In Autumn Sempiternal: A Triptych

John Gale

Prologue: The Triptych.

The three panels are of rosewood, their backs paned with ivory-hued satin and hinged with strips of delicate silk, flushed with the palest lapis lazuli and figured in white gold with intricate representations of roses. The panels are two hands in height, including the frail frame of gilded copper pierced with a trefoil design which runs along the sides of the left and right segments and along the tops of all three.

The subject appears to be secular; the artist unknown.

The triptych was found in the ancient and deserted city of Veltique in the company of a velvet pouch containing a number of peculiar tear-shaped rubies.

An exotic, disturbing and enigmatic creation.

The Left Panel: A Rhapsody in Serpentine Summer.

The dark skies become rich with dawn, a kiss of vermilion, a caress of smouldering garnet to the white flesh of the east, and the pale marble of the palaces of the city are slowly drenched in the flow of jewel-bloods; the polished wood of casements are gemmed with a water of garnets and rubies pouring from the hidden urn of the sun, flowing in through the casements paned in thin crystal, closed on the cool dawn of early Summer.

Yet one leaf of window is open, a stain of blood upon the sill within, and the bloom of the dawn reveals a sleeping chamber: a canopied bed, curtained with pleated hangings of sable velvet, embroidered with lilies of white-gold thread, and lying amidst the deeply hued violet and amethyst silks and satins of sheets and cushions a woman sleeps, restless, caught in the raptures of an exquisite dream. On the amberous skin of her neck a trail of blood has run, like spilt wine, or like the kiss, the caress of smouldering garnets, of vermilion to the white flesh of the skies to the east.

She stirs, a sigh escapes from between her lips of pale, pale rose; one hand moves, honey smoke through the lush darkness of her hair. The sigh blooms again, an ethereal flower formed from the warm fragrance of her breath: and in the sigh a name - Rhasiphae.


The dream is a hollow of velvets, dark and warm, laced with the fires of illicit pleasures. It is her own bedchamber she dreams of and she has just lit tall candles of dark emerald, the flames silver buds, the holders skeletal creatures of blackened brass howling open-jawed to the ceiling, from which rise the tapering wax of the candles; their claws of antique gold, like curls of the moon, cut deeply into the polished wood of the table upon which they rest.

And in her sleep she sighed again, that scented, moist blossom caressing the cool air of the chamber - Rhasiphae. The precious vermilion silk of ripening dawn still flushed into the room making the violet and amethyst materials that covered the bed gleam richly like rare orchids.

But her dream, her dream continued...

The woman is burning incense in bowls of enamelled copper, the perfumed smoke of dusk-grey and pale cerise wafting through the room, twisting and trailing over the hangings of ebony velvet, along the walls of tawny marble, the floor of darkened cedar, and travelling to the casement with its crystal open onto the night.

The moon was a full circle of white, white jade. A bell from the ivy-wreathed malachite tower of a temple, or from a campanile in one of the obsidian mortuaries, in the south of the city chimed upon the air: it was the apex of the night, the dividing line between one day and the next and she heard the whispering tread of something in the quiet that lies beyond the silences of the mundane world.

The woman took up in her dream a slim, sharp needle of silver from a table and pierced her thumb, let three pearls of blood drop beautifully into a cup of painted lapis lazuli. Next she picked up a small ewer of chased gold and from this poured a discreet stream of almandine-hued wine into the vessel, swirled the contents, took a sip and swallowed, the remainder she poured out onto the sill of planished wood as a libation.

"To the moon of ebony," she murmured, "to the white lilaceous skies. To the Lord of dancing shades and shadows."

She looked to the night: the moon had put on a veil of delicate red, like a priestess from one of the temples with the malachite towers. The movements in the quiet beyond the silence were closer now. She crossed over to the canopied bed, to the silks and satins of violet and amethyst that gleamed with the light from the silver-bud flames.

Now the moon seemed to have two eyes of pupilless obsidian, and the veil was blown by an unheard and unfelt wind to pale flames about the round of the face.

And in her sleep she sighed yet again as the vermilion grape of the sunrise was being watered through with gold and primrose, all the jewels of a wooded vale, the silver lilies in the sable hangings about the bed glowing as if heated by the begemmed light.

And again, the name: Rhasiphae, a scented and forbidden bloom.

And in the woman's dream realm she lay watching the open casement from which the moon in its fiery veil was gradually slipping. The eyes of obsidian blinked out and the veil dropped away, and then something like black smoke rose up out of the shadows by the window, shaped like a man: a being that treads the silences beyond the stillnesses of the night.

As she watched, her heart beating like a taut drum of scarlet, she saw the figure was robed in rust-hued damask like a fox and that the stems of its fingers were adorned with rings smouldering with rubies, raging incarcerated sunsets, the hair was long and lustreless, the dark of a subterranean catacomb in which ebony petalled blossoms proliferated. And the face, the face was cold and beautiful, whiter than jasmine paled by a full moon of white.

