Marie Marshall

Author. Poet. Editor.

Tag: fable


Recently, someone asked me what my fascination was with the tarocky pack – better known as tarot. I don’t know whether I can answer that, without telling a tale I first told in verse in 2008, about how I came to put on the mantle and hat of le bateleur!

Le bateleur

I met a man some time ago,
….beside the old High Road.
He asked me whither I would go,
….he bade me rest my load.
His doublet had a pearled jabot,
….pteruges, sleeves that flowed;
he asked me what I wished to know,
….beside the old High Road.

Upon his bench he set a stall,
….beside the old Highway,
with cups, and coins, and swords, and all,
….and said “I will soothsay.
All Nature answereth my call,
….no man can say me nay;
I can raise up, I must let fall,
….beside the old Highway.”

His beaver hat was lemniscate,
….beside the road to Town,
which is to say a figure-eight
….gave shadow to his crown;
a yellow thatch sprung from his pate,
….its ringlets hanging down.
His words gushed like the Rhine in spate,
….beside the road to Town.

He said to me, “Nu, zay nisht beyz’
….beside the Avenue.
“I’ll tell you all the mantic ways
….of Which, and How, and Who.”
And from his sleeves he drew bouquets
….of Pink, and Green, and Blue –
Abba-Dabar” was his catchphrase,
….beside the Avenue.

I took him for a Mountebank,
….beside the old Towpath,
that peeped and muttered, with an ankh
….scribed on his wand of lath;
or was he German, Celt, or Frank?
….“Forsooth,” thought I, “He hath
an eldritch air, a touch of swank,
….beside the old Towpath!”

“In my land, dwellings with mansards,
….beside the Country Lane,”
he said, “have in their sparse dooryards
….a trug of blue wolfsbane,
a driftwood cross, a pile of shards –
….a shattered windowpane.
Come friend, please buy my pack of cards,
….beside the Country Lane.”

I took a shilling from my purse
….beside the Old, Straight Track.
I took the cards and, with a curse,
….I put them in my pack,
as though his offer did coerce –
….I could not give them back!
The dyke and fence he did traverse,
….beside the Old, Straight Track.

I have not seen him from that time,
….beside the Thoroughfare,
although through every land and clime
….I’ve sought him here and there.
I’ve heard tell of his sleight and mime,
….at country wake and fair,
as fickle as the new springtime
….beside the Thoroughfare.

And I’ve heard tell that Woden, blind,
….beside the Great Turnpike,
where gibbets creak and nooses wind,
….walks by the misty dyke;
I’ve heard the Flying Dutchman pined
….to slip ashore and strike
his foot upon the tussocks, twined
….beside the Great Turnpike.

Along the weary moorland trench,
….beside the Boluevard,
amongst the Romany, the French,
….the Breton Campagnardes,
I searched in vain; but then – oy mensh,
….the canny old canard! –
I found his old three-legged bench
….beside the Boulevard!

No more I search, but set my stall
….beside the Old High Road.
Step up, mayn her – come one, come all –
….your fortune I’ll decode.
Come, try my cards, see how they fall;
….my scrying’s à la mode:
THE MOUNTEBANK – you’re in My thrall
….beside the Old High Road.

‘The Golden Casement’ – a new version of an old tale

In a town not far from here there lived a beautiful young woman. One day there was a knock at her door, and when she opened it she found a man standing there holding the frame of a casement. He was a swindler, but she did not know this.

“Good morning, Miss,” he said, “I have here the unique and wonderful Golden Casement, and I offer it exclusively to you for the bargain price of fifty coins.”

The young woman reached over and tapped the casement.

“It’s wood, not gold,” she said.

“Ah, Miss, its name is ‘Golden Casement’, and though its apparent nature is wooden it is golden in its magical qualities. It has the property of being able to discern the difference between some one who is wise and someone who is a fool. A wise person looking through it will see beauty, a fool only ugliness. Yes? I see you are interested, and it can be yours for fifty coins. For a further fifty coins I will set it in the wall of your house, and for a further fifty I will make its properties known to the whole town!”

The young woman was indeed interested, because as well as being beautiful she was a little vain. She paid the swindler his hundred-and-fifty coins, and he set the casement in the wall of her house. Then, while the young woman sat at her window, he ran round the town telling everyone about the wonderful properties of the Golden Casement. Everyone 1flocked to see it and to gaze at the young woman, and because she was young and beautiful, everyone was glad to feel inside that they were wise and not foolish. The swindler, of course, slipped away from the town and was never seen again.

