First Movement: An AU
(Adagio - misterioso)
She sometimes wonders if she’s made the right choice.
It’s tempting to think there was a choice, but really, there was none, and so there’s really only one answer. What were the other options? To be denied the opportunity to lead, to have her gifts shunted aside, her brilliant intellect snuffed out, to live reduced to a vessel for childbearing, the legacy of a lifetime denied because of an accident of genetics, a chromosome?
There is a way, says the witch. But you will have to surrender your girlhood, your femininity, live out your life as a man.
I am ready.
Do you even realize what that entails, child? You must bind your breasts, hide your body. The spell will change your voice, but there is no spell to change what you are... within.
I said – the twelve-year-old girl’s voice trembles slightly – I’m ready.
You will never find love, not with a man, nor yet with a woman. None will ever gaze upon you naked. Your life will end at the door of your bedchamber.
So it is for all the monks. Why should I be different?
Some in the Order find love, even marry other members. How else does the Order perpetuate itself? You shall be denied that.
As the High Priest, I should be denied it in any case.
The… High Priest? It is your ambition to become the High Priest?
Not my 'ambition'. It is my destiny, and I shall let nothing stand in the way of its fulfillment. Not even what I am.
You are determined, child, the witch sighs as she bends to her potion. Just… believe me when I tell you that it was not always like this. Women were not always hidden away in the dark corners, relegated to servitude, permitted to shine only in the realm of the night. In the olden times, it was different.
She didn’t need the witch to tell her that, but then twelve-year-old Sarastra never believed for a moment that women are illogical, ruled by their emotions, unsuited to lead. (Anymore than Sarastro now believes that the black race is inherently evil – Monostatos was most probably warped by what happened to him, warped far too badly and too early on for her to find anything to save. She knows that all he understands now is violence. O Isis, she’s seen his scars - she wonders what the old priest did to him to scar him this badly. Her lashes are nothing to it.) But this is the way of the world.
She feels no guilt, not really. How could she have changed it? Stood up for her rights, perhaps? Oh, that is amusing – she has seen what happened to the Queen when she tried. Perhaps… She wonders if Pamina could be nudged into organizing the women into an uprising, whereupon, she, Sarastro, would be ‘forced’ to grant females more rights than they had had previously.
Perhaps. Meanwhile, Sarastra is dead – long live Sarastro. Her gifts live, her intellect thrives, her will is unbroken. A little injustice, a little secrecy, a little subterfuge? A small price to pay, after all. For life.
Second Movement: A Missing Scene
(Allegro con fuoco)
Ach, Ich Fuhl’s
Tamino looks up from where his eyes followed Pamina, heartbrokenly disappearing into the distance. In death, she said, I shall find peace.
“Sh.” It’s become second nature to shush Papageno.
“Tamino, do you mean to tell me you’re just going to let that girl walk away?”
I must, if we are ever to unite. He remains silent.
“Tamino—” the birdcatcher rises and comes to face him, surprisingly vehement. “You might have sent that girl to her death.”
His heart sinks, but he squares his jaw. “Women’s words. Over-dramatic, signifying nothing,” he says quickly.
“Do you believe that?” Papageno’s in his face. Tamino blinks at the multicolored plumage, then actually takes a step back at the fire in the man’s eyes. “If my beautiful Papagena, whom I have not yet seen – if she rebuffed me, if she rejected me, I would hang myself from the nearest bough. There is no pain sharper than the hatred of the one you love. Your helpmeet, your partner, your equal. Those things the monks say? I’m sure they’re wiser than I – but I cannot believe them. I cannot believe that it’s right to hurt the one closest to your heart. How can it be? I cannot.”
Tamino, realizing he has spoken, forbears to argue, falling resolutely silent. The birdcatcher is obviously too weak for the tests, in any case. He is wrong to care for him, wrong to give his opinion any weight. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Papageno casts a furious look in Pamina’s direction. “Go after her. Make her understand that you care for her. Without words, you can do that.”
Tamino frowns, shakes his head.
“You know what?” snaps Papageno. “You and Sarastro and your monks, go ahead and play this silly game. I think it’s all to prove you’re somehow better than everybody else. I don’t care if they don’t give me Papagena – I’ll search for her till the day I die. But I won’t let that girl throw herself off a cliff or something because she thinks you hate her!”
And with that, he turns on his heel and trots off in the direction where Pamina has gone.
Tamino blinks, staring after him. For a moment, doubt creeps into his mind. Is Sarastro’s way, indeed, the right way? Can there be anything admirable about being cruel to the one you care for?
But then he sets his jaw. Sarastro’s way is right. It must be right. There is no other way he will find the answers he is so desperately seeking.
Third Movement: An Epilogue
(Andante ma non troppo – dolciss.)
