The Fall of Lord Blackthorn

By Book

By Book

The boy Blackthorn gazed upward, eyes traveling from star to star, tracing the imaginary form of the Great Earth Serpent, the largest of constellations, whose length arched across the entire sky, its tail touching the eastern horizon, its forked tongue licking the treetops of the west. The wandering stars of Honesty, Compassion, and Valor were out this night, loping along the serpent. There were other wanderers up there, one for each Virtue, but most were hidden from those who did not possess a spyglass. One day the boy Blackthorn hoped to peer through such a magnificent device. Lord British had one in an observatory, 'twas said. Perhaps if he traveled to Britain one day . . .

"There!" Shaana said, excitedly, pointing up. Blackthorn caught the brief streak of light before it winked out. "Another star, fallen," she said, sadly. "But I wonder which one. There are so many, and the stars never seem to diminish in number." She turned her heard toward him. "Dost thou think that the stars will all eventually die, that one day the sky will be empty?"

"No," Blackthorn answered. "My mother said that the stars are much like men: For every one that falls, another is born."

They lay upon a blanket of wool, and that blanket atop a tree stump wide enough that they could stretch upon it head to head in a small "v", their feet still well within the borders of its trunk. When the yew tree had fallen, he did not know, but his mother had told him that its rings suggested that the tree had crowned the barren hill for nearly a millennium.

"Did thy mother know as much about the stars as she did the trees?" Shaana asked.

"No, I do not believe so," said Blackthorn. "She said the heavens and its stars were for mages of the Lycaeum, the earth and its trees for the druids." His mother had been one of the last of her kind. Once, druids had been common in these parts, but as Yew had evolved into the center of Britannia's justice, so, too, had it evolved into the center of bureaucracy, and the druids had slowly vanished over the years, displaced by justices and officials.

"Dost thou remember her at all?" Shaana asked, timidly. She had never approached the subject before, but then, neither had he with her, not until about an hour or so ago.

"I remember mostly her wisdom, if not her face," he admitted. "She died when I was very young. She asked to be buried beneath her Yew tree, in a grove not far from our cottage. On that day, we took a branch from her tree, and burned it. The ashes we sprinkled over her grave." He heard her shuffle as she sat up. Guessing her thoughts, he added, "I doubt if thou canst see her tree at night. If it were daylight, I could point it out. 'Tis just northeast of my father's cottage."

"Where the wisps are?" Shaana asked.

Blackthorn quickly sat up, eyes first catching the light that marked his father's cottage, then traveling northeast. There were only two of them, blue pinpricks of light flitting over and through the trees, winking on and off, dim to bright, large to small, and back again within a blink. He and Shaana had seen them in the forest before. Most folks had, especially in the past year when reports of the phenomenon had become more frequent. Still, no one knew what the wisps were. Spirits of ancient trees, leaks of magic within the ethereal void, wandering creatures composed of light—these theories seemed to be favorites, though they had as much credence as any other. One truth was certain: Wisps were to be avoided. They were dangerous, it was said.

Previous Page

Page 41

Table of Contents

Next page

Next Page