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On Death – On Enchanted Conversation!

Happy Friday the 13th!

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The first story in which I remember reading about a personified Death, and one I still love, is The Appointment in Samarra (or Samarkand). It’s a very old tale, said to be from Mesopotamia, and is included in the Talmud and collections of Sufi wisdom, and is sometimes also called When Death Came to Baghdad. In it, a man sends his servant on a long journey to avoid Death, only to find that Death had expected him there, in that other place, all along. I remember feeling that there was a certain injustice in that – if only the man had stayed home! How unfair that the man’s fear of dying drove him to flee straight to the place of his death. Yet, how foolish to try to run away, only to spend his final days on a long journey to a distant land, far from all that he knew and loved. That is where Death brings us in the end anyway.

In many old stories, Death is portrayed as a neutral, or even benevolent figure. Not frightening or evil, but someone who is just doing a job. These stories represent a way for us to make peace with mortality. Not to say that we shouldn’t cling to the beauty and joy and connection presented by a life well lived, or mourn the finality of separation from our loved ones. Rather Death represents everything that is unknown, and our complete inability to return to what was before – that is to say, death, (with a little ‘d’) in a very literal sense, or any process of change or transition. Not bad, and maybe not good, but inevitable just the same.

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Writing

Where the Bones Lie

'Woman_with_a_Harp'_by_Elizabeth_Nourse,_Cincinnati_Art_Museum
by Elizabeth Nourse

My sister, God keep her, was a troubled girl. She was beautiful in every way, as you have heard, but fair doesn’t always mean fair. You look at me now, all of you, with your wide eyes and your shock and horror at the things you have heard. I’ll not tell you that they’re lies, but the truth can have a way of shifting and stretching and spreading like silt in water before it finally settles out, and you can see clearly what’s at the bottom of it.

When my sister was a little girl, she would follow me around. I was barely older, but it was enough, and with a new baby, my mother put me to work while she coddled the young one. So I did make her eat dirt, and I did run away from her. I felt she had stolen my mother’s affections, and was only little yet myself.

As we grew older there were little pranks, the things children will do, none of it intending real harm. But didn’t she take a swipe like a punch, and fold herself over, always just when my mother came near. My own scratches and bites and bruises were left untended. I brought them on myself I was told. But I learned, and so I stopped fighting back, thinking that would show my mother. But still she said I brought it on myself, if not for what I did today, then yesterday or last week, or some other time wasn’t too long ago to warrant reprisal still. And didn’t she feign faintness and tremors at the wisp of a cough, to be bundled into bed with me to wait on her, with none to nurse me on my own sickbed, for she would be too fragile, and I was decided to be the one who would stretch my illness for laziness.

Meantime, if I wasn’t married, I was to be working to keep myself, and she, my sister, would only talk herself blue in the face. Being younger and now fragile my mother didn’t press her. So it was I who sat in the yard to get the better light to finish my work, and I who lost a thimble and followed it down into the well. She did lower me down to get it, and in the waters, I did find a gift, which she demanded a share of if she would pull me back up, and so I agreed rather than be left to drown in the well.

When I came up, this young man was there with her, and there we both stood, one dry and one wet, and she made jokes to humiliate me, and then she showed him both of our work, mine nearly completed, and her few, precise stitches, which were indeed smaller and more even than mine, but which she said she had just started on. Tell me, with such an introduction, what chance would any young girl think she had, even if she wanted to steal away such a suitor?

I took my work and my thimble and the treasure and made for home, but, “Ah-ah!” my sister called after me. “I believe you have something that is mine,” she said, and put out a hand. So I handed over what she had asked for, and as I left, she related to the young man that not only was I slovenly and unindustrious, but also a thief.

My mother wanted to know how I came to be wet, and so I told her of my shame and humiliations, and she remarked that she supposed a young man could choose whichever girl he preferred. But it wasn’t about the young man. It was about the unkindness. I would do the same, my mother assured me, though I may assure you that I would not have.

So this man indeed came to call, and seeing me dry and presentable, he approached to apologize for his laughter and then inquired about my new piece of work, and saw that my sister’s few stitches had not progressed. She complained to my mother that I was ruining her chances and spreading lies to turn her suitor against her, and I was thereafter relegated to the kitchen when he called. His interests were his own, not persuaded by me, and this you may ask him yourself.

