Queenbitch is a matriarchal figure, a female who believes in the spiritual superiority of her gender and the rightness of sexual freedom. This is part II of her story, a sporadic diary she keeps over the long years at the ‘Navel’, the dog tribe’s city in the forest. Too much of part I, which recounts her youth in the doomed city of Cynopolis, is reworked in ‘The Yellow Tree’ for it to be worth repeating here.
IN THE SIGN OF THE CAT
You see, Book, I’ve had to learn a whole new way to measure time. There, I’ve written the first words after a change of world. I hope I’ll keep it up from now on.
Poor book, you’re not the clean and beautiful object you once were. Several times I thought I would have to abandon you, when I was running from fierce males, or when I was almost too weak to carry you, but I always managed to hang on to you. And here we are. Your cover is darkened and scratched, and your pages scruffy at the edges, but what is written in you is as clear as the day I wrote it.
Why should I say more than that about the journey? Dorga led me by slow stages back the way she had come with Polon generations earlier. There had been changes. There were many more humans about, and many of them were unpleasant, to say the least. But we survived, and the numbness of my feelings after all those deaths was a protection. Dorga, when she wants, can look like a harmless and helpless old female, and she was mostly left alone. I had a lot more trouble. Also because I need food regularly, whereas Dorga seems to be able to live on air, with a few leaves. But again, here I am.
Before I put this topic behind me too (life is starting again), I’d better find the courage to describe one experience I had, since I think it may have been of the definitive kind, a confrontation with death. Dorga thinks so too.
It happened at sea. We had waited many days at a small port without finding a boat that would take us further (I could row, but Dorga couldn’t any longer), and the season of storms was approaching. We finally accepted a lift in a shabby craft with four men who were particularly robust and rough. We didn’t like it, but we were desperate to leave the watery part of our journey behind us. As soon as we were out at sea, they became threatening and were quarrelling about who would have me first. I had given in to men quietly before during the journey. To me it was not a fate worse than death. But these sailors were violent and I could see it would mean nothing to them to kill me after. Besides, they made me angry. So I kicked in the testicles the one who had his hands on me and jumped overboard.
I was counting on them not being able to swim – sailors often can’t – and they either couldn’t swim or couldn’t be bothered with me, because they set off rowing fast along the coast. I prayed they would not harm Dorga, and started to swim, not too worried for myself, toward the shore. But before I had gone far, I saw what looked like a small triangular sail in the water ahead of me, and it approached fast, and I found myself looking into the most evil mouth imaginable, a huge cavern lined with rows of knife-sharp teeth.
I could have drowned from terror even before the beast got me, but at the time I felt neither fear for myself nor pity at my imminent extinction. I felt instead a cold recognition of my danger that transformed itself into an unlimited yielding to the inevitable. At that moment I even admired the monster’s austere perfection. The jaws closed on me, I felt the pricks of the teeth (I still have the marks on my back and chest)… and then the creature dropped me and swung away. Perhaps it didn’t like how I tasted.
Strangely, another boat was coming up, and the sailors saved me and treated me as a prodigy, for my escape from the most fearsome beast in the sea. They overtook the four men, and we rescued Dorga, and travelled to the next port in safety.
The time we spent struggling through the jungle, though there were no people to bother us, was horrible. I couldn’t believe that in the midst of all that discomfort, the steamy green heat and the stabbing insects, we would ever come to a place any civilized creature could call home. But one day the trees fell into an open pattern, as if for a dance, and the air took on a faint scent of flowers, and tears of joy and relief ran down Dorga’s cheeks.
Our arrival among the houses was greeted with astonishment and then with immense jubilation as the Tribespeople recognized who Dorga was. A few of the oldest people had been born before she left, and all the rest knew about the brave female who had gone away with the mad explorer, as they called Polon. When she told them I was his mongrel descendant, they gasped for surprise and joy. The elders were called and they led us to the Temple for a ritual welcome and blessing from the Doge.
We were given one of the best houses, near the Temple, and every evening for months was spent telling the Tribe gathered on the court below the Temple steps about our experiences and about Cynopolis, the city and its customs and its end as far as we were concerned. Dorga got me to do the telling of more recent events (thanks to her I already spoke the Tribal language adequately), and I could feel their sympathy for me increase as they listened. They’re wonderful listeners. They ponder deeply what they hear and ask intelligent questions.
They were particularly interested in hearing about the mixing of the races and of the marvels as well as problems that it brought. I wonder now if I am the only mongrel left. No, that cannot be. Whatever happened after we left Cynopolis (and I refuse to think about it) the races were too thoroughly mixed for the Tribal strain to die out. Think of Tankred! No, don’t think of him. Enough of that. I haven’t let my feelings return so that I can go back and wallow in the past. The stories have all been told, and I hereby place a stone on memories of Cynopolis.
This place, the Navel of the world to the Tribe, is more truly civilized than that city, as I knew it, ever was, and sometimes I feel I have wandered on to a different star or into a long lost past, privileged to be here. People are happy to share their possessions, and put their talents at each others’ disposal, and there are no distinctions of superior and servant. The Doges are elected, not hereditary. Everyone here is an artist and a philosopher, and can talk about virtue and beauty and the threads that bind us to the sky.
Dorga found the settlement – it is almost a town now – much grown. The circles of houses she knew have multiplied inward toward the Temple, leaving less open space, and several rings have been added on the outside too, cutting back into the forest. The houses are simple, of earth and wood or sometimes stone, and are all decorated by the inhabitants themselves with paintings and carvings and other ornaments. There is a fine harmony in their design and in the gestures people use as they move round them.
I am welcome in many of those houses now. I still feel I don’t have a lot in common with most of the people, though they are so kind. There are experiences I can’t share with them. Dorga and I spared them the worse of the violence in our accounts, and I said almost nothing about my love affairs. Those are not for public telling, of course; and I haven’t met anyone since that I feel I could tell my whole history to and be understood. Perhaps with time we will adapt to each other more.
IN THE SIGN OF THE OWL
Book, I’m not being very faithful to you, am I? A lot more time has passed since I last wrote in you. My only excuse is that time passes differently here; the days are very much the same as each other and thoughts grow slowly, so there isn’t much I can grasp hold of as worth noting. But now I’ve come to some understandings that I feel the need to record. I’m quite safe now writing down whatever I like. No one here except Dorga could read it, and Dorga agrees with me. Some of these thoughts were hers first.
The biggest surprise Dorga received on her return here was that the leader of the Tribe is no longer a priestess but a male doge, who has apparently the same functions, though he’s not a medium. It was a surprise to me as well, because I’d always imagined from her stories a place governed, in both earthly and heavenly matters, by the power of the Mother. In fact, it had comforted me as I watched my city succumb to the males to think that elsewhere, in the Tribe, a mother society remained intact. I was not too distressed to find this was not so, because the life the Tribe continues to live seems to conform so strongly still to the Mother’s laws.
