Stan McDaniel

The Letterseeker

This book is a work of fiction.
Any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead,
is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2001 by Stan McDaniel

All rights reserved.


A Portion of the
Book of Loves

Berainn woke in the Empty Lands on the peak of Arem. He reached out in thought, for it was barren there and he was alone. Long he searched, until he came at last upon the immobile sea of Anash that bounds the Empty Lands like a hoop of steel, isolating them from The Brilliance that lies beyond.
Here on the shore dwelt Vrrjhri, whose thoughts were always turned to the sea and the frozen dance of the waves of Anash. To her the lands behind were void and she did not know of Berainn's awakening. So when his thought approached she was afraid, and she drew Vhialla her Curtain between them as a shield.
But Berainn glimpsed her beauty ere Vhialla fell. Possessed by great desire, he gathered his untried strength. Then with his left fist that is called Paellen, Greatest of Clubs, Berainn smote the veil and tore it.
As the stroke fell Vrrjhri knew her folly. She had made the veil rigid, as was her thought before the coming of Berainn when she sat absorbed in contemplation only of the fixed forms of the Timeless Sea. Now, though, she understood Paellen, and with her new knowledge she did not oppose the second stroke, but cleverly reshaped the veil, faster and faster, mending every tear even as it was made. And the speed of her thought exceeded all laws of the Empty Lands, giving birth to a new law, the Law of Erta that some call Time.
Then along the track of Paellen Vrrjhri's weaving became fluid, spilling forth swirls and swirls within swirls, ever-changing. And at the center of each swirl arose something new in response to the new law: gledes, shining in imitation of The Brilliance.
Forgetting their strife, the gods gazed in delight at the wondrous stream they had made together. And because of their common joy, great love arose between them.
Then they perceived that the new Law ordered the streams of Erta into realms, in layers; and by the Law, the layers were three, being the Broad Lands, the Middle lands, and the Narrow Lands. The gods longed to know the beauty of these realms from within, and to come closer to The Brilliance by means of the gledes, for in some manner the gledes shared The Brilliance, but the gods had been kept from it until then on account of Anash.
In each swirl they found a portion of Vhialla, and in each glede a portion of Paellen. By these they reached the realms, holding converse with the changing things though they themselves knew no change.
So it is that we know the gods, by means of that portion of them that is within the swirls. But it is also said by The O'Kuern that we ourselves are both Vhialla and Paellen, and therefore not entirely bound by the Law of Erta; though this understanding comes only to a few, and is hard-won.

—From the translation
of Bard-Oggmh

The Letterseeker
Book One

Stoneglow Threescar

Copper (Kop'er) n. and a. [Early
mod. E. coper, <ME. coper, AS.
coper, copor = D. koper = MLG. LG.
kopper = OHG. chupfar, MHG. G.
kupfer = Icel. koparr = Sw. koppar =
Dan. kobber = F. cuivre = Sp. Pg.
cobre (>Ar. qobros), <ML. cuper,
LL. cuprum, copper, contr. of L.
cyprium, copper, usually Cyprium
oes, i.e., Cyprian Brass <Gr.
Kuprios, Cyprian, <Kupros, Cyprus,
an island in the Mediterranean
whence the Romans got their best
copper. The Greek name was
Chalkos.] I. n. 1. A metal
distinguished from all others by its
deep red color.

Cobalt (Ko'balt), n. [G. kobalt, dial.
kobold, <OG. cobold, cobalt; Said to
be the same word as kobold, goblin,
the `demon of the mines,'
transferred to cobalt because it was
troublesome to miners. See Kobold
and Goblin.] 1. A metal of a
steel-gray color closely resembling
nickel. Originally the term was
applied to various ores of the metal,
many containing arsenic, e.g.
`tin-white cobalt,' `gray cobalt,'
` silver-white cobalt.'



