Meeting At Joe's
The three sisters sat down at the table.
There was a short, bearded man, his short brown hair beginning to go bald, already seated. He nodded to them as they took their seats. 'Thank you.'
'Our pleasure, Dominic,' the youngest one, the blonde in a sharply cut business suit, said.
'Do you know why you're here?' the eldest, the white-haired crone, asked.
'I... believe I do, yes.' Dominic said. 'Because of my wife, and my daughters.'
The middle one, the matronly woman, nodded. 'Yes, my dear. That, and more than that.'
Dominic chuckled. 'We forget, sometimes. There are nine Muses. Nine is three times three. Three sets of three. Three sets... of three women. Sisters. The Sisters Three.'
'Canny, lad...' the Crone said. 'Canny.'
'Why me?' Dominic asked. 'Why not my daughters?'
'Because it's not their time,' the Mother replied. 'It's not their time. You may meet with us safely...'
'I'd be careful of the hermit, if I were you.' the Crone said.
'You know the rules,' the Maiden said. 'Three questions, three answers. You've already used one.'
'Asking why I was here.' Dominic said. 'All right.'
He steepled his fingers together. 'I worked it out, eventually. Historical mysteries are what I specialise in. I looked back in the records, learned about the case.
'In 1094 CE, one Sophia - a Muse of Calliope's - was brought before the Queen, on charges of interference outside a Muse's bounds, attempted physical manifestation in Reality, and attempting to prevent her Artist's death.
'Before sentence could be passed, a request was heard from the Major Arcana - from the Archetypes - that she be turned over to their justice.
'The Queen heard their plea, and allowed it. The Arcana make few requests of the Muses, and all Muses know what they mean to them.
'Nothing was heard from Sophia until a month afterward, when she returned to the Court, and informed the Queen that "Justice had been seen to be done".
'The Queen accepted this. She knew the penalty if Sophia had dissembled.
'Seven months after that, Sophia gave birth to a baby daughter, Elle. When she registered the child's name, the father's name and identity were left blank.
'Reading between the lines, it would be assumed that Sophia had had a night of passion - with a Muse, or one of the Archetypes. That the justice the Archetypes had demanded - like Zeus' punishment of Minos - would be a monstrous birth.'
'She did not.' the Mother said.
Dominic merely nodded, as if he'd expected the answer.
'Elle was absolutely normal. Entirely normal, appearing to be one of the normal subreal.
'But why would the Arcana demand justice of the Muses? The Muses understand perfectly where they stand in relation to the First. What could a Muse do that would threaten them?
'Destruction was out of the question - to destroy one of them would strike at the foundations of the Muses' power, too. The punishment, whatever it had been, seemed too light for that. Theft? Wait but a moment, and it would be recreated. And we all return to the source when our time is done...' Dominic sat back in his chair.
'A crime had been committed. But what had the crime been?
'We know little about the Archetypes... odd, because they're both our beginning, and our end. The keystones on which the stories are founded. Many of them... or aspects of them... have chosen to dwell here. The Muses do not rule them; they only answer to one Prince.
'The Prince of Stories.
'If this had been an affair of the Endless, while I might learn what had happened, I doubt I would understand why.
'Although I had my suspicions... attempting to prevent a Writer's death...' Dominic broke off. 'Maybe they had taken a direct hand in this, maybe not. Although they have been more involved with us, lately... D is a charming girl... where was I? Ah.
'Sometimes, one of the Arcana is destroyed. Sometimes, another is raised up to fill that void... sometimes not.' Dominic's eyes were, for a moment, unreadable. 'We all learned that, after the Wake.
'But what if someone - a fictive, a Muse - attempted, even for a moment, to subsume one of the Arcana into themselves? To take on their role, their position. To redefine that archetype from their perspective.
'Was it even possible?'
Dominic sat back in his chair. 'Even Muses have stories, fables...
'Sophia is the name given to the feminine principle of wisdom in Kabbalistic texts. Aspects of her are mirrored in the High Priestess of the Tarot deck, in Athena and Minerva...
'It's all too tempting to relate the feminine archetypes back to the Sisters Three. Many take that path...' He tapped two fingers together. 'The Norns guard Mimir's Well. The Moirae weave the fates of everything.
'The fictives have their origin in the archetypes, this is true. If the principle of wisdom had originated with you, by now, she had taken on an identity of her own... as perhaps, had others.
'No, this was a matter of the archetypes.
'I looked deeper.
'Sophia had originated about three thousand years ago - approximately 1000 BCE - as a fictive for an Israelite writer living in Egypt's New Kingdom. Not the archetype of Wisdom... but a fictive, named for her, even, perhaps, originating in her. Still, a fictive.