Later, I began to realize that the change is greater than at first sight appears. It has not been violent, like the change I witnessed in Cynopolis, but it is substantial all the same. The deity of the Tribe is no longer conceived of as the Great Bitch, but simply as Dog, a benevolent, infinitely creative male. Some of the older people may mention the Mother, but others will look questioningly at them, and they’ll correct themselves. I asked one of the older females, considered very wise, why this was so, and she said the Bitch has become a mystery, a shadow in the mind, not for everyone to encounter.
The deity that people worship shapes their being, and their being continues to mould the image of the deity. How strange it seems to me that among these gentle, wise Tribespeople, so different from greedy, violent human beings, the creator and preserver of our existence should also have undergone the obfuscation of a change of sex. Why has the male suddenly (because it was relatively sudden here as well) come to dominate? Was it the will of the Mother? Could she not resist spoiling her son? Is she retiring into the background so that the races of Earth can discover more of their own power? Will they – and the males in particular – learn to use their power wisely in the end? Or will she return in time to save them from themselves?
Of course I have no answer to these questions, but I have at least a clearer idea now of what the change consists of. People have started to identify the idea of activity with the male, and to think of the female as merely passive, or as pulling toward passivity. The male, they say, moves forward and onward, like the wind or light in space; the female turns in seasonal cycles and never advances except in small ways. The creative powers that once were seen as belonging to the Bitch, who gives birth, are now attributed to the Dog who impregnates her.
This last aspect (as if I didn’t know it!) has led the males to feel that they have rights over women’s bodies and over the offspring they produce. So instead of being free to choose which males she will allow to couple with her, and then, if she wants, to go with her earth, the small earth she herself is, fecundated or not, to her own place, and move out again with independent dignity, the female is to be limited by the male’s need to control her.
What’s more, the attraction of the female body has come to be thought of as dangerous. It seems (though it’s never put so crudely when relationships are discussed) that we are holes into which the male is drawn to a fate of sloth and corruption. A “temptation” to be avoided.
You can imagine, Book, I haven’t had a very amusing time since we’ve been here. Lots of tea and conversation and walks in groups under the trees. It’s just as well I was chastened by my terrible experiences and have been in no mood to play games. But the prospect, if my desires ever recover fully, is bleak.
The people of the Tribe have perceived these changes in their outlook as advancement. As I’ve said, there has been nothing violent about them, and they’ve adapted quietly, discussing each point in their assemblies on the Temple court.
The first male to become Doge of the Tribe was invited to do so by the last Priestess. She was feeling old and tired, and could see no obvious replacement among the females, while there was a young male who was inspired and could inspire others with the new vision. His name was Goltan. He left many beautiful prayers to the Dog the Father. And he never had a mate, believing that holiness can grow best without intimate bodily contact.
The Tribespeople are not sensual (Dorga says they used to be much more so), and most of them, though there is no “marriage” as such, pair off for life. So they don’t feel the restriction.
What is this, Book? Am I really so impressed by their holiness that I mean to hide even from you my secret life? Ridiculous! You see, I’m not as changed as I’ve been making out. And when I told the stories of the past I didn’t include details of my love life, so no one has any reason to suspect me.
The truth is that there is at least one male here at the Navel who still feels in the old way. He tells me there are others who cheat too, that Goltan and his ideas have introduced hypocrisy where there was none before. But he finds it amusing and he’s made me laugh about it too. I’ve always understood cynicism.
One afternoon I was out in the forest, at the edge of the true jungle, collecting the plants for my youth-preserving potions, and I saw this tall, presentable male – Quiron is his name and he’s a musician – watching me through the foliage. I recognized the glint in his eye, and walked toward him, all open and without dissimulation, so that he could think me innocent if he wanted, and he didn’t want, and we understood each other perfectly… and that was a very happy encounter. What a relief! My whole body throbbed like a frog’s throat. Since then we have met often. The forest floor, with a little heaping of leaves, is a wonderful bed; and his long musician’s fingers play me up and down like a vina. Neither of us wants a commitment. I still feel an important relationship is waiting for me in the future, but that must be an illusion.
IN THE SIGN OF THE SNAKE
Book, can you forgive me? Yes, I’m sure you can. I explained last time about the difficulty of separating out events. Now there is an immense event to tell you about, or rather a still possible and potential event, but the very possibility has me so full of feelings and wonderings that I have to seek your counsel.
It has been suggested that I should become the “consort” (a new word but I rather like it) of the young Tribesman who is to become Doge when the present one, who is ill, decides to retire. Which will probably be very soon. Becoming the mate of the Doge (as you see, Goltan’s celibacy didn’t become a rule) would be in a way a betrayal of my belief that the priesthood should return to the females; and I wouldn’t consider accepting if I didn’t feel a very strong attraction toward this Tribesman. I even feel – though it scares me to dwell on it – that he may be the male I have always expected to meet.
He is much younger than me, scarcely an adult, though nobody here except Dorga knows or needs to know just how much younger he is. Dorga’s spells have continued to be amazingly effective, and I look very little older now than when I had you made, Book. As well as respect for my knowledge, what has led the Tribal elders to select me is my mongrel inheritance. They are interested in renewing their bloodline, and adding to their dream world the different images I have in mine. They are waiting for me to accept, and for Sirion to say the final word, though they have told me already he has no doubts.
Why should he doubt? He doesn’t know me. Quiron will never give away my secrets and is happy for me that I will be so honoured. Why am I hesitating? Can it bother me that I’m deceiving him? And when did I ever care about deceiving a male? Is it love that makes me feel I want no lies between us? If so, love is a bigger danger than I supposed! Well – I can do nothing about the past, and it would be absurd and untrue to myself to say I regret so much of it I enjoyed. The real question is whether I believe I can behave differently in the future.
Sirion is the son of one of the best jewellers of the Tribe (Quiron’s sister!), and grew up watching her make beautiful things from bright feathers and insect shells and seeds and the resin of certain plants. His father is a hunter, one of the few, because we mostly eat plants here, and he is very respectful of the creatures he kills, and keeps himself in a state of awareness so that he will not endanger their souls by a botched death. Sirion learnt from him to meditate and pray.
From when he was a child, he displayed more strongly than anyone else the light than surrounds Tribespeople when they are meditating or concentrating hard (the girl poet I mentioned in Cynopolis would not have been a freak here), and his contributions to debates in the Temple court were extraordinary. Now that the old Doge is failing, he is the obvious choice to replace him.
