Theatre of Hades - The Palace of the Ice Czar
Coffee House and Quarter Machines Episode
The Palace of the Ice Czar
That day's art class was forgettable. Drawing fruit with colored pencils, one of those stupid projects that some group of educators felt teenagers needed to know. Chloe Ingram scratched away at the thick white paper in front of her without effort, without care, just enough for a passing grade. She went through the tedious ritual of chatting with a few classmates about music videos. They were boring to be certain, but any time Chloe had attempted to be hip or funny her friends with varying degrees of maliciousness told her this was not the case.
She was treated like a nine year old for her consistent references to Looney Tunes cartoons. But her fascination in no way seemed childish. You remembered how Elmer Fudd whispered “Be vewy quiet, I'm hunting wabbits.” It seemed pretty groovy to have something stay with you like that even if you didn't understand why. But her friends didn't really care about these things.
She was on the cheer leading squad, with her friends having sex on the brains all the time. Chloe lived in a rather rural area without much by way of after school activities. Being on the cheer leading squad generally meant getting any boy you wanted. Not so much for Chloe. She had the body of a cheer leader to be certain, but she was cut down so often an aura of frigidity surrounded her.
Even the vultures that love a hot girl with low self esteem seemed to back away—besides Chloe spotted their type instantly when they couldn't say much more than, “That's really interesting”, “I love you”, and “Let's make out.” Wrapped in such an environment she had dreams of moving to the city or anywhere else but her high school.
“No one really listens to me,” she'd often write on a stray piece of paper, with pretensions of writing a diary while at the same time feeling there'd be nothing to put in it. It suddenly struck her as strange that she felt compelled to speak, compelled to be funny even though no one cared. She couldn't really understand why. But something had to change, so she simply stopped talking.
It took her friends at least a day to notice. They didn't really want to hear anything she said, but when she stopped saying it something peculiar happened. The squad had an obvious leader—Julie, long blond hair, hour glass figure, huge breasts that were inversely proportional to the size of her brain. But after that the pecking order was always up for grabs. Who would rise to second was always an unspoken question, though every girl knew she stood above Chloe, least of the cheerleaders.
She often wondered why she'd stayed on the squad. But she really liked the rhythm to the whole thing, the fluid motion when the squad was in sync. She failed to understand its more obvious purpose which was sexual fantasy. She knew about it, she just didn't get it. She didn't like to think of herself as just a body.
In any case, usually sometime during the week Chloe would make some awkward remark that would let one of the other girls make a point of being above Chloe, even though they never made it above Julie. Now that remark wouldn't come. The girls would make up for it by cutting into her for a while, but she just stopped responding. She did all her activities with precision but she didn't say anything.
“What,” asked squad member Martha, “are you giving us the silent treatment?”
Chloe just looked up and stared at her. It wasn't a malicious stare. But Martha couldn't help but look at it as though she'd been called a vapid whore. “Fine, no body gives a shit about what you think anyway.”
Chloe grinned. She'd angered Martha with her expression. She'd never been able to say anything to get back at one of her so called friends, but if her facial expressions worked she was all for it.
“What's so funny?” Martha demanded.
Chloe burst in laughter. For years she'd been a punching bag, she finally had the wisdom to step back, and watch another girl flail her arms at nothing.
“I said what's so funny bitch?”
Chloe just turned her back on her, and now suddenly, Martha was on bottom.
“I can get you kicked off the squad and don't you forget it!” That seemed to return the pecking order back to its normal place. Chloe supposed maybe she just wouldn't have anyone to talk to. It was not a happy prospect for her. She wanted to share herself with others. But if no one cared, why keep talking? Something had to change. Chloe just didn't know what.
She decided to go home alone today. If she wasn't going to talk she didn't really feel like going to practice. She went, dejected to her television, and watched from after school until bed. After three days of this behavior so got her so bored she couldn't stand it. Television was other people's lives, and she grew sick of not having her own.
She took a kitchen knife and slowly carved blood out of her palm. It was nice to feel the pain and see herself bleed. She didn't want to do it again—the implications in the act were a bit horrifying, but it did give her the feeling that things could be different. She could cut herself, if she wanted to.
It generally didn't take too long before word came regarding a new student. This was especially the case with Winter Di Bacco. Never one to wear jeans, she dressed in scarlet reds and pale pinks of a wild gypsy, which wasn't so different from her personality. She went around taking student's palms and claiming to read fortunes. She didn't seem to flinch when she was accused of being a witch and devil worshiper. This couldn't help but draw Chloe's attention, and she started eyeing Winter. Winter, however, was not the kind of girl you watched. If her eyes met with yours she came over for a visit.
