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Chapter 4---The Legend of the Loom

            Menulum froze in the middle of the floor. When his Father left, the light vanished with him, and the feeling of being utterly alone paralyzed Menulum. He strove to peer through the blackness of the cavern, but there was no hint of light. The lip of the overhang was so convoluted that no ray outside refracted in, and with a chill Menulum realized that he had taken no great care to remember the distance from the cliff to the center of the room.
            "Father!" But there was no response. No flicker of light came to his peering eyes. Gradually, with a huge effort of will, Menulum quieted his taut nerves. Many times before, his Father had told him all he needed to know of a problem or a peril and then left him to get out himself. Menulum had developed a sense of healthy independence, but never before had he been in such an ominous position. He knew from the legend that the Loom was powerful, but nothing that he heard gave him a clue as to its method of use.
            He only knew that the Loom was ancient, older by far than the hill under which it stood. Menulum remembered that the Loom was immovable; that it had once stood at the top of a hill in the ancient kingdom of Eldage. It was thousands of years ago when that civilization had flourished, and thousands of years before that that the Legend spoke of the Myth of the Men who Died in their Bodies. During some time after the Era of the Men who Died in their Bodies and before the peak of Eldage's power, the Loom appeared on the peak. His Father's voice had slid into hushed whispers as he spoke of the appearance of the Loom: something had happened which had never happened on Earth before, but what it was Menulum couldn't hear. Whatever had happened, after that time the Loom was there!
            Eldage had been ruled by a group of the oldest and wisest men of the kingdom, but one of their group had used the Loom for his own purposes, and he had been cast out of the Council. His name had been Acroviron, and that name was hated to the present day, though Menulum knew not the sin of which he was guilty. So the Loom could be feared as a weapon too powerful to use without risking the curse of succeeding generations. Yet his Father had left him alone with the Loom!
            Menulum took some consolation from the fact that his Father had not---yet---left him in a situation which was perilous to his very life. But now that he was trying to be an adult---Menulum put such thoughts from his mind.
            Acroviron had still exerted an evil influence over other members of the Council, and over the course of years he seduced the most powerful Councilors to join him in his treason, until finally there was a fearful battle between Acroviron and his followers and the remaining Councilors of Eldage, who had the uses of the Loom for their defense.
            The results of the battle were uncertain, since Eldage's glory ceased from the day of the battle, and nothing more was heard from Acroviron or his followers. The Singers dated their history from the date of the Battle: they could find no history of their people before that time. Menulum had often pondered the gloomy pits offered by thoughts of the Legend of the Loom, but there seemed so little actual knowledge to base any conclusions on! Then there was the day, many years ago, when Menulum overheard his Father talking to his mother. He couldn't remember the words from this time, but he was left with only one conclusion: his Father knew where the Loom was!
            Often, feigning innocence, Menulum would try to question his Father about the uses or whereabouts of the Loom. His Father would only verify that what he heard, mainly from the Singers, was true, but he would never offer any additional information. Menulum hesitated to go too far in his questioning, for fear his Father would forbid him the subject. Then when he learned that each young man about to enter the quest for adulthood and the loss of his body could ask his Father for one Gift to help in the quest, Menulum knew that it would be the Loom for which he must ask.
            Others of his friends, who had departed from the town toward the unknown, had asked for the usual gifts: a sword, a horse, or a supply of gold to help their way in the unknown world. He had heard odd stories that some of his friends, who had seemed strangely ready for their quest, had asked only for whatever advice their Fathers could give them. Menulum couldn't understand this: a horse would be so much more helpful than words, no matter how wise they might be! But Menulum had dared all, and asked for the Loom. And now, evidently, it was his.
            Little use it seemed to him now! Becoming tired of standing, he sat down where he had stood, thinking quietly how to get out of his quandary. Certainly he couldn't attempt to get out of the cavern himself. He was no longer sure just which way the entrance was, and he feared there might be other pits or crevasses which he hadn't seen while his attention had been drawn to the Loom. If he couldn't get out himself, and---he again called loudly but ineffectually for his Father---if his Father was not going to help him out, it quickly boiled down to the Loom. But he couldn't even FIND the Loom without risking his life in looking for it.
            Finally, almost as relief from sitting in one place, he bent forward where he sat and felt the rock around him. Smooth and flat it was, not even dusty or gritty to the touch. If he could just feel his way before he crept forward, he could find his way to the Loom---if there were nothing else in the room!
            At that thought the echoing chamber was filled with life which was not his own. The darkness filled with monsters born in blackness and bred in pitch! The hairs on the back of his neck lifted and his arms grew in girth with the gooseflesh that rippled on them. His eyes strained even farther into the ebon stillness and he imagined eyes and fangs waiting for his first step into the unknown regions. He shivered mightily in fear, then suddenly shouted: "Stop it!"
