She came here often, far from
The gates of her father’s castle
Where he lay dying by candlelight
In a room of watchful shadows, robed
Figures whose only purpose now was
To wait for the inevitable, the rattle of
Death to cease its music as he breathed
His last, a final edict as reminder to any
With ears to listen that even a pauper
Must someday scribe their final page.
She only ventured here at night, by way
Of a secret passage, found quite by accident
When she tried to remove a certain book
From a large shelf at the back of her private
Chambers, an act of boredom nothing more
As the steward had ordered that she not be
Allowed to roam the castle halls once darkness
Fell, an order her father would never have given
Were he still able to give them, and this troubled
Her much, for she knew the stewards heart.
Knew he lusted the throne, resented that it would
Be lost to him when Jasmine reached her eighteenth
Season, less than a year from now, could feel his eyes
Upon her even as she wept at her father’s side, and cold
Was that gaze, all the more so by the words he
Spoke as it regarded her, smooth like silk, edges
Laced by false condolences meant to dull her senses
As a cobra that sways to and fro before its would-be
Prey, to mesmerize before lashing out, fangs dripping
Venom in that final act of deadly betrayal.
Jasmine, so named by the king in tribute to her
Mother, who bled to death in labor even as the
Infant cried for the first time, at the height of
A warm summer day in which that fragrance
Seemed to fill the room from the open balcony
Doors, carried by a gentle breeze, a scent that
Seemed an act of Providence, her father once
Said while in his cups, because it washed away
That terrible odor of drying blood, Jasmine, who
Now feared her life was on borrowed time.
So when she pulled on the book and the shelf
Moved aside to reveal a narrow passage, Jasmine
Felt no hesitation but took up a lantern that sat
Nearby, unmindful of the dank smell that was
Drifting out, felt no fear of what might lay
Hidden in this darkened hall of ancient stone
Where distant echoes filled her ears with the
Sound of dripping water, knowing only that
She needed to be free of this place, where
A darkness much greater awaited her.
How far that passage went, Jasmine could
Not say, for time lost all meaning there, and
Even now it mystified her that she seldom
Remembered moving through it, just glimpses
Like fleeting images when she blinked her eyes
In a dimly lit room; arched ceiling built so low
That she often had to stoop as the tunnel curved,
Dipped and turned along its course toward her secret
Place, her shadow seeming to form a will of its own
As it slid along those ancient walls, seeming to dance.
There was no hidden door at the other end, it stood open
And this was easy enough to remember, not just because
Of the relief she felt, as the passage made a final turn, before
Ending at a series of twenty-four steps, that led upward from the
Very earth under which it ran, but also because that narrow door
Faced the nighttime sky, built at an angle in a grassy hillside not
So very far from the Speaking Tree, so that when Jasmine reached
Those steps, she could gaze at countless stars tossed like diamonds
On the blackest felt, feel the sudden rush of a sweet summer breeze
That caressed her face as a lover and eased her wounded heart.
The steps were uneven, forged of ancient stone, but Jasmine had
Climbed them many times and her footing was sure as she lowered
The lantern flame, smiling because tonight the moon shone full, a
Silver disc of borrowed light to cast its glow on a cobbled path that
Wound its way through a thick stand of willow trees, dew-soaked
Grass brushing the hem of the nightgown she wore, washing her
Feet of the grime that caked the floor of that hidden passage, and
Even here with the castle lost from view, she could still detect the
Faint smell of lilac in the warm spring air, a comfort that nonetheless
Was tinged with a faint regret, for Jasmine had never known a mother.
It was the Speaking Tree that compelled her now, brought her to
This forgotten place night after night to play the game, twisted
And old-perhaps ageless-was this tree, covered in a thick red moss
That looked like half dried blood, it stood alone at the center of the
Willow grove but resembled no tree that Jasmine had ever seen, with
Its branches that seemed to move even when no wind blew, claw-like
And black as pitch above its moss covered trunk, as if hewn from
Marble by a clever wizard of great power, then given life by magiks
That would perhaps be forbidden now, because a darkness lingered
Here, a darkness somehow familiar whenever the Tree spoke her name.
But aye, she was drawn just the same by the wonder of it all; silver
Moon in a sea of stars holding vigil above, the satisfaction of her
Nightly escapes while her father slowly struggled to die, the steward
Stooped at the foot of his bed as a vulture might, this strange and
Wonderful grove a place only she could find and the Speaking Tree
That seemed to draw her to its gnarled roots, despite her unease at
The words it spoke…words that echoed from within where only she
Could hear them…and her growing certainty that it had somehow
Bewitched her, that it was no longer a matter of choice for her to
Come here, the unease she felt somehow buried ‘neath indifference.
The game was simple enough to play; the Tree spoke a verse and
Jasmine had to complete it with a rhyme…the number of verses
She had to complete seemed random and if she won the game, a
Precious stone appeared at her feet for Jasmine to carry back…if
She lost…if she lost…Jasmine could never remember clearly, only
That a terrible howling of some great beast would cry out from
Somewhere deeper in the grove…each loss bringing it a little closer
So that if she were not careful, it would soon come into view but oh
She had been beguiled by the somehow familiar voice of that Tree
And when it asked, this night, if she were ready, Jasmine nodded.
Child, my child, from where do you roam?
The moon is my shelter, the stars are my home.
Child, my child, to where shall you go?
I follow the wind, ‘neath that pale moon glow…
And something was wrong, horribly wrong now, a sound
Behind her as something crept through the dew-soaked
Grass, a smell like rotted meat left decaying in a stagnant
Pool overpowering her senses, making her want to gag, and
Far off, in the direction of the castle, a great bell started to toll, a
Bell that was only used to signify the death of a king, and the
Enchantment was lifted when she heard that wretched knell, saw
The steward standing in place of the Tree…a Tree that had never
Been, leering at her from beneath his hooded robe, so far away
From any help, any help at all, and Jasmine screamed her last.
Because the wolf was hungry. And its teeth were sharp.
“Jasmine and the Silver Moon”