Perhaps I passed out though I’d say not (I’d no recollection of it). Rather, I saw lights—on the dark wall of the cave—the colours of fire, and ten times as bright. Not huge lights, not first. They began tiny, like seeds, then erupted and exploded before me. I would have been frightened but that they were restrained by some kind of sinuous net. But I was greatly confused. That, and the foulness in my belly . . . oh, and now a horrendous roar and a buzz in my ears!
I’m not sure when I realised I was no more in the old man’s cave. I was, instead, in an entirely and unlikely world. Perhaps now I was dreaming.
“No dream,” Hean said though I couldn’t see him. “This is the Holy Land. Feast. Feast all your senses.”
Feast all my senses, as if I needed his bidding—as if I’d a choice. Write it all down, they have told me. Yet how? So much I haven’t the words for. But as much as I can I shall try.
First, I now was outside on a plain. But it wasn’t the plain I’d seen outside the cave. That plain had been scantily scattered with trees and bushes while here was of a more luxuriant growth. Was I now in the jungle? I thought I ought to be afraid, and yet I was not. I was bewildered, I’ll not deny that, but I wasn’t afraid. And that in itself was rather alarming. Maybe it was because, though I couldn’t see him, I knew Hean was somewhere here with me.
The sky—let me describe that. It was night, there were stars. Yet they weren’t the twinkling white we see in our night. They each were a tiny kaleidoscope rapidly spinning with sparkling colours. And the colours fell from them, like rain, and I tried to catch them. I wasn’t alone in that. A beast of sorts was rearing up, maw full open, guzzling of the falling spangles. I watched falling spangles and guzzling beast for an uncountable time—perhaps for a year, perhaps less, perhaps less than a minute. Time seemed to yawn and contract as if it were breathing.
There were flowers. Yes, I suppose you could call them that: flowers. Yet flowers are plants and these weren’t that. They were . . . I suppose you could say people. People whose flesh was growing these flowers. Such a strange thing, I laughed to see it, and that seem incongruous. Yet these people didn’t remain people for long; now they were birds—brightly petalled birds that filled the air with their song. Strange, that their song had human words. Oh, it all seems so very confusing now I try to tell it. Yet it all seemed right at the time, as if this was how the world ought to be.
And there was a snake.
No small snake this, and neither evil. She seemed . . . I suppose you might say friendly. She oozed acceptance of me. Love, yes, that’s what it was: she oozed love of me. I held out my arms to her, inviting her into my being. And she came.
How she entered I do not know yet she was within me. I was aware of her there, aware of her cleansing me (from the inside out—yes, that’s how it was). She moved with sinuous motions through the base of me, through my organs, through my intestines and into my heart. She wriggled herself through my airways. She wreathed and climbed the tree of my spine and entered my brain. I remember how I smiled at that. I chuckled. I grinned. I was happy, so happy, content to have her coiled there.
“Who are you?” I finally asked her. “Our Mother?” I meant our Mother-Goddess.
Though she offered no words yet I knew her answer: « I am the Daughter. »
“The Mother’s daughter?”
Again, her wordless answer, « No. » She showed me.
Between the people who really were birds, beneath the trees that were star-sated beasts, all around that plain before me, there sprang what I thought at first were a hundred-million fungi. Earth-balls, perhaps. But even as I watched so they grew taller, and more turgid. There was a great tension, I could feel it inside me, almost unbearable, as their filmy skins stretched over their straining glans. Then, all as one, their hundred-million skins ripped and tore, and they showered the land not with spores but with a thickly viscous pearlescent fluid. Me, an unbroken virgin, ought not to have known what it was, yet I did.
“You are the Daughter of the land.” I said. “This land, I mean, this Holy Land?” I knew the Holy Land wasn’t the land of Macara.
Apparently I had said it right for then she left me. Yet it was only to twine into a tree. She left her voice within me. « See, Holy Daughter, me. »
The tree blossomed. Yet . . . the blossoms weren’t flowers but coupling snakes—coupling as they do in spring. Thousands, beyond any counting, hanging from every branch and small twig, from the top of the tree down to its very first sprig. And as they ripened they didn’t fall as blossoms will do but they drifted away, bubble-like floating high into the sky there to form a hundred waterfalls, cascading down. I knew, though she didn’t tell me, that this she was showing me was the line of the Queens. It reminded me so of the tree in the painting in my mother’s own chamber, the tree that was to be mine.
