can’t quite grasp the dream, just remember elegance, a mansion and fine dresses, but blood amid all that finery, something wrong, running down the paved garden paths past guards, into the hall full of revelers, why? something wrong, very wrong, danger, a knife or something else but blood, definitely blood, on pale hands? maybe, maybe, it must have been because they thought he was dead, they took him away in a body bag and left him in a cell but he wasn’t dead, he sat up when they weren’t looking, did he kill the guards? not sure but then later on a confrontation, an accusation and a broken nose, blood running down grinning lips, what do you do when your lover is the killer, so fragmented it’s all hard to remember but trying, grasping, why does everything feel important in the middle of the night?
What meaning, these symbols, this strange play? The monster’s bride, as it were, though who knows what was ever truly in her heart, seeking sanctuary in a cathedral though surely she doesn’t believe. But she wants to right now and she mutters to herself to believe, believe, drawn in and hunched over with the weight of the darkness clinging to her back. Does she see it? Does she feel it? Or does she think the church doors can block out all evil? Perhaps they could, if only this shadow wasn’t so much a part of her that she carries it inside as easily as her bones and blood. She tries to sit on a pew but she’s too restless, she feels like she’s being followed, watched, hunted. So she paces, wandering near the priests as they light the great tall candles, and as she passes the shadow reaches out to snuff the flames and shatter the white wax into black smoke. One, two, three, four, it sends out its drifting tendrils to douse each candle and usher the shadows in the corners closer. She weeps, maybe, but she cannot or will not control the hungry thing she carries. Soon only the faintest, most remote tapers remain lit, for shadow does need a small bit of light for casting. The priests and worshippers huddle in fear. They watch as the darkness rises from her back like a cloak swept aloft by the wind, until with newfound strength it tears from her completely and drifts down to settle into its own autonomous form. A living thing draped in darkness, staring out at the fear and the panic with a smile on its hidden, or perhaps missing, face. It catches sight of itself, then, in mirrors hanging behind the crowd. I see you, sir, I think to the reflection, and bow my shadowed arms. Then I laugh, and the sound echoes through the cavernous halls. So thus darkness entered, came free, and took form. Thus the church was invaded and infected. But why? Why her, and why him? Who was I, in her body, in the shadows? Who was I in the mirror?
What if the priestess, once born, never died? What if she served her god so faithfully they gifted her with everlasting life, so she need only take a new form when the previous one was spent? Though perhaps immortality was never actually a gift, only a way to keep her spirit bound in servitude through the ages. Priestess, scribe, oracle, conduit – every life a different body and yet the same soul, the same bond, the same calling. Would she remember those past lives or would each rebirth restart the process of seeking and submitting? These aren’t questions I’m yet ready to ask; I don’t know which answer I hope for and which answer I fear.
Suffering forms a hungry absence, a black hole to which we are always vulnerable. Once trapped in the pull we can never get far enough away; everywhere we go, the event horizon tugs at our hearts. If we give in, the force yanks us into darkness. If we fight, we only delay the inevitable. Thus the asylum pulls at Daren, and even claiming its name as his own doesn’t make any of its power his. St. Anthony, patron saint of lost things, of lost people. St. Anthony, patron saint of black holes, ever dragging him back to the place of ruin. “Daren St. Anthony” has a nice ring to it, so it might as well be the name on his headstone. Part of him was buried in that place anyway, though by now he can’t remember what.
I am hesitant to approach, to even write or utter Your name, but still I sense Your vast, ancient presence all around me. Great Lady, are You truly reaching out to me? Humble though I am, I can understand why The Lady of Flame called me to Her path; I have walked it unknowingly my entire life, seeking a bond with Her children that I could only have with the Mother Cat Herself. I was awed by Her choice, but it made sense after some soul-searching. You, though? How is it possible a deity so powerful, so grand even deigns to notice my single, solitary little life when all the world and heavens bow to You? I hear Your call yet I still think this must be some mistake on my part. Perhaps You seek the ones for whom I am scribe, and I am only misinterpreting Your appearance in my dreams. The Lord Sun and Prince Moon may be worthy of Your focus, but me? Surely not. I am only the scribe; what could the Queen of Heaven want with me?
