1.2 – Love’s intent
Hummmmmmm. Brittle opens her eyes. It’s completely dark. What woke her up? Hummmmmm. Her chest is vibrating. Or… Hummmmmmm. Her groggy mind finally puts the pieces together. Mother’s heartbone is thrumming, just like it did the day she picked it up for the first time. But never since. Hummmmm. Shakily, she gets to her feet and exits the wagon-sleigh. Outside, the moon is bright and full, as if it has just finished a hearty meal. Hummmmmm. What is going on? Brittle starts walking towards where she vaguely remembers they put up the fire. The flames must have died down by now. Hummmmm. Suddenly she hears something, far away. An animal cry, like the faint bellow of a…stag. And in the same moment, a Harrahnha! just beside her. Breath and his shaggy bedfellow wake up with a start and are both on their feet in an instant.
„Brittle?“ says father, „Graah…Did you hear that?“. Touching the side of the stag, Breath sniffs the air. „Where is the other one?“ Breath looks at the stag. „Where is your brother?“ The distant bellow returns, this time sharper, more desperate. That’s all the confirmation Breath needs. „He’s in trouble“. Without hesitation, he mounts his friend and looks down at Brittle. „Stay here. Hruunh. Get inside.“ „No!“ Brittle’s reply is quick and unflinching. „You promised never to leave me, and you are not breaking that vow now.“ Breath grits his teeth. „Rrrhh..Very well. But do as I say, no matter what, got it?“ Brittle nods and grabs her father’s hand. He lifts her up with a Nnnf. „Aho!“ he shouts, and off they go.
A stag stampeding through a dense dark forest is hard to cling on to. Even more so when said stag is afraid for its brother’s life. Brittle is clenching all her muscles, even ones she didn’t knew she had. Her arms interlocked around her father’s wide frame, her face buried in the badger hairs of his fur coat. The hairs itch terribly, but it’s a small discomfort compared to being thrown off into the night. One of her hands is still holding onto the heartbone. Hummmmm. She wonders if father can feel it, seeing as she is clutching it close to his chest. The mad run seems like it goes on forever, until suddenly it doesn’t. The big beast almost stops in its tracks, and Brittle loses her grip, falling down into a fortuitously placed pile of snow. Unharmed, she gets to her feet and sees the other stag.
It is leaning against a tree at the outskirts of a clearing, legs shaking slightly, head bent. Its antlers are partly covered in a strange, black substance. Pieces of the gooey liquid is dripping off onto the ground. Briefly looking towards her to see that she is fine, Breath dismounts and rushes to help his Mirror. The moment he gets to it, it seems like the last remaining iota of strength it has just evaporates, and its body collapses into Breath’s arms. And even though it is big, even compared to father, he still manages to gently help it sink down to the ground. The stag looks up at Breath and exhales. And doesn’t inhale. Hnrhhh grunts Breath and the standing stag in synchrony, and that somehow says it all.
The silence is broken by Brittle. „What in the Seven Hardships happened here? What is that stuff?“ she says, pointing to the dripping antlers. „Why did…oh“. She sees something, a shape, unmoving, in the middle of the clearing. „Look, father.“ Breath turns and sees it too. „Behind me“ he snaps. She obeys without protest. They leave their dead friend behind and start walking slowly towards the inert figure, accompanied by the remaining stag who slowly walks to the front, protecting Breath protecting Brittle. Brittle is scared, but at the same time the opposite of scared, almost excited. It is a strange feeling, one she has never felt before. As they walk, she notices hoof prints in the snow and other, strange elongated marks laced with the same black ichor-y stuff she saw hanging from the dead stag’s antlers. Like signs of a struggle. Here and there weird black feather-like things the size of arrows are sticking out of the snow. „What are they?“ she breathes. „I don’t know“ says Breath, „but don’t touch them“. As they come closer, the stag gives a soft grunt and picks up its speed. An instant later, Breath does the same. It doesn’t take long before Brittle understands why. The shape is no horrid monster, it’s a doe. A forest doe. Its body is pierced with four of those feather-y arrow-like things, one in its throat and three in its belly. Pools of black ichor dot the snow around it, in small hollows. Brittle sees a wide path in the snow centered by a thick line of blackness, as if made by a crawling or slithering creature, going from the doe to the other end of the clearing.
