Chapter 23: The Crack in the Wall

Absolutely not," Alberich said.

Kristina sighed. She'd used every argument she could think of. He sat at his workbench under bright gaslight, as he wrapped a piece of soaked reed, getting ready to whittle it into shape so that it would sing. He didn't look up at her.

"Why not? It's not much. All you have to do is carry a basket. Well, twice, actually."

"We've already been over it."

"But I don't understand," she wailed. "It would mean so much to me."

"I do understand. Some people are at home when they're up on stage, and they don't mind hundreds or thousands of pairs of eyes staring at them. There are some things I simply cannot do, and this is one of them."

"It's about your face, isn't it?"

"No, it's not."

Kristina shifted uncomfortably on the tall stool. Alberich brushed aside the reed shavings, and started whittling away on another one, not looking at her. "Must you do that?" she asked as her irritation grew.

"No, I don't have to. But since you were talking on so long, I thought I might as well have something to do with my hands."

"It's just that I wanted you to see it. And since it's a private party, and since you're not in the cast, how can you?"

He laughed a little and shrugged. "Perhaps I'll surprise you."

She walked over to him, and rubbed the back of his neck. He stretched his head backwards, closing his eyes. "Let's not fight," she said.

"I'm not," he answered. "Don't stop, that feels good."

"You said there was something you wanted me to see down here."

"That's right," he said, eyes still closed. "We got ourselves so snarled up in whether I would be in your play or not, that I entirely forgot."

He took her hand and led her out to the rim of the large reservoir with its blue surface like a mirror, its arches and pillars reflected in a mad, topsy-turvy reversal, as if the ceiling of the world were turned upside-down. They passed through a low archway, then turned into a narrow tunnel cloaked deep in shadow.

"There's not much light," Kristina remarked as she gripped his hand tightly. "How do you find your way down here?"

Then she drew in a deep breath, struck with wonder. The gaslights had ended, but the light didn't. The walls glowed with a faint yellow phosphorescence as the crack grew narrower. They turned another corner, a sharper one this time, and Kristina felt the blast of cool cave air before she saw it. Startled, she gasped.

The tunnel opened into a wide cave, spacious and airy. There were no gaslights, no torches, but the walls themselves glowed with yellow, bright enough to see by. Twisting plants like ferns curled up from the cave floor, and bushes with feathery leaves almost a meter long lined their path. Instead of green, the plants shone dark purple in the cool air. Kristina looked up, but the ceiling was too high to be seen in the poor, pale light, so dim and soft that the dark plants seemed to cast no shadows at all.

She reached out in amazement to touch one of the delicate silky leaves on a nearby bush, and it recoiled at the contact with her fingers. "What is this place?" she asked, hushed with the wonder of it, the struggle of wills with Alberich forgotten.

"I don't know. It's not always here. Early this morning it appeared again, and I wanted you to see it. Sometimes the rock seals up on its own." His face was serious in the dim glow, the scarred tracery barely visible. "At first I thought I was mad."

"How long?" Kristina whispered.

"Since you came. Since I first met you. It seems to get bigger every time I come down here. You've asked me before why I still live down here, why I don't have an apartment. I never wanted to tell you, for fear you'd think me a lunatic, or that you would laugh. This place has always haunted me with its beauty, but now-"

"How far back does it go?"

"I don't know that, either. I've never really wanted to explore it all alone."

"Yes, one could get lost. It seems to go on for quite a stretch." She stooped down and felt the cave floor. "What do these things grow out of? It's not like there's any soil. They seem to thrust themselves right out of the rock. No, wait," and she pressed into the clump of slender branches, "There's some soil here, very soft." She rubbed it between her fingers, thoughtful. "Alberich, should I be afraid? Because I feel like I should be, even though I'm not."

He helped her to her feet and put his arm around her. Into the close warm circle she snuggled and said, "Let's explore on a little ahead. Look, we can see the cave entrance behind us. We won't lose sight of it."

Great hunks of mossy stuff hung from the ceiling like creepers, and they brushed it out of their faces. The bushes and ferns thinned out, to reveal a thick carpet of violet grass, only the blades were longer and thicker. Kristina smoothed it with her hand and resisted the urge to pluck a blade. This didn't seem to be the place to idly pick off a leaf or pull up a handful of grass. It was soft and cushiony, thought, so she sat, with Alberich beside her.

