The Legend of Magrete, the Pearl Child -
02-21-2013, 09:16 PM
Once upon a time, in the days between the fall of the old gods of Olympus and the rise of the God of Christos, a fisherman and his young wife lived in a small seafaring village along the coast of Crete. They were a hardworking couple, the fisherman going out to sea hours before dawn to cast his nets, and the wife selling whatever he caught in the marketplace. Sometimes it was fish, sometimes oysters, sometimes crabs and shellfish, but they managed to make a good living together.
The young fisherman's wife, whom I will call Mari, was not the typical ill-tempered shrew that people usually believe fishwives are, but dealt fairly and honestly with her customers, and never said anything offensive to anyone. She strove to be kind and virtuous to all her neighbors, and to be charitable to those in need.
The fisherman, however, was a creature of habit, almost solitary in spite of his marriage to Mari. He cast his nets at night, returned at dawn, gave his catches to Mari to sell, mended his nets, repaired his boat, drank in the tavern, then returned home at suppertime to sleep until night fell, then started all over again. He was not an ill-tempered man, for he never beat or abused Mari in any way, simply indifferent to her. To him, she was business partner, cook and housekeeper, a wife in name only.
Mari bore her husband's habits with the patience of an angel, but there was one need she wished he could fulfill: motherhood. How Mari wished for a child of her own! The few times that her indifferent husband performed his marital duty in bed yielded nothing. At first, she thought she was at fault, that she was barren. She prayed at the Orthodox Church for a child. She went to the temple of Aesclepius to dream of a remedy for her childless condition. She followed the advice of the elder wives of the village to conceive. All to no avail. Five years passed, and Mari was no better off than when she had been a maiden.
Her sorrow increased as she watched the other women in the village pass by with their fat, healthy infants in their arms. As time went on, Mari became an object of pity among the villagers. A few of the elder wives banded together to confront the negligent fisherman and remind him of his duty to Mari. A child would ease her grief, they told him. And if he had a son, he could help on the fishing boat when he got older. Even a daughter would be of help around the house. Give Mari a child, and he would be rewarded in many ways he had never thought possible.
Their words fell on deaf ears. The fisherman said he was too busy to be burdened with a child right now. Mari was still young enough, he told the elder wives. She would have a child in due time. His callous words stirred the gossiping tongues of the women in the village. He was having an affair with one of the tavern wenches; he preferred the company of men in ways that were unnatural; he had some ailment that rendered him impotent, such as being born under the new moon ("No moon, no man", it was said), or a childhood disease which had left him sterile. Whatever the reason, he was either unwilling or unable to sire a child by Mari. So the fisherman went out to sea every night while Mari sold her fish and other seafoods in her booth in the marketplace during the day, all the while her heart aching for a child of her own.
One morning, as she stooped over to unpack the basket of freshly caught fish her husband had dropped off on his way to the tavern, she saw a little man, a dwarf, barely as tall as the fishbasket, standing in front of her. Startled at first, but knowing that a customer was a customer, no matter what size he was, she gathered her wits and greeted him. "Good morning, sir," she said courteously.
"Good morning," said the dwarf. "I am here to buy some fish for my master."
Mari showed him the day's catch lying on straw in the booth. The dwarf chose two fine, fat fish and paid her a drachma for them. As Mari wrapped the fish in a clean cloth, the dwarf could not help but notice her sadness.
"I can see you bear a heavy burden, fishwife," said the dwarf. "What ails you?"
"You mean you haven't heard the gossip around the village?" she said with an uncharacteristic twinge of bitterness. "I have no child of my own, and my husband is heedless of my desire for one."
"Ah, 'tis pity," said the dwarf. "Such a lovely woman you are. If I was your husband, you'd be a mother ten times over! But I have a solution for your problem, fishwife. My master is Kristofer Angelos, a great and powerful magician, a true magus. He has powers beyond all human comprehension. He can help fulfill your desire for a child."
Mari turned and looked down at the dwarf. She had heard of the mysterious magician said to live in a cavern in the mountains. Some said he was a holy man, a descendant of one of the Magi who visited the Infant Jesus in Bethlehem. Others said he was a sorcerer, able to command the forces of nature at will. A few skeptical types dismissed him as a charlatan, skilled only at creating deception. But her desire for motherhood overrode any qualms or doubts she may have had about him, and she readily agreed.
"If your master can give me a child, I will pay him handsomely," she said eagerly. She pulled out a little purse and emptied it. "I have these pearls which I have found when my husband brought some oysters one morning. I had been saving them to sell to the merchants. If he gives me a child, they are his to keep."
The dwarf eyed the pearls with great interest. "Meet me at the foothills of the mountains before sunset," he told Mari. "I will take you to my master."
Mari and the dwarf servant met at the foothills at the appointed time, and trod the mountain path to the cavern in which the magician lived. It was a long, ardurous journey, but at last they arrived at the mouth of the cave, aglow with oil lamps and smoky with frankincense. Mari swallowed her fears and entered the cave.
She had expected to see a wizened old man, but through the haze of the frankincense she spied a comely youth, a veritable Adonis with flowing black hair down to his hips, standing on a ledge above her. He was clad only in a simple blue tuinc, but with strange silver amulets around his neck that clattered when he moved. She was too awestruck by the power of his presence and his physical perfection to speak.
"Master," spoke the dwarf servant, "I bring you a woman from the village, suffering from the pain of an empty womb. Will you help her in her time of need?"
The youthful magician floated like a feather from his perch, landing softly on the cavern floor. He gazed at Mari steadily, as if he could bore into her very soul with his eyes alone.
"So," he said to her, "My servant, Cinna, has bought you here for me to cure you of your barreness. Is it not so?"
"Yes," Mari replied nervously. "I long for a child, but I know I am not barren. My husband will not co-operate with me to have one. I have tried all the usual remedies, and endless prayers go unanswered. You are my only hope, Magus. I do not want to go on living an empty life like this."
She took out her bag of pearls. "Here," she said, "I bought these in payment for your services. I wanted to sell them to the merchants, but a child would be worth more to me than all the pearls in the ocean."
The magician took the pearls and examined each one carefully. He chose the largest, most perfect pearl among them. "Cinna," he said to his servant. "Bring a goblet of wine--the gold one with the rubies on the base."
Cinna did as he was bidden. The magician took the goblet and held up the pearl above it like a priest holding up the Eucharist, and dropped it into the goblet, muttering some incantation over it. Then he handed the goblet to Mari.
"Drink this," he bade her, "and you shall conceive in your womb a child of surpassing beauty and perfection. She shall have skin as pure and as flawless as a pearl, hair as golden as the goblet, and lips as red as the rubies on the base of it. All I ask in return is that she be named Magrete, and that I serve as godparent to the child at her baptism. Do you agree?"
"I agree," said Mari, and drank the pearl wine. "I am grateful to you, Magus. I shall do as you ask."
"Now, go," the magician ordered her, "and do not look back, lest the spell be broken. And tell no one of our meeting, or what happened here."
Mari ran, not daring to look over her shoulder as she fled the cavern of the magician, her lips tightly sealed. Inside her belly, she began to feel a faint stirring, a tingling sensation she had never felt before. My baby! she said to herself. My baby is in there!