The Betrothed—Part 2
At the king’s command, a servant, a creature of the light, descended to the shadow lands, to the door of the whoring house, and at the door he cried in to her, “Chosen One of the King! Come forth; the King has not forgotten you. Only come now, call upon His name, and be rescued.”
But in the den of darkness, the other women laughed with their lovers—“Rescued? Pah! What need have you of rescue? Are we not happier, here? Are not we the ones who have chosen you? Have not we adopted you, as one of us? Do we not love you?”
Again and again, the messenger came to her, until all joy was dry inside her heart, until she grew frail and sick at the handling of her lovers, until her bones pressed against her skin. Then hearing the voice, she looked up and cried, “Oh My King, my Prince! If it is true that you have not forgotten me, then come to me, in my destruction!”
And at once, with sword in hand, the son of the King rushed down into the shadowed land. To the whoring house he came, for the gates did not stand before him, to his Zion, in her cursed bed, and like a child he lifted her from her misery.
Crowds gathered to greet him, the swarms of her dirty lovers, and at their head, the king of the city, to stop her being carried off. “What have you to do with her?” They cried. “Is she your own, that you might do with her as you please?”
“She is my own,” declared the prince, “the one that I have chosen, and the one that I have loved. Betrothed; heiress to the Kingdom of Light. She belongs to you no more.” And though scores rushed upon him, to destroy him, and to destroy her, he struck them down in the streets with the edge of his sword, and the king of the city he slaughtered, last of all, in the gates.
Home, Zion was brought, to her Kingdom, and because she yet wore the King’s Signet, she was allowed to pass through the gates. And there, she was laid on the bed of queens, and all throughout the fitful nights, the Prince sat long beside her, tending to her. With gentle hands, he cared for her wounds; he drew out the poisons, from her blood. He stayed with her until she was strong again, and her bruises were washed away. In robes he wrapped her, in soothing perfumes and golden crowns, until her spirit was whole again, and she could walk in the gardens without support.
In this way, she remained; growing ever stronger, and ever more beautiful, in the balms of that place, becoming fairer than ever she had been before. And in the presence of the King, the glow of that place adorned her.
Many tears she cried, begging for their forgiveness, that they might pardon her the wrong she had done them, and the King held her, while she wept, until peace came to her. “You have been forgiven, my child,” he said. “Let you no more forget the place that is your home, and those who have given you their love.”
But on a night, when soft she walked the halls, and by chance, glanced out the window, beyond the grounds, she saw the world of shadow, sprawled. And at its edge were shapes and figures she had known before, and in her heart there came an urge, to go out to them. They seemed to call to her by name, in every way that she knew.
In stealth, she snuck away, just for the night—to see those things that she had known, and to be back by morning, to be back to the Prince and to the King’s Gardens. But when she had gone out of the walls, she was stopped; for there, like some colossal monster, in the darkness, was a shape.
A wall of thorns stood before her; towering and thick and without doors. Nearly, she turned back in fear, but on the other side, she heard the voices calling to her, so close, so tempting. The thorns were like daggers, tearing her skin, when she pushed into them. She struggled through, though her robe was torn, though her hair was pulled out, though the nettles stung her feet like razors and the thickets raked her body like claws.
On the other side, they greeted her with cheers, and took her back to the city that she had known, bloodied and naked, dirty and empty. When they saw that on her face the glow of the King’s land, they jeered and scowled, until, fearing them, she took the dirt of the street and smeared her face and body with it, to hide the glow. And so they welcomed her again.
Her stolen robes and her jewels, they robbed in trade for the wine with which they filled her; but it was, to her thirsting mouth, like sand. Back they thrust her, to her old chamber. A new king came, the king of the town, with all his monstrous sons, with their fair faces and their savage hearts, and they fell upon her each in turn, and when morning came she did not know it. In false silver and moth-eaten silk, her lovers paid her, in rust and bleak food and drink, boasted as feasts.
Her body ached and stung from the tearing of the thorns, the scars tracing her fair body, their poisons throbbing in her veins, until she wondered why the King would have done this to her? With each man who fell upon her, the worse the pain seemed to grow, until her groans seemed too much to bear.
For Zion, the one who had dirtied her face, did not know that the light had gone out of it already.
In the Kingdom, the Prince, with torn heart cried out, “How long, my Lord? How long must we bear her suffering? How long must we watch her harm? The love we have chosen bleeds; she is struck and seduced upon the steps of the palace of the dead! And though she has turned from us, she does not yet see the undoing of herself. Must we wait, my lord, while they destroy what once was pure?”
“We must wait,” replied the King. “Though Zion turns her heart from us, we shall not abandon her. We shall stir her heart to seek us, to cry out; for we shall not ignore her cry.”
Days passed, but in the darkness, she did not know. The sickness crawled back into her limbs, the rot into her belly, when, at the door, the voice of the messenger cried up to her: “Chosen child! Betrothed of the Kingdom of light, beloved of the Lord, you are not forgotten. Though you turn your face from blessing, though you turn your back on the hand that heals you, the King waits. Call to him for mercy, and you may yet be saved!”
Again, they mocked him in the chambers, but even as Zion sought her lovers, his voice rang outside. Each day he returned, until finally, the people of the city drove him off, casting and locking him out. But even then, when night fell, he would climb over the walls and to her window, his words a whisper to her restless mind. And it seemed to her to be the voice of the King himself.
When her lovers came to her now, it was with disgust, for the state of her wounds was hideous, and they had no more appetite for her. Though doctors of the city came, they could do nothing except cause her pain. But as her wounds ached and oozed openly, her longing for the ashen food, for the dirty drinks, faded; her hunger for her lovers turned cold, until all she heard was the voice of the messenger.
