CHILD OF FORTUNE
I had emerged from the land of the true Bloomenkinder with the peroration of the Tale of the Pied Piper of the Bloomenveldt upon my lips and I emerged from the Dreamtime with the tale I had learned, or been given, or had told myself therein springing forth from them still, nor did I give over my spieling as I staggered forward toward the purple flower.
"Once you and I were Bloomenkinder in the Perfumed Garden of Eden," I quite redundantly informed the two men and two women who continued to focus their perfect attention on their fruit even as this bizarre apparition approached. "Now the Pied Piper of the Bloomenveldt bids us follow our Arkie Sparkie hearts from our ancestral flowers to the farflung worlds of men ..."
Mayhap in a certain sense I was in the Dreamtime still, for while a part of me was there advancing slowly on the purple flower and its devotees, another part of me stood before the Luzplatz volcano seeking to persuade the bustling throngs of Edojin therein to hearken to my ruespiel. For indeed, to the consciousness then paused at the edge of the flower's pheromonic aura, they were much the same thing.
I could taste a faint perfume of sweet and sour succulence, and the very cells of my body gibbered their demand for me to fall upon the yellow fruit. On the Bloomenveldt, I knew that here on the coastal fringes of the forest, floral evolution and human devolution had not yet progressed to produce the perfect symbiosis between flowers and Bloomenkinder. These corpulent fressing creatures were not Bloomenkinder but once-sapient beings who had chanced to fall under the sway of far cruder pheromones crafted not to snare men but to control the more primitive brains of the native mammals of the forest. Here a strong enough will might prevail against these less puissant molecules.
In the Edoku of my Dreamtime, I knew that I must earn the ruegelt of survival by the power of the Word alone, though now my tale need please no other ears than my own. For as long as I continued to tell my tale, as long as I could hear my own voice singing my song, as long as I remained Sunshine the ruespieler, so long would I remain on the Yellow Brick Road, for there was only one camino real of sapience through the forest of unreality, the way of the Word, and I was on it now.
"Remember when you were Children of Fortune ... Remember when you were free and sapient creatures living by your wits in the streets of Great Edoku ..."
As I spieled, I slowly resumed my approach to the purple flower, deeper into its sphere of olfactory influence, testing the puissance of the Word against the pouvoir of the perfume, as for so long I had pitted my naked will against far more powerful versions of same in the combat of the fast.
"Remember how the Pied Piper of Pan led you out of the Perfumed Garden and into the Gold Mountain across the long slow centuries between the stars ..."
My trepidation began to lessen as I remembered my passage via the Dreamtime from the Perfumed Garden to this borderland of the sapient spirit, as my sovereign will kept me moving forward in a deliberately measured pace against all the blandishments of the perfume and all the outraged impatience of my body.
Mayhap the shorter and darker of the two male creatures, mayhap the man hunkered there on the flower remembered a time when he was a free creature or the Word too, for his eyes raised themselves from his meal in a certain blinking and pathetic befuddlement, even as he continued to bite chunks of firm green pulp out of his yellow fruit.
"And where has the Pied Piper of the Bloomenveldt gone now that you sit there like a bestial wage slave of the Pentagon eating the fruit of forgetfulness with your spirits Gone Before?"
I was within reaching distance of the fruit now, still spieling, my spirit still in sovereign command of the tropisms and hunger of my body.
"Nowhere, everywhere, here in the teller of the tale, vraiment within the last Arkie Spark of your own human heart!" I shouted the last into the face of the man who squatted before me, who, having now given over his fressing entirely, met my eyes with what I imagined might be the struggling ghost of a sapient glimmer.
"There!" I cried, pointing at the late morning sun. "Follow that Arkie Spark within you, follow the sun, follow the yellow, follow once more the Yellow Brick Road ..."
And as the rag-clad fellow fixed his gaze upon the golden-maned face of the Pied Piper rising in glory above the maya of the Bloomenveldt, I snatched up a fruit with my other hand, tucked it under my arm, and, obeying the moral of my own tale, turned my back to the flower and my face to the sun, and retreated to the east with as much flank speed as my weakened body could muster. Nor did it even occur to me to cease my spiel now that the fruit thereof was mine.
"Follow the sun, follow the yellow, follow the Pied Piper of the Bloomenveldt who has led us from apes into men ..."
I did not eat of the fruit until I had stopped loping, and I did not stop till I was far beyond the pheromonic aura of the flower. Even as I tore open the yellow fruit with my overgrown nails, even as I gobbled down great chunks and felt the cells of my body cry out in orgasmic release from their nutritive celibacy, I continued to babble ever-mutating versions of the only tale I had to tell where there was no ear to hear it but my own, or so I believed. For only the Pied Piper of the Bloomenveldt could keep this Child of Fortune on her Yellow Brick Road, and the Piper would be with me only so long as anyone told his tale.
Upon finishing my meal, I rose up at once, turned toward the sunrise, and set forth, spieling still. I must not have chanced to look back for several hours.
But when I did, I saw, staggering and sweating with the protests of long unused muscles not fifty meters behind me, the man whose eyes had risen for a moment from their nonbeing to meet mine at the purple flower.
He must have been soaking up the words of my tale for hours, aroused from the perfect thrall of his flower by the sheer enchantment of the novel sound of a human voice, mesmerized thereby to follow the music, or mayhap, in some dim manner, hearkening as well to the words of the song.
All during that day he followed me at some distance, struggling to keep up with the sound of my voice, for as far as I was concerned, the tale I was telling was a song I sang only for myself, and I had neither ambition to attain guruhood nor the patience to slow my pace for his benefit. That night we slumbered on leaves a good twenty meters apart. For I had no desire for discourse with someone sunk so deep in the pit of nonsentience out of which I had thusfar so painfully crawled, and he was content to listen to my tale from a distance, as if somehow mindful himself of the gulf that separated our spirits.
Mayhap the foregoing is merely the post facto dissembling of self-justification, for I can make no claim that I had then attained that sublime level of enlightenment wherein the bodhi is content to shine without grasping at worldly consequences. Suffice it to say that while he may have chosen to follow, I chose not to lead, for if I had then addressed him it would have been only to tell him that a true Child of Fortune has no chairmen of the board or kings. If this be judged callous indifference by the moral philosophers, I can only declare that moral responsibility or its converse were concepts my spirit did not contain at the time, and throw myself on the mercy of the court.