We have met, of course. Everyone knows each other at the Navel. We have chatted at friendly gatherings, and once we carried on a dialogue at the Temple, on the subject of reincarnation (he is more convinced of it than I). But we have not been close; we have never been alone together. That’s probably just as well. He’s extremely good-looking, tall, with a large intelligent head and big dark mane, and though I’m sufficiently aware of the necessity for restraint that I wouldn’t touch him, my eyes would give away the attraction I feel toward him. I can see in his eyes that he desires me too, but in such an innocent way that… No, I will not feel ashamed.
Book, you can see what I want, can’t you? Give me any good reason to say no. What did you say? It’s my duty to accept? No, not exactly, that would make it too easy for me. Is this it: in spite of who I have been and am, at this moment my fate – and the Tribe’s fate – says I will be the consort of Sirion? All right.
Elders of the Tribe, Tribespeople, Dorga (I’m counting on you to help me do it right), and last but not least Sirion -
Yes, I will.
Book, this entry will be brief, but you have heard so much you must hear this too. I know now what love is.
The old Doge died suddenly, Sirion has been invested with his power, and I am his consort. We were married (I may as well use that word) in the Temple, Sirion resplendent in a long white robe and I magnificent (they tell me) in a gossamer peacock-coloured dress with a silver veil and chains of forest flowers. Prayers for us to be fertile and inspired in our leadership were chanted over us, and the people sang to praise Dog and wish us grace.
At night, after the feast, we were led to a chamber off the main Temple hall, the room where generations of the Tribe’s leaders have celebrated their unions (only much later I thought of how the priestesses must have revelled there), and were finally alone.
I felt like a virgin. Sirion stood close in front of me, without speaking, removed the veil from my head, and looked into my eyes with a love that had no shadows or limits, a pure and total yielding-asking trust, and I knew my eyes held the same intent. He kissed me and I felt our bodies melt together, finding gestures that were like a dance of tangible flames as we sank down on the bed and removed the cloths between us and he entered me and we rose into an explosion of light.
After, I wanted to thank him, but he only smiled. Since then the miracle has been repeated many times.
IN THE SIGN OF THE TOAD
Book, when I read what I wrote in you last time I want to cry. Though I have swung so often from happiness and hope to misery and grief that you would think I could have no feeling left. I will give you a more detailed account of some of the most memorable scenes from these last few years, and perhaps it will lighten my mind. I won’t say this time that I need your help to understand what has happened. I understand only too well. I’m caught in a change of eras. I thought – hoped – I could be a bridge between the two and instead I am being pulled apart. Or crushed, to change the metaphor. It feels like both.
Sirion and I are undressing at night in the bedroom of the house in which we have been so blissfully happy (so happy, Book, that time raced past and I always forgot to bring you up to date; happiness has no dates). I feel his eyes on me and turn to him, but on his face I don’t see the expectant love I’m used to finding there, but a question. He asks me, hesitantly, as if afraid to break a spell, as indeed he is doing, because I realize now he has been holding back the question and therefore wonder how long I have been out of tune with him without knowing it…
…he asks, “Why do you think you haven’t become pregnant?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “After all, we haven’t been together very long. Only a year. Is it so important?”
To me it’s so unimportant I’ve hardly thought of it. I remember then the blessings for our fertility at our marriage, and suddenly they seem like threats.
“It’s just that I’m impatient to see our child,” he says, smiling, and I try to believe him, but I can see he’s holding back something else. His expression is hesitant.
“What?” I ask gently
“You’re not using one of your spells to prevent it, are you?” he asks, and it comes out not just as a question, but a suspicion.
“No,” I say. “I would have discussed it with you if I was going to do that.”
Would I? If not, it would be because I consider it my right as a female to choose when to have a child. But I’m telling the truth. I haven’t used any spells in my relationship with Sirion. It has never needed them.
Sirion can see I’m hurt, and he picks me up and carries me to the bed with his usual impetus. But it’s not the same. For the first time there’s a shadow between us as we make love.
More months pass and I don’t conceive. I’m beginning to worry about it. I talk to Dorga, and she says she knows no reason why I can’t have a child. I’m not too old, and the spells and substances I’ve used to protect myself in the past have no lasting effects. She says the cause may be in Sirion. The fertility of the Tribespeople has waned and many of them are unable to have the families they want. She says we might try a spell on him, and on me, just in case; but I don’t think he’d like that, and I put off suggesting it to him. I don’t dare – don’t want – to do it without telling him.
One day I’m sick, from some berries I’ve eaten, and Sirion asks me if it’s because I’m bearing a child. I hate to disappoint the hope I see in him.
Again, some time later, he asks, trying to be casual, if I have any idea why no child is on the way, and I decide to tell him, as gently and straightforwardly as I can, what Dorga has suggested. He goes pale. I can see it’s impossible for him to accept, the idea that the lack may be in him.
“That can’t be,” he says. “Conception depends on the female, on how her earth receives the male seed.”
How depressingly familiar his assertion sounds.
“But won’t you try, if you want so much to be a father?” I say.
“No,” he says, as nearly angry as I’ve ever heard him. “Please don’t mention this ever again.”
So I don’t. And he begins to withdraw from me. It seems he’s made love to me always (except at the beginning; I have to believe that) with conception in mind. And I have always loved him for himself, for his fine spirit and his wonderful young body. It’s not often he turns to me now as we lie down to sleep.
Dorga is living happily in a little house of her own in the outer circle. She’s looking old, though she’s still strong enough to go looking for her plants in the forest and to take care of herself. I have two women to help me in the house, out of respect for the way I grew up and my special status. I see Dorga often, but sometimes since I have this sadness I have felt lonely.
Now I have a new friend. My old friendships with the Tribespeople have not developed, for lack of a deeper common understanding, and also, I suppose, because they are in awe of the Doge’s consort, and though they are still kind to me they no longer invite me often to their homes. But Orchila, who I have always liked the look of, comes to visit me one day, and says quite simply as we drink our tea that she can see I am unhappy and if I need someone to talk to I can trust her. Since I don’t speak, she goes on, “Not all of us here have forgotten how love used to be.”
I smile, and say, “So you think I have a long experience of love?”
“Well, haven’t you?” she says. “I know you are older than you look, though you aren’t as old as me. And since you arrived I’ve been seeing in you responses I know in myself. I’ve been no model of chastity either.”
I feel afraid and relieved at the same time. I try to be wary.
“Do other people see me as you do?” I ask.
Orchila laughs. “Don’t worry,” she says, “Very few can see, and those that do would never say so for their own sake. They’re all pretending to have been virtuous all their lives.”
“How I would like to believe you,” I say.