Then the figure was by the canopied bed and bending down to her its jasmine-fleshed face, the hair falling like a void, and she saw the obsidian eyes for a moment, and the curved lips of wine or blood, startling in that pallidness. Then those exquisite lips whispered in her ear, and she felt no passing of breath upon her flesh, neither warm nor cold:
nothing. The fingers caressed her neck like silk and the soft hair caressed also. There was a fragrance of age about the figure, yet nothing unpleasant, rather the sensual aroma of an antique wine, the perfume rising from the white jasmine glass of the flesh.

And those lips whispered: "I am named Lord Rhasiphae, my sweet, sweet dove, and I have come to you from my manifold shadow-columned palace of sable sardonyx, above which burns eternally the moon of black pearl in a sky of white amber, trapped in which are the gold flames of strange worlds."

The lips of Lord Rhasiphae brushed her flesh like the wings of a rose-hued moth, and she felt a pain, an exquisite pain of silver upon the silken honey of her neck as the lord kissed her there with slim needles that pierced her flesh. She sighed and pressed up to Lord Rhasiphae's mouth so that the silver pain travelled deeper, and the amphora of her smooth neck was imbibed from.

She drifted down into her dream (the petal-wing of a butterfly), the dream as eternal as the black pearl moon in the skies of Lord Rhasiphae's realm. Eternally to live her peerless dream in her bedchamber of enlilied sable hangings; eternally as the violet and amethyst silks gleamed richly like the petals of rare orchids.

And she sighed, and in that sigh a name, "Rhasiphae," a scented and forbidden bloom.

The Right Panel: Two Songs of Marble Winter.


The city lay quiet beneath the chains of winter: the marble palaces had upon them a dusting of gem-frost that gleamed under the light of nights made colder with a vast moon.

So silent the coiling streets, and unlitten save for the silver lamp travelling over the curving vault of ebony above; and even by day there was silence except for gusting winter breezes driving along herds of sere autumn leaves still dreaming of their late fires of amber and gold, porphyry and orpiment, soon to be forgotten as their flames of burning emerald and chrysoberyl of so long ago are forgotten.

The gardens are rife with the husks, the detritus of lush summer, it is her grave, garlanded with frost, or madreperl snows.

And hung from silver, or gold, or bronze wire like strange, frozen fruits depending from the bare and black boughs of the sleeping trees there are mirrors of silver, or gold, or bronze. Reflecting: the sere gardens.

Reflecting: the pearl snows.

Reflecting: the jewelled frosts.

Reflecting: the dried crone leaves, sleepily dreaming of their once-rich hues.

Turning, twisting, the mirrors of silver and gold and bronze in the iced breezes, in the silences of the city.

And sometimes on the breath of the breeze the ghost of a whisper: Rhasiphae, my lord with tresses of dark, caressing petals. A whisper from a spectre out of dreams. With none to hear, except one, in the white silences beneath the silver moon, beneath the cold chrysochrous sun.

None to listen, except one: sometimes moving like a blown robe of darkest russet along the serpentine alleys, the dead avenues of pale chrysolite; sometimes standing still as a windless shadow out of the silver, the mercury, the pallid white wine out-pourings of the moon. Listening: He enfolds me in his dark-cloaked arms, his skin beneath like smooth white velvets, perfumed like etiolated roses from an emperor's tomb.

Out of dreams, the whisper, twisting like the mirrors, like the cold winds lifting up the opal snows beneath the moon's mercurial fires.


Behind fretted shutters of ivory, or fragrant cedar, in chambers where lamps have gone cold, or candles burned down to distorted flowers of wax, in which stale perfumes of rare resins can still be detected upon the still air, in chambers where the shadows are restless with a revenant of ecstasy, of a strange passion, of a swiftly fading ghost.

And upon velvet cushioned beds, or in ornate chairs, or upon floors of polished marble or of dark onyx, there lie the sleeping figures of men or women dreaming, dreaming without a seeming end.

On occasion one will stir: the movement of a silken eyelash upon kohled flesh; the twitch of slowly atrophying muscles. But they sleep on, sleep and dream, caged, though they are unaware of being so, caught in the sanctuary of their encounter with their exquisite nemesis.

And the dark originator of their fate would sometimes brush through the cold, deathly chambers, opalescent dusts lying softly on drying flesh and wood and jewels and precious tarnishing metals alike. And Lord Rhasiphae would often bend over a shallow-breathing figure, hair a terrible unillumed blackness and strands of it would caress (O my lord with tresses of dark, caressing petals) as in their dreams it would delicately touch. And from his eyes of obsidian, vermilion tears would flow and they would form pearls of blood and drop upon the desiccated altars of flesh like offerings of rubies, libations of a deep sorrow. And often he would return and garner these jewels of lament, placing them in a velvet pouch, a reliquary for these symbols of his passionate sorrows.