Stalkworth's eyes flicked open. Copper lingered from his dream, but cobold came with the morning. It was as if the dreamworld and the real world had been distilled into a pair of words. It should be cold, he thought, not cobold. He was very cold. Instinctively he turned to the warmth of Sheila, forgetting she wasn't there. The thin motel blanket completed its long slide to the floor.
Morning light came through white curtains, casting a bleak luminosity over the furnishings. Cobold, of course—the light in the room. It was cobalt or nickel-white, frosty. Cobold, yes, old Germanic for cobalt. But what about copper?
Copper's warm, more like July, but this was the middle of October, the day after he and Sheila... The pain of their final argument welled up then. Stalkworth rubbed his eyes, got out of bed and went to the shower, letting hot water and steam soothe his feelings. As he shaved, the morning's riddle came back to bother him. Cobold had come with the cold winter light, but copper—?
Then he had it. Copper belonged to his dream. Yes, he had dreamed of a woman with copper hair, ruddy brown so deep in color it glinted like the very metal. He could not remember her features, but they weren't Sheila's.
Hair as bright as burnished copper. That much of the image burned in his memory like a warm flame. And then despite the solace of the dream the depression came again, a feeling of helplessness that threatened to break into rage. He stared into the mirror. Did he really know the man who stared back at him?
Stanley Stalkworth, Ph.D., Linguistics, in his mid-thirties, an athletic man with piercing blue eyes set beneath thick dark brown eyebrows. He had an intellectual intensity about him that played a curious counterpoint with his almost sensuous physical presence. Women were naturally attracted to him, but for reasons he did not understand the attraction seldom stuck—until Sheila Morgan had come into his life three years ago. But now that was over, too. Suddenly he felt ashamed of his dream, guilty, as though he had been adulterous with the red-haired woman whose face he did not recall. Then he smiled a wry smile at his own self-flagellation.
He dressed mechanically, picked up his briefcase, left the motel and walked to his car, drawing up his coat collar against the chill.

* * *

The elevator at the university was slow and erratic. Stalkworth hated the drab green box and the smell of stale cigarettes that clung to its carpeted walls. It took forever to negotiate the three stories to his floor. But his impatience faded when he saw his friend Milligan waiting by the office door. A small group of students was there too, pressing about the rangy anthropologist.
Smiling, Stalkworth called a greeting and slipped around the adulation to unlock the door. He noticed a hint of shadow about Milligan's eyes, but Milligan smiled back and followed Stalkworth in, leaving his admirers standing alone in the hall.
“What is it?” Stalkworth said as Milligan shut the door.
“O'Kuern came knocking at my door this morning, at an ungodly hour. Said he couldn't find you at Sheila's.” Milligan drew a small newspaper-wrapped bundle from his pocket and laid it on Stalkworth's desk. “What's going on with you two, anyway? I tried calling, but nobody answered.”
Stalkworth sat down, gesturing Milligan to a chair by the desk. “Forget Sheila,” he said bitterly. “We had a fight and I left. I slept in a motel last night.”
“What? You should've come to my place.” Milligan eased his tall frame into the seat.
Behind him through the narrow windows Stalkworth could see clouds piling up over the northern California landscape, turning the long fields a preternatural veridian. The gloomy light, filtered through the tinted glass, drained the color from Milligan's yellow hair, making it a white halo that shone like foxfire.
Milligan pushed the bundle toward Stalkworth. “O'Kuern left this for you. He practically made me take an oath I'd get it to you by this morning. Told me he'd been called away.”
Stalkworth reached to the desk lamp and switched it on to get a better look. His own name was written on the front of a small envelope attached to the wrapping. He opened the envelope and took out a note.

Sorry our games will have to be postponed. You've been chosen. Take care of it.
Remember, the stroke brings forth the milk.

“The stroke brings forth the milk? What does he mean by that?” said Milligan.
“It's a saying, like a stitch in time saves nine. O'Kuern is fond of it. He quotes it often when we're playing Go at our weekly sessions.”
“Sort of a campus guru, isn't he? He's supposed to be a re-entry student, but I've seen other students following him around like pious monks.”
“Like the ones who follow you around?” Stalkworth chided. “If those weren't disciples in the hall just now, I've never seen any. But O'Kuern's no guru. He knows a lot about Go and he sees patterns others usually don't, which he's willing to discuss with anyone who's really interested. Like this thing about the milk: when I asked him about it, he said everything happens as the result of some sort of stroke, or stress. The stroke brings forth the milk: The milk's what he calls the result.”
Milligan grunted. “Well, O'Kuern didn't seem to be under any stress, but I've lost about two hours of sleep.” He stood up with a yawn.
“I'm sorry.”
“Oh, I don't mind. I'm always available to deliver mysterious messages at the break of dawn.” Milligan grinned, then glanced at his watch. “Look, I've got to go. See you at lunch? I'll want to know what's in the package.” Then he slipped out the door. Stalkworth chuckled, noting that two of the more persistent students had remained waiting for Milligan in the hall. Then he picked up the package and began unwrapping it.
You've been chosen. A faint chill crept along Stalkworth's spine. Often during their sessions of Go, over the click of the white and black stones as they struck the wooden board, he had sensed that the white-haired old man was judging him for something beyond the game. Then the package was open and Stalkworth's gaze was drawn to the object within as if it were a snake.
It had a snake-like look, because of its bluish-grey, mottled skin. It was a stick about eight inches long and perhaps an inch through. The bark had been left along the center but carefully removed from the tips, exposing a creamy white wood beneath. It appeared to be alder, old wood, but how old? Perhaps it was an artifact, maybe American Indian. He could ask Milligan about that. He picked it up. A faint tingling sensation ran along his arm from his fingers to his elbow. In a moment the feeling passed, but the memory of it was strangely exciting. With reluctance Stalkworth wrapped the stick in the newspaper and dropped it into his briefcase, taking out a textbook in exchange. He began the necessary preparation for class. There was no time for breakfast at the campus cafeteria now. His stomach growled a protest.