“Very well. To convince you I’m your friend I’ll put myself in your hands. I’ll tell you my own story.”
So she tells me about all the lovers she had in her youth, and how she was only saved from disgrace when the male notion of virtue took over by falling in love with Arichon, her present mate.
“The Mother was kind to me,” she says. “We fell in love at just the right time. We hadn’t had much to do with each other since childhood, when we were close, and even confronted death together once, when a group of us went outside the Tribe’s magic boundary and we were almost washed away by a flooding stream. Arichon says that guarantees us centuries of life together now that we are mates. He knows all about me, of course, and he has his own lively past. We often laugh about it.”
I begin to cry then, at the relief of finding a kindred soul, and she hugs me till I feel better and can laugh with her.
So now we are firm friends, and the Tribe are pleased, because her public reputation is impeccable. It seems that many memories have simply been effaced. Orchila is beautiful, and it’s just as well she shows her age more than I do – she’s younger than me, she was wrong about that, but I haven’t told her – because I might have thought of her as a rival otherwise. (How stupid! Rival for who’s attention?) She has a sense of humour, and makes me laugh often, and makes me wonder, too, how I could have forgotten that a sense of humour was the trait I considered indispensable in the men I chose to love. Sirion has very little. Even a philosopher needs humour, but I don’t think he knows that.
I’ve been telling Orchila my story, little by little, and she is often amazed but never shocked. She has given me the nickname “Queenbitch”. She only uses it when we’re alone together, but I find it’s the name I think of myself by now. So Book, your author is Queenbitch, alias Cleo a long time ago. I needed a new name to hold together my sense of who I am.
Orchila can see my pain as well as the nostalgia I sometimes feel for the past. She knows I love Sirion and wish there was more in our lives that we could share. She tells me she was worried for me at the time of our marriage, knowing how far the Tribe has turned against the female pride and freedom I represent. Especially Sirion, the chosen male.
I tell her about Purgator, and she says “Yes, that’s the same attitude. Harsher there, of course, but that’s the way we’ve been going.”
Me, married to a sweeter, more poetic version of Purgator? I can’t and won’t believe it. I still dream Sirion will work through this stage and want me again.
“I’m surprised,” Orchila is saying, “that they didn’t make celibacy a rule for the Doges after Goltan. It would have been more logical.” She is obviously right, but the idea is depressing and I don’t answer.
At other times we talk about Dorga and her magic, or Quiron’s new songs, or some foolishness of the submissive females, and pass the time very pleasantly. We go walking to the Tribe’s favourite beauty spots in the forest, a gigantic tree, or a tangle of flowering creepers, or a spring among roots. We go together to the concerts or poetry recitations they all enjoy.
As time goes by, some of the people we meet seem to be looking at me strangely, and I ask Orchila about it.
“It’s because you haven’t had a child,” she says forthrightly. “The elders have been expressing concern. We know it’s not your fault. Don’t worry, it’s not too late.”
But her reassurance doesn’t carry much conviction; although I haven’t told even Orchila that conception is becoming less and less likely. Sirion has taken to praying in the evenings, and usually goes to sleep afterwards on the couch in the dining-room, so as not to disturb me, he says.
There are good moments. As Sirion’ consort I am expected to perform certain rites with him, and when we stand together at the altar and make the gestures of offering and blessing, the affinity between us that expressed itself in making love is affirmed again in a different dimension. He looks at me then as the mate of his soul and I feel the same devotion.
Why can’t men and women be equal? And the Father and Mother equally divine, united in a dance where each can become the other at a sudden deep chord in the music, and in the end inseparable and the same?
I see very strongly one day that they are so. It’s one of the Dog Day rites, and on the golden screen which is now supposed to mysteriously portray the story of the Father, I see that it is the Mother, but then suddenly also the Father, and then a Being beyond either, transmuted into pure, pulsating light.
For some time this vision seems to be all I need.
But of course it’s not, not for long. I am a female, I need to satisfy a female’s desires. I need the Mother’s power in me to be recognized.
I see less and less of Sirion. He spends nearly all his time at the Temple, and if he comes to the house for a meal we don’t really have much to talk about. What did we ever talk about? I can’t remember.
When Orchila is busy I sometimes go for walks alone in the forest, which is not exactly forbidden to me but not looked kindly on either. One day I go to the spot where Quiron and I first made love, and he is there.
We approach each other hesitantly, but with more than half an intention on my side at least to celebrate the coincidence in kind. But when we are standing facing each other, close together, I know it’s not going to happen. There is a reservation in him (Sirion is his nephew, after all), and I find I’m not quite ready to break my pact with Sirion either. If Quiron were to take me, forcefully, I would no doubt forget my qualms, but instead he puts his arms round me, comfortingly, like an old friend.
We stand like that for many minutes, and I draw strength from his understanding and his maleness enveloping me. When he lets me go, I turn and walk away. We haven’t spoken a word.
I’m grateful for his kindness, and his respect. But it has only put off what is bound to happen.
After Polon and Dorga left the Navel, a few others also went out, at long intervals, all men (and several of them rogues). Unexpectedly – not entirely unexpectedly, they say, because friends of his have dreamt he was coming – Orion returns. I first see him on the Temple steps, telling the Tribe about his journey: he went in a more northerly direction than Polon and Dorga, and not as far, and he found a community where the Mother’s rule, at least up till the time he left them, was still in force.
It makes me happy to hear this and, unacceptable as I know my reaction is to most of the listeners, I hope they will attribute the excitement they may see in me to my Mother bias. In fact the excitement is caused by Orion himself. And when his eyes first meet mine – as I can’t help willing them to do, though I’m sitting almost behind him – he is startled and has to turn the involuntary jerk of his arms into a gesture illustrating what he is saying.
What I would have done once upon a time is simply to wait for the meeting to break up and go off with him into the forest. Now I have to go back to my silent house and my lonely bed. But I know that no loyalty to Sirion is going to prevent me coupling with this male.
It’s not easy to meet him again. All his friends want to see him, and I’m not invited to the reunions. Orchila visits me and tells me about them.
“Tell me about him,” I say, trying to be casual.
Orchila raises an eyebrow at me and says, “You want him, don’t you? I can see how you would.”
“What can I do?” I say. “This celibate life is not for me.”
“Has it come to that?” she asks.
“Yes. For some time now.”
“I’m sorry,” she says. “And you know I’ll always be on your side. But I’m not going to help you get Orion. He’s a dangerous fellow.” She is half serious, half joking.
“Whether you help me or not, I will get him. And what’s dangerous about him, apart from his extreme maleness?”
“Since we were young he’s taken what he wanted without regard for consequences. He’s charming, he’s a liar.”
