2.2 – The Morning Queen

Her voice cuts short, but an echo of the curious song still hangs in the air. The red river fades into nothing. The quivering stops. Brittle is all alone. She hugs herself and is struck by the fact that for the first time in her life, she doesn’t know what to do. Not in the sense of that on any given day she might be at a loss for how to occupy herself, or being bored, or anything like that. Not in the sense of not having a clue of how to do something, like when she was faced with the seemingly daunting task of helping mother ascend to the tree above a few moments ago. No. All her life as a Daughter, this, coming here to the schiil after your mother has passed the veil of dreams, this has been the goal. This is the goal for everyone. And when they return, it seems to Brittle that most find their purpose in raising children of their own, children they already have or who are yet to flow through them into the world. Then, of course, if they are lucky their hair will winter and they will serve their kin as one of the oldfolk. But now? For her? The future feels empty. The river of life has refused her. Because she is a Brittle. A useless thing with short breath and thin skin. Tears of overwhelming self-pity well up in her eyes. They fall against her face, against the stone. Her throat constricts. No. Not again. hhhhh. As if to spite her, to stick crone fingers in her wound. hhhhhhhh. It’s too much. hhhhhhh. Stupid breath, stupid throat, stupid life, stupid name. hhhhhhh. She gets down on all fours, arching her back, trying to breathe. hhhhh. She’s…hhhhh…sick….hhhh…of…hhhh…everything.

Her body goes tense, rigid with seventeen winters’ worth of frustration. Her fingers claw at the stone. It’s even harder to breathe. A hurricane of unexpressed raw emotion starts to expand with frightening speed from the region of her stomach. Her head whips back and as before, she needs to let it out. But this is no clear note. This is a primal scream. It rushes through her throat, forcing it open like a fence post hammered violently into frozen ground, and escapes with thundering power up into the tree above.

The tree responds in turn. It starts to shake, all its heartbones clink against each other, and as they do, they thrum. All of them. It’s like a song with a thousand voices. Brittle is so amazed she hasn’t really caught up with the fact that her breath is free again. And now the tree descends to meet her. Why…no, the tree is not descending. She is ascending. Weightless, levitating upwards in a red pillar of light. Streams of different shades of red start emerging from her, from the pores of her skin, they protrude from her body like the needles of a porcupine.

or like the rays of a sun. of a sun. of a sun.

“Who said that?“ Brittle turns around mid-air just as her head comes level with the lowest heartbones. Red beams emanating from her head reflect playfully on the tree of bones.

we did. we did. we did.

She is almost engulfed by the tree now, seeing it from the inside. White bone, red rays, golden threads. Without thinking, as if acting on a memory imprinted in the sinews of her flesh, she reaches out her hand to touch one of the shimmering strands. For the briefest of moments, she hears a singular high-pitched air, a song line pushing through the polyphonic myriads of hummmm like a butterfly bursting through its chrysalis. Brittle smiles and whispers „It’s the…“

strings, child. strings, child. strings, child.

Brittle doesn’t understand. Is this, this structure, the history of the Daughters of Bray, somehow…a brittlefish? The thought makes her laugh, and her expression of incredulous joy reverberates through the tree with a glittering wave.

yes. and no. and yes. and no. and yes. and no.

Brittle twirls around. She is deeply enmeshed in the tree. It is all she can see.

we are your mirror though. though. though.

All her foremothers surround her. And their sisters and cousins and aunts. In the form of bones, to be sure, but Brittle can feel, really feel, that they contain their essence. „But how can that be, when so many of you return again and again?“ she wonders aloud.

why is water ice and steam and drops of rain. rain. rain.

„I don’t know“ says Brittle. „I don’t know“. She looks up and sees that she is fast approaching the top of the tree. The heartbone of Bray with its radiant halo of sunbeam (or suspiciously brittlefish-like) threads. Brittle floats through the strings connecting Brief, Breaker and Breem and finds herself transported outside the web of bone and thread, facing the Morning Queen herself. The bone is shining bright with a similar light as the threads surrounding it. The combination truly looks like a sun, just as big as Brittle. And Brittle shines too. Her red rays hit the golden beams, creating a curious effect reminding Brittle of the light of…

dawn. dawn. dawn.

„Dawn“ gasps Brittle. She closes her eyes briefly, and when she opens them, she stands in the middle of a grey and silent battlefield.

There are dead, twisted, mangled bodies everywhere. Some of them partly submerged in the ground, as if pushed with knife sharp precision by an unbelievable force. Many wear metal clothing, reminding Brittle of the rusty specimens Briar would display when doing her dreary lectures by the stump of the War-Begone-Tree. Among the fallen are curious black reeds that move gently in the breeze. They are the size of arrows and have a feathery texture. Brittle decides to call them….wait. Fearrows. They are fearrows. She has called them fearrows before. When? Light appears on the horizon, and on the top of a small hill before her Brittle sees a figure facing the sunrise.

She starts to run, but doesn’t need to. In the blink of an eye she has reached her destination, standing just behind the lone warrior, whose plated metal dress is red and gold. Auburn hair runs down the figure’s shoulders. A helmet ornamented with a vivid display of vertically sprouting feathers on the solitary one’s head. Red, tinged with black. A serrated sword in the right hand. The dawn’s light is approaching.

But something is wrong. The light. It’s red. Tinged with black. And as it comes nearer, something materializes from the blackness. A roiling mass of indefinability. Spikes and arms and mouths and hundreds of bone white eyes, shapes and forms and appendages constantly shifting in and out of existence, looming over the lone figure like a towering horror of pure unpredictability. Brittle can’t fathom it, can’t get her mind around it. But she sees the fearrows, barbs out, fixed onto differing and ever-changing parts of the dark presence. So this…this….should be a….fearrow…fearrow…fearrowing!

The naming sends a slight shock wave through the dark glob. It seems to rebel against being defined. wschtunk. A single fearrow pierces Brittle’s throat. She falls to her knees, unable to breathe. hhhh. The warrior turns to look at her. A sharp-lined woman’s face the texture of hardened leather inset with leaf green eyes. As the dark…something…what did she call it again…it’s too hard to….as it expands and widens above the forest-eyed one, she looks deeply at Brittle, deep, deep, straight into her Deepheart and says:

“Daughter. Remember”.

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