Thursday, 6 November 2008
A dread autumn (part 4)
But the children did not return for Lord Winstanley. He had perhaps lain there in depressed retreat for a half hour before he realised he may have been spared.
It would be unfair to criticise Winstanley for not immediately running home once the hermit had passed away, or else following after the priest to try and save him. Such unworldly horrors as the green witches are not often seen by ordinary men, and Winstanley himself had not even seen battle in his lifetime, though war it was that gave him his fortune through his ancestry.
At first he sat up and peered about him. The forest seemed quite silent, above the running of the nearby river, until the Lord was able to make out a low moan somewhere on the other side of the river.
The fear, that had hurled him prostrate next to the dead body of the hermit for so long, swirled and changed into a great anger and Winstanley leapt to his feet and ran along the river’s edge to spy for a fair crossing place.
A worn and sturdy log seemed to have been placed, some time ago, across the two banks and Winstanley made swift use of it, running in the direction of the sound until he heard a growling, agonizing howl.
He came upon the priest, broken and sobbing, his body thrown down upon the stump of a felled tree. All around this place the trees were bowed and sagging and three scorch marks haunted the ground where the green witches had stood.
Winstanley turned the priest’s face towards him and was sickened by the horrifying scowl his face was contorted into. He lifted Father Seddon, a small man of balding middle-age, onto his feet and then, half-kneeling down, took the priest’s weight upon his shoulders and began to carry him. He would head for sanctuary; he would head for the parish church of St Alfonso’s.
Usually but a twenty minute walk across country, today Winstanley did well to make it in under two hours, such were the burdens of the day. As he stumbled up the moorland slope and beheld the sight of the church, Winstanley thanked God for the first time in a long time.
But the skies were brooding and dark and perhaps God was getting ready to shut his eyes upon the little church beneath him, for as they neared the gateway to the parish graveyard the hitherto silent priest began to speak.
Though his eyes remained closed he spoke steadily and rhythmically, chanting three names over and over again: “Petandral, Leanlo, Gerrent; Petandral, Leanlo, Gerrent; Petandral, Leanlo, Gerrent.”
Winstanley recognised one of these names; that of Leanlo, the green girl who had spoken in his mind. He shuddered and halted beneath the arched entrance. A gravel path offered a straight line, 40 feet before him, on into the safety of the church building. He scanned his eyes about him and could not see the green ones, though he knew in his heart they must be near. All that could be done was to walk forward, without looking back, on through the great wooden doors of the old church.
For a man carrying a dead weight, his pace was swift and sure, but Winstanley’s eyes were caught upon an awful and insane sight just to the left of the path. There before him lay an open grave, deep and fresh, with earth strewn about it. And down at the bottom looking up at him with piercing, smiling eyes were three green faces.
And soon they were climbing up, out of their hole. And soon, they were upon him.
(to be concluded)
This story is a continuation of ideas from earlier tales, including:
Winter Quakes, Spring Awakens, and The summer meadow.