"What is the cause of your bandage?" she asked, pointing to Chloe's hand.
"I'm learning to cook. I had an accident."
"May I look," Winter stated, not asked. This was Winter's characteristic manner. She asked you for strange things and before you could give a polite reason to say no you'd already agreed. By now Winter had flipped Chloe's hand over, looking closer at the bandage hidden on her palm. Winter read palms—she had to know the wound was self inflicted. However, she ran her finger down a line in her hand uncut.
"This is an interesting love line. You haven't had many boyfriends have you?"
"Um... no." Chloe's face turned red. It was a strange sort of embarassment. All the other girls on the cheerleading squad made no end of her sexual incompetence, but Winter was only stating a fact. No she was stating a curiosity. Winter was trying to figure out who Chloe was.
The situation was quite uncomfortable. Chloe was self conscious—her social circle pretty much insured it. But Winter wasn't prying into her life to make fun of her. That was something she was used to. Winter had some mysterious purpose, benevolent but abnormal. Whatever it was Chloe could tell it didn't bother Winter that no one understood but her.
"What's interesting about my love line?" Chloe begged defensively.
"It starts off like you'll never have any romantic relationships ever. Then guys will be flinging themselves on you."
"Really?" Chloe responded. Her day brightened. She was later to learn Winter would have many one on one consultations this way. Winter was freaky but if she really could see your future, then...
"Oh yes. Love can be quite unpredictable."
“But what could cause she an extreme change of fortune.”
“It might take a few readings to puzzle that out.”
“But surely you have some idea, don't you? You've known somebody who has experienced such a change.”
“There is a thing. I have never seen it before but it is, well, well knownst among my family. Sometimes a woman comes into her power. But...” Winter hesitated.
“Don't just be one of those fortune tellers that tell people only what they want to hear. Tell the truth.”
“Yes, yes, tell the truth.” Winter looked into her eyes. “Such a thing is rare. I would only put a certain amount of hope in it, but there is a relative of mine, from the old world that they say came into her power. She had seventeen child.”
“Well, she gave birth twelve times. Three sets of twins a one triplets.”
“How did she manage it?”
“She came into her power. Not all her children survived past infancy, but she had no miscarriages.”
“Yes. You... need time I think. Why don't you come back to me when your hand is better?” The comment was soothing and exciting. Soothing because Winter had told her, gently, that she knew Chloe was not well. Exciting, because she was certain Winter was right. Maybe not about the whole “coming into her power” stuff, but that she'd be tossing off the boys.
She was horny as hell and enjoyed the prospects. She rushed home and imagined men in her future. Not boys—men. She imagined this 6'5, 250 lb all muscle, leather jacketed guy would just look over her body and throw her down on her bed. He'd see her, and take her without question.
"Hey Winter!" Chloe yelled, flagging her down at the bus stop.
"Your hand is better. And you look my in the eye."
"Could I talk to you?"
"I need to go home. We can ride the same bus if you can get back to your house on your own."
"Oh. So your parents couldn't take me home."
"No. It's against their rules."
"I come from long line of fortune tellers. They say that the one who wants inside a fortune tellers home is to be feared."
"Well then we don't have to go to your home. I just want to talk."
"The one who just wants to talk is another story. Do you want me to read your palm again? I have other ways. Cards, dice, tea leaves, smoke glass crystal..."
"No I don't need my fortune read. I want to talk."
"The talker bad for business but good for the heart. I just move here. Already everyone is afraid. This is nothing new. They shun the fortune teller during the day only to seek her out at night. But sometimes one gets lonely."
"So you're used to people being afraid of you?"
"It's life," Winter responded, getting onto her bus. Somewhere in the middle had already been designated for her, so that no one would have to awkwardly deny her a seat. Chloe sat down with her.
"So what is it that you want to know, Chloe?" Winter asked.
"Want to know? Well I didn't have anything in specific."
"You want to talk to me without asking questions?"
"I guess that doesn't happen to you much."
"You're so confident. I'm certain your prediction is correct but...”
Winter eyed her curiously.
“It's because I'm going to make it happen.”
"Some people make their own futures. They don't really need us fortune tellers. You know what we call them?"
"What is word? Not customers."
"What do you like to do when you're not telling fortunes?"
