For my first post of the year, I though I’d share with you what will be the opening chapter of my next novel (as of yet untitled). Welcome to 2021, let’s make it a winner.
It so happened every August, when the year was at its coldest, that the sky above outfit itself with celestial accoutrements so resplendent that the population of Verdigris could only marvel in awe. The light of stars from bygone epochs had finally arrived, and could not but feel, after travelling so far, cheated to appear as just one mote of light on the umbrageous canvas. But to downplay their pulchritude was a disservice to their long journey, and each ornament shone with a deserved grandeur both gracious in its mystery and dignified in its silence. It was beauty unparalleled by any handful of greenstone or malachite, or any lunar blossom of wattle or grevillea; artists would attempt to capture it in their washes, the poets would write of it in their nocturnes, and scholars would piece together the little dots into schematics, as though the night were presenting instructions to its inner workings for them to decode. The spires of the great capital city of Magna Austrinus ascended in the way made clear by stars, and reached in vain from the peak of Cardinal Mons for that which could not be held in hands.
For this month alone the Moon would gaze down on Earth with accompaniment, in this time when the Minor Moon would rise into view from the vermillion dusk to spin a web for itself next to its full-bellied parent. Hereon Major and Minor would embrace in silence with the affection of friends reunited after a long journey, and light up the evenings with a brilliant luminance made possible by the rays refracted off the Rings of Mars. For the people of Verdigris, it was an annual celebration of the cosmos, as well as an admonition to understand a knowledge that had been lost to them; for there were none left alive who knew of that age of darkness – when the night was lit by one lantern – or of the calamitous event that led to its downfall. There were things known and things extirpated, eaten away like a page in a dusty book, and even the most learned of Verdigris’ citizens saw their world in the light of an incomplete jigsaw puzzle rather than breaking any new trodden ground. Yes, there were discoveries made all the time, but one knew that knowledge had been gathered up by a previous generation, one that had met an end that scattered all its thoughts and ideals like a dropped bag of marbles – those of this new age were simply tidying up the mess.
An obvious precedent was the phenomenon known as the Rings of Mars. That curved brush stroke glittering across the sky for one season of the year – the way it rose and set and curled and swept – could only discern that the Earth was a globe, and while the people of Verdigris were utterly adamant that this was true, no woman or man had ever travelled the circumference to confirm it. True, an age of steam had accelerated the methods with which the pioneers could explore, but new challenges always appeared – wild seas, vicious winds, or a ‘Land Ho!’ met with barren shorelines that were completely uninhabitable. Verdigris was the only sustainable landmass known, and as such, Earth’s perimeter was uncharted, its dimensions concealed, and the brilliant reds of Mars’ Rings spun silently in the sky, revealing what it could, in the only language it knew how to speak.
And from below those reds – the crimson, the rose, the coral and cardinal – splashed against the brilliant navy blue of night, on the terra firma of the southerly land of Verdigris, the great minds pondered desperately on those times long past. The maps that remained were enough to spark a childlike fascination – where massive lands were sketched with cities and settlements dotted across them like grains of sand on the beach – a question of how so much of the world had been colonised and obviously livable. Why was it that Verdigris was the only land awashed with life? Why did the trees thrive here and not there, or the waters expunge themselves of poison inland, but the great sea beyond was salted beyond measure? The blooms of the trees yearned to know its roots, to understand that which nourished them, and humanity made its way down the branches of time – some like scurrying beetles, others like dead leaves falling towards a revelation they could no longer share, and the bark of the trunks carved with omnipotent mystery cloaked the enigma of existence, be it divine creation or indifferent accident. The moons knew, the rings knew, the light of stars from times gone – they knew.