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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
River’s pursuit of the Salmon of Wisdom takes her to Inara’s door.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1998 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
WHAT BEGINS WITH AN APPLE (11)
Previous Part | Next Part
Follows TWO BY TWO BY TWO (10). Precedes ENDS WITH A HORSE (12).
The series so far:
A LION’S MOUTH (01)
ADVENTURES IN SITTING (02)
SPARKS FLY (03)
BREAK OUT (05)
THE TRIAL (06)
ONE MAN’S TRASH (08)
TWO BY TWO BY TWO (10)
River’s pursuit of the Salmon of Wisdom takes her to Inara’s door.
* * *
Mal claimed he didn’t like complications, but he sure was good at generating them. Despite her anger at him, and despite the deep sense of betrayal that she’d felt when she discovered he’d been conducting an affair with Zoe on the side while professing love for her—Inara couldn’t hate Mal. She had broken off their relationship, but there were still ties that bound them. 藕断丝连 Ǒuduànsīlián—River’s quotation was apt. Inara had discovered on Beaumonde that she couldn’t even enjoy the attentions of another man. She’d spent the entire appointment with her client thinking of Mal, and comparing the man—mostly unfavorably—to Mal, nevermind that she and Mal were no longer lovers.
Mal had looked physically pained by her verbal duel with Saffron, and Inara’s heart had gone out to him. She’d have understood it completely, if they hadn’t already broken up, if they were still a couple. He had asked her to marry him, and if that proposal were still on the table, she’d have understood his shock.
It was exactly what she had told him on Bandiagara: their relationship worked, and worked beautifully, when viewed in isolation. Just them. But they couldn’t live that way, isolated from everything and everyone else. They usually did well in space; they did well on remote worlds like Bandiagara and Beylix. But add the complications of civilized life to the mix, and things began to fall apart. And, as Inara had learned, even the journeys in space weren’t exactly uncomplicated.
Mal couldn’t deal with her past, her profession. Even had there been no question of his fidelity (she set that firmly aside for separate consideration), there was that, acting as a barrier between them. Mal dealt with her profession by pretending most of the time that it didn’t exist. It was not a very mature way of dealing with it, and it wouldn’t work in the long term. She had thought he’d made a few baby steps. Like the time in bed (was it really only two and a half weeks ago?) that she’d…well, never mind what she’d done. What he’d said about it had surprised her. He’d actually said that he was glad she had more experience. She could chalk it up to his feeling such intense pleasure that he was temporarily incapable of objecting to anything. She’d sexed the argument right out of him. But he had said it. And then, when she told him that she needed to visit a civilized planet for the appointments whose true purpose she still concealed from him—he had reacted, not with the cheerful cooperation of her fantasy, nor with the jealous rage of her nightmare, but in fact much better than her prediction of grudging participation. He had trusted her. And just three days ago he had trusted her again, despite their differences, to pilot his beloved ship while he recovered from an arduous day on Beaumonde.
But he wasn’t there yet. Confronted with reality of her profession, he would shatter. Couldn’t deal with the technical details. Couldn’t possibly understand what underlay her decisions on Beaumonde. She must never tell him about—
Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock on her door. Was it Mal?
She paused before Inara’s door, seeking clarity. The answer was there, somewhere in the swirling miasma of her mind, but it eluded her grasp, slipping from her fingers and swimming away like the Salmon of Knowledge. Some said the fish was really a bard, a bard with the wisdom of past, present, and future. Many had tried to catch the fish and gain the wisdom of the bard. In the story, the fish was cooking in the pan, and Fionn burnt his finger on it. Like Sigurd in a parallel mythos, he doused the damaged digit in his mouth, and thusly gained the knowledge of past, present, and future. Learned the language of the birds. Bards. Birds. Chickens. There was something about the chickens….River tried to extract the strand from the ball of yarn, but it was tangled with the others and pulled them all along.
Salmon of Wisdom, tree of knowledge. Intuitions were not answers. Metaphor was not expression. Allegory….
