asor esse rosa
The rules of the Challenge were simple: first to grasp the scepter wins the prize, the crown, a queen.
Sir Asor thought it was too simple; it didn't make sense that the King of Sarras was chosen so.
But then the Hags of Anona got into the mix, and everything turned backwards, inside out and upside down.
Author's note 1: This is a tiny story, an older one of mine, maybe even a prototype of the themes and characters for my later works. Mostly, it's about fun with words. For there is a riddle for the reader: the title, every place name, every character name (save three) and the five gibberish sentences spoken by the Hags at the time of transformation are all called the same thing. What is it? And the three that are different ...why are they so?
Author's note 2: The Maids sing a Dead Can Dance song - "Fortune Presents Gifts Not According To The Book." I heard the song in my head as I wrote, and you might try it too, by clicking here.
Author's note 3: "esse" is the Latin infinitive verb "to be"
The man raised his silvery sword, with tip pointed down, then drove it into the earth. Sighing, he leaned on its hilt and surveyed the chaos in front of him.
A herd of beefy warriors body-checked one another as they raced up the steep stone ramp. Their curses and grunts bounced off the rock walls of the ancient testing grounds.
Our King is chosen thus?
A month ago, a murder of raggedy crows called the Hags of Anona, flocked to the dying King's court. They proclaimed the rite of Challenge would be held.
He frowned, giving his head and black curls a shake. 'So here we are, cattle herded to slaughter. Where had the days flown? No time to think things through!'
"Sir Asor does not wish to compete? He deems the prize unworthy, perhaps?"
A tenor voice from behind interrupted Asor's watch.
Asor's gaze stayed fixed on the gaggle of men nearing the pavilion's arched entrance. "And you; have you no itch to be King of Sarras, Sir…?"
"Sir Leon, from the northern vale, and I do, um, itch. I reckon I don't have to best this mindless mob; that's your job. I only have to beat you. By the way, why are we standing here, as those cretins move to the tower room and the prize? Come, Sir Asor, the early bird gets the worm."
"We?" Asor's turned gaze to Sir Leon, for something about the man seemed …off. Leon turned away from the hero's blue-eyed stare.
"You are welcome to trot after them, Sir …Leon, you said? True, the early bird does get the worm, but more often, the second mouse gets the cheese."
"What does that me-" Screams from above cut short Leon's words.
The champions had pivoted and now raced back down. The return group was smaller, for a dozen or so stood near the arched door, statue still.
Moments later, twenty flush and sweaty men, gathered before Asor and Leon. The cream of Sarras, braves and heroes all, hung their heads, and …two had wetted themselves.
"You were right, my odd-duck friend," a tall silver-haired man said, "a frontal charge was not the answer."
"With all due respect, Duke Dá¶rrá¶d," Asor said, "surely, our throne won't be won by a simple footrace."
"Damnedest thing! The hideous crones appeared from thin air! Cackling and spitting green drool! And their slightest touch turned men to stone. I doubt even your sword magic could stand against them."
"Sword magic?" Sir Leon asked with a high inflection, "of what do you speak?"
“I'll tell the tale at a calmer time, good sir." The duke said in a dismissive tone, and turned to Asor. "They were serious about the dangers of this arcane contest, eh? Review the rules again, for me, would you Asor?"
Asor smiled, for all knew the duke had the attention span of a fly. "Count Remer is the lore expert, m'lord. Ask him to refresh your memory."
The duke drew his polished sword and pointed to the frozen figures near the pavilion entrance.
"Remer is there, third from the left."
"Ah! Pity,” Asor said, shaking his head. “Very well, but listen this time.
The men gathered close to Asor as he spoke. “So. The first to reach the tower room and grasp the scepter wins the throne. The Hags of Anona act as referee of the test, but they also strive to bar all from reaching the prize. As you saw, they possess dark magic. Once the prize is taken, and Sovereign's Choice is asked, the winner is crowned King of Sarras."
"Sovereign's Choice? Uh, I know Remer mentioned it, but …what was it again?"
Asor exhaled a long sigh. "I wish he were here, for I've questions on this myself. He said Princess Illi will be asked if she wishes to wed the winner. If 'yes' they marry and rule as King and Queen. But if 'no,' the Hags cart her away, never to be seen again and the winner is free to choose his Queen."