In time as you know, yes, his affection turned to me, and I found much enjoyment in his company as we walked together about town.

My sister became dissatisfied with the part I had given her of what I found in the well. She wanted me to go down again, and I would not. She threw my thimble in for spite, and I told her she would have to go after it. She would not do it, and this time our mother came to my cause and told her she should. So I lowered her into the well, and I did pull her back! And I have the thimble to prove it. There was nothing but frogs down there anyway, she told me.

After that I can’t say with any certainty what happened to her. I was planning to marry, you see, and my mother, happy enough to go to much effort on behalf of my sister, would not do so for me, as she said I had stolen my sister’s chance. So I was on my own, grateful merely to have not been put out of the house. I did not see my sister. I did wonder after her, but determined she would not be seen as she did not wish me well.

Then we did notice her missing, my mother first of course. We all searched. We were all there.

And then someone went to the well. My wedding was delayed, of course, and it is only now that we are all gathered here, and this young man still beside me.

How this bone harp was made, I cannot account for, nor how this musician came to have it, a piece of my own dead sister. Yet, some part of what was left down there, some part of what I found in the well, caused this spell, and now we know what happened to her, and her own accounting of it.

But I did not push her into the well, and I did not leave her there, nor do I have any knowledge of how such things came to be. Now, you good folk, I tremble here as I say it, yet surrounded by you, now you must judge between us.

 

The Twa Sisters

Judge between the two sisters and give your verdict

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Someone Else’s Story

My latest short story appears in Enchanted Conversation this week!

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Sometimes she woke and didn’t know where she was, stuck in that strange space between dreaming and the rest of her life. The man beside her, wrapped in the rumpled sheets, would seem a stranger, and she would try to piece together just how she had ended up here and who he was. She would either fall back asleep, or struggle to wakefulness, and the familiar would settle over her again.

Day to day passed with little change, but she found she was more or less content. Her home was modest, but clean and orderly. The garden plot was neat, and the animals well cared for. She had a good life. In the distance, on a clear day, she could sometimes see the parapets of the castle, the colored flags unfurled in the wind on their narrow stilts. Sometimes, unaccountably, the sight of them would leave her feeling melancholy, and she would sit inside at her spinning wheel, instead of outside enjoying the good weather.

Strange sensations, like memory, would sometimes come over her when she sat spinning. A room, empty, but for a wheel, and piles of flax. A door barred, walls bare, and only a narrow window, high up, so she could see nothing through it but a sliver of blue sky. The skin of her hands was dry from working the fibrous material. And she despaired of escape.

The man, her husband, knew about nature and humors and the elements that made the world. It was a point of pride for him, but she only felt disgust at the work. Confused, she called it piety. There were some things that it was not for man to know, that were not to be meddled with, she reasoned. It brought in coin, though. They were not wealthy, but they had enough. He reminded her of this, to know her place, that she was no grander than he, and that his work had saved her life.

Yes, that. She did not remember that. Or rather she did, but it was more like a story she had been told than something she truly recalled. Pricking her finger, the infection that followed, a delirious fever, the herbal remedies that cured her. It was all so long ago now. The skin opened up, there must have been blood, and she imagined the long, narrow spindle, stretching up like a stilt overhead as she collapsed to the floor, her dress rumpled beneath her. Yes, that must be what happened. Who had found her? Her father? No, he was long gone. Her mother? Her mother had sent her away… Something nagged at her. Her mother had sent her away. She felt anger at this, mingled with despair.

 

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Travelers’ Sickness

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Susannah wasn’t herself anymore. She wanted blood, and the blood soup and the raw meat dishes she’d been satisfied with until recently would no longer sustain her. She had come to this place for a change. She needed a break, to get away. She thought she would reconnect with the rituals of her childhood, and make a sort of pilgrimage to the many temples in the area.

On her journey through the country to visit temples, old and new, she encountered others who were not on any pilgrimage. They were loud and self-involved, and disrespectful of the places and traditions, and they left things a mess. She took an extra breath and a moment to extend compassion toward them, but still she was angry.

