| The of Lassok and Zairbhreena
by Cobalt Jade (firstname.lastname@example.org)
9. Fate Kind and Cruel
Zairbhreena stared with blank golden eyes over the mountainous vistas of
her temple home. Offerings were left before her daily: flowers, plates of
rich food, the occasional slaughtered animal; incense covered up the worst
of the smells. Her worshippers swooned in excitement when a flicker of
sunlight seemed to make her change expression. Portents were read from the
shine of her eyes; the reputations of prophets rose and fell on the
imaginary quirks of her lips. She could do nothing to answer their
prayers, of course. Neither could any deity answer hers.
Where was the prince? Why hadn't he come to her rescue? The thought
tortured her night and day.
Ennui set in as weeks passed, then months. Gradually she realized she
might remain here for centuries, a mute golden statue in golden bondage.
The finality of it lulled her into a hopeless torpor. After a few years,
she stopped thinking altogether. But the candles still burned, the monks
chanted, ignorant of the sleeping in the coffin of gold.
As for the prince, his past remained a naggingly blank slate. At first
Abrimel tried to jog his memory, but after the upteenth repetition of the
tale of the stony princess the prince told him to stop. He told Abrimel
that if he wanted a he would marry a real girl, not a statue, however
luscious and pleasing. After all he was no longer a wandering stranger but
a God-king, and as such he had a city to order. He didn't have time for
So Abrimel desisted. Meanwhile, wealth from the dragon's cave was
revitalizing the city. Craftsmen, stonemasons, and carpenters flocked to
the area to share in the rebuilding. Rivers were dammed, fields terraced;
trade caravans began to call. In all of these projects the prince worked
very hard. Indeed a year had passed before the prince noticed he didn't
even have a crown, so Abrimel was sent to the city's marketplace to find a
suitable goldsmith and jeweler.
He returned with good news. "Two skilled artisans, your Majesty," he
said. "May I introduce Mitric Nusraar, who forged ninety-nine golden
collars for the concubines of Sultan Faruq al-Nasir." The pudgy yet
dignified on Abrimel's right smiled and bowed. By his hands, which
were nimble yet scarred at their tips, the prince knew he was a skilled
Abrimel then indicated a slim quiet woman in dark blue robes at his
left, who was veiled completely but for her eyes. "And this fair flower is
Lady Raphez, a gem cutter and trader from the west."
And Jaseloris Raphez, the gem merchant's from Carsimbad, lifted
her smoky blue veil and smiled at the prince.
She knew it was Prince Lassok; it could be no other. She had known
since coming to the city two weeks before after hearing the strange of the dragon. Gossip said the new God-king, though just, was bewitched,
for he never spoke of his past. She had confirmed her suspicions of
amnesia by bedding the innocent Abrimel and milking him--in more ways than
one--for the true story, for she had lost none of her carnal skills on the
long road to Lakthira.
The prince brightened when he saw her face and leaned forward from his
throne in a captivated way. As Jaseloris suspected, he did not know her.
Even better, there was no Zairbhreena around to distract him. She intended
to take full advantage of her rival's absence and displayed herself
The prince noted with appreciation the firm female curves the
robes--which marked her a desert woman still, for women in the mountains
did not go veiled--did not fully conceal. It seemed to him that he knew
her, and she him; yet he remembered nothing. He knew the monks spoke of
past lives, so that must be the reason for the nagging familiarity. "Let
us see your wares, Lady Raphez."
Jaseloris opened her tray, revealing a galaxy of jewels for his
inspection. "The finest, your Majesty," she said, her dark eyes beckoning.
"Come closer to see them. Pearls from the Bitter Sea, rubies pried from
the cliffs of the Great Rift, a yellow diamond from Thorzaan."
The prince stepped down from the throne. As a blank slate he was
practically a virgin, and very vulnerable to the experienced.
The electricity that had been sparked between them flashed again.
Jaseloris smoldered as he stroked the dark, glistening rubies, imagining
them her lips. When he fondled the pearls, she felt her nipples rolling
between his fingers; and when he touched the yellow diamond, she gave a
small gasp of pleasure, a release. "Your Majesty," she said in a silky
voice, "these gems will shine more brightly in a darkened room, under
The prince concurred. They went away together. Abrimel was rueful, but
not really surprised, when they reappeared cooing arm-in-arm the next
morning. The prince had been celibate for the past year; it was about time
he found a woman, stony princess or no stony princess.
In the workshops of the palace the royal crown took form. Each knock of
the hammer, each tiny gem, formed another artifact in a second place, a
heavy length of gold chain that would hold the aurified Zairbhreena in
stasis forever, though she did not know it. Hope had died and fossilized
for her long ago. There was no question of her preventing the wedding.
