Previously: The Living Palace is shaken by a prophecy sung by the Sacred Serpents. You can read this bit here.
This week everyone is still reeling, not least Queen Savandra herself. Meanwhile the court is preparing for the Full Moon rite, adding magic & passion to the mix.
V Song of Savandra – Midnight
The silken curtains whisper in the nightly breeze
They billow into the room, spreading like wings
Diaphanous as the beams of the waxing Moon.
The vaulted ceiling of the room is filled with softly glowing
Fireflies, caught in a myriad little gold cages
To soothe the spirit of the Wise One who sleeps
Or rather, is trying to sleep, in the round bed below
Sunk into the floor like a pond filled with the coolest linens
The plumpest pillows, the most fragrant of reed mats.
Her cascading hair is spread in all its fiery splendour
On the floor around her. The little gold snakes that live in it
To keep it free from mice and vermin, are noiselessly hunting
And also listening to every tremor and vibration of the Palace
So they can whisper all the latest news into Savandra’s ear
When morning comes. But now her tired head is tossing on her pillow
Filled with anxious thoughts and dreams that slip into each other
About her royal children, whom she has had to burden
With such unfavourable news. Orydia has stormed off in a rage
And Andrion just blanched, bowed stiffly and walked out.
Although she really feels for Orydia, and wants to comfort her
Her son is the one she worries for the most. For even as a child
He always knew she wished he had been a girl. At first, that is,
For she loved him deeply and with all her heart. But what he
Had heard her thinking while in the womb had somehow
Stuck with him, it seemed. And when his little sister was born
She was even more proud of him, for he loved her
Without any restraint, even though she could feel his fear
That he was now superfluous. Such a generous little boy,
And she told him over and over again that she was glad of him
So she had a man to help take care of little Orydia. This task
He took very seriously, precocious little prince, always keeping
An eye on her. Sometimes she’d wonder if she had been wise,
If he would think that her love was conditional on how well
He performed. But no, he simply was like that, affectionate,
Responsible. Until, that is, the court began to whisper
That Orydia might not ascend to rule. For it was plain to many
That she showed none of the special capabilities
She should have inherited from her mother. The anguish this gave
Savandra, blaming herself, blaming the father she had chosen,
Blaming herself again, for choosing him, was nothing to
Andrion’s consternation that he might have to provide an heiress.
If only he had been a girl, the ladies of the court were saying,
Thinking he was deaf and dumb. His disappointment that apparently
He was somehow flawed after all, but could still be used as
A stud to secure the throne, was the hardest thing she ever
Had to witness. But none of this she could ever say to him,
Or to her daughter, who seemed blithely unaware of the whole
Issue, and dreamed of being Queen, and did work hard. For there
Had been no Oracle, and she was priestess first, then mother.
She had to let the Goddess speak first. How hard this has been
On her, no one will ever know, not even Falchion, her
Trusted Vizier. He has the wearing task of informing her
Again and again of Andrion’s daring exploits, his brawls, his
Conquests, his absolute refusal to choose a bride. There is
Nothing she can do but let him fight his own demons
With the vigour and talent for trouble he seems to have
Developed expressly for this purpose. But he seems grateful
That she lets him be, and none of it is meant to hurt her.
Of this she is certain. It is the ever-gossiping court he seems
Angry with, and sometimes with the Goddess. But he knows
With the insight he has always had, that the Mother Tree has
Chosen her, and that her responsibility to Tree and Land
Always comes first. His love for her is genuine, and
A great comfort to her as well. Maybe she has indulged his
Whims too much, as she has Orydia’s ambition. But that
Is what a mother does, a mother who cannot speak her mind.
She has to offer comforts of another kind.
And now the Goddess finally has spoken. But the serpents
Would not reveal which of them would produce her successor.
So now her children are irrevocably pitted against each other
For Orydia takes the sacred words as a personal insult
And so does Andrion, for reasons stated above.
Will he rise above his anger, show again the responsibility
He had as a child? Can her daughter, so charming and
Fond of intrigue, find honour in the task of being
A vessel to the reborn Queen, if she is not herself
The expected incarnation? Or can her brother focus
His tremendous energy into finding as his bride
The woman who could be this vessel in her stead?
