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Barnaby’s Task – Fiction

From the Book of SeasonsApen-Table-Mountain-10-19

Translation by Cormag M.

In a time long past, four Ladies began the never-ending cycle of seasons. Each Lady an embodiment of her quarter of the year. Each Lady the bringer of a season. For as long as we have marked time by watching the leaves fall and the snow melt, the flowers burst through the soil and the crops fruit, they have been the wardens of the year. Eternal and unchanging, they carry the seasons to each other in a dance designed by the Creator. They are guarded with vigilance from those who seek to do them harm, for they are not invulnerable. As the cycles spin on, many Ladies seek to share their duty and time with a partner, who will step into the dance alongside them, equally eternal. Many have danced for a time in the shoes of the Ladies, and returned to their mortal place to live out their days. In times of tragedy or great strife, some have retreated from the world, for a time…

Autumn 1221

The men had been hard at work all summer constructing dwellings and making a life for themselves in the little valley. It was an interesting time for the three men. While tightly bound to their mission, they were also untethered from the strict rules they had been living under. Beyond their settling of the little valley, they had been intently focused on their first Autumn as Guardians. Once that duty had been discharged, and the season received from the Summer Lady, they found themselves with little to do but await the pass to Winter. Daily tasks and preparation for the cold had continued, of course, but their primary duty was to watch and wait, and that meant a lot of free time. Barnaby, the oldest, was the slowest to let go of his usual rigid schedule.

Barnaby had been married. His young wife had died while giving birth to their daughter, who had followed his wife into the afterlife. Devastated by their deaths, the talk of crusades and pilgrimages to the Holy Land had fired his imagination.  He joined the Brotherhood hoping to be taught how to fight, and to go somewhere where he could vent the anger he felt over losing his wife on something. On the surface, the Brotherhood was much as the Knights Templar or Hospitaller: a Christian order that was helping the Empire to free the Holy Land from the Saracen and protect pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. The reality was much more. The Brotherhood’s primary purpose in participating in the crusades was preserving knowledge. For them that meant all knowledge, regardless of whether the Church branded it heresy, or treason, or sin. They had gone to the Holy Land alongside the other orders and had stopped the burning  of libraries, and murder of clerics. Carefully made copies of every book they saved were in a vast library under the council chamber.

Barnaby, at first, wanted only to learn to fight, and he did.  He quickly found that fighting wasn’t helping him to let go of his anger, but rather causing him to hold more tightly to it. The elders of the Brotherhood saw this struggle and began teaching him of other duties of the Brothers.  They recognized a Guardian coming of age in Barnaby. The Brotherhood had been serving the Ladies and their Lords for centuries. The Autumn Lady’s Guardian was growing too old to continue his duty, and so, when Barnaby, so full of fire, wanted something more than fighting, the council apprenticed him to the elder Guardian at once. Barnaby was dedicated. Serving The Autumn Lady was, he felt, his calling.

In the most recent crusade, the Brotherhood had found themselves pushed to the limit. The other holy orders had become more bloodthirsty and more ruthless, even more convinced to their right to the Holy Land. The Brotherhood spent so much effort trying to save women and children, that they didn’t manage to save the books. This was Barnaby’s third journey to the Holy Land, and his last. This was the crusade that pushed Lugh to the breaking point. Many other Brothers had simply left afterwards, fading into the night with no word, never to be heard from again.

Barnaby, in saving every person that he could from the senseless slaughter, had found himself alone and injured at the edge of a now abandoned town. The residents had fled, again. This town was one of the first to be encountered on the long journey to Jerusalem, and as such it was ransacked repeatedly. Barnaby had been here before, and he knew the families here had a safeholding in the surrounding hills. He did not know how far the rest of the Brotherhood had moved, nor did he know if the other orders were coming back. At nightfall, he had begun the journey to the hiding place of the village residents. He never made it. Diarmuid had found him two days later, fevered and wandering in the desert surrounding the village. The Brotherhood had failed in their task completely. The battered and diminished force fled toward home immediately, carrying the wounded along, leaving the dead to face the sun and sand in the desert.

Barnaby spent most of the return journey incoherent. Diarmuid tended his wounds, and prayed. The fever took days to break. The Autumn Lord visited Barnaby in his fever dreams and told him he would face a great challenge. That this task would outlast his years on this earth, and many other men’s as well.  The Lord told him that it was his destiny, and he could not deny it, for it was important to the one he served so selflessly. He said that Barnaby would lead two others with him, and that they were crucial to the success of his challenge. When the fever broke, Barnaby recalled only the clear prophecy of the Autumn Lord, though Diarmuid said he ranted about many things.

Barnaby healed and waited for this challenge to present itself. The chaos of their returning so beaten and battered had thrown the town into an uproar. When the rustlings of judgement against Cormag for Lugh’s sins began, Barnaby knew something was about to happen. The Council summoned Barnaby and called for a volunteer to take up the task alongside Barnaby. Diarmuid had been undone by what he had seen of his Brothers in the Holy Land, and loudly protested the Brotherhood’s further involvement, in any form, to the Council. He knew he would be unable to face the results of another slaughter, and volunteered to accompany with Barnaby. In one sitting, the Council sentenced Cormag, accepted Diarmuid’s request, and laid the task of guardianship in absentia on Barnaby.

Barnaby held on to the traditions and rituals of the Brotherhood more strongly than any of the three men. He needed the routine to keep him grounded, and he thrived on it. As a result, he was having the hardest time adjusting to the relative freedom in their little valley. The other two seemed to find peace in solitude, or caring for others, or even in building them a home.  Barnaby was at a loss without temples to attend, rituals to oversee, and people to train. He started new rituals and  new traditions that he could settle himself into.  His two companions had been amenable to the first round of suggestions, and had incorporated Barnaby’s rituals into their lives.  However, when Barnaby began suggesting more, until their lives began to resemble that of a Council hall guard, both Diarmuid and Cormag had drawn up short. Cormag had flat out refused anymore senseless imitation of Brotherhood rituals, and Diarmuid had simply stated that he didn’t feel that much devotion was really needed in this situation. After all, their very existence in this situation was a daily devotion.