            As suddenly as it had come, the fear of the darkness left him. It seemed even to him that it was a power outside himself that vanquished his fear of the unknown, as if his command invoked forces stronger than his to his assistance. The Loom! If only he had some light---
            "I want some light!" But his thoughts were in error. His voice did nothing to dispel the darkness. Gradually, his disappointment and confusion reminded Menulum of his previous conversation with his father: You live by living, you get somewhere by not WANTING to get somewhere. Moment by moment a fear grew within him, a fear akin to the fear of the darkness, but this possibly even worse: the Loom was evil itself, since Acroviron had been branded a traitor for its use, and since Eldage had perished when the Loom had been called upon to protect the civilization. He was imprisoned with malignance itself! Awhile this fear festered, but then, without words, he knew that it was a fancy which distracted him, and again the fear vanished. Without words!
            "And it would be without touch, too," and Menulum, aloud, since he felt that neither speaking nor not speaking made any difference, and the sound of his own voice was of some comfort to him, "since the bodiless Councilors of Eldage used the Loom for their purposes, too." So it must be done with thought, then. Not demanding thought---but how do you wish something without wishing it? If only he had some LIGHT with which to SEE the Loom, he might find some idea about the usage of the Loom. His Father had been the light---the light of love, thought Menulum. And the room glowed with the same light that his Father had shed in the cavern.
            "Thank you, Father." Menulum said, but there was no answer. For a moment he thought of the light of his Father in connection with a Father who was angry with him for thinking that he, the Father, had produced the light, and the light vanished just as his Father had vanished.
            Amazed, Menulum sifted back through his thoughts to see which thought had been the canceling one, and as he again thought of his loving Father AS a loving Father rather than as a angry Father, the light again suffused through the chamber.
            "So, THAT'S the secret of the Loom," thought Menulum: "the warp is the thing which is desired, but the woof is the EMOTION which goes with the desired effect." He tried to prove his thoughts with actions, but he found it difficult to reproduce the same effects in the same way without trying too hard to either THINK about them or NOT think about them. It struck him as a marvelously indirect way to doing things, but a very effective way once the nuances were learned.
            For the next few hours Menulum tried to achieve what he had achieved inadvertently, but provable results steadfastly eluded him. The subject of the light in the room had become so bound up with THINKING for him that he found it quite impossible to change its state, and was merely thankful that it had remained ON. But experimenting with a pebble which he created out of nothing taught him more of the rules. It was only when he didn't consciously think about, nor consciously avoid thinking about, what he wanted that he could get results. However, as soon as he tried to formulate this thought more precisely, all results were anomalous.
            But he could create things where nothing visible had been before. And, in the strangest way possible, whenever he avoided thinking about the Loom, its workings became clearer and clearer. There were no "things" in the world that he could create---yet there was nothing that he COULDN'T create. Yet it wasn't the "thing" that was difficult, it was what he indirectly thought of as the "attribute" which was difficult. It went back to the first inadvertent appearance of light, when he thought of his Father, but not the cloud which embodied his Father to this eyes, only the idea of his Father. And it wasn't an "emotionless" Father whom he visualized, though there was nothing to "visualize," but it had to be his Father in connection with his Father's emotion when the light was shed: that of love. Yet love was not the only "attribute" of created "things."
            Menulum found that he could make a rock with "love" and a rock with "hate." And there was no way that the could tell which rock was which. The rocks as "things" appeared indistinguishable, but the rocks possessing "attributes" were different. How they were different he wasn't quite sure. He didn't have very good aim when he threw, but when he threw one rock, he knew instinctively it was too low, and in fact hit below the mark. When he threw the other rock, he felt it would fall too far to the right, yet it, too, hit low, but directly below his target. So it wasn't that the "attributes" of the rock changed the behavior of the rock---or made him a better marksman---but he "felt" the rock better. He could think of no better way to conceive of the difference between the rocks.
            After a time of creativity, he tried a living object, and chose a living object he knew very well: his sister. He thought about her, with love, in the indirect way he had discovered to think about the rocks, and before him appeared an image of his sister.
            "I am Lilinim."
            "Lilinim, I brought you here by using the Loom!"
            "I am your sister."
            "Father gave me the Loom as my Gift; I've learned how to use it, and brought you here."
            "I love you," said the image of Lilinim, walking over and kissing Menulum lightly on the lips.
            Surprised, Menulum stepped a step backwards: "You haven't done that in so long."
            The image of Lilinim had eyes which never left the eyes of Menulum: "But I always wanted to do it, it was you who seemed so distant from me." And the face smiled; but Menulum did not smile in return, while the face continued to smile at him.
            "Why are you looking at me like that?"
            "Why am I looking at you like that?" It seemed almost as if Lilinim had hypnotized Menulum.