Thereafter the young woman spent all her time sitting at her window, enjoying very much being admired and told how beautiful she was. The townspeople never tired of coming to see her, and indeed the news spread to neighbouring towns and villages, and people came from far and wide to look at her through the famous Golden Casement, going away relieved to know that they were wise and not foolish. But as time went by she grew older and her beauty began to fade. Still the townspeople and visitors came, and still they said how beautiful she was, because none of them wanted to admit to being the slightest bit foolish.

Age and vanity and a lifetime of doing nothing but sitting behind a window being gazed at eventually took its price. Her former beauty was lost, the wreck of age untempered by kindness or modesty set in. Still townspeople and visitors declared that she was beautiful, because none of them wanted to appear to be a fool.

One day a little boy joined the crowd outside her house. He hadn’t heard the reputation of the Golden Casement, and when he looked in at the window all he saw was a mean, old woman.

“How ugly she is!” he cried. Someone put a hand over his mouth and hurried him away.

Eventually the woman died. Perhaps the handful of people who put her in her coffin realised the truth of the matter, but they said nothing, and when the townspeople buried her they raised a monument to her as the most beautiful woman who had ever lived.

The little boy who had spoken the truth out loud spent the rest of his life in an asylum. The swindler went into another country, where he taught two apprentices the mastery of swindling. Those two taught another two, each of whom taught another two, each of whom taught another two, and so on. That is why the world today is full of swindlers. And storytellers.

“Down with Experts!” – a fable

There was once a village where they had their own way of doing things. Every week the villagers would get together and hold a meeting where everyone had the right to speak and every voice was equal. Here they decide how best to do things. By and large this worked pretty well.

One day in November, the villagers realised their boots were becoming worn out. Winter was on the way, so they raised the issue of new boots at the next weekly meeting. Now, their normal way of doing things, when such a need came up, was to ask the advice of someone who knew something about the subject, and then make a decision. So this time naturally they asked the village bootmaker.

“Well,” said the bootmaker, “for boots you can’t go far wrong with good, strong leather.”

That sounded reasonable to the villagers, and after having discussed it for a while they were about to take a vote, when a sly fellow got up and addressed them.

2“Down with experts!” he said. “For too long these so-called experts have been telling us what to do. What do they know? They come here with their fancy ideas, laying down the law like they own the place, like they’re somehow ‘better’ than the rest of us! Who do they think they are? Take this boots thing – there are plenty of other materials you could use that are as good as leather, if not better. Good old honest wood, for example. Cheap and plentiful cardboard. But oh no, Mr. Expert wants you to pay through the nose for fancy leather! Ha! Down with experts!”

The villagers began to mutter amongst themselves.

“Down with experts!” said the sly fellow again.

The muttering began to grow to a grumbling, and one or two villagers started to join in with the cry of “Down with experts!” Encouraged by the sly fellow, they voted to have boots made of alternative material, and the meeting broke up to much cheering. The sly fellow got a lot of pats on the back as he left the village hall.

To give the bootmaker credit, he did his best with the wood, leaves, cardboard, and other stuff the villagers brought him. He made the strongest boots he could make. However, winter was upon the villagers, and the boots soon wore out and fell to pieces. An emergency meeting was called. Before anyone had an opportunity to speak, the sly fellow got to his feet.

“You see what Mr. Know-it-all Expert has done?” he cried. “I blame the bootmaker for this disaster. All we asked him to do was make us some boots, and look at us now! Can’t he even do a simple job like that? Down with experts!”

“Down with experts!” cried the villagers, and asked the sly fellow what they ought to do.

“Well, first hang the bootmaker,” he said, and they frog-marched the bootmaker out into the villager square and lynched him from an old oak tree.

“What now?” they asked the sly fellow.

“Make me the Head Man of the village,” he said. “I’ll do right by you.”

So they did just that, to much cheering, comforted by the thought that there were no more experts interfering with their lives. And every week there was a village meeting, in which their Head Man addressed them from a newly-built platform. He told them how he had single-handedly made their village great again, the greatest village in the land.

“Down with experts!” was his cry at the end of each speech.

“Down with experts!” they all shouted, happily, nursing their cold, blistered feet.

