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A fable about a Muse who gives form to beauty and inspires the best in artists and writers.
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This piece has not been edited by the ShortbreadStories team.
The Woman had acted as Muse to an artist for many years and shone with a rare energy hard to capture, and after his death spent her days in and around the villa she was bequeathed, basking in a sun that shone with tropical strength as it re-energised her radiant flesh. Many other poets and artists were drawn to emulate what her former lover had achieved in capturing her magnificence. And when they were through she smiled, and she danced, singing for their entertainment. The beautiful she took as lovers, the ugly or old she consoled, and in time bore a child. A child born with angelic features like no other the people of the area had encountered. The Woman protected him by wrapping her son in fine bindings of silk and tapestry, and after he learned to walk, strolled beside him shielding his head with a parasol. Growing older the…
Short Story: The Muse: A Fable
This piece has not been edited by the ShortbreadStories team.
The Woman had acted as Muse to an artist for many years and shone with a rare energy hard to capture, and after his death spent her days in and around the villa she was bequeathed, basking in a sun that shone with tropical strength as it re-energised her radiant flesh. Many other poets and artists were drawn to emulate what her former lover had achieved in capturing her magnificence. And when they were through she smiled, and she danced, singing for their entertainment. The beautiful she took as lovers, the ugly or old she consoled, and in time bore a child. A child born with angelic features like no other the people of the area had encountered. The Woman protected him by wrapping her son in fine bindings of silk and tapestry, and after he learned to walk, strolled beside him shielding his head with a parasol. Growing older the boy found ways to taunt his mother, racing away from her and loving to climb or swim, dangling from the highest point as he tempted fate. All the while his mother looked on, rarely criticising his behaviour and educating him in her own special way about the world and what it contained.
In all the years the Woman lived along that stretch of coast no storm broke upon the shore or disrupted the fishing. In thanks, the simple fisher folk brought her the best of their catch each day to nurture and sustain the Woman and her child. And when eventually the boy grew into a man he decided to leave the only home he’d known to explore the world for himself. The Woman gave him warning that the world contained a mixture of people, some who would love him for who he was and others who would find fault with him. He found it difficult to understand, and though at first wherever he roamed young women came out from their houses to marvel at his beauty and untainted air. He believed this to be his right, and acted accordingly. Many women loved him, loved him with all their hearts; wishing to detain him and hoping to make him theirs, but when he broke with them they felt only the torment of loss, cursing the golden boy for a cruel disposition, and for his lack of consideration.
In time he came to a large city where the people behaved differently to the way he had known, and in particular the women were of a different breed, and though he walked among them employing the same characteristics he had used before, no woman fell at his feet or begged him to accompany them to their home. He spent a lonely night alone wandering the streets feeling decidedly unloved, and for the first time in his life understood what the country women had felt after he abandoned them. Next morning he was discovered by chance by an artist who recognised him for the boy he had known when courting the mother. Taken into the artist’s home he was fed and cared for by the man’s much younger wife. To repay the artist’s kindness, the young man agreed to model for him, and was introduced to the artist’s students who were a lively bunch much taken with music, philosophy, poetry and questions of the day. These were subjects the young man knew little about but by listening and arguing his case grew sufficiently wise to debate with them. Soon he was sought out for his wit, his intelligence and his ability to converse on subjects that others found difficult to emulate. As a result, jealousies arose among the company which the young man was unable to interpret, having known and given only love all through his life. His inability to perceive the effect he had on others made it difficult for him to believe that whatever talents he possessed could overshadow those of other men.
Once again women were drawn to the young man, largely because of his growing influence among the cultural elite of the city, and the strength of his arguments. He became friends with politicians and businessmen, introduced to their wives and daughters with whom he conducted many affairs, but after he broke with them the women regarded him differently to women in the countryside and chose to keep him close as a friend and counsel. Misunderstanding the motives of those who sought to use him for their own purposes, he considered this to be a kind of wisdom, with whatever knowledge or wisdom he truly possessed little match for their subtle skills. And though at first he felt puzzled by this behaviour, in time he grew blasé until events overtook him. He was caught up in a scandal for which he took the major portion of blame, though without understanding the implications. Despite this, his reputation grew and he continued as before, starting affairs at dazzling speed and ending them without warning. He felt untouchable, feeling he could do no wrong, and that no one should try to stand in his way. If there were disputes with husbands, boyfriends, brothers etc he settled these with his fists and remained undefeated. That is until one day he was called upon to fight a duel, and though unschooled in the use of weapons fought bravely, mortally wounding his opponent.
Another scandal ensued as he was called to account for his actions, and taken to prison where he spent time in a wretched cell until sprung by his artist benefactor and a few of his remaining friends. His reaction was not what they expected as he returned to his former course of behaviour with reckless abandon, but now the knives were out for him with enemies far outnumbering the few friends he still possessed. Despite what he had learned from his time in prison, and in the way people he had once trusted now behaved towards him, he remained ignorant of basic morality, feeling that within the nature of ‘love’ any action undertaken with a pure heart should not be misconstrued as base or deceitful, and those with whom he came into contact must feel better for the influence. This was the foundation upon which his mother had taught him, and he trusted to her opinion more than he did the contradictory knowledge that piled up around him. Things might have continued in this uncertain manner had it not been for the fact the young man started a disastrous affair with his artist/patron’s wife. Discovering this, the artist threw the young man out of the house with many curses piles upon his head.
