I am using a different method for sending out the Therontales. For those of you who may not have received them all, here they all are up to this point. Tomorrow night I will have the next installment.
Take care, Caretakers!
Once there was a mighty hunter named Samsoar, who kept solitary paths and lived in the woods, and was all but unknown among men. Never did he marry, and lived entirely from the effort of his hunt. Samsoar was a pious man, and kept all the laws of Mattriama, and honored her in everything. For this she blessed him, and visited him once in person, and gave him a bow and arrow that so long as the one who holds them has a pure heart, they never miss their target.
Samsoar honored all he killed, saying a prayer before he killed any animal, giving it gratitude that he might eat its flesh and use its body and all its parts for his clothes and instruments.
One day, Samsoar, who knew all the woods in his country, managed to get lost. He did not recognize the woods he was in, and saw that though it was winter in his land, this part of the woods was as if in summer. He explored it, but was unable to spot any animal. The creatures here were too clever, too perfect, to be caught. They had used magic to hide this woods from men. How Samsoar had found it he did not know.
Then he saw a beautiful doe, the most beautiful deer he had seen in all his life. He knew in his heart that this was an immortal deer, and that if he ate her flesh, he would be immortal. The deer read his thoughts, and she immediately disappeared.
Samsoar was determined now to hunt the immortal doe for the rest of his life, or die trying. He used all his expertise to hunt her, every trick he knew. He spent five years lost in the enchanted woods, five years hunting her, unable to kill any animal, living only on roots and nuts and plants. This man, who had ever eaten the flesh of animals, had become a vegetarian.
He prayed fervently, and fasted, and slowly, after all these years, learned the secrets of the woods. He set aside his bow and arrow of immaculate shot, and bathed naked in the rivers. He stripped himself of all clothing and ate the plants and was a new man.
After another five years of living as a naked vegetarian, honoring the goddess, he build a home, a little house, and furnished it, and this was among the most beautiful and perfect houses ever constructed by man. He honored the wood he used to build his house, and planted where he cut, and he felt the secret forest forgave him and welcomed his presence.
His house overlooked a beautiful and perfect lake. He bathed in its waters daily. One day , he bathed at midnight, and he sensed a presence in the woods. He sensed the presence of the doe.
He went to his house and pulled his bow and returned. The doe remained. He snuck up on her and aimed his bow. He had it locked on her heart, and the shot was certain. He was about to kill the immortal doe. He would prepare her flesh, eat, and be an immortal god.
The doe heard his thought. She looked at him with love. The sight of her immortal eyes made the hunter feel an unworldly love. The deer walked up towards him, and Samsoar set down his bow. As she approached, she took on the form of what she also was, a beautiful goddess, clothed in white.
"I have watched you all these years, mortal man, and my heart is for you. I love you and would show you love."
This goddess was the most beautiful being Samsoar had ever seen. They were married in a ceremony officiated by gods and attended by all the animals of the secret forest.
The goddess, whom the hunter named Niviana, shared his home with him, and furnished it with her wisdom, and expanded his house until it was a small mansion. Great was their love, and these were the greatest joys of the life of Samsoar. He learned the secrets of the immortals, and still ate no flesh.
Soon, Niviana was pregnant with Samsoar's child. He attended her with love, and when her time came, she produced Theron Avulian. For one year she nursed her son and gave him the great love of an immortal mother.
Then, inexplicably, she was gone. She disappeared from the forest, and the animals went into hiding. Samsoar could not dedicate his time to hunting her down. He had to raise his son. The secret forest left with Niviana, and soon the woods knew seasons just like other forests, and Samsoar returned to eating flesh once again.
When Theron was old enough to know the story of his mother's disappearance, he made a vow in his heart that he would learn all the arts of his father, and go beyond what his father knew, and one day he would find his mother and know her face to face.
Father liked to smoke after his hunt. He had a special pipe. One day Theron grabbed the pipe and put it in his mouth. Bap! Father boxed Theron's ear. No, no, no, smoking the pipe is for adults only!
The one day the pipe went missing completely. Father blamed Theron. Not only did he box Theron's ear, but he made him sit and face the corner.
Theron was so mad that he wished he could just punch Father and show him that false accusations are what bullies do. He was so mad, tears filled his eyes. As he tried to see through the tears, the ground was distorted and he saw something. A little pipe.
He cleared his eyes. It wasn't the pipe! But a little imprint of the pipe on the ground in the ash. He looked around the floor and saw that the trail led all over the room. Finally it lead to a hole in the wall. Theron boldly stuck his hand in the wall and pulled out the pipe. A mouse had stolen it!
Father was pleased with this, and apologized for the punishment. He rewarded Theron with some fresh honey for dinner.
Theron had come to realize what all hunters realize: everything leaves a mark, everything leaves a trace. Father, meanwhile, cut upon the wall with a saw and exposed a scared mouse, which he scolded, and sent scurrying out the house. Then he looked in the little nest and found some old coin, some twine, some grass, and a curious thing. The curious thing was heart-shaped pendant. Theron's father opened it and saw a woman. Theron was too young to recognize the father's expression of love at first sight.
