The Herbalist, Chapter 5: Foreboding

It was dusk. Fires were lit, and Innis sat in front of the pipers and drummers while they played a lively melody. One drummer was singing lustily:


“I met a lass with hair of gold

I longed her hand to hold

She led me through the shady glenn

And she I blindly followed.


Ta loo la loo la lee-ay

Ta loo la lee-ay!


Her smile was like a summer’s day

And walk like grass’s sway,

When I tried to take her hand,

She laughed and shied away.


Ta loo la loo la lee-ay

Ta loo la lee-ay!


From the forest she was born,

And from it she returned,

A changeling child destined for

The forest she was from.


Ta loo la loo la lee-ay

Ta loo la lee-ay!”


Several people danced and Turlough stamped his feet and clapped his hands merrily, joining in. Colum sat next to Bastion and watched the dancers and drummers with an expression of weary contentment on his face. The day had been long, and he seemed tired. Innis heard the music, but she didn’t comprehend it. She was disappointed by the news that the merchants would not be returning in the autumn as the usually did. And how strange a reason the woman gave her when she inquired why. The trees. The trees were closing in.

The sun finished its set, and Bastion and Innis started back to Aldus’s farm with the boys. The moon was nearly full, and the light that shined over the fields of grass was a milky white. Turlough ran ahead of them, tripped, and got up again without missing a beat. Colum followed after him more cautiously. The rosy glow of firelight through the windows of Aldus’s cottage soon greeted them. Deorwyn loped up to Innis and put his head under her hand, tail wagging all the while. She lovingly rubbed his ears.

“Did you miss me? I was only gone a few hours, you silly thing.”

“Will you come in for supper tonight?” Bastion asked her as they reached the door. The two boys had already hurried inside, spurred on by the smell of a good meal.

“If it’s alright,” Innis said quietly. “I don’t want to be a bother.”

“You’re not a bother,” Bastion answered her as he shook his head. “Never a bother. Come inside.”

Innis ate supper among the people she liked to think of as family. Aldus seemed tired, but he always managed a warm smile whenever Innis spoke. Turlough spat peas at his brother Colum, and Gwyndolyn squealed with delight whenever one hit its intended target. It took a threat of a whipping from Agnes for Turlough to stop. Colum shot glares at Turlough from across the table as he ate, one hand on his spoon and the other cradling his new mortar and pestle nestled in his lap. And all too soon supper was over, and Innis said her goodbyes.

“Bastion,” Aldus said, “you walk the lass up the hill, will you?” Bastion nodded. The girl, the boy, and Deorwyn started up the gently sloping hill in silence. The grass whispered reedily as the wind set their shadows to dancing.

“What do you think is going on up in the pass?” Bastion asked Innis, breaking the silence.

“I don’t know,” Innis returned. “Truly I don’t. I’ve never heard of trees that could grow as fast as that stallkeeper said they were growing.”

“Curious,” Bastion mused. “Whatever’s happ’ning, I hope it doesn’t come this way.” Innis agreed with him.

Bastion stopped at the break in the thin copse of trees that obscured Innis’s cottage from the valley below. Innis turned back to say her goodnight, but Bastion spoke first.

“How can you live so close to this place?” Bastion asked her. “It’s dangerous. I’ve heard stories.” Innis shook her head.

“It’s not dangerous. Neither me nor my da ever got hurt in this forest.” Innis’s mind flashed to the basket at the back step, filled with something good every night by an unknown spirit from the forest. If not a friendly spirit, then a generous, neutral one.

“What if this forest is like the forest closing up the pass?” Bastion questioned. Innis turned and stared into the treeline behind her. She saw ancient branches swinging creakily in a stiff breeze, as if to welcome her back.

“I don’t think it is,” Innis replied. She turned back to him. “I’ll be just fine. And I have Deorwyn,” she added. Deorwyn’s ears pricked at hearing his name. Bastion didn’t seem convinced, but he sighed, letting it go.

“Goodnight, Innis.”

“Goodnight, Bastion.”

They went their separate ways. Innis prepared for bed, then checked the basket at the back step. With interest, she saw that it was filled with thistle blossoms. This was a new item; it had never been given to her before. She took the prickly buds inside, put them in a bowl, then replaced the basket. Instead of calling out her usual “thank you,” she paused.

“Do you know what’s going on?” she finally called out into the dark. No answer. She closed the door and got into bed, with Deorwyn settling at his usual place at the foot of the bed. Both figures lay unmoving for a long moment. Then, Innis tapped the bed frame with one hand. Deorwyn heard, got up, and settled himself closer to his master. Innis gently grasped a handful of his wiry fur and drifted off to sleep.



(©)Copyright Noctis Vox, 2017.


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