The Story of Axilles and Astrogarde - Part 9 – The old woman and her reflection
And so Chryssoma went to visit the old woman who was skilled in the making of herbal potions.
Her name was Marram and she lived in a house of mud and straw by the edge of the forest of Arrowjin.
Although Marram claimed nothing more than a superior knowledge of nature, most believed her to be supernatural. “Supernatural?”, she would reply, “I am a close friend of Nature and so Nature trusts me enough to tell me her
secrets,that is all”.
Marram was unusually cheerful as she saw Chrysomma approach her dwelling and the old woman ran forward to greet her which also seemed strange because Marram normally shuffled about,
complaining of an ache in some part of her skeleton or a weakness in her breast.
“You seem peculiarly healthy and full of energy today”, observed Chryssoma.
“Oh, you talk as if having too much health were the same as being ill. My sudden and strange invigoration is the result of a diet of magical herbs,that is all”, she replied, “But let us talk about why you are here”.
Chryssoma spoke softly so that only Marram could hear her, “I have a friend who loves someone but that someone does not love my friend”.
“Oh?”, asked Marram, “And why doesn’t this friend come to me in person?”.
“Because”, replied Chryssoma, “This friend is a person who sits high up in a very important position and thus cannot come and go as freely as you or I”.
“Ahh”, said Marram, winking, “Those high up must tread more carefully than we upon the ground, I understand”.
And then Marram led Chrysomma into her little house where, in one corner, was a vast iron cooking pot although, oddly, the cooking pot was turned upside down.
“It is strange that your cooking pot is turned upside down today”, Chryssoma remarked.
“Oh?”, said Marram, slightly irritated by Chrysommas comment, “But why shouldn’t you see many strange things in the house of a woman as strange as me?”.
“Well, that is true”,agreed Chrysomma, however, suddenly Chrysomma heard a peculiar clanging and scraping sound come from inside the upturned cauldron which startled her.
“Ignore the noises that you may hear coming from within the pot. The truth is that I have captured some rabbits which I mean to eat for my supper and they want to run away,that is all.”, said Marram.
“They sound like giants,these rabbits”, said Chrysomma.
“And they are”, said Marram, “The rabbits that dwell near here are of a type that grow to the size of a human child and they make as much noise as children too”.
“But I thought that old Marram did not eat the flesh of animals or birds or fish,nor would she ever stand by and watch a living creature suffer”, said a bemused Chrysomma.
“Well”, said the old woman,grumpily, “Hearts change and heads change so why shouldn’t stomachs change. Today, I desired rabbit meat and that is all”.
But Chrysomma could not bear to think of the great rabbits trapped in an overturned iron pot without sunlight or air and so she became determined in her head to set them free. “However much I respect your age and wisdom, old Marram, I do not think that living creatures should be kept in such an unpleasant prison”.
“Forget the pot”, growled Marram, producing a small bottle from somewhere, “I have the elixir of love enchantment that you asked for, take it and pay me and trouble me no more”.
But Chrysomma was adamant, “No”, she protested,firmly, “Elixir or not, I will not see gentle animals treated so cruelly” and Chrysomma went to lift up the Cooking pot.
“Do not touch that cauldron”, shrieked Marram in a voice that seemed almost inhuman, “I warn you”.
But Chryssoma did not listen and, as she lifted up the old iron cooking pot, she was shocked to see that under the cooking pot were not rabbits but another old woman who looked identical to Marram but whose hands were tied and whose mouth was gagged.
“Oh my mother of heaven!”, gasped Chrysomma, “There are no rabbits in this pot!”.
Chrysomma saw a sickle hanging in Marrams house and, seizing it, she cut the old woman's bonds,then the old woman loosened her gag and in a voice which was identical to Marram’s she spoke, “Bless your heart”, she said, “This impostor who calls herself by my name, and wears my face, tied my hands and hid me beneath my own cooking pot but she is nothing more than an evil reflection, a double, a changeling sent by the evil ones to give you poison instead of healing herbs”.
“And I would have unwittingly given poison to my sister to put into her husbands cup”, said Chrysomma; flabbergasted.
Seeing that her deception had been discovered, the evil reflection turned itself into a swarm of gnats and, enveloping Chrysomma in their cloud, tried to bite her but Marram picked up her broom and drove them out of her house with the bristled end.
“Men would be wiser and kinder if they knew just what kind of soul-predators lurk in the undetectable realms”, said Marram, spitting upon the ground, “But now, because it was your wisdom and kindness that rescued me, I will give to you what you seek but be warned, a love potion can be a dozen times deadlier than a poison. Instead of happiness it may bring misery and instead of peace, it may bring conflict, such is the unstable and unpredictable nature of the human heart”.