Anne Hathaway Speaks

AnneHathawayAndShakespeare

My husband Will was not inattentive to me, though this is what most folk assumed. True he lived in London and I saw him scarce, but when he arrived back to Stratford, O then! Much welcoming and merrymaking there was and I greeted him with open arms.

Will’s true home was the theater, his soul poured forth from his quill and ink pots. When I married him I knew this. How could I not?  He spoke in rhyme when he wooed me. The sonnet sprung from his lips, a stretch of beat and iamb, beautiful words and I trust not a woman in all of Stratford would have resisted young Master Shakespeare. He was tall and handsome, quick witted, dark eyed.  And I?  I was the original summer’s day, Venus to his Adonis.

When he moved to London it was with  that very poem he acquired patronage from the Earl of Southampton.  He had since compromised his words, winking to the the faire youth and dark lady.  Leave gossip for the tongue wagers.  I suspected he had lovers, both women and men.  Of course he did.  After all, his time in London was long. Yet the green monster of envy raised not its head.

One must understand. He was but a boy of eighteen when I married him, and I a woman of twenty six. And though I was with child, I knew his wild oats were not yet sown.  Faithfulness was never expected.  Therefore we lived in harmony.

But I!  Yes I.  Was the mother of his children, the keeper of his hearth. More importantly, not a word of his plays did he scribe, not a scroll did he bring to the King’s Men without my approval.  That was my gift, though none knew of it.

“Anne,” he said to me, “thou art my Juliet, my Beatrice, my Titania in all splendor of the fairies.” His meaning more specific, I was his muse.

merchant of venice pd 2

Consider his play of Juliet. What a botched thing it was,  before I took my hand to it. “The lovers must commit suicide, Will,” quothe I. “Nothing less will do.”

“How so?” he asked.

“By poison of course. And a stabbing, the bloodier the better! In London they crave all means of violence, death, destruction and swordplay. You must give the public what they want, Billie Shakespeare! Else all is lost and the words for naught.”

The same was true of his characters Ophelia, Gertrude and Hamlet. My husband would have written it mildly, trippingly on the tongue as he liked to say. “O no Will,” I corrected. “There must be tragedy. Sweet Ophelia, tormented by madness, will drown herself in a river amongst the heavy flowers and willows that weep.”

“Another suicide?” He shook his head.

“Another, and many more. Trust me.”

Consider Macbeth.  A lame play until I corrected it, making Macbeth a milquetoast to a treacherous and evil woman! She was perhaps the most cunning of my creations.

“The Lady Macbeth must urge the man forward,” I insisted. “It is she who plots killing of King Duncan, she who will bloody her hands most.” His jaw hung and he turned a bit pale at this notion.

“She,” I continued, “will unsex herself, ruthless and scheming. She will drive herself to madness, never eliminating the the damned spots of blood that haunt her like Banquo’s ghost!”

macbeth

He argued with me. “Surely, wife, the gentry will loathe such a vile woman.”

“They will love to hate her,” I assured him. For what better entertainment than an evil femme fatale and what better place to lay blame?

I was correct.

And so it was the box office flourished. “Sell admissions cheap, not more than a penny,” I advised him.

“But Anne,” quothe he, “Baron Hundson will not have it. The Globe itself will be closed should we not turn a profit.”

“You’ll turn a profit and you’ll turn it handsomely,” I insisted.  When the groundlings poured in, seatless in the mud and mire, but not lacking to pay their penny, Will saw that I was correct. I was always correct.

The money pots scattered and we quickly made a fortune. “To tell and sell a story,” I told him, “is the noblest of professions. None will tire of it, for they seek desperately to escape the boredom of their mundane lives.”

And so it was, back home in Stratford, by our fortune I acquired land and houses. New Place was mine, a brace of animals and horses, thriving farms and plenty of servants to do my bidding. When we accumulated enough wealth I urged Will to purchase a Coat of Arms. The motto ‘Not Without Right’ were my own words, because indeed we were not without rights to our own status of Gentle.

shakesepare coat of arms

One day I waited for the clomp of horse hooves upon our pavement. ‘Twas the twenty third day of April, the day of his birth and Will returned home to celebrate. My cooks had prepared a great feast. There would be games and diversions. I smiled as I saw him ride up the road, clothed in boots and britches. He pulled a scribbled parchment from his doublet.

“What’s this?” I kissed him on both cheeks, then took the parchment.

“My latest,” he answered. “It is called Othello.”

“And what story?”

“A marriage between a Moor and a Venetian. Their love will be the purest and they shall live happily ever after.”

I shook my head and tore the parchment to pieces.

“Their love,” I said defiantly, “shall be fraught with tension. The Moor black as jet and the Venetian white as pearl. She a young seductress, he a skilled soldier.   There will be coupling, the mounting of the beast with two backs, they insatiable in their lust!  There will be jealousy and betrayal, one named Cassio who will claim her…”

I narrowed my eyes, thinking of what would enhance this plot. “Add a handkerchief, the most intimate of objects.”

Will popped his eyes. “Surely not a handkerchief!”

“Yes, husband. And ‘twill end in a murder.  Othello driven to savage madness, kills his wife in her very own bed! Then he, driven to suicide, slays himself and falls next to her. Give the people blood and lust and lovers and yet more blood.”

“My dear, are you sure? Such a thing shall be most controversial.” He cocked his head.

“Trust me.” I answered. I then took his hand. “Let the birthday celebrations begin.”

That night we finished revisions. I predicted the story of the Moor named Othello and his wife Desdemona would be among the greatest of my husband’s many tragedies. I predicted the plays would last on into posterity, for hundred of years, maybe thousands, created anew by each generation, constantly revealing human truths, constantly entertaining each audience.

And I was always correct.

“She hath a way,  so to control

and rapture the imprisoned soul

and sweetest heaven on earth display

that to be heaven, Anne hath a way

She hath a way, Anne Hathaway,

To breathe delight, Anne hath a way.”

