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Archive for June, 2015

The face of the Goddess

The face of the Goddess

The old goddess died, finally, at the ripe old age of 2782. Nobody alive could remember what to do next. The High Coven sent the secretaries into the archives and after a month of dusting off the sheepskin parchments, and staring at the fading illustrations of ten thousand year old scribes, they brought their findings to the Great Hall.

“Well?” Mother Dolzella asked, speaking first as was her right as Mother to the Coven.

“She has been reborn. Even now, she walks the world in a new body.” the eldest secretary said.

Mother Prinka, Dolzella’s second, looked over at the seers. “Is this so?”

William Farseeing looked at his compatriots. None were keen on speaking out of turn. He sighed and rose. “The thing that was housed inside the body of the Goddess did not pass out of this realm. We were not without protection even for a moment. We believe she wandered the Horse Plains, taking shape as a white mare and then a white hawk and then a white mouse. But recently, she settled somewhere, into something, and fell asleep. It is possible she now walks the earth as a human infant.”

Mother Cendissa turned back to the secretaries. “And how will we find her, this new incarnation of the Goddess?”

“The texts are … vague at best,” a secretary stammered nervously. “The gender is problematic.”

“A goddess must be female. Right?” Mother Cendissa asked pointedly.

“Uh, well, in times of great conflict, the Goddess has walked the Horse Plains in a male form that she might better kill her enemies.”

“We are not in such times,” Mother Irma said.

“No, but the goddess is timeless and all-seeing. Only she can see what is coming at us down the timeline,” the secretary said apologetically.

“This is sacrilegious, this talk,” Mother Prinka snapped. “Tell us how to find her.”

“The child holds the memories of all the Goddesses, not just of the recently deceased but all who have ever walked on this side of the Veil. You will know her by her words and her works.”

“Works?” Mother Dolzella asked.

“Uh …,” the secretary hesitated as he looked down at his notes.

“He means the magic, High One,” William Farseeing said. “That much magic, contained within a small body, will be noticed. Extraordinary things will happen around her. We must send out to all the land and have the people be on watch.”

****

Nona sat on the porch and watched her youngest child play with her wooden horses in the dust around the stone walkway. She should be glad but her heart was heavy. She was old, too old to be bearing anymore children. All her other children were close to marrying age. Except this one. When she found herself pregnant once more, more than four years before, she thought she had the wasting disease. It had only been when her breasts began to swell that it dawned on her that she was pregnant once more. Ingrem had been beside himself with joy, hoping for another son.

Izzy felt her mother’s eyes on her and looked up with those impossibly blue eyes. Blue eyed and fair while the Horse People were dark haired and black eyed. The healer and the midwife had said it was unusual, but it was known to happen, what with Nona being old and her eggs as aged as she.

Izzy met her mother’s eyes. She did not smile. She had forgotten how to smile, lately, Nona thought sadly. The nightmares haunted her, even in the daylight, now.

Nona smiled encouragingly at Izzy. She missed that smile and the easy laughter. This was the bright child she would have liked to keep close to her until her dying days but it was not to be. The Horse Soldiers were coming today. Yesterday, the messenger had brought her the High Coven’s sigil along with a terse note. “Be prepared” the note had said. Nona had packed Izzy things, few as they were, this morning, being sure to include her stuffed horse doll with the mane and tail made of the finest lamb’s wool. Nona had made it herself, even down to felting the cloth herself from the sheerings of the black goat that had been born the spring before.

Black goats, another strange omen.

The world had become full to brimming with strange portents. The local witch had taken note and sent a runner to the great white city where the High Coven held court. The Coven had sent a seer who spent the days of the Birthing Moon interviewing all the local children born not long after the death of the Old Goddess. The seer had looked bored right up until Izzy walked into the room, hugging her black horse doll, entrancing him with her strange looks, perhaps. Izzy was a silent, solitary child who did not like strangers. She had clung to her mother’s side and refused to speak.

