No Space In Time


    The inhabitants of the lost planet of Camulashivanava were an orphaned people, severed from their race by a temporal catastrophe. They were haunted by the memory of their origins and of their lost inheritance. Shunted toward the final epoch of the Universe, they felt robbed of their future. Their world moved in the cool gloom of fading suns and they were oppressed by a vision of the ultimate death of the cosmos, unimaginably distant though that event still was.
    In such circumstances it was inevitable that they should dwell much on the past. From an early age children were steeped in tales of vanished glories. When they begged their mothers for a story, as often as not they were regaled with the Legend of Melgor Erdin. The words and details of this fable varied from family to family and from time to time, but in essence the tale remained the same for like all legends it enshrined a fragment of truth.
    Shorn of its magical accretions and ritual repetitions, and enriched by the scholarship of more learned commentators, the history of Melgor Erdin was finally written down in a form which retained some elements of the fantastic and incomprehensible but which nevertheless had about it the ring of truth.

Chapter 1  The Guardian and the Princess

    In all the realms of space and time there are few planets to which darkness never comes, but one such was Gildon. There in an airy castle dwelt an Emperor Tandar and his Empress, Karyopa.
    The Emperor was wise and popular with his subjects; his wife was kind and much loved. They had ruled their people from time immemorial and perhaps they were immortal although their subjects were not. Nevertheless the imperial pair envied the lowest commoner in their realm one thing. Even the humblest of them, doomed to die, yet had the comfort of children, while Tandar and Karyopa were barren. They both longed for a child and yet feared having one. Although wise and immeasurably old they did not know all things. Above all they did not know if the child of immortals would be mortal or immortal. Yet the Empress felt even if they should have a mortal child, the grief she would know when it grew old and died could not eclipse the joy of its birth.
    The Castle Kada in which they lived was a vast and intricate structure. Its spires and turrets rose high above the ancient city of Yara and spidery bridges leapt from one tower to another above the lower courts. Many of the terraces had gardens far above the ground. The rooms all had numerous windows through which fell sunshine of many hues as the planet Gildon wandered from star to star through the small cluster in which it had formed. The halls likewise were bathed in rich sunlight and even the corridors were cunningly lit. Thus nowhere was dark but all places were filled with bright colour.
    Gildon moved in a regular fashion among its suns so although it was always day there was nevertheless a progression of seasons differing in the quality of the light which irradiated the world. Sometimes the light changed in colour from one season to another, sometimes in intensity. This pattern of change fashioned the year by which mortals and immortals alike measured the passage of time - by this and by the regularity and uniformity of their circadian rhythms for although there  was no night they experienced periods of wakefulness and of somnolence.
    In a certain season of the year, a season in which Gildon was bathed in the bright white light of Lindara, it was the custom of the Emperor and his consort to visit every room in the castle, from the deepest cellar to the highest garret. In their progress they walked down many long corridors and climbed and descended a myriad stairs.They walked alone and unheralded as they liked to see their subjects engaged in their normal tasks as they moved from chamber to chamber.
    In one particular year, the Imperial pair had visited all parts of their palace save one tower - the Tower of Jeratana. They had inspected banqueting halls, kitchens, bed chambers, creameries, stables, workshops, greenhouses, and aviaries; laundries, libraries, and storerooms; parlours, wine cellars,and bake houses; and all those many rooms which had no special function, but through which people moved and in which they met, talked, and laughed.
    The Tower of Jeratana was the highest in Castle Kada. It rose from the central courtyard, tall and slender. It was buttressed from the corner towers by delicate arches but the only access to it was from the courtyard.Tandar and Karyopa entered by the oaken door and immediately began to climb the spiral stair. They did not know how many steps there were, for they were not interested in such things. Frequent windows poured sunlight onto the staircase and into each of the small circular rooms which they visited. The tower was a museum, a treasury, a junk store. It contained things from far away in time and space. As they reached further up the tower so the objects in the rooms became rarer and more exotic. To begin with it was mostly jumble; clothes and books from bygone times, well-cared for and lovingly recognised but never used. In each room was a curator who greeted the royal pair with smiles and bows, and described the origin, history, and function of each and every object. The Emperor and Empress had heard it all before, many times, but they delighted to hear it again and to see how well each keeper cherished and understood the items under his care. And if they noticed that the stories changed a little as time passed,  why should they be concerned? So they climbed, not counting the time  but giving each room its due. Occasionally they would reach a balcony where they could refresh themselves with a view of the outside world before mounting more steps, revisiting more rooms, remembering more things.
