The interior of the small temple showed impeccable taste in its design and décor, which Anne thought appropriate for the Lord of Art, but it was not particularly decorous. About twenty people occupied the main room with its central altar. The altar supported a statue of the god playing the ambertone, his curly hair flopping down over his eyes exactly as Anne remembered it. A band consisting of a key-harpist, a drummer, and two ambertone-players filled the temple with music while the worshipers clapped and tapped their feet in time and two of them moved into an impromptu dance. Knots of conversation buzzed here and there about the room as well, somehow integrating themselves into the tapestry of sound of which the music formed the main weave.
Offerings of money and works of art rested in stochastic array upon the altar around the statue’s feet, purses of coin and loose piles of copper and silver, scrolls of poetry and musical scores, small paintings and statuary. Anne decided to offer five gold dolphins. She could afford it and her need justified it.
“A generous gift,” said a man’s voice behind her as she stacked the coins on the altar. Anne turned and smiled at the priest, a young, thin man with a plain face and a pleasant expression wearing a white robe.
“It’s appropriate for my situation. There seem to be quite a few – worshipers here, for such a new god.”
The priest nodded. “The god is new, but the arts are as old as man. The Singer emerged into his divinity with a great many worshipers already, even though none of us knew his name.”
“My nephew tells me that you have private meditation rooms. Is one of those available?”
“Indeed, Ma’am. Please follow me.”
The priest led Anne through a bead curtain to a hallway with several doors. He unlocked one of the doors, and motioned Anne into a small room with cushions on the floor, candles, and incense. Musical instruments were stacked against the wall, along with writing paper and drawing paper, pencils, charcoals, pens, paints, an easel, and brushes. “Do you need anything else, Ma’am?”
Anne shook her head. “This will do well. Thank you.”
“I will place a sign on the door signaling that this room is in use. Please remove the sign when you are finished and return it to me or another priest in the front temple. If we have need of this room before you are finished, someone will knock on the door. That’s not very likely, though.”
Anne nodded and the priest closed the door behind him.
Feeling a little foolish, Anne knelt on the cushions and folded her hands on her knees. “I really don’t know what to say,” she said softly. “It’s odd to be addressing an old lover in prayer as a god. I’m sure you can understand that. It’s even more awkward because of our history and what I did to you. But that’s what I want to talk about. I don’t even know if you can hear me, Johnny. The idea that you can seems insane, but maybe I just need to say this even if no one can hear. I was – well, there’s no excuse. But I was very young and very foolish and what I did, sending you to the gallows as I thought, was a terrible thing to do. I was wrong. I’ve been haunted by it ever since that day. If you can find it in you to forgive me, that’s what I’m asking.” Memories came on strong and the feelings came with them as she spoke, until her throat constricted so she could say no more and a tear slipped down her cheek.
“Ah, but it’s not my forgiveness you need, Annie love,” said the familiar voice, more beautiful even than she remembered it. She opened her eyes and there he was, kneeling in front of her, dressed in a blue silk tunic and brown woolen pants, dangerously handsome as always, his green eyes crinkling in a smile.
“Johnny,” she whispered. “Am I having a vision?”
“How does anyone tell? What’s a vision, anyway? People draw these lines in the world to separate the real from the dream, and it’s all for the sake of keeping within the bounds of comfort and has little to do with truth. And if you wanted to stay inside what was comfortable I don’t think you’d be here now.” The god embraced her, and Anne laid her head on his shoulder and it was his shoulder that she still remembered and she sobbed.
“Well,” she said when she could talk again, “I’m glad you didn’t hang.”
He laughed. “Me, too!”
“What did you mean that it isn’t your forgiveness I need?”
“Annie, if I had not forgiven you long ago, you would know it.” A rumble sounded deep in his throat. “I am not exactly without resources, and could have taken vengeance on you – well, the day of my trial, in fact, or worse vengeance within a few months after that. And I admit that it was a close call for a few minutes while I sat there hearing you say those things that would send me to the gallows, for I knew then that you valued your own status as a lord’s daughter above my life, and that is hardly a sign of love, now is it? But I gave you no curses that day. And while I might have been tempted as a man, the gods do not engage in vengeance. When it seems we do, it’s only to teach a lesson either to those afflicted or to others who might be paying attention.” He stroked her hair and she sighed. “Anne Fircone, it’s your own forgiveness you require, not mine.”
