The Hedge King
Dreamed 1992/6/14 by Chris Wayan
San Francisco. An art salon in the Sunset. I brought my book of dream-comix as usual, but the new work I really want to show tonight is a bundle of silk-paintings with dream narratives on them. I'm very nervous, since some have sexual themes, very personal issues... one dream-painting compares my shyness to a sexual dysfunction called vaginismus: an involuntary clenching, leaving you unable to let anyone in.
I sweat and hang up the banners anyway... The luminosity of the silk calms me a lot. No matter how stupid the content of your painting, silk's colors bail you out.
The other artists love them. Two strangers were there, from the new Baltic states; sisters? Big-eyed girls with bangs and miniskirts time-warped out of the 60s. One of them looked at the folder with my dream-tales in it for hours. She was fascinated... and so sexy... yet I felt awkward and hardly talked to her, though she tried. Longing but unable to let anyone in.
So I came home sad and asked my dreams how I can let anyone past my wall of shyness.
I'm the Baron of a manor in the Deep South. I'm going broke. I want to renovate my manor and welcome tourists. Hospitable is profitable.
So I'm looking at aerial views of my manor. A little house, Tudor style, under oaks, at the foot of a stony hill. Surprised how modest my manor is. Then the monstrous mass of stone leaps out at me, so big I couldn't recognize it as man-made. My castle.
What I saw as my home was just the groundskeeper's cottage! I really did get turned inward these last few years, sunk in and overgrown like the manor... failing even to recognize my full Gormenghastian inheritance.
I paint a set of watercolor plans, showing the changes I want, for the horse races. The bulldozing, the building of the racetrack, the parking lot, the press box... I find them confusing: later pictures revise and even contradict the earlier designs. Why'd I veto the spiral traintrack?
Oh, let it go! I'm ready for a little gambling, a little competition. My manor can get by without training now.
The chief carpenter and his assistant are designing a new roof for the manor too. They'll put a roof over my head if anyone can--and I'm sure that with a new manor, I'll be self-supporting again. I walk the grounds, examining the work. Stacks of boards and poles make jagged traces against the sky, like some Hokusai print of those Edo lumberyards.
A puppy wanders through the construction ruckus. Whose dog is that? Then... another. And another! Short-legged, like hopping loaves of bread, a deluge of puppies oozes around the corner and floods the courtyard. Hundreds, maybe thousands. Yipping like popcorn, like a city of tiny car alarms. Wait... that's not a dog! That's a raccoon! Some of them are raccoons. And... cats? Yep. Cats! It sounds crazy but all three kinds seem to get along without fighting. They want to be fed and petted. Whose are they? No one's. Who will care for them? Contractors and people checking out the half-finished racetrack pick up the animals and adopt them. "Puppies for love." says one. "Cats for beauty." counters another. A third says "Yeah, but raccoons for brains." Let 'em argue, just so they adopt them all. And to my surprise they do. The problem solves itself.
Still, I start to mistrust the main carpenter. His work is fine--the guy just seems very evasive about his past in Europe. High level spying, I know that. Our side, or the Nazis?
I recall something about a reporter killed here in the South a few months back... may have been the victim of a coverup of a multimillion dollar software theft linked to Ed Meese and Bush and high CIA people. Pure vindication for my conspiracy-theorist friends. I wonder if this guy is in on that...
The liaison between the contractors and my estate staff also seems to keep an eye on this carpenter. Joey's a guy whose judgment I trust. I'd better be careful.
Now... we all become a cartoon story, on a TV screen. The roofer sets up a 2nd screen on which the story can run... but he controls this extension. It's more cartoony, with shallower characterizations. An ominous flattening I don't like...
A local corporation that rivals my financial interests has been cooking up a very hush-hush plan to muscle in here. I only just learned of it--I can't tell you the details, it'd compromise my sources. But you need to know it exists, and that only a couple of people would know the details. Because this guy... he slips. He says something that reveals he knows this plan. The guy's familiar voice suddenly clicks in. Oh, his face is brilliantly disguised, but that posture and way of moving, that voice. He's their CEO! What the hell's he doing pretending to be a roofing contractor? Spying on me personally, there's no other explanation. Couldn't find anyone in his inner circle he could trust? That could be useful news... But what's he after exactly? What's so important here? My plans here are no secret.
We finish this phase of the job, and Joey decides to leave with this roofer-CEO, to keep an eye on him. The Nazi (if he is) never asks why Joey wants to quit working for me and go on with him to his next roofing job. I have other people to finish up the roof-renovations while the two leave for the roofer's own castle. Castle? Yes! Joey's first discovery--the spy has a castle too.
Joey promises to send regular reports.
Finally I decide I can't just wait. Has Joey been caught? It was his idea, but I feel responsible. I go out for a walk, and keep walking. On the road, alone in a grove of trees with yellow leaves, I hop the fence, slip between the gray trunks, and shapeshift. As a young woman, I walk back out to the road. They may look for me in disguise, but I doubt they know I can change sex. I make myself smallish, pretty, hoping to inspire protective feelings--from his household, if not from him.
So now I'm a well-bred, rather na´ve young lady, on a religious pilgrimage.
I walk on. Miles of back roads. Never see a soul. Good.
His tower looms by a river. A lonely place. Woods, marshes, some farms upriver. No town, no great lands attached. Maybe they live off the river-trade.