All this trouble keeps echoing in her head.
VI Hymn to the Wise One (fragment)
Praise the Goddess, She who gave us
Our own Mother, who brings justice
And who gives her power freely
So her people all will prosper.
May the Mother Tree keep from us
Unjust rulers that are greedy
Who despise her sacred woodlands
And suck dry her flowing life force.
Other lands have unjust rulers
Draining their own land for riches
Not so our blessed land, Tree-loved
That is cared for by our Mother.
VII Song of Orydia – Morning
Unlike her mother, Orydia has slept
Like a log, exhausted from her weeping
She slipped into a dreamless sleep
And now is ready to take on the day
Just as she always is, but with a vengeance.
Always she has believed in her destiny
As the future ruler. And although she knew
The heiress is appointed by the Oracle,
She has always held that this was mere formality.
She is the only daughter, the only candidate, and
Therefore the obvious choice. She has always studied
Hard, applied herself to be really good, be good
At the responsibility her mother is always going on about.
Orydia has learned the Songs, the dances, chants and spells,
The manners of the court, all the sciences, and is
Good at everything. Nothing she has left to chance, even
If the chance she would not be chosen was remote.
And now it has all been for nothing after all. Those stupid snakes
Have chosen her wild and stupid brother over her, or at least
Have given him a shot. And he does not even want it!
So she has raged and cried all afternoon, dropped down
Exhausted, slept like the dead, and now awakens to
A new day. With remarkable resilience, only one
Of her many talents, she directly starts considering her options
While still in bed. So. How does one go about producing
Children, royal ones that is? Evidently, the new princess needs
A father. In the blessed paradise she lives in
All women are free to marry whom they choose, or be
Made with child, and stay unmarried, since all inheritance
Goes through the mother’s line, royal and common alike.
Many children in the land do not even know their fathers
And many fathers do not know all their children. Although
This is the custom in many lands, nowhere are the women
As free with their favours as in Savandra’s land. Therefore
It is is often seen as a country of whores,
But they are revered all the same. For all the world knows
That those free women, guarding the Tree,
Are keeping the world alive. So their neighbours let them be.
Orydia herself does not know her father, as is the custom. The sacred
Line of priestess-queens cannot be complicated by kinship
With other families. Such ties tear other dynasties apart, but theirs
Has lasted centuries.
She has wondered, of course, who her father might be, and
Savandra has answered her childish questions as best she could
Without revealing his identity. And Orydia has had no shortage
Of father figures, not least her former tutor, Falchion, now Vizier
And High Priest. She is still fond of him, for he has served her well.
No one could have educated her more thoroughly. Moreover, she
Has been introduced, as has her brother, to everyone who is
Someone, at court and in the land. So now she ponders the list
Of suitable young men that she has met. She is also free
To ride into the country in disguise, or serve a temple,
and mount a lowly peasant, if his blood is pure and strong.
Apparently, she thinks mischievously, wriggling her toes at
The funny but revolting thought, this is what her mother did,
For she was unable to produce a daughter with the desired traits.
Well, she can do better than Savandra the perfect. She surely will
Not fail to put forth an unheard-of magic prodigy.
And she once more starts sobbing angrily.
VIII Dance of Priestesses and Priests (choral ode)
See, he is coming, skipping over mountains,
Running over the hills,
My lover, my lord, the beautiful one
His hair like a stormcloud
Like a cloud of thunder
His arms strong as a lion’s
As the paws of the leopard
His waist narrow as a strong tower
His hips are slender as a pillar.
See how my bride comes running through the valleys,
The vales full of flowers,
My lover, my lady, the beautiful one
Her eyes like the lightning
Shining like falling stars
Her breasts round as pomegranates
Bursting with sweetest nectar
Her slender waist like a willow tree
Supple and strong as the sacred palm.
