The Marriage of Hilpa, part two

While Dan is away celebrating the holidays, I’ll type in the ending of “The Marriage of Hilpa.” Part one may be found here. The story comes from an old, old volume of astrological lore that I have in my possession. — Isaac Bickerstaff

The boy-twin ran off to the great City, and presented the letter to Mishpach. Mishpach dictated this reply to his scribe: “To the great Hilpa, Mistress of the Valleys [etc.], Greetings. I, Mishpach, shall wait upon you at the eastern edge of your realm, on the road that leads to the great City, on the fourth day of Solmanthur [for they used the old Northern names for the months], at noontime.” And Mishpach applied his seal to the sheet of parchment, and sent the boy back with his reply to Hilpa.

The girl-twin ran up the mountain path to the mountaintop aeryie of Shalum, and presented the letter to him. Shalum wrote out this reply to Hilpa: “To the great Hilpa, Mistress of the Valleys [etc.], Greetings. I, Shalum, shall wait upon you at the western edge of your realm, on the path that leads to the top of Mount Tizrah, on the fourth day of Solmanthur, at noontime.” And Shalum applied his seal to the sheet of parchment, and sent the girl back with his reply to Hilpa.

The two twins arrived at the sacred grove, where Hilpa awaited them, at exactly the same moment. As twins will sometimes do, they fell into step with one another, and with identical motions handed their respective parchment sheets to Hilpa.

Hilpa read first one, then the other of the replies. Her face grew stern, and then her anger burst out like a sudden violent thunderstorm. She uttered terrible imprecations against these fickle men who would ignore the dates and places she had assigned them to meet her; but in the end, there was nothing for it but to acknowledge the dilemma she faced.

Now it so happened that one of her retinue was a woman who looked so much like Hilpa that many could not tell them apart. This woman, named Goab, agreed to impersonate Hilpa, and when the fourth day of Solmanthur drew near, Hilpa and Goab cast lots, with the result that Hilpa went west to meet with Shalum, and Goab went east to meet with Mishpach. Hilpa took the boy-twin with her, and Goab took the girl-twin to accompany her.

When Goab and the boy arrived at the appointed meeting place, Mishpach was already there. Goab presented herself to him, and it was obvious to all present that each found the other attractive. But Mishpach whirled and pointed his finger in the girl-twin’s face, saying, Is this Hilpa? Surprised, the girl-twin shook his head, saying, No, her hame is Goab. Satisfied, Mishpach nodded, and said, This is what my astrologers told me, that she would attempt to deceive me. And he turned to Goab and said, You may either choose to be beheaded, or to accompany me to the great City and be my slave; my astrologers tell me there is no other choice for you. But the girl-twin, with great presence of mind, grabbed her hand and pulled her away, and they both ran to safety within the bounds of Hilpa’s realm.

When Hilpa and the boy arrived at the appointed meeting place for Shalum, he was already there. Shalum uttered this speech: The mountains in my realm are rich with cedar-tree and oak; the food is good and plentiful; the cool mountain air calms the soul; won’t you come with me and reign as my equal at the top of Mount Tizrah? But Hilpa spurned his offer, called him terrible names, turned on her heel, and returned to her realm.

When Hilpa got back to the sacred grove, she found Goab there. Goab told her tale, and Hilpa saw that her subterfuge was uncovered. Just then, a messenger from the east came, saying that Mishpach was massing his armies along the border. And another messenger came saying that Shalum was gathering his troops. Hilpa called her astrologers, who told her that all was lost; there was only hope if she would abdicate and leave the realm. So Hilpa left in the dark of night, never to be seen again in the Valleys. It was said that Mishpach’s armies caught her as she tried to escape, killed her and cut out her heart, and sent the heart to Shalum. Whether this be true or not, it is only certain that both Mishpach and Shalum withdrew their armies after Hilpa’s departure, and the three realms were ever after at peace with one another.

Once Hilpa was gone, the people gathered at the sacred grove. Hilpa had appointed no girl to be her heir. By common acclamation, the girl-twin was chosen to be the new ruler, for she had told the truth and had shown great presence of mind in fleeing with Goab, thus saving her life.

Of this strange tale, there is little that can be said, except that it must be true. For if it were a fable, there would be a clear moral to draw, and there is none. And if it were a tale to teach us morality, again there would be a clear lesson to be drawn from it, but there is no lesson. It is only true stories from which no particular moral or morality can be drawn, except whatever the author imposes upon them. As an astrologer, I look at the stars to find connections between earthly events, and the movement of the stars; but the stars reveal no particular symmetry, offer no moral guidance; they simply exist, and we observe them. — I. B.