TITLE: Michelle Cassandrasdaughter
SERIES: The Adventures of Lord Sam and Lady Brooke
AUTHOR: Jos Mous
DISCLAIMER: I. . . Actually, I own all of these characters. I even kind of own the world they live in. And yet, somehow, it still doesn’t belong to me.
NOTE: This is a Lord Sam tale without Lord Sam. Or Lady Brooke. Or, for that matter, anyone else from the main cast. It’s also another go at religion, but without much in the way of jokes. So, you might almost say that this is not a Lord Sam tale. Almost.
Michelle Cassandrasdaughter woke up on what was going to be the first day of the rest of her life. Up until now, her life had been rather simple and had taken place within the confines of a Cassandrian temple in some woods somewhere. Michelle had joined the temple at a very young age by being left on the doorstep one night.
Michelle slipped out of bed and into her clothes –a single white robe- and left her room. The stones of the corridor were cold underneath her bare feet, but Michelle hardly noticed this. The stones of the temple’s corridors had always been cold underneath her feet, except in the hottest of summers.
Michelle quickly reached the dining room, which was still mostly empty. Officially, the time for breakfast hadn’t arrived yet, but then again, the time to get out of bed also hadn’t. Michelle gathered some bread and milk and sat down at a table, next to her best friend Erin. Erin was a few years older than she was, somewhere around twenty perhaps, and was also a Cassandrasdaughter. Perhaps that was why she was her best friend.
“Good morning,” said Erin pleasantly. “You’re up early.”
“I could say the same about you.”
“Nah, not really,” said Erin. “I’m just going to bed really late.”
“Don’t you ‘oh Erin’ me,” said Erin. “And besides it was with Sarah again, so you might say I’m improving.”
“Spending your nights with the same girl for a week is only an improvement because the other girls never lasted so long.”
Erin grinned and shrugged. “Well, at least I’m doing the Goddess’s work and spreading the love, right?”
Michelle sighed. “Sometimes you disappoint me Erin.”
Erin’s grinned disappeared. “Sorry.”
“No, I should apologise, I had no right to say that. It is the way Cassandra made you and I’m sure you’re not hurting anyone.” She looked up sharply. “Are you hurting anyone?”
“Of course not,” said Erin. “Well, you know, unless they want me to.”
“No, I don’t know. But I’ll take your word for it.”
“Thanks. That. . . actually does mean a lot to me.”
Michelle finished her milk. “Well, I must get going.”
“Already? I don’t remember you having any duties today.”
“We all have our duties,” said Michelle. “One way or the other.”
Erin watched Michelle stride away. Then she put a hand over her eyes and sighed.
The chapel was empty, which was exactly they way Michelle liked it. She preferred praying in solitude, it was more intimate somehow. She slowly approached the statue of the Immortal Goddess. It was a very new statue, made especially for the temple by gorgons and it was beautiful. Everything the gorgons made was beautiful, of course, but they’d outdone themselves with the statue. It showed both Cassandra’s human and dragon side in intricate detail, but above all it showed the Goddess’s love. Pure love seemed to radiate from the statue, filling every single inch of the chapel and by extension the temple, the woods and the rest of the world.
Michelle knelt in front of the statue and prayed. It was no formal prayer, not taken from any book or service simply because Michelle felt that if you couldn’t pray from the heart you shouldn’t be praying at all.
She finished her prayers and looked up at Cassandra smiling down at her. Michelle was unaware of what the world was like outside the temple, but considering the fact that Cassandra had created all life it must simply be wonderful.
And suddenly, without making any kind of conscious decision, Michelle wanted to see it all.
The head priestess of the temple was sitting at her desk, doing the paperwork. There always seemed to be paperwork. She had a feeling that even if every single scrap of paper in the whole world suddenly vanished there would still be paperwork.
She looked up when the door opened and very carefully put down her feather when she saw it had been Michelle who’d entered. There was something different about the girl. Of course, there had always been something different about the girl, but now she seemed more different than usual.
“I’m leaving,” the girl said.
The head priestess nodded. There was probably no point arguing. She could, of course, forbid the girl to go, but that would simply be. . . wrong.
“I see,” she said. “Why?”
Michelle looked at her. “I want to see it.”
“Everything. Everything the Goddess created.”
The head priestess breathed out slowly.
“I see,” she said again. “Is there anything you need?”
“Like what?” Michelle asked.
“Sandals, perhaps. Boots maybe?”
“To make the travelling easier,” the priestess said.
Michelle’s lips moved as she visibly tried to wrap her mind around a concept she couldn’t possibly comprehend.
“Well a spare robe then,” said the priestess. “In case this one gets dirty.”
“But this robe never gets dirty,” said Michelle.
That was true, the priestess had to admit. The girl could be working in the gardens, kneeling in dirt all the time and at the end of the day it would still be completely white. It was a mystery how she did it. It was probably a Sign of some sort.
“Just take one along, please. Just in case.”
Michelle nodded. “Very well.”
The girl turned around and left and the head priestess knew, now, that she would never see her again. She wondered if she was saddened about that or happy. Sighing, she took her feather again. There was still paperwork, after all.