On the following morning when my spirit rose to the sun, feeling all the stronger for the previous day's triumph, I straightaway sought out another flower without a thought for the creature my words had placed in my charge, nor, on the other hand, did 1 eschew enticing him further with the declaiming of my endless tale to myself.
Soon enough I came upon an orange bloom where three gaunt women were munching on fibrous blue fruit of a tuberous shape. I strode boldly up to them this time, in the full verbal tide of my spiel, and one of the women seemed to listen out of the corner of her ears with a certain indifferent attention, which had me stand there and reach a proper conclusion like a true ruespieler of the Gypsy Jokers rather than immediately grab for the fruit like the same forced to snatch fressen incognito from under the noses of denizens of the Publics.
"And who is the Pied Piper of the Bloomenveldt who will lead you back into the Spark of the Ark?", I declaimed as I approached the end of the cycle. "The Child of Fortune, within us all who is the teller of the tale, and in the honor of whose spirit within yourself you will now shower this ruespieler with ruegelt!"
The exiled Edojin in rags blinked at me strangely for a moment, and the logic of the Dreamtime and the logic of the quotidian moment came to coincide. "Fruit, bitte," I told my audience. "Give ... me ... fruit ..."
Then, as if a key had been turned in the lock of some long-forgotten reflex of etiquette, she handed me one of the blue tubers with a grotesquely patronly flourish, as long ago she might have tossed a coin to a busker on a civilized street.
To the extent that I was able to be moved to such complex emotion, this was no doubt the crowning achievement of a ruespieler's career, but to the extent that I could still be said to retain a sense of revulsion, I was quite horrified by this engramatic ghost of a human response.
On the next morning, still trailed by my disregarded acolyte, I repaired directly to a flower to spiel for my breakfast again, and so my feeding cycle evolved. No longer famished, no longer fearing the power of the floral perfumes, I must on some level have known that now I could easily enough have marched up to any flower and snatched up a surfeit of fruit with my own hands.
Yet in the Dreamtime, I was a Gypsy Joker ruespieler earning her survival by the power of the Word, and so, striding boldly into the pheromonic winds behind my verbal shield, I stalked like the very Princess of ruespielers straight up to a yellow flower where three Bloomenkinder sat devouring purple fruit and forthwith brought my continuous tale around to the hat-passing phase with the cavalier mendicancy of a Gypsy Joker Queen.
"Long has the tale of the Pied Piper of the Bloomenveldt been told along the primrose path of our long march from the trees to the Luzplatz, and now the Piper must be paid, which is to say the teller thereof must be honored with fruit! Fruit! Fruit! Give me fruit!"
Since the verbality of these revertees was to say the least limited, and since the actual tale I retold endlessly was a mythmash of personal imagery no doubt all but incomprehensible to an audience other than myself, no doubt the two fat men and the even fatter woman responded more to the sheer presence of a volcano of gushing verbality in their midst than to any apprehension of the content of the tale. Yet in another sense, every syllable of human lingo I declaimed was the essential haiku version of the tale, for sapient speech itself was the protagonist thereof.
Thus I moved the grotesquely fat woman to forthwith hand me her fruit by the mere act of demanding same in the manner of a ruespieler, even though I could hardly have been said to have fairly earned this ruegelt by a proper and complete telling of my tale. Nor, having once achieved my aim in the manner I had chosen, did I have any intention of regaling these three lost Children of the yellow flower with an extended version consciously designed to rouse their spirits.
Nevertheless, as I turned to leave with my booty, the refugee who had been following me for two cycles now caught up with me at the yellow flower. Rather than attempt to emulate my impossible example, he simply snatched up a fruit and trailed after me as I retreated, blathering still, to resume my journey toward the Pied Piper of the sun.
Mayhap it was the sight of my first follower marching off behind his Piper into the sunrise, mayhap it was indeed the power of the Word itself to rouse some dormant spirit within; certainement it was no act of will of mine or power which I consciously sought to wield.
Be that as it may, there were now two lost children of the forest following the Pied Piper of the Bloomenveldt toward the dawning light. She who had paid me my ruegelt in fruit had now joined the Gypsy Jokers' Mardi Gras Parade.
And there would be others.
Some would follow for a day and then be ensnared by the flower of the next morning's breakfast, others would join the tribe for a few days and then revert, but none of the lost children of the forest who first began the journey were to emerge once more in the worlds of men.
For while the tribe of the Pied Piper of the Bloomenveldt was to maintain a permanent population of some half dozen, more or less, as the collectivity thereof marched eastward across the Bloomenveldt, children of the forest came, tarried awhile, departed into the darkness from whence they came, arid were replaced by others, even as the immortal spirit of our species itself has been carried forth from the trees to the stars via billions of transient mortal avatars.
From hindsight's pristine moral stance, even I must own that my callous indifference to the karmic responsibilities I had acquired when I cast my net of words into the sea of what once were men was a good deal less than proof of my complete return to the true spirit of humanity. Which is to say that to my own retrospective shame, I no more sought heroically to regain the allegiance of followers who strayed back into the forest of unreason than I had braved a futile return to the Perfumed Garden to seek to rescue Guy. And if the latter had been forgone at the expense of much pain to my spirit, the former was a matter of perfect innocent oblivion. For in the tale of the Dreamtime I was living, I was no chairman of the board or king, no guru avid for followers, no Pied Piper of Pan, but just Sunshine the Gypsy Joker ruespieler, alone and singing for her sustenance, the anyone who told the tale.
At length however, Iwandered into precincts where dyadic couples were sometimes to be encountered, engaged in tantric unions of such terminal intensity, and at any rate about flowers totally lacking in edibles, that any attempt at approaching them would be pragmatically futile, gauche from any minimally civilized perspective, and, moreover, as events quickly proved, it would have been perilous indeed to assume that the power of the Word could retain sovereignty over the garden perfume of the kundalinic serpent.
For upon the very first such occasion, as I myself gave the passion flower the widest of berths and continued onward, I chanced to look back and see that the two nethermost of my followers, a spindly scrawny fellow who had joined the parade only a cycle ago, and a grossly fat woman who had been waddling distantly in my wake for some days now, had paired off and were making for the flower, groping each other grotesquely as they shambled toward it in their unseemly libidinal haste.
