©2022 Michael Raven
The Lady of Shadows is not The Lady, but they mirror each other like a placid pool on a summer afternoon mirrors the clouds slipstreaming through powder blue overhead. Sometimes Fox knows I know this; she just felt compelled to remind me for reasons possibly entirely her own (but could very well be mine — that is the way she functions).
It is what it is.
I follow the hoof-beaten trail down to the waters backdropped with a cascade white against stone as the fell water conjures mists in the air and ripples resonating outwards around the island to the nearby shore. My fingers trace pussy-willow growing on the trail, and verdant fronds swaying in the gentle winds. Green are the rushes and the red wing tells a tale, swaying pendulum on one of the many cattails lining the shallows along the water’s edge.
The trail ends where the water meets the land, a channel of white-flowered lilies snaking out, an extension of the path for those who might be able to walk water. I am not one of those.
An eyesore draws my attention, a tarnished bell and pull rocking in the soft breeze. I brush my hair from my eyes and decide there is little else to do but grasp the rope and swing it to and fro that the clapper strikes the bell. And so I do.
I had expected the song of angels, but this bell defies my expectations and issues a dull “clunk clank” not unlike the bell tied around the neck of a cow.
A loon laughs across the water, drawing my gaze, just as the sound of water being parted by paddle comes to my ears. A canoe in the channel gliding towards me.
It wasn’t there moments ago.
The boat draws up to the shore, a soft scraping as the bottom slides up the sand at the water’s edge. I start to step inside, but the man paddling the canoe snaps his fingers several times in succession with an air of irritation. I examine the canoeist, his hand outstretched. He seems familiar, but I cannot tell you why. His skin is darker than mine, but he might have come from any land. His eyes are dark almonds, with hair wavy long tresses that waterfall darkly down his back. He makes mute grasping motions again.
I pull out the two coins gifted to me by Sometimes Fox and examine them again. Eye of Ra, eye of the sun. Eye of Horus, eye of the moon. One is fare for the ferryman. I hesitate. Have I failed already?
One will suffice, I decide, but two coins was the intent. I place both the sun and moon in the open hand of the ferryman in the canoe. He hesitates, giving me a chance to change my mind, but I am decided and climb into the canoe. He closes his hand and backpaddles to free us of the shoreside moorage. A heron I had failed to notice while standing on the shore watches from the cattails, curious.
Once we are freed of the path of lilies, he turns the canoe to point towards the island, his paddling nearly silent as we skate like bullets on quicksilver over the water. Large serpents glide under us when I dare to look over the edge and into the depths, serpents with eyes watching and wicked grins painted under those staring orbs.
I draw myself close to the center of the canoe. I’m fairly certain I have safe passage, but why risk temptation?
Before long, I can smell it: the scent of apples enthralling me as we cross the lake. The moon rises above the horizon and the sun begins to fade.
Passing strange. The time seems forever and no time at all before that same shush of the canoe slides up on the island’s shore. I look back at my ferryman and he points silently to the trail leading away from the lake. Not much of a conversationalist.
I climb out of the canoe and turn to thank my ferryman, but he is already out of earshot and growing smaller as the skies darken to night.
I begin to follow the trail by the light of the full moon, hoping it will take me to the Mistress of Shadows, there in the apple tree forest.