I hope that my voice will provide you with a gateway into the forest.
Your response is welcomed.
“Writing in landscapes, landscapes write in you.”
– Joan Halifax, The Fruitful Darkness
Some Years ago, while visiting Nepal, I had the good fortune to listen to the words of a Nepalese Archeologist. We were standing in front of an excavation in Lumbini, said to be the birthplace of Buddha. There the mother of Buddha was said to have given birth while holding onto the Sal tree. As he continued to speak, he referenced several other trees in the story of Buddha, and then paused to make an aside:
“It makes you wonder, really, if this is not actually all about the trees.”
He laughed and continued his discourse, but the words stayed with me as softly spoken ideas sometimes do. I remembered the impact of trees in my life and the subtle flavor of places, of landscapes that have moved me. Today, I have given a certain credence to this sensation and have concluded that whether it is a lower brain response to a safe and healthy landscape, or a higher brain desire for beauty, trees do hold a significant place in my relation to earth.
The expression of such things is understandably elusive. All aspects of our interconectedness can seem a challenge, at times, to express. We recognize them in flashes in our consciousness and then turn away to resume what we believe to be the important work of our lives. I have often felt helpless to express such thoughts on the world I have witnessed, in Europe, North America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Sometimes the human pain I saw, due to economic imbalances, or the compassionate sorrow that twisted my gut, when disrupted landscapes destroyed or displaced plants and animals, became unbearable.
I would try to speak of my experiences with friends and acquaintances, but such topics seem to slide away from peoples interest focus. Their eyes typically glaze and they make a perfunctory remark, returning to the issues they know, relegating your experience to some other world beyond their ken.
This apparent disinterest was a tipping point for me, one day. I identified with a world much larger than the one my associates knew. I also felt compassion, hope, and fear for that world. I began to wake in the night, while living in Africa, and tell myself fictional stories of people who saw and solved the worlds issues. I set aside two decades of filtered ramblings in a journal and opened up into poetry, fantasy, and science fiction. It was personal and it was private. It was also a healing place. This is what I hope to share in these pages.
Fallen Leaves, Fallen Trees
Words fall away from my mind in orange and yellow They litter the ground, leaving me silent The flavor of it sits in my mouth Bitter or sweet A nameless perfume rife with memory
I am at last Finally, That Tree Tall, still, I brace the landscape My leaves fallen about me as past glories to dissolve Food for saplings
I am that tree Shading the heads of pilgrims I stand as safe roost for eons of flocks Soundless, I shrug a shoulder Or fan my hands
I am post and lintel Cup, bowl, canoe I am fire hardened spear and arrow; slit for the stone Cradle, coffin, crucifix I take the hangman’s name in silence
I am that tree. Support for Maya in her birth throws Canopy for her son as he awoke Gathering place for the elders The sentinel in silence forgotten
Standing within the cycle eternal Fully aware and in silence I am falling, falling My essence dreams And wakes again
We, this people, on a small and lonely planet Traveling through casual space Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns To a destination where all signs tell us It is possible and imperative that we learn A brave and startling truth
And when we come to it To the day of peacemaking When we release our fingers From fists of hostility And allow the pure air to cool our palms
When we come to it When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate And faces sooted with scorn and scrubbed clean When battlefields and coliseum No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters Up with the bruised and bloody grass To lie in identical plots in foreign soil
When the rapacious storming of the churches The screaming racket in the temples have ceased When the pennants are waving gaily When the banners of the world tremble Stoutly in the good, clean breeze
When we come to it When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders And children dress their dolls in flags of truce When land mines of death have been removed And the aged can walk into evenings of peace When religious ritual is not perfumed By the incense of burning flesh And childhood dreams are not kicked awake By nightmares of abuse
When we come to it Then we will confess that not the Pyramids With their stones set in mysterious perfection Nor the Gardens of Babylon Hanging as eternal beauty In our collective memory Not the Grand Canyon Kindled into delicious color By Western sunsets
Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji Stretching to the Rising Sun Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor, Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores These are not the only wonders of the world
When we come to it We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace We, this people on this mote of matter In whose mouths abide cankerous words Which challenge our very existence Yet out of those same mouths Come songs of such exquisite sweetness That the heart falters in its labor And the body is quieted into awe
We, this people, on this small and drifting planet Whose hands can strike with such abandon That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness That the haughty neck is happy to bow And the proud back is glad to bend Out of such chaos, of such contradiction We learn that we are neither devils nor divines
When we come to it We, this people, on this wayward, floating body Created on this earth, of this earth Have the power to fashion for this earth A climate where every man and every woman Can live freely without sanctimonious piety Without crippling fear
When we come to it We must confess that we are the possible We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world That is when, and only when We come to it.
Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was an American poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist.
We are delighted to announce the 40 fantastic finalists from the 2019 competition, which has been an absolute treat for the judges with possibly the best entries we have ever had. The Overall Winner and Category Winners will be announced on …. 13th November 2019.
— – —
The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards, ingeniously titled to avoid any confusion, was the result of two factors: Firstly, a need for a photography competition that was light hearted, upbeat, possibly unpretentious and mainly about wildlife doing funny things. 4years on and these objectives seem to have been met. Secondly, and way more importantly, this competition is about conservation.
We tend to see Nature in a lovely pastoral landscape: pretty flowers, verdant meadows, things we might like to eat. There is the dark, the alien, the deeply frightening aspect of Nature though, and this is ours to love as well. Why do we like to shock ourselves with the dark, the surreal images? Perhaps it is the contrast which reminds us we are still alive, or more to the point, we are not yet dead.
One of the images of the Darkness is in the changing of the seasons. I see the tanning of grass, the shedding of layers of leaves, and the flocks of birds as they migrate. I remain, beneath clouds, considering the stillness and silence that has overtaken my world. Persephone has gone in to somewhere more warm, but I remain. Should I feel sorry for her?
My forest is simply waiting for snow and ice to cover its lost mantle. In this stillness I am content only for a while, but it is enough. When the cold finally drives me in, or away, I find that I have brought the silence with me.
“…one aspect of silence is emptiness, and yes, it is often lonely. In the presence of silence, the conditioned self rattles and scratches. It begins to crumble like old leaves or worn rock. If we have courage, we take silence as medicine to cure us from our social ills, the suffering of self-centered alienation. In silence, sacred silence, we stand naked like trees in winter, all our secrets visible under our skin. And like winter’s tree, we appear dead but are yet alive.”
The Fruitful Darkness, Joan Halifax
Come. Scrabble with me into this darkened place. I will keep you warm. I will keep you safe. I am not hungry at the moment, but perhaps you would like some soup?
“These Things are One. They are Unity. They are Ourselves.”
These are the words of Ramon Medina Silva: The Mara’akame of the Huichol people of Mexico. He describes seeing the world reflected in ourselves. Seeing ourselves in all things; the collective dream.
The landscapes of dream are often where my clearest images erupt; transforming, healing, and integrating what has lain on the surface of my conscious mind, too thinly scraped to call attention. This realm is a place of understanding that is so very difficult to form into words. Sometimes I wonder if the Earth may be dreaming us in her attempt to understand. May she understand.
In Joan Halifax’s book ‘The Fruitful Darkness’, she shares her own understanding of the Huichol people:
“The myth of the journey to Wirikuta is at once a sacred journey and a collective dream. The history recounts how the Ancient Ones, the gods of the Huichols, fell ill through forgetting, yet, returning to the traditional ways, were healed. The myth is also a collective dream reminding the people of the value of the continuity of traditions, particularly as they apply to place, to sacred and real locales.”
So far removed am I from my traditions in the waking world, that when they call my name in the dairy isle of the market, I hear only the blare of music and read those mythic labels with dulled uncomprehending eyes.
The wonder and the mystery are so easily lost.
So for the moment I will try to share that wonder, beneath the tree. I may be stricken, I may be wounded, but I still do dream. Small impoverished dreams perhaps, but even the smallest thing has its place in the grandeur.
Part Six: What May Enter Here
Culley sat waiting for his grandmother’s attention, cross-legged before the fire in her private rooms. He did not mind. Time between both worlds moved for Culley in a way that neither world seemed to notice. He would have been hard pressed to put it into words, had anyone asked. No one did.