Even if she could have commanded her legs to move she would have collapsed
of her own golden weight before she even left the altar.
When the crown was finished the new God-king had his coronation, with a
proud new Queen standing at his side. Jaseloris had triumphed at last, and
she would make sure the prince's memories of his past life remained vague.
Years passed. The city grew and became more prosperous. Ziggurats of
gold brick and white marble were erected; broad-squared marketplaces,
townhouses, and pleasure gardens created checkerboard vistas of luxury.
Temple spires stretched like gilded fingernails to the sky, threatening to
pierce the scudding clouds. The prince became known for his judiciousness
and accessibility. He was a solemn man, not given to display; his
dark-haired Queen was regarded as more loquacious and charming then he.
She was a clever woman, crafty and sly in her business deals, yet a
patroness of the arts and an able administrator of the throne's acts of
charity: orphanages, public clinics, food banks for the poor. She was
beautiful and dutiful; she had grace and dignity. Overall she had only one
fault, and it was physical.
She wore always a glove upon her left hand. Years ago, she explained,
she had burned it horribly in a fire, which had scarred and then toughened
it like boiled leather, and rather than nauseate others she had chosen to
conceal it. Even the slightest touch to it pained her still. The injury
caused not a few problems in areas like lovemaking and bathing, but in time
the prince grew used to his new wife's injury. A few times when she was
sleeping, though, he had inadvertently brushed against the soft-gloved hand
and found what it protected heavy and hard to the touch...almost as if it
was carved from stone and not flesh and blood.
Jaseloris had servants to dress her and ones to help her bathe and
arrange her hair, so the handicap was not as much as a liability as the
prince first thought. She even had a wardrobe of gloves for it which she
changed according to her costume. One day gold brocade might sheathe her
useless hand; the next, a smart black velvet glovelet with a cuff of
embroidered peacock feathers. The women of the city, seeking to imitate
her, soon made the wearing of a single glove into a fashion fad.
Abrimel never spoke of Zairbhreena again, guessing--rightly--that the
prince was weary of the and that Jaseloris wouldn't want to hear it
either. In fact, she seemed to have an anathema for female sculpture. On
becoming Queen she had ordered all such statues removed from the palace.
Gossip said she didn't want her husband distracted. Only Jaseloris knew
there was another reason.
Eight years after becoming God-king the prince had everything he wanted.
He was king of realm far richer than Carsimbad and had a beautiful and
Queen. Only one thing niggled him. It was the failure of Jaseloris to
conceive a child.
As it turned out, the evil wand had affected Jaseloris' female organs as
well as her hand, though she did not know it. Stunned by her failure to
perpetuate the royal line, she did everything she could to become pregnant.
Mineral baths, the eating of strange foods, exercise and the lack of
exercise; on advice from wise women she tried various athletic positions
and different times and places for lovemaking. But her stone womb remained
The proper thing to do, of course, was for the prince to take on a
concubine or two to give him an heir. But this Jaseloris took protest to.
She ran screaming and crying to lock herself in her rooms, and the prince,
not wanting to further upset his wife, wondered if the fault might lie with
him. He submitted himself to the doctors, but they could find nothing
"Perhaps a visit to Palampang monastery would help," the chief physician
said hopefully. "They have a statue of the sun goddess there which has
miraculous powers. You are of her lineage, so she may take favor to you."
The prince thought it sounded like a good idea--he didn't have that many
options at that point--and went to see Jaseloris.
He knocked lightly on the door with his knuckles. "Oh my and the
light of my eyes, am I permitted to enter?"
"What is it?" Jaseloris said in a voice dull with sniffling.
"A solution, dear heart. If you would but receive me."
Jaseloris sent her plump dark-skinned maid to let the prince in, and she
received him in her rumpled silk robe (for she had wept long and hard on
her luxurious quilted bed.) The prince launched straighteaway into his
speech. "Since the learned and physicians cannot give us a child," he
said, "we have no recourse but to apply to the gods. They tell me the
Golden Virgin of the Sun will listen to our prayers, but we must go to the
monastery. It is three days' journey from here."
Jaseloris did not hold faith in the gods; she put all her stock in
herself. But these days, her body was failing her; could her wiles fail
soon as well? "All right," she said, conceding out of practicality. "Am I
to go as well?"
"No," the prince said diplomatically, for he knew she would be only be
peevish there. "I alone make the journey."
