After a long moment, Tsulsala's full voice rang out, filling the temple. "I am here child, what gift would you have that only I can give."
Giselle held her gaze down, but spoke boldly. "My neighbors have asked me to intercede for them, each for his own selfish boon. But since I was a babe, I have been told it is better to give than to receive. So I ask you to receive my gift. Feast on my blood now, in this very hour, receive my soul into you freely given, and if I am to be selfish, let me selfish in this way. Let me be yours while I am young and whole, and still lovely to see."
Tsulsala smiled, "I am well pleased." and held out her hand, Giselle took her hand, and Tsulsala gently clasped her fingers and drew the girl close to her bosom, and drank. She held the Giselle close, for a long moment, slowly savoring each precious drop of blood as it flowed into her, till with a gasp she was done. Tsulsala turned, and placed Giselle's remains on the alter. Turning again, she faced the congregation, and suddenly gasped.
At just that moment, the strangest thing ever witnessed by the Mardii, or truly any clan of mortal man began to unfold. Tsulsala took half a step forward, and her arms shot out to the columns of the temple to steady her. From under the skin of her bosom, a tiny, but intense, light began to shine. With each passing second it shown brighter, filling Tsulsala's frame. The timbers of the columns began to crack under the force of Tsulsala's grip. Now the light filled her, it filled every last fiber of her body to the finger tips and shone from her like the summers sun.
It pierced Oona, and she fell weeping to the ground, curling herself into a little ball.
Sif said, "I know"
In the depths of the Pit, in the furnace of his Malice Set was furious. To have his most feared servant stolen from him by the trickery of a mortal girl. It was beyond imagining, and he hurled about his throne room in a horrid rage, heedless of where he struck out. Smashing to pulp many of the barons and princes of his court. There where always more where they came from, these lesser shadows. Looking down on the twitching frame of a broken servant, a plan began to form in his mind, a malice began to grow in his heart. Isis and her trickster would not have it all their own way.
Only Innana shield maiden to Ra excused herself from the feast.
Her eyes wide and near tears the Goddess answered, "Narrar, I am Narrar, the cursed blood of Orcus has been washed from me. I am free now sister, why do you spurn me."
Innana turned a withering gaze on her, "Set did not poison you. He merely bathed the poisonous seed with-in you in the blood it needed to grow. He saw your true name in your Aura, even as I do. Mother is blinded by the memory of Osiris, but I am not Tsulsala, do not look for me to welcome you child of shadow, there is no love for you in my heart.
Weeping Narrar retreated to the great hall, where the music and dancing lifted her spirits and for a time she forgot Innana's scorn and reveled in the love the others showered on her. Even Ra dearest to Innana consoled that in time the Princess of Swords would soften her heart. "She has ever been the harshest judge, and shows the least compassion for those who indulge their weaknesses, it does not really surprise me she holds to her judgement. In time you will prove yourself to her sister, in time you will regain her love. Her will is like iron, but her heart is not truly made of stone."
Yet even before the nine days of feasting was done, it became clear something was wrong in Isis's Garden that is Mura, and Ki whose Aura was most closely linked to the gardens fell ill. Isis went to the shore. There singing secret runes in her bosom she dare never speak aloud she sang till the head of The Dragon rise up from the channel of Nammu. Great Goddess that she is, a Giantess to mortal men, Isis was tiny as a doll in the presence of the Dragon. The Great Dragon of Mura said not a word, but looked into Isis's eyes, and in the great dark eyes of The Dragon. Isis could see the Malady of the world.
Men horribly maimed, and women sick with fever who could not die. And the souls of those burned to cinders wandering lost, haunting the living not out of malice but instead desperately seeking guidance as they searched vainly for their way into the next world. Finally The Dragon showed Isis an empty throne, the Iron Throne of Kur.
Now Isis shuddered at what all this meant. She returned to her daughter Ki, and bathed her and sang great runes, and her fever subsided but would not wholly go away. Then she sought out her other daughter Narrar.
"Your former lord is clever in his malice."
"Your throne in Kur sits empty, and while it does none may enter the underworld, none may be judged, none may be reborn. The cycles that have governed the world for millennia are in chaos."
"But a dozen Princes, and a hundred barons would easily throw themselves into the fray to claim the throne of Kur. It is the prize of the underworld. How can the throne go empty."