"That's easy enough, my friend,” the duke snorted. “if the royal wench says no to bedding me, then she's too stupid to be my queen."
The men chuckled at this, with someone heckling, "but that's hows you likes em, Duke, easy and stupid." More laughed, and Asor still grinned when he continued.
"It's this part that puzzles me, m'lord. By ancient curse of the Hags, no Sarras King has sired a prince, well since men can remember! But there's no logic to when these contests are held. By custom, our princesses wed and bed some nobleman, and that man becomes the next King. Yet every few generations or so, the Hags mysteriously call a Challenge to name a new King. Why? It doesn't add up."
"To give new blood a chance,” Sir Leon barked in a tenor growl. “Are we to talk all day as women, or act like men and storm the tower?”
"Quite right!" the duke said. He drew his sword and swung it back and forth. "Asor, what if all advanced brandishing swords? The Hags must give way even if we can't see 'em."
"My duke, my brother-in-arms, listen to reason. There must be more to winning the kingship than running fast and swinging a chunk of metal. Look…" Asor withdrew his shining sword from the ground. "Only if you brandish your sword like so will such a plan succeed."
Asor drew his sword. He closed his eyes, calling to some well of power deep within. Soon, his sword glowed white hot, causing all to avert their eyes; the air crackled with energy.
"Amazing!" Leon said, his dark eyes widening at the display. "Do you truly know where your magic comes from?"
"That is not important," Asor said, as he sheathed his sword, extinguishing its blinding light.
In truth, he had no idea how his 'sword magic' worked. His will called and it flowed. At such times, the power surging through him into his sword tip felt so right, so good. Yet this special 'talent' kept folk at bay, casting Asor as an outsider, or 'odd-duck' as the duke called him, all his lonely days.
"…what is important is unless you, any of you, can also do this, we stand no chance against the Hags. My sword's light may repel the Hags; yet it alone cannot overcome these cunning sorceresses."
"You're trying to scare us away so you'll have no rivals," a voice from the crowd yelled. Mutterings of 'he's right,' and 'a warlock's trick,' came from the warriors as they stepped aside to reveal Asor's accuser.
Asor leaned forward to stare on a slight auburn-haired knight. He seemed …somehow …insubstantial? "I'm not sure I remember you with us at the beginning of the Challenge, Sir…?"
*ahem* "Sir Arramas," the knight said. He fidgeted with the embroidered collar of his tunic, and looked away from Asor's gaze. "I was late to the Challenge and just at the back when the gates were closed."
"Fine, good knight. If I lead us astray, then what plan do you offer to breach the entrance and gain the inner courtyard?"
"Well, um, I say, we don't need your showy magic to best a few crusty bitches. Instead, we walk as men, in tight phalanx formation, swinging our swords like the good Duke said. That way, we'll overwhelm them. They can't get us all; some must reach the prize."
"Yes!" Sir Leon joined with his boyish voice, "there we'll scatter and outrun the old Hags. One of us must win through."
"Teamwork!” The duke smacked his leather-gloved fist into his other palm. “By the gods, I like it! Comrades, let's link and have another go!"
The duke started barking orders and soon a phalanx formed. Asor shook his head as the men marched back up the stone ramp.
If they refuse to think, perhaps they can divert the Hags for a while?
He joined the phalanx at the rear, but peeled away as his row reached the base of the ramp, turning to study the most formidable parapet of the fortress's outer walls. Something deep inside him said 'attack there.'
When the hair-raising screams and cackles of the Hags started anew, Asor sprinted to the parapet. Though the rock surface was polished smooth, his strange power surged through him and he started bounding up the rock face of the ancient structure, foothold to handhold to foothold. Soon, Asor stood atop the 'unassailable' rampart.
From that perch, he looked down on the inner courtyard entrance below and saw…
Everywhere men stood frozen in different stances: some with fear, other, shock and surprise frozen on their faces. Asor's stomach churned when he spotted the statued duke, with sword held high.
At least he looks heroic.
From what Count Remer told him, their only hope was for Asor to win the prize; once scepter is grasped, all are released from the Hags' magic.
