Read Immortal Beauty Online

Authors: Thomas McDermott

Immortal Beauty

BOOK: Immortal Beauty
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IMMORTAL BEAUTY

This book is dedicated to all the brave young American Volunteer Ambulance Drivers in World War One whose headquarters was the very house featured in Immortal Beauty. The house no longer exists and thank God those brave men of the AFS took pictures and told stories of the mysterious chateau on Rue Raynouard in Paris, and of its ancient and healing waters that ran deep in the pre- Roman caverns beneath the house. This book is also dedicated to two very important people without whom this whimsy would not exist: My father, the writer and my mother, the muse.

THE WATER It was almost time. The moon would be in position soon and the priestess looked up in awe and in terror at the site of her goddess as she moved indifferently across the sky. She forced herself to return her gaze to the scene unfolding all around her and wished for the very last time that there was some other way out of this. What she and her followers were about to do went against every bit of training and every piece of advice given to her along her unscrupulous path to becoming High Priestess of the Waters. She was breaking every rule and as the cold wind ripped through her fur clad body she could her the threats taunting her spinning mind. She could barely stand.

“It’s a curse!” She could hear the old Druid priests whispering in her thoughts. “It is abomination! Anyone who dares defy the gods is doomed to an eternity of suffering! You know this better than anyone!” An old man spat on the ground in front of her. If he had not been one of the most respected of old holy men she could have had him killed for such an action. She told herself it was only that they cared so much for her and like the rest of the worshippers and acolytes and endless virgins ready to give their lives to the goddess who protected the Waters, they did not want to lose their Priestess. They were all very afraid for her. They were also all afraid of her as well. She was known for being staunch and unmoving when it came to matters of the Gods. She voiced the opinions of the Gods loudly and clearly for all to hear and the punishment for any who disobeyed was always severe and wrenching. Selinia could hear all of the protests against her latest campaign. She wished the voices would stop and leave her in peace. There was no turning back now. Her dark auburn hair flailed chaotically in the crisp wind that rose up from the churning river below her. She looked back to the hill and to the entrance of the shrine. The Acolytes and Virgins were all lined up holding crude torches which continued to be snuffed out by the restless wind. She took no more notice of the cold. She made it go away with a thought. She should have been shivering from the cold and the fear swirling about her in the night tempest but she was not. She was beyond the physical at this point, having fasted for two weeks prior to prepare herself for this journey. Some of her followers had left her side and vanished into the hills when the Romans first stole the water and more of them left when they heard of her reckless plan. She was about to do the unthinkable and she knew this was the only way which lay before her. She had racked her brain for months trying to come up with another option and it always came back to this. The time for thinking was over and the decision had been made and those who had stayed by her side were prepared now for whatever outcome would befall them. The stolen water was bad enough and this would either save their race or doom them forever as slaves to Rome. It was almost time. The drums began their slow and sonorous beat as the procession began to unfold before her eyes. She realized that the priests were urging her on and that her feet were frozen to the ground and would not obey her. She commanded what little willpower she had left and followed the procession into the mouth of the cave. The past was over. It was time for the new world and she stepped into it without hesitation or regret.

As she passed by her subjects she tried to look them all in the eyes to silently reassure them that this truly was the only way. To save their laws they must break their laws. Some of them nodded with approval and others turned away with tears in their eyes and still others touched her garment as if it would bestow upon the person some magical power. The drums increased in their rhythm and for the smallest of moments Selinia found herself smiling. She was born for greatness. It was told in the stars on the night of her birth and she was born with a veil of skin that glowed like the moon which had to be torn off so the infant that was her could breathe. It was the sign of a prophet or a seer. Selinia could see far. She always could. So when she saw herself drinking the sacred waters to giver her the strength to vanquish their enemy, no one doubted of its truth. Her visions had saved many of them through the years and prevented so much suffering from ever happening. As she entered the orifice, the sound echoed off the ancient walls which were decorated with hundreds of crude drawings from the ancient people. The tunnel narrowed slightly and she felt herself pressed against the young virgins who dedicated their lives to the Goddess of the Eternal Waters. Legend told that out of curiosity one night, the Mother of All Creation descended from the stars above to see her work. They say that the point where her toe first touched the earth a spring welled up and from the spring the waters of Eternal Life have flown ever since. It was strictly forbidden for anyone to drink of the water. It was reserved for the gods. A mere mortal did not deserve such Holy Nectar. The mortals were not fit for eternity. It would destroy them. She realized that the priestess was urging her on and that he feet were frozen to the ground and would not obey her. She commanded whatever willpower she had left and slowly started to follow the procession.

