Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fiction: The Truth About Love and Revenge by Cynthia Ray

Elspeth Giorgione, First Witch and Sorceress of Bart’s Borough, stopped pacing long enough to unroll the crumpled parchment clenched in her hand, once again examining the brilliant blue ink and the artistic calligraphy of her husbands hand. Her wizard husband of 239 years had left her for a young wood nymph. Ha! She would see about that. The smell of ozone and electricity filled the air around her as her anger simmered.

She kicked the hand-hewn oak chair and it rattled across the floor, leaving splinters in its wake. She shredded the parchment into small pieces and hurled them into the fire, watching as they flamed up, curled into fine gray ash and disappeared. She trudged up the worn stone steps to her bedchamber and pushed open the heavy oaken doors. She unlatched the stained glass windows and leaned out into the cool night air. Moonlight sparkled and glinted through the artful glass windows, decorated with rosy-winged gryphons, fire-breathing dragons and golden-maned lions. Elspeth ran her finger along the panes and breathed in the sweet perfume from the roses that climbed the manse walls, but for Elspeth, all the beauty and color drained from the world. Black and white shadows took on sinister shapes as she gazed out into the night.

She tried to understand. Had she lost her allure and beauty? She stepped out of her robe and turned and gazed at herself in the full-length mirror hanging near the door. Her oval face with its striking green eyes peered back at her. In one light, it appeared young and bright, in another, old and wise. Her lips were the color of crushed strawberries, her skin soft and supple. Her hair, shining blue-black, hung to her knees. She considered herself an artful and skilled lover. Why did Androcoles choose the wood nymph over her? It made no sense.

Not only that, but they were well-matched intellectually and in their interests. She remembered the last time they sat up all night together, talking. Androcoles had just finished reading Magic Utopia by Aldan, and they had debated the ethics and impact of using magic to manipulate the environment. As a result of that conversation, they’d created new spells for increasing crop yields, and healthier livestock for the villagers. She admired his intellect and analytical mind. She’d been faithful and loyal. She’d loved him. But that was over now.

Her eyes were drawn to the painting that hung over the tiled fireplace. Androcoles, rendered in coarse brush strokes, stood in his state robes of blue and silver, holding a carved rosewood staff. He looked regal and handsome with his trim brown beard and sparkling hazel eyes. She stood next to him, holding a jeweled globe, dressed in a velvet cloak embroidered with silver moons and shimmering stars, the cloak he had given her as a wedding present. A lion lay at their feet, symbolizing the power of the magic they had tamed.

Tempted to rip the painting from the wall and fling it from the window, she turned away. “Bah!” Did he think he could make a fool of her and get away with it? He would pay for this idiocy.

In the letter, Androcoles confessed his love of Sapina, and begged Elspeth to forgive him. “Oh, for Isis sake! What a fool.” she exclaimed. She could just imagine them sitting under an old sycamore tree. He would pull the little nymph onto his lap and tell her comic fables to pass the time. The nymph, clothed in scanty garlands of maple leaves would ply him with ripe field berries. The juice would run down his beard, staining it blue and purple. He would lean forward and press his lips to hers and…. Enough! Her fist pounded down on the window ledge, bolts of energy shot out from between her fingers.

She poured herself a large goblet of mead and settled into dark musings. How best to destroy him? Death, her first choice, was impossible. To kill a wizard of his standing required more skill than even she possessed. Besides, death was far too merciful. He must suffer. He must be made utterly and completely wretched. She imagined stretching him on the rack, or standing by as he bu

Elspeth paced throughout the night, rejecting one idea after another. Fight him head on? No, they were perfectly matched in power and ability. Poison Sapina? No, it was folly to anger the nymphs. They could turn the trees and plants against you, and the forest would become deadly. A curse? Some sort of dreadful rotting, corroding disease for Androcoles? Tempting, but no, he knew all of the counter curses. Temporary at best.

Just as the rosy morning sun appeared over the mountains of Illsit, inspiration came to her in a splendid flash of genius! So perfect it caused her to throw back her head and laugh with delight.

