2.1 – From the line of Brief
Time stands still. In a way, it feels like Brittle is looking at time itself. „That is…“ „…all the Daughters of Bray, yes.“ replies Braid with a smile. „Come“. They lead her by the hand a bit further out to get a better vantage point of the entirety of the tree. „Do you see the top?“ asks Braid. „Yes“. A single heartbone surrounded by a halo of sorts, as if it’s a sun emanating beams of light. Not sunbeams, though, but faintly shimmering threads. Sunbeam threads (yes, that’s a good name). Those very sunbeam threads reach down, connecting all the other heartbones to the first one.
„May I, Branch?“ pleads Braid. „By all means. Show me what you have learnt“ says Branch, beaming herself with what Brittle interprets as equal parts pride and love. Braid clears her voice and tries her best to appear serious. „That first one belongs to the Morning Queen, as I am sure you’ve already guessed. The three bones beneath her are Bray’s three daughters. Brief, Breaker and Breem. Though tradition dictates that Brief’s name comes first when the three names are mentioned, Breem, as you know, was the older sister, and Brief the younger. And, of course, you yourself are an offshoot of Brief’s line.“ „There are so many branches“ wonders Brittle, „But some of them are quite short?“ „Yes,“ explains Braid, slowly settling into the more mature teacher aspect of herself, „When a Daughter doesn’t bear child, or only gives birth to sons, the line stops with her.“ „And if those sons get daughters of their own?“ „Don’t be silly, Brittle,“ teases Braid, momentarily forgetting her teacher persona before snapping back into it, „Those daughters would belong to the line of their mother. A son of Bray does not bring forth life. He only supports it.“ „And where…where should we place mother?“ „Well…“ Braid falters a bit, but is graciously saved by Branch who touches their shared hair and continues: „There, do you see that low-hanging bone, there to the left?“ She does. It looks strange, as if there’s something different about it. „Is it…broken?“ „Not broken, but cracked. It’s a rare occurence, but in some cases, a firewalk can harm the heartbone. That’s how it looked when Brook lifted it out of Brunt’s chest. Though it was hard on your mother, it was no surprise to us.“ „Why?“ „Most of the cracked bones in our history are Brunts“. Brittle is confused. „What do you mean?“
Branch looks down at her with infinite kindness. „A name is not just a name, Brittle. When the oldfolk observe a birth, they read the signs and listen to the calling of the dream. As they are close to death, they are closer to the realm of void, of dream, than most. Some times still, a few times, a new spark emerges, requiring a new name. But most births are returns. During our history, Brunt has returned seven times, and six of her heartbones are cracked. In our tree of trees above, there are ten Brooks, four Briefs, and seventeen Branches.“ Branch chuckles. „It seems I am quite fond of returning. And every single time, I become a Keeper of Memory. Some would call that dedication“. She looks at Brittle with a twinkle in her eye. „I sometimes think of it as a lack of imagination“.
„So everyone returns. Why did no one tell me this before?“ asks Brittle. „Because this is when you are told, dear one. Daughter Lore. Everyone returns…“ „…except Bray“ finishes Braid. „Yes,“ says Branch. „The Morning Queen clearly does not have my taste for life. And neither do you, Brittle“. With wide eyes Brittle looks up at the tree, trying to figure out which heartbones belong to her, or…other hers. „How many times?“ „Only two“ says Branch. „You are the third“ says Braid. „Before…when you said that I was a Brittle, this was what you meant.“ She swallows. „Where?“ Branch and Braid move to each side of Brittle and point at the tree, at two different spots, both of them branches sprouting from the line of Brief. Two unassuming heartbones, one high up, only five steps away from Brief, the other in the middle of the tree. What both of them have in common, is that they are at the end of a line. „I did not bear daughters“ says Brittle. „No“ says Branch, „and you never will“. Brittle looks quizzically up at the tall woman. „All Daughters experience their first blood when they are around Braid’s age. The blood of life running down their legs, connecting them to the great river course of death and return. Without it, no child can flow through them into the world, neither daughter nor son. The river beds of the Daughters of Bray are never dry. The only notable exceptions…“ „…are the Brittle ones“ says Braid, with a strange hint of reverence in her voice. „So I am broken“ says Brittle, giving voice to a suspicion that she has carried all her life. Both Braid and Branch look at her now, their eyes glimmering like dawnfire. „What you are is up to you to decide“ says Branch, „Now, life-shy one, you need to put your mother in her rightful place“.
„How…?“ starts Brittle, but the question is left hanging as the Keeper and her Braid turn and, without a word, go back through the rope barrier, leaving Brittle all alone in the circle. She takes a few steps after them, stopping close to the heavy curtain. Illuminated by the dim glow of the smooth floor, she sees the barrier for what it really is. Interwoven lengths of braided hair. Dark and light strands. Silver and coal. She wants to pass through, to ask for help. She does not know what to do. How could she? She is broken. She is broken. She is…Hummmmmmmmmm. She turns. The red currents of the stone are churning. Whatever she is, she is the daughter of her mother. She has to do this, figure out how. For Brook.
Going back to the centre of things, she picks up the heartbone, still vibrating gently in her hands. She can’t reach the tree from here, not even the low-hanging fruit that is her grandmother Brunt. Well, if others have figured this out, she can too. In a sense, she already has. Twice before. Hummmmm. She gets an impulse to sit on the stone, so she does, crossing her legs. Hummmmm. She closes her eyes, trying to listen. From my Deepheart to your Deepheart, mother.
Hummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. The thrumming intensifies, resonating throughout her body, even causing the stone itself to quiver. An enormous pressure starts to build up inside her skull. It’s too much, almost as if it is breaking her open. To relieve the energy amassing in her head, she opens her mouth and without planning to, she starts to sing. One clear note, somehow a counter harmony to the drone that pulses through her body, through the stone, through the heartbone. The shock of it forces her eyes open, and as she feels the circuit of pulsating energy find release by flowing out of her body following the current of her voice, she sees this energy materialize as a red, shining river stretching from her mouth towards the branch that ends with Brunt. Her grandmother’s heartbone starts humming too, but there’s something discordant in its tone that hurts Brittle’s ears. Still, she persists singing her note.
Let me go, child
The voice comes from everywhere and nowhere, as an emergent overtone.
Let me go
She lifts Brook’s heartbone up to the level of her face, the level of the red song river, tears streaming down her cheeks. Doing this feels like finally accepting her death, after all these years.
And I can’t even remember how you died
You will. If you only let me go
I can’t. I really can’t
Nonsense, Brittle mine. Let me go with Love’s Intent
Her note changes key. Her fingers loosen. And Brook’s heartbone flows upriver. Hummmmmm. As it nears the cracked core of Brunt, another tone unfolds in the melody. The sunbeam threads start growing, expanding and finally connecting Brook to the tree of trees. It is done.