Gone With Fairies

 

bluebells pd

There is an incline in the forest where bluebells blossom, dense as grapes, heady as lilac. I stretch out on my back. Green stems, like octopus tendrils, tangle my hair. The land shifts perpendicular.  Down, down I slide, damp earth brushing my elbows. I land with a soft jolt onto ripe grass. The smell is beetroot, radish and earthworm.

Consider magic.

Underground rogues, fey and trolls

guard hidden treasure

beneath marbled walls. They keep

secrets, bargain dark wishes.

 

blue fairy

From a fog, metallic as pyrite, they emerge.  Blue skin, sapphire eyes that stare still as stone. One of them hands me a violin.  Aged from wear and tear,  its wood is warped, strings stretched.  With a rickety bow, I play.  Joyful noise spills from my fingers.

And yet.  I do not know a single note.

fairy violin

 

**NOTE: This poem is in response to Colleen’s Poetry Challenge/ Fairy Magic.  It is my first attempt at Haibun.  (Not sure I did it right, but hope you like 🙂  )

Happy Summer Solstice! “Always go with fairies.”

 

 

 

 

Walpurgisnacht

 

Baptism 2

“The gift of flight will come at Walpurgisnacht,” Granny Magda tells me.  “We will  travel airborne upon our besoms to the Brocken.  You will then learn of your blessings, all the goddess has deemed to give you.”

“What will they be, my blessings?” I ask impatiently.  I have waited all of my sixteen years for this nacht, for the firefest of summer. It will be the first time I go to the mountaintop. The first time I, as a daughter of Hekate will become a coven member and know my true and unique power.

“Hush child,” Magda orders. “Speak of them no more! What is yours is already yours.”  She puts a hand to my cheek and smiles through crinkled eyes. “Trust me. The gifts will come.”

The month of April rolls by with its rain and wind, daffodils and tulips blooming in our meadow. On my calendar parchment I count the days, marking them off with a charcoal crayon. The time cannot go quick enough.

Two days before Walpurgis,  Peter the goat boy appears at our door. He brings me a bouquet of wildflowers, colored blooms that float like a sparkled rainbow from his hands. “For you Kathe,” he says, “In honor of your special nacht which is soon to come.”

Peter! He is an annoyance, always milling around me, nosing in my business, cheating me at games and sport!  He has been my chief nemesis for years. And now he brings flowers? An offering of peace, just as I am soon to come into my powers?  Reluctantly I accept, but only out of politeness. “What do you know of it?” I snap.

“Peter knows plenty,” Granny Magda shouts from the kitchen. “You’d be wise to listen to him.”

Never do I have a moment’s privacy in this cottage! Granny Magda is always hovering over me, like a bee to a honeyflower. She now takes Peter’s flowers and places them in a vase.

“Have a seat boy,” she nods to Peter. “I trust you will stay for supper?”

Peter shakes his head. “The invitation is most kind Frau Magda, but I cannot. I am just returning from the mountain, my goat herd outside. I fear they are most cumbersome, and I only stopped to give Kathe the flowers and wish her well.”

“Nonsense!” Magda has already placed a root stew on the table and set a trencher for him.  She glances out the window, waves a hand at the goats who then stand still as statues.

goats

“The animals will keep,” she says. “Kathe, fetch the ale for our guest.”

Taking a ladle to the pail I serve up three helpings of ale. Peter nods. “Most gracious.”

We bless our food, toast good health and begin eating. I sit next to Peter. His clothes are soiled and he smells of his goats. He also smells of the meadow, of earth and something more. What is it?  A sly masculinity, a scent lacking in Magda and myself. Despite my annoyance I scoot closer to him.

“Your comment, Granny,” I say later as we eat dessert, a cake with fresh berries I gathered from our orchard. “You say I must listen to Peter. Why is this?” Peter stops mid bite, red berries making a stain on his lips. His eyes, blue as the river, pop wide.

“Do not ask foolish questions, child.” Magda says. “Now Peter,” she looks out the window and waves her hands at the goats who instantly begin bleating. “I wager your goats need milking. Be off with you afore the late sun sinks on its horizon! Auf Wiedersehen.”

Peter stands and bows before us. “I thank you for the victuals, my lady.” He takes Magda’s old withered hand and kisses it. He then turns to me. “And you Kathe, I trust I will see more of you in the near future.” With awkwardness he grabs my hand and kisses it as well. I catch his eye, nod and curtsey before he exits.

I have known Peter all my life, since I came to live with Granny Magda as a two year old orphan.  We played together, leap frogging in the meadow, tumbling down the rolling hills. It was he who taught me to catch fish in the river, he who taught me to shoot a crossbow. He who, in his boyhood always shot more bullseyes than I.  But Peter is no longer a boy.

Through the window I watch as he rounds his goats, whistles to his collie dog. He has grown tall, his shoulders broad. His lanky frame casts a long shadow across the cobbled road.  As he walks away I notice his swaggering hips, his bowed legs.

“How old do you suppose Peter now is?” I ask.

“Two winters past you child.” Granny Magda puts a hand to my head and unwinds my tight braids.  “Come the Yule last he reached his eighteenth name day.”

medieval 2

“He has quick grown to a man.” I glance one last time before he turns into the forest, his goats following in a gray blur.

Ja child, that he has.” She tilts her head.  “And your thoughts of this?”

“I have no thoughts, it is mere curiosity!” I hiss. Granny smiles.

Finally Walpurgisnacht arrives. I stand naked in the meadow with the other women. Magda rubs my body with unctions, a rich combination of oils and nectars that will, coupled with my own magic, give me the ability to fly.

When the sun sets we mount our besoms. Soon the wind begins to blow and we rise, steady in the air, a team of thirteen, Hekate’s witches, gliding through the sky with the skill of crows.  Higher and higher we rise. Soon we are bobbing amongst stars, drifting under the light of the moon.

On the mountaintop we land near the Bergwasser, a crystal stream that flows, now icebroken with the onset of summer.

“Your baptism will be tonight, Kathe,” Granny Magda tells me.

I have never before met the high priestess who now stands before me, clad in robes of black. “I am Lucinda,” she says.  Taking my hand she guides me down the stone steps into the water. She lifts her wand, a branch of heavy oak inlaid with rich jewels, rubies and sapphires.

“Kathe,”  Lucinda begins. “I baptize thee, in the name of the Mother, the Crone and the Holy Maiden. You, a daughter of the line of Hekate, now come full of age,  are on this evening of Walpurgisnacht to enter into our coven.”

The Walpurgis Night Alexandra Nedzvetskaya

With that she pushes me underwater. The stream is cool on my head. Opening my eyes I see an array of fish before me, yellow as lemons in the blue water. I watch as they dart and bolt, thinking of this baptism, this instant I have waited for my whole life. What is to happen? The water is a silent chamber around me.

When I can hold my breath no longer I ascend. Gasping, I lie in the grass. Magda clothes me in a white robe.

“The ability to breathe underwater,” Madga smiles, “was not your gift.”

What will it be? What will it be?

“Time will tell, my girl,” Lucinda says.  “Before rise of the May day sun you shall know it.” Lucinda’s gift is surely the reading of minds. Granny Magda’s is the taming of animals. And mine? The suspense haunts me.

Lucinda reads from the Book of Freya. She lights a great bonfire. Together we chant and dance around it. Holding hands we skip in unison.  Even Granny Magda, now well beyond her dancing years, kicks her heels like a young maiden.

baptism 3

In the distance I hear a drumbeat. Approaching over the hills I see them, the tribe of Pan. They are thirteen men, goatskins over their thighs, naked from the waist up. On their heads they wear crowns of horns and masks of feathers and fur.

The balefire rages and the drums beat.  Magda leans and whispers in my ear, “Granddaughter. You are ready. You will bleed to bless the earth which has blessed you. Only through this can you find your womanhood.”

