In olden times in a far off land there lived a glass blower, Malimcr was his name, and he was an expert at his art. With breath and fingers and fire he fashioned vessels beyond compare, glassware which the sun worshiped and the moon adored.
His new bride, Cecile, a lithe wisp of a girl but nubile nonetheless, and said to be the prettiest creature within six villages, found deep pleasure in her husband's work, much as Malimcr found pleasure deep in her. On their wedding night to such a pitch of excitement did Malimcr bring Cecile, her cries of release shattered Malimcr's entire stock of glassware--beakers, cups, goblets, bottles and bowls, all decimated by Cecile's sweet screams of bliss.
In the morning, Malimcr's assistant and apprentice, a young man named Bergfuss, swept up the delicate rubble. Later that day, after Malimcr reassured his dubious and distraught bride that he would return to her a few short weeks hence, and that then the honeymoon would resume in earnest, Malimcr and Bergfuss set off on an arduous journey across mountainous ridges and through wind-swirled deserts to Matheim, an arid region three days to the west. There the shifting dunes were rumored replete with rare silica and leaded schist and gleaming quartz, much sturdier stuff than the local terrain afforded. Malimcr hoped to use these materials to replenish his inventory.
His camp set up to his satisfaction, Malimcr began work. Before sunset he'd fashioned a wide bowl of pale amber. "See how it shimmers like Cecile's hair," he told Bergfuss. "The light can't stand to stay away. It seeks itself within the golden pools. I can't bear for her not to see it immediately. Bring it to her that she has something of mine, something which shows my thoughts of her, and maybe she'll not miss me so much, or maybe she'll miss me more."
A day less than a week later Bergfuss was back in camp. "Did Cecile like the bowl?" Malimcr questioned his servant. "I imagined that she filled it with sun-warmed water and used it to rinse her hair. Oh, I can see the delicate line at the nape of neck as she bends her head to bathe, the golden cascade, the limpid drip of light."
"I'm sorry," Bergfuss reported. "I was attacked by robbers within a day of my departure. They snatched the bowl but left me my life. Recovered from the battering they gave me, I chased the thieves, but they were too cunning and gave me the slip. See how mussed my hair is? I'm out of breath even now."
Disappointed, Malimcr comforted Bergfuss, and then he gave the apprentice a new parcel to take to Cecile, a snug goblet of pellucid crystal. "I see her smile in it," Malimcr mused to Bergfuss. "Those mischievous white teeth of hers. The playful nip of them just beyond her soft plump lips. Take care with this package. Take it to her with my love."
"Tell me, what did Cecile drink from my cup?" Malimcr bade Bergfuss upon his return some seven days later. "Well water, icy cold, or cow's milk, creamy and thick? Tell me with words true enough that I need no longer merely imagine her timid tongue touching the rim of my gift, taking the refreshment between her parted lips; tell me that I might know the way the liquid rests upon the palm of her tongue, the way it caresses her throat as it coasts through her swallows."
"I wish I could," Bergfuss told his master. "But here's what happened: As I was coming down the other side of the mountain I heard a rumbling such as I've never heard before. I thought at first it was thunder, but I'd felt no raindrops, and the sky was clear, my shadow sharp in front of me. Perplexed, I looked up just in time to see the boulders, loosened by angry gods or perhaps a careless goat, plunging directly for my head; it was an avalanche such as I'd never seen before and hope never to see again. I ran, I ducked, I dove. The battering was brutal, and I don't know how I survived. Blind luck that I found a crevice big enough to fit my body. I took care, even in my panic, to protect your gift, to keep it snug beneath me, near the soft part of my belly, even as the splintering rocks raked my back. Let me take my shirt off and show you the scratches. Of the little goblet, your precious gift--at first I thought it came through the bombardment more unscathed than I. So happy I was to have shielded it with my self. But when I looked more closely, I detected the tiniest chip along the upper rim. Hardly anything, nearly invisible, but something all the same--a flaw, and ugly now that I knew about it--a sign of my failure. I thought, oh, if I could find the missing piece I'd redeem myself, and so, after setting the damaged cup most carefully upon a flat part of the split rock which had moments before saved my life, I got down on my hands and knees and searched. I searched and searched, scouring the ground with my eyes and fingers. My hope was that if I found the speck of crystal, just maybe I could glue it back, and all would be well. I'd have my honor restored. And then, a miracle, I did find the tiny piece. How happy I was! Almost ecstatic. But some ecstasy lasts only a moment. Just as I was about to rise to my feet, one final boulder fell from the sky, one last heavenly insult. Your beautiful cup-- crushed. Crushed beyond recognition."
"These things happen," said Malimcr. "While you were away I made something better. A vase of dusky rose. See how smooth it is? How slender? It reminds me of Cecile's graceful body, her lovely curves made for love, made for loving. Look how the muted swirls of color deepen as they dip? Pale pink becomes blush red becomes deep mauve, just as Cecile's excitement shows in its slow but inexorable rush."