"I will find out who's picture this is and return the necklace." When the father asked the nearest human beings who the girl was, they affirmed that it was Shara. So the hunter came to her place in the village and knocked on the door. The girl was amazed to see such a handsome man, but when he had the necklace that had last been seen around the neck of her father, who was now missing, she was shocked and amazed.
It was written in the stars that Father and Shara should marry, so they waited little time in making it happen. As for Theron, he was told to call his step-mother, simply "mother," and he had no problem with it. She had lost her parent, he had lost his, so he identified with her. She was strikingly beautiful.
You could say in fact she was flawless, except there was a scar on her back. She said she didn't remember where it came from. Theron remembered that every event leaves its trace, so he tried to figure it out. It had the look of a monstrous pinch. He vowed to figure it out.
Another strange thing about Shara was that she was deathly afraid of spiders. She would roll around at night in the bed calling out against the spiders. Theron's dad thought that maybe she was just getting used to the idea of sharing bed with a new man.
Theron thought better of it. He pondered it out and decided to clean the house of all spiders. He found them out. Then he went to the basement and found the ultimate culprit. Underneath her bed in the crawl space was a spider. Its evil vibrations had magnified into Shara's dreams. He promptly killed the spider, and then rubbed honey around the edges of the crawl space, so any other spider coming there would get stuck. He also threw sugar in thecrawl space, so that she would have sweet dreams.
He found a poinsettia for her, and as it was cold outside it was a nice warm plant. On the plant was another spider. He caught it and put it in a jar, and put honey around the lid. He would use this pet spider, named Melikor, to make her feel better about her phobia.
The new spider whispered something. He listened. It told him the story about how the other spider had once caught a fairy in his fangs and bit her in the back. Theron realized that Shara was afraid of spiders because in a previous lifetime she had been a fairy. The scar was where she lost her wings.
Shara slept much better after this.
But then came the ants. The ants liked the sugar. Soon the house was overcome with ants, and as the father somehow knew Theron was to blame, and further warned Theron not to kill them, Theron got a broom and swept them up, every last one of them, along with a lot of the sugar, and put them in a solid barrel. He filled up all the holes with cement his father made him, except two holes: one on the top and on on the bottom. He put it in the garden.
Each day he swept up more ants this way and put them in the barrel, putting the top back on. He would watch them come out the holes. He knew he was not catching the queen, but she would perhaps be a bit more careful in how many ants she gave birth to.
The queen indeed learned her lesson. Meanwhile, Theron would press his ear to the barrel of ants and through this learned a lot of secrets about the underground.
While Theron was sweeping he came across a dull brass key. He wondered what it went to but didn't know. He tried all the locks. Finally he asked the key to aim at its lock. He span around blindly and tripped and the key pointed downwards. Sad, he tried again, and this time from a different angle. Again he fell and it aimed downwards. He got the idea to triangulate the coordinates and realize that the treasure was buried in his backyard under the garden.
Father watched with patronizing curiosity as Theron dug for treasure. Of course, Theron found the treasure box and brought it out. Father looked curiously. They cleaned out the lock and cleaned the key and found they were a perfect fit. Inside the box was a letter and a pair of glasses. The language was indistinct, and even with the glasses, there was no reading it. So Theron took the glasses and looked around at what stood out when he wore them.
What stood out was a certain green rock. He picked it up. His father confirmed it was jade, a big chunk of gemstone, and that they could sell it for money at the market. The father said Theron could keep the money since he earned it.
THE DEAD MOUSE
It had happened that when Father and the goddess were married, she taught him to sew. He became so proficient at it that she gave him a ring called Threader. Well in these later days, he managed to lose it. Thereon decided to use the spectacles to find Threader. He focus on Threader, he said "Threader" and he span around and pointed to where Threader might be.
His fingerprint led again to the garden, and there he found sealed an opaque bottle with a strange inscription. Father listened and heard the words, "I am sealed and cannot be released, nor am I permitted to see children and their parents. But I vow by Zeanoboth that when the boy comes to age, I will gain the power of the sun sword, hunt him down, and sear him with the sword."
Father became afraid. As a hunter, he hid the bottle in the most remote location. He knew demons were not good at keeping their word, and their purpose, as a rule, was thwarted in the end, because they wish for no good. Plus he knew he son was half-divine, and the divine has nothing to fear from a mere demon. Yet knowing this could be trouble of some sort, he took precautions.
As the boy was 8,he bathed the him in water and said, "Baptize yourself in the name of your inner Name, for you are 8, and some of the magical things you say you will no longer be able to see."
That's when Father told him some huntingsecrets. Observe nature. Do not kill an animal you have never seen before, it might bode poorly for you. When hunting an animal, consider its natural predator. If hunting a bird without a weapon, consider a snake and its eyes, the way it make a bird hypnotized with its glare. Or if you are hunting a rodent, lick the dust as the serpent does.
Always sip the dew and eat little pinches of the environment. You will incorporate and digest all that happened there. Crystals are logical. So eat snow and listen to it as falls in storms. Snow summons sunflairs: use winter notes to destroy creatures of such energy as attract sunflairs.
