The Return of the Orange Virgin
Chapter Twelve―Stone Heads and Mayflies

A phosphorescence heralded matter in transition. The corridors were narrow and inclined down although frequent short ascending flights of chiseled steps and the gentle grade of the courses between made the constant descent less apparent. The pitch of the steady slope was such that the Fata Morgana thought ‘down’ no matter whether the way she trod rose or fell. Darker stains on the walls and increasing damp underfoot told of the nearness of ground water; faint highlights flowed and danced over mineral accretions that clung like dripping wax to the roof and walls. At every twist and turn, she felt the weight of scrutiny, that the very stones were reaching, yearning from where they had been lifted and placed by hands long departed.

The emanations of the stones said none who descended ever returned, but were sucked into the bowels of the world to become one with the lithosphere. On the stones’ part, it was curiosity and boredom that drove them to strain and reach out to the traveler, stop him for a while and hear tales of other places. Hyperbole notwithstanding, the stones did not speak: “Pause... tarry with us...” The breath of eternity that filled their sails of sentience was not sufficient to form the words. They were deep but slow, their utterances longer than the living memory of a single human. By the time the words were shaped, considered, formulated and ready to go generations had loved, fought, lain and begat, leaving ever new crops of scrappy, ragtag toddlers to drag dead cats by the tail in the dust that was their progenitors.

Ever so often a straggler from the litters that bestowed immortality on the local genotype, its child mind as yet uncluttered by the everyday usages of speech, would hear the stones and stop to stare, twin rivers of snot separated to dribble down and around a thumb plugged into a tiny mouth, big eyes fixed at a spot on the wall. There was an affinity between the very young and the very old, but there was little communication and the demands of the body would come crowding in upon the moment. The child would be distracted and move along to eat, to pee, to grow and beget. Hence, the stones got little satisfaction from the flickering, fluttering lives dwelling in the spaces they defined. Nor were they particularly quick-witted even by their own lights, and their thoughts, when they thought at all, were particularly tedious, for not many decisions were required of them and they took the long view.

For the stones, the threat of adsorption of passersby was an exercise in deceit, for any census of the messengers who plied these warrens―shuffling geezers or light-footed equerries bustling about their imperatives―would have shown that most returned.

*  *  *

The Fata Morgana, Orange Virgin, Lady of the Wild Things, etc., etc. hurried along, her feet raising a two-foot high dust cloud that hung motionless in her wake. Her long strawberry-red hair she wore braided into a beehive that extended her already statuesque beauty to an aerial climax, and she swung her hips with the steady determination of someone who knows what they are about. Her breasts were bare, as were her feet, and she wore a pleated kilt. She bounced down flight after flight of narrow stone steps, her bare feet slapping shivery echoes to announce her coming.

She stopped abruptly, her footfalls fading ahead of her, and put an ear to the wall. There was a gurgling of the river, faint and distant, and the scuttling of small creatures that thrived in the crevices where mortar had crumbled and fallen out. She took comfort from the bounty of life that scrambled in to fill all available vacancies. The tiny things flourishing behind the stones were a reassuring sign of continuity. Voles, shrews and water rats were welcome.

“If the moat were going to collapse our foundations you would not be raising your families here, would you little brothers and sisters?” The Queen of Heaven smiled a sunny, broad smile and sat on a step, listening to the scuffling behind the masonry.

L-shaped staples the size of pitons had been driven in near to the ceiling. They supported an electric wire that looped from staple to staple and disappeared into the feeble gloaming ahead and down. Dimly glowing bulbs were set at intervals close enough to offer the barest minimum of light to guide the passing pilgrim.

Her hairdo would have forced her to walk crouched over. “Below the moat, tradition is an encumbrance...” She pulled strategic pins and her hair fell free. In the corridors beneath the water table the lintels were low and the head-room scant. “...but we must preserve the decencies.” From the waistband of her skirt Morgana pulled a toque and placed it on her head.

The silence was utter, but she knew she was being monitored.

She continued on and down for perhaps twenty minutes, stopping at a branching of the way where the three heads waited.

*  *  *

Thousands of years―a wink and a whistle actually, but the life span of the great ice sheets which made their sporadic incursions down the mountain valleys to claim the rich river bottoms for a few shimmering millennia―Morgana had had the castle to herself. For a while it was good to be alone with the majestic dance of the glaciers and the prairie. Forward, dip and back, the foot of the ice advanced to touch the donjon tower with a brief, respectful hundred-year’s kiss.

