Monday, 3 November 2008
A dread autumn
And as the old priest and Lord Winstanley climbed Tarren’s Moor, the dread of the season was upon them.
Autumn was reaching past its soft light and golden hues, scratching at winter’s throat, trying to drag the cold in upon the harvest. The leaves were not yet dead in the gutter when talk of the green ones were upon the lanes.
The green witches were abroad in the valley and even close to the town. That was what the people were saying. Children had spoken all summer long about the menace of the three who would come to play when the adults were not watching.
Seventeen children had gone missing between June and September and the magistrates in London had demanded to know what was occurring in the countryside.
“Still,” said Lord Winstanley, “Children are one thing, but for them to approach grown men, good men with thick arms and sharp minds, and leave them howling in ditches, that is not the work of man or of a gracious God.”
The priest nodded. “They howl for their souls, sir. These green daemons are advocates of the dark and they seek to prise free everything a man holds dear; his eternal soul, even. They must be ended. This is why we must see the hermit.”
At the crest of the hill they saw him, his white beard and tangle of hair a crescendo in the whipping breeze. The old man was transfixed in contemplation, a rock perhaps in his hand and he staring most intensely at it.
As the two men climbed nearer, they blanched to see it was a sun-bleached skull held tightly in the hermit’s hands.
The wild man looked up then with glee, saying: “The green witches! They will take what they may to keep them through winter. They will grow strong this year.”
Dropping the skull, he leapt up, turned and danced his way into the desolate cottage. Lord Winstanley and the priest slowly followed, scowling at the shattered remains of bone that scattered their path across the threshold.
…to be continued…
This story is a continuation of ideas from earlier tales, including:
Winter Quakes, Spring Awakens, and The summer meadow.