Image: "Proserpine" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Genevieve dreamt only rarely, but in this moment, she knew that she was asleep. The sun was there with her - or, at least, there was something very large and warm that shone above her head. There was fruit in her mouth, too; at least, she tasted something sweet and ripe. It was the ripeness of peaches, or plums; the bleeding dark of cherry-meat.
And then, there was something hard at her throat – sharp, and cold, as of a sword’s edge.
No. No, that’s the locket.
It was the locket that drew her through. Genevieve realized with a pang that it was morning, and that she was lying in bed.
She attempted to unfold her arms, which had been bundled up beneath her while she slept, and had fallen asleep. She worked her fingers slowly, feeling the claws glide in and out. Once the prickling had ceased, she burrowed once again into the sheets, and her hand pulled the locket out from under her nightdress.
It was a large, golden heart, upon a matching chain. She opened the delicate clasp. Inside was a minutely - detailed portrait of a young, blond gentleman.
She hid the image by closing her fist a little harder than was necessary. She shifted her focus to the white canopy that arched over the bed, and frowned. She had forgotten to close the drapes the night before – either that, or she had had a visitor in her sleep.
Oh, of course she knew that he stood at her left side. He seemed to be always beyond her shoulder, always just past the corner of her eye. She took a deep breath, and twisted to look out of the window that the bed-curtains had left for her. A tall, young man stood there, dressed all in warm, yellow brocade and white lace. He had golden hair, and a beautiful face.
Genevieve allowed her gaze to dip in and out of his blue eyes, travel down the gentle line of his jaw, and across his lips. He smiled. Genevieve waited and didn’t let herself blink.
“It’s you,” she murmured, her voice raspy with sleep. That tipped the scales. Her eyelids wavered, and she looked away.
“Careful, Gen; you’ll tear that pillow.” His voice was soft enough to drive a knife through her chest. She felt her face crumple and fall apart.
“You still come and catch me - you still tell me what I need to hear! Nothing could ever keep you from that; isn’t it true?”
There was a long silence. Then - “You wanted to speak to me,” he said. She spoke.
“I wish I could sleep for a thousand years and wake up when things are different.”
“That is not what you truly want, Gen.”
“I dare you to say otherwise.”
The echo of the last words wafted over her, leaving a fine frost on each attentive whisker.
When she opened her eyes, he was gone.
Percy hated the mornings, at least lately, and as he fluttered into consciousness and blinked at the dark bed curtains, he remembered that he hated this one especially.
He crawled out of bed and shuffled into his slippers. He shuffled over to the window. Shuffling seemed to have become his primary mode of locomotion in recent weeks.
Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. What if I puttered, for some variety? He puttered towards his chamber door, where he was met by the entrance of a somewhat flustered valet.
“I beg your pardon, your Highness, I didn't hear you ring.”
“Oh.” Percy blinked. “I forgot to. I'm sorry about that, Marion.”
The valet bowed his head.
“How's father?” Percy asked, looking down at his toes. There was a long pause.
“His Majesty is the same as he has been,” Marion answered gently. “Although you know that it's not my place to speak of such things, your Highness.”
“I know. You know that I'm simply very concerned.”
Percy didn't speak anymore to his valet, except to briefly answer questions about his clothing preferences. The old servant moved deftly about him, with the ease that comes with years of familiarity. Percy felt like a knight being suited for some formidable battle. He stared bleakly out the window of his bedchamber, which showed a sky still dark with night. He yawned, and his eyes bleared with fatigue. He waved away the offer of a breakfast tray.
“Wait,” Percy said, just as he was about to leave. “Where's my mother's charm?”
“Here, Sire,” Marion said, holding up a little golden sun strung upon a length of twine. “It was under the bed. Must've come off in the night.”
“Thank you, Mar,” Percy said, slipping the twine over his head and placing the sun against his heart.
Percy trudged down at least five corridors and as many flights of stairs, accompanied by guards. (He wondered if guards were truly necessary.) They stopped once they arrived at the large double-doors of the king's meeting hall. They waited a few moments before the doors swung open and the king's prime minister stepped out.
“Good morning, your highness. His majesty will see you now.”
