In The Beginning - A fable of Lilith
Updated: Feb 18, 2019
Yellow sand swirls over her, hot and dusty, the grains scratching her face like talons of tiny birds. She wraps her shawl tighter and stares back from whence she has come, the sand sliding over her footprints as easy as water over rock. There is no sign of their passing.
How well she remembers that day, how long ago was it? When the world was new born, ageless, and full of promise. She stares at her hands, dry as desiccated twigs; the joints gnarled and twisted, the skin like old parchment. It would not be long before she would leave. Time for her to return home, but first she would write her story, for her daughters.
The daughters of her heart. There were too many lies, mistruths and terrible accusations. It was time to write her version.
Shrivelled scorpion husks tipped with gold hang from her ears, dangling and tinkling as they sway. A gift from her mother, that and the sleeping copper asp coiled up her right arm was all she had taken with her. Nothing from him. Nothing whatsoever from him.
Arazil lifts her tawny head and stares at her mistress, her whiskers twitch, night is approaching fast, she can feel the temperature beginning to wind its way very slowly down. She yawns. On her broad back the baby stirs, wrapped tightly in its swaddling, it snuggles like a nest between the folded wings, secure, safe.
Lilith scratches behind Arazil's ears it makes the huge lioness purr, a rumble that vibrates through the air like a baby storm. “Come,” she says, “we must make haste.”
She can feel him, smell him even. Faraway but steadily coming nearer.
The oasis appears like a fabled mirage as they climb the next crest of dune, a speck of green alone like a lost child in this wilderness of sand. Seven palm trees surround a tiny pool; deep as the abyss the water shimmers as the desert wind caresses its surface. Flocks of white ibises rise from the banks, screeching angrily sending a flurry of white feathers into the air. They perch in the palms while Arazil watches them hungrily.
Lilith lifts the tiny bundle and coos gently. The baby sleeps, her skin as soft as the fresh new leaves of spring. Lilith smiles She quietly hums a lullaby that makes the baby’s mouth curve into a smile.
It isn’t quite true that she has taken nothing from him.
Night falls like the swoop of a gigantic bird, a moment of shadow and then the utter darkness as its wings span the sky. The three sleep, curled together for warmth.
She senses his approach. Ancient heat swirling from below the sands, a whirlwind of golden light that dazzles the blackness. He coalesces into the form of a slim young man.
“Greetings my Goddess.” He bows low.
She nods. Arazil stirs at her side, her claws scratching at the sand, ready.
“I am here to offer my services.” His smile is warm.
Sirocco, spirit of the desert, bows once again.
She looks at his eyes golden dust flecked with amber.
“A man approaches. By dawn he will be here. I know what he wants. I am willing to offer you a haven. I will take the baby into my realm and keep her safe. What do you say?”
He laughs; low and dry like a dune sliding. “My mistress, I only ask for one small token of your appreciation.”
“Which would be?” Lilith can sense the sky changing, tinges of silver pink appearing along the horizon.
“A very small request. One breath is all I require. The west wind.” His smile is like the shifting sands, beautiful, elusive, and treacherous.
“My realm needs subjects. With the west wind at my command, I would create sandstorms, whirlwinds, chaos and confusion. I would people my domain with many fine souls.”
“I agree only on the condition that you teach her the secrets of the desert, all your secrets.”
Lilith lifts the swaddled babe and passes her over. He cradles the babe, who has just woken and stares up at him with her blue eyes. He laughs joyfully.
“My Mistress, I take my leave.”
He swirls around, a dust storm of golden light and descends into the ground.
Adam appears at dawn, high in his chariot drawn by a creature of flame. He thunders into the oasis like a warlord.
“Husband.” Lilith didn’t bother to rise from where she is seated. She has peeled some water lily root and is cutting up slices and placing them delicately onto a rock. “May I offer you some sustenance?”
Adam climbs down from his chariot. His handsome face is tired as though he hasn’t slept for days, which is exactly the case.
“Where is she?”
“Who?” Lilith smiles sweetly.