He stretched his long, lean legs out, as if they were resting on a lawn in a Paris park. A faint cool wind blew up around them, soft and faint. "Updrafts," he explained. "The air forms funnels, and pulls upwards. There must be some openings above for it to escape into, but I never can seem to find them."

"You've never told me about this, or showed me until now."

"It's been awhile, since before Christmas, that the crack opened up. Before that, would you have even believed me?"

"I can't say. Probably not. Is there water? There would have to be, for all these plants."

"Shhh," he said. "Don't you hear it?"

Then she could, a faint tinkle of water over stones. "Water's not so unusual in caves, is it?"

He shook his head, but didn't get up to go find the source of that splashing sound. She leaned back, and he laid down with her. Staring up at the cave ceiling was like looking into a night sky, but one of deep dusky violet, with no stars. It glowed, but with a kind of dark light, as opposed to the lighter tones which shone from the walls.

Kristina leaned over to gaze at him. The tracery on his face looked like it had been embroidered there, while little golden whirls glimmered in the fissures of his skin. His eyes were dark pools, the color of an eggplant when you find it in the morning market stall, before it gets covered with the day's dust.

"I don't understand it either," Alberich said. "Sometimes I come here and just sit. Other times I want to, but I can't get in, as there's nothing but a blank wall."

"Alberich," she said, drowning in his twilight eyes, "Who are you? Who are you, really?"

The splash of water was joined by a faint sprinkle of chimes, delicate silver struck by a tiny hammer.

"Someone who loves you," he answered. They didn't kiss, but she leaned her head down onto his warm chest and he held her there for a long time.

A faint wind came up, cooler than the normal cave's temperature, and then sharply cold, like winter. The walls' golden light started to fade. "I want to go," Kristina said, breaking free of his warm grasp. "Something's happening."

He helped her to her feet and they quickly pushed their way back through the feathery vegetation. Behind them, the light on the walls started to wink out, and the cascading darkness followed their steps towards the cave mouth. He pulled her out swiftly in the last minute before blackness swallowed the path behind them altogether. They ran around the broken edge of the reservoir, not looking back, both knowing that if they did turn, they would see nothing but a blank, jagged expanse of stone.

They didn't stop until they reached the heavy metal door of Alberich's little work room. "It's extraordinary," Kristina said, catching her breath.

"It's best not to talk about it. Once I wrote down a bit about it, and that must have had some kind of effect, for it didn't come back for months. There are things down here that are very old, and they like their privacy."

"But they let you come in."


The gas fire seemed harsh and unnatural, too bright when compared to the cave wall's soft glow. A huge surge of feeling filled her, one which had eluded her in that odd little grove. I can't tell anyone, she thought. I've never seen anything so odd, or so beautiful, and she grew a little pink, remembering the Julbock at Christmas. It's the kind of place you'd expect to find him.

He picked up his knife and began trimming another reed, his long dark hair falling over his face, so that she had to come around to the other side of the table to see it. "I should have brought my knitting," she remarked.

Looking up briefly, he said, "Indeed," and resumed work, trimming one reed after another, small and then larger.

When he brushed the bamboo shavings onto the floor, she said, "It just makes more to broom up afterward."

"Mother hen."

"I have to go," she said after awhile. "I still don't know how you will get in to the Duchess's party, but I'll leave that to you."

"The costumes are on display in the Singer's Salon, I noticed."

"Not the ones for our act. But the rest, yes." Then she thought of Falstaff's great green velvet robe and horned mask, from the scene where the fat knight tried to deceive both his anticipated mistresses by disguising himself as the great horned ghost of Herne, which was rumored to roam that ancient forest. The costume in its display case rose up in grey-green splendor from the flutter of fairy dresses arranged around it, with their lilac gauze and spangles, with delicate net wings. The littlest dancers would look beautiful in them, their long hair let loose and garlanded with silk flowers.

She had a good idea of what he planned to do. "I'll know you, then, won't I?"

He smiled, and she wanted to be back in the grove within the wall, all the same knowing that if it did open to her again, it would be in a different way, perhaps even a different time or place. Then Alberich said, "I'll try not to upstage Lorello."

"He's threatening to wear a huge nightshirt, for when they fish him out of the Thames. He's not happy, not one bit. I think if Rossignol had any sense, they'd let him finish the act and simply go home. He's threatened to soak himself with water, too, saying if they think that's indecent, well, Falstaff was indecent, and they can just play the hand of cards he deals them."