Nona looked down at the sigil she had clutched in her hands. Maybe it was a mistake. They would come, these Horse Soldiers, and they would see that beyond her strange coloring, Izzy was just an ordinary child. She would not tell them of the insanity that seemed to take hold of her child, nor the strange dreams that no four year old had any right to dream.

Nona looked up. Her strange, fey daughter lifted her head and stared towards the road, her little body tensing. The three ranch dogs came galloping around the corner of the house and took up a post around their small charge, their hackles up. Izzy looked over at them and whispered something, holding out her hand. The dogs relaxed, perhaps reluctantly, and went to her, nuzzling her neck. Izzy scratched each in turn behind the ears before sending them up onto the porch. The dogs came to Nona and sat at her feet, guarding.

Not long after, a phalanx of mounted horses appeared on the rise. In no great hurry, they walked sedately down the road towards the house. Izzy cocked her head but did not move, her wooden horses still clutched in her little fingers. Nona wished Ingrem had stayed. She needed his strength right now. But Izzy was the apple of his eye. He could not bear the thought of losing her. Nona had sent him off to the high pastures to check on the new colts, fearing he would die on the lance of a Horse Soldier it they tried to take her from him. It was best the hard decisions of life and death were left to women.

****

The phalanx drew up before the long, low ranch house. A child played in the dust there and a women sat upon the porch surrounded by three enormous wolfhounds. The Captain dismounted and walked up to the porch to converse with the woman while his men held their horses in check. It had been a long ride and the water in the troughs along the edge of the yard looked fresh and clear.

Kaplan, reins loose in his hands, watched the child. The fair hair was startling on first glance. The child ignored all of them, seemingly busy with the play of moving little models around in the dust.

Kaplan was not the greatest of horsemen nor was he used to sitting in a saddle all day as these Horsemen were. He tried to relax the tense muscles in his back as he let his mount have its head, trusting that it would do what was good and proper for a Soldier’s mount.

This was the eighth candidate to be interviewed. He prayed it would be the last.

Back in his younger days, he had ridden whenever he could but caring for a dying Goddess had taken most of his time towards the end. His was the last face she saw before she faded and the breath stopped in her chest and it was thought he should go on these interviews to jog the memories of the new Goddess.

The Captain had an issue with the dogs. The woman shrugged and rose to her feet, taking the dogs into the house before returning. Satisfied, the Captain turned and stopped short. The child was gone.

Kaplan was suddenly terrified for no good reason. His eyes raked the yard, hunting for her. Her little bare feet betrayed her. He spotted them as she wandered under the bellies of the war horses. One misstep, a shift in stance and she would be crushed.

“Oh, dear god,” Kaplan hissed. “No sudden moves, any of you!”

A flicker of hand signals passed among the Guard. The Captain saw it and nodded. He held out his arm to keep the mother on the porch, the woman intent on retrieving her child.

The horses ignored the command sent down the reins to them from their riders and bent their heads to sniff at this strange thing walking under their noses. The child touched their velvet muzzles and blew softly into nostrils as she passed. Made bold by her familiarity, one even nibbled at her straw colored hair. The child laughed and pushed its head away.

Kaplan blinked in wonder. These were war horses. They were trained to kill. She walked among them as if she were one of them.

The child found him.

Kaplan stared down into those impossible eyes. She looked up at him and then held up her arms. Kaplan shook his head, thinking this interview were best conducted in the house. The child stamped her foot and grabbed the stirrup, intent on scrambling up into the saddle.

“Let me up, Kaplan,” she insisted.

Kaplan bent down and gave her his arm. She grabbed it and he pulled her up. She settled into the hollow between his body and curved saddle.

“Who told you my name?” Kaplan asked.

“It is your name. This form, this face, it has a name and it is Kaplan,” she said. “I dreamed you were coming.”

Kaplan nodded. Perhaps she was just a witch or a seer, come young into her powers. “Did you? What else have you dreamed?”

“The land is full of ghosts and shadows. I cannot shift them fast enough. She grew old and weary and the land suffered for it.”

“Who?”

The child looked up at him, annoyed. “This is not a game, Kaplan, though I know you think you must play it. The old goddess is who I mean. She handed me her skin as I walked into this world. Fool that I am, I took it.”

