The Roses of the Moon excerpt: The Curse

The Roses of the Moon: The Curse

by

Alyne deWinter

At this point in the novel Marcsa Virag has discovered her mother, Countess Orzsebet’s diabolical secret. The Countess is arrested and walled up in her bloody tower while her accomplice, the old woman Atia, curses Marcsa Virag from the stake. Marcsa Virag is stoned by the angry villagers and rescued by Sandor. That night she has this terrible dream…

XXVII

Wormwood
Absinthe
Old Woman
Crown for a King
*
Protects against bewitchment
and the bite of sea serpents.
If burned in a graveyard
the spirits of the dead will rise and speak
according to the old grimoires.
*

I tried to sleep, but my bed was as hard as a slab.  My head ached, and my joints burned.
Something was pressing down on my chest. I couldn’t move; could not catch my breath. When I managed to capture a small gulp of air, a sickening odor came with it that stuck to the inside of my nostrils. I wanted to scream but the sound just flew back into the hollow of my skull.

I saw, as in a mirror, the black, evil eyes of Atia gazing through dim tarnished light. They were large eyes, streaming with a sparkling darkness that sickened me. I was pulled deeper into those eyes, down to an inferno. Black smoke billowed up. A raven lifted its wings and flew out of the smoke and up into the sky, circling the pyre. Fire swept through Castle Szeppasszony, filling its three ring walls, burning everything down. The wall-without-a-door crumbled but the liliu tree stood untouched in the center, with its firebird rising from the flames.

“Go away, go away,” I said. “Go away!”

Black smoke seeped in under the door and under the wall, smelling of fire and sulfur and dung. The smoke poured in. My body stiffened. A large, black raven with the face of a woman was walking backwards along the circumference of a white chalk circle littered with bones. She was fumigating a pentacle with smoky blue incense while she muttered, in hundreds of weaving voices, incantatory curses upon Castle Szeppasszony.

Let it burn, let it burn, let it burn…
Let the sun fall down upon it…
Fire, set the fire…let it fall.
Let the wicked castle sink below the earth,
Let the smoke of its destruction feed the Gods of Old.
Let the Black Mothers wail for the dead,
Let the blood flow into the Serpent River,
Going round and round forever,
Let the wall around the Tree be torn away .
Listen to the shriek of the firebird…

My heart drummed hard. I felt as if my life was draining out of me.

The raven lifted its wings into the smoky air and twisted in the wind as she rose.  Once out of the window, she became a black angel, with six flapping wings that flew up, cursing, into the sky.

I passed out and floated down a black river, senseless and alone. Then the night was pierced by two points of blue light. The knife flash of a smile. My mind reeled up a spiral stair, back into a bloody chamber where the stained glass window was on fire with a vision of the liliu tree dripping with flowers and blood. There she was in her royal bath, up to her neck in ichor, singing a joyful song as she splashed and rubbed her skin until it glowed. Liliu flowers blossomed in her gore-soaked her hair. Their petals bore the same translucent clarity as her skin. Orzsebet gazed into a gilded hand mirror, and smiled at the beauty that would never tire of itself.

She rose from the curling steam of the bath, watching her reflection in the mirrors on all sides. She smiled at the lovely image in the glass. Not even the finest artist could carve a figure as perfect as she. One dainty foot followed the other to the floor. She stood for a moment rubbing the blood into her skin until she was red all over, then she floated across the tiles, dragging her scarlet tresses behind her. As she glided down the stairs, her long hair followed, uncoiling from the tub like a streak of blood. The tower door was open. The rocks that had sealed the bottom door were gone. She was free to enter the cloister walk and come down the corridor to the side of my bed.

Her hair billowed out around her like a nimbus. She pressed down on my chest with her hands, her face close to my face, her teeth snapping.

“You cannot win…Though I die, you will never take Castle Szeppasszony.”

She commanded me, fixed my gaze to hers so that all I saw were her eyes. Then I remembered the roses on my balcony, and how the power to petrify them had drained her. She could not summon that power when it took everything she had to appear to me outside of her physical form. I closed my eyes tight, shutting down inside until I saw nothing but black. The floor fell away, and my bed was loosed upon an inner sea. I dove deeper within, summoning up the power to strike. My will suddenly freed me. I flailed my arms. My hand flew up and scratched that her face.

She lunged back with an earsplitting shriek! I covered my ears, shut my eyes, and screamed. When I opened my eyes, she was gone.