* * *

At lunch, Milligan examined the stick with a professional eye.
“No, it's not American Indian, or East Indian, for that matter. But very old. It's quite dry and light. The work is simple. It was probably trimmed with a knife, then rubbed and polished.”
“Is it a ritual object?”
“Not one that I know of,” said Milligan. “But it's alder all right: that was a sacred wood in ancient Britain. Alder bark looks like it's bleeding when cut. Look, you can still see scarlet between the bark and the core.”
“You think it's ancient, then?”
“I didn't say so. But it could be, even though it's wood. Such things last a long time if they're kept dry.” Milligan handed the stick back to Stalkworth.
“By the way, speaking of keeping dry, I found this on a bulletin board. Thought you might be looking for a place to stay.”
Milligan took a small square of paper from his pocket and put it on the table. It had thumbtack marks on the corners, and bore a typed announcement:

INVERNESS. Caretake artist's cottage for reduced rent, Oct.- Jan. Occupant on vacation. Must be responsible and neat...

Stalkworth's brow furrowed. “The place has probably been rented by now. It's already October thirteenth. Anyway, it's a long drive to Inverness. That's out on the coast, at Point Reyes.”
“It's a great drive, too—goes past the reservoir. I wouldn't mind living there myself. Give it a try, Stan. You've nothing to lose.”
“Well, maybe I'll check it out.” Stalkworth folded the ad and tucked it into his shirt pocket.
He made the call during his office hour, between visits from worried students. Surprisingly the cottage had not been rented. The voice on the telephone, with a British accent, belonged to Cyril Pompay, who had not yet found a responsible tenant. Stalkworth seemed to qualify. He arranged to drive out to Inverness for an interview on the following afternoon.
The road from the university to Tomales Bay and on to Inverness passed the Nicasio Reservoir, then dropped downhill by the sluice in a long curve toward a small bridge. The lake shone grey beneath the wintry sky, but in the steep cleft by the sluice it changed color: brown mud, carried along by the rush, gave the water a look of shining brass.
Like Milligan's hair, Stalkworth thought, remembering how the light from his office window had turned his friend's yellow mane frosty. But students were attracted to Milligan by more than his commanding stature and his bright yellow hair. Milligan was a man of ideas, and they loved to challenge him just to see how he would reply. Stalkworth smiled, thinking of the cluster of admirers that had besieged Milligan by his office door two mornings ago.
He had to make a sharp right turn at the bridge; as he slowed he saw a name scrawled in large black letters on the cement wall of the bridge, straight in front of him. The name, part of the graffiti that populated the wall, read:

Dan Milliken

Odd! He'd been thinking of Milligan, and here was Milliken. Another coincidence of sounds? He shrugged it off, but an uneasy feeling lingered with him the rest of the way to Inverness.

* * *

“Yes, it is a long drive, Professor Stalkworth,” said Cyril Pompay, “but you'll agree that it is scenic, especially along the reservoir.”
“Just call me Stan.” Stalkworth could not help glancing about Pompay's living room as he spoke.
It was a long, spacious enclosure, open to the light by a bank of ceiling-high windows on the east side. A massive end table made of carved and polished redwood burl dominated the center of the room, and on the west wall hung six huge acrylic paintings, each one a brilliant cosmos, composed of vibrant streams derived from clusters of short vertical lines. Stalkworth had never seen anything like them before.
“Those are Carl's paintings—Carl's the one who's on vacation from your cottage,” said Pompay, pleased by Stalkworth's curiosity.
Your cottage. Stalkworth hadn't even seen it yet, but Pompay already had decided to rent it to him! Stalkworth found himself wishing there were more of these paintings in the cottage. He hoped Pompay hadn't thought him crude, staring at them as if he'd never seen modern art before.
But Pompay leaned from his chair and took a slick-printed brochure from the table. “This is from Carl's recent show. I wrote the text myself.”
Stalkworth took the brochure and glanced at the cover. It was a reproduction in color of one of the paintings that hung on the wall, a symphony of yellows and blues, and superimposed upon it in bold red script across the bottom of the page was the last name of the artist.