“Don’t play games with me Lilith. Where is the baby you stole? My baby.”
“You claim ownership of the child now do you? Are you making that official?” Lilith strokes Arazil’s head. The lioness licks her mouth.
“Lilith. I don’t want you as an enemy. Give me the baby and I’ll go.”
“There is no babe here. Look. Search. I did not take anything from you that wasn’t already mine.”
Adam looks around, the waters of the pool lap quietly against the low rocks; above in the palm trees the ibises flap and watch the scene below. He walks around the oasis slowly, looking behind rocks and trees. It takes all of five minutes.
He kneels at the pool, cupping his hand and drinks. His angry is seeping out of him and being refilled with confusion.
Lilith watches him. A tall, broad shouldered handsome man, his hair is as black as night and his eyes are the sky at sunset, the darkest of blue. She had fallen in love with him at that first meeting, daughter of the Goddess, given to this king, this younger son of a lesser god in marriage, she had gladly acquiesced. He had promised to love and honour her. To set her up as his queen, as his equal. His tongue was as eloquent as his lovemaking. He had lied about so much.
He comes and sits beside her, for a moment it is like it was before. For a small moment.
“Lilith. Where have you hidden her?”
Lilith smiles very gently. “Go husband, go back to your new wife. Let me be.”
“The child is missing. Eve is sick with grief. The baby disappeared the night you left. Coincidence?” He sounds so very tired.
“You dare to accuse me of being a thief? You who have publically humiliated me. There is only one thief that I know of. Her name is Eve. She stole your heart, your body and flaunted it to the world.” Lilith laughs, bitter as wormwood it is and it lies between them like a smoking herb on the fire.
He has the grace to look contrite. “It is custom in my land for a man to take another wife.” He says it the way he has a thousand times before. “Especially a king. Especially when there are no children. I need heirs. I am a king. I have a duty.”
“You are a man. That is all.” She says disdainfully as she has said a thousand times before. “Leave. The baby is not here.”
He stands. She senses his uncertainty. She plays with it like a cat plays with a lizard it has trapped. “Can you really trust her? Perhaps it is Eve that lies. Perhaps she has had the child hidden so you can be sent on this quest. So you can prove your love to her. She is so unsure of your affection. She binds you to her like ivy wrapped around a tree. Perhaps you should be asking her not me?” Lilith purrs the words so they curl around him misty as smoke.
He climbs back into his chariot. He wheels the flaming beast around and departs, the desert sand twisting up around him like snakes.
When the sun is at zenith Sirocco appears, standing beside him is a small child of two. Her hair is black as night and her blue eyes are flecked with gold. Her sweet face is solemn. Lilith stares at her. “Thank you.”
“I have taught her all I know. She has listened to the stories of my djinns; she has swum the sacred pool that is the original oasis. She has danced with the snakes and scorpions, the eagles and jackals that inhabit my domain. She is proficient in the language of the dunes.”
The little girl wanders off to where the lioness lies and places her small arms around her neck. They both watch as the large animal tenderly allows her to clamber up to sit on its back. Her small legs dangle around Arazil’s neck.
He approaches Lilith, his hand cupped. Lilith bends down and blows a hot dry breath into his palm. He closes his fingers, smiles and with a low bow is gone. Where he once stood now sprawls the body of a freshly killed gazelle and a clay bowl of figs and dates.
Lilith picks up the bowl and gestures to Arazil who in one swift glide is there, Lilith lifts the girl off as the lioness hungrily devours the offering. The two sit together under the shade of a palm and eat the fruit.
“I guess I better name you.” Lilith looks the child over.
“Bastet.” She touches the girl on the shoulder very gently.
“Yes mother.” Her blue eyes are flecked with golden sand.
Later as the sun hangs lower, the two climb onto Arazil’s back, her wings unfold, huge bronze wings, they rise above the desert.
For days they fly over this vast terrain until they arrive at the coast. The sea is green and the waves beat steadily against the white sand like a pulse. The air is mild and the palms grow thickly on the foreshore. They stop and rest, Bastet runs into the ocean, squealing as the wavelets foam around her feet. Arazil stretches and sleeps. Lilith stares at the horizon where grey storm clouds are merging. She knows there is not much time.