"You might warn him."

"I will. He'll probably think it a splendid joke. One more silly scheme and Lorello will probably go back to the Comic Opera, where we didn't spend so much time bowing and scraping to patrons. Anyway," and she came over to him to nuzzle his shoulder, smelling the odd pungent perfume of the violet plants on his shirt, "Put that knife away, and say good bye to me properly. If I'm not going to see you until the benefit, I want something to remember you by."

He pulled her into the scissors of his legs, spread wide on the tall stool, and enfolded her there. Up and down her throat he kissed, one hand caressing her back, the other on the back of her neck, to pull her face in even closer. He made soft little noises in the back of his throat as they kissed. She ran her fingers through his hair, and it reminded her of that dark violet vegetation, soft in her fingers, vibrant with life.

Then he broke away with a long sigh. "It's getting harder to stop."

"Then don't."

"I want to walk you out, while I still can walk, that is."

"Why? I can find the way out myself."

He let her go, and his face was serious now. "Remember I told you there were old things down here that shouldn't be disturbed?"

"I thought you were teasing me."

"I wasn't. Don't come down here alone, and don't go too close to the water in the basin."

"Why? What's there?"

"You don't want to see her. I have," and here his face grew solemn and remote, lost for a moment in some secret memory, "but you don't."

"A water nixie? We had those at home, but they were usually men. Beautiful naked ones, and they played the fiddle. They'd lure maidens into the water, and they'd drown them."

"Drowning would probably be the good end of it." The way he said it made her shiver a little.

"You're not jesting, are you? Still, I'd like to see her."

"No, Kristina, you really don't. Don't act like a child. This isn't one of those shows where you throw down your coins and get to see the freaks of nature."

His tone was so cold that she pushed herself back out of the circle of his arms entirely, a little shocked. "I'm sorry," she began, but he waved his hand as if to brush away her words.

"It doesn't matter, as I doubt she'll show herself to you. But just don't go near the water. Don't give her an excuse."

"This is someone who ... means a lot to you?" It seemed fantastic, but after what she'd seen earlier, perhaps it was possible.

He hesitated, like a man who, when confronted with one of his past loves, doesn't want to be indiscreet. To deny it outright would be a lie, but to admit would stir up wild stinging things best left undisturbed. "It's not what you're thinking." He stood up, reaching for her shawl, but she snatched it from its place on the hook before he could take it.

All the way up through cold stone staircases they were silent. She kept looking back over the impassive blue water of the reservoir, hoping to catch some movement on its blank surface, but nothing happened.

At the omnibus stop, Kristina turned her face away, so that Alberich couldn't see the tiny tears forming in the corners of her eyes, although the wind blew them away as soon as they emerged. When the bus came, he kissed her cheek softly and lifted her elbow to help her on board, but she looked the other way.


After Kristina left, Alberich didn't go back to his rooms at once. Instead, down to the shore of the ancient bath he went, and on the stony lake side sat for awhile. Together they had explored that crack in the wall, where he had never dared to go alone. Wasn't that wondrous enough? Perhaps he shouldn't have been so harsh when they bid good-bye. After all, if Kristina hadn't understood, it was his failure for not conveying it to her clearly enough.

It's superstition, he told himself, that to name the thing will bring it down on your head. Then he laughed a little to himself, wouldn't men call it "superstition" to pass through solid stone into a world of strange vegetation?

The pond at the bottom of the Eclectic Theater was a big pool with a smooth concrete bottom, and yet there were fish in it. Alberich didn't know how they got in or what they ate, yet a few looped around lazily. The bottom went down about five meters, but the water was too murky to see it. Without thinking, he picked up a fleck of stone and let it drop into the greyness, as he used to do at the millpond near his parents' home in Rennes.

Then his throat seized with fear at the knowledge of what he'd done. The surface of the grey-green murk fluttered, then broke, and she swam rapidly towards him. Her slanted eyes shone bright yellow in her elongated face, and although he tried to scramble away from the lake's edge, she heaved herself onto the stone, drenching him in the splash. Before he could pull away, one long scaly arm wrapped around his shoulders. She pushed off the edge, and together they fell into the slimy water.

