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here part of the preview chapter of the sea peoples

Am I mad? Alan Thurston thought.

It was a thought that he often had during the dreams, and that flitted away like a dream when he woke, leaving only a shadow of unexplained fear to haunt his darker waking moments. He could remember that, with an odd detachment, remember so much more than he did when he was awake though he couldn’t, didn’t think about it… the knowledge was simply there.

In the waking world he wondered without knowledge, and in dreams he knew without pondering. In an abstract way it was interesting, raising the question of whether there was an Alan Thurston, rather than fragments and masks that fooled even whatever it was that wore them.

This wasn’t one of the really bad dreams, either. They came in series, like sets of linked tales, like those of the knights of the Round Table or King Conan’s wanderings or the Quest of the Ring or the epic of Captain Call and Guss McRae from Texas to Montana.

This particular set of dream-tales was perhaps the oddest of them all. He thought it was of an ancestor of his, another of the lost Imperial Dynasty of America; the man called himself Hildred Castaigne.

Certainly it was from before the Change, since in it he saw machines that no longer functioned—steamships and locomotive engines and flying ships like giant observation balloons with engines that were a droning buzz in the sky. The bits and pieces were from different points in the dream-man’s life, in no particular order, sometimes new, sometimes maddeningly the same over and over, night after night, sometimes with a doubled view as if he were seeing what the man saw and also what was really there… if realhad any meaning in a dream.

It’s like talking to a lunatic in your own head, he thought. A lunatic who’s also a God.

In the old days there had been special places for the insane, asylums. In the world the Change had made few places or families had resources to spare for someone who couldn’t earn at least part of their keep, not if it went on for years they didn’t. Functional madmen were tolerated, and the other types tended to have accidents or just quietly pass away unless some religious group took them in as an act of piety and sacrifice.

Not that I’ve got all that much experience with lunatics, but it’s the way I’ve always imagined it.

This time he/they looked out from a window over a city, many of the buildings newish and looking much like the Capitol buildings in Boise, all columns and domes and marble. Others reared grotesquely high, dozens of stories, but even the tallest weren’t glass-faced like the ones you still saw sometimes where they hadn’t been taken down for salvage. These were sheathed in more natural stone and brick but looking the odder for that, because he had enough engineering education to know that you couldn’t possibly build load-bearing walls that high.

Castaigne—the man he dreamed of being—was sitting in a soft-padded chair in a book-lined study not altogether unlike the one in the ranch-house back home, reading a book between glances out the window. The slightly stuffy smell of velvet and leather-bound books contrasted with the fresher air through the open panes, but that had a tinge of metallic smokiness too as well as the concentrated town-smell of horses.

The hands that held the book weren’t his own—thinner and paler, not the hands of a man who’d ridden as early as he could walk and handled bow and reins and saber, lariat and branding-iron, or pitched in with the ranch-hands at roundups and the endless rounds of chores in the lonely estate on the shores of Lake Hali in the mountains of what had once been Idaho.

These were a city man’s hands, and a scholar’s, he thought. The words on the page were familiar both to the man he was in the dream and to his waking self—it was the play he’d read so often, The King in Yellow. There was an eerie detachment to the scene; he knew the words, and the man he was in the dream knew the words, though he was more frightened of them than Alan. The thin fingers trembled as they traced the lines of text, and Alan could hear the way his mind spoke to itself and what it felt, like a faint echo in his own, a tale told so often that it had become part of him:

I cannot forget Carcosa where black stars hang in the heavens; where the shadows of men’s thoughts lengthen in the afternoon, when the twin suns sink into the lake of Hali; and my mind will bear for ever the memory of the Pallid Mask. I pray God will curse the writer, as the writer has cursed the world with this beautiful, stupendous creation, terrible in its simplicity, irresistible in its truth—a world which now trembles before the King in Yellow.

