YEAR OF FIRE: an eschatological period referred to in the religious scripture of both East and West and roughly equivalent to the so-called ‘End Times.’ This is the moment all Grafting prophecy has been leading up to, the time apparently when the ‘Green Lord’ will appear to rule the Four Canopies and choose between the faithful and the damned. Five prophetic ‘Signs of the Sap’ mark the start of the Year of Fire, from the death of certain flora and fauna in the Tree to the doomed reign of the twelfth Kion, under whom all Nur will be enslaved. Some Grafter sources describe the Year of Fire as being the permanent mystic birth and rebirth of the world, but that interpretation has largely been sidelined in favour of more apocalyptic prophecies. See also ‘End Times’.
Under the hood…
Apocalyptic scenarios are a dime a dozen in epic fantasy. There must be something attractive about the end of the world; the story-which-ends-all-stories has been done well, done badly, and done and done again. When I realised that the people of the Tree would also look forward to a moment their world ‘ended’ – were obliged to, because of their mindset and culture – I knew I’d set myself a difficult task. I would be approaching that aspect of the story from a standpoint of disbelief. Essentially, I’d have to write about people whom I would personally consider deluded if I met them in real life, and ideas I simply did not agree with. I don’t think the world ever ends, not really. Not if you consider ‘the world’ to be greater than your particular region, culture, corner of the galaxy. All that ends is a certain way of being, at a certain time, in a certain place. And when it does end, it certainly won’t be in the way we imagine it will, with the righteous separated from the damned and everything neatly tied up with a bow!
So here I was, with a story that demanded I tackle a concept I inherently disliked. The people of the Tree, both East and West, had prophetic traditions that spoke of days of judgment and figures of judgment and generally were very judgmental. There were deep beliefs here, real magic and fervent feelings, and I had to respect those things. (It’s false to think an author controls his or her creations – it’s the other way around, I assure you.) At the same time, I refused – adamantly, stubbornly – to judge, separate the righteous and damned, or do any of the things my characters were clamouring for me to do. That’s not why I write stories.
I decided to approach the whole vexed question of endings in the most open way I could manage. I wrote about what Ursula Le Guin calls ‘an eschatological moment’, that is a moment of great change in a society, a sort of local apocalypse. It doesn’t mean the entire universe comes to a grinding halt, the Dark Lord disappears forever or that all that was wrong shall be put right, in an instant. It simply means there is a great change for the people concerned. The important thing is that it is a Year of Fire for those who live through it – a year of tests and wonders. The miracle exists for the ones who witness it.
The others simply hear a good tale by the fire of an evening, and nod to each other, and call for another round…
Saint Usala answered, ‘This I believe.
The End is within. The Beginning is always.
We call up Jury, Judge and Witness
And play executioner to ourselves.’