Retiring to her spell chamber, she gathered pots and beakers. She rummaged among the dusty cabinets for the potent herbs and aromatics required for her purpose; a bit of Bay and Juniper, amber dust, cinnamon from the mountains of Illsit and seven drops of dragon blood. She sang to herself as she measured and mixed, and stoked the flames. She knew this mixture well--intoxicating, powerful, and effective. She stood over the simmering brew and cast the spell.

O Burning Goddess of Desire

Infuse this potion with your fire

Bring to me your amorous hell

Bind heart and mind within its spell

She thrust a pure gold rod into the boiling philter. It dissolved in a swirl of molten gold; a column of liquid rose up from the bubbling cauldron. An inky black shape formed from the shifting, moving mass. The chamber darkened and Elspeth’s cloak snapped about her shoulders in a cold and sudden wind. The spirit turned its black countenance upon Elspeth and bowed, then sank back into the roiling potion. She shivered as the apparition disappeared and the flickering light returned.

She measured a bit of the mixture into a glass vial and held it up to the light, turning it this way and that. Sunlight illuminated the green liquid with its swirling gold flecks. Elspeth retrieved a bottle of mead from the cellar and pulled the cork. She poured out some of the mead and replaced it with the magic elixir. She re-corked the Mead, and tipped the flask to mix it well. She stashed it under her green velvet cloak, and laced her light leather boots. She left the manse with a light heart, humming a melodic love song written by the nymphs.

Soon, she entered the woods and several of the nymphs emerged from their homes in the trees and walked with her. “Mistress Elspeth, what brings you to our corner of the forest?” they winked slyly at each other.

“You know well enough I search for Sapina, but I wish her no harm. I come to offer her well wishes The nymphs jeered. “A woman deserted by her husband for a nymph wishes to befriend the nymph? Surely you jest.”

Elspeth laughed and shook her head. “Truth be told, I grew weary of Androcoles stodgy ways, as she will soon find for herself. Indeed, I only want to speak with her and tell her this myself.”

“Then speak.” Sapina’s dulcet voice sounded from behind.

Elspeth turned and considered the nymph before her. Sapina’s golden cat eyes shimmered. A circlet of green leaves crowned her blonde braids, and garlands of leaves draped her lithe and slender body. Sapina's long and graceful fingers clasped a silver flute.

“Well met, Sapina” Elsbeth said.

Sapina waved the other nymphs away and approached Elspeth with her head held high.

Elspeth continued, “I wish you well. You are indeed beautiful. Androcoles says he loves you. I freely release him and you of any debt to me. Will you drink with me?” Elspeth motioned for Sapina to join her on the mossy grass.

Sapina bowed and sat next to Elspeth. “Forgive me, but no. After all, a witch such as yourself might easily poison a nymph.”

Elspeth smiled as she poured the sparkling mead. “I understand your suspicion, but this is not poison.” She lifted her glass and drank deeply. “You see?” She offered the drink to Sapina, who brushed it away. Elspeth said, “No matter. At first I was hurt and angry, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was gratifying to be free of Androcoles and his endless demands. Now I, too, may seek more exciting and interesting loves.”

Elspeth looked into Sapina’s eyes and smiled at her, casting a spell of persuasion under her breath. Elspeth took another sip and offered the cup to the nymph once again. “Please, are you sure you

Sapina took the cup from Elspeth’s hands, dipped her finger into the mead and tasted it. “This brew has an exotic aroma, Elspeth. Spicy. Cinnamon, pears and ….what else?”

Elspeth put her finger to her lips. “A secret recipe.” She touched the silver flute, “Will you play?”

Sapina quaffed her drink, then lifted the flute to her lips. The music sounded warm and languid as the summer afternoon. The artful tune skipped over the meadow, enchanting and alluring. Elspeth stood and let her cloak drop from her shoulders. She lifted her arms and danced. As she moved in circles, her hair spun out, surrounding her in undulating waves. Sapina put aside the flute and exclaimed, “What an elegant dancer. I’ve never seen such grace outside of our own race.”

