I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it to the bitter end: I can’t stand myself sometimes.
While lazing away my Friday night, listening to the music from the fair the next block over, I was just smacked straight in the face with the memory of something I wrote in college. I scrambled to uncover the passage I needed, read it, and began to laugh, loudly.
In my younger years, I wrote fiction. My stories had a taste of fantasy and action, steeped in legends I had created as a way to process old traumas long before I sought help through therapy. Because of the intensely personal threads weaving through my characters, I rarely ever let anyone read my work. But this segment, I think, can be shared now.
I wrote this in autumn of 2001. My sophomore year in undergrad had barely just begun when our illusions of security fell to ash. I was well back into heathenry at this point, having long abandoned my teenage experiment with Christianity, firmly rooted again in the beliefs and gods with which I’d been raised. They wove their way into my stories as well, creeping into the tapestry as I began to understand them and know them on my own terms, freeing myself from my father’s influence bit by bit. This was before I really learned of online pagan communities, the year before I learned of the American Asatruar fear and loathing of Loki. I was, of course, focusing on Odhinn and Freyja at this point (though I was starting to shake my father’s influence, I was still not far out from my Army brat status, and was beginning to entertain the idea of enlisting myself at this point). Loki was there, too, of course. He’s always been there. Part and parcel of working with Grimnir, I thought, even as I’d been saving up for my first tattoo, my “Loki-fox” picture I’d loved since I was six years old.
If you read what I’m about to share, you are more than welcome to smack me around for being so hopelessly oblivious all these years. Tonight, I wasn’t even thinking about the myth I’d created about the Phoenix, the Scorpion, and the Fox. It was the follow-up, when General Volpe speaks of cities swirling in chaos, that spontaneously vaulted from the depths of memory tonight. I haven’t looked at my old writings in eons, but tonight, I dusted them off and found the exact passage that I needed to revisit. I read it, and I laughed hysterically not because it’s funny, but because it shows once again what an oblivious fool I’ve been for nearly 20 years. He’s never been one for subtlety. I should have recognized him. The gods were in my writing, I should have recognized him. But I was a headstrong 19-year-old, and I thought I knew who I was becoming. If ever there’s a testament to my blindness, let it be this.
Presented exactly as it was written in September 2001, in all of its awkward teenage glory.
(legend and history)
The legend of the Phoenix bird is well known. People from various cultures are at least familiar with the idea of the creature that falls to flame only to be reborn from the ashes. A common theme throughout the world, I suppose. Not such an outlandish idea, really, just a nice metaphor for the changes we go through daily, yearly, throughout our lives.
But people have forgotten the end of the myth. No one remembers the final death, the final fire. No one wants to remember a change that devastating, to hear a story end with such finality. This means they’ve forgotten the Phoenix’s final gift, they’ve never heard the story that follows.
The Noble folk have remembered it, and they have kept it safely intact: this is their prophecy. This is their hope.
The tale of the Phoenix ends like so: There was a horrid little creature, squat and hard, his body a shell that was grotesquely translucent, bearing a swollen, poison-tipped tail which curled menacingly over his back. He was feared and reviled by the people, this nasty, ill-tempered Scorpion, and he envied the awe and adoration with which the Phoenix was regarded. She was a goddess to the people, kept by sultans and emperors, while he was kicked at in the back alleys and desert lands, screamed at, stepped on. Despised.
Driven with jealousy, he killed her. One sting of his tail, one drop of his venom mixed with her blood as she burst into flame, that’s all it took. She was consumed by the fire, this lovely creature, never to be released. And the way was clear for him to seize control of the land, to rule in her place.
And so it was.
When one story ends, a new one must always begin. That is the order of things. Endings are never final, life does not cease after the last breath. There is always more to be told.
And so it begins: For years, the ashes smoked where the Phoenix’s nest had been, coating the Scorpion’s land in dead soot. But before the Phoenix was forgotten, there was again life in that dust. It had been three years since the fire had burned, but at last, new eyes opened in the fading haze. Golden eyes, as clean and warm as the bird’s stately plumage, bright eyes set in a face that was both clever and innocent. She crept forward, this new creature, shaking dust from a coat that in its hue reflected the intensity of the last fire. Ash and soot caked on her paws, seeping into her skin and staining her legs black. She stood before the ruined people, drawing them together and uniting them against the darkness the fire had left them, and the emptiness the Scorpion had given them.
She was loved, for she was the Phoenix’s final gift to her people, the life that was born of fire, the little Fox.
That was the story General Volpe told me in the dimly lit library in the western tower of his home, looking out at the city nestled in the valley below. And when he finished, he pointed to an antique sword hanging on the stone wall above the fireplace, and he told me there was a history behind the legend. There were people it immortalized. He knew this, he said, because his family began with the Phoenix.
Or rather, because of her.
The history he offered was vague:
“She sits alone amidst a swirl of fire,” he whispered, staring dreamily at the sword, “watching with quiet eyes the history of her people come to an end. There is another, still, silent and contemplative as cities fall around him. One is consumed, the other carefully detached, each relying on the other for strength. Their worlds melt together, giving life to a new reality even as the one around them crumbles. All she sees, though, is death; all she sees in the chaos is an end, drawn out, but final.
“To him, it’s simply a continuation of the cycle, a simple change to perpetuate the progression of history, a chance to bring myths to life. He is eager for the fires to cease, to see what marvelous creature will be born from the ashes to redefine her people, herself.
“She is numb, unwilling to believe the world has changed, dreading the emptiness that waits for her when night settles in. Smiling, he watches the flames dance lightly about the solemn woman, imagining already the might and honor she will wield as she is reborn to restore her country’s identity.
“He smiles, quiet and still, as he dreams of the final gift of the Phoenix to her people, and he waits for the little Fox to emerge.”