A week in, her stomach ached. The pharmacist told her it was traveler’s sickness, and gave her some tablets to take. She didn’t improve though, and it seemed to spread from her stomach to the rest of her insides. Everything felt tight and confined, and sharp stabbing pains prickled down her sides. Then her neck began to hurt. The pain was sharp and went down either side of her spine, between her shoulder blades into the very root of her neck. She took her tablets and lay in her room, unable to turn her head without pain. Traveler’s sickness, the stress of everything was just catching up to her. She would take her tablets and rest.

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Happy Short Story Month!

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Photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash

May is Short Story Month!

I remember the first time I discovered Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber in the stacks of my university library while I was supposed to be studying or researching for some paper. I found it both compelling and disturbing, and so much more valuable as a narrative than the sanitized childhood versions I was familiar with. I think it was about that same time that I discovered Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples, the chilling turn of which still stays with me.

I recently read Norse Mythology, also by Gaiman, which is a sort of short story collection, and am now working my way through Beyond the Woods, edited by Paula Guran.

Short stories are like finding yourself in a chocolatier with a tray of samples laid out. You can try all the varieties and find your favorites, without it costing anything! Done well, short stories captivate and delight, and linger, even changing the way you think about things, without demanding too much in return. Five, fifteen, maybe twenty minutes, and a world of wonder can open out in front of you, a break in routine, a respite from work stresses or unfinished housework.

Some of my favorite recent reads are:

Memories of Monsters – Mari Ness

Red as Blood and White as Bone – Theodora Goss

Them Boys – Nora Anthony

And of course you can find so many wonderful new stories on Enchanted Conversation!

Not long ago – maybe a year or three now – I found a mysterious tale about a young slave who escaped, and was captured again, and then turned over by her merciless master to a temple that he determined would do worse to her than he could. So she lived there, fearful at first, but then came to understand her fellow nuns who offered the sacrifice of their pain to their god, in physical injuries that could never heal. Eventually, she moves from acolyte to devotee, each pain bringing her clarity and insight, as each of life’s challenges and traumas may do for any of us.

I thought it was a beautiful story, well written and compelling, and I favorited the link. But somehow it was lost. So now I am searching for that story again. If you know it, please send it to me!

Happy reading!

 

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Writing

The Woodcutter’s Daughter

This has been one of my most popular stories this year, so I thought I’d reshare it! I wrote this while I was in Thailand this winter for Enchanted Conversation! Watch for more in EC soon!

 

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There was an old woodcutter and his wife who, more than anything, wanted a child to call their own, to love and raise, to care for them in their old age, which was fast approaching, and to carry their name and line into the next generation. One day while he was in the forest, the woodcutter heard a high, small mewling and he followed the sound to the hollowed out trunk of a tree he had felled the year before. Inside he found a tiny baby girl – left to exposure, he and his wife would assume, no doubt because she was a girl – yet they had for so long wanted a child that the woodcutter brought her home. That is the account he gave his wife when he passed the child into her arms. The woman put the child to her barren breast to soothe her, and in the morning sent her husband to buy a goat. And though she fed the child on milk and porridge, still she pressed the small girl to her breast, though whether for the child’s comfort or her own became less clear.

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Writing

Andromeda Ourania

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Art: Edward Poynter

The city was flooding again, as it had always done. The waters rose up annually, but then they rose higher from time to time, ever since the cataclysm. Ever since that first flood that pushed the sinners, escaped in their little boat, to this safe harbor. A natural port in a storm, crafted by the gods. The waters were calmer in the little bay. It was a safe place. Until it wasn’t.

The streets were flooded, and monsters were swimming along the streets, between the garbage and the wreckage of market carts and lean-tos and fishermen’s shacks. They were deep things, with dead eyes and bladed teeth, things with too many arms and no hands, things that did not exist in the real world, the dragons of old come to purge the city with cleansing waters.

Their leader, called Defender, descended of Titans, would annually offer herself bodily to the sea, and the waters would recede.

Cassiopeia knew that her role would be to defend her people from the rising tides, and the monsters they carried in them. Each year she would make her offering, dive to the bottom of the bay, return with the Aphrodite shell, the mollusk’s glowing blue eyes peering out, all-knowing, at the awaiting crowd. She would bring it out to much celebration and the feast would begin, and the ritual cleaning of the city would be done, old women dragging out their washing to be purged by the salty brine, and then heated to stiffness in the sun. Children would be baptized in the waters, ritually plunged into the bay to represent the annual flooding of the city, and that they were of, and indeed were the city itself. And the waters would slowly recede. And she would return the shell to it’s home on the sandy sea floor.