Alberich thrashed and struggled. All he could see was grey shot through with vague streaks of light, and the debris like dust motes swirled through the murk. Then her long narrow face pushed into his, almost touching, and just as he opened his mouth to suck in a lungful of water, into his mouth with her spiny hand she pushed a small stone, shoving it in between his cheek and teeth on the right side of his mouth, where it wedged. He choked and struggled, tasting blood where her sharp spiny hand had cut him. As he thrashed, trying to get away, her grip tightened with far more strength in her thin arms than he would have thought possible.

His clothes filled with water and down they both sank. In his panic he tried to swim for the surface, but she held his arms against his body and wrapped her legs around his, so they couldn't propel him upwards. Terrified at the prospect of this watery death, he didn't notice that he was breathing in deep gasps, as if he were still on land and had just run a race. The water flowed in over his mouth and into his nose, yet it felt as natural as air, and as satisfying. Slowly his struggling stopped.

He wasn't going to drown. She wouldn't let him.

Resting on the bottom, the siren released her death-grip on him, but still kept her clawed hand firmly on his arm. In her other hand she took his face, and somehow his eyes had cleared as well as his breathing, for now he could see the blocks of stone, the smooth paved floor of the bath, and the hanging water-weeds that lined the pool's inner surface. She pulled his face roughly back to hers. Her look was hard to interpret, as her face stretched out so long and inhuman, but her expression seemed almost like longing. Her eyes stretched too, back beyond any human shape. Her black weedy hair streamed out behind her, and her thin smiling mouth was full of small sharp teeth, like those of a predatory fish.

Then she pulled on his boots. He kicked, not wanting her to take them off, but she gripped his leg so hard that he convulsed from the pain, and another splash of blood spread into the water. She looked at him threateningly with her green slitted eyes, and bared her teeth as well. Alberich let her remove his boots, and she tossed them aside, where they came to rest on the lake bottom.

He tried to speak, to protest, but no sound came out, only bubbles of air. She screwed her face up into a quizzical expression, then beckoned him to follow her through the water.

At first he thought he would swim as rapidly for the surface as he could. Did she intend to take him someplace else and kill him there? But why give him the strange breathing stone, if she meant to kill him? It would have been simpler and easier to hold him underwater and drown him outright. Or those sharp spines on her hands could have sliced his throat open as easily as he gutted a fish. Her touch was rough, but she hadn't hurt him intentionally. And he was curious to see where she would lead him. So as she swam off, he followed, laboring to keep up with her sleek, swift strokes as she cut through the water.

She was naked but had no bosom, and while her rump was rounded and shapely, there seemed to be no signs of femininity down below; no patch of hair, no triangle of Venus. If there was some cloaca or slit like a fish's, it was well concealed between her rapidly scissoring legs.

The stone walls of the great bath changed to rocky irregularities, lit with phosphorescent algae in shades of greens and blues. As they swam on and on, there were no walls anymore, only the weedy and silty sides of a genuine lake. The water deepened, and the bottom vanished. It looked nothing like the vast stone tub the old Romans had built, and Alberich hesitated, backing up his swimming movements as if to retreat. Where were they going?

She turned and yanked him by the hand, hard, pulling him along as she continued to kick. He kicked harder, and when she felt the force of his cooperation she let go, again beckoning him onward. He thought that perhaps he'd drowned, and this long green creature was some demon sent to escort him down to hell. To himself he said, I suppose I deserve it, or so the priests would say. For Alexandrine, if nothing else. In any event, she isn't going to allow me to go back to the surface.

The ground spread out beneath them in a vast array of irregular shapes, like limestone formations in a watery cave. They swam through a large tunnel, with ragged stone formations above and to either side. The phosphorescence lighted their path, but Alberich's eyes had become like hers, able to navigate through the dark waters. The underground tunnel widened and his first natural response was to gasp, but he only produced another few bubbles. They had emerged into a vast underwater grotto, lit from some unknown source.

She stopped swimming and turned to him, waving her long leathery hand around as if to say, here we are. On an impulse he took her hand in his own in order to examine it further, to see what manner of creature had brought him to such a place. She tilted her head almost shyly, coasted them over to a rock outcropping. Alberich wrapped his legs around it, so not to float away, and she hovered nearby, her hand relaxed in his.

