Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Golden Pocket – part 7

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On the morning I planned my departure, I pulled Eshrun aside. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a gold ring. Taking my golden knife, I cut it in two and gave him half. “I will return to you and we will be married. Keep this half of the ring as the token of my promise.”

He agreed. We did not embrace; it was understood this marriage was a contract. I walked away from him to the edge of the wood and turned to look back. Eshrun remained by the front door and cut a curt nod with his head to ensure me of his willingness to wait. I waved in return and wandered further into the wood, disappearing from view of the cabin.

I walked onward through the cedar trees for a day and a half. I passed by the bleached bones of that poor brown bear. By instinct I rubbed my palms along the matted fur of his flayed skin that begat my cape and I whispered an apology while moving onward. It used to be soft but had clumped with road dust and other muck along the way of seven years’ passing. Within the hour I reached my destination, the place where everything began; and I was one day early.

That night was long. I made a fire because I feared no man or beast, only the devil and he would not kill me. It would break the deal. I ate my simple supper of hard cheese and bread and laid down, wrapped in my bearskin. My eyes closed with my final prayers of petition on my lips, and I fell into a deep sleep.

Morning arrived with the sunlight streaming through the great green cedar boughs, peppering the forest floor with flecks of heavenly light. I sat up, licking my cracked lips and looking around.

Down upon the road was the golden carriage with the same pale horses and thin driver so silent and so still. I never heard them arrive. I glanced to my right and saw that man. His beauty had not changed but somehow he was not beautiful at all. His blue eyes were crystalline and filled with cold logic.

“Our deal has come to a conclusion, Athena. My congratulations are in order. You have succeeded where many have failed. I give you permission to gloat,” he said.

I closed my mouth. With my silence I pronounced judgment upon him.
His V-shaped smile shifted to a sneer, but then returned to a smile as congenial as any I had ever seen. Were I not wary, it would have disarmed me.

“Come,” he said and waved me over as he walked toward the carriage. He opened the door but I hesitated. “We must get you cleaned up so you can give me back my coat.”

I bit my lip and stepped into the carriage. The large living room inside was still dark and a fire still danced in the hearth. He led me through to a private chamber where an enormous tub drawn with hot water waited. He nodded toward a lovely young woman standing in the corner. “Lilly will see to your bath. Afterward I will see personally to your grooming.”

I looked at Lilly. She was young and lovely, reminding me of who I was seven years ago. I suspected that she was another victim of one of his bargains, living here in this gilded hell. One last time I looked at him as he filled the doorway with his powerful frame.

“Lilly will bathe you. You stink. You need scrubbing. I will afford you the privacy of a lady,” he said.

I knew he didn’t care about the pretense of a lady’s privacy, but I was thankful all the same when he closed the door. My nails were so long that I was unable to unlatch the bearskin cape or even unbutton the green jacket. Lilly stepped forward, offering her assistance to peel away my clothing, which she did with great care and kindness. I felt genuinely sorry for her. The poor girl had no idea to whom she now belonged.

I stepped into the tub and relaxed in the pool of water, watching steam waft from the surface and vaporize into nothing. My eyes caught Lilly hanging the green coat upon a hook; something jangled.

“Miss, I believe you have something left in the pocket of your coat,” Lilly said.

I shook my head. “It’s not my coat. Whatever is in that pocket can stay there,” I replied.

She understood and then approached the tub. With a cloth and soft brush, Lilly scrubbed me from top to bottom. She washed my filthy, gummy hair and combed it out straight once more.

Afterward when I stepped forward from the tub, I marveled at my skin. It had changed from that patina of dirt to a likeness of alabaster. She wrapped me in a soft robe and led me to another chamber where the man stood in his cloven-hoofed, self-imposed magnificence. He ushered me to a chair in front of a mirror. I sat down and he turned me away from my reflection. He applied a yogurt masque to my face and proceeded to trim my nails and cut my hair without a single word.

By the time he finished and turned my chair to face the mirror, I fell into disbelief. The reversal of my ugliness and the last seven years of hardship were fully removed and replaced with my youthful beauty once more. A simple look into my own eyes however revealed an utter loss of innocence. It would never return to me, nor would I wish it.

At last, I was once again outside the carriage wearing a dark green dress chosen by the man himself. The color of the fabric was an attempted jab at our deal, mimicking the green coat I surrendered. A beautiful white horse awaited me to mount and ride. The golden knife was sheathed in the saddle.

“One more thing I have for you, Athena,” he said and displayed a lovely white fur cape. “It is the same bearskin cape, but I’ve taken the liberty of…cleaning it.” His sharp smile whipped wide on his face as he wrapped it about my shoulders. I refused to speak to him.

“Can we not part as friends?” he asked.

If I could have achieved it, I would have set him ablaze with my gaze and watched him burn to the ground with satisfaction.

He chuckled. “Very well then. So long Athena,” he said and closed the carriage door. The entire entourage lurched forward, snapping into the same crackle of blue light as before. And it was gone.


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The Golden Pocket – part 6

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Time passed without any conscience. My body lay curled in my bearskin before a hearth. The fire was strong and warm.

Furtive whispering voices argued behind me.

“How did she end up on our doorstep?”

