Queen of Swords
The first thing that feels familiar to me is the row of apple trees that line the long driveway up to the sprawling ranch nestled into the Prague countryside. The presence of magic is seeping from every branch. Standing in front of the arched double doors I feel an odd sense of coming home.
“Whose house is this anyway?” I ask later that night.
I am with the Ellington sisters, my 15th century coven mates, Bridget, Emma and Lucy. We are lounging like felines, sprawled out on the couches and rugs around the tall fireplace. This is the room they’ve coined as the parlor.
“Technically this house…” Emma waves her hand casually through the air. “…was part of the Queen’s estate.”
The three of them exchange uncomfortable glances. Bridget touches an open palm to her necklace as if to ensure the stones hadn’t come loose. She blinks several times and then sighs. “What is it you would like to know Gwen?”
Sitting up I blurt out. “I want to know about Aurora.” And then quickly add. “And her brother Nathanial.”
“To truly understand those two…you first need to learn about the Queen of Swords.”
I feel for the tarot card in my pocket, the one given to me by Aurora in the dream realm, the one I carry with me now. Of all the cards I’ve worked with this one is the most precious to me for reasons I can’t identify. I nod slowly. Yes let’s hear about this Queen. I sink back down into the velvet couch and breathe in the familiarity of the old furniture.
When she was cruel she was very, very cruel and when she was kind she was lavish. I hear the words whispered through the pillows. The words take shape just below my ear, the lower right side of my head, where I often receive messages from my spirit guides. This was true when I was human and it is even more enhanced now in my supernatural form.
Bridget’s melodic voice cuts through the dark room. “It is impossible to know how tall the Queen was or what she actually looked like. All known portraits of her were painted while she was seated and usually in profile. But her natal chart was a unique blend of the fiery and the sensitive. Very strong Mars energy that showed itself in her leadership style and hidden Pisces energy which explained her attraction to magic.”
Lucy manipulates the flickering flames in the fireplace to re-create the Queen’s birth chart, the perfect circle with twelve familiar slices. The planets spark into place in their respective houses.
I lean in to examine the blueprint of the planet’s positions in the sky at the moment the Queen was born. “How did you get your hands on the exact date and time of her birth?”
“In those days astrology was well respected and sky watchers were often invited to the birthing room of the highborn to sketch out the natal chart.”
“Back then, you had to calculate everything by hand. It was a nightmare.” Lucy throws her leg over the arm of the chair and the crinoline of her dress crinkles like a whisper. The ancient sisters still like to shop at vintage shops.
I glance down at the birthmark on the inside of my left wrist, the one that appeared when I first made the transformation to deer witch. It’s only been a few months since I became this supernatural creature and I long to know more about this unknown gene pool that made me what I am. Examining the tiny planets on my wrist and comparing it to the Queen’s chart depicted in the fire I easily spot similarities in our planetary makeup. I am anxious to know more about her. “Why did they call her the Queen of Swords?”
“Because she was obsessed with knives.” Lucy spits into the fire and the Queen’s chart dissipates like a wet painting.
I frantically try to commit the positions to memory before the wheel evaporates. There is something odd about the sun and moon. They are on top of each other, which means…what? I think it means she was born under a full moon, no wait a new moon. I turn my attention back to the girls. Emma is speaking now and the three sisters weave in and out of each other’s sentences like a seasoned musical trio.
“When the Queen received guests she insisted on having a sword across her lap and she used to stroke the blade as if it were a pet.”
It was true of all the Queen of Swords tarot cards I’d studied, and I’d seen hundreds at this point, she was always on a throne and always shown with a sword. The sword on the tarot card was meant to represent wisdom through sorrow, enlightenment through pain.
“Some say the Queen even slept with a machete under her pillow.” Lucy chimes in.
“That is because she was a widow and had to protect herself.” Bridget defends the Queen.
“A widow? What happened to the King?”
