The Celestial Queen, mute from birth, is led into the caverns of the earth, to protect the Hive, and to face a bitter truth.
Echoes | Descent
They sealed her in the darkest, deepest pit, with her mirrors, and her memories.
In her way, she was beautiful: elegant fingers, a long neck, soulful eyes. And she had been the mother of the Hive for a thousand years. Even now, with her mouth sealed since childhood, this Celestial Queen could not, would not, die.
The long train of counsellors, courtiers and sycophants followed their errant Queen into the depths of the earth. They loved her, for they must.
“It is for your own protection Majesty, you will remember what happened to your mother.” The watery tones of the chief counsellor had lapped at the Queen. Droning on, the little man, his hands clasped together, had repeated the same litany, for days and it had washed endlessly across the Queen’s torpor before she registered the truth of the matter. Of course she knew what had happened to her imperious mother, the sudden fall, the harsh words, the swift death.
“And, of course, we will provide you with your most treasured possessions.” Another of the counsellors, prostrated himself whilst gesturing at the huge mirrors, her constant distraction since an early age, which would remain with her underground.
“Odious toad,” she had thought, preoccupied by the fine reflection in the nearest mirror. The perfect images of herself offered the self-deluding golden hair and blushing cheeks.
As she had grown older, she became ever more inattentive to the tedious duties of government, leaving them to the counsellors who now hurried her into the depths of the land, deep into the corridors of the mountains, this sparkling trail of anxious, bald-headed men, their torches held high, the light uneasy and agitated in the suffocating darkness.
It was true that she needed protection, although it was mainly from herself. She had grown so bored over the millennia, she had lost compassion and self-control long ago. Her dark magick, drawn from the deep channels of the planet, frothed and roiled within her. Of all the celestial Queens this one had lasted the longest, but she had borne no female progeny, so there had been none to challenge her, as she had her own mother.
As she wandered down the dark corridors, seeking frequent glimpses of herself in the mirrors carried around her, she remembered growing through a sulky adolescence. Her surly manner had borne lightly by these around her for in time, in the tradition of the celestial Queens, she was expected to shed her mute youth and assume the full roar of the rightful Queen of the Hive.
And yet, after her mother had died, and the crown passed to her, she took little notice of her role, spending the day in her chambers, commanding, on careless scrolls, that ever more mirrors be brought to her, each increasing in size and majesty.
Amongst the many functions of the Hive Queen was the responsibility to bear the next generation of the powerful and the elite. Tradition demanded that she would fashion the chrysalids that bore the children into their lesser forms of necromancy. The arcane literature of the Hive spoke too of the rituals of the Celestial Queens, and flowering of dark magick that would issue from the new incumbent, once the old had passed. But from this Queen, it was not so, for her mouth was bound, she could not speak, and without such invocations the source of life within the hive began to diminish, the people and the mountains began to decay. Over the centuries the councillors were forced from whispers to open debate about what should be done, gathering in corridors, amongst the disintegrating columns of the Hive.
“She sits in her chambers all day, she looks at herself in those mirrors.”
“Surely there are no pores left to detect? What else does she see?”
“Perhaps the beauty that enchants us all, entrances her too, perhaps she has become the slave of her own appearance.”
“That is not possible. None of her line have been so vain.”
“Are we not slaves to her beauty?”
“We are obliged to be so, that’s not quite the same thing.”
“We all know she’s been leaking her magick. And yet she will not speak, the renewal of our own sorcery does not begin, we cannot cast the wards and protections we need for the Hive”
“Indeed her power leaks mightily, wastefully” another shuddered, “at night I hear she thrashes and kicks, the leavings of her dreams scarred across the walls of her bedchamber.”
“Every morning her chambers are almost destroyed. It takes so much of our magick to clear it.”
“Did her mother did not pass on the sacred words, handed down from Queen to Queen since the beginnings of our race?”
“She shows no sign of acting so. And without it, who knows what will happen to us?”
Despair crawled across the gathering of councillors, as they cast around them, fearful of being overheard.
“So we have a problem, we cannot renew because our Queen will not, or cares not, to utter the words to do so, and we cannot continue the repairs, for we will run out of our own paltry charms.”
“We must both deal with the Queen and,” the reedy voice of the eldest councillor clutched at the conscience of all around, “unthinkable though it is, we must replace her.” All twelve councillors allowed a silence to spread amongst them, until one spoke slowly, quietly.