So the next day, with her begrudged blessings, he set out for Palampang
monastery on his favorite horse, with only his closest advisors, for he was
not going as a king but a penitent. Outside the city switchbacked up steep
cliffs past overhangs of ice and snow, emerging from clouds like torn paper
to a bowl-shaped sky bluer than hyacinth, bluer than cornflower, and their
breath grew short and steamed from the mouth. For two days they climbed.
Finally, on the afternoon of the third day, they sighted the monastery. It
was a small, walled complex built of grim iron-gray stone, with a roofline
of interlocked spires and stupas. Under the pitiless mountain sun, it
seemed like a fortress.
The monks welcomed them and showed them to their rooms. After settling
into his cell, the prince asked to be shown to the Temple of the Virgin.
The monastery had been clean but rough; the temple, however, was far
older and rougher. From within came the soft sound of monks chanting at
their prayers and the click of prayer beads. Incense sizzled out of brass
braziers, making the prince blink and discretely pinch his nose. Then he
blinked again as he beheld the Golden Virgin of the Sun herself, who stood
in imperial, auric splendor behind the altar where the incense burned and
Entranced, he stepped closer, leaving his monk guides behind. The
statue was the loveliest thing he had ever seen. She was nude, a serene
young with heavy-lidded eyes dreaming of secrets. Her nipples were
pert and erect, her proud pubic bush richly detailed with thousands of
tiny, solidly compacted hairs. Indeed, she looked less sculpture than a
gilded maiden standing there. But the monks had told him she was solid
gold. He wondered what it would feel like to caress her, rub his hands and
fingers over the fortunes of a hundred kings, absorbing the heavy, sensual
richness of the yellow metal through his fingertips.
The prince felt a strange taste come to the back of his mouth, a
scratching sensation in his eyes. His breath became more rapid. It seemed
to him this statue meant something more to him, something more important
than even divine favor. He had a vague recollection of a girl's
face, the lifting of a veil, a stolen kiss. His head with the effort
of remembering. If only the monks would be quiet!
Even more startling, he had the feeling the idol was aware of him
somehow...as if intelligence lurked the opaque splendor of her eyes. Not
as a goddess looking down from heaven, but as a sentient being who might
step down from the altar and start to converse with him.
Not knowing how else to ease his confusion, he sank down on a hard,
chilly cushion and began to formulate a prayer. Dutifully, he asked that
Jaseloris might have the child she wanted.
But his mind kept wandering. Now he thought of dizzying carnal
delights, not with his but with the statue herself, as her golden
flesh shimmered with light...
*You know me,* the statue seemed to say. *Look closely, Prince Lassok,
look truly deeply, and you will understand.*
The monks stopped their chanting. The prince raised his head slightly,
wondering why, but then he felt it himself. The temple was shaking! It
was jolting side to side like a mule on a mountain track, shaking loose
crumbs of stone from the ceiling above. The monks shouted with fear,
stumbling for the door as the floor rolled in sickening waves. Earthquakes
were dangerous in this mountain land, as the loose stone of the peaks had a
tendency to avalanche.
But the prince remained rooted, his eyes locked with goddess's.
Realization slowly dawned on him. First all was crepuscular murkiness,
then the light of knowledge came, so rich and clear and apparent he could
not remember what it felt like to be without it.
*I know you,* he thought in growing excitement. *You are...you are...
At that moment the temple roof collapsed, and so did the altar, and the
golden form of Zairbhreena herself. But she fell in such a way to shield
the prince from the stone and tile that fell from above, so that, hours
later, when the monks dug him out of the ruin, he was unhurt. Indeed, he
was glowing, as if burnished all over with gold himself.
The prince clasped the Golden Virgin to his like a lover. "The
Goddess," he declared with solemn joy, "has saved me from certain death.
Ready my and caravan. I am Prince Lassok of Carsimbad, and I am
going home, truly home, to the kingdom where I was born." He looked
tenderly at the statue. "And she will be my wife."
Ordinarily his advisors would think he'd gone mad, but the earthquake,
and his miraculous survival, truly spoke of another divine miracle. It was
clear to all that the goddess, in the vessel of her idol, had saved him yet
again; if he said he now wanted to marry her, well, who had the power to
The prince remembered all now. And Zairbhreena, free of last from her
long stupor, did as well. She could not show her joy as he did, but she
glowed from inside so she seemed a piece of the sun herself. At long last
she had her prince back, she would be flesh once again! Trembling with
happiness, she awaited the means, molten metal seeming to seethe inside
But the prince was not going to risk a deflowering here, to be foiled as
he had been before. This time, he would make sure the princess got safely
back to Carsimbad, the city they had set out from all those years ago,
where a proper nuptial bed would be prepared. Running his fingers over her
heavy golden curves, he could only relish what lay before him.