He had noticed a shift in his mother after the thing that had happened to her. It was as if she were more still, rather than different. Her tone and her manor had not changed much, but the time between her words seemed to rest within a plane of its own. She now seemed, to Culley, to be nearer kin to the trees than to their surrounding human neighbors. He did not find this to be a bad thing, having been friends with the trees for a very long time, but any change in ones own mother seems to be a cause for deeper attention if only to reassess that all is still well.
Todd had become, if anything, a more vigilant and now insistent caretaker since that happening. He was soft spoken and humorous as always, but his word brooked no gainsaying when it came to the issues of safety. This had forced Todd to travel more openly in the world of man, since he would not leave Culley’s Mama to travel alone. At first Culley had been stunned to see such an unflinchingly courageous fellow change color and twitch when riding in the auto to the market, but Todd quickly adapted and even attempted to operate the hulking ancient Citroën his mother had kept from her fathers estate, long before Culley was even born. Considering the normal self-adjustment that takes place when a Citroën is ignited: a rising and shifting due to the hydro-pneumatic forces, which gives the impression of sentience, this was an act of true bravery.
Todd was only allowed to cruise the small road that bordered the fence of their road in the end. Culley’s Mama had to explain licensing requirements, and identification issues, to Todd in great detail, again and again, and how they prevented him from traveling farther afield. Todd seemed to think that there must be some sort of loophole that would allow an unremarkable fey fellow to trundle down the roads of man. She eventually came close to losing her temper.
“You are not The Doctor waving psychic paper!”
“Sorry, what Ella? Not what Doctor?”
Culley knew exactly what she meant and smiled ear to ear. Season’s 1 and 2 of Doctor Who were the only DVD’s that his mother had ever owned. The tiny flat screen TV, and the DVD player, were a gift from a college friend from long ago; before she had met Culley’s father. The entire device lived beneath a colorful Costa Rican tapestry and Todd had thought it was an art installation; so much of the house was scattered with such things. Culley took him by the hand, sat him down, pulled the cover off with a magicians flair, then plugging the device into an electrical socket. Todd was delighted.
“You have never seen a movie?”
“I had heard rumors, but who would believe such a thing existed.” Todd leaned into the picture so as to catch every word, while Culley watched him with a smile. Ella was talking softly to the groceries in the kitchen. Since she always had done this, neither of them paid much attention.
“Most of the neighbors have something like this. I think it is too noisy though.”
Todd cast him a worried glance. “Where does this man live? Is such magic common place, if so many have seen these things?”
“Only the magic of the machine. This is merely a Bard’s tale. Such magic is long gone from man’s world, if it ever were here at all.”
“But the machine itself is magic, so why not the magic it shows?”
Culley paused, feeling an unusual sense of frustration. “Todd?” He tried at last. “When you encounter a sense a magic in yourself, can you say where it grew from?”
“No, not truly. I can remember the things that led to my knowing, not the true path itself.” Todd was intensely curious about this and had pushed the system’s ‘off’ button on the block that Culley had shown him would control the television. “In other words, it seems unexplainable: true now, but hidden before,” he added.
Culley nodded, still unsure of what he would explain. “When a human understands something in mans ‘science’ or ‘magic’, and sees how it works, he might feel the same way as you; shifting from not-knowing to knowing. However, he captures each part of the process, so that he can hand it to another human. He understands the physical properties of this world so well that he can teach their use, by repeating the process in tiny events, each entirely under his control.
“So, there is no mystery?”
“There is always a mystery. In Fey the mystery is held differently. Most men fail to hear it, or smell it, because the other ways they ‘know’ are not only very loud, but considered proper. To use the methods normal to Fey is considered either weak or mad.”
Todd seemed to consider this deeply, silence resting with him for some moments, then he slide the remote over to Culley with a sheepish smile. “I believe I will help your mother prepare the dinner.”
That had been last night. Culley still felt some sense of guilt. He had destroyed Todd’s wonder with simple unadorned facts. Even now he was not completely sure that he understood the whole of it. After all, his own knowledge of science came only from books, not experience. Behind him, he heard his grandmother rustle her papers and cork her inkwell. She now cleared her throat; a long standing sign between them that he would be given attention now. Culley smiled to the fire and stood, turning to face his Queen and kin.