The wheat-child

wheat-childThe Sun came to the Earth and had a child with her. That child was a field of wheat, and it grew from its mother towards its father, becoming more and more golden.

The wheat-child learned from its mother and father how to mind its manners and show respect to its betters. So when that fierce knight, Sir North Wind, moved through the field in his shining steel armour, the wheat-child bowed to him as he passed. And when Lady South Wind came with her warm kisses, the wheat-child bowed to her. And when Boyar East Wind strode in from the Steppes, singing mournful songs, the wheat-child bowed to him. And when Widow West Wind let her tears fall on him, the wheat-child bowed to her.

But one night, while the Earth slept and the Sun was away on business on the other side of the world, the cruel landlord Squire Frost patrolled the fields, and because such as he walk silently, the wheat-child did not bow to him. Squire Frost was angry at the wheat-child for not showing respect, so he called on all his labourers, the Hailstones, to come with their scythes and sickles and reaping hooks to lay waste to the field and kill the wheat-child.

In the morning, when the Earth awoke and the Sun returned home, they saw the wheat-child lying on the ground, and their sadness was great. The Earth made to quake and to throw up mountains, and the Sun made to cover everything with fire, but suddenly they saw, in a corner of the field, one solitary stalk of wheat that Squire Frost’s cruelty had treemissed. So the Sun and the Earth called upon their friends the Four Winds, and together they made seasons to nourish all that was left of the wheat-child. And eventually that single stalk of wheat became a great Tree.

The great Tree grew straight and tall, and lived longer than any child of Sun and Earth ever had, even longer than Empress Slow of the Galapagos, whom the Tree could remember as a tiny tortoise when he was already as tall as a hill. The longer the Tree lived the more the Sun and the Earth whispered a secret to him, and that secret is that trees need not bow to anyone.

What’s that, little one? Yes, I expect the great Tree is living still. Unless some one has cut him down. Now go to sleep – even the Sun and the Earth have to do that, so why shouldn’t you!

Peace, War, Honour, and Death

Peace, War, Honour, and Death – a fable

Honour 1It happened that War saw a beautiful woman, whose name was Peace. Desiring her, he took her away to live with him. But Peace was never happy, and when he asked her why, she answered that it was because she was cold, for though War is hot he can never pass his warmth on to anyone.

One day a knight, whose name was Honour, rode by.

“This man serves me,” thought War, and called out to the knight, “Sir Knight, take off your cloak and give it to my lady Peace!”

The knight stopped, took off his cloak, and unsheathed his sword. Having cut his cloak in two, he put one half of it around Peace’s shoulders to warm her, the other half round his own, and rode away. From that moment, to his name was added Martinus Martianus, Warlike, and the word Generous was written on the cloak about his shoulders, for it takes an act of generosity to give warmth to anyone.

Soon the knight found himself in a battle, as all of his kind do. There he met with impartial Death, as one day do we all, good and bad. Death caught the knight with his scythe and he fell. The knight’s halved cloak was not enough to soak up his blood, which flowed like a stream. The stream became a great river of clear water, known as Generosity, and it flowed through the desert known as Indifference…

You ask me why? It is because, little one, all things are held in the Great Balance, and it must be so. Time for you to go to sleep, for sleeping and wakefulness are held in the Great Balance too…

The Lost Manuscript of Aë


The Lost Manuscript of Aë – a fable

There was once a very rich man who had in his castle an incomparable collection of beautiful things. He loved them, and would spend hours in his galleries and libraries, and amongst his showcases. There were paintings before which he would stand, lost in the world that they depicted or suggested, whether the painting was an intricate interior, a landscape, or a mere splash of primary colour. There were ancient musical instruments which, when he plucked, struck, or blew them, released into the room tones that had never been heard for centuries – he had a lyre, for example, that was said to have been carried to hell and back by a minstrel looking for his lover. There were statues so beautiful that the urge to kiss their lips was almost irresistible – one of them was so beguiling that the sculptor had fallen in love with it himself, and gone mad when his love remained unrequited. There were books of poetry, philosophy, and fable that transported the reader between all the realms of Fun and Profundity. There were weapons that the heroes of the world had wielded in defence of the weak and in pursuit of the wicked – there was a bow said to have been strung by a demiurge and drawn by a demigod. There were machines that were marvels of ancient and modern invention – each one had changed the world when they had been introduced. There were jewels, royal regalia from the past, emerald rings that burned brighter than forest sunlight, jade necklets that seemed warm to the touch as though the emperor who had worn them had only just taken them off – the, scepters, orbs, diadems, and touchstones of the most enlightened princes and the most terrible tyrants.

