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GoodGod!

January, 2019

Meet the Gods: The Wise Men

Merry meet.

This month’s column is not about gods. Rather it’s about saints, or, more correctly, magi, the pagan astrologers who came to worship Jesus. The word magic came from magi because they dabbled in the dark arts and were referred to as sorcerers, wizards and magicians.

Tradition refers to three wise men, but nowhere is a specific number stated; in Eastern Christianity often there are twelve. They came “from the east,” which most likely is now Iran. That means they could have traveled more than 800 miles. The Christmas story has them arriving twelve days later, but some traditions have the visit occurring as much as two winters later. (This could explain why Herod commanded all boys up to the age of two be killed.)

These Zoroastrian priests, as part of their religion, had great knowledge of astrology – others say astronomy. According to the Gospel Matthew, these wise men were guided to look for the “king of the Jews” by a miraculous stellar event: the Star of Bethlehem. They brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

As part of their religion, these traveling missionaries paid particular attention to the stars and gained an international reputation for their knowledge of the sky, which at that time was highly regarded as a science. As Christianity became the religion of the Romans, the magi were no longer respected, and neither were the Jews.

No names for the three appear in the New Testament. Legends, however, give them a variety of different names. Melchior, also spelled Melichior, was a Persian king, or some say scholar. Caspar, Gaspar or Jaspar was a king of India. Balthazar, also known as Balthasar and Balthassar, was a Babylonian scholar or an Arabian king.

Many sources do no consider them respected kings. Rather, the magi were uncouth and labeled as sinners because of their stargazing, sorcery and divination. Still, Catholics and Orthodox Christians celebrate the festival of The Three Kings, the Epiphany, on January 6. In Germany, they have become the patron saints of travelers; their feast day is July 23.

Merry part. And merry meet again.

***

About the Author:

Lynn Woike was 50 – divorced and living on her own for the first time – before she consciously began practicing as a self taught solitary witch. She draws on an eclectic mix of old ways she has studied – from her Sicilian and Germanic heritage to Zen and astrology, the fae, Buddhism, Celtic, the Kabbalah, Norse and Native American – pulling from each as she is guided. She practices yoga, reads Tarot and uses Reiki. From the time she was little, she has loved stories, making her job as the editor of two monthly newspapers seem less than the work it is because of the stories she gets to tell. She lives with her large white cat, Pyewacket, in central Connecticut. You can follow her boards on Pinterest, and write to her at woikelynn at gmail dot com.

Story Series: Hedge Wizard

September, 2018

Part 1


(Photo by Clint McKoy on Unsplash)

Chapter 1, Part 2

Flight through the Forest

As we flew over the treetops, with the great starry dome overhead, I seemed to be flying upside down over an ocean filled with innumerable lights. The blue child led me deep into the forest, and at one point slowed down to allow me to catch up with him. Then he locked elbows and flew with me, and suddenly all was changed. The trees glowed with light of many colors, like lamps of blue, green, red and violet, each type of tree a different hue. Some trees throbbed with light, while others gave off a steady sheen. In places I saw what looked like columns of light erupting from the trees up into the sky and eventually disappearing in distance. Elsewhere, shafts of light descended suddenly from the sky and fused with particular trees. The blue child led me to a glade in the forest filled with oaks and poplars. We flew to one particular oak and passed inside it through a hollow ‘fairy door’. I was in the trunk of a massive, giant oak tree with the blue child.

Some noise in the forest woke me up at this moment. It was early morning, just around dawn. I went back to sleep and had no dreams I recalled.

At breakfast the Hægtessa seemed pleased and rested. She said she’d had the best sleep in years, for it’s tiring at times to fly with the blue child or other dryads in the forest. At least when you get up to my age,” she smiled. “But while you’re young it’s great fun, and you gradually become acquainted with the deeper forest.”

Dawn can go home tomorrow,” she continued as an afterthought. “Try again tonight with the Blue Child. See if you can get inside the Great Oak. Tell me what happened tomorrow at breakfast. If you find you like doing this, and don’t mind learning herb-lore from me, you can be hedge wizard when I am gone. But think it over; you have plenty of time to consider it.

But the times you go home,” she added, in turning, “don’t speak of your experiences here. Just say you are learning herb-lore from me. That will provide enough reason for them to ostracize you. No point in giving them more.”

* * * * *

On the following night once again I was flying with the Blue Child through the night forest. The blue child led me to a glade in the forest filled with oaks. We flew to one particular oak and passed inside it through a hollow ‘fairy door’. I was in the trunk of a massive, giant oak tree with the blue child. Blue light was all around us.

We rested inside a recess in the oak’s trunk. Not far from us was the figure of an old man sleeping. He seemed carved from wood, or else turning into wood. On his face was an expression of contentment and rest.

Who is that?” I asked the Blue Child. “My Dad,” he answered. “He is falling asleep into the tree. Dad, Dad,” he called softly. The old man’s eyelids fluttered, scattering small splinters. He looked with love at the Blue Child. “Dad, this is Bird-brow. He is taking his first flight.”

The old man’s voice came resonantly from his lips, which hardly moved. “Welcome, Bird-brow,” he said. “The gods bless you.”

And you, Sir,” I replied. “But what is happening to you?”

Oh, I am dying. It is time to return to the Tree, our Mother. My son will serve Her in my stead.”

In the garth, where I live,” I said, “to die is an occasion for sorrow.”

Not among us,” the old man said, smiling. “For we do not die entirely so long as the Tree lives. And She has lived here in the Forest a very long time.”

You can still go upstairs if you’d rather, Dad,” said the Blue Child.

No, Son. My place is here with our Mother, the Oak. But you should go upstairs to tell the Bright Ones I will stay here and subside into wood.”

The Blue Child turned to me. “Rest here awhile. I will return soon.”

The blue light grew around us and seemed to lift the Blue Child. He rose on a column of light and rushed out of the crown of the Tree, up into the sky. He was suddenly gone. I looked at the old man inquiringly.

You must pardon me,” he said, closing his eyes once again. “I am becoming very sleepy.”

I moved outside the trunk up into the lower branches of the Oak. Around me the elms were glowing green, the larches a paler shade of the same color. Here and there in the haunted forest columns of light shot up into the sky and disappeared; once in a while a column descended from the sky and passed into a tree from above, and the tree took on its color and glowed softly.

After some time had passed, a shaft of blue light descended from the sky and the Blue Child was back. “Now we must scout out the Hægtessa’s herbs,” he said. “the old beds have dried up.”

But where were you?” I asked him, as we resumed out flight.

In our star. Every tree in the forest has a star. Ours is there.” And he pointed almost directly up, to the top of the sky. “You must return with the Haegtessa in the morning and help her pick herbs.” Once again we entered the oak.

But where are the herbs?” I asked. “The trees will find them,” he said, and then called out softly “Dad…Dad.”

The old face appeared once more in the wood. “Yes, Son, what is it? I was drifting off.”