The day is growing old, preparing to rest; the storm clouds are edged in orange and red. The sky is turning purple. Bastet and Lilith stand at the rim of the sea and watch him ride over the waves. He is a huge man, green tinged, with hair the colour of kelp. He rides a horse of white foam that rears and bucks as he approaches the shore. Lilith notices his hands and feet are webbed, the muscles of his arm ripple as he pulls the horse to a standstill. His green eyes are wild, fathomless.
“Welcome to my domain.” His voice is so deep she feels like she might fall into his words and drown. And there is a big part of her that wouldn’t mind that at all.
She watches him warily. She feels his strength; he is too vast for her to even contemplate fighting.
“The one who seeks you is fast approaching. He rides a winged beast of fire and carries a sword forged in the furnace of chaos. I can offer you my hospitality if you would so desire.” The Sea Lord’s face is creased and crinkled with salt. His smile is inviting. His eyes twinkle.
“Just my daughter.”
“If that is your request I will honour it.”
“What do you want in return?”
“Two of your tears will be the payment.”
“As well as your hospitality I wish you to teach my daughter the ways of the sea so she may understand your domain.”
Oceanus laughs. “It would be my pleasure. She will reside with my daughters and be entrusted with the secrets of my realm.” He reaches down and picks up Bastet, his hand is almost as big as the child. He lifts her and places her in front of him.
They ride off like a wave only this wave is heading out to sea. It crests and they are gone. Lilith sits beside Arazil, waiting. The moon rises. The sea peacefully laps their feet.
Adam arrives on his beast of fire like some fallen star. He is so angry she feels it burning the air around them. The sword is pointed at her. With one swipe he could cut her in two and Goddess though she is, even she would not rise up from that blow. She stares at him coolly.
“The baby Lilith. Tell me where you have hidden the baby.”
She laughs. “You are such a fool. She has you twisted around her little finger doesn’t she? You are at her whim, her bidding. Who wears the crown really? You or her?”
He hadn’t expected that. His male pride is wounded. She feels the edge lift off his anger. No man likes to think a woman is manipulating him. Lilith laughs again. Enjoying this moment. The sword is lowered so the tip is resting on the sand.
“I don’t have what you seek. I am the daughter of a Goddess. I am a Queen. And you dare to threaten me?” Lilith feels the storm rising inside her. Lightning flashes across the sky.
He stands like a boy reprimanded by an elder. He feels like a fool. Lilith is alone except for her pet that is staring at him like he would make a tasty next meal.
He is uncertain, when he is with Eve, she convinces him that Lilith is some sort of monster. That she has stolen their child. She inflames him with words of revenge even as she inflames his body with her kisses. Now as he stands with Lilith, his first love, he remembers their time together. Her wisdom, her gentleness, her delicious coolness. And he feels confusion cover him.
“I was the wronged party. I was the one who found the two of you under the pomegranate tree. You really can’t see what she is can you? Such a typical man. She flashes those pretty eyes at you. Shows you her delicate ankles and then she slowly winds around you until you lose all sense of what you were. Tighter she coils and now you can’t even breathe. The serpent. She has you exactly where she wants you.” Lilith smiles as she circles Adam. “Someone else wears the crown now. You are just there to do her bidding.”
Adam stares out at the sea. “You are the witch. You are twisting it all around.” You are confusing me treacherous woman.”
“Leave Adam. Return to your home. You sully the air I breathe.” Her voice is the command of a Goddess, her breath a storm about to break over him. He suddenly feels very far from home.
“Where is the baby?” he repeats. His tone bone weary, it seems so long ago since he saw the baby, a brief few minutes after the birth, it is hard to remember any detail, the baby wavers in his mind like a dream that he can’t quite capture. For a moment he wonders if it ever really existed. He so wants to sleep. He leans on his sword that has embedded in the sand. The ocean whispers leave; leave, as the waves break gently. He staggers; her hands are on his shoulder.
