The duck-ghost glowers. The duck-ghost struggles. It enchains. It endures its whisked existence, as it has no option but to do.

  It un-lives out its painful centuries on Hans’ farm, beneath the earth.

  - 2 -

  Before Hans, there were heroes and heroines in their shining mail and great beasts with a thousand fangs.

  There was a magic for each of us, a hope for every one of us, an answer ready to hand for each of us, before Hans bound down the world to sense.

  There was Edmund’s princess—look! You can see her. And over there, there’s Sally’s prince. She’d have both her eyes left if he had been there. And she wouldn’t be trapped in that crevasse!

  If you’ll look to your left, there’s a crow that could have saved Linus Evans. It’s a talking crow. More importantly, it’s a crow that knows the secrets of the world and loves people like Linus Evans. It could have saved him from his awful fate; would have saved him, had they met. There was even somebody for Emily, back then, although—well, she’d hardly need that, would she? What with having Navvy Jim.

  They were there, though, all the host of them. In the days before Hans’ dominion they shone glorious and bright. Some of their stories yet remain, on the scroll of evil prophecy. They are written there—in letters of gold. There were heroes and fairy-tale villains then, but the world grew cold.

  Serpent-kings cast up their empires. Magic carpets flew . . .

  . . . but the world grew cold.

  “We shall die,” said the princes, and the princesses with their golden hair.

  “We shall die,” said the beasts that spoke, and the witches, and the frogs.

  “We shall die,” they said. “The world grows cold.”

  Listen.

  Hans, it was, who dreamt of such an ending. Hans, who stomped the flat world round. Hans who climbed the sacred mountain; who spoke forbidden words upon it; who brought dread winter down upon the world.

  There had been unicorns, and chimera. Dragons too, and the gods of trees, but there are not now.

  The winter came. It stormed out, to Hans’ will. It brought an end to the age of fairy-tale things.

  Some endured beneath the Earth or on distant worlds. Some hid in the shadows, some in the deeps, or found some hidden corner of the globe.

  Only some, though.

  The winter froze the rest of them. It buried them, it sealed them deep, and then Hans locked the winter itself away.

  The age of fairy-tale things ended, and they passed away with it; though, to be precise, they did not die. Not really. Not quite.

  They are out there still, if you know where to look for them. Th
ey are buried under the ice.

  - 3 -

  Saul is a kid. He’s a smith-dwarf kid, a svart-elf kid. He grows up in the fields and the lich-rows. He plays among the eoliths and the cobblestones that are deep under the surfaces of things.

  He milks the blood-draugr. He collects the lung-eggs. He hauls hay into Barnface. It is a lot of work.

  “I wish I could skip my chores,” he says, miserably, one evening.

  “I’m sorry, honey,” says Aubrid, who is his mom. She musses his hair. “It’s just, if you’re bad, Hans will prison you away.”

  “I know,” Saul sighs.

  He doesn’t complain after that. Not for years and years. He just grows up.

  One day he finds a puppy. It’s a naturally formed puppy—it’s growing out of an eolith, and its body hasn’t decided whether it wants to be one wolf or three wolves yet. It has three heads and it is drooling acid. It is struggling to break itself loose from the rock. It looks very hungry, as puppies often do while they are being born.

  Saul walks closer. The puppy yaps at him.

  “Oh, come on,” says Saul.

  The puppy glints its eyes at him. It snaps at the air. Then it hesitates.

  Saul pulls a steak out of his svart-bag. It is wrapped in paper; he unwraps it. He holds it out to the puppy. Originally the steak was for the river-men, but they can go hungry for a day. What is the worst that can possibly happen?

  The puppy whimpers, then it hangs its head. It lets him approach. It snaps free the steak. It chews on it between two of its heads and it lets him pet the runt.

  Saul has a hammer now. He has palmed it when the puppy wasn’t looking. He hammers the puppy free of the stone.

  It falls to the ground with a clunk.

  “There now,” Saul says. He ruffles its heads. It finishes the steak. It looks at him.

  It loves him, utterly and totally, from that moment on.

  He tries to hammer the rest of it free, if only so he can figure out whether it’s currently one puppy with three heads or three puppies with their bodies stuck together, but he can’t. The joints are too close to the puppy’s spine—he can’t hammer them very hard!

  “I’ll take you home,” he says.

  Saul now has a puppy. It helps him with his work. (Well, ‘helps.’) They play together in the fields.

  And he grows up.

  “Mother,” he says, one day, “I think that I am working harder than I must, simply to not be bad.”

  “I know,” she says.

  “Why?”

  “If you’re good,” she tells him. “If you’re good, if you’re good enough, then the sugar fairies will come and they will carry you away.”

  “. . . oh,” says Saul.

  He goes back to work. He fixes the tractor. He rebinds the limbs of the great round-bellied field demon. He leaves some milk and shoes out at night for the cobblers to fix.

  That’s the kind of life one gets, a svart-elf among svart-elves, in their fields and farms and caves and palaces underneath the earth.

  Saul goes to school, when he’s old enough. Well, he goes to school some. Aubrid doesn’t hold much with education, herself. She figures a smith-dwarf ought to be able to make a crown of smartening, or a magic ring of knowing stuff—she’s not sure what stuff. Just, stuff. You know. She doesn’t believe in school, but she wants Saul to give it a good try anyway. So he does.

  Every week when the grim white arms of the schoolbus seize Saul and drag him into its mouth, and further in, the puppy barks. It licks the bus. The bus writhes in discomfort, shakes itself, engine groaning. Then the puppy sits down and it waits patiently for Saul, for its Saul, to come home.

  It hasn’t gotten much bigger. It is still trapped inside the stone. The stone creaks and cracks, sometimes. The puppy licks the stone with its acid-dripping tongue. The puppy’ll get there—but not yet, and a puppy trapped in stone doesn’t grow too well.

  The years pass. Each time Saul comes home—whether it’s from working in town, or school, or from a date with his lady love—the puppy is happy. It dances in delight.

  One day Saul turns sixteen.

  “Have you been good?” Saul’s mother asks.

  “I have,” says Saul. Suddenly there are tears in his eyes, although he doesn’t quite know why.

  “I thought so,” Aubrid says softly. So she gets up from their breakfast. She goes around the table. She hugs him. She tries to let go, but only hugs him tighter. Actually letting go takes a second try.

  “Go on, then,” she tells him.

  He looks at her.

  “The sugar fairies are here.”

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  Jenna Katerin Moran has naturally curly hair. She’s written some other books, including the RPG Nobilis. She has a compsci doctorate.

  She thinks you’re cool.

  ABOUT HITHERBY DRAGONS

  If you look out at the world, there’s a lot that you know. There’s a lot that you understand. But at the edge of your map, there’s emptiness.

  There’s questions that are hard to answer.

  There’s things that are hard to explain.

  There’s choices that don’t make sense and there’s a sea of chaos and there’s emptiness.

  So a while back, Jane went out to the edge of the world, where Santa Ynez touches on the chaos. She walked across the bridge to the abandoned tower of the gibbelins. Finding that its machinery was in recoverable order, she assembled a theater company of gods and humans to answer suffering.

  Also they put on shows.

  Hitherby Dragons represents a collated, transcribed, and occasionally somewhat edited or adapted collection of transmissions from the theater company at Gibbelins’ Tower.

  Magical Bears in the Context of Contemporary Political Theory is the fifth work and first book of short stories from this collection.

 
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