So the vast moon slips cold above the marmoreal city of silence with its glittering frosts and moonstone snows; and the mirrors twist in the gardens, hanging from the ebony latticework of the slumbering trees, reflecting in their planished surfaces of silver or gold or bronze, reflecting in their bright eyes almost all that they behold.

The Central Panel: The Lamentations of Autumn Sempiternal.

The sovereign lord of many sorrows am I, the pale dead and the dying are the altars at which I weep, but no solace can I gain from this veneration, only further ineluctable pain. Yet I am drawn by my yearnings and the needs of my victims, as inevitable as the white moon is drawn from horizon to horizon across the spread sable body of the night skies.

And beneath the night skies I walk listening to the sibilant whisperings of the moribund, or watch the silent pacings of the diaphanous revenants of the dead as they pass amongst the olivine tears of the river-marging willows, the sky amethyst with sunfall and the smoothly running waters a dark violet crystal like the violas placed upon the eyes of the dead.

The bells in the high towers of the mortuaries call to me, and so I wander amongst the sepulchres of chrysoberyl, of malachite, of viridian-hued marble, the portals of palisander or darkened bronze inlaid with poems in pearl or zircon singing in gorgeous grief of the ones interred within, decaying in their delicate silks, the gold and silver becoming lustreless in the darkness, the blossoms strewn about the biers shrivelling like their once fine skins of ivory or amber.

What fragrances, what balsams to delight my senses! But what pain assails me if I have been the cause of their death: a torture that has made me howl full-throated to the pale jade skies of my world, to the ebony pearl of the fixed blossom of the moon.

I look at the tombs wrought of beryl, of chrysoprase, of green jade, this emulation of life enclosing the dead, like green sap: the blood of lush plant life, and I often give vent to an ironic laugh. Mortals and their dreams of immortality, or rebirth! It does not exist for them, at least not while such as I abide to steal it away.

Yet they invite me to do so, thinking that I am a panacea for their inadequacies, or the answer to their lambent dreams. But once I am summoned I can not return until I have laid waste to all and left the streets and mansions to the aimless ghosts of the fallen.

Many sorrows assail me, and the ebony thorns of self-pity pierce me to the core, the hollow core which resounds with the ancient sighings of the dead, until I am drawn by the perfumes of sacrifice, the passionate yearnings, the raging madnesses of mortals in their palaces or hovels, drawn from the dense shades of my mansion of many pillars by these enticements, called to feast by my own inferno of desire, to fill the hollow with the ruby wine of their blood. And with that wine comes their life, their souls, their memories: the intimate, the personal things, the secrets, and the common, everyday things: all.


And so I leave them in their fine silks or in their threadbare homespun, leave them embowered in an opiate dream from which they can never awaken, and only their plaintive ghosts remain to slip from the endusted cages of their sere-fleshed skeletons, to wander through the mournful purples of the sunset, light caught like liquid precious gems beneath the trees of the gardens, to eventually fade like those sad purples, but never to return.

Never to return.

Unlike I, Lord of many depthless sorrows.

I walk the silences of the city, through the still autumnal sadnesses of the gardens where the belladonna now grows beside the rank and pallid lily in the shadows of gold-leafed trees, walk beneath the bright, cold sun, or beneath the colder moon of white quartz. And ever the sibilant whisperings of the dim ghosts of my splendid courtiers come to me. Their voices twining through the falling scarlet leaves, the green-mottled golds, the frost-brought ambers of the leaves: how they adore me these ephemeral spectres.

How I long to return to my echoing palace, to the courts of narcotic and perfumed shades, where the black moon throws out long and thin swathes of shadowy light, where I can seek for the sweet balm of solace from the music of crystal water flowing through pierced pipes of porcelain, or from the songs composed by the misty breath of onyx fountains delicately brushing the argent strings of harps of black opal.

To return to my workrooms that are hung with the restless tapestries I have woven from fell empyrean nightmares; to return to my working of tarnishing copper, of ochre-hued bone, the planishing of gems and to their shaping, return to my painting, to my chroniclings of all the beauty and the lacerating pains that I bring and that I endure.

To return, until my hungers torment me again and mortals tempt me with the fragrances of their blood, their crying out for what they perceive as strangeness: the brush of my dark, russet cloak upon the pave of their sanctuaries; the kiss of my teeth to the honey warmth of their flesh; the drawing forth of their life from the intricate weavery that dances with passion, with insanity beneath their fine skins of ivory or ebony or amber.

How they adore me these transient creatures; and how I loath them for their temptations.

The sovereign lord of many sorrows am I: Lord Rhasiphae, a scented and most forbidden bloom.

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