Her Splendid Joy
In Women Who Run with the Wolves, author Clarissa Pinkola Estés teaches, through myth and story, how wild women can reclaim their true natures. One such story is called a temblón, a "shiver story" designed to scare you just a little, to wake you up a little. Her stories are deeply layered and meaningful. Here is my effort at writing my own temblón.
A generous and kind princess wished to visit the people in her lands across the river. Her mother and father, the Queen and King, had passed to the Realm Beyond, leaving her with only one uncle, who was sedate, ineffectual and dull, with an obsessive complex that kept him in the bath most of his days. His rule over the land was in title only. The citizens and agencies all held her in utmost regard and looked to her for their guidance, both legal, moral, and spiritual. She was a wise and trustworthy leader. All depended on her and sought to please her, except for one, the River Master.
To get to the other side of the river, there was only one place to pass, the Place of Passage. The River Master kept vigilant surveillance and regulated the comings and goings at the Place with a watchful eye and a greedier hand. All those who wished to cross were directed onto a large scale, where each vessel was assessed. If bark, rowboat, raft, or barge were deemed too heavy, it would be turned back.
But the River Master abused his power. He didn’t make distinctions or declarations based on tonnage, but rather, the nefarious master slapped on arbitrary infractions pell-mell. Too Clumsy! he would rage. Too Messy! Too Much, or his favorite, Not Enough. Not enough what?!?
His mood shifted with the rise and settle of the water level on the banks. Some days he was greasy as a rat, imposing levies to line his own pockets. Other days, lazy as a gator, he let folks pass simply because he couldn’t be bothered to muster his own meanness. The night before the Princess approached, the River Master had filled his gut with a tankard of brackish water, lost at poker to the village barkeep and gashed his feet on rocks on his way home. He was salty, broke and bloodweak. The princess’ soft voice and dazzling smile fell on deaf ears and half-masted eyes.
When she approached the Place of Passage, her boat was laden with gifts and riches for all the townsfolk and their children. The deck was stacked high with tapestries, chests full of warm blankets for the winter months ahead. Smaller coffers overflowed with pretty things, baubles for the ladies, balls for the men, and games and treats and toys of all sizes. And she had brought horses on board.
Fine thoroughbreds, cut from the castle’s renowned stock. Both mares and studs together, known for their gentleness and their fearlessness. One stallion, the most loyal and surest of all, was the Princess’ own, named Joy, though the River Master did not know nor care to know its name. His only aim was to have it for himself.
Before she’d even steered her craft onto the scales, he gargled and spat at the Princess, who was actually a goddess, “You’re over the limit! Offload!”
She handed over rugs, so intricate their silk threads iridesced in the early morning sunlight glinting off the ripples in the water.
“You haul too much! Too much!” he bellowed.
She smiled and passed him crates of china, boxes of chocolates, necessaries and frivolities, too.
“Not enough!” he commanded.
Unbegrudgingly she dispatched load after load of cargo, yet he still refused to let her pass. Finally, his bleary eyes unable to make contact with her clear and radiant ones, he looked askance to the other side, where he knew danger lay in wait. He spoke in the direction of his belly: “Princess, you and I both know that none of this will suffice. I will not let you go until you give me the reins of those horses. I want your joy.”
He punctuated each word with a thrust of his decrepit, waterlogged hands towards the horses that stomped and whinnied, herded together in their pen at the stern. She rationalized.
He doesn’t know the name of my horse. He seeks to destroy me by taking my things. He will see where my treasure lies. He will see what my joy looks like.
“All right,” she agreed placidly. And she lifted the pin holding the pen and the horses trampled and charged as one magnificent body of force and energy down the ramp, onto the pier, and into the River Master’s waiting form.
They crushed him, but they did not kill him. The Princess/ Goddess stepped ashore, walked towards him, administered her healing, and restored his body so he would not die. When she left, she left behind not only the remaining contents of the vessel, but the vessel itself, and her cloak and dress and slip and crown too. Unclothed and unbound, she dove headlong into the waters, determined to swim through the depths and get to the other shore.
All the horses ran helter-skelter through the woods and back to their stables. All but one. Her Joy stood on the bank of the river, patiently, humbly, steadfast. Only when she began to show signs of flailing, did Joy stir. His stirrings roused the River Master, who unsheathed a knife, chomped it sideways between his snaggledy teeth, and dove in after her.
“Princess, be careful!” he cried, choking on his own false obsequiousness. “That section of the passage is rife with underwater reeds and vines. The more you kick and struggle, the more tangled you will become. Let your body float there where I can see you. Stay right where you are and I will come and cut you free.”
Did the River Master have any intentions of rescuing her? That is for you, the listener to decide. For her, on that day, having ceded to his will all that she had brought to give away, having seen the menace in his downcast eyes and the point of the blade coming closer and closer to her throat, she decided that No, no. Ha! she almost laughed, HOLY MOTHER, NO!, he does not mean to save me.
But as she resolved to set herself free, and gave a kick-start to her determination, she felt the vines tighten around her ankles, threatening to drag her down. She thrashed and screamed. The gleaming blade. The hopeless loss. The water closing in. The darkness, drowning, drowning.
She closed her eyes.
Under the metallic taste of the knife’s blade against his tongue, the River Master could also taste the iron of the goddess, the mineral miracle in her veins. With one sip, merely one mercurial drop, all her powers would transfer to him. Now, he wanted more than her horses. He wanted her death, and her blood on his lips.
He waited no longer.
Again and again, he pierced the water with the tip of his rapier, seeking her flesh under the rushing, surging river, murky with roil and reeds. Again and again, the double-edged sword found nowhere to connect. He looked around frantically, searching for a body, either a trace of it sinking, or a shadow of it rising to the surface.
Oh, the Princess Goddess rose. In naked splendor she emerged, droplets of water beading off her resplendent blessed flesh like dazzling gemstones in a jewelry store. How? Joy had breached the main. Joy had buoyed her up. She would not succumb to the river bottom, neither would she have to swim out alone. In the midst of the chaos, she hadn’t realized that Joy had been within reach all along.
Now she wrapped her arms around Joy’s neck and allowed herself to be carried out of danger. Out of danger, but not out of the river. She let the soft water envelop her. She paddled her limbs through the soft grasses, realizing that that’s all they were, harmless in the light of salvation. She splashed for a while in the shallows. She breathed in the calm, enchanted air.
She grabbed a modest dress from one of Joy’s saddlebags and slid it over her wet head just in time for the village children to run down to the river’s edge and see what all the rumpus and kerfuffle had been about. Their mothers and fathers came too, and bowed down to their new Queen, for in the half day’s time that this story had been running its course, the Uncle had slipped in his morning bath, (the last of many) cracked his feeble skull and quietly drifted away clean and shiny, to the Realm Beyond.
In her first order of business as Queen, the Princess Goddess abolished the borders between the two sides of the river. She built bridges and infrastructure. She trained boys and girls to sew their own tapestries and weave their own rugs, to forge and plant and create everything they needed to thrive and make their own lives beautiful. Men and women together came to know prosperity beyond measure. They came to know trust, and their own worth. And they were allowed to swim in the river, cross over it, pass through it, immerse themselves in it whenever they wanted. There was enough river for all of them, for everyone.
And Everywhere the Queen/Princess/Goddess went, she went with Joy. Joy slept beside her. Joy never let her down.
But what became of the callous and cold-blooded River Master? Did he crawl out of the ooze and reform his heart and ways? Perhaps you will see him next time you go to the Place of Passage, perhaps not. I’m told he’s been spotted over at the stables, but it’s only hearsay and storytelling. I’ve heard he edges up to Joy, puts a hand out, offers a sugarcane or a carrot, but I can’t say for certain what is true. I only know what I believe.
I believe Joy will always come to you, if you let it.