“Adam. I want no fight. Your kingdom needs their king. Not this.” Her voice is gentle like a summer wind. He remembers who her mother is; he shouldn’t anger her any more than he already has. “Go home Adam.”
Like some servant he returns his sword to its sheath and clambers on his beast. They flare up the night sky like a wandering comet. Lilith watches him go before she settles beside Arazil, and stares at the stars that light a pathway home.
As the silver light of dawn washes the sea in a shimmer of mist, from the depths rises a pale foam stallion accompanied by a herd of fillies, each carrying a gaggle of maidens. Lilith recognises her daughter by the blackness of her hair. The Sea God is laughing. He throws himself into the water and lets the waves carry him and Bastet to the sand. Her daughter rises, seven or eight now; her black hair hangs to her waist and is braided with dusky pearls. Her eyes are green blue flecked with gold.
Lilith gathers Bastet close to her, hugs her, smells her hair, fragrant like the salty air. Bastet pulls away and runs to Arazil and rolls around with the lioness like she is just a big cat.
“Greetings my Lady.”
“My lord.” Lilith nods. She lowers her head, two tears they shouldn’t be hard to produce, not with all the betrayal that surrounds her, the sadness, the broken dreams. She feels her eyes swell and when she is sure, she lifts her head, two tiny droplets trickle down each cheek, they glisten for a moment before the salt-laden air dries them. Oceanus tenderly touches her cheeks and in his palm nestle two jade teardrops. He leans over and kisses her skin in the exact spot her tears had rested. Lilith feels like crying again.
Instead she asks brusquely. “What will you do with them?”
“I shall wear one in each ear and use their power to summon storms, tempests, typhoons. My oceans will swell with squalls and my dominion will fill with the wrecks of ships. I am in urgent need of souls to populate my realm. So many daughters.” He winks at Lilith. His voice drops to a whisper, a zephyr of sound. “My lady if you ever tire of this world above, my home is always there for you.” He smiles before he strides through the surf and leaps on his horse. A conch shell blows and he and his court disappear beyond the breakers.
At her feet a clutch of fish, eyes wild eyed, stare at her and beside them a seaweed basket of oysters. She tosses the fish to Arazil and lifts the basket. She walks with Bastet along the shoreline and listens to her daughter recount life below the waves.
For weeks they walk along this beach that seems to cover half the world, but eventually the sands turn rocky and soon treacherous cliffs bar their way. They climb on Arazil’s back and fly towards the line of mountains that fill the horizon. The air becomes colder. Eventually they land; their combined weight is tiring the winged lioness too much. The land is rocky, pine forests stretch upwards as far as they can see. Snow gathers at night and sometimes falls on them during the day. Lilith wraps her daughter and herself in special cloaks, warm soft fleece that keeps out the chill winds. At night they see fire lighting up the sky in bands of purple and green, and their dreams pulse with the drumming of hammers hitting anvils.
The day is misty and cold when from behind a tree a man hails them. Lilith sighs she has been expecting him. He grins at her, his hair is flaming red and his eyes granite grey. She listens to his plan and agrees. Reluctantly she allows her daughter to be led away by Vulcanus. There are tears. She wraps her cloak tighter, builds a fire and awaits Adam. Arazil goes hunting, returns with a snow hare and greedily devours it. Lilith fingers the pearls that lay in each oyster shell, she thinks of the sea and just once she wishes that her path had been different. If she closes her eyes she can almost picture him, wild unrestrained lord of the Ocean. When she opens them Adam stands in front of her. He has aged. He says nothing, just sits across from her.
The fire burns and flares up with the wind. The creaking of the pine trees and the crunching of bones are the only other sounds. Finally he speaks.
“We made an offering to the Oracle.” His voice is low and scarred. “It was difficult to interpret what was said. Please. I beg you to tell me what happened. Your version. Where she might be. If she is dead or alive. Please.” His voice is like a rockslide, harsh and scraping.
“There is nothing to tell. Go home Adam. What has passed has passed.”