Smell the droppings of your quarry to know what they are eating and where they eat it. Step on the tracks of animals who have a strong scent to hide your own scent. Know how to backtrack, use water to mask your scent, change your clothes, take off your shoes, put on your shoes, walk on your hands, and roll, when something is hunting you.
Now that you are of age, so fairies will no longer appear to you. They will look like ordinary moths and butterflies and dragonflies. They will hide their true form from you. You will see it is more so when you are 13, and the sexual appetite has kicked in. Sex makes man a member of mankind and not a wild brute. The animals will cease to talk to you as before, and will be as if they never talked. Elves and sprites you will remember no more. Ghosts will be replaced with creaks in the floorboard and the howling of wind. But the young part of your brain will always remember these truths and you will delight in ghost stories even, though you don't really believe them.
Press your ear to the ground and know where the animals are hiding. Eat pinches of moss to learn what animals have passed by, and also lick the dew. You are what you eat, so do not over-eat in anything with potent magic. Be addicted to nothing, not even tobacco.
Theron received the lessons in good course, and his mother Shara patiently listened on, and after they were done they had a beautiful feast of pheasant they had prepared. Theron had been baptized in his own Name. He did not know his real Name yet, but he felt the resonance of it. He knew once he met his True Spiritual Mother his questions would be answer.
THE DARK ARROW BOW
Theron and Father were practicing shooting the bow and arrow. Theron fired a bow his father had carved for him, but kept missing the target. The target was a feather quite a distance away with a red circle painted on it - of course Theron missed it. But when it was Father's turn, he hit the red target dead in the center.
"Mattriama gave you that bow. Even I could hit the target with it, because my heart is true. If I had such a bow, I would always hit my target."
Father wordlessly took Theron's bow, cocked an arrow, and hit the freshly placed feather directly in the center.
"Still, I want a bow like yours. It would make shooting much easier."
"How will you get the bow and arrow you want?"
"I have money from the gemstones I've found. Maybe I will go to Latvia, the arrow smith, and have him give me a fine bow and arrow."
"He is the best arrow smith in the land. Of course he will give you a good bow and arrow for your money. But he won't give you his best bow and arrow. Try this. Ask him for the best bow and arrow he has, don't offer him money, tell him you will do whatever service he asks of you. Agree to whatever terms they are, so long as they are noble. Then you will have earned your bow and arrow."
Theron wasn't one to waste time, so he left immediately. He showed up at Latvia's workshop and asked for the best bow the arrow smith made, in exchange for whatever service he asked for.
"Two things," said Latvia, who knew Father well and had known such a day would come. "First, the price is you must herd the shepherd's sheep for a season. He is a good man and I owe him a favor. He broke his foot and is also fevered. Secondly, when I give you the bow that is my best bow, you must not question it. If you ever call into question my wisdom in giving you this bow, the exchange is forfeit, and you must give it back, and you will have earned nothing for the time you spent as a shepherd. Are we in agreement?"
"Yes," said Theron.
"Very well," said Latvia. He went to the backroom for a long long time, but Theron kept patient by making up stories in his head. Stories of what he would hunt with the bow. How he would catch fabulous birds and make beautiful headsets of their fathers. He would destroy fabulous monsters and win the hearts of many maidens. He would be honored by kings and princes.
Then Latvia returned with a special box. He carefully opened the box. He took out something from the box, and carefully put it in Theron's hand.
Theron almost dropped the bow.
It was ugly, with gnarled wood, perhaps rotten. It wasn't strung. It clearly had no balance. In fact, it was little more than an old stick, unfit even to walk with. Theron kept silent.
"You are too young to be polite, and your disappointment is obvious. There is a story to this piece of wood that I will tell you when you are ready. You will start to watch over the sheep tonight. For the summer you will live with them and know their ways. They have many enemies, which come especially at night. You must protect them. At the times you need to go back to your family, the shepherd's brother will take over for you. Thank you Theron."
Theron walked away, with sulk in his steps. Nevertheless, he went to meet the Shepherd, whose name was Shalderan, and whom he had known somewhat before. The man was in no position to make a proper greeting, but his brother Kimsall, who knew Father well, took him to the field to meet the flock.
"I will stay with you for the first few days until the sheep trust and accept you. After that, they will be as if they are your flock, and you must protect them with your life."
Kimsall was a noble man, but a bit impatient with children. He had no children of his own, so apparently he did not know how much patience a child needs. Theron was patient for the two of them. Quickly he learned the ways of the sheep, and who wandered off and when to call them together and how to manage them. After a few days, he felt ready to do it on his own.
At first it was too much work and he felt overwhelmed. But after a few weeks, he had it under control. He learned the moments when he could play his flute and also how to keep the predators at bay. He also made names, one for each of the sheep, so that he would know them better. He discovered their relationship, their little hierarchies and the nature of their social bonds. He learned which ram he had to win the respect of, and also he learned much in the ways of how animals reproduce, and other such matters.
He finally decided to play around with the withered stick Latvia had given him. He strung it and tried to fire a few shots. Nothing came remotely close to its target. It was a piece of junk, he decided, that Latvia and his father had devised to teach the boy humility.