My arms are longing for you, my beloved,
They ache with their longing
When will the time come, my lover, my lord
To hold you against me
To feel your heart beating
Against my tender bosom
Against my budding nipples
When will I drink your soft strong kisses
The life-giving kiss of my lover?
My hands are searching for you, my beloved,
They search among the grass
When will they find my most precious flower
To cherish and hold you
To fill my heart’s longing?
At my touch you will blossom
At my warmth you will open
When will I drink your flowing honey
My beloved’s life-giving nectar?
Soon, when the moon has grown full, my beloved
My most beautiful lord
Most beautiful of women, my lady,
We will lay together
We will fall in the grass
In your arms you will clasp me
In your hands your will hold me
When the moon has grown full, my lover,
When she is full, like us, of desire.
IX Song of Orydia – Noon
All morning the Palace has been humming
With yesterday’s events, and also with the
Preparation of the coming Major Rite: the Sacred Marriage
Of God and Goddess in their aspects of Sun and Moon
Respectively, that happens every Full Moon night.
But Savandra cannot turn her attention to
This rite at the moment: her head is still buzzing
As is her House. After the morning’s Seating
She has retired to a quiet courtyard, where
A shady, dark green bower has been growing,
Strewn with small jasmine-like flowers, and rests
Her brow against the mossy stones. But presently
The formidable Falchion approaches, respectfully
But urgently. Gracefully her hands bid him to sit
Next to her, not at her feet. Such is his stature.
He sits, and waits for her to speak. But she nods,
And so he starts, speaking words like the following:
“Wise One, we the Council thank you for the Oracle
You have shared with your people. We know that this
Particular Prophecy must have been hard for you,
Both to hear and to deliver. Nevertheless, it is
Relieving in a way, to hear confirmed what many
Have thought for some years now.” Savandra blinks
But also smiles at his directness. This is what she
Has him for. “I realise,” he says more softly,
Looking into her clear, green eyes, “that the prince
And princess are taking the news hard, as do you.
It pains me to add to your burden, but I must warn you.”
“About what?” she asks, with a frown. He takes a breath.
“Great Lady, I fear that rumours will be whispered
Or if not whispered, thought privately, that the Sacred Words
Were spoken not by the serpents, but by the Wise One herself.”
She sits perfectly still. Then she looks at him straight and
Asks frankly: “And you, my old friend? What do you think?”
He immediately smiles, to her immense relief. “O Wise Savandra,
How can I ever doubt you? I who know like no other
How great a Priestess you are. How you could not deceive Spirit,
Even if you tried. And even if so, what you would have
Wanted, was your daughter’s succession. For the Prophecy
Will set the court on edge.” They sit in silence.
“It is already happening,” she whispers,“anger
And suspicion. It could not be avoided. You are right,
I dearly wish I could. But we will trust that good will
Come of it. Or else, what is the purpose? In a few nights
The Major Rite will be danced and celebrated. This has
Always been a moment to restore the balance,
To remind us what it all is for. The House and Land
Will be blessed and empowered, and love will be spread.
So I trust you and the Council to not even take the trouble
Of denying any such rumours, since they deserve
No acknowledgement. The princess and the prince
Are still my children, and they will rise to this
Situation with dignity and poise, once they have
Calmed down. Even if they are suspicious of me, they still
Have my trust. I will speak to them when all this has
Sunk in a little. It is the only way.” She feels better now,
And thanks him for lending his ear, and for his counsel.
He takes his leave and goes. Looking after him, she sees
His broad shoulders, cinched-in waist above the
Swaying kilt, his strong mane, and her belly
Lurches as she thinks of the sacred marriage rite
That she and her High Priest will dance on Full Moon’s night.
Her daughter Orydia, at a window nearby
Has heard most of this exchange. She feels
Strangely pensive. Has Falchion even noticed that
Her mother has not confirmed, but also not
Denied the rumour that he, ever-cautious, supposes will be
Spread? And why has her mother not spoken to her?
Of Andrion she does not even dare think for now.
Her eyes look shrouded, like a starless night.
Yes, the Prophecy is sinking in all right.
Next week: harsh words will be spoken, while the Major Rite draws ever nearer…