Barnaby had been furious.  He was the leader of this group.  This challenge was his!  He would be the one to dictate what was needed and when. After an exchange of angry words, he stormed out of the small cabin and into the woods.  Unsurprisingly, he found himself at the tree. In the moment before he crashed through the screen of evergreens, he heard the sound of a woman crying. It ceased abruptly when he thundered into the clearing, looking around in alarm. A gentle breeze moved the tree’s leaves, which remained as vibrant as the day they arrived. They looked appropriate now, at least, he thought.  Barnaby moved quietly around the clearing looking for the source of the crying, hoping it had been a trick of the wind.  What would he do with a crying woman, here, where she was not supposed to be? He had no idea. Finally he set himself up at the edge of the clearing, tucked slightly behind an evergreen and watched.

The leaves of the tree shook in what appeared to be a great wind, even though everything else in the clearing was still and quiet. With the great invisible gust a handful of leaves fell to the ground. As Barnaby watched, another wind picked the leaves up and blew them into a a column of wind and orange. There was a bright glow, and then, the Autumn Lady stood at the base of the tree. Barnaby stared in shock. He had seen the Lady before, but never seen her do what he could only classify as magic.  She looked at him and motioned him to her. He slowly rose and moved toward her, falling into a deep bow when he reached her.

“Oh, Barnaby, rise please.  There is no need here, in the dark woods, to use such ceremony.  Here, I am merely a leaf girl, and you, a very angry man,” she said as she settled herself under the tree.

“But, Lady, I serve, and…” he trailed off.

“I know you serve.  I know you.  You could no more disrespect me than burn down the forest.  That doesn’t mean that you may not relax when people don’t expect you to be in full armor,” she smiled at him, “In fact, I believe that is why you are here tonight, is it not?  Your companions have found their ease, and you have not.  At least that was the gist of the loud words I heard from your home tonight.”

“Aye, Lady, you have it. I am trying to anchor myself.  I feel like I have nothing solid to hold on to.  The others, they find things to do, or enjoy.  I have done nothing but serve since my wife died, and now, all the trappings are gone. Two decades of the same structure, and now, there is nothing but waiting.”

“There may be much waiting, I am afraid. The others have found a life.  Neither has served as long nor as intensely as you have, and they find it easier to disregard the ritual nonsense of the Brotherhood,” she said and laughed when Barnaby looked at her in shock, “Know this, I neither expect nor require prayers so many times a day, offerings on every other Tuesday, or any other silly thing that the council had decreed sacrosanct.  I prefer Cormag reading under my branches, or Diarmuid singing as he plants herbs nearby. But you, Barnaby, seldom visit me, in any form.”

“I have been worried. The others had not met you, seen you. I had, and worried that there would be little of the Lady I serve in this tree, magnificent though it is. Bluntly put, I was scared,” Barnaby said.

“Now you know, I am here, and can be present when you need me.  Allow me to provide comfort to you as you do to me,” she said.

“I shall try. The crying that I heard as I crashed through the tress so rudely, was that you?” Barnaby asked, embarrassed.

“It was. Usually there is no one here at night, and I am free to grieve,” she said quietly.

“I still do not know why you grieve.”

“That is a tale for another night, my friend. I am not ready to revisit it just now.”

“As you wish.”

They sat silently for a while, listening to the night noises around them, like old friends are able to do. Barnaby had been devoted to serving the Lady for most of his life but had always interacted with her from a carefully held distance – a Lady and her servitor. Never before had he talked so casually with her. Sitting under this tree with her, he saw a young woman, caught in the sting tide of great grief.

“Lady, may I visit you and speak with you again?”

“I would like nothing more.”

“I must go and mend things with Cormag and Diarmuid. I will return tomorrow night,” he said, “Thank you.”

“For as much as I am spending this time as a tree, we share in this adventure. You are most welcome.” She stood and vanished in a whirl of leaves and wind before Barnaby fully managed to rise. He stood and ran his hand down the trunk of the tree, feeling that it leaned into him for comfort. Barnaby walked back to the cabin to apologize to the others, and to make amends. For the first time since they had arrived, he felt at peace.


Author’s Note:

This is part seven of a short story/novella. I am posting parts every Tuesday until it is here in its entirety. It is by no means finished, so please share your questions/comments/suggestions.  

You can find the previous parts here:

Part 1: Population 3

Part 2: A Harvest Festival

Part 3: The Sentencing

Part 4: Journey’s Beginning

Part 5: A Visitor

Part 6: The Tree

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The Tree – Fiction

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Spring 1221

The three Brothers crested the hill they had been climbing and saw a small valley lay before them.  A ridge ran along the western edge of the valley, and they followed the line of the ridge for a distance before carefully picking a path to descend to the valley floor. It was clear that, aside from them, nothing had passed this way in some time. The men had been traveling on foot for nearly three months. Summer solstice was upon the rest of the world, but spring was just beginning to creep upon the edges of the valley, protected as it was by the surrounding mountains and hills. Trees on the slopes were wearing bright green leaves, but below only the evergreens sported more than leafless branches. The dark green stood in contrast to the patches of new, bright spring grass that lay in the meadow beyond.

“Why are we stopping here?  I thought we were to serve the Autumn Lady. Surely she doesn’t reside here,” Cormag said and gestured with an arm, “in this forest?  Especially a forest on which Winter seems clearly reluctant to release its hold.”

“While I trust you, Barnaby, I also am curious as to why we are choosing to descend here, rather than follow the ridge to the Autumn Lady’s holdings,” added Diarmuid.

