The Return of the Orange Virgin
Prologue―The Congress of the Stones

In the cellars of the Queen, the stones were holding converse. There was no sound, but the stones’ deep resonances crept between their joins, leaping basaltic fissures with a lethargic iridescence. The Orange Virgin clutched at an ornamental drapery to steady herself. How came I here?

“Unbecoming and unrewarding, o queen,” said the stones. “...your thought. You are here because we are here.”

“Here is where we are, stones. It was ever thus. Have you any other pithy perorations or are we through?” The thick velvet of the wall hanging―shot with gold and silver threads and embroidered with emeralds and topazes, raddled to insubstantiality by time and rot―crumbled at her touch. A spider scuttled for safety in a fissure.

By their nature, the stones did not get around much, but they had compensated by evolving a great pride of place. Black basalt they were, striped with travertine, an outcropping of the world spirit―fashioned plumb, square, and true―and stacked perhaps at the pleasure of a backwoods warlord to keep the cows out of his celery and the neighboring feoffers out of his wives. The great blocks were meticulously quarried to a master plan that allowed but fine tolerances at their joins and little tolerance for intruders.

“You presume much for artifacts. Why am I here? You have some pronouncement or other, I can feel it. You yearn for company. I, too.” The goddess aimed a kick at the wall. She had no leg. She had no body yet shared the affliction of all who travel fast and far: her bladder was overfull and shrieking for relief, a depressingly human state. But the bladder was elsewhere. In the stress of her need she reached for one of her long braids to chew, an idle habit, and found it likewise not there. “So! I would appear to have mislaid my parts. When my body catches up with me, then I will attend to its needs. For now it can hold it.”

The goddess grasped her whereness, though why and to what purpose, malign or beneficent, she could not guess. Ignorance was unbecoming; she was, after all, a deity. “And a goddess is expected to know everything and at all times. Yes, yes, yes. I am familiar with the drill,” she told the unremitting emptiness of the oozing walls.

“The child of clay―he will be one of them. A creature of flesh and the evanescent air.” The stones.

There was a lengthy pause―a minute, an hour, a week perhaps. “And yet of us, do not forget.” The stones added.

“He is mine,” said the Orange Virgin. The stones ignored her. “Uh, hello?” Again, no answer. The stones had resumed their deliberations.

“They invent themselves, going backwards from the moment of their deaths, prey to violence, wistful longings and silly enthusiasms.”

“These creatures have no sense of proportion but an immense capacity for forward motion. We will not become involved.”

“But the child must be elsewhere―we would not be comfortable with the, hmmm... state of affairs. There is a duopoly, an overlapping here. Let the child be with those he resembles. Inform the Orange Virgin.”

“Pompous pile!” The Orange Virgin kicked the wall. “Ouch!” Her body had caught up with her.

The stones were unperturbed. “Incompatibility―you are foreign to us, but we have tolerated you, Lady. It were best, hmmm... yes, best for all concerned―you and we―if you and he, this Cowboy Trueheart...”

“Bangtree. Biff Bangtree.” The Orange Virgin stamped her foot.

“As you will. Trueheart, Bangtree, whatall... The golem must go, you too. Our comfort is in disarray. However, in his hour of final need he may return to us if he wills, for he has been manufactured from the dust of our world. In his terminal agony he shall find us waiting, as always.You, goddess, are with us, but not of us.You wrung the rain from the sky and quickened the wombs of the wild things and brought the wheat to sheaf. Blah, blah, blah. Ever you grind on with your tales of pathetic abandonment. Just who abandoned whom?”

“I was offered no choice, and this is not the present topic under discussion.” The Lady sniffled and, to hide a tear, told herself she smelled the fumes of belladonna that once wafted forth on the polished cobbles of the night.

Had it become her time to go yet again as before, those aeons past. “And here we are replaying eternity. Until we get it right?” She hoped so. Smoky pine resin incense once rose heavenward to gladden the nostrils; her altars were empty, censers left swinging in their gimbals as horror-stricken votaries fled, sandals flapping, into the night to rouse the priestesses.

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