The Haegtessa needs more herbs, Dad. The old beds have dried up. We must find the closest bed of wild herbs for her.”

Right away,” said the face, and disappeared into the wood.

Where has he gone?” I asked the Blue Child. “Down into the roots,“he said. “The roots of the great oak extend far on every side and touch the roots of trees growing around us. They in turn touch the roots of their neighbors, and so on. The search for the wild herbs is even now traveling far afield, along the roots through the Deep Forest.”

Presently the old face of the Oak Father appeared once more in the wood. Little splinters flew from his eyelids and lips as he smiled and said “Tell the Hægtessa the way to the herbs has been charted. If she comes here to the Great Oak she can follow the trail with her staff” “Thank you, Oak Father,” I said, and promptly awoke in the crystal room.

At breakfast the Hægtessa was radiant. “You’ve done well, Bird-Brow,” she said. “The Blue Child and the Oak Father both like you. That is important.”

I told her what the Oak Father said. “I know,” she said, “I have done this before, many times. What he said was for your benefit. We must go together today, since you may be doing this next time.”

After breakfast she said farewell to my mother and little Dawn. “She has recovered. Keep her quiet and well-rested for a few days. Bird-Brow is going with me today on an expedition. He will return home tonight.”

The Hægtessa put on her voluminous white robe and took her carved oaken staff from her cabinet. “Take this sack with you, Bird-Brow,” she said. “We will bring back some herbs for replanting in my field.”

I had flown with the Blue Child to the Great Oak and knew vaguely how to get there in the body, but the Hægtessa knew the way very well, and in about half an hour we mounted the hill leading to the tree. It was a quiet, blue morning, punctuated with light birdsong.

The Hægtessa grounded her staff near the base of the oak. “Grasp my staff, Bird-Brow” she said. I grasped its head and felt a tingling coming up the staff from the ground. She knew I felt it, and took it back. “Now follow along. We have a journey to make.”

She walked to the next tree, a smaller, younger oak, and then beyond it to a birch, feeling the ground with her staff with every step. In this way we went down hill and up hill for about half an hour. Coming to a shallow stream, we forded it, the Hægtessa feeling the trail along the stream bottom with her staff, and picking up the trail again among the trees on the other side. The land sloped uphill from the other bank, until we reached a plateau at the edge of a cliff. Far below I could see the field of herbs. Passing to the left along the cliff, we came to a mild grassy slope downhill, and followed it down to the herb beds.

The field of herbs was the size of two yards placed side by side. Beyond them the forest continued on a shallow rise. “The herbs have come here from many places in the forest,” said the Hægtessa. “They are our partners. It is our job to protect them, to pick the weeds from among them and ring them about with guardian plants like marigolds. Some we will gather up and replant in my garden. These will be of use, like the feverfew I gave little Dawn, but once replanted, the herbs have less potency. Here, in this field, is where they retain their full magic.” She showed me how to tell weeds from herbs, and we replanted a few marigolds along the margins.

You must come here with the Blue Child, Bird-Brow,” she said, “perhaps once a week, to see if all is well. You must also come here at times in the body to dress and protect the field, and gather a few herbs for replanting. That is, if you want to.”

She looked at me carefully. “I am old, Bird-Brow,” she said. “I cannot make the journey here often. If you wish to be hedge wizard after me, you must start now to help with the fields.”

I will, gladly,” I said. “But what of my father and the boar hunt? I have never been asked to be on it before, because I was too young. He is counting on me to be with him.”

Some problems have no easy solution, Bird-Brow,” she said.

When I visited the herb field and pitched my tent, all was quiet. In the night I saw one herb light up within, and in it I could see the Hægtessa preparing herbs. She looked very old and tired, and suddenly I knew I would disappoint my father and remain here with her. When next I slept in the crystal room, the Blue Child flew in and said I had chosen wisely. She would not live much longer. In the morning I told her of my decision to remain with her and learn her herb-lore. She smiled and took me into her garden, pointing out the herbs which had been replanted. “These can be used in healing, Bird-Brow. But they must be boosted with wild herbs from the field.” Back in her house, she showed me how to prepare the herbs, cutting them and mixing them with the wild herbs. They seemed to quicken into new life when mixed with their wild counterparts.

At night, I flew with the Blue Child to the wild herb field, but instead of returning to the Hægtessa’s house we flew together over the wheat fields to the Hall. There was a lamp lit inside the Hall, watched over by the Hall-Sun, a young, vigorous woman with straw-colored hair. I was surprised to see my father there with her. “He won’t come, Hall-Sun.” he said sadly. I had hoped to show him hunting. The Hægtessa has bewitched him to her service.”

He can still come along to the boar-hunt,” the Hall-Sun said. “He can fly with the hunters and the Blue Child.” And she nodded to my companion.

That night the boar-hunters ran through a long tunnel in the Hedge, carrying torches. My father led them. The great wild boar had been reported in these parts, and each hunter was armed with bow, arrows and spear. I hovered over my father and the Blue Child and I flew on ahead to scout out the quarry and report its whereabouts to the hunters. Once or twice I saved my father from the boar by warning him of its murderous attack. I think he was aware of my protection and thanked me. He showed me how he stalked the boar and in this way I learned about hunting. The Hall-Sun watched me closely and I was taken by her fresh beauty. She seemed sprung from the earth, like harvest wheat. Her gaze seemed to reprove me for not being with my father on the hunt. But then I thought of the Hægtessa and her difficulties, and when I did, the Hall-Sun nodded approvingly.

End of part one

Story Series: Hedge Wizard

August, 2018

Part 1

(Photo by Tj Holowaychuk on Unsplash)

Chapter 1

1. A Visit to the Hægtessa

I remember when little Dawn had a fever and had trouble sleeping, I went with Mother across the harvested fields to visit the Hægtessa. The green wall of the Hedge, tiny in the distance, grew and threw open its arms as we approached. On all sides it stretched, shutting out the Forest, except where the river ran by, downhill on the right, where the fishing lodge straddled the bank. I knew that far to the left, the hunters’ tunnel passed under the hedge.

Beyond the Hedge I could see the tops of many trees, outliers of the Forest. The Forest went on and on, they said, forever. No one went very far into it except the hunters. The Hægtessa, whose name meant ‘hedge-rider,’ went a little way in at times to gather herbs.

As we approached her house, Mother cautioned me to remain quiet unless spoken to. The Hægtessa, it was said, lived a very quiet life and disliked noise.

Her house ran right through the Hedge to the other side, and thus had two fronts, each barely extending beyond the Hedge itself. Her magic accommodated the Hedge to her house, neatly fitting it without impinging on it in the least.

I had never been in her house. I had been up to the Hedge, and down to the fishing-lodge by the river, and seen the gabled front of her house from a distance, but never herself. But now she came out.

But when the Hægtessa emerged, she was a kindly-looking middle-aged woman, getting a little stout. She was dressed in a simple farm smock and apron.