    In one room there were shells from all the seas of the planet and from the oceans of other worlds too. There were shells from seas long vanished, of creatures extinct. There were shells of all shapes - flat, conical, whirled, whorled, circular, oval, spiral, helical, hexagonal, icosahedral, and shapes whose exact form and symmetry were indescribable but obvious. There were shells of all colours from the deep black of the spaces between the galaxies to the blinding white of the fiercest stars, through all the reds, yellows, blues, greens, oranges, purples, magentas, and pinks imaginable; and there were those that were gold and silver, lustrous and matt, single and multicoloured.
    In another room were specimens of flowers preserved in their pristine freshness in globes of crystal clarity. The blooms were from all continents of the planet, from neighbouring planets, from moons and even meteors. There were land flowers and undersea flowers and flowers that floated on the air. There were as many different coloured blooms as there were shells and their shapes and forms were even more varied. There were flowers from the wild past and there were flowers tamed and trained, bred and selected by gardeners with strange ideals.
    In a further room were curious machines: instruments for calculating the positions of the suns, instruments for seeing long distances and very small things; machines for spinning and weaving; for measuring the wind and the rain; for travelling and for printing; for woodworking, metal-working and engraving; and many many contrivances whose purposes had been forgotten long ago.
    Some of the rooms seemed enormous, and some small although all were contained within the slender spire.
    Heedless of passing time the royal couple worked their way steadily upward. At last they passed into a region where there were no attendants: it was too far from the ground. Here all the rooms seemed smaller and usually contained but a few objects, all of surpassing beauty - a jade bowl, a dish of fluorspar, a painting or a statuette.  There were rare crystals and precious metals, and there were books full of the knowledge and the fancies of the ages.
    Higher still was a room containing a single vial of black glass. Within the vial, separated from it by powerful forces, a drop of sun substance shone so brilliantly it hurt the eyes even through the dark glass, and irradiated the chamber with warmth. Higher again was a globe, which glowed mysteriously with the trapped energy of primeval cosmic rays.
    Ever upward they climbed, revisiting the wonders stored in the tower, until at last they reached the topmost landing. A window illumined the bare space. Through the casement they could see the ground far below. The great city of Yara was but a blur. On the distant horizon was a glint of water, the Sea of Sarsana. A few lazy clouds had sunk below them, so high were they. They turned and faced the carved wood of the door to the highest chamber. Inside this was the greatest treasure of the tower.
    The room as they had last seen it was of simple rough-hewn sandstone. It contained no furniture save a round pedestal. On this dais was a large jar, fashioned from some material clear and transparent. It was a simple cylinder entirely enclosed with no lid nor opening, but tall as a man. Within it was - nothing; nothing that is for the eyes to see, and yet the room beyond the jar was not visible through it. Sometimes if one waited long enough something, some shape, would appear in the vessel, only to disappear before it could be realised. This flask was said to contain an essence of time, a material manifestation of the nature of time, and to be unique in the whole wide universe.
    The Imperial pair approached the door. The Emperor pushed it open and they stepped inside. To their astonishment the room was occupied.  Standing in front of the jar which contained the essence of time, was a stranger - indeed there were two strangers.
    One was a venerable old man, with long white hair and beard, clad in doublet and hose so black it was impossible to distinguish crease or fold. A single gem of the purest translucency glittered at his belt. In his arms he held the second stranger, a baby so tiny it must be new born, and wrapped in linen of the most dazzling white.
Tandar and Karyopa stood staring. The man smiled.
    "You have always longed for a child," he said. "I have brought you one. This babe is yours, on one simple condition - that I may accompany you and when the child is old enough, be her tutor."