"Yes," Bergfuss sighed. "I mean, it's good work, master. Excellent. Shall I deliver it, sir? I know she'll like it."
"Take care," Malimcr bid his man. "Watch out for rocks and brigands, and bring the vase safely to my lady. Even now I see the sweet and fragrant blooms she arranges gently within its flare and flange; even now I sense the tight bud's slow opening, the tender petals tremoring and quivering as they unfold, the shy meadowy smell of that sweet syrup welling up and oozing out. Take care, Bergfuss. I await your news even as you take your leave.
Eight days later Bergfuss was back. "Did it go well?" Malimcr wanted to know. "From your expression I fear the fair Cecile was not pleased with my vase. I had such hopes."
"Worry not on that score," Bergfuss said. "I can't say Cecile found fault with your present."
"Then she liked it?"
"I can't say that, either."
"What can you say--that she's undecided? Have you no inkling of her feelings?"
"Alas, no. I didn't get there."
"You didn't? What was it? Bandits again? Another avalanche?"
"Neither, sir. It was a snake."
"Yes, a viper. A viper of the most potent sort."
"It happened while I slept on the eve of the last night before I was to reach your dear wife. I had the vessel wrapped in my own clothes, a bundle which I cradled in my arms like a swaddled baby. I lay on my side and embraced the precious package with my arms and with my body. More protection I could not give. I slept soft and light, the vaguest snooze, guarding the vase from moonbeam's breath and all else in the world and out of it. But I was not vigilant enough. It was a little after midnight when I felt a stirring. I couldn't imagine what it was. It almost felt like something inside me, some gentle but insistent prodding. Cautiously I opened an eye. At first I saw nothing, nothing but the wash of moonbeams upon my bare skin. And then I saw it--the twitch of the serpent's tail as it slithered though the folds of clothing, through the slit at the front of my trousers, disappearing inch by inch into Cecile's fragile chalice. For a moment I dared not move. So silkily had the snake squirmed in, I had hopes he'd find nothing of interest there and snake himself silkily out again. But that was not to be. Ever deeper he moved into the small space. I felt him thickening as he coiled and swelled and squeezed himself forward until without doubt all of him was thoroughly ensconced. I dared not spring up. The vase would surely break if I did that. I'd wait that snake out, that's what I'd do. Carefully, cautiously, I eased the wrap of my clothing away from the snake-filled container. Yes, there he was, all of him in there, his large smug body supple and slippery as he shimmied slowly against the smooth inner walls, adjusting himself, turning and twisting with steady ease, seeking, it seemed, ever more of whatever it was, and in the end I could see his lidless eye pressed flat against the bottom- most curve of dusky glass, and I could see his throat working, warbling up the length of him, from tail to neck, an expanding wave of gulp, as if he would swallow the vessel from the inside out. I knew then I had to act and act fast before he spit his slimy venom, poisoning the inside of Cecile's crystal chalice with vilest spew. Waiting him out became out of the question. I jerked myself up, intending to shake the snake free, but alas I wasn't quick enough. The viper's head bulged as he hissed, his mouth opened, and everything exploded. Look at the nicks on my chest and belly. Flying glass. I'm lucky the venom veered in other directions. I'm lucky to be alive."
"The snake ... did he survive?"
"I've no idea. He snuck off. Probably nothing left in him. Probably he had his own wounds to lick. I made haste to sponge myself. Maybe a droplet of venom did touch my blood. I felt woozy. I lost track of time. I may have been delirious, but I don't really know. Eventually I regained my bearings, and here I am."
"So I see."
"You're not angry with me, my master?"
"No. From the sound of it, you were very brave. Had I been in your shoes perhaps I would have done the same thing."
"I'm glad you weren't in my shoes. But now I'm recovered. Fully fit. I'm ready to take another of your offerings to your sweet Cecile, should that be your desire."
"While you were gone I was indeed working," Malimcr told his servant. "I think this is the best work I've ever done." The glassblower showed the new piece to Bergfuss.
"It's breathtaking," Bergfuss exclaimed. "But what is it? And what's it made of? What gives it that strange emerald sparkle? That eerie luster? Gem or metal or something in between?"
"What it is I can't tell you," said Malimcr. "What it comes from I can't tell you either. A little of everything. A lot of nothing. Air and fire. Earth and water. The basic stuff. Quite something, though, isn't it? It makes me think of Cecile's eyes, the depths of them, the mystery, the joyous spirit, the wicked need."
"I'll say," Bergfuss said. "And nothing a serpent can get his claws into. No holes. So smooth everywhere. Hard to resist rubbing it. Oh, the feel of it! The weight both ethereal and substantial. The polish fuzzy and precise. So good to hold. So good to behold. It's perfect. But what could you use it for?"
Malimcr laughed. "Use it for? I suppose you're right. It's useless. But I want her to have it."
When Bergfuss returned nine days later, Malimcr was waiting for him. "My lad," the master spoke gently, "Can I infer from the duration of your absence that this time you've met with success?"