Celephais

H.P. Lovecraft

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20 Mar, 2014 09:50 AM

In a dream Kuranes saw the city in the valley, and the seacoast beyond, and
the snowy peak overlooking the sea, and the gaily painted galleys that sail out
of the harbour toward distant regions where the sea meets the sky. In a dream it
was also that he came by his name of Kuranes, for when awake he was called by
another name. Perhaps it was natural for him to dream a new name; for he was the
last of his family, and alone among the indifferent millions of London, so there
were not many to speak to him and to remind him who he had been. His money and
lands were gone, and he did not care for the ways of the people about him, but
preferred to dream and write of his dreams. What he wrote was laughed at by
those to whom he showed it, so that after a time he kept his writings to
himself, and finally ceased to write. The more he withdrew from the world about
him, the more wonderful became his dreams; and it would have been quite futile
to try to describe them on paper. Kuranes was not modern, and did not think like
others who wrote. Whilst they strove to strip from life its embroidered robes of
myth and to show in naked ugliness the foul thing that is reality, Kuranes
sought for beauty alone. When truth and experience failed to reveal it, he
sought it in fancy and illusion, and found it on his very doorstep, amid the
nebulous memories of childhood tales and dreams.
There are not many persons who know what wonders are opened to them in the
stories and visions of their youth; for when as children we listen and dream, we
think but half-formed thoughts, and when as men we try to remember, we are
dulled and prosaic with the poison of life. But some of us awake in the night
with strange phantasms of enchanted hills and gardens, of fountains that sing in
the sun, of golden cliffs overhanging murmuring seas, of plains that stretch
down to sleeping cities of bronze and stone, and of shadowy companies of heroes
that ride caparisoned white horses along the edges of thick forests; and then we
know that we have looked back through the ivory gates into that world of wonder
which was ours before we were wise and unhappy.
Kuranes came very suddenly upon his old world of childhood. He had been
dreaming of the house where he had been born; the great stone house covered with
ivy, where thirteen generations of his ancestors had lived, and where he had
hoped to die. It was moonlight, and he had stolen out into the fragrant summer
night, through the gardens, down the terraces, past the great oaks of the park,
and along the long white road to the village. The village seemed very old, eaten
away at the edge like the moon which had commenced to wane, and Kuranes wondered
whether the peaked roofs of the small houses hid sleep or death. In the streets
were spears of long grass, and the window-panes on either side broken or ifimily
staring. Kuranes had not lingered, but had plodded on as though summoned toward
some goal. He dared not disobey the summons for fear it might prove an illusion
like the urges and aspirations of waking life, which do not lead to any goal.
Then he had been drawn down a lane that led off from the village street toward
the channel cliffs, and had come to the end of things—to the precipice and the
abyss where all the village and all the world fell abruptly into the unechoing
emptiness of infinity, and where even the sky ahead was empty and unit by the
crumbling moon and the peering stars. Faith had urged him on, over the precipice
and into the gulf, where he had floated down, down, down; past dark, shapeless,
undreamed dreams, faintly glowing spheres that may have been partly dreamed
dreams, and laughing winged things that seemed to mock the dreamers of all the
worlds. Then a rift seemed to open in the darkness before him, and he saw the
city of the valley, glistening radiantly far, far below, with a background of
sea and sky, and a snowcapped mountain near the shore.
Kuranes had awakened the very moment he beheld the city, yet he knew from
his brief glance that it was none other than Celephais, in the Valley of
Ooth-Nargai beyond the Tanarian Hills where his spirit had dwelt all the
eternity of an hour one summer afternoon very long ago, when he had slipt away
from his nurse and let the warm sea-breeze lull him to sleep as he watched the
clouds from the cliff near the village. He had protested then, when they had
found him, waked him, and carried him home, for just as he was aroused he had
been about to sail in a golden galley for those alluring regions where the sea
meets the sky. And now he was equally resentful of awaking, for he had found his
fabulous city after forty weary years.