'That era was a time of epic poetry. Many now feel that in the 'Dark Age' of that time, knowledge was kept and transferred by the oral tradition... including the epics. Myself, I look, and wonder. The revised chronology some archaeologists have come up with, redating the Egyptian chronology, and virtually eliminating that Dark Age... hmm.
'Sorry, I'm wandering.
'But that era was a time for the poets. And there was trade between the countries...
'In time, Sophia found herself attached to one of them. To a poet.
'And, in a time when poets were expected to recite...
'...that was what she came to do. To recite, to sing.
'This was before our War. Things were... looser, then. More relaxed. The Nine lived together, squabbled and fought and disagreed... and their mother still showed up from time to time.
'They oversaw us - all of us - back then. But only one could rule.
'We've never been a democracy. Now, it's more of a...' Dominic paused. 'Only one rules, in each domain. And Calliope is Queen over all.
'But back then, it was more of an oligarchy. The Nine were demigods... and few of the others would challenge them, in part because of the punishments they would deliver, like that they had delivered upon the Sirens, ripping out their feathers to make their crowns, when the Sirens lost...
'Rule of the divine.
'And a fictive merely had to present herself before one of the Nine to be accepted as a Muse.'
Dominic chuckled, humourlessly. 'Of course, not every culture did. They had their own ways of perceiving the creative process... some of which didn't need Muses. Much as we might like to think it, we do not approach the level of importance the Archetypes do, even for all our power... even with Flame, and Iris, and... other Things... in our number.
'But the idea of Muses spread... in time, the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans, the Celtic and the Norse, the Sumerian pantheons... all, in time, accepted the idea of Muses, established at least an Ambassador in their domain.
'And so Sophia carried on. From poet to poet to poet. Epic poetry, more often than not. Calliope's domain.
'And then came the War.'
Dominic fell silent.
'We aren't archetypes. We are the... the caretakers, the /evokers/ of inspiration, within a mythology. As such...
'As such, we looked out into the mortal realm, after we had licked our wounds from the war, and we saw that Rome and Greece had fallen, that no empire had arisen in their place. We saw this devastation, and we saw it as regression - that creativity had been stifled, muffled, almost killed, because of our war. That it had devastated them, as well as us.
'But empires will rise and fall, each building on what has been retained... progress is not always linear, that's one lesson of history.
'And we were in the period in which new European empires would be built.
'The other empires, meanwhile, continued in their way, developing along other lines. But the myth we built eventually took hold amongst us... because there was some truth in it...
'And I wonder, sometimes, whether our blood oath was to protect us, or them. Calliope's Muses weren't the only ones to take the oath... all of the Nine's subjects took the oath, even Clio's.
'Still, the poetic tradition continued. So did Sophia.
'She had fought alongside Calliope's forces in the War. She lost less than many of us, having less to lose in the first place... at least physically.
'Nevertheless, she survived the War, swore the oath... and continued on. Never getting involved with in Muse politics, at least not beyond the norm. Preferring to nurture her Writers, her Creators...
'And then came her trial, and her daughter.
'When I first met her, when Elle brought me to meet her...' Dominic closed his eyes, remembering. 'When I first met her, she seemed fragile... empty, dead. An emotional shell.
'Shellshocked, to use the language of a later war.
'There were many more of us like that, shortly after the War. Many, many more. I think it was around then we built the Infirmary, to deal with them...
'Far too many.
'And I greeted her, complimented her, and I did not ask what had happened. I was a guest, a post-graduate student of Clio's Collegium, researching a thesis on historical myth... and so, for that, I came to Calliope's domain.
'I found what I'd been hunting... and Elle captured me. Her quiet, thoughtful voice, her charm...' Dominic shook his head. 'I fell in love with her for many reasons. But most of all, I fell in love with her because she was herself, and that was a wonderful thing to be.
'And, eventually, I settled down here with her. We were still active Muses, of course, still on call as and when our Writers needed us... but again, we tried to avoid the Nine's politics as and when we could.
'Which was hard. Many of the Collegium's Muses were suspicious of me, believing I was an agent for Clio. Occasionally, I wondered if it was true, if I was her unwitting agent. Elle never believed it of me, or if she did, she made her peace with it.
'But her peace with her mother, with Sophia... that was a tense thing. Elle felt, deep down... deeper, I think, than I could reach... that she was responsible for her mother's condition, that because of her, her mother was like this, and always would be... and so she felt the need to set it right.
'Some things are rooted deeper than the mind - or the heart - can reach. But still, we wish that we could find the words, find the gestures, that will make them realise, help them to see...'