Asor looked for the Hags, but the courtyard was empty of sound and movement. He then noticed a ledge, intended for archers, which ran along the inner pavilion walls and beneath the window of the tower where the scepter rested. Luck was with him, for he would not have to cross the courtyard and risk meeting the loathsome Hags.
As he neared the tower window, Asor heard voices. Peering over the windowsill, he beheld the scepter, resting on a stone dais in the centre of the chamber.
Two rods, one gold, the other silver, formed a / shape. At the crown of the / sat a jeweled orb, circled by rubies, sapphires and diamonds. Atop the orb perched back-to-back figurines, a golden crowned man raising a sword, a silver crowned woman holding a cup. A white glow pulsed from the mysterious object.
Seated next to the dais was a woman with hair black as night, dressed in a long purple robe. Her eyes were downcast, and she trembled.
Princess Illi! So much prettier than the bard songs painted her.
Asor pulled his eyes from the princess to survey the tower chamber. About the room stood the Hags, visible, Asor noted with a sigh of relief. They were twins of each other, with rags for clothes, greasy gray hair, missing teeth, and wrinkled stretched skin over bony arms and legs.
He counted six.
Think, Asor! There were more of them, yes?
At the opening ceremony, he was sure he'd seen eight. Yet …Remer called it the Legend of the Nine Hags of Anona …so where were the others?
Asor heard voices speaking from across the Chamber and strained to see the speakers.
Two knights moved into view; …Sir Leon and …Sir Arramas? Had either won the prize? What was happening here?
Asor caught snips of words…
“-your job to watch him -” “-sword magic is trouble-”
…but sensed frustration from the Hags and the knights, and worry, for their eyes were fixed on the doorway at the end of the chamber.
Which gives me my opening. Dá¶rrá¶d would be proud of me for the ridiculous attack plan I've hatched.
With an adrenaline surge, he vaulted through the window, and hit the stone floor running. Before a head could turn, Asor crossed the chamber to the stone dais. He grasped the golden rod of the scepter.
“I claim the prize!”
His eyes widened as jolting energy from the object raced down his arm into his body.
“Well done, Sir Knight, the prize is yours!”
Asor sensed the Hags, the princess and Sir Leon and Sir Arramas had gathered around him, though he could not move, for the power of the scepter held him frozen.
“Princess Illi, our champion is here,” said a cackling voice. “It is the time for Sovereign's Choice. Grasp the silver arm!”
Together, the Hags started shaking, wailing, tearing their rags and shouting gibberish, like a chorus from an eastern isle tragedy:
“Name no one man...”
“O, stone, be not so...”
"Able was I, ere I saw Elba..."
“Never odd or even...”
“We few, we few...”
Though Asor read fear on Illi's face as she reached for the silver rod, he could only marvel at her beauty:
Silky black hair that glimmered of moonlight, skin fair as snow, smooth and rose-velvet soft, spring green eyes that opened to meet his. Truly a prize!
Asor's heart ached for Illi to choose to be his Queen.
When her slender hand grasped the silver arm, blinding light exploded, then-
“The princess has failed the test. Sir Asor, did you hear me?”
He blinked several times to shake the white image that branded his eyes, his mind even; thinking was so hard.
“I…” the glow faded and he saw the princess collapsed on the floor. “It is a shame…”
“She was not worthy. We shall remove her from your sight.”
Several Hags lifted the unconscious girl and carried her away.
“You have much to do, O champion of Sarras; a coronation to plan and a kingdom to rule. We depart!”
The Hags melted away as Duke Dá¶rrá¶d, and the rest of the now unfrozen men, burst into the chamber.
“What? Ahhhh! Asor! Good show, you've done it! My liege!”
The duke dropped to one knee. All did so, then as one, they stood, raised their swords, and shouted:
“Long live Asor! Long live the King.”
Fortune presents gifts not according to the book,
Fortune presents gifts not according to the book…
Gentle ascending and descending arpeggios of soprano voice and lute strings, rang out over the green expanse that is the Senones Gap.
When you expect whistles it's flutes,
When you expect flutes it's whistles…
A long gypsy wagon creaked along a rutted path; a banner hung from its side. In large letters:
THE FABULOUS MAIDS OF GLENELG!
Below, in medium-sized print:
Muses for Hire!