But this time, the waters continued to rise. This year the Aphrodite shell was hidden. She dove down again and again, searching for the large bivalve with it’s lip rimmed in vibrant blue, delicate strange strands reaching out for her. But it was not there. It seemed ill-omened to continue the celebration in its absence. The people departed. There was no bathing of linens and bodies. No feast, no sweeping out of the old year’s luck, no room made for the new. The spring came and the waters rose, and they had no place to go. The people were trapped, the water was polluted, and food was running out. What had been done, some asked, or left undone? Not Cassiopeia, who asked instead, what could be done now?

They called her proud. She was proud. She had raised this city from the roiling tides and protected it. She had built it up, made it prosper. She made the ritual each year that kept the tides in check. She was proud of that, proud of her city. Proud, too, of her daughter who would be not only the Defender of this port, but the Ruler of Men.

This was what the jealous gods did not like.
They went to the oracle, the wild eyed girl, her wispy white-blond hair floating around her skull like a corona, driven to madness by the fumes that rolled up from the cracks in the sacred Volcanic caves. Mad, yes, but more than that. Mad, yes, but also wise. The virgins who cared for her stood aside in the temple as she staggered forward, arms twisting and undulating as though she, too, was under water.

“You must not argue,” she murmured, “you must not argue.”

“How do we make the waters recede?” Cepheus demanded boldly, ever bold with his armor and spear.

“The consort must be silent!” the girl yelled in a high, unnatural tone. Then she staggered closer, eyeing the leader. “You have been proud, Defender. Your power offends, daughter of Cronos.”

“I am the daughter of Titans,” she answered, “the daughter, also, of the ocean. My daughter bears the line of the sea and the river here. I have born her. I come here by right.”

“Cassiopeia, to save your city,” the oracle of Amun told her, a god of a strange desert land, far away from the coast. a god of the flooding river though, and so one who might know the tides, “If you would save your city, you will lose all else. Your pride has gone and now you fall.”

But the city was her all. What had she left if Iopeia was lost?

“Poseidon finds you monstrous,” the youth whispered in a crone’s voice. “He would have your daughter, and then you will have the shell.”

“What must I do?” she asked. Andromeda, Ruler of Men so-called, would learn what ruling meant. She must protect her people and lead them. If Poseidon would have her child, Cassiopeia knew Andromeda would best him yet.

“She must be bound and offered to the ocean,” the oracle wheezed.
So she found herself out on a jut of rock, binding her daughter while a storm rolled in, the angry waves reaching out, greedy and eager for their prize ahead of their time. Yet Andromeda had grown on these shores, and trained beside her mother, diving into this bay all of her life. She knew these waters, and it was her strength that was her mother’s pride. Andromeda showed no fear, though she knew the water to be treacherous. She was naked, as they always were when diving, save the knife sheathed at her calf, and net tied at her waist. She was bound like an offering, like a sacrifice before the feast, and she knew what she would do. Let him take her, this angry god, and once he had her in the waters, her own waters where she had grown from childhood, she would cut her bonds and find the shell that had eluded her mother. She would prove herself the rightful heir of this land.

Cassiopeia checked the bonds and kissed her daughter, and returned along the rocky spit to the shore, where she would watch. The storm moved in and the waves grew more angry and hungry, lashing Andromeda with icy fingers. She pressed back as far as she could. The rock grew slick. The waves began to stretch higher. Poseidon’s own hand reached out. Still she waited. She drew a breath, and another, and as his grasp stretched forward, she ran and threw herself in to meet it.

The water was cold, but peaceful beneath the surface. She twisted and balled her body to reach her knife as she sank. She pulled it loose, scored a line across her leg as she did, but maneuvered to sever her bonds. The water was murky, and carried her first toward the shore and then away from it. She fought against it, and pushed herself along the bay’s sandy bottom in search of the blue eyed scallop. She was Andromeda the daughter of Cassiopeia, who was herself the daughter of Titans, and in no way lesser than Poseidon. Andromeda would complete this task. She would restore the sea to its rightful bounds. She would save her people, and prove worthy to rule them.

