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The Lost Labyrinthine


Ron Mwangaguhunga

“Space is a swarming in the eyes.”
Vladimir Nabokov


Alternating peals of black theatrical laughter grow from growl to crescendo flowing from Delia to her sister, the sun-baked and bronze tanned Bronwyn -- both of them sitting in the reptilian grey-green olive grove surrounded by mirrors under a calcite marble ruin of the Phoenician God, Baal -- their laughter, in turn, signals cascading waves of cruel harridan mirth from the dark Galatea, sitting facing a reflection of herself in one giant mirror.

This spiraling laughter of the trio, coupled with the lone North wind veering round and round the great mirrors which catch on reflection fading flickers of dazzling Golden sunlight and the women's salamander-red saffron robes. The dark emerald greenness of the grove contrasting with the scarlet stirs violent emotions; an evil sad as purple twilight vibrates through me. And in the mirror closest to Bronwyn, I see her smiling at herself, and then, upon monitoring the intrusion of my gaze, mockingly at me.

We are on the island of Skorpios twenty miles east of the coast where, on a clear day, one has a sound view of North Africa. The coast is exquisitely dark, littered with great outcroppings of cobalt-grey rocks, and it is, regrettably, unusable except for the exploration of ancient ruins several miles inland. The discarded rocks reminded me of the ancient author who wrote in a fragment, " ... Molars of God."

At sunset these ruins are floodlit with a winding, burning, copper light and the whole scene is so filled with melancholic beauty that ache overcomes one's heart. Perhaps the wraiths of wind contribute. This lost civilization is scattered with harsh grey rocks that have been pounded, ceaselessly, by the Antwerp blue Mediterranean for a hundred millennia.

Now I sit here in the garden surrounded by mirrors and three young women, picking at an ambrosial salad of tuna-roe caviar, artichoke hearts, pine nuts, raisins, saffron, wild fennel, sprinkled in equal turn with red wine vinegar and a green-gold olive oil straight from our host Von Ruchenbach’s grove. The three sisters in the pomegranate-crimson robes are dancing round the mirrors in the wind, drinking a Mouton Cadet wine in golden chalices looking not unlike the Three of Cups card of the Tarot.

Bronwyn is humming a disturbing song -- Arian? Indo-European? -- that is wrought with minor keys. Galatea turns from her self-reflection, smiles at the eroded Baal, then whispers to herself, eyes closed, in a raspy voice a passage from the Upanishads. Her encounter with the void. I can make out something about the divergent paths of the Road of Smoke and the Road of Flame.

The wild north wind I earlier referred to is stain-scented with citrus from the thick and twisted groves of orange and lemon trees further on in the forest. Their own rotting fruits and stagnant flowers kneeling at their feet, launching oversweet fumes of mutation. The Elder Council of trees is ageless as a lizard. The soft ground is also covered in miles and miles of blooming clover and azalia: mini-phoenixes arising from the erosion of the fruits.


Part the Second: Dark Delia Revealed


Now, let me throw more light on the subject of Dark Delia, the eldest of the three biological sisters. Several months ago on an archaeological dig in Devi-el-Kala in the Syrian Desert I met Von Ruchenbach. Von, as he is known to his intimate circle, became enamored of a shadowy but fading British stage actress: Enter Delia, stage left. Five years ago Delia was a cause celebre, supernaturally beautiful; now, five years later, she is as glorious as a fading oil painting, no longer incandescent, but able to inspire the goatish desires of The Monied at launch parties in London and Monaco and New York.

Delia kept Von at arms length, like all cosmopolitan women do -- putting off doing the deed -- enhancing Von's priapic appetite. The dream of movie stardom, now a haze on her increasingly bleak horizon, metamorphoses casually into the dream of being The Trophy Wife. Still, Von was amusée, as they say, and willing to wait as long as the chase taken provided that conquest was worth the expenditure of energy and cash.

Now Delia's great passion aside from performing Marlowe and Sheridan, was Persian antiquities. For, if I have portrayed Dark Delia as a cold-blooded vixen: Apologies; she is far too fascinating to be reduced to the Hollywood-formulaic. Rather, it would be best to imagine Delia as an exploding star.

But on to my favor for the Von. As I was the only expert in that field that Ruchenbach knew closely, the task fell on me to curry her favor with the spices of the Near East while he attended to his international business ventures, which he called "his flock," as in "the shepherd must not tarry away from his flock for too long, lest the wolves become bold." It is the charm of Middle Eastern sophisticates that they frequently allude to their postmodern ventures in decidedly ancient terms. That being said, Von financed a short expedition which in I was to play the role of part babysitter, part pimp, and part international adventurer: two of the three roles were done purely out of my fondness for the Ruchenbach.

Armand Aramis des Auberges's family migrated to the outer limits of the Rhine during the Eleventh Century after a public quarrel with the Pope. Apparently the Papacy owed the House of Auberges an impossible sum and, in return, the Pope offered a royal title in exchange for forbearance on the debt. These terms were unacceptable to His Serene Highness Prince Antonius Zuylen Von Auberges, who proceeded to vivisect the Pope in front of His Council of Cardinals with regard to the Holy See's breaches of Heraldic behavior.