Elspeth flashed a radiant smile at her. “Thank you. Another drink?” They were quite giddy by the time they finished off the bottle.

Sapina reached out and touched Elspeth’s cheek and she noticed the warm glow in Sapina’s eyes, and her flushed face. “You say I am beautiful, milady, but you--you are beautiful as a shooting star, as a fiery comet, as the noonday sun.” Sapina’s fingers trailed down across Elspeth’s lips. She put her fingers under Elspeth chin and looked into her eyes. “I want to kiss you.”

Elspeth laughed. “What about Androcoles?”

Sapina frowned. “Just a kiss, that’s all I ask.” Her hands trembled as she pulled Elspeth’s face closer to hers. Sapina pushed her lips against Elspeth’s full, warm mouth.

Elspeth kissed her lightly, then stood up and pushed Sapina away. “Well, I have to go back now, it’s getting late.”

Sapina squeezed Elspeth’s hands and her voice quivered, “No, please don’t leave now. Let me come with you at least.”

Elspeth smiled, “That’s not possible, my dear. But come tomorrow if you like.”

Elspeth smiled to herself as she trod upon the forest path. Sapina’s powerful response surpassed her hopes and she laughed out loud as she thought of Androcoles consternation when he discovered Sapina’s change of heart. Truly, the perfect revenge.

The sun had barely appeared over the horizon when the pounding on the door roused Elspeth from sleep. When she opened the door Sapina threw herself into Elspeth’s arms.

“Elspeth, beloved,” she exclaimed.

“I can see why Androcoles loves you.” Elsbeth laughed.

Sapina frowned. “Androcoles, that old frog? Why do you utter his name here?”

“Walk with me.” Elspeth led Sapina to the garden. They walked along the manicured paths, inhaling the scents of lilies, lavender and cedar. They smiled at the fat bees that droned like chanting

Sapina and Elspeth held hands as they sat on a bench overlooking the large green lake. Sapina unfastened the jeweled clasp of Elspeth’s mantle and pushed it off her shoulders. Sapina pulled her close and whispered, “I love you.”


Androcoles mused and muttered to himself as he walked. Waves of heat rose from the path. He wiped the sweat from his brow and cast a cooling spell. The spell caused cool breezes to caress his face as he thought of Sapina. He’d called for her all night, but she didn’t answer. Why did she hide from him? He longed for her touch; when Sapina touched him, Androcoles felt the power of spring, the rising sap, the green freshness of budding leaves and a juicy optimism. His dry old bones crackled and came alive; he thrummed with energy. He had to find her.

He sighed as he strode towards the manse to retrieve the last of his belongings. He didn’t look forward to talking with Elspeth, but he needed his lore books. He stood at the entryway, prepared to knock, when he heard Sapina’s musical laughter dancing across the garden. He pushed open the door to the manse, and followed the sound, like a hungry dog. As his mind cleared, he wondered why Sapina would be here, at the manse.

He found Elspeth and the nymph swimming in the lake. He watched as they splashed and chased each other, rainbows sparkling on their naked skin. His face darkened, he clenched his fist and emitted a low growl from deep within his throat. Only Elspeth and her magic could have turned the nymph away from him. How dare she? Filled with anger, he lifted his staff and brought it down with a crash. Lightning burst from the staff and sparks fell upon a few dry leaves that burst into flame. He spun around and stomped away. #

Androcoles slouched in the great room of Bart’s Inn, his current residence, sipping a great flagon of dark ale. He’d already had several, but all the ale in the world couldn’t dispel the gloom that clung to him like dung. Elspeth was a formidable opponent; he should have taken precautions. Foolish. He shook his head; she had him this time. In spite of his resentment, he laughed. She’d betrayed him with his own mistress! How ironic, how resourceful, how like her.

He could not counter such a spell. The powerful potion would bind the nymph to Elspeth until released by Elspeth. He pondered how to convince Elspeth to free Sapina, but couldn’t think of anything that would move his obstinate wife.

