Here’s a little thing I wrote for the people who have enjoyed Hard Luck. Special thanks to those who have purchased the book and left reviews, or given me feedback. I deeply appreciate it. This one’s for you. If you’re new to Saga of Menyoral, I hope you find something to love here.
Now hear this.
Long and long she had lived here at the top of this forsaken hill, if living it could be called. Nearly forty long sleeps, in the cold time, nearly forty longer days, when the sap stirred and she quickened and leafed. Nearly forty almost-deaths, when the darknesses yawned wider and all her green diadem turned to gold and then withered into dead-wood brown; while it all blew away she would fall into a deep, static slumber and hope never to wake.
She was alone here, and could not depart to dance as she had once, from sycamore to ash to yew. All of her winged people, who had attended her in multi-colored, glittering clouds, were fallen into dust. She missed their hymns, which had floated upon the night air with the songs of the crickets, but more clear and more sweet by far.
A forever, it seemed, though compared to the rest of her life it was hardly the blink of an eye. Once a Lady had come to her, how long ago she could not have told: an ancient Power in a Lady’s form, with hair like flames and white dove’s wings on Her ankles, and carrying a Staff. “Please do be watching over My lad, Moira, if ye can,” She had said.
She failed to see how she might watch over any Lady’s lad, being a tree, if you please, a damned tree, though a damned fine oak she was; and she forgot the request and sank bitter roots deep into the hill. Only the squirrels visited her nowadays. A few built drays in her branches, but for company, they were worse than worthless, always chittering and fighting and mating. She shook her branches sometimes, to see them scatter. Even the sheep stayed away.
What was today but one more bead on a ceaseless string of todays? Except that she felt in her roots a faint vibration, like she had not known in who could say how many trapped years, of feet on the grassy hill; but she ignored it, for surely the owner of the steps had not come to see her.
It had not. For it came close, under her branches, and quite suddenly threw itself upon the ground and rolled at tearing speed down the hill—laughing, in the sweet free manner of her lost people. When it crashed to a stop at the bottom, it ran back to the top and repeated the process, over and over. It was a child, clad in a brown smock and little short pants. Its bare knees and feet bore the greeny-yellow stains of crushed grass; and it had bright red hair that stuck to its neck in fat, sweaty curls; and at the heart of it she saw the whisper of that Lady Who had known her name.
Was this it, then? The lad? For there was a whisper of Power in its heart. Perhaps it lived in the village beneath the hill. After a while it came and laid itself flat in her shade, panting, and she looked on it there. It was passing beautiful to her, with its face smiling so, flushed and delighted. When it caught its breath it came to her trunk on the side that did not face the village, lifted its smock, and drew a child’s penis out of its short pants. Why, it meant to—
She pushed herself out of the trunk, head, shoulders, and folded arms. “Put that away!”
He drew in breath so quickly it peeped and yanked up his little pants. “Sorry!” he said, hazel eyes round as the full moon, retreating. “Sorry, sorry, sorry!” His bare feet pattered away down the hill. She melted back into the heartwood with a regretful sigh like a breeze through the leaves. She would not see him again.
The sun beat down the next day from a bright blue sky scattered with clouds like the sheep that dotted every hill but hers. She was scattering squirrels with lazy flicks of her limbs when the boy returned. She stilled at his coming, the feet treading up her hill. Perhaps he would roll again, and laugh; but no, he stopped at the trunk where he had just yesterday. “Sorry I went to pee on you,” he whispered to her. “Didn’t know you’re a person. Brought you this, so’s you’d know I didn’t mean it. It’s my best one.”
He squatted to place something at her roots, and she could not resist. She pressed out of the trunk again. “What is it?” she asked, and he gasped, sitting down hard; but for all his startlement, he gazed on her with wonder.
The boy’s breath trembled. “Brought you this,” he whispered, holding out something clutched in a grubby hand.
She stretched out her palm and he placed his offering in it: a small, dark rock streaked with sparkling white.
“It’s my best one,” he repeated. “On account of it’s real shiny, and I found it when my grandpa took me out fishing, way on the bottom of the crick.”
Turning it over and over in her fingers, she felt the Power in it, not in the rock itself, but in the gift. “Thank you,” she said, very softly, and looked up at him.