They had reached the valley floor and the only thing standing between them and the meadow a wall of imposing evergreens.  From here, the trees presented a dense screen that blocked most of the valley from view. Barnaby put out a hand to for them to pause before they pushed their way through the piney screen.

“In fact, we have reached the Autumn Lady. What the Council wished I not tell you, until now, is that she has chosen a very different way to retreat from the world than her sisters may have chosen. When something of this nature last occurred, the Spring Lady chose a grand palace with servants. In that instance, her guardians merely prowled the halls, and found whatever diversions they could, until she was ready to return. Our Lady has opted for something quite the opposite.” With that said, he pushed through the trees, holding the branches back for his companions.

In the middle of what turned out to be a grove of evergreens, there stood a magnificent maple tree. This particular species of tree was not found in this region, and so, was unfamiliar to the men.  Cormag and Diarmuid gaped at it as they stood at its base. Perhaps fifty feet high, the tree still bore the brilliant flame colored foliage of the Fall, even with spring attempting to bud around it. What was more, it appeared that not one leaf had fallen away from the branches. It was wholly out of place and time, and yet, it seemed to be holding court in the small clearing in the grove as if it had always been in that exact spot.

“I must confess, I do not wholly understand the craft employed here. This tree is our link to the Autumn Lady, and in some way, embodies her. She will remain in this form, as we perceive it, until she chooses a time to return. I do not know when that will be. She instructed the Council that she could be moved.  Only with sufficient warning, however.  She can create a sapling which we may take to a new home and plant in a grove like this one. The Council chose this meadow because it is below the ridge trail, and close enough to a village for supplies for us. A few people pass it by on their journeys through the mountains, but they rarely make the trek down as we did. I do not fear being discovered or having to move any time soon. There is precious little magic available to us to flee before any conquering hordes,” Barnaby said and reached up to touch a leaf.  The entire tree shivered in greeting.  He bowed and said simply, “Lady.”

The two other men started at the tree’s movement in the still morning air, but recovered their wits enough to bow and murmur, “Lady.”

“There will be other duties as we come into Autumn again, of course. The task of receiving the season from Summer will fall to us for the time, in addition to the passing of it on to Winter. As far as I understand, and have observed, she can hear us, and can communicate in a limited form. I truly do not understand the scope of it, and hesitated to delve more deeply because charges of heresy were flying about like flies in summer.  Even amongst our own. The level of ritual and, yes, even magic, the Council is privy to is beyond what many people can fit under the heading of Christianity. It is an ugly time, brothers. I do not mind being well away from it.”

“So, it is here will be our home then?” Cormag asked, looking around. He tried to remain surly in tone, but in reality, he was pleased, and no small part relieved.  The valley was beautiful, and he had no fear of living rough, especially with the summer coming on. It was as far away from people as he could want, and solitude was what he craved most these days.

“Aye, we will make our home a little away from this grove.  No need to draw attention if we don’t have to. The valley is quite large enough, and the more commonly used path in is that direction,” Barnaby said, gesturing to the North, “These lands are holdings of the Brotherhood, and as long as we are mindful, we should have no issues with passersby.”

“Well then, brothers, let’s find our spot.  Something tells me we will be here a good while.” Diarmuid was already moving off as he said this. He was already eyeing the surrounding terrain for possible places to build.  It was a lovely valley, he thought, and a fine place to build a home.

Barnaby bowed briefly to the tree again and turned to go, as he reached the trees he looked to Cormag, “Are you ready?”

“In a moment, Barnaby,” Cormag said, and Barnaby crossed through the trees.

Alone for the moment, Cormag closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, glad to be at the end of the journey. Once more he looked at the tree, and reached his hand up to caress a leaf. The tree sighed, as trees do when blown by wind, though there was no wind today. Leaves near his hand fluttered across the back of it as though patting it in sympathy. The tree sighed once more and Cormag withdrew his hand. A single leaf had come free of the tree and lay in his hand, glowing radiant orange. He pressed it to his chest and bowed deeply. Tucking the leaf carefully into his vest, he held his hand over the spot as he hurried to catch up to the others.

Soon the men were out of sight of the Lady’s tree, though sounds of camp being set up floated back to her throughout the day. The tree, alone in her grove, swayed in a nonexistent breeze. Eventually night came, and the sounds of the men fell quiet. The valley slept. Eventually even the night bugs tapered off their song. If you had been sitting at the base of the tree that night, however, you would have heard the sound of a woman weeping quietly.


Author’s Note:

This is part six of a short story/novella. I am posting parts every Tuesday until it is here in its entirety. It is by no means finished, so please share your questions/comments/suggestions.  

You can find the previous parts here:

Part 1: Population 3

Part 2: A Harvest Festival

Part 3: The Sentencing

Part 4: Journey’s Beginning

Part 5: A Visitor

The story continues:

Part 7: Barnaby’s Task

Journey’s Beginning – Fiction

spring_sunshine_may.jpg

Spring 1221

Three men trudged up the hill and away from the small village. The large stone building of the council grew smaller, and less imposing, as they moved up the hill. Of the three, only one looked back from again and again. Cormag’s glance repeatedly returned to the village during the walk up the hill. His anger had abated when the complete support of the other two had become evident. At worst, he could now be described as grudging. At his best, though, he was a solid companion, who had shown himself to be dedicated to their task.

A cold, spring rain was just beginning to fall as they reached the top of the hill and the group paused. All three men turned to look down on the village they were leaving. In silence, their eyes fell on their former homes, already full with refugees from the most recent crusade. This small place in the country seemed a bastion of sanity in an ever less sane world, and good people were fleeing from the madness to settle here.

Barnaby was happy that they had a place to flee to, and grateful for the safety the Brotherhood could provide. A constant line of worry had become etched between his eyebrows of late. He watched the movement in the village as people arrived and were escorted to new houses. Builders worked steadily to add rooms to existing homes that had opened their doors to the refugees. Barnaby has been vocal about their duty to provide a haven for these people, and now, with it all in progress, he was glad to be leaving. The job of it was well underway, and these families would now be safe. He had more pressing things to attend to.

