Some people see things that others cannot. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” (H.P. Lovecraft).

Tanith Lee: Red as Blood



A fairy tale! A fairy tale! And finally one with bite.
The beautiful Witch Queen flung open the ivory case of the magic mirror. Of dark gold the mirror was, dark gold as the hair of the Witch Queen that poured down her back. Dark gold the mirror was, and ancient as the seven stunted black trees growing beyond the pale blue glass of the window.
"Speculum, speculum," said the Witch Queen to the magic mirror. "Dei gratia."
"Volente Deo. Audio."
"Mirror," said the Witch Queen. "Whom do you see?"
"I see you, mistress," replied the mirror. "And all in the land. But one."
"Mirror, mirror, who is it you do not see?"
"I do not see Bianca."
The Witch Queen crossed herself. She shut the case of the mirror and, walking slowly to the window, looked out at the old trees through the panes of pale blue glass.
Fourteen years ago, another woman had stood at this window, but she was not like the Witch Queen. The woman had black hair that fell to her ankles; she had a crimson gown, the girdle worn high beneath her breasts, for she was far gone with child. And this woman had thrust open the glass casement on the winter garden, where the old trees crouched in the snow. Then, taking a sharp
bone needle, she had thrust it into her finger and shaken three bright drops on the ground. "Let my daughter have," said the woman, "hair black as mine, black as the wood of these warped and arcane trees. Let her have skin like mine, white as this snow. And let her have my mouth, red as my blood." And the woman had smiled and licked at her finger. She had a crown on her head; it shone
in the dusk like a star. She never came to the window before dusk; she did not like the day. She was the first Queen, and she did not possess a mirror.

The second Queen, the Witch Queen, knew all this. She knew how, in giving birth, the first Queen had died. Her coffin had been carried into the cathedral and masses had been said. There was an ugly rumor—that a splash of holy water had fallen on the corpse and the dead flesh had smoked. But the first Queen had been reckoned unlucky for the kingdom. There had been a strange plague in the land since she came there, a wasting disease for which there was no cure.
Seven years went by. The King married the second Queen, as unlike the first as frankincense to myrrh.
"And this is my daughter," said the King to his second Queen.
There stood a little girl child, nearly seven years of age. Her black hair hung to her ankles, her skin was white as snow. Her mouth was red as blood, and she smiled with it.
"Bianca," said the King, "you must love your new mother."
Bianca smiled radiantly. Her teeth were bright as sharp bone needles.
"Come," said the Witch Queen, "come, Bianca. I will show you my magic mirror."
"Please, Mama," said Bianca softly, "I do not like mirrors."
"She is modest," said the King. "And delicate. She never goes out by day. The sun distresses her."
That night, the Witch Queen opened the case of her mirror.
"Mirror, whom do you see?"
"I see you, mistress. And all in the land. But one."
"Mirror, mirror, who is it you do not see?"
"I do not see Bianca."
The second Queen gave Bianca a tiny crucifix of golden filigree. Bianca would not accept it. She ran to her father and whispered: "I am afraid. I do not like to think of Our Lord dying in agony on His cross. She means to frighten me. Tell her to take it away."
The second Queen grew wild white roses in her garden and invited Bianca to walk there after sundown. But Bianca shrank away.
She whispered to her father: "The thorns will tear me. She means me to be hurt."
When Bianca was twelve years old, the Witch Queen said to the King, "Bianca should be confirmed so that she may take Communion with us."
"This may not be," said the King. "I will tell you, she has not even been christened, for the dying word of my first wife was against
it. She begged me, for her religion was different from ours. The wishes of the dying must be respected."
"Should you not like to be blessed by the church," said the Witch Queen to Bianca. "To kneel at the golden rail before the marble
altar. To sing to God, to taste the ritual bread and sip the ritual wine."
"She means me to betray my true mother," said Bianca to the King. "When will she cease tormenting me?"
The day she was thirteen, Bianca rose from her bed, and there was a red stain there, like a red, red flower.
"Now you are a woman," said her nurse.
"Yes," said Bianca. And she went to her true mother's jewel box, and out of it she took her mother's crown and set it on her head.
When she walked under the old black trees in the dusk, the crown shone like a star.
The wasting sickness, which had left the land in peace for thirteen years, suddenly began again, and there was no cure.
The Witch Queen sat in a tall chair before a window of pale green and dark white glass, and in her hands she held a Bible bound in rosy silk.
"Majesty," said the huntsman, bowing very low.
