Queen of PainbyFusionnée©
I have passed from the outermost portal
To the shrine where a sin is a prayer;
What care though the service be mortal?
O our Lady of Torture, what care?
All thine the last wine that I pour is,
The last in the chalice we drain,
O fierce and luxurious Dolores,
Our Lady of Pain.
~ Algernon Swinburne: Dolores
Deep, festering anguish swirls within my being; it is the sum of what I am -The Queen of Pain. It is a position of great honour. At least, that is what I have told myself. It wasn't my choice of profession; it was bestowed upon me, a matter of happenstance. It took a while for me to realize my full potential, although unaware, I owned the potential all along - If you do not have a heart, you cannot be yoked to it. The ability to numb oneself becomes as natural as breathing.
I wasn't always this way. I had been living the lowly life of a sin eater. My clan was animistic - an early version of Druids, you might say, yet more thaumaturgic. We harnessed a magic that held many great secrets, all of which disappeared with the clan in the scourge.
Ages ago, in my village when someone died, fresh baked bread was placed upon the chest of the departed. It was my responsibility to eat the bread and take upon my own soul the sins of that person, allowing them entrance into Heaven, bypassing Purgatory. It was almost considered a guarantee for the remorseful and penitent. Although it was my trade, I found it unfulfilling, often praying to the Gods for something more stimulating. I prayed for weeks in between my eating of the sin of others, wondering if my prayers would reach their ears.
Winter was approaching, and it was time to gather the supplies we would need for the cold months. One morning, I was walking back from a funeral, when I saw a man beneath an overturned cart. I heard him crying out in anguish, "Please Goddess, send someone to take away this agony! I will pay dearly if it is only possible. I cannot bear this anymore."
I went to the poor man and grasped the side of the cart. Before I lifted it, I asked him, "Good sir, were your intentions admirable? If so, I shall release you from your entrapment and take what pain you have, but for a small payment. A few coins will suffice."
"Agreed," He groaned. "Just please - release me!"
I bowed my head and offered up an urgent prayer to the Goddess for the power needed to lift the weight. I dug my heels into the ground, pushing with all my strength and lifted the heavy load from the trapped man. He was able to crawl out and stand on his own.
"I'm free! I have no pain to speak of! You have truly been sent by the Goddess." He reached into his small purse and handed me two copper coins, "As promised Mistress, the fee which was agreed upon." And with that, he began to walk away, yet not before turning back to me and laughing as he danced in a small circle. Throwing his hands up to the sky he sang praises to our Deities as he made his way down the road.
I could not believe what had happened. My prayers had been answered. I shouted out my words of thanks to the gentleman and then made haste to my small hovel and dropped to my knees in devotion. Suddenly, the breath was taken from my body and a crushing pain enveloped my chest. I fell to the floor gasping for air, as blood heated inside my veins. I had never experienced such pain and I fell unconscious. I woke up to a dying fire, a cold sheen of sweat and the awareness that I was no longer alone. I sat up and looked around the room until I noticed a shadow in the corner which started moving towards me. I was frightened.
"Fear not, Child. I mean you no harm," spoke a woman's voice.
As she approached, the room began to brighten and I was able to make out the figure of a tall woman dressed in a robe of iridescent material. Her hair was almost white, as was her skin. Her eyes were blue, and as clear as lake water. I could feel warmth and gentleness emanating from her and my fear soon vanished.
"I gave you what you asked for. I have answered your prayers. Now rise up before me, my Child and let me bestow upon you my blessings."
"You are Goddess!" I cried in disbelief and threw myself to her feet, my arms encircling her legs.
"I am Goddess. Now, off your knees. I will tell you of the task you have undertaken. It will not be easy, thus I will give you one chance to decline the offer."
I rose precariously to my feet and stood before this creature of divine wonderment. This encounter was to change my life forever.
She explained to me that I was to become the Queen of Pain. The reason not being so much that I had petitioned for it, but because my prior position had gained a special adulation that would thrust me to a higher status, my soul, marred by the sins of the damned, had scant chance of restoration. It was decided amongst the Gods and Goddesses that I was the most likely candidate for the vacancy.