Diarmuid, far from his original home, was the least affected by this departure. He took it on with the same equanimity and grace that he met all challenges with. He had already left one home to journey to join the Brotherhood, and another when the Brotherhood had established this village, and leaving this home seemed, to him, merely another season in his life. He hoped someday that he would find a place that he wished to live and settle in, but for now, he was content to go where the wind of the Lords and Ladies blew him. He worried about this new wind he felt rising; this wind that carried crusades and inquisitions on its back. Diarmuid was relieved to be moving out of its reach.

Cormag stood, stony-faced, on the hill and stared at what was left of his home. During the Winter, he, Barnaby, and Diarmuid had performed the rituals for the dead. His two companions were the only ones who helped, giving him the true measure of them. They had burned the timbers of the house when they were finished, until all that stood was the stone foundation. He hoped that the spirits of his family could rest and that they, including his father, had found enough peace to move on. Burning the house had seemed the most complete way to release them, and even as he stood at the top of the hill, he could see workers moving the stones from the foundation and placing them, for a time, in a fire before moving them to a new home. The people of the village were not, by and large, a superstitious lot, but Lugh’s crime had been so severe and shocking that they were taking time to renew anything that had touched the tragedy. Cormag also had done more than was required to put their souls to rest. He would live until his dying day with the image of his family, bloodied and dead, while he held his dying father and asked why. All he could hope for now was that they were at peace and that he too may find a measure of it.

Cormag was still unsettled by the council’s decision to send him with Barnaby and Diarmuid. He had known Barnaby for many years and looked up to him. Barnaby had been a friend of his father’s despite being several years his junior, and had mentored Cormag when he first joined the Brotherhood. As a result, Barnaby has stepped into the role of Cormag’s father once the council had passed judgment. Cormag was at turns grateful and resentful over the attention. He was the youngest of the three by many years. Not quite young enough to be a son, but not quite old enough to be a brother. Now that they were held in time by their task, he would forever be this young man, in need of guidance and a father figure, and it chafed. He supposed it was better than having the task put on him when he was old and doddering, however.

At last, he turned away from the town and toward the start of their journey. The hills ahead became mountains, and nestled in those peaks was the place they were bound. He turned to ask the men if it was time to leave and found them in an attitude of prayer as they looked over the town. As quiet as the wind, came the sound of Diarmuid whispering.

“Benedicat et custodiat nos vicus absentis nomen reciperetur. Dimitte animas ad transigendum. Custodi in gratia perdita quaesisse atque confusa. Ordo Fratrum vepribus et sanitatem et pacem iis qui ad mensuram sanctuarii.”

(Bless and preserve this village in our absence. Let go the souls who are ready to move on. Keep in grace the lost and confused. Lords and Ladies, bring health and peace to the Brotherhood and all who turn to them for sanctuary.)

Cormag turned away from them, tears in his eyes as he listened.

“Nos tuendos susceperunt in prospero itinere pergerent. Laetetur cor cormag corrigendum. Tibi placeat facere simplex pro nobis. Permissum is negotium exsisto facile universa.”

(Keep us safe as we journey. Let your heart be mended, Cormag. Please let this task be easily completed. Let all in the Universe be at peace.)

Embarrassed, Cormag gruffly picked up his things and trudged a few steps further, out of hearing. He didn’t want them to be nice. He didn’t want them to pray for him. He didn’t even want to like them, these men he had been saddled with against his will. But he was grateful to them, and glad that of all the men that could have been with him, it had been these two who were kind and gentle. He looked at them once again, wearing the cloaks of the Brotherhood and saying gentle prayers at the top of this rainy hill, and felt his cheeks flush in embarrassment . In spite of being grateful, he had directed much anger their way over the last months. He began to quietly offer a prayer of his own.

“Tibi gratias ago pro munere fratribus. Tibi gratias ago, quod me in gratia. Gratias agimus tibi propter bonum mihi quia. Please Barnabae et Diarmuid bene in fide, tum in valetudini caveat, commodo in actiones.”

(Thank you for the gift of my brothers. Thank you for keeping me in grace. Thank you for seeing the good in my heart. Please keep Barnaby and Diarmuid well in faith, well in health, and well in actions.)

At the end of his prayer he rejoined the now silent men. Barnaby looked at him and smiled. In unison, the men moved off, turning their backs on the village for the final time and stepping on to the path that led into the mountains. They knew things would be different in the village if they were ever to return, and they knew it just as likely that they would never come back. As they descended the far side of the hill, they began to talk with one another. The talk was simple, but like the first steps on the path, it was a start.


 

Author’s Note:

Forgive any Latin translation liberties, as I am relying on several internet translators. 

This is part four of a short story/novella. I will be posting parts every Tuesday until it is all here. It is by no means finished, so please share your questions/comments/suggestions.  

You can find the previous parts here:

Part 1: Population 3

Part 2: A Harvest Festival

Part 3: The Sentencing

The story continues here:

Part 5: A Visitor

Part 6: The Tree

Part 7: Barnaby’s Task

The Sentencing – Fiction

sunset_in_winter_194814

Winter 1220

Once upon a time, there were three men.  Two of them were friends, the third was not.  In the winter, the council had convened and told them that they were now one, destined to be together until the task was done. The first nodded solemnly and stood steadfast.  The second smiled at his friend and clapped his shoulder in a hearty grip. The third, however, boiled with rage, but nodded as the first had and stood, shaking, off to the side. The council detailed the standards which must be followed: timeliness, secrecy, hope.  When the council was done with their pronouncement they left the chamber and the three men behind.