                                                          — William Shakespeare

Born April 23, 1564, Died April 23, 1616

Birthday-Shakespeare

 

 

Lazarus and the Pink Moon

 

Lazarus 2

My body was rife with boils and scabs, the pain constant, like blue fire to an open wound. My own hands were clamshells, too stiff and weak to aid myself.  My sisters, Martha and Mary, dressed my inflamed skin in cool gauze and oils, yet it did no good. I wished only for death.

“He, Yeshua, the healer,” Martha told me, her young face riddled with lines of worry. “He shall be back. It was his promise to us.”

“You speak of the Rabboni?” I could barely gasp the words. My breath was fast vanishing.

“The Rabboni, Emmanuel, Hosanna,” Mary answered. “Know you, Lazarus, that he has healed many, causing the lame to walk and the blind to see. He will come back to Bethany and heal you as well.”

I moved my stiff body, a near corpse, against the straw mattress. It cut like a blade. No miracle worker could help me, that I knew.  The pox gripped and I was well beyond healing. Yet I had not the heart nor the strength to say this aloud, knowing it would crush my sisters’ hopes.

“It is told the Rabboni has walked on waves in the sea of Galilee,” Mary continued. “He calms the ocean’s storms. In Canaan they talk of the man who has changed water into wine. In Tiberias they talk of the man who fed a multitude with only seven loaves and two fishes.  Such are the miracles of Yeshua bin Joseph, and he has stated his undying love for us.”

Drivel and nonsense! My mind screamed but my voice could not utter it. I was thirsty, very thirsty and my head burned with fever. Martha pressed a wineskin to my lips but its taste was bitter as gall. The liquid burned in my swollen throat. “You must drink brother,” Martha said. “So as to stay quick till the Rabboni arrives. It is then he will cure you and you shall be whole once more.”

I let out a sigh in as much as my breath would permit it.  Whole. Did I want to be whole ever again?

Illness is a mad thing. It steals one’s will. I was a young man, younger than the Rabboni, who was three and thirty years. These miracles my sisters spoke of meant little to me. I followed no god, paid Caesar no tithes, was beholden to no man. Death was inevitable. When my time came I had always known I’d accept it.

Not so with my sisters. Their faith was constant as rise of the sun. They’d not give up hope. Mary sat at the edge of my mat, her hands folded in prayer. “When I am gone,” I began, but could not continue as I saw the tears trickle like silent rain from the corners of her eyes.

“You will not be gone brother,” Martha called. She brought bread from the village and begged me to eat but its taste was dust, my ulcered mouth too weak to chew.

lazarus 1

Night fell. Finally my sisters ceased their fussing and took to bed. I was relieved.

Through the bare windows of our hut I saw the moon rise. The first full moon since change of the season. Desert winds were now calmer and pink phlox grew like spun silk across the land. The heat of summer would not be far behind, yet I knew I’d not live to see it.

I closed my eyes. Sleep enveloped me like a womb.

When I awoke it was yet night, the moon outside the window full and pink as the phlox that grew beneath it.

pink moon 2

Stars twinkled all around. I could feel the breeze, balmy against my bandages. Oh, to breathe that air once again! To stand beneath that full moon. If I had but one last request, that would be it. Yet I had such little strength.

Rising on my blistered feet, I grabbed the wineskin, tried to drink but still the taste was bitter. Martha’s loaf of bread sat upon the table, now covered with locusts. The sight of it turned my stomach.

My breath was heavy.  I longed for the night air. I stood on shaky legs. Although I had been bedridden for weeks I now walked outside, compelled by some force, a force as powerful as the moon’s diamond tides.

It was there in the rich darkness that the woman met me.

She was naked, illuminated in the moon’s glow, her skin and lips pink, with streams of red hair hair that fell to her hips.

lillith

“Lazarus,” she said. “Your time is not yet come. Though your body is diseased and imperfect, you are still a young man. The years ahead are many. Your sisters need you. If you will show but a tiny seedling of faith you shall be healed.”

Such perfection I had never seen in a woman before. “Who are you?” I asked.

“Come nearer,” she answered.

I approached her and when I was cheek press close she whispered in my ear, “Lillith.”

I backed away.  Lillith!  It was she who had cursed the earth, she who had left her husband Adam, she who brought death to one hundred babies each day.  This Lillith, a demon! A vixen!  So said all the holy books. My instincts were to flee. Yet when she spoke again, her voice like rich bells beckoning me, I could not refuse.

She placed her hand upon my forehead. Her touch was cool and soft, like moonbeams themselves. “You’d do well not to believe the legends of men!” she quipped.

She then took me into her bosom, placed her teat to my mouth. “Drink, Lazarus,” she commanded. “This is the milk of life, stronger than any wine.”

Her taste was sweet and as I drank I felt my strength restored.  The boils healed on my skin, the ulcers vanished from my mouth. My fever broke and my head cooled.  My muscles, which had begun to atrophy, now took on a new suppleness and flexibility. I stood to my full height. My vision was sharp and clear.

I looked around me. All the ground seemed brighter, the plants green as pine, the flowers grown to the size of wheat fields.  The colors were dazzling. Silver rivers flowed, sheep grazed, trees were ripe with apples. Far in the distance the landscape sprung with all manner of vegetation, the lavender fields a sea of purple before us.  We were no longer in Bethany.

lavendar england public domain

“What is the place, my lady?” I asked. My voice was now deep, restored of its full volume and masculinity.

“This is but a fragment of Eden,” she answered. “And you are here for but a fragment of time. Answer when Yeshua calls. He weeps for you. There is so much more of your life to live.”

The next I knew I was in a tomb, rock walls encompassing like a prison around me.  I was clothed in linen, my head wrapped and eyes covered.  This seemed quite absurd as I had never felt fitter in my life.  They had buried me? Buried me alive, no less!  I unraveled the gauze from my eyes.

Just then the tomb’s boulder was moved. A path opened and yellow sunlight poured in.  I heard his voice, sturdy and pleading. “Lazarus, come out.”

lazarus

Slowly I stepped from the tomb, earth warm on my bare feet. Mary and Martha ran to my side and embraced me. “Brother,” Mary said. “Never did we lose our faith. Though we buried you four days ago, it is as he promised. You live!” Her face was wet with tears of joy.

Four days? Surely she was wrong, for I had been with Lillith but a moment!  Only long enough to drink the milk from her breasts and glimpse paradise.