“Frionna? Lady? Wait. You had a choice?” Kaplan asked, perplexed.

“We all have the choice to say yay or nay to what fate hands us,” the child said. “My name is Izzy, by the way. Short of Izzabella. Do not mistake me for the old woman whose land this once was. I will not answer to her name. I am not Frionna, though I have all her memories inside here somewhere along with every other goddess from the beginning of time.” The child touched her temple, a frown between her brows.

“What …?” Kaplan shook his head.  He needed to get his wits about him. “What is your first memory?”

“I remember eating the sun and finding myself pregnant with this world.”

Kaplan hissed. How could she know this, if she was not Frionna?

The child, this thing called Izzy, reached up and patted his cheek. It was a familiar caress, something Frionna had done almost daily. Kaplan jerked his head away.

“Do you fear me?” the child asked softly, her eyes stripping away his flesh until she could see his soul. “My mother fears me. Nothing in her life prepared her for having a child such as me. I will go say goodbye to her. Secretly, she will be relieved, for she is confused by my burden.”

“What is your burden?” Kaplan asked, afraid of the answer.

“There is a storm coming. It will rage across the Horse Lands and strip them bare if I do not stop it.”

Izzy wriggled out of his embrace and swung out of the saddle, clinging to the stirrup like a little monkey as she dropped to the ground. Kaplan’s mount snorted in surprise as she ran under his nose but it was careful where it put its feet. The rest of the herd turned their heads to watch her as she scampered through their ranks.

Kaplan looked up, bewildered, at his friend William Farseeing. “You said it would be Frionna.”

“Is she not Frionna? The portents all tell me this is she,” William said, worried.

“Oh, Frionna is in there somewhere, but …” Kaplan shook his head.

“But what, Kaplan?” William asked, leaning over to place his hand on his friend’s knee. “Could you not feel the power roiling about her? She is wondrously alive with it.”

Kaplan searched desperately for the words that would explain his unease.

“Remember how the secretaries came back from the archives and warned that we would not get the Goddess we wanted but instead we would get the Goddess we needed?” Kaplan said, staring after the girl, who was hugging her mother as the woman wept.

“Yes. Why? What do you think she is?”

“There is a statue in the temple of a goddess with thirteen faces. The Coven keeps it turned so that the kind faces, the faces of compassion and love are all that one sees. I have climbed into that alcove and studied what faces the wall. They are terrible faces. Angry, ravenous, vicious faces. There is a face that is eating her babies. There is one that breathes flames. I cannot help but think of that now. What if we turned around and left, letting this mother keep her strange child?”

“Do you really want the Goddess running wild and loose among the herds, like some feral dog? Better that she is surrounded by all the wisdom of the Horse Lands and the power of the High Coven.”

Kaplan shook his head. “Yes. I know you are right.” He looked back into Williams face. “But I am sore afraid.”

“Why? Be glad. We have found our Goddess,” William said.

“If she is the Goddess of War, I will follow her into battle without question,” Kaplan said. “But, by all that is holy, I am an old man and war is a young man’s game.”

“Maybe you are mistaken. Maybe she is a more subtle Goddess. Perhaps the Goddess of Judgment.”

“Yes,” whispered Kaplan as he watched Izzy take the Captain’s hand and let him escort her down the sidewalk. “Who, do you think, will be weighed and found wanting? Us or our enemies? What happens when she seeks retribution for all the wrongs done to her?”

William shook his friend’s leg. “You sat at the knee of the old Goddess as she sank into senility. It has clouded your mind. We are the Horse People. We have lived here, in much the same way, for ten thousand years. If there is a danger it comes at us from the outside. Listen to the world, Kaplan. It is shifting. Even now she is un-making things and turning it on the lathe of her own heart. Trust in that, if you cannot trust anything else.”

“That is why I am worried. I am afraid she will make me love her and it will break my heart.”

William laughed. “Such is the way of magic, my friend. It makes us all fools. All you can do is relax and let it take you where it wills.”

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