The Hanged Man: Part 7: Beltane
Post #62: In which those who have parted meet again ...
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In the weaving room, Jenny worked on looms of different sizes, using whatever material and color came to hand. She learned what each fiber could do and how it behaved according to technique. She found her favorite shuttle and her favorite loom. She explored combinations of material and the texture they produced. Finally, she added the variable of color, going back to the dyeing room and dyeing her own colors for a finished product that demonstrated what she’d learned. For a time, she unwove as much as she wove, learning to catch tiny mistakes and flaws before they spread into the whole piece, but eventually she discovered the satisfaction of creating a piece of cloth of her own design. This she took with her to the sewing room.
The sewing room was the final step in the process. In this room, Jenny was not a student, but a teacher. Minerva paired her with Ruth, who had guided Jenny in the dyeing room. Ruth was a talented dyer but had never learned to sew. The two girls sat together in front of a sunny window and Jenny showed her the different needles, silks and threads. She taught Ruth to hem and embellish. Ruth had woven a length of heavy pine green wool and wanted to make a cape. Together they cut it out, stitching hood, hem and arm slits. Ruth wanted a design of autumn leaves along the bottom and chose silks of gold, russet and deep red.
Jenny wove a bed cover for Rumpelstiltskin. It was an earthy design in neutral colors of stone and wood with a touch of orange and green. She had privately spun a hank of fine gold thread from straw and she and Ruth attached a plain linen piece of cloth the same size as the cover and hemmed them together in the gold thread. They left the last few inches open and Jenny bought goose down at the market and stuffed the space between linen sheet and cover to make a light, warm comforter.
“Absolutely beautiful.” The cover draped over her knees, Minerva examined the gold hemstitching. She looked up at Jenny. “Are you pleased?”
“I am,” said Jenny. “I can hardly believe I made it myself. I’m so proud I’m embarrassed!”
Minerva laughed. “Nothing wrong in acknowledging your own abilities, my dear. This is something to be proud of. Even without your special talent at spinning, which I believe I detect in the hemming of this cover, by the way--” she raised an eyebrow and Jenny smiled in response, “you could easily support yourself with work like this. Well done!”
She handed the cover to Jenny, who folded it carefully, tucking lavender wands she’d made in the folds to keep it fresh. Jenny set the cover aside. They sat inside this morning, the day being bright but breezy, as it so often was in the harbor town. “It’s for Rumpelstiltskin.” Jenny laid her hand on the cover in a brief caress. “As soon as I hear from him, I’ll send it.”
“He’ll love it.”
They smiled at one another.
Jenny’s notebook lay on the table. “I’ve read your notes,” said Minerva. It seems to me you’ve come to the end of this part of your apprenticeship. You’ve mastered the steps of spinning, dyeing, weaving and finishing. I set out to help you discover yourself and your desires in life. You wanted to escape your golden net and find answers to several questions.”
“My name is Jenny. I’m skilled at spinning, dyeing and finish work. I’m able to spin straw into gold because I feel what its life was. I use the gold I spin in making beautiful textiles,” Jenny quoted from memory. “I’ve worked with that so often I have it memorized.”
She smiled at Minerva. “I thought I was coming to learn how to make cloth, but you’ve given me so much more.”
“I’m glad. I’m grateful to you, too. To teach is to learn, and you’ve taught me a great deal as well. We’ve been important for one another. In fact, I want to make a proposal. You’re certainly well able to go out into the world and make a life for yourself, and if that’s your choice I give you my blessing. On the other hand, if you’re interested in staying here with me, we could work together in my business. I have plans and ideas about marketing and increasing profits so I can reach more students.”
“But, Minerva, I don’t know anything about business!”
“I do. You know more than you think. I’ve already taught you the basics. Successful contribution and marketing, which is to say business, always starts with the building blocks of integrity, clear self-knowledge and goals, and sensible choices. I’ll teach you what I know and then we’ll fumble along together and learn as we go.”
Jenny laughed. “I’ve never seen you fumble a single time!”
“Well, I do. All wisdom is based in plenty of fumbling. You know that now.”
“’Wisdom is whatever works,’” quoted Jenny.
“The catch is, what works is always changing,” remarked Minerva. “That’s where the fumbling comes in. The business is only half my proposal, Jenny,” Minerva said, more seriously. “The other half is this unique gift of yours. I want to explore it with you. I don’t know what might be possible for you. Could you spin gold out of other materials? How do we understand and work with a transformative ability like yours? What might you do with it? I’m fascinated.”
“I don’t know what to say,” said Jenny.