Then it was, I do believe, that the awareness of the possibility of karmic debt and human caritas intruded into the perfect moral void of my spirit, for now at any rate, upon losing two of same to the flowers in this starkly graphic manner, I began to perceive that there were indeed human beings in my van whom I had somehow managed, without consciousness of trying, to lead a certain distance along the road from darkness to sapient light.
And while from the viewpoint of cosmic equity, it was they who owed me a debt of gratitude for what I had so freely given, from the point of view of evolutionary responsibility, it was I who had cast my net of words into the sea of the Bloomenveldt without regard for the plight of those lungfish brought up out of the floral deeps struggling and gasping to breathe sapient air.
Which is to say that while extinguishing my own consciousness in a futile attempt to rescue Guy might have been a useless act of suttee, that consciousness was in no current danger of imminent extinction, and mayhap owed it to whatever spirit that had saved me to have a like regard for the lost sapient spirits that fate and my own unknowing efforts had chanced to place in my charge.
Vraiment, in practical terms there was not much more for me to do but continue my endless spieling trek eastward, avoiding even distant approach to the flowers of lust as best as I was able, make some minimal concessions to not letting my charges fall too far behind, and hector those who began to stray off the Yellow Brick Road with imprecations they could not understand and kicks and shoves which were somewhat more efficacious.
Which is not to say I achieved any perfection as a shepherd then, moral or otherwise, for when it came to approaching a passion flower after two of my lost children had stolen away thereto, there I drew the line, for I would not endanger my own survival to attempt to save such doomed spirits, nor would I allow any event to long delay the march to the coast. In this was self-preservation of this individual in harmony with the preservation of the collectivity of the tribe, for if there was no longer anyone to tell the tale, the days of our tribe would be forthwith ended.
Indeed, if truth be told, I was no shepherd diligently herding sheep, for I was primarily conscious of my charges as an imposition, like a hiker who finds herself adopted by a pride of lost kittens and cannot fail to accept a certain tender regard for their safety or consign them to the wilderness without regret, but who would just as soon not have to assume a position of guardianship over them.
So, vraiment, I proceeded more slowly and cautiously now, reluctantly mindful that I was somehow responsible for a collectivity of other spirits as well as my own. And now, trailed by some four acolytes emphatically not of my choosing, a new level of consciousness reappeared, a being I would contend had at last earned the right to once more be called fully human.
For while the subject of my sanity at any stage of the tale and the sequence in which my consciousness reevolved was to be a matter of endless learned debate by Healers and mages far better versed in the scientific lore than I, in the entirely amateur opinion of the subject in question, my full humanity was restored when I accepted responsibility, however reluctantly, for preserving the humanity of others.
At the time that I encountered the bodhi in the wood, there were four members in the Pied Piper's tribe, the four final members as it would turn out, for we attracted no new Children of Fortune this close to the coast, nor was I to brook the loss of another of my charges to the forest again, not now with my moral awareness renascent, and the flowers of lust behind us.
Three of them were men: a thin blond fellow whom I inventoried under Goldenrod, an obese man who became Rollo, and a balding man I thought of as Dome. For while it could hardly be said that these lost creatures of the forest exhibited what could be styled a human personality, it seemed both just and convenient to grant them the nominal dignity I certainly would have given to the aforementioned lost kittens.
The woman was the most human-looking specimen of the lot, which is to say her physique was neither gaunt nor obese, and her eyes upon occasion seemed to assume a questioning look. She I dubbed Moussa, for in her I dared hope I saw a spark of myself, a kindred though mute spirit, whose life I now held in the cupped palms of my hand.
Of the four that I was to lead out of the Bloomenveldt, she was the only one who after arduous efforts was to reclaim her full sapient citizenship in the worlds of men. And Moussa did she take for her freenom years later upon her release from mental retreat in homage to she who named and told her wanderjahr's tale.
These were my companions when I happened upon the bodhi in the wood, as I came to style him in the nomenclature of memory. We came upon him suddenly. I rounded a hillock of tree crown and emerged right into a bowered dell on the other side, where a man sat in the posture of the lotus before a flower whose petals fanned out behind him to enhalo his existence in a lambent blue aura.
This was no moribund sage in his final years of life meditating into eternity by the look of him. He was a taut and golden-skinned man whose naked body gave every evidence of excellent health. Sleek black hair hung down to his shoulders. He seemed almost fit enough to pass for a Bloomenkind.
But his clear green eyes seemed not to be the vacant orbs of a Bloomenkmd gazing mindlessly into a blue void, rather did I somehow sense the presence of a fully sapient spirit contemplating limpid inner depths. Or at any rate a visage of sufficient novelty under the circumstances to give my ceaseless babble the first moment of pause it could remember.
As if tuned to the very frequency of my thoughts, the bodhi's attention seemed to rise up from those inner depths to regard me with a sudden keenness, though, in hindsight's vision, my little tribe and I must have presented a vision of even more striking novelty to him than he had to me.
"Who are you?" he said in a strong tranquil voice. "Where have you come from?"
Simple and logical enough questions one might suppose, but ones which at the time I was not exactly psychically equipped to answer succinctly. "We are the Children of Fortune of the Bloomenveldt following the song that draws us thither as apes from our ancestral flowers to the far-flung worlds of men," I declaimed, in the only mode of discourse of which I was presently capable.
"You are the mystical Bloomenkinder of the forest?" the bodhi exclaimed, maintaining the immobile perfection of his yogic posture, but verbally allowing a rather unsagelike astonishment to betray its presence in his voice. "Vraiment, it would seem you have indeed come a long march from your ancestral flowers!"
"It has taken millions of years of diligent study to produce the ultimate triumph of the ruespieler's art, our own magnificent sapient selves," I readily enough agreed.
At this his eyes widened, becoming somehow more humanly focused and more inwardly distant at the same time, as if 1 were a creature of some Dreamtime to him. "From how far into the forest have you come, Bloomenkind?" he asked me expectantly, as if hanging on some hoped-for answer . "You speak as one who has found her perfect flower."