“I can cope with all that,” I say. “And what’s the saying – a change is as good as a feast?”
“That’s a male saying,” she says, laughing, “and out of context.”
“Never mind, it fits my meaning well. We should take advantage of what the males provide, shouldn’t we?”
“Today I can see just what you must have been like in Cynopolis,” she says, and shivers suddenly.
Suddenly I feel cold too. What is about to happen is out of my hands. And it could be devastating.
Orion and I meet again among acquaintances at a concert. While the others are laughing at some witticism from Orchila, he leans slightly toward me and whispers, “Meet me up at the Head, any afternoon soon.”
I want to rush to meet him the very next day, but instead I force myself to sit and think, now the moment has come, whether I really want to take this irrevocable step. I succeed only in imagining what it will do to Sirion if he finds out. He must not find out. But nothing can stop me.
Early the next afternoon, when many are resting, I set out, thinking it’s just as well it’s not the first time I’m out walking alone, as it won’t seem so strange if I’m seen. I make a detour round the back of the settlement, to hide my destination. I have only once climbed to the great Head at the top of the only hill near us, with Sirion, when we were first married and he wanted to show me this marvel of the Tribe’s talents, a triple portrait of Dog the Father in his young, mature and aged aspects. I wonder why Orion has chosen this sacred place for our encounter. A gesture of defiance?
When I come out on to the hilltop he is sitting facing me at the foot of the statue. He leaps up and comes to meet me, but his greeting is courtly. I am to be properly wooed. I suddenly feel immensely happy.
“How do you like the place I have chosen for our rendezvous?” he asks, sweeping his arm to indicate the statue and the immensity of forest below us.
“I was wondering about that,” I answer, pointing to the statue. “Could it be blasphemy?”
He laughs, pleased at my shrewdness. “On the contrary,” he says, “it’s a tribute to the Mother. Do you really believe this ancient statue represents a male, as they say now? Look at her carefully.”
I look, and see that what he says is true. This is the Bitch, girl, lover and crone, older than the pock-marked stone she’s carved in, old as the earth itself. What have I to do with the lie that refuses now to see her? How could I, under the influence of her priest (my beloved then, oh Mother!) have been unable to see her myself? And this other male has brought me to mate with him under her aegis. So be it.
Orion is watching me. He is far more interested in me than in the Bitch. I remember what Orchila has said about his unscrupulousness, and say, “You are clever, aren’t you? You knew nothing would move me like this revelation.”
“True, lady, and I wanted to honour you with the best I could offer. I wanted to please the Queen.”
I’ve almost forgotten how to play this game. But not quite. The pleasure it brought me so often in the past has engraved its patterns in me.
“All right,” I say, putting on my fine lady personality. “I am pleased. You may approach.”
Orion kneels down in front of me and puts his head on my feet.
“Such humility!” I say. “Are you perhaps not overdoing it?”
“Impossible, my lady,” he says, and begins to lick my toes.
My wit deserts me. I try to keep still, not to laugh, not to squirm, as his warm mouth and tongue find their way further up, to my calves, behind my knees, inside my thighs. Then I grasp his head, pulling it up toward me, but he pulls me down instead. Preliminary rites are cut short. I am completely overtaken by desire, and so is he.
We meet many times after that, though I know the risk I’m taking increases each time I climb the hill. After the first time we hide among the trees on the other side of the summit, because the Tribespeople do occasionally come up to pray at the Head. (Not as often as I would have expected, and I suppose it’s because, even if they aren’t aware of it, they don’t want to face its ambiguity.)
We make love, both furiously and tenderly, as if we could never have enough. And we talk, too, about his journeys and my old life. He’s sincere in dissenting from the male usurpation of power, though he doesn’t mind the advantages of being male. He avoids expressing his opinions to the Tribe and is held in respect.
Orchila worries about me. She knows, of course, that we are lovers, and has urged me many times to be careful. As time goes by (how long? A few months, it must be. We’ve been too lucky, I suppose) she tries to persuade me to break off the relationship before it’s too late. But I can’t hear her; the relief of finding my old sensuous self again is too great. And is this love? Not really. I feel more deeply for Orion than I used to for my easily changed lovers because I’m a more serious person now. I like him very much. But there’s only one person I’ve loved. I hardly see him nowadays. He even sleeps at the Temple most of the time. I don’t want to think about him.
There’s an ugly male called Jakkan that looks at me strangely when we meet. Earlier I used to think it was desire for me, for which he hated himself, because he is one of those who in the assembly preaches sexual restraint; it is still that, I think, though now there’s something else in his eyes too. Suspicion, and a wish to punish. I’ve seen him watching me once or twice, when I set out on my “walks”, and it makes me very uncomfortable, but as far as I know he hasn’t ever followed me.
I have really lost my head. As I start to climb the hill I see out of the corner of my eye a movement of limbs behind the trees. And still I go on. I stop several times on the way up, listening and watching, and there seems to be nothing there.
Orion is waiting, aroused, and we go quickly to one of our hiding-places, near the edge of the hilltop. We have thrown off our clothes and he is inside me when I see a shadow above me. I gasp with horror and Orion freezes. Jakkan is gazing down on us, with a sneer twisting his thin face. He stares for a long moment, then turns and runs away.
That day Orion and I go down the hill and enter the town together. We know there’s no denying what we’ve done. We also know that we will never again be alone together. He escorts me to the door of my house, past people who are already watching us with scorn, and he says goodbye by bowing to me deeply and saying, “The Mother be with you.”
“And you too,” I say, and go inside.
Dorga is waiting for me. She has heard the voices in the street after Jakkan has come down and started to shout the news of my iniquity from all corners: “The Doge’s wife is a harlot! The law is betrayed!”
She makes me lie down and gives me one of her potions. She bolts the door and windows and sits beside me.
“Did you know?” I ask, without opening my eyes.
“Of course I knew, you silly girl. But I have never been stronger than your fate.”
“What will happen now?”
People are shouting outside the house.
“You will be judged. By people who can’t understand you.”
“Then? Don’t think about then. You will survive.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I say, and she strokes my forehead but doesn’t answer.
After a little while the people go away – violent demonstrations are not in the style of the Navel – and there is silence.
Dorga stays. Sirion doesn’t come. At nightfall I sleep, and dream of my parents’ house in Cynopolis, and a little girl called Cleo who could do no wrong.
Orion and I are called before the assembly of the Tribe. We stand at the bottom of the steps, with the people all around us, the elders in front. Sirion is a few steps above us, sitting all through the proceedings with his head bowed. I can’t look at him.