    The Empress moved forward and bent over the child. She studied its tiny pink face. The baby opened its eyes and smiled whereupon Karyopa smiled too, and held out her arms. The old man gave her the baby and the Empress took her and cradled her. The Emperor moved forward.
    "Has she a name?" he asked.
    "She is a Princess," replied the old man. "She needs no name."
    "And you sir," said Tandar, "how should we address you?"
    "Perhaps for the time being you should call me Guardian," suggested the old man, "but in time my name may change."
    "Come," commanded the Empress, "we must go down. There is much to do. The child will soon be hungry and there is nothing prepared for her." She swept out of the chamber and began to descend the stairs  quickly but carefully. The Emperor followed her and the Guardian came last of all, silently closing the door behind him.
    The days that followed saw the most lavish celebrations in the history of the Empire of Dimavata. The Empress was overjoyed with her baby, the Emperor proud of his daughter. The courtiers feasted, the commoners celebrated with holidays and carnivals. Through all the festivities the Guardian was silent but smiling.
    Seasons passed and the baby grew into a toddler, and toddler into a little girl, the joy of her parents' lives. During all this time the Guardian was unobtrusive. He spent much time sitting in the palace gardens in the ever-changing sunshine, or walking abroad through the city of Yara and the farms and villages beyond, interested in all he saw but never inquisitive. He loved to wander through the bazaars of the old city which sprawled round the rocky foundations of the palace. He admired the silks from Slurod, spices from Slakan, carvings from Vidra and rugs from far Amant. No part of the Empire of Dimavata was unrepresented in the markets of the ancient capital.
    Sometimes the Guardian travelled even so far as the shores of the Sea of Sarsana where he walked along the scarlet sands by the glittering breakers, and he gazed with longing out across the heaving ocean whence came the great ships laden with the tribute of distant lands bound for the port of Mavar. He sniffed the salt breeze while the wind tangled his hair and he dreamed of crossing the deeps to see for himself the fabled towers of Tathagor or the dark domes of Darata, the sources of sailors' tales. Yet prolonged separation from the Princess was insupportable to him and his dreams remained dreams - who knows, perhaps he was the more fortunate that it should be so.
    At other times he would make his way to the Drome of Dirigibles, whence the multicoloured balloons rose into the sky and descended again to the ground, conveying people from the drome to the platform which orbited Gildon precisely above the air field. So vast was that platform that it was just visible from the ground as a tiny dark speck. From the orbiting structure, circling at the very limits of Gildon's  atmosphere, the giant star-jammers set sail for other worlds, driven across the bright void between the close-set stars by the ever changing solar winds, photons beating on their immense sails to create an irresistible pressure which urged them on. So they plied their trade twixt Gildon and those other planets which wandered through the cluster, and on which the citizens of Dimavata had established settlements that had grown with time to encompass the whole of a dozen worlds.
    One day the Guardian went to the Emperor.
    "It is time your daughter the Princess began to study a little. She should come to me for a short while each day. I promise I won't keep her long."
    Gladly," answered Tandar. "Although you have been living in the palace for many seasons now, I seem to know very little about you, but I know somehow that you will be a good tutor to our daughter."
    The Guardian bowed.
    "I will do my best," he promised and strode away. Looking after him, the Emperor reflected on how much healthier he seemed than when they had first met in the room at the top of the tallest tower. Indeed, he almost looked younger.
    The Princess grew from a little girl into a young lady, and her parents loved her dearly. She loved them in return and also had a great affection for the Guardian. All four of them spent many happy hours walking in the gardens, playing in the sunshine, boating and swimming in the lakes. The Princess studied many things but chiefly the ways of nature and the history of life.
    A time came when the Guardian sought audience with the Emperor alone. They sat together on a balcony of the castle, warm in the red light of Auvara the season's nearest sun. They sat for a while in silence before the Guardian spoke.
    "It is time for me to answer a question which you have never asked, but which I know you have thought about," began the Guardian.
    "Whether the Princess is mortal or immortal?" said Tandar.
    "Exactly," replied the Guardian. "Truth to tell she is not really either. She wasn't born; she was transferred from a different kind of existence. Eventually she will vanish, translated back to her former life. She will be dead to you perhaps, but it would be closer to the truth to think of her as merely departed."
