Nannies and Grannies


Gratitude List:
1. Crows in fields, in trees, in sky, and snow
2. The Children’s Program at church this morning–baby angels tossing their halos into the air, kings wearing their crowns at jaunty angles over their ears, little drummers and shepherds and all
3. Taking a nap at my parents’ house this afternoon–having someone just take care of me
4. Hot chocolate
5. That family of four deer that came down the hill in the bosque, crossed the stream and the road, and went up the bluff and over the ridge.

May we walk in Beauty!

Even kings have grandmothers, and nannies. It might be the grannies and nannies who hold the world together, or who bring it back around to rights when it’s gone off the deep end. Slow and steady, one story at a time.

The Eighth Wolf King, Astra Djin, had three children, the youngest born the same month of the same year as Bilhah the Baker. The two boys, Mussa and Ahmbra, were educated in the traditional military academy where there father and grandfathers had also learned to read and write, to rule, to fight, and to venerate the Djin-Wolf, fiercest of all gods. The middle child, Behna, was a girl, and she was instructed in palace graces and etiquette by her mother and her many governesses. In the late afternoons, when the boys’ schooling was finished, and Behna had completed her palace duties, their nanny would take up her spinning and the children would settle around her like kittens and wait for her to begin spinning a tale.

“Once upon a time,” she would begin, for all good stories begin thus, “the city was ruled by a Wolf-Queen.”

The children would laugh and protest: “Nanny! There’s no such thing as a ruler queen!”

“This is a fairy tale, my darlings. Only a fairy tale,” she would tell them, her eyes glowing in her crinkly smiling face.  “Once upon a time, there was a Wolf-Queen named Rama-Shala-Mehbaz. But the people just called her Queen Rama, or Your Majesty. She was a great ruler and loved by her people. When she was Queen, all the girls in the city went to school, too, just like the boys. And no one in the city ever starved for lack of food, and there were no soldiers in the streets, and there was a great temple in the center of the city to honor the Wolf Mother.”

“Nanny, that’s just wrong,” protested Mussa. “There is only the Djin-Wolf. You must not say Wolf Mother, as though it were another god as great as Djin-Wolf. Even for a story. And even you know that we must have soldiers in the streets to keep the peace. Otherwise the people might fight and kill each other. The people are like children, and they must be treated with harshness and a firm hand.”

“Perhaps,” said Nanny to the boy, whose face was a mass of grey confusion. “Don’t worry, my princeling. This is only a story, and I am a silly old woman. Would you like to hear more? Well, it was said that the Queen would often disappear on nights when the moon was dark. She would walk out of the city, not returning until the first rays of dawn rose over the river, leaving a trail of bare footprints in the dew.

“The legends say that when she reached the riverbank, she would transform into a great wolf, and stand in the darkness, singing the wolf songs until all the wolves in all the hills around the city would meet her there on the riverbank.  One morning, she returned from the river carrying a tiny squirming wolf cub in her arms. She carried it to the palace, and before the day was out, the cub had transformed into a human child, and Queen Rama raised her as a daughter, and she became queen in her turn.  It is said that all the ancient queens were shape-shifters, gift-cubs from the wolves, and that is why the city was so peaceful–they lived as wolves do, caring for the sick and the young and the elderly, looking out for the good of all.”

Mussa’s face was still cloudy. “But it’s only a story, isn’t it, Nanny?”

“Hmmm? A story? Yes, it’s a story, certainly. Now off to bed with you.”

The Secret Ways of Hi’Story


Gratitude List:
1. Help with the tale
2. Feeling better every day
3. Getting work done
4. Crusty bread, toasted and buttered
5. Hot chocolate

May we walk in Beauty!

These stories are becoming something of a family project. I read a few at a time to the children, and then they ask what will happen next, and what bits of the story I will reveal next. Or they make suggestions about how to unpack something in the next bit of story. I don’t quite know where all this is going. Perhaps if they come together into some sort of form, I will edit and revise them and try to publish them some day, but for now, it’s a pleasant thread to follow.