“Remove those burial linens and let him go,” Yeshua instructed.

Later, as we dined together at our table he leaned in to me and whispered in my ear, “Tell no one of Lillith.”

“But why, Rabboni?” I asked. The woman Lillith had been a vision, a hope and a miracle. I longed to share my story.

“They will crucify me for this,” Yeshua answered. “If they learn the source from which my power comes it will be even worse. You’ll endanger your sisters. You’ll endanger all of womankind. This world is not yet prepared for the Truth.”

I heeded his words and told none of my visit with Lillith.

My sister Mary then took an alabaster jar filled with our finest perfumed oil. She anointed Yeshua’s feet and dried them with her own hair.

annointing feet

The men criticized her. The one called Judas Iscariot rose and gestured wildly.  “This fine perfume could have been sold and its money given to the poor!” he bellowed. “Yet Mary has wasted it on the Rabboni’s feet! She is sinful.”

My sister, unperturbed, continued her anointing.

“Leave the woman alone,” Yeshua commanded. “She is preparing me for my burial. The poor will be with you always, but I am destined to leave you soon.”

All were silent at this. He was correct. When the Sanhedrin heard of my resurrection, they became even more suspicious of him. A bounty was put on his head and the one called Iscariot betrayed him for thirty pieces of silver. He was arrested the following Thursday  at the garden of Gethsemane.

The very next day Yeshua bin Joseph was crucified, nailed to a cross with a crown of thorns on his head.  He died at Golgatha and was buried in a nearby tomb.

Like me, he arose from that tomb. Like me, he never told anyone of his encounter with Lillith.

As time went on many were persecuted. Women were burned at the stake, hung and murdered for their gifts of healing , elemental powers and necromancy.  It was not until millennia had passed that the Enlightenment came.

The world was then ready for the Truth.

lillith 2

 

 

The April Fool

 

court jester 3

They called me Jane the Foole, but it was they who were foolish, believing as they did in the atrocities of government and church. At Court I stayed close to my Lady Catherine Parr, yet closer still to Elizabeth Tudor, for I knew it was Elizabeth who would one day conquer all.

I juggled, danced and told many a story.  In my raiments of motley and purple, I entertained the greatest of statesmen.  I was merely a jester, yet it was my good fortune to have a room of my own, a canopied bed, the finest of costumes and best of all, access to the royal kitchen.

Truth be told, I did not care much for King Henry. He was an old lecher and I had watched him behead many a woman. In the last days of his life I know he suffered, for the Fates cannot be kind to any man who takes a woman’s love and devotion so lightly.

The poison I gave to Henry’s cook was unknown to all but me. It was an act of mercy, for the man was obese to the point of vulgarity, his leg ulcer constantly inflamed. To make matters worse, he was deranged of mind and smelled badly. Trust me, death was a blessing.

When Henry died his son Edward, a mere boy of nine, took the throne. I disliked Edward, yet I stayed in his household. The boy was not much of a leader, taking counsel from greedy sycophants, lords and earls.  It was only my Lady Elizabeth who was fit to lead, that I knew, sure as I knew the bells on my own headfrock.

At age fifteen the boy king took ill. His symptoms looked to the world like the consumption, but I knew better. Edward was a mere cog in the wheel, a false ruler to be disposed of. And so, when I gave the poison to his cook I was left unfazed. This was my duty to the Crown, a step in my own advancement.

When Edward died,  his cousin, the Lady Jane Grey became queen. Of necessity, her reign was short, lasting only nine days, for she had been placed on the throne against her own will in a conspiracy.  She was declared treasonous and sent to the block. My work in her demise was therefore minimal.

The sweetcake I brought to Lady Jane Grey in her jail cell at the Tower would serve only to ease her pain. “Eat it right before the beheading,” I told her.

She nodded in agreement, for the poor child was bewildered, having served only as a pawn in this deadly game of thrones. I watched her eat the sweetcake, then blindfolded, she faced her executioner. Death enveloped her just before the ax hit her nubile young throat.

Jane Grey

The Lady Mary, Henry’s oldest daughter, then took the throne.

The Queen Mary kept me yet at the palace where I continued to amuse and delight.  In the meantime, my Lady Elizabeth was placed in the Tower on treasonous charges against her own sister.  They were false of course, Elizabeth a mere victim in a political plot designed by Mary’s enemies.  Amateurs! The true business was always best left to me.

I made it my duty to visit Elizabeth in her damp and murky chamber. “Fret not my Lady,” I told her. “Plans are set and in place.” I then gave her a sly wink and she knew, in the way only a secretive and powerful woman could know, of my intentions. I dared not utter them, for the Tower was filled with ears and spies.

I bided my time, waiting and watching.

The good of England was only ever in my thoughts. Tho’ I was but a foole, I knew a disaster when I saw one. This monarchy was a disaster, many slaughtered under the reign of Bloody Mary, many brought to the pyre.

There were burnings of devout Protestants, the likes of which the country had never seen before nor would ever see again. I watched it all. The flames as they crept high over the stakes, the victims as they wailed in terror.

burning-at-stake

The lucky ones were given a pouch of gunpowder, so to end their misery sooner. Such uncouth barbarism, never had I witnessed before!  And all in the name of religion, politics and other things, much too foolish to abide.

The Queen Mary was ill of health, a tumor in her chest that grew to large proportions. I watched as she became weaker.  I suspect her conscience was troubled also and her health reflecting it. The poison I gave to her cook was an act of mercy and one I have never regretted.

And so it was, on a blustery day in November, the year 1558, the Queen Mary finally breathed her last and my Lady Elizabeth took the throne.

“I’ll keep you close Jane Foole,” Elizabeth whispered to me, flashing the royal ring in my eyes.  “For I know your power is not merely to entertain, but to dole death as well as life.”

Elizabeth was the one, the only one, who never underestimated me.

The reign of my Lady Elizabeth was long, lasting nigh fifty years. I stayed with her through it all. None noticed, save for Elizabeth herself, and a few of the other servants, that during this time I aged not a day. I watched with amusement as those around me withered and fell. Even the great Queen was unable to stave off the wrinkles of time, much to her dismay. She was a vain sort and begged me give her the potion of youth. Instead I spread her face with crushed eggshells which served to hide her age spots nicely.