Oblivious of where she was going or how she was going to get there, Michelle just picked a direction and went with it. It took her through quite a lot of forest and she often saw glimpses of Wildcats moving between the trees. Whenever night fell, she slept on the ground without any kind of discomfort and not really aware that it was quite cold that way. One night she had to sleep in a terrible rainstorm, but that didn’t bother her either. Sure, it was a bit inconvenient that her soaking robe clung to her body early the following day, but it dried up again eventually. She also spotted a lot more Wildcats between the trees that day than any others, but she wrote that off as a coincidence.
And then one day, the forest stopped and she saw the horizon in front of her. She’d never seen it before and it was beautiful. She had no clue what lay behind it, but she was going to find out.
Eventually, Michelle reached a city. It was quite like the temple, only there were more buildings, a lot more mud, a great deal more women (some of whom were probably men), a lot more clothes being worn by everyone, a lot more noise and, above all else, a lot more smell. It was a lot to take in all at once and Michelle must’ve stood frozen on the spot for at least ten minutes, just taking it all in.
A voice shook her out of her reverie.
“Hello there cutie. First time to the city?”
“What? Oh, yes.”
The person who’d addressed her was a young woman, although not as young as Michelle. She wore a. . . a kind of robe, but it was obviously much too short. Her face was very colourful too.
“Yeah, you look like it,” said the woman. “Where’re you from?”
Michelle blinked. “Uhm. . . the temple?”
The woman rolled her eyes. “Oh, so you’re one of those, huh? Well now cutie, how would you like to have a nice time? Or maybe a warm bed for the night?”
“But it’s still morning,” said Michelle.
The woman was suddenly standing very closely next to her. “Details, cutie. So? How about it?”
“Maybe when I’m tired,” said Michelle. “I’d actually like to go pray somewhere now.”
The woman was suddenly standing a lot further away from her again. “Fine, be that way. Church square is over that way,” she said sourly. “Have fun.”
“Thank you,” said Michelle. “Have a nice day.”
“Hmm. Whatever. But. . . let me now if you change your mind, OK cutie?”
Church square turned out to be filled with temples. Each and every one looked magnificent, displaying beautiful Cassandrian imagery. Michelle felt like she should be overawed at seeing all that, but was surprised that she wasn’t. Then again, these were only the outsides, of course. She picked a temple at random and entered it.
The inside too was beautiful, filled with paintings and statues celebrating Cassandra and Jessica. Out in front, a preacher was preaching and the benches all around her were filled with people with their hands folded together. Michelle looked at all the splendour and listened to the pious murmurs and felt. . .
She frowned. Something was missing here. It was. . . It was. . .
Cassandra wasn’t here. Michelle could feel it. She didn’t know how, but she could. How could there be a temple this beautiful with this many people and not have the presence of the Goddess? It was a conundrum. But it was also a fact. Michelle couldn’t pray here.
She turned around and walked out.
After walking into and out of every temple in the square, Michelle felt incredibly disappointed. Each and every temple was filled with beautiful artwork intended to further the greater glory of Cassandra and there had always been people singing (or at least muttering) Her praises, but they had all been strangely empty.
So Michelle simply knelt down on the cobbles in the centre of the square and prayed there. It was invigorating. The temples might’ve been inexplicably devoid of Cassandra, but the square and the cobbles and the city weren’t.
Michelle turned around and saw the small group of gorgons standing awkwardly a little bit away.
“Hello, can I help you?” said Michelle.
“We noticcced you entering the churchesss and leaving very fassst,” one of the gorgons hissed.
“Oh yes,” said Michelle. “They were very pretty. Did you make all that art?”
“Sssome of usss, yesss.”
“You must be very proud of yourselves.”
“Yesss, thank you. But, can we asssk you a quessstion?”
“Could you tell usss about the Goddesss?”
“Sure,” said Michelle. “But wouldn’t the preachers and everyone be better at that?”
“Perhapsss, but they won’t tell usss.”
Michelle was baffled. “Really? Why not?”
The gorgons looked even more awkward. “We are technically hellfiendsss.”
“So? So what? You’re Cassandra’s creatures too.”
“Of course,” said Michelle. “Come on. I’ll try my best to tell you everything you want to know.”
The gorgons smiled. “Thank you.”
Pope Carly was the undisputed spiritual leader of the One True Church of Cassandra and, as such, the one and only authority when it came to the Immortal Goddess’ demands and wishes. Her large, light, airy and lavishly decorated office was filled with people today, which was quite rare. Being an undisputed spiritual leader and the guiding light for the faithful meant that people couldn’t just disturb her for any trivialities they might be bothered with.
Unfortunately, the matters of today were far from trivial. They were so far from trivial that she had even been forced to suffer the presence of representatives of some of the Many Untrue Churches of Cassandra.
“Who is this. . . this girl anyway?” Pope Carly asked.
“It’s a question many of us have asked as well,” said a bishop.
“We managed to find out that she’s from a temple in some woods somewhere,” said a priest from some Untrue Church.
“A temple?” said Pope Carly. “I thought we had matured past that infantile stage.”