It was this, precisely, that had directed her footsteps to Inara’s door, to seek the counsel of the more enlightened. Inara could read subtext like no other aboard. She was educated in allegory, culture and history. She might even know about the Tamarians. Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. Temba, his arms wide. River wondered if she should mention Darmok. An ancient cortex drama designed for entertainment: it was not a historical document. It was fiction. But was that not the purpose of fiction? To teach us more about the truths of the human condition. Just because something was fiction didn’t make it not true. Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra faced a common enemy. They had to work together to overcome. Shaka, when the walls fell.
Perhaps Inara would understand. Help River differentiate the tangled threads. She needed a clue. Ball of yarn. Scary monsters hiding in the labyrinth.
The apples were key. Of that she was certain. But what meaning may be found in an apple? It wasn’t a simple question.
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
River could see a world in a grain of sand. Or the ’Verse in a drop of pond water—amoeba and volvox and stentor—pseudopodic, flagellated, and ciliated protozoans, living their lives, changing and rolling and shouting, unconscious of the manipulation of their environment by god-like creatures larger than themselves. Olympians. The Olympians celebrated at the wedding feast of Peleus and Thetis, but she wasn’t invited. What begins with an apple, must end with a horse. But was the horse really the end of all things? Was there even an end, or was it an unbroken circle, or cycle….The dappled horse, the dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
Had we but world enough and time. The wanderer, the weary wanderer, in a ship…
Like those Nicean barks of yore,
That gently, o'er a perfumed sea,
The weary, wayworn wanderer bore
to his own native shore.
Ancient Nicaea, known for its creed. 我信獨 一上帝， 全能的父， 創造天地和 有形無形萬物的主。Wǒ xìn dú yī shàngdì, quánnéng de fù, chuàngzào tiāndì hè, yǒuxíng wúxíng wànwù de zhǔ. Something was missing…about all his works and all his ways. Fiends and monsters, sirens and sorceresses: they detained the wanderer. Pigs. Turned them into pigs. He grew old with wandering, as did so many. The swineherd Eumaeus brought him home. Nice, mice. Mice are nice. Nicene, Mycene. Atreides King of Mycenae returned with spoils of war to find a lover in his wife’s bed. Murder and bloodshed, a family grown old in the ways of violence. A daughter sacrificed, a brother bent on revenge, hounded by furies. So many versions, so many threads, tangled and woven in a web, in a shroud unraveled by night.
River raised her hand and knocked on Inara’s door.
Inara opened the door and found River on the other side, holding an apple.
“Καλλίστῃ Kallistei,” River said, offering it to her. “For the fairest.”
“Thank you, River,” Inara said, accepting the apple. “But I’m not Aphrodite, you know.”
“Goddess of Lo—”
“No, thank you,” Inara returned, absolutely declining to have anything to do with the divinity. “I’ll stick with mere mortal. Human problems are complex enough without adding divine issues to the mix.”
“Are not the Apples of the Hesperides, River,” Inara finished. “Jayne may be strong, but I doubt he could compete with Hercules, who had to use all his strength to get those apples.”
“Jayne didn’t get the apples. Nor Angus. His apples were silver and gold—”
“Angus?” Inara wondered whom River was talking about. She did not recollect any Angus appearing in the ancient Greek myth about the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. River’s speech was sometimes perplexingly allegorical, and sometimes it was as tangled as the strands of yarn in a tapestry. Oh what a tangled web we weave. She would do her best to try to understand, because she knew River had come to her for a reason.
“The god of love.” River could tell Inara was having trouble following, and this time she could readily give the definition.
“Eros?” ventured Inara, feeling like she was a contestant on a quiz show.
No. Wrong mythos. Sounds like. “Eris.”
“The goddess of discord?” Inara asked River. “Now, I believe you may be on to something. I surely feel the goddess of discord has been admitted to Serenity. That 狐狸精 húli jīng has certainly done her best to discomfit all of us. It’ll take all of us pulling together to get the better of her.”
River was delighted. She understood. “Her face could launch a thousand swans,” River stated, then looked confused at her own words. Her face cleared. “She divides.”