Nevertheless, he decided to prove to them that his pride was worthy of him. So he worked on the bow. He carved it. He named it "Ernhurst," and etched the name on the bow. He carved it to adjust its balance, and experimented with adding inlays and designs. He also realized the bow required a special shaft to match its balance, so he used a special kind of thistle that he had learned made the sheep sick. It was actually quite poisonous, and the arrows had a magical property, he discovered, that made them fly into evil or darkness.
He knew this because one night vampire bats attacked the sheep. The kept flying in onto the sheep and biting their necks. Theron shot his thistle arrows and even when he was nowhere close to hitting one, the arrow adjusted itself and struck the heart of the bat.
One night, it was wolves, and Theron was somewhat scared, because the pack was starved and might kill him as well. But his arrows went straight down their gullet and killed them. He made some fine clothing from their pelts.
One night by the campfire he said a prayer to Mattriama, and Ama told him to pray to the bow. So he did. The bow told him his story. The wood was magical and living, alive and growing, and that unlike all other bows, his would grow with him, and develop a character alongside Theron's. When Ama walked the earth in ancient America as a human girl, she had once been shot by an arrow in protecting her brother. The blood had fallen unto the roots of a tree and it grew magical. That tree was still growing in the woods, an immortal tree. This bow had been made from one of its branches.
After the shepherd had healed and was back to his duty, he thanked Theron, and was surprised to see his herd not only well behaved, but thriving and prospering. He had high expectations from Samsoar's son, but his expectations had been greatly surpassed. So had Theron's. He had made friends not only with the arrows, each of which he named, but also with Ernhurst. Finally, he had made friends with the sheep, and would come and visit them often.
THE WOLF DRAGON
When Theron was thirteen, something happened that had never happened before: Father got sick. Not only sick, but deathly sick, so that he was bedridden. For two weeks Shara never left his side, but tended him always. Theron also tended his sick father. The fever never left him, and he grew confused, and addressed Shara as if she were Niviana. She did not wish to contradict him, so pretended to be the same, to be the goddess he had once loved so much. It was a scene that deeply upset and troubled Theron.
But then something worse happened. In the nearby village, a terrible beast had begun attacking and eating livestock and people. When the Shepherds' sheep began to be attacked, Theron could stand it no more, and vowed to kill the beast.
It was a Raugwulf, a dragon that had a head like a wolf. Normally, Father would slay the beast and protect the people, but he was too sick. He ordered Theron to vow not to attack the monster, that he was too young to take on a dragon. Theron vowed he would not. But when Father fell into a swoon, Shara nodded at Theron, and Theron knew what to do.
He took Ernhurst and his arrows and went to the sheep. It was night and all was silent. Nevertheless, the sheep were awake and terrified. Something was afoot.
As the skies were overcast, Theron took one of his arrows, Ninhurst, and held it before him. The arrow tended towards darkness, and the Raugwulf was a great darkness. He stumbled through the dark, but finally came upon a cave where the dragon lay snoring, fat on Tivia, Samsades, and Seralif, from among his sheep.
Theron gathered some underbrush while the dragon snored, and when he had lit enough, he lit it and hollered. The dragon was caught off guard. With the fire burning brightly, and the boy charging into his cave, he staggered awake, but his eyes were immediately put out by swift dark arrows, and the boy had climbed and darted right unto the beast's belly, and in a moment a great sword the boy had brought for the occasion stopped the dragon's heart.
Theron didn't have much time before father woke up, but he had heard that dragon's blood opened the ears to hearing the languages of birds and beasts. He cut out the dragon's heart, though it scalded his flesh, and he bit into the raw flesh. He felt its power saturate his being. Then Theron built a fire around the dragon and burned its remains up. The dragon burned in a peculiar way: its body seemed to vaporize. It burned with a beautiful fragrance, and left not a trace.
When Theron returned home, he discovered that while he had gone, Father had died. He could get no explanation from Shara, who was pale and would not speak. But he came to understand that Mattriama had consumed his body in a cool loving fire, and left not a trace of his father: his body had been brought directly to heaven. All that was left was a pewter necklace in the shape of a phoenix. Mattriama told him that his father had left this for him. He put on the necklace and sat with his mother to console her.
COMING OF AGE
Theron couldn't tell whether it was the poison in the dragon's blood that had to slowly work its way out of his system, or whether it was his sickened heart from losing his father, but for a long time the days were blank and empty. He could not love life the same. He did not visit the sheep, he did not visit anybody. His sole concern was loving his mother, Shara, and the two of them grieved for months and were a great comfort to each other.
After she had properly processed her husband's death, Shara said simply, "I've seen Mattriama face to face and survived. Samsoar, your father, is a good man, and lives, even now, and waits for us. We must live lives worthy of him."
Soon Shara's mother and step-father came to live with them in their small mansion, in an attempt to try to fill the emptiness. Nobody could replace Father, but after a while, Theron felt the need to fill the house with as much life as possible.