But her leg bled, and in the salty water the wound stung and slowed her, and in the cold and rough waves, she felt her strength wane before she found the shell. She gathered her strength to return to the surface, to take a breath, to return to her quest. She pulled herself up with long strokes and swift kicks. As she reached the surface, just there before her head crested the air, a flash of blue caught her eye.

She gasped for breath, and turned to descend once more, when the sea monster surged from the depths and surfaced after her. Andromeda slashed at it with her knife, but the creature was not dissuaded. She swam, and it followed the trail of her blood in the water. She could see the glint of blue through the angry chop, and knew she had only to be faster than the beast. As the waves closed over her, she launched herself again into them, dropping as fast as she could. Once landed, she dragged the weighty shell from it’s berth, bent her knees, and kicked off again toward the surface, the shadow of the beast looming toward her.

It moved like an arrow, true to its mark, and clamped merciless jaws on her leg, and she cried out and lost her breath. Desperate, she stabbed at it, and she found she was being propelled up to the surface in the creature’s jaws. It breached, triumphant.

And there, Poseidon’s man stood out, victorious, on Andromeda’s rock, thrusting forward in hand the severed head of another woman called monstrous, her gaze wielded by him now as a weapon, while with his eyes he took in her nudity alone. The creature fell back, a statue now, sinking to the bottom of the bay, her leg still caught in its teeth. As she sank, her eyes met those of friend and ally, the gorgon.

In Iopeia the waters receded, and Cassiopeia submitted to her cousin’s rule, and from then on the port city made offerings in tribute to Poseidon’s liege, called Zeus-Amun. But the people were saved, and this is the sacrifice that is sometimes demanded of those who rule, whose call it is to protect and prosper their people.

In time a most remarkable scallop was found near the island of the Cypriots, and inside it is said they found, fully formed, the most beautiful woman in the world. “I am reborn,” she said, “Risen from the sea.”

She left the shell behind. The gods were offended by her strength, her mother’s pride, and would go through such permutations to undermine a woman of power, to reduce her to a monstrous and pretty thing. So be it, she thought, and knew the way pretty baubles could distract and obscure, and what gains might be traded for the favor of beauty. She would make her own mischief of them. All who saw her were struck by devotion to her. With her walked grace and justice, abundance and peace. She was most persuasive in her charms, yet was also lightly armed with a knife at her side. From that day she fought to rule the hearts of mortals, whom she would defend from the manipulations of the fickle and jealous gods.

 

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Kitty Dreadful

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I had a cat who was bitten by a werewolf. There had been attacks on animals in the area, and by attacks I mean that neighborhood pets had been eaten, and we’d find the chewed remains in the days following the full moon. I don’t know why my cat wasn’t eaten, but it came limping home, favoring its front right paw, half its face bloodied and swollen. It wouldn’t let me come near, arching its back and hissing and growling at my approach. I put down some food and water, with extra treats, and let it be, sure I’d have to corral it for a trip to the vet soon. It climbed into a sunny spot in the window and cleaned itself, and, rapidly, over the next few days, healed completely. I thought at first it had been involved in a scrap with a tomcat or stray mut. We had a little cat door in the kitchen so it could come and go as it pleased, and it often spent its time roaming the surrounds, so it wasn’t unusual for the cat to be out on particularly moonlit nights.

Contrary to common belief, werewolves can’t see in the dark any more than we can, and that is, in part, why the full moon is so important. They can’t hunt without the light.

The attacks on house pets became more prevalent, and the authorities recommended keeping them in, having some concerns about the cultish activity of the early 80s regaining in retro-chic popularity. I couldn’t find my cat. The next morning it came trotting back home and launched into its accustomed spot in the sun and began a vigorous bath.

The next month the animal shelter put out traps to contain any strays who might be at risk. Four terrified dogs were taken, two cats, a raccoon, and one trap was left broken to pieces. I locked the cat door and kept my cat in after that.

I remember driving home from a book club meeting, enjoying the way the moonlight cast the rolling fields in silver. Before I even pulled into the drive, I knew something was wrong. The house looked wrong, though I couldn’t say why. Everything was in perfect order at the front. I pulled my car into the garage, and stepped through the garage door into the kitchen.

The back door, the one with the cat door, was torn off and lay in the yard. Dishes, left neatly stacked in the sink, were now in fragments across the floor. The sink itself dripped from a bent faucet. The wallpaper beside the door was shredded and the wall beneath scarred. The police didn’t know what to make of it. It was ruled a burglary, though nothing was taken. Eventually insurance paid for the door.