One of the thirteen men then approaches me, takes my hand and joins in the dance. All is a blur of color and sound, the dance faster and faster. Soon I am on the grass, flat on my back, the tribesman atop me.

I am not the only one. Other women have been taken as well. All around me the couples are a whirl of flesh, thighs upon thighs, breath heavy, hair streaming. Wails, screams and moans fill the night air,  voices desperate and satisfied.

Magda had said I am ready, but am I? My heart pounds, my whole body pulsed to the music. I am frightened but then the tribesman pulls me closer, his face next to mine.  His scent is of goats but also of the earth and our meadow, a musk that lures me like subtle perfume, releasing a passion I did not know I possessed.  Although he wears a mask I recognize his eyes, blue as the river.  His look is the question and I nod my answer: Yes.

baptism 6

His mouth is firm on my lips, his tongue sweet, his thighs braced against me. My secrets are wet as the mountain stream that baptized me and in an instant he is inside me. It hurts but only for a moment until my hips synch in rhythm with his. My body quivers and I hear him breathe my name, feel his spill within me.

Before rise of the sun we anoint ourselves with unction again, then mount our besoms. The men disappear into the mountains as we fly away.

It is finished.

Walpurgisnacht

In the weeks after Walpurgisnacht we live quietly. I am changed but still the same, although Magda no longer hovers over me, no longer calls me ‘child’. All is well until the day the constables come, riding up our path upon their sleek stallions. They dismount and look suspiciously about the cottage.  One knocks on our door, holding a warrant for our arrest.

“Which warrant and how so?” I demand. “Arrested for what?”

“For witchcraft Fraulien,” the constable says. His face is like a hard brick, impenetrable, a moving mouth with two tiny slits of eyes.

“We have done nothing wrong!” I shout.

“You both have been seen cavorting in the meadow, spreading yourselves with evil unctions and potions, then taking flight to the sky on your brooms.”

“And who has been harmed by it?” I scream.  My head is burning.

“All are harmed by it! All good honest folk. You women, by your madness and your lasciviousness, violate the very decency of mankind!”

I attempt to protest but a hand slaps my mouth. Just then another constable grabs Magda and binds her wrists. I charge at him, but the next constable overpowers me, this one tall as a tower and twice as strong. He pulls me away, knotting my arms.

“My Granny is frail,” I scream again. “She does you no harm! What satisfaction do you get to badger an old woman?”

“Hold your tongue Fraulien, lest I gag your foul mouth,” the third constable orders. I fight with all my strength but in the end they win. Granny Magda and I are put onto a rickety old cart and brought south to the village of Stuttgart.

We are thrown in a slimy, rat infested dungeon where we live in squalor for weeks. Our food is gruel and brackish water, the meals so meager I fear Granny Magda will perish.  Others join us, country women and bumpkins, some midwives, some herbalists, all innocent of the crimes they are accused. Yet when we are taken to trial the jury declares us guilty before we are given a chance to speak.

We are sentenced to be burned at the stake. “Consumed by the hell fire from whence ye came,” the judge declares.

Like cattle we are led to the pyres. A hooded executioner binds our bodies to the stakes and the fires are lit.   I hear the crowd around us yell, “Brennen die Hexen! Burn the witches!”

baptism 9

Granny Magda gives me a look, hopeful in her sunken eyes. I nod. Just as the flames begin to creep around us I shout:

 “As the powers within me rise, so this man-made fire now dies!”

The flames sputter and vanish as if drenched by a thousand buckets. I watch as the crowd of people turn pale with horror.  “Relight the flame!” someone yells. “They must be burned! These witches must die!”

“Brennen die Hexen!” the crowd chants again. “Burn the witches!”

The executioner moves to relight the flames, but the embers are cold. He tries again and again, adding more wood, more torches, but the fire only sparkles and dies.  He then stares at me, eyes wide. He crosses himself and moves away as if I am carrying the plague. “Hexe!” he whispers.

“You can relight the flames all you want and they will never grow,” I say calmly.  I then begin to laugh, loud and haughty, my voice echoing on the wind. The crowd stares at me as if I were a madwoman.

“There will be no burnings today,” I say richly.

One by one they turn away in fear. Women lift their skirts, scurrying away and men run fast as their boots will carry them.

Just then I see his body in the crowd, the lanky frame and broad shoulders. Peter approaches, pulls a knife from his pocket and slices the ropes that bind me. He then rescues Magda and the other women.

“You should not have allowed it to go so far,” he says quietly.

“O, but it was well worth it!  Just to see the looks on their faces,” I answer brightly. “You must admit it was a picture.” I run a finger across his cheek.

“That it was, wife.” He smiles.  “As long as no harm comes to the child.” He lays a hand on my belly.

“The child is fine,” I assure my husband.  “Her gift from Hekate will be the same as mine. She too will have the ability to control fire, and she too will never be burned at the stake.”

baptism 8

** NOTE: The real witch persecutions and Burning Times occurred in Europe during  1450-1700.  Historians estimate that over 100,000 accused witches, both men and women were killed during this time. The majority of burnings took place in Germany, in some cases wiping out entire populations of women in small Medieval towns.

The real Brocken is the highest point of the Harz Mountain range in northern Germany. The Brothers Grimm spent a good deal of time in the small villages at the foothills of the mountains collecting tales of local folklore.  From these tales came stories such as Rapunzel,  Hansel and Gretel and Rumpelstiltskin.

Walpurgisnacht (pronounced :Vol-POOR- gus-nokt)  is celebrated on April 30. Witches then gather in the Brocken and other sacred places to conduct rituals of spring.

 

 

Becoming Human

 

mermaid pd 2

Wanting the legs was my first mistake.

I had watched the humans, admired them from afar. The fishermen who cast nets to the sea, the bathers who took sun on shallow beaches. Their bodies were astounding.  Streamlined hips, parted thighs that fit so gracefully to their knees. The bendable appendages that served them so well upon both land and sea.  But it was only when the young King of Lemuria sailed into Azure Bay with his warships and one hundred armed men that I felt the need to actually become one of them.

King Troy Rosetower of Lemuria was handsome, charismatic and loved by all.  And although his country was in the midst of a devastating war he led his people with grace and hope. I watched from the rocks as the King  de-boarded his ship and rode on horseback with the army of Lemurian  soldiers. They paid him tribute with a line of firing cannons.  Such a leader!  Such a king.

I longed to meet him, and being the headstrong mermaid that I was, I immediately set about making my wish come true.

Becoming human was not really a difficult task. Suria the Sea Witch had a potion for everything, shape-shifting the least of it.  And so I swam to her cave, braved her staff of moray eels and dodged the anemone that surrounded her doors.  When I entered, Suria stood over her percolating  cauldron with her back to me.

sea-witch

“I know why you have come,” she said without turning around.  “And you are a fool!  To  trade your lovely fish tail for two stumps the humans call legs. It is ridiculous!”

“I have fallen in love with the King of Lemuria,” I said,  knowing all the while this was not much of an argument.

“Love?” Suria scoffed. “What could a child like you possibly know about love?”  She then turned from her cauldron and shrugged. “Nonetheless, your life is your own. You may do as you wish, Undine.”

Suria gave me a potion, a noxious combination of snail juice and whale sperm, along with some other peculiar ingredients which would never be revealed to me.

“Go now and sit on the rock where you first saw the King,” she instructed. “Sleep there beneath the full moon and when you awaken you shall have your legs.”

And so I swam out to the jagged rocks of Azure Bay. From where I sat I could see the whole war camp.  The moon rose like a bright silver coin, shining its light where the soldiers slept in their fortresses.

