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.

 

 

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

 

 

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.

1984-1

“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.”

Mermaid-

“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.

octopus

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.

atlantis-pd