I’ve begun to write a second novel titled “Persephone’s Bower.” Since it is written for all of you, I would like to share it with you as it’s written as well as have any of you who wish help me with it (and thank you for the idea, Clarissa!)! I will be posting drafts of each chapter as they are finished and I welcome any comments you have — suggestions, responses, what you especially like or not, what I need to clarify, whatever you would like to say — to help me write the final version. I hope this will be a fun and rewarding journey for all of us!
Here’s the Prologue. It is based on a story I once heard about five women who walked together into the sea rather than be arrested during the Witch Hunts.
The Women Who Walked Into the Sea
When the rain pooled on the floor through the hole in the roof, Esther only dipped her toe into the cool water to feel its softness. She would let the water creep in and break apart the stones so that maybe the walls would fall to earth. The men in the fine clothes with their books of strange incantations and macabre pictures wanted the gabled house she had inherited. If they craved the money the sale of it would bring so much, they could have it in ruins.
Esther slipped out of the kitchen door into a small herb garden and let the rain wash the dirt and soot from her daily work off her face. The water soaked through the layers of her clothes, awakening her skin. She would hide from it no more, never again rushing inside at the first drops from the sky as if they were poison, as if the dusky, smoky rooms of her small house were a place of safety. Sanctuary anywhere was no more.
No one would be on the road at this hour to be drenched and blown by the storm, so she knew she could travel without being seen. She visited her four friends, all women alone like she and therefore almost surely on the list of those to be taken. Each woman joined the journey to the next, and at the last stop, the five women agreed to make themselves ready for the next moonless night.
Those who were widows with children, like Esther, brought them far from their village and left them with distant relatives who needed farmhands, or they apprenticed them to weavers or blacksmiths miles away. They set their animals free into the hills and forests to find food, water, and shelter. They cleaned their homes and then buried anything that named or belonged to another person so as not to incriminate dear friends. Then, they closed the doors of their dwellings one last time and met at the edge of the ocean.
They were five women, five like the fingers of a hand that caresses and encloses, five like the points on a starfish, five like the seeds in an apple, five like the elements combined with the soul. They gathered at the edge of the ocean to steal back their only possession, which was themselves, from the men who came knocking on doors to take their bodies, minds, and spirits which the men did not understand could never be theirs.
The women stood for a moment on the beach, imagining themselves walking together, hand in hand, until the water choked and silenced them. Their bodies would wash up on the shore to the curses of their pursuers and they would finally be no more and forgotten. All their lives, they had known coldness and anger and fear and hunger and pain. They had known blows from fists or words or looks and waited for the ocean to assault them, too.
Instead the waters embraced them. For a moment they could not breathe and as they struggled against the tide that kept washing them towards shore, they took the salty water into their lungs and choked. Finally, they had no more strength and relaxed into the waves. Suddenly they were breathing. They were far beneath the surface, but somehow they were breathing. And swimming, though none of them had ever learned. Around each of them swam four giant fish whose gills shown as blue, purple, crimson as they turned and glided through the water. Each believed that the other women had died, their carcasses likely sunk to the bottom of the sea out of sight, and that they had swum into a school of these magnificent never-before-seen fish.
Finally, as their bodies danced through the water and they caught a glimpse of their own tails, each woman realized she had transformed into one of the fish. At times when they would see a battered body sinking, tossed overboard, or find some anchor or pot of spices or grains on the sea floor, they would remember their old lives and wonder. Was this all a very long dream, such as might be had by women in the last moments of drowning? Perhaps they were always the fish and had only had a nightmare about being human. Maybe this is the way it always was, humans dying and becoming fish or birds or tigers or deer. Whatever the truth, they never wanted to return to the land.
In their village, almost no one noticed that the women had disappeared, for, as middle-aged widows and spinsters, they were of little value. The witch-hunters thought that perhaps wolves had eaten them when they were on some devilish romp in the deep forest and mumbled good riddance to them, moving on to the next names on their list. A rumor had it that their clothes had been found by the shore and slowly the speculation grew in the village that they had escaped into the sea.
As the bands of fear constricted tighter around the village, as more houses were emptied and more children were orphaned, one by one, the people found themselves walking the path that ran by the sea whenever they could. They stood on the shore gazing into the horizon and wondered if the women had really walked into the waves. As they looked into the distance, they began to see a new species of fish playing in the water, almost out of sight. The creatures jumped and twisted and let their scales shine in the sun before slapping down with a great noise back into the ocean.
The witch-hunters were afraid of the fish, whispering to each other that maybe the lies they had made other victims tell about the women were true and they were able to shapeshift into other forms. To some of the villagers, the fish were just an oddity to be stared at and gossiped about. Others saw them as prey and went out in boats to capture them, thinking that the flesh of such an exotic creature would bring in enough to feed their families for the winter. As soon as they got close enough to catch one, the fish would dive under the surface, too far for the fishermen to grab them. Finally the boats stopped pursuing them to go after easier game.
To a very few who watched them from the shore, witnessing the fish’s freedom made them feel that perhaps they had also been created to be beautiful and blessed.
In time, the witch-hunters’ babbling was forgotten, but the stories of the fish and the women grew. Somehow, without reason, the fish and the women were united in the minds of the people from the village. Every time one of the species of fish was spotted swimming in the sea, someone would remember the story of the women, and so it was passed on from generation to generation.
I’m delighted that you took my suggestion and posted the Prologue! You mention the 5 women, 5 fingers, etc. In another section of the book you haven’t posted yet, you refer to an herb tea with a relaxing effect. Moon Flower (Datura stramonium), also known as May Apple or Jimson Weed, has a trumpet shaped flower of white to pale purple color that ends in 5 pointed tips. It is a hallucinogen. Other hallucinogens that could be found in New England (if that’s where you decide to place your story) are Morning Glory and Belladona (Deadly Nightshade). Read more at:
You probably know this already, but other relaxing herbs are lavender, blue vervain, skullcap, lemon balm, passion flower
That reminds me – the 26th Annual New England Women’s Herbal Conference is happening on August 23 – 25, 2013. There are some great workshops listed, like this one: “The Shamanic, Magical & Herbal Roots of European Traditional Medicine,” with Julia Hoffman Graves. http://www.womensherbalconference.com/
Thanks so much for the suggestion and all the information! I will definitely follow up on it as I work on finalizing the first chapter for posting!
Wonderful Prologue, Carolyn. Great writing as always.
Thanks so much, Carmen! That means a lot coming from someone whose own fiction I admire so much!