I’ve been working in the garden” she said to me, answering my thought. The morning sun peeped over the roof of the forest, and I squinted. She looked at me curiously, then turned to my mother.

Hello, Mopsy,” she said, using my mother’s little girl name.”What can I do for you?”

It’s Dawn, here,” said Mother. “She is hot and can’t sleep. I think her head hurts.”

The Hægtessa took Dawn in her arms. “She needs feverfew and a few other herbs,” she said. “Step in.”

We went up three steps and were inside her house, which seemed carved rather than built. A wide room stretched on both sides. Ahead were more steps, leading past cabinets of herbs and instruments up through the middle of the house. There were no windows to right or left.

Her magic keeps the hedge from bothering the house,” I thought. “But why the hump in the middle?”

Once again she answered my thought. “The roots of the hedge pass under the middle of my house. Else there would be two hedges.”

*

The Hægtessa ascended the inner steps and took several herbs from the shelves. She took dried leaves of feverfew and mixed them with fresh leaves. Then she prepared two or three other herbs.

When she brought the tea down, I saw a circular stairway at the back of her herb-closet. Past it steps probably started down to the forest side of her house.

We have to wait and see how she takes the herbs,” she said. “Please make yourselves comfortable. I will brew another tea.”

We sat on her cushioned carved benches and waited, while Mother applied a cool rag to Dawn’s head from time to time.

The Haegtessa kept us company. She talked about her need for an apprentice, “I’m not as young now as I once was.” She was running out of some herbs and needed help locating new gardens in the forest.

Somewhat later she felt Dawn’s head and said she felt a little cooler, but she needed to stay there for a night or two until her head was back to normal. She fixed up a bed for Mother in the room with Dawn, then turned to me.

Perhaps you’d like to sleep in the loft?” she asked, pointing to the circular stairs. “Come and see.” I followed her up the stairs. At the top, the gabled room was on the right. On the left a door opened into a circular chamber, roofed with crystal. I had heard of the dream chamber, but thought it was just a story.

In the center of the room was a wide, comfortable looking bed. Some treetops could be seen at the rim of the dome, but otherwise it was all sky.

Do you think you’d like to sleep here?” she asked.

Oh, yes,” I said. “Yes, thanks.”

That is well, Bird-brow; I give you that name in place of your boyhood name Hops. For outside, when you squinted, I saw a bird’s head, perhaps a robin’s, in the wrinkles between your brows. So I know you will profit from a night spent up here.”

The first night the dream chamber was filled with a blue light, whitened a while by the moon. I lay entranced by the starry sky and don’t know when I dropped off. Just before I woke I seemed to see a bluish figure flying around the room. It was a boy, a little smaller than I am, but I awoke before I could see more or speak to him.

At breakfast the Hægtessa was jovial. Dawn was much improved, and Mother had finally gotten some much-needed sleep. We had milk and meat and some fruit I had never seen before, juicy with a red pith. “One more night and Dawn will be well,” she said. “Did you sleep well in the chamber, Bird-brow?”

Why do you call him that?” asked Mother. “His name is Hops.”

He is growing fast, and has grown much overnight. See, already he is nearly eight years in stature. And I name him Bird-brow.”

Mother said nothing, but shifted a little uneasily in her chair. We knew that a hedge-witch has the right to assign a name to someone, and that name is not without meaning.

During the morning the Hægtessa took me out over the stair-hill and through the forest side of her house to the herb garden just outside the forest-door. Just beyond it was the blasted heath where the advancing trees of the forest had been cut down and the grass and seeds underneath them burnt brown. We picked herbs that day and she showed me how to store them in jars and prepare tinctures and other medicines.

At sunset a hunter came by with a brace of conies. “Have you heard that the great boar hunt is being prepared?” he asked me. “Your father is organizing it. Will you be with him?” I said certainly. He skinned them and stayed to supper with us, then went off again into the forest.

That night I dropped off to sleep swiftly, and before long the light of a star shone brighter, and the blue child flew or slid down the trail of light, landing at the foot of my bed.

Come, Bird-brow,” the blue child said. “You are asleep, so you can fly,” and we both flew through the crystal and out into the night of the forest.

To Be Continued…

Book Review: Confessions of a Bone Woman – Realizing Authentic Wildness in a Civilized World By Lucinda Bakken White

May, 2018

Book Review

Confessions of a Bone Woman – Realizing Authentic Wildness in a Civilized World By Lucinda Bakken White

This is a “coming of age” tale, the story of one woman’s rediscovery of freedom, joy and ultimately, herself. Lucinda Bakken White excavates her soul from underneath a lifetime of meeting expectations and fulfilling the demands of parents, peers, career, marriage and children and life as a “powerful socialite.” How does she do that? By excavating the bones and feathers of “roadkill” and creating art from them. She finds her life in the death and resurrection of the wilderness animals she roamed among as child.

Bakken White tells her tale of innocence lost and reborn using animal archetypes to describe herself at different points in her life. She moves from being a wolf, secure with her place in the pack, to a wolf among lions, changing her “skin” to meet the expectations of society and family. Her description of how she gave herself up, piece by piece and bone and bone, is worth reading. From the perspectives of both parent and child, it is an accurate description of how we are trained to conform, to be other than who we are and to take off the “skins” of our true natures to wear designer clothes. We become disconnected from the rhythms and cycles of the natural world and we fall out of balance with ourselves.

(Bone Altar)

Bakken White hears the call back to herself in dreams of Wolf and feels the pull to work with bones when she finds a buffalo skull that appears to her as a portal to other realms. She becomes “ravenous for bone” and finds that animals, dead and alive, communicate with her like her dreams do. Encounters with animals become an invitation to communicate with forces greater than herself and force her to stay aware and connected, pulling her back to herself and out of her superficial preoccupations. She finds herself working with carcasses of animals, preserving them, honoring the lives of the spirits that had once inhabited them and ultimately making sacred their presence here on Earth. Bakken White writes about digging into decaying carcasses with her fingers to get through what is dead to the bones, the structure of a life; she realizes that by digging through decay and going inside, with persistence and without horror, she can pull out and restore that which gives her life meaning.

Now as a woman coming of age and fully inhabiting her Elderhood, Bakken White works with other women to examine the masks they wear. She writes that in “looking back, I realized that bone by bone the animals I found were a metaphor for my personal process of discovering, unmasking and reconnecting the scattered parts of my true self.” But rather ending the book by identifying with the archetype of La Loba, the wolf woman who sings over the bones, Bakken White’s last chapter is called “Skunk.” Skunk is confident with herself and owns respect!!

Click Image for Amazon Information

***

About the Author:

Susan Rossi is a Practitioner and Teacher of Shamanism. She is a long-time explorer of The Mysteries – the connections between mind, body, spirit and how to live in right relationship to all of the energies streaming through the cosmos. She works with clients as an astrologer, coach, ceremonialist and guide to the wisdom that each of us has the capacity to access. Her focus is on guiding clients to unblock and rediscover their inner wisdom. , exploration of the birth chart, ceremony, legacy writing, hypnotherapy, energetic healing practice and creation of sacred tools are integral pieces of her practice.

