Green is an Erien setting story by Terri Pray
Artwork by Samuel Pray, created using Daz 3d, Photoshop and Filter Forge
“Slow down, mother!”
Two voices, one male, one female, clawed for her attention, but Davina didn’t stop, didn’t look back as she walked away from the castle and the village below. She was aware of the voices, of the noises in the night, but didn’t turn to look at them. Imaged flashed across her mind, the vision that had consumed her, threatening to steal her sanity but there was nothing that she could do about it beyond letting it wash over her. The vision and what it had showed her, were in the past, they’d happened and there was no denying it. But it didn’t prevent the pain, the searing pain that consumed her heart and soul as she walked toward the trees. The Three-Faced would welcome her, shutting the pain away, that was the only thing she could believe right now. Her slippered feet made little sound against the hardened path, the footwear not designed or made for the walk, but she hadn’t stopped to change. She blinked away tears, not the first she had spilled since the knowledge, the vision, had hit her, nor would they be the last.
Imaged flashed through her mind. Her love, her man, coated in blood. A weapon in his hand, a curse on his lips as he fought. Fought and died.
Gone, he’s gone. The bitch did this to him. Took him from me. Idiot woman, should have left him behind. He belonged here, with me, not out there with that woman and their brat.
The Queen, damn the woman, she had everything, the power, position, wealth and the man she loved. The man who loved her… Caden.
Had the daughter been a brat? She frowned at the thought, recalling the smiling face of the teenage girl. Flame red hair loose about her shoulders, silver eyes merry as she danced across the sunlight grass. Too young to enter the fire circle, but old enough to catch the eyes of many a man. Something she had ignored or not even been aware of.
A child that should have been hers, or should never have been born at all.
His daughter. Did she die with her parents?
The thought sat uneasily, settling into a tension across her chest. The girl, the daughter, she was the greatest loss for the Isle. Yet it was Caden she wanted to see again. The man who had been hers in all but name, the man she would have married if such had been allowed.
The man the Queen had stolen.
Not that others saw it that way. The Queen had married Caden before Davina had even had a chance with him. A few meetings, a handful of exchanged words and then it was too late. The bond between man and Queen had been formed, the service completed and he had become the royal consort. Never able to claim a place as King, only ever as consort and not even Prince Consort at that.
Oh, how he’d railed against that. Even after the princess had been born there had been no change in his status. Never would he be in a position where he could claim the throne should his wife die. He’d argued and raged with Davina about that, despite the fact that she had pointed out there was a way, of sorts. That he could stand in his daughter’s place until she was of age, but that hadn’t helped.
Always bound to a woman, reliant upon her for his status or lack there of and she had understood. Or had tried to. Yet for all that he had remained with the Queen, refusing to ask for the bonds to be severed, which would have left him free to take his place at Davina’s side. His excuse? The daughter he had sired. How she needed him and that a parting of the ways might have prevented him from ever having contact with his daughter again.
Would the Queen have been that cruel. Davina had, at first, doubted it, but as the years continued she could see no other reason why Caden would continue on in a marriage that brought him no joy.
All those lost years. Years they could have shared instead of stolen moments together when he wasn’t at the Queen’s side.
“Mother!” Her daughter’s voice, clearer now, nearer. “Stop, please! You’re frightening me.”
Had the girl run to catch up with her? “If you would speak with me, then run.” She didn’t slow down, there was too much to do, things she had to take care of before she succumbed to grief. That would happen, she wasn’t a fool, sooner or later her strength and determination would crumble.
“Mother, what’s happening?” The girl, seventeen like her twin brother, caught up with her, but didn’t make the mistake of reaching out to grab her mother’s arm. “I don’t know what’s going on, Richard doesn’t either. We’re… we’re worried about you.”
Davina glanced at her daughter, all too well aware of Richard’s heavier footsteps. “He’s gone.”
Rebecca frowned, her voice softening, touched with fear as she kept pace with her mother. “I don’t - who’s gone, mother? What did you see?”
At least she didn’t have to explain to her children about the sight, the visions she had been left with even after she had left the grove. Years of watching their mother hit with visions, images that may or may not come true. Some things she had been able to avoid, others she had embraced, but there had been no warning this time. Nothing to tell her that her beloved would never return from the trip beyond a sense of uneasiness that had knotted her stomach any time Caden had left with the Queen.
