Happy Easter, everyone. I hope you are all staying safe and healthy in this COVID-19 pandemic.
This semester, my Shakespeare II class went over King Lear and Macbeth back to back, and like the previous Shakespeare class I wrote a short story for my Creative Project. (You can also find A Lotus at Midnight on the site.) At first, I was just going to give Cordelia a scene between her banishment and return, and hopefully give her more of a personality. But then we talked about the Weird Sisters in Macbeth and I opted to do a crossover. Knowing from Wikipedia that King Lear was a pre-Roman Celtic king, I drew on what little I knew from Celtic mythology such as the will o' the wisps (as seen in the Pixar movie Brave) and also on some ancient matriarchal cultures, such as the one depicted in The Mists of Avalon, one of my inspirations for this.
Hope you enjoy
The moon peeking its way through the clouds was directly above the trees, on its way to setting, but I remained wide awake. Only the crickets chirping and my guards snoring are all I can hear, my only companions for the night. From time to time, I hear a frog leaping into a pond or a rustling in faroff bushes as a nocturnal predator searches for new prey, or shelter.
I've been banished. I don't know who my father is anymore. Not in the sense of did he sire me, because of course he did. Everyone says that I have his eyes and nose. He's become a different man, or perhaps I'm finally seeing him as he truly is without the gullible eyes of a child. My nursemaid Feena told me that he's getting older now and is not as robust or keen as he used to be. But even so, he ought to know me well enough that I am not good with words, not like Goneril and Regan, queens that they are. In fact, I can still recall him assuring me many years ago, when I'd stolen to his bed after a horrendous dream where he told me he didn't love me, that I didn't need to tell him that I loved him to know that I did. And neither should he have to do the same. Our bond was more than words, after all.
But here I am, in the dead of night, sheltered only by a meager tent in the woods I used to wander, on route to my new husband's domain. All because I stayed true to what my father shared with me that night. What he had promised me.
I'm still counting how many stars are hidden through the clouds and around the moon (because according to Feena, each star you can see in the night is a blessing for you, and counting them will help you sleep) when something manifested at the bottom of the large yew tree across from my tent. A little blue orb encircled with white flames floated about by the sinewy trunk. A will o' the wisp, and not the first one I'd ever seen. I'd encountered them several times in my youth, always chasing them until I was summoned back home by either Feena or Father, sometimes even my sisters if they'd bothered. When I'd finally told Feena about the wisps, she forbade me from ever roaming the woods again, claiming that they lure little girls such as myself to terrible fates. But I'm not a little girl anymore, I was getting married after all, and something deep within me was telling me to follow this wisp.
Careful not to wake anyone, I rose from my makeshift bed and tiptoed to the wisp, putting on my cloak along the way but leaving my shoes behind. Although my feet had gone soft from years of footwear and being relegated indoors, and some of the sticks and pebbles pricked my skin, I relished the soil and grass beneath my bare feet and in between my toes. It reminded me of the freedom I once had to come and go as I please and worship the Mother Goddess as my own mother had. One thing I shared with Goneril and Regan is that we lost our mothers young, though theirs had succumbed to a foul heart whilst mine perished in a foul birth. But she and Feena had come from a place where women were valued just as men were-women who were kings, women who were warriors, women who were healers, women who were made of courage and greatness. Customs and beliefs I was warned to keep secret so as to not displease my father or his court. And I may need to keep doing so in my husband's court. Or perhaps he would be more understanding.
The will o' the wisp began trailing away from me as I came closer, the cue for me to follow it. There was no Feena or Father to order me back inside and I was determined not to lose sight of this specter. We passed between trees, bounded through bushes, trekked over a mound; at one point I even had to get across a creek by stepping on the stones and branches that had fallen in. The light and shadows that the wisp cast along the way were both beautiful and foreboding. Where it was leading me to, I didn't know, but I didn't care enough either. I kept a grip on my cloak, and my tender feet gradually got accustomed to the grime of the earth and the chill in the air.
At last, the wisp reached a wide meadow. Encased in the meadow was a stone structure resembling the Stonehenge my father had pointed out once when we went to Goneril's wedding. Tall rocks stuck out from the earth forming a sort of wall, housing smaller rocks in the middle. Some of the rocks in the middle were flat at the top, like they were beds. In stopping to observe the stony ruins, I lost track of the wisp, but maybe this was where it was leading me to all along.