My contractual obligation, as it were to be, would be granting the request of petitioners. I would decide if they were worthy of such a gift and payment would be of my discretion. It sounded great, but it had a major downside - in exchange for payment, I would take on the pain of the supplicant, whether physical, emotional or spiritual. In time it would be manageable, but at the beginning it would be horrendous. I would no longer be mortal, but a lesser goddess. There is no cause without effect in our universe.
She granted me one day for contemplation and would return the following evening for my answer. I looked at the simple hovel I called my home. The sparse surroundings made me cringe and I realised once again what a lonely life I had chosen. Although this alternative was only slightly better, I decided it was worth the try. I was an 'eater of sin' after all - the lowest member of my society and although my services were needed, I was still looked upon with disgust. I was anathema. No man would marry me. I would not experience the joy of children and my love would never be returned if I was to extend my heart to another. It seemed the only logical choice.
The following day I accepted my post. I received a robe of deep crimson and a crown of thorns was placed upon my brow. My hands were anointed by the Goddess, granting me the power to heal suffering. A sash to hold my purse was placed around my waist. I received a gift of great value, which immediately became my most precious possession - an amulet of Lapis Lazuli and other fine gems inlaid in gold was draped around my neck. "For all the pain in the world, there is beauty, too. You will carry this jewel, to remind you to look for the beauty in every moment, despite the pain – Yours, and others'. The blue will remind you of the unending sky and the vastness of your realm, while the threads of gold shall be the rays of sunlight that heals all they touch."
The coronation was simplistic but the transference of power was intense. I was led to an altar where, while a mixture of burning sandalwood and incense lulled me into a peaceful trance, incantations were spoken over me. I was anointed with essential oils and my body was inscribed in inks with symbols which would empower and protect me as I served.
The skies grew dark as clouds began to form and distant thunder rumbled in sync with the drumming of the priests. I began to feel the tingle of a thousand pinpricks in my feet, a sensation that slowly worked upwards through my body.
In the next moment, a vortex opened in the sky and every pain and affliction known to man and beast rained down on me. I felt the stings of whips, the slash of knives and the blistering of fire burning my flesh. My mind was deluged with agony, anger and sadness - churning and writhing within my skull and driving me to madness. I was held down to prevent me from thrashing about as a thousand unseen hands tore at me, ripping my robes and tearing at my flesh as though all needed a part of me to survive. Powerful jaws bit down upon my limbs and I could hear the crunching of my bones as they splintered and cracked.
There was no turning back. I had no time to regret my decision. All I could do was lie there until my mortality painfully slipped away and I drifted into the darkness.
I lost all sense of time, while I was in this limbo of pain. I woke to find myself alone, except for the presence of the Goddess. My body was whole again, as was my mind and spirit.
"You have been transformed into a being, the like of which has never before existed. You will serve the mortals. The task you have taken is one of great strength. Your power will benefit no one, unless you decide. You may ask any price for your services, though there is one stipulation. Each petitioner will voluntarily offer one day from his or her life, to be collected at any time when we desire acquisition. Any additional compensation is yours to keep."
"If I may ask, why one day of the petitioner's life? Is there not enough life force in the universe?"
"Each person's lifetime is measured out to an exact amount. There are times when a soul needs or beseeches an additional day to complete an undone task to save them from perdition. Or perhaps unforeseen consequence takes a life too early. It is only extraordinary circumstances that warrant such a request, but this will ensure that we have the extra day if it is needed. Even our powers have limitations that we should account for and rectify where necessary."
"It was arrogant of me to question such matters. I shall fulfil my obligations and serve as justly as promised."
"I trust you shall. We have chosen wisely and you will be more than adequate in your seat of power. It is time for you to leave and make your self known to the world. You will not have the emotional ties of a mortal soul to manipulate your decisions, for you are pure now. Blessed be, my Queen."
"Until we meet again." She placed a kiss atop my head, and departed.