“Do you have the books?” The councillor’s attention focused on the only female amongst them, one of the first to step from the old Queen’s chrysalids.
“Oh yes, I found them in the oldest part of the library. They have never been used. I heard tell of them in a dream.”
“The old Queen.” Another spoke softly. “I have had the same dream.” Others nodded.
“I think we are desperate enough.” The council regarded itself. Twelve ancient members, in various states of disarray. They were once a proud race, but the state of their Queen had brought them to a dark heresy, the thought even of replacing their royal line.
“So it is possible.”
Their pale faces, shocked, but resolute, nodded imperceptibly.
“From now on, we shall not repair the Queen’s chambers. We must all agree on this. It is the only way. She will come to the obvious conclusion.”
So the weeks past, then months, and years. For two centuries the Queen gazed at her reflection during the day and dreamed at night, her magick funneling out to strike at the flimsy walls of the hive, and she grew to resent the conditions within which she lived.
One day a member of the council approached her, a wizened male, bent double with the weight of his age. “My lady, it is not right that you should live amongst such––” His voice talked off, he gestured with his arthritic fingers to the crumbled walls, the collapsed roof, and watched as a trail of stones fell idly across the surface of a gigantic mirror in the corner of the Queen’s chamber.
The Queen, her beautiful chin lifted high, her proud eyes looking down at the impertinent counsellor, nodded slightly.
“I have a solution, which I might humbly suggest, be placed before you for consideration.”
And so, after years of prevarication, the Queen assented, and was being led to the darkest cavern, so deep underground that her nightmare bursts of uncontrolled power could cause no further damage to the crumbling kingdom on the surface. The solid rock of the planet could absorb her wayward night-time sorcery.
And so, the mirrors were trundled, at the head of her the long procession, her belongings moved from the chamber at the top of the mountain, to the deepest cavern below. And still the Queen did not seem to care, abstracted still by her infatuations.
Around her she could hear the mutterings of the council, the gossip, the memories of the time when they were found, the old Queen and her daughter, the mother lying, her head broken on the ground, the daughter running around, distraught, holding her mouth, flailing her arms, not speaking or shouting, but staring wild into the skies. Those who had rushed to her assistance knew she could not speak.
“A fall!?” she thought of her mother, and laughed “It was a kick.” She remembered, wryly, the look of shock on her mother’s cruel face as she had hit the jagged rock of their private grove. If the fall had been further she knew her mother could have saved herself, but a short distance, a sudden shove in the back from an apparently docile daughter, sealed her fate.
The train arrived at the cavern. The mirrors were arranged to fill every surface and corner of the room. And so the council, the courtiers and the slaves, eager to finish their tasks, fled, one by one, until just one council member remained, by the entrance, as the huge boulder that would serve as the seal was moved slowly into place.
The councillor stepped backwards, outside the room, bowing respectfully. The Queen, near her bed looked across, momentarily resting from her self-regard and stared back at the closing boulder.
“You killed her, did you not?” The Councillor whispered.
The Queen grimaced.
“Did she not speak before she died?”
The Queen barely responded.
“The ancient books tell of the words that must pass from Queen to Queen, the charms of release, and unbinding.” The Councillor held the gaze of the ill-fated Queen, who allowed a hint of curiosity to pass across her.
“The words that would grant you speech, the arcane words of our race, the elder magick that creates life and sustenance for the hive.”
The Queen opened her eyes. She remembered turning away from her mother after the fatal shove. In triumph, in delight at the peace she could enjoy, away from her mother’s hectoring and preaching, she had spun around the chamber, singing in her head, as the courtiers rushed in. And so she had ignored her mother’s prattling final words.
Just as the boulder came to rest, the crunch of ancient rock sealing the eternal tomb, the silent, Celestial Queen contemplated the fading torches, and the flattering mirrors and finally, she realised what she had done.
Text, image, audio © 2014 Jake Jackson, thesefantasticworlds.com. Thanks to Frances Bodiam, Elise Wells (for the end credits to podcast links for iTunes and Stitcher), Logic Pro, the Twisted Wave Recorder App, Apogee Condenser microphone, Rotring pens and inks, Daler Rowney acrylic ink, and Alfons Schmidt’s fantastic Notebook app.
More next week…
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