When the ice was in the yard, blue and green dazzled the eye from the miles-high cliffs of frozen torrent stretching away to the mountains. Time to think and heal.

Ever young, she appeared lost in a dream through the glaciation. Her preoccupation was with another time, another place, not with the thousand-year ephemeron at her feet. Then the sun would reverse itself, coming closer while the chickens crowed earlier each passing morning, melting the ice and filling the moat. In the hours past early midnight, Morgana watched the skies. The old familiar groupings had not changed, some comfort there. There was the Harper, the Cat, the Whale. And when the morning star brushed the crescent moon in the first watch before false dawn and an orange and violet curtain descended, the Queen of Heaven lay on her back under the midnight sky, its solitary beholder. She breathed in the oxygen-rich air from the wandering polar massif and delighted in a concert by the aurora borealis performed for her alone. The sky was closer in the times when the ice wrapped the world.

Other concerns had diverted her attention for what must have been several whiles. When next she looked, the ice was gone. “Huh!” remarked the Queen of Heaven, “...must be summer already. Pity, I had not done with the ice and the lights, but they will return.”

*  *  *

In one early time of ice and sun Morgana lay on the parapet, counting bubbles as the moat trout rose to careless mayflies: one perfect day with the feel of the stones warm on her naked belly. She lay at ease, dangling her arms over the edge. Thumbing a freshly cut wedge of tobacco into her cheek, she looked down to regard the decorations whereon she lay.

Three heads formed a triptych at the far corner of what then was the farthest projection of the stonework. She thought to animate the architectural horrors―two grotesques and one gargoyle, to be precise: a cow, a goat, and a manticore. How fine, how perfect, to have confidantes―a star chamber not continually jockeying for preferment, who would speak fearless of her displeasure, how refreshing that they should keep her company. Morgana arched her sun-dappled back to feel the breeze rustling the spidery leaves of a gigantic honey locust that had taken root on the parapet.

She spat a stream of brown juice into the air and waited, hearkening to hear its splat in the moat. A localized network of copper and lead spillways joined at the three where storm drainage would pour through the open mouth of the central head, the Goat.

“Gargle, gargoyle. Speak, grotesques, and amuse me this afternoon when the sun is warm on my back and the katydids are thrumming.”

The Goat blinked its eyes and tried to say something. The sound was as of a rattle of pebbles cascading down a hollow pipe.

“Oh, how dry your uvula, Goat!” said Morgana. A local but intense thunderstorm assembled itself fifty yards behind them over a garden of skylights and ventilation horns that grew from the slates. A cannonading rain came pouring down the drainage grade to clear the throat of the Goat.

“That should moisten your dangling grapelet, Goat. Give us some words, and keep us company.”

“Slow day, Queen of Heaven, that you bring your humble plumbing to life?” The Goat was her immediate favorite. “It is not enough for us to strike stark terror into the bosoms of the enemies who somehow seem never to come, plus drain the roof; we are now to entertain you, too. Well, what shall it be, anagrams, twenty questions?”

Morgana doubled up with laughter, almost rolling off. She grabbed at the Goat’s tongue and pulled herself back. “Say it, Goat. Declaim the last prayer of the Dancing Lords―do it for my love.”

The Goat cleared his throat and declaimed:

“Besash bilaigan pertanith gedun
Epillia graben, spilaga perphunt
Dilyaga, dilyaga, dilyaga
Bilaiganit belunkt
Epigal fridath, per fridath, onagonagnon punt.
Filladith, jagasch, per dalda spilaga.

“And, if I may, Lady, I have prepared a transliteration for the local tongue...

Approaching cerise, tender blossoms of the goddess-flower bow.
Shade-dwelling trefoil seeks bright umber.
‘Boring, boring, boring,’
Says Her Worship;
And each of us, every last one, is cast down.
Tansy and hellebore cry our outrage.

*  *  *

That was then, this was now, and she was not joyful. It had been some many centuries since she last visited.

The Cow’s lip had a curl to it she did not remember, a slight inflection that made him look haughty and supercilious, like a banker about to break wind. She squinted and wrinkled her nose, making an arch of the freckles across its bridge. The Cow’s name was Sid, a masculine form, to be sure, but with his hind quarters embedded in a good eighteen feet of masonry, his putative gender was irrelevant.