Susan trained in Soul Level Astrology with master astrologer Mark Borax. She delights in exploring with individuals the planetary pattern under which their soul choose to incarnate.

Flying to the Heart www.flyingtotheheart.com

A Gathering of Sorcerers

September, 2017

The tale-finder had traced the story as far as a small tavern in a remote village. Quaffing his ale, he greeted the other guests and, after a customary exchange of pleasantries, asked if anyone present had heard the story Hob told of a midnight gathering of sorcerers. There was some chuckling, and then a giant of a man sitting in the corner replied that he knew the tale, or knew of it.

It isn’t much of a story,” he began. “This farmhand Hob, in some stead over the river, was about to head home for the evening when the Mistress of the farm stopped by and asked him if he would wait on some guests who were due to arrive later that night. She said he could enjoy a full supper after they had eaten, and all he had to do was pour water and ale for them, then serve them food when they called for it. For the rest, he was to stay out of the way and not pry, but remain within earshot. He would get extra wages for it. She said that usually she tended them when they came, but she had to go see to a sick sister over the ridge.

Hob agreed, and along about ten or eleven in the evening they arrived heavily cloaked on horseback. He took their steeds to the barn while they settled themselves comfortably in the straw-strewn main room of the farmhouse. There were about a dozen present, plus one who sat a little apart. He was taller and thinner than the others, and evidently in charge of the meeting.

Hob brought them well-water and ale, and then retired to an adjoining room, shutting the door between. Being an inquisitive sort of fellow, though, and telling himself he had to listen for their meal-call, he left the door ajar by a little crack and sat close by.

The room was quiet for a time, then the leader spoke softly. Hob could just see him through the crack.

“ ‘Gentlemen, are you all comfortable?’ There were several grunts of assent. ‘Have you all found your places? Have you removed your heads?’

When he heard that, Hob felt a chill. He wanted very much to widen the door-crack to see if their heads were off, but did not dare.

The leader said ‘Very well, now my head is off.’ A great fear fell on Hob as he saw the leader sitting in his place with his head in his hands. His neck was not bloodied, and his voice seemed to be coming from the hole in his shoulders. He couldn’t see the other sorcerers but assumed they looked the same.

At one point, everyone stood up and began pacing in a circle round the room. Their heads, apparently, were set aside somewhere safe where they would not be kicked or tripped over accidentally. As the pacing continued, the headless sorcerers seemed to rise slightly until they were circling together two or three inches off the ground. Peering through the crack, Hob saw them pass by one at a time, each without a head on his shoulders! At the same time, an enormous buzzing noise started filling the room, and energy throbbed so strongly that it pushed Hob’s door fully closed, without, however making a sound. Hob was deathly afraid the headless sorcerers would discover him spying on them, and take off his head, but they took no notice and, from the sound, apparently continued circling a while longer. Finally they stopped, and it would seem that each resumed his seat, since it grew quiet once again. The throbbing had ceased.

Hob was afraid they would call for food with their heads off, but presently the leader said ‘Gentlemen, you may now replace your heads and lose your places.’ They then called for him to bring in the food. As soon as he had done so, he withdrew and, not waiting to gather the dishes later, much less eat the leavings of such uncanny creatures, quietly left the farmhouse and tore off across the fields as though the night-hag were after him!”

All the guests roared with laughter, a little nervously, and complimented the giant on his narration. The tale-finder thanked him and bought everyone a round, but secretly he felt disappointed, since he had had the tale in this form before. He thought perhaps he hadn’t gotten any closer to its place of origin.

After a while, he asked the giant where he had heard the story. The narrator answered, somewhat shortly, that it was in general circulation.

Is this Hob still about?” he asked the room. Someone remarked that he had died in his grandfather’s time, but it was known that he never returned to that farm, not even to collect his wages. He decided the Mistress must be a hægtessa 1 to play hostess to such beings, and he shortly left the district. But before he left, he told his story to a bard, a loremaster in the hills this side of the river, who passed it on to his successor, and in this way it got around.

The tale-finder asked where he might find this bard or his current successor, and after some grumbling, especially from the giant, someone gave him directions. He explained then diplomatically that his work involved hunting down the oldest form of such tales. He doubted he would ever hear the story told better than it was told tonight, he added. With that, the giant grinned and everyone relaxed. They drank another round of ale, and then the tale-finder rose and bidding them all good evening, went to his bed in the loft above the tavern.

In the morning he rose early, paid the innkeeper, saddled his horse and rode into the hills. He had no trouble finding the cot of the bard, and by lunchtime was seated across a rude table from him. This was not indeed the man Hob had told, but his second successor. The tale-finder repeated the story as the giant had told it and waited for the bard to make comments.

He said nothing for a while, but smiled and snorted a bit. “Yes,” he said at last, “that is the popular version, but it is not what Hob told old White Hawk. He said that after the leader of the group had told everyone to take his head off, and had said that now his head was off, Hob was surprised to see his head was still there, securely on his shoulders. But you should have surmised this,” he added, raising an eyebrow, “else why would he have bothered to tell the others his head was off? Or why would he have asked them if they had removed their own heads, since with his on he could obviously have seen if they were headless?”

He took a bite of bread, shrugged, and added “But of course, really headless sorcerers make a better tale.”

And the circling?” asked the tale-finder, “the rising into the air?”

The bard smiled wryly. “That is a subtler matter. It is possible they became lighter, and perhaps they even floated a bit in their pacing. I don’t think Hob exaggerated that very much.”

And what of the strange buzzing that filled the room?”

That you would have to experience for yourself,” he said. “But I don’t think it was heard with the ears. It was, perhaps, more like a pressure.” He nodded and rose. Lunch and the interview were over.

The tale-finder thanked him for his information and hospitality. He felt more confused than ever, though. As he turned to say good-bye at the door, the bard thought of something else. He brought a bucket of well-water and held it up to the tale-finder’s chest. “It is customary in these parts,” he said, “for us to share a drink of water before parting. But before I dip the ladle, look into the bucket. Tell me what you see.”

The tale-finder looked and saw his weather-worn face looking up at him. “My face, my head,” he said. The bard pulled the bucket away. “And now,” he said, smiling, “where is your head?” The tale-finder felt his forehead and cheeks and said, “Well, here it is, only I can’t see it.”

Exactly,” the bard answered. But do you usually notice that you can’t see it? If you don’t, you reside in your thoughts. You have lost your place in the room. Do you understand?”

The tale-finder’s mouth fell open. “So that’s it?”

That’s it.” They shared a farewell drink of water, and the tale-finder went on his way.

