Joan waited, acutely aware of how incongruous she appeared in the voluptuousness of this classical garden with its lush tropical blooms and heady floral scents. Three heathen goddesses had accosted her eyes on the way in with their nude stone bodies, and somehow had managed to make her feel out of place in her slim-fitting grey and blue uniform.
Odd how trivialities such as fashion could still intrude, after all this time. Back in the barracks, even those who eschewed the simplicity of the uniform still managed to blend due to sheer numbers. Amidst a motley of everything from tattoos to top hats, Joan thought she’d never feel concerned about her attire again. Perhaps it was her ostentatious surroundings that called to mind kings and battles and politics, and made her long for her armor.
That would send the wrong message though, since she was here to entreat Michael to assign her back to the diplomatic division. Her fingers traced the elaborate scrollwork of the stone bench where she sat outside the tent where Michael quartered. The tent symbolized being ready for battle, and not tied down to worldly attributes. But the grandeur of the furnishings, the meticulously trimmed hedges, the rows of unblemished flowers, all spoke of an army of servants catering to a master, rather than to a higher calling.
“Some require more training than you,” Tesla explained, when she questioned it years ago. It seemed reasonable. She’d grown up on a farm, and if the discipline and steadfastness required to maintain a rather shabby peasant farm had worked for her, then the meticulous tending of this garden might produce some excellent soldiers. Whoever was in charge of weather skills for example, was certainly ready for a promotion. The beams of sun were perfectly warm, and a wafting breeze caressed silken curtains around Michael’s camp with a rhythm as regular as a metronome.
As if in response to her thoughts, one of the curtains broke out of its momentum, and a girl with golden ringlets of hair emerged from the enclosure. “He’ll see you now,” she said, in a dainty musical voice.
Joan stood to her full height, and tried to maintain a placid expression. Michael’s dedication to all the trappings of heavenly imagination was a bit much--they were supposed to be warriors after all. According to Shakespeare, art had motivational and inspirational value, but in the presence of angels, who really needed that?
The girl child beamed a pink-bow smile at Joan, as inscrutable an expression as Joan herself had been known for, not casting any judgment on the incongruity of Joan’s slim fitting black athletic attire, amidst the classical beauty of the garden. She slipped behind the fluttering curtain again, and reemerged holding a large round transparent bubble between her dimpled arms.
Joan stopped. She’d heard about the helmets. A new development, yet another barrier between the divine and the human. It had been so long since she’d last spoken with Michael, but in the timeless nature of this business, one went by emotional measures, not by chronology. All the times she’d seen him. Face to face. He spoke with her. He’d squeezed her hand once and infused her with courage.
She reached out reluctantly. The bubble was rigid like glass, but with a sensation of softness to it, like the glossy stem or leaf of a plant. Under her fingers she felt its numbing effect. “Like looking underwater, but better,” some had described it. “It’s like what dreams were like,” another said.
She’d never dreamed. She’d always denied, honestly and emphatically, to the oft repeated questions, “Were you dreaming? Were you in a trance?” No, she’d said, it happened, it was all real. She hadn’t even known what a trance was, until those final moments of her former life. She’d thought of it as a gift, that blurring, that division, where some distant part of her saw in sharp detail the crowd, her executioners, her supporters, her detractors, the pyre and torches, and afterwards, when she could feel the searing pain of the licking flames, but at the same time, not feel the agony of the pain. She’d understood that separation as the splitting of soul from body, the cleaving of spiritual and temporal.
And now she was supposed to submit to that separation in order to speak with the spiritual leader who’d called her, who’d recruited her and championed her in a world where the spiritual and the human were perfectly combined?
All the revulsion and fear that she’d tamped down before her execution, that she thought had been obliterated by her new existence, suddenly came rushing forth, with a sharp trembling through every vein. The bubble fell from her hands, and the pink cheeks of Michael’s cherubic secretary paled as she gasped and grasped catch it.
Joan had turned away, exiting through the ridiculous spiral maze of hedges, her long red hair streaming behind her. Amidst her anger and fear and turmoil, that last movement kept registering with her, pricking at her brain making her wonder if that stupid bubble was really that fragile or if Michael was that unforgiving, or if the little brat simply had the tedious job of cleaning the sparkling orb.
Photo Prompt Mag 269