Branches fell from the tree. Some landed and withered and faded away. Others rolled log-like until hitting a stone they upended and rooted and grew and blossomed. I wanted to say, for I knew it, that these were the lesser daughters in every generation (for only the first three born were eligible queens). My eyes searched the tree. Where was the line which would be mine?
But before I could find it my eyes were distracted. From the newly-rooted branches fell a myriad of multicoloured petals. And as they fell they changed to seeds. But not, as you’d think them, hard encased things. No, squirming these, as wormlike they buried into the ground—thence to erupt as more fungal-heads.
« You know what it means? » she asked me.
And, yes, I knew its meaning. I believe I always had known though it always had been buried deep, awaiting this moment to erupt like those heads. “Every Madja-woman is related to me. We all are descended from the First Queen.”
« Every woman of the Three Lands, » she corrected me. « Of Macara, which is the Mother; of Madjaria, which is the Middle; of Glyntland, which once was the Father. »
I must have pondered on this yet it seemed that I didn’t. for my response was fast-coming. “Then the prophecy doesn’t belong to only me?”
She laughed. And with her laughing I found myself smiling. Yet—
“The Macaran . . . ?” I frowned. “No, they cannot be Queen. And the Glyntlanders? No!” And at once I felt abashed of what I had said.
In an instant, before me appeared an infinite range of numbers, all busily changing, all confusing. I knew their meaning: they were Glyntlanders. I didn’t like them; I wanted them gone.
She untwined her body from the tree and spread her mass across the numbers and bit-by-bit and little-by-little her massive body simply absorbed them. « My children, » she said (though afterwards I thought I’d mistaken and she had said, « My husbands, my men. »).
“But . . . ! No!. Glyntlanders care only for numbers, for coins.”
« And in the beginning there was the Queen and her three daughters, » she said which ought to begin an ancient tale I’d known from the nursery yet didn’t. « And becoming women each of the daughters went a separate way. Three different ways. Macara. Madjaria. Glyntland. Which way is the right way? You would judge them? »
I sat back, feeling shame and deep in guilt. I was sure I stank like I’d rolled with the swine. Bile filled my mouth. I shuddered. I wanted the stink and the taste and the shame gone; they were spoiling my pleasant day. I knew the way to be rid but I didn’t want to say it. I didn’t want to admit that the Holy Daughter was right. Who was I, by what knowledge, by what right, did I made this judgement against the Macara and the Glyntlanders?
« Mideer, » the way she whispered my name was like warmth caressing me, loving, accepting. Yet it made me feel the shame the worse. « Mideer, there is no ‘right’. No ‘wrong’. No ‘good’. No ‘better’. No ‘best’. There are only a myriad of different ways. Each has value. Each belongs. Accept. »
As I’d had no awareness of entering that land so I had none of leaving it. I merely found myself by the old man’s hearth in the cave with a belly that wanted to eject whatever potion I’d drunk. I felt gross. I was sweating. Parts of my body were tingly, other parts seemed not to be mine. I want to sleep and yet to escape—but escape what? My body? My guilt? My shame?
It took me a while—registering my ailments, wallowing in these foul sensations—before I noticed the old man was gone. In his place was Hean.
He nodded to me. I wasn’t sure what that meant except it felt good. I was pleased for a reason to smile.
“I shan’t ask you,” he said. “I’ve been there.”
“You met the Daughter?”
He nodded a gentle assent. He seemed to be smiling though not with his mouth. Perhaps it was coming from deep within him.
“Now,” he said, “and what will you do to complete the prophecy?”
“Can’t this wait till I’m . . .” But I suppose he wouldn’t have asked so soon if it could wait. “Return to Madjaria. Tell them what I have seen.”
“And what have you seen? I mean, what have you seen that will convince your Madja—priests, lords and all—that they’re wasting their energies in resenting the Glyntlanders; that those Glyntlanders aren’t so bad? I suppose that is your first call. Then I suppose you’ll do likewise for the Macaran? Well?” He looked at me.
But what amongst all I’d seen could I tell my Madja that would convince them?
“And, of course, your people, the Madja, will listen to you, breath-held in awe,” he said, stacking high the obvious objections that had escaped me. “The charismatic new queen, teaching her people the basics of love. Is that how it’s to happen?”
I now felt awkward, looking about me, not at all liking what Hean was saying, yet recognising the truth of it.
“Anyway,” I tried to duck out of it, “who’s to say your prophecy refers to me. Every woman in all three lands—EVERY woman—we all are descended from the same Queens Line. Your prophecy could refer to . . . to any one of them.”
He chortled softly, the while shaking his head. “Yes, you speak true: Every woman is of the same Queen’s Line. But not every woman has been raised in the Queens House; none trained to the role that now awaits you. You think the Madja would accept any other but you?”
