Sunday, December 31, 2006

Huzzah! I am 18.

Happy Birthday to Me!


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Last year, upon my birthday, I held a Masquerade on the blogs. I told everyone to sign in as an Anonymous person without linking to their webpages and give themselves intriguing names, to describe their 'costumes' as it were, and to explain their presents. Last year I was offered a crystal rose and other beautiful gems.

As I don't know everyone who comments here, I shan't be as adept at guessing whom it is who dons a particular 'costume,' as it were, but it would be lovely if some of you would attend me in the comments and join my newest Masquerade ball. (And perhaps, if I truly can't guess, you can come back later and tell me who you are.)

Things I don't plan on doing upon turning 18:

a) Getting tattoos and piercings
b) Smoking
c) Yes, even smoking hookah
d) Going to Canada/ Israel and drinking

Things I do plan on doing upon turning 18:

a) Getting a Lord and Taylor card!
b) Perhaps voting

And what does it mean to turn eighteen? What is the significance of the age?

Well, I am now informed of its significance.

The ones I think are most fitting:

a) Eighteen is a rich experience
b) Eighteen is the bloggage of me
c) Eighteen is a story

I look forward to some very rich descriptions of costumes (yes, you're all attending my Masquerade) and some creative wishes.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Why do we blog?

I know this is an old topic, an oft-discussed topic. Why do we blog? Why are we here?

I was thinking through it, and I believe I have reached an answer.

We are all human. And to some extent, we all need something. We need friends when we are down, comfort when we despair, someone to tell us to straighten up and accept responsibility for our mistakes. We need approbation, condemnation and flattery. We need all these things in different amounts. We need a community.

Blogging simulates this relationship in the community. It is, therefore, a tool.

Even those blogs which distance themselves from personal relations, instead choosing to give over certain developed stances or information, rely upon their having an audience. There is no actor without an audience, no player without a play. We are nobody without one another. We live in a void, and tell ourselves that we like it there, but we know we don't.

The problem is, in the real community, the physical community of flesh and blood, we can't let down our guard. We cannot be so honest. We cannot admit mistakes. We have our pride, our stature and status, our children, our families. Oftentimes, we refuse to grow- in public.

So here we create these private worlds. You would not know me if I did not choose to let you know me. I am the one in control, and that makes me comfortable. If anything becomes too intense, if something pushes me out of my comfort zone, then I stop. I can close the computer screen, I can think about it, talk about it with others. And I learn how to express myself. Learn what I think, those principles that are essential to my survival, and the ones I can learn to release, the ones I can give up and change based on what I now see.

There are different stages to blogs and to their meaning for us. We begin with whatever we need most at the time. I began (most truly) with Silvergleam. That was my secular blog. I had the approval, warm regard and kindness of others. It was a place to feel safe. I had people who would force me to think, but did so in a truly kind manner. I knew not to feel threatened. I knew we were all friends.

But then I ventured into the Jewish blog-world. That was after the destruction of ModBlog, of my old place, of all the writings I had posted there. Things are not safe here. Tempers run high. People yell, scream, shout. People disagree, and they are disagreeing about the most important things- ideas. They are disagreeing about ideas, values, priorities, outlooks on life. We are not discussing stories here. This is not my alternate escape-world. We are discussing personal values, ideas that matter to us. Letting them go means recreating ourselves.

At first, I was angry. At the very first, all my thoughts were expressed in anger. I was anti-this, anti-that. I was very negative. I hated everything. I mocked those who didn't agree with me.

And then I received some sharp criticism, which I didn't take very well. But better, I began to think. I met those people I needed to meet, the ones who could guide me while allowing me to think I was choosing all that I chose on my own. These were the people who led me to the paths I wanted to take, but did not force me on them.

And I began to realize- at the same time that I began to appreciate North Shore for what it was- that I was not merely anti-Templars. I did not merely define myself by what I hated and disliked. I was pro-something. I had a vision, a vision of the world as it could be, as we should be. I had things I aspired to, beliefs I wanted to share with others. There was good to be found in everything, in everyone, and I had to learn to search for it. Not merely to see the negatives, the negatives that blinded me, but to look beyond. To see what people hid behind their angry faces and upset comments. To realize that what I believed I meant and what was truly conveyed were not the same.

I learned that there are some things I cannot change. I learned there are certain things that set me off, that I cannot be a part of. There are certain things that make my mind whirl, that bring me back to a time I cannot forgive. And so I cannot be around those people, those things.

I learned, too, that there are some things I can change. I see it as I myself change. I am still negative, this I do not deny. But not to the extent I was. I do not define myself by what I am not, but by what I am. What I mean to do. Who I mean to be. We are looking for the good; we are the truth-seekers. We are uplifted by our search.

That is why not all of us are here for the same length of time. Some of us need to blog because it is a way to release our problems to a kind and supportive community. Some of us need to blog because it gives us the power kick we never had as children, when we were loners, hated, rejected. That is not a healthy kind of blogging. It is not being part of the community, but drawing away from it. People learn that, or they receive comments they feel are hurtful, respond in kind, and descend into the maelstrom. Cycles never work very well.

Some of us blog because our supposedly real lives are different from the people we are in truth. We are the orthoprax, perhaps. Or the skeptics. And we need support; we need support-groups. We need others to confirm that we exist. And we need the strength, perhaps, one day, to be ourselves as we truly are.

We are here for as long as we need to be here, for as long as we still grow. Alternatively, we are here because we are part of the whirlpool, caught in an ugly cycle that will not let us go.

We are here as flawed individuals. We are honest. We put ourselves forward without masks. Oh, perhaps we wear them initially, but after a time we let them go. It is scary to do this. No one knows what others will think of you. Perhaps they will hate you. Perhaps they will be cruel, make hurtful comments, see you as you truly are and laugh in disdain.

And we do it anyway.

We are brave. We learn to be brave. We learn to tear off the masks, the attempts to be other people. We start that way, perhaps. I know I did, with a different blog, at a different time. I was discovered, and told to act as I truly was, to be who I was, not to lie or pretend, even for the sake of a joke. I took that advice after initially acting in a fashion I don't like to remember. And I have grown from it.

What you see is what you get.


I'm Chana.

This is who I am. To the best of my knowledge, I am the same on this blog and in person. There are no lies, no mysteries, masks, pretenses. Oh, it's scary to be so honest. But the rewards are far greater. Because imagine- people like you as you are. People like you, your real self, not the falsities you devise. People like you with your flaws and your good traits, like you for all that you are. If they do not like you, then at least they respect you.

When you stop hiding.

So come out of hiding, folks. We're ready for the game.

Bring it on.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Sea-Witch

Disclaimer: This is a story based on this version of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. This version has the most beautiful pictures I have ever seen.

You know about Lina and Michael.

Michael betrayed our secret. He told the King about our adventures, told him about the secret trapdoor, the staircase that led us to the worlds beyond. He told him of the three woods, the one of gold, of silver, and of emeralds. He presented him with the twigs he’d broken off, the beautiful nosegay that spelled our doom. He was the one who proudly informed the king that he’d released us from enchantment, and chose Lina as his bride.

Oh yes, you know about Lina and Michael.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses, that is what we were called. The most beautiful maidens in the land, fair and delicate, each sweeter and lovelier than the next. We all differed one from the other, none of us sharing the same hair color or complexion. The deepest gold or purest white-blonde; each shade differing in its vivid hue, its great beauty. We were the fairest in the land, the realm, queens all.

We refused to be married off, to be given to those we did not desire. We found our princes and bewitched them, lived a double life. Perhaps we were deceptive. Is it not in the nature of women to be so? We were clever, sly, cunning, deceptive. We were beautiful. Every simpering dolt would look into our beautiful faces and instantly do our bidding.

Except for Michael.

Oh, Michael thought himself quite the savior, and it must be said that Lina dotes on him. But he ruined our lives.

He broke the spell. He informed our father.

You know only one version of the story. You know that Lina, the youngest, wed Michael. You know they inherited the throne, and lived happily ever after.

But what of the rest of us?

What of me, the eldest? My name is Zara.

My hair is ebony black, and falls to my waist. My eyes are green as emeralds. My skin is pale, as pale as death. I have the kind of beauty that arrests and wounds, that strikes men down and bids them die for me. I have no softness, as Lina does. I have no romance. Some say I have no heart.

Those who say this do not know the story of my life. They do not know me. They know only how the story ended. They have heard it said that it was my idea, that I was the one who desired to enchant the princes, to have them forever under my sway. They have heard it whispered that I am a sorceress, an enchantress. It was their words that had me banished. I was cast out of the realm, thrown away by my romantic sister. It was the price of her marriage to Michael.

You see, Michael loved me first. There are some versions that survive where I am the chosen one, I, the eldest daughter. That is because of the love Michael had for me. It was only at the end, to spite me, that he chose to wed Lina, my sweet sister.

Oh, Michael was no savior. Michael was cruel, cruel to me and to all those who frightened him. He believes he has won.

He has not.

He rules us all, he thinks. He believes he has punished me, exiled me to realms of night and dark, the realm of horror and madness. He has forced me into the world of murders, the world of mortar and pestles, the world of Baba Yaga in all her wild madness. He has forced me into the darkness.

But there was a reason I was born a princess, born to be a queen.
There’s a reason I was born to rule.

And my laugh, my wild laughter, rings in his ears. He has Lina, in all her simpering sweet softness, her golden curves and bewitching laughter, but he does not have me., He does not have my obedience, my submission, my loyalty or my love. He has the pain he caused me, the revenge he took. And that, for him, is sweet.

He ruined our lives, all our lives. All this for the kingdom and a queen. All this for my father’s love. My father hates me now, believing Michael’s lies. My father believes me a traitor, a cruel sorceress. He curses my black hair, believes me the spawn of the devil. He swears he did not sire me.

Was ever any eldest child so cruelly treated?
But it matters not.

For it is my laughter that rings in their ears, my wild triumph that spites the dawn. It is my face he sees in the silvery coldness of the ,moon, my beauty that haunts his nights. He reaches for Lina when he truly desires me, and he curses me every day of his life. For nothing can take his soul from mine. I cast a powerful curse and called him to me. All his days he sees my ghost, whispering to him on the wind. My soul calls to him. He will go mad, eventually.

By that time, however, I will be dead.

This is the story of Zara, princess of the Twelve. Hear and be faithful, so that you may learn the true story of the twelve, learn of the darkness that near killed us all, that I saved us from. Hear, I command you; hear and do not judge. For you have not the right to judge me, I, Zara, princess of the twelve.


I was thirteen.

Thirteen and in the garden, a solemn, quiet creature. My eyes opened wide in curiosity and terror, but I had early learned to hide my thoughts. My queen mother was a venomous creature, obsessed with her own beauty and her jewels. Although all praised her on our behalf, she could not but hate us. She saw in us rivals for her husband’s attention, believing my father valued us more than he did she. She hated us all.

I was the oldest, and I learned this first.

She bruised me where others could not see. Cruel pinches or twists of my fingers. She would inflict little tortures upon me, take away my toys and playthings. She would never force me to do work, but she would take the people I loved, my maid Melissa most frequently, and would force them to do cruel work. It was many a time that I saw Melissa stumbling over the steps, carrying a bucket from which emanated fumes that turned her face red and chapped her hands. I knew my mother had deliberately poured an unnecessary potion into the water, and I could do nothing but stand on and watch, pretending to ignore her tortures, pretending not to be hurt by her lack of regard.

Should my mother catch sight of any suitor paying attention to me, any prince or would-be knight asking for my hand, a mere dance at a ball, she would be enraged. She would glide over and poisonously require my attention elsewhere. She spread rumors about me, claiming that I was a slut, a whore, an undeserving daughter. She claimed I threw myself at man as though I were no better than a common tramp. Her eyes would gleam golden with each venomous lie. The men looked at me in distaste, and instead started after her. Assured of her potent effect upon them once more, she swept away into the distance, raising her lovely fan, smelling of sweet scents and the richest perfumes.

I hated her.

Is it wrong to hate one’s mother? I cannot judge. I know only that she was deranged, unstable. There was no way I could love her. My father the king was madly in love with her, and always believed her over me. He could not understand her thinking me a rival for anyone’s attention, and even if I could have brought myself to hurt him by telling him of her desire for other men, he would not have believed me. I am sure he would have thought me a liar, perhaps even have banished me as she oft-insisted. I do not know whether she enchanted him, perhaps cast a love-charm upon him. I know only that I saw no refuge in him.

She continued to abuse me. She would flaunt her conquests before me, telling me in her sweet, bored voice of the men whom she had seduced. She threw them away before they could cause any damage to her reputation, but it made my blood boil to hear of it. She knew I hated her. She knew of my anger, of how I would have killed her to protect my father. She would taunt me with that knowledge. “Your father loves me,” she would mock. “You would hurt him more by killing me than letting me live.” I gritted my teeth and thought of ways, ways in which I could do away with her and make it seem an accident.

It was only me against whom she directed all her merciless tactics. The rest of her daughters she charmed. She turned them against me, making sure that they would never follow the oldest child. She knew I was the one who was most dangerous to her, being the wisest and cleverest, the slyest one of them all. The other eleven were clever enough, I suppose, but their wants were fewer and less threatening. Nosegays, pretty toys, gardens, presents and gifts sufficed for them. They were not of the age to attract suitors yet, and so she did not care about them.

But she made them hate me.

She would whisper in their ears, poisonous whispers. Adele believed that I was part-witch. “Her black silky hair,” my mother whispered to her, “it is the sign of a witch. You must always wear this charm I give you,” handing her an amulet in the shape of an eye, “to ward off her jealousy of you.” Adele, wide-eyed and beautiful with her auburn curls cascading down her shoulders, pinned the brooch to her dress and backed away from fear. Julianna outright laughed at me and my pitiful attempts to warn her against my mother. “I know how you envy her,” she said, tossing her golden tresses. “She told me of your attempt to seduce the stableboy, and how miserably you failed.” I fared no better with Iryna, Narcissa, Evana or the rest. Each one thought me mad or pitiful.

I would see my mother laughing with my sisters, see her brilliant red nails stroking their soft skin, and I would swear to kill her. Each time she smiled at me, a secret smile behind her fan, as she continued to win them over, to charm them, to win them with bribes and kisses, prizes and toys. It gave her pleasure, excited her almost, to see that I knew her in her true form, knew her as she truly was, but could do nothing to prevent her cruelties and obscenities.

Many a time I found her with one of her paramours or lovers. She did not think to hide them from me, knowing that I knew of her in all her evil. She would laugh at me as she lay with them, running her fingers through their silky hair. Always her secret smile, that smile that would drive me mad. I saw that smile and I swore, I swore that I would kill her. I knew that I would find a way.

But what was more important was to save my sisters. After a time, I was sure that one of them would attract a suitor my mother desired, a knight or a prince, someone highly-born, a royal nobleman. I did not know how far my mother’s envy would take her. If I could not kill her, then I must prevent it from happening, must hide them all away. I must save them from themselves. But how to do it? How to make them appear disinterested in all men, to think them beneath themselves, almost ridiculous? How to encourage them to dance to my tune?

The simplest way, of course, would be to kill my mother outright. I planned a way to do it. I slipped into her bedroom one night, thinking to place a poison in her facial creams. The next morning, as she applied it to her face, she would expire wordlessly, still beautiful, her skin unmarred. I crept to her dressing table, sorted through the jewels and gems littered across it until I found the unguent I wanted. I reached into the pocket of my filmy robe and removed the satchet of nightshade.

A mocking voice behind me. “What do you think you are doing, Zara?”

I whirled around. There was no one there. I turned back to the dressing table, and started in dismay. There, in the mirror, I saw my mother’s face. It was beautiful, though slightly distressed. I looked like her, a fact that I resented more than anything else. Her long black curls tumbled around her face in artful disarray. She wore a white negligee and smiled up at me in her mirror.

“I am not so easily poisoned,” she laughed. “Well, Zara?” The shadow of her crossed her arms in the mirror. “What do you mean to do?”

“I meant to kill you, Mother,” I answered honestly.

She laughed. “Oh, how amusing to have let you try! But I rather thought you might appreciate the warning.” Her voice turned nasty. “There is no way to outwit a sorceress of my power. Be warned. Next time I will not let you off so easy.”

The mirror glass turned milky-white, and she faded into shadow. I clenched my hands together tightly, then stood up to leave. I did not know what to do next.

It was the next day that I begged leave of my father. “Father, I am your successor,” I began. “I believe it is time that I see the realm, venture through it in order to learn of your people, your subjects. I desire to make a good Queen.”

He smiled at me benignly. “Of course, Zara.” He rumpled my hair as though I were still a child. “I trust you entirely. Do you desire an escort?”

I knew it would look odd not to take one. “My maid, Melissa, and a few soldiers, dear father. I shall be fine.”

My mother strode into the room, elegantly dressed in a long gown of pink and fuschia, gorgeously sewn, a delicate lace choker with a radiant pink jewel at her throat. She wore a diadem in her hair, also set with a pink stone. Her long lashes framed her delicate face. “My dear Zara,” she said kindly, her tone sad, “I shall miss you so. Come to me and give me a kiss.”

It repulsed me to touch her, but with my father looking on, I moved toward her. She forced me into her arms, my mouth screwed up in a wretched grimace of a smile. She hissed in my ear, “See that you do not return.” I straightened, and smoothed my gown.
“Why, I do believe I am crying,” she said, delicate droplets dotting her lashes. The King smiled fondly at her.

I wanted to retch, to reveal her and her lies as she stood there. But there was nothing I could do, naught that I could prove. She was my mother, and he my father. He would not believe any bad of her, any wickedness or cruelty. What was I to do?

I knew what I had to do.

I summoned Melissa to me. “Melissa, I am giving you a command that I do not wish to give,” I said, my face like stone, impassive, betraying none of my true feelings. “You will do it regardless of what you feel. I am asking, commanding, you to die for me.”

Confusion, even a hint of hurt, flashed across her face. “Of course, my princess.”

I lifted her chin forcefully, my fingers clutching her jaw. “I ask this sacrifice of you not only for my sake, but for that of my sisters. I mean to save them all.”

“What is it you would have me do?”

“Only this,” I answered. “We will change clothes. You will pretend to be a princess, will dance through the realm and speak sweetly to all those that ask after you. You will buy me time. I mean to make for a certain place, a place where I may learn what is to be the bane of my mother, what is to be her undoing. I mean to free us all from her dark spell. I will not tell you where I go, for if you do not know, it cannot be forced from you.”

She dipped into a curtsy, tears in her eyes. “It is a brave death,” she said. “I will accept it honorably.”

I smiled at her. “Come, let me kiss you.” She came toward me, and I pressed my lips against her cheek. They were cold, cold and icy as I was, as I had made myself. There were some who thought I felt nothing. It was not so. I could not bear to feel.

“From now on, you are Zara.” I cast a glamour upon her, something that made her appear as I was. I had learned some petty spells from books, from ancient tomes that were scattered across the library, books my mother neglected because she thought them no threat to her. She looked at me and gasped. “Yes, and I am Melissa. I shall be you,” I grinned. “You will have to act suitably upset about your runaway servant.” She nodded, determined to act the queen.

“I do not know how long the glamour will last,” I told her. “I do not wish you to die. If you are found out- run, if you can. I would rather have you remain alive. I do not wish you die.”

“I know, my princess,” Melissa answered me. It was my own features that came toward me, my features as cast upon her in the glamour I had wrought. “I know you did not wish me dead. I wish you luck with your quest.”

We left the next morning.

At a stream, when Melissa arrogantly bade me fill her golden cup with water, I slipped away into the wood. I had a destination, a specific place I desired to reach. I had packed provisions for myself, a rucksack filled with bread and cheese and apples and a canteen of water, the staples necessary to survive. I had read many a story in which the heroine survived on such fare, and believed myself very clever to have packed this way.

To my dismay, I found that many a stream was brackish and that I soon ran low on food. Parched and starving, I made my way through the wood, looking for helpful fairies or dwarfs, people to whom I could give my last loaf of bread in exchange for aid. I met no such people. Cursing the stories that had mislead me so, I at last reached the great white stone castle, the one that I had heard of, the one where the Mermaid Princess had turned into foam because the Prince could not love her.

I had heard that tale, heard it in horror and sadness, heard of the beautiful mermaid princess who sacrificed her tongue to the Sea-Witch for a pair of mortal legs. I heard, too, of her kind sisters, who cut off their hair in exchange for a knife, a knife with which the Mermaid Princess could have murdered the Prince, so that she could return to her glorious green fish-scales, shimmering in murky light. But she threw away the knife in horror, and instead doomed herself to die, to become foam, ocean’s breath, ever-present and simultaneously painfully, desperately negligible.

I knelt on that very beach, the sandy spit of land upon which she had lain, and raised the sharp knife to my wrist. I meant to summon the Sea-Witch, and I must call her with blood. I made a small horizontal slit in my skin and shook my wrist angrily over the waters, exclaiming, “Sea-Witch, Sea-Witch, I call you to me!” I knelt upon the sand and peered into the water, intent on whatever I might see.

The water bubbled red and viscous, the small droplets of blood turning into great crashing waves. I found myself drenched, cold and shivering upon the sand. At length I closed my eyes and felt the water pass over me, dragging me down to the depths. I opened my eyes inside her lair, the home of the Sea-Witch. I had my legs still, and my human form, and was strangely able to breathe, even though I was underwater.

Crags and stalacites hung above me, beautiful icicle-like shapes from which dripped rainbow water. The light hit the stalacites and stalagmites and reflected back off the minerals and ores that studded the rock, deep grainy purple veins and darkened silver that ran throughout. I looked upward in awe, glanced at the smooth grey rock that surrounded me. The water upon the floor of the cave was dark and purple, somehow I stood on a jut of grey rock inside the mouth of the cave. The water flowed all around the outside of the cave, but did not come inside, had it entered I would have choked to death instantaneously.

There was a great silver carving arising from the midst of the floor, two open pleading hands, curved so as to hold a great orb. A white substance swirled within the orb, holding no fixed shaped but remaining ever-liquid, blurring. The Beast’s mirror lay next to this orb, and I longed to look into it, glancing at the beautiful carving of the rose which composed its elaborate handle. The rose’s stem twined around and about, a glossy obsidian handle that meant to represent the darkened green leaves.

There was a set of knives and daggers inside of a golden rack at the far end of the cave. Their handles differed; some were made of mere bone while others were studded with gems and jewels. Plain and elaborate, they all shimmered. I caught the scrollwork upon one sword, it read, in elaborate English, ‘Whoso draweth this sword from the stone whence it is stuck shall be King of all of England. I smiled inadvertently as my eyes traveled over the riches of the cave.

Who called me? The voice was sibilant, sinister, and creaked as though rusty from disuse, as though the Sea-Witch was oiling the gears that allowed her to speak. Who has summoned me to my cave?

I stepped forward, my eyes defiant. “I have. I, Zara, princess of the throne.”

“And so you are,” her voice answered, as she emerged from a dusky backentrance to her cave. I took a sudden step backward as I saw her form.

Rheumy red eyes made up her face, which was sunk from the wrinkles that lined it. Long, wavy tendrils of grey hair flitted around her, wrapping around her nude upper body. Her chest was flat, the nipples shrunken, the skin itself still flesh-colored but obviously old. Her nails were long and clawed. She had a long green-gray tail that she wrapped around various pieces of stone, and her teeth were uneven, even slightly curved to give her a fanged, bloodthirsty look. I recoiled from her and she cackled.

“What, the lovely young princess does not wish to pay the price? You summoned the Sea-Witch, girl, I trust you know there is a price.”

She grasped my hand. Her grip was strong; I could not have thrown her off for anything. Her aged, wrinkled hands felt my young blood, ran up and down the cut by my wrist. She licked her lips. “Ah. I see the youngling has some wits about her.”

With an obscene smile, she bid me be seated. “So tell me what I can do for you, my young princess.” She smacked her lips.

I was nervous, frightened, but dared not show it. “I want to kill my mother,” I answered plainly.

“Matricide?” She smiled. “That is costly. Are you willing to pay for it?”

“What must I do?”

“Why, for that, I believe you would have to die. I would like a young body,” she purred, “and yours is quite comely. It would be quite easy to kill your mother, but the price is a little high, no?”

“I do not wish to die,” I said, “unless it is the only way. I want to protect myself and my siblings, to save us from her wrath. Can you devise nothing else?”

She lit a candle. I do not know how that candle could burn underwater, but burn it did, its orange-yellow glow filling the murky water with a disturbing glow. “Oh, I think I can,” she smiled. She reached for a large book, her gnarled fingers wrapping around the spine. “Let me see,” she thought aloud. “A castle, a castle with enchanted admirers. Yes, twelve princesses and twelve princes. I rather like that.” She turned to me. “That should last for a while. You should be safe. The only thing you must guard against is that none should ever discover your castle, for if anyone does, you will all be ruined.”

I was wary, for I saw no reason to trust her this easily. “What castle? Just what do you imagine to do for me, Grandmother?”

She cackled again. “Why, I shall give you a magnificent gift. There is a trapdoor in your tower room, one that you have never discovered…until now. That trapdoor, upon my command, shall lead to another kingdom, the netherworlds. It is eerily beautiful, with woods in which emerald trees grow, where golden forests and silver plants exist. You shall have suitors, my dears, men to entertain you and dance with you, men to love and who shall love you. If you do not like the ones my world provides, you need only entrap those who shall try to solve the mystery of where you go at night…to dance. Yes, dancing is quite right. I rather like dancing. You will recall that the Mermaid Princess entertained the prince by dancing, though her soles burned because of it. As you are human, and mortal, your feet need not feel on fire, however.

“You shall have lives,” she continues, spinning this fantasy for me once again, “more wonderful and beautiful than those of any other princess. Your princes shall love you and only you. You shall be at home amidst the enchanted, the beautiful, the spellbound. All this you shall have…so long as you please me.”

“What do you want in payment?” I flung at her suddenly. “What do you wish of me?”

“What do I wish of you? My dear, what I wish and what I demand are not the same at all, no, not the same. I wish your soul of you, your beauty, your tongue, your hair, but I think that I shall demand your happiness of you, my dear. You have a great capacity to be happy- I see it in you- but so long as I grant you all this, you shall never be happy. You shall be a princess, a queen, sorceress and enchantress, your beauty will be renowned and your sisters shall obey you- but you will not be happy. Should you ever meet a man whom you truly love, you shall not be happy with him. He will betray you or hurt you, whatever may be the case, I will take him from you. You shall not have him. This is the price I demand. The ruin of the happiness of one so young affords me much delight.”

Her red eyes flamed as she spoke thus, and I stood transfixed, frightened. I did not know how to answer her. I believed I would rather be unhappy and alive rather than dead and unfeeling, however, and so I acquiesced.

“We bind it in blood,” she said, “and then I will give you the key to the trapdoor. Remember, now, that you must never fall in love. If you do, I shall ruin your happiness. Should you ever have the gall to demand happiness of me, all bets are off. That is how the game is played. I shall wreak my bloody vengeance upon you, girl, and you may think yourself the winner. But it is not so. Oh, it is not so.” She smiled. “We bind it in blood.”

She wrenched my wrist away and took out a copper knife, a copper knife with a mother-of-pearl handle. She nicked her wrist but cut deeper into mine, and mixed our bloods together in a golden bowl. “We are joined, joined,” she intoned, “and you shall have your otherworldly pleasures.” I fainted, then, for I remember nothing more until I was cast up on land once more, bearing a strange scar on my wrist. It was odd in that it was in the shape of a star, a beautiful shape, milky-white, slightly paler than my own skin.