“Good evening Grandmother, are you well?”
“Yes, child. As well as might be at my age.” She winked at him and he smiled back, meeting her eyes for a moment. “What is it you wish to speak to me about?”
“I wonder if I might stay here in your home for some time to come?”
She crinkled her brow and spread her hands in inquiry, but held her peace.
“I have work to do of a nature that must be constantly attended to.” Culley looked down to gather his thoughts. “I believe it will benefit from the air of Fey.”
His grandmother nodded slowly and thoughtfully. “I will inform the household. Will your mother be pleased with your choice?”
Culley barely moved a shoulder in answer. “I will speak with her soon. She has always been my support.” Then he paused in a way that held his very heart in check for a moment before going on. “May you and I speak with ease in this room?”
She watched him with the same still care. “Yes.” she answered softly, none the less, and then turned to close the door. She indicated the chairs by the fire and lifted a cordial in its cut crystal decanter from the table set between, filling one glass, then after a pause, filling the other by half as well.
Culley smiled and tilted his head as he watched her. She returned the gesture as she handed him the full glass and seated herself to listen, taking a small sip. Culley also took a sip and set the glass aside as he curled his legs up onto the chair beneath him.
“Who are they Grandmother? I need to know.”
She looked seriously at him for a few moments, with a thoughtful frown. “I suppose you are planning to tell the trees?”
Culley lifted a should a fraction, in answer, as his grandfather was wont to do now and then.
Mary Oliver (the 1984 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry) wrote a poem about Stanley Kunitz (named United States Poet Laureate in 2000).
I would like to share it with you.
by Mary Oliver
I used to imagine him coming from his house, like Merlin strolling with important gestures through the garden where everything grows so thickly, where birds sing, little snakes lie on the boughs, thinking of nothing but their own good lives, where petals float upward, their colors exploding, and trees open their moist pages of thunder – it has happened every summer for years.
But now I know more about the great wheel of growth, and decay, and rebirth, and know my vision for a falsehood. Now I see him coming from the house – I see him on his knees, cutting away the diseased, the superfluous, coaxing the new, knowing that the hour of fulfillment is buried in years of patience – yet willing to labor like that on the mortal wheel.
Oh, what good it does the heart to know it isn’t magic! Like the human child I am I rush to imitate – I watch him as he bends among the leaves and vines to hook some weed or other; I think of him there raking and trimming, stirring up those sheets of fire between the smothering weights of earth, the wild and shapeless air.
Of his own work, Kunitz said:
“The poem comes in the form of a blessing—like rapture breaking on the mind.”
Kunitz was also remarkable for his courageous stance as a conscientious objector.
I read Mary Oliver’s take on him:
“Knowing that the hour of fulfillment is buried in years of patience – yet willing to labor like that on the mortal wheel.”
And I knew in that moment, that my own uncertain struggles:
attempting to understand the whole of life, and my childish practice of wishing it well,
may in time have its own fruition.
Without excuse I fell down Alice’s rabbit hole. Neither she nor her friends were there.
I was frightened.
I am not entirely sure where this all began last week, but I have a feeling that the words of Goethe were a trigger. In the title page of the book I was reading, (Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person by Mary C. Richards), were his words:
“Then only are we really thinking
when the subject on which we are thinking
can not be thought out.” Goethe
This is a wonderful description of the Zen Koan: a tool intended to bring the mind to its knees, and crack it open, changing its position of perception, its perspective. According to the Zen based teacher, Adyashanti, enlightenment is only that: a change in perspective. He explains that nothing else changes, only how you perceive the world.
I was pleased with dear Goethe, but set him aside for later.
Then I chanced to read about the author Alyc Helms, while shamelessly wandering through the Internet as I looked for possible literary agents. She caught me with a fox (and I do love the fox), by listing her literary interests as: (not in this order)
Liminality – the transitional period or phase of a rite of passage, during which the participant lacks social status or rank, remains anonymous, shows obedience and humility, and follows prescribed forms.