Inwardly Stalkworth began to tremble. He felt he had been caught in a trap.

* * *

The cottage occupied a spectacular height overlooking the long narrow thrust of Tomales bay. On the morning of the fourth day after moving in, Stalkworth woke before sunrise and, as was becoming his habit, he lay in bed watching the deep sensual reds of a painting by Carl Mulligan emerge gradually out of the undifferentiated monochrome of twilight.
The painting, one of a dozen Mulligans decorating the house, hung on the east wall of the bedroom beside a tall narrow window. Through the window Stalkworth could now see Jupiter aloft in advance of the sun, the planet's white flash a sharp contrast to Mulligan's crimson swarm of interpenetrating red darts.
A vibration red with love, a weaving and dance of the heart!
The passion in the painting was so obvious it approached anguish. It reached out to him, a mysterious utterance from the depths of a cuprous world of living flame, forcing his emotions to the surface: Self-pity first, over his estrangement from Sheila. But then desire flooding back from where it had been repressed, so strong it surprised him, desire for the redhaired woman of his dream whose indistinct image seemed for a moment to mock him from behind the dance of Mulligan's taunting red strokes.
Mulligan, he half-whispered to himself, and now the painting floated in the grey morning as a hanging question. Milliken. Milligan. Why had these similar names been thrust before him, all in the same hour? That puzzle had not left him since the moment he held the brochure in Pompay's living room.
Coincidence, of course; but he could not shake off the feeling that something more was at work. It was like the copper-cobold puzzle. Each of those words, with similar sounds, had condensed an entire situation, summing up alternately the voluptuous red warmth of his dream and the cold light of the motel room. But what did these three names sum up?

Mulligan. Milligan. Milliken.

It was a Saturday. Intending to take a long hike on Pompay's land, Stalkworth dressed in his boots and wool shirt. As he prepared a late breakfast the sun passed out of the eastern quarter and struck the south window by the bed at an angle. In the southern light Mulligan's painting blazed. A warm glow flooded the bedroom, helping the woodstove cut the chill.
While he finished a steaming cup of tea Stalkworth sat on the edge of the bed where the warmth from the window could soak into his clothing. On top of the bookshelf by the bed lay the stick O'Kuern had left him. Idly Stalkworth picked it up, studying the way it had been trimmed. Since that first time he had touched it, there had been no unusual sensation from contact with the wood.
O'Kuern, he thought with a sharp pang of regret. He missed the dignified old man, not only for their sessions of Go, but for the light he might have shed upon the coincidences of the past few days. With his feeling for patterns O'Kuern would have been intrigued. But O'Kuern had not been seen by anyone since he had left the stick and the message with Milligan.
Stalkworth put the stick on his lap and selected a volume at random from Mulligan's shelf. It was Newberne's analysis of the great eleventh century painter, Giaccomo Da Rizzi: Art and the Mother Goddess. He read for a while, trying to distract his mind from the nagging riddle of the similar names.
Newberne spoke of the ancient feminine: the mysterious Uroboric Mother, both male and female. It made Stalkworth uncomfortable—this effort to approach Woman. An image of his failure with Sheila brought a sudden pang of regret and shame. He rubbed his eyes and tried to focus on the book again. And as he did, the song of the morning twilight came back. He fell into a kind of meditation, his thoughts roaming in two realms at once:

“The uroboric nature... (Newberne wrote)

Mulligan, Milligan... (Stalkworth's brain chanted)

“of the mother goddess... (Newberne wrote)

Milligan, Milliken... (Stalkworth's brain replied)

“affects her relationship to...

Milliken, Mulligan...

“the child she nourishes...

Milliken, Milligan...

“and her milk-providing breasts...

Milligan, Mooliggen, Molly can...

“often become symbolic...,”

Stalkworth sat straight up with an amazed expression. He put the book down and seized a pen and notebook, writing hurriedly:

Something interesting. Just saw a connection between the names Milligan, Mulligan, Milliken, and the word...

There was a pause as the universe flickered.

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