1 A hedge-rider, i.e., a witch.

Short Story: Kiara, The Final Episode

December, 2016

kiara

 

Kiara, The Final Episode

 

Kiara allowed herself to be placed roughly into the chair. The field around her made her feel disoriented at first, but she curled her mind into a small hard sphere inside her head. She had foiled the goblin’s machine before and she felt quite confident that she could again. When she sensed Moira approaching in the form of a spider, Kiara quickly protected her from the machine. They communicated briefly, then Kiara sent her back up to the relative safety of the web above them,. She allowed a small amount of her energy to be drained, until she could find a way to protect the matron and Annabelle. Goblin warriors were pouring through the portal. Somehow, the goblins had breached the shield and were transporting a new type of warrior breed through it. She watched and waited.

Droc was working feverishly at the controls of his machine. Using the magic of the princess, he had opened a wormhole through the faery web that was around his planet. His troops were pouring through now. They no longer had to wait for bodies to be constructed. He sent them off to arm themselves and clear the manor of any humans left. His keen hearing could detect the noise of doors and furniture being smashed, then the sound of squabbling as they found the pantry, presumably. It was well stocked, he had made sure that it would be. This was their base to conquer worlds and send materials and food back home. He wished,- not for the first time, that engineering the warrior goblins had not made them so stupid. Still, he had his vanguard with him. His most loyal soldiers. They would lead the armies while their bodies stayed safely back in the mountain.

Lights started to dim on the console and Droc swore. He was checking gauges and turning dials to no avail, too preoccupied to see a small orb fly across the room. Then the chair died and the lights flickered off. When they came back on, the faeries body was slumped forward in the chair.

He went to check the body, and as he touched it, Kiara’s shell seemed to shrivel and then crumpled into dust. He was cursing as he returned to the console. The two goblins who were holding Matron and Annabelle, both died at the same moment. They fell forward just as a circle of orbs appeared around Kiara and her two charges.

Mandrell appeared first. He was almost as tall as Kiara, with jet black armour and helmet. Reaper was already in his hand and his eyes were blazing. He looked at Kiara and then to the door leading to the armoury. She drew her sword and prepared for any returning goblins, gesturing to Annabelle and Matron to stay behind her. Then Azira manifested. She was as tall as Kiara, with flaming red hair and green leather armour. She had a crossbow and was already firing into the goblins with a steady stream of bolts, as they appeared from the portal . Each bolt seemed to be replaced as soon as the last one was fired . Gortek was as round as he was high with a huge axe. He swirled into the goblins, creating a circle of decapitated bodies. His armour was bronze coloured and studded with large spikes like a porcupine. Azul was a giant, even by warrior standards. Eight foot tall and wearing only light leather armour, he carried a small circular shield and a mace. Any goblins who got past the other three were quickly crushed by the giants blows.

Drawn by the noise of battle, goblins started to return from the armoury, to be cut down by Kiara’s flashing sword as they came through the door. Another half-dozen or so faeries appeared and circled around the door in front of Kiara. Mandral sent them to secure the armoury and to clear the house and grounds of goblins. Kiara followed behind them, protecting Matron as she ran to check on James. He was weak from loss of blood but his wound was already healing rapidly from Kiara’s touch. Matron knelt beside him and cradled his head in her lap.

Mandral and the Gortek were carving a path though the goblins as the Azul and Azira ensured that none escaped from the room. Azira fired a stream of bolts that pinned Droc to the console, sending sparks flying and frying the goblin as the energy blasted into him, shorting out the equipment. The portal died and no more goblins came flooding through. Mandral and Gortek hacked and slashed their way through the oncoming troops and a stream of bolts killed any goblins beyond their reach. By the time the last of the remaining goblin troops had been slain, there was only a charred husk remaining of the king of the goblins. The large room was by now filled with corpses and the stench of charred flesh was sickening.

Gortek stood guard by the portal. Azul and Azirah went to help clear the house and to prepare for an elder to come and consecrate a new guardian tree. Moira dropped from her web and, resuming her habitual appearance, she went to her great uncle.

When two of the other faeries, Graela and Driff came back to report the house cleared. Kiara asked Graela to guard the room and went with Driff to see Mandral. Kiara was sickened by the sight and smell of the bodies. She opened out her arms and the bodies and blood vanished as the room changed into a large brightly lit marquee with chairs and cushions. She left the console and the portal in place. While waiting for Driff to give his report, she sat down on the chair which had been used to steal some of her power. She had been brought to this manor as a confused child, but now she was every inch a princess of the Fae.

Moira brought Mandral to her. He bowed, “Thank you Milady for helping us in our hour of need”. Kiara smiled, “Thank you Milord for your timely arrival. I believe we may have much to discuss”.

Several more chairs appeared beside them and she invited them to sit down. “Thank you Moira for bringing me back to my old self. Without your warning about the goblin, things may not have gone well.” Turning to Mandral, she asked if if he realised that the goblin king and his generals were still very much alive. He nodded, “They have to be dealt with, Milady, and their machines must be destroyed”. He looked grave. They both knew the cost of a sustained war with the goblins.”It is very much in my hands”, he said.”I must raise an army and invade their kingdom. Their are many outland Fae who will join me, but to insure a large enough army I need a princess by my side.” He looked at Kiara, “Milady, we have not had a warrior princess for over 10,000 years. I know that I ask a great deal, but there is much at stake. The goblins plan to spread their empire once more. When they are strong enough they will attack our home world. Win or lose, the light of the Fae will be dimmed for many aeons to come, unless some of us sacrifice our light for the many.”

They sat in silence for some time. There were tears in Kiara’s eyes as she thought of the hundreds of years of happiness that she was leaving behind,- perhaps forever. She wanted to be with Jeremiah, playing silly games and laughing at his jokes as they wandered in the woodland. She had been a carefree child for 500 years. Faeries seldom love as humans love, but that love had blossomed between them during a summer of delight. She had hoped for an eternity of joy with Jeremiah by her side. She had changed much already. Would he even know her when she returned?

“ Milady!”, Mandral spoke with urgency in his voice.”We must follow them through the portal and destroy their machinery. If we do not, then none of the worlds will be safe”.

When Kiara looked at him, her voice was cold, but, the blazing coals were burning in her eyes again. “Very well!, call your army!”. As she spoke, the console came to life and the portal began to glow.

*****

MagickalArts

September, 2016

This month the Magickals has an offering of flash fiction. Enjoy!

Tessie’s Gift

magickalarts

Tessie was a sprite. Not just any sprite, mind you but one who could craft the most pleasant of magicks. Her magick was one of bestowing gifts to those who would otherwise remain in need and despair. She was able to command all of the elements; something quite unusual as all of the other sprites were only able to weave their magick with one. Her favorite magick was gently coaxing the winds to do her bidding and she loved watching a golden haired child named Sasha dancing with the gentle breezes Tessie created in the fields.