Name, the woman had a name, but to Davina she would always be that woman, the Queen, the bitch. Never a name. To give her that courtesy would turn her from the enemy to a woman she might sympathize with. That could never, would never happen.
“Mother?” Richard this time, the boy had finally caught up with them. That was something she would have to change, her son would need to be strong if he was to protect the crown along with his sister.
Rebecca gasped, half stumbling before she righted herself and continued to keep pace with Davina. “No, it can’t be. He can’t be dead.”
Denial. She’d not wasted any time in denying what had happened, not when she’d felt his last breath, the knowledge that he was dying, and the fight leading up to it. The feel of blood and salt water beneath his feet, the wet wood, the struggle as he had sliced and cut, fighting along side of that woman all so the child he’d fathered on the Queen might have a chance to escape.
Was the heir dead?
Not that it mattered, she was far away from home with no one to guide her, if the gods were kind. Both guardians would be dead, and the girl a stranger with little to hand, hunted by the same people who had cut down her parents. No, the odds that the girl would ever find a way to make it safely home to the Isle were slim at best. Foolish girl wouldn’t have the funds to book passage, even if she could could find someone willing to sell her a berth.
“What will we do?” Richard moved in front of her, spreading his arms out to try and stop her. “We have to talk, to plan and…”
She stepped around him, continuing without missing a beat. “I already know what I need to do.”
“Damn it, mother. I’m almost a man. I could be wed with a child of my own by now if you’d have let me.”
The girl he’d fallen for was beneath him, beneath both of them. “Not with that woman. You will marry, but it will be a woman of worth. One fitting for your status.”
“Are you insane? Our status is that of your line, a woman of the grove who turned her back on her service for the love of a man.” Her son growled, turned and followed her.
“Richard, how can you… you know better. Mother is the daughter of a noble line, we are given our rank and respect based upon our house.”
“She’s the consort’s mistress!” He snapped.
Davina snarled, turning on her heels to glare at her son. “The Isle welcomes children and acknowledges love. He loved me, his wife knew of our relationship and did nothing to prevent it. She wed him for the bloodline and the treaty, not for love.” She took a step forward, advancing on her now cowering son. “Marriage is for politics, bedding is for love. That is the way of it among out people as well you know.” No, there was more to it than that. Some combined love with bloodlines when it came to noble lines, and times in the grove, around the Beltane fires it didn’t matter who you bedded. Any and all children were welcome during that time, and some liaisons continued beyond the time at the fire.
Man or woman, it didn’t matter. They all had the right to chose who they would take to their bed. One of the many reasons why the Isle was seen as barbaric by those beyond the protective circle of reefs, cliffs and magic.
“Mother, I don’t know what you’ve got planned, but you still need to talk this through with us.”
“No, I don’t. You are my children, my blood, you will obey me in this and know that what I do is for the protection of the Isle. This is the will of the Three-Faced, and you will accept it.” Was it her will? That part she couldn’t be sure of… not yet at least. She shrugged off her doubts and turned, gesturing to the grove. “There is an oath I must take and you will witness it.” More than witness, they had their own parts to play, ones they would refuse at first and then bend to her will. It was the only thing she could do, the Queen had put them all at risk by her actions. It was her duty to watch over the Isle, to do what the Queen had failed to do, and put her children on the throne - or the Isle would fall.
Darkness awaited them, beyond the magical boundary, it watched, looking for a weakness it could exploit and that was something she couldn’t permit.
“Dead… how did it happen?” Rebecca’s voice softened, grief rippling through her words. “Did you see it?”
“The Three-Faced granted me a vision,” Davina admitted.
“A vision you could do nothing about,” Richard growled. “Why would she do such a cruel thing?”
She didn’t answer, not immediately. The path changed beneath her feet, going from the heavily used one that split off in many directions, to a path with grass pushing Things she had done several times over through the years, hadn’t all servants of the grove at some point?
“Mother, why the grove then? Shouldn’t we be going to the temple to pray for his spirit? To help to ease him into the next life and prepare him for rebirth?”