"I practice. I've a long story to tell when I am sixteen. It's a duty of all Di Bacco's."
"Just how far back does fortune telling go back in your family?"
"I don't know. My grandmother gave me my first cards--tarot--when I was three. I'm to be a fortune teller all my life."
"That doesn't bother you, that you're forced to be a fortune teller, that you couldn't be something else if you wanted to?"
"Forced?" Winter looked up at her in confusion. "I am a fortune teller. How could I be forced to be one? You either tell fortunes or you don't. If your blood has a responsibility than that's who you are. I am a Di Bacco for this generation."
"Di Bacco for this generation? What are you talking about?"
"Di Bacco's are charged with finding people who need to know the story our family has to tell. That is our blood."
"The palace of the Ice Czar."
"Lately I have been thinking not."
"Not Russian? What the hell is it about you? You sound like you're from Eastern Europe but your name sounds Italian."
"My family has lived in the states forty years, but my family holds to tradition. They like a fortune teller sound like she come from far away even if parents are both citizens. My grandmother speak Magyar fluently."
"Oh, what Americans call Hungarian. Our line of Di Baccos lived in Hungary, but it got too dangerous."
"You Americans know no history. World Wars? Soviet Republic?"
"I know about the World Wars and the USSR."
"Hungary on wrong side of three wars. Side with Germans in both World Wars, side with Russia in Cold War."
"Sounds like you had a lot of people to warn."
"Yes. We offer our tale of woe to many people. Bad luck is a gift and curse for fortune tellers. The people are afraid so they want the fortune teller to know fortune. But when fortune bad they blame the teller. But business so good for the Di Bacco's that we could buy safety in America. And America really needs Di Bacco's."
"I bet. But how did you come by the Italian name?"
"The Di Bacco family goes very far back."
"How far back?"
"I get to know when I can recite the palace of the Ice Czar word for word. I want to know, so I practice. But I ask a lot of questions and they tell me this. They tell me humans live at one point in special paradise. But they lose this paradise--forever. Twelve people are charged by the gods to tell the story of the fall. One of my ancestors was part of that twelve. So that means I am one of those twelve. I must tell the story and keep Di Bacco's alive to tell the story. Family legend is one of the grandmothers swindled an Italian banker who owned a vineyard. Di Bacco, of Bacchus, the god of wine. She was the one with 17 children."
"I still don't believe."
"Yes, she was an--what did that guy call her? An uber-mom. She gave birth 12 times, She must have been there to keep our line going. Needless to say, Di Bacco women never change their names when they get married. They insist on it."
"So what is this story that's so important?"
"The say there was a time on earth when there was no ice, except in a special lake. This lake they called Nifelheim. It was water, but if you carried the water north it would turn to ice. Moving it was like moving regular water, so it could be transported over long distances. You didn't have to build your palace next to a quarry, and if you wanted to make it grander all you have to do was haul this water to make a palace bigger or chisel away to hollow it out or making splendourous ice sculptures.
"The story says Czar, but I think this story is from before Russia. Back in those days in the north, when you added to your empire you added to your palace. One ruthless czar insisted that it was the duty of all his line to add to his ice palace, which of course meant endless conquering.
"But if you're to endlessly conquer you always have to have better weapons than your opponent, and better weapons come from better knowledge. So the Czar sent for scribes from all over the land. Vikings, Mongols, Arabs, Turks, Persians. Romans. One of those scribes was one of the twelve. He knew about the lost paradise, but he was tricky. He knew the Czar would never listen to him if what he said would hurt his pride. So instead he asked to investigate Nifelheim to invent a faster way to move the water. The scribe did many things. He threw stones tied to sticks to test its depths. He threw ice blocks into forges. He scouted the land to find why no river ever run into Nifelheim.
"The situation was as he expected. Lake Nifelheim was connected to the underworld. Nifelheim, the Viking underworld from which all cold comes from. It puzzled him that the water should freeze when removed from Lake Nifelheim, rather than the other way around. It was a riddle. The scribe knew he could never get the Czar to accept this riddle if presented rationally. Moreover, the czar had surrounded himself with so many scribes it seemed impossible to get an audience.
"The choice amongst the Czar's scribes knew one thing. You told the Czar if a new technology was possible or impossible. You never suggested it be unwise. But that was exactly what the Czar needed to know. There are many stories to remember about how he preceded. But they all agree that the scribe married a fortune teller of some reknown. The Di Bacco's call the scribe Father and the fortune teller Mother. By wit and wile their line managed to stay in the court of the Czar's lineage. Each new Czar began a new war after inheriting the throne.