There was just one thing he lacked, something which he coveted and desired beyond all else. He had heard of the vanished civilisation of Aë, which some men say flourished thousands of years ago and others say is legend. He had been told how their last artefact – a manuscript that contained everything that gave joy and wisdom – had come down through the ages, or indeed had never existed. Rumour had reached him that this manuscript, which had been lost, was now found, and was circulating amongst men, or was so in someone’s drunken dream.

If it existed, he had to have it. He called his most trusted employee to him, and charged him with the task of tracking down and obtaining the manuscript. His man set out and, to cut a long story short, found the lost manuscript of Aë. It is not recorded how he found it – some say he won it on the turn of a card, others that he seized it in a brawl with an inebriated sailor, others still that he found it hidden in a cave, and others still that he paid a Romany woman half his patron’s fortune for it. No matter how he came by it, he went out a boy and came back a man. And he gave the manuscript to his rich patron.

The rich man unrolled the manuscript. It was old, it was beautiful, it was in Aëan. The rich man looked around at his people – his servants, his employees, his acolytes, his friends whom he had gathered together to see his new possession, others who had simply come on the off chance – did anyone read Aëan? No, certainly not amongst them. But someone did know of a scholar of antiquities who was adept at old languages and undecipherable glyphs, and so he was sent for.

The scholar, with the rich man always in attendance, worked for months at the manuscript. Piece by piece he began to make sense of it, and piece by piece he told the rich man what it said. Yes, there was joy in it. Yes, there was wisdom in it. The rich man was glad. But eventually, when the scholar had translated some three-fifths of it, he sadly came to the conclusion that the manuscript, though old, was not Aëan. It was a fake.

The rich man was devastated. He was not angry with his employee, who had done his best, but he did send him out to see if he could find the real one. In fact he found two, both of which were also fakes. The rich man never did possess the lost manuscript of Aë, and one day he gave his entire collection to the nation, which dispersed it amongst its many museums. One spin-off, however, was a general interest in all things Aëan, a fashion for Aëan gew-gaws and imaginary robes and adornments, market stalls full of scrolls and parchments with supposed Aëan glyphs all over them.

Is there a moral to this story?

A moral? Yes, never underestimate the power of bathos in fiction.


Claire Pellucida – a Fable

castleOnce there was a town. In the middle of the town stood a castle, and in the middle of the castle stood a high tower, and at the highest point of the tower was the chamber of a princess. Her name was Claire Pellucida, and the people of the town loved her, because she was pretty, and her eyes shone. They found her wise, because they would come to her and ask her what she could see from the window of her chamber, and she would tell them the most wonderful things. And the town itself was called Pellucida, in honour of its wise and pretty princess.

One day the people of the town assembled in the courtyard of the castle, and called up to the princess. “Princess Claire Pellucida, tell us what you can see to the north.”

The princess looked to the north, and said, “Far away I see mountains, with summits and pinnacles as sharp as needles. There are trees growing there, that are of solid silver, and on them hang fruits and berries that are pearls and hard diamonds. There is a river of clear crystal, like ice, that flows with such slowness. And in amongst the silver trees I see the glint of the eyes of ermines and foxes; and above the trees, on snowy wings, fly white birds like eagles, with silver beaks.”

The townspeople were amazed, and very happy that they had such a wise princess, who could see so far and tell them such wonderful things. But visitors from the north laughed at them.

“You Pellucidians are fools,” they said. “There are no such mountains to the north of here, no such trees, nor birds, nor animals, nor a crystal river!”

But the people of the town believed their princess, and one day, when Claire Pellucida had grown into a beautiful young woman, they assembled in the courtyard of the castle and called up to the princess. “Princess Claire Pellucida, tell us what you can see to the east.”

The princess looked to the east, and said, “Far away I see a forest, standing stark against the rising sun. The trees are an army of gigantic soldiers in a livery of black and dark green, and they roar in the wind, brandishing their long spears angrily, because they cannot march upon us.”

The townspeople were amazed, and very happy that they had such a wise princess, who could see so far and tell them such wonderful things. But visitors from the east laughed at them.

“You Pellucidians are fools,” they said. “There is no such forest of roaring giants to the east of here.”