“I’m real sorry.” Tears hung in his voice. “I’d never go pee on a person, honest I wouldn’t.”
“All is forgiven.” She glanced down at the rock again, thinking that he did not know what he had done for her. “What are you called?”
“Dingus. What’s—what’s your name?”
She told him.
“Moira,” he repeated, and the very sound of it from mortal lips shivered Power into her roots. She stretched out her hand, farther, her hips slid from the trunk, and her fingers touched his cheek. He was warm, so very warm, and he stilled like a frightened deer. She drew back.
“It is,” she said slowly, “a precious rock. I shall treasure it.”
He blushed and twisted his smock in his two hands. “Glad you like it. Maybe I could—”
“Dingus!” came distantly up the hill, and he glanced toward the sound.
“That’s my ma. I gotta go.”
“Come back to me, Dingus.”
“I will,” he promised. “Bye now!” And he was gone in a scuffle of bare feet, leaving a smile behind. That night there was a thunderstorm. She stretched up her limbs and reveled in the wind and rain, exalted by a little rock from a little boy’s hand, and the lightning fell around her, but it never touched a leaf.
And he did come back to her. Again and again he came, bringing her offerings. Most often, it was flowers.
One overcast day he came to her bleeding. His mouth—bright red blood oozed from a swollen lip, and she could not come out quickly enough. She burst from the bark, demanding he tell her what had happened.
“I have never heard of this thing,” she said, when he poured out some story, accompanied by many tears, about being dilihi, and how the villagers reviled him.
“It’s ’cause of my father. He don’t live here, on account of he’s human and he don’t fit.” Dingus dragged the sleeve of his brown smock across his eyes. “I don’t fit neither, but I can’t leave…”
“Dingus,” she murmured, as the leaves shifting, and realized she did not know what to say to him. She cupped his face in her two hands and swiped at the blood dribbling down his chin with her thumb. When she touched it, a shock of the Power stilled all her sap; she might have torn him apart for more of it, but that she had come to love him. He was more beautiful by far to her than any gifts he carried or any Power in his blood. When he climbed her, his small weight on her up-slanting limbs sent a vibrant quiver of magic through her heartwood.
The days were long and hot. The flowers he laid among her exposed roots dried, crisp at the edges, with a memory of scent, and blew away on the breeze. He came to her, he said, as much as he could, but it never seemed enough compared to the time he was not there to cover her in worship; for when he brought her his cares, tiny though they seemed to her, and wept bitterly with his forehead pressed to her bark and his little hands clutching, he cast his soul before her and bid her take.
Her diadem began to turn gold, and he came and played in the leaves that fell, and took them home, crumbled, in his hair and clothes. Also, he thought of her often, and that brought her a tickle of Power, until more and more she could press from her trunk. At last, though her sap had begun to slow and her diadem had fallen nearly to the last leaf, she could slide free and take some few steps away, to the very tips of her limbs. If she tried to go farther she would be pulled back into her prison of wood.
She stood before him to say good-bye. His eyes traveled slowly up her form; he was still small, but he did not seem so very small when she wore a two-legged shape. “You’re beautiful,” he said, and gave her his child’s smile. Perhaps she retained something of what had made her people trace glimmering patterns in worship.
“I am going to sleep for the cold night,” she said to him, and a thin line of worry appeared between his red, red eyebrows.
“So I won’t be able to come visit?”
“You may come, if you like, but I will be sleeping, and I will not speak to you.”
The gaze he turned up to her brimmed with hurt. A tear slid down his cheek—a tear for her. Swiftly, she bent her knees and caught it on her fingertips. It rolled like a droplet of water down a leaf to the bottom of the groove between her fingers, there to disappear into the wood of her hand. He loved her.
“I will want to speak to you,” she said, “but I will not know you are here.”
He did not weep more, but he bit his lower lip and looked away from her face.
“Dingus.” Her voice drew his eyes once more. She felt his misery as she had felt the miseries of those who called upon her, long and long ago: a yawning gulf at the edge of her vision, which she could no more comprehend now than then, but she knew that it pained him. “When the greenwood grows, I will speak to you again.”
“It’s an awful long time.”
“Will you forget me?”
“When the greenwood grows, then.”