The first, called Barnaby, looked at the other two with doubt and fear.  Barnaby knew the second man, Diarmuid, was as trustworthy as one could wish, and would stand beside him no matter what. Chances were, Barnaby thought with a smile, Diarmuid would be smiling the entire time.  The smile on Barnaby’s face faded as his gaze reached the young Cormag. Cormag, who had been sentenced to this as punishment to make up for his father’s sins. Cormag, who shook with his anger and was holding himself together by the barest of margins. Cormag, whom Barnaby knew, despite his rage, would also be as trustworthy as any man could want.  He gave Cormag a look, a sympathetic smile, and approached him.

Cormag looked up from his clenched fists and caught Barnaby’s sympathetic eye. Seeing the look on Barnaby’s face intensified his rage to the point where the fragile thread of control snapped, almost audibly, and naked pain and rage showed on his face. Cormag held up a hand to stop him and took a step away.

“I will do this,” he choked out, “I will do only this. Expect no more from me than exactly what those monstrous men have locked me to. No more!” Cormag lost hold of himself and stormed from the large chamber, every heel strike reverberating off the walls like thunder.

“He will be a weakness,” Diarmuid said softly, “He will cause us problems.”

“No, Brother.  He will not. He is as much of this honorable order as we are.  The council reaches far in sentencing this child…nay, do not grumble, he is yet a child,” Barnaby began again, “They reach far in this judgment.  Who can say that their fathers or their children are free from all sin? To sentence one who is but a child to years, perhaps hundreds of years, of service because of what his father has done? It is doubtful.”

“Aye. Doubtful indeed. I do not agree that he is a child, however, he is a grown man.  Able to enter into contracts, able to join the Brotherhood, able to fight.  As long as he does not work against us, he is welcome, and will be one of us. We cannot allow him to falter though,” Diarmuid said sadly.

“I understand. I believe he will take his part as seriously as he should. I cannot fault him for his anger.  In his shoes, I would be just as angered by their decision. Perhaps more.”

“I cannot figure out why the council did it.  Why would they doom a young man who had no possible control over his father?” Diarmuid asked.

“To solidify his commitment to the Brotherhood. At least, that is the reason that they believe they did it.  I think that, in fact, they were so shocked and enraged by Lugh’s actions that they unleashed their wrath at the only person left.  Lugh had already taken his own life, so there was nothing left but to punish the son. I think, in some ways, it might have also been to remove him from this horror filled place.”

“Oh, aye. Leaving could do nothing but good for the poor wretch. To be here, day in and day out, knowing that his family’s graves lie over the hill.  To know that his father had taken leave of the sane world in that way, every time he passed his boyhood home, would be too much. I could not bear that, and he should not be made to. This decision will not seem like a reprieve to young Cormag, and I cannot find fault either, ” Diarmuid said,  “We should hold off our journey until he has had a chance to make peace. The Winter has hold now, and we will not be in full need for some time.”

“Agreed. I think that we should be there for him to complete the rituals. It can only help to further convince him that we are his brothers in this,” Barnaby nodded.

“I must ask, Barnaby, because you are closer to the council.  What happened to Lugh? We all heard the end, but not the why of it. What pushed him to such a dark place?” Diarmuid asked.

“The crusades, Brother, though this is only speculation. We will likely never know for certain. Our order seeks only to learn from the people of Mohammed. The other orders seek to convert by force. The horrors they have inflicted on people in order to bring them to a Christian God make all the things we have seen in our time pale in comparison. When you remove a man from his home, put him in frightening conditions, and convince him that all but the few he travels with are the enemy, you make for men who are scared and quick to overreact. Make the conditions short on food, high on illness and heat, and those overreactions turn into vengeance and cruelty. I have seen formerly sane men do things that, prior to leaving our country, would have made them retch in the bushes. Lugh saw so much violence, and then his son readying to join a brotherhood terrified him.  He felt that his family may be better dead than at the mercy of these people who lost their humanity so easily.  Cormag arrived at the end of the slaughter, to find his family dead from the wee babe to the grandfather. Lugh only managed tell Cormag of his love for him before died from his wounds,” Barnaby told him.  His voice became rougher as he progressed through the story.

“Oh, dear Lords and Ladies,” Diarmuid said quietly. “I thank the powers that be, daily, for the circumstances that prevented me from going to the Holy Land.”

“The horrors were innumerable. The the endless line of graves of the children Stephen and Nicholas attempted to lead to Jerusalem began the stress long before we reached our destination.  When it ended with fighting our own brethren to keep the knowledge of the Muslims safe, indeed to keep the Muslims themselves safe, many men faltered.  The men we fought, men from other orders, men who had taken vows similar to ours, were gone. We fought demons in their faces. Soon the traumas piled up into a load that not even Atlas himself could not have lifted without pain. I saw many men break under the strain, but none as horribly as Lugh,” Barnaby sighed, “And then, somehow, they – we –  were expected to come back here, and return to what? Nothing can heal some wounds.”

“We will care for his son as he would have, had his mind remained, Barnaby.  We owe Lugh that much.  We owe Cormag much more,” Cormag said and exhaled heavily, “Vile council for punishing the punished. It was a mistake.”

“Indeed. We will care for him as though he were our own,” Barnaby said while leading Diarmuid through the doorway, “For as long as it takes.”

“Aye.  As long as it takes.”


Author’s Note:

This is part three of a short story/novella. I will be posting parts every Tuesday until it is all here. It is by no means finished, so please share your questions/comments/suggestions.  

You can find the previous parts here:

Part 1: Population 3

Part 2: A Harvest Festival

The story continues here:

Part 4: Journey’s Beginning

Part 5: A Visitor

Part 6: The Tree

Part 7: Barnaby’s Task

A Harvest Festival – Fiction

Autumn 2010

Harold was bright with changing leaves and the yellowing grass in the park. The small park was raked and free of the falling leaves that covered the other parts of the tiny town.  The school yard alone had five piles of leaves, while the gas station held another two that were chest high on Cormag. Being situated on the edge of the woods, at one end of the valley meant that for such a tiny town, it usually had more than its share of leaves. This year, however, it seemed that there were much, much more than previous years.  The men had begun making and stuffing scarecrows with them and selling them from the grocery when they ran out of ways to get rid of them. It was likely that every resident in the valley, in all of the different towns, had a scarecrow decorating their front walk by now. Barnaby was having regular leaf burns and still they kept piling up in brilliantly colored piles.  They all agreed this was the most leaves they had ever seen fall in the small town of Harold.