Percy said nothing. He stepped forward into the hall, and made his way towards the center of the floor. The king stood facing him, leaning forward against the wooden railing on the judge's platform. His eyes were roving about the room flightily, without resting anywhere for long. His fingers tapped continuously – the railing, his leg, the back of his neck – just as they had been doing for months.
“Come forward, Percival,” the king said. Percy shuffled forward a few more steps. He glanced up and over to the seats on the left, where two girls - one dark and slender, the other red-gold and petite - sat huddled together. Percy noticed that his breath was visible in the chilly air, and he gave a sigh, sending out a sleepy puff of steam. It's too cold, for April. Too cold...
“Percival, you need discipline,” the king began. “You're twenty-one now, and who knows how much longer I'll be here. You need to...become a different person, Percy. It's not enough to earn good marks in your studies, and be well-liked, and be able to handle a sword decently.”
The words tumbled out in a harsh, halting wave. The king was pacing back and forth, as if explaining a war strategy. Percy stared at the floor.
“You're too soft, Percy! You spend most of your spare time with your little sisters. Boys your age are going hunting with their comrades on a weekly basis! Their male comrades,” the king added, shooting a glance at the girls in the seats above. “I haven't seen you socialize with boys your own age for weeks, Percival!”
“That's because the ones I know are all animals,” Percy said quietly.
The king clicked his tongue impatiently. “Oh, please. It's not all that bad.”
“Most of them.”
“You're not being trained to be a perfect gentleman, you're being trained to be able to intimidate! To be someone who will be feared and obeyed!”
“If you say so, father,” Percy murmured.
The king was now practically stalking about on the platform. He looked rather unsteady; Percy wondered if he might be drunk.
“I am sending you away, tomorrow. You're going to take a good, lengthy holiday. It will last a month or more. You'll stay with some distant relation of your mother's, one Mortimer, who has kindly offered to open up his estate to our family as a location for retreat. I've decided to take him up on his offer immediately. He's going to train and school you. With any luck, he'll turn you into a real crown prince.”
Percy blinked, stupefied by this sudden news.
“Oh, and you'll go along, too,” the king added, waving at the two girls. “Someone needs to shape you into normal, fine young ladies. You'll get the finishing school treatment, so to speak. Learn how to walk properly and make pleasant conversation, and so on.”
Percy stole a look at his sisters. They were too far away for him to really read their expressions, but he saw Musetta gaping in indignation, and Soleil's head dipping wearily beneath its great crown of auburn curls.
“Naturally,” the king continued, “you'll be separated. Girls, there's been enough of this coddling your brother. This problem is all the result of having shared a nursery all together for too long. And your mother certainly didn't help, filling your heads with all that fairy-tale nonsense. What a shameful waste of your precious time.”
Percy bit the inside of his cheek. The stone floor blurred over.
“Please, father,” he spoke up, trying to keep his voice steady. “Don't speak of mother in that way.”
“In what way?” The king drew up stiffly. Percy bit his lips, at a loss as to how to respond. “Your mother and I understand each other perfectly. We have our differing opinions regarding our children's upbringing, but we're both willing to make compromises. The only thing that I require is that all three of your start being treated like normal adults from now on!”
Percy felt sick. “Father,” he said helplessly, “Father, please. She's not here anymore. She's dead.”
The king turned his back on his children and walked slowly to the far end of the platform. He held his arms taut at his sides, his large, pink hands balled into fists.
She's dead. The words echoed, bouncing off of the walls, off of Percy's temples.
She had been a faerie-woman. She'd glided through the castle corridors, spreading magic in her wake. (It seemed to stream from her long, auburn hair.) Most of her subjects secretly held that she was elven, and outside of the castle walls, the people made no secret of it at all. Tales abounded of a green-eyed, redheaded lady in hood and cloak coming to ill peasants by night and healing them. No one knew whether or not the king was aware of these rumors, or, if he was, what he thought of them; but it seemed as though Queen Viviana had the power to mollify anyone - even him - with her sweet, sparkling smile. She was queen of the kingdom; she was queen of the kingdom's heart.
And she had become suddenly, incurably ill.
The healer had fallen sick. The lively one. It didn't make sense. It was stupid, and unfair. Percy bit the words into the inside of his cheek.