“The things they say about you Lilith. They can’t be true. Please I know you aren’t capable of what they say.”
“You think I care about their petty lies. Lies your wife has spread.” Lilith looked at him across the dancing flames. “Let me be.”
He stares into the fire. “Or else.” Her voice is hard.
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t want to curse you Adam but I will not spend the rest of my life fleeing you. Go. Your wife is expecting another child. What has gone has gone. Visit me again at your own peril.”
“Lilith I do wish things could have gone differently.”
She laughs, “you made the choices my king, my husband who was. You created your destiny.”
Adam leaves in a whoosh of flame. She knows she will never see him again.
She is ready for Vulcanus, a bargain is a bargain, he hands her a blade of obsidian, she cuts jagged locks of hair, spun golden flax he holds it in his hand.
“I thank you madam.” His voice gleeful.
She feels so tired; it is like everything is being drained from her. He fades into the rock. There is no need to ask why he wants what he does. Men. Kings. Gods. There isn’t much difference in what they lust for. Only the degrees of power that they want. She feels the mountain shuddering. Earthshaker, Quakemaker, new names, new sufferings. He wants to expand his kingdom too.
Bastet runs into her mother’s arms, older of course, wiser in the ways of the earth; the secrets of minerals, of crystals are hers. Her hair hangs to her knees, streaked with red iron now. As she stares at her mother her eyes sparkle with love. She is still her child, child of her heart if not her body. She holds her daughter close. She notices a large opening, a cave; Vulcanus has given them a secret passage, a way out of this snow and stone.
For two days they walk through this passage of rock, stalactites shine deadly sharp, minerals stars glitter in strange constellations, the shadows from their torches flicker bizarre animals stalking them. Arazil growls her anxiety. When they finally enter the sunlight again, the world has become a vast forest, pale green leaves budding, and carpets of yellow, purple, red flowers as dazzling as any jewel. Lakes and waterfalls sparkle, and birds and butterflies flutter and chime through this endless untamed garden. Arazil rolls in the long grass and roars a welcome.
The days are peaceful, Bastet and Lilith gather wildberries, fat and luscious, deep red, purple, black, blue, so many flavours to taste. In the warm afternoons, they swim in the crystal lakes and Bastet collects the pebbles, round and smooth, she creates small villages with them, where the butterflies land, fluttering like flags in the breeze. It is peaceful, this Eden. Yet Lilith knows that all roses carry a thorn, somewhere.
One morning Lilith wakes and stares at the brilliant blue of the sky and knows, a storm is coming. A mother of a storm. Bastet picks a leaf that has fallen to the ground; it is the colour of a sunset, orange, yellow and red. She holds it in her palm like a jewel. By the next dawn half the forest leaves have turned crimson gold. Mother and daughter watch them flutter delicately from the branches.
A wind gathers the fallen leaves and swirls them around, faster and faster they spin and twirl and begin to form a dazzling creature. A woman stands smiling; her fragrance blows through the meadow like a billion flowers blooming.
“It is time.” She says in a voice as rounded as a pebble.
Lilith nods and kisses Bastet. “You must leave me for a little while. Go with Gaia, she will protect you and be your teacher.”
“Mother? Why?” Her voice tearful.
“Trust me my child. I will tell you why one day.” She stares at the Goddess of Nature. “Your payment?” Lilith is unsure she has anything left to give.
“When I return we will discuss the payment. Be strong.” Her smile is so beautiful Lilith can scarcely breathe. “Your child is my child as you yourself are. We shall return soon.”
The two dissolve into the trunk of a huge oak tree, Lilith wraps her arms around it and cries until she has no more tears left.
The afternoon grows dark, a shadow covers the sun, then two, three, four shadows, the darkness is winging its way towards Lilith.
A giant eagle lands followed by three more, Eve and her brothers have arrived. The eldest helps a very pregnant Eve climb down from her saddle on the great bird; Lilith looks at the hooked beak and shudders. Arazil is beside her, suddenly looking small and fragile. She doubts they could even out fly these raptors.