“Don’t say anything right now. Think about it. In the meantime, I suggest you take a break. You’ve worked hard and made a lot of changes in a short time. I’d like to send you on a trip. Get out of the house and the town. Go out into the world. Enjoy the summer. Get some exercise. Think about what you want to do next. When you come back, we’ll talk. Whatever you want to do, I’ll support you. Whatever you want to do, I’ll love you. It’s been a great privilege to know you, my dear.”
It’s nearly summer solstice, Jenny realized with amazement. In Minerva’s workshop, she hadn’t paid much attention to passing time. A few weeks ago, she and Rumpelstiltskin had journeyed through the spring landscape from initiation to Griffin Town and Jenny’s apprenticeship. Now it was full summer, rich and ripe.
“Go and see the shrine of Coventina,” Minerva suggested. “She’s my own special guardian. She’s a water spirit and presides over a river. She has a beautiful shrine. It’s a peaceful spot. There are a few huts for visitors to stay in. You can be quiet there and take time to think. Coventina assists with fertility. Ask her to help you choose the next part of your path. She understands about creative energy and independence.”
Jenny happily fell in with this suggestion and left a day later.
It was wonderful to be alone and free. She ambled along, in no hurry, pausing when she felt like it for a bite to eat, a rest, or to sit mindlessly in the sun with her back against a tree, thinking of nothing.
It was restful to walk after so many weeks of bending over wheel, vat and loom. She discovered she was worn out in mind and body. She’d learned much and made many changes in a short time.
She looked forward longingly to the shrine. She’d brought some gold thread she’d spun in order to dress a tree and petition Coventina, although she really didn’t have a request. She thought she knew what she wanted to do. The gold thread was more of an offering of gratitude. She’d seen such offerings at holy wells and shrines before, but she’d never dressed a tree with gold.
Minerva had described a stone pool with water lilies floating in it along a river, and she planned to sleep, bathe and sit in the sun to her heart’s content.
The absence of fear made her realize how present it had been in her life, always muttering in her ear. Her golden net was made out of fear, and with the help of Minerva she had begun to unravel the strands. She felt strong and confident, unburdened. She knew who she was. She knew what she was for. She could take care of herself with her skill. She was free to choose what she wanted. Anything and everything seemed possible. Each minute was a pleasure and the future filled with promise.
She thought of all she had to tell Rosie and Vasilisa when she saw them again and wondered what her dear Rumpelstiltskin was doing. She could hardly wait to tell him what she’d learned.
Soft color painted the evening sky over the lake. Rapunzel never tired of watching the sky. To see sky was to be free. In this place, her favorite spot was a wooden pier jutting out over water. Seated on weathered wood, facing water, she felt suspended between the pale mirrors of sky and lake, birds and insects dancing between. Fish rose in soft swirls and plops. The sun sank toward the horizon.
She softened her gaze and looked across the lake, absorbing color, sound and the day’s last cool breath.
Alexander’s eye rested on the weathered wood beside her. It seemed right to let it enjoy the sight of the evening, as their owner no longer could. Perhaps that’s why it had brought her here in the first place, to look across the lake at dusk.
If it had brought her here at all. She wasn’t sure. It was still a fanciful game, to wander according to the eye’s gaze. She had no way of knowing if it meant anything, or if the eye opened and shut simply at random. Still, it entertained her to follow its gaze.
A sudden wailing sound of grief broke her peace. She rose to her feet without knowing she’d done so and searched the empty rocky shingle. Here and there a piece of wood or a scatter of rocks punctuated the shore. Scrubby bushes and grass grew above the high-water mark. Now and then the slim trunk of a small tree rose out of the tangle of lower growth.
The sobbing cry was repeated, low and anguished. She turned her head and saw movement in the fading light. Someone walked along the shore, moving toward the pier.
Rapunzel hurried up the pier and jumped lightly onto shingle. As she did so, another figure came rapidly along behind the first, not running but taking long strides. The newcomer’s head was uncovered and Rapunzel felt confused for a moment, obscurely afraid. She walked to meet the crying woman, who wept more quietly now.
“May I help you?”
“My dear, let me help you!”
Words tangled together, followed by silence, during which the world seemed to still.
The woman between them pulled back her hood, revealing smooth dark hair knotted at her neck and a face ravaged with grief. “Have you seen my children?” she asked.
They sat together in the inn where Maria was staying. The kitchen provided shepherd’s pie and a pot of tea. Rapunzel would have preferred a steadying mug of beer, but tea was a conciliatory beverage and this was strong, hot and heavily sweetened, her mother’s favorite anodyne to emotional upset.
Rapunzel didn’t want to eat. She wanted to ask questions. Across the table her mother looked just the same. Dark, silver-threaded hair was pinned around her head. Her face was pleasantly ordinary and gave no hint of her feelings. Now we’re not in the tower, Rapunzel reminded herself. I’m free. She can’t hold me. She didn’t know what to feel, looking at that face. Love? Anger? Elizabeth had taken her briefly in her arms in a hard embrace that felt very like desperation at the lake before turning her attention to Maria. For a moment, Rapunzel had felt like a child again, safe in the arms of perfect love and trust. Now that child seemed far away.
Lamplight revealed lines of grief in Maria’s pale, still face, and Rapunzel, with a mental sigh, put aside her impatience. Talking could wait a few minutes, anyway. Elizabeth poured tea for each of them, picked up her fork and began to eat.
It was good shepherd’s pie. Not too soggy. Rapunzel hated soggy shepherd’s pie. The tea was good, too, and before she knew it her mother was pouring her a second cup. With some irritation, Rapunzel realized she felt better. Calmer. But her curiosity had reached irresistible proportions.
“What are you doing here?” she asked her mother. She sounded like a ten-year-old to her own ears and was torn between annoyance and amusement.
“Looking for you, of course.”
Elizabeth held up a hand. Rapunzel stopped. Her mother turned to Maria.
“Do you feel better?”
Maria lay down her fork. She’d eaten about half her portion and was drinking her third cup of tea. “Yes, thank you. I’m quite all right.”
This was so obviously untrue that neither Rapunzel nor Elizabeth responded to it.
“I’m Elizabeth and this is Rapunzel, my daughter, as you’ve probably realized.” Elizabeth glanced at Rapunzel and gave her a rueful smile. “We haven’t seen one another in…a while.”
Rapunzel snorted, avoided her mother’s eyes and took another swallow of tea.
“There’s no need for us to bore you with our family… dramas.” Rapunzel rolled her eyes and Elizabeth gave her a quelling look. “I’m more concerned about you. What can we do for you? Are you in trouble? Can we help you find your children?”
“You’re kind. I’ll tell you who I am and what I’m doing, and then you may not feel so compassionate.”
As she listened to Maria’s story, Rapunzel noticed a dwarve sit down at a neighboring table, shrug his pack off wearily, and gratefully attack a mug of beer and a plate of shepherd’s pie.
When Maria fell silent, Rapunzel said, “I’ve been here for several days. I visit the lake every evening and I’ve never seen any children there.”
“I took a long walk this evening around the lake,” said Elizabeth. “I saw no sign of any child.”
Maria pushed aside her half-eaten plate of food and looked into her tea cup. “I always hope they’ll be in the next place. They never are. Tomorrow I’ll move on, maybe follow the river below the lake.”
“It’s lonely,” said Elizabeth.
“Lonely, yes. Many won’t travel with me, knowing what I’ve done. I can’t blame them. Now and then I do fall in with strangers who don’t shun me. I’ve lately traveled with a pair of young women, Mary and Rosie, and after parting with them I camped one night with a man, Radulf. He told me his story and I told him mine and we talked. It helped. Together, we understood things we hadn’t before. I’m beginning to realize there are many in the world who are burdened with a load of sorrow or guilt. I’m not the only one, though I often feel I must be among the worst.” She looked up into Elizabeth’s face. “I don’t want to be intrusive, but I’m curious about your own ‘family drama.’ Would you share with me if I promise not to be bored?”
“Excuse me. Did I hear you speak of Rosie and Mary? And Radulf?” The dwarve stood next to Maria. His face looked weary. He was dressed in brown and dull green and his eyes were green, like shaded moss. He smiled.
Maria returned the smile. “Yes, two young girls walking together, and a man of middle years, rather lean, with grey hair and hazel eyes. He reminded me of—“
“A wolf,” finished the dwarve.
“Exactly!” said Maria.
“Will you join us?” invited Elizabeth.
The next day found the four of them on Rapunzel’s dock sharing a picnic basket. They’d decided the evening before it was too late and Rumpelstiltskin and Maria too weary to talk further. Elizabeth suggested a picnic, Rapunzel suggested the pier, and they agreed to meet again on the morrow.
Maria gladly put off her plan to move on. She had begun to appreciate chance meetings. Telling and retelling her story eased her heart and made unexpected connections with other people. Hearing the stories of others made her consider her own experience differently. Now it appeared she had unwittingly reunited mother and daughter after a long separation, an intriguing irony. The dwarve, Rumpelstiltskin, with his green eyes and air of solid strength, won her trust immediately. His love and affection for Mary, Rosie and Radulf was evident.
The inn provided cold meat, cheese and bread, along with bottles of cider. It was another beautiful afternoon. The lake lay still and Rapunzel sat on the end of the dock and wiggled her bare toes under the water, watching the resulting ripples.