He lurched forward and embraced her with his soft little arms, only briefly, before he ran away down the hill. She watched the bright blue dot of his jumper as it shrank away into the bare wood between his village and her hill, waiting for it to disappear before she slid back inside, deep into the rings of old growth at the tree’s center. She slept, borne away by his thought of lacking her.
In time, she woke again. The greenwood had just begun to grow. The snow still lay thick on the ground, but she saw the evidence that her sole acolyte had performed his sacerdotal duties far beyond what she would have expected—for in truth, she had expected nothing. A beaten path stretched from out of the wood up the hill. He had made a lopsided snowman for her, and left offerings in a row on a flat stone: a few sparkling rocks, a squirrel’s tiny skull, a cat carved inexpertly from wood. Later that day, he came bearing a fistful of snowdrops and crocus. He had grown.
He grew, her Dingus, and he came less often, but still he came. Less and less, he brought her tears. Through greenings and Longest Days, through the times when her diadem turned and fell, and even as she slept, he grew taller and thinner, as if stretched by some invisible hands, and spots appeared with his bruises. One spring he planted a violet under her branches; and she wanted to love him. He didn’t come back for weeks afterward. Nearly until Longest Day, she waited for him, watching the violet’s slow spread over the ground beneath her. When he came, bringing her a rabbit’s tanned pelt, he leaned his warmth against her trunk and talked of hunting with his grandfather.
She put her arms around him then, as she so often did, and which he liked if she were gentle with his hurts. His neck tasted salt. As it always had, his heat called to her. He trembled, wordless, and relaxed against her, offering her his trust; the knot in his throat bobbed. His flesh stirred to her caress. He made low sounds while she pressed him to a peak, and that too was worship, as sweet as the hymns that used to ring from thousands of tiny throats.
All that he was, he offered to her. She could not quite grasp his pain, but he cast it before her, always. She could not quite grasp his pleasure, either, the so-mortal, so-sensitive thrills that skittered up and down his meridians and stoked the divine fire at his heart; but that was hers, and to watch his physiology while he leapt from the mountaintop gave her more than Power. All the brief nights of that summer, he came to her, and when again the nights stretched, he kissed her good-bye for the winter.
When she woke again, he’d grown taller yet. Under his tunic the bruises clustered on his ribs. Every time he came, there were more, before the old ones healed, so that when the Longest Day came he cried out in pain at the twiggy touch of her hands. She was gentler with him then, though the reminder that he was mortal enraged her. Afterward he lay quiet, cradled at the crook of trunk and limb, in the same manner he had as a child, but nude. All his soft hot skin touched her bark. “If I stay here much longer,” he said, with his sad eyes reflecting the moonlight, “they’ll kill me.”
“For being this thing that you say you are.”
He reminded her often, but she tended to allow the word to slip from her mind. As well call the wind a fart. It was not what he was. At length she said, “I do not understand them.”
“You and me both,” he said, with one of his strange and mirthless laughs, and then he covered his face with his hands and wept. She slipped her legs from the trunk and sat astride, removing his hands with the inexorable strength of a tree. When she kissed him, she tasted the salt that ran with his blood, rather than the sweetness that ran through her; she kissed him until he quickened, and he was with her again.
It was the last time.
He had not, lately, come as often, and he was gone a long time, or it seemed so. She felt his thought of her; his desire to see her sang from the tiny houses below, and she fancied that she saw his red head moving place to place while the sun shone. She longed to dance again, dance away from her oaken prison and go to him, but though the gifts he had given her drew her forth, she could not leave the hilltop. She had gone to her people, once, their calls to wine and song, but there was only Dingus now, and there was only so much he had to give.
When the Power touched him, its presence swept from the heavens like a mighty wind. She felt it descend and toss what-was-Dingus before it, a leaf borne on a bloody gust. “He is mine!” she cried in despair. “You have many, but I only the one! Leave him to me!”
“No,” the Power said, whispering, pitying. “He is Mine. But I am sorry to take him from you.”
A tree’s silent scream could not express her pain, for as much as she tried. But later, when it had grown dark and she felt his long strides run up the hill, she slid a woman’s shape from the tree to greet and farewell him. He carried a satchel on a strap across his chest, and the Power’s presence clung thickly around him, though Moira could not hear Her name as yet, only her own.