There were no more animal attacks for a few weeks and we left a window open a crack so the cat could come in and out again. The poor thing had been in such a state of anxiety following the incident with the door, I determined not to lock it inside again. Another bright evening descended on us. I was making dinner, listening to the news playing from the next room, when I had a call. A neighbor had let her dog out into the yard. She heard a terrible yelping and when she ran outside, the dog was gone, and she only found it’s torn collar. I closed the window, and called from room to room, “Kitty! Here kitty! Where are you?”

When no answering meow came, even with the shaking of a treat bag and the running of the electric can opener, I resolved to go out after it. The night was cool and damp and I hugged myself as I went into the yard, calling for my cat. There was movement in the hedge, and I crouched down to peer into the greenery. Yellow eyes peered back at me. I reached in after my cat. It hissed and backed up. I followed and my hand nearly closed on it’s scruff, but the hiss turned to a growl, and then the growling became deeper and more guttural.

In the strange broken light filtering through the bushes, my cat’s snout appeared longer, and it’s teeth larger. I drew back, then looked again. This was a bigger animal than my cat, but I had been certain only a moment ago that it was my pet. I crouched low to the dirt and tried to get a better look. The silky striped gray coat was familiar, and knowing that there was a wild animal out here attacking pets, I reached into the hedge again and grabbed hold of fur. Teeth like daggers sank into my arm. I cried out and jerked back, and lay staring up at the night sky, clutching my arm for a moment. I heard a ruckus in the foliage and when I looked again, the animal was gone. The bite went deep, but there was less blood than the horror movies suggest. I went inside and washed myself up and bandaged my arm. I made a visit to my GP that week, though the bite had healed quickly.

My cat came back the next morning. It meowed and bumped its head against my leg, then took up it’s accustomed spot in the window. When I reached out to stroke its head, it groomed my injured arm. I took it as an apology.

My arm is almost completely healed now, just a few red marks remain. This evening I can feel a tickle in the back of my throat, like the start of a cold, but I have more energy than I think I’ve ever had. The air seems full, more alive with smells, and I’ve left all the window’s open. I couldn’t bear to have them closed up somehow. My cat jumps to the window sill, stares back at me, as if questioning, for a long moment, and then jumps out into the awaiting night. My skin feels tight, like shrunken clothing, and the bright moonlight is calling to me. After a moment, I follow my cat.

 

This story was originally shared on Medium on October 8, 2016

I have a newsletter now! If you enjoy my stories, if you want to support my writing, please sign up. If you subscribe to my Tiny Letter, you’ll stay with me, wherever I end up writing in the future, and I’ll send you previews of what’s coming up here.

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Talia’s Queen

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Artemisia Gentileschi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
My lord, king and husband,

Though you have put me aside and confined me to these estates, know that I humbly accept your wisdom and obey your decrees in these, as in all matters. I pray only for your Majesty’s health and happiness, and hope that you may yet remember the happiness we shared together so recently. The love I bear you has never waned nor shall. In my clumsy seeking to know more of the young woman brought so recently to court, I wished only to please you, that I might love as you do and extend every warmth and welcome of the good charity that your Highness and your kingdom have always been known for, and in my meager ability, to extend that hospitality of your Grace’s court to all your favored guests.

I see that in your wisdom you have separated me now for this time, though in my smallness of mind I am unable to comprehend your noble thoughts. I mean neither to rebuke nor question your rights, and accept humbly your Grace’s command, but I beg you to educate me in where I have erred. I await your letter with eagerness and affection, and remain your most loyal and loving servant.

The Queen

 

Most noble lord, my beloved husband and king,

I have heard strange reports of the young woman who so recently has joined the court. I do not say that I believe them nor wish to repeat any slander, but only to faithfully report to you and seek your good counsel in the matter.