“No.” Rebirth. The Goddess would take care of that, other - more important tasks - had been set aside for her to complete. A path that her children would be committed to before the end of the night. “She has another task for us, one we will dedicate ourselves to before sunrise.” The path waited for her, leading into the darkness of the trees, welcoming them all. Here they would be safe, but her son would only be able to make it to the outer boundary, the grove would not permit his entry at this time. Only during the fires of Beltane were men permitted any further in and even then they could never enter the inner circle of the grove itself. That was the nature of the magic that protected the area. Men could not serve the Three-Faced in the same way. Not even the blessed Guardians who fought and died at the side of the royal house.
Guardians, she would need to oversee the choosing of such for her daughter.
There had never been a time when a male had been granted a guardian, but this time would be different. She would see to that. Both of her children would require such protection.
The voice, she knew that voice, but it faded, the touch weak. The loss of the royal line would cause such a thing. Another reason why she had to do this. The grove, the magic, the Isle, it all needed protection. That was but one of the duties of those who tended to the grove.
“Mother, you need to stop. I can’t go in any further, you know that. The magic…”
“I know. You will wait and you will listen.” Perhaps once the oath was taken Richard would be able to enter this place? He would be of the new royal line and that would… perhaps there was more to this than she understood? “Rebecca, you will attend me.”
“If you think I’m going to wait around here when…”
“You will do as you’re told, boy.”
“I’m no boy!” He growled.
“Yes, you are.” She turned and glared at him, “in this you will wait for me, you will obey me and listen. I do this for you as well as myself. The Isle needs us, we are the only ones who can do this, who can stand before the darkness and hold it a bay. There’s no Queen, no heir, and your father is dead. The Three-Faced called me and I will not turn away from her. Nor will you.”
He paled, lowering his gaze, hands clenched into fists at his sides. “As you will, mother.”
At least one of her children knew enough to obey her. Richard had always be the problem child. Strong willed, arrogant, in many ways he was a copy of his father, but in this he needed to wait and accept that this wasn’t the place for him to flex his muscles. “Good.” She didn’t waste anymore words on him, but turned, hurrying toward the grove with her daughter close on her heels. Trees reached out, twigs snagging at her dress, leaves crunching under her feet as the path narrowed. Odd, she couldn’t recall it being this overgrown the last time she had felt herself drawn to the grove.
“Mother, something is wrong here. There’s…”
“Sickness?” She could smell it now, a rotting odor beyond the natural decay of vegetation. “Some thing’s rotting down here.”
“Maybe, I don’t know.” Rebecca paused and then hurried to keep up with her. “I don’t smell that, just something odd.”
Why couldn’t Rebecca smell the decay? “It will be better when we…” The trees closed ahead of them, shutting off the path.
“Mother?” Rebecca moved to her side. “I’ve never seen the path do this before now. It’s always been open. I- I was here only three days ago.”
Three days? Why hadn’t she known that? “I see.” Her daughter was keeping secrets, not something she could permit. “The grove must be recovering from the deaths.”
“What do we do?” Rebecca moved to the trees, touching the closest of them. The tree groaned beneath her touch, leaves rustling and for a moment it swayed, opening a path only to close when Davina tried to enter it. “I don’t understand, it was going to let me through.”
Young, untouched, her daughter was still a virgin. Perhaps that was why the trees moved? In the grief that now moved through the grove perhaps only the innocent would be welcomed. “It doesn’t matter, we’re close enough to make this work. We’ll perform the oath here and then return to the castle and begin the work that will protect our home.” Protecting the Isle, the castle and the village were the only things that mattered in this moment. “Do you accept that I do this not just for ourselves, our family, but for all of those who call the Isle their home?”
“Good girl.” She turned side on to the path, gesturing to her feet. “Kneel, my daughter. Kneel and accept the blessing of the Three-Faced and those sworn unto her.” A deep rustling moved through the trees, a whispered word she couldn’t quite hear, couldn’t understand despite the fact that she had been raised to serve the Goddess in all that she wanted, all that she needed. Rebecca frowned as she moved to her knees, her head bowed, hands folded in her lap.
Power waited for them, for both of them, rippling through the very earth beneath their feet. This was the time and the place, there would be no turning back now, not as she spoke the first words of the oath, the spell that would bind her line to the Isle for all time.
“Lady of the trees, spirits of the grove, daughters of earth and water, we who serve you come here to offer our pledge in this time of grief.” Grief, is that what she was feeling? Anger was a part of it, she knew that, could feel it, but she would need the power that anger would give her. Only when this was done, when the magic was set in place, could she give herself the chance to grieve for the loss of her love. The man she had given her heart to from the very first time she had laid her eyes on him.
