Igraine Speaks

 

Igraine 2

His birth came about by trickery and subterfuge, although the boy knew it not.

A birth by accident, a birth of inconsequence. Or so all the world would think. It was an arrangement of my Uncle Merlin and the plan was thus: That I, the Duchess Igraine of Tintagel should lie in the adulterous bed of King Uther Pendragon, so that I be the vessel to bear a son. His name would be Arthur.

O now, you must understand. The part about adultery scarcely vexed me; my marriage to  the Duke of Tintagel was an arranged and loveless one. The bed of Uther Pendragon was not my first straying and would not be my last.  I was fully compliant in my dalliance. Yet for the sake of my honor, Merlin thought it best that the bards which would tell this story say I had been bewitched. The official version?  Uther Pendragon appeared to me in the form of my husband the Duke. Therefore when I laid with him I was judged innocent in all wrongdoing.

O that was rich! One cannot bewitch a witch! My Uncle Merlin knew this better than anyone.

merlin 3

Heretofore my husband, the Duke of Tintagel had been of stout health. Now suddenly he took ill and died promptly. As a widow with child I had no choice but to wed Uther Pedragon. I then became Queen Igraine of castle Camelot.

The birth was easy. But what I could not abide, what I could not forgive, was that the baby was wrenched from my arms the very moment he uttered breath! I barely had the chance to hold him before Merlin spirited him away, insisting I was not fit to raise him, and that his future tasks were not to be influenced by the likes of me.

merlin 2

Without conversation nor consultation, it was decided Arthur be raised by a local lord, one Sir Ector.

“Now Igraine,” Merlin bid me,  once the deed was done. “You need not worry for your son. His every want shall be provided for, as my Lord Ector leads a life of prosperity and gain. Arthur shall have an older brother named Kai and a mother of great gentleness, the Lady Ector. He shall be fed, clothed and schooled properly.  It is essential he live among common men.”

Foolish wizard! Could Merlin not see that a woman’s greatest loss was that of her own child? His was a silly scheme, for I knew my son Arthur was like no other boy!  He needed no guidance from the common man, for his true nature would allow him to encompass all.  His bloodline was mine; that of Avalon. His schooling should thus involve the magick of Avalon.

I vowed revenge upon my Uncle Merlin.  He’d pay for his injustice! My visits to Avalon would ensure this. I studied under tutelage of the Lady of the Lake, imploring the water and rocks to bring me power.

lake lady

 

Fourteen years passed, and they were fourteen years of war and devastation. The Saxon armies invaded our territory time and time again. My husband Uther, weary of the constant battle, finally took ill and passed away, leaving his kingdom up for grabs among rogue warlords and enemies.

As king’s consort I managed best as I could. The men bickered among themselves, calling privy council after privy council to determine who should be the next king. Arthur should have been immediately declared so. But because of Merlin’s harebrained scheme, he had been raised as a ward, away from his true home. If he were to return to Camelot now and claim the throne, none would believe him.

The people of Britain at that time were a superstitious lot. They believed in marvels and miracles, great quests of honor and the divine right of princes. It was for this reason that I devised a scheme which would place my son upon the throne without doubt or question.

The Bishop of Canterbury, influenced by my Uncle Merlin, deemed a joust should be held to determine the new king. It would take place on New Year’s Day, 443, the year of Our Lord.

This, in and of itself, was a most outrageous and foolish notion! Jousting was a putrid and violent sport; it brought no good to anyone. Within it, perfectly capable and healthy men were maimed and wounded, leaving them disabled and unfit for battles against our true enemies! Jousts were held so that jeering and bloodthirsty crowds could name what they thought ‘a hero’. He that could withstand a horse’s back and the jab of a lance.

“But Arthur will surely win the joust,” Merlin insisted. “It is a most excellent plan!”

“Arthur is a boy of fifteen!” I spat. “I’ll not see him crippled in a joust. It is a most preposterous plan!”

I objected vehemently. Yet as a woman, my word held no weight. Instead I used my own sorcery to produce a most ingenious scheme, one that no one would question.

The people of Camelot were obsessed with weaponry and feats of strength. I reasoned that there must be some deed which could measure one’s power, yet bear no damage to another. A deed which would test a man’s ability over nature, over fear, over all elements. A test which would show, beyond any doubt, that the man able to perform it would indeed be the new king.

I retreated to my crystal cave for a period of deep meditation.

igraine cave

There, among the rocks and water, I called upon my ancestors to guide me. I consulted the goddess Cerridwen, the Morrigan, Viviane and the tribe of eternal Wise Women. Finally, the idea came to me. I told no one of my plan.