Castaigne slammed the book shut and sat shivering and sweating, tears trickling down his face as he laughed shrilly for a moment. The leather cover bore an embossed figure in gold, the outline of a tall man robed and hooded and masked in yellow with the shadow of ragged crimson wings behind him.

A ghost of pain shot through the man whose shaking hands held the book, focused at the back of the neck; Alan recognized the sort of ache you felt from a bad thump on the head, the sort he’d had occasionally after a horse threw him or a sparring-match with wooden sabers got out of hand and someone bounced the ashwood blade off his helmet too hard.

Then the dream-man rose and walked into a luxurious if fussily-ornamented bedroom, and then to a picture on the wall, an oil-painting of a woman in an elaborate uncomfortable-looking dress that left most of her upper body bare. It swung aside to reveal a safe with a combination-lock of curious design. The thin fingers were deft on it, and Alan could feel the ridged metal beneath them.

Dream-man waited for three minutes or so, his mind a golden reverie, an ecstasy of waiting, and in it Alan found his mind more and more one with the man he dreamed. It was hard to resist the feeling of exultation, of power beyond imagining in vistas of rule and glory. The safe clicked and chimed like a musical clock, and he swung back the solid steel doors when the safe opened…

…and I lift, from its velvet crown, a diadem of purest gold, blazing with diamonds. I do this every day, and yet the joy of waiting and at last touching again the diadem, only seems to increase as the days pass. It is a diadem fit for a King among kings, an Emperor among emperors. The King in Yellow might scorn it, but it shall be worn by his royal servant.

I held it in my arms until the alarm in the safe rang harshly, and then tenderly, proudly, I replaced it and shut the steel doors.

The pleasure of the crown was infinite, but somehow also repellant; it blazed with life and power, but made him feel as if he’d stumbled into a tomb and found it on the head of a mummified corpse stretched out on a bier over which black beetles scuttled.

Dream-self walked slowly back into the study, and leaned on a window sill that overlooked a great square. The afternoon sun poured into the windows, and a gentle breeze stirred the branches of the elms and maples in the park; from the buds and tender new leaves it was spring, wherever this was. A flock of pigeons circled about the tower of a Christian church, swirls of them alighting on the purple tiled roof or wheeling downward to a bronze fountain cast in the semblance of a lotus blossom in front of a marble triumphal arch. Gardeners were busy with the flower beds around the fountain, and the freshly turned earth smelled sweet and spicy. A familiar style of lawn mower drawn by a fat white horse clinked across the dense velvety green, and watering-carts poured showers of spray over the roads about.

Children in odd clothing—miniature suits shaped like the uniforms sailors wore, or flared gauzy skirts for the girls—ran and played in the spring sunshine amid the banks of bright flowers, and young women in modest long-skirted costumes that reminded him of what the more conservative Mormon ladies wore back home wheeled elaborate baby carriages. They chose paths that let them exchange flirtatious glances with men lolling on the benches; from their boots and spurs and sabers they were horse-soldiers, though the uniforms of gold-slashed blue jackets and tight scarlet pants and polished tasseled boots were more far colorful than most he knew. Only Associates among the peoples he knew were such peacocks at war, and the cut was different from theirs.

Through the trees, the triumphal arch of the monument at the park’s heart glistened like silver in the sunshine. On the other side of the square were handsome-looking barracks and stables of white stone, three stories of regular windows above pillars and arches, enough for several regiments and alive with color and motion. It all seemed like a vision of a land strong, contented and at peace as its folk went about the business of their lives.

Yet he felt—unsure if it was himself or dream-self—an irresistible impulse to lean out and scream warnings of what crawled hungrily beneath the surface and waited to emerge.

Warnings or threats? Of the doom that falls from the darkening sky?

“Cassilda’s fate shall be yours! You cannot escape! None of you can escape! None of us can escape!”

Alan Thurston woke gasping. His troop-sergeant lifted a hand from his shoulder.

“That must have been a doozy, sir!” he said. “It’s all these heathen fruit you ate giving you collywobbles, not a decent apple in the place.”

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