But the people of the town believed their princess, and one day, when Claire Pellucida had grown into a handsome matron, they assembled in the courtyard of the castle and called up to the princess, “Princess Claire Pellucida, tell us what you can see to the south.

The princess looked to the south, and said, “Far away I see a land where the sands ripple as the sea does, and the mountains are like children’s bricks, stacked chequered – white limestone, red sandstone, pink granite. And the trees wave in the breeze, like many-fingered hands, and amongst them step lithe girls and boys in linen robes, gathering the amber fruits that hang on them.”

The townspeople were amazed, and very happy that they had such a wise princess, who could see so far and tell them such wonderful things. But visitors from the south laughed at them.

“You Pellucidians are fools,” they said. “There are no such mountains like children’s bricks to the south of here. Nor are there such waving trees with amber fruit.”

But the people of the town believed their princess, and one day, when Claire Pellucida had grown into a stately old woman, they assembled in the courtyard of the castle and called up to the princess. “Princess Claire Pellucida, tell us what you can see to the west.”

The princess looked to the west, and said, “Far away I see a peaceful sea of liquid silver, where the sun shines like copper. There is an island on that silver sea, and a great city on that island, with tall towers of yellow-veined marble, on which the copper sunlight glints, and shines, and dances. And upon that silver sea sail great golden dhows.”

The townspeople were amazed, and very happy that they had such a wise princess, who could see so far and tell them such wonderful things. But visitors from the west laughed at them.

“You Pellucidians are fools,” they said. “There is no such silver sea to the west of here. Nor is there such and island city, nor golden dhows.”

But the people of the town still believed their princess, as they had always done.

The night after she had looked to the west, and told the people of the town what she had seen there, Princess Claire Pellucida was wakened by a great glow outside the window of her chamber. She rose from her bed, and looked out of her window, to the west. There was the silver sea, the copper sunset, the island with its city of yellow-veined marble; and more marvellously, a silver river was running from the silver sea right to her castle. And on that silver river was a great, golden dhow. And on that great, golden dhow stood tall mariners and fine ladies, all dressed in saffron cloaks sewn with golden-thread. There were circlets on their heads of interwoven white gold and yellow gold, and torques of copper round their necks and wrists, and rings of gold upon their fingers. And they saluted and bowed, and called out to the princess.

“Princess Claire Pellucida, come down and sail with us to the island in the silver sea; for the island city with its towers of yellow-veined marble, has need of a queen to rule it.”

So Princess Claire Pellucida came down from her chamber in the highest point of the tower, in the centre of the castle; and she sailed away with the tall mariners and fine ladies, to the sunset, to the silver sea, to the island city with its towers of yellow-veined marble. And there she ruled as their Queen for ever.

But that is not the end of things.

The next morning, the people of the town of Pellucida gathered in the courtyard of the castle, and called up to their princess. But she did not answer. One brave townsman entered the castle, and climbed the tower, and from the window of the chamber at its highest point, he called sadly for five of his friends to join him.

In the chamber, the six men stood, and looked down at the bed, on which lay Princess Claire Pellucida. She lay smiling and peaceful, as though she slept, and in her face the six men could see the fleeting prettiness that had been there when she was a girl, the beauty that had been there when she was a grown woman, the loving gentleness that had been there when she was a matron, and still, still the stately splendour of their dear princess in old age lingered also. But they knew that she was not sleeping. She had left them, and was dead.

But even that is not the end of things.

The six men carried her, with great sadness and reverence, down to the townspeople, and they all processed solemnly out of the town, and laid the body of the princess – as was their custom – a mile away, in the great, open wilderness that surrounded the town for mile upon mile, for the wild beasts and the birds to devour.

But even that is not the end of things.

The townspeople continued to tell stories to their children, of all the wonderful things that the princess had seen from her chamber in the castle tower, and of all the things she had told them. The children believe the stories, and worshipped the tower where the princess had lived. They told the same stories to their own children. These children did not believe them, but still they told the same stories to the next generation. The children of that next generation believed nothing at all, except what travellers from the north, from the east, from the south, and from the west told them.

And who knows if that is the end of things!

golden 2


I’m thinking of putting together a collection of my short stories – most of which you have not seen here on the web site, and presenting them for publication. What do you think? If you would like to read through the short stories that I have published so far on this web site, please click here.