 

Sasha was a gentle and sweet child whose life was filled with sorrow and pain. Her parents had never wanted her; a fact they made known to her every day. She was scolded for being too quiet and beaten for making too much noise. She ate what was left of the scraps that had been fed first to the cows and pigs as their selling and butchering was the source of the parent’s livelihood.  Even Sasha’s clothing was made from the remnants of old burlap feed bags.

 

Despite the hardships and unloving home Sasha was grateful for what was given to her and snuggled in closely each night, stroking and speaking softly to the animals whose home she shared. Her most treasured companion was a pig named Piper. She told Piper all of her secrets and he grunted happily as she sang him to sleep each night. It had been Tessie who had long ago whispered into Piper’s ear and told him to look after Sasha because she needed to be loved more than anything.

 

One cold morning, Sasha awoke to see Piper being taken off to the slaughterhouse. She begged her Mother and pleaded with her Father, tears streaming down her face and body shivering from the cold. Both pushed her aside and told her she would have no supper that evening for creating such a fuss. Her heart had been broken.   

 

That night Tessie stole into the pens and found Sasha sobbing and sitting alone in the space where her beloved Piper had been. Tessie called out to Sasha and the sobbing momentarily stopped as Sasha looked around. Tessie breathed out a gentle burst of air stirring the dirt up towards Sasha’s tear streaked face and Sasha’s eyes widened in seeing this tiny sprite.  She lowered her head for a closer look and smiled returning Tessie’s loving gaze.

 

Tessie told Sasha that she had been watching her for some time and that such a sweet and gentle child should have a loving home and parents. Sasha said that it was not so bad and that her parents tried as best they could. Tessie told Sasha that she knew of a family that would love and cherish her and as a gift for her kindness, the guardian of the dancing winds would take her to a new home. Sasha’s eyes lit up in excitement and she told Tessie that she would gladly go because this would make it so much easier for her real parents if she were not always underfoot.

 

And, so that night it was agreed that the sprite who could craft the most pleasant of magicks would take Sasha to the loving home she deserved. Tessie told Sasha to lay down and placed an enchanted flower in her hand. Sasha yawned and fell into a heavy and deep sleep.

 

Tessie called to the guardians of the winds and bid them come to her. The air thickened and a gentle woosh of wind spiraled around Tessie. She whispered into the very center of the wind and watched as the sleeping Sasha was gently lifted upwards. Tessie spoke softly to the winds and with each word Sasha was lifted higher, still soundly sleeping and gently cradled in a pocket of airy bedding.

 

The next morning, Sasha stretched and yawned opening sleep filled eyes.  The bedding underneath was soft and smelled of freshly washed linen. Light streamed in through sparkling clean windows lighting up a lavender painted room. She sat up, looking around in disbelief and her eye was drawn to the single periwinkle colored Forget-Me-Not on the pillow next to her. Carefully, she picked it up and vowed that she would never forget Tessie and her gift.  She brought the flower up to her nose and gently inhaled its sweetness as the sound of a loving voice called her downstairs for breakfast. And, what of Tessie? Her story is just beginning.

Short Story: A Gathering of Sorcerers

December, 2015

The tale-finder had traced the story as far as a small tavern in a remote village. Quaffing his ale, he greeted the other guests and, after a customary exchange of pleasantries, asked if anyone present had heard the story Hob told of a midnight gathering of sorcerers. There was some chuckling, and then a giant of a man sitting in the corner replied that he knew the tale, or knew of it.

“It isn’t much of a story,” he began. “This farmhand Hob, in some stead over the river, was about to head home for the evening when the Mistress of the farm stopped by and asked him if he would wait on some guests who were due to arrive later that night. She said he could enjoy a full supper after they had eaten, and all he had to do was pour water and ale for them, then serve them food when they called for it. For the rest, he was to stay out of the way and not pry, but remain within earshot. He would get extra wages for it. She said that usually she tended them when they came, but she had to go see to a sick sister over the ridge.

“Hob agreed, and along about ten or eleven in the evening they arrived heavily cloaked on horseback. He took their steeds to the barn while they settled themselves comfortably in the straw-strewn main room of the farmhouse. There were about a dozen present, plus one who sat a little apart. He was taller and thinner than the others, and evidently in charge of the meeting.

“Hob brought them well-water and ale, and then retired to an adjoining room, shutting the door between. Being an inquisitive sort of fellow, though, and telling himself he had to listen for their meal-call, he left the door ajar by a little crack and sat close by.

“The room was quiet for a time, then the leader spoke softly. Hob could just see him through the crack.

“ ‘Gentlemen, are you all comfortable?’ There were several grunts of assent. ‘Have you all found your places? Have you removed your heads?’

“When he heard that, Hob felt a chill. He wanted very much to widen the door-crack to see if their heads were off, but did not dare.

“The leader said ‘Very well, now my head is off.’ A great fear fell on Hob as he saw the leader sitting in his place with his head in his hands. His neck was not bloodied, and his voice seemed to be coming from the hole in his shoulders. He couldn’t see the other sorcerers but assumed they looked the same.

“At one point, everyone stood up and began pacing in a circle round the room. Their heads, apparently, were set aside somewhere safe where they would not be kicked or tripped over accidentally. As the pacing continued, the headless sorcerers seemed to rise slightly until they were circling together two or three inches off the ground. Peering through the crack, Hob saw them pass by one at a time, each without a head on his shoulders! At the same time, an enormous buzzing noise started filling the room, and energy throbbed so strongly that it pushed Hob’s door fully closed, without, however making a sound. Hob was deathly afraid the headless sorcerers would discover him spying on them, and take off his head, but they took no notice and, from the sound, apparently continued circling a while longer. Finally they stopped, and it would seem that each resumed his seat, since it grew quiet once again. The throbbing had ceased.

“Hob was afraid they would call for food with their heads off, but presently the leader said ‘Gentlemen, you may now replace your heads and lose your places.’ They then called for him to bring in the food. As soon as he had done so, he withdrew and, not waiting to gather the dishes later, much less eat the leavings of such uncanny creatures, quietly left the farmhouse and tore off across the fields as though the night-hag were after him!”

All the guests roared with laughter, a little nervously, and complimented the giant on his narration. The tale-finder thanked him and bought everyone a round, but secretly he felt disappointed, since he had had the tale in this form before. He thought perhaps he hadn’t gotten any closer to its place of origin.

After a while, he asked the giant where he had heard the story. The narrator answered, somewhat shortly, that it was in general circulation.

“Is this Hob still about?” he asked the room. Someone remarked that he had died in his grandfather’s time, but it was known that he never returned to that farm, not even to collect his wages. He decided the Mistress must be a hægtessa 1 to play hostess to such beings, and he shortly left the district. But before he left, he told his story to a bard, a loremaster in the hills this side of the river, who passed it on to his successor, and in this way it got around.