"I speak as one who was a perfect Bloomenkind of the Perfumed Garden before there was anyone to tell the tale," I told him rather crossly, for such unwholesome obtuseness was enough to rouse a certain ire, and ire reevolved my consciousness to yet a more recomplicated level. "You speak as one who seeks a Perfumed Garden of perfection for your spirit."
At this a positively fawning expression came onto his face which cloyed my palate like treacle. "Can it be that my exercises are now at last to be rewarded?" he said breathlessly." Are you a vision sent to me by destiny? Are you to be my guide to the Perfumed Garden ?"
"Follow the sun, follow the yellow, follow the tale of the Pied Piper of the Bloomenveldt, to which we have marched for the long slow centuries from the trees to the stars," I told him, struggling to regain the power to craft the stream of my logorrhea into a more precise verbal instrument. "Follow not the flowers of the Bloomenveldt into the dim mists before the singer became the song. Seek not to become a perfect Bloomenkind in your Perfumed Garden, but follow the Yellow Brick Road."
"You have truly seen the Perfumed Garden?" the bodhi persisted, as if I had not at all succeeded in conveying even the vaporous spirit of my meaning, or as if his spirit simply refused to hear.
"Vraiment, once I was a Bloomenkind in the Perfumed Garden of our ancestral Eden, before I heard the Piper's song," I said, since this seemed to be the only thing he was willing to hear.
He stared at me in wonder. "And like a bodhisattva you then chose to return to the worlds of men?" he exclaimed. "Enlighten me, spirit of the forest, show me the way to your Perfumed Garden of perfection."
My aforementioned ire had been rising throughout the latter part of this discourse, and while the logical rationale for it was beyond my comprehension at the time, and the inner psychic dynamics were only to be elucidated later in the Clear Light Mental Retreat, at that moment, it seemed to me that I was once more hectoring the spirit of Guy Vlad Boca, wearing the vile crown of the Charge in the Hotel Pallas, seated in just such a lotus position under his flower smiling just such a smile of vapid bliss.
"In the Perfumed Garden, there is no one there to tell the tale, and the Pied Piper of Pan never plays his song," I told him, my eyes misting with outrage, or sadness, or mayhap somehow both. "Join the Mardi Gras Parade and follow the only tale there is to tell to the encampment of the Gypsy Jokers in the Gold Mountain, for true Children of Fortune have no chairmen of the board or Perfumed Gardens of perfect flowers."
"You have been to the Perfumed Garden and of your own free will returned to the worlds of men?" the bodhi said incredulously. "You are this Pied Piper of the Bloomenveldt and these Bloomenkinder of the forest follow the song of your voice?"
"I am a simple ruespieler on the streets of Great Edoku," I told him. "I am anyone who tells the tale."
The bodhi of the wood began to draw back into the depths of himself at this, as if retreating from a surfeit of unwelcome satori, or mayhap in order to avoid suffering same. "Mayhap you are the sister of the Prince of Liars, storyteller, for you cannot be speaking truth," he said as he seemed to will his gaze inward. "No one has ever returned to the worlds of men from the land of the Bloomenkinder."
Thus had a terrified and lonely girl spoken to her own heart when she awoke on a leaf in the very darkest heart of the land of the Bloomenkinder with neither filter mask nor food. This doom of the spirit had that girl sworn an oath to overcome or die in the attempt.
I regarded the bodhi of the woods who now had completely resumed his gaze into the featureless emptiness of his self-chosen void, and I regarded Goldenrod, Rollo, Dome, and Moussa, my four dim creatures who had patiently stood there all the while, mesmerized by the sound of human discourse, struggling however unsuccessfully to escape from the very nullity he sought to embrace. Somehow, it seemed to me that in some strange Dreamtime of the human heart, their poor little spirits were more truly human than he.
And it was the Sunshine Shasta Leonardo who had sworn that oath who now looked on her charges with a more tender regard, and addressed them, not the immobile icon of spiritual perfection, with the very words that had begun the tale of the Pied Piper of the Bloomenveldt and which now served admirably as the summation thereof.
"No one," I said, "has ever returned to the worlds of men from the land of the Bloomenkinder before."
After this confrontation with the bodhi of the wood, I no longer stalked impatiently ahead of my lost children of the forest, but walked among them, addressing my spiel to an audience other than myself. And while nothing could yet quite emerge from my lips that was not cobbled together out of swatches of the only tale I had to tell, I grew self-conscious of the fact that I was practicing the ruespieler's art, if for a commodity of far more absolute importance than ruegelt. And when one of my charges threatened to stray, or showed reluctance to leave a flower of our feeding, I hectored the same as harshly and insistently as was needful in tones and cadences one would apply to an unruly toddler who had yet to learn the lyric of the human song.
Thus did we proceed eastward toward the worlds of men, and thus did I sow all unbeknownst the seed of the Word in this long-fallow ground.
The same was to sprout at a carmine flower at which we had been feeding in the company of two nearly terminally torpid human creatures who had long since gorged themselves to impressive obesity on the strangely meatlike pulp of the sweet blue fruit.
Rollo, it seemed, had encountered a flower whose fruit chanced to contain molecules too puissantly congruent with the ideals of his metabolism. With unwholesome and unsettling avidity did he rip chunks of the tough chewy pulp out of the fruit and gobble them down, and when it came time to depart, he was entirely deaf to my entreaties.
"Arise, Rollo, to follow the yellow, for the sun calls you down from your ancestral trees to follow the Yellow Brick Road!" I fairly shouted in his face at length, and when this too he ignored, I shook him by the shoulders, and then turned his vision sunward by main force.
"Follow the sun, follow the yellow, follow the sun, follow the yellow ..." I began to chant over and over again, for this indeed was the most primal version of the tale, the synergetic mantra which had roused me from just this condition, vraiment, from worse.
I continued to chant, pointing to the sun with one hand, and keeping his face turned toward it with the other. When all at once, I noticed a bizarre change in my own voice, for on certain syllables the single note of my vocal cords seemed to be accompanied by a harmonic chord on another instrument.
Some moments later it dawned on me that this was more, or less the case.
While my efforts to fix Rollo's attention on our song of the road and the rising sun thereof had thusfar been ineffective, Dome and Goldenrod had out of traditional tribal custom fixed their gaze thereon as soon as they had heard a few turns of the traveling mantra.
So too had Moussa.
