The Hanged Man: Part 7: Beltane
Post #56: In which the new cycle of fertility begins ...
When the sky was light and the morning chorus of birds finished, Rose Red clambered stiffly to her feet. She hadn’t slept. Her face felt hot and puffy and her eyes swollen. Her mouth was dry. She felt cold all the way to her center, though she’d lain wrapped in everything she possessed after the fox left. After I sent him away, she corrected herself sternly. Her jaw, neck and shoulders ached sullenly and the muscles in her belly and legs felt overstrained and sore.
She knelt by the spring and bathed her face. The cold water soothed her. She drank. She discovered she’d started her menses and made a couple of pads out of moss. She put her back against a tree trunk in a spot where she knew the sun would shine when it climbed higher and sat, wrapped in a blanket. She felt beyond sleep, beyond hunger, beyond the peaceful work of observing forest life. She leaned her head back and watched the light change as it filtered down through new leaves.
A long time later, someone approached. Rose Red drifted between sleeping and waking, soothed by the forest around her and the sun on her face. The approaching steps sounded steady and sure. She had no energy to feel afraid or curious or even shy. She sat and waited for what would come.
Rumpelstiltskin stepped into the clearing, his quick glance taking in the well, rumpled blankets and fire ring. His eyes fell on her as he swung his pack off his shoulders.
She looked at him speechlessly. His smile of greeting faded as he regarded her. She found concern and then compassion in his eyes. He laid a gentle callused hand briefly on her head and turned away, building up the fire.
While she watched, he put water on to boil and took food out of his pack. He didn’t look at her again but talked cheerfully and inconsequentially.
“I never dreamed of seeing you again like this. I received word that I’m needed and I’ve been traveling for several days. I remembered this well and the path takes me in the right direction.”
He shook out her blankets and draped them over low branches to dry and sweeten in the air.
“I thought I’d stop here and eat and rest awhile.” He glanced at her with a smile. “There’s no one I’d rather run into than you, Rosie.” His kindness threatened her control and tears rose in her throat.
“After initiation, I took Jenny to Minerva’s school in Griffin Town. I was sorry to leave her, but I know that’s the right place for her now, and I think she’s excited to be with such a teacher.”
The water boiled and he poured a hot drink and added a corner of honeycomb to the cup.
“Come, my dear, and drink this.” He spoke gently, but she heard the command in his voice.
She emerged from the blanket and struggled to her feet, feeling like an old woman. She stretched cautiously and shrugged her shoulders to ease their ache. Gooseflesh stippled her arms.
She came to the fire and let the heat hit the front of her legs and then the back. The warm cup comforted her hands. Drops of wax from the honeycomb floated on the surface and she skimmed them off with a leaf.
Rumpelstiltskin asked no questions. He produced strawberries, a loaf of bread, a round of goat cheese and dried meat. He passed her a bite at a time and she ate automatically. He poured her another hot drink.
“Did you see the fox, then?” he asked.
“Do you remember the story of Pandora I told?”
“Yes,” she said, surprised. It was the first word she’d uttered.
“Do you remember the Dwarve who watched her in secret and then became her guide and teacher?”
“Jasper,” she said.
“That began the relationship between our people. Now and then a young woman who is without family or friends comes to our attention. There are no female dwarves and so we don’t produce children the way you do.”
“Vasilisa told me,” said Rose Red. “She said you watch over and protect female energy and fertility.”
“That’s right. We’re mothers and fathers, we Dwarves, and teachers and guides. Not all of us. But some of us. I’ve watched over Jenny for many years, and her mother before her. But Jenny’s mother wasn’t the first. I’ve been thinking about the young women I’ve loved as I walked along today.”
“How many?” she asked.
“Many,” he said. “There was another between Jenny’s mother and Jenny. She was called Snow White.”
Rose Red looked at him with astonishment. “My mother?” she said in disbelief.
He pulled her down to sit on a flat rock by the fire near the stack of firewood.
“Listen, and I’ll tell you…
“Your mother’s father was a king.”
Rose Red looked at him with wide eyes and he nodded.