He stumbled to his room and dropped onto the bed. His felt his heart tapping against his chest--ka-thump, ka-thump--a lonely drumbeat. He squeezed his eyes shut to stop the burning. Nothing felt right. As a wise and powerful wizard, he should be able to craft a solution, but nothing came to him.

Air. He needed air. He threw open the window and the cool night breeze fanned his face. He gazed out over the dark village, steeped in pearly moonlight. The translucent white light triggered a vision. He saw wizened hands before him, cupping glowing white pearls. Pearls, symbol of truth. Truth. Aldan, the ancient wizard he had studied with, had told him of a rare and singular potion in his procession, seldom used. One drop of the spicy amber liquid upon the tongue ripped away the veil of illusion from the heart, revealing true motivations and feelings. Truth. Of course! He left at once to find Aldan.

He saddled his horse and made for the road. He nearly missed the path, hidden by large rhododendrons that led through the craggy hills. Three days of grueling travel brought him to a remote cave at the edge of the kingdom. He found the wizard waiting for him. The old man lifted his calloused red hand and greeted him. “Androcoles, I have been expecting you. I know what you seek. I cannot recommend this path.”

Androcoles knelt at the wizard’s feet. “Dear Aldan, my teacher and guide, I need Truth.” Androcoles knew that Truth could be dangerous, and hard to take, but Truth could make unravel mysteries. Androcoles considered what Truth would reveal. If Sapina tasted the mixture, she would see Elspeth’s true motives—that she had been tricked and used to punish him. Certainly, she wou

When Elspeth tasted the spicy drops, revelations of Truth would show her how hard hearted her actions were and the wisdom of forgiveness. She would release him and bless Sapina. Of course, he knew himself well enough, what surprises could Truth have for him?

Aldan put his hand upon Androcoles head, “If you desire Truth, you shall have it. But first, ask yourself why this potion lies here unused and unasked for, in a dusty bottle at the back of my cave.”

Androcoles shrugged, “It is said that Truth is beautiful and desirable above all else.”

Aldan sighed, “Yes, it is said. I will give you what you require. May it bring you wisdom.” Androcoles thanked his old master for the gift as the aged wizard unlocked the chest and drew forth the dusty cobalt bottle with faded gold lettering. He placed it in Androcoles trembling hands, and turned away. Androcoles rode back to the Borough with a light heart.


The Autumn Harvest Festival was underway, the perfect venue to execute his plan. He dressed with care and combed his neat brown beard, tucking a bright yellow maple leaf in his hatband. He filled a small basket with sweetmeats and nuts. He bowed to himself in the mirror. “How now great wizard?” he laughed and pulled a golden apple from the table. He rolled it in his hands and closed his eyes. The golden apple, infused with his truth serum, shone in his hands. All his hopes lay here. He breathed deeply, casting a spell of discovery, that he might find Elspeth and Sapina this bright morning, and carefully placed the golden apple in the basket.

The festival tents of green, yellow and red flapped in the breeze. Garlands of maple, oak and alder leaves hung from the tents, flashing in the sun. Smells of apple cider and roasting meat jumbled together in the crisp autumn air. Jugglers on stilts entertained crowds of giggling children, and musicians piped and sang.

Androcoles heard flute music coming from the meadow and turned to see Sapina playing her silver flute to a small group of dancing nymphs and villagers. One drunken satyr with grape stains on his beard tried to sing along. Elspeth sat on a log nearby, drinking cider. Androcoles pushed through the crowd. “Elspeth” he called to her. She looked up in surprise.

Androcoles smiled at her. “May I join you?” Not waiting for an answer he sat down on the log next to her. “Elspeth. Are you happy with what you have wrought?”

Elspeth frowned, “Do you still desire your nymph?” She waved towards Sapina, who put her flute away and flounced towards them. She snuggled next to Elspeth, and nodded formally to Androcoles.