In Turkey, one of the court officials had a huge tank full of sea creatures in his home, and once, when Alberich and Alphonse had visited, he lifted a small shark out of the large main tank, and put it in a smaller tank for the boy to touch. It was about a meter long, and while Alberich had to beware of the teeth, he ran his hands over its rough, slick skin in delight. The siren's skin was like that, rough like a shark's, but without scales. He delicately parted her fingers, stroking her hand and trying to reassure her, so that he could look further. Thin webs separated her unusually long digits, and on the back of her hand, running up each finger halfway, were a series of the sharp little spines which had cut his mouth.

She had no fingernails, but instead her fingers projected outwards with spines, and one of those had cut his leg. He turned her hand over and stroked the lineless palm, not so rough as the top. Her greenish-gray skin took on a cast of blue in the dim algal glow.

She put her other hand on top of his for a moment, and then let go, floating in the water before him. If he had to pick an expression for her inhuman face, he would have said that it was calm.

He had only a little sense of wonder, and that made a little fear seize him again, the fear that he had already died. But he didn't feel dead. His leg stung and burned, and the area around it had gone numb. He could still taste a little blood where his lips met at the corner. If I'm already dead, he thought, I might as well look around before the torments begin. If there are any, that is. She looks as though she could inflict some well enough, with those teeth. Intense curiosity almost prompted him to investigate her mouth, but then he knew that he hadn't drowned after all, for inside him a small spark of self-preservation still burned.

But he could get a bit of a closer look. He brushed away the long hovering hair which half-covered her face. She flinched a little, and drew back a bit, but then allowed him to push aside the thick, swirling heaviness, and he saw her face clearly for the first time.

Her eyes were almost white, with a yellow-green cast, and the pupils were slit. She had no nose to speak of; only two slits in a kind of elongated muzzle resting over her mouth full of needles. But mercurial expressions darted through her eyes, and then her hand came up to run through Alberich's hair as well. She felt the texture between her fingers, pulled on it a little and stopped when he flinched. She fingered the fabric of his shirt, and actually slid her hand inside. His first instinct was to grab her hand and pull it out, but he calmed himself and let her explore the skin of his neck and collarbone.

After a few more experimental tugs at the fabric she moved on to his ears. They seemed to fascinate her especially, perhaps because she herself had none; only two small holes on either side of her head, under the weedy dark masses of hair. She played with the lobes and ran her finger with great delicacy around the curves and hollows of the outer ear. A sudden fear seized him, that she might plunge that sharp finger into the ear itself. Such a blow could kill a man at once. It was a method of assassination sometimes used in Turkey, and once the blood was wiped away, there was no trace of violence left.

It was then Alberich realized that he was in the grip of some extraordinary experience, one in which he could either choose to fight, or surrender, and so he chose surrender. Her lidless, unblinking eyes were like a fish's as well, and when Alberich closed his own eyes she picked at the lid. Then he jerked violently, which made her dart backwards in the water so quickly that she left a small wake. He shook his head repeatedly, No, don't do that, no, and covered his eyes with his hands.

Gently she pulled his hands away from his face as if to say, I understand. Then she made a wide, sweeping movement with her hand and motioned him to follow once more. Down they swam to the grotto's bottom surface, which was covered with what at first appeared to be some kind of coral, or scaly whitish deposits, and some glittering irregular objects.

Then Alberich gave a violent start, for the whitish scaly mass covering the bottom of the grotto appeared to be bones all broken into fragments.

Perhaps this is where you die, he said to himself, with those long sharp teeth gnawing at your flesh, and those strong hands breaking apart your bones, to get to the red marrow inside.

She floated in the water, looking at him.

He swam down to examine the scattered carpet of death beneath him. Mixed in with the bones were familiar objects: a broken pair of spectacles; some metal false teeth; a skeleton key; perhaps a policeman's belt buckle; a Third Republic Army medallion that was probably pinned to the cap of some former soldier. He swam over to another small pile, and there were a few of the red pins worn by the Communards. A flash of dark metal caught his eye, and he brushed away some bone fragments to reveal a revolver, which had failed to protect its holder from the siren's grasp.

She picked up a military medal of some kind, with a rotting scrap of ribbon still attached, and played with it for a moment, then handed it to him. They did that for some time; she would hand him some decaying trinket, he would hand it back, only to have her pick up the next item to hand to him for inspection.