First of all, he became strong friends with Grandma and Grandpa. And after a while, when the pain had passed, he felt free to explore his new power: he could talk with animals. Visiting the sheep was a wonderful adventure. He spoke to them all, and though they did not exactly speak as humans speak, they had a language equally intelligent and nuanced. The dragon's blood gave him a start. He still spoke with an accent, but now he could figure out all the problems with the sheep he had to intuit before, such as if Belamooth was sick: turns out she was just angry at the herd and it was psychosomatic.
Theron would strike up conversations with all the birds and beasts, and was loved by all. Even the grumpy and nasty animals couldn't resist him long, and that part of the woods became as if enchanted, as if Niviana had never left and taken her immortal friends with her.
The question of Niviana weighed heavily in Theron's heart, and as he approached his eighteenth birthday, he realized he must go and leave Shara, whom he loved so much, loved, indeed, more than the pupils of his eyes. Not only did he feel it was right to search out his mother, but he felt he had no choice. It became his obsession.
Shara understood. She always understood. She suggested Theron take his father's bow and arrow, the gift from Mattriama, but this Theron would not do. The bow was too sacred to him. And Theron could tell that Shara needed them, needed to hold the bow, from time to time, to feel as if she were still holding the hands of father. Sometimes she would kiss the bow and cry. Theron knew he must leave it behind.
Nevertheless, he set up a system with the animals, a code of protection so that if anything like the Raugwulf were to come again- Ama forbid it! - then the house and her occupants would be safe. Grandpa also knew how to fire a bow, and was a good man, so he would use Father's bow and arrow if he had to.
When it was time for Theron to go, Shara revealed that she had sewn him some magical items, including clothes that kept you warm in the cold, or cold in the warmth, and which never needed to be cleaned. She had spent years learning the arts of making this special clothing. She also gave him a ring which, if he held it to his ear, he could hear Shara's voice.
Of course he brought Ernhurst and his arrows with him, and a good sum of gold he had earned over the years from jewel hunting. He also brought Father's pipe, in which he would smoke, occasionally, not tobacco, but relaxing herbs and spices.
With great sadness to leave Shara, but with a greater hope at the adventures that awaited him, Theron left the home he had known his whole life, and walked into the wilderness, with no destination in mind.
THE RED WITCH
There was no beginning a quest like this, so Theron began it the only way he knew how: he got thoroughly lost. For seven days he travelled randomly through deep wilderness, instinctively avoiding the places of man. This, after all, was how his Father Samsoar had first discovered the secret forest of Niviana: by getting entirely lost. Indeed, though it was winter, he too came across an enchanted forest. He knew this not only because the trees were unseasonably green, but because a serpent addressed him in his own tongue: American.
"Greetings, human. To have discovered this forest, you must be something extraordinary. That is exactly the sort of creature mistress wants. Follow me."
Theron wordlessly followed the serpent, and they came upon a marble temple. It was clear the temple was run down and then taken over by whomever now lived there. Theron had foreboding as to who lived in the temple now, but followed the serpent. Inside there was a ring of cages made out of crystal with every manner of creature in it: dragon, unicorn, raccoon, griffon. In the center was a great alter that glowed of its own energy.
"Right in here," said the serpent. Theron followed the serpent into a cell, and as soon as he entered, crystal grew up from the floor and down from the ceiling and trapped Theron within. Theron saw that he was trapped but was not worried and made no cry.
"You are a very fortunate man, for the use Mistress will make of you," said the serpent, once he had slipped through the bars of the crystal cage. The serpent then said something in serpent to another snake, "Mistress has never had a human sacrifice! What power she will get from a human." The two slithered off.
Theron calmly removed a mirror from his bag of carrying and meditated. First he looked at his face, to search it for any dishevelment or any disorder, and then he tilted his head and let Ama speak to him. Ama told him he was equal to the situation, that his mother was not here, but that he was about to earn a new friend.
Theron then listened to the other beasts in the various cages. They were all eagerly awaiting being chosen next. They all had great respect for Mistress. They all wished for her to give them some of her wine.
That night a woman with long dark hair that reached to her ankles walked into the temple. She set a necklace on the alter. She was clearly beautiful, but rather ordinary looking, in comparison to what Theron expected.
She sang a beautiful eerie song and a crystal cage that was entirely sealed in a cell across from him opened up. Inside was a tiny bird. Theron recognized it was a humming bird. "She has chosen me, she has chosen me," chirped the bird.
The woman dressed in red brought the bird in her hand and pet it lovingly. She sang a song in some strange tongue. Once at the center of the temple her song changed, and the torches dimmed, candles lit. She sang a strange hymn that went on for 40 minutes. Theron was utterly entranced.
Then the woman in red picked up a silver knife, kissed the blade, and set it next to the bird. The bird kissed the blade as well. The red woman picked up a goblet, also silver, and drank from it. She opened her mouth and let the hummingbird drink it. The fluid also looked silver.
Once the hummingbird had drank the fluid, it began to sing the most beautiful song Theron ever heard. Knowing the tongue of all animals, Theron recognized that the hummingbird was praising Mattriama and preparing herself to meet her maker.