Painting of Queen Elizabeth I of England Elizabeth 1_original.j

I told her (and rightfully so) that my potion of eternal youth was not for princes nor noblemen, but only to be used by we, the Fooles, born into this life of jesting and merriment.

When my Queen could no longer kick her heels in a dance, and my Lord Cecil of the privy council had wasted away before us, I continued my jesting. My jokes and story telling, as well as my face were much same as they had been in the court of King Henry years before.  None bothered to question me, for it was assumed I could not possibly be that same Jane. None examined a fool too closely, for we were but ornaments; the entertainment, amusement and artifice taken for granted.

The Queen grew fragile, debilitated by her long years in office. Finally, on a rain soaked day in March, the year 1603, she summoned me with her last request.

The poison I slipped to Elizabeth’s cook was unknown to all but the Queen and myself. Still a troubled soul, she remained standing and fully awake, biting her own fingernails until she took her last breath, the poison finally doing its work.

As for myself, after Elizabeth’s reign I vanished from court. I had no desire to serve under her cousin James.  My work was done. Besides, the golden age of the jester was fading and would soon be forgotten, replaced by the stage, the works of Master Shakespeare and all that would later take to to the fine art of merriment.

My Queen, ever faithful, had left in my name an enormous country estate, the deed and keys belonging to me only.

estate 2

There I have lived quietly ever after.  I have seen the turn of some four hundred summers. Laughter and my own elixirs  being the best medicine, I still have not aged a day.

I have taken seventeen husbands and birthed seventy-one children. All of them became fine entertainers as was appropriate to the eras in which they were born. They scattered to all corners of the earth, bearing offspring of their own who carry on my traditions.

court jester 6

Yet I grew weary of this world.

And so it was.

On April 1st, 2017 in the Year of Our Lord now called Common Era, on the day they have named specifically  for fools, I Jane the Foole played the last of my (very practical) jokes. The poison I gave to my own cook was only known by me. I passed quietly, painlessly, and peacefully into the night.

All I will tell you of the realm I entered is that it is beautiful, a land of summer where the flowers bloom quite indecently. There is always much laughter and merrymaking. There is no poison, no aging, no politics, no religion, no kings nor queens.  And there is, most certainly, never a need for the employment of fools.

flowers 4

 

** NOTE: The real Jane Foole, pictured below in this 1545 portrait, was the only female court jester ever recorded in history. She is believed to have served three generations in the Tudor dynasty.

jane foole

The full painting below features (left to right) jester Jane Foole, Mary Tudor, Prince Edward, Henry VIII, Jane Seymour (posthumous), Elizabeth Tudor and another jester Will Somers.

King Henry

 

 

Marcellus at Lupercalia

 

loin cloth

On the morning of Lupercalia we went first to the temple of Pan. It was here we paid tribute to the god of shepherds and nature, he that watched over all animals, including the beloved wolf, Lupa, for which this festival was named.

I was lucky, for I was among those of the Brotherhood, we the high priests who would be anointed with blood of the goat and dog. In the temple we raised our voices, shouted prayers to the hooved god, knelt in praise. We then passed wineskins, drank in camaraderie and offered the robes off our backs in sacrifice.

When devotions had ended, we marched down the cobbled streets wearing only our loincloths. In the village we met Calpurnia, of Juno’s temple. She held an alabaster jar and inside it, etched in parchment, were the names of every unwed maid in the city.

jar

Calpurnia shook the jar. “With the blessings of Juno and in hopes Cupid smiles upon you. May you have the maids you desire, gentlemen,” she said. She held out the jar to me. I was first to choose, for that year it was I who  represented Romulus.

I thrust my hand into the jar, twisting and extending my fingertips, all the while silently praying to Pan for a good match.

When I pulled up the parchment I saw the name: Lucretia. I knew of her, a modest girl, daughter of a widowed grain farmer. She claimed no fortune nor dowry yet her beauty had always astounded me.

“Lucretia.” Calpurnia smiled, ruby lips etching her white teeth. She raised a hand, beckoned to the girl who stood, arms crossed, her rain colored garments flowing in the February wind. She was lovely. But would she have me?

Lucretia glanced at her father who nodded and motioned her forward. The girl smiled, moved with an awkward grace and stood before me. “It seems, my lord, I am yours for the duration of this festival,” she said. She gave a stiff curtsey and I bowed before her. “I shall unite with you after the anointing,” she added. Before she moved to Calpurnia’s side her gray eyes caught mine. There was a teasing glint, a passing smile. She tossed her hair. “Be aware, Sir, I am of the cult of Diana.”

lucretia-2

It was an odd custom, the drawing of names from a jar. All matches were left to the Fates and the Gods. Yet in the case of Lucretia, I knew Pan had favored me.

When the Brotherhood had finished selection all the men of the village moved forward. Calpurnia dispensed names. Some were pleased and some appalled. “Take heart,” Brother Julian counseled Cicero, who had received the name of the plainest girl in all of Rome. “It’s only for a fortnight.” He winked. “And you, Brother Marcellus. You have been given a great gift. Lucretia is a beauty among beauties and the purest in the land.”

“Too pure for words,” Cicero added. “But also wild. It has been said no man will ever tame her.”

“Tame her?” I answered. “It is not my desire to tame her. Is it not said, the wilder they are the better they shall breed?” It was a bold claim on my part, and somewhat vulgar.  I should be so lucky as to bed her.  The cult of Diana were sworn virgins, every last one of them.

With the other high priests I proceeded to the cave of Lupercal. It was there that Lupa the she wolf had once nursed Remus and Romulus. They were, the legend says, abandoned by their natural mother and then suckled to health from Lupa’s teat. Later they founded our great state of Rome, and indeed it was only one fierce as a wolf that could be worthy of such a founding.

The sacrificial animals were brought to the cave. Two young goats and a dog. With my blade I sliced their throats.