Finally, in the still of the night, when the voice of the messenger reached her, she snuck from the house on weak legs, and with the servant of the King, they escaped the walls of the city, and fought their way up, towards the light again. There, the Prince met them, and he bore His Zion back up to the Kingdom. And as she wore the ring still, on her hand, so they were permitted to enter.
As before, the Prince stayed beside her—he tended to her wounds. He rubbed salve into the claws of the thorns, and though it hurt her, he drew out every disease and cancer, and it was not long until she was healthy again, and all that was left on her were scars.
“Love of mine,” he said, with tears, “Do you not see? The hedge I planted was to keep you safe, to keep you from going after your old paths. The poison of those barbs was to draw you back to the place where it might be healed.”
With tears, she fell upon his chest, and at the foot of the King, her heart breaking with repentance, as she begged for his forgiveness. With a kiss, the King lifted her. “Stand, my child. Stay here, and be healed. Leave this place no longer; and let the darkness of that place belong to you no more, just as you no longer belong to it.”
But the call of the shadowed world would not release her. No sooner had the Prince released her arm, that she might grow strong enough to walk unaided, than she found herself wandering with a restless heart.
At first, when she passed by the windows, she passed them quickly, without looking out of them. But as time went on, a growing curiosity slowed her feet, and she found her eyes wandering toward them. Eventually, she found herself standing, looking out at the world below her. And gradually when she walked in the garden, when she passed by the walls, she felt herself longing for something on the other side; something she had known before.
On one such night, at her window, she heard the distant sounds, and crept out to the walls. On the other side, a shape met her, calling up to her with old, hungry words. “Come down,” he cried, “come to me, and I shall please you! I shall give you that for which you long! Come back to the place where you are at home, the place for which your heart hungers!” And pointing at the hedge, he cried,
“Do you see?” he called. “Your captor traps you in. A hedge of thorns, he has woven. He keeps you as his prisoner! I would free you. Do you not see? Does he distrust you so? If he loved you, would not he open the gate? Would not he trust his betrothed to choose for herself, if he truly was worthy of her affection?” these and many other words he spoke to her, fair words, from a fair tongue. “Come to me,” he said, “and I can get you through the wall, unharmed. I shall not woo you with a wall of thorns; but upon a bed of feathers. The payment is slight, and what is a slight cost, for freedom?”
His words enticed her as a spider’s web, and the smell of his perfume put the hunger in her belly again. Overpowered by them, by every deceit he put in her heart, she climbed down from the wall, and into the arms of the creature below. Gripping her tightly, smiling and filling her with words that she loved, he pulled her toward the hedge. When they reached it, he stopped, and held out his hands.
“The passage cannot be free. I require only the slightest of treasures.”
With a fearful brow, she pled for him to tell her, offering the many jewels she wore, the riches of her clothes, even herself, for her hunger and the ache to return to the city seemed too much, now, as his perfume filled her still. But with each offer, the shadowy man shook his head, until finally, he snatched her hand, and saw the small signet ring upon it. “This,” he said. “It is a simple token; so cheap and worthless, next to all of these other great treasures. But I will accept it, if you still desire to go.”
Forgetting all that the King had told her, that long time ago, she gave him the signet, and the shadowy man brought her to a small spot, in the hedge, where a blade had cut a little passage, and he slithered through, between the thorns like a serpent. Shedding her robe, so that it might not be caught, she crawled through after him, through the mud and filth below.
The shadowy man cheered, and all the city folk came, with their own cries, to swallow her up again, and with their handfuls of mud, which they smeared onto her, to cover her brightness.
They ripped at her her hair—they struck her face—and they laughed and kissed her, and called her daughter. They took her to the whoring bed, and told her she was beautiful. They broke her into pieces, and declared that she had never looked so whole.
So days became nights, became ages without definition. The king of the city and his sons came to her, celebrating her recovery as they ravaged her, at the feast in her honor. The deceiver, the one who had lured her out, mocked her when she trembled. When her mind went back to the king, he would jeer.
“Him? Who let you leave, without pursuit? Did he not do this to you?” And he would point out the white scars, left by the thorns. “Did not I bring you through safely, without harm?”
“But the prince,” she said, “When I was lost, he came to find me.”
And the man laughed. “Lost? Are you lost, creature? Then find yourself; and if you shall not, then I shall find you for you. He cares nothing for you; and you nothing for him. Are you not a whore? Are you not faithless? Have not you turned your back to him, time and again? Only I, only we, love you. Only in this place, do you belong.”
Soon, the messenger came, to bring her back, and she heard his voice in her ears. But the deceiver held her back, from going out to him, with his lies and his promises, so that she boarded up the window, so as not to hear the cries. But the messenger persisted more and more, through night and day, that she might find no rest; that in her chamber, his words could always be heard.
Finally, she rose up, to go out and find him, but the deceiver laughed at her wickedly. “Would you go out to meet him?” He asked, and he held up the ring she had given him. “But you cannot pass through the gates. None, save those who are the King’s, can pass the gate. And you are not his. You are ours, now. Turn your thoughts from him!”
As she cowered, in distress, her lovers gathered the whole city and they killed the messenger, and celebrated his body.
But it was not long before another messenger came, with the same plea, to call out, to return. And yet the poison in her blood cried that she could not be saved, this time; she was too far away, for that. She had fallen too far, to climb back out. She had given away the inheritance. She had given it all away. She was not the King’s, now; she belonged here, in this dirt. And eventually, with the ache of chains, around her wrists, she thought of the King no more.
So fell the second messenger, and another after, and another, until finally, no more came.