Written for Purimgifts 2017.


The Queen avoided visiting her husband's sickroom, instead letting the servants tend to him. She disliked seeing him so changed, weakened by illness. But there was one thing she still must accomplish, and for that she would go to him one last time. She adorned herself in shining glory with crown and jewels, blazing with the power of the Night and the stars. Let him see her like this, let him remember the first time she appeared to him, when he looked at her with awed wonder.

But when at last he spoke, he said little of use. "All my possessions, the works of my hands, I leave to you and our daughter." His voice rasped hoarsely, much changed from its usual resonant tones.

"The Disc of the Sun—?" the Queen asked quickly.

He cut her off. "I have given it to Sarastro. He will wield it as a man should. He will know what should be done."

She erupted in fury, rising to her feet in a swirl of dark skirts. "How dare you—? That should have been our daughter's birthright, and you give it to a stranger?"

"Sarastro is no stranger. He is young still, but wise. I have long held him a friend."

"And why should he hold it rather than I?" Her voice rose with anger. "I know well how to wield its power! I would keep it safely, and give it to Pamina when she came of age."

"Would you?" His voice was weak and he spoke with difficulty, but his eyes were still bright and knowing. "No, I think you would not. You speak of our daughter, but I know you desire this power for yourself. Sarastro will use it well, and when it is time, he will pass it to a worthy successor. And he will teach Pamina—"

"And did you mean to consult me," she retorted, low and dangerous, "concerning the future of my daughter?"

"Sarastro and the priests will educate her. Let yourself, and her, be guided by them."

"You have fallen into folly," she said scornfully. Once, his voice was strong enough to match hers, but now she could overwhelm him easily. "I will not give myself, or my daughter, into their power. I will continue to rule all things here as I see fit."

He closed his eyes, wearied, and she stormed out. He could do nothing to hinder her. His life was near its end, diminishing into silence. Whatever he still wished to accomplish, whatever he wished to say to her, it was too late. She would find some way to take the Disc of the Sun back from Sarastro, with or without his help.

She should not have been so vehement in her denial, she thought later. He must have realized that he would never win her over to his plans, and so he had spoken to the priests—they had enough opportunity, hovering about his deathbed like vultures—

Little as she welcomed them, the Queen allowed the priests into her palace one more time, to perform their rites after her husband's death; but she did not permit them to see Pamina. Sarastro did not argue, and she should have suspected that too.

Sarastro finally departed with his entourage, but a few priests stayed behind. One, bolder than the rest, even tried to engage her in discussion of philosophy. The Queen had no patience left; she ordered him out of her palace. He and his fellows obeyed with evident relief.

When the Queen went to Pamina's rooms, her daughter was gone. She stood a moment in silence before disbelief gave way to fury. She knew well who had taken Pamina, and why. Did Sarastro think she would meekly allow this kidnapping?

She would have preferred to call her armies together, to overwhelm them with fire and sword. With reluctance, she decided it was not yet time to attack them directly. But the Temple of Wisdom would regret making her their enemy. They would regret taking what was hers.

The Queen called three of her more trusted ladies to her; they followed her silently, clad in dark armor and grasping gleaming spears. The Queen had a dagger hidden in her robe, but in her hand she carried only a simple wooden flute. She called upon her power to wrap them in night and darkness, which cloaked their entrance into the Temple of Isis and Osiris. Once inside, they went quickly and silently through the halls. The Queen sent her attendants to search through the Temple, and in the end it was one of her them who found Pamina.

"She is not alone," Diastera murmured. "One of the priests is guarding her. Should I—?" She raised her spear with a questioning look.

"No," the Queen said. "Bring me to her."

She sang as they went, a soft murmuring melody, and they passed among the priests of the Temple without being seen.

Diastera led her to a small garden behind one of the Temple buildings. It was a pleasant place, cooled by shady trees and adorned with brightly colored flowers, but the Queen cared nothing for its beauty— only for the sight of the child who knelt on the grass, playing with pebbles under the watchful eye of a priest.

The Queen gestured for Orfna to stand watch by the gate, and then she strode forward. "Pamina!"

"Mama!" Pamina dropped her playthings and would have gone to her.

The priest rose and interposed himself. "Who are you, woman," he asked with dignity, "and what do you seek in the Temple of Wisdom?"

"I seek my daughter," she returned, her tone razor-sharp. "Will you keep her from me?"

"I must obey my duty and my pledged word. Sarastro has ordered me to watch over this child."

The Queen lifted the flute to her lips and played. Would he not have pity on a grieving mother, asked the melody? Could he not feel her sorrow?

The priest's certainty wavered as the music's power took hold. While he hesitated, Siguna swooped in and snatched up Pamina. Pamina laughed, thinking it a game. She knew all her mother's attendants well and trusted them; she would let Siguna carry her without protesting. The Queen lowered the flute. If the priest persisted, there was always the dagger. But the priest's shoulders drooped; he sank onto a stone bench, overcome by melancholy. The Queen gave a sharp smile and gestured for them to go.

Either the priest must have recovered enough to give the alarm, or Sarastro had ways of knowing when the sanctuary of his Temple had been violated. There were groups of priests out searching; she continued to sing her song of sleep and silence, but it grew more difficult as they encountered priests in greater numbers. And before they could reach the Temple doors, Sarastro was present. He strode forward, the Disc of the Sun blazing upon his breast, and the shield of her illusion vanished like mist.

"Stop," he said in his deep voice. "You have no authority here in this Temple. Release the child. Her father wished her to be educated by us."

"I am her mother, and I wish my child to stay with me! That is my daughter's wish as well."

Sarastro's brown furrowed. "She is still very young. She does not know what she wants."

"Pamina, my child. Do you want these priests to take you away and keep you where you will never be allowed to see me? Or do you want me to take you home?"

Pamina's lip quivered. "I want Mama," she said. "I want to go home."

"She has expressed her wishes quite clearly."

"She is a child," Sarastro said with a hint of regret, "and must be guided by others. It is my duty to keep the promise I made to her father, who was also my friend."

The Queen once more raised the flute to her lips. She played her grief and fury at the loss of her child; she played Pamina's fear and distress at being parted from her mother. Sarastro could hear that the flute only played what was true.

The priests around him bowed their heads; even Sarastro seemed troubled. "The child is still young," he said at last. "Let her remain with you for now. There is time enough, when she is older—"

But now the Queen had her daughter with her, held safely in Siguna's arms, and she feared nothing. "My daughter will never return here. And there will be eternal enmity between my people and yours, between Day and Night!" She swept out, followed by her ladies. Sarastro did not attempt to stop her.


Notes:

The conversation between the Queen and her husband is partly based on a bit of dialogue before "Der Hölle Rache" that is cut in modern productions.

The names of the Three Ladies here are derived from Ancient Greek, though in the creative sort of way that gets you Sarastro from Zoroaster.

Diastera from diasteros, "starred" or "jewelled"
Orfna from orphna, "darkness of night"
Siguna from sigunes, "spear"