What follows is a reblogged excerpt from a tale I read by an accomplished Christian fantasy writer (in the style of Tolkien) that cleverly spins out the ideas I tried to define in a poem I wrote recently, “Her Mother.” The juxtaposition of the two, the tale and the poem, evokes for me all that Christ came to deliver us from and the consequences of heeding our own passions in whatever self-devouring forms they appear.
Thanks to Heaven, Hell, and All of Us for permission to post the following excerpt:
How Alicet Brought Her Sins to Heaven and Sormen Found Everything He Could Love in Hell
(A fairy tale of Heaven and Hell)
Alicet was a milkmaid and a slave, and so she rose in the cold, foggy darkness each morning to attend to her charges in the fields. Each morning after she finished the milking, she skimmed the cream, set a portion of the milk aside to sour and curdle for cheese, pressed the whey out of the curds from yesterday’s souring, churned the cream into butter, and collected the rest of the milk into pails long before the sun rose, so that every morning just before dawn she might be found at the crossroads high in the dark, misty, witch-haunted hills of Ib-Sata carrying her pails of milk or bundles of soft cheese or butter south to the markets in Ib. There she would sell these wares and then set out to return to the farm with the gold, and if she were cheated at the market or robbed on the way, well, it would go the worse for her when she returned to her master.
Sormen was a slaver and a prominent man in Ib, and so he usually woke in the afternoons to stand at the auction block for just an hour or two making a handsome profit as he trafficked in bodies, and then he spent his nights amidst the brothels and taverns of Ib. In addition to his earnings at the auctions, he collected rent from peasants who farmed his lands north of the city, so occasionally just after dawn he too might be found at the same crossroads high in the dark, misty, witch-haunted hills of Ib-Sata intent on wresting gold from his tenants to pay for a long night of debauchery. A single month’s rent from his tenants could easily make a thief’s fortune, so he dared not send a messenger or servant on this errand, but always saw to it himself. If it happened, as it did this morning, that his fine horse threw him and then bolted back to Ib, then Sormen would continue on foot, cursing the beast and resolving to take a farmer’s horse to get himself home, and the farmer could draw his cart or pull his plow himself, so far as Sormen cared. After all, they lived on his lands, they owed their very being to him, and they should be grateful for that. They always acted as if they were grateful, anyway.
And so it happened that on this morning Alicet passed Sormen as she stepped barefoot through the Witchwater brook that rippled across the road that ran south toward the city and as Sormen trudged along to the north, his face cast down and his fine red leather riding boots dragging through the pebbly stream bed. Alicet blessed the water for cooling her feet, and Sormen cursed the water for staining his boots and he wondered why someone hadn’t built a bridge over the thing, though the Witchwater was barely a foot deep and five steps wide.
The witch-haunted hills of Ib-Sata are not the safest district in which to loiter for the very good reason that the witches do not approve of the city of Ib or its inhabitants, the witches being, after their own fashion, strict moralists. And so it happened that on this morning Liriel, a witch much skilled in the majicks of fire and lightning, was sitting beside the brook watching the rising sun and saw as this young man reached out and snatched a handful of cheese from the milkmaid’s wares.
So Liriel decided to blast these two wayfarers, the young lad because he was a thief and he figured in the miserable life of Ib, and the young maid because she brought them food who should be left to starve. As they passed in the midst of the stream, Liriel raised her right hand to the rising sun, gathered its strength, let fly with a furious chant of power, made a subtle gesture with her left hand, and from her tongue flew a flame of fire and the two travelers were instantly burned to ash, Sormen more quickly than Alicet perhaps, as she was splashed with milk and brook water, and he was filled with Geneva liquor. As a practical matter, however, it made little difference.
The heat of the blast was so intense that the brook was evaporated dry in an instant, but directly the waters continued flowing down from upstream and, after boiling for a time as they passed over the slowly cooling rocks, they bore the ashes of the two travelers away, much as their souls had just been borne away and out of this world. The maid and the lad were transported at once to the land that lay between Heaven and Hell.
Now, the land between Heaven and Hell is a fair, green mead, and there flows through the center of this mead the river Lethe, through which the souls of the dead must pass until they emerge to stand on the grassy banks. Then the souls must decide where to go next, to Heaven, or to Hell. This river, the water of which is Time, which heals all wounds, also removes all sin from the newly emerged dead, but the water does not change the heart, for when the dead emerge from the water, the spirit is not yet in Heaven, nor is it yet in Hell. But very soon it will be. And so it came about in this way for Alicet and Sormen.