But, ah, Moussa, Moussa my appointed namesake, raggedly, atonally, blinking with the effort, had begun to chant.
"Yellow ... follow ... yellow ... follow ..."
A moronic sprach mayhap, but certainement a sprach in the Lingo of man.
Seizing upon this amazing event, I fitted my own voice to this simple drone, waving my arms like an orchestral conductor at Dome and Goldenrod, up and down with the beat.
"Follow ... yellow ... follow ... yellow ..."
At length, Dome joined in, and once there were three of us, Goldenrod soon enough followed. And finally, roused at last by the communal efforts of his tribal siblings, Rollo gave over his eating, rose to his feet, set his eyes upon the sun, and began forming flaccid and silent simulacra of the syllables with his own pulp-smeared lips.
While the utility of applying this monotonous two-note chant whenever one of my charges began to fall behind or threatened to be captured by a flower proved admirably efficacious, the esthetic excruciation of it from the point of view of the ruespieler hardly rendered it suitable for a permanent song of the road, and so I continued to spiel the tale to them whenever I could, rather than make the sacrificial effort to keep them chanting.
For this I was to be chided more than once by certain mages in the Clear Light who informed me that I should have been much more diligent in my efforts to restore their powers of speech. I would counter, now as I did then, which is to say that in spite of my laxity and indifference to the approved therapeutic methods, they began to speak anyway.
If true speech it may be styled, a point of some dispute in scientific circles even today. Certainement, the sounds that Rollo, Dome, Goldenrod, and Moussa began to make as I spieled them through those last days on the Bloomenveldt were undeniably in the form of words, and at the end, the tribal vocabulary contained nearly a dozen of these, though only Moussa was master of them all.
"Follow ... yellow ... sun ... road ... Piper ... fortune ... Bloomenkinder ... children ... far-flung-worlds-of-men ..."
That was about the extent of it, and certain authorities were to claim that this vocabulary consisted of precisely those sounds which the teller of the tale repeated most frequently and with rhythmic emphasis, which is to say that much the same effect could be achieved with a tribe of parrots. Indeed I was once told that one of these worthies actually produced a cageful of aviary babel with just the same vocabulary to prove his point.
But when at length we finally reached the coastline, unlike parrots, my Children of Fortune were quite able to use their few poor words to make their feelings plain, or so in my heart did it seem to me.
Sunset had come the night before upon a Bloomenveldt lying under a thin cloak of fog, so that the sharp line of the horizon had disappeared into vague green mists for several hours before darkness. Morning awoke me with the wan yellow light of dawn, just as the rim of the sun was beginning to peer over the line of the eastern horizon. The fog had long since gone, the pale sky was brilliantly clear, and one by one my fellow creatures were beginning to arise from the perfumed sleep of the Bloomenveldt.
Then, as the true blaze of sunrise arose above the last vestiges of night, a brilliant mirrored sheen fairly exploded into existence as the sun emerged from it in a visual paean to glory. For halfway to the horizon, the leafy green plain abruptly ended, and a sea of rippling silvered flashes began.
"Yellow ... sun ... Piper ... fortune ...
Rollo, Dome, Goldenrod, and Moussa stood beside me as we watched the sun of our fortune arise at last over the eastern ocean.
Did they truly perceive it as I did? Did their minds contain some dim memory that the line between the Bloomenveldt and the sea was the visual dividing line between the forest of the flowers and the sapient worlds of men? Je ne sais pas, but tell me not that they could not entirely perceive that the tale of the Pied Piper of the Bloomenveldt had led them to a vantage from whence they could see the promised land where the Bloomenveldt of the spirit ended.
"Follow fortune, follow yellow!"
"Piper of the Bloomenkinder!"
"Fortune Children follow yellow!"
Was it in truth only my sapient imagination overlaying random parroting with the exultation of my own spirit that spoke to me as I watched them babble their excitement at the sight of the ocean? In truth, as some would say, might a cock have also greeted the sunrise thusly, and with the same degree of sincere enthusiasm?
My spirit tells me not, nor did my eyes fail to see mouths rippling in what might have been attempts at smiles, nor was I deaf to gurgling sounds which might have been their happy laughter.
Certainement there was more than the spiritual vacuum behind the speech of a parrot in their eyes as one by one they came to look directly into my own.
"Vraiment, follow the yellow, my Children of Fortune," I told them, "for we lost children of the forest have now found ourselves."
"Follow the sun, follow the yellow!"
"Follow Yellow Brick Road!"
They were more than human parrots; at the very least they were eager puppies, yipping and dancing to reach the end of the trail. And so did we set out for the last time into the Bloomenveldt sunrise toward the worlds of men.
Within a few hours, the interlocking foliage of the Bloomnveldt thinned out into a treacherous webwork of branches and long falls to the forest floor which we dared not approach. This was as far eastward as we could go. From this vantage, there was no seacliff plunge of perspective, nor any beach in view to mark the melding of land into sea. Some thousand meters before us, the irregular green sameness of the flower-speckled Bloomenveldt gave way to the shimmering clarity of an ocean under a cloudless sky with the clean sharpness of Occam's razor-edge.
And along this razor-sharp interface, all roads led to Rome. For a few moments, my tribe milled about in confusion, for they knew not where next to go.
"Fear not, for you are no longer lost children of the forest, my Gypsy Jokers," I told them as I turned to the south and began the final march. "Follow the Pied Piper of the Bloomenveldt!"
"Follow yellow, follow Piper! Moussa began to chant as she fell in step beside me, as if acknowledging to the both of us that the Word of the Piper superseded the mute vector of the sun.
"Follow yellow, follow Piper!" the others chimed in, tentatively at first, and then, as if achieving a level of abstraction sufficient unto resolving the conflict of tropisms by bestowing the yellowness of the sun and all that it implied upon the voice that they followed, with more certain enthusiasm.
"Follow yellow, follow Piper, follow yellow, follow Piper!"
Thus did our Mardi Gras parade begin, thus did the Pied Piper of the Bloomenveldt lead her Children of Fortune, thus did a raving, grimy, rag-clad girl lead four chanting creatures struggling to be human out of the forest of flowers to dance triumphant through the streets of the worlds of men.
But little did I know that, long before the sun had begun to slide down the sky, the gnomes of the research domes would suddenly bring the worlds of men to us.
