Thirty white lines scrawled on the black and dripping wall. Thirty days and counting. So long, by my reckoning (and without these scratches I would long ago have lost all track of time) have I languished in this watery tomb.
Thirty times through the orbed splendor of the rolling astrum has the sun, unseen by me, pursued his endless journey, a perpetual fixity in perpetual motion. Even now, I suppose, he must be shining in the glad Somewhere beyond both Underworld and Overworld, riding high above the impenetrable heap of rock over my head.
It must be so. But what does it matter? I mark the passage of time by the renewal of my bread and water alone. Neither cloud nor sky, moon nor star can pierce the dimness of my dungeon. Thirty days have I lain hidden from the light of the outside world.
I knew it would go hard with me when I refused her demands. I had no idea how hard. I never imagined how far she would go to wring the secret from me. Perhaps things would have gone differently if I’d taken a different tack. Perhaps.
Even now the memory of that last night looms before me. I see myself standing at the window. I watch the white hand of mist overspread the moony sky. I remember how it shaded from gray to black as it blotted out the stars and burst into my study.
When next I knew anything at all, I was lying in this pit, calling upon my wife and child. They did not answer. For days my only comfort lay in summoning up the image of their faces. Now I can no longer bring it to mind.
As I write, there is a scrabbling behind the damp wall-stones in the corner. Something vile scuttles across the grimy, stinking floor. The tin plate rattles at my side. The Something makes off with the last of my daily ration—a moldy biscuit and a rancid bacon rind. I shrug my shoulders and curse the darkness. What more can I do? My tears were all cried out long ago.
Maria Prophetissa! That’s what she called herself in the beginning. I told her how my investigations into the meanings of words had led me into a quest for all knowledge. She said I could achieve nothing until I grasped the inner essences and properties of things. She assured me that once I had gained such knowledge—which she alone could give—I would be a true artist, a full-fledged mage. I believed her.
Besides the vermin, hunger is my only companion. It gnaws my belly even as the rats gnaw my food. I am shattered like a broken reed. I am pressed down and poured out like water. The deeps surround me. My head is wrapped in sorrows. It is she who has reduced me to this state.
Maria Prophetissa. Of course it was a lie. By the time I realized it, I had gone too far. And yet, here in the darkness, I begin to see that I have not lost quite everything. In this black hole I have been granted at least one small glimmer of light. I know now that the promises I swallowed were hollow and vain. And that in itself is something. That in itself is a morsel of bitter but incontestable truth.
Here in this prison, where the sun never shines, I have come at last to know her as she is. I have found her out. I have discovered her true name.
It is not Maria Prophetissa. Neither is it Medea.
It is Anand. It is Raven. It is the Daughter of Ernmas.
It is Morrigu.