Far from being dismayed, when they spoke of it their eyes lit up and they became a bit more animated than they had been the moment before. It was like watching a child talk about the impending arrival of Christmas. They whispered back and forth between each other about it being time, and about what else they had to do to prepare. Even reluctant Cormag seemed to have acquired an extra hustle in his step. Barnaby had become positively effervescent.

The valley people who were regularly in Harold noticed the excessive leaf fall as well.  Their towns didn’t have this many leaves, they told the men.  Everyone noted the excitement on the men’s faces when they talked about the leaves. Later, the passers-through wondered what could possibly be exciting them about the leaves, when clearly, it was just more for them to clean up, and who wanted more work? Some thought maybe the forest fire a couple of years back had somehow made the ground more fertile and this year all the trees in that part of the woods had more leaves. Some blamed a windstorm they were sure had blown the leaves off early and all at once, even though there had been no windstorm. There were at least a hundred, different, outlandish theories. Whatever was causing the leaf pile up was making a wonderful conversation starter amongst the valley folk. The three gentlemen’s excitement was contagious.

Pumpkins had been set out at the post office and the gas station and piles of the orange squash were available at the grocery.  Cormag had even consented to put up a few other decorations in his gas station.  The town was ready for Halloween and Thanksgiving after that. Barnaby hoped that the first frost would hold off until November, and Diarmuid wondered if the winter squash would come in soon. Cormag grumbled about having to shovel snow yet again this winter.

Every year they organized several quaint, rural festivals in Harold. Each season had something that warranted tourist travel to their little hamlet, and they capitalized on that to the benefit of all the residents of the valley.  The following weekend was usually busy with tourist traffic. The leaves were at peak fall color and that meant people driving up from the far off city to come and take pictures and gather perfect leaves for scrapbooks.  The whole rigamarole was slightly lost on the men, who didn’t understand how taking a few leaves from the valley back to your apartment surrounded by stone and steel would really help you feel the Autumn, but they indulged the visitors in their exclamations about how beautiful it was, and took their pictures in front of the vibrant trees. The tourists exclaimed over everything it seemed, from the beauty of the leaves (which they were right about) to how they just knew they couldn’t live out here so far from everything (which they were also right about). The three men knew that the tourists would exclaim over a harvest festival located so conveniently on the drive home as well.  After all, they did every year.

There were rarely any returning visitors to the festivals the men planned.  It seemed like it was a thing those from the city did once, to say they had. Sometimes it was to take their bored kids out in nature because, as they said, it was good for them. Barnaby had been taking note of those who did return, and so far, the longest stretch was three years, and then they never appeared again. The men kept hoping for someone who returned every year, someone who would learn their names.

Valley residents were enlisted to bring crafts, baking, and anything else they could think of to the festival, and on Saturday morning the small neatly raked park had a market and common area set up.  Shortly after Barnaby finished setting up the dance floor, and the band from four towns over began playing, shiny city cars began rolling into town. Enchanted as always with the picturesque town of Harold and the friendly locals who always doted on them, they bought food and crafts, danced to the band and exclaimed over all of it. By the end of the day when the last tourist had said their thanks and goodbyes, all had made a tidy profit. The valley residents packed up their part of the festival with tired, satisfied smiles and bid the men good evening.  Barnaby, Diarmuid and Cormag (who even seemed enjoy himself a bit) sat on the bench under the stars that were coming out and chatted over glasses of beer made by a woman from the next town.

“I’d say that was a sound success, for us and for the others, don’t you think?” Barnaby asked.

“I do, indeed, old friend,” said Diarmuid, raising his glass.

“I wish you would stop planning out these crazy things with no notice,” said Cormag. The other two laughed and slapped him on the back, causing his beer to slosh slightly in his cup.

“You are nothing if not consistent, Cormag,” added Barnaby.

“We’re all consistent, we’ve been here nigh on forever. How can we be anything but?” asked Cormag with a tone of irritation.

“Oh, dear boy, that is just the way it is. No need to fret, is there really?” Diarmuid said, “I do hope she liked it, though.”

“I hope so as well. Gentlemen, I believe our work this evening is done. Shall we walk?” asked Barnaby.

Nodding, the three men stood, cups in hand, and began their walk down the sidewalk.  They crossed the short distance to Fancy, and paused at her walk. Sitting in the front window of the house was a small Jack-o-lantern, a candle flickering inside. They looked at each other in turn, surprise in every line of their faces. They had not put it there.

“Well, dear sirs, I do believe she did like it,” whispered Cormag.

“I can’t believe it is time,” said Diarmuid.

“Nor can I.  I hope it goes as it should,” responded Barnaby.

Cormag smiled, “How else could it go? Because it must be done, and we are here to do it.” Barnaby smiled in response.

“That we are, reluctant friend, that we are.”

With small, yet formal, bows to Fancy, they turned and headed back to their homes together, in silence.

***********

The men had indeed been in this town, or one just like it, for a very long time indeed. They had weathered many centuries together at this point, and moved in the well worn ruts placed by time. The latest events promised to throw big rocks into those ruts and bounce them right out of their quiet lives. For the first time in their nearly 800 years of ushering in the Autumn, they had a sign that their tenure may be ending. They knew things had to proceed quite carefully from now on, in order for things to return to order.  Their excitement balanced itself with meticulous attention to detail. They knew what should happen, but they didn’t quite know how it would. Also for the first time in nearly 800 years, they were doing something entirely new.