He was a man, forty years old, strong and handsome, and wise in the hidden lore of the forests, the occult lore of the earth. He would kill too, for it was his trade, without faltering. The slender fragile deer he could kill, and the moonwinged birds, and the velvet hares with their sad, foreknowing eyes. He pitied them, but pitying, he killed them. Pity could not stop him. It was his trade.
"Look in the garden," said the Witch Queen.
The hunter looked through a dark white pane. The sun had sunk, and a maiden walked under a tree.
"The Princess Bianca," said the huntsman.
"What else?" asked the Witch Queen.
The huntsman crossed himself.
"By Our Lord, Madam, I will not say."
"But you know."
"Who does not?"
"The King does not."
"Or he does."
"Are you a brave man?" asked the Witch Queen.
"In the summer, I have hunted and slain boar. I have slaughtered wolves in winter."
"But are you brave enough?"
"If you command it, Lady," said the huntsman, "I will try my best."
The Witch Queen opened the Bible at a certain place, and out of it she drew a flat silver crucifix, which had been resting against the
words: Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night… Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness.
The huntsman kissed the crucifix and put it about his neck, beneath his shirt.
"Approach," said the Witch Queen, "and I will instruct you in what to say."
Presently, the huntsman entered the garden, as the stars were burning up in the sky. He strode to where Bianca stood under a
stunted dwarf tree, and he kneeled down.
"Princess," he said. "Pardon me, but I must give you ill tidings."
"Give them then," said the girl, toying with the long stem of a wan, night-growing flower which she had plucked.
"Your stepmother, that accursed, jealous witch, means to have you slain. There is no help for it but you must fly the palace this very night. If you permit, I will guide you to the forest. There are those who will care for you until it may be safe for you to return."
Bianca watched him, but gently, trustingly.
"I will go with you, then," she said.
They went by a secret way out of the garden, through a passage under the ground, through a tangled orchard, by a broken road between great overgrown hedges.
Night was a pulse of deep, flickering blue when they came to the forest. The branches of the forest overlapped and intertwined like
leading in a window, and the sky gleamed dimly through like panes of blue-colored glass.
"I am weary," sighed Bianca. "May I rest a moment?"
"By all means," said the huntsman. "In the clearing there, foxes come to play by night. Look in that direction, and you will see
them."
"How clever you are," said Bianca. "And how handsome."
She sat on the turf, and gazed at the clearing.
The huntsman drew his knife silently and concealed it in the folds of his cloak. He stopped above the maiden.
"What are you whispering?" demanded the huntsman, laying his hand on her wood-black hair.
"Only a rhyme my mother taught me."
The huntsman seized her by the hair and swung her about so her white throat was before him, stretched ready for the knife. But he
did not strike, for there in his hand he held the dark golden locks of the Witch Queen, and her face laughed up at him and she flung
her arms about him, laughing.
"Good man, sweet man, it was only a test of you. Am I not a witch? And do you not love me?"
The huntsman trembled, for he did love her, and she was pressed so close her heart seemed to beat within his own body.
"Put away the knife. Throw away the silly crucifix. We have no need of these things. The King is not one half the man you are."
And the huntsman obeyed her, throwing the knife and the crucifix far off among the roots of the trees. He gripped her to him, and
she buried her face in his neck, and the pain of her kiss was the last thing he felt in this world.
The sky was black now. The forest was blacker. No foxes played in the clearing. The moon rose and made white lace through the
boughs, and through the backs of the huntsman's empty eyes. Bianca wiped her mouth on a dead flower.
"Seven asleep, seven awake," said Bianca. "Wood to wood. Blood to blood. Thee to me."
There came a sound like seven huge rendings, distant by the length of several trees, a broken road, an orchard, an underground
passage. Then a sound like seven huge single footfalls. Nearer. And nearer.
Hop, hop, hop, hop. Hop, hop, hop.
In the orchard, seven black shudderings.
On the broken road, between the high hedges, seven black creepings.
Brush crackled, branches snapped.
Through the forest, into the clearing, pushed seven warped, misshapen, hunched-over, stunted things. Woody-black mossy fur,
woody-black bald masks. Eyes like glittering cracks, mouths like moist caverns. Lichen beards. Fingers of twiggy gristle. Grinning.
Kneeling. Faces pressed to the earth.
"Welcome," said Bianca.
The Witch Queen stood before a window of glass like diluted wine. She looked at the magic mirror.
"Mirror. Whom do you see?"