    The Emperor sat brooding for a while. Then he said,
    "And what about yourself? You seem to have grown younger since we first met, especially of late."
    "That is so," agreed the Guardian. "Both the Princess and I come from a plane of existence in which time is a very different thing to what it is here. For the Princess to live what you think of as a normal human life, I must live an abnormal one, progressing from old age through maturity to youth. In our own world the Princess and I are but a single person. Because of our origin we could exist as a single human person only at a fixed point in your time. By being separate, as two persons, we can move through your time in a relatively smooth way, but to maintain the balance one of us must travel back and the other forward."
    "Does that mean that you can foresee our future?" asked Tandar.
    "No," answered the Guardian. "I have lived through the same past as you, and will live through the same future  as far as events are concerned. It is my own inner spirit which moves in the opposite direction of time. To me the memories of my old age are like the memories of your youth to you."
    "I don't really understand ," sighed the Emperor. "All I can see is that for Karyopa and I, our daughter will grow old as  mortals do  and die. So be it; we shall not complain.  She is a joy to us and her memory will be so always. I would not alter that. You, it seems, will grow ever younger, become a child perhaps? And will you vanish when she does?"
    The Guardian nodded.
    "She and I are really one and we shall both return together. But therein lies a danger. Soon she and I  will be of comparable age. We shall meet in time as it were. Since we are really one, we shall have a natural affinity which may show itself as human love. On no account must you allow us to marry. Great evil might come of it."
    "If you fear great evil," said the Emperor, "surely you yourself can control your actions?"
    "I am growing younger," replied the Guardian. "Already the memories of old age are slipping from me. I fear that soon I shall have forgotten the special relationship that exists between the Princess and myself. I shall feel only as a young man. I  shall see her only as a young woman. She will have no knowledge of the truth. That will come to her  only as she grows older. There will be  a period when neither of us is aware of our true nature and that is the period of danger. During that time you must be our guardian. Do not fail us I pray you. However difficult it is, you must not let us become man and wife."
    "Again I do not understand," confessed Tandar, "but I shall heed your words. It may not be as difficult as you fear. Although when you and the Princess first came to live here  our love was all for our daughter, we have grown fond of you. As you have grown younger and the Princess older, I sometimes thought of you more as her elder brother than her guardian, more as my son than my daughter's tutor. As you approach each other in age I think I shall come to regard you more and more as brother and sister. We shall be a happy family until the danger is over."
    The Guardian smiled.
    "I hope so," he said. "I too have grown fond of yourself and the Empress. When the Princess and I have returned to our own continuum, we shall treasure this brief sojourn here."
    For a while the  Emperor and the Guardian sat in companionable silence, warmed by Auvara, their nostrils full of the scent of flowers which grew in boxes round the edge of the balcony. Among the blooms insects buzzed, and an occasional breeze brought cool contrast to the bright sun. Overhead, a few pink clouds basked. Tandar broke the silence.
    "What is your life like in this other plane?"
    "How can I tell you?" replied the Guardian. "It is impossible for me in my human body to recall fully the experience of that other existence. How much less can I convey to you through the medium of words what little I imperfectly remember." He thought for a while.
    "Some things I can tell you. I said that the Princess and I are, in our own continuum, a single being. That in itself tells you much. I do exist as an individual. Furthermore there are other separate persons existing in a similar state."
    "And what do you do in your world?" asked the Emperor.
    "Like you we take joy in living. We study our cosmos and are ever surprised by its subtleties. We enjoy companionship and the shared appreciation of beauty."
    "And what are the aims of your life?" enquired Tandar.
    "What are the aims of yours?" countered the Guardian.
    The Emperor smiled. "It is not easy for me to put into words," he admitted.
    "Then how much more difficult for me to convey the goals of another plane of existence, in a language not even remotely related to those aims."
    "Still, you as a person cannot be so very different from ourselves if you can enjoy being human, even for a while."
    "That is true," agreed the Guardian. "My experience leads me to believe that all living beings in whatever continuum have a definite empathy."
    "There are then other planes of existence," queried the Emperor, "besides ours and yours?"
    "Indeed," averred the Guardian.