“It doesn’t matter how. What matters is that she came to us for help.” This voice was mature, and even in its tone.

“Help indeed,” huffed the first voice, young, male and impatient. “We can’t even feed or protect ourselves. This winter will kill us all.”

“Look at her father! Her appearance is more animal than woman. The merciful duty would have been to leave her to the grip of winter.” This was a second young man’s voice.

Finally a third young man spoke up. “There’s no need to whisper. She’s awake.”

I sighed and arose, standing before four men: a father and three sons. Their dismay fell upon me in an overwhelming wave of despair. Their thin frames betrayed four meager lives shared in the lonely cabin. A quick observation clarified that a woman had not been present in their lives for a very long time. “I will go if you wish it, but let me speak first with your father alone,” I said.

The father nodded and waved his sons through the front door into the winter morning. I sat at the table opposite of the father.

“Please forgive my sons for they mean well. We are poor and cannot even feed ourselves. Our supplies as they are would hard-press one man to live through the winter,” said the father.

I nodded. “Are any of them married?”

“No. They have had a bad run of luck finding suitable brides.”

I nodded again. “I understand your difficult position. To take me in for the night must have laid an incredible sacrifice upon you. Please let me pay my way and stay with you for a few days.”

The father assessed me with his wizened eyes and he exhaled, shaking his head. “I doubt what you offer could make any difference. Unless you were able to pay for all of us to survive through this winter, there will be no hope. And if you could, I would marry any one of my three sons to you.”

My hand reached into my pocket, feeling the large amount of gold coins cached there. I piled them on the table and watched the eyes of the old man bulge.

“That would see us through three years,” he rasped.

He called in the boys, explaining to them the news of their deliverance and their collective countenance lifted high with grins upon each face. Their father introduced himself as Avram and his sons were Eiver, Escher, and the youngest Eshrun. Then to my surprise, he told them that one them must marry me and they would choose amongst themselves for the honor.

My face flushed and I felt the sting of shame. Their eyes traveled over me in distaste and I felt the shame of my appearance and my stink. All of the young men were handsome, but clearly I was not a bride for whom they hoped.

“I cannot marry a woman with a beard,” Eiver said.

“I will not marry a woman with talons for fingers,” said Escher.

Eshrun looked at my bearskin cape and my filthy green coat and my matted hair and my long wispy beard and my curled nails…and then he looked at my eyes and smiled. “I will marry you. You have saved us all and it would be my joyful duty to be your husband and honor my father.”

My heart cracked and tears streamed down my cheeks. I wanted to refuse for his sake. I wanted to walk away. It was then I heard the shining man’s words ring in my ears for a second time: You are worthy of love.

And I nodded my consent to Eshrun’s offer for my hand in marriage.


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The Golden Pocket – part 5

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Not far along, the winds picked up and the snow pummeled me on every side. Through the white winter void I could detect nothing. Every step through the snow gained additional weight and not long thereafter I strained to move at all. Lifting my eyes to the heavens, I whispered, “Help.” It was all that I could muster of my strength to say. My soul inwardly groaned the rest of my desperation.

It became apparent to me that I would die mere days before completing my task. My strength ebbed and I fell to my knees. My mind numbed over, joining the creeping unfeeling in my limbs. The strong desire to sleep overtook anything else; I could think of nothing other than rest.
I felt pressure beneath my arms and shoulders, as if being lifted up. I expected to see that vicious face of my blue-eyed creditor, smiling in triumph. Yet warmth entered me through my skin and radiated to my bones. This man’s eyes were so kind, full of compassion, gazing upon me in all of my wretchedness. I had never seen him before, nor did I think I would ever see him again once my eyes fell upon his shining white robes. His skin shone like the sun, and he warmed me in his embrace.

Opening my mouth, I tried to speak but he hushed me and I fell limp in his arms.

“Your prayers have been heard. Your many kindnesses are witnessed. It is in your hour of need I have been sent to you.” His voice hummed and soothed my aching spirit.

He carried me, but for how long I could not know. I wanted nothing else but to remain with him; I wished he would take me.

His laugh rose up through his chest as if responding to my thoughts, and he spoke in my ear. “This was not the plan for you. The thief comes to destroy, but I have seen your heart. I have admired your beauty. You must live, for I require it.”

He required me. No person before had ever said such lovely things. Immediately I felt ashamed of my haggard appearance. I brought this upon myself by making a deal with the cloven hoofed thief. Desperation will guide a woman to hard decisions, but now I realized my decision was wrong. I could have walked away, not responding. Knowing now who the thief really was, I understood that the only power he had over me was that which I gave him. The thief walked me to the gates of this devilish deal, but I made the decision…and that was my fault.

We entered a clearing where a small cabin stood alone among the trees. A thick gout of smoke rose from the chimney like a gray pillar fastening the sky to the earth. This sweet angel of my rescue laid me at the foot of the door.

He spoke to me one last time. “You will yet see your way through this my child. And before I depart, I will give you a gift of my own.” He kissed my forehead. “You are worthy of love.”

As I lay upon the snowy steps of the cabin, I watched him walk into the skirted tree line and vanish. My eyes closed, shutting out the glow of the white night.

I remembered something my father used to say: When snow falls, no bad men come out at night.


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