despite the widespread woe and chaos that they have been credited with spreading, individual witches, unlike kings and conquerors, have not had their lives much chronicled by those scribes who have undertaken to record the histories of nations.
it may be doubted if a single witch has attained real fame, by name, in the history of humanity. the witch of endor, described in the first book of samuel, is not named other than as "the witch".
it is commonly believed that joan of arc was accused of being a witch and tried and executed for being so. in fact she was tried and condemned for the more unromantic crime of heresy.
those persons of an antiquarian bent who are interested enough, can, of course, find the names of actual persons condemned as witches and wizards in europe, in the british isles, and in north america, particularly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
let us return, then, to our story in the fourth century of the christian era.
the three women whom the old soldier probus had encountered on the road to mother ariana's alehouse - were they, in fact, witches?
let us dispense with speculation and simply note that they, and a few others like them, were considered to be so by most of the inhabitants of the area, and that they considered themselves to be so, though they would never acknowledge this outright to any but each other.
if the authorities had not taken note of them, it was because there hardly were any authorities, as a citizen of today's world would understand the term.
barentius, who had constituted such authority as there was in the region, was quite indifferent to their existence, as were his sons (except as they might view the younger of them as pleasing specimens of femininity).
the devout asmeralda, however, was scandalized by their existence, and had she had the ear of a more complaisant governor, or of some powerful abbot or bishop, would have urged the utmost zeal to be employed in the investigation and prosecution of their suspected activities.
the youngest of the three women who had amused themselves by frightening poor probus, and whose melodious voice still echoed in his brain and sent a thrill of mingled terror and excitement through his simple martial soul, had a history which was no doubt repeated thousands or millions times over in all places and ages - the beautiful young woman of the peasant or beggar class who comes quickly to the attention of the males, young and old, of all classes - who excites the jealousy of women of her own class and the contempt of those of the higher class (and sometimes, the amusement of those of the very highest class) - who resists, briefly or not so briefly, sometimes spiritedly, not infrequently to the death - the casual but implacable cupidity of the siegneur -
who is then cast aside to the mockery of her former fellows and the horror (though very occasionally the compassion) of the pious - who is regarded as fallen and ruined by all - who then makes her way as best she can until vanishing into that darkness which awaits the peasant and the potentate alike.
mortimer felt something in the shadows behind the refrigerator in the corner of the diner….
cary grant threw his arm around mortimer's shoulder.
"come on, pal, let's get out of here. i know where the real action is."
suddenly mortimer was outside, back on the endless red sands of mars , with cary grant at his side.
they were both wearing only loincloths. mortimer had a short sword in one hand and a shield in the other.
cary grant carried a long trident and a net.
a city of glass towers glittered in the distance, silver and blue.
a wind sprang up and the swirling sand made a long tunnel they were walking through.
at the end of the tunnel mortimer could see one of the green moons which was also a throne….
on the towering emerald throne sat a queen. the two queens from the diner - jennifer goldberg from sixth grade and the reporter miss flanagan - had morphed into a single empress.
her skin shifted from spider black to rose red and back again, and her hair was flaming snow.
her eyes were twin universes devouring galaxies like snowflakes…
she looked mortimer straight in the eyes.
she spoke in the voice of mortimer's favorite actress, simone simon…
"what have we here," she intoned , "but the two greatest gladiators of the galaxy,
car-el and mort-el." she paused. "which, i wonder, shall be my champion?"
for the first time mortimer noticed two figures, one on each side of the empress.
on her left, in the dress of a roman centurion, with her pudgy arms folded belligerently across her chest, stood mrs mconigle, the principal from mortimer's old school, which he had said goodbye to after the sixth grade.
on the empress's right, in a high backed upholstered chair, slouched basil rathbone, or maybe it was john carradine, in the black suit and hat and string tie of an old west card sharp.
at a nod from the empress mrs mcgonigle threw back a purple curtain.
and there was the city… the moonlit city of blue and silver glass towers…
mortimer peeked around the corner from behind a potted plant and watched as stan crossed the lobby to the front door. it looked like roland was asleep on his feet - as he often was - but mortimer knew that roland had not lasted as night clerk as long as he had without the ability to wake up at the slightest movement of anything within twelve feet of him.
and sure enough, just as stan passed him roland turned and said something to him. probably just something like "good evening, sir" because stan kept on going out the door and roland went back to staring straight ahead across the deserted lobby.
so stan was away safe, in his "disguise", at least for now.
what time was it, anyway? mortimer looked up at the clock on the wall to his right. three thirty-three. jeez, was it that late?
only twenty-seven more minutes and his his shift would be over. that's if jackson showed up on time, as he did not always do.
there were four elevator operators at the st crispian. two of them, jackson and grobbs, worked forty hours each, mortimer worked five fourteen hour shifts from two in the afternoon to four in the morning, and old julius still came in and did about twenty hours a week. mortimer often filled in for the others, and one of the bellhops or desk clerks would fill in if they had to.
it had been kind of an exciting night, as nights went at the venerable hotel st crispian, with stan coming back and all. and jake disappearing for a while, and flossie flanagan from the federal-democrat showing up … time went by when there was excitement in the air, that was for darn sure.
he never did get that key to room 603 to miss wilde, what with miss flanagan showing up. but stan was gone, so everything must be o k. now he just had to tell miss wilde that stan had gone to the automat...
mortimer eased himself back on to his stool and yawned. i should be able to stay awake for about twenty-five minutes, he told himself…
stan laughed. "stop looking back at the ship," he told mortimer.
but mortimer looked back, across the diamond-twinkling red sands of mars.