Vraiment, though such a perception would never have occurred to me at the time, no doubt the research team that suddenly dropped in on us out of the sky were no more prepared for the bizarre sight we presented than our little tribe was for them!
It happened with just such mutually discombobulating unexpectedness. Four silvery human figures came floating down from the sky to land on a cluster of leaves not ten meters away.
They stood there gesticulating and making incomprehensible sounds to each other, and while it might be safely assumed that they were staring as intently at us as we were at them, this was impossible to verify, for they were sealed in full atmosphere suits -- form-fitting coveralls and hoods of silvery fabric, filter masks, and impenetrable mirrored visors above them.
Moussa, Rollo, Goldenrod, and Dome had fallen silent. They stood there gaping vacantly, incapable of terror, mayhap rediscovering the emotion of surprise.
I myself, naturellement, had seen scientists in atmosphere suits often enough during my sojourn in the research dome to decode the import of these silver beings after a few moments of pure thoughtless shock. I too had once bounded in great weightless leaps across the Bloomenveldt, and while I had never sheathed my body in such alienating armor, certainement, I retained memories of what the Bloomenveldt was like from the other side of a filter mask.
But long before I could formulate any course of action, the research team went into purposeful motion. Two of them skipped with light gingerly steps to the leaf upon which we stood while the other two remained in place and aimed the lenses and antennae of various devices in our direction.
"Sprechen sie Lingo? Are you verbal?"
"In the beginning was the Word, and before the singer was the song," I replied, "which has carried us from our ancestral flowers to the far-flung worlds of men."
"Carramba!" exclaimed a voice from behind the left-hand mirrored visor. "She speaks, she declaims poetry no less, and you will observe no filter mask in evidence, nicht wahr! Ah, many theories will now be in need of revision! Certainement, this is a major find!"
"Who are you, kind, do you remember your name, how long have you been out here on the Bloomenveldt?"
"The Pied Piper of the Bloomenkinder has taken many millennia of diligent study to create that ultimate triumph of the ruespieler's art, our own magnificent sapient selves," I told him.
"What? Que? Was ist los?"
"Bloomenkinder! Wahrlich! Observe these creatures, see their vacant expressions! It's true, we have found ourselves a tribe of the mythical Bloomenkinder!"
Now the two scientists gave over their attempts at discourse with me to peer and prod at my Gypsy Jokers. These, possessed of no sapient mode of reaction to such scientific scrutiny, stood indifferently motionless and mute throughout.
"Indeed! These folk are possessed of neither filter masks, floatbelts, nor full human consciousness. Bloomenkinder! What a treasure house their metabolisms must be! Our fortunes are made!"
"Once we were Bloomenkinder in the Perfumed Garden, but now we are sapient spirits of the Arkie Spark," I told them, for while the full sapience of my charges might be arguable, certainement they were no flower-suckled Bloomenkinder of the Bloomenveldt depths, nor, after all we had gone through to reach this place, was I about to let us be so styled.
"Now you declare these are not Bloomenkinder?" one of the abstract silvery figures said to me quite pettishly. "When a moment ago you declared yourself the Pied Piper thereof?"
"This is hardly a scientific question of such triviality that we can expect to decide it on the basis of anecdotal interrogation in the field!" said the other. "We must forthwith remove these specimens to our facilities for proper study."
"Ja," said his colleague, and then addressed himself to the recording team. "Summon a hover. Have them prepare quarters suitable to feral humans. And apply for a droit of custodianship forthwith."
A scant half hour later, during which the scientists engaged in wild theorizing and even more enthusiastic financial speculation with little apparent regard for the objects thereof, a dull-steel- colored and vaguely ovoid craft came skimming in over the ocean, level with the canopy of the Bloomenveldt.
The ungainly cargo hover slowed to walking speed as it reached the edge of the Bloomenveldt and slowly inched its way toward us about half a meter above the foliage, until it had reached a more or less stationary position above the wind-tossed treetops no more than a few meters from where we all stood. Bivalve doors in the prow of the hover then opened like the maw of some great cetacean inviting entry.
As for me, I regarded this proposition with a good deal less trepidation than had Jonah or Pinocchio, and started forth across the intervening leaves with as much dispatch as the two recording scientists, who were now disappearing inside with their equipment.
When it came to what the scientists styled "Bloomenkinder," however, these remained entirely unresponsive to their urgings and proddings, and the other two were constrained, with something a bit less than good humor, to draw me back and enlist my aid.
"You will be so good as to herd your Bloomenkinder aboard so that we may depart, bitte," said the one.
"Wait!" cried the other. "The method thereof must be recorded, for it may be of some scientific value." Via a transceiver behind his filter mask, he summoned the others to the lip of the entrance to the hover's cargo bay, where they once more set up a variety of instruments and aimed their lenses and antennae in my direction.
"Sehr gut!" said the fellow who seemed to be in charge, when he had gotten the word from the recording team. "Commence, bitte!"
While under more ordinary conditions I would have remonstrated with a good deal of pettishness at being ordered about in this cavalier manner, and indeed, as my career as a subject of scientific inquiry progressed, was to dig in my heels more than once at such rude behavior, at the time I wanted nothing more than to be gone from the Bloomenveldt, and was many weeks away from such consideration of the social niceties.
I therefore did as I was bade, which is to say I confronted Moussa, Rollo, Goldenrod, and Dome, and began to chant. "Follow Piper, follow yellow, follow Piper, follow yellow ..."
In a minute or two, I had them all chanting along with me again, and once this was achieved, the Pied Piper had little trouble leading her Children of Fortune across the last few leafy meters of the Bloomenveldt, if not exactly into the Gold Mountain, then certainement into the eager mouth of scientific scrutiny.
"Follow Piper! Follow yellow! Follow Piper! Follow yellow!"
"Nothing like it in the literature!"
The two mages brought up the rear, shaking their heads and muttering to each other. Then we were all inside the stark and bare gray-walled cargo bay, the doors snapped shut on this rich meal of unique specimens, and the Bloomenveldt disappeared from my sight forever.
The next two days were a disorienting melange of periods of boredom and periods of frenetic activity of which I was an entirely passive object.
