Happy Friday! For today’s rather weird post, I used a random word generator to source the following words:
fur :: arch :: frost :: migraine :: search
Read on to find out what I made of them, and happy weekend…
The Elder Grove
Word came with the first frost. She was dying: this time, they were certain. We made ready to leave, packing our things in haste.
‘Do not fret,’ said my man. ‘If all goes as I hope, we will not be leaving the House this time. You will have opportunity to purchase what you need, and more.’
So, we travelled light. Within a day and night, our journey was done. Torches burned around the walls, either to welcome us or to warn that there was strength within, still.
We dipped our heads beneath the low arch as we crossed onto her property, as customary. Despite myself, I admired the woman who made the entrance to her home such that none could enter without bowing. When this place became mine – as, in time, it would – I resolved to keep this gateway. The rest could burn.
At her bedside, shadows kept watch. Her breaths were short and wet, and her eyes sealed shut.
‘Mother,’ said my man. ‘We are here.’
I knelt at her feet. It is easy to show deference, when one has need.
‘Mother,’ I said, though she was nothing of the sort, to me. ‘Greetings.’
‘And so the vultures gather before the meat is even cold,’ she said, her voice like a corpse being dragged over gravel. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought she was trying to laugh. ‘Have you mounted a search of my person yet? My rooms? Should I draw you a map, perhaps, to the choicest baubles?’
‘Mother, please.’ My man folded his hands around one of hers, but she ripped it free. ‘We are here to pay our respectful homage. To bid you farewell, if necessary.’
‘You will bid farewell, certainly. But not to me,’ she said, and died.
We buried her in the grounds of what had been her home. Snow settled on our hair as we bent our heads, and our blood ran cold as hers as we waited for them to pack down the soil. We retired to our chamber as soon as was decent, where fire and food awaited us. I locked and unlocked with keys that had been hers, like a fool. I spoke of destruction and rebuilding in my own image. We laughed, my man and I, and drank to a new beginning and a glorious end.
An ache – a migraine, but worse – started to throb behind my left eye as I settled myself at his side late that night, like a spear thrust through my skull. I closed my eyes and hoped my pain would lift and let me rest, for it had been a trying day. In time, it did. But I should have known it for what it was.
In the morning, the bed was empty beside me.
The servants did not know, or could not say, where my man was. Eventually, I begged them to help, and one girl – they were all girls, though I did not understand the importance of this, not then – told me to check the elder grove.
‘By the lake, ma’am,’ she said, barely whispering. ‘That’s where they all end up, eventually.’
Halfway there, I found my man’s fur – a wolf he’d stalked and slaughtered single-handedly, barely out of childhood. He would, I knew, sooner die than part with it.
My steps faltered, but I carried on, the fur clutched close.
The grove was thick with trees, tall, naked of leaves, sturdy-trunked. Each tree bore many branches, and on each branch was a man. Some – like mine – were recognisable; others mere scraps of fabric and bone. Tree and flesh were one, each growing into the other as though nature had fashioned them thus. The elder grove. The grove of the Elders.
My head burst with pain, and I fell to my knees. My man’s fur never left my hand for a moment, but my senses scattered. When I woke, I made my way back to the House silently, and the women received me without a word.
In time, I gave birth to a son my man would never see. I found myself raising him at a distance, with the whip, just as my man had been raised, and as for the House? Not a brick, nor a mote of dust, was altered. If the idea ever crossed my mind, the pain which gripped me left me comatose for days on end, and I soon learned to modulate my thinking.
Over the years, the faces of the servant girls all grew to look the same. We labour together, my women and I, to keep the House safe.
The first frost has fallen, and I feel the cold hand of death upon me. My son and his woman are almost here. I will not warn him about the Elder Grove, even though the memory of his father’s fate pains me, alone, in the dark.
I will not warn him, for the House must survive. If I fail in my duty, I know it will find a way, and it may not be as merciful as I.