Thursday, May 7, 2009
Sorrow crouched at the edge of the withered trees and lit a tiny taper.
Shielding the flame from the chill air, she touched its spluttering tip to the hem of her pale frock.
‘My poor, brave Susan,’ she whispered, and watched the flames catch.
One by one, flickers of orange spread across the fabric, releasing the scent of flowers into the musty darkness.
Beautiful petals — lilies, roses and carnations — burst into bloom round her legs, rising in emergent flourishes till they nestled between her hair like posies.
Then, with pollen drifting from her body in an amber aura, she held out the candle and set foot into the gloom.
Each strike of her heel drew grass from the ashen soil; span moss whorls onto petrified bark. But with every step, all trace of life perished in her wake as quickly as it had blossomed.
All around lay tangles of briar and bracken, trailing branches and husks of oak sucked of life. Whichever way she turned, she knew the forest would lure her to its heart.
In her hand, the flame crackled. Beyond its meagre warmth there was nothing but blackness, yet she sensed the presence of dark souls all around her; heard them sniff at her perfume armour.
Finally she reached the clearing.
Snared by thorns stood a ring of squat stones. At its centre, a candle, almost extinguished.
She held out her flame and called into the shadows.
‘I hear you, Iunaal. Show yourself.’
After barely a breath, a wolf slank from between the trees, its spectral features gaunt from hunger’s scratch.
‘Again?’ it said, with a low growl.
‘Again,’ replied Sorrow sternly, watching as the pack loped into view.
Iunaal set a paw on the keystone and fixed her with a hollow stare. ‘Your courage is admirable. But what of your stamina?’
‘I will do what I must.’
The wolf’s eyes fell on her candle. ‘You will take another child?’
As Sorrow stood momentarily hesitant, a lone figure shambled from the pack, its face wracked with feverish want. 'She is weak. Why do we not slay her now?’
Iunaal studied Sorrow’s quiet defiance. ‘Patience. The time will come.’
The lone wolf shook its head and snarled. Driven by desperation, it bared its fangs and leapt for Sorrow’s throat.
From her shoulder, Sorrow tore a handful of lilies and cast them at the mad creature. As they whistled through the air, the petals ignited with a blinding white heat, striking the wolf to the ground in a cloud of hissing ash.
The pack edged back into the undergrowth with an angry whimper.
Seizing her moment, Sorrow stepped into the ring of stones and set the candle fast in a mound of spent wax.
‘With Susan’s life I banish thee. Bind thy master to his pit. Thou shalt not feast.’
The ground quaked, shaking petals from her body like autumn leaves, and with yowls raging wild into the night, she turned to face the trees, and fled.