He has searched for her for – he would say days, except with this unforeseen consequence, days and nights have no meaning anymore. His victory – Pyrrhic. Ironic, that in destroying the Night, he destroyed the Day as well, or will soon do so… He would laugh at the cruel irony, if the pitiless, scorching heat and the thirst had not worn him down.
It’s here that he hopes to find her – here, as a last resort, in this mysterious cavern, far from the light of day. It’s dark, or at least as dark it can be, now that the night has fled.
He steps inside, picking his way through the dips and grooves in the stone floor. He cannot help his ears pricking up as he hears the drip of water, and his stumbling steps quicken, searching for the blessed sound. Right a little – past an outcropping of rock – there!
Tears almost come to Sarastro’s eyes as he stumbles over his robes, bending, then kneeling on the moss-covered ground (moss – another miracle) as he reaches out to cup his hands and plunge them deep into the cool, crystal-clear water, bringing a streaming double handful to his mouth, gulping it and feeling it moistening his veins, again and again until his thirst is slaked and he lives again.
Who would have thought the very rivers would dry out and the rains cease in everlasting day?
At last, thirst slaked, he rises unsteadily from the mossy bank, the water dripping into the pool like music behind him. He must find her, he knows. Tunic rumpled, grass stains on his knees, water soaking the front of his robes, he regains his footing, and passes an unsteady hand over his head, letting his cowl fall back, now that he no longer needs it to shield him from the blazing sun.
It is thus that she finds him.
Perhaps she has been watching him all along – it might have concerned him in another life, but now he does not care. He’s not sure what alerted him to her presence, whether it’s the rustle of her dress, the faint glow that always surrounds her – from the celestial bodies, he knows, that let her share their starlight willingly – or merely the force of her will that calls upon him to turn and greet her presence. Whatever the case, he takes a step towards her, stops at a respectful distance, and bows his head.
“Rise, Sarastro, High Priest of the Temple of Isis,” she intones. Her voice is hoarse.
He rises, keeping his head respectfully bowed. “I come to beg humbly for your help, O Great Queen of the Night.”
There’s a hesitation in her, a breath. “I could kill you where you stand, you know.”
He bows his head further, in submission. “I am not the man I once was. I would accept it willingly, and ask only that you accept my death in sacrifice for the others, that they may live.”
Whatever he expected, it isn’t this – a deep sigh, then a definite, “Curses on it all, anyway.”
When he dares to look up, it’s to see the Queen sliding down the rockface to sit with her knees drawn up, her back against the wall. She pats the floor beside her. “Here, my mortal enemy. Sit.”
Bemused, he does.
“How is Pamina?”
The Queen’s eyes sharpen. “You have no water, out there, then?”
“When the night ceased to fall…” Sarastro pauses. His words have always been measured, his tone unfaltering, but that was before. “The tides work with the moon. The rains have all but ceased. The rivers are a trickle, the streams dried up. Soon there will be no green upon the earth.”
She nods, slowly. For the first time he notices her unnatural pallor. She has always been ghostly white, almost translucent, as befits the one who rules the moon and the stars, but now she seems almost hollow, gray. Seeming to notice, she smiles wryly up at him. “I never realized that the rays of the sun also gave us life.”
He nods solemnly. He cannot smile, and envied her the courage that allows her to do so.
“I wanted to kill you, you know,” she said conversationally.
“There is no shame in wanting to kill your enemy.” Distantly, he realizes that this is not what he would have preached before. Forgiveness, that was what he used to preach. But then, he banished her into everlasting night. Do as I say, not as I do.
He shakes his head wearily. He thought it was a good thing at the time, to banish the Queen of the Night, leaving them with nothing but the sunshine, leaving him in everlasting day. How true, that vengeance invariably dooms those who seek it.
She smiles again. “It appears that we each believe what the other used to.”
He blinks slowly, trying to fathom her meaning, but he falls short. His bemused mind settles upon a question. “Why,” he asks slowly, “do you find the courage to smile?”
“Because I know what must be done.”
He merely looks at her.
“So do you. After all, you came here.” She pauses, appraising him gently. Contemplatively, she adds, “Perhaps you do not realize it, though.”
“I want to save them,” he says, desperately.
For answer, she holds out a pale, translucent hand.
The gesture reminds him of the affectionate mating rituals of the strange bird-man – Papageno has but to hold out his hand, and his mate will run to him, be she at the other end of the forest, to place her feathered hand in his and smother him with kisses.
He blinks; dehydration is making his mind wander. The Queen has risen, hand still outstretched. Fixing his eyes on her hand, he takes it.
Like that, they make their way slowly towards the glare at the mouth of the cave. Before the final step out into the world, they turn to one another. Their eyes lock.
“No going back,” she says solemnly.
For the first time since he was a boy, Sarastro feels his face break into a smile. “No going back.”
Hand in hand, they advance into the light.