“Ah, King Louie of Prague. He was an awful man, spoiled and miserable with disgusting nightly visits to her bedchamber that resembled rape.” Bridget folds her gloved hands in her lap. “The Queen was clever enough to realize that the sooner she bore an heir to the throne the sooner she could start locking her chamber door.”
“The Queen sought the advice of an earth witch who suggested smoking dried cobra venom.” Emma examines the ceiling. “An odd prescription for fertility but perhaps the venom was simply meant to numb her from the King’s antics. In any event she soon became pregnant with a girl and after a few miscarriages a baby boy.”
“Aurora and Nathanial.” I assume this is where the story ends.
But the three sisters shake their long manes, Bridget’s blond hair in stark contrast to the dark curls of her sisters. “Not quite.” They all say the names of the Queen’s children in unison. “Vivienne and Otto.”
I shake my auburn curls in confusion. All signs indicate that Aurora and I are connected to the Queen. As I open my mouth for clarification Lucy makes angry air quotes to emphasize the word un-Christian.
“Wait, what did I miss?”
She repeats her point. “It was around this time that Saint Lyon declares the belief in witchcraft as un-Christian.” Lucy does the finger gesture again. “And all the pagans across Europe had to take pack up their incense and go into hiding.”
My eyes move across the faces of my deer witch companions. “What was Saint Lyon’s definition of a witch?”
Three sets of shoulders shrug like synchronized swimmers and then Bridget says. “Those who could make bad weather, fly in the night and change their shape. Those accused of witchcraft were tortured and forced to testify against their coven mates.”
“All the magical creatures were forced to go underground.” Lucy motions at the old floorboards as if they were actually required to live in basements. “But believe me, there was plenty of solitary magic going on back then. The Christian majority thought they had scared us straight yet the ephemeris, a book showing the planets movement through time, continued to sell thousands of copies every year.”
“Though nobody kept their copy of the astrological almanac out on the bookshelf of course.” Bridget assures me.
“I used to bury my copy in the garden.” Emma whispers apologetically.
Lucy rolls her eyes and continues. “It was right around this time that the Queen developed a keen curiosity for magic, probably because it was now considered taboo. While in Paris, she discovered an incomplete deck of tarot cards in the back of an antique shop and became obsessed with the idea of creating her own deck."
“And then one
night the Queen met Gabriel.” Emma winks at me.
“Our Gabriel?” I ask wondering about our coven mate, a magical creature more ancient and powerful than anyone in the room.
“The one and same.” Bridget nods and smiles. “He was sailing the Spanish seas when he heard about the Queen and became intrigued. When Gabriel and the Queen first met the attraction was immediate, he with his knowledge of magic and she with her influence and wealth. They spent more than three years together creating seventy-one of the seventy-eight cards for her royal deck.”
At this point the Ellington sisters come to a complete stop as if the imaginary conductor has raised both fists to signal a pause in the musical dialouge.
“Wait, what happened to the last seven cards?”
“Well, you see, the relationship with Gabriel was volatile and dangerous and doomed from the start. The King allowed his Queen a certain amount of freedom but he would never tolerate an open affair. Soon Gabriel grew tired of sneaking around and became restless to return to the sea.”
“How did the Queen take this news?”
Lucy shakes her head and replies in Gabriel’s native Portuguese. “No es bueno.”
“When the Queen realized Gabriel was planning to leave she threatened to have him killed." Here Emma drags her finger across her throat. "She basically held him hostage until he finished the royal deck. But every card he presented was criticized and it took another three years to finally complete a tarot deck to her satisfaction.”
Lucy stokes the fire. “Some say out of spite Gabriel disguised the meaning of the last seven cards.”
“How so?” I ask.
“He threw in some red herons.” Bridget squints at me. “Symbols that didn’t mean anything and others that are crucial to detect but impossible to spot.” When I don’t react as expected, she clarifies. “Since Gabriel altered the meanings in this early deck and future decks were based on this one, we might all be reading the cards incorrectly.”
I slip onto the floor and roll onto my belly to imitate Lucy’s position near the fire. The room is getting drafty as night settles in. “So what does this have to do with the Queen?”