“Her mother died when she was a young child. Her father, your grandfather, remarried. Your mother’s stepmother was a beautiful, fair-skinned fair-haired young woman, but her heart was small and mean. She was avaricious and ambitious, hungry for power.
Your mother was the most beautiful of all the girls I’ve guided. Her hair was like ebony, her skin white and her mouth red.
Your grandfather was too busy being a king to take much notice of the child, and her stepmother resented her from the first. Snow White was fed and clothed and wanted for no material comfort, but she was constantly criticized. Nothing she did was good enough. Nothing pleased.
This treatment would malform any child, but Snow White possessed an especially sensitive temperament. She felt everything deeply. Something as simple as a thunderstorm moved her. She lived so vividly she became overwhelmed at times. Her stepmother told her she was dramatic and wanted to draw attention to herself with her exaggerations, and by the time I met her she believed her sensitivity was a deformity. She learned to hide, to stay small and silent. She controlled herself brutally.
Her stepmother amputated her from what she was meant to be. Snow White thought of herself as ‘less than,’ and the truth was she was ‘more than,’ so much more than most others in general and her stepmother in particular. That, of course, was the problem. She was an intolerable threat.”
Rumpelstiltskin fed the fire with a few sticks. His face was bleak.
“Well,” he resumed, “I came into the picture when your mother was about twelve years old. By then it was becoming obvious the beautiful child would make an unusually beautiful woman. Her stepmother was, of course, aging too. She possessed a mirror in her bedroom she spent hours looking into while she tended her hair and skin. As Snow White bloomed, she felt herself beginning to fade and she became more and more obsessed with her looks and consumed with jealousy…
She made up her mind to kill Snow White.
I haven’t the heart to tell you of the evil machinations that followed. I watched over your mother and kept her safe and tried to undo some of the harm.
Your mother was so hungry for love. Her belief that some external person could fill the empty place where her own sense of power was torn away made her vulnerable. She didn’t understand power is something no other person can give or take away. She thought her beauty was the only value she possessed.”
Rumpelstiltskin sighed and passed his hand over his face.
“Having failed to kill her, Snow White’s stepmother married her off as soon as she could. Your father fell in love with her spectacular beauty and the alliance benefitted your grandfather, and thus his wife, so it was arranged. Some years later, her stepmother died and Queen Snow White inherited the mirror. It was an evil object. When I heard your mother possessed it, I grieved.
In the meantime, Jenny passed into my keeping. I left Snow White with a heavy heart. I’d done my best, but I feared for her. Later I heard she had a daughter and I hoped she’d found companionship and happiness in her marriage.
Then, one day while visiting my kinsmen in the forest, I met you, Rosie. I recognized you immediately. You were careful in what you said about your family, but it wasn’t hard to see how things were. If you hadn’t already caught Vasilisa’s eye and the attention of the Dwarves, I’d have found a way to be with you myself, but by the time we met Artemis had already taken you under her protection and I knew you’d be all right.”
Rose Red sat in stunned silence. She felt immobilized by a tangle of pity and rage. “I asked her and asked her when I was young, but she wouldn’t ever talk about her family.”
“I’m not surprised. It wasn’t a happy subject for her.”
“In the end, I hated her.” She threw the words at him. “What happened to her — it was terrible. But…”
“She abused you, Rose. Not in the same way she was abused, but she abused you. I’m angry about that. I understand why she made the choices she did. Understanding is not excusing.”
“She was so unhappy. Always so unhappy. All I ever wanted was for her to be happy and healthy and I tried so hard to make it so.”
“There was never anything you could do to fix it. None of it was your fault. You became as much of a victim as she was.”
“The mirror!” She shuddered and hid her face in her hands.
“Yes. The mirror,” he said grimly. “I know.”
“I needed to leave.”
“You did. Have you ever considered that perhaps the greatest gift of love you ever gave her was leaving?”
She looked at him in astonishment.
“I abandoned her! And…and…I’m not sure I ever want to see her again.” She bit her lip and looked at the ground. “That’s terrible, isn’t it? Terrible and unnatural and hateful. But it’s true.”
“No, my dear. It’s not hateful. It’s wisdom. You don’t owe your mother your life. Even that wouldn’t fix her wounds. Perhaps something new will come into the place you stepped out of. Something that can truly help, some kind of healing. Who knows?”