Brother Julian took my knife. He cleaned it with a cloth of wool that had been soaked in milk. He then drained the animals’ blood and anointed the forehead of each priest. “The blood of life,” he said solemnly. “May your women prove fertile as the earth.”

Once anointed, we proceeded to skin the hides off the animals. We soaked the hides in lukewarm salt water and vinegar, toughening them into the februa strands, those that would be used to strike the women.

“Remember to hit softly,” Julian cautioned. “So  they not be afraid. We want them eager for more. Their loins will then spill with their own milk to bring you sons and daughters.”

The next morning, armed with our februa strands, all the men of the village lined up for the run. The women laughed and gossiped, whispering in each other’s ears. They leaned like soft willows along the buildings and aqueducts. They were quarry, waiting to be caught by we the hunters.

Lucretia was nowhere to be seen.

Calpurnia chimed the bell and the februa run began. Swift on my feet, I softly struck as many maids as I could reach.  “To make you fertile, to make you bountiful, to ease your pain in childbirth,” I chanted along with the other men. The women, although feigning pain, deliberately stood in our way. Only those that were touched by our goat hides, so said the legend, would be able to bear children.

lupercalia-large

After the run Calpurnia led us to the great dining hall. Before we entered she took hold of my shoulder. “Marcellus,” she said, “Have you not seen your young maid?”

“No Madame,” I answered, “and of it I am quite disappointed.”

“Remember she is a child of Diana and therefore not easily moved.” Calpurnia tilted her head, smiled broadly and rested her gaze across the dining hall. “There she is. Not too proud to attend the feast. Go to her, boy!”

I bowed to Calpurnia, made my way across the hall. At the end of a long oak table sat Lucretia, a goblet of wine in her hands.

“Brother Marcellus,” she greeted me. “Please accompany me.” She patted her long, sun brown hand on the bench I quickly sat beside her.

“I missed you at the run of februa,” I said, stammering slightly.

“The hide of goat to insure fertility?” She scowled, popped her gray eyes at me. “Surely you do not believe such a lame custom?”

“We of the Brotherhood, my lady, are instructed to believe in such.”

“The Brotherhood is falsity!”

“My lady?”

“You heard me. Falsity I say!”

“I beg pardon my lady, but the fertility of goat hide is our custom and our belief. In this I have been trained and in this hold the title of Romulus Luperci.”

“Luperci!” she sneered. “When he meal is finished, I shall take you to the wood.”

Although the venison and goat’s meat were tasty I barely noticed them. My thoughts were only upon Lucretia. When the feast was finished the mummers aligned for the evening’s entertainment. Lucretia took my hand. “Now,” she said.

“What of the pageantry my lady?”

“Rot the pageantry!” she nearly screamed, gray eyes blazing. “Would you not rather see the vast pageantry of Diana’s wood?”

I could not refuse her. Together we slipped from the dining hall. She led me through the streets of Rome, past the coliseum and the temples, past the merchant’s square and the emperor’s palace. She led me far into the forest. The grass was stiff with winter’s frost.  Night had fallen and the Quickening Moon shone bright and full. In the distance stags and deer pranced freely, pausing to watch us as we passed. Finally she reached a myrtle tree, its enormous branches full with tiny buds.

myrtle-tree-2

“Here,” she declared. “Remove your loincloth.”

Her lovemaking was passionate and strong, with the timing and precision of one who has never in her life been a virgin. No blood spilled beneath her. She smiled, arched an eyebrow, stretched a finger across my cheek. I dared not question her.

“Not all the women of Diana are virgins,” she offered. “Do not let it perplex you, Marcellus.”  She breathed in my ear, climbed atop me again. I was young, virile and not yet spent.

We made love four times before the yellow sun poured its rays through the trees. I fell asleep in her arms.

When I awoke she was gone. The myrtle tree stood, now towering and ripe with flower.

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The air was hot, steamy as the bath houses in summer.  The grass had grown thick around me.  I stood up, my legs stiff and depleted. In the far distance I saw a new wheat field, golden with stalk. On wobbly legs I walked.

The landscape of the forest had changed. Orange and lemon trees towered above me, fruit falling off their limbs. Flowers of every genus sprouted from the ground. Tangled vines extended before me like tentacles of octopi, heavy with purple grapes. I trudged on.

In all seriousness, I knew I must get back to the temple of Pan.  My duties as Luperci were not yet complete. But Lucretia? What had happened to her? Surely she had returned to the village, to her father. I decided, right then and there, I would ask her father for her hand in marriage. It was only fitting. Such a wife she would make — beautiful, ravishing, unstoppable! I wondered if she was already with child.

At the edge of the forest I tripped over a mass of gray fur, a curled body, soft and warm against my sandals. Clumsily I fell to the ground. Lucretia had exhausted me and I felt very sleepy and dazed.  In my stupor I rubbed my eyes, not believing the blurred sight before me.

It was a wolf stretched out on the grass. Five tiny pups suckled her teats. The wolf lifted her head, gray eyes glinting.  She bared her teeth, white and pearly against her jowls, but not unkind.

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The wolf sat up, lapped her tongue against my cheek. “Your intentions are well, but you need not marry me, Marcellus,” she said. “I have no dowry and besides, my duty is forever to Diana’s land. Rest assured you have served your role well. Now we shall part forever.”

I crouched down beside her. “I will have you,” I said quietly.  “You are a shifter, a child of Diana. I see that now. But nonetheless I will have you.”

The wolf stood upon sturdy legs. She tilted her head, perked her ears as if she meant to say more, but then in a flash she bolted into the forest. The five tiny pups scurried after her.

There was a rustle in the trees and I looked above me.  There in the branches, the god Cupid stood, half naked, holding his bow and arrow. He winked at me and in one swift movement he shot his arrow, hitting the wolf straight in the back.

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She then transformed. She was Lucretia, gray eyes, hair in disarray, her simple dress the color of rain, clinging to her sweaty body. She walked toward me.

“Brother Marcellus,” Cupid called from the tree.  I looked up. He hung like a sloth, sultry smile on his face. “You will love her, and she will love you. But there will always be a wildness in her and you will never completely tame her. Do not try.” He then vanished.

