The Moon’s Own Darkling Daughter:
An Illness Mytho-Narrative
To my mother, who kissed my tear-stained cheeks and held my trembling hands and found the shining piece of the puzzle that saved me (even if she didn’t realize it at the time).
This is the myth: In the middle of a chill January night, the demi-god slipped in through the basement door. It posed her no issue: a finger to the lock, a click quiet as the flakes of snow drifting lazily to the ground. She slithered over the pine floorboards, glanced at the wide-eyed cat with the smallest of smirks, and moved onwards. Past the stairs, past the dark bathroom, until she reached the door — the door she had meant to find. There were many gods who could pass such thresholds uninvited, but she was not one of them, not one of their careless number, she was not one who operated without rules. And so the demi-god pressed her purple lips to the painted wood, flicked her tongue against the barrier, and sighed, hissed, to the child who lay inside: I shall gift you a new self, child of our hearts. A flutter of heavy eyelids, gray-purple with sleep and weariness and grief. Stained. Bruises, more than lids. Another whisper-hiss pressed up against the child, licked her goose-bumped skin:We shall reforge the girl that was and make her anew, a mewling infant, as fresh as mandrake, as ancient as yew. The stirring of sleep-heavy limbs under covers, thick as snow, thick as the crust of the earth, but the words slipped past. Such things are of no matter to the syllables of gods. The girl’s lips moved, formed strange sentences in her half-sleep. The demi-god stroked a long-clawed hand against the door, nails leaving white-cool trails in the air. She cocked her head to one side, smoothly as a serpent, and again hissed to the child inside. All these I shall gift you, darkling daughter, but first — first I demand entrance. You shall let fall the necessary sigil, you shall grace me with the words required. And then, dear one, and then, we shall make our trawthe. The girl ran corridors in her mind, the labyrinthine land of grief, of loss, wherein all things that might have been said are spoken and taken away in a single breath. She ran these paths, thick and dark
woods, cities of iron and glass and darkness, but she heard the hiss between the concrete and the hoary moss. She heard the hiss and the promise and she asked: what is your name? And she heard: I am Nasiddos, Scyllian daughter of Hekate, I am a yelping witch-pup in a cave, a yawning gash in the ocean, I am all of these things. The words crept up from the grates in the street, from underneath the gnarled roots and snatching branches in the city-forest of her mind. And the girl caught hold of them, white and sharp and effervescent, and she clutched the words to her chest, snatched the name from the air and held it, rustling, to her throat. What is it, thought the girl, spoke the girl, that you want of me? Precious one, fair child of the moon and the stars and the depthless oceans, we seek to make you anew. The cracks in your soul bleed themselves dry and the blood seeps through the porous earth and we taste it in the air, on the wind of the underworld. And we listen, my mother, my sisters, and I, we listen to your plaintiff cries, in the dark of the night, we watch your frail body, the darkness of your self, and our hearts weep. The girl turned a corner in the labyrinth city, the endlessly mathematic forest, and she gazed at the dark sky above her, the faceless void before her. She could not see where she should go, but she felt the name rustle against her cold skin and stroked it gently, murmuring into its white-truth: What must I do, to leave the bowels of this place? You must give us two things, child, two things only: your heart, raw and broken, and months. Your heart we shall guard. I shall first remake it, forge it of the strongest things: blood and earth, star and bone.Then into an onyx locket it shall go and I will keep it pressed between my breasts, warm, safe, reborn. The months you shall miss, though they are foolish things, but we must take them. I will swallow January, bitter as the tips of fir, undulant and choking. Charybdis will bury February, sickly as a dying sea, under the gnashing rocks of her teeth and the heaving seabed that is her womb. Scylla’s dogs shall gnaw March, tender as lambs, vicious as lions, to pieces — her dogs will tear and bite and shake it into fibrous oblivion. And then Hekate, our terrible and beautiful mother, will carry your new-
born heart in its vessel of onyx to the surface of this world. She shall visit you in your sleep, and press it deep into your chest. But first, first you must say yes, and then we shall guard your heart and dine on your months and return your self to you once your body has healed into a fit vessel for your precious soul. The girl’s fingers shook as she grasped at the name — Nasiddos, Nasiddos — and its feathery whiteness slithered against her palms. She pressed it to her lips and whispered her answer. In an instant, the demi-god had crossed into her room. She pressed her curved nails to the girl’s chest, flayed her skin, peeled back muscle and tissue, sunk her fingers past the bone. The god murmured forgotten hymns into the child’s sweat-dampened hair, purple-stained lips brushing the bruise-stained eyelids. And with a flick, the child’s heart popped from her chest, glistening and damp and raw as salt-chaffed skin. The girl stirred only a little as the demi-god stitched her chest back together, pieced it as a patchwork quilt. The serpentine tongue flicked the incisions, pressed into the girl’s abdomen, and with three suckling sounds, the demi-god took the months. With the heart pressed to her chill chest and the months buried in her own hollow abdomen, to be shared with her sisters, the demi-god slipped from the room, silent as the night, white as the snow that fell outside. We shall make you anew, our precious child, daughter of the moon and bone and blood. We shall repair the fissures in your broken heart, we shall gift you a self resplendent. The price is paid, warm and wet and slippery inside my stomach, and we thank you. Rest now, our dear child, our dear waking beauty. Rest now, in the sleep I have gifted you. When the morning dawned, gray and chill and lonely, the girl did not wake with it. Her body moved, slipped out of bed, pressed sustenance past its drawn lips, but the girl did not wake. She rested, far, far away, in a forest wholly unlike the labyrinth city-forest. In a forest of light, in a land of meadows,
where she kept the name, Nassidos, Nassidos, pressed to her palm as she swam in brooks with masked creatures who asked only that she call them by the names of forgotten deities. And so she slept.
