The First Quest – A Last Request Part 3
Night found him alone,
the man and the walking stick,
both held their counsel.
Shadows draped the room, pooling around the walking stick that leaned against the wall. Eyeless it watched and waited. Henneth sat across from it, fingers drumming on the table. Snores disturbed the quiet and then faded out as beds creaked–his son and nephew, both sleeping off overindulgence.
Her much-missed voice lingered on the wind, breathing her last request, while her body lay wrapped in linen ready for that last goodbye. Moonglow falling through the bedroom window gleamed on the wrappings that hid her face. Her soul had already bid adieu that morning.
Go, go, go…sighed the wind rustling the branches that cradled his dwelling. Go where? Do what? No, he belonged here with grown children who didn’t need him anymore. Night reached chill fingers into the room through windows left open to allow death to exit. No one wanted that dark specter to tarry. He pulled the afghan his wife had crocheted more tightly around him as night crawled on its starry belly across the sky.
No one sat vigil anymore; the young couldn’t be bothered to sit with the dead and those grieving. They had gone with the sun, setting in their treehouses surrounded by the living while he sat here keeping watch under the glow of a single lumir globe.
Go, go, go…creaked the bed in the next room. He leaned his head against the chair back, eyes unfocusing as the yellow globe glowing above swung on its chain, batted about by a playful wind.
~ ~ ~
Morning broke ice-rimmed
on a grim-faced procession–
last march of the dead.
His sons carried the bier decked out in woven deadfall and spring’s first flowers–the crocus and the snowdrop. Under the sleeping boughs of the Enchanted Forest’s giants, they wound passing under homes perched in those trees, collecting mourners as they went. Children watched from platforms and rope bridges that connected homes high above.
Carried in its flow, Henneth slogged through the dusting of snow that had fallen in the night. He picked his way over exposed roots as large his thigh and leaned on the walking stick. Each step raised its consternation at the route. The wood throbbed with unsaid words–not this way. Yes this way, not that he said such insanity aloud. He refused to argue with a piece of dead wood.
From earth to our birth–
lives lived ‘neath enchanted oak–
in death back to earth.
Mist rose curling around boles of trees that towered hundreds of feet above his head. It raised a filmy curtain blurring the other mourners. Light, pure and white, blossomed to his left. Turning, Henneth blinked as the sleeping giants shuffled on their roots to either side forming a pathway to the Queen of All Trees.
Magic played over her bark, skipping in bright circles, swooping in gleaming swirls down a thousand feet of tree. She stood on a hillside, her roots sliding like silvery snakes over each other in a restless train. curving upwards, her branches supported a constellation of twinkling leaves that rivaled the night sky. She regarded him with her eyeless stare. One massive branch extended, its tip making a come hither gesture.
The procession continued towards the grove where the vampirous Trees of Memory stood waiting to suck up Seprah’s memories and add them to their collective store. Why must his wife’s last blood go to water those trees?
Henneth opened his mouth to protest but the Queen of All Trees wrapped her power around him and an invisible gap slipped into place. His right foot slid forward of its own volition. Perhaps she drove his body; perhaps curiosity did.
The Queen of All Trees was a candle in the dark, one never blown out by winds of disbelief nor displaced by generations of Shayarins who thought her a myth. His feet carried him towards her. Wonder woke in him, sparking a fire in his heart, kindled by the miracle of such a being taking an interest in him.
An ill wind ruffled her branches, stirred the magic in her setting off a kaleidoscopic strobing along her trunk. The air bit with unseasonable ferocity and it stank of metal. All the trees in between him and the Queen of All Trees stirred, their branches whipping. His steps faltered as her influence dropped away, releasing him. Trees closed in narrowing and then hiding the path that led to her. In moments she had gone and so had the procession; the latter swallowed by thickening fog.
Gone in an eye blink
Queen of All Trees, light’s mistress
hidden behind trees
Henneth stood there for a long moment. Seprah’s last request echoed in his heart. The walking stick remained quiescent and solid in his grip. His eyes rested on the oak that blocked sight of where the Queen of All Trees had stood, a mile distant. Her presence had been a gift, one that turned his steps to undertake one last duty for the dead. Then, yes, he would go as his deceased wife had bid–go and see what lay beyond this valley.
Perhaps his path and the Queen of All Trees would cross again at closer range. Perhaps, after all Shayari had uncounted miles of Enchanted Forest for her to roam. With a whispered thanks, he bent against the wind, angling his body to protect the fragile flame of wonder burning in his heart.
To be continued…
Part of (Re) Quest*
*A retelling of Quest