Cupid was right. My wife was a night prowler, forever chasing the moon, quick of temper, insatiable for sex. My daughters, all five, and the sons that followed would never be completely tamed either.  We had grandchildren, great grandchildren, and more after that, generations that lasted long after the Feast of Lupercalia was forgotten. Our ancient festival was swallowed up in the more ‘civilized’ traditions of Valentines and chocolates.

And yet.

Ever after that all descendants of Lucretia and myself were thought to have bit of the wolf-blood within them. Our descendants scattered to all corners of the world.

If you, dear reader, have been drawn into this story, or if you have gone giddy under a Quickening Moon, or if you have ever fallen truly, madly and inexplicably in love by the shot of Cupid’s arrow — well then, you just may be one of those descendants!

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Angel of Death

 

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The aftermath was easy.  For me there was no blood, no guts, no cleanup. I merely escorted them to the place they had longed for, the world they had envisioned but  yet remained unseen by them.   I gave them the utopias they were incapable of achieving within their waking lives.

The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was perhaps my easiest case. Similar to Abraham and John Fitzgerald, he knew beforehand he was to die, having taken on such a gargantuan and dangerous task.  Indeed, when I took John Fitzgerald from the convertible car in Dallas Texas, Martin realized his fate already. He immediately said to his wife Coretta: “This is what is going to happen to me also. I keep telling you, this is a sick society.”

Martin was right on both counts. The society was sick. My duty was inevitable.

Humankind amazed me. They had such an immense capacity for love. Their enormous striving and goals were honorable, but perplexing. The altruistic visions of many were squashed by the hatred and destruction of a few.  Love and fear battled fiercely, and at that time fear won. Evil forces conspired against Martin.

He was a man of peace, one who studied the works of Mahatma Gandhi, one who determined that real change could only come about in the human world through peaceful protest and non violence. Martin was, of course, unarmed when he happened to walk out on his balcony of the Lorraine Motel on that evening of April 4th, 1968.

 

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I arrived long before it happened, my own consciousness informing me of what was to occur.

I watched in silence as Martin breathed in the hot Tennessee air. The evil ones had already gathered around him, their slimy presence palpable to me though invisible to the human eye.  Their odor was putrid and their deadly intentions sent a shiver down my spine.

“Why did you not intervene, Azrael?” you may ask me. “Why did you not save him, block the shot, do what was well within your power to do?”  This is a question I have encountered many a time. But intervention was not my duty. Aftermath was my duty.

I still remember how the gunshot blasted through the pink Memphis sky, just as the gold sun set upon its horizon.  I heard that shot loudly, and I shuddered, for even angels have ears. We too know terror. There was the seeping of blood as the bullet bolted through Martin’s cheek and I hastened to take him from the pain of his physical body. The ambulance arrived, rushing him to Saint Joseph’s Hospital where doctors would pronounce him dead within the hour.

Later the people were brought to their knees in grief. There would be protests and rioting, Martin’s death inciting the very violence he so abhorred. Yet humankind felt justified within this violence, for what more could they do?

The world of 1968 America was not ready of the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King.  And so I took him from it.

Most would lay the blame upon a man named James Earl Ray. James Earl would be given a prison sentence of 90 years. But he was not the real shooter. Many knew this. Coretta knew it, wise woman. She is with Martin now, so in case you’re wondering, you can set your mind at ease. Justice is as justice does, though the laws of humankind are often corrupt. Nonetheless, all righting of wrongs is achieved on the karmic wheel. It matters not who pulls a trigger. The shot that struck Martin was delivered by not one, but a vast array of organizations.

The humans are peculiar creatures. Whenever one of them seeks truth, it is a government which ITSELF claims to be truthful that engineers their demise. So it was with Abraham, with John Fitzgerald and his brother Robert. So it was with the one called ‘X’, so it was with the one called Lennon, and so it was with Martin.

In America they kill their best.

The plot to kill Martin was deep and intricate, spreading its grimy tentacles across countries and governments. It involved CIA operatives, FBI leaders, Illumanati and Mafiosa, those so steeped in corruption that their lives were nothing more than power and greed. These are the Reptilians, the dark forces that dwell among you. They are known by many names. Beware them, for their mission is as old as earth itself. In as much as an angel can hate, I have hated them, for they have brought grief upon many a soul.

I cradled Martin gently in the soft April night. He was unused to his body of spirit, although his faith was deep. He was not even surprised to see me. I can still picture his smile, dazzling but expectant, the exquisite light in his eyes. He had always known me.

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“Where will you take me, Angel?” he asked.

“To the Promised Land, of course,” I answered. “After all Martin, you had a Dream.”

He still watches you from dimensions exponential. He sees his vision achieved in a world much alien to planet earth. He still  hopes that one day this piece of heaven will be brought to his America, that people will measure one another not by the color of their skin, but  by the content of their character

Humankind, I am told, have a long way to go.

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“Free at last, they took your life, they could not take your pride.”

 

 

 

The Page’s Story

 

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For seven years of my life, I was privileged to serve as a page to his Majesty, the Good King  Wenceslas of Bohemia. This was a great honor to me, for I was from  a modest family, orphaned at a young age, and it was the King  who took me in, treating me practically as his ward.  A fine page I was and I served my master well, so much so that I became his favorite. I was privy to the King’s every secret and whim and I daresay I came to know him better than his own advisers.

The story I am about to tell may come as somewhat of a shock to you. It may in fact seem unbelievable. I assure you it happened,  for I would never tell a lie, and sure as my hand is my hand and my bone is my bone, this story is true.

It was the Year of our Lord 946, on the 26th day of December, the Feast of Saint Stephen. As was the custom for every saint’s feast day, a great repast was served in the King’s hall. The cooks prepared every carnage known to the kingdom; succulent ducks, hogs heads, blackbird pie, mutton and  hens. Great barrels of mead and momsey were served, as well as desserts of apple cakes and plum puddings.

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There was grand entertainment, jugglers and dancers and acrobats that walked like crabs, hands extended over their heads and bodies arched. Fiddlers and drummers and choirs chimed in magnificent orchestration.  The King was quite pleased with this entertainment, but the evening grew late. The King excused himself, and just as he was retiring to his quarters he looked outside the window. Here was something  most  disturbing.