High hedges, not a wall, surround the castle. Varying in height, they're close to the castle on the uphill side, taller and further, stretching down to the water. The tower inside is thin, dark, crenellated stone; it looks exactly like a rook. That is, in fact, what the local farmers all call it--Castle Rook. I enter. The corporate head, the carpenter, meets me. He's changed again.
Here, he is a King.
And scary. Black eyes, iris and pupil one birdlike disk. Hawk eyes, hawk nose. Assyrian beard. The face of a King. He paces fiercely--like a chess piece--one square at a time. Deadly, like a chess king: short range, but terribly powerful inside his reach.
He acts like he doesn't recognize me, but I fear he sees through even my sex-change. On his home ground, he's dropped his own cover--and his power radiates. This is no simple carpenter. I fear for Joey.
He puts me up for the night, as is the custom for pilgrims. But he says something odd. "I want to talk to you tomorrow. About," and his voice gets very quiet, "...a job."
I'm wary both as a Baron and as a woman--could mean death for spying if he sees through me, rape or worse if he's fooled. He's an intense, frightening man--and I remember Bluebeard.
But I say yes. I have to stay: I must know the truth.
I retreat early to my chamber, to sleep on the offer of work. Ominously, the room's a windowless vault, deep in the Tower. Stone walls, gold-threaded old hangings. Airless, silent. And boltless: no way for me to lock the door.
I put on a long nightgown, shivering a little, though it's not cold. Slide into bed--almost slide out the other side, on the slick satin. Red satin. For passion? Or so the stains won't show, after... I leave the lamp lit--can't sleep. A girl alone in the heart of my enemy's castle. Waiting for the door to creep open. Waiting for Him to enter my chamber.
The door creaks open. He enters my chamber. Cloaked, crowned, the King creeps up toward me.
My ears pound. My face turns red and hot.
He says nothing. He reaches up and pulls off his crown.
With it comes his face.
The fierce brows, the falcon nose, the bristling beard, it all peels down. He drops his cloak. The King is a woman. A tall, dark-haired young woman, with solemn eyes. S/he too has more than one shape!
She slinks up to my bedside. Under the royal robe, she's wearing a red lace teddy. A shocking garment to my Elizabethan eyes. Knowing the fearsome King could never attract me as he was, s/he has decided to try to attract me woman to woman. And it's working. The Queen is beautiful. She says not a word, but her eyes tell me the whole story, the long secret. She has long thighs. One brushes my hand on the bed. My fingers tingle. Her crotch hovers before my mouth. I want to push the lace aside with my tongue and kiss the maroon lips I see peering through the smoky film of lace...
My body is blushing and tingling from excitement and attraction as much as fear--and a mouselike thought skitters by: "She's like me! Who else will I meet who can understand me--understand power, understand living in many bodies?" She feels so much safer, friendlier in this form, in a body like mine (though I know the soul inside is not safe. Other things, but certainly not safe). Beautiful, magnetic... and just too dangerous.
I force myself to breathe. Look up into her black black eyes, and say... "No." Reluctant. But sure.
And I know the King/Queen can't physically force me--for when I'm a woman, I feel no guilt about self defense. It's only as a man I'm shy. She sighs, turns, lifts the blood-maroon robe of state onto her shoulders, and leaves.
And leaves me living.
Daylight. The King appears, as a King, as if last night never happened. He leads me up away from the river, where the stone plaza by the docks narrows, rises, becomes stairs--where only the high hedge stands between enemies and the Rook itself.
The King asks, "Will you do the renovation work I need, now that I've done yours? This castle has relied on hedging far too long. I need true walls."
He wants me to start work up here, the most vulnerable part. But he warns me of spies in his Court--certainly many of the diplomatic representatives from rival corporations up and down the River, but also some probably within his own retinue, "which contains factions hostile to my position as CEO. If they recognize who you are, if they realize we're co-operating, they'll likely kill us both."
So it's important, while on this wall-building project, that I have another disguise. "As if this midnight shapeshifting isn't enough." I snort. But he insists. I feel like he must have used his powers to cloud my mind, just to get me to agree to this project at all. The truth is, I fear him. Instinctive, when I see him, like a chicken freezing in the shadow of a hawk.
But I don't leave. I say "I'll pose as a saint, in a long hooded robe. They'll expect me to be a young woman, and the hood will prevent them from even seeing my face much."
In truth, I enjoy the work. I have an assistant, as he did on his assignment fixing my roof. She's smallish, with dark brown slightly reddish curls. Wideset eyes, broad cheekbones... Oh! She's the girl who liked my dream-comix at the art party. She's fun to work with. Keeps rubber bands in her hair--dozens. Her hair seems subtly multicolored if you don't look close and realize. She reaches up to brush her hair, it seems, and from her bangs, she pulls fists of her hair out! Rubber bands. Startling and funny no matter how many times I see it. She's a good climber, too, which is useful since we have no scaffolding. No budget, no work crew, nothing to draw bureaucratic attention to a minor project...
We're making the wall from clay, really, not stone or brick. We don't have any source of those, but another structure, of clay, was crumbling away, and we can re-form its substance into the wall the castle needs. If we aren't murdered first, by some faction in the King's court.
Much though I fear and, frankly, dislike the King and his terrible intensity, I have to admit he's been direct enough with me--given the circumstances. I can't rely on the motives of those around him, those who spread rumors about him, any more than I can rely on his own claims. I really don't know firsthand what his past is. I only know he did put a roof over my head, and his task seems a fair trade.
So I upgrade my enemy's manor, from mere hedging to a real wall. With a gate. That opens and shuts.
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