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A Philanthropist of Women

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Once upon a time, my daughter, there was a little girl who grew up to be a queen of sorts

Some drift along, hoping to be rescued, and some make their own way. This little girl, her mother read fortunes, and at her mother’s knee, she learned the art of reading the cards and the stars, of tracing lines on the palm and voicing pictures seen in water. She drank in the mysteries, rising above where she was born, and who she was told to be.

And the wheel turns, and fortunes change, for the better as well as for the worse.

Such girls have few options in our world: they may be wives and mothers, or perhaps  keepers of businesses and makers of beauty. Or they may be scorned and abused, left behind and ignored. Often all of the above, their fate left to the wheel and fortune’s fickle glance. And so it was with this girl, become a woman. Her fortunes rose, and it came time to find a husband.

The world brings us choices.

L’amoreaux is a card of choices: riches or youth, wisdom or beauty. In our lives, the decision is rarely laid out so clearly. We seek through mist and shadow, hoping to find our heart’s desire by feel and fumble.

That is even more true when we reach out to someone else. Two fumbling through the mist may find their way, but they can also lead each other astray, into strange and difficult places. And so it was for this girl-turned-woman, as it is for many girls and many women - and many boys and men as well.

This woman married, but rose and fell and lost and won. From gold and glory she fell to debt and prison, as her husband’s fortunes led them to high places and low. And then again. In difficult times, some turn to reason and logic, others to drink and desperation, but she turned the cards, seeking to find a path through the mists to some greater glory.

And so, using all the many skills she held, she began to reach out with grasping hands to find a place of security and sufficiency, shaping a world for herself. What she made was something, but not enough. Not for her.  

Some bind themselves, seeking greater power.  

And so this woman bound herself, offering oath and promise, word and deed to dark princes and deep powers. And from there, she began to spin a web, lines to hold and steady her if this one or that one crumpled beneath the pressure of law, love, or death. Woman by woman, she called and created, shaping and forming them into what she needed: fortune-tellers, herbalists, parfumeuses, hairdressers, and deeper and darker trades.

She called herself a philanthropist of women, bringing them fortune, while they laid fortune before her.

In the hands of her army of women, she put the powers of life and death, of healing and poisoning. She created an empire from her dreams, and let it spread in the world of form. And in her seeking, she promised the impossible. She swore that the ancient would carry youth and beauty, that the weakest could reach out and take revenge.

Her ear gathered what they knew. Her eye saw what they hid. Her touch lured hands and hearts in her service. In her suppers and fêtes, she brought the world to her door, and she listened to what they said, and to what they left unsaid. In her time with clients, she pieced together what they wished with what she needed, and sent them to those who would serve her needs.

She learned, as well, the art of mystery and desire, of placing what is sought just far enough from reach. Of luring those who might benefit her into her orbit. And of dancing among the knives and cups of the highest of the realm, whose blessing or curse could shape the country at a word.

There are those whose hands dance in the world, showing and hinting, using their tools to guide and misdirect, leading all roads where they will. So this woman became.

In the land of the Sun King, where all was glowing and living, she became the Shadow Queen, answering the need that flowed beneath the city like a river, flooding and overwhelming. The King could not see, wrapped in his jewel-box palace and intricate court, while the Queen walked among the poorest streets and held out her hand.

She had many masterworks. But on a day with a slate gray sky, when it was cold and forboding, her carriage found a girl who had fallen before the wheel’s turn. The woman reached out to the girl, and shaped her life, shaped her bones, and turned her life to tool.

And so they went, in high places and low, in love and in pain, for some time, from one turning of the year to another. Their steps touched upon palaces and prisons, in bounty and in need. And the girl found revenge, and also love, and more complicated things.

Among these women, she found much to learn, and many skills. But this girl also stood apart. Sworn though she was, she did not believe as they did, for her heart had been built on a foundation of logic and reason, and their calls to devils and powers did nothing for her but arouse a curiousity.

And so it was that the world changed once more. Woven into the fabric of the Queen’s world were deceit and subterfugue, shadow and mist. There is only so long these can last, should someone turn a bright light upon them.

There is danger in reaching too high and too far, and so it happened that the Shadow Queen stretched out her hand into the sight of the Sun King. And in time, such a light came, called by question and reason, and the spell and the web fell apart.

And so the nameless one came, the touch that takes away life and breath.

The law of the land came, with knocks and with questions, leading the woman away into the dark and shadow, untll the one last time she was brought into the light to burn away in fire.

The girl had warning, and the girl had made for herself other choices, and so she fled, finding hope and home and family in the years to come. But those of us the woman touched feel her hand still, for the breath of the Shadow Queen runs deep and lingers long. We wonder, we sisters and daughters in exile, whether she may come again, or whether we may now build a new world, with a different rule and hope and center.

And in our own small circles, we make such spaces, testing which tools serve our hand, asking whether reason and logic cut as clear and as sharp as the Queen’s subterfuge and superstition.

Daughter mine, what road will you choose to your own power? For in the end, the unnamed figure comes for us all, and we must all be ready.