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Ungeluc heard the soft nickering of horses downstream and raced back from the river to sod cottage her captor, Halwend, had raised against the decaying trunk of one of the giant dawn trees; the shancrannagh he called them. Her basket of herbs upended into the bracken where she let it fall. She faltered only at the wattle-fenced sty behind their hovel. Four shoats and a sow lay in a buzzing heap against the wicker gate, their lungs a bloody flux dripping from fly choked mouths. Drawing her gray woolen shawl close around her shoulders Ungeluc staggered on. The hide door to the cottage stood open, and within Ungeluc found a man in burnished ring-mail completing the ruin of the cottage.
The man whirled, sword in hand, then bowed, “My lady.”
“Where are they...Halwend and my child?
“Your gracious husband, the Lord Kenerik has avenged his honor upon the traitor Halwend,” Jorrwyn pointed with his sword towards a more distant tree, where the stripped and mutilated carcass of a young man with long yellow hair hung from his heels, his body bristling with a dozen black shafted arrows.
“Your lord has taken the traitor’s whelp deeper into the wood...to spare your ladyship.”
“To spare me? It’s been three years since Halwend stole me. Three years!” Ungeluc charged her husband’s housecarl, but Joferwyn swept her arms aside and she collapsed upon the mud sill of the doorway. “What will my Lord Kenerick do with me now?”
“That is for him to say, my Lady. You will be well provided for, no doubt. Lord Kenerick is careful of his honor.”
It had been long weeks since her husband, the Lord Kenerick and his retinue had departed, honor intact. The bounding wards laid by her husband’s wyrdthane hedged her within the ruined grove of the dawn trees whose barren timbers stood sentinel throughout the younger forest of this broad river island. At their parting the wyrdthane hung back and pressed a tiny golden pip into her palm. When her eyes questioned, he whispered in her ear, “To quit my part in innocent blood. This isle was the heart of an ancient kingdom long forgotten…to most, a place of dread for my kind. I do not wish to give answer to the powers that sleep here should they awaken. Here is succor my lady. Tend it well.” Then they were gone. Within the island’s wards she suffered neither hunger nor thirst, heat nor cold. Long and lorn her days rolled passed, a ceaseless weary turning of darkness and light.
Every morning Ungeluc sought out the innermost of the giant trees, the Crannaghmor, the last of them that still clung to life. She fancied it the throne tree, for nestled among the wide buttresses of its roots, stood a single moss shrouded throne carved from the ivoried bones of hulking beasts whose tread the earth had not known in over twice a thousand years. Behind it she tended a loamy mound of walnut colored earth, the plot where with cradle songs she had laid to rest the sword-shattered body of her only child, the place where she planted the wyrdthane's golden seed.
Long months Ungeluc kept watch of that tiny hillock until one day a slender sprout unfurled in thick woody coils to ascend the great tree's broad trunk and to loop across its high-spreading branches. Each day the vine cast forth new tendrils reaching from tree to tree until it had bound together all the grove beneath its ropey baldachin, a verdant tegument that canopied over the whole river isle.
There came a day the canopy flowered and it seemed to Ungeluc that ten thousand swags of fragrant golden coin dropped down from the green above her; each pendant cluster’s perfume the very breath of life. Soon enough their yellow petals fell and swirling breezes heaped them into lambent eskers that skeined the throne and all the grove in ever shifting undulations. It was there upon that palearchic throne Ungeluc found anon her son curled and sleeping beneath a coverlet of golden blossoms. At her kiss his eyes fluttered open wide and knowing, deep as oceans and as blue. He smiled, touched her face, and with a voice sweet as honey, bright as sunlight, he whispered, “Vengeance.”
Ironspider - Very enjoyable; like the language. It reads like a sequence from one of the Norwegian sagas.
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