Outside the field where the great joust was to be held, I created a boulder. Upon that boulder I placed an anvil of pure iron.  (All this time I relied upon my own witchery, for no mortal woman could have lifted such a boulder, nor the anvil.)  I then fashioned a great silver sword, its blade sharp enough to slice the head of a boar, its handle heavy as the anvil itself. Within the anvil I inscribed the following directions:

“Whosoever can pull this sword from its stone shall be the undoubted, indisputable, indubitable King of Britain, deemed to rule for his lifetime and never questioned of his authority.”

arthur sword 2

New Years Day dawned, the morning of the joust. Spectators gathered. They stared with gaping mouths at the sword in the stone.

“Can it be?” they muttered among themselves. “The new king will be decided by pulling a sword from a stone? Such a simple task?”

“Simple task indeed!” I retorted hotly. “Go on then! Try your hand at it and see. Whoso among you dares to attempt this feat?”

One by one the men tried. There were knights and lords, men of great status as well as serfs and peasants who stood in line and attempted to lift the sword. Each effort was for naught.

Finally, Sir Ector rode up with his son Kai and Arthur in tow.

“Will you attempt the task, my Lord?” I said coyly to Ector, for – goddess help me – I could not resist a good prank.

Eagerly the man placed his grip upon the sword’s handle. Twist and tug as he might, the sword would not budge. Sweat burst from his brow until finally he gave up. “It will not move!” he yelped exasperatedly. “The thing is stuck like an oak to the soil.”

the sword in the stone

“Mayhap your son Kai shall attempt it,” I said, barely hiding my smirk.

Kai groped and toiled. The stubborn blade would not budge. He too broke a sweat before declaring, “It is an impossible task! One hundred men could not lift it!”

“And what of young Arthur?” I asked.

“If I and Kai could not lift it, all the more impossible it will be for Arthur,” said Sir Ector. “For I am a knighted lord; I have seen battle. My ward Arthur, abandoned at birth, has lead only the life of a farm hand.  He knows nothing of weaponry.”

“Oh doesn’t he?” I chided.  I could hold my anger no longer.

“For your information,” quothe I, “he was NOT abandoned at birth! Ever did you think he was taken from his mother’s arms, through no will nor decision of her own? Ever did you think he was intended for greater purposes, such that you, Sir Ector, could not possibly know?”

Ector looked at me dumbfounded, for it was unseemly for a widowed queen to speak so boldly. I cared not what they thought! I then took Arthur by the hand and helped him down from his horse. “You will try it,” I commanded.

Arthur’s eyes narrowed, then popped in recognition as he faced me. “Is it you?” he asked softly. “You are my… Mother?”

None had known of my secret visits to Ector’s farm. None had known, save Arthur and myself, that in the still of the night I had come to him. Together we’d board a small boat and I’d take him to Avalon, so that he could learn of his true bloodline and power.

Igraine 3

Perhaps before that moment, Arthur had thought those visits were mere dreams and imagination.  Now he  was to learn: imagination can lead to the making of a king.

“Of course it is me,” I said calmly. “Your Uncle Merlin had other plans for you, but it was I who knew your noble calling and prepared you for it.  Now!  Do not hesitate to do your duty!”

Within seconds Arthur had lifted the sword from the stone.

arthur stone

For the doubters among them, Arthur replaced the sword several times. Each time the anvil sealed around it like an iron prison. Many others made attempts at lifting it, each to no avail. Yet Arthur lifted it several times with ease. Finally the crowd conceded; it was  Arthur who was meant to rule as King of Britain.

Merlin cowered in a corner, hidden by the crowd. I went to him.

“Do not worry, Uncle,” I said. “While I do not forgive you, I will not torture you. I ask now that you return to Avalon for schooling. You see, your magic has always been imperfect. You have silly ideas. If Arthur is ever to rule as a worthy king, he must not be influenced by your dualistic nature. Therefore I banish you from Camelot.”

He had no choice but to leave.

From that day forward, per my request, all jousting was banned in the kingdom.

As for my son, he became the once and future king, ushering in an era of great peace and prosperity. He ruled with wisdom, kindness and grace, wedding his Queen Guinevere, and appointing twelve worthy knights to his round table.

arthur 3

 

 

 

 

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We Beat Stephen King?

 

box

It looks like Friday the 13th brought us luck after all!

Hard to believe, I know — but I am proud to say that our horror anthology The Box Under The Bed  outranked Stephen King on the Amazon bestsellers list!  Who’d have expected it?

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I thought I heard someone applaud,

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In my distracted state of mind I could not be quite sure…

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Today, October 11th is your chance to get a FREE copy of our horror anthology The Box Under The Bed  on Freebooksy!

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Walpurgisnacht (fiction)

 

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.

 

 

 

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