Upon reaching the research dome, we were all forthwith stripped of our rags, unceremoniously hosed down outside like so many domestic animals, and reclothed in plain and ill-fitting white smocks, though I adamantly refused to give over my sash of Cloth of Many Colors, which I belted around my waist.
We were then ushered into a large storeroom where crates and canisters had been piled high against the walls to make room for rude cots. We were fed an indifferent meal of overbroiled and unidentifiable cutlets with a soggy assortment of steamed vegetables and then left alone to our own devices.
While my former charges were content to lie on their cots and stare placidly at the harsh lighting fixtures set in the ceiling, I straightaway went to the door and discovered, with little surprise though not without a certain consternation, that it had been locked behind me.
I spent the next several hours alternately pacing about the storeroom and fidgeting on my cot, attempting all the while to marshal my psychic resources to meet the new reality.
Certainement, confinement within this grim bare chamber was a far cry from either the open expanses of the Bloomenveldt or the vision of triumphant return to the far-flung worlds of men that had kept me trekking onward thereon for what seemed like the better part of my young lifetime. I was avid to travel onward, though to where, and how, I no longer quite knew.
Indeed though I soon enough resolved to demand my freedom at the earliest opportunity, when at length a party of scientists entered the storeroom laden with a bewildering profusion of instruments, equipment, and recording devices, I found that I had no form within which to frame such a demand.
For while freedom from the present situation was a concept I could readily enough grasp, the question of freedom to do what seemed entirely unanswerable at the time. Freedom to wander aimlessly around the research dome? Freedom to return to a vie of endlessly wandering the Bloomenveldt? When it came to resuming my life's journey, I had no more concept of how to proceed or what to demand than did Moussa, Rollo, Dome, and Goldenrod.
Therefore, for want of any active goal to pursue or coherent demand to present, there seemed to be nothing for it but to passively submit to the samplings, measurements, and poking about of the scientists, who, au contraire, seemed to lack nothing in the way of purposeful motivation. Electrodes were affixed to various portions of my anatomy, instruments prodded and glided over every centimeter of my body, syringes withdrew blood, urine was demanded and delivered up, even samples of my tears, sweat, nasal mucus, saliva, and vaginal juices found their way into vials.
When these exercises were finally concluded, we were fed another indifferent meal, and then left alone once more. For what must have been several more hours, no event of significance occurred save those taking place within my own skull, and even these were of little note, for the inescapable passivity of my position cloaked my consciousness in a pall of ennui. What was I to do? What was I to even wish to do? Indeed, now that the tale of the Pied Piper of the Bloomenveldt had reached what should have been its triumphant conclusion, who in fact was I?
After some immeasurable period, the storeroom lights were extinguished, and I lay there on the unfamiliar cot in the darkness longing for an escape into sleep that was a long time in coming, for here the irresistible perfume thereof was of course absent, and my metabolism, long-accustomed to the nightly cycle of same, kept me awake and tossing until --
-- I was rudely shocked into full wakefulness by a sudden blaze of light that had me leaping off the cot and halfway across the room to follow the sun, follow the yellow, before the sight of the bare gray walls and ceiling, the piles of crates and canisters, and the three men who had entered with breakfast, brought me back with a psychic thump to this most unpleasantly quotidian of all the worlds of men.
As far as I was concerned. the second day in the storeroom was no different from the first, though no doubt, from the point of view of science, much novel data must have been accumulated by the new rounds of intimate explorations.
Be such valuable research as it may, from the point of view of the subject thereof, nothing of significance could be said to have happened. I ate, I suffered examination. I lay torpidly on my cot, was fed another meal, was subject to further scientific ministrations, and once more was plunged into the darkness of an ersatz night.
But the next morning, shortly after a breakfast of toasted grains and nuts mixed with dried fruits, a new assortment of mages began to parade in and out of the storeroom. Which is to say that though the traffic of the past few days had been perceived as nothing more coherent than a blur of bodies, apparatus, and faces, I perceived that these were new visitors, for, if nothing else, their actions were quite different.
There were no more samplings of body fluids, no more pokings, proddings, and arcane measurements of protoplasmic functions, for these assorted newcomers were laden with no instruments or apparatus at all.
Rather, like a tribe of Wayfaring Strangers divvying up their loot, one by one, and not without a certain haggling among themselves, but entirely without regard for any wishes of the objects thereof, they began making off with my lost children of the forest.
Rollo was the first to go, allowing himself to be dragged off passively by two dour-looking women. "Wait!" I cried, but they quite ignored me, and when I essayed a physical intervention, I was restrained by a veritable wall of mages. In like manner were Dome and Goldenrod removed from the storeroom against my incoherent protestations. Nor would any of the mages deign to enlighten me as to the nature of these occurrences.
Indeed, neither Rollo, Dome, nor Goldenrod themselves either made any move to protest events or so much as bade farewell to their onetime savior. Only Moussa dug in her heels for a moment as two men dragged her off, and seemed to gaze inquiringly into my eyes. "Follow ...?" she seemed almost to ask. "Follow Piper ...? Follow ...? Follow ...?"
This was more than I could bear, and had I had my full wits about me, no doubt I would have activated the Touch and employed it in a manner that would not at all have been to the liking of these mages. "Where are you taking my Gypsy Jokers?" I demanded at the top of my lungs while three of them held me back by main force. "Are you mute Bloomenkinder? Speak --"
At length one of the men bearing off Moussa deigned to pay me verbal heed. "The Bloomenkinder have been assigned to various mental retreats where they will be well treated, kind," he told me. "Mayhap we will succeed in restoring them to full sapience. In any event, rest assured that your friends will have the best of care, and will have abundant opportunity to serve the cause of science."
And with that, Moussa too was gone. I was never to see any of them again, and, upon exhaustive inquiry years later, learned as I have said, that only Moussa was ever returned to full sapient sovereignty. Poor Rollo lived only a few more years, whereas Dome and Goldenrod still dwell in mental retreats on Belshazaar even to this day. Dome has never learned to truly speak, whereas Goldenrod eventually attained the verbal level of a small child.
To those who would now say that, given these results, I might have done better to leave the four of them to their blissful union with the flowers, myself at times, if truth be told, among them, I would say that the return of Moussa to full citizenship in the human species, vraiment, mayhap Goldenrod's eventual transformation into an innocent child at least equipped for some true human congress, justifies my actions when the karmic accounts are debited and credited.
