CW: death of a loved one
The Witch had long ago become used to living in the Wildwood, cradled and protected by the trees surrounding her cottage and garden. Yet she had not always lived with such enclosed horizons. Her cottage was not much different from the one she’d grown up in, with her Grandmother, but the cottage of her childhood was set not in dense woods bounded by mountains and cliffs. Her Grandmother’s cottage had been high on the north downs, where patchy woodland gave way to rolling hills and open fields, and the horizon stretched away in all directions.
Although she would not trade her place in the Wildwood for anything she found that early each spring, on the anniversary of her Grandmother’s death, the yearning for wide open space became especially acute. As did the memories of the woman who had shaped her life so profoundly, for her Grandmother had been the one who taught her the craft in such a way that the Wildwood had wanted her for its own.
They had both seen the magpies, three each, for three days, and they knew what it meant. Her Grandmother, she was certain, had sensed her end even before that those most obvious of signs, given that she’d insisted the house be cleaned from top to toe weeks before they would normally have started their normal spring cleansing. But her Grandmother had not been afraid.
“I’m old, darling girl,” her Grandmother had said, after matter of factly announcing she would not see another dawn, “and none of us are meant to last forever. But I am one of the lucky ones, sweetling. Leaving you now, and not seeing what you will accomplish, is the last of only a few sadnesses I’ve had in all my years in this world. Yet even in this I find I am glad of the timing, that my spirit will journey on as the earth wakes, so there will sun and flowers and new life to lift your heart when I can no longer cheer you.”
She had not cried at those words, instead wrapping her arms around the woman she loved as a mother and asking if there was anything else she wanted to do.
“Sit with me and let us go running, one last time.”
And so, side by side, they sat at the open window overlooking the downs and sent their minds out into the fading light to join with the hares just stirring in their forms at the field’s edge. Her Grandmother’s joy – as aches and stiffness and dulled sight were left behind, replaced by the sensations of a lithe swift body that danced and ran, filled with the energy of the season – was palpable. She revelled in it too, letting herself sink into the hare’s mind until her own sadness and fear were banished, subsumed into the physical; so that all that was left was race, two beings chasing down the setting sun together.
When she returned to herself it was dark, the cottage held an emptiness she’d never felt before, and her Grandmother’s hand was already cooling in her own.
She could not fully remember the second part of the process of her Grandmother’s death. Her memories of preparing the body for burial, the service, and the wake after that fuzzy and distorted, as if being viewed through a veil of all the tears she had not allowed herself to cry.
She held her grief tight in a knot under her breastbone until she was alone again, all the neighbours and acquaintances with their kind words and casseroles quite gone, and there was nothing left for her to busy herself with. Then the tears came in a cleansing flood that shook her body through the night, leaving her gasping for breath, buffeted by the violence of the storm inside her, yet leaving her somehow lighter and less brittle. When she’d dried her eyes and looked out into the pre dawn gloom there was a hare sitting on the lawn, staring unblinkingly up at her.
“I shall go into the hare” she had whispered, and for the very first time she made the journey into another mind on her own.
As for the third part of the process of her Grandmother’s death, that is not yet complete. For no one is truly dead until they are no longer remembered by the living and she unconscious memorialises her Grandmother every chance she gets. She tells stories of her to the children in the Village, writes the spells, charms, and potions her Grandmother taught her into the cottage’s notebooks with clear attribution, talks to her late at night about all that worries or vexes her and hears her Grandmother’s half of the conversation in the dreams that follow.
The Witch undertakes a more formal remembrance too. Every year on the anniversary of her burial she settles herself into the rocking chair in front of her open bedroom window and sends her mind out of the Wildwood and into one of the hares living in the fields beyond the Village. There she both loses and finds herself, wild and free and unfettered.
And every year as she runs there comes a point where she finds she is not running alone, another hare appearing alongside her. Together they race the shadows across the fields and dance in the light of dawn and, when she finally returns to her own mind, she feels a soft kiss pressed to her temple, easing the ache in the heart and restoring her equilibrium for another year.
This is the third in a series of twelve stories I’m grouping under the title Flashes of Feathers, all set in the same Wildwood as the Twelve Tales of Flashmas.
The prompt for this story was Three for a Death.
For more information about the whys and wherefores of this series please click on the master post link below:
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