Further below, in small font:
Reasonable Prices, Inquire Within
The wooden spoke wheels of the garish wagon groaned as they rolled over a rock. The song cut off.
“-hey! Emme! Watch it! Didn't you see that boulder?”
“Course I saw it, I hit it, didn't I?” The flax haired driver called back into the long wagon, flashing a half smile as she did. “It was a rock and not a boulder, if you want to get technical. Not even that, Hannah, more like an overgrown pebble.”
A auburn-haired woman with lute in hand leaned out of the canvas curtain behind Emme.
“Well, try aiming for the places without overgrown pebbles then, dear, your last bump woke our little princess.”
Hannah turned when a voice from the back of the rainbow painted wagon called something.
“What? …O my Lady! Samarra says our princess has spoken her first words. What'd she say?”
Emme heard a muffled response. Their 'guest' had not uttered a peep since they left Sarras, two days ago. She drifted in and out of consciousness during the journey; understandable, given all that had happened to her. Emme was certain the girl's first words would be profound.
“So? This I gotta hear…what'd she say, Hannah?”
Hannah was grinning. “She has to piss.”
Emme reined the four-horse team to a halt.
“Ooo, this is gonna be good,” Hannah said.
“Give her a break,” Emme said. “It will be hard enough for her without eight raunchy wenches turning her peeing into a sport.”
Soon, a black-haired woman, barefoot and dressed in brown breeches and tunic, moved with purpose from the wagon to a clump of scrub oaks. A rope hung from her neck, its end disappearing into the wagon. Several grinning faces peeped out the wagon's back.
After some moments, a cheerful voice called, “all done, sweet ums? Time's up!”
A hard tug on the rope made the girl yelped. “Stop it! I'm …I'm done …I think…”
As she walked to the wagon, she staggered forward and had to straighten her back every few steps.
Another tug yanked her into the wagon; she threw her legs over and tumbled in. Once Emme saw the girl was back, she shook reins, and the old carriage lurched forward.
“Did everything come out okay, Princess?” A voice inside the wagon called, followed by muffled snickers.
“Oh my, her face has turned red, like a rose in bloom …hey! Since our little princess needs a new name, let's call her Rosa.”
“Rosa? How beautiful…” answered a second.
“It's perfect…” “I like, I like...” “Brilliant!” “Our little Rosa,” other voices chimed in.
“I'm …ASOR, not anyone's Rosa …who ARE you people? ”
“Asor? You are the King of Sarras? Noel, Samarra, you saw him up close, could Rosa be our new king in disguise?”
“Mmmm, A-sor,” a voice answered, “the way his curly hair lay on his face was so cute. And when he smiled, he had the dreamiest dimples.”
“And how 'bout that butt? Like a stallion!” Another voice said. “Sorry to break this to you, hun, but Asor you ain't.”
“Why have you done this to me?”
“Aw poor little Rosa, awakens to find she's been sold as a slave to a gang of gypsy girls,” a voice said.
“Or how 'bout a gang of traveling whores and she's the new girl to be trained,” said a second.
“No, wait!” Said a third, “a gang of marauding dancing gypsy whores-“
“Leave her alone.” Emme yelled back. “By the Lady, you're all pigs,”
Immediately assorted pig snorts and giggles came from the back of the wagon.
Emme rolled her eyes. “Ignore them, Rosa. We stop for supper soon, and after that we'll explain everything.”
Later, at camp, when the stew pot was cleaned and oiled and the red wine passed around the campfire circle one last time, Emme stood. She looked to the western horizon to see the setting sun had paused for a last look at the earth before he traveled to the underworld. Emme's hair shimmered golden red in his rays.
Looking to the east, Emme saw a rising full moon had stopped for a moment just above the horizon; calling hello to her golden brother.
“Ladies, it's time,” Emme said and went to draw a silver bowl from a canvas backpack next to the wagon. Ardra, Ele'ele, would you gather the sage?
Two women, one a dark-eyed, olive-skinned lass from the eastern isles, the other, a platinum-haired, fair-skinned maid of the northern fjords, rose from the circle and walked into the green prairie grasses.
“Samarra, would you take the rope off our guest? Rosa, you won't cause trouble, yes?”
The dark-haired woman blinked. “Where would I go? Out here? Like …this?” She motioned to her body with a hand.