A peasant in tattered clothes with no cloak to warm him scavenged outside in the forest for spare wood. The man rummaged and shivered , filling up his tiny cart, then hobbling away, for he had no horse to pull it.  The King  peered through  window and then tilted his head and let out a long sigh. I quickly jumped to his side, for quite fond was I of the King, and being his favorite I was able to approach him about his every sadness.

“Sire, something troubles you?” I asked.

King Wenceslas nodded. He gestured toward the peasant. He then looked upon me, suddenly serious, a depth of sorrow in his eyes.

“Ah, my dear boy,” he said. “It is with much grief I view yonder peasant. Did you see the  man? Scantily clothed, gathering meager wood from the barren trees. From whence comes he? Where lives he?  Knowest you?’

Sadly, I told the King I was well aware of the poor peasant’s dwelling. Leagues away from the castle the man scraped out his living in a hovel that was little better than a cave.  I was lack to reveal more of the bleak story,  but Wenceslas urged me.  The peasant’s wife and child had recently taken ill from malnutrition.  The small supply of wood the peasant stole would barely last them the night.

Upon hearing this, the King hung his head. “Their Feast of Stephen was meager I take it,” he murmured.

“Sire,” I said, “Their Feast of Stephen was none!”

The King shuffled his feet, something he was fond of doing when thinking of solutions. He scratched his head and looked back out the window where snow swirled like a vast tornado.  The peasant was long gone.  The King then glanced back to the dining hall where the servants were cleaning up the leftovers.  Suddenly he pivoted on his heel, smiled broadly and grabbed me by the shoulders.  “But of course!” he bellowed, eyes bulging. “Boy,  go to the servants! Tell them to pack baskets of meat and mead, breads and cakes of all kinds!  Kindling wood and candles and blankets and raiment. Tonight that peasant shall dine in splendor.”

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The servants packed up several baskets. My first thought was to get the carriage driver to transport the goods, but the King bid me no. “I shall deliver them in person my dear lad,” he said. “And you shall go with me.”

The King was known to sometimes get odd notions in his head. When this happened, there was no stopping him until his ideas were completely carried out.

The night was bitterly cold, with snow packing the castle walls, so deep  I could barely tread upon it without my legs becoming enveloped. Yet the King insisted we walk, for he longed to visit the peasant in person, goods in hand, making a grand and bold entrance.

We left the palace and headed out into the bleak night. The wind whipped at my back. On and on we walked. The night grew darker still, the moon obscured by  thick drifting clouds. A numbing cold set to my toes. I breathed heavily, teetering my bundles. The King also carried bundles, but I was just a small boy, my legs short and spindly. Finally I knew I could go no further. I longed to retreat back to my quarters in the palace.

“Sire,” I panted. “I fear my heart will fail if I continue.”  My numb hands dropped my bundles in the snow  and I clutched my side. My ribs ached.

“Ah, my dear lad.” The King knelt beside me. “Be not troubled. I have just the solution! Now hear me. You see that my boots make large footprints in the snow, yes? I want you to tread behind me, follow in those footprints. You will find that you are soon warmed and invigorated.”

I knew it would do no good.  My master had surely lost his sanity. The night was now black as pitch. Snow swirled like icy diamonds and I feared a blizzard was  heading our way.  Yet the King casually set back on his path, blithe as if it were a summer’s day. I followed, doing as Wenceslas asked, only because it was my job to amuse him.

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If I had not seen it with my own eyes, felt it in my own flesh, I would not have believed it. The instant I stepped in the King’s footsteps, all chill left my body!  I was invigorated with a health and vitality such as I had never known. Merrily I followed Wenceslas. Once or twice he called behind to me, “How fare thee my lad?”  “Ever so happily Sire,” I sang back, for it was true.

When we reached the peasant’s hovel we found him with his wife and child, shivering in the darkness.  Quickly the King lit wax candles and commenced to lay the feast upon the table. The peasant’s eyes popped. He dropped to his knees, squinting through the candle light, lack to believe that this  generous stranger was actually the King.

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When the meal was finished Wenceslas made a promise; none in his kingdom would ever suffer hunger and cold again.

It was an extravagant promise, but the King made good on it. His great stores of treasure and gold were traded in exchange for new housing, timber wood and farmland so that all in the kingdom were given the chance to thrive.  Wenceslas then had a great dining hall built on the same land where the peasant’s hovel had once been. Ever after that, on the Feast of Stephen, all in the village, peasant and courtiers alike, dined in that great hall. Indeed, no one in Wenceslas’ kingdom ever went hungry again.

I frequently asked the King how it came that my feet had been so warmed and my heart so invigorated in his footsteps that night. It was still a puzzle to me.  The King only smiled, patted my head and said, “The snow and wind and I – we have an understanding.”

 

 

 

Krampus Nacht

 

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KRAMPUS:  Oh, it was easy enough for Saint Nicholas! His job was to coddle them. He gave them sweets and toys, praised them on how good they were, filled their stockings with candy and marzipan. When a child is docile it is simple enough to reward that child with some shiny, useless thing!  But the rebels, the transgressors, the nay-sayers, what of them? Oh yes they are much harder to deal with!  It was I, Krampus, who was given that difficult job.  You see, I was deemed the disciplinarian, whereas Nicholas was the jovial gift giver.

My position was not enviable in the least. Obedient children are simple. They rise when told, sleep when told. Perform their chores and tasks as expected. But the bad ones.  Ah, the bad ones!  It is they that must be punished, and that punishment is most necessary if ever they are to achieve their true potential.

And so it was upon the eve of the saint’s feast, the 5th of December, 1877 that I took to the humble Kabacki Forest near Warsaw Poland in the Russian Partition. It was there that dwelt a poor family of seven who were much in need of my services.  All of the children were quite obedient, save for one; the youngest. She was called Mania (as in maniac) though her true given name was Marie.

Mania had a fine but scattered mind when she first came under my switch. Yes, yes, I took a birch stick to them!  What of it? Spare the rod, spoil the child. Have you not read your Good Book?

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Seldom do folk take the time to consider the anguish I felt!  For what sane being would take pleasure in the injuring of a child? Still. They needed it.

