Serendipity has a strange sense of humour. Scarcely 24 hours after the death of one friend, we finally got round to paying tribute to the death of another. And what a wonder that was. Possibly one of the strangest evenings I have recorded in my diary, and the gods know that there is plenty of competition. I’ve always been somewhat sceptical of religion, and my references to deities, unless specifically referring to the Christian God, for example, have been few and very general, as above. But now, I guess I will have to make room in that indeterminate pantheon for two more. And there was nothing indeterminate about these two.
The evening had started quite pleasantly and frivolously, with drinks in the tavern, for no particular reason other than Gwyn had wanted to spend time with Aoibheann. We were joined later by Valene, who was in a particularly happy and frivolous mood. When I offered her a drink, she asked for a Green Fairy, which made me laugh. I commented on having happy memories of the last time I had tasted a Green Fairy. In my case, that reference was to the costume Gwyn had been wearing the first time we made love, but of course, Valene did not know that. We had drinks and then Valene decided she wanted to dance with us all, casting, it seemed, some spell to draw us into the dance. The way she danced, first with Aoibheann, then Gwyn, then me, while Gwyn danced with Aoibheann, for a moment, I was beginning to think that our recent happy trio might turn into a quartet, though somehow I doubted that was likely. We danced some more as Valene chanted something almost tribal to an eight-count. Then, as quickly as she had arrived, she vanished again into the shadows.
Something had been nagging me when I had arrived earlier, and something in the words Valene had chanted brought that nagging feeling back. Suddenly, it all came rushing back, thinking of another tavern in another place. We had promised Cristof that we would bring the remains of the late Paasheeluu back to his castle for final cremation. I felt bad for being a party-pooper, but everybody agreed we should take care of it straight away. I flew, literally, back to the Unseelie sithen to collect the remains, wrapped in a blanket. I plucked a single rose and placed it on the blanket along with the charred remains of her hat.
Soon, we were back in the castle. Cristof was somewhat irritated that it had taken us so long, despite the various things that had kept us from returning as soon as we might have liked. Nevertheless, he led us, with an honour guard to a pyre that had been prepared for us.
We stood there before it and Aoibheann asked me uncertainly if she was supposed to say, or do something. I felt that was my cue to take the lead. I laid the body reverentially on the pyre, arranging the hat and the rose appropriately, and then stepped back and took the hands of Aoibheann and Gwyn before addressing the remains on the pyre.
“We are here to bid a final farewell to Duchess Paasheeluu – mortician, baker, confectioner and tavern owner. But she was more than that to us – a mother, a sister, and a friend, a stout defended of her Hiinaa – her herd – which we were honoured to be a part of. Paasheeluu, honoured friend, I did not learn enough of your ways, and your rituals, so I hope that you will accept these rites in lieu. Since you once told me how the Artisan forged the people, it seemed fitting that you should return to fire. You were a good friend, and much more, and you are sorely missed. But before we commit you to the flames, I will ask if my friends here have any words they wish to say.” I looked to Aoibheann, since she knew more of Paasheeluu’s ways and her deities, but Gwyn spoke first with some moving words that I will try to recall here.
“Paasheeluu, friend, mentor, sometimes critic and always forthright, I know you and I did not always get along, and nothing makes me more glad than the knowledge we came to a real understanding before whatever took your life came between our ongoing friendships. But I hope you will accept this blessing from me, and I hope your journey home to the sky will be easy and peaceful. May the fire speed your journey and cleanse you of anything that needs to be borne away. May the wind speed your journey and take you to the right destination so that you may run beside your beloved always. May the water from the heavens fall upon you and bring the ashes of your body back into the earth so that the land may taste your magic always. And may the earth accept your ashes, into itself and into the kiln of the great artisan, so that others as beautiful as you may one day be fashioned and given joyous life.”
Winds blew up, hot and dry, stirring among the trees and around the pyre. Strangely, the noise it made, blowing in the leaves, sounded almost like distant voices, speaking in Paasheeluu’s tongue. It was not a tongue I knew, but I knew that Aoibheann had been trying to learn it. Certainly the sound stirred her to actions. She stepped forward and spoke, tremulously at first, then growing stronger. Again, I will try to recall her words as best I can.