It has been told to me that in your most recent and successful campaign your company came upon an abandoned tower, and in that tower found an entire court of lords and ladies at table, all in the deepest sleep, covered in dust, and cobwebbed. It has been said, that upon climbing to the top of that tower, one among your number did chance to find a little room, locked, and on opening the door, found a most beautiful young woman, also asleep. This man – it was said, and I seek your instruction on what I must make of these matters – this man was taken by the woman’s beauty and immediately fell upon her in the raptures of his great affection. He was as a man bewitched. No, I forget myself, my dear husband, and know that you will forgive me my feminine weakness. There was no witchcraft nor any mention of it. No, it was told me, though, that the man seemed not himself, and in a daze, and as if he too might slip into that deep slumber if allowed to remain in that tower, and so his companions withdrew and brought him out again.

It was said these occurrences were a year and more ago, as I said, in your last campaign. I humbly beg your advice and guidance in this matter. I ask also that you would have my furs and heavy cloak sent, as the cold is beginning to set in here, though I am ready at your soonest pleasure to return to court, and to your side, where it remains my fondest wish to be. Until then, I remain your most obedient servant.

The Queen

 

My dearest lord and king,

I beg you to remember the friendship of our earlier days, and to recall the love you once bore me, that I continue unceasingly to have for you. You raised me from such lowly estate and laid upon me such great honors as to grant me titles and lands of my own – unsought and unrequested – and to call me lady and to name me queen, and most precious to me, give me the title of your most beloved wife. If ever you have loved the name of your forlorn and sorrowful wife, if ever any humble word or deed of mine has brought you any joy or bestowed any mirth to your noble personage, I beg you now to consider these ugly and vicious rumors in light of that friendship we so recently shared.

Any child of your Grace, even though it be not my own, is precious to me for that noble and beloved parentage. Yet I have not seen the young woman at all these long months of my seclusion, and certainly never have sought any harm or injury to her children. It pains me, I will not lie, to know that her children are also yours. Yet I love them for it, as I love you, and will welcome them at court with all the warmth and affection they are owed as your own when you will have me return, which it is my fondest wish to do.

I know that the tower happened upon by your company had a strangeness about it and I bare you no resentment nor reproach for any happenings on the occasion of battle. But what strangeness has there been here in our own country estates, where we have long walked side by side among our own beloved hills? What strangeness to compel any woman to order a child cooked as meat, as it is so cruelly rumored of me? In your recent absence, may I be judged if I write untruthfully, I never have set foot at court. And though I may have yet some few friends in your company, and though I pray they may remind you of our happier days, they do not write to me. Which I would never desire them to do if it might bring you the least displeasure, as surely their greater duty and friendship are owed to your Grace, whose love and generosity make all our joys complete.

I swear to you that I do not know what has become of the child. I pray for its safe and healthy return to you and to its mother. I pray you remember your faithful and loyal and loving wife, and allow me to return that I may defend myself against the slanderers who have sought to make me odious in your eyes. I pray you put aside the simple desires of the flesh and remember your true companion and friend.

I am ever your most loyal and obedient servant, and your most devoted and loving subject.

The Queen

 

Most noble king and husband, dearest to me of all mankind, my good lord,

You know these things said of me to be despicable lies. You must know the impossibility of such cruelty to be in the nature of one you once held in such affection. Further, you must know the impossibility of my travel from my place here to court and back again, and to undertake such journey unnoticed, and to steal away and murder your young children in secret, and further to conspire to have them served at your table. Your Grace will know the utter impossibility of such an undertaking, even were such not abhorrent to me, and sickening even to write of.

Yet still if I am indeed guilty of such heinous crimes as I have been accused of, let me be brought before the open court and have my guilt laid plain before all. Let the evidence against me be made clear, and my guilt be made known, or let my innocence be proven! Your Majesty will show yourself a just and evenhanded ruler, as I have always known you to be, and either you will see my innocence, and expose those who have slandered the name you have raised up, or my guilt will be established for all to see. I will accept any lawful ruling, only let me stand trial as any faithful and loyal subject might expect. If ever my name has brought you joy, or if you have gained a moment’s comfort from my company, I ask you to grant my humble request.

Only if your heart has been so turned and hardened against me in these long – few though they have been, to me they have been long – months, I pray only that you will not be held to full account for the grievous sin you commit in such cruel usage of your pitiable wife. I am told the young woman seeks my death at the stake. I will not curse the name of Talia even now, for your sake and for the sake of the love we have shared. Only let an archer be brought that my suffering may not be prolonged. On behalf of my household, I seek their wages, and release or good references, as they may prefer.

I await your word, and remain your most faithful, loyal, and obedient wife.

The Queen

 

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