The hummingbird made no cry when the red woman slit its throat with the silver knife. It simply died. The red woman, then poured the blood upon the necklace. Rather than get stained, the necklace began to glow like lava. The woman in red picked up the necklace and put it on.
Instantly, she was transformed into a goddess, or something terribly beautiful. She looked up at the full moon above and then took flight into the aperture in the roof of the temple. Once she was gone, the temples relit themselves and the other animals murmured praise and love for the woman in red.
Theron did not sleep well that night. He was greatly troubled by what he saw. For three days he sat alone in the cell, and on the fourth day, the serpent returned and said, "Mistress has been informed by your presence. She is coming to apologize for your imprisonment. Her name is Dewma, she is a powerful witch. She bids me tell you she means you no harm."
Theron used his mirror to look himself over, and awaited the arrival of Dewma. He was not kept waiting, but shortly she entered, not wearing the necklace, looking like a plain, but somewhat beautiful woman, still wearing red, and with her hair now plaited in braids.
"I am terribly embarrassed that you witnessed my private ceremony," explained Dewma. "You must think the sacrifice of animals is evil, but I am not an evil woman. These animals all come here as prisoners, but after staying here a sufficient time, they are willing victims. All of them kiss the blade that kills them. Let me ask, you, what hunter is so kind to his prey as that?"
"You seem defensive," said Theron. "I have no business judging you and your religion, though I do not approve of it, and I cannot tell you quite why I do not. I am seeking my Mother, a goddess, who also keeps an enchanted forest about her. Are you a woman who would know where she could be located?"
"What's her name?" asked the red witch.
"I never knew her name, but my father gave her the name Niviana when he took her for wife."
"Was your father a God?" asked Dewma.
"My father was mortal," said Theron. "And now he lives with Ama. Have you heard of my mother."
"I wish I had, for you are an entirely interesting specimen. What is your name, O half-God!"
"And I am Dewma. But you are beautiful and my heart loves you already, so I will be bold and tell you my secret name. It is Tulifara. Come, let us make a deal, O Theron, half-God. Let me pledge first of all that I will do you no harm. But if you will be my consort for but one date - any thing further will be at your discretion - then I will send my serpents, who are the wisest of beasts, to ask the white eagle if he knows her. The White Eagle has eyes that have seen all of America - indeed, all of the world. He has known the Simurgh, and he has known the Great Phoenix, whose pendant I see you wear."
Theron felt foreboding in her heart. Yet his Phoenix amulet did not tell him no, nor did the ring from his mother, so he trusted his own judgment when he agreed to go on a date.
Dewma explained that she found this old temple that once existed for the benefit of Ama, and as it was abandoned, she took it over. She had been abused as a young girl and taught herself dark magic to avenge herself. Then she learned good magic to balance herself out, and gained every manner of magic power. She was centuries old and had kept this woods young and vibrant all her life.
She told him freely that she sacrificed magical and immortal animals and poured their blood on her necklace, and then she became a goddess and could visit other worlds. Theron made no comment. Finally, she left him in a bedroom, a guest room that apparently had not seen a guest in a long time, such was the dust. She told him she would meet him for their date in a few hours.
Theron explored the room. There was a bookshelf filled with bizarre tomes in foreign tongues. Though Theron could speak all languages of beasts, he could not speak all the languages of men. He realized now that he hadn't read much, all these years, that Father had never been much of a reader. He wondered if he would benefit from learning magic.
Of course, when the time arrived for Dewma's return, he dressed himself and made himself look handsome. Dewma looked nice too, and she was dressed in a new red dress. She wore perfume, and makeup, and her hair had been carefully combed.
"There is no sense being secretive with you, O Theron half God, so I will tell you plainly. I am in love with you. From the moment I saw you I loved you. It is my sole aim tonight to make you love me. I will hold nothing back: you will meet every charm I have to offer."
She smiled at him, and then led him by the hand to a stairway that led upwards. They emerged on the roof where there was a garden laid out. The roof overlooked the sun, which was about to set. Dewma picked up an instrument, a new instrument that had never been constructed before. She explained that she designed it to exactly fit her body, exactly match her voice. When she sang, it was clear the match was an inspired one: aside from Shara's singing, this was the best singing he had ever heard.
She read him her poetry, and then they watched the sunset. She then lit some candles merely by singing, and brought out a full meal, which they shared. It was pheasant, his favorite, and the spices were unlike anything he had ever tasted before. It might have been the best meal he ever tasted.
"Now, please, sip my wine," she said. She poured him a cup of wine in a silver cup. The fluid was silver and red. It was the same stuff she had given the humming bird. The phoenix pendant said no, his ring whispered no, but Theron's flesh said yes, and he drank the wine.
His eyes and ears were opened, and all was transfigured. At this point, Tulifara slipped on her necklace, which glowed like Lava. She was a goddess and Theron, having sipped the wine, was full God. Tulifara took off the top of her dress, revealing a more attractive dress underneath. She picked up her instrument, and sang to him again, and now his whole body quaked and shook and he desired her and loved her, and forgotten was everything else. Without thinking about it, he took off his phoenix pendant and set it in his pocket, and took off his ring and set it in his pocket.
