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Thistle and Arum

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Into the crack in the world, the Lady strode, her malachite dress hidden beneath a coal-black fur cape. She ignored the shiver that went down her spine at the sight of the unfathomable darkness flowering open in the pale hillside. If the peasants, with their gross and violent fears found nothing terrifying in the unnatural split, then she would be unafraid.

The lady took a step deep into the God-forsaken cave, this rupture of the Lord’s God-given power over this land, into the humid spaces. Her heels clicked sharply as clover gave way to clay and stone. Sunlight, already waning when she’d wrapped her body and face in black fur and set out, was nearly gone and moonlight faded quickly inside the witch’s cave. Then, unexpectedly, gravel gave way to blades of grass again, and light, some strange sun-like inflorescence, flickered into view. Before her, an impossible garden grew, for no flowers could truly flourish without the grace of God’s sun.

And yet.

A faint pressure, like the gaze of a hungry animal, and the lady drew herself up, swallowing a cry of fear. Great glowing eyes smiled from beneath each unnatural shadow, and she held herself still, waiting for the witch Jeanne to announce herself.

“Milady,” Jeanne said, her voice very like someone had captured the echo of a woman jumping from a cliff. “I am honored.” There was no insincerity in her tone. “What boon have you to ask?”

The question lay between them, a fragile thing. Like a new sprout waiting to be coaxed into life.

Their eyes met, Jeanne’s gaze understanding. Warming. The stepped into the light, settling herself in the crook of a tree root, bare body cradled against the rough plant. With her body bare and legs slightly spread, the lady could see— could see all of her, down to the— the lady dragged her eyes away.

“Unsex me. Make me as my husband is-- let me wrest control from his pitiful, faltering hands. More and yet more cries for blood and gold. He goes and he dallies with every doxy in his sight, and it disgusts--“ she bit off her words, the bared teeth she showed to no one on display to Satan’s whore. She pulled herself taller, painted herself green inside as fortification.

Satan’s whore watched from her bower with a knowing gaze. “I can’t do anything for you, I’m sorry,” Jeanne said through her smile.

“Then what shall I do?” cried the lady, quite tired of the washed brown and greys of her castle, of interminable waiting and self-restraint. The ground trembled warmly beneath her feet like an animal shifting in its sleep.

“What is there ever to do?” Jean lay back, her legs spread like the petals of a lily, small pink stamen peaking between the fleshy flora. “What power have we ever had?”

The Lady felt her face heat, the chill in her bones abate like the tide going out. It felt as though a moment in the warmth of the cave was more heat than her marriage night. She bit her lip, breath catching. A step forward, the fold of her robes rippling around her, caressing her skin like watered silk against her legs, her arms, her hips, her thighs... another inadvterant step towards the lounging woman.

Was she a woman? No, for a moment the witch who had been Jeanne was something else, all feline claws and inhuman eyes. Jeanne towered, the weight of her shadow oppressive as summer heat is oppressive, weighing her down and making her sweat. With one wrong step she could be swallowed whole, tumbling into the abyss without a chance to shrive her soul, weighed down by secret sins that Jeanne must know.

The lady stumbled to a halt, searching for the kernel of cold hatred she nurtured within herself always. In her eye she saw the parades of women, long limbed and beautiful, and every one of them damned. She felt the ice pour back into her veins, exultant, blue hot, white hot, and a deeper peacock-hued cold heat that burned from her soul. She wrapped her cloak around her and stared into Jeanne’s eyes.

Jeanne’s eyes were the color of early dusk, shadowed but clear blues and purples painted beneath unnaturally large pupils. She had no reason to rush. She tipped her head to the side, wheaten hair cascading over on shoulder like a waterfall, with purple thistles and foamy white hemlock tangled in her curls.

The lady’s fingers twisted, grasping and claw-like.

“Tell me how to get power,” she demanded.

Jeanne stroked the top of a thistle flower, one long pale pink finger caressing over the curve and sliding down onto the spiky phyllary. When she pulled her hand away, the spines were bloody. She sucked her finger into her mouth, looking down at the top of her hand, as though the pleasure of tasting her own blood outweighed the presence of even one such as the lady-- perhaps especially her. A smear of red lingered on her plush lower lip. She didn’t laugh, but it was a near thing— the cough of a cougar.

“I don’t know,” she said, and the smile she gave the lady was a needle of mistletoe in the heart. “Isn’t that wonderful?” She laughed, her smile full of blood. “Isn’t it lovely that a thorn bush has roses to beautify them?”

Satan’s bitch took the lady’s marble-cold hand in her own, pulling her into an impromptu dance, the line of her bare body pressed to the black fur of the lady’s cape. Then the cloak was being abandoned, and the curves the made up Jeanne were curling into the voluminous green robes. The heat between them, the lady’s cold heat and Jeanne’s sunlike devilish warmth twined together, twinned, though the lady tried to pull away. The devil had given his witch strength to do as she wished, and fear was all-encompassing, all-consuming.

They consumed each other until fear was burned out, and then they set to burning other emotions. Anger— there, a white oleander twig in the bonfire. Envy, a yew branch. Love… they poured dried branches of the belladonna into a fire between them until their was no room left to breathe.

The flower Jeanne was to send the lady away with, she carefully tucked inside pale pink lips, between parted marble legs, beneath writhing layers of ivory silk and peacock-green brocade. A power that only the queen could use. A power that could destroy the king.

Alone again, Satan’s bitch curled herself like a baby chick into a hollow of the earth to sleep.