Baal, Yamm, and Anath

Embedded in The Everywhen Angels is this tale, handed down from ancient Canaan; it is told by a Romany patriarch to a gorjo boy, as his wife paints a henna tattoo on the boy’s arm.

BaalFar away in the land of Canaan, many years ago, beyond the city of Ugarit, where they sang psalms to the creator El long before the Children of Israel came and stole not only their land but their psalms too, there stood a mountain. The mountain’s name was Zaphon, and it was the home of the great god Baal, son of Dagon, called ‘Lord of Thunder’, ‘Almighty’, ‘Rider of the Clouds’, ‘Lord over the Earth’. Some folk called Baal by the name of Hadad. Baal was never still – he could never rest – and thunder could be heard daily from Mount Zaphon, and flashes of lightning played around its summit.

From the summit of Mount Zaphon, where he ceaselessly paced to and fro, Baal could see the Mediterranean ocean, home of the god Yamm. Baal became angry. His kingdom now felt small, because he could see its boundaries. And in his anger he called out to Yamm, insulting him continually in his loud voice, hurling thunderbolts and making great winds, so that Yamm’s kingdom was constantly in turmoil, tossing this way and that in the storms and winds that Baal sent.

“Come out and fight me, Yamm, you coward!” shouted Baal, in a voice that echoed in a peal of thunder so loud it was heard beyond the southern border of Canaan. “Stop skulking in your slimy kingdom. Show yourself!”

And at last Yamm came up from the sea, his dark face rising like a tidal wave, and he set his great, green foot upon the shore, upon Baal’s kingdom. And he shouted back to Baal in a voice like the crashing of breakers against the cliffs.

“Here I stand, you blustering bully! Are you nothing but noise? I challenge you! Who’s the coward now?”

Baal saw that Yamm was indeed mighty, a great enemy, strong and fearsome. Baal himself was no coward, but he was very cunning, and so he went to Kothar, the blacksmith god, skilled in making any object a god could need. He asked Kothar to make him mighty weapons with which to fight Yamm. Kothar took all the metal that lay under the ground between Mount Zaphon in the West, and the Indus river in the East, and he worked it into a great, bronze sword. And he scooped up a huge piece of the Earth and made it into a stout shield; and the hole it left became the Sea of Galilee.

Armed with the sword and shield, Baal charged at Yamm. The battle between these two gods lasted twelve whole years, during which time there were such thunderstorms and tides as had never been seen in the Mediterranean*. Baal pushed at Yamm with his shield, and battered at him with his sword; and with every push of the shield and stroke of the sword there was a huge peal of thunder and flash of lightning. Yamm whipped Baal with waterspouts and showers of stinging rain and hail.

In the city of Ugarit, and throughout Canaan, the poor people cowered in their houses, only coming out when the two rival gods paused between rounds.

Eventually Yamm began to gain the upper hand, and roared with delight, beating Baal further and further back inland. One lash with a mighty waterspout was enough to send Baal’s shield spinning from his hand, to land on its edge in the sea, where it became the island of Cyprus.

By this time even the gods themselves had come to watch the battle, betting upon the outcome. The sun goddess, Shapash, was the only one to bet on Baal, and secretly warmed and dried him with her rays. Baal, who as you know was cunning, devised a plan to escape defeat. He waited until the sun goddess’s kindly gaze was on him and then angled his mighty, bronze sword so that it reflected the sunlight right into Yamm’s eyes. Yamm was dazzled and blinded, and Baal started to belabour him with the flat of his sword, raining blow after blow down upon the sea god, until he was beaten, and the sea became calm and still.

Now Baal had a wife who was also his sister. Do not ask me how this can be, but such things were possible with the gods of Canaan. Not only was Anath his sister and his wife, but she was forever a virgin. She was greatly loved by all the gods, and she took Baal by the hand and led him to see El, the creator, to whom all psalms were sung. There she told him that the reason Baal paced to and fro on Mount Zaphon was that he had no house to live in. If El would give permission for Baal to have a house built, then all Canaan would be a place of peace. El readily gave his permission.

Anath asked Kothar for help, calling to him sweetly, using the pet name she had for him. “O Hasis the Skilful, Hasis the Wise, make a house for my brother-husband Baal and me, in which we can live peacefully.”

Kothar built a house for Baal on top of Mount Zaphon, and Baal was pleased. For a while all Canaan was at peace, the sun shone, and the gods dozed. Even Yamm forgot his quarrel with Baal, and visited him in his house. At such times the summit of Mount Zaphon was wreathed in mist.