Be all that as it may, I had no prescient foreknowledge of their future fates when they followed me across the Bloomenveldt, nor, once they were removed from my care forever, did I have any alternate course of action to suggest, even if the same would have been heeded. I only knew that I was now quite alone in the storeroom of the research dome wondering what fate 1 was now to suffer in the service of science.
But I was given little opportunity to brood on this, for almost as soon as Moussa had been removed, a tall, somewhat portly man with short iron-gray hair and a kindly if somewhat over-proper demeanor, entered the storeroom alone, ignored all his colleagues, and made straight for me.
"Guten tag," he said quite pleasantly. "Ich bin Urso Moldavia Rashid, servidor de usted. Bitte, I would discuss with you a proposition of mutual benefit." So saying, he executed a little bow, and gestured with perfect politesse for me to follow.
After all those weeks on the Bloomenveldt sans even the sound of coherent discourse and these two days during which I had been treated with less courtesy than that due a household pet, I was utterly charmed by this sudden display of civilized manners toward my person, and went along without even thought of demur. Urso ushered me out of the storeroom, down a hallway, and into a small chamber which might have been someone's office commandeered for the occasion, equipped as it was with desk, terminal, racks of word crystals, arcane charts, and chairs. He seated me on a chair directly before the desk and took his place behind it, for all the worlds as if this were to be some sort of interview for a position of importance.
"You are said to be quite verbal," he began, "so now that I have introduced myself, bitte favor me likewise, though a formal exchange of name tales can await another occasion."
I struggled to marshal my thoughts sufficiently to reply in quotidian kind, for it was the niceties of civilized discourse which then seemed to me arcane, and the spieling of my endless tale the mode ordinaire of my verbality. "I am the only tale there is to tell which has taken us from the ancestral flowers to ..." I blinked. I paused. With a great effort, I made myself go on in a long- unaccustomed vein. "I am Moussa ... I am Sunshine Shasta Leonardo, Gypsy Joker, Child of Fortune, ruespieler," I managed to say, and I was quite pleased with the results of my efforts.
Urso smiled warmly. "Gut," he said approvingly. "And I am Urso Moldavia Rashid, Healer, mage of psychic therapy, domo of the Clear Light Mental Retreat, in which capacity I tender my invitation."
"Invitation, proposal d'affaires, offer of succor, la meme chose, nicht wahr, to wit, I offer you residence in the Clear Light on terms to be agreed upon."
"Incarceration in a mental retreat like my fellows?" I exclaimed in alarm and dismay.
"Nein, nein, nein!" Urso declared as if he found this notion as heinous as I did. "While I was forced to purchase droit of guardianship from these scoundrels in order to be allowed to make this offer, and while your mental competence may be a matter of some dispute, I hereby waive, as a token of good faith, any right of involuntary custodianship. The terms that I offer do not include involuntary incarceration. You will be provided with a decent enough private chamber, three meals per diem, a modest though civilized wardrobe, use of our therapeutic services gratuit, and within reasonable limits you may come and go at your own pleasure. All that your end of the bargain requires is your aid in our researches."
"Never will I agree to partake of the psychotropics of the Bloomenveldt and become a Bloomenkind of the mental retreats!" I told him with growing coherence, for I was beginning to remember all too well what sort of researches were carried on therein.
Urso laughed and brushed this objection aside with a wave of his hand. "Fear not," he said, "for in any case your prolonged exposure to the psychotropics of the Bloomenveldt renders you quite unfit as a subject for psychopharmacological research, nicht wahr. But you style yourself a ruespieler so-called, ne? And this, I have been given to understand is one who earns her keep by the telling of tales ...?"
I nodded my assent.
"Well, then consider my offer one of employment in your professional capacity."
"Ruespieler in a mental retreat?" I said in perfect befuddlement.
"As it were," declared Urso. "For if the statements of the scientists of this dome are to be credited, you own to, among other things, having penetrated to the realm of the so-called Perfumed Garden, having been a Bloomenkind of the deep forest, and, as evidenced by my own eyes, to have returned with the tale thereof to tell. Wahrlich? C'est vrai?"
Once more I nodded. "I have followed the tale of the Pied Piper of the Bloomenveldt from our ancestral flowers back to the far-flung worlds of men," I agreed.
"Well then surely you perceive that such an adventure of the spirit holds considerable interest for the sciences of the mind," Urso said. "So what is required of you is several hours per diem during which you will spiel us your tale thereof and your answers to whatever elucidatory questions we may pose to assist our inquiries into the scientific facts thereof. And while I freely admit that our primary aim may be the advancement of science, in the process thereof you will certainly gain sufficient renewed clarity to once more rejoin the body politic of the worlds of men as an independent agent. You will accept, nicht wahr?"
"And if I do not?"
Urso shrugged. "As a man of honor who has sworn the oath of Hippocrates, I am constrained to eschew all coercion in these matters," he said, not entirely convincingly. "As my bona fides thereof, I offer sufficient alternative largesse to pay your passage back to Ciudad Pallas should you refuse ..."
"And how am I to survive on the streets of Ciudad Pallas?" I asked, for I now remembered all too well the vile bleakness thereof, and the fact that the only employment available to a Child of Fortune therein was as an experimental subject.
Urso threw up his hands in an admission of ignorance and favored me with a smile that was a bit too smugly self-assured for my taste.
Nor did I have any rejoinder to make to this eloquent silent reply. Indeed, now that consideration of the practicalities of survival had been thrust upon me, even in my present state, I knew all too well that I was being offered a good deal less than a free choice.
For I was confronted with an alternative of impotent indigence even more perfect than what I had faced when I had been expelled from the Hotel Yggdrasil. At least Edoku had provided fressen and Public Service Stations for the indigent. As for returning to Glade with my tail between my legs, the chip of credit which would have allowed me to do so was now lost with my pack in the depths of the Bloomenveldt. And while my father would no doubt have supplied me with a duplicate, it would take weeks to apply for same by Void Ship mail and more weeks for it to arrive, during which I would expire of starvation.
Surely Urso Moldavia Rashid was hardly ignorant of this situation, which is to say that while he may have sworn an oath against coercion, fate had paid no heed to such niceties, and as he must have known quite well, I must accept his offer or perish.