            "Yes, Menulum, why are you looking at me like that?" and Lilinim laughed.
            "Why are you laughing?"
            "Because you WANT me to laugh, looking at me like that."
            "Are you really my sister?"
            "Are YOU really my BROTHER?"
            "You're making jokes with me."
            "And you with me," said Lilinim, shaking her head so that the blond hair waved down her back in a way that was so familiar to Menulum.
            "Can you prove to me that you are Lilinim?" Menulum twisted where he stood, torn by wanting to do this, to do that.
            The image of Lilinim vanished.
            Frantically, Menulum whirled around the room as the light went out. From far, far above, there was a beam of light, slightly green-tinted. In an instant there was a ladder under his feet and he was climbing up, up, toward the light, but then at a terrible second he thought clearly where he was and what he was doing, and the ladder vanished and he crashed to the ground in utter darkness.
            "Father!!" This time it was not merely a half-desire to see his Father which launched the cry, but with every ounce of his heart he desired to see his Father. With a gentle laughing sound, the chamber was relit, and a small cloud stood chuckling in the center of the room, looming over the prostrate Menulum.
            "And you've found the other method of controlling the Loom," said the Father.
            "You mean if the demand is STRONG enough---" Menulum began.
            "The Loom cannot resist the most sincere efforts at such short range. When it grows accustomed to your thoughts, it may work for you through thousands of miles, as it does for Acroviron---"
            "Acroviron is alive!!" Menulum shouted in complete amazement.
            "No, my son, Acroviron is not alive, but the Loom still operates for Acroviron---you have many things yet to learn, and most of the things which you seem to want to learn have nothing to do with your quest. You may find it very pleasant to dawdle with knowledge, but you know that knowledge, in itself, is useless."
            "Father, PLEASE tell me about Acroviron."
            "Why should you wish to know about someone who has been dead for thousands of years---"
            "But then how does the Loom still operate for him?"
            "My son, what can I tell you in addition to the fact that it is not yet for you to know?" And Menulum knew that it was useless to converse further on it.
            "Have you used the Loom, Father?"
            "Many times, my son. Ah, so many times---"
            As from the welling of a wave, the walls of stone shimmered and grew transparent, and a race of people seemed to be standing on the other side of the walls, a race which Menulum had never seen before. Short and squat they were, and of a strange pinkish color that ranged from almost white to a brownish tinge. They had dirty hair and their fingernails were thin and tiny; their feet were bulky and clumsy looking, some having pointed heels like a race of demons. Their eyes were of all colors, as their skin was, and their noses stuck out from their faces in ludicrous protuberances. Some of the women were suckling small babies at their breasts, and their breasts hung down on their bellies as if they were heavy with the milk within them. Most of the people had stomachs which stuck out before them, so that few could lower their eyes and see their feet---in fact, as Menulum studied those strange faces more closely, the eyes were so sunken in the skulls that they actually had to tilt their heads before they could see the ground clearly at all!
            "Father, what strange---"
            "You have yet to know all", said his Father, and in a second the most hideous discord struck Menulum's ears: the wheeze of breath through obstructed nasal passages, the screams of babies in mortal terror, sneezes and coughs of people who seemed to be in the last agonies of some terrible sickness. Out of the mass there rose only occasional noises of other sources, but the bubbling's and sucks of gas and belches and biliousness was so sickening that Menulum was almost sickened himself.
            "And there are the smells", said his Father, with a pitying sound in his voice.
            Dried urine and excrement, menstrual fluxes and sweats, rotting teeth smells and breaths from stomachs which were foul with hideous foods. Their very skin stank of liver and gall and semen and curdled milk. Saliva reeked with the stench of suppurating sores, and bruises, scabbed, smelled like cancerous fungus.
            "Oh, Father, please, please---"
            "Would you like to be among them?" And without waiting for an answer, Menulum was in their midst: the smells coming from nearby, even though the tallest reached only to his waist; there was a babble of what must have been talk, but composed of retches and growls and cackles and slobbering sibilances. But the most horrid sensation was the touch of their flesh on his. Fantastically, their flesh was HOT to the touch, so that the moisture that seemed to bathe their skin was being constantly evaporated off, leaving a residue which Menulum could almost SEE polluting their skin. And he hadn't seen the HAIR before: hair on fingers and in ears and up noses and on the tops of their feet and their backs---so MANY had hair on their BACKS! And their feet were callused and horn-hard, and they scuffled back and forth like obscene cattle, lowing in their primitive language while the babies continued to scream and the smells clutched at his nasal passages. His throat caught.
            "Father---no more!"
            And the vision faded and died, though his ears still rang with the sounds and his eyes still stung from the acrid smells. "I went into the past and saw what we once were," said his Father. "Now that you have seen, maybe you won't waste your time as I did!"