The two women face each other. Eve, lushly beautiful, exotic, fertile as this garden. Yet she radiates hate and spite. It covers her skin like a scaly coat.
“Child stealer. Baby killer.” She jeers.
“I have killed no child.” Lilith replies coolly.
“You stole her. Killed her. Ate her. You are an Abomination. An evil creature.” Eve laughs cruelly. “You will be forever remembered as a demon. That will be your legacy”
“And you my beautiful thief will be forever remembered as the woman who brought down the fall of man, the seductive serpent. I recognise your nature woman. Beware Eve in your lust for power and vengeance that you don’t unravel all the Blessings that the Gods have given you.”
Eve smiles, her brothers have circled Lilith, their arrows are strung and taut in their bows. Three arrows tipped with Quicksilver. Death is imminent.
“Two boys, twins lie in your womb, their hearts are filling up with your malevolence and spite. It is joy and happiness that should be filling their souls. Not your lust for revenge. Eve, these are Adam’s heirs. The children that will rule after he has gone. You talk of legacy. What is it that your sons will inherit? What men will your sons be if you continue to feel vengeance?”
“Harlot. Whore.” Eve hisses. “He dreams of you. He calls to you. I lie awake and listen to him moan, begging you to return.”
“He wronged me. He betrayed his promises. That is why he moans.”
“You lie. He desires you. And at night you come and toy with him. Demon-witch.”
“Kill me now. But know that your boys will grow into men who will commit the most heinous of crimes. That is the truth.”
“You dare curse me Witch.”
“You have cursed yourself woman. And your race.”
Eve groans and clutches her stomach, round as a ball. She staggers.
Her brothers stand uncertain. “Kill her.” Eve shouts.
Lilith closes her eyes and waits. Zing. Three arrows fly. They all miraculously glide past her and fall to the ground like wounded birds. Again and again the arrows fly yet fall harmlessly at her feet.
“Leave Eve. Your sons will be born in three days. Fate is what the Gods send to us but destiny is what we do with the gifts we are given.”
Eve groans and leans against her eagle, sweats glistens on her skin like dew, the sun is so low in the sky that some stars are visible. Her brothers lift her onto the saddle. Lilith watches the eagles flap away into the growing night.
She feels the last of her power ebb into the grass. She has nothing more to bargain with. Night pulls her into his arms and she sleeps.
She wakes to singing. Bastet and Gaia are weaving baskets from the drying rushes at the lake’s edge. She walks towards her daughter.
“ I have nothing to pay you except my life.” She stares at Gaia.
Gaia laughs. “I want nothing from you. I will give to you instead, a gift each, a remembrance of what can be.” She hangs around their necks a pendant, an acorn carved from wood. “Inside you will find an ever replenishing stock of seeds. With them you can recreate my paradise wherever you go. Whisper my name and the earth will grow fertile and abundant.”
Lilith is speechless. Gaia’s voice a chiming birdsong.
“Winter comes and you must leave my garden. You carry all that is good and beautiful within you. All I ask is that you honour me and remember me to your descendants. That is all.”
Lilith feels overwhelmed with gratitude and something else, from the soles of her feet it rises and flows upward, her powers have returned. Gaia escorts them to the edge of Eden, beyond lies the vast virgin expanse. Beyond lies their destiny.
Lilith stares at parchment. It is written, her story, she signs her name and rolls the papyrus up, places it in a copper cylinder. She uncoils her bracelet and loops it around the mouth, with a hiss it seals. Evening saturates everything violet including Arazil, sleeping, dreaming beside her.
“Gran-mama what’s that?” A chubby hand grabs the cylinder and shakes it.
Lilith laughs, draws her great-great grandson to her lap. “It’s a story my child.”
“Tell it to me.”
“This one’s not for you yet. I’ll tell you another one shall I?” Lilith cajoles. “In the beginning was the void, Tzimtzum, and from within that darkness, Ayin, the first star formed, her voice whispered let there be light, and from her all radiance flowed. In the beginning.”
published in All About Eve - Wolfsinger Publications 2009