But three nights afterward Kuranes came again to Celephais. As before, he
dreamed first of the village that was asleep or dead, and of the abyss down
which one must float silently; then the rift appeared again, and he beheld the
glittering minarets of the city, and saw the graceful galleys riding at anchor
in the blue harbour, and watched the gingko trees of Mount Man swaying in the
sea-breeze. But this time he was not snatched away, and like a winged being
settled gradually over a grassy hillside till finally his feet rested gently on
the turf. He had indeed come back to the Valley of Ooth-Nargai and the splendid
city of Celephais.
Down the hill amid scented grasses and brilliant flowers walked Kuranes,
over the bubbling Naraxa on the small wooden bridge where he had carved his name
so many years ago, and through the whispering grove to the great stone bridge by
the city gate. All was as of old, nor were the marble walls discoloured, nor the
polished bronze statues upon them tarnished. And Kuranes saw that he need not
tremble lest the things he knew be vanished; for even the sentries on the
ramparts were the same, and still as young as he remembered them. When he
entered the city, past the bronze gates and over the onyx pavements, the
merchants and camel-drivers greeted him as if he had never been away; and it Was
the same at the turquoise temple of Nath-Horthath, where the orchid-wreathed
priests told him that there is no time in Ooth-Nargai, but only perpetual youth.
Then Kuranes walked through the Street of Pillars to the seaward wall, where
gathered the traders and sailors, and strange men from the regions where the sea
meets the sky. There he stayed long, gazing out over the bright harbour where
the ripples sparkled beneath an unknown sun, and where rode lightly the galleys
from far places over the water. And he gazed also upon Mount Man rising regally
from the shore, its lower slopes green with swaying trees and its white summit
touching the sky.
More than ever Kuranes wished to sail in a galley to the far places of which
he had heard so many strange tales, and he sought again the captain who had
agreed to carry him so long ago. He found the man, Athib, sitting on the same
chest of spice he had sat upon before, and Athib seemed not to realize that any
time had passed. Then the two rowed to a galley in the harbour, and giving
orders to the oarmen, commenced to sail out into the billowy Cerenarian Sea that
leads to the sky. For several days they glided undulatingly over the water, till
finally they came to the horizon, where the sea meets the sky. Here the galley
paused not at all, but floated easily in the blue of the sky among fleecy clouds
tinted with rose. And far beneath the keel Kuranes could see strange lands and
rivers and cities of surpassing beauty, spread indolently in the sunshine which
seemed never to lessen or disappear. At length Athib told him that their journey
was near its end, and that they would soon enter the harbour of Serannian, the
pink marble city of the clouds, which is built on that ethereal coast where the
west wind flows into the sky; but as the highest of the city’s carven towers
came into sight there was a sound somewhere in space, and Kuranes awaked in his
London garret.
For many months after that Kuranes sought the marvellous city of Celephais
and its sky-bound galleys in vain; and though his dreams carried him to many
gorgeous and unheard-of places, no one whom he met could tell him how to find
Ooth-Nargai beyond the Tanarian Hills. One night he went flying over dark
mountains where there were faint, lone campfires at great distances apart, and
strange, shaggy herds with tinkling bells on the leaders, and in the wildest
part of this hilly country, so remote that few men could ever have seen it, he
found a hideously ancient wall or causeway of stone zigzagging along the ridges
and valleys; too gigantic ever to have risen by human hands, and of such a
length that neither end of it could be seen. Beyond that wall in the grey dawn
he came to a land of quaint gardens and cherry trees, and when the sun rose he
beheld such beauty of red and white flowers, green foliage and lawns, white
paths, diamond brooks, blue lakelets, carven bridges, and red-roofed pagodas,
that he for a moment forgot Celephais in sheer delight. But he remembered it
again when he walked down a white path toward a red-roofed pagoda, and would
have questioned the people of this land about it, had he not found that there
were no people there, but only birds and bees and butterflies. On another night
Kuranes walked up a damp stone spiral stairway endlessly, and came to a tower
window overlooking a mighty plain and river lit by the full moon; and in the
silent city that spread away from the river bank he thought he beheld some
feature or arrangement which he had known before. He would have descended and
asked the way to OothNargai had not a fearsome aurora sputtered up from some
remote place beyond the horizon, showing the ruin and antiquity of the city, and
the stagnation of the reedy river, and the death lying upon that land, as it had
lain since King Kynaratholis came home from his conquests to find the vengeance
of the gods.