This war,  it was a long and devastating affair with a death toll in the thousands. The countries of Lemuria and Saxssoar had been fighting for over fifty years in a complicated battle which involved many ideologies and righteous causes. I daresay none could remember how it had even begun.

Being a mermaid, I had little understanding of war, for my race was one of pacifism. (We even named one of our oceans Pacific.)   But one thing I knew was that the humans of the villages were weary of this fight. It brought only death and grief, soldiers returning from battle missing arms, legs or eyes. Never were they given adequate medical attention, for doctors were scarce.  All prayed for the long war’s end, hopeful that King Troy, skilled as he was in diplomacy and strategy, would be the one to bring about peace.  All faith was in the King.

I fell asleep beneath the full moon.

When I awoke it was exactly as I had imagined. My glittering green tail was gone and instead I possessed a set of long slender legs. My new feet were unsteady as I rose on the rocks. By force of habit I dove into the sea. Although I now had less speed without my fins, I was still as strong a swimmer as ever.  I bobbed in the ocean’s waves, imagining how delightful it would be to use my new legs to finally walk upon land!

It was a sailor who sat high in the bosun’s chair of the king’s warship that spotted me first.  The crew, thinking me some drowning victim, scooped me up in a net and carried me on board.

ship

I lay before them on their deck, fish-naked. The men gawked at me, eyes wide. Some grinned and some blushed. I remembered that humankind were not accustomed to nudity and they probably thought me quite strange.

The king himself then stepped forward and wrapped me in a blanket. He assumed I was sick and waterlogged, and commanded the ship’s doctor to attend to me.  I assured them I was perfectly well but the doctor insisted I sleep in the bunk below deck.

The next day I was given trousers and a navy coat to wear. “This attire is only for the time we are at sea,” King Troy assured me. “When we dock I shall take you to the palace and the maids in waiting will clothe you in the finest attire.”

Aboard ship I proved myself a worthy sailor, for none knows the sea better than a mermaid. Once I got used to my legs I was able to hoist the sails, judge the wind and navigate better than any map reader. The king was quite pleased and took kindly to me.

After three days the ship docked in the port of Shorestone.  With the king’s entourage I was taken to the palace and received by the privy council.  I was given my own suites within the palace and my own servants. My maids clothed me in damask.  I was taken to grand dinners and events where I entertained everyone, shocking them with my siren’s song, for a mermaid’s best gift is her voice.

As time went by the king became more and more fond of me. Finally the day came when he asked me to become his wife. We were married in the grand cathedral followed by a  procession through the town. In the streets the peasants cheered and greeted me with cries of “Queen Undine!”

I was happy they accepted me but my heart was torn, for their poverty was unbearable. The children, so thin their ribs protruded on their chests, wore only rags, bare feet scraping the pavement. Women stood in filthy  kirtles, men toothless with mangy beards.  Their cottages were little more than mud huts and rats the size of terriers scurried  in the unpaved streets.

peasants

“Your Grace,” I said to my new husband.  “These atrocities are most egregious! What, may I ask, is being done to help these wretched people?”

The king smiled and wrapped an arm around me. “Wife,” he said. “Do not worry your pretty little head over such matters. This  place is called Beggar’s Bottom. These peasants know no other way of life.  There will be poor always, pathetically struggling. Their concerns are not  yours and I bid you take no notice.”

My race, the mer-people, had no such class structures. All were equal. We served no king, paid no taxes, answered to no man. All shared the bounty of the oceans.  For the first time since I had taken Suria’s potion, I began to miss my sea home.

Our wedding feast was the finest ever held in the palace. Servants carried steaming trays to the long oakwood tables of the dining hall. There was capon, peacock, beef and hog, so much meat that even the vast assembled crowd could not possibly eat it all. The leftovers would be many.

“Can we not send the leftover dishes to the poor of the village?” I asked my new husband. He popped his eyes in surprise. “Certainly not!” he scoffed. “Those peasants eat only root greens and potatoes. Their pallets are not accustomed to luxury of meat! Surely they could never appreciate it.”  He stuffed his mouth with fish eggs and guzzled his wine.

feast 2

This was a most ungenerous answer and left me quite irritated.  Being of the sea, where we shared all manner of kelp and fish, I could not bear to see the waste.  Luckily, Peter, the King’s servant, fulfilled my request, which I made to him behind the King’s back. At my bidding Peter wrapped plates and bundles, the leftover meats and cakes. In the still of the night he carried them to Beggar’s Bottom.  Why Peter took heed of my instructions I could not fathom, but I instantly deemed him a loyal confidante.

Days later, in a grand ceremony I was given my crown of pure gold. I was known ever after as Queen Undine Rosetower of Lemuria.

My life in the palace went well enough, but soon I grew bored with the tedious tasks of my court. I did nothing all day but stitch needlepoint, dine and stroll the gardens. I longed for the sea, missed her salt water, her rising tides and broad storms.  It seemed one could take the mermaid from the ocean, but never the ocean from the mermaid.  If only my husband would give me a position in his royal Navy, a chance to sail again, then  all would be perfect!

“A war is on,” I told my husband. “I am a foreigner to these parts. As such I have broad perspective, and great understanding of many races. Perhaps I could serve the Navy as some type of diplomat?”

King Troy shook his head, furrowed his brow in annoyance.  “No.  Never.  A woman has no place in the affairs of state,” he said. “You must not worry your pretty little head of such matters, Undine.”

Finally I could stand the boredom no longer and, with the help of Peter the servant, I disguised myself as a boy sailor. I wore the britches well enough and still had my waistcoat from my first journey to the kingdom.  With a kohl stick I painted the faintest mustache upon my face and tucked my hair beneath a cap.

“How well do I convince?” I asked Peter, to which he answered, “I’d not recognize you, my lady.  But remember to keep your voice low.”

With that I boarded my husband’s warship, bound for the port of Azure. For some reason it had been decided we depart in the middle of the night, which was quite strange and irregular. King Troy had told me this sojourn was a ‘special mission’, one he was obligated to perform regularly. The adventure of it thrilled me! I cared not that it was night, for the rippling sea holds her beauty most in the darkness.

Once on board I saw the boat’s cargo contained every type of weaponry; crossbows and spears, arrows and daggers, cannons and pistols, gunpowder and bullets. So bountiful was this ammunition I feared our soldiers must have run out of arms.   A fifty year war, and so quick they exhausted ammunition. It must cost the palace a fortune! No wonder the poor of Beggar’s Bottom were starved, as all resources went to the war efforts.

Half way across the Narrow Sea the ship took a detour. We were no longer headed for Azure but toward the Saxssoar coast, to the portal town of Shade Hamlet. I became nervous. What was the meaning of this? Our warship was sailing straight into the arms of the enemy!

None of the crew seemed to mind this fact. Disguised as I was I could not protest.

I immediately reasoned this must be some secret counter attack.  Yet as the ship docked a Saxssoar warlord  came calmly to the pier to greet my husband as though they were old friends.

vikings1

I watched in the dark as the two shook hands, exchanging pleasantries.  Soon the men of our crew began to unload the weaponry, setting it all on the piers.  Not knowing what else to do, I joined in.

“A  beautiful sight, ain’t it?” a sailor said to me as he lifted a crossbow.

“What do you mean?” I asked, careful to keep my voice low and husky.

“That there.” The sailor cocked his head toward the bank where King Troy and the warlord engaged in conversation.  “The King,” the sailor continued. “Bringing weapons to the Sax.  All skane-mates, the two of them, like there weren’t no war going on.”

“He’s bringing…” I watched incredulously as the men piled rifles upon the dock.  “But the Saxssoar are our enemies.” I looked desperately at the sailor.  “Why would the King…”

“God’s blood, boy!  Are you daft? You young deckhands are green as the corn in spring! Must be your first trip.”

“Yes sir, it is,” I lied.

“Well then you best get used to it. The King gives weaponry to the leaders of terrorist groups in order to keep this war going. Gives ’em arms, so’s they start up a new skirmish, somewhere distant. Injure  women and children.  Make the people crazy, so once again they all cry for revenge. And on it goes.”

My jaw hung open.

“All of ‘em have done it, whole Rosetower dynasty.” The sailor shrugged. “King Troy’s father before him and his before him and all down the line.”

“But why?” I asked. “Why would he want to keep the war going? His purpose is to END the war. To stop this killing and madness and poverty!”

“The King don’t want no such thing.” The sailor spit on the ground, a gob of yellow mucous that glowed in the darkness. “Point is to keep in going. That way, the Saxssoar keep paying us. Big coin. This country’s got gold, boy!  Lots of it.” He looked closely at me and I was grateful for the darkness. “Aye laddie,” he continued.  “Millions of ducats are to be had for a crew such as us, on King’s special mission!  You’ll see. Do it once and you’ll sail again for the pay.  That’s the King’s brilliant plan, do you see?”

“But why…” I stammered, still unable to believe it.

“Like I said. To keep the coin rolling and the war going.  Only thing that matters in the game.  The soldiers fight, the people starve, but the King?  Ah, the King gets rich.  And you too, laddie will be paid well for your efforts, tho’ a mere fraction of what the King takes in.  Still, it’s better than scrounging in Beggar’s Bottom.”  He paused and glared at me. “Just know.  Keep your mouth shut.  Ain’t nobody knows what we do and ain’t nobody GOING to know. You hear?”

“But I still don’t see…”

“God’s heart, boy! You’re a slow one, ain’t you?  It works like this.  The king has a saying. The King says: ‘War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.’  Savvy that?”

I thought about it. “No sir, NOT savvy,” I finally said, for I could not understand it, this most backward of logic.

“I’ll explain best I can,” he said as he lifted another armful of crossbows.  I did the same and followed him to the dock.

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“War is Peace,” he began.  “Keep these fools fighting for so long they don’t remember no more what it was to have peace.  Freedom is Slavery. Keep this lot so poor,  they don’t remember no more what it was to be free.”

“But the King keeps no slaves, “ I said  as I followed him back to the ship.

“They ain’t slaves, and yet they ain’t  free neither,” the sailor answered. “They are chained to their own poverty and servitude.  Most in Beggar’s Bottom don’t know no better, and most can’t do no better.”

“I disagree, sir! I have seen Beggar’s Bottom. I think the poor are quite capable of…”

“Shut it boy! I’m trying to learn you this lesson and you best listen.” He picked up a case of gunpowder.  “ Now hear this. Ignorance is Strength.  Keep them peasants unlearned.  Don’t know nothing, never will.  That way the King gets stronger.”  He  stopped and glanced at me over his shoulder.  “Now lad.  Do you see?”

“Yes sir I believe I do,” I answered as the horror sunk in.

“Good,” the sailor said. “Otherwise you’ll not be coming on no more of these missions. And I’ll tell you something else.” He set the gunpowder on the dock.  “Don’t get too nosy.  I hear the new Queen is getting nosy and the King don’t like it.  No sir, he don’t like it one bit.  Queen Undine ought stick to her queenin’ duties if she knows what’s good for her.  Do her wifely tasks.” He spat another glob of mucous in the dirt. “In fact,” he continued, now lowering his voice to a whisper. “I hear there’s talk in the palace. If Queen Undine don’t get herself with child soon, the King will send her to the block.”

My heart lurched.

‘That’s right, boy. The block.” The sailor chuckled and stroked a hand across his own throat.  “Off with her head!  Wouldn’t be the first one.  That Queen best mind to her business.  And you laddie, you best mind yours too.”  He gave me a quick punch in the stomach.

“Good to know,” I squeaked.

“I always see fit to help the new crew.”

My head was a muddle. What to do? I could not go back to him. My husband was a monster. I had only one choice. In the still of the night, while all slept, save for one lone driver at the ship’s helm, I jumped into the ocean. So quickly, so silently, none realized I was gone.

Thankful my swimming skills had not left me, I headed straight back to the Sea Witch’s cave.

Suria stood stirring her cauldron as if no time had passed since I last saw her.

“Your adventure with the humans did not go so well.” She grinned, exposing an array of pointed teeth. “Did I not warn you?  Silly child.  And now. I suppose you are back to regain your mermaid’s tale?”

“If it so please you, Suria,” I said humbly.

“Please me? Ha!  Child, you are naïve.  No thing would please me less! Oh no, you’ll not have your tail back.  Not now, not ever.  You’ve begun a mission, and not just that silly weapons mission.  You must finish what you started.”

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“But what will I do?” I pleaded. I could not believe she was refusing me.

She took a ladle to her cauldron, scooped out the hot liquid and filled a large jar. “This,” she said, steam rising to her face, “is the liquid of enlightenment. You must bring it to the King.”

“And what will I do with it?”

“Why, feed it to him of course! Mix a drop in his food. And not just his! All of the kingdom of Lemuria shall have a taste of it, and all of Saxssoar as well.” With this, she grabbed several jars from her cabinet and began to fill them. Gallons and gallons of the enlightenment liquid flowed from cauldron to jar. “Every human upon planet earth shall have a dose,” Suria said.

“What then?” I was almost afraid to ask.

“What then?” She arched an eyebrow. “Why, they will become enlightened, of course. They will no longer be obsessed with war and greed, no longer drunk on their own power! This potion,” she jiggled a jar and gazed on it fondly. “This potion will be the saving of humankind.”

“All of them?”

“Not all. For some are evil to the core and simply cannot be redeemed.”

“But how will I know which is which?” Again I almost dared not ask.

“The potion shall determine it, my girl.” Suria grinned. “All you need do is be the messenger. “

“And if, say, this enlightenment potion does not work on one of them. What then?”

Suria set the jar down upon her table. “What then? What THEN?” She looked at me as though I were an imbecile. “The unenlightened will die. Of course, girl, they shall die! What else?”

I had no choice. With the help of the local octopi, I carried all the jars back to kingdom of Lemuria.

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The enlightenment process was long and arduous, but one well worth doing.

What became of the King, you may wonder?

Suffice it to say that I myself am now the sole ruler of Lemuria. Queen Undine, first of her name, also called Queen of Justice and Queen of Peace.

The long war has been ended. Beggar’s Bottom is no more. Instead there is a thriving village of merchants and tradesman, all means of goods and services, and sellers that take pride in their wares. That village is called Merland.

The Saxssoar tribes now live in peace as well. Their terrorist warlord has been eliminated.  The city of Shade Hamlet is a lovely fishing village where all have learned to share the bounty of the sea. If any speak of the war all they remember is that it was long and hard, with no reason for its beginning nor its end.

My Queendom has no servants and no masters. All are equal and all are free to live their lives as they choose.  As for myself, in time I remarried, for governing is a lonely business. My new husband? He is called Peter, King consort of Lemuria.

My warships no longer carry weaponry and are now used for exploration. Lately the crews tell me they have discovered a new land in the middle of the ocean, which is not so mythical as you might think.

We have decided to call this place Atlantis.

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Ryder and the Wolf

 

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As I stepped to the forest path the moon was platinum full, bathing its pale light over the changing leaves of October. The Native tribes called this moon Hunter, and sure as I gazed at it, I knew Diana’s strength embraced me.

In my basket I carried victuals, all manner of  which would aid my ailing Granny. There were sweet cakes spilling with honey. Wine pressed from dandelion and elderberry. Ginger root to be brewed in a strong tea and garlic bulbs to be steeped in milk. All of it was surely enough to cure any grippe or fever. My poor Granny suffered. Her health and well being were the most important things to me in all the world.