About a week after the harvest festival, and the day after Halloween, the Jack-o-lantern on  Fancy’s window disappeared.  Barnaby was surprised but not overly concerned. Cormag reverted to his surly self. Diarmuid merely got a small line between his eyebrows that let the others know he was concerned.  With the end of this journey seemingly near, all three couldn’t help but think back to how it began.


Author’s Note:

This is part two of who knows how many in this as yet untitled story, which began last week with Population: 3. and continues on with The SentencingJourney’s BeginningA Visitor, The Tree, and Barnaby’s Task. They are all grouped under the Changing Leaves category. This story is perhaps novella length, and just something I had fun writing. It’s certainly not finished, and I’d love to hear if you have questions, comments, or suggestions. I’m planning on posting parts of it every Tuesday until it’s all here.  Thanks for reading!

Population: 3 – Fiction

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Autumn 2010

Once upon a time, in a little, tiny town, in the middle of nowhere, there was a house.  Not a big house, or a tiny house, just simply, a house.  It was as average as a house can be, with red brick and brown wood and clear windows. If you were in the town, you might remember that there was a house there, but you would be at a loss to describe it and you certainly wouldn’t think on it past the moment of seeing it.  It almost isn’t worth mentioning, except that it is.

The tiny town was also quite average.  There was a grocer’s, a post office, a gas station and a school. People walked on the sidewalks and drove on the roads much like all other towns. What was not average about this town was that three people lived there.  Just three: one above the grocer’s, one behind the post office, and another in a trailer near the gas station. Three people is a very tiny town, and in that, the town was quite out of the ordinary. People driving down the road that wound through the tiny town remarked on the population, or they might chat with the gas station attendant if they had to stop for fuel, and then they would drive on. The town never seemed to grow larger or smaller, and no one ever moved there or away. It was, in a word, forgettable.  In fact, even the name had been forgotten. The three residents had known each other a long while, and never needed to call the town by name to each other or anyone else. There must have been a sign stating the name at some point, but it had long ago succumbed to weather and bored kids with shotguns. All that was left now was the small sign stating boldly: Population: 3

For the sake of this story, however, we will name the town.  It would get cumbersome, otherwise, to constantly talk about ‘the town’ and besides, every character in a story deserves a name. In this case, Harold shall do nicely, and it also happens to be how the three men thought of the town.  Harold was an old town, though its buildings were of an indeterminate age most people placed at either the turn of the century or someplace in the mid-century. The most modern thing in the town was the gas pump; it had been upgraded several years ago to accept credit cards. The phones still had dials, and the stoves still needed a pilot light lit every now and again. Though, with only three stoves in town, it made that job a bit easier. The people of Harold, all three of them, were proud of their little place. There were organized picnics in the neat park next to the post office, and sometimes they organized festivals on the weekends when the traffic through town was expected to be heavy.

I’m sure you noticed that I said that there was a school in Harold, and it is true there is, even though there are no children in town. It is an old one room schoolhouse, and it is still in use.  You see, the small valley where Harold is situated is home to several other tiny towns.  None are as small as Harold, and children reside in a few of them. As Harold already had a schoolhouse, the other tiny towns opted to send their children there, rather than build their own schools. The teacher happens to live two tiny towns over from Harold, and she drove in every morning to teach her very small class. The students are all ages, from kindergarten to just entering high school, a fact which threw the poor young teacher.  She wasn’t prepared for finger painting and algebra to happen at the same time and it took more than a month before she was able to keep the entire class busy at one time. Her students loved her, and invitations for supper with their families were often extended.  She always politely declined and returned to her home in the evening. No one in Harold really knew much about her. Well, no one in Harold really knew much about the students either.  The school and its inhabitants were part of the town, but very much separate.

I can hear you wondering, “Why doesn’t she get a name?” My answer is simple, she is not yet a character in need of one. Our teacher is a passing mention as of now. Perhaps later she will be like the town, and we will find her a name. Names are powerful things, and this story will need many.

Now, we must come back to the house.  We have discussed the other features of Harold, and all that is left are quite a few trees, a lot of rocks and grass, and the house. The house already has a name. On a small brass plaque to the left of the door, which you have to be quite near to read, there is one word: Fancy. It was an odd name for a house, and those who had seen it never quite knew what it meant.  The house was not fancy. It was quite plain, and unremarkable. Fancy was solid, well built and old. It was the one thing in town that looked like it had been there for quite a long time.  No one lived there now, nor had they for a long while. There was dust on the sills, and leaves in the corner of the porch. However, other than a slight air of disuse, this house was otherwise in perfect condition. Only the style in which it was built gave it a sense of age. No windows had even the slightest crack.  There were no weeds growing out of the cracks in the sidewalk, nor ivy growing up the sides of the house. Fancy looked as if her owners had merely gone on an extended vacation, but would be back at any moment.

The three residents of Harold had all walked round the house many times. They claimed that they did not know who owned it, nor had they been in it. Sometimes, they chased off the odd teenager looking to break in, or shooed away stray animals trying to find a home under the porch. The called the house by name, as one should when a thing’s name is known.  When someone asked about it, they merely shrugged and said it had always been empty. Most people didn’t press, but some asked if there was someone to contact about renting it, or if it was for sale. The answer was always the same, “I wouldn’t know.” For all that they said they had never even seen inside Fancy (the curtains had been drawn when the owners left, and had never been opened as far as anyone knew), they protected her, and watched over her.  None of them would admit it, but I suspect that they were the ones who pulled the stray weeds in the sidewalk or pulled off the ivy before it got hold. Whatever she was, whoever she belonged to, at present, Fancy was theirs.

This brings us to our three residents:  the grocer, the gas station owner and the post master.  These three men were a part of Harold as much as Harold was a part of them.  I think that one would cease to exist without the others.  They were reliable in that they were always there when people drove through, and that they never seemed to change.  Even their clothes looked slightly out of period, as if they had worn them for a very long time. This is the way of most small, out of the way towns though, and not especially remarkable. Even their names and occupations seemed slightly removed from the present.

