“If you keep digging like that, you’re going to ruin my good hatchet, fils.”
The quiet voice on the wind disturbed his prayers, scattering thoughts like cattails in the hand of a curious child. He swallowed hard, eyes locked on the bloody tangle of roots and soil before him, before restarting his entreaty to Willow for her peaceful guidance through the Thorns for Simon.
‘Grand-mère, veuillez guider cette pauvre créature vers son repos. Il a parcouru nos chemins et a accepté votre bénédiction. Menez-le à travers les Épines sans blessures, qu’il puisse retourner sans ombre dans le cycle du monde.’
The moon shone brightly all around, the specks of heart’s-blood on his hands glowing softly in contrast to the white criss-cross of scars on his flesh. The words tumbled from his lips were paired with puffs of steam, the night air cutting into lungs with every breath. It wasn’t enough to block out the gentle touch of a hand on his shoulder, her words in his ears.
“You did as you were told, beb. You listened to your Mère, and got what dat poor boy needed. Don’ you waste tears dat it wasn’t what you wanted.”
Prayer complete, he rose to his feet, shrugging off the (imagined?) hand on his shoulder, and reaching for a cloth to clean both flesh and steel. “Why do you always have to talk now, hahn? Why not when I actually need your advice?” His words were harsh, darkened with traces of grief and pain. “I know dis was the best outcome, short of him being free to join the Circle, but since when are we dat lucky, no? Was it when de Kruzemore showed up, carried on paths of tiny legs? Or was it when our *lord* was taken and replaced by his useless son, arrogant as any youth? No, MawMaw, we not dat lucky anymore, an’ it looking to be gettin’ worse.”
Task complete, he placed the hatchet back on his belt before turning to stare at the moon, high in the night sky but seemingly close enough to touch, perfectly outlined by the tips of the trees of the grove. “All dose stories o’ yours, of Arbor and his adventures? How he protected the forest and guided the woodcutters to the best groves and taught the secrets of the undergrowth? His mighty staff ensuring good footing through de worst o’ de bayou?”
He spat on the ground, flecks of blood amidst the saliva. “Lies. All o’ dem.” He turned to face the willow tree, its branches softly tossing in the night’s breeze. “He’s a spirits-damned Lion, and now I don’ know *what* to believe.” A small tear formed at the edge of one eye, before being ruthlessly scrubbed away by a scarred back of one hand. “But I’m a good boy, an’ I know my duty. The Hungry One is wakin’, and we need the Pact to be strong. I’ll do my part, but know this: I will never forget. We’ll grow, and move on, but dis only goes to prove you right, your favorite saying an’ all.”
“When dealin’ wit de People an’ de Court, know dis: you always get what you need, but rarely what you want. Live well, work hard, and only lean on gifts when all else fails. Everything has a cost, an’ you might not be the one to pay, cher.”