As she passed by her subjects she tried to look them all directly in the eyes to silently reassure them that this was the only way. Some nodded in approval while others cast their eyes down in fear and some in sadness. The drums increased their rhythm and the sound bounced off the cavern walls making a new song of echoes and vibration. The energy was palpable; they could all feel it. Something was happening. She was clear in her purpose. Once she had accomplished her task the cave would be sealed off forever. The invading armies would never be able to find the sacred place and the secret would be passed on from mother to daughter for generations to come. She would be the last person to enter the inner sanctum and the last one to leave it before the priests would begin to seal the entrance. Their timeless and glorious religion must be saved and the gods were telling her that she must be the one to do it.

Finally she was standing before the forbidden opening in the cavern wall. No one had ever entered. No one could follow her in. A tall and aged man came to her side and pressed his hands into hers as he kissed her forehead. After a long silence he spoke.

“My little one, are you certain this is the only way?” His voice conveyed a thousand tears which would not form.

“Yes my Beloved Father. The Gods have spoken and shown me the way. It is the only way. “ She faltered for a moment afraid that her voice would fail her. “I know that now.” She could not meet his gaze.

“Are you certain that this is not simply ambition disguised as glory?” It was barely a whisper but hit her across the face like a cold hard slap. She looked up suddenly at this unexpected question. Malice poured out of her being. He backed away from her but kept his eyes locked on his daughter’s.

“Ambition?” Her voice was cracking now under the weight of emotion trapped underneath her breast. “Ambition?” She said again loudly enough for the priests and priestesses to stop the ceremony and look to make sure it was still going to happen. “To damn myself forever is hardly ambition! How could you say such a thing to me? I am your only daughter and High Priestess of our honored ways!” The tears finally came and she could not hold them in check.

“I had to be sure little one.” The father embraced the daughter. “I had to be absolutely certain that this was not just your goal and your plan from the beginning. You were always curious and defiant, just like I was once. You broke every rule that was ever given to you and still you managed to make your way to High Priestess.” He looked around and lowered his voice so that the ears around them could not hear. Many of the young virgins were crying at so touching a scene of father and daughter standing together for the very last time on the cusp of eternity. He continued whispering. “ I just had to make sure before you made a mistake that would haunt you and all of us forever. This time you are not playing with fire, you are playing with the Gods and for that there will be a price to pay.” Selinia wrenched her hands from his and spat out.

“I am not playing with anything!” Her anger devoured her now. “Something was stolen from us! Something that belongs to us and something that has been given to us to protect and guard against the very thing that is happening! Someone has to do something. I am sacrificing everything father.” She gently took up his hands again in her own. “This is not ambition dear father, this is destiny.” Her voice frightened him. He could not look at her any longer.

“Forgive me darling. I just had to be sure. You know how I turn everything over again and again in my mind. I just had to know that there was a good reason I was losing my only daughter to the Gods.” He tried his best to smile. “Now I know.” He kissed her forehead one last time and turned quickly away, pushing past the priests and the virgins even slamming one or two of them against the cave wall in his hasty retreat. It was done. She was gone now and lost to him forever.

Selinia allowed the tears to flow freely now realizing that there are times when things like pride and vanity no longer matter. This was one of those times in her life. She smiled in vain to the worshippers who had come this far with her. Swallowing her heart she managed to say to them.