She picked up a stick and drew a spiral in the dirt around the fire ring. She scuffed it out, and then tried to remember the intricate framework of the White Stag’s antlers. She drew a curve for the forehead and began to build the branching rack, moving back and forth to keep it symmetric.
“She — my mother — felt overwhelmed sometimes?”
Rumpelstiltskin busied himself packing away the food with much fumbling and rearranging.
“Oh, yes. It’s common, you know, for people who are extraordinarily special in that way. They live so deeply. They experience joy and sensual pleasure in the world I’ll never know. Of course, they suffer with equal passion. Such sensitivity is both blessing and burden. Unfortunately, highly sensitive people often feel like freaks and ‘less than,’ as your mother did. In fact, they may be rather isolated, but not because they’re ‘less than.’ Because they’re…”
“’More than,’” she said in a low voice.
“Exactly,” he said, carefully examining the edge of the knife he’d used to cut the food.
“Those few with the wisdom to understand, protect and love a highly sensitive person enjoy a connection of power and beauty beyond imagining. I envy them.”
He tightened the straps on his pack and swung it onto his back. She dropped the stick and stood. He looked up into her face.
“I sent him away,” she said.
“Well, call him back, you ninnyhammer,” he said gruffly.
She snorted with surprised laughter. Tears spilled down her cheeks, but her face relaxed. She stooped and put her arms around him. He hugged her fiercely, gave the black curls a rough caress, released her, and stumped away down the path.
“So that’s how it began for them,” murmured the Hanged Man. “I didn’t know it was so difficult for her in the beginning. It wasn’t like Mary and me.”
“No,” said Mirmir. “Mosst have not had sso much practisse turning the wheel as you and Mary.” He looked at the Hanged Man, hanging loose in his wrinkled skin, his hair a thin fluff.
“Are you finished teasing me?” inquired the Hanged Man with dignity, though he cocked a roguish eyebrow at the snake.
“Yess,” said Mirmir. “Lissten, now, and hear how it wass on Beltane, Day of Sseedss, when ssubmissive cup found dominant sseed. Hear of Mary, Seed Bearer, holder of death and life, the pivot around which the wheel spins…
Mary followed the flute. She remembered it waking her from a confused, uncertain time of shifting shapes and stories at Janus House. Mary, mother-friend (her own name had been Molly in those days) had counseled her to follow the flute.
She would have followed in any case. The sound was a silver hook embedded in the green and gold of her desire.
Cycle by cycle, day by day, step by step, breath by breath, she followed. The piper drew her on and up and out into ever widening power.
She carried the seeds against her body. The flute coaxed moist scent up to the surface of her skin and the seeds drank. It called each hair on her body by name. The flute milked blood into engorged tissue and aroused each nerve to shuddering sensitivity, and the seeds trembled. Her tongue remembered, her nostrils, the tips of her fingers, her lips. Empty, she hungered to be filled.
The Day of Seeds. Yr, the sun, looked down and waited. Rain, whose name is Hyash, waited for her turn. Full Noola glowed beneath horizon's covers and caressed herself in anticipation. It was the Day of Seeds.
Mary moved naked under Yr, and he fingered her breasts and combed her hair. Under Mary’s bare soles, Talcrys, the earth, wakened and trembled. Bags of seeds hung against her sex, cradled in the cleft of her buttocks, sheltered between her breasts. The seeds waited.
She unfolded herself to Yr. She lay against Talcrys, spread arms and legs wide and called life from beneath. She chanted. She prayed. She danced, there under Yr in the fields. She wept. She squatted and urinated. Her breasts ran with milk and it dripped, sticky, onto Talcrys. She reached between her legs and called to her menstrual blood, mixing it with urine, tears, breast milk and saliva. This mixture she smeared onto her skin, then rolled against Talcrys until caked with last season's life. Yr looked down. The wheel turned. A new cycle began. It was the Day of Seeds.
Mary reached into a bag between her breasts and brought out a handful of seeds. She breathed into her cupped hand and scattered them. Walking lightly across the fields, she sowed grass, vegetable, flower, fruit and tree. She whispered to them of life and love and death and released them. Her skin slicked with sweat. Damp hair curled at her temples and groin.
Mary planted the seeds.
When the last seed was scattered, a narrow river whispered a cool invitation near a pavilion. Flowers floated in a sun-warmed pool. Cool drinks and food waited. She freed herself from empty bags and pouches, setting them aside. Hyash surrounded her, making small sounds of delight, as she soaked her body.
Yr fell below the horizon. She ate and drank and combed out her hair. She lit lanterns as night darkened and incense sent up pale scented smoke.
She heard a thread of music, far away, then nearer, then far again. She smiled. The flute called Noola and she bloomed in answer, silver and full-bodied on the east horizon.
The flute played. It followed Mary’s path through the day. He was coming. Lugh, goat-foot, green and gold, horns and curly hair and hard flanks. As he came, he added his magic to hers, added his musk and desire, his strength and his breath to the seeds. He blessed them with his own sticky seed dripping down his thighs. He pressed it into gravid Talcrys with his hooves and the wild flute commanded life, whatever it brought, whatever it took.
Mary waited. Noola looked down. Lugh was coming. He was coming and now he played his flute for Mary. Her nipples peaked. She moistened and opened. He called to her, chalice, cup, empty vessel. It was the Day of Seeds and the Seed Bearer came once again to sow.
He stood before her, erect, a milky drop on the end of his penis. Moonlight gleamed on wet streaks along his thighs. He smelled of musk and loam, night trees and dark wells. She touched the cleft of his hard buttocks, the small of his back, the sculpture of his spine. She touched his nipples with her tongue. She knelt before him and licked the milky drop off his penis, watching as another blossomed. She tongued the streaks on his thighs, licking and tasting.
The music stopped. He lifted the gown away from her body. Noola looked down, shuddering with ecstasy.
"Lady," he breathed, "will you take the seed?"
For answer, she took him in her mouth. He tasted of hot salt and smelled of dominance. She fingered his anus in rhythm with her mouth. He groaned and gave up his seed.
She lay back and he knelt above her, engorged penis between her breasts. Milk dripped from her nipples and he thrust against them, the valley and hills of her breasts, holding her with his eyes. She rubbed the rounded tip of him against her pointed tips until fluids mingled and their flesh shuddered in demand. She arched her back to meet the pressure and milk let down in watery jets as he thrust and thrust and gave up his seed.
He knelt between her legs and with long slow licks cleansed the skin of her breasts and neck. His tongue followed the delicate line of her collarbone, lingered in the hollow of her throat. His breath wandered over her upper chest and along the outside of her breasts. He avoided her nipples until she cried out with the need to feel his mouth on them. He smiled. She reached up, feeling pointed horns beneath her hands, and pulled his head down to her. Delicate flick of tongue on her nipple made her gasp. He stopped. "Please," she whispered. He grazed her with his teeth. She writhed under him so his mouth brushed over the other nipple. Again, he flicked, light and insistent, until she felt mindless with sensation.
He moved his mouth down her body and let her feel his breath. She was wet with wanting. He put his fingers to his swollen penis and added his wetness to hers, rubbing, opening. She groaned, rolling her head from side to side. He leaned down, breathing her, smelling her. Her hips rose in invitation. He licked her from anus to clitoris. She flooded with moisture. He licked again. He paused. He licked. He breathed. She was wet, wet, aching and empty. He put a finger in her anus and two in her vagina and flicked her clitoris with the gentle tip of his tongue. His fingers moved, thrusting. He nibbled her engorged flesh, sucked. She cried out and while she climaxed, he thrust into her, opened her deeply and then withdrew slightly. She writhed, orgasm going on and on with the feel of him. She clenched against him. He thrust and the hot hardness of him swelled impossibly, swelled and heated, swelled until his next thrust opened the way and he cried out and gave up his seed to her dark cup in milky spurts.
They lay in exhausted satiety. He reached for a blanket and threw it over them. They slept.
The candles burned down. Incense left its scented ghost and soft gray ash. Noola floated across the sky and sank. Sometime in the night Hyash fell, sweet and cool, blessing the new planted seeds.
(This was published with Edition #56 of Weaving Webs and Turning Over Stones.)