He looked up from his black shoes and stockings to his father, who was dressed in a ridiculously flamboyant ensemble of red and blue. The only person in the room not in mourning. He had never dressed like this as far as Percy could remember, not even when his wife was still alive.
Percy knew what had happened: Father had always had a hot temper, and he and Mother had quarreled, right before she fell ill. Initially, Father had treated her sickness with haughty indifference. By the time the physician realized that she was dying, she was too delirious to hear Father's apology.
Percy felt the simmering anger that had been building inside him subside. She's dead, he thought. And now he's dead too. Mama, why did you have to go? He needed you most of all.
“You're all dismissed,” the king said. He still stood with his back to the court. Percy noticed his hair – gray, rumpled, and greasy-looking.
Percy turned and made his way up to his sisters. Their faces were white and blank. He took them each by the hand and led them out of the hall.
Happy Easter, one and all! Christ is risen!!
I just spent the most wonderful Triduum and Easter Sunday visiting with lovely people in Pittsburgh. It was absolutely delightful to be able to spend the end of Holy Week with one of my oldest and closest friends, Sara, and her family.
The weekend was filled with many exciting occurrences, which I may recount here in the future, but by far the best and most important of these occurrences was my discovery of the Byzantine rite of the Catholic Church.
I mean, I'd always known that it existed. I have a few Byzantine friends, I knew that in the Byzantine rite they cross themselves from right to left; and that married Byzantine men can become priests...but I'd never been in a Byzantine church, and I'd never been steeped in that culture.
My friend Sara's parish does this thing every Holy Thursday where, after Mass, they get in a bus and make a mini-pilgrimage to seven different churches in Pittsburgh. This year, the theme was Byzantine churches.
So, we went and visited all of these Byzantine churches, and there were icons everywhere and frescoes and gold leaf and huge enormous gates (some as big as walls) that veiled the sanctuary from the rest of the church.
And guys, I'm obsessed now.
Here are some bits of lovely Byzantine knowledge that I gleaned from this epic visit:
- In the Byzantine rite, the first part of Holy Week is called 'Bridegroom Week', in reference to Christ, our Divine Lover. At Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic church, an icon had been placed in front of the sanctuary to be reverenced: Christ scourged and wearing the crown of thorns. The image was titled 'BRIDE – GROOM'.
- One priest talked about how, while the western Church focuses so well on Christ's great condescension in coming down to earth, the Church in the east focuses on what Christ came to do: bring us up into Heaven. This is why Byzantine art and architecture is so ethereally lovely. It's designed so that a person walking into the church will be transported, and will feel as though he's celebrating the Sacred Liturgy not on Earth, so much as in Heaven with the angels.
- “Icons aren't decoration; they're theology in color.” A priest at one of the churches was talking to us about the symbolism in an icon of Christ. He said that, in iconography, blue usually stands for humanity, while red or a certain shade of purple stands for divinity. In the icon, Christ was wearing a red garment, and had wrapped a blue garment around himself, indicating that he who is God the Son has clothed himself in humanity, so to speak, in the Incarnation.
- Probably my favorite church (in terms of visual beauty) out of all the ones we visited was St. John Chrysostom, which is located in the Greenfield section of Pittsburgh. Incidentally, it's well-known for being the church where Andy Warhol was baptized.
When the priest at one of the churches invited us to join him and his congregation for their celebration of the Jerusalem Matins, Sara and I were super intrigued. So, at 9 am on Holy Saturday morning, we went on over to St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Greek Catholic church to participate. The service wound up being just shy of three hours! Almost everything was chanted, even the Scripture readings. It was three hours of praise to Christ in the tomb, specifically, and a symbolic 'tomb' had been placed in front of the sanctuary. There was an icon of Christ being lain in the tomb, and it was surrounded by a whip, spear, and other objects associated with Christ's passion and death. The liturgy ended with us walking in a line up to the 'tomb', on our knees, to kiss Jesus' head and feet in the icon. It was super intense. I just kept thinking, I am walking on my knees to get to Jesus. How am I this blessed?
So, to sum up this very long story, I'm now entirely entranced by the Byzantine rite and its gorgeous art and liturgies. I'm resolved to check out the nearest Byzantine church...I'll get back to you on that.
Thanks for reading, and, as always, God bless you!