“I have to go,” he said to her.
Between her hands, she took the face that had made these years seem so short. Still a young face, so painfully young, and however it would look in the years to come, she would not see it. She drew him to her and kissed him. A long time, she kissed him.
“I wish you could come with me.”
She took a step back and extended her arm toward the tree. “I cannot.”
“I love you, Moira.” Many a time before, he had said so to her, but he would not say so again.
“And I you,” she said, as she never had.
His shoulders, thin, with the bones that jutted as if he too were a tree, rose and fell with a breath. “I know.”
She would have kissed him again had she not felt the alien tread in her roots, that of many feet, like the earwigs that roamed inside her bark or the centipedes that wandered just under the earth. “What is this?” she asked, alarmed at the flames she saw over his shoulder. As long as she lived, she would never understand these people. Her little ones had been so much simpler.
He answered her with a groan, so like the sounds he made when she touched him that it confused her yet more when he pushed her before him until the tree swallowed her. She wondered at the trembling she felt in his frame; and it was only when the ones with the flames began to shout, when one of them lunged forward and broke the strap of the satchel, that she did begin to understand. He clung to her rough bark with his soft mortal hands, soundless now but for his jagged breathing. Rocks struck her trunk, and one struck his head, too, with a frighteningly similar thud.
Blood ran from the hurt, and when he opened his mouth, it was to plead with them. What he had done, she never did understand, but he said he hadn’t meant to. It ought to have been enough.
“Climb up, Dingus,” she told him, but he would not. His despair fouled the wind when he said that they would burn her. They would kill him. She saw that now, in their eyes all maddened the same way, and long ago she had seen enough of the world to remember what the rope meant, and how they meant to use her limbs.
She would not allow it. “No, Moira,” he said. His voice shook. How could he know what she meant to do? She clutched around his waist and called to the Power he had given all-unknowing through the years. The shouting grew louder. She heard him begging, and she scraped at the bottom of what had once been a great river. If only she could open the Doors that once flew wide at her lightest touch, she could take him anywhere he wanted to go in a twinkling—but, though he had given her all that he was, it was not enough.
The deep bite of steel in her arms shocked her back to awareness, in time to see Dingus kick out. For her, he would do this, but not for himself? “Let go—let go!” he told her, and she could not do less than he asked, nor could she forgo the kiss she brushed along his cheek before she released him. He lurched away from her then, and they dragged him down in the violets he had planted for her and kicked him until his blood seeped into the ground, and she felt his thoughts of her. She did not understand. She did not understand any of this, the stool, their voices, so loud and confused; but the hands on her, she would not have, no. They were not his hands.
She stretched, and danced her anger at the intrusion. She could not bend as she would have liked; but she thrashed, and thrashed, and at last she threw the climber off a thick limb, hard enough to break him. Dingus laughed, so brightly it might have been any other summer’s night, at least until he fell.
When another kick landed, his blood spattered the violets. “You never wanted me here,” he said, in a thick voice, “but see, I never wanted to be here neither. I never asked to be born!”
It was important, she felt sure, that he had said so. He must have more to say, but there was one with blood on him, and he kicked Dingus hard. Oh, could she touch a fraction of her former strength, she would smite them. Vines would strangle. Violets would grow from their soft mortal flesh and they would scream, they would twist, as they made him cry out. Still he thought of her, when the hemp loop slipped over his head, and still he thought of her when he began to die.
Some little apprehension of his pain came to her then—some little feeling of it—and that he had felt safe with her. Retreating into her growth rings, she wept. In the end, all his love of her had profited him nothing. He would die.
“He will live,” said the Lady, a whisper, and she felt the mighty wind of that Power Who had touched him, the wind that did not stir so much as a leaf. In a moment she felt a breath, trembling in the ground, and it was Dingus’s.
All the dark time, she felt him lying on the hill, and through the sun’s return; she felt him stir and rise, and the steps of another, too. His touch came to her again, once, but she did not speak to him, though she wished she had when he was gone. He belonged to that Power Who wore the Lady’s shape. But every so often, in the depths of her heartwood, she felt his distant thought of her, and stretched inside at the warmth of his worship. It was very nearly enough.
Thanks for reading!
If you haven’t met Dingus before, you can read the beginning of his story here. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H5IPASW