Androcoles admired Sapina's graceful form, her exotic features, and felt a warm rush of blood. He also enjoyed Elspeth’s powerful presence. Yes, he desired Sapina, but he found he enjoyed sparring with his wife. He brushed aside these thoughts as he pulled out his basket.

“You should try these apples, quite exceptional this year.” He pulled out his knife and cut into the apples crisp, juicy flesh. He offered slices to them, and took one himself. He put the whole slice into his mouth and chewed--juice overflowed and ran down his chin.

Elspeth frowned. “And what sort of spell have you wrought here, Androcoles? Why would you suddenly offer us gifts? Do you think you can counter my spell? Think again. I know you too well, sir.”

Androcoles sat back and sighed. Lying or manipulating Elspeth would not convince her. No spells of persuasion or sleight of hand would accomplish his goal. He had one choice and prayed it would work. “I will tell you the truth, then. This apple is infused with a wonderful element. This is not poison. This is not a spell. This is not revenge. It is Truth. This apple is infused with a serum that will show you the Truth about me, and about you. What could there be to be afraid of?” He offered her the slice. “I dare you to taste Truth.”

Elspeth took the apple slice and turned it over in her hand, considering, then bit into the slice. “We will see the truth, then. I have certainly seen enough of lies and deceit.”

Elspeth nibbled on her slice and offered some to Sapina. Sapina bit off a piece and closed her eyes as she ate it.

Androcoles chatted as he munched his apple and waited for the serum to take effect. “I love autumn, don’t you? All the colors, the leaves…” He felt dizzy and put a hand out to steady himself.

The truth pounded Androcoles like an iron mallet. His head ached. He saw himself without whitewash or excuse. Truth. The potion compelled him to speak. It felt like hot stones burned his throat as he choked out the words. “I have lived five centuries, and I can count on two hands, the number of times I acted without selfish interest, and in the last hundred years, not once. I have become a politic bastard.” He saw himself as an old vampire lizard that sucked Sapina dry. He turned to Sapina and croaked out the words he could not suppress, “I thought I loved you, Sapina, but it was only a selfish and shallow appreciation of your beauty and youth. I know nothing about you. Nothing at all. You gave me much. I gave you nothing.” Tears burned his eyes.

His heart opened like a book, the Truth writ in flaming letters. He loved Elspeth, only and always Elspeth. He reached out for her. “Elspeth. I betrayed you. If only I could undo what I have wrought. Your soul is a universe of splendor and mystery to me. I loved you since we first met in the forest of Cambria. I only want to return to your arms. Only your love and forgiveness will save me.” He fell back, shaking.

Elspeth draped her cloak around Sapina’s shoulders then turned to Androcoles and squeezed his hand. “I thank you for the gift of Truth. There is nothing to forgive.” She faced Sapina. “I se that I should never have coerced a free spirit, and never will again. I am sorry, dear Sapina. My spell made you love and desire me, but here is Truth; I have fallen in love with you, without spell or potion. You are sweet, and your spirit refreshing and light. I hereby release you from this spell, and I give you my heart freely to do with as you will. I pray you will love me.” She trembled as she waited for Sapina’s answer.

Sapina stood and handed the cloak back to Elspeth. “As for myself, I have enjoyed a merry and promiscuous life. But part of me seeks something more, something deeper.” Tears turned her golden eyes silver. She raised her voice and lifted her arms to heaven. “I can no longer ignore the call of the Goddess. The Truth is, I will retire to her temple and take vows of celibacy, giving myself in service as a temple priestess.” She smiled at Elspeth, “Even though your spell compelled me to love you, it was never a burden.“ She put her hand on Androcoles shoulder, “Androcoles, whatever your feelings, I received joy from our trysts so do not suffer overmuch.” She picked up her flute and played a slow and haunting tune as she walked towards the forest.

The color drained from Elspeth’s face, she put her head in her hands and sobbed. Androcoles squeezed the remaining apple between his hands and watched the juicy pulp fall from between his fingers to the ground. He shook his head and tried to speak but could not. They sat in silence. As the shadows lengthened, Elsbeth reached out and put her hand over his.

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