"I have seen it, Set will not allow any to claim the throne, he has set Rul himself, his most loyal servant at the door of the throne room, and only you may enter."
"Yes we will my child."
Nine months passed while Isis and Narrar searched in vain for a means to heal Mura, and Ki. Meanwhile the Madness in the world spread like cancer, and the restless dead became a plague unto the living. Yet it is also true that in Narrar's womb Celeste who had been Giselle stirred and grew and finally was reborn, and Narrar returned her to Sif de Mardii.
"She will be a great beauty no doubt, and I have given her other gifts."
"I wonder if the world she lives in will ever know beauty again."
"It will Sif, Mother and I work ceaselessly, we will find a cure to this dis-ease Set has let loose upon the world."
"I pray this is true, I truly do, but I must confess, my mind is clouded by something else. May I ask you a selfish question."
"Of course child, you are my Highest Priestess, my most loyal servant, you need only close your eyes, pause in thought and you know you have me ear."
"I felt the need to ask this now, here, face to face. ... Dear Narrar, my Hrungnir is still within you, and I will never be rejoined with him if you do not honor our covenant at the end of my mortal days. Is is possible, would you take me into yourself as Tsulsala promised when the time comes."
Now Narrar was nothing less than stunned, her hands trembled as she caressed Sifs face. Finally she answered, "I just dont know. I fear that if I where to attempt to fulfill our covenant, I would awaken the hunger Giselle washed away with her blood. I cant endure that again Sif, not even for my love of you."
"but if it could be foreseen that it would not awaken your hunger, if The Dragon would show this to your mother."
"Then of course I would reunite you and your Hrungnir in my dreams. I would not put too much hope in this however, for mother spends much time with The Dragon now, but she is searching for a cure for Ki. She would not welcome your question."
Sif hugged Celeste tightly, "There is no hurry, I have a child to raise."
The Moon waxed and Waned, the Sun waxed and waned six times, and no cure could be found to heal Garden, nor Ki.
Isis sang many a healing song, but the world remained ill, and her daughter remained ill, as in spirit they where one.
As the dawn of the 7th year approached, Ra thought to distract Set from his purpose, by bringing a great van of war against him, and he summoned his captains from all of Mura. It was thought while Set was focused on Ra, Mother Isis could break the wards Rul had placed around Kur, and one of Sets treacherous Princes would surely claim the throne.
Yet when it was done, Ruls wards held firm, and the bodies of those broken in the battle who could not die, made Ki all the sicker. She was bed ridden now, and whimpered as her servants carried her in a litter to the Garden during the days, to lay in the cleansing light of the sun.
Narrar despaired, and spent most of her time in the Gardens of Thebes enjoying the last beautiful place in the world. She knew the time would soon come when her mother would ask the unthinkable, and began to fear the sound of her mothers voice.
Perhaps its was Sif's Question, hanging in the back of her mind, or the thought that soon the Crown of Kur must surely be thrust upon her. Or maybe it was simply the lovely curvaceousness of Talim's body, but Narrar began to muse on the thought that this gardener was as tempting a morsel as ever she feasted on as Tsulsala. Yet each sweet memory of a morsel savored, was linked to the jarring memory of the burning hunger that followed.
Talim was working along the edge of a pond. Narrar was watching her work.
"Why do you toil so little one. Day in Day out, you toil in this garden."
"It is not toil Holy Narrar, it is a labor of love. I work to make the garden a little more beautiful. Especially now that Momma-Ki has fallen ill. It gladdens my heart to see her weak smile, when she gazes on my work. To bring her a small comfort in this awful moment, it is my privilege."
"So your reward for your work, is more work."
"Oh no, It is communion with Momma-Ki. To feel her love in the soil, her strength in the trees, her beauty in the flowers. It is truly a great reward."
"And her fever in your brow, the weakness in her limbs, the nausea in her belly, do you not feel those."
"Of course I do" Silently Talim stretched out her arm, palm up. It was covered with pox and open sores, then she turned away, "It fills me with a greater knowing, Momma-Ki needs my efforts all the more. It is as Innana has said, you cannot understand, you think only of yourself. There is nothing you can give to another."
"If you can heal the sick, Heal Ki, the rest will follow."
"You insolent! ..." Narrar cut off her rage. Fuming inside. She turned to walk away.