"I see you, mistress. I see a man in the forest. He went hunting, but not for deer. His eyes are open, but he is dead. I see all in the
land. But one."
The Witch Queen pressed her palms to her ears.
Outside the window the garden lay, empty of its seven black and stunted dwarf trees.
"Bianca," said the Queen.
The windows had been draped and gave no light. The light spilled from a shallow vessel, light in a sheaf, like the pastel wheat. It
glowed upon four swords that pointed east and west, that pointed north and south.
Four winds had burst through the chamber, and three arch-winds. Cool fires had risen, and parched oceans, and the gray-silver
powders of Time.
The hands of the Witch Queen floated like folded leaves on the air, and through dry lips the Witch Queen chanted.
"Pater omnipotens, mittere digneris sanctum Angelum tuum de Infernis."
The light faded, and grew brighter.
There, between the hilts of the four swords, stood the Angel Lucefiel, somberly gilded, his face in shadow, his golden wings spread
and blazing at his back.
"Since you have called me, I know your desire. It is a comfortless wish. You ask for pain."
"You speak of pain, Lord Lucefiel, who suffer the most merciless pain of all. Worse than the nails in the feet and wrists. Worse
than the thorns and the bitter cup and the blade in the side. To be called upon for evil's sake, which I do not, comprehending your
true nature, son of God, brother of The Son."
"You recognize me, then. I will grant what you ask."
And Lucefiel (by some named Satan, Rex Mundi, but nevertheless the left hand, the sinister hand of God's design) wrenched
lightning from the ether and cast it at the Witch Queen.
It caught her in the breast. She fell.
The sheaf of light towered and lit the golden eyes of the Angel, which were terrible, yet luminous with compassion, as the swords
shattered and he vanished.
The Witch Queen pulled herself from the floor of the chamber, no longer beautiful, a withered, slobbering hag.
Into the core of the forest, even at noon, the sun never shone. Flowers propagated in the grass, but they were colorless. Above,
the black-green roof hung down nets of thick, green twilight through which albino butterflies and moths feverishly drizzled. The
trunks of the trees were smooth as the stalks of underwater weeds. Bats flew in the daytime, and birds who believed themselves to
be bats.
There was a sepulcher, dripped with moss. The bones had been rolled out, had rolled around the feet of seven twisted dwarf trees.
They looked like trees. Sometimes they moved. Sometimes something like an eye glittered, or a tooth, in the wet shadows.
In the shade of the sepulcher door sat Bianca, combing her hair.
A lurch of motion disturbed the thick twilight.
The seven trees turned their heads.
A hag emerged from the forest. She was crook-backed and her head was poked forward, predatory, withered, and almost
hairless, like a vulture's.
"Here we are at last," grated the hag, in a vulture's voice.
She came closer, and cranked herself down on her knees, and bowed her face into the turf and the colorless flowers.
Bianca sat and gazed at her. The hag lifted herself. Her teeth were yellow palings.
"I bring you the homage of witches, and three gifts," said the hag.
"Why should you do that?"
"Such a quick child, and only fourteen years. Why? Because we fear you. I bring you gifts to curry favor."
Bianca laughed. "Show me."
The hag made a pass in the green air. She held a silken cord worked curiously with plaited human hair.
"Here is a girdle which will protect you from the devices of priests, from crucifix and chalice and the accursed holy water. In it are
knotted the tresses of a virgin, and of a woman no better than she should be, and of a woman dead. And here—" a second pass
and a comb was in her hand, lacquered blue over green—"a comb from the deep sea, a mermaid's trinket, to charm and subdue.
Part your locks with this, and the scent of ocean will fill men's nostrils and the rhythm of the tides their ears, the tides that bind men
like chains. Last," added the hag, "that old symbol of wickedness, the scarlet fruit of Eve, the apple red as blood. Bite, and the
understanding of sin, which the serpent boasted of, will be made known to you." And the hag made her last pass in the air and
extended the apple, with the girdle and the comb, toward Bianca.
Bianca glanced at the seven stunted trees.
"I like her gifts, but I do not quite trust her."
The bald masks peered from their shaggy beardings. Eyelets glinted. Twiggy claws clacked.
"All the same," said Bianca. "I will let her tie the girdle on me, and comb my hair herself."
The hag obeyed, simpering. Like a toad she waddled to Bianca. She tied on the girdle. She parted the ebony hair. Sparks sizzled,
white from the girdle, peacock's eye from the comb.
"And now, hag, take a little bite of the apple."