“Breheyu?” she half questioned, as I nodded, finally remembering the name of the deities Paasheeluu had once told me about. “Paasheeluu may have taken a few wrong turns, but I hope that you will forgive her, because those turns brought her to me, and remember that despite everything else, she was always faithful to you, sang at morning and night so that you would not be lonely, and I only ask that you see that my mother is not as lonely where she is now, as she was without her beloved.” She paused a moment, and then added her own thoughts, this time addressing her mother directly. “You took me in, when I didn’t even know that I needed anyone to look after me. And I may have… I was a… pretty terrible unicorn, but you never gave up on me, never stopped trying to teach me. When I was stubborn and stopped listening, you spoke louder. You always believed that I could be more than I ever thought possible. And I will never forget your kindnesses, and only regret that I will not be able to repay them.”
I stepped forward again, signalling to Cristof that the guards could bring their torches nearer. “Duchess Paasheeluu, mother, sister, friend, Hiinaa… we commit your mortal remains to the fire, to the kiln. May the Artisan refashion you so that you can be reunited with the one you loved, your husband. Fly free, good friend, fly free. Goodbye dear friend, may the wind always be with you.” With that, I gestured for the flames to be applied and stepped back, reciting once again, Christina Rosetti’s poem, Remember, as I had done at Mother’s funeral, and as I had done when Valene showed me the Cait graves in the Roads. The winds picked up some more, and this time, there was no mistaking that there were words upon the wind, singing a song in Paasheeluu’s tongue. Aoibheann seemed to understand and sang along as best she could. Even Gwyn seemed to be joining in, at least, with the tune.
The wind sang again, and then, strangely appearing beyond the pyre, was a winged horse, an alicorn, somehow there, yet at the same time, occupying the whole sky. The voices on the wind seemed to be coming from her. For a moment, all I could say to myself was “holy crap”. The song died away and she regarded us, sternly, yet at the same time, compassionately before asking, simply, “Hiinaa Passheeluu?” One by one, Aoibheann, Gwyn, and finally, I stepped forward, each in our own way saying, yes, we were Paasheeluu’s herd. If this was Breheyu, then this was the twin goddess that Paasheeluu had told me about some time ago. She regarded us some more and told us that Paasheeluu had made a great sacrifice and thus had a rare chance to be redeemed. She asked us to each say what most noble action she had done for each of us, starting with her daughter.
Aoibheann blinked, caught out by having to go first. She spoke of how Paasheeluu had always protected her as a mother would a daughter, without hesitation. Gwyn spoke of the arguments they had had and how Paasheeluu had always been the one to apologise first and was always the first to forgive. I spoke of her attempts to teach me magic and echoed Aoibheann’s that she was always the first to protect her friends. I also took Aoibheann’s and Gwyn’s hands, saying these were now my Hiinnaa and said that I would honour Paasheeluu by protecting them as she would have done.
Breheyu looked at us, harshly; it seemed and then addressed Cristof, asking what Paasheeluu had done for her country. He spoke of her efforts to defend the castle, of the ways she had sought to use her magic to protect it, and of course, of her final action in establishing the link to the castle.
Breheyu stepped away, looking up and addressing the sky, addressing one known as Aahlee, saying that she had heard our words and now it was time to be judged. A great fire came down, like a tornado of flame around the pyre. It was almost as though there were some great dais there, engraved with equine writings. The fire consumed all that was there, leaving behind an unformed lump of clay. “It has been decided,” said Breheyu as the clay twisted and distorted, as though being worked by an unseen hand. Slowly, the clay took the shape of a small pony, as yet uncoloured. The invisible hand shaped a horn of crystal, feathers, a skin of orange hue, shaping that clay like porcelain, into the very shape of the late Paasheeluu. A fire came down, as though baking the figure in a kiln. Breheyu stepped forward, whispered something in the pony’s ear and then vanished, along with the fire, and everything else. We all stood there, staring, nor daring to move after what we had witnessed.
Paasheeluu stood there, looking more like a young foal than the aged mare we had known. She looked at us, confused and uncertain, saying our names and then asking where she was, and what had occurred. Aoibheann was the first to react, but all she could do was say the word that I had come to know meant mother, and the names of the artisan and the goddess. Cristof recovered better, bowing to her and explaining that she had been given a second chance. She asked about the portal and we assured her that the portal had worked, as that was how we came to be here. It all seemed a bit much for Paasheeluu, which I could understand, and she asked if she might go somewhere to rest. Aoibheann took her and led her to the tavern, as that would be the most familiar place for her, and there she lay down by the fire to sleep. There will be time enough when she is rested to tell her what had occurred.
Gwyn and I returned to the village, almost wordless, for what words could encompass what we had seen? I have never been a great believer in gods, but I may have to revise that point of view, in the light of what I had seen. That thought occupied my mind until sleep overcame me, and as yet, I am uncertain what to make of it, other than our friend has been returned to us. For that, we should be grateful, whatever our beliefs.
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
Remember – Christina Rosetti