This is what the girl’s mother saw: A
These are the facts as they appear to Doctor I: 1. The girl’s father has depression 2. The girl is her father’s daughter 3. The girl is sad 4. The girl has put on weight 5. Ergo, she have depression PERSCRIPTION: Effexor 200mg, Lorazepam (as needed) These are the facts as they appear to Doctor II: 1. The girl is sad 2. The girl avoids eye contact 3. The girl is hiding something 4. The girl is depressed 5. Ergo, she has repressed childhood trauma PERSCRIPTION: Effexor 200mg, Lorazepam (as needed), ToughItOut 400mg These are the facts as they appear to Doctor III: 1. The girl is sad 2. The girl has no energy 3. The anti-depressants seem to do nothing 4. The doctor’s son (the girl’s math teacher) says she once bubbled with energy 5. Ergo, the girl has chronic fatigue syndrome PERSCRIPTION: HopelessChronicLearnToLiveWithIt 400mg
This is the myth (part ii): Nassidos watched from deep inside the womb of the earth, she watched with dark eyes, clear as the night on the top of a mountain, away from the pollution of cities and factories and people with their foolish drugs and saddening lives. Nassidos watched, she watched the little men struggle and come to little answers, and she sighed, heavy, and pressed a hand to the onyx locket resting between her breasts. The tip of her tongue flicked past her purple lips, a whisper-hiss to the dark belly of the earth: Energy, energy, what do they know of the word? Foolish men, foolish children playing with things they cannot understand. Too long. The months had been gorged upon by she and her sisters, hungry stomachs filled with the sweet-sour taste of time slipping by; bitter as aspens, tender as newly sprung flowers, but running out, dwindling, very soon there would be no more. And yet — and yet, Nassidos knew she could not yet return the girl’s heart, though it struggled inside the locket, fluttering like the demi-god’s own feathered name pressed tight against the girl’s throat. The girl’s heart grew restless; the agreement drew to a close. Our child, our darkling girl, she who needs healing, who needs deep and ancient magics, and yet she is offered snake oil, fat and thick and poison, by these foolish men, who do not know the mysteries of the womb of the world, who have never heard of the triple-headed monster-god, nor her Scyllian daughter with white, white skin, nor her daughter with gnashing rock-teeth, nor her yelping cavedaughter. Foolish, foolish children. And so Nassidos crept through the darkness, which slid over her white body like water over skin, like silk over cool flesh, and found her mother, triple-headed, staffed, dogs circling, circling, circling — one, two, three. The demi-god bowed her head, suppliant to the goddess of life and death and rebirth, hallowed Hekate, who had sent her purple-lidded daughter up to the earth to bargain with the child of moon and bone.
Mother, whispered Nassidos, white-skinned and black-haired and purple-lipped, fair, dark, and terrible mother, what is the path I should take? Hekate, goddess of crossroads, guide to the dead and the undead and those who cannot perish, turned her moon-dark eyes on her daughter, all heads, horse head, snake head, dog head, one, two, three, awful and sublime, and the dog’s face grinned and the horse whickered and the snake spoke in syllabant letters, as familiar as the demi-god’s own secret language: crawl up through the boughs of the earth and whisper into the ear of the child’s mother and begin the turning of the wheels that will bring her into the arms of the fair Mother, wise and healing, who works through the shining fingertips of her own kind. this is the path, this is your path, this is her path. begin the turning of the gears, the flowering of possibility, crawl, my child, and begin. The demi-god pressed her slick lips to her mother’s three heads, nuzzling the fur of the canine, inhaling the hot breath of the equine, and flicking her forked tongue across the hot scales of the serpent. Nassidos pressed the onyx locket against her chest, felt the fluttering of the girl’s heart through the stone, its heat radiating into her cold skin, and she slipped from Hekate’s chamber, passed her sisters’ domains, and slid up the radiating boughs of the underworld, towards the surface, towards the girl’s mother, and towards the two women whose magic she could already taste — sweet and cool, a spring tumbling over smoothed stones, the first small waves returning to a lost tidal pool, the shade of cedars and the smell of sage and sweetgrass. And so she crawled towards the world wherein her darkling child of blood and fang slept and tumbled through meadows far, far away.