One day Baal invited all the gods to a great feast. Yamm was there, and El the creator as the guest of honour. Shapash and Kothar sat together, and even Yutpan the deceitful had a place. The only god not to be invited was Mot, the god of death. When he heard about the feast, he strode up Mount Zaphon in a rage, and pounded so hard on the door of Baal’s house that the food and drink was shaken off the tables.

Mot burst into the house and cursed and ranted at Baal for the insult of not inviting him. Baal was so enraged at this that he forgot he was supposed to be living a peaceful life. He sprang to his feet, seized the sword that he had used to defeat Yamm, and rushed at Mot.

Their duel was a terrible sight. Even the mighty gods fled from Mount Zaphon, as Baal and Mot reduced the lovely house to rubble in their raging. But even the mighty Baal could not defeat Death, and Mot eventually swallowed up Baal, and spat him out on the mountain top, dead and cold.

While the gods debated amongst themselves who could take Baal’s place, Anath mourned for him. Not only did she mourn as a sister and a wife, but also as a mother and a daughter would, for she was all things to Baal. She wandered through Canaan looking for Baal’s body, and when she found it, she buried it and wept over his grave. But her tears, at first cool and sorrowful, turned to drops of fire, and became a rage such as creation had never seen. She turned and ran and ran until she came to Mot, flinging herself upon him in a murderous frenzy. Struggle as he might, Mot found he was no match for Anath, because as she had mourned Baal as a sister, a wife, a mother, and a daughter, she had become four goddesses in one. In her wrath she killed Mot, ground his body to powder, and scattered it over land and sea.

Then she took the place of Baal on top of Mount Zaphon, where she ruled for many years, no longer as Anath the gentle and beloved of the gods, but as the goddess of slaughter, whom some called Ashtoreth, with a hideous aspect.

Many lives of men and women passed. One night El, the creator, dreamed a dream, in which Baal and Mot were alive and stood before him. What El dreams always comes to pass, and so when he awoke, there before him stood Baal and Mot, restored to life. He charged them solemnly each to keep to his own kingdom, and not to fight any more. They bowed low to him and gave him their promise.

When Anath saw Baal coming again to Mount Zaphon, her heart was softened, and her face became beautiful once more. She painted herself with a dye made from her sacred plant, which she called Mehendi, making  the beautiful patterns on her face and limbs, which brides do to this very day in India, and in Mesopotamia, and in all parts of Arabia.

And Baal and Anath lived in peace and happiness ever after. Some say that when the One God came they faded away. Others say they still live on top of Mount Zaphon, but now as an old man and an old woman, and have retired from being gods.

But one thing I know is this: Anath’s sacred plant, Mehendi, which we call Henna, still grows.

* Yes, I know, I know!

Mabel’s Fables: ‘The Three Blind Men and the Elephant’

elephant fable

Little one, many folk tell the tale of the three blind men who, unaware of each other, came upon the same elephant.

The first blind man, putting out his hands to feel his way, touched the elephant’s mighty trunk, feeling it flex and move, as though it had a life independent. He took it for a great snake.

“Surely,” he thought, “This is the greatest, most magnificent snake ever!”

The second blind man bumped into one of the elephant’s legs and, putting out his arms to try and encompass it, was certain that he had found the bole of a tall tree.

“Surely,” he thought, “There is no tree in all the world like this!”

The third blind man felt the elephant’s tail brush his face, and when he caught it in his hand, he was convinced that it was part of a gigantic vine.

“Surely,” he thought, “A man could live in the shade of this vine and want for nothing.”

Now folk who tell this tale, little one, usually stop at that point, and say it proves that in matters of faith and belief, all men perceive a little bit of the truth, never all of it. But they are not wise, little one, for the tale does not stop there. It goes on…

The first blind man became devoted to his notion of a snake, and began to worship it, singing and chanting.

“O divine Serpent… O divine Serpent…”

The second blind man became devoted to his notion of a tree, and began also to worship it, singing and chanting.

“O ineffable Tree… O ineffable Tree…”

The third blind man became devoted to his notion of a vine, and began also to worship it, singing and chanting.

“O miraculous Vine… O miraculous Vine…”

Then they heard each other, and became angry.

“What fools these other two fellows are,” thought the first blind man. “This is neither a tree nor a vine, but the Holy Serpent!”