I made my way home, walked through forests, trudged over hills, and cannot recall what I ate or how I lived so that I might survive. When I returned it seemed that I was much older; years had passed, of that I am certain. I walked through brambles and thornbushes and none of them seemed to touch me; my skin was not marred, nor was I hurt in any way. Nothing appeared able to hurt me. Perhaps I was guarded by the Sea-Witch’s curse, perhaps that was the reason that nothing caused me pain or pleasure.

I returned home only to be exclaimed over and loved. As the Sea-Witch had said, my sisters obeyed me now, and seemed to have suffered sadness during my long departure. Melissa, I was saddened to hear, had been put to death for impersonating me. No one had known where I was. There was a great feast given in honor of my return, but my mother looked daggers at me the whole time. She seemed slightly afraid, slightly disturbed by my return. My father greeted me with joy and bestowed presents upon me. I explained that I believed that I had been taken captive, but could not remember where I had been forced to reside or remain. I shuddered delicately whenever anyone brought it up, and so people learned to put it aside, lest their vulgar curiosity cause me a series of convulsions.

It was that night that I made for the trapdoor. I did not know what was the true key, for I had been given a necklace by the Sea-Witch, a delicate necklace that was not any key I knew. I looked at the floor of our tower chamber when my sisters were sleeping, and instantly realized that I had only to move my bed to discover the trapdoor. I did this, and saw a small, glittering star upon the floor. I smiled, then, to realize what my key was, and held my wrist against the floorboard. The trapdoor opened, revealing a series of steps that led into the night. I was determine to go alone on this my first night, to face the dangers that were here on my own.

I made my way down the golden steps only to step into a silver wood. I was amazed at the silver trees that sprung up around me, the silver plants and blades of grass. As I walked, I felt no unpleasant sharpness, no cruel stab of metal against my thin slippers. I gazed about in amazement, feeling the rush of cool air, the pleasant smells of a forest, the dark midnight blue of the sky. I saw a glorious moon above me and moved quickly, in order to reach my destination.

I stepped into a field of gold, then. I followed the path in the wood and heard small cracking sounds that I soon realized belonged to little animals, weasels and rabbits, running through the wood. I moved onward, reaching an emerald wood, and finally a crossing. There were great beautiful boats, carved in the shape of swans. I saw an oarsman in attendance. I touched his arm and he arose.

“Princess Zara,” he bowed to me. “I am delighted that you have come.”

He was quite handsome, with an open expression and beautiful brown curls dusting his forehead. It was only his deep brown eyes that bore a slightly glazed expression, and I did not let that bother me over much. He took me to the castle, wherein I beheld fairy couples dancing across the floor, each garbed in satins and samite. Chandeliers with glittering crystal graced the hall, and the clothing was like none I had ever seen. I looked at these fairies and fae creatures and smiled, for they did not even seem to notice my presence. I saw that there were a few men partnerless, doubtless members of the fae. I soon learned that if I merely tapped one on the shoulder, he asked me for a dance.

And that is how it began.

It became a game, as you well know. I invited my sisters into the darkness, the world beyond, and enchanted them. We all became quite cruel to our suitors, which made our mother laugh and smile. She did not realize that we were well content with our fairy kings and princes. What is more, once my father offered a reward to those who would discover our secret, we drugged those men and brought them to our kingdom. There, they became our princes and suitors as well. We were loved by everyone, thought lovely and handsome and beautiful. We had new dancing slippers every day, and the fairies made us gifts of the rich clothing they wore.

We were all content and perfectly well-satisfied. There was nothing to disturb us.

That was until I met Michael.

I did not know his name was Michael at first. I knew him only because I met him at a tourney. I was a princess, but I was tired and hot and cared nothing for the sun. I meant to go inside, and was walking toward the gardens. That was when I saw him the first time, his hair dark as well, but he was dressed in gilded armor, and he had a jolly, kind expression upon his face.

“My lady,” he said, and lifted his visor. I extended my hand and he kissed it chivalrously. He made for the fountains, took off his helmet, and splashed water upon his face. I laughed at his disregard for chivalry. It was only afterwards that he scooped up a bit of water, and his face screwed up into a great smile, motioned toward me and asked whether I wished to drink.

That was how I met Michael.

It was the first of our clandestine meetings. I laughed with him and amused him and bewitched him. He did not know he was a princess. I never told him. There were so many of us, how could he know? It was hard for our royal father not to confuse us with one another. Michael brought me nosegays and I flirted with him, though I knew that I could never truly marry him. He was a simple soldier, simple and kind. I suppose I used him, though in truth I hoped against hope that I could find a way to allow for our love to become a reality, to end in marriage.

My mother put a stop to that.

My mother found us one day, flirting by the fountain. She watched and observed and pouted, smiling cruelly. She informed my lord father the next day. He summoned me before him, and bade Michael attend him as well. Michael went white when he realized that I was Zara, the Princess Zara. He listened as my father sternly lectured him, as he thundered at me. Michael’s eyes held such betrayal when they looked at mine. I had broken him, somehow, broken him by my oblique lie. I could not even hear the words my father said, words that sounded familiar and slurred, words which included, “honor” and “duty” and “obligation” and even some too cruel to repeat over, gleaned, I think, from what my mother had said.

It gave my mother great happiness to take my love from me. I ran after Michael once our audience was over, ran after him and begged him to believe that I would never have been so merciless or cruel to him. He could not. He could not listen to me. I told him about my mother, about her vindictive cruelty, about how she was jealous of her own daughters, jealous of our beauty and our suitors. I thought I saw the flicker of belief in his eyes for a moment, but then he coldly informed me that I was a liar and a Princess, and far too good for him to speak with.

I cried that night, cried in the castle towers, cried bitterly and angrily.

And that was when I made the worst mistake of my life. I cried out, bitterly and angrily, that I wanted my happiness. I wanted happiness and I wanted freedom, I wanted the freedom to love and choose and be loved. I did not give a damn for my sisters or my mother or anyone else; I merely wanted to be happy, happy and free.

The image of the Sea-Witch appeared before my eyes and she hissed at me, a cruel and terrible sound. “You have reneged on your promise,” she said, and her eyes promised revenge. “You have reneged on your promise, and you will pay for it.” Terrified, I begged her to forgive me, begged her to ignore the words I had foolishly, stupidly said. I begged her, I prayed to her, I swore to give her anything she might want. “You have reneged on your promise,” she answered. “I will remember.”

For a while, nothing happened. All seemed right with the world. The sun still shone, the dancing princes still existed, we still wore our slippers through and the mystery went unsolved. My sisters still obeyed me and even showed some affection toward me. My mother, while still cruel and vindictive, did nothing worse to me. I dared to believe it was all a bad dream, a mirage that had thrust itself before my face, borne of my fears and my dark hopes.

But then Michael came again.

You have heard, of course, of the old woman that Michael encountered on the road. This old woman told him not to drink the wine we would give him, the wine that would drug him so that he would sleep soundly through the night. This old woman gave him an invisibility cloak so that he could steal after us unseen.

Who was this old woman? Why, the Sea-Witch, of course.

And so it was that Michael, now a soldier, disillusioned with the world, wounded, but still incomparably kind and handsome, came to our castle. When I saw him I gasped, and tried to dissuade him, but he would not be dissuaded. I prepared the wine myself, spicing it well, making sure that he drunk it. When I saw him snoring I ran my fingers through his hair and kissed his cheek. I loved him so, though he did not know it.

And then we went down the trapdoor.

Lina heard him, though I paid no attention to her. She felt him step upon her cloak; she heard the crack as he broke off the branches that he would present to the king. She felt the extra weight in her swan boat.

We all danced with the princes that night, though my heart was not in it. But I was determined to have a good time, and so I placed a smile on my face, and made my heart merry. I danced with my suitors and smiled at them, wheeled about in my dress of fine cloth-of-gold. I drank rich wine and tasted of the sweetmeats and delicacies. My face was a mask of delight, when all that I truly desired was to remain with Michael.

He saw me, and he hated.

How could I have known that he watched me, beneath his invisible cloak? He saw my gay countenance, my smiling face; he saw me and he judged. He judged me false, thought me a liar, thought that I had toyed with him when in truth my love for him was the purest feeling I had ever known. He thought me a liar and his eyes bored into mine. I felt uncomfortable, even watched, but dismissed the idea that anyone could have followed us. I knew it was impossible. I knew.

His hatred should have frozen my blood, I should have felt it, I did feel it…but I would not admit it to myself. I knew that something was amiss, but I did not know what it was.

I did notice the missing goblet. But I could not imagine who could have taken it.

It was in the morning, when we were summoned to the court, that I realized my mistake. There Michael stood, and his eyes hated mine, did not even look into mine. He presented my father with the three twigs from the three woods, and then with the goblet from our table. He named Lina as his desired bride.

I wanted to die.

I realized, then, exactly what he had seen, exactly how I had undone my own happiness- all this planned by the Sea-Witch, the vile Sea-Witch who was my tormenter! I wanted to kill her; I wanted to die. I wanted to tell Michael the truth.

I tried. I tried to explain to Michael about our mother, our cruel, treacherous, vindictive mother, to explain why I had found this alternate reality, this place where we would not need to suffer her angry glances, her barbed words. Uncertainty flooded his eyes. He promised me that he would look into it.

He returned to clap me in chains.

My mother had been murdered, he announced, and I was the one who had killed her. My eyes burned with righteous anger. “I never touched her!” I screamed, but it was at that very moment that I saw the Sea-Witch flitting by. She wore my form as easily as a cloak, and I knew then, I knew what he had seen. “You demon!” I shouted, and reached for the Sea-Witch, but all that I clasped was the body of Melissa, my faithful servant. Michael recoiled from me in horror. “She calls the dead to her!” he shouted, running for the guards. I wept over Melissa, Melissa whose dead form had apparently still retained the vestiges of my form, Melissa whose body had been used by the Sea-Witch to murder my mother.

I was placed in the dungeons, dank and musty as they were. I refused to yield, refused to admit guilt. It would have been a kindness if I had killed my mother, but I had not; it was the Sea-Witch, wearing my form, stolen from the glamour I had placed on Melissa. But who would believe me? You would think that Michael should have seen it. Had he not worn an invisible cloak just moments earlier? And if he could wear an invisible cloak, why so strange that another could don my form?

But he hated me, he hated me because he had loved me, and so he would never see it.
Michael told my father of my crimes, swearing that I had been the one who murdered my mother. My father delivered a ringing slap upon my cheeks, and scorched my soul with his angry words. He had truly loved my mother, and so he truly hated me.

I was given a trial. It was no true trial, for I was condemned by all. Even from beyond the grave, my mother won, poisoning their hearts. All that I had done, I had done for my sisters, I had done to save them from the cruelty she had visited upon me. They cared nothing for me. They did not believe me.

Michael, as the new King, banished me from the realm. My father seconded the decree. My sisters looked on in dumb silence.

Michael visited me before he sent me away. “I loved you,” he said, and his eyes were filled with pain. “I loved you so. I loved you and you lied to me, tormented me, used men for your amusement, used men as your playthings. A kingdom of men, Zara! A fairy-kingdom made of men! What cruelty is in you.” He looked at me, and his eyes accused me. “You are evil, Zara. You are evil.”

And yet my wicked evil nature did not prevent him from taking me in an attempt to kiss me. I tried to escape from his grasp but he held me with strong hands, hands that gripped like iron. “You deserve this, damn you!” he roared. “You deserve to have the pain that you visited upon me visited upon you.” He kissed me and I laughed in his face, laughed because he did not believe me, because I knew that it was still me he truly loved, and it scared him to love the evil in me.

“I have done nothing,” I said honestly. “I did not kill my mother. I never would. I never loved anyone but you. All that was done, was done by the Sea-Witch.”

His eyes looked into mine as he struggled to believe, but hate won out. He would believe in my evil and his hatred first before he could ever forgive me. For forgiveness would take a letting down of his pride, and that he could not allow.

He banished me. He banished me, but I knew that I was always his, that I was the form that danced before his eyes, I the one he truly wanted. He married Lina, and supposedly he was “happily ever after.” But I know better. For I was the truly good one. I was the only one who tried to save them all, to save them from my mother, to spare my father, to love Michael.

And yet I am the evil one.

It is fitting, then, that I am where I am. Cast out by all, banished by Michael, hated by my father, neglected by my sisters, I am bitter, the bitter and beautiful princess that never was.

I am Zara, Sea-Witch’s apprentice.

I will kill her one day. And then I will become the Sea-Witch, ruler of the seas. I will destroy the lives of innocent maidens in payment for her destruction of my own. The bitterness, the hatred, the cruelty lives in me. Oh, I am evil, but I am evil because they have made me so.

I will be the Sea-Witch.

And you will love me when I kill you.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Favorite Time of Year, Birthdays, and Memories

I trust a whole lot of you have seen this postcard.

Truth be told, I love the lights, the sparkling beauty that appears during this season. I love the fairytale stories, the make-believe, the magic that sprinkles all the downtown store windows, the whole shopping district. I love colors and neon shades of sparkling beautiful lights. I love it all.

But this is hardly my favorite time of year. (Or if it is, it's not because of the lights. It's because of the snow, the skating, and best of all, my birthday.)

The PostSecret blog is bereft of Chanukah postcards. That's slightly sad.

What's more sad, I think, is the picture this sender chose. Not only do we have a Christmas tree in all its glory, but we also have cherubim- suggesting, although I doubt the sender meant this, that it's not the lights s/he likes, but the holiday in all its religious symbolic meaning.

R' Soloveitchik was very right to differentiate emotional highs from religious halakhic obligations. He wrote that the American Jew is very involved with ceremony and emotions. Ceremony in that it's the snowy-white tablecloth that makes Shabbos special, not its intrinsic holiness. And emotions that make religion matter- which means that without those emotions, one can dismiss the laws or customs that one does not like.

It is not our accoutrements or trappings that make us beautiful, that make our religion special, or lend us more meaning than other religions. A priest is still a priest without his vestments; a man is still a man if he is dressed in rags. The Sabbath is still the Sabbath whether we eat from a lavish board and drink from silver goblets, or sit upon the bare dirt and clutch our knees to stave off the cold.

We believe in beauty allied to religion, of course. We must decorate the sukkah and make it beautiful. Our tabernacle, our Mishkan, our Bais Hamikdash, our Kohen Gadol, the High Priest- they are all garbed in silks and satins, golds and silvers, rich clothes, beautiful garments. We believe in emotions allied to mitzvot. We are to serve God with joy and love, with all that is in our hearts.

But we do not stop serving because we do not feel.

And we do not underestimate the value of God or his followers simply because his House or their garments are destroyed.

Therefore, though I like the lights of Christmas- I love them, even; I enjoy looking at them and smiling up at the trees and watching the shoppers go about their weary, resigned days, looking for those special gifts- I do not confuse them with intrinsic meaning. They are beautiful, they twinkle, they sparkle, I enjoy them...but they are not enough to make this my favorite time of year. At least, not in the most meaningful way I know.

Now as for my birthday...that's another matter.

(Speaking of my birthday, I find that I have received most of the things I wished for last year. I got to go to Wicked, received an iPod, found quite a lot of Calvin and Hobbes comics online, received some nice cards, saw Carmen, saw The Phantom of the Opera, received lots of books. I no longer want skirts from that site. *smile* Family and friends of mine, you are amazing.)

On another note, now that it's almost my birthday once again- some of my best memories of this year:

1. The Teeny Blog Awards, way back when. I was so touched by this.
2. The Second Shabbos at Stern
3. North Shore Country Day! All you people rock. Sending me care packages and letters and postcards and Halloween candy rocks, too.
4. All the people for whom my anonymity has been shot. (Gosh, there's a lot of you.) I'm still amazed that you people are out here and read what I write.
5. All the kind words I've received from people I don't even know.
6. The zany craziness that is New York and the very strange people who live here. (Very, very strange.) Oh, the experiences I have had! (And you don't know the half of them.)
7. Lots of school-related things. Not even the people, though they're definitely part of it, but all the fun opportunities I have- Medical Ethics conferences, Rabbi Slifkin speeches, the Morg, Carmen, Fencing, Newspaper
8. The movies I have seen... (Fight Club, The Mask of Zorro, Pride and Prejudice- BBC version, and so many more) and the books I have read (GRRM and Robin Hobb being at the top)

And all the wonderful things that are to come!

And now I have to go study Navi. (And yes, I was studying before. Really. I was.)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Unfair: Biology Lab Practicum

I am infuriated.

It’s because of my Biology Lab Practicum (Final.)

I did relatively poorly on this final. I am a good student. This grade is completely different from my usual performance in this class.

There are two reasons for this:

1. The final was not composed, created, or in any way made up by the Professor who teaches my Bio Lab. It was instead created by the Head Biology Professor. I feel like I have been penalized because I was not in the Head Biology Professor’s class. I did receive a review sheet from the Head Biology Professor. I thought it prudent to divide my time between studying from this review sheet and from my lab notes. My lab notes, however, as taught by my Professor, are much more conceptual in nature (focusing on ideas and vocab terms.) The final focused on a methodological approach to Bio Lab: it was detail-oriented, focusing on chemical equations, an understanding of all the steps in the experiment, and which gases were emitted at what time.

2. After speaking to several students, I am almost entirely convinced that the final given on Monday and the final given on Tuesday were the same exact test, with the same exact questions. The questions were not, to the best of my knowledge, rewritten, reworded, or refocused to test the same concepts differently. This means that there is a good chance that there are students who took the test on Tuesday with prior knowledge of its content. This is monstrously unfair. It is very different from the Midterm, where the questions were changed and reworded.

I personally know that there is a good chance that students took the test with prior knowledge of its content because I, a Monday test-taker, was asked by another student what questions were on the test. I did not answer her.

I think the system would be much improved if:

1. Everyone took the final on the same day
2. Finals were composed by the professors teaching the material, or we should be informed that we should ONLY study the Head Biology Professor’s review sheet to the exclusion of our own lab notes

Because of my grade on this Lab Practicum, my entire Biology Lab grade suffers. I now have an average that is a full letter-grade lower than my usual performance in this class.

I feel that this does not accurately reflect the time, effort and energy I have put into Bio Lab. I think it is unfair that I am expected to take a test that was not composed by my professor, and especially unfair for my grades to be compared to those of others who had every opportunity (if I am correct, and I think I am) to cheat.

I am as of yet unaware as to how this grade appears on my transcripts. Even if it is averaged into my Bio Lecture grade, it is the principle behind this that bothers me. I cannot understand why our Midterm was made into such an important affair- the window to the classroom was blocked with paper, the questions were reworded and changed- and the actual Final is treated like a walk in the park, with no precautions, safeguards, or check-systems in place.

This is truly unfair.

Addendum: I neglected to study as much as I could have for this test, based on certain assumptions I made about the material. I did not study to the extent I could have, and do not deny that a certain part of the blame rests on me. Some of this is my own fault.

The Strange Musings of an Adolescent at 2 AM

Why am I up now?

Why am I up now?

Oh, you're asking me why I am up now?

Well, I will tell you why I am up now.

Because I have the Biology Test of Doom tomorrow in precisely 7 hours.
Because I have the Chumash Test of Beauty later in the day.

Because I've been in the Cafeteria studying. I arrived there only to scoop out the leftover kernels of candied popcorn, pour myself the most awful-tasting cup of coffee in existence, go upstairs to the Levy Lobby, proceed to irritate the occupants there, then make myself silent so as to regain their favor, and finally to study. Yes, to study Chumash, which is an utterly fantastic blend of magic, mystery, literary devices and wonder.

I must, however, confess my failures before then. First, I called my father with an ethical dilemma. My Chumash teacher desires us all to bring a sefer Shmos (Exodus) and a Tanakh to the test tomorrow. Now, someone raised their hand and said, "I've marked up my Chumash." My teacher waved her hand dismissively and said that didn't matter.

Enter thought into Chana's sadistic brain. I know, I know, my brain clamored. I will study Chumash, and I will mark up the entire Chumash tonight. With pencilled-in notes. Of course that's not cheating. Why would you think that?

Except for that nagging feeling that tells me "You fool. It couldn't be that easy."

And so my father became truly unimpressed (dare I say disappointed? Yes, I suppose.) He informed me that obviously this is unethical, in thrilling and impressive tones (well, not really. I just add that for dramatic effect.) And then I mentioned that I had neglected to thank my Aunt, who made me a magnificent luncheon, and was termed an "ungrateful brute."

This is absolutely true, and I do owe my Aunt both thanks and an apology. But I have to say I enjoy the way the words roll of the tongue. This is a clever, creative way of terming it. I approve. I am, ladies and gentleman, an ungrateful brute.

Things I learned today:

If someone innocently asks you the time, do not assume this person merely wants the time. Really he's a guy who dropped out of college, works in the supermarket, is going "bowling" with his friend tonight, wants to know if you like bowling, informs you as he follows you down Fifth Avenue that he feels like the two of you are "dating," and that he'd like to take you out.

Never drink two cups of sugared caffinated coffee in order to keep awake. Oh, you'll be awake all right, but in a strange, disturbed, hyperventilating, insane frame of mind. You will suddenly have the ability to read things VERY quickly, to sound very happy, to frighten your friends. Your fingers and hands shake. I have now learned what Chana on drugs is like. It is not happy. I do not approve.

Things I learned yesterday:

Padding around the cafeteria in your stocking-feet whilst dressed in pajamas and a long pink bathrobe is quite fun. You feel like you own the place, and can speak cordially to the walls that echo and bow to you at your command. The walls ring with the sound of Biology. It's lovely. People smile at you and enjoy your cleverness.

Things I appreciate:

Taz is amazing. He did over two hours of research for me because I asked him for help with one small thing. That's insane. And so appreciated. And he didn't even find the answer that I needed, unfortunately, and he STILL did it. (Why are all of the Jewish books at the guys' library, not the girls'? It wrecks my life. Chana is a Sad and Depressed person. Chana's Medulla Oblangata will be Saddened now.)

My friend, who shall remain nameless, passed on to me an official Ego-Booster from her brother (huzzah her brother! Also Nameless. Nameless is actually quite the popular word.) I shall give it to you, as it is highly amusing and fantastic. Only listen to this with the sound ON. Here it is: Ego-Booster.

Wish me luck with my tests, my dear people.

God, please help me out here. I am praying for my Bio notes to come back to me. I requested them back from the girl who took them while I studied Chumash, and they have not arrived. Please, God. Be merciful. I DESERVE to be able to look at my Bio notes once more before I enter the Disastrous Delightful Testing Zone.

Good night, my friends. Or is it good morning?

(I'd like a peach now. Peaches are nice. Peaches, nectarines...I desire a peach. Oh, peach, come to me!)

Yes, I should probably get to bed now.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Recreating Oneself: Born to be Good

    "Let me give you a personal example. I am not bragging about myself, but I cannot draw on the experience of someone else. I have to draw on my own experience. I was very envious as a child, very envious. I was envious of my friends, because I was not a bright child. It is true. Some called me stupid. This impression was created because I was intellectually honest. I would declare that I did not understand a topic when I did not truly understand it. I was very envious of another chilkd in the heder, who was reputed to know one hundred pages of the Talmud by heart. In truth he was a faker, "Izak the faker." I was terribly envious of him. I remember my father called me in once and told me that envy is a middah megunah, a deplorable trait, a bad habit. This emotional enemy is known as lo tachmod, "you shall not covet" [Exodus 20: 14] and lo titaveh, "you shall not desire" [Deuteronomy 5:18]. These emotions have been forbidden by the Torah.

    "I began to train myself to overcome it, and I succeeded. Now there is no kinah, no envy, in my heart. I mean, I am bad enough, but there is no envy in my heart. On the contrary, I rejoice in the success of my fellow man. The Torah demands from man a disciplined inner life. On the contrary, we know of constructive cathartic emotions, such as sympathy, love, and gratitude, which should be integrated into one's personality. One has freedom not only to control his physical acts but also to control his emotional life."

~Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

from The Rav: The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik by Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, Volume 2, page 192

This is one of my favorite quotes, one of the most meaningful quotes I've ever read.

I respect those people whom I can relate to, those people whom I can see and understand. I respect human beings, flawed people, people who create themselves and recreate themselves and strive to be better.

From them, I draw strength.

Because if Rabbi Soloveitchik admitted to having flaws, and was able to work on them and rectify them, how much the more so I! His personality is one that I can feel close to because it reminds me of my own. He is literary, thoughtful, romantic, a pragmatic idealist. He is obviously far more learned than I am. He is also a great leader.

And yet, there's something that unites us both. And that's our humanity.

Who would have suspected he could have felt envy, such a low feeling? To be envious of another? To be envious of another child?

And yet he was.

And the fact that he is able to take himself into his own hands, to decide what he would like to be like and work on himself so that he can achieve that goal impresses me and fascinates me. Because that means I can do it, too.

When I look at myself, truly, behind the grand performer that I like to play, I see the flaws. I see my self-centered nature, I see the arrogance, the condescension that I do not mean, my almost idolatrous worship of intellect and intelligence. I see how judgmental I am. I see how little I care about other people, how little I do for them. I see, in other words, who I really am.

I also see, if I truly am looking at myself without hiding, without flinching, that I like to force a difference between me and others, that I like to pull apart, to remain aloof, in order to make myself feel special or different. I like that sense of difference, but I have yet to learn how to create it from within myself, as opposed to without. My self-conscious individuality is only a mockery of what individuality truly is, and when I look at myself truly, I know that, too.

But it seems so hard to change oneself into what one wants to become. It seems so hard to try to care about people when you have no patience, when you have never had any patience. It goes against your nature. It goes against your instincts.

But then the question becomes- well, who is in control here? Me, the maker and creator, or me, the instinctual response that dismisses people because I've decided they are worthless? Obviously, I want it to be the former.

So the way it must work is not to get caught up in the daunting path that lies ahead of me, but simply to throw myself forward and to endeavor to be like all those people I most respect and admire, all of whom have some similarity to me and my personality, but have taken it to far greater lengths, are much kinder and nicer and all around better than I am.

The most effective teachers are those who teach out of love. Not those who teach to impress, to force others to respect them and admire them, but those who teach because they truly feel an empathic connection with their students and want them to do well. The most effective teachers are able to speak to bright students and not-so-bright students and treat them equally, because they speak to them out of love.

I cannot do that. I do not have the patience, and I resist changing by simply claiming that I am superior. When I look at myself truly, I see this. It's not a pleasant thing to see.

It's Rabbi Soloveitchik and people like him who give me hope. They admit this exists. They admit that we are born with bad qualities or propensities or penchants toward a certain kind of behavior. But they take it further- they make us into masters. We are the masters, we are the creators, we can create ourselves as we'd like to be. All we need to do is to want to do it, and then to work at it- work hard, perhaps harder than anything I've ever done, but then succeed.

I know who I would like to be. It's not who I am now. I know that I am going to be frustrated, impatient, angry, irritated and infuriated before I ever get there. Nobody likes remodeling their personality. And yet, that is what is needed here; that is what is commanded of me.

I began with a quote, and I will end with a quote:
    "My late father told me that before he left to accept his first rabbinical post in the city of Raseyn [Raseiniai], he visited his father, Reb Chaim of Brisk. Reb Chaim instructed him as follows: "Like all Jews, a rabbi must be charitable and compassionate. Not only when he is a good person by nature, but even if he is naturally not like that. I myself was born with an impersonal and insensitive nature, but I worked on myself until I developed good character traits" (Volume 1, page 251).

I was not born a good person.

But I was born to be a good person.

And that is what I need to do.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Severus Snape is a Good Man

For all you Harry Potter fans who have been misled by J. K. Rowling's plot-trap, the truth is that Snape is good!

You're wondering why? How? What?

So, I could give you my very lengthy explanation (in which case I would need to have the book of front of me, which I don't, because that, like so many other things, is currently residing in Chicago.)

Or I could just tell you that there is precedent!
In fact, eerily similar precedent.

(By the way, the next person who tells me that J.K. Rowling is so original will be subject to my withering look of disdain.)

Here's the precedent, folks, and now we can all agree that Severus Snape is a good man.

From A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin (quite possibly the most fantastic epic fantasy writer ever, definitely the most original, least formulaic, again, fantastic):

    "We may escape them yet," the ranger said, "Or not."

    "I'm not afraid to die." It was only half a lie.

    "It may not be so easy as that, Jon."

    He did not understand. "What do you mean?"

    "If we are taken, you must yield."

    "Yield?" He blinked in disbelief. The wildlings did not make captives of the men they called the crows. They killed them, except for. . . "They only spare oathbreakers. Those who join them, like Mance Rayder."

    "And you."

    "No." He shook his head. "Never. I won't."

    "You will. I command it of you."

    "Command it? But..."

    "Our honor means no more than our lives, so long as the realm is safe. Are you a man of the Night's Watch?"

    "Yes, but-"

    "There is no but, Jon Snow. You are, or you are not."

    Jon sat up straight. "I am."

    "Then hear me. If we are taken, you will go over to them, as the wildling girl you captured once urged you. They may demand that you cut your cloak to ribbons, that you swear them an oath on your father's grave, that you curse your brothers and your Lord Commander. You must not balk, whatever is asked of you. Do as they bid you...but in your heart, remember who and what you are. Ride with them, eat with them, fight with them, for as long as it takes. And watch."

    "For what?" Jon asked.

    "Would that I knew," said Quhorin. "Your wolf saw their diggings int he valley of the Milkwater. What did they seek, in such a bleak and distant place? Did they find it? That is what you must learn, before you return to Lord Mormont and your brothers. That is the duty I lay on you, Jon Snow."

    "I'll do as you say," Jon said reluctantly, " will tell them, won't you? The Old Bear, at least? You'll tell him that I never broke my oath."

    Qhorin Halfhand gazed at him across the fire, his eyes lost in pools of shadow. "When I see him next, I swear it." He gestured at the fire. "More wood. I want it bright and hot."

and then:

    "No!" The word burst from Jon's lips before the bonemen could loose. He took two quick steps forward. "We yield!"

    "They warned me bastard blood was craven," he heard Qhorin Halfhand say coldly behind him. "I see it is so. Run to your new masters, coward."

    Face reddening, Jon descended the slope to where Rattleshirt sat his horse. The wildling stared at him through the eyeholes of his helm and said, "The free folk have no need of cravens."

    "He is no craven." One of the archers pulled off her sewn sheepskin helm and shook out a head of shaggy red hair. "This is the Bastard o' Winterfell, who spared me. Let him live."

    Jon met Ygritte's eyes, and had no words.

    "Let him die," insisted the Lord of Bones. "The black crow is a tricksy bird. I trust him not."


    The big spearwife narrowed her eyes and said, "If the crow would join the free folk, let him show us his prowess and prove the truth of him."

    "I'll do whatever you ask." The words came hard, but Jon said them.

    Rattleshirt's bone armor clattered loudly as he laughed. "Then kill the Halfhand, bastard."

    "As if he could," said Qhorin. "Turn, Snow, and die."

    And then Qhorin's sword was coming at him and somehow Longclaw leapt upward to block. The force of impact almost knocked the bastard blade from Jon's hand, and sent him staggering backward. You must not balk, whatever is asked of you. He shifted to a two-hand grip, quick enough to deliver a stroke of his own, but the big ranger brushed it aside with contemptous ease. Back and forth they went, black cloaks swirling, the youth's quickness against the savage strength of Qhorin's left-hand cuts. The Halfhand's longsword seemed to be everywhere at once, raining down from one side and then the other, driving him where he would, keeping him off balance. Already he could feel his arms growing numb.

    Even when Ghost's teeth closed savagely around the ranger's calf, somehow Qhorin kept his feet. But in that instant, as he twisted, the opening was there. Jon planted and pivoted. The ranger was leaning away, and for an instant it seemed that Jon's slash had not touched him. Then, a string of red tears appeared across the big man's throat, bright as a ruby necklace, and the blood gushed out of him, and Qhorin Halfhand fell.

    Ghost's muzzle was dripping red, but only the point of the bastard blade was stained, the last half inch. Jon pulled the direwolf away and knelt with one arm around him. The light was already fading in Qhorin's eyes. "" he said, lifting his maimed fingers. Then his hand fell, and he was gone.

    He knew, he thought numbly. He knew what they would ask of me. He thought of Samwell Tarly then, of Grenn and Dolorous Edd, of Pyp and Toad back at Castle Black. Had he lost them all, as he had lost Bran and Rickon and Rob? Who was he now? What was he?

And reiterated again in A Storm of Swords:

    "They're dogs and he's a wolf," said Jon. "They know he's not their kind." No more than I am yours. But he had his duty to be mindful of, the task Qhorin Halfhand had laid upon him as they shared that final fire- to play the part of turncloak, and find whatever it was that the wildlings had been seeking in the bleak cold wilderness of the Frostfangs.

So, when it comes to Snape, Snape is Jon Snow, of course. Dumbledore is Qhorin Halfhand. In the same way that Qhorin commands Jon to do whatever is asked of him, knowing full well that he is going to die, Dumbledore commands Snape (in the woods, when Hagrid overhears) to do whatever is asked of him, even killing him. When Dumbledore begs and says, "Please...please..." he is begging Snape to fulfill this final duty, to kill him. Dumbledore is aware of what this will mean for Snape, how everyone will perceive him, hate him, revile him. He knows why Snape hesitates. But he begs him to kill him...Recall that Dumbledore requests Harry to go find Snape as soon as they return to the castle. Dumbledore knew the time was right, that it was his time to die, to be killed. Notice that Snape has ample opportunity to kill Harry (throughout all the books, when he's teaching him Occlumency, but most especially when he is running with Draco Malfoy and hurling curses over his shoulder at Harry.) Why hurl those curses? Why not kill Harry with one well-placed curse?

Because, of course, Snape is good.

If it should happen that I am wrong, and that J.K. Rowling makes Snape into a bad person, it will definitely be the stupidest, most idiotic, formulaic, move of all of the books, because it would be awesomely predictable, make Dumbledore look like a fool, and suggest that Harry's paranoia was actually good sense. In other words, it would ruin her entire series.

So for the good of her own series, Severus Snape must be a good man.

Of course, knowing JK Rowling, it's entirely possible she opts for ruining her series.

But I hope not. Because God knows it would be far more interesting to see the look on Harry's face when he realizes he's trying to kill the one good man throughout all the books, the man who has to suffer so much and bear so much in order to help save them all, the misjudged, hated and reviled hero...Severus Snape.

    Thursday, December 14, 2006

    The Bloody Rose

    Disclaimer: This is a story. My way of relieving stress before finals. Thanks.

    Old, musty brick covered in the dust of cement and construction-work, a brown dilapidated building doing its best to stay tall and strong. I admired it for that as I ducked beneath an ancient clothes-line which mysteriously contained long shreds of what had once been long underwear flapping in the wind. I knocked at the door, peered through the dusty glass plate, and made out the figure of a kind-looking man with bewildered brown eyes. He carefully walked toward the door and opened it.

    “Hello. What can I do for you?” he asked politely.

    “I understand this is a shop?”

    He swept his hand toward the cluttered shelves behind him. I noticed a stuffed parakeet, an emerald ring, a spread of various stained fabrics, a shiny red India rubber ball, a distinguished-looking Bible, and several other odds and ends on the one immediately to his right. I smiled.

    “Yes, this is perfect,” I answered. He stepped aside to let me enter. Settling his pince-nez back onto his nose, he sat down at the bench, studying the cluttered table in search of an important manuscript. I heard him shuffling papers and coughing softly under his breath; the crackling sound of paper as he ran his hands over the aged parchment.

    I decided to explore.

    Clutter and disorder, scattered papers, gifts, shiny new or terribly old. This was a treasure trove of opportunities; so many things were hiding here! I found a treasure chest which contained a single glass plate, a mousetrap that shimmered iridescently, a bag of marbles, several pairs of dentures, old bottles of expired pills, a glass slipper residing on top of a mound of feathers, several dried peas, seven-league boots, various wands and scepters imposing and impressive books, and finally the costumes.

    The costumes were just as rich and varied as the other items. The golden armor of the doomed Joan d’Arc, the mysterious snakes that made up Medusa’s coiffure, the single sandal of Jason, the rich robes of various kings and queens, all nestled together in a single mahogany closet. I nearly tripped over a pile of rags, only to realize that they were actually a pauper’s garments. I found five robes for the Virgin Mary, Joseph’s coat of many colors, Cinderella’s breathtaking gown, Jasmine’s sexy outfit and even several masks of beaten gold, apparently taken by tomb-robbers. I fingered the clothing, velvets and rags, the rich, sensual plush feeling as opposed to the scratchy, rough cloth that chafed my fingertips. I held the clothes close, bundled them into a kind of pillow as I thought how strange it was, how completely ludicrous, that I should have the opportunity and privilege to lie upon all the figures of history at once in this relaxed fashion. Tears prickled in my eyes, but did not fall. I was not, after all, that sentimental.

    I sat upon the floor, surrounded by shoes, crowns, hats, wigs, and clothes. I was the queen apparent, ruling over my departed subjects, issuing orders to the knight who knelt beside me, smiling graciously at the leper who begged admission to my presence. I found a gown of rare beauty with intricate buckles, only to discover these were the very buckles with which Oedipus had blinded himself. I danced through the clothing and ran pieces of fabric through my fingers, wore scarves of washerwomen and ‘girls with pearl earrings’ in my hair. I fingered my earlobe as I looked at the blue and yellow confection that held my hair back, and I laughed, laughing and laughing at the beauty that was mine.

    The kindly old gentleman heard my laughter and entered the back part of the store, where I was delightedly gazing at my reflection in the gothic, fantastically designed mirror. The mirror’s sides held images of deer and game running, the hunters in hot pursuit. There was a beautiful woman with a unicorn on one panel. I spared no gazes for them; I was concerned with myself and my finery; the borrowed plumage that turned the raven to a peacock.

    I saw him come toward me in the reflection of the mirror. Laughing, I spoke to the mirror, and thus to him-“How I love all of this!”

    His answering smile seemed to say, And how I love you, child.

    “How did you come to have all this?”

    “O,” he said, his craggy face splitting into a kind of smile. “I was not always as old as I now seem.”

    “Were you a wizard?” I asked excitedly, tempted to believe in the miraculous, in that which defied reality.

    “Not quite a wizard,” he said sadly. “Though perhaps a little like. I loved a woman, the daughter of a wizard.”

    I stopped suddenly, compelled by his sadness. “Oh,” I said, and gently took his hand, creased with lines and cares; his skin worn thin and grandfatherly.

    “Don’t worry, child,” he smiled at me. “It was a long time ago.”

    “Do tell me!” I said, fascinated. “I’m an avid listener.”

    He laughed. “Well, I suppose you are,” he said. “Perhaps I shall tell you. Perhaps I shall.”

    He bid me be seated on the cushions that scattered the floor, though I pulled several of the costumes toward me as well. I was wearing a ballerina’s costume, a delicate creation all of white, with a large tutu made of tulle. The bodice was speckled with small diamonds, and the leotard was sleeveless. I had attached the crown of white flowers to my hair, and I looked like a lost princess in my finery. Beautiful white ballet slippers encased my feet, though they did not hurt as I had decided not to be en pointe.

    I smiled up at him with my large brown eyes, my brown curls tumbling down my back, and he looked at me thoughtfully, sadly, as though touched by tragedy. “I knew that ballerina,” he said. “You do her honor by wearing that costume.”

    “Tell me!” I cried, breathless with anticipation. “Tell me your story?”

    “I believe I shall,” he said. After pouring himself a mug of tea, and settling himself in a convenient rocking-chair, he began to tell me.


    I was not always as old as you see me, child. I was once a young man, foolish, naïve, infatuated with the world and all that it meant to me, a prince of the realm. For I was a prince. A prince of the ancient world, a prince of Atlantis, that lost city that disappeared into the darkness of the water. In the days that Atlantis existed- o! There was no city to compare to it; no island half as beautiful. We were the pinnacle of existence, of society, of beauty. I had been raised with all the qualities of the learned man- raised to read, to speak, to dress, to converse, to act in all ways the gentleman. I was a prince and a man, and though raised with all these delicate graces, I was not satisfied. I am a man, as I have said, and so I lusted after things- lusted after knowledge that was forbidden me, lusted after that which could not be mine.

    I had been betrothed, you see, to a maiden whom I thought I could never love. I was a sulky, petulant boy, a prince of a boy, and as I’ve said, my graces were to some extent a sham. Moody, cynical, opinionated, I could not think well of my parent’s views. I was certain they had chosen some pitiful flower of a princess for me; that I would suffer for it. She came to meet me and greet me. She was exquisite. Black hair, black hair swept upward and pinned to her hair with a glittering butterfly. Her eyes were fiery, persuasive, passionate. I hated her. I thought at once that she was a fool, that for all her beauty I would have to court and woo a fool.

    Of course she was not. In fact, she played a great trick on me- I will never forgive her for it! She had a maid, also beautiful, a girl with a grace and art that escapes most women. Her hair was golden and her eyes blue, and she worked in the scullery. Of course, I did not know this girl was her creature. I thought, as all would think, that she was a mere scullery maid. As a prince, I decided I would have her- to defy my parents, to defy the realm, to defy any and all who would have me marry a woman I knew I could not love. It is easy to win the love of a scullery maid. Flowers, chocolates, roses and the like- what else could she desire? But she tormented me! Oh, she would evade me; she played the elusive flirt. I would corner her in flowerbeds and she would smile monstrously up at me with her golden hair and grace, turn on her heel and flee. I swore I would have her. At last, tired of waiting, I commanded her to attend me in my bedroom that night. She paled, but agreed.

    Of course, this entire time, I believed that I had been making a fool of my betrothed, perhaps had forced her to realize that I could never love or respect her, and hence she had best leave. I had no idea that my scullery maid was in her employ. That night, I left the door to my chamber unlocked. I stood near the tower window, the picture of a moody prince. O’ how I laugh to remember it now! My long hair blowing in the wind, my eyes dark, my brows furrowed, staring into the darkness. I heard the creak as the door opened. I did not turn. At last she stood behind me, her tender hands upon my shoulders. I smiled. “You capitulate, then?” I asked without turning.


    The voice was queenly, beautiful, deeply rich and throaty. I turned to see my scullery maid, only to realize it was my betrothed who had entered the room. Her hair was unbound, long and black, trailing down her back. She was in a night-dress, all in white. She was tall and regal and proud; all that I was not. She would never have tried to shame me in front of her people. I stood chastised.

    “Madame,” I said, and bowed low to her.

    “Sir,” she answered, but did not curtsy.

    “What, Madame,” I said, turning back to the window, “is the meaning of this?”

    “Why,” she said coyly, “I believe you invited my lady-in-waiting to attend you tonight, and I came to explain why that could not be.”

    Your lady-in-waiting?” I exclaimed.

    Her smile was beautiful. “Of course. You did not know?”

    “I should bloody well think not!” I said, embarrassed, my face flushed in the light of my own stupidity.

    “Ah,” she said, and moved closer to the window. “Perhaps you could explain to me what you find so distasteful about the prospect of our union?”

    “Distasteful!” I spluttered. “Why, Madame, you have the nerve to ask that while you attend me- here-in my bedchamber- when we are not yet wed!”

    “At your command,” she pointedly said. “Rather, to defend my maidservant.”

    I blushed a deeper red. “It is no sin to woo a maidservant.”

    “Even when your betrothed is in the castle?”

    I heard her voice falter a little. Could it be? Perhaps she was not made of stone. I looked into her eyes, fiery eyes that flamed as though she were the blood of fae-creatures, and noticed a little crack, a little shard of hurt. In an instant, all the remorse and regret in the world flooded through me, and I fell at her feet.

    “I have hurt you, my lady,” I said. “I see that I have hurt you.”

    “It is no matter,” she said, her hand lightly brushing away my apologies.

    “No, no, it matters-“ I said. “I am- I was- not less than a moment ago I was a boy, with all a boy’s stupidities and confidences. Now I am a man, and I am sorry for your hurt- I am sorry for what I have done you.” I drew myself up, confident, and reached for my sword, the sword that stood ever-ready near my bed. “I pledge to you,” I swore, “upon this sword, that I will wed, marry and love you should you allow me the honor, and never think of anyone but you.”

    It should have been ridiculous; I in my night-shirt, a raw youth, she in her night-dress. But the gesture was made with honorable intentions, and she accepted it as such. She bent and kissed the blade. “With this kiss I do mark thee true,” she said, looking at the blade, but I knew she meant me.

    She glided out of the room and left me to a sleepless night as I thought over what I had done and said and what I ought to have done. The next day I resolved to treat her with all the kindness I had sworn to give her. She was, after all, mine. No one else would have her or touch her. With this possessive thought, I turned upon my pillow and fell promptly asleep.

    I awoke to the sun’s rays across my face, an uncomfortable sensation rather than an accustomed pleasant one. My immediate thought was of the night before, and as my servants attended me, I looked upon my sword, musing on the promise I had made. I thought I would amuse my betrothed today, perhaps take her to the gardens, show her the wonders of Atlantis. For this day, I would endeavor to be everything that I should have been to her from the moment she arrived.

    As I lightly stepped down the stairs, I heard an urgent voice calling for me. “My lord Prince!” a messenger cried, urgently running up the stairs, panting as he did so. “My lord Prince!”

    “Stay!” I commanded, and bid him be seated, although I yet stood. He sat upon the steps and struggled to catch his breath. When he was not yet recovered he stood up and with great agitation exclaimed, “Your brother, my Prince!”

    “What of him?” I asked, scornful. My younger brother was a willful, capricious man, someone whose actions did not generally impress or concern me.

    “He has claimed the kingdom! He makes war on you now- he does not call it war, but war it is. His servants run before him in the streets and proclaim him king. He scatters largess and the crowds follow in his wake, suffused in admiration. He claims your betrothed as his own. No one has dared inform the king and queen of his actions- we are terrified, my lord.”

    I had stood in a kind of stupor while I heard these words. Only when he mentioned that my brother desired my betrothed did I stir, anger growing in my heart. “He claims what is mine so that he may destroy it!” I exclaimed, then paused. “He claims my bride.”

    “My lord, I fear it is so,” the messenger answered. “I grieve to have brought you such news.”

    “Do not grieve,” I said absently. “I must go to my lord Father and lady Mother. They must be informed of what is to come.”

    I quickly started outside, walking through the jewel-encrusted pillars and past the bazaar. Hawkers, peddlers and merchants mingled there; the stink of sweat and the aroma of spices mixed enticingly in the air. I heard shouts and cries, saw the rich fabric that covered their booths and tents, observed our beautiful women dancing in the streets for coin. And yet none of this held pleasure for me. I walked steadily, my mind racing. What to do? What action to take? How to defend against my brother?

    I fingered the bracelet on my wrist, made of overlapping links of gold. It shone against my brown, sun-kissed skin. It was the bracelet of authority, the mark of the true prince. It was both a bracelet and a chain, for it was meant to suggest the yoke of authority and responsibility I bore, the responsibility I must have for my people. All my decisions must be for their good.

    I knew my brother would not care for the people. He desired only power, the trappings of kingship without the responsibilities. He was the kind of man who would take from the people but would not give back, would order all that was lush and beautiful and golden to be given to him, offer promises and repay them with harsh, cruel actions. I dared not allow him command of my kingdom. He would not have my bride.

    Startled from my reverie, I awoke to the sound of trumpets as I was announced and introduced. I knelt before my lord Father. “Father,” I said gravely. I turned to my Mother and bowed. “Mother. I bring ill news.”

    My father looked shaken and torn, suddenly old, the simple gold circlet he wore a heavy burden upon his head. My mother looked frightened. “We know the news, son. It is worse than we thought.”

    She motioned me forward. I could then see the scroll of parchment they held, fine parchment with beautiful blue writing. I leaned over my father’s shoulder in order to see the words better.

    ‘The True King, Adonijah, bids Atlasian to submit to his will and bring him his betrothed to make his, Adonijah’s, own bride. The True King, Adonijah, commands his father and mother to offer their support and love in all his endeavors, and to anoint and accept him as king. He has something very precious to offer them should they join him in this endeavor.”

    My mother’s face was white. “He has Sarai.”

    “Sarai!” I exclaimed, and my face darkened. “She is only a child! Our sister!”

    “He has threatened,” my father continued brokenly, “to kill her if we do not submit.”

    “Surely he will not make good that threat,” I countered. “All the realm would know him for a child-killer. No one would accept a child-killer as king. We will rescue Sarai.” I looked at their faces and read their fear. “We must try,” I said firmly. “We cannot abandon our people into Adonijah’s hands.”

    “Atlasian,” my mother said, and her hands shook, “they have chosen him over us.”

    “It cannot be!” I said, shocked. “It cannot be!”

    I looked around the room for a moment. Then I saw it, what I had not seen before- how abandoned it was. The room was in disorder, but I had set that down to the news of the moment; perhaps my father had become angry and thrown the objects about or anxiously juggled them from hand to hand, frustrated. I had not noticed the dust on the walls, the darkened look, the lack of fresh flowers or rushes.

    “What is the meaning of this?” I asked, my tone dark.

    “The servants have left us for him,” my mother answered.

    “The servants?” I asked, wholly confused. “What use has Adonijah for servants? What use can he have for our people? What of the messenger who came for me?”

    “That messenger,” my father answered, “is one of the few men yet loyal to us. Adonijah has taken our servants, our guards, our very people. It is a well-planned move; no rash or stupid action. He has thought this over, determined the best way to bribe men, to promise them riches and lavish feasts beyond our dreams. We cannot win them back.”

    “Are you telling me,” I asked in horror, “that we must submit?”

    “I would not tell you this,” my father answered, tears forming in his eyes, “but for the fact that he has Sarai.”

    Sarai was a darling child, a golden girl. Her hair was long and thick, curly and beautiful, her eyes brown and shaped like almonds. Her skin was dewy, touched by the sun. Her laugh was young and sweet; her hands and feet small and delicate. She was a precious child, had done no wrong. Surely she must have trusted her brother when he asked her to come with him. She may not even know that anything is wrong. And yet, he threatens to kill her.

    “Have you considered an assassin?” I asked calmly.

    “He is surrounded,” my father answered. “Besides, I will not have them kill my son.”

    “It is your son or your daughter,” I answered firmly.

    His eyes were lit with a strange glow. “It will not be my son.”

    My mother began to weep, and I realized that all was lost. “Submit if you must,” I said, my face growing warm with anger at their lack of courage, “but give me time. I must take those few men who are still loyal to me and plan an attack, some way to infiltrate his castle and overthrow him. Buy me time.” My voice was pointed, sharp like a dagger. I was angry, but I tried not to show it. “And I must keep Yasmine safe. Where is she?”

    “Here,” she answered, and padded softly into the room. She wore the garb of an Arabian princess in the style of our women; the shining embroidery glittering on her otherwise white trousers, her shoes pointed upward and made of gold. Her eyes were lined with kohl; her lips red, and a small diadem rested on her head. She had bound her long black hair up so that it formed a circular crown about her head. A golden sash was cinched around her waist; there was a small sheath for a dagger, and she wore the traditional ring on her finger, the one which held the original poison with which our first princess had drugged the evil Vizier.

    “Yasmine,” I said, and bowed. “Please walk with me.”

    “I will be honored, Atlasian.” She dipped her head low, then signaled her maidservants. “Follow me at a distance,” she commanded.

    I took her to the golden gardens, where I paced as I looked at the sparkling fountains, the cool water playfully jumping from one basin to the next. “You have heard,” I said, and bowed my head.

    “I have heard,” she said, and gently raised my chin so that she looked into my eyes. “I have heard, and I have planned.”

    “Planned?” I asked, astonished. “What could you possibly have planned?”

    “You will take me to Adonijah,” she said quietly. “I will be your sacrifice.” She stilled my lips with a finger as I began to protest. “He will imagine he is safe with me. How could a woman disarm him? I will play the part. He will find me obedient, serviceable, willing and docile. I shall await my opportunity. I will help Sarai escape. And I will assassinate your brother.”

    I looked at her, admiration in my gaze. “A brave plan, Yasmine,” I answered, “but I will not let you do it. You underestimate my brother if you think he will be so easily swayed. You cannot know him as I do. He will force you to prove your devotion, and prove it again and again and again.”

    “Yes,” she answered, agreeing with me. “And that will be your torment. But it must be.”

    I nearly choked. She understood- she understood what she was saying. “You are telling me you will let my brother wed you.” My tone was dangerous.

    She was silent, her eyes simply looking into mine, neither confirming nor denying that it was true.

    “You are telling me that you will allow my brother to have you, to make you happy, to act as a husband to you in all the ways that he desires. As well give him the kingdom! Are you mad? Do you mean to ingratiate yourself with me by perpetrating this humiliation, this treason? Do you think I can stand it?”

    “You must stand it,” she answered. “You will stand it because you will realize I am betrothed only to you. No matter what I must say, or am forced to do, I am yours.”

    I was pacing now, my hands angry and moving, twisting at the air. “This is not a woman’s war,” I said. “I will not allow you to do it. I will not have you used. I will not have you sacrificed.”

    “You have no other hope.”

    Frantically, I wracked my brains. It could not be. It must not be. She could not be his, his, to lie with him, to run her fingers through his hair, to smile at him and dance for him, to act as his agent and his queen. I would not have it. “I could summon a force and march on him-“

    “You know that will not work.”

    “We can flee.” It went against my pride to admit this. “We can flee Atlantis, flee the island, take one of the ships with the few who remain loyal to us.”

    “If we leave in disgrace, you will not forget it.”

    “Oh, and this I will forget?” I looked at her again. “I cannot allow it.”

    “Atlasian. You have no choice.”

    I did not have a choice. I could not see another way. “What will you do if there is no opportunity? What will you do if he bids you wed him, and you cannot find a way to kill him?”
    “Why, I suppose I shall live with him for a time, and then I shall die.”

    “Die?” I pounced on the word, anxious for hope.

    “Certainly. I would not live if I did not keep my word.” She turned away, the sun glittering on her hair. “Come. Arrange for my retinue.”

    Wordlessly, I followed.

    I am ashamed to admit it to you, but in a way I was relieved. I knew I did not have the men to face my brother, and I thought that perhaps she would succeed in her mission. I personally brought her to my brother. When he saw me, he laughed. My sister Sarai knelt at his throne, bathing his feet and laughing. She did not understand the danger she was in. Yasmine entered, all elegance, fire and steel and mystery. She breathed a kind of calm that I knew to be dangerous, but my brother took for submission.

    “Oh, and you are come, are you!” he exclaimed, running his hand over his black beard. He was a strong man, muscular and well-built. “Well, Atlasian, I am glad you see the sense in this. Come forward, my beautiful bride.”

    Yasmine took a step toward him, and knelt coolly at his feet. I struggled to keep the grimace from my face.

    “Up, my sweet,” Adonijah said, motioning her upwards. “Come closer.” He looked upon her face, her exquisite eyes, stroked her hair. “Ah, you’ll do,” he said, and smiled, a wolf’s smile, possessive and covetous. “You’ll do very well.” He laughed appreciatively as he motioned to his guards. “What do you think of your Queen?”

    The men smiled. I saw their eyes as they looked at her, and I wanted to kill them.

    “Yasmine,” he said, and her name sounded strange on his tongue. “Yasmine, you are mine now. What have you to say to that?”

    “I am pleased my lord is satisfied with me,” she answered coolly and correctly.

    “Did you ever hear such an answer!” he exclaimed in wonder. “Why, I am not satisfied with you, I am madly in love with you.” He looked once again toward his guards. “Am I not, my men?” and smiled. Oh, Adonijah was the darling of the people, a brave and handsome man, a man of power and strength. I felt bitter as I witnessed the power of their regard for him.

    “She’s a beautiful Queen, my lord,” one of the men said boldly, and Adonijah laughed.

    “That she is,” he answered. “Perhaps one day I shall have you look upon her charms, so that you may judge them and see that she is fairer than any other.” I gritted my teeth. “But that day is not yet come, my sweet,” he said, slyly looking at Yasmine to see if he had shocked her. She had not reacted at all. Her face was calm, controlled, expressionless.

    “I know we are not yet married,” he said, “but I desire for you to give me a favor.”

    “A favor, my lord?” Yasmine answered thoughtfully. She offered up one wrist and her handmaiden began to untie the golden ribbons that laced around it.

    “No, no, not that kind of favor,” Adonijah answered. “I desire a kiss.”

    In public? I almost roared. We did not shame our women that way, never demonstrated intimacy in public. I watched as Yasmine stepped forward and Adonijah swept her into his lap. He kissed her soundly, and I was forced to watch. If this was feigned, it was artfully done. I could not tell. My insides roiled as I watched her, and I struggled to be calm when Adonijah released her. I knew this was part of his show of power. She was truly his.

    I cursed myself for acceding to her plan, and wondered how to extricate myself from it.

    “Atlasian,” he commanded. “I ought to arrest you and imprison you. But as you have no men,” he laughed, “I see no purpose to it. You may, if you like, enjoy my hospitality here, or, if you desire, you may return to comfort our parents.”

    “I would remain with my parents.” I would not call him ‘lord.’

    “Atlasian, I am king now. Kindly refer to me as such.”

    “I would remain with my parents, king.” It cost me to say it. Perhaps it cost too much.

    “Very well.” He clapped his hands. “Let no one say the king is not benevolent.” A servant stepped forward with a small chest, filled to the brim with priceless treasures, rubies and emeralds, ropes of silver and gold. “A small token of my thanks,” he said. “You have made this decidedly less bloody than it could have been, and prevented me from engaging in the act of fratricide, cursed by the gods.”

    I bowed stiffly.

    “You may go, brother,” he said, and turned back to Yasmine. I saw him caress her, his arm slowly moving along her shoulder, his hand resting lightly on the arch of her back. I turned away and shuddered.

    After at time, I grew accustomed to them. I saw Adonijah and Yasmine walking, arm in arm, giving each other looks that spoke of a love that ought to have been mine. I saw Sarai running playfully in their wake, dancing through the streets. I saw him court her; I saw him woo the bride who was mine. I saw it all, and I remained silent, thinking, as ever, that she would keep her word, that she would slay him.

    I remained with my parents in the other castle, and did what I could to govern the realm. As Adonijah had not yet completely assumed leadership, he left this largely to us. His plan now was to make an exhibit of himself, to parade proudly through the city with Yasmine on his arm, dangerous and beautiful. He allowed her to walk armed because it pleased him to say that he did not fear a woman. He permitted Sarai to see our parents, but only in his presence. He would not allow them to keep her.

    I tried once to whisper to her that she must try to escape if she could. Her eyes became very wide and she looked up at me sorrowfully. “How can you say such a thing, Atlasian!” she exclaimed. “To run from my brother, the True King!”

    I had not realized how much he had influenced her, and made her swear, though it pained her, to keep this conversation from Adonijah. She thought perhaps to reunite us; she could not realize what he had done. Her eyes were wide with astonishment and disillusionment, and it angered me that I was the one who had brought this to her; that to her, as to everyone else, Adonijah was the golden man, the one who could do no wrong.

    It pained me to see him with Yasmine. I think he knew it, though I struggled to hide it. He would come near me; if he saw me in the market he would hail me and bid me pay my respects. I would kneel to him and simultaneously swear to release Yasmine, somehow, some way. He was driving me mad.

    I was forced to attend their wedding. It was a magnificent affair, involving the whole of the kingdom and many foreigners who came, bearing rich gifts and royal promises. The wedding was held outside, in the crystal gardens. Each leaf was carved of crystal, glittering and sparkling in the sun. All was translucent, transparent, tinged with the rainbow light that was its beauty. Amidst this grandeur, all would have been near-blinded, if not for the beautiful canopy that had been specially constructed to house the guests. Made of cloth interwoven with crystal and gems, it was supported by four black pillars, made of the most precious obsidian. There was a podium, where the King and Queen would meet and seal the marriage.

    We were seated in chairs of stone, inlaid with mother-of-pearl and opal. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. Someone had seen to it that I was near the front of the room, able to bear witness to all. I heard an unearthly choir, the sounds of the angels perhaps, singing in terrible unison. The musicians played, and the King emerged.

    Adonijah wore cloth-of-gold and black, the traditional marriage garments. He carried a tiara and a ring, each of which were made of three types of gold- the white color, the yellow, and the dark, brassy one. The three were united to demonstrate the strength of the marriage. He stood, serious, impressive, a grave expression on his face, looking to the crowd. Cheers and shouts went up and he smiled for a moment, then turned back in deference to his queen.
    When she entered, I caught my breath. Adorned head to foot in vivid red cloth, she was an enchantress, her hair unbound and wavy, a single ruby around her throat. Her maidens had placed small rubies at the corners of her eyes as well, almost as though she wept blood. Her hands were bare but for one large ring, also with a ruby in the center, but her anklets were of gold. She wore only thin golden slippers as she walked, staidly and sedately, toward Adonijah, who was visibly moved.

    They began the ceremony. I was fascinated, felt that I must watch although it hurt me, pained me beyond expression. I watched them seal the marriage. I watched as she raised the cup of ceremonial wine to her lips. And then, quicker than could have been expected, so that I was the only one who saw, she twisted her ruby ring for a moment. I saw a small stream of powder slip inside the cup. Of course. If he died now, she could claim the gods themselves had struck him down, had prevented the marriage. She kissed the rim of the cup and handed it to Adonijah.

    He raised it to his lips, smiling—then dashed it to the ground. His eyes were cruel for a moment, and I knew, I knew, that despite the care she had taken, he had seen it too. “I find that I need no wine to dizzy me with desire,” he announced sweetly, but I saw his lips curve as he contemplated his savage revenge. I knew I had to save her.

    I stepped forward. Her eyes were on me, quick as a cat’s, savage. Her lips formed a single word, quickly, quickly, but it was clear- No. She forbade it. She had failed, but she would find another way.

    I did not care. I stepped forward. “I protest this marriage,” I exclaimed. “I protest it.” I was half-mad by now, too frightened for Yasmine to care what I did next. I drew my sword and made for my brother. “To me!” I heard him call, saw him clutch Yasmine closer to him. I felt strong arms around me, and then I could not see, could not think, could not breathe. I continued to move forward but felt another person reach for my hands. I stabbed upward and felt the blade connect. I heard a horrible groan. Then darkness, and I knew no more.


    “Well, brother.”

    I awoke in chains, inside of a cold dungeon. My brother looked at me malevolently, still in all his finery. “So she was your accomplice, was she?” He smiled. “Oh, I suspected you. I knew she would not be this fickle. I knew what you were.”

    I looked at him with eyes like daggers.

    “No matter,” he said. “She is mine now, mine in every way that matters. And to torment you, I will bring her here. She has been told she must do whatever pleases me—or I will kill you.”

    I writhed in my chains, my eyes unforgiving.

    “If you close your eyes for a single moment, I will have you killed.” He clapped his hands. Yasmine entered. They had stripped her of her finery, given her only a sheet to cover her nakedness. My brother advanced on her. I thought he would hit her, and strained to prevent the blow. Instead he kissed her. I tried to turn my head away, and received a powerful slap across the face.

    “You will watch,” he commanded, and his voice was icy with contempt and rage.

    He forced me to act as an unwilling viewer. In my naïve, innocent manner, I told Yasmine I would rather die, begged her to stop. She did not. I told her that I hated her, that I knew she could not love me and simultaneously act as she was acting. I accused her, called her vile names. Something broke within me when I saw her so obedient, so subservient to my brother. I wanted to weep.

    It was a kind of torture unlike any other. He did not physically hurt me- oh, I was bruised, but that was not the pain I felt. He did not even hurt her. He made me hate her- hate her and love her simultaneously, so that I was mad with pain and anger. I could not watch, yet I must watch. I must live. I could not live.

    At last, I closed my eyes.

    He laughed. “I have broken you,” he said, his voice barbaric. “Remember that I have broken you.”

    He dismissed Yasmine, then turned back to me.

    “I have heard rumors,” he said softly. “Disquieting rumors. I have heard that Atlantis is to be destroyed, that an ocean will come and flood the island. I have heard there is a mad prophet in Athania who preaches this.”

    I shook my head dumbly. This was what concerned him? The mad prophets of the world?

    “I will release you. You are to go to Athania and discover this prophet. You will find out the truth of this prophecy, and what must be done to stop it. Before you go, I will brand you, so that all will know that you are mine, my emissary, a lowly servant. I will strip you of your finery. You must return to me after the period of a year, as I will ensorcell you; it is part of the brand. The brand will call to me, and to Atlantis. You are not free.”

    I was too weary to think, too pained to concentrate.

    He took one of my chained hands, and ordered a small table be brought. He forced my hand upon the table.

    Then he reached for the brand.

    It was in the shape of a rose. An iron rose that he would press against my flesh, burn upon my hand so that it would remain there forever, a rose spelled with magic so that I must return, could not control my own body. I screamed as I saw the iron, hot with fire, press against my skin. I screamed and screamed and heard his diabolical laughter as he spoke words, words I could not hear or understand. At last, I fainted.

    When I awoke all I could think of was the pain. The pain, the dead heat, the scorching smell of flesh, the ruined hand. It was cruel to make it a rose, the symbol of so much beauty. I saw that he had made it beautiful; his tattoo artists had come whilst I had fainted- perhaps they had drugged me or spelled me to remain asleep- and they had made it beautiful, its petals inked deep with red, red hues. A needle had been at work within my flesh, and all I could feel was the shards of pain that remained to me, the horror that was this rose. I saw it shimmer and felt how much it longed for Atlantis. I would always feel pain upon being far from my home.

    He saw me off. He gave me a beautiful ship, sea-worthy and spry, rich and spelled so that I could sail it myself. He would not give me men, for fear that I would turn them to me. People were told that I was desirous of exploring the world; none of them informed of the prophecy that spelled the end of their lives.

    I was many days at sea. Tossed by the storms, the gails, the rage and wrath that was Poseidon’s anger, I existed in a half-dazed, half-dead dream state. I could feel the call for home constantly, felt the pain prickle within my flesh. I stared at my hand and hated myself, hated myself for my lack of courage, for abandoning Yasmine, for having allowed her her plan. I hated the lust for power that my brother displayed, and even hated the fact that he had spared me when I closed my eyes.

    At last I reached a port. I did not know where I was, but pulled into the dock. I had grown a beard and was wearing travel-stained, grimy clothes. No one would know me for a prince. I was a fool, the son of a fool, a wandering man with little to no profession.

    “Who ye be?” a gruff voice asked as I disembarked.

    “I am—“ my voice was rusty with disuse. “I am Ulysses,” I answered, “son of pain.” It was the name that I had decided upon, the only name that truly fit my damned state. Ulysses, Odysseus, men of pain, a man who was parted from his wife, though she remained constant. Yasmine had not that ability, I thought, and stiffened.

    “Ulysses?” he asked, and his voice was cynical. “Why, have you left your Penelope?”

    “Perhaps I have, at that,” I answered, “though that’s none of your concern. Is there a tavern hereabouts?”

    His wrinkled face looked up at me, cunning. “Oh, there’s a tavern, but you don’t want to be going there.”

    “And why not?” I questioned.

    “Why, because them who goes there is most frequently robbed and plundered, that’s why,” he answered. “My lord Atlasian.”

    “You know me!” I gasped, horrified. “You know me in these rags!”

    “Why, sure I know you,” he said, and stood up, throwing off his rags and cloak, revealing himself to be a strong, true man. I realized then that the wrinkles were painted on; that it was merely Ben, aged, it is true, but not nearly as old as the man who had first appeared, who had utilized these cosmetics. I saw a sword’s jeweled hilt winking at his belt, and could not help but laugh.

    “Oh Ben, sweet Ben, best bard that ever was!” I exclaimed. “You know of my misfortunes?”

    “That I do,” he answered, “though not of the details. I wonder what you seek?”

    “I seek a man,” I answered, “a man who prophecies the destruction of Atlantis.”

    “Ah,” Ben nodded sagely. “Yes, such a man I have seen, but he wanders far and wide. Come home, sup with me, my lord, though I have little. Perhaps I will be able to help you.”

    “You have little?” I questioned, looking pointedly at his sword-hilt.

    “Oh, that?” he laughed. He pulled out the sword, and I was shocked to realize it was merely made of wood. “Paint and gaudy jewels,” he answered. “I work in a theater now. Bard I once was, but the wandering life has grown too harsh for me, so now I work at designing costumes and practicing plays, applying myself to art. And with such a muse as I have, how could I not succeed!”

    By this time we were walking; he quickly and I rapidly, striding through a town made of drab wooden houses and small cottages. “A muse?” I asked politely.

    “Yes, my daughter Vanessa. You have never seen a prettier maiden,” he beheld proudly. “She is the pride of my life, my every joy. She sings and acts, but her talent is in her feet. Her dancing is…well, I need not praise her. She will, of course, perform for you.”

    “Ben?” I reached forward and caught his sleeve before the door. “I do not want anyone to know who I am. I am ashamed.”