Tulifara told him her mead was made from wine, using a yeast grown in her own body, and that it was mixed with many other things, but mostly mercury.
Theron was as a man silent. He could not speak. But he marveled at this knew world, and vowed in his heart to forget his quest and live out the rest of his life with Tulifara at this temple. He told her so, and she laughed and smiled, and said, "then you must come with me into the temple."
She led his willing hand, and at the center of the temple, where she had sacrificed the humming bird before, she laid out a thick blanket and set pillows on it. Theron fell in her arms and wanted nothing but Tulifara, now and always.
She looked into his eyes, for a solid half an hour, seeking out the secrets of his soul. He looked back. There was no hiding. They kissed some more.
Finally, she was ready for him, and she leaned back, and Theron was ready for her.
"Only one thing," she said.
"Anything," he said.
"Call me Mother."
The words brought reality back to Theron, and he was hit with such a shock of terror and confusion that his hand caught the necklace of Tulifara by accident, taking it clean off her neck. He looked at the necklace, and with his eyes opened, saw how weak, small, and plain the red witch was without it. He raised the necklace and smashed it in the ground. It shattered into a thousand pieces.
A great liquid fire rolled out of the necklace, and all the animals began to scream and shriek. The crystals that held them in place shattered, and the entire place became a mad zoo. Dewma was sobbing on the ground, and it looked as if the fire would consume her, but all Theron could think to do was run.
And run he did. He went back to his room and grabbed his bag of carrying. Then he rushed back to the temple, only to see that the red witch was missing, and the animals were attacking each other. Amid the tumult, there was one animal that stood out: a young lion, blue, with yellow and orange in his adolescent mane.
"Take me," said the lion.
Theron took the lion in his arms, large though it was - he seemed so full of strength, and he ran and ran.
It felt like days that he was running, and when he was long back in the dead of winter, he collapsed, face first, in the mud.
The lion nursed him back to health.
"My name is Gladdus," explained the lion. "My mother was pregnant with me when she was caught. By the time I was born, the red witch wanted to sacrifice her, but she refused, since she was loyal to me. The witch tricked her into drinking that horrible wine, and it made mother crazy. She is a Nemean lion, which means she can't be cut by any blade or sword, and so the witch didn't know what to do. Mother ran off into the night, leaving me there. I've been there for years, and I've seen many animals come and go."
"I too have lost my mother," said Theron. "I am looking for her."
"Maybe we can make it a dual quest," suggested Gladdus.
"Yes, we shall henceforth travel together," agreed Theron.
THE GREEN WITCH
Once Gladdus had nursed Theron back to health, it was Theron's turn to nurse Gladdus. It seems the poor beast had never so much as had a good sprint; he had spent his whole life in the same cage. And though he had heard many stories of lion lore and the way of the mane in hunting, and all other manner of story from his devoted mother, he had never once made a kill.
Sure, he had always wanted to kill the red witch, but even now, in the recent tumult, when he had the chance, he decided against it.
Theron was an accomplished hunter, having studied under his incomparable father. He didn't think twice over the matter: he would teach the lion to hunt. So they started out on rabbits and other small game. With Theron's help, Gladdus made his first kill with a white hare. They shared the meal, but Theron gave Gladdus the lion's share. After all, he was able to make a salad from the herbs and winter-time vegetation, mixing in some pine needles, pinecone seeds and so forth -- a cuisine of which the lion ate very little.
They made their way West, away from the Great Lakes region, heading south as well. Within a few weeks, Gladdus was bringing down larger game, including a heron and even a cougar -- an incident that happened by accident and cost the two quite a bit of anguish, but then finally triumph. For the lion Gladdus was sad to kill a fellow cat, but the beast was impudent and had it coming.
Meanwhile, Theron and Gladdus would wrestle, and both grew stronger for it. They drew blood from each other and declared themselves blood brothers. What a great life, to have such a one as this for your best friend!
It was good they were so close, because they were about to die together. Or nearly so. It happened when the two spotted a lake within the woods in which a majestic herd of deer were drinking and browsing. After watching them for half an hour, Theron said to Gladdus, "You can do this, take your first buck. Be ferocious, the others will flee."
Only it didn't go down that way at all. When Gladdus charged forth with a terrifying roar -- a roar he and Theron had been working on -- the deer didn't even blink. They just stood there, utterly unimpressed. Gladdus trotted to a stop and looked at the deer. The deer looked back. Finally, one of the deer said, "You'd better just go, blue lion, before you get hurt."
Theron couldn't stand to see his best friend so humiliated, so he ran out screaming his terror scream and it certainly worked, the deer reared up, some bolted, but a few of the great bucks remained. More than remained, they attacked! As they hailed their horns upon the lion, Theron ran to his aid. For a second, he saw that the circle of deer had been shielding a woman in the water who was bathing in the nude. She was a little chubby and entirely youthful and full of beauty. She looked shy and concerned.