One of the elders invites Jakkan to speak, and he tells his story, in a loud, shrill voice, that trembles with lubricity at the climax. Many people present are embarrassed, and when we are asked if we have anything to say I can see that some of them wish we could contradict him. Orchila gives me a little wave, sending her love. I have nothing to say.
Orion starts to speak. He says the incident was his fault entirely. He knew I was in the habit of climbing up to the Head in the afternoons, to worship there, and that day he followed me, and overpowered me while I was meditating.
“Nonsense!” shouts Jakkan. “She went to meet him there. She was willing all right. Weren’t you?”
I have nothing to say. Orion goes on:
“Believe me or not, as you wish. Your Doge’s consort is a very wise and remarkable woman. You are making a great error in condemning her. As for me, I regret the commotion I have caused and any pain it may bring to those close to her. I shall leave the Navel again and never return.”
There is a murmur, mostly approval. Orion has spoken with great dignity, and he is a male after all. He could stay and eventually he would be forgiven. He has chosen to go, and how I envy him, and wish I too could just go away. But I can’t escape from what I’ve done.
“Very well,” says the elder in charge of the trial. “That is a correct solution as far as Orion is concerned. And what about the lady?”
“Send her away too,” shouts someone in the crowd.
“Does she want to go?” asks Orchila loudly.
Finally I find my voice. “I don’t want to go with Orion, if that’s what you’re asking,” I say, and it’s true. “We are not mates. I am married to your Doge.”
“Let him decide what to do with her,” shouts another male.
“She should be punished,” shrills Jakkan, and there are some answering “yeses” from the crowd.
“Do you expect us to whip her?” Quiron bursts out from among the elders. “That is not the Tribe’s way”.
The murmurers are quiet. The elders confer together, and consult Sirion, who seems hardly able to speak. Then the elder in charge announces:
“The Doge agrees to keep her in his house. She is not free to walk anywhere alone, or to take part in any public gathering. Her functions as priestess are ended. We have spoken.”
The assembly breaks up and I am led back to the house which has become my prison.
“Was he worth the gamble at least?” asks Orchila, trying to cheer me up with sexy talk. But I can’t make a joke of what’s happened. I’m appalled at the pain I’ve caused Sirion, and his heavy accusing looks when he comes to the house, which strangely he does more often now, are weighing on me so hard I’m becoming ill.
“Don’t let yourself be tormented so,” says Orchila gently. “You did what you had to do. This world is not yours.” And Dorga agrees with her.
But in spite of the encouragement of my two faithful friends, I sink into a trembling, despairing fever and for many days I am scarcely conscious.
When my strength is returning, and I am sitting one morning in the sun at an open window, Sirion comes and takes the chair beside me.
“How are you?” he asks.
“Much better, thank you. And how do you feel?”
“I think I understand a little better now what happened,” he says slowly and with an effort. “I have also been to blame.”
“Has Dorga talked to you?” I ask, when he goes no further, because I can’t believe he would have reached such a conclusion on his own.
“Yes, she has,” he says. “She explained to me how you were brought up, and how strange our restrictions are for you.”
“And does that make you feel any better?”
“Not really,” he says, with a touch of the old candour. “But at least it makes you comprehensible.”
“Not a monster?”
“Not a monster,” he agrees, and then is silent again.
After a moment he continues, with an even greater effort, “I also see now I was wrong to blame you for not having a child. It may be my fault and it shouldn’t have made me leave you alone.”
“Thank you,” I say. “It means a lot to me that you should recognize that. I also felt great pain when you deserted me, because that was what it seemed to be.”
Another long silence. Then he says, “So can we try again?”
Does he mean try to love each other or try to have a child? But I’m not about to discuss that now.
“So you forgive me?” I ask.
“I’m not sure if I’ve really forgiven you,” he says, with terrible honesty, “but if we love each other forgiveness will come. You do love me too, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do,” I say, and wonder why our reconciliation brings me not joy but a sense of doom.
So we are lovers again, and I can’t bear it, and I know he can’t either. Our lovemaking has none of the magic it used to have, but instead is full of a deep, fractured tenderness that has me hiding tears nearly all the time. Sirion explores my body, caressing a mole on my thigh or the toothmarks of the sea monster on my back, and I want to shout at him to stop it, I can’t bear it. And if I look into his face I can see that my pain is nothing compared to his. I have not conceived a child.
We can’t go on like this. Oh what is going to happen, Book? What is going to happen?
IN THE SIGN OF THE BAT
Sirion has had a vision. At moments I recover my old cynical sense of humour and I think how convenient! There seems to be no way out and Sirion has a vision. On the other hand, I have to congratulate him, because it would never have occurred to me to resolve our impasse like that.
He has had a vision of Dog, the warlike figure the males have been seeing lately on the face of the moon, but free of the moon, huge and darkly gleaming, with red, all-penetrating eyes, in the midst of space with a great shining ring round him.
He had the vision in the Temple, kneeling before the altar, and the elders who witnessed it say he had a halo such as has never been seen before. It took him several days to return to a normal state of mind and he didn’t come home during that time. When he did come he hardly seemed to see me.
Here comes the surprise. The elders have earnestly debated the meaning of this revelation, for the Tribe and for Sirion himself. And they have come to the conclusion, first of all, that from now on he must dedicate himself entirely to the priesthood. No more consort. No more seeking to procreate.
Sirion is to be celibate. And I am to be left without a life. I have nothing to say in the matter. Nothing at all – in any case I lost any rights I might have had when I was unfaithful.
Everyone seems to be relieved, Tribe, elders, Sirion himself. So am I in a way. I knew we were doomed. But what can I do with the love I still feel for him? What am I going to do with the time that’s left to me?
Do any of these males have any idea who I am?
No, they don’t. And they are moving further and further away from understanding. Once upon a time there was the Mother’s royalty. And I was touched with it. I was never actually a queen, but I had the attributes of one, except the ultimate power. I was free to live as I wished and I gave and took love and I created fine things and beautiful days and I accepted devotion as my due, as due to the Mother in me. I knew I was her servant.
There are no such females now. Royalty, if it is thought of at all, is the prerogative of males, who resist the Mother’s power and are growing immune to it. Who place restraints on love as she meant it, and want to “advance” by imposing order on her creation (His creation, they say!).
Earth herself is grieving, and I grieve with her. But if I am to survive – and, incredibly, it seems I am not ready to give up and die – I have to harden myself.
IN THE SIGN OF THE DRAGONFLY
Book, it’s a long time since you’ve seen me, isn’t it? I don’t really want to tell you what’s happened in the mean time, but I suppose some day I might want to remember what I’ve been doing. My mind has been so befuddled I may well forget if I don’t write it down.