This is the picture she makes in her mind, the naturopath with silver hair and warm, veinéd skin:
The first layer — the brightness and warmth of a healthy childhood, a sunny girl, with strong legs and chestnut hair and a penchant for plucking thick and milky dandelions for bouquets. The child’s heady grin as she plods up the grassy knoll, the child’s studious brow as her mother reads to her from many books, the child’s immanent well-being and joy. The second layer — an elementary school riddled with black mold, where the children play unsuspecting on the dirty tiled floor. A layer of darkness, then, cloudy grays and mottled greens, and a child whose health begins to falter. Parents who sing the girl’s praises as she turns towards paper and pen as methods of measuring her worth. The third layer — sharp white spikes, the shades of an overachiever, the faintest hint of an eating disorder. A shadow lurks in the background, looms over the jagged white sheen of perfectionist tendencies. The shades trickle down and the last few bone-thin lines of white are drowned in darkness. A death, truncated mourning, and a fracture of the soul. The fourth layer — reds, magenta and burgundy and the colour of fire engines, orange dandelions that the child no longer picks, but watches, waving in the winda at her aunt’s home. An aunt with a curious condition, an illness the girl’s mother would never have mentioned had not the naturopath sat with the two of them, one distraught, the other absent, for an hour and a half — an age, an era. She has Addison’s disease, the mother says, the hesitant mother, unsure of what she should say. The girl doesn’t know the word, doesn’t know the taste of it on her tongue, but the naturopath may finally understand, can now see. The complete picture — she flicks a flashlight into the girl’s eyes, once so blue, once so filled with a childhood of dandelion bouquets and hours of stories and the smell of campfires, now emptied, and the black at their centres seems bottomless and it takes far too long for the black to constrict, to recede. And the woman with white hair and veinéd skin understands. And she holds the girl’s hand and whispers everything will be alright and she pulls
the right herbs off the shelf, finds the right plant extractions, this healer woman, and she sends the girl home, the girl and her mother, with the first glimmer of real hope.
This is the song the woman with wide eyes and gentle hands and who smells of sage sings to the girl as she lays stretched out and vulnerable before her:
Beautiful child, poor girl, let me lay my hands upon your frame Poor broken body, sickened soul, let me lay my hands upon your spirit A wound here, a taut tie there, the viscera you must hold inside is leaking Let us repair the bleeding, let us heal your heart, Blesséd child born of blood and bone Beautiful child, poor girl, we shall reforge your unbounded soul Poor broken body, sickened soul, we shall heal your harrowed heart A wound here, a taut tie there, we shall reshape the edges of your self Let us repair the bleeding, let us heal your heart, Fair daughter of the sea and stars Close your eyes, our blue-eyed girl Retreat within, our sun-sprung girl And smile! our child belovéd The moon’s own darkling daughter
Interlude(s) There are moments when the girl wakes up, moments when her heavy eyelids ﬂutter, as
tender as the wings of a moth hatched mere moments past, but these are as few as the mythic creatures of old in this modern era. These glimpses of things-as-they-are hang in the damp air, manticores and unicorns and grifﬁns in the haze of sleep and dream-forests and racoon-gods.
She can recall the name, Nassidos, Nassidos, and she can recall the suckling sound, like a
pup at its mother’s teat, and she can still smell the incense-heavy hair, black as midnight, and she can still taste those purple-stained lips, pressed against her own cool skin. These are things she can recall, but they have long since faded to more dream than memory, more myth than reality. There are moments when the girl wakes up, when she opens her blue eyes and they are
not quite so depthless, but quickly as frost fades in the morning sun, she sinks back into the meadow-world, because the months are no longer hers and those moments are stolen. She can still feel the suckling, hear the yelping and hissing of the witch-pup, and she can
recall the name. But these are dreams. Dreams, fresh as morning milk, worn as thrice-knit yarn, dreams. I have become a dragon, shining scales and poisoned fangs, hiding in the belly of the mountain, dreaming
for light years. I am nothing but a red-scaled dream, a wing-wet dream, a dream of loam and blood and onyx.