A ghastly dispute ensued in which the Princes of Europe allied their shadowy mass with the nether astral lights naturally surrounding the Papacy. This tragicomic operetta concludes with the House of Auberges broken, but not bereft; reconstituting itself, carefully, under the Watchful All-Seeing Eye of The Knights of Malta ("Whose power grows Stronger and Stronger/ Their reign lasting Longer and Longer!") -- who brokered the rapprochement under studied diplomatic agreements as well as a hundred bows and curtsies. Bear in mind that throughout the twisting Gothic passages of the Theater of the Eleventh Century, the Pope was the biggest cock -- excuse the Medieval pun -- in the pen; and when the cock crowed, well, you know what follows.

Lurking within the higher orders of the desolate Knights of Malta were displaced royals, defrocked priests, and concentrated villainy eager to cultivate friendship with a noble house on the decline, reigniting the possibility, through the fullness of Time, of rising again, bearing on its back during the ascent -- like a virus, like a parasite -- all of the secrets, mysteries, and corruptions attendant to man's ascent from Reptile to Neolith to Machiavel to full grown goatish Black Magician. No Glory and no Fortune was ever generated without the pawprints of The Prince of Evil affixed.

Somewhere, in Archduke A's own library, lies the murky reason as to why the Knights of Malta -- heretofore allied with exclusively with the Apostolic See-- would help in the construction of Archduke's ancestral castle on the outskirts of the Black Forest in Outer Europe.

But that is another adventure altogether. After liberating -- through not quite Holy Sacrosanct means -- this sacred and neglected tome on Medieval
Daemonlogie written by an apostate Monk named Angus Lenoid Climactus, I spirited myself to Vienna to find ruins mentioned cryptically in one of his passages.


Part the Third: Kaleidoscopes in Winter


And so, Midway through life’s journey I find myself at the Heiligenkreuz Monastery deep in the Vienna woods. Heiligenkreuz is a reconstructed Benedictine Abbey founded in 1135 that reveals itself layer by layer, slowly, to the jaded, impatient eye at a strolls pace. It has endured for nearly a thousand such strolls through the golden grounds of our solar calendar.

Heiligenkreuz dominates a network of rambling pine forest and medieval ruins. There is a feeling of indescribable loss -- of spent fertility -- not unlike the feeling suggested by a faded oil painting, or a peeling fresco: the dying evening light of an Old Master nobly fighting off the onset of darkness. Summer’s End; dusted gold: chiaroscuro.

A point worth noting: Heiligenkreuz belongs to a rouee name Baron Von Ruchenbach, it is his ancestral castle.


Part the Fourth: The Castle Interior: In which the plot picks up speed.


Reader: Stroll with me for a while among the interior castle courtyard. Before we go further, though, note the striking contrasts of nature and ancient art arranged by Ruchenbach to create just such a mood.

On a cold, snowy evening after a morning of heli-skiing, the Baron and I walk past stone cupids smiling mysteriously. Bronze Psyches spring from the barren landscape, iron Bacchantes cavort, and, in the distance, crouching sandstone griffins. I spot a heralding angel made of lead, dimly, as though through a thick fog, blasting a trumpet that he holds aloft.

Kaleidoscopes hang from trees. The rhythmic arcade appears lovely through shafts of colored light on the snow beneath us -- here, a pool of wine yellow light; there, a soft pale lilac; now, a sharp lime green; finally, a smoky blue pearl.

It is November. The snowflakes weave choral patterns in space. The kaleidoscopic lights create a symphonic mood. “Lovely, isn’t it,” says Von Ruchenbach, serenely, like a man who has attained detachment from the bonds of worldly sense perception. He rapidly picks up speed.

“Indeed,” I reply. Just then, a curious sound. A single crisp note from a Viola da Gamba tuning in the other room echoes, filling the halls, then dissipating. “D Major,” I register to myself, picking up the pace.

We are inside the castle walls. Presently, Ruchenbach and I are inside the castle alternating an Armagnac with a Chiroubles Paul Beaudet '83, while I gently coerce him to let slip that a lost manuscript by an unknown medieval daemonologist -- a clue to solving the Great Work of my life -- lays secreted in the monastery library. I intone the name of the text nonchalantly: he doesn’t catch it; I slyly repeat the name a second time, he asks me once again, and – finally – on the third go, he understands. His exact words of response: “Of course that book is in my possession.”

The castle itself displays rich architectural decorations: pillars that have splendidly ornamental capitals, portal frames, free-standing flights of stairs, and magnificent window arcades. The floor and walls are made of marble, pieced together in a square pattern like a chessboard with scarlet and opaque white stones. In that room, the chairs are upholstered in a rich green brocade. Oil paintings framed in gold of ancient relations in historical order, receding into the Dark Ages, gaze inquisitively. As I walk through the halls with Von Ruchenbach, my eyes follow the various paintings that run down the wall. One gaze in particular seems to implore me to turn back.

The stairs end at a low tunnel, along which the Baron hurries on towards a distant wobbling flame. Absorbing the darkness, the flame emits a dry, low roar. I follow. A few more haphazard notes fly from a Viola da Gamba tuning in another room, flying through the tunnel – G, C Sharp, and a triumphant, vibrating A.

Emerging from the tunnel I find myself in a vaulted cellar lit by the flares from two wrought-iron torches bolted to the walls. The cellar smells of hickory and Armagnac. The walls are lines with casks.

Ruchenbach’s wife, Tilotny, the mistress of the house, all dark smiling eyes and lithe, spiral movements, comes down the stairs to greet me. The trains of her dress create a charming effect as they fall in beautiful drapes across her stead. At the top of the stairs, Monsieur le Baron’s progeny observe me quietly: twins, one boy and one girl; both of them are wearing William Kent style feathered masks.

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