Truly, is there anything so beautiful in the whole of non-sentient Creation as the flower?
Maybe it's because it's spring. Maybe it's because I miss the countryside. Maybe it's because my inner vagabond is itching to take off into the mountains yonder (oh wait, this is Steubenville... make that imaginary mountains) and commune with nature for a month or so. At any rate, I just can't seem to get flora off my mind.
I took part in a voice recital this past Saturday, and to my great delight, I received flowers afterward from several people: a red rose from one friend, a yellow rose from another, a card with a paper flower attached to the front (it is so charming!), and, my favorite of all, a bouquet of tulips from my family, fresh from our garden back home. These tulips are the most breathtakingly gorgeous things I've ever seen (although, given my current obsession with flowers, I might be biased). Some are pink, some are yellow, and some are a vibrant red streaked with gold. Both the petals, and the pale, minty-green leaves are lush, matte, and apparently flawless.
Looking at them, I can't help but think of the depiction of Venus in C. S. Lewis' Perelandra. My tulips seem, to me, to be every bit as otherworldly as the strange, exotic vegetation that Ransom discovers on the Eden-like planet.
If you've read Perelandra, you'll remember that, in it, Lewis' celestial paradise is saved from the Fall that the Earth has already experienced. The Satan character (who is grotesquely but insightfully portrayed as one who wants only to harm the physical and spiritual integrity of Perelandra's creatures) is defeated by the self-sacrifice of Elwin Ransom. Perelandra is able to continue on in unbroken communion with Oyarsa, the God character.
But what of us on Earth (and outside of Lewis' beautiful fantasy world), who do live in an undeniably fallen world? What of those of us who have experienced darkness and suffering, and want nothing more than a new beginning? This weekend, I was recommending favorite books to a friend, and The Neverending Story by Michael Ende came up. I started telling him all about my favorite part, where the boy Bastian finally enters into the mysterious book that he's been reading. Bastian is very much like a little Ransom (and therefore a little Christ), in that he saves Fantastica - but not until after it has already been destroyed. Once inside of the story, Bastian is met by utter darkness, nothingness. Fantastica is gone, but the Childlike Empress explains that it is Bastian's mission to rebuild and restore the magical land. At first, he's frightened by the darkness:
“'Moon Child,' he whispered. 'Is this the end?'
'No,' she replied, 'it's the beginning.'”
With the help of AURYN, a magical amulet, Bastian wishes a nocturnal garden into existence...
“...Soon some of the plants were as big as fruit trees. There were fans of long emerald-green leaves, flowers resembling peacock tails with rainbow-colored eyes, pagodas consisting of superimposed umbrellas of violet silk. Thick stems were interwoven like braids. Since they were transparent, they looked like pink glass lit up from within. Some of the blooms looked like clusters of blue and yellow Japanese lanterns. And little by little, as the luminous night growths grew denser, they intertwined to form a tissue of soft light.
'You must give all this a name,' Moon Child whispered.
'Perilin, the Night Forest,' he said.”
In the story, Perilin becomes a constant presence in the new Fantastica: it blooms anew every day, but only at night. How lovely it is to think of beautiful things growing in the darkness after the storm - growing, despite the shadows. Though it is sometimes hard to see, times of waiting, of dryness, can sometimes be the most fruitful of all. This brings to mind a quote from one of Rainer Maria Rilke's letters to Franz Kappus, the “young poet”:
“Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don't know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change. If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions, just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better. In you, dear Mr. Kappus, so much is happening now; you must be patient like someone who is sick, and confident like someone who is recovering; for perhaps you are both. And more: you are also the doctor, who has to watch over himself. But in every sickness there are many days when the doctor can do nothing but wait. And that is what you, insofar as you are your own doctor, must now do, more than anything else.”
Don't discredit the hardships in the your life. A lush, verdant night-forest is blooming within you. The fruit and flora is all the more beautiful for having lived through the darkness.
This is not the end. It is only the beginning.
Also, let's talk about how the Childlike Empress/Moon Child is TOTALLY a Marian figure. Totally (says this currently-enrolled in Mariology theology major).
Thanks for reading, all.
The Soul Sings is an independently published celebration of Beauty, Truth, and Goodness.