"Narrar" a small voice pleaded behind her.
"It has been so terribly long since I've felt well, truly well. Is it really in your power."
"Those I claimed and made part of myself when I was Tsulsala live on in my dreams, untouched by the woes of this world. They live the lives they chose to live unfettered by the cares of a days toil for a days bread. Let me claim you, gift yourself to me, and you will have forever to tend the most beautiful garden you can imagine little morsel."
"It is how it is done. A few hours of bliss for me, eternity for yourself."
"I would not wish to spend eternity alone."
"You need not, those who wish blend their dreams, others dream alone, its their choice always. "
Silently Talim returned to her gardening, Narrar turned away. She took a pace or two and was stopped by a sob. Talim had dropped he small spade, and was nursing a hand clenched into a claw of pain. She looked at Narrar with pleading eyes and said.
"Tsulsala, I can endure this no more."
"You must say, I give myself to you."
"I give myself to Tsulsala Queen of Hunger, Goddess of Kur."
In a twinkling, Narrar took Tsulsala's wolf form, which has only been seen by mortal eyes in the dreams of Mystics, for none who have been in the presence of this vision has lived to report. A great shadow, wrapped in shadows, The Shadow of a Frost Giantess in form with a Wolfs head, the outlines of which can only be glimpsed as glinting gold, as she moves. She leaned down quickly and gobbled Talim up. Then swiftly changed back. Narrar lay back at the edge of the pond. Savoring the morsel as Talim began to melt into her, and it was bliss.
**** ******** *********
Innana soon came upon her and seeing the spade asked if Narrar had seen Talim.
"Ki has sent me for her, she is worried for her servant, Ki has lost her sense of the mortals presence." Then Innana's eyes narrowed with growing rage, "And just what is this other errand, Tsulsala."
"She is busy being delicious, she has been for an hour at least. A delightful morsel if I ever claimed one."
"Monster!!" Innana's held out her arm, her Lybris came flying to her hand. Tsulsala sprang to her feet slipping her sisters first blow, which left a tremendous gash in the wounded earth.
Before she could fell a second she was frozen, as was her sister. "What disturbance summons me. What is the meaning of this. " Isis demanded, standing suddenly between them in blazing glory.
"This monster has devoured Talim."
"She was ill and tired, and gifted herself to me. She is well and happy now."
Innana just looked at her mother in utter disbelief.
Innana was till shaking with rightious rage.
"The Dragon has showed me this, and more. You will not kill Narrar if you do Ki will be lost to us forever. Do you understand."
"No, but your word will be done." Innana picked up the small spade. "Ki will be heartbroken, she loved her servant dearly. "
*** **** ****
Some days later the moon was a waning Crescent. The nights sky was still, and not even a cricket could be heard in the garden. There Ki found Narrar by the edge of the pond where she had claimed Talim. Their meeting had been forseen, and neither noted the cloaked figure watching from the shadows of nearby trees.
"Narrar please, you must return to Kur, you must make the world right. I will die with the new moon. I have seen it, if you do not reclaim your throne and set the world to rights I must die, the Garden will die, the Dragon will fall into fevor never to rise again from the sea. Please for one moment put aside thoughts of yourself."
"Why should I surrender my place in this beautiful hall, for that eternally blighted land. I love you sister, but your talking madness."
"I will give you anything in my power to give, please return to Kur, set the cycles of the world aright."
"Be careful what you say sister. The Dragon will hold you to your sacred word."
"I do not have the strength to wrangle with you, please anything in my power to give. "
Now Narrar/Tsulsala smiled an amazingly wicked smile, she would re-claim her throne and more. If she must return to Hel, she would reign there.
"Then I claim you." She said caressing Ki.
The Goddess struggled weakly, "but this is madness."
"I will honor our covenant, I will return to Kur, and set the world aright, but you will be returning with me, with your greath strength with-in me even Set will bow low in my presence." She was in her wolf form now, and Ki screamed as she was swallowed whole.
Innana came flying to that scream like a storm crow on hurricane winds. Trees snapped all around her. She was shrieking a deafening war cry, lightning was the flash of her Lybris, and the sky pealed with thunder as the weapon split the air. By Magick Isis wrenched the Lybris from Innana's grasp just before the deadly stroke fell, on Tsulsala's prostrate form.