The night was gray, a thick fog rising, air soft as early autumn’s gauze.  There was a stillness to the wind, an eeriness like the calm before a storm.  This night was odd, I felt it in my bones. Strange things were portended, and if it weren’t for my ailing Granny I would scarce have left from my cottage.

Yet the Hunter moon beckoned.

Halfway through the lupine pass I spotted the wolf. A coat black as ebony and blue eyes that gleamed bright as sapphire.

 

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No doubt the animal had sniffed out my victuals, or even, I daresay, my own blood. I was not a-feared. Humankind surely has dominion over the beasts of this planet. Still, I knew I’d best keep my distance.  I made myself scarce among the heather and pine. I even scattered a few cake crumbs so as to throw the beast off my trail. I then proceeded in another direction entirely, forgoing the shortcut yet proceeding to Granny’s cottage all the same.

My dodging was to no avail, for some three leagues down the road I encountered the wolf again. This time the most wondrous of things happened, so much so that you gentle reader, may doubt my words. I assure you it all is true, sure as my name is Ryder Redd and I dwell in the forest of Galbraithe.

The wolf spoke to me, in a voice clear and stern as any man. “Ryder Redd,”  quothe he. “What brings thee to the forest?”   I was, of course, taken aback.  And yet, in the pale light of the moon, where all manner of wondrous things  happened, and in the still of the fog where metamorphosis morphed, a talking wolf seemed, in that instant, not so very strange at all.

“I bring remedies to my Granny, black wolf,” said I. “For she ails in fever and such victuals are sure to cure it.”

The wolf then sniffed, stuck his snout in the flannel napkin of my sack.  “Have you no meat, woman?” he asked, a rise of tension in his voice.

“Nay sir,” said I. “So sorry to disappoint, but it is medicine I bring. Honey cakes, ginger, strong wine, and garlic, noxious enough to clear any head.”

“Bah, what good are you?” said the wolf. With that he bounded up the path. I silently thanked Diana, for she had no doubt protected me. As the Huntress keeps her animals at bay, so humans are free to wander the earth.

By and by I came to Granny’s cottage. I knocked upon the door. No answer. The house was still as rock, no sign of stirring within.   Granny was, no doubt, in slumber.  I opened the door. The house was dark and I fumbled for some candles.  Having lit them I checked the bedroom, looked beneath the sheets, lifted the dust ruffle and even peeked under the bed. “Granny?”  I called. She was nowhere to be found.

Just then through the window I heard an earth shattering howl. Then more howls joined in unison. My heart quickened, for, confronted with one wolf I was able and competent, but this – a whole pack outside my Gran’s door? For this I was not equipped.

Still, curiosity got the better of me and I went to the window.  What I viewed, gentle reader, you will surely not believe. Yet I saw it with the eyes in my head, a steady gaze not tempered by imagination nor spirits. I even pinched myself to make sure it was so.

There, under the light of the moon I saw the pack of black wolves.  Nay wolves!  I say wolves – but not these! These were some strange form of animal, heads and bodies like wolves but with spans of feathered wings that fluttered from their backs.  They were like Pegasus, if such a creature existed.  Like Gryphon, were such a creature true!

 

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By my wits and my troth I should have been frightened. Frightened white as Diana’s moon. But no.  The winged wolves stared at me with eyes of interest. Something was so enticing, so inviting about them.  And so I opened the door, left the safety of the cottage and joined them in the field.

The one whom I had seen in the woods came forward. He  now had sprouted wings but when he spoke, the voice was exactly the same as I had heard it before. “Ryder Red,” quothe he, “we are pleased to see you.”

The wolves then swarmed in their circle. I moved closer.  And then! Such a hideous sight I have never before beheld.  Between them they shared a large carcass of meat, marbled  with gristle and tendon.  Upon closer look I recognized it as the torso of a human chest. The flesh was bloody, severed at the waist, spiky bones of a rib cage protruding. The air smelled of iron and meat.

I watched mesmerized as the gryphon-wolves, with dagger sharp teeth, ripped at their prey.  They growled and squabbled, slithered their tongues to lap up the pouring red blood. Finally one beast, the leader of the pack, dug his snout deep into the torso, gnawing until he pulled out a heart. Greedily  he chewed at it, a stew of scarlet veins, aorta bursting and even more blood that splattered on his fur like liquid roses.  The others consumed all  the leftover bits, licking remnants from the grass. I took a step back.

Pleased to see me? My ears burned.  Had the wolf  actually said ‘pleased to see you’?  And where o where was my Granny?

The wolf I’d made acquaintance with moved away for the circle and approached me.  He studied me and inasmuch as an animal can smile, he smiled at me.

“What name sir?” I asked nervously, for it seemed the beast must have a name and I should use that name to address him. “And what know you of my Granny?” I added. She was the most important!

“I am called Lycan,” he answered. “As for your Granny, she is changed. Never to be the same again.”

“Changed how?”

“She ails not.”

“Not how so?”

“She is well.”

“Well how so?”

“She is different.”

“Different how?”

“She is changed.”

“Aye sir!” I screeched. “Bring an end to this riddle! I am to tend to my Granny.”

“She needs not tending,” quothe he.

Then, with all the grace and ease of the moon and all the obscurity and blur of the fog, one magnificent gryphon-wolf flew forward. “I am she,” said the voice and I knew it was the voice of my Granny.

“To what form have they brought you?” I gasped. Yet as I watched her I was not frightened nor disgusted. Inasmuch as an animal can smile, she smiled at me.

 

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“My eyes child,” she said, “are all the better to see with. And my teeth all the better to eat with. My ears hear as never before. Sharp as an animal’s.”

In that moment I heard a scurry of feathers, the loud beating of wings.  A glitter of silver like so many falling stars scattered across the sky. All the gryphon-wolves, save for Lycan, disappeared quick as cats, vanishing into the fog.

“My Granny is no more?” I cried desperately.

“She is no more for you to see as such,” answered Lycan.

My heart fell although Lycan assured me it was for the best. He then guided me back to the cottage. Once inside, he bid me open my basket. “The honey cakes need not go to waste,” he insisted.

By then I had grown quite hungry, and so I devoured the cakes.  I had also grown quite thirsty and so I drank the wine. I felt my head go light. I became very sleepy and stupid, still unable to grasp what had happened. My world was a prism, a split of fog and moon, a mixture of fear and compassion. The fire blazed in its hearth, surreal in its ever changing facets.

 

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“Time for bed Ryder Redd,” said Lycan. With that he pressed his paws to my chest and unbuttoned the stays of my red cloak. Yet in that unbuttoning, his hands somehow changed. They were no longer the paws of a beast. The fingers that pulled at my stays were graceful fingers, with well manicured nails. The hands of a human and a wealthy one at that, the hands of fine breeding.

He pulled the cloak from my shoulders and pressed his face close to mine. It was not the face of a wolf, but a man with a mane of black hair, a face chiseled, cheekbones that glowed bronze and healthy.  His sapphire eyes glided over me. His touch was gentle upon my shoulder, gentle upon my waist.  He unlaced my camisole, slid my pantaloons off my buttocks and I, docile and sleepy with elderberry, complied to him.  I fell into the sheets of Granny’s bed and Lycan climbed beside me.

“You have not eaten, my lord,”  I said, for in that moment it occurred to me; I had been most inhospitable, gobbling all the tarts and chugging all the wine. “Of the honey cakes, I fear none are left,” I added sleepily.

“Ryder,” said he, “I am a carnivore, consuming only blood and meat.” His kiss was warm on my breast.

 

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Needless to say, he did not devour me, for if so I would not live to tell this tale. Yet suffice it to say he did not go hungry. That night, and every night thereafter I spent with my wolf- man.  He was an agreeable sort and a perfect gentleman toward me, save for once a month at Diana’s full moon when he transformed.

