Maeve


from The Song of Everything by Tracy Leddy

   Having been born a princess, Maeve had always had everything her heart desired. Up to the age of eighteen she had literally danced her way through life with a constant smile and a never-faltering step until one night something happened to her which changed her, completely.

   It was after a great festival. Maeve had played songs of her own composition before her father, the king, and all his court. She had danced all night with many partners and had been celebrated as having the most beautiful face in the kingdom. The court had whispered of marriage for her soon.

   Maeve had gone to bed, tired but elated with a sense of her growing fame. But this night the hours went by and she could not sleep. The noises in the palace around her gradually diminished until they ceased altogether. All was silent and still the princess could not sleep. She tossed and turned, trying to recapture the gaiety of the evening, her companions' faces, her music, anything, all to no avail.

   Then she began to hear one sound, the sound of someone sobbing bitterly. The voice was muffled, as though it came from very far away. Maeve lay still, wondering. Where was it coming from, this heartbroken weeping, where? And then, with a start which caused her to sit bolt upright in bed, Maeve recognized the origin of the sound. It was coming from somewhere deep, deep inside her own body. Heart pounding, she sat and listened with all her might.

   "Let me out!" cried the voice, "Let me out!" "Who are you?" whispered Maeve in a fright.

   "I'm your Self," cried the voice despairingly, "Oh, won't you please let me out!"

   "Don't be silly," said Maeve to the voice, "I'm myself. All I have to do is look in the mirror and I can see myself quite clearly."

   "Oh, no, you can't," said the little voice, "You're just an endless collection of false faces. Let me out and I'll show you who you really are."

   "Don't talk such nonsense," said Maeve, "Go away and leave me alone. I'm very tired and I just want to go to sleep."

   "You hear me now, dear princess," the voice persisted, "and sleep will not come to you again until you let me out. I will be HEARD!" And the voice grew very loud and let out a piercing wail.

   Maeve covered her ears in horror and thought, "If this continues, I shall surely go mad. I must leave the palace until I get rid of this wretched creature and then I will return." She crept out of bed, dressed quickly in a long loose robe, drew a woolen cloak over that and stole barefoot through the quiet halls, down the great stairs, out into the deserted palace gardens and through a little gate into the forest beyond.

   Fortunately, there was a moon, but even if there hadn't been Maeve could have found her way. She knew the forest as well as the palace, having spent years exploring both. She knew trails and bowers, thickets and copses and this night was on her way to a favorite haunt, an old ruined tower at the far end of the forest. It was a neglected place; she had come upon it one day looking for shelter in a sudden storm. No one would think to look for her in such a forgotten corner.

   At last Maeve was able to distinguish the large mosscovered rocks marking the entrance of the tower. She stepped toward them and sat down in the dark entrance facing the forest. "Now then," she said to her self, "What is it you want me to do?"

   The voice cried out, louder than ever, "Let me out!" "How can I do that?" Maeve asked.

   "You must find a way, you must, you must!" cried the voice, and suddenly, as though a floodgate had been opened, it began in a torrent of words to tell the princess how long it had been a prisoner and how dreadfully it had suffered.

   "Stop, stop!" Maeve cried after a time, "I've never heard such a sad story and I cannot bear to hear another word of it. Is there no one to help me to help you?" And she threw herself on the ground and sobbed and sobbed.

   An unusual stillness pervaded the forest as a strange image suddenly passed before the princess' inner eye. She had become a castle and her face was the topmost tower. A long stair wound down and down through the tower to the most secret dungeon in the castle. A tiny figure of light lay inside that dungeon, a figure in chains, crumpled and sad. The figure was sobbing in despair when from outside the tower a long arm reached in and turned the key in the dungeon door. The figure rose and struggled to the door. It pushed the door open and stood, heavily laden, at the foot of the stair. Then it began to cry, "Let me out! Let me out!" The long arm from outside began to tear down the bricks one by one from the front of the tower and as each brick fell, a link in the shining figure's chain fell also, turned into a butterfly and flew away. The bricks fell, the figure climbed, until it reached the top of the stair where it stood, freed from all its chains, in the emptiness of the fallen bricks. At that precise moment, the entire castle melted into nothingness and all that remained in the vision of the princess was the figure of light.

   At dawn a rustling in the intense stillness broke in upon Maeve's tears and she looked up. Seated directly across from her in the shadows of an oak was an old man dressed in white whose face shone like the sun. His eyes were warm and wise as he looked at the princess. "Well met, Maeve," he said, "Your Self is indeed at the foot of the stair. That was no dream. Now, shall we begin?"

   "Who are you?" whispered Maeve, awed at such a visitor in the most remote part of her father's forest.