In my dream I am Tanim, unhappy crown prince whose only joy is found in my lover and bodyguard Daren. Even this bit of peace is wrenched from me with the death of my father as the royal crown passes to me. In his wake the country is left in turmoil and I have no choice but to set aside my own desires, take up the heavy crown, and lead my people. Yet all is not well even then, and on the day of my coronation rumors spread that rebels seek to attack the castle in retaliation for crimes my family committed hundreds of years ago. When a panicked servant seeks the royal party out on the lake’s island pavilion with word of a direct assault, I have no choice but to send Daren to investigate, the one one in my court I trust implicitly.
The choice is my downfall. Even as he disappears over the hill the servant turns on me, panic replaced by cruel glee as he reveals a sharp little blade. I realize my terrible mistake and reach to draw my sword as I jump back, but it’s too late – the knife cuts deep into my torso and even though I try to call out to Daren as I fall, my voice is barely a whisper. Somehow my lover must sense the trap anyway, or perhaps has been enlightened to the falsity, because only a brief moment of the servant’s triumphant snickering passes before he turns in terror at the sound of Daren’s enraged howl. The bloody blade is little use against the gleaming sword and the skillful one who bears it, and the servant collapses before he can parry or flee.
The dream switches, then, and I am suddenly Daren, kneeling at my slain prince’s side as I try desperately to staunch the flow of blood. The wound is too deep, though, and I gather him into my arms as I call for the boat to the brought to take us back to shore. As petrified servants row us back toward the distant castle and its skilled doctors, I watch Tanim slowly bleed out onto the boat’s wooden bottom. There’s little awareness left in his clouded eyes but I speak to him anyway, pleading for him to stay with me, to hold on, to be strong. Soon my entreaty turns to angry despair and I’m alternately cursing the heavens, swearing the Fates won’t take him, and begging that if need be I’ll give anything to keep him safe, if only some deity will come to strike the bargain.
A light flares over my shoulder and I turn to see a woman standing in the boat amid the somehow unseeing servants. She radiates light, her entire being crafted of the cold white of the full moon, and around her neck and brow coils a serpent like ram’s horns. “Why have I been called?” the goddess asks in a voice both thunderous and silken as her blazing eyes stare down at us.
The dream switches again, then, and I am myself, no longer crouched in a tiny boat but kneeling in a pool of clear water, my head bent and lips pressed to the cool surface. Beside me my girlfriend lounges, and as I lift my head she asks, “Is one of them here?” I know somehow that she asks about the snake goddesses and I answer that I’m not sure, for I don’t yet know if the goddess who appeared to Daren is of a real-world pantheon or from the dream’s medieval world. My girlfriend nods and responds casually, as if recalling a sweet nostalgia, “Briar loved them, but I never knew what the Sixteenth Person was.”
And then I wake, truly, and lay in the warm dark with the name Inanna on my lips.
This summer will mark fifteen years that I have acted as scribe for Tanim and Daren. I still don’t know what to call them; are they ghosts who wish to be gods, or gods who wish to be ghosts? Remnants or fragments or the only true story, the one true mythology? Whatever they are, men and spirits and gods and demons, I have given every aspect of myself to them. Body, mind, heart, and soul. If the red string of fate truly exists, then it binds me as surely as a collar and manacles for which there is no key. I am a willing captive, though, honored to have been chosen by these forces who could once have haunted the great masters of literature and music. There is nothing else like them in all the world, in all of history. There is only one Lord Sun, only one Prince Moon, and I bow to them as scribe and devotee. No other will walk this path; it is mine alone, through darkness and light, fire and ice. It is mine alone, until my last breath – and perhaps beyond.