CHAPTER THREE – IN WHICH SOL’S OWN DROUGHT BRINGS OUT THE WORST IN HIM, A PLEASANT MEMORY IS RELIVED, AND THE DIAMOND MINE IS OPENED
It was early June now, and visiting Rob was getting easier even as it got harder, if you know what I mean. No? That’s because I’m not thinking clearly because I haven’t been laid in so long. What I mean is, it was easier to get up the trail to Rob’s, um, resting place; the snow was melted off and the days were warming up nicely. Even in the shaded parts of the path, I could wear a thin jacket over my t-shirt and not feel the cold.
But it was getting harder to go without his touch, to feel, to know, that he was right there, a few feet away, when I sat on the boulder for our visits. Gary discreetly wandered off to do various dog stuff in the woods while I had my special time with Rob.
“Now,” I said to Rob, “you’ll think this is really crazy. But, last night I made your favorite. Well, your favorite of the stuff I can cook. The chicken curry. I’ve gotten really good at it, actually. I cook all the veg and then turn the heat way down and slow cook the chicken chunks. Then they come out really tender, not all chewy the way they did when I first made it.”
I laughed. “When you were nice enough to eat it anyway even though it was awful. And I brought you some to prove I’ve got the hang of it.” I made a little bowl/hole in the ground and pulled the sealed container out of my backpack. I poured it out into the indentation. “Bon appétit.” I knew wild animals would probably be the ones to eat it, but whatever.
“So I have to tell you something. I made a deal with Phoenix. And before you get upset, it’s not a bad deal.” I filled him in on the details.
“The only thing I don’t get is that everyone – Phoenix, Lucy, Uncle Ethan – all think this stupid piece of crap book is a legitimate grimoire, full of the secrets of the ages. But how I’m supposed to fight Jeff the Sorcerer with a poultice of John the Conqueror root or whatever, I sure don’t feel too good about that.
“Listen, I know that if you can hear me, you’re totally disapproving. But it’s…you should see Phoenix. I mean, I really felt for him. Is that crazy? Since he turned me into a raven and all? But he looks awful. And this Jeff, he’s got this stable of brainwashed women, he’s like, the Thulsa Doom of Wall Street or something. Somebody’s got to stop him, and you’re…well, you’re months away from freedom.”
I got up. “Okay. I’ll be back soon. Oh!” I reached into my backpack. “I got you one of those oatmeal fig fennel cookies you like from Homage, too.” I buried it next to the chicken curry. “But you have to eat your curry first.”
I shook my head. I was really losing my marbles.
Gary and I stopped at Celia’s house on the way back. “Oh shit,” I said, when she answered the door. “You got laid.”
Her skin was so glowingly gorgeous that even her frown didn’t mar it. “It’s that obvious?”
“Yes.” I hugged her. “Congratulations.”
Inside I hesitated. There was a…smell in the air. “Did you get a new perfume?”
“Okay. I thought I…I know you’re not baking.”
“Indeed you do.”
But it smelled fruity and tangy, like…apples and cloves. Somehow it reminded me of Rob, and his scent of cinnamon and oranges and burgundy, even though it wasn’t the same scent at all.
I shook my head. “Anyway. So tell me all about him.”
Celia hesitated. “Well, it’s…”
“Oh come on. If one of us got laid, you’ve gotta at least let me live it vicariously.”
“I don’t want to,” she said, which did not make any sense to me. It wasn’t like Celia not to give me the details right down to the circumference of the shaft at both head and base.
“What’s wrong with you?” I asked her.
“What’s wrong?” she snapped at me. “Maybe you should feel happy for me! You’re the one getting the sorcerous education while I twiddle my thumbs, waiting for it to be my turn! A little sex while I wait, is that so wrong?”
I was stunned. “I’m sorry. I’m just…it’s been a long time. Too long.”
She sighed. “Well, we can’t all have it all.”
I was truly shocked. Celia had never, ever been mean or nasty to me. “Maybe I should go.”
In the car I looked at Gary. “What just happened?” I asked him.
“That’s wrong, Gary. Sexist.”
He shrugged, smiled as his tongue lolled out. “I’m a dog.”
“And that’s your excuse?”
“Woof! Woof woof!”
“Oh, now it’s no speakie English, huh?”
“Hey! You’re getting crafty. You’ve been spending too much time with that cat.”
The cat didn’t think so. When we got home, Lucy was sprawled out in the kitty bed I’d made for her in the southern-facing kitchen window – it was really just a towel folded up to fit in the sill, but she loved it.
She stretched lazily and yawned. “Back already? I could use another few hours here.”
“I bet.” Even my alleged familiar was being mean to me. Shocking everyone, most of all myself, I burst into tears.
Lucy was all business. “Come on, hon.” She hopped to the floor and gave my ankles a nudge from behind. “Let’s get you on the couch.”
After I collapsed on the couch, she went back in the kitchen. “Help me out here, dog.” Between the two of them, they got a paper towel torn off the upright dowel on the counter. “No!” she howled. “I’ll carry it, you’ll get it all slobbery.”
As daintily as if she was presenting me with a dead mouse, she hopped up on the coffee table and dropped the paper towel from her mouth.
“Thanks,” I snuffled, wiping my eyes and blowing my nose. “Hard day, you know? I went and saw Rob, which always upsets me, and then I dropped by Celia’s and she’d gotten laid, and she was mean to me, which you would think, getting laid and all, she’d be all happy…”
“There there,” Lucy said, curling up in my lap. She started to purr at top volume, and it must have had magical properties, because I started to calm down. She cocked her head at Gary, giving her permission for him to join me by my side.
“Thanks, you guys.” I laughed. “You’re not so bad after all, Lucy.”
“I am your familiar, hon. Not your enemy. Okay, maybe my cruel tutelage is a bit Pai Mei, but it’s for your own good.”
“I just wish I could be with Rob. Just for an hour, just for…”
Her tail stopped flicking, her eyes opened wide. She could sense I’d had an idea. “Yes?”
“Is it possible… When I met Rob, I had these flashbacks. To our life together, way back in the way back. Solomon and Botasbar. Do you know…”
“Oh yes, all the spirit world knows the Tragedie of Solomon and Botasbar. It’s our King Lear.”
I looked at her.
“Seriously,” she said. “No sarcasm.”
“Really. Wow. Well, anyway. I was wondering. If I could make those memories happen, at will. If I could go back and relive a night we had together.”
Lucy’s purring escalated to new heights. “So you are worthy of my attentions after all. That is an excellent suggestion.” She hopped up. “Shall we adjourn to the magicking room?”
“Strip,” Lucy commanded me down in the magicking room, hopping five feet up onto the one little empty space on a shelf stuffed with books, essential oils, and herbs. There she curled up and put her head on her paws, watching me with half-lidded eyes..
“But Rob said I always…”
“Rob wasn’t teaching you about sex magick.”
“Oh yes he was.”
She made a strange rumbling purr that was as close as a laugh as cats could get, I imagined. “Right. But this is different. Take your clothes off.”
I sighed. I pulled off my “magic scrubs” and stood there bare-ass naked in front of her. She looked me in the eye to see if there was any sign of embarrassment, but you know what? I work out, and besides, if what I had was good enough for Rob, it was good enough for the cat to see.
“Okay. Step one. Close your eyes. Good. Now, concentrate on your neck.”
“Oh, sorry. I left out a step, actually. Step one. Shut up and do what you’re told.” She waited a beat to see if I had anything left to say. “Very good. Think about Rob. Think about his hands. Think about his scent. That special daemon scent. Think about his lips on your neck.”
Some part of me was alarmed by that comment about a special daemon scent, some subconscious flag went up that made me think I needed to connect that to something, something important… But since it didn’t come to mind immediately, I dismissed it, more than happy to go back to thinking about Rob’s soft skin, hard muscles, his steady breathing even when performing the most insane exertions…
I gasped, feeling the warmth in the cords of my neck. Lucy was right. Something about the idea of the heat of Rob’s kiss on that spot made it warm up, on that spot he liked, loved, to kiss me, right on the jugular. Was that a daemon thing, how did she know he did that?
“Good…” she purred. “There’s a little reservoir of magic left in that spot, isn’t it true? He likes to leave a little deposit for you right there… Now let it travel up to your brain. Good. Let the warmth of your lover fill your mind…”
“…fill your mind with superstition and idolatry,” Phersalo said. “These priests are not loyal to you, or to G-d. They serve other masters.”
I was hunched thoughtfully on my throne, the throne that always traveled with me, even here, in this tent in the desert. I had my hand on my chin, considering his words.
“Botasbar?” I said, turning to my commander. I could see Phersalo fume; he knew that anything he said was meaningless to me if Botasbar disagreed.
How I relished it, every chance to gaze on Botasbar’s handsome face to the exclusion of all else! How I loved to watch him think, calculate, hesitate, and finally arrive at the wisest conclusion in the room. Oh how they talked of the Wisdom of Solomon, but how little wisdom would I have had without the best counsel…
“Phersalo is correct. The priests do not serve you. The woman cannot be compelled to your bed for the sake of some prophecy.”
“The woman” was the reason we were out here, looking for Tamar. The priests of Jaffa had declared that it was G-d’s will that I take this virgin and get her with child, that our act would bring forth “The Illuminator,” a great prophet and leader. And while her parents had been more than enthusiastic about what this would mean for their fortunes, the virgin herself had other ideas, and had bolted into the wilderness of the desert.
I was still of two minds on this, but regardless of whether she was allowed her freedom or brought to my bed, she still had to be found.
Abiathar began to shout, his spittle like that of a rabid dog. “The prophecy must be fulfilled! Woe, woe unto all of you who defy it.” His shaking finger traveled the room, pointing here, there, everywhere but at the King – even mad prophets, it seems, had the sense not to do that.
“Especially YOU!” He shouted, his finger stopping at Botasbar. “You unclean filth!”
“ENOUGH!” I commanded with the steel of kings in my voice, the steel that promised I would use the real blade next. “Get out. All of you. Except Botasbar.”
They shuffled out, and I could feel their anger. More and more lately I had done this, excluded all but my commander, my advisor, my…
I couldn’t say it. My beloved. As Jonathan was to my father, so I had come to feel for Botasbar. But he was no catamite, no fey boy, no eunuch. It was impossible for us. For a man to love a youth, and for the youth to take advantage of the experience, was known to all civilized cultures. But for two grown men…who would be unmanned by taking the role of the youth?
“My king,” Botasbar said, taking a knee at the foot of my throne and looking up at me. He was so beautiful! His golden skin, his warm brown eyes, and so tall, taller than most everyone in the kingdom by at least one span, taller than me by two palms, and I wasn’t a short man. His kethōneth exposed one arm, lean and hard, his chest more solid than the leather armor he wore into battle by my side.
We locked eyes and I knew that he saw my thoughts. And more than that, he accepted them, understood them…returned them?
“I am yours, my King.”
I extended my hand. “Rise.” He took it, rose. Did not let go.
“No man is unmanned by love, your majesty.”
I flinched. How did he know? But though I tried to draw my hand away, he wouldn’t let me. And then, in an act of treason, he stood above me, pulled me up from my seat, wrapped his arms around me.
Oh Lord of Hosts, the smell of him, like raisins, like… I sighed as I buried my face in his chest. Just a moment of rest, from all these burdens, please G-d…
For a year now, I had kept these thoughts, these feelings, to myself. I continued to do my duty by my wives, but there was no pleasure in it, unless it was Botasbar’s face I saw instead of theirs. And most shamefully of all, it was Botasbar above me, inside me, not the other way around, the way it must be for a man, a king.
Then he whispered in my ear. “ ‘Upon my bed at night, I sought him who my soul loved. I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he answered me not. I will rise now, and go about in the city, in the market-places and in the streets, and I will seek him whom my soul loved. I sought him but found him not.’ ”
Why did it not astonish me, that he had read the poetry I had written to him? Poems I had stored in a secret chest under the royal bed, a chest none would dare touch on pain of death. And yet he knew them. He knew me.
I could only continue the story. “ ‘The sentinels who go about in the city found me. Have you not seen him whom my soul loved? Scarcely had I passed from them until I found him whom my soul loved. I took hold of him and would not let him go…’”
And with that he put his great hands on my head, and looked me in the eye, and kissed me.
And I was lost. I was found. At last, at last, I was home…
We would not be disturbed; none would dare break the King’s command that he be left along with his counselor, his commander. And now Botasbar was my commander, as he drew me off the dais, to the canopied bed strewn with fragrant petals for the pleasure of the King.
And he lifted me, in his arms, and lay me down on the bed. How could he be so strong? I was no small man, and yet I was as a feather to him.
He lay down atop me, pulled my wrists above my head and held them there, and made a slave of a King, and I reveled in it. And when he kissed my neck, I gasped, for it was as if a wild animal had torn it open and all the blood had rushed out, but it wasn’t my blood but all my longing that poured forth.
Gently, he turned me over, face down, and I was naked, how had that happened, I had no memory of taking off my robes, and yet I was, and so was he, and oh the weight of him as he covered me as a stallion covers a mare was unbearable in its delights.
Then his hand was between my legs, stroking my manhood, which could not lie about how excited I was. And that hand was slick with the finest olive oil a King could command for his use, and then it traveled down and back, across my stones, up towards…
“No!” I cried, weakly. “I cannot be unmanned…”
Botasbar, stopped. “Is it unmanning, to be filled with even more manhood? Is it unmanning to be, for a moment, a man with two swords? The one outside, seen, the other inside, unseen, but both yours…”
This stunned me. That the act of surrendering my insides to him could be not a conquest but an alliance, the creation of a single great army from two good ones…
That it could be magic.
His tongue ran around the edges of my ear, his breath hot, his words like cinders. “ ‘Open to me, my brother, my mate, my dove, my perfect one…’”
“Enter me,” I said, giving my permission, my consent. And I opened to him.
I could not unknow it, now – how empty I had been before he filled me up, how much room there was in that place that my longing had carved out for him. Botasbar, Botasbar, forever, I can never let you go…
He began to move inside me, and I put my hands behind him, stroked his high, firm cheeks, ran the backs of my fingers down the sinews of his legs. And he responded to my slightest motion, faster at the urgings of my strokes, slower at the tension of my grip. It was my sword, as he had promised, mine to control, and I was more man for it than I had been with only my own to wield.
“Oh!” I cried in ecstasy as he touched a place inside me, deep inside. So many palaces I had across my kingdom, but here was a secret palace of pleasure I had never known I possessed…and then I froze, for fear that my guards would come running at my shout.
“Don’t worry, they cannot hear you.”
“How can you be sure?”
I could feel the muscles in his cheek, pressed against my temple, as he smiled. “I promise you, my king, we are unknown to them.”
And he began to move inside me again, and I was lost in the waves of pleasure, for somewhere inside me a small woman must live, I knew, for why else did I began to cry out as a woman did at the strokes of a man, buried to his root? As that spot deep inside me was touched again and again, my manhood burned the way it only had when it had been buried in my partner’s folds, and yet there was no flesh wrapping it, but rather, it was as if the limb of Botasbar was stroking it from the inside…
I cried out as I spilled, more ferociously than I ever had before, and Botasbar hissed and spilled inside me and his seed was cool inside me, so cool on this burning hot day in the desert, like a drink of water from the cleanest oasis after the longest ride.
“My love,” I whispered, exhausted, my forehead slick against his powerful arms, that made a cradle beneath my head. “My beloved.”
Then he spoke again, and his words were poetry, but his, not mine, and I would not forget them, no, not a word, and I would put them in my own poems, put them in the heart of my song…
“ ‘Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death.’”
I bolted up from the floor, gasping. I looked at the tattoo on my arm, the Seal of Solomon, emblazoned on there forever, thanks to one night on a college whim, or so I’d thought, once. And I knew, I had always known, I had never forgotten him across the millennia, across the lifetimes.
“Rob,” I whispered. “Oh God, Rob, I miss you.”
Lucy was watching me from a corner, the flat discs at the backs of her eyes unreadable. But then I heard a sniff.
“Are you…crying?” I asked her.
She shook her head as if clearing a crumb from her ear. “Of course not. Cats don’t cry.” She began to groom herself as if she hadn’t a care in the world. “You should clean yourself up.”
I looked down. I’d had an orgasm, too, without touching myself. I got up and reached for the dimmer switch on the overhead light, a faint orange bulb that was just enough to see by, and hesitated. I could feel the hairs on my arm rise as I got close, and I knew I’d get a shock if I touched it. The room was electrified by what had just happened, the sex magick unleashing an amazing amount of power.
And I knew what to do with it. There was a small bottle of clove oil on the shelf, whose magical uses I’d memorized – “healing, memory, protection, courage.” All appropriate companions for what still hung in the air. I opened the bottle and poured some on the cedar altar.
“Botasbar, Barbatos, Rob Sabat, ‘your scents are an orchard of pomegranates, with fruit of fruit-trees, henna with nard, nard and saffron, saffron and cinnamon…blow through my garden, and let my spices waft abroad. Let my brotherkin descend in to his garden…”
And there was a breeze in the room, gentle and sweet, and it gathered up the magic, and the magic descended into the bottle, and I capped it.
Lucy nodded. “Take care of that. What you just put in that bottle, young man, is some powerful shit.”
I went to put it back on the shelf, then thought better of it. I cleaned myself off, then put my scrubs back on and took it upstairs, just to hold it up to the sunlight, to see what was trapped, no, held safe in there.
When I held it up, it was dazzling, like holding a gem to the light, refracting colors the way a diamond…
I ran downstairs, eyes wide, then thought to run back up to my office for paper and pen before another dash back.
Lucy was still in the magicking room, licking herself. She looked at me as I pulled Uncle Ethan’s dime-store magic book off the shelf. “Oh, now you get it. You had to have a little inspirational motivational sensational daemon sex to get there, but no matter.”
“It’s a key. The diamond cutouts are the key.” I started to transcribe the lines that matched the diamonds cut into the sides of the pages. Suddenly the author’s bullshit autobiography was unpicked, the message coming clear when you ignored the lines that the diamonds didn’t point to.
a wand of gold that was said to have been lost among
the sunken treasure of the Santa Vera.
The demon attacked! I raised the wand of Reheboam and
looked to the east, then called the north, with the name that only
is known to Gemory.
“Stand back! For I am the heir of Hapshutep and I am the one
who will speak!”
“Fool,” it cried, “like a herder who hopes a princess will regard him
when you feed dates to her camel!”
“Holy crap.” Like anyone else who’d watched the full catalog of shows on the “stoner channels” (Discovery, History, etc.), I knew about the treasure of the Santa Vera. The ship had been lost in a storm off the Virgin Islands in the 17th century, stuffed to the gills with New World gold and silver, and never discovered, despite all the increasingly sophisticated technology brought to bear over the years.
I looked at Lucy, remembering my reading in the Lemetegon. “Gemory, the daemon who appears as a woman, a Duchess, who reveals the location of treasure, and rides a camel.” The drag queen of daemon princes, I thought, but I kept that to myself.
“Yes. But as you’ll see, there’s more to getting the treasure than that. And you do have other tasks to perform first, ahem. And more to learn,” she said in a portentous voice.
“Right.” It suddenly occurred to me that this was as close to a hint as Lucy was going to give me. I realized there was more here than met the eye. And there were three cutouts in the pages, the half-squares and half-circles, not just the half-diamonds. Were the others just there for camouflage, or…
I wrote down some of the lines next to the square-cuts and frowned.
when you attack the sorceror’s lair.
“Do not draw your sword!”
until after three days of fasting.
a feather of the Phoenix
will be your shield.”
I read it aloud to Lucy. “This…kind of makes sense. But am I finding a pattern, or making them?”
She sighed. “Fine. Look. Diamonds, wealth. Squares, what?”
In my mind, possibly because of my recent vision of olden days, I saw a phalanx of soldiers, drawn up in ranks. “A square. A battle formation. Attack! And circles, defensive formations.” I looked at her.
“That’s why Phoenix said I could defeat Jeff with the book. This is what I need to battle him.”
She responded by hopping down from her perch and rubbing all over my legs in a figure eight. “Good boy,” she said. “Now you’re sounding like a sorcerer.”