It was then that a pack of black wings fluttered over the forest. It was then that the gryphon-wolves feasted, the poor body of some disease-ridden human finally rescued from its illness. It was then that the flesh became silver stardust, spread across the sky like a flurry of crystalline diamonds.

The saved one would speak of new eyes, all the better to see with. And new ears, all the better to hear with. And of course, new teeth. All the better to bite with.

 

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Snowe and the Dwarf

 

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In my youth I remember my parents fawning over me.  “Oh, such a pretty little girl,” they said. “Skin white as snow, hair black as jet, lips red as berries.”  They even named me ‘Snowe’.  That ‘e’ on the end was, I suppose, their creative twist.  They always considered themselves somewhat avant-garde although in reality, before the pageants, we lived in the squalor of a  trailer park, supported solely by government food stamps and my father’s seemingly permanent unemployment checks.

I was eight years old when my parents first decided it would be a good idea for me to enter the Little Princess Glamour Pageant.  At age eight, I was perhaps a late bloomer, but that was the year my parents became avid fans of children’s beauty pageants, after having persuaded my Uncle Billy Jack to hook up a pirate cable station in our trailer.  After a while, even Uncle Billy Jack thought their obsession with children’s pageants  was quite bizarre and unhealthy.  Billy Jack attempted to unhook the cable, but once it was up and running, he could not seem to undo it no matter how hard he tried.  My mother just smiled, hands on her hips as she watched.  “Who’s the fairest, who’s the fairest?” she’d scream to the TV, often playing a game with herself to predict the winner.  The TV reception was  fuzzy but still, it gave my parents plenty of ideas.

Finally, they bought a thrift store dress, some cheap rhinestone jewelry and entered me in the pageant. I had no say in this matter.

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As it turned out, I won first place. My parents drooled over me and drooled even more over the $10,000 prize money I pulled in. This began a long journey of what I call my ‘Pageant Years’.

I became known for my trademark look; pale as a corpse, coal black hair, blood red lips.  I was almost a child vampire and I suppose my exotica impressed the judges. I was never allowed to go out in the sun, for my mother feared any bronzing of my skin or lightening of my hair would alter my appearance and end my winnings.

As I got older, my mother fussed and worried about keeping me ivory white.  She took to bleaching my skin with sponges soaked in Clorox.  They burned like a wasp’s sting and made me smell like a chlorine pool. My mother also darkened my hair with shoe polish.

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At the age of twelve I was taken to a disreputable doctor who injected my lips with Botox and some type of stain to keep them permanently red.  He charged an exorbitant amount of money for this procedure.  The red lip dye affected my taste buds.  All food became cardboard to me.  This may have been just as well, as my parents then put me on a diet of wheat germ and vega-thaw to keep my weight down.  “The swimsuit competition is IMPORTANT, Snowe,” my mother said. “We can’t have you getting chubby now, of all things!”

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At age fourteen I was taken to a plastic surgeon for breast enhancements and liposuction. By then my mother was worried that my skin had lost its little girl elasticity, and my father thought my breasts were not developing fast enough.  The surgery rid my thighs  of every ounce of cellulite.  My new breasts ballooned like enormous silicone melons.  My parents then hired a personal trainer. He was a Nazi taskmaster who did all but crack a whip at my back to keep me ‘fit’ and ‘nubile’.  I performed a four hour daily workout routine which included weight training, calisthenics and long distance running.

As a result of my low caloric intake and this constant exercise, my body hardened to a mass of muscle.  I never menstruated.  My mother thought this was a good thing. The monthly blood flow, she said, would only make me a ‘hag on the rag’.

All this hard work and body alterations apparently paid off, for in my competitions I had no rival.  My exotic looks made the judges’ heads spin around. I won  title after title.  Miss County Cuteness.  Miss Bodacious Beauty.  Miss Gorgeous Girl. Miss Pretty as a Picture. And the silly lists went on. With all my winnings we abandoned our trailer and my parents bought a mansion on the ritzy side of town.

By the time I was sixteen I was quite tired of this ridiculous routine.  I was no more than a trained dolphin, entering competition after competition.  How I longed to get away from it all!   And so, when Cadbury’s Colossal Carnival came to town, performing for one night only, I saw it as a perfect chance for my escape.

Because my parents kept such a careful watch on me, I normally would not have been allowed out at night, but  Uncle Billy Jack helped me.  He thought up an ingenious scheme of mixing sleeping tablets in my parents’ cocktails on the night the carnival arrived.  It worked wonderfully.  By 7 pm both of my parents were in the land of nod. Sprawled on their fluffy couches they snored loudly as their vast home entertainment system flashed image after image.  (Mostly beauty pageants.)  Billy Jack gave me a ride to the carnival in his pick-up truck.  I really wanted him to have a better car, but my parents, as my legal trustees, kept all my winnings to themselves.  I had not seen a penny of it. I did not even know how much I had earned.

The carnival itself was magnificent! Ferris wheels and tilt o whirls, spinning reels of neon lights as the zipper and Pharaoh’s Fury rocked back and forth.

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There were concession stands of funnel cakes, hot dogs and pretzels. I bought a pink cloud of cotton candy but then cursed my stained lips as the bland wisps of sugar melted in my mouth, tasteless as water.  How I longed to be normal!  I sadly realized I could no longer remember what ‘normal’ was.

Nonetheless I would not let this ruin my escape plan! I silently admitted, with some sheepishness, that I actually did not have a plan. But I knew I could not go back home.

Lights flashed and harpsichord music blasted.  Barkers beckoned, “Step right up!” and arcade rifles blasted. Girls walked with armfuls of teddy bears. Gypsy women in dazzling clothes told fortunes as the merry-go-rounds spun and the bumper cars bumped. In the center of all this chaos was the big top, an enormous tent where the real entertainment was about to begin.

First up were the elephants, next the clowns and then the tigers with their trainer.  I watched as they jumped through hoops of fire. I pitied these animals; for they were no better than myself, trained performers, put on a treadmill to entertain the crowd.

Next came the freak show. A bearded lady proudly displayed her two faces, one with a thick growth of hair, the other smooth, feminine, elfin.  Two sides of a same but much different coin. There was the Frog Man, his body literally covered with warts. Then a petite contortionist shut her body up like an umbrella, folding limbs like bent spokes until she actually fit into a tiny  glass jar.  I had never seen anything like it.

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Last of all came the troupe of dwarfs. They tumbled onto the stage, dancing, cartwheeling,  even swinging on a trapeze.

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Directing them was one who I knew must be the leader. His name, I would find out later, was  Gilgamesh .

Despite his small stature, Gilgamesh was magnificent.  His tumbling and dance skills were matched by no other.  Even from where I sat I could see the sinew of his arms, the curve of his calves. My stomach fluttered as I watched him. His complexion was ruddy, with a mane of red hair and a thick neck protruding from his square shoulders.  He had short firm thighs and small but wide feet that reminded me of a Hobbit.

I had not met many men before, save for those hideous pageant hosts.  Oh, they were annoying, those hosts!  Fake smiles, moussed hair and cheesy jokes.  But now. Here before me, THIS was a man of the earth!

A tree trunk of flesh, gnarled elbows, deep hard eyes that spotted me from across the ring.  This was a real man, and never mind his dwarfism!  To say it was love at first sight sounds trite, but  Gilgamesh  captured me.

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At the show’s end I decided I must meet him. I pushed my way backstage, shy as I was, forcing myself every step.  I did not know what I’d even say to him. Yet when we met he was oddly gracious. He thought I wanted an autograph and was genuinely surprised to find I wanted no such thing.  Somehow I knew, I sensed it would be him who could bring my freedom.