So Kuranes sought fruitlessly for the marvellous city of Celephais and its
galleys that sail to Serannian in the sky, meanwhile seeing many wonders and
once barely escaping from the high-priest not to be described, which wears a
yellow silken mask over its face and dwells all alone in a prehistoric stone
monastery in the cold desert plateau of Leng. In time he grew so impatient of
the bleak intervals of day that he began buying drugs in order to increase his
periods of sleep. Hasheesh helped a great deal, and once sent him to a part of
space where form does not exist, but where glowing gases study the secrets of
existence. And a violet-coloured gas told him that this part of space was
outside what he had called infinity. The gas had not heard of planets and
organisms before, but identified Kuranes merely as one from the infinity where
matter, energy, and gravitation exist. Kuranes was now very anxious to return to
minaret-studded Celephais, and increased his doses of drugs; but eventually he
had no more money left, and could buy no drugs. Then one summer day he was
turned out of his garret, and wandered aimlessly through the streets, drifting
over a bridge to a place where the houses grew thinner and thinner. And it was
there that fulfillment came, and he met the cortege of knights come from
Celephais to bear him thither forever.
Handsome knights they were, astride roan horses and clad in shining armour
with tabards of cloth-of-gold curiously emblazoned. So numerous were they, that
Kuranes almost mistook them for an army, but they were sent in his honour; since
it was he who had created Ooth-Nargai in his dreams, on which account he was now
to be appointed its chief god for evermore. Then they gave Kuranes a horse and
placed him at the head of the cavalcade, and all rode majestically through the
downs of Surrey and onward toward the region where Kuranes and his ancestors
were born. It was very strange, but as the riders went on they seemed to gallop
back through Time; for whenever they passed through a village in the twilight
they saw only such houses and villagers as Chaucer or men before him might have
seen, and sometimes they saw knights on horseback with small companies of
retainers. When it grew dark they travelled more swiftly, till soon they were
flying uncannily as if in the air. In the dim dawn they came upon the village
which Kuranes had seen alive in his childhood, and asleep or dead in his dreams.
It was alive now, and early villagers curtsied as the horsemen clattered down
the street and turned off into the lane that ends in the abyss of dreams.
Kuranes had previously entered that abyss only at night, and wondered what it
would look like by day; so he watched anxiously as the column approached its
brink. Just as they galloped up the rising ground to the precipice a golden
glare came somewhere out of the west and hid all the landscape in effulgent
draperies. The abyss was a seething chaos of roseate and cerulean splendour, and
invisible voices sang exultantly as the knightly entourage plunged over the edge
and floated gracefully down past glittering clouds and silvery coruscations.
Endlessly down the horsemen floated, their chargers pawing the aether as if
galloping over golden sands; and then the luminous vapours spread apart to
reveal a greater brightness, the brightness of the city Celephais, and the sea
coast beyond, and the snowy peak overlooking the sea, and the gaily painted
galleys that sail out of the harbour toward distant regions where the sea meets
the sky.
And Kuranes reigned thereafter over Ooth-Nargai and all the neighboring
regions of dream, and held his court alternately in Celephais and in the
cloud-fashioned Serannian. He reigns there still, and will reign happily for
ever, though below the cliffs at Innsmouth the channel tides played mockingly
with the body of a tramp who had stumbled through the half-deserted village at
dawn; played mockingly, and cast it upon the rocks by ivy-covered Trevor Towers,
where a notably fat and especially offensive millionaire brewer enjoys the
purchased atmosphere of extinct nobility.

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