Toil and Trouble (Part 3) by Barbara Ardinger


Continued from Part 2

The magical school bus, carrying twenty-seven young women, drives across two or three states almost as quickly as the magic carpet flew a few days ago. The bus seems to fly, guided by Bunbury and Icarus as GPS and guards and Kahlil riding on the bus driver’s shoulder (well, not always; the driver keeps shrugging the heavy raven off, so Kahlil finally perches on the back of the first seat) and giving directions. (How the GPS ravens communicate with him is not to be disclosed.)

“So whaddaya think the magic’s for?” Kahlil asks the driver. “We’re guardin’ these here girls. Takin’ ’em somewheres safe.”

All the driver can do is keep driving. When the bus and its precious passengers arrive at the witch’s farm and the girls descend, everyone can see that the finery they’d been wearing to sit in El Presidente’s audience is no longer fine. Their silks and satins have turned into ragged T-shirts and crepe paper. Their priceless jewelry is now colored plastic straws strung together with string. Their exquisite hairdos are now lank and limp. And soon there are loud cries from the witch and her friends—these girls have black eyes and bruises all over their bodies. Some of them are missing chunks of hair or their front teeth. They are all barefoot, and their feet are filthy. And these twenty-seven former princesses—were they ever genuine princesses?—are scared.

Ella ran up to the bus as soon as it arrived. Now she’s on her toes, looking for her dear sisters. Bunbury had reported earlier that Annette and Darlene were on the bus, but where? They are nearly unrecognizable. “I won’t even ask,” she says as she hugs them. “I won’t ask. I know. I remember. I’m glad we got you away. All of you!”

“But we don’t know what happened,” the witch says. Suspecting that the girls might be hungry and thirsty, she and Mrs. Janedoe have brought baskets of sandwiches and bottles of water. These baskets are emptied faster than I can write this account of their arrival. The witch promptly invites the girls inside, and when everyone is more or less settled, she repeats, “But we don’t know what happened to you in the capital city.”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Annette asks. “Yes,” all the other girls join in, “and what you saw was all surface beauty, all surface glamour and glitz, all surface. Nothing real. They—”

“—they must have their own magic,” Mrs. Worthington says. “That must be the answer. Dare I say it? Misogynistic magic?” Something occurs to her. “Are those prince charmings…are they really handsome and charming?”

“Ella’s already told you about them,” a battered and sleepy girl named Belle says. “In public? Sure, handsome and charming. Behind the scenes? Just look at us.”

Rapunzel and Vasilisa speak at the same time. “They use us. They lock us up. Then they go to their clubs. When they choose to take us along to show off, they, well, it’s some kind of awful magic….”

“Actually,” says Goldie, “they have slaves. They’re called ‘designers,’ and they do it for them with magical needles and thread. Sharp scissors.” Wendy stands up. “And then they give us glass slippers because they know it’s nearly impossible to run, or even walk comfortably, wearing glass shoes.” She and Goldie turn to Aurora and Prunella. “What else?”

Thus begins a long, sad recitation to which the witch and her coven and the ravens listen carefully until the exhausted girls finally run down, at which point the witch invites them to line up to bathe and change into the plain but clean clothing the other refugees have brought in from the barn. When all the girls are safe in bed (tucked in, that is, on mattresses and cushions on the floor and in the barn), the women and ravens (who are also exhausted) gather in the upstairs room.

“We’ve heard them.” The witch looks around. “What can we do to help? We have to be smarter and stronger, do smarter and stronger magic than El Presidente and his so-called princes.” “Stooges, more like it,” Kahlil puts in. The witch nods. “Any ideas? Anyone?”

The prophetic raven cocks his head, as if listening to an inner voice. “For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst?” he says. “Verily when good is hungry it seeks food even in dark caves, and when it thirsts it drinks even of dead waters.”

“Enough already with the quotations,” say Bunbury and Edgar. Domina hops forward. “It’s not philosophy we need. There’s no good where the girls came from. Where you all came from. We need good, strong magic!” Edgar raises his wings. “We need to invoke something to protect those girls. And any girls still in the capital city.”

“Not something,” the witch says. “SOMEONE.”

A planning session now begins. Whom to invoke? At dawn, as the new day’s energy is rising, they gather in the same field where they constructed the scarecrow magic. Refugees living on neighboring farms are also present, and the twenty-seven rescued girls, too. Mrs. Fairy, Mrs. Janedoe, Mrs. Worthington, Mrs. Bezukov, and the four ravens are standing in the four directions, each woman holding two Tarot cards, the Empress and Strength. A humming begins and becomes the Ma chant, which flows seamlessly around the circle. As the energy builds, the witch steps into the center. She nods in each direction, and as she walks to the north, gestures from the circle send the energy of the chant in the direction of the capital city.

“Goddesses,” the witch begins, “hear us! Our young women need to be protected. So do us older women. And our male friends, too—” a nod to the men in the circle “—and our ravens. And all birds, and all creatures who are hunted.” “And all our lands,” someone calls. “Well, everything,” the witch agrees, “for the Earth is our Sacred Mother and we are all kin. Greater Powers, we ask for—no, we demand protection.” She seems taller now, and the ravens begin flying in spirals around her. “Who will protect us? We call upon that great ancient army of women, the Amazons. And we call our modern female warriors, too. Protectors and warriors, come to us! Protect us! Fly to the capital and punish the foolish men who abuse and dismiss and imprison us in any way.”

And as the refugees watch, the circle fills with warriors and protectors, females black and brown and white, all of them holding their weapons, all of them ready to serve. Somehow the circle is filled. It overflows with the warriors and protectors of women…and then, as if carried in giant tornadoes, the Amazons begin to rise. As they rise, they wave their weapons, they shout, and like a broad, relentless river in flood, they fly on the tornadic power toward the capital city.

 

Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic.  Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations.  When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the Neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.

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Categories: Art, Fiction, Folklore, General, Women's Voices

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6 replies

  1. “And then they give us glass slippers because they know it’s nearly impossible to run, or even walk comfortably, wearing glass shoes” I love this line. What a brilliant take on that fairytale standard!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wonderful and amazing. The image of all the Amazons rising immediately brought to mind the photos of millions of women and men coming out all across the globe for the first Women’s March to be protectors and peacemakers, with their “weapons” not of guns or knives, but their voices, their kinship, their commitment and determination that has continued in so many ways in just a little more than a year since then (which feels like it’s been a decade or two). I have just been reading Michelle Obama’s remarks from yesterday in which she says that we have to be the ones to make a change, we can’t wait for someone to come “save” us. That’s the spirit I saw at the March, and in so many others since then, and also in your story. Brava!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Carolyn, thanks. I wasn’t thinking specifically of the Women’s March, but I’m glad you saw that. We will meet Amazons and Valkyries next month in the conclusion of this story. It’s wonderful to hear from insightful readers.

      Like

  3. I can hardly wait for the next part, Barbara!

    Like

  4. Thanks. I’m having lots of fun writing stories.

    Like

  5. so much epic mythology!!

    Liked by 2 people

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