Elizabeth set out food while Maria repeated her story to Rumpelstiltskin. They ate companionably, talking casually. Rumpelstiltskin took out a knife and cut up cheese. When everyone had cider, he turned to Elizabeth.
Before he could speak, she said, “I’ve both hoped for and dreaded this day for a long time. I never imagined it would come in a place like this in the company of new friends.” She turned to Rapunzel. “My dear daughter — Rapunzel — I’m so sorry. I was wrong. I did a terrible thing to you. I know it. All these months I’ve searched for you to tell you how sorry I am. I’m here because I received word that your…friend is living here. I came to see if I could do anything for him, and in the hopes of finding you. I’ll try to understand if you can’t forgive me, but I ask you to believe I acted out of love as well as my own selfish fear.” She looked at Maria. “I never knew I could love like this before I had a child.”
Maria returned her gaze. “Will you tell us about it?” she asked.
Elizabeth sent an inquiring glance to Rapunzel. Rapunzel nodded and Elizabeth told them.
Rapunzel, listening, realized for the first time what a changeling a story is. Her mother’s story was her own story, at least in part, but her mother’s story revealed thoughts, feelings and choices Rapunzel had been unaware of, including her own true origins. She was stunned, pitying, angry and appalled by turns. She suddenly saw her mother as a person separate from herself, a person much wider and deeper than ‘Mother.’ She saw a proud, lonely woman living an empty life, starved for love and friendship. She saw a wise, skilled woman who longed to pass on her knowledge and experience. She saw a woman capable of rage and hate, a fallible woman who made mistakes.
Elizabeth talked steadily until the end and stopped. Her face was stoic. She met no one’s eyes. In those moments, Rapunzel thought she looked strangely akin to Maria herself, who also had learned to wear a mask of neutral calm, whatever her emotions.
“I don’t know what to say,” said Rapunzel. She didn’t feel angry, merely bewildered. “You mean I’m not your daughter?”
“No,” said Elizabeth. She met Rapunzel’s eyes. “You’re not the child of my body, but you’re the child of my heart.”
Rumpelstiltskin grunted and shifted position.
Maria chewed thoughtfully on a mouthful of bread and cheese, swallowed, and said, “I can’t help be curious, Rapunzel, about your part of this story. What happened? How did you meet this young man, and what happened to him? Will you tell us?”
Rapunzel looked doubtfully at her mother.
Elizabeth smiled and shook her head. “I admit, I’m curious too. It’s in the past, my dear. I won’t be angry.”
“That’s not it,” said Rapunzel. “Will it hurt you?”
Elizabeth’s eyes filled with tears. “No, Rapunzel. I hurt myself, don’t you see? You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Rapunzel pulled her feet out of the water and sat cross legged on the dock. The soles of her feet felt cool on the inside of her thighs.
“His name is Alexander.”
She told them about her tower room and the day she first saw the young stranger. She told about his visits and his stories of the outside world. She told of taking her hair down so it enclosed them in a golden tent. Then, she told of the last morning when she stood naked in the sunlight and cut off her braid, the key to her prison, and climbed down into the world.
When she recounted the call back to the tower, leaving out mention of Alexander’s eyes, her mother sighed. “I’m so glad you went back. I thought I’d killed him but I never could find his body. I hardly dared hope he escaped somehow, found some kind of help. I’ve searched for word of him ever since. Have you been with him all this time?”
“No.” said Rapunzel. “He doesn’t truly want me. He loved my hair. He thought I was beautiful. His blood was hot and he thought of me as a princess in a fairy tale. If he could see me now, he wouldn’t want me.” She passed her hand over her short hair, thick and curling at the ends. “The truth is,” she looked up with a mischievous smile, “he’s boring. His only real interest is himself.”
“I made sure he was well cared for and I left. I came back a few days ago to check on him. I feel sort of responsible for him. I’ve been hanging around watching, but I don’t want to talk to him again. I don’t want him to get the wrong idea. He doesn’t even know I’m here.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “I arrived yesterday and found his house. It seems to be a good place, prosperous and comfortable. There’s an older woman there. He was sitting in the sun. I saw the scars on his face.” She shaded her eyes with her hand for a moment, then replaced it in her lap and looked up. “I didn’t speak to him, though. I couldn’t bring myself to.”
“Don’t,” said Rapunzel. “There’s no point to it. I’ve been there every day. That woman cares for the house and feeds him and looks after him. He has friends. One day a man came and read to him. Last week he rode with another friend. He comes from wealthy people. I think he has everything he needs.”
Elizabeth nodded without responding.
(This post was published with Edition #62 of Weaving Webs and Turning Over Stones.)