Time, power, energy, she would need them all.
“The line of the Isle is dead. The Queen and her child are gone and those sworn through blood and spirit are gone. In their place I offer you my own line, my children, the power that is within my spirit and the magic that is within my blood.” She reached for the words, knowing that there was but one chance go to this. One time when she might be able to cast this spell.
An angry groan rolled through the surrounding trees. They grieved, wanted revenge, like she did.
“I have two children, beautiful, strong and willing. I offer them to you, new blood for the Isle, a new line born of the consort’s line. They carry magic from beyond the Isle combined with the blood of a servant of the grove. My daughter will provide a new vessel for the line, she will give you children, daughters to replace the Queen who failed, and the Isle will remain protected.”
Rebecca shook her head, but the magic was already in place, her daughter couldn’t move, couldn’t break away from the power that held them both in place.
Fear was understandable. Her children were young, they didn’t understand what was going on, the importance of the Isle itself. They had never known a time when the Three-Faced was weak, or a time when the Isle was under direct attack.
“I swear, this night and for all nights to come, that my line, my children, my very being will be sworn to the protection of the Isle and the line that will now serve you. We will not fail you, my children will remain safe on the Isle. I will find guardians to stand at their sides, to fight and protect them, train them as is the way of those sworn to the crown.” Yes, the crown. She would wear one for a time, but only in the name of her children. They were too young, unprepared for the responsibilities of being King or Queen, it was only right that a mother would protect her young from such things, to prepare them for the work ahead. Years, it would take years before they were ready but she would guide them until the right moment appeared.
“Mother!” Richard called out. “You’re making a mistake. This isn’t going to work!”
It would work. It had to work. “Lady, Goddess, mother of us all, we will not leave the Isle unprotected.” She drew the small dagger she wore on her belt, lifting it before pressing the edge of the blade against her palm, drawing it down in a sudden, deep slice. Blood welled along the length of the cut and she spread the droplets out around her and the still kneeling Rebecca before touching her forehead and then Rebecca’s with a bloody finger, drawing a crescent moon on both her daughter’s brow and her own. “I give you my life, my blood and my children in the name of the Isle. We will stand as one, working together to build a new line. I bind us to the Isle, to the magic, to the crown. None will stand in our way, no danger shall be allowed here, no enemy permitted to draw breath while one of our line draws breath.”
It was too late, far too late for that. She’d committed to the spell, binding blood and spirit both to the casting.
“By my breath, my spirit, my heart, I do pledge this and make this binding.” The oath was done, spoken with the magic that soared through her soul, turning it from a simple oath to a magically bound promise.
“Mother!” Richard screamed.
Pain? She turned away from Rebecca, her gaze narrowed on the form of her son. What was wrong with him? There was no…
Her thoughts faltered. Her son, her beautiful son, lay on the ground, on his back, tremors working their way through his body as he lay there, twitching and whimpering.
You gave life to a blood oath, one that binds both you and your children, without asking their permission.
Yes, but it had been for a good reason.
Your son wants nothing to do with your oath, you forced this upon him.
She had reason, couldn’t Richard see that?
It hurts him, but there is nothing I can do.
A lie, a bitter, nasty lie. The Three-Faced could help him, she was a goddess. Couldn’t she ease the pain.
It will ease soon enough but he will not forgive you for what you’ve done to him. Think on that when you seek means to follow through on your oath.
The presence faded, dying away with the words of the goddess. Freed from the magic, Davina moved, hurrying to her fallen son. “Richard?”
“How could you do this to us, mother?” He groaned, the last of the shudders working their way through his body.
“It had to be done, you know if did. We must step forward before it is too late. The Isle must be protected.”
“Yes, I know… this wasn’t the way to do it. You should have talked with us, asked of we were willing to be bound in such a manner. But you didn’t, your desires, your needs, that was all that mattered.” Bitterness washed through his words.
“Trust me.” She gathered him close, dismissing the words and the hardened look from her daughter as Rebecca moved to join her at Richard’s side. “This is what we were meant to do, why we were born. Why you were born.” No matter what the goddess had said, her son would accept, would adapt to it all, then they would work together as a family. Nothing would be able to stop them from protecting the Isle. It was her duty, their duty and she would see it through - no matter the cost…