Gytha left them to mourn in their strange way. She did not feel that she was a part of this. There was arrangements to be made and that was a way that she could be useful. Being useful was something that she could understand. She gathered the Fey about her and she growled commands out to them. No one questioned her authority. She had been given none, but they were looking for someone to tell them what to do and she had taken that role. So, they obeyed. Their willingness to follow so blindly added to her deepening rage.
Blindness. All was blindness. There was no seeing and without it there was no understanding. Why had this even happened? When would Dipak return? There was a darkness gathering. She could sense it. The Life Spark was needed, but would he have returned? What age would he be when that dark wave came upon them? Time was the factor that she could not figure into any of the plans for their future.
She sent clothing to the Tree of Life so that the boy would be in proper attire. She also sent clothing for The Mother if the boy wanted her to be dressed in something formal. There was also the usual dress that Enaid wore. Always the same. These arrangements were easy to make because Enaid always wanted them the same. Each time Dipak fell, his funeral was the same.
Raking her claws into the bark of a tree, she gave a low guttural moan. How many times would he be set to The Dark Waters?
Oils, candles, flowers and others such details were paraded before her. She decided upon each and sent them on their way. Kam came to her empty handed and she waved a dismissive hand to him. But he did not move away. She hissed and gestured to the line behind him. Still he stood there.
“What?” Gytha asked.
Kam’s gesture asked her to follow him away from those who had gathered before her. She did. They walked along a path that wound between the flowering trees. Pink petals rained around them and carpeted the forest floor. The smell of cherries and thyme filled the air.
“It’s not your fault,” Kam said.
Gytha gave no response as she continued to walk beside him. There was nothing to say. A vow was a strong thing and there was no excuse for breaking it. Her blood had dried on that face when it was still a babe.
Kam stopped and plucked a blossom from a low hanging branch. Brushing it across his lips he looked at her.
“Why do you vow yourself to him? You have each time he is born. Why?” Kam asked.
She gave no answer. There was none to give.
“Perhaps, when he returns, you should know the answer before you give the vow again,” Kam whispered.
Heat burst inside her and she reached out. Clutching his throat, she easily lifted him from the ground. He offered no resistance. She slammed him against a tree and let him go. He crumbled to his knees and coughed weakly. With one hand on his throat and the other on the tree, he looked up at her. His eyes filled with tears, but those drops of water meant nothing to her. Was it pity? Fear?
She hissed and turned away. Long strides took her quickly to the Tree of Life where she found all was ready. Pressing a hand against the bark, it opened and she stepped inside. She found them as she had left them except that their tears were spent.
“It’s time,” she said.
Enaid nodded and rose. She had changed into the gown. The boy had changed into the suit that had been provided to him. The Mother was still in the clothing she had arrived in.
Gytha lifted their bodies to the simple pine board stretchers that waited outside the tree. Gytha carried the front of Dipak’s stretcher. The procession was led by Enaid and Jacob. They held hands as they walked.
Enaid’s hair was long and silver with tendrils of gold. The gown trailed behind her; silver with golden trim that shimmered in the fading light. The boy’s suit matched. Gytha wore no special attire, just the simple wisps of web that Angerona had woven her.
They walked in silence. The dirt path led through all Enaid and all the Fey filed in behind them as the procession passed until all the people were included. Then they went to the great iron gates. Two large tree stood with intertwined limbs, holding the gates between them within their bound fingers. This was the only iron in all of Enaid. None of the Fey, except the Queen, could touch it. This was a forbidden place. Yet, on this day, all would enter here. Even this young human.
Enaid stepped up to the gate and the boy followed. She pressed her hand against the iron bars and the boy did the same. The giant trees shuddered and the shrugged themselves as if they struggled to recall how to move. Slowly, the branches unwound themselves. Leaves ruffled and the wood creaked. The sounds were loud in the hush. Once fully untangled, the trees straighten themselves to their full height, towering above all other things within the Wandering Wood, even the Tree of Life. Heaving their roots up from the ground, they took huge steps to the the side in a lurch.
Bowing deeply, they regarded their Queen with deep, black eyes.
The gates swung open.
The procession continued, following the white stones that led from the gate. It was a long and twisting stretch; like a chalk line drawn in the dark soil of the forest floor. The heavy branches arched overhead and blocked out all view of the sky. Shadow settled over them. Candles were lit and each person carried one before them; all except those that carried the weight of the dead and the two that were in the lead. For those without lights, the small lighted insects and fairies traveled close.
The stones stopped as abruptly as they had begun. They had marched into a large, circular clearing with a rectangular pool at the center. Enaid led Jacob to the water’s edge. The stretchers were also taken up to the water; one laid on either side of the pool. Gytha remained near the dead as did one of the other bearers, Indra. The rest of the Fey fled to the edges of the clearing, pressing themselves together. They sought to be as far from the water as possible.
The air was dry and warm. Steam rose from the pool in coiling, white wisps. The Dark Water gave no reflection.
Enaid released Jacob’s hand and the boy stayed where she left him. The soft soles of her boots gave no sound as they sunk down in the soft soil. Crouching down, she scooped up a handful. It was easy to see the way that her hand grew pink from the heat of it. She sprinkled it over the still surface of the water.
“Reconnecting broken pieces,” she whispered, but her voice carried.
Rippled spread outward across the water. She rose and stepped back.
“These Dark Waters are the Well of Creation. From them the Life Spark arises. To them it is returned,” Enaid said.
Indra slipped over the edge of the pool. The water was like a thin oil that slid up over his blue skin and then seeped into him. The boundary between him and the water seemed to be dissolving. Once in the middle of the pool, he lifted up his arms and Gytha lowered Dipak down to him.
“Rachna, we return the Life Spark,” Enaid whispered.