The last time I was lucid, I faced death again. I was out in the forest – nobody was bothering about the rules imposed on me any more – and the rain-laden wind was singing in the trees, and I’m not sure why but I remembered Dorga’s ordeal in the Palace the night she arrived there with Polon and he deserted her for Kanalisia, and how I had often hoped I would never have to go through anything like that. And I realized that that was exactly what was happening to me.
I started to run, outside the Tribe’s boundary, and as I pushed through the thickets my clothes were torn off me and it began to rain. I came out into a clearing round a huge tree and took shelter under its branches, but a lightning bolt apparently out of nowhere struck it and it started to fall, slowly, swinging in a half circle, and the gesture, the movement of its fall, took over my senses and my body so that I knew how it would land and jumped aside just in time. I lay down with the rain lashing me on the trunk, hugging it and weeping… and those were the last tears I ever shed.
Touching scene, isn’t it? I find it hard to believe now that I could have had such feelings, but I did. And now I’ve met Death twice, so presumably I’m condemned to live for ever.
I did not accept my banishment from Sirion with a good grace. I was allowed to go on living in our house, since the Temple was to be his home, and on the two occasions he came to see me, enquiring very kindly if I was all right, I tried to seduce him. The second time I even gave him a drink I had prepared to make him desire me.
It didn’t work, of course. He was embarrassed, and miserable, and even felt a little guilty for frustrating me, if I read him right, but he was steadfast. He didn’t come a third time.
So I did worse. Dorga and Orchila tried to stop me, but I was so angry, so humiliated, not only for myself but for what I felt I represented, that I would not listen to good advice.
There was a group of young people who were reacting – as young people will – against the beliefs of their fathers. They were tactfully asking the the oldest Tribespeople for their memories of the time of the priestesses, and talking among themselves about a revival. There were several quite attractive young males among them and, to cut a long story short (I can’t be bothered to write about how I got to know them by offering to talk to them about Cynopolis), I seduced them. Yes, I did, one by one, on a hot afternoon in the forest. That time the potion worked.
In the Mother’s day a coupling with me would have been considered a favour, a chance to acquire a knowledge of love from an expert. Here and now, of course, it aroused horror and anguish. Sirion suffered all over again. The young people (who themselves gave me away) were reconverted, suitably chastened, to the beliefs of their fathers.
And I? I am banished again, Book, banished definitively, from the community now as well. A very beautiful house has been built for me, with fine decorations, as if at the last moment, now they know they’re rid of me, the people’s intuition – and no doubt Sirion’s too – has showed them the kind of setting appropriate for me. I have been given servants as well.
The house is a shortish walk away from the town, through a particularly beautiful part of the forest, not far from the Hill of the Head, on the other side.
The day they escorted me here from the Navel, never to return, I looked into the mirror of polished stone they have set in my bedroom wall, and for the first time I saw wrinkles round my eyes.
SIGN OF THE CAT?
It’s very quiet now. Not just because there is no murmur from the Temple court nor footsteps in the paved street. It’s as if the sound of my own life, its drama and desires, had suddenly broken off. As if a river had stopped flowing.
I’m not alone. Dorga is here, really old now, and unable to speak much, though her presence is comforting. Orchila comes occasionally – they allowed me this concession – but we don’t talk much either, just sit for a while quite peacefully over our wine in the courtyard of my house, where yellow blossoms fall from the big tree above. I have nothing to tell, and I don’t want to hear all the news of the Tribe. The chattering of my servant girls tells me enough. I do sometimes ask Orchila how Sirion is, and she says he’s well, growing in knowledge, a great teacher. I know there’s a touch of irony in what she says, but there’s no need to discuss that either. She looks at me when I mention Sirion as if to fathom my feelings, but if I have any, they are hidden from me as well.
That was the mood of a good day.
Other days I wake from a dream where I’ve been happy (I don’t remember the details, only the sensation), and look around me, at my solitary bedroom with its fine covers and hangings, and think my whole life has been a bad joke. Then I get very angry. If I think of Sirion I hate him and wish I could punish him more. What I feel like doing is to lie down on the stone floor and howl. But I refuse to take on the role of poor victim. I remember my true name, Queenbitch, I remind myself of my royal inheritance, and I tell myself I’m living out personally the end of an era. It’s true, of course. And I will maintain the necessary dignity.
When I want to weep, I remember the queens of Cynopolis and copy their bearing. I try on a fine gown and paint my face and pace up and down the shadowy entrance hall among the works of art they gave me. I speak haughtily to my maids and the kitchen servant (not to Dorga, never to Dorga), and I scold them. When I see fear flicker across their faces, I am almost sorry. In the old days I didn’t like to see authority used heavily, and I dreamed of a time to come when there would be friendship, in the name of the Mother, among all classes of people. But our race has moved in a different direction from my dreams of that time; and I can save myself only by clinging to the remnants in me of the past I knew. I’m too tired for any more revolutions. So I shall become a mean and bossy old female, hoping that others will still see a queen.
WHATEVER SIGN IT MAY BE
I found my old Book the other day at the bottom of a chest (I suppose I put it away because it had got so old and shabby lying round) and I read some of it. It seems I lived once. The parts I liked best were the oldest. What a place Cynopolis was. I skipped through the emotional dramas later. Maybe I’ll go through it a little at a time, forgetting I wrote it, just as a story to amuse me. If I can still be amused.
I don’t know why I’m still alive. Dorga is still alive too, a bag of old bones with an aura. I’ve no idea what goes on inside her; no doubt her spirit is achieving an elevation I can’t even imagine. I suppose that’s why she’s still here, and not just the promise she made me once not to leave me. I hope so. I wouldn’t want to keep anyone in this limbo that would prefer to go.
Sirion is still alive. And Orchila and her husband Arichon. I suppose those who pacted with death, and they’re not many, because everyone else I knew in the community has gone. Generations have gone. My girl servants grow old and die and are replaced, leaving yards and yards of wonderfully woven cloth, far more than I could ever need for sheets and hangings and rugs and cushions and robes. My chests are overflowing. And I have coffers full of jewellery and paintings stacked against the walls, because some of the finest artists have worked here too. One girl told me, against orders she said, that females of talent are sent here as to a source of inspiration.
That was a good girl. I didn’t talk to her much, because I didn’t want to compromise her, but she told me how the males are developing their own arts, that they consider superior. The old martial exercises that refined strength have been developed into techniques for killing, though there’s no enemy in sight. The telepathic skills which were not much needed while the community lived so compactly are now being used to keep in touch with travellers. In this way the Tribe has discovered others of their kind, in distant places across great seas. The males must be thrilled. This must be what they meant by “advance”. It leaves me cold.
But what doesn’t? The years go round now almost like days used to, and their passing is stamped on my body in wrinkles and folds and hair in unsightly places, and even that hardly concerns me any more. Mostly my awareness of life is nothing more than a kind of blur.
