“What . . .?” I asked again only to find myself alone. The shape-shifter Hensable was gone.
Briars grew around the multiple feet of the tree, and they blossomed, and every blossom looked like me. Their arching stems waved before me, displaying a myriad reflections of me.
And then they were gone. In their place again was that squirming insectoidal colony. The colony grew: it developed legs and arms and hands and a head. That colony looked remarkably like me! Yet even as I watched—turned to stone, unable to move—the form again changed,
I didn’t want to see it. I knew what it would be. It would again be a semblance of me. And I had to get past it yet it was filling the cave-entrance. If I didn’t get past it I couldn’t escape. Escape, escape, the word rattled around me as if in self-mockery. But at least now the terror had abated. Had it not by now I’d have been a jibbering mess. But in its place was a growing fear that if I didn’t escape then I would die here. I had to find a way past it. But how?
I thought if I dived to one side, as if I hoped to dodge around it, it likely would follow. Then if I was quick I could swerve around it and there I’d be free. I tried it. I waited until it took crystalline form. But before I’d a chance to swerve around it, it had changed again and was now blocking the cave entrance with a vast amorphous mimic of me.
I sat down. I wanted to cry, so frustrated. But that wouldn’t get me out of here. Neither would dodging and diving to left and right. It was faster than me, and always changing. This needed more thought. I needed to outwit it. But try as I may I could think only one thing, an undeniable solitary thought that filled my head: That form blocking the entrance is me.
“Mideer died,” I quoted what they’d likely say of me, “from being stuck in a cave with herself.” That would have been laughable were it not true. That form—in all its guises—it wasn’t merely a mirror of me; it was me.
I did not understand this, and I vowed I’d not move from that spot till I did.
“As well,” said a voice—my voice—issuing from a million petal-formed faces waving and writhing across a tangled briar, “for I’d not let you pass if you did.”
Question: Why were there so many forms, all distorted, yet all looking like me?
Do you not see, I answered myself, these are the many faces you turn to the world.
I laughed at that, for what world did I know; what world had I ever encountered? The queen’s daughter, cloistered. Except that now I’d come to Macara, I may as well have lived in a prison-cell. I met with my father, the king. I met with my women, my ladies-in-waiting. I met with you, my priests, on some few occasions. I met with a few of the Landed-lords—selected for me by the Assembly. And then there was Hean. But did I turn a different face to each of these? I supposed that I did, and who does not. But did those faces resemble those that now imprisoned me?
Imprisoned. What was it that was imprisoning me? I shivered, for suddenly I knew the answer and didn’t like it. My prejudices. My misbeliefs. Those many derogatory thoughts and putdowns regarding the Macaran—even now as I lived amongst them. But most and above all, those many layers of wrappings, clung to through life after life for not having had enough time to shed them.
I leapt to my feet. “That’s what these forms are blocking the cave! My wrappings!”
Several things then happened in rapid succession . . .
I stood on something soft yet not squishy. I heard a grunt, as of alarm. I lost my balance, began to stagger. Felt a sudden enfolding by masculine arms. Once steadied again I turned to see . . . .
Hensable. He grinned at me. “That was my foot. But you don’t need to apologise.”
Apologise? Of all the . . . I called him all the worst names I could find. “You liar! Cheat! Deceiver! Thief! Usurper of land!”
“No, Mideer, I am not a usurper. What need of I when the world is mine?”
I growled at him in anger and frustration. “And you gave me that vile transporting-drink.”
He held up his hands at that, I thought in surrender. But it was only to claim his innocence. “That drink, Mideer, was nothing more, and nothing less, that bocolo-juice. You have seen the bocolo? I know that you have for you gathered plenty with Zean for the feast.”
“But . . .” I didn’t know what to say.
“I am neither Hean nor Honapple that I need fancy potions to transport you. Just like that, I can do it.” And he snapped his fingers.
I looked around. I was still in the cave, its entrance clearly shown by the late sun lancing through it—and the earlier day suddenly collided upon me. “Zean!” I’d forgotten of her. What if she was looking everywhere for me? And if she’d returned to her village and reported me missing? Even now there could be a search-party out for me.
“Hush,” Hensable said. “No one is looking for you. All has gone according to plan. Oh, don’t look so amazed. Yes, your Hean knew this was to happen.” He laughed. “Your Hean requested it. Your entire stay in Macara has been leading to this.”
I was flabbered speechless—though not for long. The future queen within me soon awakened and took control. “Then he has arranged that you will escort me back to the village,” I demanded.
He shook his head and smiled. “He expects me to keep you here for the night.”
My mouth dropped.
“See?” He looked off to a deep-shadowed corner. “Your soft feather-bedding brought from your boat.”
“I’m to stay here . . . alone?” I couldn’t hide my alarm. No, Hean wouldn’t do that to me.
Indeed, Hean would not. I supposed Hensable led me to the bedding. I supposed I went, obedient as a duckling, stunned by the unexpectedness of it. And there we were, we two on the bedding and me with no memory of how I got there.
“Drink,” he said and offered me the same cup as before. When I looked at him, surely my eyes full of query and doubt, he added, “It will not harm.”
By what do we know the passing of time? Each moment is Now, yet the Nows speed along, each Now slightly different, and by their differences we know time is passing. But now the Nows weren’t slightly different. As had happened before, there was dislocation—yet not dislocation in space, no transportation to other lands. No, dislocation is time. And at times those Nows were massively different, as when I’d been led by Hensable to that bed-strewn corner and, lo, found myself lying down.
I had no cup in my hands. I had his ‘World Cloak’ around me—around us—his naked body tight against mine, snuggled as I remember snuggling tight to my mother. And he held the opal pendant that Hean had given me. He held it so the sun’s last light would catch it.
The fire within that stone drew me in. And that fire fractured into a thousand colours, colours I never had seen before. And each of the colours drew me in, dividing, opening, providing a place for me. Deeper, deeper—drawn deep into the stone and into the land until I realised I was not merely Mideer, but also the Sea-Mother’s Daughter, and that daughter was also the Sea-Mother-Abyss.
I heard a sigh. Perhaps it was mine. I felt myself swelling, enveloping, encompassing, wrapping the world within me. I believe I remained in such state for a fair fullness of time . . . though the Now now was constant, so how to mark it?
When I again became aware of something other it was that I myself was enfolded: enfolded by love as I was enfolding the world with my love. And I pressed back against the heat behind me and that heat was within me. And with love we made love.
Was this what Hean had intended? That I should give my love to Hensable? That we should spend that night in coupling? A shape-changer, he became the world—and so did I.
I was somewhat abashed to return to the village, sure that everyone who saw me would know what had happened. And I didn’t want to be separated from this strange man. “But we are always together,” he said. “For I am you and you are me.”
I knew what he meant—of course I knew what he meant. I couldn’t be ignorant of it after the experience of the night. Yet I still craved his physical presence. I had been given a taste of . . . I had no word for it and still do not, but I wanted more of it.
“You need a wed-man,” he said. I nodded. But a wed-man, and me betrothed to my cousin Jon who wasn’t yet walking!
He pressed his finger to my lips—and ran it down my chin, down my neck, to the opal pendant. He lifted it, to dangle it where I could see it. And I knew what he was saying. Hean.
It would seem that Mideer has been thoroughly unwrapped. So what now in her pursuit of fulfilling the prophecy? And what part now will Hean play in it? Were Hensable’s parting words also a prophecy? Next episode, An Axe To Greet Me