Dominic shook his head again. 'Jackie - my sister - gave me some good advice. She told me to let her uncover her own secrets.' He chuckled. 'We had a lot of arguments over that.
'That was the way things went. Happiness, and joy, and sadness, and soft-spoken arguments... followed by nights of comfort, of rest... And, in the end, there was the love.
'And the guilt. Always, that guilt.
'And... I had to know. I had to know what had reached so deeply into Elle's soul... into who she was.
'And so I began looking, began delving, searching the Collegium's records as and when I could. I managed to find the Court's records, Sophia's case... and its unexpected conclusion.
'And it bothered me. Eight months isn't right for a myth, for a story. Or for a normal pregnancy.
'It wasn't a night of passion, it wasn't the Arcana's punishment.
'And I began to suspect. To suspect that it was what Sophia had done, as her crime, that had resulted in her pregnancy. Perhaps in the wake of it, perhaps in its doing... but that it was that crime which led to it.
'She had tried to prevent her Artist's death - something that is expressly forbidden. Our domain is creativity, and creativity alone. We cannot interfere.' Dominic's eyes were shadowed. 'Some of us have the power, but we cannot. That part of Reality is the domain of forces older even than us, forces that have lived since the first living thing came into existence - and with it, the possibility of its ending. Those forces will demand a high price of us if we try and fail... but less than that they would ask if we succeeded.
'I looked at the records again.
'And then... I understood. Sophia had succeeded. For a brief, eternal, moment, she had held him back from the brink-
'-and then she had let him go, let him go onto the sunless lands. Where even we cannot go, until it is time.
'I saw it, I saw it all, how it must have gone.
'Coming for him, coming to him, as the plague ravaged his body, slowly broke him down.
'She saw it, and... oh, how she must have raged at Calliope then, raged at her to let her interfere. To let her save one life, just one life.
'I can only imagine what it cost her to defy her, the price she knew she would have to pay for her insubordination... but it didn't matter, not as he mattered...
'...to defy her Queen, defy her duty, her responsibilities, to defy even the laws that bind us all...
'...She lived for him. She almost died, for him. For this ordinary man, a soldier of the Norman kingdoms...
'In him, she found something she had never found before, not in two thousand years. In him, she found the spark she sought.
'In him, she found obsession.
'Obsession, and love, and desire, and the way she must have felt, seeing him die, succumbing to the Death...
'She came to him...
'...and then I saw, saw why the Arcana came for her. What she had done.
'Because what she did was beyond what any of us would consider. Beyond us, because only someone who cared nothing for the consequences would even accept it.
'She came to him, that last night. Watched, from the borders of the Mists.
'I wonder what she thought - whether she thought, as she watched him die. Was she even capable of it, then?
'Nothing mattered. Nothing, but saving him.
'She reached inside herself, reached for every scrap of power, everything that made her a Muse, everything that made her Sophia.
'And then she reached beyond.
'Reached into her archetype. Into her source, her beginning... the cornerstone of everything she had become.
'Reached into it... and Wisdom must have fought her, fought her desperately, for she knew what would happen, she still cared...
'...but Sophia no longer did.
'And for one moment, one terrible moment...
'...what did they see that night, in the infirmaries?
'Did they think it a fever dream, a hallucination born of sickness?
'Or were there some who saw?
'Saw the glory, and the power, of the angel, the angel come down from Heaven itself...
'...to take a good man's soul.
'She took him into herself, for one last, brief, eternity-
'-and then she was gone.
'Leaving only a cooling body behind her.
'She might have threatened us all in what she did. Might have subsumed Wisdom completely, and utterly, into herself. Might have destroyed herself, and a fraction of the Arcana with her... might even have succeeded, and brought him back...
'But when they found her, she was huddled against a wall, tears tracking down her face...
'...and she said nothing as they took her back, she said nothing as she was thrown into the dungeon, she said nothing as she was brought before the Court...
'And she never spoke to Calliope again.
'She had broken the law, threatened us all, beyond what any of us might concieve...
'...and the Arcana chose to let her live.
'Why, I don't know.
'But in the end, I think they let her live...'
'Go on, my pet.' the Mother said.
'I think they let her live because her story wasn't over. Because they saw it hadn't played out. Because such a crime... the hubris, the willingness to defy the Arcana themselves, demanded a story. A resolution.
'And so it happened.
'Her daughter was born, daughter of Arcana and mortal... and to the end of her life, she blamed herself for her mother's deeds.'
Dominic closed his eyes. 'And then our daughters were born. Allie and Xeffy.'
His voice dropped, becoming low, soft. 'Both of them miracles. Both of them.
'Our miracles. Our baby girls. Our daughters.
'Both of them.