IN THE SHADOW OF TIME
Book, it appears I am expected to wake up again. Orchila has visited me after a long time and brought me a message from the elders, from Sirion himself. It seems there is a great conflict going on and the future of Earth is at stake. As part of a plan they have to save her, a young male from very far away will find his way through the forest to the Navel. They want me to intercept him, before he reaches the Temple, and bring him here to teach him the Mother’s secrets that only I remember, to help prepare him for his task.
“Is all this true?” I asked Orchila.
“I suppose so. I stopped understanding much of what’s going on long ago. But I know Sirion and the elders are wise. They have suffered greatly over the decisions they have made.”
“Whatever do they expect me to do with this young male?”
“They leave it to your discretion,” she said, with a flash of her old humour. She has become extraordinarily ugly, scrawny and bristly. But no doubt she sees me in the same way. “Teach him the spells you know,” she said.
Is that all? Aren’t there other females who could teach him those?”
“You can talk to him about the philosophy of the Mother’s time.”
“Is Sirion so sure I’m too old to do more with a strong young male than talk to him?” I asked.
Orchila looked startled. “Aren’t you?”
“Perhaps I am. I’ll find out when he comes. If he inspires me I’ll teach him mother secrets all right.”
“So what shall I tell the elders?” Orchila asked, amused as well as impatient with me.
“Tell them I accept. You’d better not tell them the rest of what I said.”
“You know me better than that,” said Orchila gently.
“And do I have to tell him I’m working for the Tribe?”
“No. Sirion specially mentioned that.”
I’ve been thinking about this strange request and I’ve reached a conclusion. The young male is to be intercepted, not instructed to come here as part of his mission. Therefore he will see it as a delay, probably feel guilty about it.
This place with me in it is to represent a temptation he must overcome. A kind of test.
I don’t see what else it could be, unless of course Sirion wants to give me a late present of a lover, which I find most unlikely!
I suppose I should be feeling flattered that they want my help. I don’t know whether I believe the story of Earth being threatened; I’ve been so out of touch, for so long. But I will see if I can still personify temptation.
IN THE SIGN OF THE SON OF DOG!
He is here. It’s a most peculiar feeling to be interested again in something new, someone new, even to be slightly aroused. Sap has started trickling through the old leather I’m made of. Mostly it’s rather unpleasant, like a bittersweet taste with too much bitter. At moments it’s much worse, a shuddering, burning itch all down my spine and round and round my insides.
The male, who says he is called Dogson (no less!), is tall and handsome and looks very sweet; in spite of all he must have been through to come this far, he is incredibly innocent. Is this what males are like now in places where the Mother’s influence has faded away? Perhaps it is, if they are not of the bossy, destructive kind, and that he is not. He is very serious and polite and full of good will. I think I could feel motherly towards him, but I refuse to do that.
It was easy to catch him. After the Tribe let us know he was near, I sent the two prettiest girls (hardly girls! – these ones have been with me for a long time now, sharing my isolation, but they can still look charming) out to the place in the forest where he might emerge, and he followed where they beckoned with hardly a hesitation. He must want a female after his months travelling. I approve of that. He’s a first generation mongrel, unless my instinct deceives me, and that in itself is attractive to me.
I’ve had only one conversation with him since he arrived, just to get a better look at him, though I’ve been watching him from behind curtains and windows when he doesn’t know. He has no idea of my intentions for him. He’ll be horrified the first time. But I have been asked to educate him.
Well. I’ve seduced him and made him my slave. I’ve even been giving him a mild potion to keep him aroused. And I’ve forbidden the girls to have any intimacy with him. All rather silly and undignified, I know, and this relationship, if I can call it that, is paltry beside others in the past, but at least it is something. I haven’t even asked him much about himself, because the weight of time on me is so great that such details are insignificant, but his presence is gratifying. There are moments when he feels my charm more strongly than his disgust for my old body. This ancient body which has discovered it can still feel pleasure.
I haven’t tried to teach him anything. Sometimes I talk to him about Cynopolis, or my journeys, and he is fascinated. He loves to look at all my beautiful things. But I haven’t the energy to talk philosophy to him, nor is my mind clear enough. And why should I give female secrets to a male? Let my spells die with me.
He never forgets he should be trying to get away and reach his destination. But I don’t feel like letting him go. Since I’m obliged to go on living, I shall keep this satisfaction, for a while longer at least. Let Sirion and the elders wait. Perhaps I won’t let him go at all.
Orchila brought me another message. She said, “Even you must realize that the future of Earth is more important than your pleasure.” I know she was told to say that, but she said it from her own heart as well.
Am I really so selfish? Isn’t it their fault that I’m so out of touch that I didn’t know how terribly serious the situation is? No, I refuse to start feeling guilty now for what I am. But having been told what’s at stake I must do as they wish.
The Greater Male movement among humans, that I saw begin such countless ages ago, is actually threatening to put an end to all worthwhile living and even Earth herself. The Tribe has decided to sacrifice itself in order to prevent this. Nearly all the Tribespeople have already gone out to where the fighting is going on, to contribute their talents to the resistance. Orchila and Arichon, ancient as they are, are setting out today. My old friend (we embraced before she left) is committing suicide for Sirion’s plan. Dogson has come to receive from him the secret powers contained in the Temple.
Dogson must leave. I’ll pretend to be deceived by his attempts to escape. I can’t, of course I can’t, put my own desires before Earth. My world died long ago and will not return. The Earth these brave people are trying to save will never return to the Mother’s rule I lived by and have always been faithful to. If the Mother is restored, she will have a different form and her ways will be such as I could not hope to understand.
I had nothing to teach Dogson that could be of any use to him. But perhaps – since the Mother is one and always the same through all her transformations – some small spark of her will have passed from me to him in the midst of all this obfuscation. Perhaps, who knows, he will recognize it one day in his daughter…
Book, this is the last time I will write in you. I feel the need to mark the end of my long story as I did the beginning, though no one will ever read it now. They’ll find you and you’ll be torn up or burnt or left to rot with this house and everything else in it.
The enemy is close. One of the girls climbed the hill to the Head this morning and saw smoke rising from among the trees close to the Tribal boundary. Once they break through, they’ll be here in moments.
I’ve told the girl that as soon as that happens she’s to run and warn Sirion. It won’t save him, but he doesn’t want to be saved. I hope he’s had time to teach Dogson all he meant to and Dogson is well away by now. I just want to send him a sign at the end. I know he has not forgotten, as I have not forgotten.
Great Bitch be with him, and with me!
I’m not afraid to die. How could I be? I can hear shouting now…