The carnival was leaving town that night and I begged  Gilgamesh  to take me with him.  He cocked his head, looked at me as if I were a sad  puppy.  I explained every detail of my life at my parent’s house, the terror of the pageants, the alterations that had been forced upon my body.  Finally he said he could not refuse me.  As the roustabouts packed gear, Gilgamesh and I sat under the stars, speaking of all our hopes and dreams and fears.  I felt as if I had known him forever.

It was during this conversation I found myself growing increasingly hungry. The cotton candy had been nothing, a spider web of sugar within me.  Gilgamesh, upon hearing the roar of my stomach, promised he had the perfect thing for me.  From his pocket he produced an apple. It was large, red and ripe, so big it was a basketball in his small hands.

It had been years since I had eaten an apple.  My mother had always been so worried about my sugar intake, even fruit was not allowed.  Gilgamesh  held the apple to my lips and I eagerly bit in.

It was then the dye that had been implanted in my lips seemed to dissolve.  I could taste the apple!  For the first time in so many years I could taste the sweet tartness, the faint flavor of earth. It was delicious.  Ravenously I gnawed until there was nothing left but the core. I then continued to eat, swallowing every bit, seeds included.  I could not stop myself. I then felt my cheeks go hot.

The train was  leaving.  Gilgamesh  said I could ride with him in his bunk.  As captain of his troupe he had the largest room. “No luxury,” he said, “But I believe you will be comfortable.”  I laughed and informed him I had been raised in a trailer park.

Once we’d boarded the train he directed me to the bathroom.  It was there I came upon a small mirror on the wall.  Glancing into it, I could not believe my eyes.

Who was the woman I now saw in the glass?  To be clear, she was a woman, not a  child.  My skin was flushed and bronzed, not at all like someone who has been kept from the sun all her life.  My lips?  They were normal. Normal size.  No longer blown out of proportion with Botox. No longer  blood red, but a natural color of peach pink. Was I now normal?  My hair, although still dark, was a creamy shade of brown, free of the shoe polish dye.  I smelled my own arms. No bleach or chlorine. I smelled only my skin and sweat and the green soap I had pumped from the bathroom spout.  I smelled like a woman.

I joined Gilgamesh in his bunk. Tenderly, skillfully, he kissed my lips. His fingers found their way to my breasts, no longer silicone but now soft mounds of flesh and nipple, small enough to be cupped in his tiny hands.

In time Gilgamesh and I would be wed.  My menstrual cycle would  begin and move naturally with the phases of the moon.  I would become the mother of his children.  In time Uncle Billy Jack would find a skilled lawyer who would help me regain my pageant winnings from my parents. Gilgamesh  and I would then leave the carnival, purchase our own farm, and take some of the show animals with us, freeing them as well from this life of bondage.

But for now it was enough that he held me, cradled me in his knotted arms. I shed tears  and buried my face in his chest. The train rumbled on through the summer night.  I never entered a pageant again.

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This post is in response to the daily prompt Youth

The Changeling

 

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My child was not frail at birth.  Oh no!  He was strong, fit and robust. I named him Gideon the Tanner’s Son. My husband, you see, worked in the trade of  leather. Gideon was my first child. The first to survive, anyway.  Before that I had borne three.

My first  baby died in my arms, umbilical cord wrapped round her neck. Poor thing never cried, never gasped a first breath, never even had a chance at life.   My second, a girl as well, became riddled with the sweating sickness and passed before her first year.   And my third, a boy, was born with no hands. He had only tiny withered stumps that protruded from his wrists like small quivering worms.

“Mathilde!” my husband shrieked at me, as if this malformation were somehow my fault. “What have you wrought? What have you brought forth? A demon child!  Lack of hands, lack to make a living!” My husband then snatched the baby from me and threw him in the fire.

Flames leaped and ash sizzled as the baby’s flesh burnt like a crust of over-baked bread.  My heart wrenched. I could not bear to watch it. I fled from the cottage, even in my feeble condition. I carried the afterbirth in my arms, for I knew it should be buried in the forest as a gift to the fair folk.  I did not want my husband to destroy that as well!  It was then I came upon the blue fairy.

 

Blue fairy PD

This was not so strange a meeting as one might assume. Fairies were  a-plenty in our forest, if one only had Sight to see. The blue fairy was tall with skin the color of turquoise and blue tangled hair that matted like seaweed across her face.

She did not ask what vexed me, for she already knew.  “Fret not Mathilde,” she told me. “Soon you are to deliver another boy child. He shall be hale and healthy, and live to full adulthood. He shall wed and bear many children of his own.”

I was overjoyed at this news, so much so that tears poured down my cheeks. The blue fairy smiled and dried my eyes with her long hair. “Be aware, though, my lady,” she cautioned. “The survival of your son depends upon one condition.”

Oh, the fairies! They were sneaky, evil things!  Although they promised much they always asked much in return.

“Be not suspicious, my lady,” she told me.

The blue fairy had read my mind, knew my thoughts before I uttered them. This was  a bothersome problem when dealing with the fair folk!  One must monitor one’s thoughts, keep them secret. This, of course, was quite impossible.

“Alright,” I sighed. “What then is the condition?”

“You must let this son do as he pleases. He shall be free to take any occupation, wed any lass he so chooses, live his life in a manner he himself sees fit.  Do not impose restrictions upon him, for if you do, the consequences will be vile.”

Exactly nine months after the blue fairy’s promise, I delivered Gideon into the world.

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My son grew sturdy and tall, a child of the earth and sun. He loved  animals and all things in nature.   He also loved to draw.  With chalks and inks he drew the likeness of everything he saw; the forest and trees, the flowers, the cows, my own countenance and even, upon occasion, that of my husband.

When Gideon reached his seventh name day, my husband attempted to teach him the trade of tanning hides.

Gideon, however, could not abide this. He wept at the very thought of skinning an animal for profit. The cows, he claimed, were his family as much as my husband and myself. He immediately ran to the garden with his chalks and began drawing the flowers.

“That is pish and nonsense!” my husband scowled. “Doodles and scribbles! What profit could possibly come of it?” With this he took all Gideon’s creations, his paints, his inks, and threw them in the river.

My poor son cried all night. I tried to comfort him, but it was for naught.

“There will be no artistry in this family,” my husband insisted.  “Gideon, come the morrow you will go with me to the barnyard. There I will teach you the trade of tanning. You will use chemicals and treat leather hides which we shall sell at the market.”

The next morning I went to awaken my son. Upon drawing the curtains from his bed, I was astonished at what I saw. Gideon was pale and frail, a tiny wraith of a thing!  He was no longer the picture of health that I had raised for the past seven years.  He looked at me with wide, placid eyes. In a stuttering gasp he coughed and spewed, blood and mucous spouting from his mouth.

“Gideon!” I exclaimed. “What has happened?”

But I knew only too well. The blue fairy’s warning came back to me, her voice a ringing bell in my head.  “He shall be FREE to take any occupation…  live his life in a manner he HIMSELF sees fit.  Do not impose restrictions upon him, for if you do, the consequences will be vile.”

Of course.  The blue fairy had taken Gideon and left in his place a changeling! The creature that now sat before me could barely lift his own head. Upon rousing the bed sheets I looked closer. Oh no! This was worse than I thought! The changeling flung his legs across the mattress, rolled wearily on the bed and I saw that  he had no penis. This was no boy child but a female!   I tried to speak to her, but she only stared, vacant faced. The changeling  did not even have a command of the human language.

 

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Just then my husband pounded upon the door. “Gideon!” he yelled. “Get up lad, for there is work to be done!”

I panicked. What to do? If my husband saw our ‘son’ in this condition he would surely be outraged. He had already thrown one child in the fire. I put no act of violence past him! I crept to the door, cracking it open to see my husband’s ruddy face, knife and ax clutched in his hands. I peered through the slivered doorway.

“The child is – ill, my dear. I fear he may have the plague.”