I trudged closer to the site and surveyed within. The moonlight had conveniently peeked through the clouds and allowed me to see what was embedded on the flat top rocks-blood, not recent from the dried texture, all that was left of the sacrifices performed on them. Not even thousands of rainfalls could wash them away. Carved on the stone behind me were three figures, wearing tunics and their hair bound; I couldn't tell if they were men or women, but what did it matter? Beneath them was the trinity knot Father had told me about when I saw it in one of his books-the knots representing Land, Sea, and Sky. And beneath that knot was the unraveling of it, an omen...
"Beauteous art, isn't it, Cordelia?" The throaty voice behind startled me out of my reverie. It was a woman dressed in rags, gray and black hair bound loosely at her neck, feet also bare. Two other women were also present, wearing rags and no shoes as well. Faces and bodies that were both young and old-smooth or wrinkled foreheads, sagging or taught necks, knobbly or straight fingers. I didn't hear any of their footsteps or voices.
"How do you know my name?" It occurred to me as I spoke that I ought to have pretended ignorance.
"Word travels fast, princess," another woman said, her voice smoother. "A princess cast out for refusing to submit to her father."
The third woman glanced over me and then exclaimed, "Oh your feet!" Sure enough, my bare feet were covered in dirt, twigs, pieces of leaves, and scrapes. Through the chill in my skin, I finally felt the sting of the wounds travelling up my legs and it became difficult for me to walk.
The three women gripped my ankles and shoulders and hauled me to the top of one of the bloodied rocks. A blackened cauldron was already set beside those rocks above woodless embers, steaming and boiling over with something thick and slimy, its color somewhere between gray and green. Kernels of dread bubbled in my stomach, as if I was about to be sacrificed.
"Fear not, Cordelia," said the throaty-voiced woman, voice low as if trying to soothe me. "We're just going to clean your feet and make them fit for a queen."
Another (I couldn't tell which) declared, "It isn't wise to come out in these woods barefoot."
Familiar indignation spread within me. "But none of you have footwear either!" I would have gotten up to make my point, but the pain in my body I'd just acknowledged and the knowledge that it being cared for it had somehow incapacitated me. I wouldn't have wanted to explain to my husband why my feet were dirty either, and made a note to myself to trek more carefully when I got back to the camp.
None of them answered my protest, instead they took turns stirring the cauldron and wiping my feet with rags they pulled from their own, muttering riddles amongst themselves. Each stroke took soil, a leaf, or a twig away, and also closed the wounds. They would then squeeze whatever was wiped off into the cauldron and stir it more. These women were mystical.
At last, my feet looked like they'd never set foot to the earth.
"Thank you, madams, for your care. I shall reward you-"
Before I could finish and be on my way back to the tent (for someone had to know that I was absent by now), the woman who'd made the fuss over my feet interjected, "We're not done with you yet, princess."
"There's something we must share with you."
"The cauldron will tell us what that is. Come and see what your fate is before it comes."
I hesitated before setting foot back on the ground, the grass much softer within the ruins, and glanced at what was concealed in the cauldron. The heat of the cauldron was a harsh caress on my face. I couldn't decipher anything at first, just ripples of moonlight and clouds and stones, but then forms began to take shape.
My father, cursing and raging in a storm, the storm of his soul as well as the storm that tonight's clouds were harboring. My sisters' heads together, first joined in their contempt of Father, and then ripped apart by a man who seduces both of them; how lonesome they must secretly be to let a man come between them and desert their husbands. The three figures carved on the stone become myself and my sisters, the trinity knot painting over us only to unravel, dragging us along with it. Father is sobbing to the Heavens and cradling one of us. The unravelled knots weaving back together again and forming the Weird Sisters surrounding me…
Feena staring back at me, warning me never to follow another will o' the wisp.
"Your Highness," a man awakens me.
I open my eyes, the images in the cauldron still fresh in my mind. I am lying across the trunk of the yew tree, where I first saw the wisp. Or was it ever there? Those ruins? The witches? The moon is gone and the clouds are brightening to a delicate gray from the sun emerging behind them.
The guard beside me asked, "Are you all right?"
"Yes. I must have had the strangest dream..."
I think the ending could be longer, but to honest, I'm a bit too lazy to expand on it at the moment. The professor and my classmates did enjoy what I had written, though. And as one classmate said, eveything is better with witches.
Any feedback will be appreciated. Have a good one