'And if Allie could transform herself into a cat, or Xeffy could sing the birds out of the trees...
'...that was part of the miracle.
'And so it continued.
'When Xeffy was a year old, and Allie was nine, Sophia left.
'She came here, to Joe's Cafe... came to Wisdom... spoke to her, for a few short minutes.
'And then she was gone, back where she'd come.
'She hung on for so long, waiting, watching...
'And when Allie and Xeffy came along...
'I think, in the end, it was because she wanted a quick end, rather than a slow one. I think - or I hope - that was what happened.
'But with Sophia gone...
'...I think Elle began to die, too, piece by piece. The guilt in her reacting, responding. Blaming herself, as she'd done all her life. Blaming herself for her mother's death.
'Eventually, they diagnosed cancer.
'Nothing is incurable in Subreality, not if you're a fictive. But if you're one of the subreal, like Elle was...
'...then, you can die permanently.
'And she was dying. It was killing her.
'And one night, a few nights before she died, she began to talk. About her mother's history, about what she'd done... she must have known I already knew, but she needed to tell me.
'It was her deathbed confession, though neither of us could say it.
'She told me about her gift, her legacy from her mother's deeds.
'Persephone's gift. The gift to enter the sunless lands, and return.
'And I realised, then... I understood.
'Why she had never told me, why she had always carried the blame.
'She told me what she'd done after Sophia had gone, entering the dead lands, searching for her...
'She never found her.
'I cried, that night. I didn't know for who.
'Whether it was for Sophia, or Elle, or our daughters, or myself... I didn't know.
'And when she died... I wept again.'
Dominic fell silent.
'Nearly done, dearie.' the Crone said. 'Finish it.'
'Earlier this year...' He let out a long breath. 'Earlier this year, the girls, my girls... they went up against the Eaters of Story, the Gods of Ragnarok.
'And they found out. Found out that Sophia had done something, left them both with a legacy.
'Allie has Proteus' gift, the ability to shapeshift. Xeffy is a Siren, the first in a long age - able to captivate and call anyone who hears her sing.
'With their help, the Gods were imprisoned once again.
'And then...' He hesitated. 'Allie's Writer came for me, invited me to the Hoedown.
'And I accepted.
'And when I entered, I met my third daughter.
'A phantasm created from Allie's Shadow. The idea of Allie's Shadow.
'But my daughter. She was still my daughter. My third daughter.
'And I told them what had happened, their family history... I told them what Elle had told me. I told them why they were the way they were, what Sophia had done, to mark them all.
'They were quiet, then.
'And then Allie began to tell me what had happened to them.
'Told me that Calliope had absolved Elle of all blame, and that her absolution had been heard...
'...by those who held domain over death.
'That she was free. That she was truly, and finally, free.
'And then I started to cry again.
'It was over. It had ended.
'We were free. Elle was free, the girls were free... and I...
'I was finally free.
'We were all, finally, free.'
Dominic breathed out.
'And that's what happened.'
The Sisters Three nodded.
'Thank you, dearie.' the Crone said.
Dominic nodded. 'For my second question... you must have known what happened. Why did you ask me to tell you?'
The Maiden shrugged. 'As a favour to a friend, one with... an interest in stories. He wanted to hear it told - he felt he owed some debt to you, and he wished to repay it by helping you finish the story.'
'The Prince of Stories,' Dominic guessed. 'Dream.'
'Now, now...' the Mother said. 'you know we can't answer that, even if we wanted to.'
'So, my duck, what's your third question?'
Dominic grinned slowly. 'Well, I'm moving out of Subreality - there isn't much for me here, not now. Since Allie's now a full Muse, I'm moving to the This Time Round subverse, to be nearer her and her Writer. And her Writer's been kind enough to offer Xeffy a commute to school each morning... no matter how much she tries to charm him.'
His grin grew wider. 'It's going to be interesting, living with all three of my daughters... a phantasm, a siren, and a shapeshifting Muse...'
'What's your question?' the Mother prompted.
Dominic grinned again.
'Would the three of you care for some cherry pie? I hear the pies here are just like the ones Mom used to make...'
Author's notes: And that's a wrap.
The Sisters Three, at least in this form, and the Endless are borrowed from Neil Gaiman. Subreality is Kielle's, Joe's Cafe was created by Acetal, and This Time Round was created by Tyler Dion. Calliope was introduced to Subreality by Yasmin, D is Nate's, Flame is Farli's, Iris is Tammy Moore's, and the Things used (thankfully) to be Raven's. The Gods of Ragnarok belong to the BBC (along with 'Doctor Who'). Dominic, Elle, Sophia and the rest of their family are all mine (Allie's my Muse).
Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat