(Chapter 7, p. 49-63)
Pierrino opens his eyes in the dim light. It is still early,
not later than eight o'clock in the morning. He hears someone
come in without making noise, recognizes Nèhyé's
"I'm awake," he says.
The old Ghât'sin comes to examine him: "Yes, you are
no longer sleeping."
He goes to open the curtains and let in the light of day.
The comment, like the intonation, was a little strange, but Pierrino
gets up to dress. His body suddenly seems odd to him: bigger,
broader, denser. Is that hair on his chest, where it was smooth
before? He feels his cheeks: beard and moustache, much too thick.
He was beardless the day before.
He asks, "What day is it?" torn between irritation
Nèhyé pauses briefly for reflection: "September
He can't help exclaiming, "What?" as he slumps on the
edge of the bed. "So I have been in igaôtchènzin
almost a month?" he murmurs.
The old man reaches out to pull on his beard: "You would
not be so hairy!" he says with a wink. "Only twelve
days. Then... You slept. You had given a lot."
The intonation is not at all sardonic. Pierrino remembers. He
remembers very well. The Mountain Dragon flying upside down like
the Crazy Dragon in Grandmother's set of cards, his aquatic metamorphosis
and very specific images of what followed the appearance of the
Fire Dragon. But above all, this feeling of perfect fullness,
Nèhyé adds nothing and busies himself laying out
on the bed the clothes he had brought in. Pierrino observes him
for a moment, his mind a blank.
"Could you shave me?" he asks finally.
The old man disappears with no more noise than when he arrived.
Pierrino goes and leans on the windowsill. Below him shimmers
the luminous green of the trees of the park. It has rained, the
stones are pinker, clouds race westwards in the well-washed blue
sky. He lets these sensations flood over him, with the vague
hope that this stimulation will get his brain working again.
But the thoughts are slow, very slow in taking shape. He does
not feel different. His talent has been opened though, he has
undergone the backlash, hasn't he? One month. Igaôtchènzin,
then... Coma? Can it last that long? And he does not even
have confused memories of it. If he had been plunged into a deep
lethargy, wouldn't his psyche have remembered its time in the
Nèhyé comes back with hot water, a razor and a
small pair of well-sharpened scissors of black metal. After cutting
Pierrino's hair as close as possible, he spreads a foamy decoction
on Pierrino's cheeks and, using a razor that is very European-looking,
starts shaving him closely, with reassuring ease. When he has
finished, patting his cheeks with an astringent water perfumed
with benzoin, he takes from the chest a silver mirror, which
he hands to Pierrino.
Stunned, Pierrino looks at the perfectly flat metal surface,
as faithful as a mirror. He has indeed aged - an effect of his
igaôtchènzin, he really has to admit it now.
The sadness, first of all: he will no longer be able to quite
recognize Senso in his own reflection. And then, the whiff of
anxiety. He hands back the mirror to the old Ghât'sin,
forcing his voice to remain steady: "Will I age this way
every time I fall into the trance?"
The Ghât'sin tilts his head a little to the side, then
declares, after a moment of reflection: "It will not occur
"Are you sure of that?"
The other man gives his usual little chuckle: "Of what can
we be certain in the Mansions of the Goddess?" But he almost
immediately falls serious again: "It should not occur again,"
continuing, as if there was a connection: "Hyundpènh
and Nomghu wish to meet you in the park."
What do they want now?
And suddenly, the way a change in the wind turns the rooster
and the rose of a weathervane on a roof, his thoughts turn towards
the west, to Europe, France, Aurepas. Through all his uncertainties
there begins to emerge, unexpected, staggering, a consuming nostalgia,
a desire, a crazy need for return that brings tears to his eyes.
The Natéhsin are in the park, but not gardening. They
are sitting on their benches. Barechested, barefoot in his thin
sandals, he bows before them. The Ghât'sin greet him, respectfully.
After standing up, the woman of the Nomghu triad and the one
of Hyundpènh's come and take his hand to sit him down
with them on the bench of the Phoenix. And, after a brief stillness
- disapproving, or simply surprised? - their Ghât'sin follow
them to go and stand behind the bench.
They are still holding his hand when Hyundpènh says calmly:
"The continuation of the world, little Dragon."
And she lays Pierrino's hand on her belly.
He looks at her, stunned, looks at Nomghu when she lays his other
hand on her belly.
Pregnant? They are pregnant... by him? Both? Aren't their ritual
orgies with each other always sterile? Oh, but he was there,
him, an ordinary human.
Not ordinary. Talented.
Like Gilles... But no, not like Gilles!
He shakes his head, he wants to stand up, get away from the impossible
ideas that are rolling around in his head, but the Natéhsin
are still firmly holding his hands on their bellies.
"Two sons of the Dragon," says Hyundpènh.
Pierrino finally emerges from his astonishment: "But I'm
She releases him to quiet him, with a finger on his lips, almost
smiling, then brushes the pendant on his chest: "All the
Dragons are in you. You come from everywhere."
Everywhere. His mind wraps itself around the word, kneads it
to extract a meaning. Is she referring to his talent this way,
born of the Atlandies as well as from Europe and from here?
She takes his hand again to lay it on her belly. He really doesn't
quite know what he perceives, a small, glowing spark behind a
membrane as transparent as glass, but delicate and soft like
skin. Is that his child - their child?
Nèhyé's voice says, behind him: "There have
never been such children among the Natéhsin." The
old man laughs very softly. "You, too, you are the Stranger
from the West."
Does he mean that it is the end of the world? The beginning of
another world? Hiccups of the Prophecy, or echoes? As if in any
case it was seeking to fulfill itself endlessly, obstinately.
"So am I really a talented, now?" he murmurs.
And should he then assume that Senso and Jiliane are too, each
in their own way? A tentative feeling of relief is born in him:
maybe Jiliane wasn't really kidnapped after all! Perhaps she
is hiding, or she is being hidden by Grandmother and the servants
- who lied to them, to him and to Senso, about their own talent,
"No, you gave us almost everything," says the Natéhsin
"You have given us back almost everything," says the
Natéhsin of Hyundpènh.
He does not understand at first, then, slowly, in fits and starts,
a meaning takes shape. Given back: restored. So, barely opened,
his talent was separated from him? He doesn't know if he feels
regret or relief. That would better explain his long lethargy,
in any case.
He again hears the words of the two Natéhsin, turns to
the Natéhsin of Hyundpènh: "Almost everything?"
"You will remember when you need to," she says with
a gentle solemnity.
He looks at her, then at the Natéhsin of Nomghu, who has
the same indulgent expression. They have expressions. They speak.
Have they therefore become constantly more human, generation
after generation, the orphan Natéhsin of Phoenix? He can
no longer bear that golden gaze, and looks at the ground between
his feet, regrown grass, still wet from the night rain. He is
unable to apprehend the magnitude of what has happened. She is
carrying his child. And the other Natéhsin too. His children.
He will have sons. Who will be Natéhsin. Two at once!
Should he be emotional, happy, proud? He feels nothing, simply
a huge, stunned astonishment. The Fire Dragon has come back.
The continuation of the world. Because of him, thanks to him.
Or else has he been only a tool, a conduit, everyone's pawn?
Grandmother, Gorut and now the Ghât'sin, the Natéhsin
themselves? Or the Dragons. Will he believe in Dragons now? But
he remembers very precisely the feeling of the Mountain Dragon
talons closing around his waist - and everything else. He cannot
nor does he want to deny what he knows.
And yet the despondent irritation re-emerges: a toy of humans
or magic creatures, he was still only a toy. Worse yet, interchangeable
with Senso. Senso could be the one here! No, the dice have been
cast... But if the dice have, in fact, decided this way, who
really cast them?
He looks once again at the Natéhsin of Hyundpènh
and, with a little inner shiver, suddenly becomes aware of her
youth. Their solemnity, their serene gestures had misled him.
They are all very young! This one seems barely more than sixteen
years old! And she is carrying his children?
"Do you have a name?" he asks, suddenly embarrassed
and gripped by compassion.
Both Ghât'sin start. After a moment, the girl gives a little
"Feï'djo," says the Natéhsin of Nomghu.
At first astounded, he remembers Ouraïn's first notebook.
These are the same Ancestors who come back, the Mynmaï believe,
in each of their ages, in each of their Houses. Kurun, Nandèh'djo,
Feï'djo. But these are titles more than names, aren't they?
"Your names," he emphasizes, with a bit of impatience.
The girl raises her eyebrows, her head tilted a little to the
"They have no other," says Nèhyé, behind
He turns towards the old Ghât'sin, irritated: "They
did when they were born."
"They are born Kurun, Nandèh'djo, Feï'djo,"
says the old man. "And they have been for a very long time."
Pierrino shrugs: "They're adolescents!"
"They attended the last Sacred Marriage," intercedes
one of the Ghât'sin, in a stiff voice.
He grips the arms of his seat, he feels like he's falling.
The same ones. These are the same Natéhsin Gilles Garance
met. Stopped at the age of Hyundpènh, in the age of Nomghu,
because the cycle of renewal was broken.
He sits bewildered for a moment, his heart burning with shame,
with sorrow. Then he stands up, and goes to kneel, hands joined
in the Mynmaï fashion - the gesture came quite naturally
to him - before the bench of the third triad, who was once the
fourth, the one who permitted the recurrence of the cycle by
offering herself to the Fire Dragon. The bronze eyes look at
him with serenity as he kneels before Hétchoÿ. He
understands now, he understands their slowness, the scarlet glints
of their skin. He forces himself not to lower his head, not to
protect himself from their gaze, and hears himself stammer: "Forgive
The one in the middle, that young girl who is the oldest of the
Kurun, who has been twenty years old for more than two centuries,
slowly raises her hands to encircle his. Warm hands, and yet
he sees that they are more clearly crystallized on the surface.
And there are even crystals that form as he watches them, in
minute shifts. The process has accelerated since the night of
the Small Marriage, as it is necessary to repair the cycle, he
understands in a dazzling flash of horrified compassion.
"You will come back," says the deep voice, with a kind
of tenderness. Surprised, he looks up and, yes, there is a slight
smile on that gleaming face.
"I will come back where?" he asks, filled with inexplicable
She stares back at him still, but she does not see him anymore.
"Come," says Nèhyé, "they are dancing
After a moment, Pierrino gently frees his hands from the Natéhsin's,
which remain extended around his absence, half prayer, half offering.
He stands up, dizzy, glances around him: the other Natéhsin
are still too. Their Ghât'sin walk around the benches to
come and sit cross-legged in front of them. Nèhyé
tugs him by his arm, and he does not resist. After a few steps,
he turns around. The Natéhsin have not budged. On the
Phoenix bench, Nandèh'djo of Hyundpènh and Feï'djo
of Nomghu are still sitting. He wonders dreamily if this is the
first time in the whole history of the Natéhsin.
As if that thought had opened a door, an apprehensive curiosity
is reborn in him.
"What is going to happen now, Nèhyé?"
"At the next small festival, the children will be born,"
says the old Ghât'sin quietly. "And Hyundpènh
and Nomghu will spread what they can of the divine substance
among those of us who succeed in reaching the sacred city. Like
"But the Fire Dragon has returned," says Pierrino,
"That doesn't mean it will come back for the Big Festival.
There are not always Phoenixes."
"But will there will be none when Hétchoÿ..."
"Nothing is certain. The next Big Festival will take place
in two years. L'Aigle des Mers is in Anhkin. Humphong
wants to open up the country. Gorut sacrificed a tihyund
and anointed himself with its blood. Who knows where the dice
They walk past a patch of grass where roosters and hens with
extraordinary plumage are pecking, their tail feathers sometimes
as long as those of pheasants. Pierrino welcomes a moment of
distraction, watching the poultry amusing themselves in front
of them: some are jet black, with luxuriant crests of fine white
feathers that fall around the head like dishevelled hair, others
seem more hairy than feathered, and are an unlikely orange hue;
the long coppery feathers that surround their heads are all curved
towards the front, like a collar ruff. Senso would love these
creatures, mused Pierrino, vaguely amused, they look like dragons
of a sort. But Nèhyé's question is turning around
in his head. Which dice were cast, actually, when he arrived
here? The sacred city is still closed. The Kôdinh are still
there barring entry, and they massacre the talented. But the
news of the return of the Fire Dragon will in the end spread
through the population. The Bôdinh are neither as passive
nor as resigned as Gorut claimed. Galvanized by the news, won't
they resist more? What will be the consequences for Haizelé's
mission, the ambitions of the Monarchy, Grandfather's wily plans?