“Maybe you’re right, Johnny.”
“Of course I am, and that’s why you have become part of a movement to overthrow the privileges of your own class.”
Anne stiffened. “It’s right that they be overthrown. Nobility of birth does not make one a better person. I should know.”
“On that I’ll say nothing. You will make your own judgments and enact them as you choose, and if I know that your reasons for doing this thing are personal and that you seek to earn your own forgiveness more than to cure injustice, that doesn’t mean the cause is wrong. Nor does it mean the cause is right. But it does mean, dear Anne, because I love you and always have, that I will give you a gift to help you in your struggle, to make it possible for you to achieve what you seek – and then as far as forgiveness, well, you will decide if it’s enough in the way of penance, for that is your choice, not mine.” And he kissed her, and it was sweeter by far than she remembered and sent her mind whirling into some place where her body could not follow. She felt something happening deep inside her soul as her eyes closed and she opened to him in bliss. “Farewell, Anne. Do as your heart bids, never again sacrifice it for the cruel and shallow demands of the world, and you will go far.”
He was gone. But Anne could feel his gift, whatever it was, inside her, glowing like the sun.
She rose from the cushions, left the room and closed the door behind her. She returned the little sign to the priest, who took it with a smile, asking no questions. She left the temple of the Singer and started for home churning with thoughts to express, and feeling like she couldn’t wait to get her hands on paper and pen.
Malcolm was not in sight outside. That was just as well, she decided.
On arriving at her town house, she had Lawrence bring her more tea in her study, where a stack of writing paper and a pen were kept for correspondence. Now she had another use for it, or so her feeling told her.
Lawrence delivered the tea and she sipped it, pen in hand. Then she set down her cup and began to write.
When the time comes for a caterpillar to transform into a butterfly, its skin forms a hard shell to protect it and it sleeps, dangling from a tree branch. Inside this tough shell, so permanent in seeming, the soft flesh of the caterpillar grows and changes. It becomes a wholly different creature with magnificent wings in beautiful colors and a form as delicate and lovely as the caterpillar had been fat, worm-like, and ugly. In this form it emerges into the world to soar upon the wind and grace the skies of spring.
But before it can do this – before it can feel the air under its wings or sip the nectar from the blossoms – it must do one other thing. It must break apart the shell that protected it through its transformation. It must leave this empty husk split apart and rotting on the branch. It must do this without hesitation and without remorse.
In the generations since the nation of Grandlock gained its independence from the High Vance Empire, we, like the caterpillar, have changed. We have developed the wings of commerce, the graceful form of liberty, and the wondrous colors of reason. The laws of nature call upon us now to exercise all of these and to build a new society, as different from the oppressive serfdom of our past as the butterfly is from the caterpillar. But like the butterfly, we are trapped and encased in a shell that clings to the caterpillar’s obsolete form. This shell must be split apart and discarded before we can fly free. We must do this without hesitation. We must do it without remorse.
Anne stopped for a moment and read what she had written. To say that she was stunned would be an understatement. Where had these words come from? But she knew. Here was the gift of the God of Art. “Bless you, Johnny,” she said, and went back to work.
Line after line and page after page flowed from her pen. Her hand became cramped and her fingers on the pen were rubbed raw, but her mind never faltered and the words kept flowing until she had written twenty pages of small, tight script. She detailed the villainies of the king and the nobility, the roots of these institutions in slavery and squalor, and the need, if they were to be a free people and Grandlock a free nation, to break apart this obsolete shell of privilege and arrogance and bring the mighty low.
At last, as the passing hours brought darkness to the world and the gaslights began to shine outside her window, she lit an oil lamp and read over what she had written and was satisfied, except that it lacked two things. She took another sheet of blank paper from the stack and wrote in the middle of the page:
By Madame Foresight
Anne smiled. She put away her pen and ink and wrapped the manuscript in a paper envelope. Tomorrow she would find a printer. In due course she would deliver the pamphlet to her contact in the democratic movement for distribution. And Metamorphosis was only the beginning; already she could feel the genesis of other tracts to move, inspire, and awaken the people.
A saying held that words could be more deadly than swords. Anne had a feeling that Madame Foresight was going to prove that true.
Or continue to Chapter Six.