“Well, the Queen started faking her way through the tainted royal deck and incorrectly predicted a flood that turned out to be a terrible drought. She had a few false readings in regard to the health of her children causing her to administer unnecessary medicines that put young Otto on his deathbed.”
Emma speaks solemnly. “But the Queen’s fatal mistake was when she helped the King’s armies strategize the Battle of White Mountain. Not only was the bloody battle lost and thousands of men perished but the King was also killed on the battlefield that day.”
“So that’s how she became a widow.”
Emma nods slowly. “The Queen was eventually discovered using the royal deck, tried as a witch and publicly executed. Ironic since she had no magical powers, what-so-ever.” She says the last few words with syncopated beats.
Wait a minute. I had imagined all along that the Queen was a powerful witch. “Didn’t Gabriel transform her into a deer witch during the affair?”
“Nope. According to legend she was not magical at all. Not even a gene carrier. That’s why it was so strange that she produced such enchanted children.” Emma rises and stands close to the fire, her porcelain hand resting on the tall mantel.
“Vivienne and Otto had mystical powers?” I prop up on my elbows to look at her looming tall above me now.
“No, I am speaking of the son and daughter she conceived with Gabriel.”
My jaw drops in surprise.
Emma lowers her eyes and continues in a stage whisper. “Yes, the Queen became pregnant with twins toward the end of the affair. Since keeping the illegitimate children was out of the question she again sought the advice of an earth witch. This time the Elder suggested teas of blue cohosh to induce a miscarriage."
"But the Queen was unable to pass the stubborn fetuses and almost killed herself in the process of trying. So she came up with another plan." Bridget glances around nervously and fidgets with the lace neckline of her blouse. "She decides to spend the last trimester of her secret pregnancy at her Great Aunt’s country house.” All three of them wave their pale arms at the walls around us.
“Ah, this house.” I nod and stare into the dark corridor while trying to imagine a pregnant Queen wobbling around these rooms.
“The plan was simple. To give birth and then…” Emma looks around as if the ghosts from the past might overhear our conversation. She mouths the rest of the sentence. “…kill the newborns.” She lowers her eyes again and after a long pause and another scan of the old room she continues. “But the labor was long and painful and the Queen fell unconscious for several hours. When she awoke, the Aunt assured her the deed was done. But unable to harm the babies the Aunt instead sold them to a farmer who needed the helping hands.”
“Nathanial and Aurora were farmers?”
“They were raised on a ranch not far from here.” Emma squats and leans her face into the fire, eyes closed. “But the twins were unusual right from the start. Stories emerged of the strange children playing with ghosts and communicating with animals. They were mostly mute and only spoke to each other in what sounded like gibberish though it seemed to be a secret language between the two of them. They were inseparable, sleeping in the same bed, eating off the same plate and even sharing clothes. When they turned thirteen they ran away from home.”
“Where did they go?”
“It’s unclear. What we know is this. The children both have strong mystical powers, either from Gabriel’s magical bloodline or the Queen’s tendency to self-medicate with herbal drugs. With the large amounts of blue cohosh she consumed while trying to terminate the pregnancy, plus the dried cobra venom that she continued to smoke throughout her life (because she enjoyed the visions it induced) it was a toxic cocktail.”
I’m finding it difficult to digest this new information about my bloodline. I try to process what I’ve learned so far. The Queen of Swords and Gabriel were the true parents of Aurora and Nathanial. The magical twins grew up to produce many powerful witches including my biological mother. And the history of my bloodline has apparently been altered by cobra venom and blue cohosh.
I wonder how these components would manifest in future generations, especially now centuries later. Would it become weaker over time like diffusing a drop of herbal medicine into a thousand drops of water? Or would it thicken like a simmering pot of sauce that tastes better the next day.
Glancing down at my wrist again, the vein right under my natal birthmark pulses in an indiscernible rhythm as if quietly answering my internal question.
Stronger, my dear. Much stronger over time.