"Will they try to prevent Humphong from exporting more of
the... primordial substances?"
Nèhyé makes a little dismissive gesture: "Oh,
that would not be so terrible, the Crazy Dragon would blow again
in your land. It blew there for close to two centuries, and that
did not disturb it."
"The Crazy Dragon?"
"The ambercite. That is what we call it. Didn't you see
the breath, on board the ship that brought you here?"
Pierrino slowly nods his head: "It spreads magic, then,
like the Natéhsin."
"Much more slowly, like the white sickness does."
Pierrino does not quite see the relationship, but he stores this
information for later - for once Nèhyé seems in
a mood to answer his questions!
"But now that the Fire Dragon has returned, are you going
to resist, act?"
The old man gives a little chuckle: "Garang Xhévât
does not exist for that."
"Gilles Garance believed..."
"It was he who cast the first dice. And the others were
carried along in his wake." The little man adds, more softly,
with regret, as if to himself: "Yes, even Phoenix has started
wanting. And Chéhyé. And me." His goatee trembles,
like his voice.
After a surprised silence, Pierrino asks: "And what became
of the two others of Phoenix? Are they in Garang Xhévât?
They had been stopped at their age too, hadn't they?"
The old man stops right in the middle of the esplanade, so abruptly
that Pierrino has to back up a step to come back beside him.
"You knew that?"
"I read Ouraïn's journals. Or at least those from her
The old man looks at him, his face all creased in the sun.
"Kurun has rejoined the Goddess," he declares, after
a long silence.
He has again avoided the question, but Pierrino does not become
irritated; he is too dumbfounded: Ouraïn's memoirs indicated,
in fact, that her mother had begun to age, but... dead?
"She was a Natéhsin!"
"She chose Gilles and the Crazy Dragon," sighs Nèhyé.
He starts walking again.
Pierrino catches up with him: "The ambercite, or Hyundigao?"
The old man glances sideways at him, suddenly sardonic: "Both."
"But ambercite prolongs life!"
"Not necessarily that of the Ancestors."
With him, Pierrino starts up the ramp leading to the tower of
Xhaïgao House, barely aware of the greetings addressed to
him as he passes. Kurun took part in the fabrication of ambercite,
and the other two Phoenix Natéhsin too. Too many backlashes?
But didn't Ouraïn write that there are none from the use
of magic for the Natéhsin?
"So are they dead too, the two others?"
"No. They chose in time to come back to Garang Xhévât."
The old man gives him a sidelong glance: "Isn't there anything
about it in Ouraïn's writings?"
"I only read up to the middle the Ten-Year-Old Period."
"Ah." Three more steps. "It was after."
They start up the stairs to the second floor.
"And where are they then, all those writings of Ouraïn?"
the old Ghât'sin suddenly asks.
Pierrino laughs for a moment: "In the stomach of Kempo,
if Chéhyé is to be believed: he threw them into
He watches for the old man's reaction out of the corner of his
eye. Nèhyé smiles: "He did well."
"She should never have written. She was not destined to
remember that way."
"But it's the story of my family," Pierrino can't help
saying, suddenly angry.
The old man opens the bedroom door for him: "The memory
will come back to you soon enough," he says, stepping aside
to let Pierrino enter.
He goes to leave, but Pierrino emerges soon enough from his perplexity
to hold the door: "And Nandèh and Feï, where
The Ghât'sin's face crinkles even more: "They have
returned to the estate. I was not told when." He gives his
usual little staccato laugh: "Time does not always pass
in the same way for everyone, in Garang Xhévât."
And he walks away with his slightly wobbly gait.