“Yes, that’s her tactic. I’ve noticed. And against reason and good judgment, I’ve been influenced by her efforts,” Inara said, as she came to the realization that much of the recent conflict between herself and Mal had been, at the very least, exacerbated by Saffron’s presence. Had Saffron gone so far as to engineer those conflicts?
River gave Inara a bright smile, as she had understood it perfectly. River tried to give voice to the next important point, but now the exact words eluded her. Apples. The apples were important. Tell the story. “Rise above it, as the sun rises. Golden apples of the sun. The hazel wood grows at the fount of wisdom. Three times three, the hazel nuts dropped into the well. He dropped the berry in a stream and caught the silver trout.” This part was harder to explain. River didn’t quite know herself what she was trying to say, and that made it harder. The words weren’t hers.
“A trout, River?” Inara asked, unable to follow. It certainly sounded symbolic, but she was unsure of the meaning of the symbolism. “As in, a fish?”
Exactly. Except the word itself had multiple meanings. “A’ bhreac. Speckled. Trout or salmon. Family Salmonidae. The Salmon of Wisdom. Hail to thee, blithe spirit! Bard thou never wert. Burnt his fingers. Sucking his thumb.”
Inara recognized the quote from the Earth-that-was poet Shelley. “‘To a Skylark’? Do you mean ‘bird thou never wert’?” Inara responded, quoting the only part of River’s speech she could make any sense of, never having heard of the salmon of wisdom.
“Bard thou never wert.” River corrected, severely. The fish was immortal. In me, past present and future meet. All knowledge was in it. Caught the salmon. Trout. A’ bhreac. Fish. Cooked it. The giant child burnt his thumb on it. “Ouch.”
“Are you hurt, River?”
River rolled her eyes. No. “Telling a story.”
“You’re speaking in riddles, 妹妹 mèimei.”
“Not a riddle.” Trying to be clear, but the words eluded her grasp. Swirling, tangled strands. They swirled away through the mist across the lake, beyond her reach. It was hard, sometimes, to convey the meaning in words, and it was no clearer in her mind than on her tongue. The closest she could approach to meaning was metaphor. Complex meaning conveyed most concisely through story. Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. Shaka when the walls fell. That was the word. “Allegory.”
River opened her mouth to speak, but the fish swam away. Different words came out. “The fountain of wisdom. Arethusa.” Different mythos. But it was still important, so she said it anyway. “Arethusa, Erytheia, Hesperia.”
“They were the Nymphs of the Evening,” Inara interpreted, “the keepers of the Garden of the Hesperides. So we’re back to the apples, are we?” Inara had no trouble identifying the references to ancient Greek mythology. Earth-That-Was mythology had been part of her Core education. But what of it? What did River mean?
“Better nymphs of the evening than ladies of the night.”
“And just what do you mean by that, River?” Inara asked sharply.
“Daughters of the Night,” River corrected. “The Angry Ones. The Gracious Ones.”
Her phrases jogged Inara’s memory. Those were all euphemistic names for— “Ah, the Furies—also called the Erinyes or Eumenides. I have to agree with you. I wouldn’t be eager to encounter the Furies myself.”
“Strike offenders with madness,” River said. “On the look out for violators of the law and ethics. Protect beggars and strangers. Punish those who steal the birds’ young.”
“As I recall, they also had snakes for hair and blood dripping from their eyes,” Inara added. “Not my type.”
“Megaera and Alecto,” River stated, giving Inara a scrutinizing look. “Tisiphone not so much.”
Inara paused for a moment and regarded River. Each of the Furies had her specialty: Tisiphone punished crimes of murder; Magaera, the jealous one, punished those guilty of marital infidelity; while Alecto, she of implacable anger, punished moral crimes. Was River trying to tell her that she was jealous and angry?
“She ran away once. When she was hurting, jealous and angry, she ran away. She wouldn’t speak. He grew older with wandering. ‘I will find out where she has gone, and kiss her lips and take her hands…’” River quoted the poem. The poem told the story pretty straightforwardly, and River could speak the words. She hoped Inara would understand.