“My uncles’ daughters. They’ve been raised there too.”
“Your uncles’ daughters.” He nodded and chuckled. “Oh, indeed, your uncles would like that. But first they must battle, brother to brother and wed-man to wed-man, until they agree whose daughter to name. But, Mideer, those girls, those women, have not been trained to it from birth as have you.”
I sat up sharply—which was a mistake. I hadn’t realised how much my head hurt. Had the cave spat rocks while I was away? Yet the worst of the pain was inside, within the brain-case. Lords! But I didn’t ever want to drink that muck again, no matter that it did transport me to a Holy Land.
“I have not been trained from birth,” I objected, slowly and not too loudly, yet firmly. “I received no training until . . .” I paused while I thought when it was. It must have been when the Landed of the Assembly had grown weary of waiting for my mother to produce the next king. No sons. Just a single child. Me.
“Mideer, think,” Hean pressed gently (I guess this was the first time I really suspected he might know my thoughts). “Your father has no sons. None.”
That was true. 329 daughters (as far as known), but not one solitary son. I’m not the eldest of his children. Half of those daughters were born before me. Heading-on 200 children before I was born and not one son amongst them. By the time of my birth, I’d wager, the Landed of the Assembly had long been talking.
“You have been trained to this from the day of your birth,” Hean persisted.
“Then why no talks of succession until—”
“Your mother, Queen Megan, is dying. It had to be done, to be set in stone. You cannot imagine the chaos caused by a vacant throne.”
“Hean, sorry, ” I said. “I need fresh air.” I held out my hand for him to help me.
Outside the cave I still wasn’t able to stand unaided. I rested against the rock-wall and allowed the air to wash around me, to fill me, refresh me. It felt . . . it felt like I was newborn and these were my first breaths.
“Now,” Hean said, “shall we try again? How do you intend to complete the prophecy?”
“Good, better, best,” I said, and he seemed to understand my intent.
But though he nodded still he objected. “And you are an untried woman. Though their future queen, you are no priest, no preacher. Why then should they listen to you?”
“I could . . .” But I didn’t know what I could do. I was wildly searching for a solution (not easy with a head that hurts this much). Then what seemed to me a solution: “I will instruct my father in it. They’ll listen to him.”
Hean raised a brow at me. I looked away. “If I had told you these things you now have learned—”
“Of the snake-tree?” I asked. “Of we women all being one line?”
“Is that all you have learned?” He raised that same brow at me.
I looked away, speaking now to the plain instead of to him. “I have learned, too, of the good, the better, the best: that we all have the same values, we just tread different ways. But I’ve already said of that.”
“So consider this: If before we came here I had told you these things—and we ought to be walking,” he said, a glance off towards the darkening sky. He held out his hand, to beckon, to encourage, to lead me away. Where would he take me? I don’t remember ever asking it. Did that mean I now trusted him implicitly? He said, now we were walking, “If I had told you these things when we were still in Madjaria, would you have understood them?”
I was quiet while thinking on that, and he didn’t press me. And now I could see our destination: a village in the distance, quite close to the shore.
“I would have believed of the tree—it’s there on my mother’s wall.” It had not yet occurred to me to ask how Queens House had came by their heirloom. “But I admit I would not have understood of the other. Can you imagine the priests saying to me of the ‘good, better, best’? No, it is the antithesis of what they teach. They want to keep us all hating each other—baiting their gods, for a baited god grows strong.”
As soon as I said it I shuddered. For I realised with a sickening sensation that this was exactly true. And it is true, you priests. Moreover, you keep us hating the Macaran and Glyntlanders so we don’t stray towards them, begin to like them, to understand them. You keep us tied to your strings where you can control us. And, for saying less, men have lost their heads, so don’t say it’s not true.
“Hmm. Good,” Hean said. “Now, Mideer, see how your wrappings are falling away? But the same isn’t true of your people. And it certainly isn’t true of the Glyntlanders.”
“I know where you’re steering me,” I said. “I know what I must do. I must show them.” We were almost at the village before I added, “But how?”
Mideer has learned many things from her visit to the Holy Land. Some things cannot be put into words. Others are hard to put into action. Yet there was one lesson that threads through them all: that to ‘see’ is to understand. Now, if she can find a way to apply it she might thereby—maybe, possibly, perhaps—fulfill the prophecy. But she’s not there yet. And then there are the priests to contend with . . . and her uncles, maternal and paternal. See the next episode, A Spot Too Tight.