Emme nodded to the fair-skinned woman. “All right, Samarra.”
The woman loosened the rope knot and removed the loop over the girl's head. “Sorry, hun, let me fix that.” She touched the girl's neck where it showed red from the rope, and it faded. The girl touched her neck.
“How …what …did you do?”
“Patience, Rosa, you'll know in a moment.” Samarra answered, sitting down next to her.
Ardra and Ele'ele returned with sagebrush in hand and placed it on the glowing coals of the fire. They joined the rest of the women seated round the crackling fire.
When the incense smoke of the sage drifted over the circle, Emme held the bowl to the rising moon.
“I am your vessel, Lady. Fill my soul that I may serve.”
The bowl glowed silver white, and Emme brought it to her lips to drink. A silver white glow suddenly outlined her body. She passed the bowl to the woman to her side.
I am your vessel, Lady…
From woman to woman, it passed, until eight glowing lights bounded the circle. One space remained to finish it. Samarra passed the bowl to the lass, whose eyes were frozen wide.
“I …I can't do this…”
“Just take the bowl and try, love. See what happens!”
She took the bowl and, haltingly, held it to the shining moon.
“I …I am your…your…” she didn't know what to say; she closed her eyes.
Help me please …Lady?
She brought the cool metal bowl to her lips, and drank: energy flowed from the top of her head to the tips of her toes, energy like the sword magic she called when she was Asor, but so much stronger. A burning heat of countless torches, but a gentle coolness too, that gave awareness beyond body and senses.
She opened her eyes to see her body surrounded by silver light. The other women stood holding hands; Samarra smiled, “Come, sister.”
Linking hands, left and right, she finished the circle and circuit. Voices sang to her in her soul, and she knew them, knew them all: motherly Emme, mischievous Hannah and exotic Ele'ele. Healer Samarra, sensual Ardra and Mariram, queen of the dance. Mystical Eve and romantic Noel.
Together they strarted a ring-dance, feet stamping intricate patterns and paths, of twisting and turning, ducking and whirling.
Then, their combined spirit rose and flew, high in the night sky and deep in warm earth. To aerie crags of mountain and still blue valleys of the sea.
And if some child, by chance looking up at brightening moon, had cried to her mother 'Mum, I see faeries playing on the moon,' who could deny it?
Then, as one, the maids let go their hands, and fell to the ground, laughing and giggling.
Sparkling light streams shot into the starry night, and eight stars of the constellation Crater flared, followed by a ninth star, blazing bright. Together, they outlined the celestial Cup in silver.
After a time, Emme lifted her body up on her elbows and looked to the dark-haired woman.
“Well done, Rosa! Do you understand now?”
“You …all have the same, um ...magic, as I, only …only…”
“Only what, dear,” Emme asked.
“It never felt like that before. Whenever I would call the sword magic, it was so intense and concentrated. This time, what we did, it tingled throughout my body, wave after wave.” Rosa closed her eyes and sighed. “It was wonderful.”
She cocked an eye open. “Hang on! You …you six…are the Hags. And you,” Rosa looked at Noel and Sammara. “You were Sir Leon and Sir Arammas! I know it! I've seen it in your minds. It was …all a set up, wasn't it? There was no 'prize!'”
“Oh she's a fast one, she is,” Noel said in the tenor voice of Leon.
“Our Rosa's a genius; almost figured it out, she did,” Sammara answered in the boyish voice of Arramas.
“Almost?” Rosa asked.
“It was a set up, tis true,” Hannah said, “but there was a prize …twas you!”
“Me? I don't under-” Rosa looked at the eight grinning faces. Nine Hags of Anona, Remer had said. Nine.
“I'm to be a… a Hag of Anona?”
“We prefer to call ourselves the Maids of Glenelg when we are not on official business,” Noel answered. “All that cackling and screaming is hard on the throat. You'll know what I mean when first you take on the aspect.”
“Your official business? What do you mean?” Rosa asked.
“Our business, dear, and you tell us,” Eve said. She knelt where Rosa still lay. The other women crowded round Rosa as well.
“Call to your power,” Eve said; her oval eyes pools of night. “Call it as you called your sword magic, and see what it tells.”