I think I will continue to spell it “hi’story,” to emphasize the story piece of it. Because Chinngis Djin tried to erase the Wolf Queens, the era of the Wolf Queens has become legend, and Story is a crucial part of keeping them alive.

While I have chosen to separate my story from the real Samarkand by changing its name a little, and placing it in something of a fantasy realm, I found the story of the sack of the city by Genghis Khan in 1220 to be rather compelling, and so I have kept him in the parallel. Several sources call him the Blue Wolf, and in one source, he is spelled Chinngis Khan.  At this point in the process, I do not intend to do the careful research necessary to make this an academically accurate historical/cultural novel. I just want to follow the thread of this hi’story, and see where it takes me.

The Secret Ways of Hi’Story

The hi’story of Zammarqand seemed to begin with the coming of Chinngis Djin, the Blue Wolf of the North. In the year 1220, the Blue Wolf and his hordes had ridden down the steppes like a mighty wind, conquering the villages and cities in their path, setting up fierce and brutal warriors to control the lands they overthrew. In the city of Zammarqand and it surrounding villages, the subjugation included an overthrow of hi’story. The great library was burned, the temples torn down, and the sacred groves were uprooted and laid waste. The Wolf Mother shrines that lined the inner walls of the city were simply plastered over, along with the dozens of small shops that were built right into the city walls.

The Wolf-Queen, daughter in a line of a thousand queens before her, was deposed and slain publicly in the market square, her children dragged off as slaves with Chinngis Djin’s southward-surging army, never to be seen in Zammarqand again. The peaceful rule of the mothers was ended, and a new day of military might and harsh rule began.

In the days of Leeta the Storymaker, three hundred years after the coming of the Blue Wolf, the governance of the city had settled into a patriarchal rhythm that had a great deal less surface brutality than it had in the first century following the coming of the Blue Wolf, though its deep reality was one of repression of the city’s daughters, and a near-complete erasure of the city’s hi’story prior to the coming of Chinngis Djin.

But hi’story has a way of making itself found. Images of the tender-eyed Wolf Mother proliferated in secret places in the city, for those who had the eyes to see. Grandmothers faithfully remembered the fairy tales and stories, passing them on to daughters and granddaughters. Young women would dream dreams of a great and watchful She-wolf sitting in the gateway to the city. Travelers would come upon wild groves of trees growing in near-perfect circles. And in the city, in houses that were built right up against the city walls, occasionally a plaster wall would give way, and a little room would open up, a small chamber holding a statue of a nursing wolf or a bust of the Wolf Mother.

When she was eight, in her sleeping room at the back of the little shop of Bilhah the Baker, Bilhah’s daughter Leeta one day discovered a crack in the wall. She had been ill for three days, and boredom was beginning to grow greater than the illness that kept her to her room. The child began to pick at the crack. Her mother, pulling a large tray of mooncakes from the ovens, heard a rumble and a crash. Racing back to her daughter’s room, she discovered Leeta unhurt, but covered in plaster dust, standing awed in the entrance to a newly opened chamber into the city wall behind the house.

The walls of the chamber were lined with shelves and each shelf was filled with scrolls, perfectly preserved through the centuries. The plastered walls that had been intended to erase the city’s hi’Story had instead preserved it perfectly for distant generations.  A plaque on one wall read “ElSheba Hi’Storian.”

Gormlek the Mourner had taught his daughter and then his granddaughter to read, a minimally revolutionary act in a city where only boys attended school, and the education of girls was frowned on or scoffed at.  Leeta and her mother wasted no time in reading and cataloging their new treasures.

Gratitude List Dec. 22

1.  A family that makes holiday get-togethers a total delight (Happy Birthday to my dad!)
2.  Being Santa with Jon Weaver-Kreider
3.  Hot chocolate with a candy cane and a splash of vodka
4.  Annie Lamott’s reminder to take care of myself and not to waste my life wearing pants that are too tight
5.  Circles.  I think I have mentioned them before.  But they mean so many things.  So yes: circles.