And the princess could only relish it too, though of course she not
Zairbhreena was carefully packed and made ready for the journey, and the
caravan set off for Lakthira to provision themselves before returning to
the desert. The prince knew he was going to have to abandon his kingdom.
Still, he wished its continuing prosperity, and that meant squaring things
off with Jaseloris, his soon to be ex-wife. Though he was fully aware of
her machinations she could not be blamed for his memory loss, and in fact
she had been a good queen. To remove her from power might cast the
Lakthira into chaos. A plan began to form in his mind.
Jaseloris leapt up with joy when she saw him, supposing he had found
some miraculous cure. But the prince slammed the chamber doors behind him
and ripped the glove from her hand, exposing the stony symbol of guilt to
the air at last. "I know what you've done, woman," he said. "I am Prince
Lassok of Carsimbad once again."
Jaseloris fell to her knees, overcome; never had she expected his memory
would return. Trembling, she waited for him to summon the palace guards,
so she could be beheaded or worse.
"Stand up," the prince said. "You are still Queen of Lakthira. I
resign my throne, for I am going back to Carsimbad. But you shall reign
here in my place."
Her heart racing like a cornered deer's, Jaseloris could only stammer
"Why?" She had expected revenge, not a reward.
"Unlike some parts of your body, my heart is not stone," he said.
"There has been too much in my life, too much scheming. Your hand
is forever stone, and you cannot bear a child -- the kharma, I suppose,
from the suffering you brought on Zairbhreena and myself. But neither was
I innocent in causing *your* suffering. For that reason, you shall
continue to be Queen of this city, and reign in my place."
"Thank you my lord," Jaseloris whispered. And in truth, she did rule
well and long, and though she could have no child, she designated the wily
Abrimel to be her heir, and he ruled long and well also. But that is
After that the prince left the city forever. His well-guarded caravan
wound down through the passes to the foothills, then to the canyonlands,
wastes, and deserts, winding its way back to the city he had once called
home. How slowly they moved! But no brigand would attack them, no
marauding monster or fell pack of beasts; they were too well armed for
Every night, as he lay in his tent, the prince would caress
Zairbhreena's soft curves, anticipating the way they would share their
marriage bed. She would answer him with her eyes, as the air grew drier
and the sands began to blow.
After many weeks they crossed the dry sea, approaching Carsimbad from
the east. Their route took them through the low hills where the city's
reservoir lay. The prince surveyed the placid blue waters of the lake,
wondering if his was still alive. What would he say when his son
came home at last, in stranger wits than even when he left?
He glanced at Zairbhreena as she lay in the cart. Since he had
recovered his memory he could not bear to be more than a few feet away from
her again, fearing another disaster would befall them. However, scouts had
to be sent ahead to gauge the city's temperament, and the needed
watering; so, reluctantly, he drew the caravan to a halt on the narrow
cliffside road and went to confer with his men.
Some say the gods are merciful; others believe we are merely their toys.
Still others say they do not exist at all, for how else can account for
the randomness of the world? What else explains the unexpected triumph
snatched from the jaws of defeat, or the dark irony of the last-minute
reprieve that tries, but fails, to stave off the order of death?
The road was and ill-maintained. The slope was steep, the season
dry. Gravel began to skitter out from the edges of the roadbed, ten feet
from where Zairbhreena's cart lay, to tumble down the steep slope the lake
four hundred feet below.
In the stillness of the hills, the sound was very loud. It was a clear
warning, and the prince took it that way. From his position up the road,
he turned to look. He cursed, and ran.
But he was too late. The cliffside road collapsed in on the caravan
with a hissing rush, sending bleating animals, carts, and wagons funneling
downward in a brownish haze of dust. Including the statuefied Zairbhreena.
The prince watched in numb, betrayed horror as the caravan free-fell
down the cliff, then hit a rocky promontory that splintered it into pieces.
Zairbhreena was launched from her cart like a golden missile that flew, in
an impossibly long and graceful trajectory, to the center of the mountain
lake. There she fell, with a distant splash, into the azure-blue waters,
making a little blur of white foam that soon vanished. The ripples spread
out from the point of impact for a short while, then ceased.
She was gone, this time so irrevocably she had almost ceased to be. The
lake was a giant blue mouth that swallowed her whole, with a gullet and
stomach three times as deep as the dry brown hills above.
If there were gods in the world, they were laughing cruelly at their
This work is copyrighted 2000 by Cobalt Jade (Cobaltjade@aol.com). This
work may be be freely distributed over electronic media provided no fee is
charged for its use. Charging a fee for this story, or publishing without
author credit or this notice violates my copyright.