“We have, of course,” said an Untrue cardinal. “But there are still some sects that cling to the old-fashioned ways.”
“So. . . a girl from a temple. A girl who came to the city a few weeks ago and spends all her time amongst snakes and whores,” said Pope Carly. “So why is it that otherwise sensible, decent and faithful people are starting to follow her?”
“Well, she’s. . . very kind.”
“Kind?” said Pope Carly. “A true spiritual leader is supposed to be enlightened and understanding of the True Will of Cassandra. She’s not supposed to be kind.”
“People say she’s also very charismatic,” said a bishop. “And, well, some people say she might be, you know. . .”
Pope Carly raised an eyebrow. “No. I do not. Please. . . enlighten me.”
“They say she might be a prophetess.”
Pope Carly’s mouth became a thin, angry line. “A prophetess? I can’t be having with that. The One True Church is finally running smoothly. I can’t have some prophetess running around changing the rules again. I’m sure that’s not the Will of Cassandra.”
“Nevertheless. . .”
“There is no nevertheless,” said Pope Carly. “The girl cannot be a prophetess. She’s simply delusional, dragging people down with her in her madness. No, clearly it is up to us to save her.”
Some of the untrue delegation flinched.
“You have a problem with that?” Pope Carly said. “She is leading people away from the light of Cassandra and you flinch at the thought of saving her soul?”
“Well, your methods of soul-saving tend to be. . . rather irreversible.”
“The body is but meat without any real worth,” Pope Carly said. “If it is to be sacrificed to save the soul then it is a small price to pay. No, I will find the girl. And I will save her.”
Michelle sat on the hard floor and looked up at the light falling in through the small window high in the wall. There were large metal shackles around her wrists and ankles. It had all happened very quickly. One minute she’d been lying in bed, dozing happily in a lazy afternoon sun, the next there had been a lot of men with sharp metal, a lot of screaming and quite a bit of pain.
Michelle wasn’t sure what was going to happen to her, but she wasn’t worried. She could still feel Cassandra in her heart and soul and as long as she had that what could there be to worry about?
The door to her cell opened and two church guards stepped inside. One of them nodded at the door. Clanging slightly, Michelle got up and followed them. She was led to the nave of the church. Of a church, at least. A hollow-eyed congregation stared at her from the benches and in front of the altar was a woman in a splendid white robe adorned with gold stitching.
“Ah Michelle,” said Pope Carly when she’d reached the altar along with her guards. “What do you think of my Church?”
“It looks very pretty,” said Michelle.
“This is the One True Church of Cassandra, you know,” said Pope Carly, smiling. “The earthly home of the Immortal Goddess.”
“No it’s not,” said Michelle. “Cassandra isn’t here.”
Pope Carly put a motherly hand on Michelle’s shoulder. “I’m sure you think that. But do not worry, we will save your soul.”
“It is not mine that needs saving,” said Michelle.
“I suppose it’s mine?” said Pope Carly.
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Yes, I’d expected you would say that,” said Pope Carly. “But I lead the One True Church. If I am not saved, no-one is.”
“And I expected you to say that,” said Michelle. “But I have faith. And I will pray for you.”
Pope Carly smiled again. “Remember this moment,” she declared loudly, her voice echoing around the church. “For the day will come when you have been saved. And then you will kneel at my feet and repent for your folly. So remember this moment, for it marks the beginning of your salvation.”
“Yes,” said Michelle. “I will remember this moment.”
And then, all around the church, the stained glass windows shattered, the doors flung open and there was noise everywhere. Before anyone really realised what was going on, Michelle was surrounded by people, by gorgons and humans and even one or two Wildcats.
“What? How dare you bring violence into this church?” Pope Carly said. “Guards, seize them.”
The church guards looked at the mob. Unlike them, the mob was unarmed and they stood with a kind of intent that only promised violence if someone were to bring violence to them first.
The guards considered their options and fled.
“So, this is how it is,” said Pope Carly. “Counting on your benighted mob to smother the light.”
Michelle walked out of the crowd. “And yet, I notice your congregation is just sitting there, not raising a finger to protect the leader of the One True Church of Cassandra.”
Pope Carly glared at her for a moment. “I do not need their protection. The Immortal Cassandra will provide for me.”
“The Immortal Cassandra provided for me as well. She provided me with love and with people who love me.”
“Those people should not love you, they should love the Goddess.”
“They should love everyone, because everyone is created by the Goddess.”
Pope Carly’s hands clenched into fists. “So now what will you do, hmm? Will you order your mob to burn my church? Defile its sacred nature because it does not meet your standards?”
“I already know what I will do,” said Michelle.
And, still shackled, she stepped forward, put her hands on Pope Carly’s shoulders and kissed her forehead.
- - - - -
The tower room was mostly empty, motes of dust twinkling happily in the light of the setting sun. Cassandra sat perched upon a stool, her tail making small circles on the ground. A chess board was laid out on the table in front of her. The casual observer might’ve thought that Cassandra was playing a game against herself and, in a way, the casual observer would be wrong.
Cassandra grinned, took a white pawn and toppled the black queen.