Critical theory fanfic – ?
Fanfic (Fan fiction) is the fractal spreading of a story as it erupts from its fans. In other words, the fans cannot get enough, so they write it themselves.
Critical Theory is “a philosophical approach to culture, and especially to literature, that seeks to confront the social, historical, and ideological forces and structures that produce and constrain it. The term is applied particularly to the work of the Frankfurt School.”
The Frankfurt School is at Goethe University.
(Ah, there is his dear name, who was he, this Goethe-name of inner sanctums, of stone foundations, and library walls?) I haphazardly went to look at the Frankfurt School and found there many names (Kant, Freud, Marx, and other well known European fathers, all vetted and true).
I was already in the rabbit hole, too far down to see the sky, as this slurry of dense information spilled down on me, slick and sweet as honey.
“I need to understand all of this!” This thought arose, even while I was convinced, at the same moment, that I would soon be overwhelmed and buried. I was so overwhelmed with the extent of my flagrant ignorance of the truth, that I turned the page and began to read immediately about Kant and Transcendental Idealism:
“The doctrine is most commonly presented as the idea that time and space are just human perceptions; they are not necessarily real concepts, just a medium through which humans internalize the universe.”
Ah! Time and space! I am simply quantumly entangled with Schrodinger’s cat, right?
(Oh god, don’t let me drown.) (Remember to not ever open the box. Remember Pandora!)
This is where it ends. I am not playing cats cradle with Indra’s Net. I am a child with a kaleidoscope who thinks she can un-fracture the world with it.
The world remains fractured.
Whatever emphatic grain has caught in my teeth, I cannot shift it, I cannot spit it out. I must soften it. I move to images made of ink, film, clay and canvas. I rest in them. I must rest.
The child’s brush is blunt; its bristles are splayed from contact with dry paint cakes.
Yellow, blue, green find the paper randomly.
More often face and arms are marked with the shaman’s magic.
The pan of water tips and shaman swims.
Swimming through the trees: great kelp forests.
Feeding on swaying kelp, sweet, salty: shaman knows an umami delight in life.
The mysteries of the forests of our world are endless. We are simultaneously drawn and repelled, I assume by the instinctual architecture of our brains; the portion that tells us to survive. One teacher addressed it as the immediate judgements that we make, before thought intervenes. We ask ourselves, at lightening speed: can I eat it, will it eat me, can I mate with it. These are the brains imperatives to keep the body going.
Our call to forest is in the verdant opportunity. It is wet, full of the possibility of food, and provides shelter. It is also dark and full of things looking for their own meal. Take your choice. No wonder it is also full of magic, how could it not be?
Once, I had the good fortune to stay at an ancient farm and hall in Derbyshire (UK): Highlow Hall, built in the 16th century on land owned by the Eyre family from about 1340-1840, just south west of the village of Hathersage. It is a notably ‘White Lady’ haunted site.
Though I was blissfuly unaware, in the three times I stayed there, of any sense of haunting, two strange occurrences remain with me. One of them was just down the road in the trees surrounding Dunge Brook. The other I will save for another time.
It was not a particular happening, but a strong experience none the less. I am very fond of trees (if you have not guessed), and had agreed to a near moonless walk in the November air with my sweetheart. We took our leave of everyone, happily, and slipped in silence down the road, past pastures of sheep and into the trees. As we walked, holding hands and barely speaking, I was filled with an uncharacteristic dread. I felt that someone was peering at us from the trees and following us.
If I had been in another location on the planet, some other forest, I would have wondered if I was being stalked by a carnivore. This not really being a possibility, any longer, in Derbyshire, I tried to ignore the persistent rising of my hackles. It was when my very solid and unflappable friend turned to me and asked:
“Do you feel like somebody is watching us?”, that I calmly nodded and pulled him with me back to hearth-light and comfort.
The sense I took away from this feeds this story. So here is the Fifth segment.