"In conquering both cunning and fortune were involved. When the wars went well the Czar's consulted the scribes. When the wars went poorly, the Czars consulted the fortune tellers.
"On the eve of a great battle one of Mother's fortune tellers told the Czar about the war, 'You are poised to crush your enemy, but if you do, the waters of Lake Nifelheim will dry up.' He did not understand what this meant and continued to wage war. A counter offensive drove the Czar's army to the waters of Nifelheim. There was a terrible battle after which the Czar's enemy was routed. They fled for their lives and the empire gobbled up territory after territory. But the stench of the corpses led the locals to throw the dead into the lake."
"And that really threw off the underworld didn't it?" Chloe replied.
"Yes. Nifelheim was the source of cold. So when all the souls were tossed in it, they built fires to keep themselves warm. So many had died that these fires began to melt the ice of Nifelheim. Not completely of course, it was a realm of eternal cold. But just enough that the Ice Palace of the Czar began to slacken. It had grown to such great heights and had never been built under the consideration that the ice might melt.
"The Ice Palace fell on the Czar and all his scribes. When the conquered peoples under the Czar's rule saw no one on the throne, they took back their kingdoms by force. The sons and daughters of Mother and Father went south looking for a land without war, but despairing that, vowed to keep alive the tradition Father had come from. But the story Father told so strikingly resembled the story of the Ice Czars that eventually they became one and the same."
"Do you think that story is true? That you descend from a group of pre-historic prophets? How do you know this isn't just a fast one pulled by some crazy great great grandfather?"
"Hmm... we fortune tellers do pull theatrics from time to time. But it doesn't really matter if the story is true."
"What? How can you say that?"
"It's an omen. Omens can come from cards, from palms, from weird weather--it doesn't really matter the form. I have fortunes to tell for the many, and an omen to give to a few."
"I just don't understand how you can be so convinced. So certain."
"I don't know what you mean. Fortune tellers are never certain."
"I mean don't you have nagging doubts? You don't wonder if its all made up? You don't wonder that if you'd been born to a different family in a different time and place that you wouldn't grow up to be something other than a fortune teller?"
"But how does one get born into another family? This is a strange question you ask."
"Don't you ever wonder about who you are, really?"
"What do you mean? I'm Winter Di Bacco. Are you..."
"There is special term for this I think."
"Lost soul? No, that is not right. Lost soul means crazy. There is special relationship between fortune tellers and some people. I remember my mom speaking about this a number of years ago. I'm still a young fortune teller, but I think you may be it, this thing I've heard of. Lost to the Fortune?"
"Lost to the Fortune?"
"That's when someone who has previously needed a fortune teller will never need one again. When they realize for the first time that their future is in their hands."
Chloe sat in a long silence. Winter did not seem to be the least bit uncomfortable about that, so very unlike the girls she'd just dismissed. She looked over at Winter, "You know I wanted to talk to you but I hadn't any thought of asking you to tell me my fortune."
"Yes. You're lost to the fortune! I remember better know what my mom was saying. What were her exact words? 'Someone lost to the fortune will never become a customer. Period. Sometimes, though, they will seek you out not as a customer, but as a friend.' Amazing! So what do you do now that you make your own fortune?"
"I've been trying to decide. I guess that's why I wanted to talk to you. Not for you to tell me what to do. Just to find out what you do."
"Tell fortunes of course. I'm a fortune teller."
"Well of course that. But I mean you tell fortunes because it's who you are. I should do what I am, but I do not know what I am yet."
"You are Chloe Ingram."
"Yes, but I wasn't born into a family with... traditions. I'll have to start my own traditions."
"Your own traditions? Hmmm... that sounds intriguing. I want to tell you something. It's a big secret so you have to promise not to say it to any of the other kids I school."
"I can't think of anyone I'd want to tell it to."
Winter tilted her head a whispered into Chloe's ear, "I'm not a good fortune teller. I still have much to practice and I'm no good on questions about love, which happen often. I mostly get the kids to talk about me to their parents. Then those parents speak to my parents. I just, what is American phrase, 'Drum up business'."
"Oh," Chloe responded.
"Fortune telling is all in figuring out whether or not to tell the person what they want to hear. I still have much to practice."
"How do you know to choose?"
"You decide if they're foolish or wise. Everything else gets complicated."