Something jumped off the bed and scampered away. I sat up, wide awake and nauseated. A thin shadow of white light at the window was too bright for me. My eyes felt like stones as I gazed at it, dawn or dusk, I knew not.

The Roses of the Moon, excerpt: Saint Lucy’s Day


The Roses of the Moon, excerpt: Saint Lucy’s Day

by Aline deWinter

In my Gothic fantasy, The Roses of the Moon, the thin veneer of Christianity cracks under the pressure of ancient rites of demonic magic practiced by the Countess of Castle Szeppasszony, Orzsebet. In this very early scene, nine year old Marcsa Virag goes with her nurse, Katalin, to the procession of Saint Lucy to pray that the evil secrets of her mother, Countess Orzsebet, be left hidden in the darkness for all of their sakes.

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We came out of the gloomy castle into sunshine and snow so bright that I had to pull my large, soft hood low to shade my eyes and keep them from weeping. Katalin pulled her hood up as well, though I knew it was to hide her face. Over the stately tolling of the bells the most beautiful singing swelled, reverberating around the mountains to the heavens above.

We hurried north along the icy lane to the Chapel of the Angels. It was all the way over on the other side of the River Kigyo at the base of the Mountain of the Moon. In ancient times the chapel had been carved out of the living rock. It was faced with a deep portico of stone spires that rose through the air before the cliff like ladders, encrusted over with mystic carvings. Souls of the blessed and damned, devils, angels, and saints floated, bending around the majestic figure of Christ at the Last Judgment. Gothic niches housing statues of angels climbed the sheer face of the cliff above the chapel to a ruin at the top. Lights sparkled at the feet of these angels lit by the monks who climbed a thousand stairs to reach them. A paved courtyard went around this majestic façade and out over a ledge to the edge of the river chasm. A wide bridge spanned the gap to  the gate in the northern curtain wall. It was quite splendid to see the horses flying over that broad viaduct during my father’s rituals of war, or the processions of monks coming across in the twilight carrying lighted candles as they wound through the castle on their way to the cathedral in the village.

On Saint Lucy’s Day, the gates on both sides of the river were open to the throng. When we arrived at the bridge, the procession was already making its way around the courtyard. Many of our courtiers stood along the inner walls wearing their best fur hats, long cloaks and jewels that sparkled in the mystic light of the lamps they carried in honor of Saint Lucy. We found a place in the back of the crowd, but I could not resist squeezing through the farthingales and cloaks to get a closer look.

Smoke of frankincense and myrrh poured out of golden censers that were swung by three priests in rich, glittering robes at the head of the stately pageant. Our sublime choir followed the priests. The deep voices of the older men thundered forth mixing with the soaring high tones of the boys’ voices in such celestial harmony that I shivered with emotion. The singers carried a white, flaring candles that cast damp halos around their faces. Frost streamed from their mouths, and their cheeks burned bright red. The dragging hems of their cassocks grew dark with wet snow. Painted icons of the saints and martyrs in golden frames bristling above them on long, golden stems came towards us like an advancing army. The censers swayed, the voices boomed and rose as if moved by the breath of God.

In their midst, altar boys rang musical hand bells to herald the arrival of Saint Lucy. Her holy relics were carried high above the crowd on the shoulders of six stout clerics. As they passed, I saw Saint Lucy sitting on a tall chair inside a litter of golden filigree. Struck by a ray of sunlight, her ivory face gleamed, her hair streamed like a river of gold, but the sockets of her eyes were the empty holes of a mask. The eyes that lay in her golden dish were pale blue sapphires.

I prayed to Saint Lucy to forgive me for seeing wrong things, and asked that all the bad luck I had caused be buried deep in the earth with my doll. I prayed that the magical link to my doll be broken, and that my moon baths have the power to wash all evil away.

Katalin was weeping. I went back to hold her hand, but just before I did, I saw my mother following the procession in a long blue cloak that dragged behind her in the mud and snow. Her ladies came after, watching their steps, carrying their Saint Lucy’s lanterns in one hand and daintily pinching their skirts up above their ankles with the other. My mother’s hooded head was bowed as if she was in deep prayer, fingering her beads like a nun.  But I was not sure she really was praying, for she walked in the shadow of the bier and the darkness clung to her like soot. When she passed I did not think she saw me, or if she did, she paid me no mind.

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