Part Five: What May Enter Here
Ella was periodically aware of the cold and of the pain in her feet, but the awareness would fade and there was the walking, or the skipping, followed by the dancing to distract her. She smiled until it hurt to smile and still her lips stretched. It pleased her to be laughed at and disturbed her that they barely touched her, even in dance. They were so radiant, so lovely, and she felt their scorn like a brand. In time she stumbled and her knees would not unbend, so she was dragged to the edge of the clearing by her arms, where she folded in on herself like a wilting flower at days end. They left her alone, but she could hear the sounds of their revels and the relentless call to return to them.
A long time passed, it seemed. She was not present when a foot kicked her side; no one responded. Much later she smelled water and her parched body reached out when a still faced servant placed a cup to her lips. She could not be grateful, she had forgotten how. Now, someone small knelt at her side. She glanced at the not-human face, then quickly glanced away to prevent the rising questions. Too much, too much. A soft hand brushed her face and she looked again with a sigh of resignation.
“Can you stand?” it asked.
She pulled her will into a single hot place at her center and pushed her body up by way of answer. The creature grunted approval and helped her stand, though it was a head shorter at least, it was strong. She guessed it to be female from its robes, but she could give this no further thought. Its paw-hand stroked the air around them, pulling light in streams down, around, and over their bodies. ‘Glamour’, Ella thought; a thought that fell like a leaf from her mind. Together they navigated the revelers as a ship in a storm, moving first right then left, holding steady, or still, for moments on end. At last she was pushed over the back of a sturdy small pony, somewhere in the trees. She had ridden as a child and the normalcy, of pulling a leg over and hugging a rough and smelly pony’s neck, felt safe and good. Her savior made another satisfied sound from near the pony’s head, and began to lead them away.
It was slow work, but they did not pause as the dark forest unfolded around them. Ella’s full effort was required to stay awake and seated on the pony, if seated is what you would call her horizontal embrace. Now and then her sweet new friend would make a sound of comfort, to remind her she was not alone. Ella did not cry tears, but a soft moan would, occasionally, leak from her like blood and lymph from a shallow wound.
At last another’s strong arms, someone much larger than her savior friend, carried her to a low bed in a room warmed and lit by fire. An old woman, who looked, or somehow smelled familiar, tipped a cup to her mouth. She did not want it, but the drink went down warm and strong anyway, taking her away, far away from dreams and pain. She slept.
Todd arrived when the fire was down to coals, thrusting through the doorway at a run; he fell to his knees, his face a mask of fear. Behind him followed the old woman; tall, controlled, arms folded within her long sleeves. Only the depths of her eyes echoed his disruption.
“She sleeps Todd, she lives.”
“Am I to be comforted by that?” He leaned in to gather up Ella’s hand in his, not looking once to the woman behind him.
“Don’t discount it.” Her tone was harsh. So was his.
After some time he turned his head and met her eye. “Piece by piece they destroy us? Who is next, Lady? Your grandson? Your self? Your consort is weak and can not come to your aid.”
“You may not judge him!” This had struck a nerve, but Todd sought truth here, not advantage.
“He is not wrong,” came a husky voice from the doorway. The woman spun to face the speaker with a sound of frustration. Todd shook his head, then gently releasing Ella’s hand, stood to face the door as well.
He was half a head taller than his wife, gaunt, in robes cut for a younger, fuller, figure. He moved forward slowly, a rune-incised stick tapping the floor beside him: once a seal of his power, now a support for each uncertain step.
“We must not act too soon, this I know. We must bring an absolute end, not a temporary one.” She spoke to them both, ignoring what had been said and could not be unsaid.
“They see us as weak and take whatever they wish.” Weak he might be, but his mind was clear and his assessment sharp
“Unplanned furry will destroy our advantage. They are counting on that. Do you think this was an arbitrary act of hatred? They watch you, Todd. They know you. They fear us and wish to undermine our power, as you say, piece by piece! You think I did not wish revenge, Todd!?”
Todd dropped his head at this, moving his gaze back to Ella. Then he shook it. “No Lady,” the sound of him, now resigned, “I do not think that. I cannot see your plan or understand your mind. Guide me, if you wish to advert mayhem. My last reason for anything else lies here before me and I can not even assess the damage done to her.”
“She lives, Todd. She is strong, and I believe she is far more powerful than any of us know. What human has made this journey, walked this path, and still lived?”