"It will be my pride," said the hag, "to tell my sisters I shared this fruit with you." And the hag bit into the apple, and mumbled the
bite noisily, and swallowed, smacking her lips.
Then Bianca took the apple and bit into it.
Bianca screamed—and choked.
She jumped to her feet. Her hair whirled about her like a storm cloud. Her face turned blue, then slate, then white again. She lay on
the pallid flowers, neither stirring nor breathing.
The seven dwarf trees rattled their limbs and their bear-shaggy heads, to no avail. Without Bianca's art they could not hop. They
strained their claws and ripped at the hag's sparse hair and her mantle. She fled between them. She fled into the sunlit acres of the
forest, along the broken road, through the orchard, into a hidden passage.
The hag reentered the palace by the hidden way, and the Queen's chamber by a hidden stair. She was bent almost double. She
held her ribs. With one skinny hand she opened the ivory case of the magic mirror.
"Speculum, speculum. Dei gratia. Whom do you see?"
"I see you, mistress. And all in the land. And I see a coffin."
"Whose corpse lies in the coffin?"
"That I cannot see. It must be Bianca."
The hag, who had been the beautiful Witch Queen, sank into her tall chair before the window of pale, cucumber green and dark white glass. Her drugs and potions waited, ready to reverse the dreadful conjuring of age the Angel Lucefiel had placed on her, but she did not touch them yet.
The apple had contained a fragment of the flesh of Christ, the sacred wafer, the Eucharist.
The Witch Queen drew her Bible to her and opened it randomly.
And read, with fear, the word: Resurcat.
It appeared like glass, the coffin, milky glass. It had formed this way. A thin white smoke had risen from the skin of Bianca. She
smoked as a fire smokes when a drop of quenching water falls on it. The piece of Eucharist had stuck in her throat. The Eucharist, quenching water to her fire, caused her to smoke.
Then the cold dews of night gathered, and the colder atmospheres of midnight. The smoke of Bianca's quenching froze about her.
Frost formed in exquisite silver scroll-work all over the block of misty ice that contained Bianca.
Bianca's frigid heart could not warm the ice. Nor the sunless, green twilight of the day.
You could just see her, stretched in the coffin, through the glass. How lovely she looked, Bianca. Black as ebony, white as snow, red as blood.
The trees hung over the coffin. Years passed. The trees sprawled about the coffin, cradling it in their arms. Their eyes wept fungus
and green resin. Green amber drops hardened like jewels in the coffin of glass.
"Who is that lying under the trees?" the Prince asked, as he rode into the clearing.
He seemed to bring a golden moon with him, shining about his golden head, on the golden armor and the cloak of white satin blazoned with gold and blood and ink and sapphire. The white horse trod on the colorless flowers, but the flowers sprang up again when the hoofs had passed. A shield hung from the saddle-bow, a strange shield. From one side it had a lion's face, but from the other, a lamb's face.
The trees groaned, and their heads split on huge mouths.
"Is this Bianca's coffin?" asked the Prince.
"Leave her with us," said the seven trees. They hauled at their roots. The ground shivered. The coffin of ice-glass gave a great jolt, and a crack bisected it. Bianca coughed.
The jolt had precipitated the piece of Eucharist from her throat.
Into a thousand shards the coffin shattered, and Bianca sat up. She stared at the Prince, and she smiled.
"Welcome, beloved," said Bianca.
She got to her feet, and shook out her hair, and began to walk toward the Prince on the pale horse.
But she seemed to walk into a shadow, into a purple room, then into a crimson room whose emanations lanced her like knives.
Next she walked into a yellow room where she heard the sound of crying, which tore her ears. All her body seemed stripped away; she was a beating heart. The beats of her heart became two wings. She flew. She was a raven, then an owl. She flew into a sparkling pane. It scorched her white. Snow white. She was a dove.
She settled on the shoulder of the Prince and hid her head under her wing. She had no longer anything black about her, and nothing red.
"Begin again now, Bianca," said the Prince. He raised her from his shoulder. On his wrist there was a mark. It was like a star. Once a nail had been driven in there.
Bianca flew away, up through the roof of the forest. She flew in at a delicate wine window. She was in the palace. She was seven years old.
The Witch Queen, her new mother, hung a filigree crucifix around her neck.
"Mirror," said the Witch Queen. "Whom do you see?"
"I see you, mistress," replied the mirror. "And all in the land. I see Bianca."

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Tales of Mystery and Imagination

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