In the next moment, I was on an unfamiliar road, somewhere in the Carpathian Mountains, where I had lived as a sin eater in my previous life. I walked until I found familiar surroundings and began performing my duties at once. In time I would develop my own traditions and prayers and build temples to allow for devotions. I would travel the world of mortals alone. No longer did I take upon me the sins of others. I now reigned over all as the Queen of Pain.
Now..." said the Queen of Pain in a slow, commanding voice. "I have shared with you my story." Indulge me with your own..."
~ ~ ~
"Remarkable . . . Antediluvian for certain. I can't even trace the origin of its make or territory and it doesn't appear to be tribal. I can only assume it to have originated in the Middle East. A bibelot of astounding proportions. Where did you say you acquired it, Alex?"
The old man was still hunched over, staring incredulously at the amulet in his trembling hands. His glasses perched upon the tip of his nose and his brows knitted into furrows while his mouth hung slightly.
"I didn't," she said. Alex blew a steady stream of smoke into the air. She was reluctant to talk about the expedition. It had killed two of her best workers and had left her with a permanent limp. The scar that ran down the length of her leg would be a constant reminder. And Sam . . . Sam had been taken from her on that terrible day. "It came from the Everest Expedition." she said.
The old man lifted his gaze from the amulet in his hand and stared at the woman wide eyed. "Was this found with the remains?"
"Yes, it was around her neck." She crushed out her cigarette. "What do you make of it?"
He stared at the dark haired woman for a moment longer and then shook his head to break the spell. Turning the necklace over in his hands gave him an overwhelming feeling of awe. It struck him that he might be holding the most astonishing find in all of history; surpassing the discovery of Tut's treasures - more valuable then the Star of India and the Hope Diamond combined. He could not even imagine what the monetary value would amount to on such a treasure.
"Well it doesn't make sense, considering the location it was found in. Unless the stones were imported, or the deceased was a traveller. I've never seen this type of writing before. It appears almost runic but nothing like I have ever come across."
He pulled out his loop and tucking his glasses up onto his forehead, placed the loop over his eye and scrutinized the stone inlay. Something caught his eye, but he decided not to say anything to the woman until he was certain. The stone was assumed to be a whole piece, but there seemed to be crevices within. He wanted to be thorough and use the microscope to further evaluate. "I wonder . . ." he muttered to himself.
"What is it?"
"I'm not sure yet." He carried the amulet over to the microscope and slid it beneath the lens. He adjusted the focus and studied the stones. Pulling away for a moment, he rubbed his eyes and looked again, making a few more adjustments. "It appears to be tessellated . . . almost a pattern of sorts. Here - look for yourself."
The woman walked over to the table and peered into the microscope. She was intrigued by the colour of the lapis stones. The intensity of the colour had an almost magical quality. She further analyzed the stone's pattern.
"One piece looks almost like Africa."
"It is Africa. Look again - it's all of the continents, but with an extra piece. A lost continent perhaps?"
"Between Europe and Africa? That's not possible. Atlantis isn't assumed to be located there?"
"No one said anything about Atlantis and that's never been proven - only theorized."
She locked eyes with the man. "Then what does this mean?"
"If it is some type of continental map, this is much bigger than anyone has ever imagined."
Alex left the lab, and went home to her apartment thinking about what the old man had said. Something big could come from this find. Perhaps this would finally be her claim to fame. At the age of 40, she could only hope. She had been on many expeditions - some fruitful, others not quite. But this one was different. Part of her wished she hadn't left the amulet with the old man, but she knew he was trustworthy and would find the answers that she needed.
She loosened the tie-up from her hair. She always wore it up, to keep the stray strands out of her dark brown eyes. As her long, dark hair fell to her shoulders, only a few grey strands showed a hint of her age. Her complexion was flawless, as was her body. Glancing into the mirror in her bedroom, she let out a sigh. She wasn't a woman who prided herself on appearance but instead, on what she could accomplish. Yet, today she felt unaccomplished. There were so many unsolved elements to this expedition. She knew in time she would find answered, but her impatience made her tense.
Questions ran through her mind. What was the mystery behind the woman in the cave? The body was perfectly preserved, as if she were only asleep. What was the meaning of the amulet? She thought she had all the pieces to the puzzle, yet she had been unable to solve it since Sam had been taken from her.
Sam had been her partner, and a fellow anthropologist. They had met at the University of Edinburgh and had gone on their first dig together more than ten years before the Everest Expedition. In a bog located in Northern England, they had examined the body of a man who was perfectly preserved in the peat. They were the youngest members of the team and set to the task of collecting samples of vegetation and water to be analyzed. Working alongside each other, they became close friends, despite a difficult start. Alex thought Sam was too laid back, while Sam thought Alex was arrogant and spoiled. They would soon find out that they shared many things, especially a wicked sense of humour.
They worked together on the bog man project until Alex was called home to the States. Her father had taken ill and she needed to go to him. She wouldn't see Sam again until a few years later, in Romania. She was doing research for a private contractor and was in a museum when she heard a familiar voice.
"You look a lot different when you're not covered in bog muck."
"And you smell much better," Alex smiled, standing to embrace her friend, and knocking over the papers she had been working on, sending them to the floor.
"Still as graceful as ever, I see. At least this is better than when you spilt rotting, slimy vegetation on me."
Glancing at the papers and photographs, Sam bent down to help Alex pick up her notes. "And what is this? Are we into cults now? Are you here in search of Dracula?" Sam said with a devious smile.
"No, my stepmother is still back in the States, but thanks for asking."
The 30 year old blonde handed the papers back to Alex. Shuffling through them, Alex pulled out some drawings. "Look at this. Have you ever seen this before?"
Sam brushed away a stray lock of blonde hair from her face and studied the drawings. "It's old . . . that's for sure, but no, I've never seen anything like it. Where did you find it?"
"Here, in a small, almost neglected church. An old priest gave it to me. He said to take care of it, yet it was almost as if he wanted to get rid of it. My benefactor has the original in a safe." Alex pulled Sam closer to her and looked around to see if they were alone. "This cult or whatever it is seems long forgotten, but the research I've done so far is incredible. I will be undertaking an expedition soon. I'm in charge of hiring and planning. I want you to come with me."
Sam looked into the brunette's face. She was like an excited child who had found a secret place. As Alex took Sam's hands in her own, it was as if they both felt a surge of energy flowing through them. Sam wanted nothing more than to fall into her arms and agree to anything.
"Wait . . ." she shook her head to get her bearings, "You haven't really told me anything. What are we going in search of?"
"Possibly the discovery of the century."
~ ~ ~
Alex roused herself from her reverie. She didn't want to think about Sam right now. It hurt. She decided to take a bath. A good soak in a hot tub and a book would be just what she needed. Her head was still reeling from her meeting with the old man and what the amulet may reveal, and she needed escape.
She poured herself a glass of wine and then grabbed her cigarettes and a book of bodice ripping romance - something she only read for amusement. Checking the water temperature, she slid down into the old claw foot tub, relaxing in the hot water.
After a sip of wine, she lit a cigarette and opened her book. Her fingers traced the picture of Sam she used as a bookmark. Sam's smiling face reminded her of how the blonde would tease her over her choice of reading material. She took a long drag of her cigarette and exhaled the smoke slowly, as she read about the drama unfolding in the life of her book's heroine.
"God, you're such a victim," she said out loud. "You have no idea what real pain is, do you?" She reached for her glass of wine and took a large gulp. The stress of the past few months started to slowly dissolve in the tub, leaving her more at ease. She closed her eyes and listened to the strains of the violin music playing in the other room. The bittersweet sound of the bow gliding over the strings lulled her into a peaceful place and again she could see Sam's face smiling at her. This was Sam's music - the music they had dined to, danced to and made love by so many nights.
It had been recently, only, that she was able to reflect on their sexual moments together, and recall the passion they had found together. Without Sam, intimacy had become painful and orgasm became strictly a biological release. She didn't derive much pleasure from it. It was almost routine when she slid her hand under the water and between her thighs.