It’s the equinox today. I find it a curiously satisfying phenomenon – far more than either solstice, if truth be told – that entirely predictable balance of day and night, and no doubt it’s for this reason that it features so often in my writing, as both event and metaphor.
Anyway, the equinox will fall in about an hour from this time of writing, and to celebrate that moment here’s a passage from The Crooked Path:
It is the evening of the equinox and the world is spinning to its moment of balance, the still point before everything is changed. A black-backed gull wheels above the shore, while the last light, the long light, slides from under dark clouds across the land and the sea. There is a terrible brightness in that light; the western sky is gold and red and darkest blue, the sea ripples with reflected gold. On the land the shadows are hard and black and long. Behind and above the grey shore loom the walls of the city that her mother has built. But now she is outside the city and the laws of the lady have no writ below the shoreline.
She watches the seagull, its white underwings burning in the sunset. It soars across the bay and settles on the tall mast of a ship. She sees the dazzling brightness of the light upon the sea as the sun touches the water and drowns. She counts one hundred heartbeats, listening to the little sounds of the water against the shingle. In the dusk a curlew calls, once, twice, three times. Each time the same two notes, lonely, lovely, floating out on the evening wind from the sea. Perfect, unexpected beauty that tears her heart and leaves it desolate. When the curlew falls silent, she shudders, a sigh escapes her. Death is close, and fear is closer.
Then, as the last sliver of the sun is devoured, the chamberlain says quietly, ‘If you are there, show yourself.’
Her lover stands upon the shore to face the chamberlain. She sees the old man try to meet his stare but his gaze slides sideways, as repelling magnets slip past each other and never touch.
The chamberlain speaks, whispering into the wind, and the Lord of Marac must lean close to catch his words. ‘The iron is in your flesh, Liùthion; Lyikené is closed to you even as its apples ripen. I have written your destruction on the wind, sure as the sun rises in the eastern sky.’
‘You know what I am. You have seen what I have done,’ says the Lord of Marac. ‘Even now, I can call down death upon you, Allocco; even now, I can stop your heart with a word. Here, outside the walls where the wind blows free between the sky and sea, the very elements obey me if I choose.’
The chamberlain laughs into a wind that does not more than flap his black coat around him. ‘Then why did you not raise up a storm against me before I sent this child against you? It is true, you have that strength. But long ago I learnt to understand war. I can judge a warrior and a weapon. I know when a blow will come and when my enemy is feinting. If I could not do this, I would have died long ago.’ He reaches out to the Lord of Marac and plucks the lady’s silver brooch from his collar. ‘You’ll not do this again, Liùthion, you will not stand against me.’
As the light softens after the setting of the sun, as the sky fades from red to mother-of-pearl, her lover looks less like a man than he had within the city. As the stars above flicker into life, his nature shines from the flesh he wears. His face is pale, his black hair blows around his face like smoke. She cannot now look into his eyes for they are darker than the night. He puts back his hair from his face, and holds out his empty hands, the whole one and the broken, to the chamberlain.
‘Only where there is necessity is there no choice,’ he says. ‘I will not kill again, Allocco; not even you, not even because you used my love against me.’
He takes her hand. She feels the wind about her, strong as his loving arms. The last red light of sunset grows dim in her eyes and the other sea lies before her silvered by starlight. Alas, only for a heartbeat, for the chamberlain catches up that iron ring and slips it round her wrist to bind her to the earth so that the wind, however hard it blows, cannot carry her away. For a moment, the two balance her fate between them, hatred matched against love in a game neither can win. Then the Lord of Marac lets go of her hand and says to the chamberlain, ‘Before you make your choice, Allocco, remember mine.’
He kisses her gently on her brow, soft and cold as snow upon the meadows. It is all the farewell he will give her. ‘I renounced the storm and the fire and the knife. I will not take them up again, even for you.’