“Something rustled on the floor, and something called me by my name,” River quoted. She focused her eyes on Inara and continued,
“It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair,
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.”
“And who was the glimmering girl? A water nymph? Arethusa?” Inara queried. It was a bit like playing charades, only with cryptic words instead of gestures and antics. And she got the idea River was serious, and not really playing. But she didn’t get it.
River nodded, then shook her head. Right track, wrong mythos. “Caer,” she said, trying to reach the words to explain. “Caer Ibormeith. Turned into a swan.”
Inara pondered for a moment. She had never heard of Caer. “She was an ugly duckling?” she guessed. “And turned into a swan?”
No. No, no, no. River shook her head. “She was the woman of his dreams. And turned into a swan.”
Inara couldn’t figure this one out.
“Knew she was a woman. Not a swan.”
River gazed owlishly at Inara, and construed the verse. “He was the only one who saw her for a woman, not a swan. Looked beyond the bright plumage and saw the woman at the core. Chose her from among a thousand swans.”
“Who?” Inara asked in a whisper.
Inara puzzled. Angus again. Who was this Angus? “I still don’t understand, 妹妹 mèimei,” Inara said. The thought struck her that perhaps River meant this myth, tale, poem—whatever it was—as an allegorical representation of something in real life, so she asked, “Is Angus someone I know?”
Yes. Yes, yes, yes. “Dream Angus. Four birds flew about his head. Aonghais Oig. Four birds, four kisses.” River delineated the story of the myth succinctly. River cocked her head at Inara as if to say, Now do you understand? Inara shook her head. “Wandering Angus. Loved for a day and a night. Forever.”
“For a day and a night. Forever,” Inara repeated. “I’m afraid I don’t understand, River. How can one day and night be forever?” Try as she might, Inara did not understand the paradox, nor why River was presenting her with it.
“Absence of the definite article means indefinitely. Là agus oidhche. For a day and a night. Forever.”
“Silver apples of the moon, golden apples of the sun. Each following the other. Forever.” She couldn’t have said it plainer. The effort of keeping focus was exhausting. Her message delivered, River drifted out the shuttle door, following the swirling eddies left in the salmon’s wake.
Inara sat down on her sofa in confusion, pondering River’s words. She knew River was trying to tell her something, something important. But just what did all that apply to? Was it to do with Saffron? The allusions to Eris, the goddess of discord, certainly pointed that way. If Inara had to guess at Yo-Saff-Bridge’s true name, she would have ventured Eris as the most fitting.
And was River also trying to tell her something about her personal life? The talk about Alecto made it seem that way—an oblique way of telling her she was jealous, angry, vengeful. Inara supposed it was true. She had been acting that way, her emotions completely out of control. Where was that Companion control for which she was so famous? She would have said, justly famous, except that it seemed to have completely deserted her at this point. Somehow, Mal managed to provoke her beyond all control. All her Academy training simply deserted her around him. It was as if he could see right through her armor—and with a few well placed prods and pokes, he exposed it for nothing more than borrowed feathers.
And then to whom was River referring when she spoke of Angus? Inara didn’t understand all the references to Angus. If Angus was some historical, mythological or literary personage, he was outside the prescribed canon of Companion studies.
藕断丝连 Ǒuduànsīlián [lit. “Lotus roots may break, but the fiber remains joined” (idiom meaning “Lovers part, but still long for one another”)]
我信獨 一上帝， 全能的父， 創造天地和 有形無形萬物的主。Wǒ xìn dú yī shàngdì, quánnéng de fù, chuàngzào tiāndì hè, yǒuxíng wúxíng wànwù de zhǔ. [I believe in one god, the father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.]
Καλλίστῃ Kallistei [To the fairest (Greek)]
狐狸精 húli jīng [vixen, bitch (lit., “fox spirit”)]
A’ bhreac [salmon or trout (Scottish Gaelic)]
妹妹 mèimei [younger sister]
Erinyes [the angry ones]
Eumenides [the gracious ones]
Là agus oidhche [For day and night (Scottish Gaelic)]
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