„Your Mirror..“ says Brittle „..he was protecting her“. Kneeling down, careful not to touch the fearrows (which Brittle decides to call them that very moment, as it is less frightening to deal with things you have named than things you don’t know) or the pools of ichor, Breath feels the doe’s belly. „She is with child, a full litter“ he gasps. „And this..hnnh…is the time when the does of the forest give birth, just after midwinter, when the days start getting longer. Maybe…“ He starts patting his furs, then swears under his breath. „Graaahnff. My knife, I left it at camp!“
Hummmmm. The heartbone has been silent for a while, but now it reannounces its presence. Brittle has been holding it all along, and as she looks down at it, she knows exactly what to do. Feeling its sharp underside with her thumb, she gently pushes her father aside. „Let me, Breath dearest“ she says with a voice that’s partly hers and partly not. Bewildered, Breath looks at her. „Brook?“ She looks at him with eyes hers and not-hers, both pairs bridged by sadness and love. „Not now. There’s no time.“ He steps back, mouth agape. The stag follows his example. „Now, daughter“ she says to herself. „Let me guide your hand, if you are willing.“ She is.
Hummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Her hand moves gracefully and swiftly, like a bubbling stream in spring. One, two, three cuts among the fearrows and a rivulet of blood. One, two, three fawns spilling out with their throats pierced by the fearrow barbs through their mother’s skin. White and dappled grey, dressed for winter as all forest deer are when they come into the world. „But ho, what’s this?“ she says and looks at one of them, its throat encircled by the umbilical cord like a protective noose. The barb has hit the cord. „Come now, quickly“ she says to herself and carefully cuts the cord away. The fearrow’s stuck within. The throat untouched. With hands hers and not-hers she lifts the third fawn up to her face. It doesn’t breathe. It’s pale like a waning midwinter moon. „Do you remember, child?“ she asks herself. „I do“ she replies. „Now do for this fawn what I did for you, my love.“ „I will“ And Brittle speaks with Love’s intent. Her words a stream of care, of hope, of life that yearns to be lived. And as she does, Brittle remembers. What she has forgotten.
in she that was
who looked at the fullness of the void
when the bridge of dreams was shining bright
and saw what times would come
and who did not want to go, no, no, no
but then her mother came with Love’s intent
and coaxed her into Life
she that is
who finds the white fawn on the bridge
which she remembers had a brighter hue
and speaks the love of everywhen
come, she says, I came back once and so can you
walk with me, child, with Love’s intent
come walk with me in Life
and she that will be
who will return, all dappled grey
when only stripes of light will remain
and will see the torment of the dream
and who will accept it all and cross
towards the Broken, filled with Love’s intent
a champion of Life
The memory, hers and not-hers, fades. Her stream of words goes on and on. And finally, the small fawn bleats. Brittle smiles. „Thank you“ she says, and with a last Hummmmm the heartbone falls to the ground. She has to set the fawn aside, because all of a sudden her breath is gone. She heaves and coughs like she always does when she over-exerts herself. She just forgets. Like always. Like now. Without a word, Breath picks her up. With her, the fawn and Brook’s heartbone in his arms he mounts the stag, bows to the two dead deer in the clearing, looks one final time at the unsettling path left by the escaping unknown horror, shudders, and rides off.
They set off at first morning light. The wagon-sleigh is too heavy for just one stag, so they leave it behind and all ride the remaining one. „I asked him“ Breath ensures Brittle, „He kindly agreed, but has asked to leave for the mountains to mourn his brother properly after we get there. We will find our way back some other way“. She sits behind her father, holding the heartbone and the fawn, as the stag walks calmly along the path. „What should we call him?“ says Brittle looking down at the sleeping fawn. „Hrah. Animals have no use for names, Brittle. They are above such things.“ „I still think he should have a name“ „What he needs is a good dose of doe’s milk, and hopefully they will have a few jugs in stock. They had last time I was there, anyway.“ „I think his name should be…..Bridge. Yes, Bridge.“ Breath sighs. The stag turns its head to look briefly at Brittle and Bridge. „Do you want one too?“ she says to their friendly mount. „Then you should be…Brother. That suits you well“ Brother and Breath both grunt in synchrony.
They ride for a while through a patch of light fog. As the fog breaks, they can see they are reaching the end of the forest. Below them there is a deep valley. Far below Brittle can see a huge structure, like an enormous pointed tent. „Is that…?“ „Yes“ says Breath „That is our destination.“ He turns to look at her, at Bridge, at the heartbone. His eyes are rimmed with a murmur of unspoken tears. „Brittle. What really…“ „…happened last night? I don’t know, father.“ „I just felt…“ „Yes. I felt her too. But she’s gone now.“ She looks down at the white wing-like shape in her hand, now streaked with stripes and splotches of doe blood. First blood?
Her gaze wanders to the giant tent far below. Her mind is swimming with the events of the night, with the unknown creature that both of them have refrained to mention all day and with the uncanny memory of that shimmering bridge that is already receding like a whisper of a dream. „Let’s go. I don’t want to wait any longer.“
„Aho“ says Breath.