            Menulum gasped: it was the first time he had ever heard his Father admit he had made a mistake in his life.
            "You learn much as you start out on adulthood. You think you know everything now, don't you? Oh, there are some facts you may be missing, but you have the entire framework in your head; all you need to do is fill in some of the few missing details. Menulum, my son, you have so much more to learn than you know---and so little, in sum, to know." When the cloud was silent, there was silence in the chamber. The strain of acceptance forced Menulum to listen.
            "You'll learn what it means, what it really means, to have a body, and you'll learn what there is to man without his body. If you don't, my son, you'll never lose your body, and soon I'll only be an odd dream to you, and you'll go far beyond the sea to Angmet to live with those who know they have awakened from a dream, but who are further from the truth than you are now, and you are very far. I could talk to you for a year or more, and you might be able to absorb some of what I say, but sadly there is only one way to teach, and that is by letting someone learn. Why is life so hard, you asked last night. Life is hard because people don't LIVE unless life is hard. You've seen the Singers, and you know the pleasures they find in life, but you have yet to see the Plantmen, the Weedwomen, the Toytots, the land of the Firesouls---and I could go on, but I see questions in your eyes---"
            In the pause, Menulum had to inject: "Where are the Plantmen, the Firesouls?"
            "It makes no difference where they are. It hardly matters to THEM where they are or what they do, and so much less so do they matter to you. You will have pain in this world, my son. You want too much, yet you don't want enough. And when pressed for an answer, my Menulum, you don't even know WHAT you want." The cloud remained glowing, the voice remained gentle, but Menulum was staggered by the words.
            "Father, what are you saying? Why are you so angry with me? I haven't---"
            "You don't even know what anger is, my son. I speak of the truth, and you feel that I'm berating you. I say that you'll have trouble in this world, and you think I'm condemning you for it or condemning you TO it. I'm doing neither; but neither am I praising you for it. My son, I love you for it, as you are my son, but I see these facts, and I see that you are still so far from being an adult that you cannot see them."  Still the steady light, still the same voice quality.
            Menulum fretted as if undergoing tortures: his Father was telling over all his shortcomings, and here he was saying he was prompted by love; he didn't even give him the release of being angry with him. He must be worth nothing at all, Menulum thought miserably: "I'm not even worth your anger, Father."
            "You're worth my love, my son, but you can't see what those words mean. You are so wrapped up, son, in the meanings of words, in the strings of words, that you can't see what they TRULY mean. This is the process begun by your setting out on the quest. You think of it as an adventure: I tell you it will be a torture, yet you fly from what I say as from a whipping."
            "At least," said Menulum, almost weeping with frustration, "at least it will be something I do to MYSELF. It won't be with the pain of someone whom I love very much tearing at me and at what I'm trying to do. I'm TRYING to do my best. I THOUGHT I wanted the Loom, but now I'm not sure. I don't know WHAT I want, Father."
            "My very words," yet there was no humor in the words from the cloud. "See more from the works of the Loom!" And Menulum was under the sea, and huge crab-creatures tore at simulacrums of human bodies. Then he was plummeting up into space, where nebulous star-creatures reached out for him, vaporizing and reappearing in the vacuum through the star-systems. Immediately rock-creatures opened their mouths to show tongues of stone and chewed down on tree-roots and moldering bricks from long-dead houses. Bird-like creatures soared through fire-aethers; worm-beings swam through mud-oozes; bugs, prickling, climbed on black skins and bit through wooly mats of hair.
            "Father, let me GO!" Menulum knew that his Father was trying to keep him at home. His Father was convinced he was a coward! He would show him! Why was his Father trying to protect him! HIS was the Loom. HIS was the power, now. And he struggled with all his efforts to wrest control of the Loom from his Father. For one horrible second he sensed the enormous energies of his Father opposing him, and in a spasm of panic willed that his Father be gone. His bursting ears heard demonic laughter from the walls of the chamber, and instantly he laughed to drown out the sound, so that in a second he couldn't tell which laugh was his and which was his Father's. Menulum's eyes were blinded with the rush of blood from his efforts, and he thought his head must split before he would win over his Father.
            Instantly, he was lying on the sward just off the crest of the cliff overlooking the River Ebon. The green sky glimmered above him, the breeze bent the grass at his fingertips, cooling his tunic wet with exertion. His legs ached from his fall from the ladder when it had vanished, and his head whirled with the strain of the battle. The battle! He had WON the battle! He had beaten his Father for control of the Loom! He willed two stones to appear in his hand and two stones appeared in his hand. He had won! He changed one of the stones into a plum and ate it. He had vanquished his Father!
            As he rolled over on his back, the green sky seemed to split down the middle, and, incredibly, it turned BLUE! The green hemispheres sank down on the horizons and the SUN [no more written]