    Again there was silence for  a while. The Emperor sent for cooling drinks and the two men sipped peaceably. The planet's present season was approaching its end, and there were two suns in the sky so that shadows were confused and multicoloured. Objects were beginning to lose the colours they had in red light, and take on harsher less subtle hues in the yellow light of the new sun, Kanthara.
    Soon the Gildans' skin colour too would begin to change, its bluish turning to a rich brown as their dermis adjusted to the more potent radiation. In the season of Lindara, the hot white sun, the inhabitants of Gildon became  almost completely black and the sudden change to total pallor when Lumerin, the dark sun, succeeded Lindara was startling.
    "Could I visit your world?" asked Tandar suddenly.
    "Perhaps. I know too little of your own world to guess, and have hardly any knowledge of inter-continuum  travel  anyway. I do know that it is possible only under very exceptional circumstances. I once met a being from a plane other than the ones in which you and I live, and felt the affinity which exists between all sentients. From him I gained the impression that he had visited many universes, but before we could become well acquainted, something happened and he was lost to my own world. I could not have come here, would not have known of this continuum's existence were it not for certain peculiar events."
    "What are they," asked Tandar, "and why did you come here, to this time and place?"
    "The place was fixed by the presence, in the high tower of your castle, of the jar of the entity you call the essence of time. Why you call it that I don't know, perhaps you can tell me?"
    "I don't really know either," replied the Emperor. "Although I and my wife seem to be immortal unlike our subjects, our memories are like theirs, of finite capacity. Memories fade. The earlier parts of our lives are lost in a mist of forgetfulness. Our recollections go back further than the oldest books in our libraries  but they will not stretch back to our origin. We can remember only this world, and always the jar of the essence of time has been part of it, and has been known thus. Many of the things in the tower were collected there within our memory, but not that flask. Firmly implanted in the fibre of our being, however, is the conviction that it is the most precious possession we have."
    "It must certainly be the most unusual," said the Guardian. "Through that vessel is the link with our plane. There may be other links, but I do not know of them. Perhaps there are links to other continua of which I know nothing."
    "Have you known always of the existence of the link?" asked Tandar.
    "That is like me asking if you knew of it," smiled the Guardian. "You have always known of the jar, but until now did not know of its most important attribute. Don't forget, too, that time is not the same here and in my world."
    "But why did you choose this particular time to come?" persisted Tandar.
    "I didn't," answered the Guardian. "Of your Universe and its time I knew nothing until I was here, and in my own continuum the jar exists only on one particular time line. It's like.....," he broke off and shrugged. "I can think of no analogy. It is so very difficult for me even to comprehend exactly how things came about, let alone explain it. I felt your need when I was travelling through a particular area of my own space-time. I felt a tug towards the unknown. I could have resisted it, but curiosity and sympathy urged me on. There was a period when I existed alone in a  non-world - yet not really alone. The jar was there - or I was in the jar - I don't know, but I sensed its presence. Information passed between us. I never discovered if the jar was a representation of a living entity or if it was simply an arcane machine. It called itself Transcender. It seemed to know, or to have been programmed with, a great deal more knowledge than I have of trans-continuum travel. It was able to warn me of the form in which I would exist in this world, and of certain circumstances I must avoid."
    The Guardian paused. After a while he resumed.
    "I am confused as you will have noticed," he said. "What is the jar? Is it a machine which ascertained your need and set about fulfilling it in the most suitable way according to its own peculiar logic? Is it a living entity which manipulated your need and my curiosity for some purpose of its own? Does it really belong to your plane, or mine, or perhaps neither? I just cannot decide. I asked it many questions. It answered them all but some of the answers I could not understand. Then I found myself outside the vessel in your tower room, as two separate persons just as the Transcender warned I would be."
    The Emperor stirred.
    "These things are strange beyond anything I have heard before," he said. "I do not pretend to understand them, but I shall heed your warning. Do not trouble yourself; you may depend on me."
    "Thank you," replied the Guardian.
    "I shall not as yet tell the Empress," mused Tandar. "There will be time enough later."
    "As you wish," assented the Guardian. "I shall not mention the matter to her."

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