   The old man chuckled. "I am my Self," he replied. "That voice which calls itself my self says I am only false faces," said Maeve. "He says that he is real and I am not. How can I find out if this is true?"

   "Wait and see," said the old man. "Here, I'll show you."

   He scooped up a handful of earth from the ground in front of the princess. Immediately a shallow pool of clear water filled in the space. Not a ripple broke its surface. "Now look at your face, Maeve," he directed, "and tell me what you see."

   Maeve leaned forward and looked into the pool at her reflection. What she saw was not the shining figure of her vision, nothing like it. Nor was it like the image she was used to admiring in any number of mirrors in the palace. What she saw in the pool was an expression, one of many hundreds that flitted across her features every day. "Oh!" she said, "I look so greedy. I look as though all I wanted was more chocolates when I'd already eaten half a box."

   "Do you like to look like that?" asked the old man. "No," murmured Maeve with tears in her eyes. "Well then, take that expression off," said the old man. Maeve put her hands up to her face and pulled and pulled. Nothing happened. "You are making fun of me," she said to the old man.

   "Not at all," he replied, "You might ask me to help." Maeve bowed her head. "Please help me," she said.

   "Obviously I cannot do this alone."

   The old man reached forward across the pool and barely touched the princess' face. A mask as thin as onionskin fell into his palm, curled up and withered like a dead leaf which he blew away. "Now Maeve," he said quietly, "Look again into the pool. What do you see?"

   Maeve leaned forward as she had before and studied her reflection in the pool. "Oh," she said, "I look so lazy! I look as though I had done nothing all day long and was now unwilling to get up even to greet my father, the king."

   "Do you like to look like that?" the old man asked. "No," murmured Maeve with tears in her eyes. "Well then, take that expression off too," said he.

   "You do it, please," Maeve begged him, "I know now I can do nothing without your help." Again the old man reached forward across the pool. He barely touched the princess' face. Another mask thin as onionskin fell into his palm, curled up and withered like a dead leaf which he blew away. "You must eat now before we continue," said the old man, handing her a small basket of fruit and cheese and bread and nuts which he had taken from behind the tree. Maeve took the food gratefully and ate. Her companion sat, lost in his own thoughts, and waited for her to finish. Without a word Maeve handed the empty basket back to him and without a word he placed it behind the tree. Then, "Look again into the pool, Maeve," he directed, "and tell me what you see."

   Days went by and each one followed the same pattern. When Maeve awoke in the morning, the old man was always there waiting for her. He would bring out the little basket filled with food and wait patiently while she ate. He would then direct her attention to her reflection in the pool. As soon as she recognized each expression, he lifted it from her face. The work was exhausting; she could see only a few expressions each day. When she tired, the old man would tell her to sleep; their work would begin again in the morning.

   One night, in her mind's eye Maeve saw the image of the castle again. The tower was crumbling at a great rate and the figure of light was more than halfway up the stair. She awoke that morning happier than she had been in a long time.

   But the expressions she saw in the pool became more and more subtle and therefore correspondingly difficult to identify. And soon there came a day when the old man watched with concern as she prepared to look into the pool. With good reason; she saw there an expression she had never seen before or imagined could exist in anyone. It was a ferocious look, a look of naked hatred and pride. It was her own face, stripped of all the outer masks, and it was dreadful to behold. The reflection held her and held her. A great shudder went through her body and she began to tremble violently. With all her strength she pulled her attention away from the hypnotic reflection and, after staring for a moment straight into the old man's eyes, she closed her own. Then three extraordinary things happened, all at the same time. The voice within her cried out louder than ever before, "Let me out!" and her own voice cried out "I do not want to die!" and the old man reached across the pool and touched her forehead and her head dropped like an overripe apple and splashed into the pool in front of her.

   "Now I am nothing!" the princess shrieked, feeling only a great wind where her ears should have been.

   "Not at all," said the old man, as he removed the princess' head from the pool. "Look again, Maeve, and see who you really are."

   And Maeve leaned forward once more to look into the pool and saw only the figure of light staring back at her and his face shone like the sun. "But we're the same then, you and I," she gasped and stared at the old man.

   "Of course we are," he chuckled, "For it is written, 'He it is that desireth in thee and He it is that is desired. He is all and He doth all if thou might see Him.' " And the two sat, no one knows for how long, oblivious and absorbed, smiling into each other's faces.

            *    *    *

   "What is that clamor I hear, my father?" asked Maeve, "It is louder than all the noises of the forest."

   "It is the cry of all the other prisoners in the world, begging to be released," answered the old man. "My daughter, you must go to them now and tell them what to do."



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