Rosa closed her eyes. Images swirled to her mind at her slightest will. “In the southern most desert town of Ak'ka, a baby boy is born with a club foot,” she spoke in a faraway voice. “If healed, he grows to be a great warrior, protecting the folk from nomad raiders.”
“In the eastern fishing village of Okonoko,” she droned, “a young woman struggles. Her father wishes her to wed a local fisherman. But if she goes to the artisans' school of Capac, she will weave wondrous tapestries.”
Rosa's eyes blinked open. “How do I know these things?”
“This is what we do, Rosa, our 'official business',” Emme answered. “Sunlight and starlight. Mighty kings to rule our people, and hidden priestesses to guide them along the Lady's way. We nine are the secret priestesses, the underground well. And so we go, first to Ak'ka, then to Okonoko, then somewhere else after that. The Lady will tell us where and when.”
“But why me? Were you all men once too?”
“No Rosa,” Hannah said. She twirled one of Rosa's black locks with a finger. “Only you were so cursed.” The eight burst into laughter.
“Never mind her,” Emme said. “We, as you, were born with the talent, and like you, it separated us from our peers. When we came of age, the Hags appeared at our homes to spirit us away. Our families were more relieved than saddened, for our abilities unnerved them.”
Ardra caressed Rosa's face with her olive-skinned hand. “It works this way, love: when one of us journeys on to the Lady's bosom, another appears in the land to take her place.”
“Yet every so many generations,” Ele'ele continued in her thick desert accent, “a man is born whose soul holds the starlight power; the Lady knows why. To get him to join us, we call a Challenge, guide the bewildered soul so he reaches the scepter, and pull the switch.”
“It's a scam that's worked forever.” Noel said. “You're the first we know of that actually won the contest fairly.”
“But why all this trickery? Why not just let me join you as I was?”
“You'd have joined us? Oh my!” Hannah held her had to her mouth in mock surprise. “Perhaps I misjudged you. The great hero Asor would have chucked it all to join a pack of lewd women that dance and sing in public for coin-“
“-and sometimes disguise themselves as drooling mad old bats?” Hannah continued.
“Er, no, I mean-”
“Of course you wouldn't, what male would? Don't be silly. Anyway, the magic works best with a woman's body, though, again, the Lady knows why.”
Rosa stood now. “But how will this remain a secret? Won't Princess Illi …who's in my body I suppose …tell all?”
“No, love,” Emme answered, smiling, “that's the simple beauty of it. She thinks she's you. She has all your memories and none of her own.”
“But that's unfair to her, isn't it? To lose her memories, her life…”
“Worry not of her,” Hannah said, “Old King Bacab treated her like an infant, barely letting her wipe her own arse. She was born a helpless princess and now rules as powerful King, master of her destiny. In her soul, she's as happy as a clam.”
Hannah gave Rosa's cheek a playful slap. “Can you deny this, sweet ums? Look into you soul and tell us this is not right.”
Rosa sighed long, and then looked into each of their eyes “I've felt the power …read your hearts …I cannot deny it. But this …this body …is so …so…”
Emme put a finger to Rosa's lips. “You're not alone anymore, dear. You've eight sisters to guide you, to torment you and to love you. We will show you what you need to know.”
“We'll teach you the Dance,” Mariram said.
“And the prayers of the Lady,” Eve said.
“To shape shift,” said Ele'ele
“To heal,” said Samarra.
“To dress,” said Noel.
“To pamper that lovely body,” added Ardra.
“To sing,” said Emme
“To roll in the hay with some lusty lad, and let him work his sword magic on you,” said Hannah, clapping her hands together and smiling an impish grin. “Oooo, this is going to be so much fun!”
'Fortune is strange,' Rosa thought, 'to seek a crown and win a family instead. A worthy prize indeed!'
“My thanks, sisters. Be patient with me, for I've much to learn,” Rosa said, as her eyes filled with tears, She looked then at Hannah and flashed a mischievous smile of her own. “Yet I have knowledge to teach too: any sister playing me for a fool will learn that, whether I'm Asor or Rosa, I can still kick her scrawny butt.”
They laughed and hugged and kissed her, all at once, and Emme, whispering close to Rosa's ear, said,
“You'll do just fine, Rosa, welcome home.”
If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks.