Return of the Orange Virgin

Chapter Seven—Sarabande

“Harry Profitt Pease, eh?” The Queen of Heaven opened her eyes. She was home. She drained the cup of raspberry tea. “Smooth, El. Simply smooth.”

She rose and swatted her golem on his backside. “Whether to destroy this Harry or let him play some deeper game; you shall help me to decide. I shall delegate, and solve two problems at once. You have received a reprieve, my embarrassment, my love. Thank you for the tea and sympathy, my silent lout. We shall prepare an education for you and bond you to this priest all unawares, weird and tanist as in the old days, for I fear he has not the slightest idea what he is about. But you must be born again, an inconvenience for both of us, I am sure.” She touched his toes and the top of his head. “Spin, please.”

She held a spindle of transparent material that stretched and clung to itself in successive layers. She wrapped his body as the silent golem rotated lazily about the pivot points she had established. “You must gestate by yourself, for I have business elsewhere. Inside your cocoon you should be free of all interference by eidolons, demiurges or whichever displaced deities. My old adversary is on the prowl. He would send you back as a paraclete. ‘Are they not waiting for a comforter, after all?’ says he. I shall send you first, on my own hook, as it were. We shall peel back the layers of your personality as the jolly tinker with his ‘earth magic’ peeled back the layers of his marble. And when you emerge—viola!—a butterfly. A malleable personage more easily slipped past the guardian spirits of this world who, in your present form, find you indigestible.”

She turned to leave the room. “I think we will find you a tutor, build you a nursery, and get you an education. You shall be a fine, upstanding, uh... golem.”

*  *  *

A transplanted humanity had flourished in the soil of Morgana’s new world. She seldom troubled with them and they in their turn regarded her with proper awe and gave a wide berth when she walked among them. They signaled their deference and respect at a safe remove and went about their lives. It was like having pets. That she should feel envy of them was not a question. Going one-on-one with these hothouse flowers was a melancholy necessity. Their time was so short.

“And I am theirs as much as they are mine. They bloom and fade, then die. And I do not die and they do not find this strange. Why do I? They invent themselves, going backwards from the moment of their deaths, prey to violence, wistful longings and silly enthusiasms. These creatures have no sense of proportion but an immense capacity for forward motion.” By the time one had finished a sentence there was a new one, a son or daughter or granddaughter or great-great-grandchild standing in the place where the young Pettifoile or the pretty Sarabande had stood just a blink and whisper before, now shriveled, dead and gone to dust. “They have no room for doubt—I am the faith that gives them meaning. Could I not have seen it in her eyes, little what’s-her-name from the other day?”

That look of guilty surprise when I come upon them unawares. “And how little what’s-her-name had jumped when I caught her stroking my golem’s naked belly. She was absolutely bug-eyed at his erection.” Doesn’t she know he is always that way? “Why the child was positively gibbering—drooling lust become terror in an instant of discovering me there. Am I not the Mother of the World? Could not I have foreseen this?” A little more prescience, please.

Exiting into the hallway, the Queen of Heaven latched the door behind her, a thing she could not remember ever having done before. She jammed one of her hairpins behind in the channel with the latch shuttle, an announcement to her fragile mayflies that it should remain unopened. They are secure in the knowledge that if I do this sort of thing, their husbands are safe. But yet they are tempted. So I go to the cellar to talk to stone heads.

She marched along a vaulted arcade and into a cloistered patio open to the sky. Geometrical plantings of household herbs, rosemary, borage and thyme, displayed early flowers. She found their precision calming, and trod gently among the early budding herbs.

The goddess, spying a familiar face with a hail, accepted the reverence due her, graciously acknowledged her postulant, and picked up their conversation from its last stopping point. There might have been a lapse of centuries as humankind counted the years so scrupulously, having so few of them.

“Oh, Sarabande, as we were saying the last time we so fortuitously met...”

And the hauntingly familiar features, delicately, diaphanously Sarabande—petite, lovely and attentive—wrinkled in surprise that the goddess had singled her out for a chance converse. “Oh, my Lady...” Kneeling in the fresh spring mud of the greensward, she ruined her gown.

“Sarabande, look at me.”

The averted eyes rose to those of the Fata Morgana. Adoration, some trepidation, worshipfulness. No fear there—faith, trust. How to ask the question?

“Sarabande?”

“Lady?”

“Sarabande, I know this is becoming tedious for all of us, but you are not the Sarabande to whom I last spoke, are you? I mean you are truly beautiful and there is that in the curve of your mouth and the shape of your ear, the very turn of your hair—the way it exposes the notch, that tiny irregularity at your widow’s peak when you tie it back like that. You are Sarabande, the Superintendent of plantings and the Herbarium?”

“Assuredly, Lady. But the one to whom you spoke was my great-great-great-grandmother. The time you appeared to her has been treasured by our family, and I and the mothers and daughters before me have your request picked out in the embroidery of all our chemises, lest we forget and by so doing inadvertently dishonor you.”

Morgana felt inexplicably weary. Their lives were so short. “And the reply?” She asked the lovely mayfly.

“Yes.”

“That is all—yes? What was the question, I mean what is it you have accomplished or I have caused to be performed that you and the line of Sarabandes before you have deemed of such moment so as to incorporate your reply into the embroidery of your petticoats?”

“The arbors of honeysuckle and wisteria, Lady.” Had the Goddess forgotten? Sarabande pulled out her shirttails and proudly displayed an intricate stitching of whorls and flowering trellises, evidently the rest of the message. “We have moved them to the far side of the bailey, as you asked, and installed a planting of bellwort and lattice flowers in the shape of a Mycenaean spiral hedge. The labyrinth is completed since the time of my grandmother. We hope it finds favor in your eyes, Lady.”

The weight of her fine blonde hair—but for the triple-stranded braid that held it back from her eyes—falling free to her waist, crowned with a wreath of plaited daisies, her eyes respectfully downcast, chin a-tremble at being in the presence of godhead, Sarabande was one of those tragic crumbs of life’s picnic the wind blew about. She looked so like her great-great-great-grandmother. The Sarabande who had received her orders had spoken through the lips of this fair child, trembling with love, not fear, here this afternoon.

“It does, my child. You have done most excellently. When you perform your solstice obligations, tell your grandmother’s spirit she has wrought well and I am pleased.”

Sarabande made a curtsy and backed off a few paces. As she departed, a saucy swing articulated her slim waist and wide, shapely hips. In her mind the audience had gone well.

And in my mind, too, thought Morgana. Though we have arrived at differing conclusions. The golem—my child and lover—he is closer to them than to me. “So the child has eyes for the golem. How well she hides it.” There was a thump and a backfire from out behind the postern gate. An oily billow of black smoke rose to the sky.

“Ah, my electricity. The jolly tinkers have prevailed.”

The thump again, then a steady throbbing, and an acrid wind with the smell of smoldering bitumen. Morgana sneezed.

“I see progress has its price,” said the Lady as she wiped her nose on an embroidered sleeve. “The price is advice. I shall follow the jolly tinkers’ wire to my star chamber and have some converse to cleanse my mind.”

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