Theron was stunned by the vision, but now the deer were attacking him, their antlers tearing open his skin, tearing open the beautiful clothing his mother had stitched him. Of course, they could tear nothing of the Nemean lion Gladdus, he was built to be uncuttable, but the bruises he was taking were considerable, and the last thing Theron remembered, before going unconscious, was the lion might survive, though he surely would not.
In fact, they both survived, but barely. When they came to, they were in an elegant wooded house. It was clearly decorated by feminine hands, and as Theron looked around the room, he recognized the Red Witch, looking at him curiously. Only she was wearing green.
"Oh my!" said the woman in green. "So you've met my sister. Were you spying on my while I was bathing. How you are treated will depend on your honesty over this point."
"I'm a hunter, and I was teaching my friend the lion to hunt. We regarded the deer as fit quarry" said Theron, who realized now that he was tied down. He looked at his bonds. They were limp thin curls of lace. He tried his strength against them, but the more he pulled them, the harder they become.
"Please don't waste your strength fighting these bonds. Even if you were in good health, there is no way under heaven you could break them. And dear boy you are not at all in good health. My deer treated you brutally. Forgive me. I would have stopped them but I was in a state of shock at your approach."
"Ah! Forgive me, as well, I had no idea a human was present. Or a goddess -- whatever you are -- I had no idea you were bathing there or that these deer were of a magic race. I would never have sent my lion to attack such formidable foes if I had known."
"I believe you, hunter. Come, my name is Sylvia and I run with the herd. This is one of my many homes and you were welcome to stay -- indeed, you have no choice. You are close to death. I am a green witch and know the art of healing. If I lacked such wisdom, I would be burying you now."
"And Gladdus, how is he?"
"He is still unconscious. He will be fine. He suffered only bruises. I have heard of these lions, but there has never been one on this continent that I ever heard of. I would guess you have travelled far, but your accent reveals to me you are from the land of lakes -- so you're certainly American."
"My name is Theron. I ... should tell you the story of how I met your sister and what happened."
Theron then told the story of Dewma the red witch, and held nothing back.
"You are still my friend, Theron, though you have broken my sister's heart, and utterly. I feel you had no choice in the matter. Have no fear over the fire you caused in her temple. She had her necklace broken once before. She will make a new one. She will put her house in order. She is such a lonely woman, as lonely as I am, and almost as old. I do not approve of her lifestyle, but I would not see her trifled with, even by a half-god. I know the art of intuition and I have many psychic powers. I know more about you than you believe you have revealed. Indeed, I know more about you than you know about yourself. And yet I am feeling toward you somewhat what my sister felt. I will confess it freely because I have no intention of acting upon it, and every intention of healing you and sending you on your way. It is mine to be a goddess of virginity. As it is, I am merely a witch of virginity. I seek no consort. If I am to earn my apotheosis, I must stay by the strict path set out by Luciana, my Goddess, who is of the moon. I pray to her and she has given me these deer to run with and protect. To her I have sworn never to know the love of man."
"Understood, noble Sylvia. I have no interest in tempting you from your vows. I am seeking after my mother, a Goddess, whom my noble father, who now walks with Ama, named Niviana. I could not be so fortunate that this woman is the same as your Luciana?"
"Impossible!" exclaimed Sylvia with an involuntary scoff. "Luciana has never known the touch of erotic love, least of all from a mortal."
Something in the words offended Theron, somehow, and Sylvia saw this, and immediately repented in her heart for saying them. So she said, "I will do everything in my power to help you regain your strength, and I will give you good magic for your journey as well. Now rest. I will sing a spell of healing. Close your eyes. Let the rays of Luciana fall upon you and heal you."
Sylvia brought forth a flute, and as Theron was a flute-player, he wanted to give her artistry his full attention. But such was her command over the instrument, and the power of her spell, that he soon found blissful slumber, and never slept as well as he did there that night, under the careful care of Sylvia the Green.
Theron nevertheless did get a chance to hear Sylvia play her enchanted flute, and after had recovered some, and she untied the knots of his bonds - they could only be untied with the proper melody sung - he produced his own flute from his bag of carrying and played his own melodies counter to hers. Together they threaded their music together, and the musical lines were sometimes like a buck and roe flirting through the woods, or else like swift light birds dancing through the snow.
As Theron felt attracted to Sylvia, he attempted to seduce her with his music, but she was always a step ahead of him, and cut him off when she found her head nodding and hear breast heaving. She would announce abruptly that dinner needed to be cooked.
Dinner was a worthy interruption. For Sylvia could cook wonderfully. Feeding Theron proved no problem at all: he ate all that she put before him -- devoured it, really. She said he was healing, and so he was famished, but he knew that he was being fed by an excellent cook.
Feeding Gladdus was another matter. As Sylvia was a vegetarian, she did not cook meat for him. Theron was permitted to hunt small game, but he sensed this displeased Sylvia. Nevertheless, nature being what it is, and facts being facts, Gladdus was a carnivore and needed meat.
Nevertheless, it was long before the two wore out their welcome. They were long since healed, with special thanks to Sylvia's herbs and magic, and though Theron felt a strong compulsion to stay and live with Sylvia - a compulsion that strangely enough was even stronger than it had been for Dewma - he knew this was impossible, and for two reasons.