09 – Book One – Toll – Chapter Eight – Apóleia

Mæve is on the ground. Not moving. A cold spark of fear shoots through my body.

What happened?

[Break]

She was scared, just like I was.

Just like I am.

She was watching next to me. I touched the tree, drawing all the essence I could from it. I knew from past experience, discussions with Clýstra, that when such a spell is compelled, all energy from the tree is drawn from root tip to leaf edge. The tree quickly loses its color, turns a dark gray. It becomes very dry. Branches fall to the ground. 

Clýstra had also taught me that when all the essence is taken from the tree, it only applies to the limits of the tree. The very ends of its root system, but not anything surrounding the roots; the very edges of the leaves and branches, but nothing nearby, unless something organic is in full contact with the tree. If there are birds or any other animals roosting on the branches, with skin, fur, feather or scale contact with the tree, that organic material will also have its essence taken . . .

I slowly and ever so carefully kneel down next to Mæve. She lies there, one hand under her perfectly sculpted chin. The side of her face still shining in the nearby firelight. She looked like she might be resting, sleeping perhaps. We have had a taxing, busy day, full for activity and eating and enjoyment with each other. I myself am close to exhaustion, especially after the spell.

[Beat]

But I know she is not sleeping.

I have not checked.

I have not made certain.

Like a fool.

[Angry] Like a novice Circé.

I have not followed the rules and the code of the Circé. I have not made the correct decisions, nor considered the full consequences of what I have done before conducting them.

I have not planned accordingly.

I see it in my mind now. One hand. Maybe both. Mæve’s hands. Touching the tree. As I turned from her I felt one of her arms fall from me. As she turned, I felt the other, not paying any attention. As she saw the terrifying blue orb, she reacted on instinct: moving closer to the tree; hiding behind me and using the trunk for support and protection.

For I did not.

As I drew the essence from the tree, I also drew the essence from her. I did not see. I did not hear a single sound from her. It happened so quickly. I was focused on completing the spell, I had not checked . . . I had not even considered . . . what might be happening. That I might be sucking the very life and existence from the girl I had grown so very close to.

That I killed . . . Murdered the girl who captured my heart.

I began weeping.

[Break]

Time passes. I know not how much. The fires are still going strong; the bonfires sending crackling flames into the night sky on this auspicious night when things that are unwanted are kept at bay. So Mæve had told me earlier.

I sit up and see her form unmoving on the ground, still very much dead. I wonder if it might all have been a dream? Seeing Mæve’s form brings everything back in an instant.

CLYSTRA: Is she passed?

THÝRA [Quietly]: Umm . . . Yes. She . . . Is . . . Dead.

Clýstra looks up, searching around, making sure we are alone.

CLYSTRA: Very well, we do not have much time. Help me with the body.

THÝRA [Shock]: What?

CLYSTRA [Serious]: Thýra. This child is dead. I do not know the circumstances and at this point in time I do not want to know. But once she is discovered – and if she is left here, mark my words, she will be discovered – it will not take long for the town to point the finger at the last person she was seen with. You. We must get rid of her; we must do it now; and then we must leave.

The horrible feelings bursting from my chest become much worse, a hundredfold worse! But Clýstra is right. I have trusted her all my life, I will not shirk that trust at this moment in time.

THÝRA [Quietly]: What do you need me to do.

CLYSTRA: I need you to do exactly as I tell you. Do not hesitate no matter what I tell you. Understood?

I nod.

CLYSTRA: Good. Take her legs. I will take her shoulders.

We lift Mæve and Clýstra leads us in a specific direction. In a few moments I know where we were headed. I feel a gasp wanting to rip itself from me, but hold it inside.

When we reach the bonfire, Clýstra looks directly at me.

CLYSTRA: On the count of three.

She does not wait to see if I understand.

She begins swaying the body back and forth. I move in time with her, and on three we let go of the body.

The dessicated corpse that was once a beautiful young girl named Mæve no longer weighs much. It flies through the air easily.

I want to watch the fires consume her, turn her to dust, but Clýstra will not let me.

We do not have time.

She takes my arm and we quickly begin walking away from the stoked fires.

Clýstra does not look back.

I do not either.

[Break]

We walk for hours into the night. I know not what time it is until I began to see a lightening in the east. The Sun begins to rise shortly after. It is then that I begin my story, telling Clýstra everything from first seeing Mæve in the market square to my losing conscious and my teacher finding me. She gives me many a stern look during my telling, but never says a word.

We continue as such for the whole day. We take two brief respites to eat and then move along. Some time after nightfall, Clýstra announces we will rest for the night. We eat, then go to sleep. In the morning we are up before daybreak and begin the last leg of the journey home.

We reach our humble abode on the very edge of the world a short while after the sun is at its zenith.

We put away what few belongings we brought with us. Clýstra makes a particularly strong batch of tea. I find some stale cakes we can dunk in our tea to soften. We sit down, facing each other. We soften the cakes and eat them, then drink most of our tea.

I can no longer take the silence between us.

THÝRA [Angry]: I need you to say something. To shout at me. To punish me. To have some reaction!

Clýstra looks at me, waiting for me to catch my breath after this venting. Then, after two days of mostly silence other than a couple of sentences, she speaks.

CLYSTRA: At this point, with how much time has passed, I see little point in punishing you. Thýra. I saw how you looked at Mæve. I saw how close you two quickly became. That is something that does not happen often. It is  unique and very special. [Slowly, carefully] What you did . . . What happened, it is something I have taught to you and told you about a number of times. I know it was not your intention to ever harm Mæve. But you made a mistake.

THÝRA [Quiet]: More than a mistake . . .

CLYSTRA: Yes. It was terrible, but a mistake nevertheless. I repeat: you never meant to hurt Mæve. You cared deeply for her. I know that, and you know that . . . And Mæve knew that. What happened to her . . . Happened very quickly and she would not have been fully aware before her life and essence were gone and she was no more.

THÝRA [Quiet]: It was so horrible . . .

CLYSTRA: Listen to me, Thýra. This is going to hurt to hear but it must needs be said. You are already suffering for this, for what you have done. You will suffer inside for a long time. The hurt will continue to get worse, then it will remain the same, and then, after some time, maybe a long time, you will begin to heal, to get better, and become whole and balanced again. If what it took for you to fully understand and accept this lesson is the unintentional death of someone you cared much for, then at least it is a lesson well learned.

That is all she says on the matter. It would be fruitless to try to talk more. On that day I grew to hate Clýstra a little, but as time went by . . . As the years past, all the things she said would come to pass did.

And . . . In time . . . I forgave her for what she said that day.

And . . . I never forgot the painful learning of that lesson.

I have never forgotten Mæve. My first love.