Chapter 12 – Grief
Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection:
the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer.
I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.
~ C. S. Lewis ~
Padraig left me alone only once, and that was to make repairs to Danica’s house. During that time, Arrie Stoddard came to sit with me. I halfway wished that Uncle had left me alone. Then Betrys Darkmane could retaliate against my father for executing her only son – by attacking me. True, she was a full druid with elemental fire, while I was an elementalist with spirit, water, and air, but I had bested her once before and would be pleased to do so again. Then I would have an outlet for this agony, this unspeakable pain.
My only relief was crying, which left me feeling wrung out and exhausted. It also left me with the notion that I was betraying Charlie somehow by grieving for him when he might still be alive. This left me hoping against all odds that he yet lived, which turned into an aching loss because I missed him so much. That resulted in yet more tears and sobbing, starting the cycle anew. It was like a dying limb that still hurt after being amputated, a phantom pain that could never be soothed.
I had only my family to turn to for comfort, and my father was still tearing the grove apart in his fruitless search for my chosen’s body. Even when he was present, he was distant and distracted. Understanding his need to act warred with resentment of his absence. In my more bitter moments, I felt that I’d be done grieving by the time he became available to lend me a shoulder on which to cry.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise. After my mother’s death, he’d taken similar action, giving me over to ArchDruid Sebrina to raise. It was as though the elements of spirit and air so thoroughly ruled his actions through motivation and logic that the element that governed his emotion had no influence.
Uncle Padraig was the only person to whom I could turn for comfort, and he himself was grieving deeply, not only over the loss of Davis, but also his own son Duncan. He had to be wondering – as I did – if the ArchDruid and her Tetrarch had discovered his involvement in orchestrating Wolfric and Onóra’s escape. Had Duncan chosen to leave of his own accord? Or had the ArchDruid’s tolerance of this young man with magic finally come to an end? Had he suffered the same fate as so many others who had not been denied the gift of the gods? Had he, too, been exiled? Or had he been murdered in cold blood for the crime of being a young man with magic?
My uncle was no stranger to grief, for he had lost his chosen Dragana and her unborn son. A year later to the day, he had found two-year old Duncan alone in the woods. The shredded remains of his parents lay nearby, with the child rolling around with two bear cubs, the three protected by a fierce mother bear. Once when he was in his cups, he had confided in me that they were undoubtedly murdered, then cut up to make it seem as though mauled by a bear. Father had once commented that the mother bear had only allowed Padraig to take young Duncan home because she had recognized a fellow child of earth. I didn’t know if my cousin ever risked life and limb with the dangerous creatures, but Iriana Disney, also an earth elementalist, was known to befriend bears in the woods and even encroach into their hibernation spaces. We all thought she was crazy, but no one ever snitched.
I’d heard it said that it was the hard times that proved who your real friends are, and none of them had come to visit me, not even Iriana Disney. Irri had been involved in many of my little rebellions, the most recent being the Autumn Moon social, when more than half of the grove’s elementalists and young warrior trainees had defied the ArchDruid’s order forbidding us to gather. Of all my friends, Iriana’s absence hit me hardest.
The only other person who offered us comfort was Danica Harris, who had moved back into her own home, but continued to visit daily. Truly, it could only have been love that motivated her to do so, for neither Uncle nor I were pleasant company. He was either taciturn or short-tempered, and my emotions cycled through weeping, hoping Charlie was alive, wishing for a resolution to this uncertainty, and begging the gods to intervene on my behalf. There were also times when, no longer able to stand the uncertainty, I threatened to murder Sebrina because she was a soulless tyrant, or kill myself because I was a foul and loathsome creature who did not deserve to draw another breath for allowing harm to befall my beloved.
I considered myself a lunatic and wondered if perhaps I was experiencing the kind of madness that Orion had. It should have been a terrifying thought, but it seemed as though anything would be preferable to this maelstrom of emotional upheaval. Thus, feeling myself to be unstable and irrational, I barely spoke to anyone and spent the hours either sleeping, crying, or staring into the flames. Like as not I massaged the oath mark on my left palm; it was rapidly becoming a compulsion.
When Danica entered that day, I was sitting on the sofa, again wrapped in blankets and sipping green tea. It had become my island in a sea of storms, my place of protection and comfort.
Padraig invited her to sit at the table.
“I know you don’t want to talk about it, but this situation with your brother needs to be addressed,” she asked without preamble.
“Not by me,” he said. “Would you like some coffee?”
“I didn’t come here for coffee. I came to talk to you about Liam.”
Mention of my father’s name drew my attention. Uncle glanced over at me and continued pouring the coffee. Taking his time, he added sugar and cream before setting it before her.
“I’ve already hashed this out with Adalwulf Rask.” He returned to his chair and picked up the stick he had been carving. It looked like a walking staff. He had brought the fallen oak branch home after repairing the damage I had caused to her house, when I’d woken to find Charlie gone.
I veered away from that train of thought. My heart was broken, my mind did not know what to believe, and after days of endless weeping my eyes burned. I was weary of crying and physically drained from the passions that constantly whiplashed through me, but the tears and the rage still came often and at random, quite beyond my control.