“My people! My chosen ones! May the Gods bless you and protect you from this moment on! This is the day in our history when everything changes. Today is the day that we must finally use the power we have been protecting for so very long. May the Gods be with you!” She bowed falsely before them. It was a gesture, nothing more.

“May the Gods be with you!” They chanted back. Selinia could no longer hear the drums. She looked into the small opening in the cave wall and saw only darkness and infinity looking back at her. It was time. The moon was in place and the goodbyes had been said. Once she emerged they would seal the entrance forever. The old days were over in one night; Selinia had seen to that. She pushed her way through the portal and one of her acolytes handed her a torch. She smiled at the young and beautiful girl with almond eyes who was staring back at her in awe.

“I will become a legend through this virgin.” She thought loftily to herself. This girl will tell the story of this night for the rest of her life which would now be so very short compared to Selinia’s. Her ambition had not been extinguished completely. She turned away from the light and moved into the darkness. She could now hear a dripping noise rising out of the nothing getting louder and louder. She began to follow the noise as her eyes tried in vain to compensate for the lack of light. The ceiling became lower and lower and soon she was hunched over half crawling toward the sound. For a brief moment panic seized her and she felt claustrophobic and she had the impulse to turn back and get far away from the dripping and the dampness and the utter darkness. She made herself breathe slowly and began to focus on her goal. There it was! The sacred pool of Locium. It was smaller than she had imagined. It was simply a small pool forming in the center of a tiny cave nothing at all like she had imagined. There were no drawings. There were no statues. There was no sign at all that this was a divine and sacred place. There was nothing but a puddle which had formed from the slow dripping of water from the ceiling of the cavern. It was crude and primitive and Selinia felt tears sting her eyes again but this time the tears were born out of frustration and disappointment. This is what she had been guarding her entire life? This is what she had made all of her grand sacrifices for? She had always pictured something far grander than this mud puddle. She checked her thoughts and pushed the panic far down. It wasn’t so much how the place appeared that mattered but what it contained that made this cavern sacred. The gods were always a mystery and perhaps they hid these waters in the most unpretentious of manners. No one would ever guess the power that lay in this unassuming puddle. The forbidden waters had no temple of gold or winged creatures protecting their magic. Drip. Drip. Drip. The torch was beginning to flicker. The water looked milky gray in color like the clay in the surrounding hills. She moved closer still. She thought she could hear something. A humming or a vibration seemed to be coming from the water. Was it the power that lay dormant in the water? The potential of all that could be was filling her ears with a hypnotic drone. For a moment she had forgotten everything and wondered what on earth she was doing underground. The moment passed quickly and she knelt down before the liquid as she offered up a prayer.

“Forgive me. Fortify me. Grant me revenge.” It wasn’t much but with the lack of an audience or any pageantry, it seemed sufficient. She cupped her shaking hands together and reached into the pool to gather the smallest amount of water. It was hot to the touch and was burning her skin. She was trembling now with genuine fear. It was too late to turn back now. She was the chosen one and her entire life had been a preparation for this moment and the moment had arrived without warning. The gods had spoken to her in her dreams telling her what she alone must do. She must drink the waters of Locium or all would be lost. She placed her hands to her lips and in one quick movement she drank. The water burned her throat and her eyes welled up with tears. She felt as if she were being poisoned and the poison was rushing its way through her body. She waited. Nothing was happening. She drank the liquid poison again. Maybe she needed to drink more than just a mouthful. How could she know? This had never been done before. Finally she leaned forward and like a wolf she began to lap up the water in greedy mouthfuls. She could taste the clay now and it tasted musky and heady and sweet. What if this was just water? The thought formed out of nothing and it left her paralyzed with fear. She had never once considered that everything she believed in might not be true. She had never questioned the gods. She knew that the old stories were true as her whole life she had spent under the spell of the sacred waters. She knew that there was magic and power and secrets held within the heart of the earth and in the sky and in all living things. She had never questioned the inherent powers of the waters of Locium. She knew of their terrible power! Now she could not get the one maddening thought out of her mind.

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