He had had no name before the Fata Morgana quickened him, and was content with the monicker. Sid it was, and short for Sidon, a town on the Punic coast where she had seen those eyes before. The folk there had once thought it wise to institute her worship. The Sidonian longshoremen, sailors, and the tight-fisted dealers in dyestuffs, a normally irreverent lot, had shelved their differences long enough to raise a shrine; times were good and there was money aplenty for religion. But when it came time to contract for a statue to fill the temple’s empty sanctum, they had a falling-out over what attributes should be celebrated. The rollicking dock whallopers opted for the likeness of a thin-lipped Irish virgin to fill the empty niche, for they had traveled far. The sellers of Tyrrhenian purple had held out for something more traditional. They pored over the lore and settled on an idol for the sanctuary: a concession to the commerce that made them fat, for their dyes were extracted from the hinge of a mollusk. A compromise was struck and the factions were happy: the municipal sculptors supplied a Bronze Age Aphrodite rising from the sea on a scallop shell, half cow, half fish, whose eyes had held this same look of honeyed innocence.

Morgana had been favorably impressed, “This is truly the Land of Milk and Caviar,” she said of Sidon, and blessed their efforts. She sat on her heels in the dust and studied the Cow’s face, enjoying a flood of pleasant melancholy for the irretrievable past. Morgana’s brisk departure from their last séance had left him with the look of an honored partaker at someone else’s retirement banquet. The unflattering, unprepared pose showed surprise at having been cut off in mid-thought.

“Look how I have left you, old friend. We must remedy this the sooner.”

The Queen of Heaven peered closer, nose-to-nose with the Cow. His lip trembled with an imminent profundity. Or an imminent flatulence? Amused at the thought, Morgana stood back and studied Sid’s face. Yes, gas most likely. “Of the choices offered, the imparting of wisdom or the passing of gas, I’d guess the latter, old ungulate. Such a look of wisdom were wasted on after-dinner speeches. Yes, gas it is. Feather the edges is my advice, unhealthy to hold it in―higher exit velocity per foot-pound of backpressure, and quieter, too. They will mistake you for a distant flight of friendly zeppelins.”

She stood. “Speak,” she commanded.

Stone flowed into flesh and the words tumbled out. “Simply won’t do, y’know. Bad form, this Biff business. Bury him, bag him, cut loose his constituent parts and set him adrift at sea. The stones are not pleased that you have made life from the clay of their world.”

She was not yet ready to hear this and turned away.

“Speak, speak! Fine, that’s easy for you to say,” piped up Goat with his vanilla tongue and bulging eyes. “And we sit here in the dark waiting on your pleasure. Please understand that lately our experience is limited. ‘Speak’ indeed.”

The beautiful Morgana sat cross-legged on the floor so as to look the Goat in the eye. “Well frankly, Lester, on the face of it that is a ridiculous statement. Stone is your nature; your character is inherently cold, hard rock and, barring a dispensation to which I am not privy, aside from our soirees, this is as good as it gets for you three.”

The Cow leaned over as far as he could and spoke with a detectable edge of sarcasm. “Begging Your Wonderfulness’ pardon, and stop me if I am getting out of line, but all the indications are that Your Wonderfulness has come here for advice and I remember hearing me give the very advice you seek just moments ago. Am I not correct?” He looked around for a second.

The far head chimed in. It was the Manticore. “Why let acrimony spoil what could be a perfectly delightful entrenous? It is wonderful to see you again, Morgana, though it seems like simply ages since you have graced our humble pit with your radiance. Lovely as ever I see, and by the illumination of your gracious presence, I am moved to poesy; for truly, the Dancing Lords were possessed of a classic tin ear. They ignored me―irony was not their strong suit:

Ditch roses, red
Mock hellebore, orange,
The Goddess tired of us
And put us in storange.
She should go eat tansy and borage.

“I have achieved a hudibrastic rhyme scheme, I believe.” He broke off in peals of laughter.

The Cow spoke. “There was a time, before your time, when we were the locus of all available spells and conjurations, and look at us now―obsolete technology. Just look at us.”

“Look at us,” the Goat, Lester, added with a note of wistful introspection.

“Times and places change, oh dolorous caryatids, not faces, and you are here, awaiting my call to need. And right now it happens that I need some conversation. Remember that you live at my pleasure and are animate subject to revocation. You are stone, after all, and eternity is a long enough time to learn some proper behavior.” She was, however, pleased with them; fifty years was a while to hold a pose. That long? Fifty, forty, thirty, hundreds―no matter. It had surely been centuries since she called them from their chthonic catalepsis.