    “Your brother is a wretched man,” he answered. “He ought never to have seized the throne. It will only bring him grief.”

    “Grief?” I questioned in wonder.

    “Come, come in,” he said, and opened the door to the wooden house. “Be seated.”

    I entered. It was plain, and simply furnished, but serviceable. A single lamp hung from the ceiling, and the walls were decorated only with amateur drawings and paintings, but they were very beautiful and spoke of talent. I saw animals leaping about, hinds and harts cavorting with gazelles, trees as though in a forgotten wood, a small hut ensconced within. I was mesmerized by the paintings.

    “They are beautifully rendered,” I said as he took my cloak, and sat down to his table. “You are talented.”

    “Me?” he laughed. “Why, my lord, I can but sing, as you know- if you recall. You were only a lad of twelve at the time, I believe. These paintings are my daughter’s work.”

    “Your daughter?” I asked, and rose to inspect them. “They are very fine,” I told him. “Very fine indeed. She has a gift.”

    I heard a light step on the stairs and turned. This was Vanessa, a lithe, slender, tall woman; her hair a deep brown, soft tendrils framing her heart-shaped face. Her eyes were wonderfully expressive, deep brown as well, while her lips were full and tender. Her air was one of contemplation; as though she sought a kind of fulfillment, but did not know what it was she looked for. She wore a beautiful white leotard and white slippers; a tutu of white tulle. She was utterly unself-conscious. She was enchanting.

    When she saw me she stopped in shock and I realized how I must appear- an old, sea-ravaged man, with the grime upon me and my beard, a long shock of hair framing my face. I saw her stop in dismay, her eyes turn toward Ben for assurance.

    “This is my dear friend, Vanessa. He has come to dine with us.”

    She smiled, a clear, delighted smile. “Then I shall be happy to have him here.” Her voice was light and musical, tinkling as a brook does when it trickles over pebbles and stones.

    She set out bowls with a thin, watery soup, and I was so hungry that any food tasted good to me. I appreciated the warmth of their fire, the sweetness of our conversation. It was only the rose on my hand that called me, and that I took care to hide. Alas, as I bid Vanessa good night and moved to climb up the stairs, my sleeve fell away and she saw it.

    She gasped, both in amazement and horror. Her eyes met mine; hers filled with a great deal of compassion and sorrow. “Who did that to you? Or did you do it yourself?”

    “My brother,” I answered, and my voice was cold. I turned for the stairs, not caring that I had disturbed her peace, only hating myself for inflicting my presence upon such simple, kind people.

    Ben did not allow me to leave, however. He had me stay, telling me that he would seek out news of the prophet. I remained there, and began to heal, began to return to myself as I once was, regain my old strength. I hired myself out for odd jobs, tended sheep, worked in a mill, learned that there was no such thing as demeaning oneself. Sometimes, Ben took me to the theater.

    One time I had the privilege of attending a rehearsal. Vanessa was to perform, was to dance in a ballet. I had never seen her dance before.

    For her, dancing was more natural than walking. She was exquisite, beautiful, supple and agile, lithe and kind. She floated in the air, leapt lightly and fell, dancing as though dance were her life. She spun and twisted and twirled and allowed her arms to fall beside her with a kind of helpless, terrible grace that moved me. When at last she knelt upon the floor, almost insensible, she raised her head and caught sight of me. Her eyes met mine and I felt a kind of connection, a bond that caught me and held me. I could not let go. Her eyes shone with a kind of glow that I had once known, an innocence and sharp beauty that had been beaten out of me.

    I think Ben was aware of how I felt about her, and how much I tried to hide it. One day, I put my foot down, and informed Ben that I was leaving; that I must go, though he could not understand why. He bid me wait until that evening.

    I went to his chamber in the evening only to find a sorcerer’s room. Magical items littered his desk; even the covers of his bed seemed to shimmer with an otherworldly sort of quality. I looked upon this in wonder and fear. I saw Ben, but shining, a glowing Ben I had never before beheld.

    “Know,” he said, and his voice was both terrible and wonderful, “that I am the prophet you seek.”

    At that moment, I did not know him, and stood, transfixed. His voice held power, a power that bound me to the floor and bid me listen.

    “For the crimes your brother has committed, Atlantis will fall. Poseidon is angered at his excesses, at the way he sucks the land dry, bleeds his people of their wealth. He has decided to flood Atlantis, to cover it in waves and submerge it beneath the water. The riches of Atlantis, its beauty and jewels, will all be forfeit. There is nothing for you there. Better to remain here.”

    At these words, the rose on my hand burned painfully, so that I almost fainted.

    “Atlantis will be swallowed up. There is no saving Atlantis from its doom. You will remain here.”

    There was an instant darkness that swept the room, and I was forcibly cast out, terrified and amazed. I went back to my room, half-grieving but also wild with joy. My brother, dead! My brother, submerged in the sea!

    But what of the people? What of Yasmine, whom I had betrayed? What of the rose on my hand that burned and forced me to return?

    I resolved to leave that very night. I began to pack my things. Under the cover of darkness, I would slip out of my room and away, toward the wharf, the pier. I could sail the ship, as it was still charmed so that one man could steer it. It was what I must do.

    At dinner that night, my glance was troubled. Vanessa detected it, and rested her slender hand on mine. I felt dirty, unclean, for stealing her trust. She believed me to be good, when I knew I did not warrant that belief. I felt cruel.

    It was late at night when I stole from the house. As I slung my pack across my shoulders, dressed once more in my seafaring garb, I heard a light, quick step behind me. I turned, only to see her. She was dressed in a white robe, her dark curls spilling across her shoulders. Her eyes were alive with a strange resignation and determination.

    “I know,” she whispered.

    “Do not try to stop me, then,” I answered. “I must return.”

    “I know it all. I know who you are. I know of your Yasmine, your country, of all that you are and that you have been.”

    I looked up at her in wonder, for her eyes still expressed her high regard for me. “I made it my business to know. It was not my father who betrayed you,” she continued.

    “Vanessa, if you know—“ I paused. “You must know that I am forced to return.”

    “What?” she asked, confused, and I saw she had not found out this piece of information.

    “This rose-“ I said, “this rose upon my hand- this rose is spelled so that I must return. I do not think the charm can be broken; I doubt your father has the ability to lift such dark curses. I must, therefore, return, if only to die on Atlantis.”

    “And I will go with you.” She raised her chin pointedly. “You must know that I love you.”

    I had not wanted to speak the words, to make them true. “You cannot. You must not.”

    “But I do.”

    She was proud, her back straight and proud beneath her white robe. She had slung a pack over her shoulder and her white hand sought mine. “I love you, and my father knows I love you. I am sure he has foreseen this. He has left the choice to me.” She looked at me, and there was so much tenderness in her eyes that I thought I might break into pieces. “I choose to go with you.”

    I opened my mouth to speak but she stopped me. “I know,” she said, and flushed, “that you may never love me. I know, too, that you are a prince—“

    “Vanessa,” I said, and took her in my arms, “you are far, far more than I deserve.”

    I spent the happiest days of my life aboard that ship. Vanessa sang to me, recited poetry for me, and I amused her in all the ways I was capable. She kissed the rose upon my hand and smoothed my hair. She told me entertaining stories, but was also able to be quiet and grave, to realize when I was moody and what that moodiness meant. She shared herself with me in more ways than I knew possible. I realized that I was being unfaithful, I knew that I had sworn to love Yasmine. And yet- and yet- now that I knew Vanessa, I could no longer value Yasmine as I once had. Her beauty, her pride, the foolish promise of a boy who thought himself a man- her sacrifice- I could not think on it without a sense of humiliation and shame to remember how much she had once hurt me.

    I wanted to hide Vanessa. I wanted to steer away from Atlantis. We tried. We fought the storm, but always my tattoo remained, pulling us forward, pulling us closer to our deaths.

    When we finally arrived, I bid Vanessa remain on the ship, laughingly handing her a single red rose I bought from a peddler as a token of my love until I returned. I went to confront my brother. Yasmine was twined on his lap, smiling and laughing at him. I caught her eyes, and I smiled, believing that perhaps she had found a kind of love with him. She looked at me in suspicion and tossed her hair, almost as though she wanted to bewitch me. I smiled because of how useless it was.

    “Brother,” I said loudly, “I am come to tell you my news.”

    He summoned me to a private chamber, where I cheerfully lied to him, informed him that the prophet had been a foolish madman and that I had killed him dutifully. My brother tugged at his beard thoughtfully, then paused.

    “The rose on your hand is glowing. You are not telling the truth.”

    I gathered my wits and said, “You are quite right. Here is the truth. Your barbaric actions and your tormenting me have caused your own doom. You will all die here, here upon this island, when Atlantis is flooded.’

    “If that is so,” he said, “then you will die as well.”

    He flung me in his dungeons, certain that I could not escape. But this time I had planned for this, had enclosed pins and masterkeys within the sleeves of my coat. I knew he would be too angry to check me properly; he would think I could not possibly have had the foresight to know my lie would be detected. I picked my locks and carefully left my cell. I made for my ship. Perhaps, perhaps, I would be able to remain a small distance away from the island, if no further, and thus save myself and Vanessa.

    I climbed onto my ship. I heard noise, a kind of commotion. Shallow breaths, a gasp, an angry cry. I ran, terrified, my heart pounding. Yasmine blocked my way.

    She held a knife high, and it was bloody. Her hair was unbound; her teeth gleaming and white; she wore a red shirt that fastened beneath her breasts, and her pants were black with red dragons embroidered upon them. Her face was terrible to behold, angered beyond measure.

    “You swore,” she hissed, and I realized she was mad, driven mad by a bitter jealousy which I could not undo. “You swore to be true to me. You left me to your brother, to his advances and lovemaking. Do you know how he tormented me? He left poison within my reach and dared me to take it. He knew I would not. At first I told myself that it was the right thing to do, that someday I would kill him. But later, I turned cowardly. I had a good life with him. I even, perhaps, began to love him a little. I always knew that you were somewhere in the world, dying for the lack of me, loving me, returning for me.

    “But you did not come. You did not come. And when you return, you do not claim me- you care nothing for me. I see it in your eyes; you are happy, happy, and happy without me.

    “She-the cause of it, the cause of it! could not live. She could not live.

    “What have you done?” I screamed. “Let me pass!”

    I struggled with her, tore the dagger from her hand. She laughed, a terrible, high, keening laugh. I ran inside the cabin. I saw her motionless feet, I saw her lying upon the floor. She was wearing the white leotard, the beautiful white slippers. She held the rose I had given her, the single red rose, now red with her blood, the bloody rose. Little gasps escaped her lips. I gave a choked sob and knelt on the floor before her, kissing her and begging her to live. She fluttered her eyes.

    “That’s right,” Yasmine jeered from the doorway. “Entreat her. Entreat her to live. Much good may it do you!” she spat.

    I went wild. I ran for her and seized her by the throat. She laughed at me as she turned blue in the face, and I let go. I bodily lifted her and threw her, threw her into the sea. She laughed again, a terrible, awful laugh, and I returned to Vanessa.
    I laid my hand upon the bloody rose, allowing the thorns to prick me. “Vanessa, Vanessa,” I wept brokenly. I knelt there, insensible.

    I awoke to find the rose on my hand had disappeared.

    The tattoo, the brand, was gone. New flesh appeared in place of the old, clean, firm skin. I stared at it in amazement, and then at the bloody rose that lay upon Vanessa’s breast. “Her love for me,” I breathed. “Her love for me. She died for me, she died, and her blood coated the rose I gave her. Her rose took the place of mine.”

    I could almost see her before me, and knew what she wanted me to do. I was free, and I must get myself away. I turned to the ship and forced it to my will. I made all speed away from the island, far from Atlantis, as far as I could go. I heard a tremendous noise, a sound like thunder and hail and brimstone combined, and trembled. I witnessed the earthquake, the roiling sun. I saw the waters boil and churn, the sea turn against Atlantis. I heard the shouts and screams. I saw Yasmine’s drowned body, saw men who fruitlessly tried to command ships and escape. I watched, horrified, as the water covered my home, my former kingdom. I watched the island disappear from the world. I was present at the greatest act of destruction the world had ever seen; the utter erasure of a country because of Poseidon’s act.

    And yet, all my tears were for Vanessa. I could think only of her, of her beauty and goodness, the purity of her heart. I went to her and wept, realizing that I mourned a corpse, a woman who had once lived and was now dead.

    I thought perhaps that my tears might resurrect her, that my pain might bring a faint blush to her cheeks, might allow her life. But it was not to be. She had come with me, and given her life, so that I could be free.


    He sighed. An elderly man in a rocking chair; I a young girl at his feet. Mesmerized, terrified, I knelt before him. “So much suffering,” I said softly. “So much sadness.”

    He opened his eyes for a moment and saw me, looked once again upon the leotard I was wearing. “You are a child of her spirit,” he answered me. “You are the only one she has permitted to wear her leotard.”

    He raised his eyes wearily to the sky. “I know she watches me. I feel her presence. How much the world has changed since the days she and I knew! I am entrusted with these possessions, these costumes and items that some dismiss as mere junk. I have gathered them from around the world. Oh, some of them are hers and Ben’s. But others…well…I have been many places and many things. Junk, they call these things! Junk! But you and I know better. We know that the costumes hold the past, that it is objects like these that spell our future. We know what it is to love, and to behold magic.”

    He smiled. “My dear, I am going to her.” Pure delight crossed his face. “She has given the shop to you, as she has allowed you to wear her costume. Do not worry. You can still live with your parents; you needn’t fear. This shop will always be waiting; it cannot be seen by those who are unworthy. The people who understand, the people like you and me, will come to you.”

    My eyes opened wide. I did not know if he could possibly mean what he said. To give the shop to me! For me to own the shop, to meet the people who would enter here, who could enter here…it was too incredible. I opened my eyes wide, and he met them for just a moment, his eyes twinkling. He gave a sigh, and contented, leaned back in his chair. I did not even realize he was dead at first. I thought he was only sleeping.