Pierrino, resigned, closes the door. Then he examines the bedroom
- the eternally embracing sculptures, the bed still unmade. Absent-mindedly,
he pulls up the sheets and blanket, fluffs the feather cushions,
arranges them on each other.
And now? Feeling suddenly too light, floating, empty, he goes
to the window, closes his hands on the solid stone sill as if
to anchor himself, while contemplating the tranquil activity
of the sacred city. There are boats in the moat, fishermen. Weren't
the Garang Xhévât carp sacred? But that was before,
in the time of Gilles. The traditions have changed, like the
What is he supposed to do? Go for a walk in the city? Explore
the environs? He looks at the foliage in the park, thinks of
the invisible one where the motionless Natéhsin dance
everywhere, lost, or found, in igaôtchènzin.
With his children in the bellies of Nomghu's Feï'djo, of
The children of all of them, not only of him. He remembers well,
on the beach, those disturbing frenzies, those repeated metamorphoses.
He understands nothing of it, if only that they were necessary
and right. He feels bizarrely detached, however, as if it had
all happened to another. Too many strange things at once have
made him feel numb. Whatever he was then, he did what he had
to do, just as the triads obeyed their nature. If he feels something,
it is irritation again, persistent resentment at having been
manoeuvred this way by forces that are beyond him, tossed about
by a course of events triggered by others.
And what could he do now? Wait, maybe for a long time, for the
Europeans to perhaps come back to the Hyundzièn following
Haizelé's negotiations. Which should be nearing completion
in Téh'loc. It is already the last week of September,
and Haizelé had said that she would leave again at the
beginning of October, at the end of the first week at the latest
if the negotiations went on until then. He does not know what
the distance is between Garang Xhévât and the Kôdinh
capital, but if he remembers the map correctly, it is extremely
far, through massive mountains, too, very difficult terrain if
he wanted to take the shortest and least dangerous route. But
to go by the plains or the coast, with the Kôdinh on alert...
It would be possible, of course, if he managed to persuade a
Ghât'sin to accompany him, since he is no longer talented.
Even that way, it would be a journey of several weeks, even several
months. No, L'Aigle des Mers will leave without him. And
they must believe he is dead. That is the news they will report
in France. To Grandmother. To Senso.
No! They mustn't! He will have to try to get a message to Haizelé!
There is, in fact, a resistance to the Kôdinh, with talented
ones, it should be possible to go through them. If they left
without him, that would be one thing. But if they think he's
dead, he will be abandoned here without hope of ever being rescued
if the negotiations fail...
Abandoned. Rescued. The words have an odd ring, suddenly.
He is in Garang Xhévât, though, which is in a way
the cradle of his ancestors. His children will be born there.
He should not feel like a captive, nor impatient with the perspective
of staying here indefinitely. Unsettled, he watches the comings
and goings of the natives on the esplanade, on the alley of the
Phoenixes. What has become of his curiosity? He could learn so
much here. He could... keep a journal of his discoveries, for
when he returns to France.
To France. Home.
Home is not here. In spite of the peace, the beauty, the timeless
mystery, he has the intense, insistent feeling that he is not
in his place. He cannot do anything here. Everything here
will remind him still, and always, that he has been brought here
by a destiny that he knows nothing about and that, once that
destiny is fulfilled, he will certainly no longer be useful.
He turns away from the window, both furious and bewildered. It
is an unbearable thought. Disharmonious. If Senso was here, he
would no doubt even tell him that it is sacrilegious. There is
no destiny. Thanks to the Gemini, humans are born free. They
have perhaps not yet learned it in Garang Xhévât,
all entangled as they are in their magic, but he is not a Mynmaï,
so does not resign himself so easily. Garang Xhévât
is neither the end of his journey nor a prison, is it? And it
was not to the sacred city that his journey to the north was
supposed to take him, even if Gorut was lying. He wanted to go
to the Garance estate. He still wants to go to the estate. He
even has more reasons now, if the two other Natéhsin of
Phoenix are there. It was there he was going when he came to
a fork in his path. He has to carry out this pilgrimage, he can
feel it, he knows it...
© 2007 Éditions
Alire & Élisabeth Vonarburg
find out what happens next...