“Oh Queen of Surpassing Beauty, and meaning no disrespect, when one―much as we―is up against eternity, talk is really small potatoes, if you know what I mean.” The Manticore paused, sure he had made a seminal observation. Goat rolled his tongue out and made a noise like a New Year’s party favor. The Manticore succumbed to another laughing fit.

“You find delight in my parts? It is not sufficient that my aspect has shined upon you three? Oh, my playthings, this is not respect... Remember who you are and where you are and, as the Serpent of the World comes to bite his own tail yet again as all things roll round to their inevitable resolution, if you three ever hope to again see the sky, keep a civil tongue in your heads.” She regarded the Goat. “And off the floor as best you may.”

It was hard for a cow, even a cow hatched in the imaginings of a fury of demons, to be assertive, but Sid gave it his best effort. He rolled his eyes, cleared his throat and, bringing up a few pebbles and a frightened family of wall shrews, began. “Why do we talk the way we do? The delvers and hewers who gave us form are no more,” the Cow declaimed, “for them we never spoke, but you have given us life. You tell us you are the Earth, our Mother, and we are but projections of that in you to which you dare not give voice lest doubt shatter faith and then where were we all? But this is not the Earth. We are in the earth, buried alive or almost alive―a thin margin if you ask me. This is logic chopping, a wobbly peg on which to hang our self-esteem. Even in the isolation which our unfortunate condition makes unavoidable we have heard that Morgana makes a golem to be her love-slave. Why should a mud man have all the fun? What are we?”

The Manticore was beside himself. “Well, fuck me sideways if our Golden Calf of Sidon isn’t in a snit. Fierce, bad bossy, he’s about a moover!” The Manticore threw his head back―as far back, that is, as the ruff of porcupine quills that ringed his head allowed. It was a face carved with subtlety―bared his fangs and racketed gales of laughter.

Squatting on her heels in front of the Manticore, Morgana flicked the remnant of cigar butt away with a disgusted swipe of her perfect fingers.

“Filthy habit. When did you take up smoking?” Thus saying, she pulled a pouch from her waistband and started rolling herself a cigarette.

“But, but... you smoke.”

“Yes, I do. And I find it a thoroughly relaxing and enjoyable habit. But I make the rules, and you don’t.” She lit up, inhaled deeply, and exhaled toward the ceiling so as not to tempt the stone head beyond endurance.

Morgana felt a misting in her eyes. Was this a tear? There had been entirely too many of these lately. And, if a tear, what was the cause? Did she weep for her lover, beautiful for all his limited behavioral repertoire? Hardly. A tear has its reasons and if I but wait on its own good time, it shall tell me why it is there.

She stood quickly, catching herself in a stumble. Turning to face the wall, she examined the traceries of a cobweb at eye level, pretending an interest.

“Don’t cry. Tell us about it.” The Manticore.

If I am crying for myself, let my tears be for me alone. She willed herself to be lost in the wonder of the spider as it shuttled back and forth weaving its snare. Gossamer and glistening, the net maker coaxed her strand from a distended abdomen, wet and fresh, and in a pattern only she would make. Only once―this spider, this time―then never again.

“Bought yourself some trouble, Lady? Need some diversion? Advice or consent? The word has gotten down even understairs here that the Queen of Heaven, the Orange Virgin, is getting her love-tunnel greased by a golem.”

“Correct as always. And, as always, only partly so. There is no hiding from the stones, nor do I wish to, since you appear to be finely primed on what is rightly my business.” She paced a tight oval before the three of them, twirling a loose strand of hair about her finger. “I would be educated as well as flattered: tell me of your makers, the Old Ones who left you high and dry,” said Morgana, changing the subject.

“Queen Rhea who coupled with a serpent to produce the Egg of the World would query us about the wisdom of the ancients? This is indeed a hoot. Ask on, then, Beautiful One, but by the bells that jingle at your anklet, question warily, slipping up on the subject roundabout. We will never lie to you, but talk is cheap and answers come easily as a mountain stream when all we desire is to be alive and to see the sky again.”

“Answer me well and so you shall. Diversion, company, advice, please; but, as you say, let us talk around the topic of our séance, and thus approaching it unawares, perhaps weasel out some hidden meanings. It has been lonely here, even with the bustling human seed I have surreptitiously plucked from across the veil...”