This is the myth (part iii): In the middle of a damp April night, the god crawled up through the boughs of the underworld, the highways and paths she had known since before they were travelled, before they were dust-worn and familiar and bordered with lamps. She walked for hours, feet never weary, strong as a mare, loyal as a hound, stubborn as a serpent. The deal was made and the lady of death and rebirth, the lady of crossroads, the lady of oaths and trawthe, would see it complete. She broke the surface in a river, thick and chill and framed in young trees, and she walked through the forest, walked amidst the pines and the oaks and the maples, and she found her way to the door, the door of which her Scyllian daughter had spoken. Hekate pressed a finger to the lock, stroked it with her paw-hoof, and it opened without so much as a whisper-click. Onwards she walked, onwards past the stairs and the wide-eyed cat and the darkened bathroom and into the girl’s room, for the sigil that had been given endured, the magicked syllables hung in the air, waiting, for the serpent-god’s flickering tongue. i have come, darkling daughter, i have brought you a self forged anew, o child of our hearts, child of the underworld. The girl stirred in her sleep, cocked her head in the sun-bright forest of her mind, sank her fingers into the sharp-sweet fur of the creature that sat beside her. She listened, and the wind seemed to carry the hissing voice: it is time to return, faithful child, time to return to the world that is yours, to the world that is raw and young and changing, it is time to return. The girl frowned, turned her head, tried to escape the wind-words, but they found their way to her ear, cut through her throat, and settled into the place where her heart should have been. The words stirred inside of her, anxious as a yearling colt, and she felt the semblance of a heartbeat. The girl gasped, pressed her cold fingers to her ribs, and closed her eyes in holy dread as the skin thrummed beneath her touch.
Hekate stepped towards the child’s body, her once-broken body, that had been healed and she pressed her scaled skin to the girl’s chest: i have laid the path before you, dear one, and it is time to return, time to breathe your soul and heart back into your healéd body. The god pressed her claws, smelling of hay and wide fields, to the stitches in the girl’s chest, and she slit them one by one. She cracked the ribs, opened the chest, and stared into the dark cavity. Slowly, the god lifted the onyx-black locket from her neck, clicked it open, and pulled from its depthless interiors, its earthen womb, the child’s own pulsating heart, remade, reforged, and resplendent. Hekate pressed the glittering heart to her serpent-lips, to her quivering mare-nostrils, to her hound fangs, and she breathed into it, warmed the bone and blood, the cresting waves and the sliver of moonlight that now lived inside the trembling muscle. She woke the moon’s own darkling daughter, pulled her through the forest of her dreams, and pressed both the child’s spirit and the child’s heart into her open chest with one smooth movement. The girl’s eyes flew open, she sucked air into her lungs as though she had been birthed in the depths of the dark sea and had never before breathed in sweet air, sweet with salt and grass and sand, and the god pressed her paw to the girl’s eyes and shut them. She sung the song to the girl that her Scyllian daughter had sung months ago, that ancient and immortal song, the lullaby long forgotten by those who did not understand the depths of the underworld, who did not understand the power of blood and bone, who did not understand the god and her daughters three. And she closed the bones and stitched the skin and laid a hand across the wound. fair child, we have gifted you a new self, we have healed your broken body, we have healed your broken heart. for this, we asked but three months, and they are paid in full, our trawthe is fulfilled. we, however, ask for one more gift, a boon, and it is a gift that must be freely given. what say you, child of our hearts?
The girl slept, now, running the paths of the forest-meadow in her mind, running faster than the singing wind and the soaring lark and the rushing clouds, faster than the ocean and the stars, faster than the turning of the seasons. But though she ran, she could hear the whisper-hiss of the deity’s syllables and she listened, she listened and assented, and felt the feather-rustle of something white as the changing moon, sweet as spring storms, and ancient as the earth inside of her chest, next to her heart. The girl said: I shall gift you a good life, a life well-lived. I shall gift you my love and my joy, my sweat and my tears. I shall watch the growing and shrinking of the moon, and know it is your face, and I shall press my fingers into the loam of the earth, and know it is your body, and I shall dance in the stream and run up the mountain, and hear the song of your daughters. I shall sing into the dark of the night and I shall learn the forgotten arts, the lost poems, the fading laments, and I will recall. I will recall. The god, satisfied with the child’s answer, turned and left, silent as a deer, and she burrowed her way back into womb of the earth, back to her home. She returned to her daughters three, who kissed her with joy and sat with her as she sang to them well into the night. And when the girl woke the next morning, she felt a presence inside of her chest that she had not felt before. When her eyes opened, when her muscles quivered with the pleasure of the morning’s first movements, when she stood and went upstairs, she truly woke. The girl smiled at the new day, bright with the morning’s first light, bright with the growing days, bright with something changed, and she kissed her mother’s wearied forehead and said, everything is going to be alright, mother of my heart.