Indra lowered Dipak down and the Dark Water washed up over him. Gytha wanted to snatch him back. A tighteness gripped her chest as the water slipped up over his face. Pressing her claws against her chest, she forced herself to breathe deeply. Then he was gone. Gripping her hands into fists, she had raked her claws over her skin and drew blood without being aware.
Always, his body slipped down into a place past the water. She had gone in once, after the others had left. Feeling in the darkness, she had searched through the silt and sand, but his body had been gone. Rachna had taken him to some other place where she could not follow. If she had been able to, she would have gone there with him. It had be blasphemy. But Rachna had not struck her down; had not consumed her. It put her in the ranks of those who had survived drinking the Dark Waters, but she had told no one. It meant nothing. She had not returned with special powers or some great universal knowledge. She was the same. Forgiveness was the only gift she had received that day. It was enough.
“Rachna, we bring The Mother,” Enaid whispered.
Indra again raised up his arms and Gytha lowered down Heather’s body. She was lowered down in the same manner that Dipak had been. And the Dark Waters accepted this offering the way that it accepted all offerings.
Indra stood still for a moment before he lifted himself from the pool. Then the stretchers were carefully broken down and piled next to the pool. They were burned and the ashes were sprinkled into the water; the last offering for the day. Then the procession returned the way that it had come. Gytha lingered behind as she had every other time.
She sat down next to the pool and looked down at the water.
“Where do you take him?” she asked.
“Wake,” Rachna said.
Stirring and reaching out. Tired.
“Wake. Wake. Wake.”
Eyes fluttered open and the Dark Water rushed in. Blinking felt odd with the heat coming and going, like a tidal wave against the vision.
“Hurry. Wake. Rise.”
Such urgency. Just a little longer?
Opening mouth and baring teeth. Breathing in the water and pushing it out again. Too much effort.
“Grow. Hurry. It’s time.”
Spreading fingers and arching back. Rising up out of the sand. Dim light filtering from above. A different kind of water here. Not as warm.
Pushed. Coming up from the water in a rush, the air slamming in a cold wave.
The creature lurched out of the water; gasping and flailing. Gytha grabbed onto and hauled to the edge of the water. It screamed and clung to her. She looked down at it.
“Dipak,” she murmured.
Large black eyes looked back up at her. White skin was taunt over sharply angled features. Black hair hung in oily gobs down across thin shoulders.
It was a form Gytha had never seen, but she knew that it was Dipak. She could taste his soul; the flavor exuded from every pore of this creature’s being. But it was so soon and a child rather then an infant. Gytha looked up at the sky. There was nothing to see, but she felt there was a darkness that was reaching out to them.
“Come,” she commanded as she hauled the small form up out of the water.
Gytha gaped, holding the creature by it’s shoulders. Dipak was a girl.
“Asha Vahishta,” Dipak moaned, revealing long pointed teeth and a black tongue. She pulled away from Gytha who let her go without resistance.
She rose up to her full height which was still that of a child, coming only to Gytha’s waist. She stretched out her arms and flexed her hands, extending claws from between her fingers.
“Come,” Gytha commanded, again looking to the sky.
Catching hold of her hand, Gytha led the girl away from Rachna.
The iron gates slammed shut behind them and the ancient trees bound them shut again. But they did not close their eyes. They looked down at Dipak. Gytha scooped her up and ran to the Tree of Life. Once there she slammed on the trunk with her free hand and one foot. It opened to her and she hurried inside. She was sure that with her speed and her blending that no one else had seen the girl who she now set before Enaid and Jacob.
“Oh, Dipak,” Enaid whispered as she reached out to touch the fierce girl, but she snapped at the offered hand and growled.
Then she was down on all fours, moving to the edges of the room and shuffling about. Scanning the room frequently and sniffing at the air. Once there was space between them, she bolted for the stairs. Jumping between the lit up mushrooms but rounding and then crouching down when seeing that there was no exit in the room below.
“Why is he back so soon?” Gytha asked. “And why like that?”
“I don’t know,” Enaid admitted.
Their voices dropped to lower voices as they struggled to figure out what to do with the aggressive child and how best to present the Life Spark to the Fey. She would not be well received. Most had not known the previous Spark and none expected to see the next. And for the Spark to come like this?
Gytha watched Jacob creep toward the stairs. Enaid started towards the boy, but Gytha caught her arm.
“She will not hurt him,” Gytha said.
Jacob wove his way through the mushrooms which grew in varied sizes and stood in clusters scattered at random over the steps and on the walls. Some of them glowed with a greenish light. He put his hand in front of one a moment and watched the distorted shadow it cast on a larger mushroom on the other side of the stairs. There were drifts of old catkins, dust and other flotsam caught among the furrowed wood which he drug his feet through. Small hidden animals could be heard moving somewhere within the tree. In his passing, he stirred up a sleeping bird and rose on dark wings.
Upon reaching the bottom of the steps, he was met with a growl and barred teeth. Looking about the room, he continued to explore. The mushrooms continued as they had down the stairs, but they kept themselves to the edges of the room. More of them glowed here, giving the room a green cast which the girl reflected. The bird landed on a twisted ridge of wood and cawed, seeming annoyed at the commotion.
“Horse?” Jacob turned to look at her. “Have you ever seen anything like this?” he asked, pointing to a small flower drooping from a coiled vine.
She clapped her hands over her ears and screamed, falling onto her side. Both Gytha and Jacob went to her. Gytha new that the plague of time had not been left behind with the last life time. It would follow until the wound was healed.
“What’s wrong?” Jacob asked, putting his face close to Dipak’s.
“She is sick,” Gytha said.
“We can’t let her die again,” Jacob whispered. “I just got her back.”