The Post Master was called Barney. He wasn’t really the Post Master, merely the person who owned the building the post office was housed in. He received and sorted the small amount of mail that was sent to the post office boxes in Harold. The title of Post Master had stuck, however, and he wore it with pride. His given name was Barnaby, and old-fashioned sounding name that people had simplified over the years until all that was left was Barney. He was a solid man who was very conscious of his duty.  He was never late, and the first to volunteer for anything that needed doing. Granted, in this small town, that wasn’t much, but he strung up the Christmas lights and put out the Fourth of July decorations. The task of mowing the small park near the post office fell to him more often than not, and he did it without question or argument. People sometimes asked him why he worked so hard in such a tiny town, to which he replied, “Because it must be done, and who better to do it?”

Dermot, the grocer, was a pleasant man.  He was open and had a sunny disposition. He was just as likely to chat with you as sell you a carrot. The grocery store was small, and stocked an impressive array of fresh food.  The folks of the small valley flocked to it, even with the recent opening of a supermarket several towns over. Dermot could always be counted on to have whatever you needed in stock, no matter the season.  The only exception being that if you wanted something more along the lines of potato chips or tv dinners, you couldn’t find it on the shelves of Diarmuid’s. This was the name of the store, and come to it, also the name of the owner.  Diarmuid, like Barnaby, had slowly given in to the simplification of his name and become, to everyone outside the town of Harold, Dermot. His store still bore his name, though the letters on the awning were greatly faded.  Every so often, someone would ask him how to pronounce the store’s name (DEAR-muid,
muid – rhymes with squid) and where the name came from (a family name), and once in a blue moon, if that was his name. With that question, he would smile, pause, and answer simply, “It was the name of a man long ago.”  If the customer noticed that he had not answered the question, they never seemed to mind, for Diarmuid’s kind smile made it seem unimportant.

The gas station was owned and operated by Mack. He was a serious man, some might say dogged. He did his work with diligence and when it was done, he went home. You couldn’t call at the gas station even one minute after closing time and expect to find him there. In all the history these three men shared, he had never volunteered, or done anything outside of the things that were expected. While he was not what one might call a go-getter, his work was always done and done well.  No complaint could be made about his thoroughness or his commitment, even if the spirit was a bit lacking. Mack, like the others, had a name that had not withstood the test of time. Christened Cormag, which had then become Cormack, and finally landed on  Mack, he was worried that he would one day lose his name entirely and be “the gas station guy in Harold.”  Of course, the town had already gone through several names, so one day, he said grumpily, he might just be “that gas guy in the next town over.”

Diarmuid, Barnaby and Cormag had been through many a year together.  Their friendship was reliable, in that way that familiarity lends itself to trust and rapport, but this threesome had not been sought out by any of them.  Barnaby and Diarmuid had known each other as young men, and had become true friends. Their lives drifted apart and back together again until they found themselves again together and here in Harold. Cormag, however, had ended up with them through no choice of his own. He couldn’t exactly be called bitter, but he was rather reluctant about the situation, even after all these years. He was absolutely trustworthy, and could be depended on, but as with his gas station, no one expected him to pick up anything extra. Diarmuid often found himself mediating between Barnaby, who was always doing that little bit more, and Cormag, who had no intention of helping further. Their disagreements were usually short lived and while they would never be best friends, they had grown to enjoy each other’s company. Many evenings they could be found in one or the other’s home, having a drink and laughing. The men all called each other by their given names, not the shortened modern versions the other people in the valley used. Few noticed, but those who did inevitably asked why. All three men gave the same answer, “When you have known someone as long as I’ve known the both of them, the first name you learned is the name that sticks.”

Those who drove through the town on a Sunday morning would see the three men walking down the town’s one sidewalk together, until they reached Fancy’s walk.  Every Sunday one of them (all of them took rounds, though it was more often Barnaby) would split from the other two and make a circuit around Fancy, stopping to check on their house, while the others walked on.  At the edge of the woods, some 50 feet further down the walk, another would split off and walk into the sparse trees, while the last one (usually Diarmuid, as he was the most charismatic) would continue down the road (another 100 feet) to the sign that read Population: 3.  The man at the sign would wave to passers by or answer questions about when the gas station would open, smoke a pipe, or just lean on the sign post.  At some unheard and unseen signal, he would straighten and walk back, stopping at the edge of the wood and again at the walk up to Fancy to gather the others, and the three men would continue back to the town proper. Everyone in the valley knew that the town of Harold was closed on Sunday mornings, but that by noon the three men would have grocer’s and the gas station open, while Barnaby did odd tasks around the town. Those who hadn’t seen this weekly ritual assumed the men went to church on Sundays, like most did in the small valley. The ones who happened upon the men wondered about stills or drug labs in the woods. Of the few people who had tried to follow them, all had found themselves caught up with Diarmuid, standing at the sign and happily chatting the morning away. None had managed to follow the others into the woods or to the house, and after spending a morning with Diarmuid, they no longer tried.

Harold was a content, if not happy, town. People got their mail, gas and groceries when they needed them, and things ran as they should. Harold was a reliable tiny town with three reliable residents. The oddly empty house and unusual Sunday strolls were the least of the concerns of the folks in the valley. If they were asked about Harold, all would agree that the men of Harold were the solid and reliable foundation of life in the small valley, no matter what they did in the woods on a Sunday morning.


Author’s Note:

This is part one of a short story/novella. I will be posting parts every Tuesday until it is complete. It is by no means finished, so please share your questions/comments/suggestions.  

The story continues here:

Part 2: A Harvest Festival

Part 3: The Sentencing

Part 4: Journey’s Beginning

Part 5: A Visitor

Part 6: The Tree

Part 7: Barnaby’s Task