*  *  *

She had arrived in haste though not in disarray. At the start there had been only Morgana and the castle, empty and alone. The long-gone raisers of the masonry pile had passed her notice, and now that she was interested they were gone past recall, having striven, flourished, thrived, fallen and perished utterly, from blink to blink, their eternity the duration of a cosmic giggle. What cataclysm had left the property vacant concerned her not. But the people, what lives had they led here? Conjectural fantasies populated the world again with a warrior elite who hammered one another into extinction. But for all that, they were not the mindless savages such an ending would suggest. Ghost whisperings of silk and the snick of a scabbarded sword hastily drawn in defense of a tryst lingered in the far corners when the wind awakened echoes of the distant dead―not all brutes, they. They had loved and fought. And laughed. And from a store of cunning set by for a joke that needed no reason but itself, they constructed the three comic horrors to drain their slates. Terrible as they were, any attacker with murder in his heart seeing the Goat, the Cow and the Manticore rising from the predawn mists would have fouled his linen more with laughter than with fear.

“You were my first companions in exile and I hold a fondness for you...”

“You asked of the Dancing Lords. Whither have they gone who raised the castle and carved the Goat, the Cow and the Manticore? Alas, we were formed facing outward, and their recessional escaped our notice. Things just got quieter.” The golden-eyed Cow tried to look sad. “All organic life that metabolized at a high enough rate to achieve thought was gone―blooey, just like that...”

The Goat punctuated the ‘blooey’ with his tongue. “If everything went ‘blooey,’ how come we didn’t notice?”

The Cow tried a shrug but failed. “Neutron star, cosmic storm, a bad bowl of porridge shared planet-wide. Who knows? Anyway, they were gone: took the veil and withdrew, existence-wise. But while they were here they were about movers, as my long-tongued friend, Lester here, is wont to say. One fine day when everybody was out on the lawn for an energetic, uplifting session at bowls, they were fried by a passing celestial engine and disappeared lock, stock and caboodle.” Eyes of honeyed innocence angled upward. “‘Caboodle’ is one of the words they used to use.”

The Lady’s eyes itched from her drying tears. She ground at them with her knuckles. “Have I been crying? No wonder you are looking at me strangely.” As her knuckles were removed, her eyes widened and she sat in the dirt of the floor with a thud. “And here am I all tears and sitting in the dirt like a little girl with a scuffed knee. Well, it is my privilege to be a little girl at times. I have been so thick in the afterglow of the sky demon’s bamboozlement that I did not see what was before my face. Yon spider,” she gestured with her head, “is disassembling her web. This is not in the natural order of things. The pig killer is a summonsing. By whom and for what I will not even guess. But I am returning.” She spoke to her perfect toes and wiggled them. “Am I not beautiful, capricious and inscrutable?”

“And insurmountable, too, for all I know.” The Manticore chanced a quip under his breath. The goddess was naked to the waist, although from midriff to floor accoutered in a many-pleated bell skirt that thrust her billowing hips into immediate attention.

Morgana hiked up her kilt and directed a kick at the nearest head. “Time!... It is Time that is changing, and here I thought it was I.”

“What time did you have in mind? Since you request an honest opinion, one must state that one has answered one,” said the Goat. It was not his head Morgana had kicked, but threatened revocation was on his mind and a judicious reply seemed called for. “Endless time we are more than conversant with. Good times it has come to our ears you have been having with your, uh... friend. What time does that leave?”

“Just time and enough if I act quickly, my friends, for I have an intuition from my own tears and a spider’s web.” She threw her arms round the Cow’s neck and gave him a kiss.

The Manticore felt moved to say something, though discretely sotto voce.

“Shut up, you ninny,” whispered Sid. “Do you want to spend what’s left of eternity stuck in a wall? Talk about the weather if you must talk.”

“But we don’t have any weather...” The Manticore trailed off, then pretended to be asleep.

“The spider, the people―they are all riders on the now.” Morgana’s enthusiasm was only slightly damped. “They define themselves by their passage from task to task through their brief, fleeting days. They fool themselves that they are going someplace simply because they have a name for it. The sky demon would not have pulled me to a tussle in Limbo if he were sure of the outcome.”

“They don’t know where they are going. Does it matter? Look at us: we know where we’ve been. Big deal. Do you know where you are going?”