The loss of a benefactor had a profound effect upon the young man’s fate, as he turned to those he believed remained his friends, only to discover he had upset too many by his previous arrogance and they were only too willing to see him suffer. With no recourse remaining the young man left the city and, after a number of adventures en-route, returned to the coast to find his mother living with a fisherman at the villa. The two men were wary of one another as they circled the Woman with opposing desires. It had been many years since the young man’s departure, and though he had been loved and desired by many women had found none that suited him to take as a wife. His mother understood that she had set a high standard and he might never be settled with a wife of his own. She smiled upon him as only a mother can, taking him to live with her again. But the fisherman grew jealous of the attention the young man was accorded and began plotting against him. There was nothing for him to attempt on dry land, not with the Woman ever vigilant, suggesting instead the young man come to sea with him to learn the art of fishing. Although the young man had little desire to become a fisherman, or to learn the skills that provided other men with a living, he readily agreed to go aboard the tiny sailing craft, and to be shown the methods used. And when the following morning the two men set sail they were pushed off shore by a favourable wind that took them towards the deep water fishing grounds. Two days and nights went past, during which the Woman stood on a rise overlooking the sea each evening to try to spot their tiny craft against a moon that dipped low on the ocean. On the night of the third day a terrible storm broke along the coast, the first in all the years the Woman had lived there, and she knew by a keening sound in the wind that both her son and fisherman lover had perished. Grieving their loss the Woman fell into a terrible decline, with those who encountered her speaking of the fading of a once clear energy that no longer transmitted from her flesh, replaced now by a deep and profound shadow that emanated from within her very being, and which filled their souls with gloom.
Many blank years passed during which the Woman rarely left home, but the fisher folk remembered her in their prayers and paid tribute by bringing her the best of their catch as before. And so she did not starve, but grew old and solid, rarely moving or wanting to be disturbed. Artists and poets were no longer drawn to want to visit her, despite the fact her face and form were admired all over the world where she graced the walls of fine galleries, looking out from private collections in every city on every continent. Then one day and quite without warning, a fine carriage drew up outside her home depositing a small girl who was accompanied by an elderly matron dressed in black. The girl could be no more than five or six, with beautiful blonde tresses that hung about her shoulders and an oval face in which bright blue eyes stood out prominently. It might have been remarked that she had a critical stare, except that her general demeanour was quite benign and almost angelic. The Woman emerged to meet the visitors, as the girl and she stared at one another for a long time in silence before the Woman took the girl up in her arms displaying a rare smile that shone with astonishing brilliance. In fact she had recognised the girl immediately as the child her son must have seeded, and proof if needed he had survived the storm with whatever consequences this had resulted in for him.
Inside her home the Woman attended to the needs of the elderly matron before sitting the child onto her knee, after which she sang a lullaby recalled from a different time. Though the little girl could speak only a few words of the Woman’s language, her eyes sparkled with delight as the words tumbled from the Woman’s mouth. It seemed she must have heard her father sing the very same song and was reminded of him. Clapping her hands, the little girl laughed and sang along before chattering in her own language, with the matron forced to interpret. And although the Woman could not understand everything, she listened attentively to all the little girl had to say during which a glow of pure flame arose between them as the Woman felt the sadness and regret of the past fall away, as her Muse took form again. She felt reborn, and soon both were engulfed in a brilliant light that could be seen far out to sea by those watching the shoreline. The air filled with a rare and precious perfume as a wonderful energy hovered about their heads.
As the little girl slept in the Woman’s arms the elderly matron told her a little of the child’s background. She was indeed the Woman’s grandchild, but her father had perished of a broken heart after the child’s mother died during childbirth. He had been deeply in love with her and could not keep himself alive after she died. The little girl had been raised as an orphan in a good family, and it was by chance that a passing artist had seen her playing one day and looked into her eyes, recognising the Woman there. It was he who suggested they travel to this land in search of answers. Now there was no denying the connection or the similarity between them, but the elderly matron was unable to allow the child to remain as she had promised the foster parents she would bring her safely back to the land she came from. The Woman did her best to persuade them to stay, but the elderly matron promised only that when the girl was of an age she might return to greet her grandmother again.
And the following morning after they departed the Woman felt loneliness fall upon her like a stone, as for the first time in her life she experienced the isolation that time visits upon all. Shaking her body to free herself from its clinging fist she went out into the sunlight to feel reinvigorated, afterwards singing as she strolled along the shoreline. The people believed a miracle had been visited upon her, and as news spread artists and poets were drawn to visit again, seeking out the Muse they needed to shape their art. And from that day the Woman appeared not to age, providing inspiration and lively company to all who came seeking her assistance. And this continued year upon year until one morning the fine carriage returned, as it was bound to do, this time bearing the girl who had grown into a beautiful young woman. The carriage drawn by four white horses, whose harness jangled with silver bells that shone brightly whenever the horses tossed their heads. The fisher folk came out of their cottages to marvel at the sight before their eyes, with everyone delighted to see the Woman and her grand-daughter reunited, for there appeared an invisible bond between them that provided no difference in aspect between the two. The Woman smiled towards her neighbours, waving a hand regally as she stepped delicately into the fine carriage to be swept out of the lives of the fisher folk forever. But her influence was recalled in tales told about her on wild and stormy nights for many a year afterwards.
Where the Woman went no one can be certain, but the Muse works for those that seek inspiration, and though remaining difficult to locate, her face and form shine out from the works many artists have accomplished down the years, and while some have captured a mystery others present her in an entirely different light. She is there for all to view, providing a glimpse into universal beauty and those that seek her wisely, if they find her, will discover a rare but constant energy to embellish, enhance or entirely transform their art.
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