Todd nodded, his face porcelain, but calmer. “Where is Culley?” He asked softly.
“His teacher is fetching him. She was the one to find your Ella and bring her to us.”
“Then I owe her much.”
“And yourself, Lady. I thank you.” He swiveled now to meet her eyes and confirm his sincerity.
“I wish us to unite for the power it will bring.” It was explanation and question at once. Todd could not remember a time when this woman ever pleaded for anything. He paused to consider what imperative this foretold.
“I gave liegence to your grandson. You must know that.”
“I do. And I thank you Dain-friend. I honor your council and your goodness.” These words were new too. Todd looked to the Consort who smiled vaguely and shifted a shoulder as if adjusting his robes. This was followed by long silence in which a coal cracked and fell. A soft sound from the bed brought them all to attention.
“Todd?” Her voice a whisper, she touched his leg with a fingertip. Todd dropped to his knees beside her again and cradled her bruised cheek tenderly. She sighed and closed her eyes. From where he knelt he could see her ravaged feet, salved but left uncovered and unwrapped in their rawness. An explosive heat rolled through him. The old couple drew closer, leaning against each other. From beyond the room, a heavy door fell closed and the sound of running feet grew near.
“Mama!” Culley moved from the doorway to his mother’s side like a wind, brushing the others away. Todd shifted and stood; Ella barely opened her eyes, but watched her son with alertness.
Cully’s teacher followed, crouched next to Cully and took Ella’s hand. “She is brave and strong, boy. We are proud of her.”
In another swift movement, Cully stood and pressed his crumpled face against Todd’s shirt, wrapping his arms around him hard. Sobs broke and fractured them all. They moved as a group, one shuffled step in closer. Todd wrapped his arms around the boy, thinking ‘Dain-son, heart-child’, and lastly, ‘clan-weave’.
The light in the room shifted, the fire seemed to have faded. The old man laid a hand on Todd’s shoulder, the other arm around the woman at his side; she, no longer Regent as much as wife, mother, and grandmother, reached down to take the knowledge-weavers free hand. Gently as a breeze, Ella slipped her other hand out to wrap Todd’s ankle.
Tendrils of light woke from the air, weaving, rising, connecting the raw intention, the clear knowing of something so ancient and so powerful it had no name. Todd breathed it in like salvation, in red gold, coppery strands. Cully looked up at him, open mouthed in wonder as the group morphed in a slow melting shimmer, vibrated and then reset, as if untouched.
The no longer old couple stood back with a gasp, fey youth, which deep sorrow had drained away, was restored. Cully stood inches taller, and his teacher, though seemingly unaffected, crinkled a smile of knowing on her eldritch face. Best of all was Ella, rising up on her elbow to smile at Todd and shake her head with her own wonder.
“Yes!” Their Queen shimmered in her power. “I knew there was something I could not grasp about you Todd.”
“And what is that, My Lady?” his voice weak in the aftermath of the power that had shifted his world.
“You wield love like a sword.” Her voice shook in awe and tendered a charming sweetness.
Her consort chuckled to himself. “We must not let them see”, he told them grinning, in the voice of a delighted child.
“Yes, a glamour!” The Queen swiped the air with a complex and powerful gesture, returning them all to their former appearance. “Return to your rooms, we will gather in the morning.” Her smile was beatific.
The Consort tapped his way to the door, a bit more quickly than he had entered, stopped at the room edge and leapt into the air, clicking his heals together. Tossing a grin over his shoulder, he departed, his tapping sounding down the hallway. The other three left behind him, arms linked.
Alone at last, Todd examined Ella at length (her whole length, should it be told) and found nothing amiss: bruises healed and delicate feet, smooth.
“I am so sorry for this.” He told her at last, as the fire flared to new wood laid across the coals.
She looked at him with her head tilted. A speculative look, which he knew from watching her art making. She would consider the materials with a slightly open mouth, as if listening for their own inclinations. It made him feel, somehow, ready for her touch, willing to be remade into anything of her choosing.
“Let us set sorrow aside, for now Todd.” She smoothed his hair from his brow, causing a shimmer of light in the room that neither noticed. “In this moment there is only one thing, and I refuse to turn away from it.”