My husband arched his eyebrows in horror.  “The plague? The deadly plague?”

“Yes, yes,” I continued, for once I began to spin a lie, I could be quite good at it. “Get you gone from this room my dear,” I pleaded. “For I have already been exposed, but you have not.  Go to your duties. I will tend to the child.”

“God’s blood!” My husband backed away in terror, quickly leaving our cottage.

I then led the changeling back to the woods where the blue fairy again appeared to me. She crossed her arms, eyed me sideways as though I were some disobedient child. “You are a foolish woman Mathilde,” she said. “I had warned you of Gideon’s upbringing, had I not?”

“Yes, but it was not my doing! It is my husband who imposes the trade upon the boy.”

“And you stand by and watch? What kind of mother are you?”

“What am I to do?” I rung my hands. The changeling coughed, spewed more blood that trickled down her chin. She was but a whey faced imp, yet I felt a kindness, a tenderness for her, as much as I did for the three babes I had lost.  If only there were some way to nurse this changeling back to health…

“Very well then,” they blue fairy said. “You shall have them both. The changeling and your son. But on one condition.”

I sighed. Here it came again! The fairy’s impossible ‘condition’!

“Oh, Mathilde.” The blue fairy crouched her tall, towering frame close to mine. “It will not be as bad as you think!  Now listen. You must leave your husband, never to return again.”

I cringed. Leave my husband?  How would I survive? A woman alone in this world, no trade of my own, with a frail changeling in my care?

The blue fairy shook her head. “Mathilde! For a clever human you are not very resourceful. Now listen.  I will  give you a key to a cottage in the next village. In this cottage you will find a lavender cake. Feed it to this changeling. Then wait three days.  During these three days you must have no contact with the human world at all.”

I did as she asked. In my web of lies I convinced my husband that I was to take Gideon to an apothecary, many miles away.  There he would be treated with the best of care. I fed the lavender cake to the changeling and sure enough she flourished, cheeks pink with health. I named her Rose for she so reminded me of a thriving flower.

 

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After three days Gideon returned. I raised both children in the new cottage.  I started a business for myself, selling the lavender cakes that the blue fairy soon taught me how to bake. These cakes contained medicinal properties that cured many  illnesses. In the village I was known as Mathilde the Cake Baker.

Gideon became an exquisite painter, commissioned to make portraits of the royal family. He soon obtained a status of gentleman and purchased a coat of arms for our family. We then moved to a large estate where we raised animals of every species.

When Rose came of age, Gideon took her as his bride, for she had now grown to a beautiful woman.  Gideon and Rose gave me many grandchildren, all healthy and beautiful, and all – strangely enough – able to read my mind.

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My husband? I never heard from him again. The blue fairy told me he came upon an unfortunate accident. It seems a stampede of angry cows overtook him, administering injuries so violent that he fell dead on the spot.

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This post is in response to the Daily Prompt  Frail

Alice’s Journey

 

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The white rabbit looked at me with pink eyes, the color of clouds at dusk.  I became curiouser and curiouser as I watched him from my garden. The rabbit hopped fast, but not  fast enough to  get away from me, for I was quick on my feet.

They will tell you the rabbit pulled a watch out of his coat pocket and began to fret about the time, exclaiming “Oh my ears and whiskers, I shall be late!”  This could not be further from the truth. Everyone knows a rabbit will never carry a watch. They are timeless animals.  Nor will they wear a coat, as they have ample fur of their own.

My journey was one of impulse and instinct. For better or worse,  I followed the pink eyed creature.

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They will tell you I slid down a rabbit hole.  This, of course is a dimensional impossibility! Have you ever SEEN a rabbit hole? Have you ever tried to get so much as one FOOT down a rabbit hole?  Oh no.  What happened was, I ran after the rabbit until we came upon a vast lavender field.   It was there that the space craft  landed.

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The space craft was beautiful!  Cylinder shaped, dazzling as the sun at noontide, so bright I could barely look upon it.  A staircase descended from its door .  When the white  rabbit hopped up the steps, I simply followed.  I was young then, you see. I had  a habit of acting without thinking.   It did not occur to me where this journey would lead.

When I got on board  I walked down a long hallway to a room that seemed to be made  of blue sky.  A man in a top hat was hosting a tea party.  At his table were seated  the most peculiar characters;  a king and queen, a March Hare and a duchess who carried a pink flamingo beneath her arm. The man in the  hat  invited me to sit down.  I’ll admit I had a bit of trouble with the gravity at first…

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He poured me a cup of steaming tea,  which I drank immediately  (for I knew  it would be rude to refuse his hospitality.)  I then became sleepy and the room  began to sway.  The top hat man grew tall, his  hat protruding high out of his head.  His face contorted like a reflection in a fun house mirror. I  heard laughter. The queen’s tiara  shattered and  she screamed “Off with her head!”  I knew she could not possibly be speaking of  me, for I could barely FEEL my own head and  surely there was nothing  to cut off!

After that I remember little.  At one point I lay naked  upon an operating table. The top hat man smiled, and I imagined him as a cat with a huge grin. He said he came from Cheshire. I did not know where that was and wanted to ask him, but he simply disappeared, leaving only his grin behind.  Next thing I knew I felt a speculum being stuck inside me, cold steel against my vagina.   “The eggs, the eggs!” someone shouted. “Get her eggs!”  That was fine and well with me, for I had plenty of eggs.  I knew I would produce hundreds of thousands in my lifetime and  I could certainly spare a few for whatever was their cause.  After that I must have fallen asleep.

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When I awoke I was fully clothed. The space craft spun in its orbit  and I looked out the window where a thousand stars streamed like glittering diamonds in the darkness.  The Duchess sat next to me, her pointy chin on my shoulder. She handed me her pink flamingo.  I asked where we were headed. The Duchess smiled calmly, pointed  to a marbled  sphere and assured me I would like it.

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When we landed I descended the staircase, still following the rabbit.  The Duchess  however, was wrong .  I did not like this place!  Not one bit. We had apparently landed in the middle of a war zone, every man armed with weaponry. Land mines  exploded like fiery  traps, blowing  human bodies to a confetti of blood and bone. Children wailed in the streets and men hobbled, many of them missing limbs. I asked what was this horrible place, but the rabbit could only twinkle his pink eyes.

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I felt my stomach lurch and I vomited, barely missing the poor rabbit who hovered beneath me.  When I could stand it no longer the rabbit led me to another part of this world but I did not like this part either.  There I saw only  death and disease;  bodies rife with plagues and cancers and malnutrition.  I could not bear to look upon it, and the rabbit led me to yet another place. Here  were tall skyscrapers and inside, dark boardrooms where men  sprawled in leather chairs.  They drank champagne and spoke a language I did not understand but I remember their words: ‘market’ and  ‘bailout’  and ‘Wall Street’ and ‘junk bonds’.   These people were evil and when I could tolerate their presence no longer the rabbit lead me back to the space craft.

Top Hat and the Duchess welcomed me.  I wanted only to return to my home, to planet Wonderland.    Top Hat smiled.  “You have done your task well, Alice,”  he said.  “The hybrids from your eggs will be hatched  some time in the 21st century. With  the DNA of Wonderland within them, these beings will be  pure, void of greed and malice.  Your hybrids will be the only hope for that planet they call  Earth.  Without your hybrids the civilization  will surely destroy itself.”

The journey back to Wonderland  was quick. I bid Top Hat and the Duchess goodbye, kissing them on both cheeks. I then followed the rabbit off the space craft and back to my own garden.  I was glad to be home.

After that, I developed a  strange penchant for  drinking tea. My faithful rabbit never leaves my side. Recently I have heard word from the Duchess. It seems my eggs have yet to hatch.

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This post is in response to the Daily Prompt Journey