 

MANIA:   I first encountered Krampus in the forest of Kabacki on the eve of the Feast of Saint Nicholas.  I was but ten years old and my mother had sent me, along with my sister Zosia and my brother Joseph to fetch kindle wood for the fire.

The night was black, the waxing moon only a yellow arch in the sky. A deep snow had just fallen and my boots crunched on the path. When we came upon a small tree suitable for chopping Joseph took his ax while Zosia and I tied its base. It was there in the shadows I first saw him; a man with a goat’s legs, hooves and a long thudding tail that swished back and forth.  From his head sprouted two twisted horns. I was a child of great imagination, and so, in all honesty, such a being seemed entirely credible to me. My brother and sister, however, were not so open minded.  Joseph stopped his ax in mid air, frozen in a mixture of fear and disbelief.

Krampus approached slowly, stealthily. Had the adults been with us, I suppose their first instinct would have been to kill him, for all manner of dangerous beasts are known to lurk in the forest. But he was no ordinary beast.

“Lay down your ax, boy. I mean no harm,” Krampus said in a voice that was husky but not  unkind. “It is your sister that interests me most.”

Zosia shuddered as the goat man approached closer.  She put her hands over her eyes and began to weep.  The sight of him, I’ll admit, was quite gruesome, for his body was hairy and he stood a good eight feet tall. As for myself, I was intrigued. I had always been a curious child, and somehow, in my heart of hearts, I was certain that the world I lived in,  as it had been presented to me, was not whole.  Therefore, I was delighted when Krampus turned to Zosia and spoke again. “Not you, precious girl,” he reassured her. “It is Mania I must address on this night.” He then placed a furry hand upon my shoulder. “Come with me,” he ordered.

I followed him through the woods, all the while keeping my eyes upon his twitching tail. In his hand he carried a birch stick, and I knew what was coming. I had been a bad girl.  A defiant, disobedient child. I spent far too much time with my nose in books and I often neglected my chores. Why, just that very night my mother had to pry me away from my science books in order to get me to chop the wood!  I was lazy and hopeless, never doing my part to help the family. Now I would pay for my despicable behavior!

Krampus lead me to the edge of a babbling brook, one that had not yet frozen over in December’s cold. The water churned, silver blue and fast moving.

 

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The goat man stood at the bank gripping his birch stick. “Bend over, Mania ,” he commanded.

I stood close to him, determined I would not show fear or vulnerability. I would TAKE my punishment. I’d take it like a woman! I closed my eyes, turned my back to him, bent over and braced  for my beating.

I waited.

A full minute passed. Then another.

Impatient as I was, I turned around, squinted at Krampus through my half closed eyes. He stood tall and straight, his body black against the already black night. He grinned and his white teeth gleamed in the darkness. He then began to laugh a hearty chuckle that rang through the forest.

I keeled around and stomped my foot in the snow. “What is the meaning of this?” I demanded. “Are you not to beat me? You, the great and powerful Krampus who punishes all bad children? Am I not a bad child? What delays you?”

It is an odd thing.  Sometimes one can be so ready and accustomed to defeat that when the defeat does NOT come we are angry, taken aback.

Krampus dropped his switch to the ground. “Mania ,” he said, “you have no need for this switch. You have proven yourself curious and dedicated enough to follow me to this brook. I shall not injure you, but I will show you something marvelous, something sacred.”

It was then that the goat man reached his hairy hand to the stream. He retrieved a cupful  of water which he poured into a glass jar. He held it to the sky, tiny ripples reflecting the sparse moonlight.

“In this water,” he stated, “you will see your future.”

I stared in the glass. The water separated into balls and spheres, swirling, vibrating particles of light and color. They spun round and round, droplets jumping, some emitting light as bright as flickering candles.

 

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“What is it?” I asked, but Krampus only smiled.

He then shook the jar again and this time I saw a picture. The jar became  a snow globe and inside was a domed building. Snow swirled over its high spire and arched windows. In a nearby courtyard men in cloaks passed, clutching books, engaged in conversation. It was, to be sure, a place of learning. But why present this to me?

“Sorbonne,” Krampus said. “The University of Paris. You  will study there, if you are disciplined enough.”

The Sorbonne? But it was beyond my wildest dreams!

Krampus shook the jar again. This time inside the glass there appeared a collection of gold letters. They floated, surfaced and formed a strange name which made no sense to me: Polonium.

“What is the meaning of this?” I asked, but Krampus only grinned and poured the water back into the brook.

“Polonium,” he said finally. “Named for your native Poland, which will never be far from your heart.”

Silly words!  Of COURSE Poland would always be close to my heart.  Though our region was now occupied by Mother Russia with her Cossacks and soldiers, we, the Skłodowska family, were Polish nationals and would always be so.

Krampus was a frustrating and nonsensical old goat!

“Go back now Mania,” he ordered. “Your siblings await you. Remember, keep steadfast to your studies. This world will be unkind to you, and your life will not be easy, for you are a female competing in the scientific realm of men. However, you must never let this deter you!”

With that he kissed my forehead, chucked my chin and waved a hand to motion me away.  He then jumped into the brook. He bobbed up and down, grinning the whole time, before he began to sink.  I watched as his twisted horns vanished beneath the water.

I ran back through the forest to where a dumbfounded Zosia and suspicious Joseph awaited me at the standing tree.  I never told them what had transpired.

KRAMPUS:  Mania Skłodowska was perhaps my best prodigy. She did indeed go on to study at the Sorbonne and even became the first ever female professor at the University of Paris.  Her chemical research led to the discovery of – yes, you guessed it — polonium. Her revelations in radioactivity shook the very foundations of physics itself. She was the first woman to ever win a Nobel Prize, though she gave away the money she acquired from it. Even Mr. Einstein himself said of her,  “She was a person who could not be corrupted by fame.”

Needless to say, I was most proud of my Mania.  And to think I never even once used my switch upon her!

She married a man named Curie and was ever known to the world as Marie.

 

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** This story was inspired by my friend Vicky.  Check out her post Scary Xmas for more about Krampus and an EXCELLENT Krampus Night recipe!