The tale-finder asked where he might find this bard or his current successor, and after some grumbling, especially from the giant, someone gave him directions. He explained then diplomatically that his work involved hunting down the oldest form of such tales. He doubted he would ever hear the story told better than it was told tonight, he added. With that, the giant grinned and everyone relaxed. They drank another round of ale, and then the tale-finder rose and bidding them all good evening, went to his bed in the loft above the tavern.

In the morning he rose early, paid the innkeeper, saddled his horse and rode into the hills. He had no trouble finding the cot of the bard, and by lunchtime was seated across a rude table from him. This was not indeed the man Hob had told, but his second successor. The tale-finder repeated the story as the giant had told it and waited for the bard to make comments.

He said nothing for a while, but smiled and snorted a bit. “Yes,” he said at last, “that is the popular version, but it is not what Hob told old White Hawk. He said that after the leader of the group had told everyone to take his head off, and had said that now his head was off, Hob was surprised to see his head was still there, securely on his shoulders. But you should have surmised this,” he added, raising an eyebrow, “else why would he have bothered to tell the others his head was off? Or why would he have asked them if they had removed their own heads, since with his on he could obviously have seen if they were headless?”

He took a bite of bread, shrugged, and added “But of course, really headless sorcerers make a better tale.”

“And the circling?” asked the tale-finder, “the rising into the air?”

The bard smiled wryly. “That is a subtler matter. It is possible they became lighter, and perhaps they even floated a bit in their pacing. I don’t think Hob exaggerated that very much.”

“And what of the strange buzzing that filled the room?”

“That you would have to experience for yourself,” he said. “But I don’t think it was heard with the ears. It was, perhaps, more like a pressure.” He nodded and rose. Lunch and the interview were over.

The tale-finder thanked him for his information and hospitality. He felt more confused than ever, though. As he turned to say good-bye at the door, the bard thought of something else. He brought a bucket of well-water and held it up to the tale-finder’s chest. “It is customary in these parts,” he said, “for us to share a drink of water before parting. But before I dip the ladle, look into the bucket. Tell me what you see.”

The tale-finder looked and saw his weather-worn face looking up at him. “My face, my head,” he said. The bard pulled the bucket away. “And now,” he said, smiling, “where is your head?” The tale-finder felt his forehead and cheeks and said, “Well, here it is, only I can’t see it.”

“Exactly,” the bard answered. But do you usually notice that you can’t see it? If you don’t, you reside in your thoughts. You have lost your place in the room. Do you understand?”

The tale-finder’s mouth fell open. “So that’s it?”

“That’s it.” They shared a farewell drink of water, and the tale-finder went on his way.

1 A hedge-rider, i.e., a witch.

MoonOwl Observations

September, 2014

A Tale of Prometheus
Prometheus was a Titan who sided with Zeus in the war of the titans. The Titans were then conquered, partly because Zeus released the hundred-handed monsters from their prison, who fought for them with their weapons (thunder, lightning and earthquake), and also because Prometheus took sides with Zeus. Zeus owed him a debt and Prometheus was on Zeus’ good side at the beginning. That changed however in one tale about the creation of ‘mankind’.
Zeus delegated the creation of mankind to Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus. This was in part due to the fact that Prometheus had helped Zeus in the war. Epimetheus went with his first impulse and changed his mind afterwards. He was quite scatterbrained, but Prometheus was very level-headed and wise. Before making man, Epimetheus gave all the gifts to the animals. Including strength, swiftness, courage, fur, feathers, wings and other traits. And he did this until no good was left for man. He then asked Prometheus to help him and Prometheus thought of a way to make man superior. He changed their shape so they were upright like the Gods, and he went to the sun, where he lit a torch and brought down fire, which would protect man more than anything else. He did so without the permission of the Gods.

“And now, though feeble and short-lived,
Mankind has flaming fire and therefrom
Learns many crafts.”

At this point only men were on the earth- no women. Zeus created women later, in anger at Prometheus because of his love for humans, and the fact that he stole fire from the Gods for them. Zeus also was angry at Prometheus for tricking him. Prometheus had cut up an ox and he was told to divide it in two, one half for man and one half for the gods. Prometheus wrapped the best parts in the hide and covered them with innards. Beside this heap he put another pile of bones, but he disguised it by covering it in the fat of the ox. He then told Zeus to pick the pile he liked best, and Zeus took the tempting half that was covered in fat. Zeus became very angry when he discovered he had been tricked, but he had made his choice and needed to abide by it.
Zeus swore to take revenge on Prometheus and he wanted to do this by punishing man as well. Zeus made a ‘great evil for man, a sweet and lovely thing to look upon, in the likeness of a shy maiden, and all of the gods gave her gifts, silvery raiment and a broidered veil, a wonder to behold and bright garlands of blooming flowers and a crown of gold- great beauty shone out from it.’ They called her Pandora, which mean ‘the gift of all’.
The gods then presented Pandora with a box, into which each of them had put something harmful and told her never to open it. Then Zeus sent her to Epimetheus, who took her gladly even though Prometheus told him not to. After, he realized how curious Pandora was and she had to see what was in the box. And after a few days she lifted the lid to see inside and out flew many plagues, sorrow and mischief for mankind. Pandora quickly shut the box- but it was too late. Luckily one good thing came from it- hope. And hope remains to this day a comfort. Once this happened mortals learned that you should never try to trick of deceive Zeus. And Prometheus discovered this too.
Zeus punished Prometheus by getting his servants Force and Violence to seize him and bound him to Caucasus and they told him

“Forever shall the intolerable present grind you down
And he who shall release you is not born
Such fruit you reap for your man-loving ways
A God yourself, you did not dread God’s anger
But gave to mortals honour not their due
And therefore you must guard this joyless rock-
No rest, no sleep, no moment’s respite
Groans shall your speech be, lamentation only your words. “

Zeus also knew that fate, which brings all things to pass, had decreed that one day a son of his would dethrone Zeus and drive the gods from their home in Olympus. Prometheus knew who would be the mother of this son, and Zeus wanted to know that information. Zeus sent Hermes to Prometheus. In response Prometheus said

“Go and persuade the sea wave not to break
You will persuade me no more easily.”
Hermes then told Prometheus that if he did not disclose his secret he would suffer more terrible things.
“An eagle red with blood
Shall come, a guest unbidden to your banquet
All day long he will tear to rags your body
Feasting in fury on the blackened liver”

Nothing could break Prometheus though and his suffering continued. His spirit would not break and he would not give in to brutal power no matter what. He told Hermes

“There is no force which can compel my speech
So let Zeus hurl his blazing bolts,
And with the white wings of the snow,
With thunder and with earthquake,
Confound this reeling world.
None of all this will bend my will”

Hermes left him to suffer, but many years later he was released. There are a few different notions on how this came to be, but I find that the most popular is that while looking for the golden apples that grew on a magical tree of life, Hercules finds Prometheus nailed to the rock. He kills the eagle that torments him and sets him free. In gratitude, Prometheus tells Hercules how to get the apples.