“Not really. I have forgotten. But I know where to start. My forgetfulness, my friends, is a symptom. The engines of creation are slipping and only I can save it. I think.”

Sid was not reassured. “Shouldn’t there be some planning? I mean, things must have changed. You can’t just go charging in dressed only in your knickers and ask for your old place back. Perhaps they have forgotten you just as you have forgotten.”

The Orange Virgin arranged her pleated skirt, crossed her knees and settled to the floor, this time gracefully. She stretched, hands together above her head, lifting her strawberry hair and twirling it into a loose bun, a theatrical gesture that lifted her breasts in the faces of the Cow, the Goat, and the Manticore. Pulling a set of nine ivory hairpins from her kirtle, she put them in her mouth and started replaiting her loosened hair. This was a lengthy process. The beehive confection rose, braid by braid, to the ceiling. When there were but two pins remaining, she spoke around them. “I have been so caught up in the flow of things so well ordered that I did not even notice. Time is changing. Fool, that I did not notice ere now. When eternity ends it will end all over: in the carbon blue molalities past the farthest star, in the wilderness of creation as well as at the corner grocery. And eternity will end here in my venue, on my watch―the worlds and times granted me by the Great Author in some ineluctable whimsy.”

“Ahem!” There was a rattle of pebbles as the Cow cleared his throat.

“Yes?”

“Oh, Queen, you have come to us for whatever residual wisdom our makers may have left us when they went.”

“Correct, friend. If you can arrange the nuts and bolts of whatever plan that in my own inscrutability I have obscured from myself, please do so.”

“At the risk of overstepping our franchise, let me posit a question that may lead you through the fogs which cloud your vision. Ask yourself, O Queen, are you real―yes, you, yourself―or have you made a myth that you are living out? Meaning no disrespect, you have stagnated here away from the Earth of which you are the eponym. You have lost the rhythm of meaningful seasons. Sure, go back and wrestle with this godling who has supplanted you. Some healthy competition would be just the thing to get you back in trim. But they believe in him, not in you. Do not expect joyous welcoming throngs. Look on the bright side―perhaps the pig is not a sign. Enjoy yourself, lighten up. And in a worst case scenario, the end of everything is not necessarily a bad thing. What would be tragic is that it should be meaningless.”

“The pig is incidental.” The Goat.

“Tell that to the pig.” Morgana. “He killed it, the man Harry.”

“Then it would appear the aforementioned swine is not available for cross-examination.”

“I want him, I demand him. One of El’s for recompense―vengeance.”

“Your isolation has made the trivial immense and the immense itself has been trivialized by the fleeing eons. Who better to know than us? Tussle for eternity if you must, but the little people―this accidental priest you tell us of―why not let them get on with their knitting unmolested?” The Cow.

“Revenge?” the Manticore held back a chortle. “Wet and messy for the goddess of life and Spring, wouldn’t you say? Well, you do those things, don’t you? Getting even is the portion of divinity. One word of caution, though. You are splashing about in the pool where the Kraken slumbers. Tit-for-tat. The sky-god will be forced to retaliate and once started, these things have a life of their own. Think first, my Lady.”

The tear returned to tremble hesitantly on an eyelash.

“I have a feeling,” said the Manticore, “That if I had a foot free―if I have feet, for I have truly never seen―I might scratch my ear and that would help me to think, for these are weighty matters.”

The Goat ignored him. “And being lonely, it was appropriate that the Queen of Heaven create for herself a companion who, while more than human and thus closer to her, be less than a god, and thus too close for comfort. We are talking comfort versus discomfort then. You are not happy with the tireless thumper. This Biff Bangtree of yours is a household appliance―junk him. Next question, please.”

“No matter how cozy we become, remember always that we are playing out our allotted roles in a grander scheme. Yes, even I have to play my role, just as you, my humble hippoglyphs―pardon the pun, for your makers have writ you large, though not entire. And though you surely scheme, your parts are less grand. Much less. But I am merciful and compassionate, and shall not only let you live on to fulfill your destinies, but shall grant you the boon you seem to crave despite that you tread dangerously close to lèse-majesté. I have an errand: some further conversation with the custodian of the world I left to come here is indicated. For the golem I have developed a sentimental attachment. There will be no more talk of killing him. You will watch him―one of you―and be his cicerone. Look after the tad and keep a lid on things. I will want to find everything as I left it when I return. I go to recruit a priestess to celebrate my Mysteries.”

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