Tired of that game, she swam upward in a cloud of bubbles and waves, and he followed, amazed at his own effortless motion through the water. The sides of the grotto were honeycombed with openings, and in and out of these they swam, moving through a vast labyrinth of small interconnected caves, where sparkling crystals decorated their lace-like walls. Some were dimly lit; some were bright, but Alberich never could spy the source of that strange pallor.

Then the siren flipped herself out into the huge central space once more, with Alberich at her heels. He caught hold of her wide, webbed foot, careful to avoid the spines, and she turned with a powerful flip. Her mouth showed her teeth, but her eyes bore an expression no man could mistake anywhere, and he smiled back. She brought her face close to his, and he quailed a little. Instead of trying to kiss him, she ran her face lightly against his, first on one side, then across the other, scratching him faintly with her rough shark's-skin cheek.

Suddenly a light-headed, choking sensation pushed up from his lungs. He breathed hard, taking in more water and spewing it out in a froth, but felt no air coming in. He clawed at his throat, limp with panic. The siren shook his arm as he began to thrash. Motioning him to kick, she pulled him out of the grotto and through the tunnel through which they had come, back into the deep, rocky-bottomed pool which looked so unlike the tub into which he had been pulled.

The water grew shallower, and the bottom smoother. By this time Alberich was fighting the overwhelming choking hunger for air, fighting the instinct to fill his lungs with water and drown. Her face swam before his rapidly-dimming vision, and she pulled at him with her strong arms. She jammed her sharp hand into his mouth once again, pulling and prodding, and he thrashed with the fear of suffocation, and from the pain. His mouth filled with blood, but the urge to breathe overcame everything else. Too late, he had to breathe in, for his chest felt as if it would break in two from suffocation. Despite his best efforts, he took in a great lungful of water, and all went black.

When Alberich opened his eyes, he lay on the stone-crafted edge of the lake, covered in filth and mud, his face pressed into the slimy wet stone. The imperious urge to breathe had long passed. Now his breathing came slow and regular as he lay face down in the muck. As he slowly struggled to a sitting position, he spat out a great wad of clotted blood onto the ground. His tongue went all around his mouth experimentally, feeling all the cuts and scrapes from within. As he pulled himself upward, something pinched his hand. There on the flat carved rock sat a small smooth stone, green like jade, but more bright. He picked it up and wondered if its magic would work again, and once more allow him to explore that vast underwater cavern.

He was bootless, soaked, and mud-caked. Hesitantly he pulled himself to his feet, wincing at the stinging pain in his leg, and clenched the little green stone tightly in his fist. Faintly, from across the lake, he heard her high-pitched voice which bore no words nor recognizable tune. Long before, he had thought those sounds were just air moving through shafts, or whistling pipes, or the steam rising from the great coal furnaces to the radiators above. Out on the grey slick water her dark shape fluttered like a fish leaping in the early morning, and Alberich answered her back in the same atonal drone.

Her call joined his, and they sang like that for a few moments, until she faded away into silence. Alberich held the stone in his hand all the way back to his little basement rooms.

He washed, cleaned his clothes, and soothed the soreness in his mouth with brandy. For good measure, he poured some onto the scratches on his leg as well. The green stone he placed in a little carved wooden box in the top of his chest-of-drawers.

Then, wrapped in his father's thick old cotton robe, warmed by the gas fire, he wondered where it was that he and the siren had gone together, and why she hadn't tried to kill him. The blue steady flames of the gas fire were no substitute for wood, and he missed the crackle of logs, the smell of sweet burning branches, the embers.

Ever since he had first set eyes upon Kristina, ever since the crack in the wall had opened, he had seen, and heard, and felt things which made him feel as if he dwelt in waking dreams. Strange, how he had never noticed that these two things had started happening at once.

Should he test it tomorrow, re-insert the stone in his mouth and plunge once more into the lake? Nothing seemed more repugnant to him at the moment, snug and warm as he was in the blue gas glow. Anyway, the siren of the lake had kept him safe, but he was not so sure that she would do the same for Kristina, and he was glad he had warned her. But the siren didn't seem jealous of her, escorting Alberich through her wet realm.

Nonetheless, it would be prudent not to anger her. He thought of the rotted shreds of uniforms he'd seen down there, and wondered if their shiny brightness attracted her, or perhaps being hunted by men with guns was not to her liking. Then the sheer comfort of the thick robe, the heat, the soft slide of the spirits through him, all held him in a cocoon of pleasure, and presently Alberich fell asleep.