Of Masks and Other Lies

Stravaganza: City of Masks by Mary Hoffman

 

The hospital's treatment has left Lucien sick in his bed, hardly able to keep anything down, let alone move. It's been months since he felt any joy in living, and, as the days drag on, he's finding it harder and harder to speak. But he can't help but see his parents' eyes fill with tears as they watch him fade away. The chemo might be enough to help him. Nothing but time will tell, and, for now, Lucien has lots of that.

When his dad brings him a handsome notebook, found in a derelict house on the outskirts of London, Lucien is intrigued. It's a very old piece, the work of a master craftsman. Its thick paper and marbled cover feel good to the touch. The pages are blank, but somehow it still comforts him as he slips into his first deep sleep in many days.

He opens his eyes on glorious vision of life from another century and another country. Automobiles are nowhere to be seen. Instead, graceful gondolas ply the waterways between the houses. Still in his pajamas and holding the notebook, Lucien is wrenched back into the cool shadows. A fierce-looking boy of about his own age hisses in his ear, "Are you mad? You'll be killed!"

The pain from the boy's grip is real, but in his own world, Lucien would not have been able to bear this grip. His body is simply too broken with illness. But he can FEEL it. So, it obviously isn't a dream.

Across town, the beautiful Duchessa makes herself ready for another performance. Every year, custom dictates that she garb herself in a glittering gown and be lowered, briefly, into the harbor. This "marriage to the sea god" makes the people happy, and each year they are astonished at how their Duchessa manages to maintain the form of a young girl. Her slim legs and gently-rounded body would be outlined by the damp gown, although, of course, her face remains hidden behind its elaborate mask, for that, too, has been the custom for decades, that every unmarried woman over the age of 16 must don a mask to conceal her beauty.

In a tower nearby, Rodolfo, her most faithful courtier, tests the future yet again with the tarot deck. All of the signs, the Lovers, the Magician, the Goddess, the Tower, and the Spring Maiden, point to an eventful future. It is the last card drawn that disturbs him. The figure of Death is dark and undeniable.

East by Edith Pattou

Rose's mother had lied to everyone about her daughter, and the lie grew in her mind and heart so large that even she believed it was true. She swore her husband to silence, and he agreed, although he found her fears foolish. At first.

Cover to EastIn her mother's family, the child's birth direction was believed to be critical. Each direction had a fate attached to it, a temperament that could not be denied. Northeasters liked to roam, but had a frugal temperament. True Easts were quiet, practical, and obedient. Southeasts were comfortable and kind, Southwests were good with animals and a bit far seeing. And so on. But the children born to the North were especially wild, wandering everywhere, and badly behaved.

Ebba Rose was born facing North in the great blizzard of 1539. Even her name was a lie. Each child was named for the first letter of their birth direction, their destiny. A snowstorm had confused her parents at the time of her birth, but her mother refused to face the truth. A skjebne-soke or fortune teller had foretold that her North-born child would face a terrible, long journey, and finally death under a crush of snow and ice. Her mother could not face it, and so the lie began. But a name came to Ebba's father at her birth, a true name. Nyamh, born of the rainbow

The child grew into a beautiful young girl. Her long, dark hair and purple eyes enchanted all who saw her. Despite her wild ways, she was drawn to needlework and showed a tremendous patience, whether mending the simplest of clothing or designing her own patterns on a neighbor's broad loom. The designs often featured a white bear.

Ever since she was a small girl, a white bear seemed to be watching her, waiting for her. One storm-drenched autumn night, when her sister fell grievously ill, and her family's fortunes seemed to be at their lowest, the white bear did the unthinkable. He came to their door. With a deep and exhausted voice, he offered them a bargain. If he could have their Rose, the family would prosper. If he could have their Rose, her sister need not die.