Always considerate and delicate of expression, Danica pressed him:
“Do you not think you should do something?”
“I’m sure our honored ArchDruid has things well in hand.”
“I see.” She cocked her head at him. “Do you often whittle in the house?”
“I do when it’s cold out.”
Danica raised an eyebrow. “You are a fire druid.”
“I still get cold. Besides, it’s my house, I can mess it up if I want to.” His tone was gruff.
She looked down at her hands, obviously disheartened.
“What are you making?” Danica asked.
“I thought only wizards used staves,” she said with a light tone and teasing smile. If she hadn’t mentioned the wild uproar Father was causing, he might have been more receptive. As it was, Padraig was having none of her efforts to lighten his mood, and I felt badly for her.
“It’s a traveling staff.” His tone was gruff.
“Are you planning a trip?”
“You know I am.”
“Is that why you won’t try to stop Liam? Because you want to abandon the grove and this will make people hate him?”
Apparently the earth druid had decided that having her say was worth risking my uncle’s temper, and this I could not understand. Was it possible that she, too, was unaware of his feelings?
“I couldn’t care less who Liam is terrorizing, for in all likelihood they deserve it,” he replied.
I couldn’t blame Padraig for his indifference, being barely capable of civility myself. In a way, I thought that he was embroiled in a process similar to mine. I had lost my chosen, either to fate or to death, the facts unknown to me. My cousin was lost because of politics and antipathy, under equally mysterious circumstances.
“Not everyone in the grove bears guilt for what happened to Davis,” she said.
“Yes, they do. And so do we.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“We’re all guilty – you, me, Liam, and especially those people who disagree with Sebrina but say nothing against her and allow her evil to continue uncontested.”
“You forgot to mention me,” I said rising and coming to the table. “He wouldn’t even have been here if I hadn’t brought him. Sebrina warned me against seeking him out, and I did it anyway.”
Uncle gave me a look of pity and compassion, but did not contradict me. Above all things, we Everlights are honest, about our faults as well as our virtues. I hated seeing the pain in his eyes, but just knowing that someone else had loved Charlie Davis and missed him brought me an unexpected comfort – until a sudden, crystal-clear memory of a copper-skinned, raven-haired woman and her tall, golden-eyed husband arose in my mind.
Someone else had loved Charlie – his parents.
Their son was missing or dead, and Charles and Nita had no idea.
“Oh, gods, they don’t even know,” I whispered aloud.
Danica and Padraig exchanged a worried look, but I barely noticed, my mind was such a tempest. I couldn’t escape the memory of his mother’s face – not her anger or indignation, but the fear in her eyes.
”Do you know what you’ve agreed to?!” she had said to him. “Do you realize this is your life?”
I remembered the scene, almost as though I were reliving it: the warm, cozy kitchen, the smell of baked chicken and polenta cakes, the angry sounds of mother and son shouting at one another.
“Sometimes when people are hurt, they make foolish decisions, and foolish vows. When they heal, they move on,” I said, as though I possessed years of wisdom instead of being a foolish twenty-year-old determined to get her own way.
“Foolish vows like becoming the chosen of a druid,” Nita snapped.
“And what would you know about it?”
“More than you know.”
“Perhaps you’d care to enlighten me.”
His mother just stood there, glaring silently at me for a long moment before turning back to Charlie.
“Son… Don’t do this. Travel if you want, go where you please. Come home whenever you want, I’ll stop giving you grief over how you live your life… But please, do not go with this girl.”
“Why not?” he asked.
She licked her lips, showing the first sign of uncertainty, and I rejoiced. I was winning. He was mine.
“I can’t tell you,” she said, desperation in her voice. “You must trust me in this. If you go with her, your life will no longer be your own, and you will be in danger every moment.”
“I’m in danger every time I step out on the road,” he said.
“Not like this,” Nita replied. The pulse pounded in her neck, her hands shook, and there was trepidation in her eyes.
It hadn’t been mere apprehension or worry about the future. It had been fear in her eyes, because she’d known. Somehow, his mother had known what would happen to him if he came with me. The pieces started to fall into place:
Charlie’s latent earth magic, which we assumed had been blocked.
His mother, terrified that he had not only met a druid girl, but was going to be her chosen.
Surely she was one of those druids that had fled the grove twenty years ago when Sebrina came into power.
Doubtless she had fled so that her son would not be denied his gods-given elemental ability.
I must have been her worst nightmare.
Uncle shifted in his chair. “Angie…?”
“His parents. I have to tell them,” I somehow choked out. The rest came out in a torrent: “His mother was furious when she found out he was coming with me, and do you know what I said to her? I told her that what she wanted didn’t matter.” There was a deep ache in my chest and I struggled to catch my breath.
“I told his mother that the fate of her only child was not her concern!” I cried. What kind of person would do that?
Danica covered her mouth with both hands, horrified. Uncle’s expression turned to one of dismay. In his eyes I could see the dread of having to tell someone’s parents that their precious son – their only child – was dead, and not only that, but that he had first been beaten and then poisoned. Tortured.
How could I face them to give them the news?
How could I not?
Gods help them.
Gods help me, too – because I was the one responsible.