"But now she has devoured Ki, haven't you monster."
"Yes she has, but cant you feel the rest daughter." Isis began with utter calm, Innana could only feel her rage. "The dead are falling. They are gathering at the river. With-out Ki's strength to sustain them, they are falling, like whithered leaves from a dead tree. Tsulsala has put Ki beyond their grasp. Your sister can heal now."
Tsulsala could not move, could barely speak. Who would have thought little Ki would be so impossibly heavy in her gut. Delightful, but oh so heavy. She was defenseless before Innana's wrath.
Isis spoke in a commanding voice. "The Mortal Giselle, you returned her to her mother as Celeste."
"You will return Ki to me, then you will reclaim your throne at Kur, or I will leave you to Innana's mercy."
"I will honor your word mother."
So for nine days Ki melted into Tsulsala, and then her sister could finally rise. As Tsulsala had carried Celeste 9 moons in the manner of the Chatti, she carried Ki 6 moons in the manner of the Murian, and after 6 Moons Ki was reborn on the day the Chatti now call Ostra.
Ki was given to Isis and nursing at the Great Mother's breast grew before their eyes. In 9 days she was grown to full and glowing womanhood, as beautifal as she had ever been and more. Then Isis came to Narrar accompanied by Innana Lybris in hand, and commanded the Goddess of the New Moon to leave.
Tsulsala bowed her head, and taking Ki's hand turned to go.
Innana flew into a rage of course. "What is the meaning of this."
"Ki has gifted herself to me, she is mine to claim, she returns with me to Kur."
"It is true" Ki said, "I did say anything in my power to give."
"For Tsulsala to set the cycles aright, but they will not be set right if you travel to Kur." Said Isis
"Then we are at an Impasse", said Ki, "and the Madness will begin again."
"No Ki, it will not." answered Isis, "Tsulsala will go now and reclaim the Iron Throne of Kur. She will return to claim you at Samhain, and return you to me come Ostra, it will be so, from now till The Dragon rises from the sea. "
Ki kissed her sister then, "Till we dance again in your dreams sweet sister, but now I have so much to do in the garden." Grabbing up a good strong staff, and a pack full of things she would need. Ki hurried to join Horus in the garden and began the mending of the world.
Tsulsala returned to Kur, and reclaimed the Iron Throne of the Queen of Hunger.
*********** ********** ***********
And it happened that years later a woman in her 61st year appeared at the gates of the Iron Keep of Kur. The Gala's seeing her hale, and whole tried to send her away. But she spoke their true names and dismissed them.
Standing on her balcony looking over the eternally blighted land of her kingdom, Tsulsala felt the presence of her visitor approaching. Tsulsala came to her, caressing her cheeks and smiling a serene smile. "My Darling Sif, why have you come to me so soon, I have seen 10 more years to your life at least."
"I have seen that vision too my Queen, ten more years without my Hrungnir, and I wont cherish a day of it, please fulfill our covenant, reunite me and my husband."
"Go to the kitchens then, they will prepare you for me, tonight you will sleep in Hrungnir's arms."
"I thought you would take on your wolfen form and just gobble me up, my Queen."
"I have looked forward to this feast for 2 generations of men, please allow me to savor you." Tsulsala smiled then drawing a nail across her own flesh, she had Sif drink the blood that flowed. Tsulsala led her to a mirror. Sif saw her self, young and blooming, as she appeared the day Giselle was born.
"I think he will remember you better now."
"Oh thank you."
Tsulsala rubbed her nose, "Oh you'll be the sweeter for feasting, precious Sif." but Sif knew that was not all their was to Tsulsala kindness. "To the kitchen now, this servant will guide you."
* * *
Sometime later as Tsulsala leaned back her eyes closed savoring the bliss of a full belly. She dreamed of a young man showing his bride a small but elegant cottage by a bend in a clear running stream. Flowers bloomed in well kept beds, and fruit trees provided shade from the rising and setting sun.
"Its so lovely." She was close to tears of joy.
"Of course it is, as I lumbered each plank, and peg and post, as I drove each nail, and sculpted each bevel I was thinking of you." He took her hand, drew her into his arms, and they melted into a kiss each had longed for, for two generations of men."
Tsulsala patted her belly, and said aloud to no-one in particular.
"Oh Sif, I am well pleased."