 

Bound

Greetings from Afar

June, 2013

of the Night

 

If Russia has an “national” musical instrument, it is the accordion, or “gormusha”. Almost every home has one, and almost everyone can play at least one tune on the instrument, especially the older generation, those born before, or during the “Great Patriotic War”. It is a lovely instrument that produces beautiful music. Like the people who play them, they vary in size and shape, and range from elaborate hand enameled antiques to modern, state of the art pieces. They are everywhere, pedestrians stop on the street and listen as some pensioner or invalid sits on the corner and plays, people strolling in the park are delighted by the sound of some lilting Russian folk song, or sad Soviet Era ballad. In Subway stations, commuters listen as someone plays while they wait for their train, or as some military pensioner sits in the lobby and plays a stirring march for the crowd. On weekends, when the Russian Soul is driven to the country like lemmings making for the sea, every car, on every commuter train, contains at least one accordion player. The “artists” range in age from nine (and younger) to ninety (and older). Most of the time, the music is highly appreciated and, and the talent of these sidewalk musicians is greatly admired. Most of the time, the simple beauty of these spontaneous concerts is a welcome addition to the day… Most of the time.

 

 

Three o’clock in the morning is not one of those times. To be waken from a sound sleep at some ungodly, cow milking hour by the sound of someone playing “Katusha” or the “Moscow My Own” on his Stomach Steinway is not a treat. It is an obnoxious nuisance. Dogs bark, babes cry and cats hiss.  It is not a pleasant thing. Fortunately, it does not happen often.

 

 

Dmitri Raikin and his wife Natash live in a small, one room flat on the third floor of a “Kruschev” building, on Kamagerski Peruelic, in downtown Moscow. It is one of those prefabricated tenements that former Premier Nikita Kruschev had erected for returning servicemen and their families in the mid 1950’s known for poor heating, bad plumbing, and extremely poor acoustics… you can literally hear a pin drop… from three floors away.

 

 

Raikin and his wife had not lived in the flat long. They were newlyweds, and had only moved in some three weeks before. Dmitri had “inherited” the flat from an uncle, who had decided to move out of Moscow, and back to his home village. Because of this, the Raikins did not know anyone in the building, at least, not very well.

 

The problem started almost as soon as the young couple moved in. Dmitri would wake up at three o’clock in the morning, to the sound of someone below them playing the garmusha.  Now, Dima works in the Moskvich Automobile factory, on a swing shift. Sleep is precious to him. He must be at work at five o’clock in the morning, and the three o’clock concerts were timed just right to cheat him out of an hours worth of sleep every night. Since he had to get up at four, anyway, what was the use of going back to sleep? At first, he ignored it, but after about two weeks, it began to get on his nerves. The music didn’t seem to bother Natasha, who slept right through it. This bothered Dima even more.

 

 

Finally, his typical Russian stoicism gave way to darker emotions, and one morning, in the summer of 1998, he got up to the sound of the music… yet another rendition of “Moscow My Own”… and decided to do something about it. This obnoxious disturbance just had to stop.

 

 

He got up, dressed, and stepped out into the hall. He listened carefully, until he got a definite idea as to where the music was coming from. Then, he went down the stairs and into the second floor corridor. Now was the time, he thought. The building musician had just began playing a fairly good rendition of “Red Army March”.

 

 

Dima carefully listened at each door until he identified that of the culprit. Then, he made his move. He stood as erect as possible, tried to look as distinguished as his twenty-three years would allow, and knocked on the door. After about the fourth knock, the door opened, revealing an old gentleman, obviously in his eighties, with a broad smile on his face. “Come in, young man! Do come in!” the man beamed. “What brings you out so early in the morning? Come in and have a cup of tea”.

 

 

The old man was being so nice, it was hard for Dima to be angry. Sleep, he knew, sometimes comes hard to the elderly. But, he had to say something. “Grandfather,” he began… all young people address older men and women as “Grandfather” or “Grandmother”. He cleared his throat and began again. “Grandfather. I hate to mention this, but, I live upstairs. It’s your accordion”.

 

 

“I suspected as much,” the old man cut in. “Actually, I was hoping to annoy someone enough to get them to come and visit me. You see, I have so few guests”…

 

 

So, that was it. Now Dima understood. His anger dissipated, replaced by pity. He stepped into the old man’s flat, and followed his “host” into the kitchen. On the table sat the most beautiful accordion that Dima had ever seen. He admired it with an obvious look of awe on his face. It was black enamel, with mother of pearl inlays. The keys were onyx and mother of pearl, on silver mounts. Dima reached out to touch it, as the old man poured the tea. He stopped short. It would not be proper with out asking first.

 

 

Without turning around, the old man muttered “Go ahead. Pick it up. Play it if you like. That’s what it was made for”.

 

 

Dima couldn’t play it as much as he would have loved to. He traced the curves of the delicate inlays with his finger as his host served the tea. In no time at all, the old man was playing again, and both of them were singing. It was as if Dima had been transported to a different world, as if time, itself, had stopped. They sang the songs of the workers, the songs of the last century, they sang of loves and wars lost and won. Finally, Dima excused himself, and went back up to his flat. The old man, Dima had forgotten to get his name, waved goodbye to him, and invited him back again. Dima, of course, eagerly agreed.

 

 

He returned to his own flat, shaved, and had another cup of tea. It amazed him how little time he had actually spent with the old man. The clock said only 3:45. He had been gone only half an hour. At four, he woke Natasha, said goodbye, and started off to work. All day, he thought about the lonely old man in the flat below him, and his beautiful accordion. On his way home that afternoon, Dima stopped at the corner kiosk, and bought a bottle of vodka and some cakes. As soon as he got to his building, he headed straight for the second floor flat, and began knocking on the door. He intended to give his new friend a present. Hopefully, the old man could teach him how to play the accordiond. He had always wanted to learn.

 

 

He knocked, on and off, for about ten minutes. Finally, he decided that the old man was out, and turned to go home. He would come back later. As he turned away, he saw the building Superintendent looking at him from down the hallway. He had a strange look on his face. Dima instantly thought that something must have happened to his new friend.

 

 

“What’s wrong?” He asked. “Did something happen to Grandfather?”

“Grandfather?” The Nachalnik replied. “Who are you talking about?”

“You know,” Dima answered. “The old man who lives here” Dima described the man in some detail. “Did something happen to him.”

The Superintendent eyed the bottle under Dima?’s arm. “Are you drunk?”

“No, I’m not drunk,” Dima responded indignantly. “I asked a simple question. Did something happen to the old man?”

 

 

“You could say that,” the Superintendent answered. “That flat has been empty for years. The old man you just described was the last owner. He’s been dead since… hmmm… let me think… somewhere around ’92, maybe ’93. They found him dead in his living room, he was playing his garmosha, and just fell forward… massive heart attack. He never knew what hit him.”

 

 

Dima went home and poured himself a stiff vodka, then chased it with another one… and another one… and another one…

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