You make me feel like Spring has sprung
Spring has certainly sprung here in Cornwall. The days are lengthening and the buds are swelling. It inspired me to write a short story. It is based in the same world as the WIP I’m currently working on.
Worldbuilding is a key part of writing and immensely fun. In a fantasy realm, the author needs to build everything from scratch and make it believable to the reader.
In the story below I explore two aspects. The founding story of the Kingdom of Berncia and the religion named the Four Branches. Mythology and religion always tell larger than life founding stories where the Gods play their games with mortal men and I’ve done the same thing here. A once great Kingdom should come from equally grand beginnings. Although my WIP begins at a time when this once great Kingdom has fallen.
The bedding of Melissa, the Goddess of Spring
She came to me like a promise.
On the first day of Spring, I watch my men practice the shield wall. The neighbouring clans grow ever bolder and I must hold onto the lands of my house. Boldness goes hand in hand with youth, a blessing no longer bestowed upon me. I’ve seen over fifty summers and my men no longer allow me to fight in the front rank.
For good reason too. I have no heir.
Spring doesn’t welcome us this morning. The wind holds a northerly chill and a light rain patters against my coat. My leg aches, an old sword wound, and I sit in the crook of an apple tree and gaze at the sun. Her light does little to warm me either.
‘Cathal.’ I turn to see who’d uttered my name and I look upon the most beautiful creature I have ever seen.
A maiden, on the cusp of womanhood, and as she smiles I see her intent and her naked body doesn’t hide those feelings either. My hungry eyes follow every curve. Skin white as milk. Hair the colour of the sun and eyes blue as a brilliant, clear sky.
After the cold darkness of winter, she’s the joy of life and merriment. Even in my calloused, old body, weathered by too many winters, I feel I’m a young man again.
She approaches, wide hips sway with each light step. Slender fingers run through her hair, causing it to cascade like molten gold over pendulous breasts. Such an enchanting body but her face, though beautiful as she smiles, is cold.
The earth I sit upon is cold and dank, but from her feet I see vivid green grass shoot between her toes. It spreads around me and beneath me, making a soft bed to lie on. The spots of rain turn into a fine shower of pink apple blossom. Moments ago the tree I sit under had been only blackening, twisted fingertips of silent branches, questing skyward. Dead, withered, stalks are carried away by a soft, warm zephyr and in their place bloom the bulbs of delicate white snowdrops. Their heads nod as if to welcome her and I nod my head as well.
‘My lady,’ I greet her.
She remains silent as she straddles me. Her body softer than lambswool. Warm as the sun’s heat in the shelter. I feel as if I’ve trespassed. I have no right to touch such beauty but her hands guide my own. Placing them on her breasts, down along her torso until they rest upon her hips.
‘Love me, Cathal,’ she whispers. ‘Honour me during my branch of the year and on the final day of Spring I will give you what you most desire.’
At this moment all I want is her and I tell her as much. Our love making holds the wildness of youth. In her embrace, I’m once again a man in his prime. My body no longer old and withered, nor my hair grey. The rough hands I’d felt so ashamed to touch her with are strong once more. I couldn’t tear myself away from her. Such beauty! But once my seed springs forth she pushes me away and I find I’m an old man again.
‘Melissa!’ I pant, for I realise now who she is. My voice gruff and body exhausted from the exertion. The soft grass is gone and the rain, icy against my naked body.
The Goddess of Spring stands above me and still, I’m enraptured by her beauty. Her own arms hug her waist protectively and she smiles a certain smile.
‘Honour me,’ she demands once more and, like the blossom, she dissipates into nothing.
I honour her. Every day I pray to the Goddess Melissa, of maiden and transformation. As the fresh green leaves of oak appear I weave them into a crown and replace my standard with the symbols of the oak and holly leaves. I order my men pray too. We plant saplings where a great wood once stood. The one I’d levelled years before for timber to make my home and my great ship. I sacrifice my best stallions to her. Except my young wife wouldn’t pray. She burns the holly crown I ask her to wear in our hearth and curses the maiden.
‘Our cot lies empty because she won’t bless us with a child!’
I’m not proud of my following actions. Yes, the Goddess entrances me but she also frightens me. If I don’t honour her then a great misfortune would befall me.
We argue and in my rage, I strike my wife and her head glances the raised stone surrounding the hearth with a sickening thud. Blood pools from the wound and her eyes stare at me unseen. A blackness descends when I realise what I’ve done. I take my dagger but I’m a coward. I see death looming ever closer and I’m too afraid to take my own life. Instead, I wrap my wife’s body in the green shawl she loved to wear and burn her on the pyre the following dawn.
The final weeks of Spring are hard but still, I pray to Melissa. I’m old and in my rage and fear, I’d killed my wife. I doubt I’ll find another and there’s little hope of the heir I dream of. I’ll die and my house and my legacy will die with me. I weep and hunger for the brief taste of youth the maiden gave me till I grow near mad.
On the fiery red dawn of the last day of Spring, I tear myself from a nightmare filled with blood and a woman’s screams. I can still hear her agonising cries as I wake, which echo around my home.
‘Do you not hear her?’ I rage at my men, and they stare at me as if I’m a deranged, old fool. I wonder if they’re right.
I ran from my bedchamber and follow the sound. It leads me to the cellar but as I open the door the screams stop. In the centre of the room, I discover the cradle. The one I’d shunned here after too many years had passed with no child to fill it. Someone had pulled it from the detritus, leaving a wake of dust… and blood.
So much blood. The scent hangs heavy in the air but a noise from the cradle pulls my focus and I peer inside. To my astonishment, I find two babes, covered in blood but very much alive. They’re both swaddled in the shawl I’d burned my dead wife in. One wears the holly crown and the other a crown of oak.
I did honour Melissa, for she’d blessed me with a daughter and a son. The house of Berncia would survive for another generation. Many winters later, upon my deathbed, I tell this story to my children. I wonder if they even believe me.
My son leans in closer. We both know my time draws near. ’I have something to tell you, father. The houses are united. We live under one banner. Ours, of the oak and holly.’
I smile, knowing I leave my children to their future and to a unified land. One we shall name Berncia. By the Four, we live, and to the Father and Mother, we return. And so I return.