“What fools these other two fellows are,” thought the second blind man. “This is neither a snake nor a vine, but the Heavenly Tree!”

“What fools these other two fellows are,” thought the third blind man. “This is neither a snake nor a tree, but the… er… Divine… Vine!”

So they all began to sing and chant more loudly, in order to drown out each other’s voices; and soon there was cacophony.

“… ineffable Tree… divine Serpent… miraculous Vine…”

Then their anger blazed into fury, and they began to shout and scream at each other.




Now you are aware, little one, being the wisest of children yourself, that elephants are very patient animals. But even the patience of the most forbearing tusker wears very thin, when such a hullabaloo happens around his feet. For this elephant was perfectly certain in his own mind that he was neither snake, nor tree, nor vine, but an elephant. And indeed he was. Elephant through and through. Elephant right to the core of his being. He knew well enough that each of the blind men did not have some of the truth, part of the truth, or even a little bit of the truth. All three were totally, completely, utterly… wrong!

Eventually he could stand no more. He shook his trunk free of the first blind man’s hands, and trumpeted loudly in his ear.

“Ow!” said the first blind man, his head ringing. “No snake ever did that!”

Next the elephant lifted his leg, and trod on the toes of the second blind man.

“Ow!” yelled the second blind man. “No tree ever moved!”

Next the elephant – I’m afraid – evacuated on the third blind man, who was impudently tugging his tail.

“Ugh!” said the third blind man. “Those are neither grapes nor oranges!”

In that moment, when the elephant manifested himself to them, little one, all three were enlightened, and knew the true nature of what they had worshipped separately.

Little one, foolish though these blind men were, eventually they were enlightened. Not so, I fear, those story-tellers who stop short, and do not themselves wait for the elephant to manifest itself. You see, because our god or our gods are known to be greater than we are, it is often assumed that they are wider and more complicated than we can conceive.

But they might just be simpler, more straightforward.

Like an elephant, little one.

Now be patient. You might dream of an elephant.

Go to sleep.

The Stag – a fable*

Deep in the heart of the realm of Angria there was a forest. In that forest lived a stag, perhaps the finest stag anyone had ever seen, his antlers spreading like the winter branches of an old beech tree, his flanks red as the ire of winter dawn. In a house just outside the forest there lived a hunter who had vowed to trap and kill the stag, to wear the antlers as his headdress and the russet hide as his cloak. But the stag was many years in age and full strength, wily, swift. He valued his freedom and would bound away while the hunter was still fitting a quarrel to his crossbow. Season upon season, year upon year, the hunter stalked the stag. Prey and predator knew every inch of the forest, every tree, every thicket, every faint sentier, every clearing, every pool, every shadow. At the beginning of one year the stag lifted his head to a new sound, the steady fall of an axe against a tree trunk. He thought little of it as such things are not the concern of deer, but nevertheless he moved through the forest to a place where the noise did not crowd as badly upon such things as did concern him. The sound continued throughout the year, but still the stag thought little of it. Then one day when he approached the edge of the forest he found that his kingdom was much smaller than he remembered, and his way out into the open fields beyond the forest was blocked. There was a high, wooden fence. The hunter had chopped down many trees to make it, and it was cammed in cruel, sharp points. The stag ran to the other side of the forest and found the way blocked there also. He ran along every path he knew and everywhere his was way barred by the fence. He plunged through thickets and briar patches through which he had never gone before, but the fence always thwarted and confounded him. Wherever he could get a run he tried to jump the fence but always, from outside, came the hunter’s mocking laugh or a warning bolt from the crossbow. At last the stag could endure this no more and risked everything on one last, desperate leap. The fence was higher than anything he had ever cleared before, but he gathered all his strength and courage, fixed his eye upon the blue sky above the cruel, sharpened points, and ran. He left the ground, he flew, he soared, wondering if this is what it felt like to be a bird. In mid-leap he could see the open farmland and the hills beyond. It was at that moment that the hunter, who had been waiting for him, loosed his quarrel. It went deep into the stag’s body, right to his heart, checked his leap, and brought him crashing down onto the sharp points. The stag’s eye was still fixed upon the sky and the far hills but now it saw nothing. When he saw what he had done, the hunter dropped his crossbow and his quiver and walked away. He was never seen again, and his house became a cold and empty ruin.
* (c) from ‘Branwell’, a work-in-progress.